Saturday, September 30, 2006


Living on a main road is not something too unusual to me…but living next to the biggest public space in the centre of Lyon is even more noisy (and exciting)! There is almost always something going on in Bellecour. Last week on thursday it was a huge regional market: le grand marché des saveurs Rhone-Alpes, another day (I forget which) a promotion for the "velo'v" (city bike system), one day it became some kind of campaign to get people to walk to work, with massive white blobby people on stilts wandering around, while on sunday morning it was the starting point for a race around the city (not sure if it was a quarter marathon or what).
Today it's a big event in aid of Handicap International, with a huge stage, brass bands, drummers, and all sorts of cafes in marquees. I get the impression I'm not going to lack entertainment in this flat…

Le Tibouren

Last night we (being Mylène, Jérémie, Max, Rebecca and a Thai girl who's a friend of mylène's dissertation supervisor) went for dinner at a little restaurant called Le Tibouren. It's not a typical Lyonnais like the Bouchon round the corner from us, but when I say small I mean tiny–it only has 25 places, so booking is somewhat essential! The menu changes every day, and the same dish only comes up once a year. There's a choice of two starters, two main courses and three or four desserts, and a three course meal costs you €17. Last night,starters were a poached egg in red wine sauce or a salade with bits of pig, then half of us had a juicy "pavé de boeuf" and the other half had some sort of a shark (!), and finally the majority dessert was a "charlotte" (not what we'd call a charlotte at all, much more like a cheesecake. All very very tasty.

Yesterday I also got lots of post :) so thank you helen and cecily and everyone who's sent me letters and messages-i'll reply soon!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

French culture lesson #1

The french, when they are in the street, have not got a lot of spatial awareness. They will walk in front of you sans cesse, turn corners or cross the road without looking behind them, and if they can see that their path is on a collision course with yours they make no effort to get out of the way.

…but a place to sing?

So, I've been here over a week now. All's going well, although I still have no chequebook or bank card, or, for that matter, money. Ho-hum. These are minor details, life in "colocation" goes hyper-bien, and today I even bought us a little whiteboard memoboard thing for the kitchen so that we can leave each other messages. Cunning! Well, I thought so.
Anyhoo, yesterday I finally got myself organised with all the relevant info on the "institut de musique sacrée" and decided to go along to see what the "A la francaise" choir (which is the institut's baroque choir) was like, before moving on to the rehearsal for the mixed choir at the cathedral. However, four and a half hours later I returned to the flat somewhat depressed, and here is why:
The first choir (the baroque one) was, I suppose, between 40 and 50 people, average age 40/45 (despite supposedly being the catholic university's choir).I spoke to their chef de choeur, who said it was fine for me to listen and that I could audition next week, he then went off to finish auditioning this week's candidates and left the choir in the capable hands of his assistant who is English and, amongst other things, used to be at Canterbury cathedral. I introduced myself to him and he immediately said that although he didn't want to frighten me away, the choir was good by french standards but by british standards I would be bored, because french singers don't sight-read. They were singing some lovely music, but after half an hour of warm up they did spend the remainder of their two hour rehearsal on one piece, and it wasn't the first time they'd looked at it…They prepare just one concert programme and perform it twice in march, with two hours practice weekly: nice stuff, and friendly people, but a little slow-going…
So, thinking I might find better elsewhere, I toddled off to the cathedral song-school. Oh Dear. That was a mistake. There was me thinking that the biggest church in the second biggest city would have a decent choir, and certainly a decent director of music. Clearly I have been living on planet nonsense for the last 21 years. The "choeur mixte de la primatiale" fancies itself a lot, has made recordings and flashy leaflets, and promotes itself as Lyon's premier adult liturgical choir. They go on tour at least once every two years, and they like to prepare big works for concerts, as well as the usual sunday/festival repertoire: this year they're doing Brahms Deutches Requiem (YAY!! think I). Sounding good? At 8.15, as we waited for the 8.30 rehearsal, that's what I thought too. But by 8.30 there were a good 50-60 singers in the room. My audition consisted of "oh hello. you emailed me. can you read music?" to which I replied "yes" and was told I could take a seat. Once again, the rehearsal was two hours long, consisting of half an hour's warm up, an hour's sectional work note-bashing through three or four short pieces, and half an hour putting those same pieces with the men. The only comments made were about notes, none of them about style, and the maître de chappelle had a particularly vague manner of conducting the rehearsal (from the piano) The entire rehearsal (after the warm up) was conducted SEATED, and as a result the sound was not great although I could tell there were a select few with rather good voices. Average age 55/60. At one point he decided to rehearse an agnus dei for sunday's service unaccompanied. Twice through, both times choir sank by a not quite perfect tone. Mmm tasty. So I politely indicated that I had a few other choirs to see this week and that I'd let him know whether I was staying or not, and left.
So that was rather a flop. Definitely can't be bothered to sit through the cathedral choir all year, especially as I fear they are amplified in the cathedral (ugh!), probably don't have the patience to bother with the baroque choir either. However, this is by no means the end. The Institut have various other choirs, most of which are clearly equally as slow-going, but one is a gregorian choir and is new and starts next week, so I'll see about that. David the pianist guy also said he's keen to set up a sight-reading choir (shock horror)at a church in the 6eme, and he took my number so he can get hold of me for that. Hooray! And I can always set up my own chamber choir (no, really, there are millions of choirless churches round here!). Also, I have an audition for the lyon oratorio choir (of a more professional standing) on october 11th, so if I get into that it might be better (note, might…).
With choirs on the back-burner for a few days, today I turned my attention to the next problem in line, that of a singing teacher. I went to the Conservatoire National de la Région, which is the equivalent of the county music service as far as I can make out. Hélas, one has to do a concours to enter and that's happened already. However, the girl gave me three people to contact about private lessons, so that might work. Second, I went to the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique et Danse, where they were totally unable to help me apart from to let me leave a message for a singing teacher I had already been recommended there, so I did that and hopefully I might hear back eventually. Meanwhile, if I want to I can enrol on a singing course at the Institut de Musique Sacrée, which would give me singing lessons and masterclasses and a diplôme at the end of the year, but I've no idea what their teachers are like and I'd have to enrol on that this week, and commit for the whole year–might phone the teachers and see if I can have a taster lesson first!
Those of you who don't sing will by now be as bored as can be. So I will shut up. Ttfn!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

