Monday, June 13, 2016

Les Coquettes: Summertime in Palavas

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A few weeks ago, I happened upon the site Montpellier City Crunch, which has been awesome for reading in French because the content is interesting to me.

The site's writers do things in Montpellier—go to cafes, bars, restaurants and do activities—and then write posts about it. They're not too long, are written in a pretty casual tone I think. (Jacki, there are some cool cafes/restaurants I'd like to try out...!)

Anyway, at the end of May I saw this post (check out the pictures) of an afternoon event that's put on each month by the Coquettes. Each month's event is themed, and it costs 12 euros to attend the 4-hour afternoon consisting of three surprise workshops (they're not announced ahead of time).

In May's event (their second ever), they made a bunch of cool food—raw food, sushi, cupcakes—so it looked like a really fun way to learn something new in French with French people. (My international Meetup events are great and the people are cool, but unfortunately most people speak English. So I really want/need to do more French-only stuff.) So that night I bought a ticket online for June's event: "Summer Time" on Saturday, June 4 from 2-6 p.m.

The event actually ended up being held in Palavas, where I lived in the fall. Luckily now there's a bus which makes it possible to get there via public transportation, but it still took a while. (I left home at 11:15, took the tram to the end of the line (towards the sea; same place I go for frisbee), got on the bus at 12:10 and arrived in Palavas around 12:50. I could have left an hour later to arrive just before 2, but I wanted the extra time in case I missed the bus or something, and it was a gorgeous day, so an hour extra at the beach in Palavas would do me absolutely no harm.)

I find the bar—"The Beach House"—which is actually out on the sand. The side facing the sea was completely open to an outdoor "patio" on the beach, no wall.

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I enter around 1:50. There's no sign or anything, and there are a lot of people inside because, hey, it's a beach bar, and it's a sunny Saturday in June. I ask a server if this is where the "Summer Time" event is. He doesn't know what I'm talking about. "Isn't there an event here today?" I press on. "Oh, the Coquettes? It's over there" as he points in a general direction and then rushes off to serve orders or something.

So I wander over to the general area where he pointed, and see a bunch of merchandise booths set up:

I ask a woman nearby, "Are you here for the event?"

"No, I didn't know there was an event going on." Ah, okay.

So there was no one there to greet us, and since it was in a public space not closed off one bit, you had no idea who the other attendees were. So I kind of waited around there, getting a bad feeling about all of the glitzy girly cosmetics and whatnot.

A few minutes later I saw a woman with a clipboard coming into the bar from the patio, with two women following her. I got the feeling she was in charge of the event, so I followed them out to the bar entrance, where the woman pointed at three schedules on the wall. (Apparently we'd be in three different groups, rotating through the three workshops.)

Another woman had followed as well, and she gave her name to the clipboard lady, who then told her which group she was in. I asked something about the schedule, clipboard lady answered, and then started heading back inside. "But can I see what group I'm in?" I asked her. (She'd totally just skipped me for checking in.) "Oh, that's right. What's your name?"...

So on this schedule, I was surprised to see two things:
   a) The first workshop didn't start until 2:30!
   b) The three workshops were 30 minutes each, and thus separated by huge gaps of time.

I went back inside by the merchandise tables. It was just about two o'clock, so now I had a half an hour to kill. I was getting a little uneasy thinking about this afternoon of fashion/makeup/jewelry, and seriously considered just dipping out.

I'm all for trying new things and pushing comfort zones—when it's something worth doing, that is. Four hours is a long time and it was a gorgeous day. I was on the beach, I had a book and notebook in my bag, the 12 euros was already spent whether I stayed or not, nobody here knows me so I could easily just leave...

Then I saw a woman nearby in this area of the bar, the one who had just checked in before me out at the entrance. So I bit the bullet and tried making conversation with her.

"Are you here for the event?" I asked, knowing full well that she was.

Turns out she was a Portuguese professor at the university in Montpellier, from Brazil. So we chatted a bit, and I awkwardly followed her around as she checked out all of the stands—which I had been completely uninterested in looking at. I didn't know what else to do with myself.

(I don't remember anyone's name who I met that day, by the way, so I'll be referring to this kind woman as Portuguese Prof from this point forward.)

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(Above, those were Brazilian bikinis, being sold for 45euros, 4x the original cost—according to Portuguese Prof who saw the original price (in Brazilian currency) on the tag of one of them.)

I'm going to jump right into the three workshops, but to really relive this day with me, just keep in mind all of the idle time between them, which you won't be experiencing.

1. Nail Painting and Temporary Body Tattoos

When we first sat down at the table, as we were waiting for it to begin, the woman leading the workshop told us to take a look at all of the different tattoos scattered on the table—as in, to choose which one you want to put on during the workshop.

The first part were the nails, though, and once it started, the woman talked a lot about steps for painting nails. She'd show a product and explain something, and then pass it around. People would test it out on one nail, so I started to doubt that we'd actually be painting a full two hands on ourselves.

Long story short: We did, and it was super rushed. There were some bottles (like the "pre-coat" and "after-coat") which we were supposed to share between 10 people. There simply wasn't time for each person to use the "pre-coat" on each nail, for example, as the waiting time would have been ridiculous. So when we finally had the go-ahead to paint with the colored polish, I skipped all the steps she'd just laid out—as did Portuguese Prof and others around me—and headed right towards the color. (Teal had been handed to me, so I happily used it.) It was a mad dash to finish so you wouldn't be walking around with one hand painted the rest of the day.

As most of us were still painting our nails, she moved on to the temporary tattoos, which were also for sale, by the way.

When it came time to put them on, she told us to choose from this small selection on the far side of the table, which she had pre-opened and cut for the workshop. If you wanted any of the other designs, you could purchase them. (Which was a bit deceptive, considering she'd had us looking through the packs on the table when we arrived.)

