Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Fete de la Lumière

The 8th December has been a special day in Lyon's calendar since 1852, when it was the inauguration day for a statue of Mary at Fourviere, to say thank you on behalf of the town for their being saved from La Peste by her. (Excuse my slightly incomplete historical knowledge…). On that day, the Lyonnais spontaneously lit candles at all their windows and came out into the streets to celebrate, and the 8th has been celebrated in this way ever since. However, since the 1990s it has grown into a big festival and since 2001 has been officially four days long, with light displays all over the main town spaces. So it is that each year thousands flock to Lyon for the weekend to see the lights, and all the Lyonnais are eager to see what this year's creations will be like.
This year, a rather blowy thursday led to a friday of heavy rain…but this was not enough to discourage us excited year abroaders, and so equipped with umbrellas (in my case one that had seen better days) and my weatherproof camera, we set off to discover the 'central event' of the fête, which is a candlelit procession from the Cathedral in Vieux Lyon up the hill to the Fourviere Basilica, accompanied all the way by speakers blasting cheesy 'merci marie' songs, at the end of which there is then a mass whose congregation spills out of the church. On our way up, we were just having a debate with Max about the meaning of the word 'train' (in English, not French) when we were accosted by a TV journalist and his camera man, who asked us what we were feeling about the procession. Three stereotypical responses later, we moved on up the hill. Down in town again, rather bedraggled and annoyed by people with umbrellas, we took a break in Bellecour to dry off a bit and install candles on our own window ledges. But then, keen to see more, we set off once more in the direction of the Hotel de Ville. Things were really buzzing–stalls on the streets selling chestnuts, crêpes, waffles, burgers, kebabs, or mulled wine, occurred every 10 metres, and the queue, if you could call it that, to see the inside of the hotel de ville, was possibly the most sardine tin like experience I've had. Well worth the effort though, as inside the lighting effects were so good the walls actually looked painted. On we went, warmed by more cups of mulled wine, up the other hill, the Croix Rousse, where we found a very lively square lit with moving butterflies and entertained by fire artists, and complete with the cheapest wine (€1) and some rather delicious home made cake in aid of a well in Burkina Faso (as the student selling it was so keen to tell us). Lovely. Back down the hill, we once more crossed the Terreaux, where 15 spheres were suspended, changing colour and talking to each other (they were representing planets and other such heavenly whatsits), and carried on to St Nizier, a definite contestant for the best Son et Lumiere this year, and finally to Place des Celestins, where insects danced to classical music and the whole square was full of perfume. Bizarre.
Think that sounds like enough? But that was only Friday! On Saturday, there was a strike on metro and sncf (i.e. normal trains). As a result, what could have been just a brief encounter with Pete, Millie and Clare as they headed towards St Etienne to visit Lucy turned into an entire evening and morning with them, which was lovely! After fetching some pizza from around the corner, we moved off once again to Terreaux and beyond, this time seeing the traboules on the croix rousse, old passages built for transporting silks up and down the hill inside the buildings, in which there were various student light creations, not least some bobbins of silk that were very pretty. Back down to the presqu'ile again, we finished our tour at Vieux Lyon in time to see the cathedral lit up in showers of blue for the last time that evening. Sadly I didn't get to the other side of the Rhone, but I certainly saw plenty, and the party atmosphere was fantastic–crowds in the streets all night long and an impression of being at the snow ball…throughout the city!
Selected photos can be found in my facebook album at http://cambridge.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2077970&l=f0673&id=36905253

In a moment of inspiration (or just severe boredom) while planning lessons about Christmas on Sunday, I decided to summarise the (four) 12 days of Fete de la lumiere, and it went something like:
On my first day in Lyon, my French friend gave to me…
…A tree with sparkling leaves
…2 butterflies
…3 red lights
…4 silken spools
…6 wasps a-dancing
…7 angels flying
…8 candles glowing
…9 wine pots steaming
chestnuts roasting
…11 brollies dripping
…12 spheres a-talking

Chris Thomas and I agree that Cambridge needs a big festival like this. Suggestions on a postcard please.

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