Friday, May 25, 2007

May: the lucky month

Antonia believes that this month is this year's lucky month. This is largely because she's had her first two articles published, her exhibition opened and visited by lots of people, and her dissertation is making good progress. Pretty good going, it's true!
Until Tuesday I was a little sceptical about this lucky business. For a start, it only seemed to affect Antonia, and secondly it appeared more like the successful end of several big projects than 'luck'.
However, on Tuesday morning I sat down with my dissertation and just as I began to work, my phone rang. I didn't recognise the number, but when I picked up it turned out to be Isabelle, a lovely girl who I happened to meet at a party earlier in the year, who did an Art History degree at the Courthauld, has a boyfriend as English as they come, and is currently working on a master's here in Lyon. When I met her she was looking for a viola player (what a surprise) because she wanted to form a quartet…and it so happened that I knew Rebecca, so I put them in touch with each other and they've been quartetting every week since!
In whatever time she has spare, it turns out that Isabelle also works for a company that make audio- and video-guides for museums. On Tuesday she desperately needed to find someone with the time to translate 70 minutes (14000 words) of French audio-commentary into English…by next Friday! The place in question is a Roman archaeological site in the North of France.
Now, as most of you know, at the end of April and beginning of May I 'deposited' (as the French like to say) 8 or 9 copies of my CV, carefully translated into French, together with wonderfully phrased covering letters (thanks to my flatmates) in various shops and cafés that were advertising job vacancies. Apart from a letter from the tourist office several weeks later simply informing me that they had no job available, I heard not a squeak from anywhere. This is not very surprising, as the French are very insistent on one having a) very specific vocational qualifications b) experience (i.e. 101 internships) and c) lots and lots and lots of motivation that will make you want to go back and nag the place every day for a week until they give you the job, oh and d) perfect 'presentation' which is their way of saying you must be beautiful.
I had pretty much given up, then, on the idea of making my rent money for June and July, or of working in a real French job…but then this came along, out of the blue, from somewhere I'd not even waved my CV past (because I didn't realise it existed…) and it is far more interesting, far better paid, and far more useful to me than any of those other jobs would have been. Hooray!
No sooner had I accepted the job, than I told Antonia. First of all she says, see: May is the lucky month. Then she says, hang on a sec, what's the company's name? And yes, it turns out that the world really is tiny, because the company is run by her Godfather.

In France, as elsewhere, it's not what you know that counts, it's who you know!
(I may disappear for a few days now: 14000 is a lot of words!)

A second 22nd

On Monday I was treated to an official birthday, as if (says she), I were the queen. Well, perhaps not quite that extravagant…but almost! Because my birthday fell in the week when Mymy and Jéjé had their exams, my flatmates decided that we would simply move my birthday to a suitable date later in the year: and that day happened to be last Monday. Unfortunately Max couldn't be there as he was on a 24hr stint at the hospital, but as he made my cake on my real birthday I forgave him ;-). The rest of us went to the Theatre des Celestins to a concert entitled "musique et poésie francaises" given by two Solistes de Lyon (the same singers I had worked with on and off during the year) and musicians from the Orchestre National de Lyon. The programme was very daddy-friendly, and included some wonderful Ravel and Poulenc. It was a lovely concert, although they didn't make as much of the "poésie" side as they could have: it was mentioned in the programme notes, which one can of course read in one's own time, but we weren't even given the printed text of the poems and no-one explained at the time what was interesting about the way they had been chosen/set to music.
After this little cultural morsel we went to get a totally different kind of cultural morsel which came as a total surprise for me. The place? Les Chats Siamois, a little Thai restaurant hidden behind place de la Comédie. Very calm atmosphere without intrusive music, excellent service and most of all absolutely exquisite cuisine. It's expensive as french restaurants go, but it is definitely worth it. We were very impressed. Strongly recommended! Oh and I didn't mention the dessert, hot chocolate and ginger cake…mmm.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Les Berges du Rhône

When I arrived in Lyon at the beginning of the year, the area on the other side of the Pont de la Guillotière, on the East side of the Rhône, was an enormous building site. What I didn't quite grasp when my flatmates were explaining that this was in aid of smartening the area up, was that previously, the banks of the Rhône had just been one big car park, and that now they were making a big effort to transform them into something nice (which, incidentally, Lyon badly needed as it lacks recreational green space in the centre). Ten days ago the work all finished and the Berges officially re-opened to the public, with two weekends of entertainment to get the people enjoying themselves along the river. And they're great. Each section of the river bank is named after an important woman (the nearest to my house is Marie Curie), and there are pretty boats, lawns, flowers, a stream-cum-paddling-area, climbing frames for children, roller-blading/bike paths, pretty lights in the evening, sitting space and so forth. Yesterday we went and sat on an area of decking and had a picnic. Very pleasant indeed. Well done Lyon.

