Category Archives: lyon

Lyon and Catching Up

Where does the time go? I think I’m going to still be catching up on blogging about France when I am back in the States. I returned from a wonderful weekend in Paris with my friend Helen last night and am leaving for six days in Rome tomorrow. Things that probably won’t get their own blog posts include my visit to Grenoble with Kat and Liza to see the crazy David Altmejd exhibit at Le Magasin. It was an amazing room full of what I can best describe as giant mirror transformer werewolves. There was also the Fête du Printemps in Valence, that featured an odd Texas/Oklahoma area complete with “authentic” outlaws and Indians as well as horse tricks and awful lassoing. Pictures here, here, and here. The festival also had one of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen in France: a performance of vegetable people, like Giuseppe Arcimboldo paintings come to life. I also went to Voiron with Kat and Leslie to visit Jaime to mark her last day in French with a climb up the hill behind her home. We didn’t factor in the fact that it had been raining, so not only was it an incredibly steep hike over slick leaves, there were also huge disgusting slugs EVERYWHERE. But the trek up slug mountain was worth it for the gorgeous view of the Alps and Rhone-Alpes.

As you can tell, it’s been a busy time and I feel like everyday I have to say goodbye to someone. I know that we’ll stay in touch, but I honestly don’t know when I’ll get a chance to see my friends again. I guess I feel lucky to have met so many wonderful people in such a short period of time. It’s only been since September that I stepped off the plane, a stranger to everyone in a city I had never seen.

Lyon in the fog.

Lyon in the fog.

On my parents’ last day in France, we took the train to Lyon, the second-largest city in France. The weather was a little foggy, but we had a nice walk around the city and a delicious lunch on one of the boulevards. I believe I had a can of my favorite soft drink in France: Schweppes Agrumes.

Someone had painted landscapes on the steps leading up to the Basilica.

Someone had painted landscapes on the steps leading up to the Basilica.

I had no idea that the day after Easter was a holiday in France, so unfortunately a lot of things were closed. We took the stairs (I’m always going up steps in France) up to the Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière and passed a lot of miniature landscapes that someone had painted on the walls.

Flowers at the statues feet.

Flowers at the statue's feet.

After admiring the view and seeing the inside of the Basilica, we saw the nearby Roman theatre and then took the path down the hill to the old town. Flowers had been placed at the feet of this statue of Mary, probably on Easter.

Weird rabbit swastika-thing.

Weird rabbit swastika-thing on the Cathédrale Saint-Jean.

Unlike the rest of the city, the old town was bustling. I guess because it’s one of the most popular parts of town, and also because it was the only area open. We went into the Cathédrale Saint-Jean where we saw my new favorite thing in Lyon: the Horloge Astronomique. At certain hours of the day, it has 19 different automatons that move. Although one woman hilariously freaked out when it didn’t work right at 3 pm (according to her watch), it was not at all disappointing and bordered on spectacular. This video is the best I can find, but doesn’t really do it justice. It’s one of the oldest astronomical clocks in the world and was created in 1383. And the music it plays might end up in your nightmares.

Coffee in Lyon.

Coffee in Lyon.

Afterward we had coffee and strolled around the streets and passages of the old town before sitting for a while by the river and then catching a train back to Valence. The next day I saw my parents off on the train to Paris and it felt a little odd to still be in Valence.

Sirha

Chefs working at Sirha in Lyon.

Chefs working at Sirha in Lyon.

I don’t know if any other country eats the way France does. All of the teachers I have lunch with create three course meals out of several tupperware containers and in restaurants the waiters ask if you didn’t like your food if you leave even a little on the plate. But it’s not just the quantity, most everything is also delicious. I could walk into any bakery in Valence and get a pain au chocolat that would beat any pastry back home. However, as a poor language assistant, I don’t often get to sample anything outside of E. Leclerc or Auchan. But this past Monday I was invited by my friend Helen to go with her boyfriend Julien and her mom to Sirha, short for Le Salon international de la restauration, de l’hôtellerie et de l’ alimentation (International Hotel, Catering and Food Trade Exhibition).

