I am walking in the Jardin des Plantes because Joseph said it was a good thing to do and it’s free and it’s Sunday, and nothing else is open, so we walk a long way it seems from the historical center of the city towards the university.
Joseph is a strange hairless boy with thick glasses. He’s been in the peace corps, and he has some strange habits, like throwing water over himself and muttering, but I just want to do something in this city, that everyone said was a beautiful city, sort of like Geneva, but I’ve lived in Geneva and this is nothing like that place.
Geneva was cold and foggy and protestant.
Montpellier is hot and dry and catholic. When I got on the bus for the first time, these little ladies said look at this tall foreigner and when I said Madame I understand you, the head little lady said well lookie here this big thing speaks French. It had an anger to it, Montpellier did. A sort of simmering rage that boiled under the dresses of the women and the pants of the men. There was – there is — something.
But on Sunday the place is dead, and the mass goers are slumbering under the umbrellas of a heavy French luncheon in all the overcrowded cafes. So, being poor graduate students we grab some yogurts and wandered. The heat is blinding.
“Look,” says Joseph, bending down. “Dents de lion,” he says.”Teeth of the Lion — that’s what they called it.”
I shrug my shoulders.
Dandelions. Who cares?
Then a memory.
My Romany grandmother with her Tibetan eyes and her dancer’s body saying something to me in the park. I held out the little yellow flowers to her and she whispered “The tooth of the lion is the sharp sight into the past and future. You can see in both directions. but the sight has a bite.”
Joseph wanders off. I pick up a dandelion up and think of Calvin whom I’d loved in Geneva.
“I cannot marry you,” he said.
“Why the hell not?” I asked him. I was brash and 20 and thought all things possible.
He shook his head. “Un secret,” he said. “Je ne peux rien.“
I turned away and he grabbed me by the shoulders and kissed me.
“The secret is in the south – the secret of who we were.”
I didn’t understand it then and I don’t understand it now..
“The Protestants,”said my grandmother, holding the yellow weeds. “They fought and they fought and still they fight.”
I twirl the stupid dandelion.
I smell it, and look up from the yellow. That’s when I see the man gathering the dandelions and putting them in his hat.
Which is weird, but what is even weirder is it is night time.
And someone is shouting at him
And it is cold now.
The shouter comes rushing past me with a torch.
“STOP,” he shouts in weirdly accented French. “Stop in the name of the king of France!”
….. to be continued…..