As I sat in a restaurant tonight speaking broken French and a little Persian (long story) in a Japanese restaurant in Lyon 4,000 miles away from Memphis many thoughts of home crossed my mind. So far in my three months here I have had a great time learning French, learning about Lyon and meeting a lot of interesting French people as well as people from all over the world. In French class from time to time we have had to give short presentations about our home towns. So, I have tried to explain Memphis in May in French to a class almost exclusively made up of 20-somethings from everywhere on earth, none of whom have ever heard of Memphis or Tennessee for that matter. I have had to explain in French what barbecue is and why it's a freakin' noun and not a verb in my world. I also attempted to explain what a meat and three is but did not have the strength nor the vocabulary to get through it (how do you say fried okra, greens, corn pudding or black eyed peas in French? If you know, please email me because I have no idea). I have had to explain in French what Stax and Sun were and and why they were important. We have internet access in class so I should have just googled this and been done with it :
Here's a couple of online reminders of home that I have recently visited, one is serious and the other not so much:
Friday, September 28, 2012
It's the Halle de Lyon! This market is a collection of the highest quality foods and specialties that Lyon has to offer. The prices are high but so is the quality, as the halle's motto attests to by pronouncing "where the product is king". Our class took a little field trip there today and we learned all sorts of things by asking questions, in French of course, that the teacher had given us before we went. So, we were given a veritable pop quiz of "qu'est-ce que c'est" today and it was so appropriate for a Friday! We had to ask the produce vendor what a cardoon is, we had to ask a specialty shop what a quenelle is, we had to name two wines that were from the region (oddly, I already have first hand knowledge of this one, so no problem there), what cheeses were from the region and at Chez les Gones, one of the small restaurants in the halle we had to ask what are "gones"? Go to the end of this post to find the answers to my French class "qu'est-ce que c'est?" questions.
Quenelle - like a dumpling but much, much lighter than our dumplings. It takes on the flavor of whatever sauce it's in.
Wines - Cotes du Rhone, Cotes-Rotie, Beaujolais and others
Cheeses - many, but here are some of my favorites: Saint-Marcellin, Saint Agur, Saint Felicien, Briquette goat cheese and here is a long list with photos: http://www.cookipedia.co.uk/recipes_wiki/Category:Rh%C3%B4ne-Alpes_cheeses
Les gones - in Lyonnais dialect it means "small boys" also "kids". The fans of the Lyon's soccer team, Olympic Lyonnais are called "Bad Gones".
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
This is a bag of lightly salted, extra crunchy peanuts. As I was munching on them, I read the back of the bag. It's always good for me to see an English version of ingredients, directions or warnings on packaging because it helps improve my French. So, I was happy and amused to see that the Benenuts company put this on their bag:
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Some friends of ours, who have never been to Lyon, came to visit us for a few days and we all went for a boat ride down the Soane river this past weekend. This is a small sampling of what you see while floating down this river.
There was a canoe and kayak race in progress...
The building on the left with the Moorish architectural details was designed by a Lyonnaise architect in the 20th century, but I can't remember which one, unfortunately.
Monday, September 24, 2012
I have mentioned before that Lyon was THE silk manufacturing capital of France for centuries and so much of its history is woven (clever) into the story of silk. I finally visited the silk museum today and learned a little about how silk was made centuries ago in the area called Croix Rousse. It was a labor intensive process and the "canuts" (silk workers) worked grueling 15 -18 hour days. They owned their own looms therefore their homes became their workshops. Jacquard looms were tall and could only fit in spaces with high ceilings. Buildings in the Croix Rousse area of Lyon were constructed with high ceilings in order to accommodate the height of these looms and the spaces also had high windows to let in as much light as possible. During the presentation today there was talk of warp and weft, punched cards and technical drawings, but you'll have to click above on the "jacquard looms" link to read about how a loom works for yourself. We did see a demonstration of how one of these looms worked and it was fairly mind boggling for me.