A display case of terrines for sampling at Sirha.

A display case of terrines for sampling at Sirha.

Sirha in Lyon is the second largest expo of this kind in France, with the biggest being in Paris. There were about 2,000 exhibitors at Sirha providing just about everything you would need for your restaurant, hotel, catering service, pasty shop, bakery, or whatever area of food in which you are a “professional.” I put journalist as my profession on my invitation. I’m writing about it now, aren’t I? Where’s my free stuff? Anyway, I’d never really thought about all the different elements that go into restaurants and all the different suppliers you would need. You might have to get your cheese from France, your chocolate from Belgium, and your staff’s shoes from Ireland. It was overwhelming.

A cinco jotas. I think Sirha reinforced my vegetarian lifestyle... and I didnt even photograph the snail eggs.

A cinco jotas. I think Sirha reinforced my vegetarian lifestyle... and I didn't even photograph the snail eggs.

Since I had no real professional reason to be interested in these products, I mostly snatched up free things and sampled from the vegetarian-friendly exhibitors. This didn’t really cut down on sampling, since there was an incredible amount of chocolate. Helen’s mom has a cake shop back in England, so we visited many of the chocolatiers and in addition to the sweets we also got glasses of champagne from one of them. Other sampling highlights included cheese from Auvergne (my old friend Cantal), baguettes, carrot cake and salt and vinegar chips from Wales, antipasti, olives, cheese pastry, and even some sparkling water from the Ardèche. It was kind of a weird mix and needless to say that night I had a light dinner that was chocolate-free.

Dobla chocolate display.

Dobla chocolate display.

There didn’t seem to be any strict rules for how the place was arranged besides loose umbrellas like “Produits (Products)” or “Planète Viande (Meat Planet).” We did stumble upon a few country-specific areas like Holland, Sweden, and Wales, whose exhibitor stand even had very American pecan pie. I saw on the map that the United States was there, but I didn’t find it. Maybe they were serving fried twinkies and were shut down for indecency. Sorry, I think I’m slightly brainwashed by France. But I would have loved to see what was on display and maybe hear some regional accents. I’ve become a lot more aware of my own accent since spending time in France. Although there are other Americans, they are mostly from the Northwest or Northeast and I don’t know anyone else from the Oklahoma/Texas/Kansas/Arkansas area of vague cowboy twang. I realize my accent is pretty standard American, but it’s just one of those random things I find myself missing.

Chocolatier at work on a delicious edible sculpture.

Chocolatier at work on a delicious edible sculpture.

I’m heading to Paris tomorrow morning to see Of Montreal and indulge in free Sunday museums. I have more pictures from Sirha on flickr if you’re interested.

La Visite Medicale

X-Ray of my lungs to make sure I dont have tuberculosis. Although Ive already been in France long enough to infect hundreds.

X-Ray of my lungs to make sure I don't have tuberculosis. Although I've already been in France long enough to infect hundreds.

I finally had my medical visit this Wednesday, the one I sent in a request for at the beginning of October. I never got my official letter for it and the only reason that I even knew it was happening was another assistant sending me a text message about meeting at the train station. Apparently, Inspection knew that all the Valence primary assistants had their medicale on the same day, but didn’t actually bother to tell us individually and just assumed we would find out some how. Thanks! I guess mine got lost in the mail because I finally got a last-minute faxed copy at 5 pm on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, our group of five Valence assistants took the train to Lyon. The medical visit is necessary to get the Carte de Sejour, which will let me stay in France after my Visa runs out. You don’t have to get it if you’re a member of the European Union, so all the language assistants from Great Britain, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, etc. were all off the hook. The American, Australian, Canadian, and Argentinian assistants were not so lucky, so the five of us who fell into those categories got to experience one of the most bizarre and surreal of France moments. I was talking with a friend and we both agreed that the assistant experience in France would either make a brilliant reality show or a hilarious sitcom.