Les Nuits Sonores et La Nuit des Musées

The last few days have been full of the crazy kind of event that I have only encountered in Lyon. The first of these (which is also the reason for a mass bike exodus late last night), is called the "nuits sonores", and involved about four nights of electro music all over the town. And not in particular venues: just in the street, dotted around the place all over Lyon, there were little temporary stages, and the whole place was taken over by a hoard of festival-groupies. Crazy, but fun!
The second is called "La nuit des Musées". It happens once a year. All (or rather, several) of the bigger museums in Lyon stay open all evening and, furthermore, are free (for a change). We went for a wander round the Musée des Beaux Arts, it was full of people and a lovely atmosphere, and there were students wandering round explaining various of the paintings, and I think also a few pieces of student artwork dotted around here and there. A very good idea!
While we're on the topic of "les nuits…", there will be "Les nuits de Fourvière" starting in June and going through til August I believe, which is a music festival taking place up on the hill. We'll see what that brings in the way of fun…

Les Velo'v

At the beginning of the month my bicycle plans were proving difficult because of the rain. Now everyone is using the bikes, which is proving almost equally difficult. This morning I went to seven stations on the way to church all of which were empty (so I walked all the way), and I went to five empty stations (different ones) on the way home, so ended up walking back too. ALL the bikes had gone from the centre of Lyon. Now I know why that is (post thereupon to follow…) but that doesn't make it any less annoying!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Commerce Equitable

For the uninitiated, that's the French for fair trade. This week I went for the first time to volunteer as a waitress at a café in the 7eme, that is a tiny fair trade place. Great fun: will be doing more of that. Meanwhile I learnt that although France has lots of (ex-) colonies in Africa from which it ought to be sourcing lots of lovely fair trade things, all of these are under the monopoly of fat French companies who don't allow fair trade a look-in and so all that is fair trade comes only from the english half of Africa. As a result, fair trade is not nearly as big or as popular here as chez nous, and these kinds of places have to fight really hard to exist.
How silly.

Didon et Enee

I've mentioned to some of you that I was helping out with my lycée's production of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas this year, at first by singing (and attempting to correct the choir's awful English), and later by playing the violin (and attempting to introduce some concept of 'baroque' to their playing). The performance, with dancers, costumes, 'thunder' sound effects and all, was on Wednesday. It was okay. The soloists, especially Dido, the sailor and the two witches, were fantastic. The dancing was good. The choir was decent if a little lacking in oomph at times, the orchestra got the right notes in the right places and the continuo put on a good show, so all in all, everything was very good standard for what was, after all, a school production. Comments were flowing in very favourably at the end. *Phew*.

