Tuesday, June 26, 2007

May Week Culture Shock

Last week was (for those who aren't in the know…) "May Week" in Cambridge, a week set aside after exams during which everyone spends their days lazing around in the gardens, punting in the sunshine, drinking pimms or champagne and eating strawberries at multiple garden parties, playing in under-rehearsed but very lively may week concerts, and, most importantly, going to May Balls. Given that this is rather a lot of fun, and, especially, that most of my friends had just finished their finals and so were celebrating the very end of their degrees and their last may week, I decided to return to Cambridge for a few days.
Of course, this also meant I could take half of my stuff (perhaps slightly more than half in reality) back home from France. So on Saturday morning I left the flat in Lyon, with an enormous suitcase weighing a good 30kg and my violin over my shoulder and caught the TGV to Lille. For the two hours from Lyon to Paris Charles de Gaulle I was sat next to a (French) soldier who was on his way to Iraq for three months, and who was looking forward (if somewhat apprehensively) to his 'retirement' in six months' time and wondering what life was going to be like for him back in the real world. He also told me about his weight allowance (35kg) that meant that after his gun (25kg) he could live from 10kg plus his hand luggage. That's a lot less than my 30 (ish) I was taking home!
After that the journey got slightly more boring. I had an hour and a half to waste in Lille Europe waiting for my eurostar, and then sat next to a german lady who was reading her newspaper (in german). Crossing London was hard work, though people were very helpful in giving me a hand getting my case back up the steps out of the underground. All went to plan and at 4pm I was back home just in time to have a brief breather before heading out to the week's first party, which was a bbq (under a makeshift gazebo) for Alastair's birthday. It felt bizarre to be back but lovely to see everyone, in particular Caroline who I hadn't seen for a whole 11 months!
Next morning, church, of course, followed by drinks at the Vicarage where I met Clare, a lovely girl who happens to have sung with Greg (the world is small), and to whom I was able to explain the mystery of the green and red shoes… In the afternoon, Cripps Court garden party, before collecting Mylene from the bus station and eating a quick dinner. We then ventured out again to the Selwyn May Week Concert: typically underrehearsed but sounding excellent for it!
The rest of the week flew by, as expected, in a haze of garden parties, fireworks, choir vegetarian feast, and so forth. On Tuesday evening I went to work at St John's may ball, in the rain, which proved great fun, the highlight undoubtedly being eating chocolate cake at a "birthday party" for Isobel and me in the middle of the night. Thursday came round remarkably soon and I left Mylène to find her friend Katie, and ran off to Stansted with hand luggage only, to arrive in Lyon just in time to go to one of my schools and attend their 'reporting back' evening on our trip to England: the children had clearly missed me so it was a nice welcome 'home'.
The funny thing was, it really did feel like returning home. May week, although endless fun and a great moment to see friends, was the most bizarre culture shock experience I'd had in a long time. I'm sure getting back in the "bubble" long-term will be less strange, but getting back into it, sort of, for a few days, was definitely an odd experience.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Une soirée franco-anglaise

Yesterday I was very kindly invited to dinner with Danielle and Denise, two of the lovely teachers with whom I survived a week of school trip to England, and Denise's family. It's something they'd been hoping to do ever since I finished teaching, and finally we found a good day. The meal included sausage à la Lyonnaise, and a very impressive trifle that Denise had had fun creating , but perhaps the most exciting part was the starter: snails! Despite the slimy reports I'd heard about them…they were actually okay! Just like mussels, without the fishy taste and with lots of garlic and parsley and butter. Mmm. Delicious…as long as you don't think about where they came from!
Here's a pic of me eating them:

Sunday, June 10, 2007

It's already June 10th?