Christmas Lobsters, reminiscent of Jeff Koons installation at Versailles.

Christmas Lobsters at the Christmas Market in Lyon, reminiscent of Jeff Koons' installation at Versailles.

We got there early enough to find the place, which didn’t open until 1:30 pm, the exact time of our appointments. You couldn’t even go into the building until then. So we first got some coffee at a bar that had the aesthetics of both a funeral parlor and a bowling alley. It was covered in fake flowers and everything had that light teal color that you find on bowling shoes. The coffee was much needed, as it was snowing all day. However, it wasn’t cold enough for the snow to actually stick, so it was more like chunks of slush falling from the sky. After coffee, we got sandwiches and walked around the Christmas market. I’d been there during the Fête des Lumières, but so had everyone else, so this time we could actually look at things. We also got some vin chaud (mulled wine), which was delicious.

When the doors opened to the ANAEM (Agence nationale de l’accueil des étrangers et des migrations/National Agency for Foreigners and Immigration), we were all herded up to a small waiting room. There were some other assistants there from Saint-Etienne and around the Lyon area. Although I’m in the Academy of Grenoble, Valence is closer to Lyon so we had our appointments there. My name was the first to get called in its French pronunciation (May-aire, Aleesoon). This was part 1, the X-Ray. Either their X-Ray machine is incredibly week or they think we are going to wear lead shirts because you have to take everything off that is in front of your lungs and make sure your hair is above your head. All these instructions were given in rapid French. After that, they sent me back to the waiting room and I was called again for part 2, the eye exam. I had to read a couple of lines off the wall and carefully remember the French alphabet. They also asked me if I was pregnant. Then I went into an adjoining room for part 3, and a woman reading a newspaper told me to get on a scale and tell her the number. Then she stopped reading the comics and took my height and asked me about my family history. Then I went into another room for part 4, where a doctor asked about vaccinations and took my blood pressure and listened to my heart and lungs. Note: at no time was I asked to verify anything. I didn’t have to prove I wasn’t pregnant, prove my family history, prove my vaccinations. I guess they assume that if you’re coming from the States you must have everything, but it was still strange. After all that, the doctor stamped and signed a couple of papers, including the infamous Arrêté de Nomination, and I was told to go down to Office #10 on the first floor. However, when I went down there, not one was inside. I asked the man in the next office what to do and he said to go away because he was “cleaning his office.” Thanks. It turned out the office didn’t open until 2:30 pm, so we waited in yet another waiting room and got the last signature on our papers when the door opened. And we got souvenir X-Rays!

Marzipan fruit in Lyon.

Marzipan fruit in Lyon.

The rest of the week wasn’t nearly as bizarre, unfortunately. I finished reading White Teeth by Zadie Smith, as part of my unintentional immigrants in London literature series. Without knowing what either books were about, I read White Teeth and The Satanic Prophecies by Salman Rushdie back-to-back  and they both feature similar characters, specifically immigrants from India and Bangladesh who struggle with their religious and cultural traditions as immigrants London. Also coincidentally, I started to read The Black Album by Hanif Kureishi yesterday and the focus is on immigrants in London, this time from Pakistan. Maybe I can teach a course. I feel like my reading in France has gone in themed stages like this, starting with the failed romances of old professors with young women (Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee and The Human Stain by Philip Roth), the past and current effects of slavery and prejudice for African Americans (The Color Purple by Alice Walker and Beloved by Toni Morrison), and now I’m in the midst of the immigrant experience. I’m also now reading Journal d’un fantôme by Nicolas de Crécy, a graphic novel that so far has been about admiring the godliness of Japanese advertising animals. I’m sure it’s going somewhere with that.

If you have any book recommendations, let me know. I’m currently working on a Christmas short story as a gift for friends and family. I think it will take place on a nuclear submarine in the future.