Further than beyond…

Yesterday I went on a choir jolly. Well, not quite just a jolly because it did involve a concert. Anyway, it was at Banne, which is a little village lost in what is apparently actually the middle of nowhere (if what we saw on the way was anything to go by). In the last village we went through before arriving, the three old men sitting in the village square looked like they hadn't seen a coach for at least 25 years.
Although Banne is in Ardeche, which is a region that begins not far south of here, it is in the south of Ardeche and there are no good roads, in fact, there is nothing in Ardeche except vineyards and campsites, so it took us 4 hours to get there in our coach. This was rather dull, especially as Keegan, whom I was sitting next to, has a strong dislike for being cooped up in a bus, and as a result commentates the passing of the minutes…aaah, it was joyous. That said, the countryside was very pretty and the place where we arrived, that being the Château de Bannes, or at least its stables, which are most of what's left of it (it was destroyed apres the revolution on the grounds that it was a kind of royalist idea), was magnificent. The stable block had been temporarily re-fitted into concert venue, although no-one had de-cobwebbed, de-stalactited, or even made an effort to even out the floor. After a very delicious buffet supper (someone in the organising team for that choir gets a good deal for us every time!) we gave our concert, which was a collection of spanish polyphony including the 14th century Livre Vermeil de Monserrat, a Victoria magnificat, some silly spanish songs from the 15th cent, and various other bits and bobs. It was a lovely collection of music, and we were accompanied rather spectacularly by an early music ensemble who also gave a wee explanation of their instruments–fascinating :-) That said, we sang most of the programme far too loud (perennial problem of almost all choirs I've been in, but also this was not the right music for a 50-strong choir…), and it's a good job my sister wasn't there, as there were bats in the stables.
Some snapshots of the pretty countryside, along with the obligatory choir-on-the-bus photos can be found at The back end of nowhere
And with that, the end of my year singing with the Choeurs de Lyon Bernard Tetu/Choeur d'Oratorio de Lyon, as I'm missing out on their last concert, Poulenc Stabat Mater, in order to be back in Cambridge for May Week. It's been a good year. I've sung lots of lovely music, visited some places I certainly wouldn't have otherwise, sung in the Lyon Auditorium, learnt lots of things about France, music in France, etc, eaten lots of good French food, met lots of interesting people and made some lovely friends. It's gone very quickly, but it certainly made a good interlude in my Selwyn career.


Here's a story I forgot to write up here. It was very movingly told by a young father who goes to lyon anglican church, when i was there with Mymy on Easter Sunday. His name is David and he works in a village outside Lyon (there are a few details that I don't know–like what he does there–but they are not important for the story).
In this village lives a family with a young daughter (age 4 if I remember rightly) named Amandine. One day in March, Amandine was hit by a car (more details missing) and suffered head injuries. She was taken into intensive care, where she remained in a coma. Two weeks later, the doctors at the hospital took her parents aside and explained that it was time to consider switching off the machine: Amandine was brain-dead, she wasn't going to wake up. And yet her parents kept hoping, and everyone kept praying for little Amandine.
In week 3, in her coma, Amandine shed a tear.
The doctors said this was impossible: the part of the brain that controls the tear glands was long since utterly inactive. But Amandine proved them wrong. She woke up, she can now walk and talk a little and is on the way to making as full a recovery as one could hope.

Is that a miracle, or does it just demonstrate the limitations of modern medical science?

After three weeks, where did that tear come from? Why a single tear? What made Amandine capable of 'resurrection'?
These are questions I want to ask–we all do– but I think (those who were in the Ignatian group with me a few years back will understand the formulation I use!) that the question we should ask first and foremost is Where were God in this?
Some, including many of the people who were following Amandine's condition and praying for her recovery, explain it as entirely God's healing. They can't all explain all the why and the how– but they know that this time, their prayer was answered, and they trust that God has a why and a wherefore, that's part of their faith in Him.
Others believe God has no part in Amandine's recovery, and that we can't put scientific anomalies or dilemmas down to faith or miracle. Perhaps you believe that in a number of years medicine will be advanced enough to explain Amandine's case, and perhaps even to repeat it?
Some, of course, aren't quite sure what to think.

Fair enough–but put yourself in Amandine's shoes in a few years' time, and give it some thought. None of us have all the answers, but I'd be interested to hear what you think.

The hazards of Lyon

Today I encountered the worst case this year of one of Lyon's speciality hazards: pollen. It's a very windy day and the horse chestnut trees that grow all over the city, especially along the banks of the Rhone, are just at the right moment to be losing ALL their fluff. This fluff is not at all soft and fluffy when it is flying into your face, and quite apart from ensuring that you arrive at your destination utterly streaming with hayfever, it also prevents you from being able to see where you're going on a bike, which is sort of dangerous. If only I hadn't already sent my ski goggles back home…

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

and continue?

Tonight all is calm in Bellecour, but Jeremie and I just went to the kitchen to get a drink and happened to look out of the window. There were six minibuses of CRS and one unmarked police car, the men themselves were mostly just standing around doing nothing. At a certain moment, the boss gave the thumbs up and they all jumped into their buses and raced off with sirens blaring and lights flashing. My judgement is that they were lurking here for a reason: problems in Place des Terreaux methinks.

