The Frogmarch

"I've got to pull up my stakes and roll, man." --Jean-Jacques Libris de Kerouac

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

"L'oubliez, Jake...c'est Chinatown."


Lyon's Chinatown, such as it is, is about 6 square blocks tucked in between metro Guillotiere and the quais of the Rhone in the 3rd. As the lady from the Canton House restaurant (who we bumped into on Rue Emile Zola coming back from the boulangerie...Villeurbanne felt very small-town there for a moment) told us, "Get off the tram at Guillotiere and look for red lanterns."

Vietnamese noodle shops!
Chinese grocery stores!
Tailors! Udon! Chocolate Pocky!
Sriracha rooster sauce!
O frabjous day in the dirty 3rd!

Most of the weekend, though, was spent in looking at apartments. The ones we have seen have been in old buildings and new, expensive and cheap...but they seem to have commonalities. First there is a tiny elevator (we asked not to look at buildings without elevators) marked "capacity 3 persons". There is an apartment door with doorknob in the center, sealed by a devilish system of locks, deadbolts, bear traps, and magic words. The unflappable Henri, the agency's "social coordinator" (I imagined Julie from "Love Boat", but he's more like a Inspector Closeau character, with tan raincoat and smelling genially of pipe tobacco...did I mention the tiny elevators?), tries every one of a huge ring of keys in various combinations until "... et la voila!" There is always an entrance hall, and mostly parquet floors, and metal shutters, and a toilet jammed into a former coat closet (hence WC, I guess) . Kitchens in apartments here are rented unequipped, and I mean that literally. There's no fridge, of course, and no dishwasher, but no range, no stove, no cabinets or counters--sometimes just a bare sink sticking out of a wall in a tiled but otherwise empty room. It makes it difficult to picture onself whipping up a batch of chevre chaud (literally, "hot goat") in such a place.

We did see one place we both immediately liked. It's a 3BR flat in an older building (c. 1855) on Cours Vitton, one of the main streets through the 6th and quite close to the Parc Tete d'Or. The metro entrance is a few steps from the building's front door, and there's a movie theater, a chocolatier, and a boulangerie on the same block (see pic). But it was the interior that we really liked, in classic French style with high ceilings, chair railings and crown mouldings, wrought-iron fixtures...exactly the kind of place you see in a Vanity Fair spread about this respected American actress or that aging British rock star taking a break from film/recording in Paris, with an Annie Leibowitz photo of said actress/rocker draped across a chocolate leather fainting-couch. We looked at each other with a look that said we were already planning on where to put the fainting-couch. There are problems, though: no parking on-site for one, and the parquet floors really need refinishing; it would be expensive to heat, and most windows face north. But it's the best we've seen so far, and it gives us hope. Later this week we'll be seeing something in a very ritzy neighborhood, above a Rolex dealer and across the street from Hermes and Yves Saint-Laurent. It'll probably be either tiny or run-down, given how expensive real estate in that neighborhood must be.

Oh yes, and there was another day of strikes here yesterday, but I was knocked out with a migraine and missed it completely. I called the boss and reassured him I wasn't on strike, merely sick. "There's no traffic on the streets," he said, "and the Metro is running on time. Very unusual for France!" He's French so he can say stuff like that.

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