Monday, 2 April 2012

Beziers, Fuji Superia XTra 400

Yashica Mat 124G
Fuji Superia XTra 400

"I do pizzicato beef filé", sang John Lennon of the pop group Beatles, and I think we've all been there, haven't we? Fuji Superia XTra is Fuji's bog-standard print film, and I took some along on my recent trip to France. In its natural state it's surprisingly restrained, looking somewhat like this:

Albeit that it was an overcast day. In contrast Kodak Ektar, seen here under similar lighting conditions a day later in Montpellier, is warmer and yellowy-er:

You can't get more scientific than that. Two images shot a day apart in different locations under different lighting conditions. In general, though, looking through my results and those on the internet, Fuji Superia has a cool, slightly pale look that makes me think of faded plastic swimming pool furniture. When I think of Kodak Ektar I think of the yellow foam stuffing inside a couch, and I think of hot dogs with red ketchup, whereas Fuji Superia is a cucumber.

Fuji's professional equivalent of Superia XTra is called Pro 400H, and is apparently very neutral, and excellent for human skin. So if you have a large collection of human skin, and you want to catalogue it, Pro 400H is your go-to film. It's only slightly more expensive than XTra, too, but I happened to find some rolls of XTra that were short dated and very cheap. As far as I can tell XTra 400 is the only remaining 400-speed consumer-level colour 120 film.

The film is unspectacular by itself, and so I decided to process the hell out of it digitally. As if it was 1995 again, back when photographers used Photoshop on scanned film because they didn't have digital cameras yet.

American Photo, 1995. A very long time ago. Photography was nearing the end of its "cathedral" stage.

Beziers itself is a dump. Here's the main drag, which is a steep climb away from the train station and through a deserted park that's closed in the evening:

The one part of Beziers that doesn't have dog poo on it

Beyond the statue is another patch of empty concrete, of equal bleakness, adjoining a car park. To the right, some chemist shops and hotels and a small Monoprix. Straight ahead, a gang of people drinking beer they bought from the Monoprix. To the left, some dodgy takeaways, with gangs of men standing outside glaring at passers-by. The kind of takeaways where you pay €80 for a kebab and get a free gram of cocaine thrown in, which is nice of them. A free gram of something that might have been in contact with cocaine at some point.

Which is odd, because the surrounding area is nice. The south-central part of France starts at the Spanish border, and the train goes Barcelona - Girona - Perpignan - Narbonne - Beziers - Montpellier and Nimes, which is apparently also a dump. Perpignan and Montpellier are fine however. Shades of the Star Trek films, where the odd-numbered instalments were rubbish. If Perpignan and Montpellier are a lovely pair of bottom cheeks - smooth, fleshy, grabbable - then Beziers is the hole in the middle. My advice is to stay in Montpellier and spend half of one day in Beziers. Or skip it and go to Perpignan. Have a long walk around Port-la-Nouvelle.

The people of Beziers, circa February 2009

It's interesting to compare Beziers with Montpellier. They both have a main drag uphill from the train station, although Montpellier's uphill is just a slope. Beyond the main drag is a maze of twisty little streets where the old town used to be; to the right, a shopping centre. But whereas Montpellier's twisty streets have fascinating shops, Beziers just has twisty streets. Montpellier's shopping centre is huge, whereas Beziers' resembles a small multi-storey car park, with a lovely view of the train lines, next to a construction yard. Montpellier's main drag has an opera house, arts galleries, people of all creeds and colours; old people, young people, couples, locals, tourists, women. Women.

I mean, what the fuck is this obsession with balloons? Do they interfere with aeroplanes, or what? Lighten up, people of France. Balloons won't hurt you.

Beziers doesn't have that. No women.* Just gangs of men wearing the standard uniform of dark jeans or sports bottoms, with black puffy jackets on top. But who would go there to buy anything? The local sight is the cathedral, which was closed when I went there. Culture? Couldn't see any. Perhaps Beziers is the real authentic face of France, and Montpellier is just a student-infested facade, in which case I prefer the facade.

* Not during the daytime, anyway. At night, yes. But it'll cost you. Prostitutes rely on something called the sunk cost fallacy. If you've paid €80 to get into the club, it'd be a waste if you didn't pay another €40 for a drink; and you're not going to stop at that point, because you'd waste the €120 you've spent already. The €180, the €250, etc. Gamblers make the same mistake. No, not gamblers. Suckers make the same mistake. Gamblers know when to fold.

To be fair. To be fair. I can understand why Beziers doesn't work. And at the same time it still feels broken. See, the shopping centre - the Polygone, which is just a patch of rubble on Google Earth, so it must have been built in the last couple of years - is away from the middle of town but within walking distance, and I imagine that most of the residents shop there instead. The Lidl isn't in the centre of town, either, it's off down a side street. The posher shops that would have gone in the middle of Beziers must have moved out. At the same time it's an awkward walk to get to the Polygone, across a dual carriageway if you go from town, with a tiny unmarked pavement if you go from the train station, so there's no reason for anyone outside of Beziers to visit. Meanwhile the centre, hit by this exodus, is a steep climb away from the station, so again, why bother? None of these are insurmountable obstacles, but, for the third time, what's the point?

I surmise that the people who could leave rolled down the hill and left; the people who couldn't, didn't. Leaving a town of people who couldn't, waiting for nothing that didn't happen.

Also, it smells of pee.