And continue…

I haven't yet got the pics Jérémie took this evening but will post one or two when I do. Second day, he's not even officially the president yet…but this lunchtime I went to school for a rehearsal and a bunch of students were making enough fuss in the road outside that it had been closed off. And this evening about 150 people were causing a certain amount of havoc (less than yesterday, however) in the form of a protest up our road, and the riot police arrive and chuck their bombs at the crowd who all run away very fast, like lemmings (hilarious to watch and very effective: we understood why when it came in through our windows…). Road closed for about an hour afterwards but nothing very dramatic. That said, we're sat here with the windows open now to get some fresh air in as our flat is still full of tear gas (we had the windows open to watch what was going on at the moment they let the bombs off…)!
This France is exciting, but what kind of chaos will ensue when something actually changes?!

Monday, May 07, 2007

And the riots begin…

Here are the photos I took from our flat window last night: unfortunately you can only see police and not much of the actual action. For that, you'll get a better idea at video of bellecour manif

According to the papers 367 cars were set alight and over 150 people arrested in France (as a whole) last night. And Sarkozy doesn't even become president until May 16th…

Sunday, May 06, 2007


My road is closed, and occupied by numerous police vans and an army of riot police. The riots to which they refer are in Bellecour. It is exciting and involves tear gas and gunshots. Jeremy is home safely and we are celebrating his birthday!
Photographic reportage to follow…

The Sark Ages are born

Today the French people went to the vote for a new president. They chose between chalk and cheese, right and left, man and woman.
Today 53% of the French people elected chalk/right/man, who goes by the name of Nicholas Sarkozy.
This was, if disappointing for many, not particularly surprising. That said, the vast proportion of the French people I know, including all of the students I've met here in Lyon and many of the people I sing with, were all voting Segolene and were all despairing of those 53%. Although it's irrelevant, all the other English students who are in France this year also seemed to be crossing their fingers for Mme Royal.
Preferences aside, if one thing is sure, it's that over these next five years France will change. The change will be dramatic. The reaction will be dramatic. There will be strikes. There will be riots. There will be good things, and bad.
"Welcome" to what I have named the Sark Ages. It'll be interesting to see what happens next–let's explore them together!
(and thank goodness we don't have to vote for the Queen)

Friday, May 04, 2007

A velo'v month

Now that it is May and I am no longer working (yes, I finished my job at the schools on Monday!), I no longer need to be at the top of a big hill every day, so I no longer need my metro/bus/tram subscription. So this month I have decided to try going everywhere by bike. Unfortunately, so far this has not been a very pleasant experience as it keeps raining. But I am being persistent on the grounds that the rain will, I hope, eventually go away.

What else is new this May? Well, may is full of bank holidays so even those who are working this month have a four-day week every week…and the presidential elections are on Sunday so things are all very heated and exciting out here at the moment. Essentially we're choosing between him (right wing, big ego, rather scary man but who has some very specific ideas of what he will change and how) and her (left wing, more human, sensible ideas but less clear about how she will make it happen). On Wednesday they were face to face in a two hour televised interview-cum-battle, which was fascinating and scary. It is still looking, despite all our best efforts, like he (Sarkozy) will win, which could even mean we get some strikes and riots quite soon. OOOH. Of course, it also means all sorts of other important things that we won't go into right now. Keeping our fingers crossed at the moment for a Royal revolution!

There are a couple of things I may have failed to mention in previous posts. Before going to England for the week I did two fairly successful big Beethoven concerts at Vaise with my choir, and claire, hattie, rebecca, max, mylene and antonia all came, so that was great! And this week, amongst sorting my life out post-teaching and getting ready for another mammoth choir weekend, I was contacted by a TV company who want to make a documentary about some lyon schools…more on that perhaps later, if it starts going places! Enough is enough for today, and tomorrow is Spanish Polyphony from 2pm to 8pm. :-)

The day the French don't work

Oh, oops, that's every day…

On May 1st, like most countries (but unlike our own), the French celebrate what the Americans like to call Labour Day and the French like to call La fête du travail (The work party). It is, possibly ironically, a holiday to celebrate working. As a result, it is one of only a few days in the year (Christmas day comes to mind) when nobody works. And by nobody, I really mean nobody. On tuesday, there were no metros or buses in Lyon–not even the automatic metro line that runs during strikes was on. In fact, as far as I could tell the only things working on tuesday were main-line trains, the hospital and the cinema!

The last I know because we went to see a film called "Ensemble, c'est tout". I recommend it!