The Frogmarch

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

Sunday, July 30, 2006

There Will Be No Pictures Associated With This Topic

In the mid-sixties, Lyon made a number of civic improvements and built a number of athletic facilities in a bid to land the Olympic Summer Games. The ‘68 Olympics of course went to Mexico City, and Lyon was stuck with, among other things, a velodrome (a highly banked oval cycling track) and an aquatic center with three open-air Olympic-sized (duh) pools right slam on the left bank of the Rhone.

V’s “English-speaking Mums” playgroup planned an outing to the Rhone Natatorium, and with V forbidden from going swimming due to her recent accouchment, it fell to me to take Boog. Great, I thought, just the thing on a hot day. So we went to check it out, and that’s when I discovered the catch:

Men are required to wear Speedos at public pools in France.

The banana hammock. The grape smuggler. Call it what you will, unless you’re an actual Olympic swimmer yourself, you will look ridiculous and possibly obscene in one.

It seems that once upon a time there was no such regulation, and public pools had a problem with people coming in and swimming in their street clothes, which in the muggy heat of a French summer turned even the cleanest pools into bacterial smorgasbords. So now there’s a big sign out front, and a guy standing there when you come out of the locker room to ensure that what you’re wearing into the pool could not possibly have been worn on the street.

That’s why you see Europeans wearing Speedos at the beach: They have to wear one to the public pools, and who wants to buy two different bathing suits?

So Boog and I went out speedo-shopping. He found one with a snorkeling-turtle design on the front, and it looks perfectly cute on him. I found one that fit OK and wasn’t toooo embarrassing, but let’s just say that a snorkeling turtle might have been redundant.

Anyway, the pools were first-rate and the water was fine. With the pools situated right on the water’s edge, there’s a nice view of the river, the bridges, and the edifice of the 18th-century Hotel-Dieu right across the way. I would have taken some pictures, but:

Women are not required to wear swimsuit tops at public pools in France.

While nice, this is not the unmitigated blessing it might seem, as some of the women exercising their rights had clearly been exercising them for decades (For some reason I’m reminded of the well-broken-in baseball glove I had as a kid, its orangey leather wrinkled by years of hard use). Regardless, there was enough acreage of exposed boobflesh that I would have felt like a real heel waving a camera around, and I was uncomfortable enough having the girl on the towel next to mine peel her bikini top off without my having bought her dinner or met her parents or anything. “Hey, Boog, let’s go back in the pool where the water’s nice and cold.”

So no pictures today.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Things that cost less in France than in the US

Today's picture: A gas embranchement plate on the landing outside our apartment. Man, I love stuff like this: something utterly mundane that a long-dead someone took the time to design and make truly elegant--the cast beading, the serif font, the screw holes incorporated in the design. "Gaz Lyon" dates it to the early part of the last century, before all the local gas companies were centralized into Gaz de France. When nobody's looking I'm going to go out with a screwdriver and take one right off the wall (somebody else's wall, preferably) to use as a paperweight. A covered-in-toxic-lead-paint paperweight, but boy will it look sharp on my desk.

Anyway, a short list of relative bargains in France:

You knew this would be top of the list, right? You can get a bottle of wine for under a euro here. You can get a pretty darn good bottle for under 3 (including a good selection at any corner store), and a superb one for under 10. Of course, the sky’s the limit. But it’s pretty cool to pick up a bottle, look at the town on the label, and say, “oh yeah, that’s just up the road a little. You hang a left at Villeneuve.”

Cheese. You knew this would be #2, right? The grocery stores here don’t have cheese sections; they have cheese aisles. The variety is astounding and the prices more than fair: a good-quality Camembert usually costs between 2 and 3 euros. Oh yeah, they also have the raw-milk cheeses that are illegal to sell in the US. Taste that? That’s not just raw-milk cheese, it’s the flavor of living life on the edge, my friend--the edge of the fast lane. I’m a rebel, a loner; I am mad, bad, and dangerous to know. I eat illegal cheese.

Coffee beans. I can’t explain this one, but good coffee--say, Ethiopian yirgacheffe--costs under 4 euros for 500g, about a pound. This doesn’t explain why approximately 3 milliliters of coffee served in a thimble with a handle costs 6 euros at Grande Café des Negociants.

Bread. The French are funny about bread, going back to 1789 and that whole “eat cake” thing. So there are all sorts of regulations to ensure that no French person ever has to go without bread. In cities, it is required for there to be a boulangerie for every square kilometer (in practice, there seem to be more than that, essentially one on every other block). Every one-horse village is required to have one as well. In addition, the price of bread is set by the government. Result? Fresh artisanal bread baked on-premises 20 minutes ago, under a buck.

Limonade. I’ve gotten hooked on this stuff since coming here. It’s not lemonade as we know it, of the Country Time/Wyler’s/neighborhood stand variety, but more like fizzy water with a hint of lemon--a more subdued Sprite, basically. Sublime with gin over ice on a hot day. The store brands cost .49 for a 2-liter.

