The Frogmarch

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

Friday, June 23, 2006

Life Goes On Without Me

Back at home, life hasn't put itself on hold while I'm in France. The Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup, and not only was I not there to witness it, I missed every single second of every game. My friend Jeff's annual How Men Cook party, a much-anticipated annual alcohol-soaked orgy of grilled meats and loosely-organized music, came and went, most likely without anyone wondering, "Hey, wonder what the ol' Frog is doing right now?" (watching Trinidad vs. Serbia-Montenegro in the World Cup, most likely). Babies were born. Somebody fell in love. I know all of this intellectually, but it's hard to avoid wishing that these things could be put on hold until I got back. I don't want to miss anything.

Apologies for the longer-than usual delay between posts. My mom arrived in town on Wednesday to help look after Boog when V and I are in the hospital, and I've spent most of this week wrestling with furniture, whether given to us by an affable Aussie colleague who's leaving town (is "affable Aussie" rendundant?) or picked up from IKEA in a shopping expedition so farcical that I don't even want to recap it. But things are going well, more or less, and I think now we're about ready for the baby to come.

Today's unrelated picture is of one of the beaches at Parc Miribel, a big park on the eastern edge of town, out past Villeurbanne. This is one of the few places we've seen that has barbecue grills, picnic tables, everything you'd need for a day at the park. The water was a little cold yet on this day when Boog and I went, but some people were swimming regardless. We may do the same pretty soon, as it has finally decided to turn summer here.

Yesterday was the Fete de la Musique, and I'll post about that next time I remember to upload pictures.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Random Photos with Unconnected Notations

The quais of the Rhone are home to a number of these live-aboard barges, which vary greatly in size and shape. Some are more boatlike and probably capable of handling the open sea, while some are just big flat steel rectangles roofed over with a pilot house at one end. I saw one that had its flat roof planted with a lawn, complete with trees, rocks, a swingset, and a Weber grill.

Note the bridge in the background--see how it has ornate 18th-century piers but a modern steel deck? When the Germans pulled out of town in a big hurry in 1945, they were careful to blow up every single damn bridge in town to stall the Allied advance. In some cases the piers were usable when the bridges were rebuilt; in others they just cleared the rubble and started from scratch. Lyon has some pretty ugly bridges (see second photo).

This one was taken on a different day from a few hundred yards forther north, looking toward the hill of Croix-Rousse. Croix-Rousse used to be the neighborhood of the silkworkers (canuts). The canut is to Lyon as the steelworker is to Pittsburgh: iconic, blue-collar symbol of the city and of an industry that no longer defines it. Croix-Rousse is a trendy place to live now, thanks to the conversion of many of the old maisons des canuts, which had nice high ceilings to accommodate silk looms.

Arched building at left is the Opera.

This is taken from the balcony outside Boog's room, overlooking the side street. You'll have to enlarge the photo to read the sign, but it reads "Avenir Publicite" ("Future advertisement"). By the looks of this sign, the future isn't coming anytime soon. Also worth noting: this sign is six stories up, and I had to use a moderate zoom to take this photo. Now that's ad placement!

Typical Saturday afternoon on our street, the Rue de la Republique: There's a brass band playing for tips, a guy wearing a bright-red wig and Viking horns for no readily-apparent reason, somebody selling balloons, and three guys in chef's toques and aprons (middle right).

More Saturday afternoon on La Re. I really don't take very many pictures of people, and here's why. Unlike other bloggers or people who are actual photographers, I haven't mastered the art of "may I take your picture" or of doing so discretely enough to capture everyday people doing everyday things without evincing what-the-hell-are-you-looking-at looks like the one this woman's giving me.

In this case I was trying to get a shot of a guy wearing a long curly wig, tightie-whities, and construction boots, and carrying a guitar. (He's obscured by 4 different people at center right.) Without, you know, looking like I'm trying to take a picture of a guy in his underwear.

Looking at this photo, I realise I should have focused on the Linda Evangelista lookalike sitting on a bench at left.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Mother's Day, Ile Barbe

Fete de la Mere, Mother's Day, is celebrated a week later in France than in the US. That may have been why the florist looked confused when I came in to buy flowers for V a week too early. Of course, she may also have been confused because I called it "Fete du Mer", or Feast of the Ocean. That's not quite as bad as when I called a nanny service (agence de gardes) and asked them if they had any English-speaking gardiens... that is, goalkeepers.

Anyway, on Mother's Day we picked up some picnic things at Les Halles--the large covered market which is a great place to go eat fresh raw oysters if you like those things, which I don't--and took a bus up the Saone to Ile Barbe, an island in the river that is home to a 10th-century former monastery, taken over in the 1789 Revolution and now converted to private residences. There's a nice shady park there, and the former monastery is an interesting place to go poke around. Clicky clicky on the pics to see 'em better.

You have to walk across a bridge to get there, assuming you don't have a boat, and from the bridge you have this nice view of some riverside cafes. Paul Bocuse's restaurant, considered one of the finest in France and by logical extension the world, is about half a mile further up the river.