Today Claire flew to Mauritius, accompanied (amongst others) by her big new rucksack, and by a friend with a broken rib. Meanwhile, Rebecca, Antonia and I went to Grenoble. Neither so exotic nor so risqué…but very very hot (it felt like we were inside a fan oven in the middle of the afternoon) and thundery. And France-on-a-Sunday-ish. After a wild goose chase to find the tourist office, coffee in a nice café, and a discussion as to how fast the trams went and whether or not a town like Grenoble might have a metro (this was the Parisian point of view…), we went to have a picnic lunch by the museum. After some tasty nibbling, we visited said museum, which was full of fascinating (if poorly explained) art, especially of the C20th variety, and which itself was incredibly well-built with a good layout and excellent natural lighting.
From here, we proceeded a short way back along the Isère as far as the "telephérique": it was at this point that we realised that within the next half hour it would be thundering and chucking it down…so we ascended the hill in our little bubble and had a quick look (and joke) at the 'little' alps we could see around the town (almost all of them higher than snowdon…). We then sheltered in a rather nice café/restaurant for a drink while the rain fell…looked around a rather disappointing astronomical exhibition, and then walked down the hill while the thunder continued to growl menacingly, mid a discussion involving astronauts and priests (!). At the bottom of the hill, after a little looking, we found what we were looking for: the "musée dauphinoise" which is a sociological museum about the area…the first exhibition we looked at (entitled "Les êtres fantastiques") was not particularly spectacular, but the second ("les gens des Alpes") was rather interesting and nicely set out.
Antonia left at this point as she needed to get back to Lyon, while Rebecca and I began our search for somewhere not too crummy, nor too expensive, open and serving food on a Sunday evening. This proved harder than we had initially imagined, but we did in the end find one which served us some nice crêpes.
Our verdict on Grenoble was…nice, but not very special.
Perhaps the most bizarre part of the day came after this though, as on the train home Rebecca was writing some notes ready for a piece she's writing about Lyon (it's to do with a job application, but I won't say more for now…). At this point she was looking for 5 words that sum up Lyon (in English). This was tricky, and so we were thinking out loud about it. The guy who was sitting next to us in the train decided to join in: he lived in Grenoble, but had studied in Lyon so knew it reasonably well. It turned out, during the course of our 1 1/2 hour conversation with him (not *all* about 5 words for Lyon!) that he is a "secouriste en montagne", in other words a mountain rescuer, super-skier, first aider, helicopter dude. We thought for a moment we might be on the way to an invitation to Chamonix…alas, it didn't quite materialise, but it was lots of fun hearing about his job and entertaining him with my crazy theories and rebecca's travel writing. And, as she said afterwards, at least we now know for sure that we'd be in safe hands on the mountains now!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

A 7th flatmate…

I forgot to mention that we have a 7th flatmate…that's the kind of thing that happens here!
Rhiannon came to stay last week, it was lovely to see her and to help her discover a bit of Lyon (although what with her french course and the rain we didn't see everything…). Just at the moment she left, we gained a scottish girl. She's a qualified lawyer and teacher in the UK but has dropped everything to come to France, with the intention of learning French and probably staying here permanently. She was working on a boat but that went a bit badly so we're putting her up while she does the job-search and flat-search. Crazy things happen at number 6!

Les Chansons d'Amour

Yesterday we went to see a film. A French film. Entitled Les Chansons d'Amour. It had good reviews and someone (although I can't remember who) was telling me it was good the other day. The verdict was mixed: Mylène liked it, but was a little put off by the "bobo" parisian setting and thought the storyline lacked oomph and the music was too samey. Jeremie seemed a little more enthusiastic although maintained that he'd enjoyed Spiderman more…and I thought it was really Very Good. Perhaps because the fact that it was "very french" didn't put me off!
The film is set in Paris, in the 10eme arrondissement. It follows a young man named Ismael in his relationships, before, and largely after, a very tragic event (telling you more would spoil the effect). It's organised into 3 sections: Le départ, L'absence, Le retour. It is described, in official terms as a "comédie musicale" (a musical) but this is utterly misleading.
The only resemblance it bears to "musical" is the fact that the characters sing at various moments during the film. But there's none of the cheesy clichéd breaking into song that we automatically associate with "musical". The music is, as Mylène pointed out, very samey, but I thought this was part of the beauty of the film.
Enough waffle, I think. Suffice it to say that I thought this an excellent film. Poignant, sad, but very well made. The bad point? Very poor dubbing at the beginning (possibly intentional but it annoyed me anyway).
Watch it! Then tell me what you think…

A wave goodbye

The end of May brought with it the second wave of goodbyes here in Lyon, as Victoria, Claire and Chiara packed their suitcases and headed off back home. It's the end of an era, in many ways, but I know that they'll all be having fun and it won't be long before I see two of them…hopefully all three!
Meanwhile, I have just under a month left here in Lyon, which seems incredibly short! It's hard to believe the year has flown by so quickly, and these last months seem to be by far the quickest. Lots of people keep asking me what I'm up to now that I've finished my teaching job…well, to be honest, it's hard to say! A few cultural things: recent highlights have included the Fabric Museum, the Rake's Progress (Stravinsky) at the Opéra, and a few trips to the cinema. A fair bit of work: my translation project is plodding along, and I need to think about next year as well as prepare my oral exam topic…and a paid translation got in the way of all that last week! A fair bit of time also spent with my friends and flatmates to make the most of our last month in Lyon…and finally, all the faff that is involved with actually being able to leave this country at the end of the month: clearing the flat, changing addresses, etc.
Plenty of my friends back home have been sitting finals–good luck those of you who've not yet finished! It might still seem like I've been doing nothing in comparison…but then at least you don't have to do them next year :p