A girl sitting to my left kind of called her out on it, "Oh, but what about these designs?"

"Those are for sale, the pricing is here on the table. For the workshop you can just choose between these which are already cut."

"But you asked us to look through these on the table when we got here..."

Okay, this girl is awesome. 

She will be called Cool Girl for the remainder of this post.

So as we kept going with the nails, the woman came around and put one tattoo on each person. You just put it face down on the skin and wet the back, then slowly peel off a few seconds later.

Above you can see what my "tattoo" looked like.

Cool Girl's tattoo didn't stick well at all, and was peeling off at the edges. I had no idea who would ever buy those, especially when you could see how they were no better than any kids' temporary tattoos.

I also thought it would take a lot of guts to stand there and sell them, when the samples you put on everyone often don't turn out.

Time is up, and I walk away with wet nails—which I keep accidentally touching on something or forgetting about, mucking it up.

I think I've made this point clear by now, but there really was no point in rushing. Instead of all that buffer time in between workshops, we could have spent 45+ minutes at the table... but anyways,  jumping to workshop #2.

2. Cocktails

I honestly think we were at this workshop for 15 minutes total. I'd (wrongly) assumed that making cocktails would mean we'd each get one, right?

There were 10 of us crowded around the bartender, who put out three glasses. He used one glass to "demonstrate," quickly shouting out what he was adding. Then he'd hand whatever liquid he'd just poured in to someone on the left side, who added the same ingredient to the left cup. And then repeat for the right side and the glass on the right.

I never got to pour or touch anything, as I didn't end up right up there next to the glasses. Want photo proof? I found the below later on the Coquette's Facebook page. It's my group at the cocktail workshop:

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Can you see me?

I can't either. Case in point.

Sex on the Beach was the first cocktail he made, if I'm remembering correctly. It was done in a matter of minutes, and then he threw in a bunch of straws in each of the three drinks for us to pass around and test.

Next up were three mojitos, which had no other liquid other than the rum. (I've always made them mixed with club soda or something.)

This one, too, was made in a matter of minutes. And shared between ten people, they went nearly just as fast.

Finally, he made one non-alcoholic pineapple coconut something (it was really good; my favorite hands down) for us to share.

So we finished waay earlier than any of the other workshops. A few girls ordered cocktails to drink. One glance at the menu (10+ euros/cocktail!) and I knew that was absolutely out of the question for me.

Then Portuguese Prof, Cool Girl, two other girls and I sat and chatted near the bar. They jokingly called us the "naturals," because none of us were interested in the makeup session to come, nor the girly-ness of the entire afternoon. More time passed, finally the other groups finished. And we kept sitting there, chatting.

Our final workshop would be out on the "patio" again, in the sun. Half of the seats around that table were well shaded with beach umbrellas. Suddenly, a bit before 4:30, Cool Girl said to us, "If we go now, we can grab the shady seats!" So the four of us left the "inside" bar and sat around the makeup table for our final workshop.

After sitting and waiting around there for 5 minutes or so, the other half of our group started to follow suit. The woman running that workshop was there too, getting ready to start. And then Clipboard Lady appeared, telling us that the third session actually didn't start until 5:00... IN A HALF AN HOUR.

So again, you're going to miss out on this part (poor you), but I sat there for another half hour... waiting. The other "naturals" seemed equally (slightly) annoyed that we'd have to wait longer. During some of this time, we discreetly shared our opinions of the event, in agreement on most of its flaws—not seriously peeved or anything, just criticizing in a light way, laughing about elements at times, making the best of our afternoon.

Then, a really cool fact came to light: Cool Girl, Portuguese Prof and I had all learned of the event through the Montpellier City Crunch blog post.

Wait, it gets better: Those two other girls who have been talking with us? Turns out they're the girls who wrote that post! ("No way!" I'd thought, "How cool!")

It was so awesome for me to see faces behind the articles, and I can only imagine that it was as neat for them to meet three readers—readers who had been so impacted that they signed up for the event themselves. Though they had absolutely nothing to do with the creation/organization of this event, they apologized that this one wasn't as good as the previous, which they'd written about. They'd much preferred the event last month with the cupcakes, sushi, etc. in the private space.

3. Makeup

During all of that chit chat and waiting, here's what we'd been sitting in front of:

Finally, at 5:00, our session leader begins. The makeup brand, Younique, is actually from the USA, and it's like Mary Kay in that it's only sold by independent consultants. The session leader was one such consultant, and she talked about her favorite products for summer.

She had a couple of before/after pictures on her phone which she passed around, and she rubbed a few products on the back of someone's hand to show what the color looked like.

She pointed out several products in the catalogue, why she likes them, mentioned some discount going on, passed out her business card to everyone...

and then that was it! We didn't do anything! We just sat and listened to sales pitches for this makeup brand.

Overall the whole event was much more commercial than I'd expected; too much so for my liking. I thought I'd be learning new things and doing/making something, but instead it was "buy this," "buy this."

That said, the Summer Time edition was only the third event ever of the Coquettes, so perhaps with time they'll come to favor a certain style of workshop/event. Whether it's on the commercial side or not, at least you'd then hopefully know more what to expect, rather than a toss-up.

At this time they do not have a website, but here is the Facebook page of Les Coquettes for future events.

Korean Dinner

After the long day out in the sun, I headed back to Montpellier, as I was hosting a Meetup event (bibimbap dinner) at the Korean restaurant in the city center.

While I would have preferred to have been less exhausted, it was a success!

Here's the owner, Omija, the one wearing devil horns below (just because). She's awesome, and has been living in France for about six years now (from Korea).

A very full Saturday for me. And although the event is long past, my teal nails wear on! (Well, splotches of it.)
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