This is the old boat landing, where one arrived at the monastery before the bridge was built. France was a pretty rough place back in the 13th and 14th centuries, what with bands of brigands, marauding germanic tribes and warring Christian sects, so even monasteries had to be built with an eye toward defense. The gate house here had "murder holes" built into the top of the archway, so the monks in the tower could pour boiling oil onto unwanted guests, shoot arrows through the tops of their heads, taunt them, etc. Silly English kn-iggets.

Inside the walls the buildings range in age; this one is somewhat later, obviously, and now houses an auberge (inn/restaurant) serving local specialties at €95 a throw. You pay extra for the atmosphere, I reckon. Whatta dump! Man, let's roll up to Chez Bocuse and get a bucket of wings!

The island is called Ile Barbe, the story goes, short for "barbarous", because the exposed rock that forms the island is very hard and difficult to work. Hence a lot of the buildings are just built directly up from rock outcroppings. This building is now apartments; there was a guy out changing a tire on the car in the background. Ho-hum, just another lazy day at my converted-10th-century-monastery-on-an-island-in-the-Saone apartment.

This is a cluster of houses and restaurants on the opposite bank, the rive gauche. Some old guys were there on the bank fishing later; I didn't see if they were catching anything or keeping what they caught. It probably didn't help them that Boog was gleefully hucking big rocks into the river.

At the edge of the park was this gate separating the public park from the private residences, keeping out the riffraff. Some kids were playing soccer here, using this as a goal. What would they do if someone skyed it over the crossbar? Sorry guys, that's game.

I really gotta do something about that smudge on the lens, if I ever find the box where I packed the lens cloths.

I've got more pics uploaded on the 'puter now, so I'll put some up for you once I figure out something to say about them.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Round About That Time, the Duke Boys Decided to Go Cross Country

The French are, by reputation, the second-worst drivers in Europe, lagging only Italians in their disregard for the rules of the road, disproportionate use of turn signals and horn, and pure suicidal aggression. There's really no explanation for this; after all, Europe's best drivers (the Germans) are right over the border, and the French driver training system is rigorous and extensive. To get a French driver's license, one must endure months of classes at a driving school--at a cost of around €1000--followed by a timed written test and a series of road tests. Failure to check mirrors in the proper order (inside, left, right, blind spot, left) while executing a lane change results in failure and a wait of another month before beginning the testing process again. My department threw a party, avec champagne, naturellement, for one of the staff who successfully got her license on the fourth try.

After completing this rigorous course of instruction, French drivers forget everything they've learned and do whatever the hell they please.

I bring this all up now because last week I moved all of our stuff from our temporary home in Villeurbanne to the new apartment chronicled extensively below. We had the twenty large moving boxes that were airshipped to us when we came over, plus our six suitcases, the cat, and the miscellaneous groceries and supplies we'd bought since being here. I figured I could handle that in a couple of trips in a van, so I rented one, a Renault Kangoo as it turns out (see pic). I made it through the paperwork, and a brief moment of panic when it turned out that the van was reserved for me for the following day, and hit the road.

I learned very quickly that in France, lane markers are merely suggestions, like the Chef's Recommendations on a restaurant menu. Perhaps monsieur would prefer to stay in the rightmost third of the road? Non? A little of the center and most of the left lane? Tres bien! I found that the best way to deal with this was to adopt that attitude as well, forget where the lane markers are, and go where there's space. Things went fairly smoothly and I didn't have much trouble with the driving except that I had to learn to look in different places for signs and traffic lights. French cities (well, Lyon at least) don't have the tangle of power and phone lines strung overhead along every street, so traffic lights are on posts, and they are, diabolically, set further back from the intersection than one would expect--so if you roll up to a stoplight as if to make a right on red, and pull up so you can see what's coming from the left, suddenly you can't see the traffic signal any more; you're just stuck out there in space, having to rely on the inevitable blast of horns to let you know when the light goes green.

There are no stop signs at most intersections, either, the question of right of way being dictated by a complicated system of pavement markings that are hard to distinguish from pedestrian crossings. This makes every intersection an adventure, with an element of stomp-it-and-pray to make things interesting.

No, the driving wasn't bad. It was parking that was a nightmare. Lyon is desperately short of parking; with the exception of a few large garages underground in the center city, almost all parking is on-street along the rat's warren of one-ways that make up most of the city's streets. There is one advantage to driving those ridiculously tiny cars they have here (pic). With our Villeurbanne townhouse being on one of these one-ways, I couldn't just pull up in front and hit the hazard lights to load the van--I needed to find an actual parking space, and within carrying distance of the house. Did I mention it was 5PM?

I circled the neighborhood for 45 minutes before I found a space.

Unloading at the new place was a lot easier...I waited until nightfall, looked both ways for les flics, drove over a curb, dodged pedestrians around the fountain at Place Republique (yeeeeha!), and pulled up 3 feet in front of our door. Threw open the hatch, dropped the boxes inside the foyer, and smoked the Michelins as I peeled out. Illegal? You betcha. Francais? Vraiment.