Beer. The French don’t really do beer so much. Sure, you can always get Kronenbourg or Heineken, but I don’t think their hearts are really in it. You’d think that bordering the three greatest beer nations in the world (Germany, Belgium, England), France would be home to a wide selection--but no. Your typical Harris Teeter has a better selection than your typical French supermarket. There are a couple of places here to get a proper pint of Guinness, and there’s a specialty beer store over in the 3rd that carries Trappist Ales and the like--but only as singles, and usually 2 or 3 euros each. I haven’t found a place yet that sells six-packs of Newcastle, for example, and you can forget your American microbrews, even Sam Adams. So why does beer make this list? Because the brands the stores do carry are dirt-cheap: a sixer of Kronenbourg will set you back 1.99, Stella Artois (7.99 in the States) is only 3.19.

Child care. We found an English-speaking goalkeeper, er, nanny who comes once or twice a week to take Boog out to the park or for a tricycle ride when I’m at work. I feel a pang of guilt when I pay her…4 bucks an hour. You can apparently get a full-time au pair for little more per month than it costs to rent a parking space.

Things that cost more in France than in the US:
Every other damn thing you can think of.
$25 CDs! $15 paperbacks! $6 gas! $80 Converse Chuck Taylors! (Which, by the way, everyone between ages 15 and 30 is apparently required by law to own.) 90-cent stamps! $13 movie tickets! Electric bills I’m afraid to even open!

Boog and I went hiking in the Chartreuse (the front range of the Alps, just above Grenoble) yesterday, and I have a whole bunch of pictures to post...but I think I'll wait until we get our ADSL modem hooked up in another week or two. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

I Swear I'm OK

The one-month paternity leave I'm taking from work was supposed to give me more time. More time to get things done around the house, more time to help V get settled in with the baby, more time to catch up with things now that the hard part's over. This hasn't proved to be the case, and I guess if you've been checking in regularly to see if I've updated, you know this to be true. (And for everyone who's emailed me in the past couple of weeks, I'm really sorry I haven't e-mailed back. It is honestly really great to hear from you, and I'll catch up when I get a minute.)

An awful lot has happened here that I've been meaning to blog about, and I've even "written" a number of posts in my head about the World Cup, French movie theaters, Bastille Day, the heat wave, the price of beer, the kafkaesque trials of obtaining the proper papers for a child born in France, et cetera, et cetera. I'll get around to these eventually. In the meantime, here are a couple of snaps I took on the day of the Fete de la Musique, a couple of days before Tadpole was born.

You thought only Carrboro celebrated the Fete? Au contraire. Here in Lyon, free live music all over town, all day, all night. Great, huh? Well, not exactly. See this picture?

These folks are enjoying the smooth mellow sounds of two guys drawing a sizable crowd doing Lionel Richie covers... complete with singalongs to "All Night Long". (Hey, jambo jambo!) For this shot, it was difficult to hold the camera still while simultaneously jamming a Phillips screwdriver through my eardrums.

I should note also that it should be punishable by flogging for anyone of caucasian descent to cover Bob Marley's "Redemption Song".

OK, here's another band (pic 2).
They're playing mostly straight-ahead bar rock I don't recognize, either originals or covers of French songs I don't know. Not terrible, and the open-topped bus is a nice gimmick (probably makes the load-out a lot easier, too).

Here's the rub. Both pictures were taken from the same spot on my balcony. And at the same time. What I didn't get a picture of was a third band, this one doing Circle Jerks-style 80's SoCal hardcore, on a side street between the two. The effect was something like one of those Flaming Lips concept albums of four discs meant to be played simultaneously.

This went on until approximately 1AM. I guess there's more than one reason the summer solstice is the longest day of the year.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Enter the Tadpole

“Apprehension” isn’t really the right word for what V had been feeling as she approached her due date; “naked terror” really doesn’t capture it either. But imagine, if you will, the prospect of giving birth (scary enough even under the most controlled circumstances) in another country, 5000 miles from home, surrounded by doctors and nurses who don’t speak English, in the midst of a labyrinthine and unfamiliar healthcare system, aided only by your knucklehead husband, whose slippery grasp of French often allows him just enough understanding to get everything completely wrong.

But nature always gets the last turn at bat. Babies get born despite incomprehensible paperwork, obstetrical practices mired in the 1960s, and knucklehead husbands who forget their Lamaze breathing patterns at the worst possible moment. And V was a champ, toughing it out through 25 hours of labor without medication, at one point backing down a Francophone obstetrician with a well-chosen Anglo-Saxon colloquialism delivered with such volume and emphasis that no translation was necessary.

Thus was the Tadpole brought into this world: June 27th at 9:33 AM Lyon time, 3.54 kilograms.

The day before V went into labor, there was a brief but violent thunderstorm. When it moved off to the east, this rainbow appeared in the sky over Hotel-Dieu--a full 180-degree arc, with each color clearly delineated. It had already started to fade a bit by the time I remembered to break out the camera, so this doesn’t really do it justice.

More later after I’ve regathered my wits a little and gotten some sleep. The success of the French team in the World Cup hasn’t been helping, by the way: after their shocking win over consensus favorite Brazil, our street below turned into Franklin Street after a UNC national championship (with fewer bonfires, but more scooter horns blaring). I had been pulling for them in a neutral sort of way after the US bowed out, just for the sake of a more interesting environment, but now…I hope Portugal beats ‘em by a touchdown.