The loom demonstration....
The finished products...
Totally coincidentally, at dinner tonight I had a Lyonnaise dish called "Cervelle de Canut" or Silk Weaver's Brain. It was an appetizer and it was a bit like Boursin cheese. Here is a recipe that sounds pretty much like what I had : Cervelle de Canut
Friday, September 21, 2012
Observe the sign below and tell me, qu'est-ce que c'est ? What is it?
This is not a drugstore, those are called pharmacies. Easy. But pharmacies are not to be confused with parapharmacies. I'll get to all of that later. Back to the matter at hand; a droguerie is a shop that sells hardware, paint, kitchen supplies, cleaning supplies, candles, small gifts, bathroom supplies, and a lot of other household repair related items. The one pictured here occupies a space that I would say is maybe about 1,000 square feet and let me tell you every square inch is utilized. The place is packed from floor to ceiling and the narrow little aisles are loaded with all manner of useful items. It's called the Grande Droguerie Lyonnaise and the people here are so helpful and so far, I've gotten what I needed each time I've been there.
Now about pharmacies and parapharmacies. Pharmacies sell precription and non-prescription medicines and parapharmacies do not, they can't even sell aspirin. Pharmacies have trained, licensed pharmacists and parapharmacies do not. Pharmacies here may also carry soaps and cosmetics but those kinds of non-pharmaceutical personal care items are all a parapharmacie can sell. The other difference is that parapharmacies can offer their products at a discount.
At the big shopping center in Shake & Bake there is an Auchan (a large grocery store), a parapharmacie and pharmacy. But there is no droguerie, however since that Auchan is a superstore (called hypermarkets here), it has a hardware department just like superstores at home. Confused? Imagine, it's taken me three months just to begin to understand the difference. But going to the droguerie for hardware supplies is better because you get, oh.. what's it called?.. oh yeah, customer service and advice you would never get at a hypermarket. But still, I'm not always clear on who sells what. You can buy perfume at a droguerie (which is odd anyway) but not shampoo, you can buy band-aids at a parapharmacie but not aspirin and you can buy eye drops at a pharmacy but not reading glasses.
Actually, what you can get in a pharmacy, in the way of non-pharmaceutical related items, depends in part on its size and location. They are all independently owned so there are no Walgreens-like chains here and therefore no consistency as far as what things besides drugs you may find. But in general, pharmacies only sell drugs and very few non-drug/non-medical related items. Still confused? Me too.
Thursday, September 20, 2012
As you know, I am in the process of learning French. But in addition to learning the language we are also learning about French culture, history and, from time to time, interesting facts about Lyon itself. Our teachers seem to take delight in telling us about the huge rats in Lyon, of all things. I've been told three times now by three different teachers about these horrifying rodents. They say they come out in droves after a really hard rain. I have yet to see any, thankfully, but this graffiti speaks to the truthfulness of their statements. By the way, the French word for rat is rat. Sometimes it's easy.
And speaking of learning, want to know how my French is progressing? This example should give you a pretty good idea. I saw the poster below on the street near the school. It took me a minute to figure out this an ad for Arthur Miller's play "Death of a Salesman". I thought, "hmm, what have we here? An ad for some kind of show, I think, but what's it called....."a dead traveler?", no, no.. "a dead Commie traveler?..." It finally hit me when I saw Arthur Miller's name beneath the title. I have a long way to go....
How pizza is delivered in France: Domino's(!) scooters below:
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Hotel Dieu, a very important hospital here until it closed in 2010, is in the foreground and the Fourviere Basilica is high on the hill in the background.The original Hotel Dieu hospital was built in the 1100's on this spot and eventually expanded in the 18th century. There are plans to convert this now empty and enormous building into a hotel and museum. I tried to get a photo of the entire building but it's so massive that even from across the river I still couldn't get it all in one shot as you can see from the photo below.
