In the end, it came down to this: with a thousand euros snarled in PayPal, with another needed check not arriving, and with the conservatism of French landlords requiring that I not use an agency, it was up to the Landlord of Last Resort. This is a guy who moves around the expat bars of Montpellier offering places on a month-to-month basis. No lease, no protection from his whims, no security whatever, but...a place to live. I'd heard various unpleasant things about him, but I talked with several of the folks at the Vert Anglais and they convinced me it was worth a shot. The complex politics of a small town's expat community, though, made it impossible to get his number directly from the one person everyone knew would have it (the explanation is rather tedious, but essentially the guys who'd once worked for the guy with the number had had enough and had bought the VA, thereby angering him, and if it became known I was with them, he might make things difficult), but a few text messages and, on Saturday morning, I gave him a call.
Nervous as I was about talking French -- and understanding his locally-accented variety of it -- we did manage to communicate and it turned out that he didn't, in fact, have anything but a very small studio at the moment. Thus evaporated my last chance at getting something on this trip.
So where does this leave me now? I'm savvier about using online sources. For the most part, the e-mail alerts and web-pages I've looked at -- classifieds, et. al. -- are useless. Besides the bait-and-switch places, people who post apartments on them don't often understand what they're writing, so you have to plow through dozens of ads every day that aren't for what they say they are. Also, it's useless to book a hotel online, because, as my first night proved, they lie about how close to town they are. A little knowledge of the area helps filter that, but my second hotel wasn't much better than the first, in the end, and had an out-of-control air-conditioner blowing straight onto the bed, which made sleep difficult.
But there were other, intangible aspects to the trip which were very heartening. For one thing, the group which gathers for "l' heure apéro" at the Vert Anglais are fine, friendly folk. Just sitting talking with them made me happy I'd chosen Montpellier: sharing stories, opinions, and so on with them was enjoyable and reinforced the lazy rhythm at which things happen there. Several of them have now said -- and I believe them -- that they'll keep their ears open and let me know as soon as possible when something opens up. I've committed myself to being there 48 hours after getting at least one positive report. And, since this group of expats inhabits a different time-frame than the students, to whom I'd been hitching my own hopes, a vacancy might not come before the students get back in September.
Somewhere, I realized, there'd be someone who was growing unhappy with their place. Maybe a new child was on the way, a better job with a transfer to another city, a couple splitting apart, or just a chance to get a bigger or smaller place that was more suitable. I had dinner with friends in an apartment which, for square footage and price, would be ideal, and there are other apartments in their building -- all, at the moment, occupied, but they're there.
So I'm hoping I don't fade from memory and that these folks will remember to get in touch via the miracle of e-mail, but I have to get some stuff together on my end, too.
This latest fishing trip cost me more than I'd have liked and dipped into my war chest to an unacceptable degree. My first priority now is to raise some more money. Not a lot, but more. I have to have a minimum of €1800 ready to give a landlord. I also have to have enough to get back down there when the moment comes; Montpellier isn't exactly around the corner. At the moment, I don't have this (not that I'm ready for another 14-hour train-ride tomorrow morning, of course). So I have to get some work on this end to re-stock the war chest.
Sadly, the group I was supposed to see and write about were in Montpellier for three days, but, although I'd tried to set things up with their management a month in advance, there was no communication until the day I left and although I tried, I was unable to contact them. This is a drag, since the fee from that article was very much a part of my plans. In over 40 years of writing about musicians, I have to say, I've almost never had anything like this happen. I'm very disappointed.
So I'm back in Berlin for the forseeable future, looking hard for work, trying to think of what I can do to raise money. (If I could also simultaneously raise the dollar-to-euro rate, boy, I'd do that too: one night, one of the folks I was dining with told me that in fact there was no informal cap on that rate, as I reported here earlier. I'm not sure he's a reliable source, although he does seem to work in the financial arena in some way, but that was chilling to hear).
I now realize more strongly than ever that I'm not going to be in Berlin forever. I've bumped into a couple of stories down there I want to report, and I'm sure there are more: I was so focussed on finding a place that I wasn't looking too hard. And although I came up empty on this trip, I'm more convinced than ever that a change of scene is essential for my making a professional breakthrough, and that this is the place where it'll happen. The dying dollar and the implosion of the writing trade are working against me, but I'm more determined than ever to make this happen.
Next up, posts on art and food. And fussy types will note that I've gotten the chapter numbers changed so they actually make sense. Back soon with more.