A place to live

Salut tout le monde!
Eleanor has helpfully suggested that my blog should be in french…so apologies to those of you who don't read french if I make it a little bilingual at times!!
Having arrived in Lyon on Tuesday I am now well settled in to my lovely flat in Bellecour, right in the centre of the Presqu'ile (which is the name for the central part of Lyon between the rivers Saone and Rhone). I even went to Ikea on the tram on thursday and am consequently now equipped with bedclothes, desk lamp and other such useful items. Sally has been here for the last two days as well and we've discovered some of the touristy things in Lyon including a rather OTT victorian marian shrine on top of the hill above the cathedral (called la Fourvière), but we have also discovered the market :D. I am gradually getting my bearings on the metro system and soon I will have access to the city's bike network as well, so getting around will be extremely easy. I now have a bank account, so although I don't yet have a french mobile nor a flat contract, I feel like i've made some good progress…
Well, first things first I should introduce you to my flat and to my flatmates who are, so far, my only Lyonnais friends, and who are all as mad as I am (thank goodness for that!)
The flat is the entire second floor of a big old french terrace (with 6 floors) at the corner of a big main road and a little side street full of little restaurants and cafés. Below are a patissier (of which more later), and a big bookshop-cum-stationers. Very useful. We've got tall windows and high ceilings throughout, a big airy kitchen, 6 bedrooms, two bathrooms, two WCs, utility room, broom cupboard/excess furniture deposit place and big living room. The only disadvantage is that we're in a rather noisy spot but it's worth it for the location, and I'm lucky enough to have the only bedroom that doesn't face a road :D.
Mylène, Jérémie and Antonia are all French though none of them originally from Lyon, and they are all at the "ENS" (école nationale supérieur) studying "Lettres Modernes" (=MML). They are the ones we have to thank for choosing this wonderful and enormous flat.
Gareth is from Darlington originally, read french and spanish at newcastle, and this is his fourth year in france, where he studies and simultaneously holds down three or four part time jobs, in private schools and in an irish pub in the old town. He's about to write a dissertation on tony blair, if he doesn't get offered too many other jobs first…
Max is a medic from heidelburg university (but from Munich originally) on an erasmus placement. He plays saxophone and clarinet, has brought the kitchen sink with him in a van (he even brought his drill, just in case it might prove useful) and is currently somewhere in the french countryside canoeing with 6 german girls…!
Lastly, there's Gigi, or Lune, Mylène's little cat. She is very small and gets extremely playful in the early afternoon, but is scared stiff of Gareth's workbag (for no apparent reason)…photos will follow at some point, I'm sure!
Right now, I'm in the kitchen. The brass band were playing in the square about 50 yards from our front door until about half an hour ago –apparently they play for two hours every saturday!-but now that they've stopped, Antonia is doing some harp practice. In true french style, although it's 7pm, no one is even thinking about cooking dinner yet, and we're not too hungry as we had brownies/meringues only an hour ago, from the chocolatier/patissier directly underneath our flat. Mmmm.
My job begins on October 2nd…until then, I've got time to try to get into as many choirs, dance classes, etc, as I can find! More news soon…Thanks to those of you who've emailed/messaged me, hope you're all well and enjoying the end of the vac/the beginning of a new year!