Another lion - it's Lyon so you see lions everywhere.
I was so jealous to see these two eating lunch high upon the terrace of the opera house. It would have been one of the best places in the city to enjoy the great weather today.
You don't have to speak French to understand what psychic Monsieur Soriba can do for you. I received this little green slip in the mailbox today and I'm so glad I did! Monsieur Soriba just may be able to help me speak French faster. Look, just above his telephone numbers it clearly says "effective and serious results in 74 hours"! And Monsieur Soriba's advice is 100% guaranteed. In between "affaires" and "commerce" it says "permis de conduire" which is "driver's license". I was told that getting a driver's license here is quite an ordeal so it's no surprise that Monsieur Soriba included it in his list of vexing problems.
And as I was perusing Monsieur Soriba's attractive offer, this little notice posted by the mailboxes caught my eye:
And as I was perusing Monsieur Soriba's attractive offer, this little notice posted by the mailboxes caught my eye:
What this says is that two residents living in our building (JB and Alain, apparently) will be having a party Saturday night and it STARTS at midnight AND it will be loud. It also says the Shake & Bake police were informed that this will be happening and, my favorite part is the last line "Have a good evening anyway."
Let's break this down. I already know who these two guys are and they have had a few parties throughout the summer that normally end in screaming and breaking glass. So if those soirees did not require a special notice I can only imagine what this little affair is going to be like. Their flat is on the ground floor so they have access to the courtyard. We're on the top floor and our flat faces the courtyard so we can see and hear everything out there.
Now, just how did JB or Alain pitch this to the police? Was it like this: "Hello officers, we're going to have a party Saturday night that will be really loud. In fact, it will be so obnoxious we're going to put a notice up telling the other residents that this will be the case. That's nice of us, right? Is this OK with you guys? It's not disturbing the peace or anything if we give advance written notification, right? And by the way we thought we'd kick it off around midnight. Sound ok? We just want to be law abiding and let you know. What's that? The occasion? Oh, it's JB's birthday, he's going to be 50! Woo Hoo!! Stop on by if you want some champagne!"
Seriously, these guys are middle-aged, not college boys or anything.
And if "have a nice evening anyway" isn't the equivalent of "so F-off" then just tell me what is.
Here's what I've decided to do; I'm going to crash the party. I'll bring a gift, of course. I believe the only way to get through this is to participate. I don't know, I'll have to ask Monsieur Soriba what he thinks I should do. Luckily, we have more than 74 hours until the party.
I bet they play this all night:
Monday, September 17, 2012
I went to Bassignana for the weekend and I've posted this photo of the town's arch before, but I like it. Bassignana is a commune of the province of Alessandria in the Piedmont region of Northern Italy. I also went to Alessandria, Pecetto and Valenza since they are all very close to each other. It was a very nice break but too short. Saturday night in Alessandria, as the weather was sunny and warm, there were lots of people out gathering in the squares and bars. I love Italy.
Another photo in Bassignana
Below is sleepy but picturesque Pecetto
My cousin asked me what was strange about this statue of Borsalino, the very famous hat maker from Alessandria. I think it's obvious...No hat! Please tell me some Italian ne'er-do-wells crawl up there from time to time to put a baseball hat on him, like THIS ONE and then giggle about it over a ristretto.
And back in Bassignana, we had a couple of lunches outside in my cousin's beautiful garden.
And now back in Lyon... I study, study, study, j'étudie le français!
Friday, September 14, 2012
Here is this Friday's qu'est-ce que c'est:
A staging area for some construction work? A pile of rubble waiting to be hauled off? No! It's an art installation in front of the Contemporary Art Museum by Olivier Mosset called "Les socles revolutionnaires", "the revolutionary bases". These are remains from the Bastille that were used as bases for some statues in the Tulieries at the end of the French Revolution. I don't know why they are arranged in this particular way but it there are some interesting details in the stones when seen up close.
I was just about to climb on these when I saw...