Strangers-on-a-Tram meet at Montpellier’s Hotel ‘Richer de Belleval’

Architecture & Design · Travel

You’ve heard of the Hitchcock thriller, Strangers on a Train (1951), in French, L’Inconnu du Nord-Express, starring Robert Walker and Farley Granger, based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith.

But have you heard of “Strangers on a Tram”?

I hadn’t either, not until my visit to the beautiful, historic and aesthetic city of Montpellier in the south of France. I was attending Montpellier Danse, an annual festival now in its 44th year. They have there what we lack in southern California — a functional clean and cheerful means of public transportation above ground.

After a late-evening concert by Ballet de Lorraine, a regional troupe presenting choreography by Michelle Murray and Merce Cunningham, I repaired to the tram station to return to the city center. The next morning I would check into an elegant five-star hotel, Hôtel Richer de Belleval.

michelle murray work, ballet lorraine, montpellier danse 2024

At the tram stop a young man, too, awaited his tram. We chatted. He said he was just finishing his shift as a bartender in a local hotel. I pictured him as a hardworking student, having a night gig, possibly employed in one of scores of tourist hotels in this charming French city. We spoke at some length before his tram arrived and wished each other a good evening.

relais et chateaux richer de belleval hotel & bar

The next morning, I indeed checked into the “Richer,” an exquisite former hotel particulier (well-to-do personal home), and more recently a city hall. I was toured through the structure’s many beautiful artistic nooks and crannies. I saw artist Jim Dine’s heart collage in the entry lobby. I saw the crazy quilt of tapestry outside my Chamber #7. I visited Le Jardin des Sens des Frères Pourcel, a Guide Michelin Gastronomique étoilé restaurant, overseen by twin chefs, Jacques & Laurent Pourcel.

I visited the hotel’s spectacular lobby bar. Looking upward, I gazed at the historic chamber’s ceiling installation, an extraordinary artwork constructed of the wings of beetles! Flemish artist Jan Fabre created Hommage à un esprit libre (Homage to a Free Spirit): a work inspired by the botanical plates of Pierre Richer de Belleval, the king’s physician who created the first Botanical Gardens in France in Montpellier in the 16th century.

Gobsmacked by Fabre’s work, I was thrown into further confusion when a familiar-looking young man approached. Dressed in his bartender’s service He was a doppleganger for the young man on the tram. Taken aback and confused, I fumbled. “Amazing!” I said to him. “I just met someone looking a lot like you! He is a bartender too. Do you have a brother? A jumeau? A twin?”

And he cried, “It was me!”

Incroyable. Just one of the many felicitous encounters in my marvelous recent visit to Montpellier.

Dance critic Debra Levine, the founder/publisher/editor of artsmeme now in its sixteenth year of arts-blogging, was honored to attend Montpellier Danse 2024.