The Frogmarch

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

Friday, March 02, 2007

Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood?


...in your neighborhood
In your neighborho-ood
Who are the people in your neighborhood
The people that you meet every day?

[photo: neighbors across the way, watching the parade]

With apologies to 5 rue Sesame (as it's known here), let's take a look at the people I run into on a daily basis here in Lyon:

Cosmetology Students
There's a cosmetology school on the other side of our building, and in the mornings when I'm taking Boog to school they are often lingering by the door for a last cigarette before class starts. These girls--and they're all girls--are easy to recognize: Besides the enormous black duffel bags each carries (stenciled with the name of a cosmetics company, and bulging with...what? A quiver of hair dryers? Make-Me-Pretty Barbie Styling Heads?), they uniformly dress in solid black, sometimes accessorized with a scarf or jacket in solid white. It's unclear whether this is a required uniform or a microcultural affectation. Despite their cloud of cigarette smoke and perfume, they're cute in that bridge-and-tunnel cosmetology-school way and have nice words for Boog. Quel amour de 'ti garcon!

[photo: the Saone and the 2nd arrondisement]

The Flyer Crowd
The intersection where Rue de la Republique runs into Place Bellecour may be the place with the most foot traffic in the entire city. It's prime real estate for people handing out flyers or information of all sorts: For example, there are the club promoters, passing out flyers for dance parties; they are very selective and only hand flyers to pretty girls and hip-looking guys. I, uh, don't get many of these. There are people handing out pizza coupons, or flyers for an oriental rug store's going-out-of-business sale, or Jesus-is-coming tracts.

There are also the Save-the-World types collecting signatures or donations for Greenpeace or Doctors Without Borders or the anti-land-mine groups or whatever. I'm something of a cheapskate and don't like being pressured into donating money, so I usually just give these people a dismissive wave or shake of the head to let them know not to waste their time. And usually they get it, though sometimes they won't take non, merci for an answer and keep reciting their script, attempting to guilt-trip me into coughing up some euros; this makes me angrier than it should, and I've been known to abruptly switch to English, as I do under pressure, and blurt out "I think land mines are awesome!" or a more succinct "Fuck off!" which has the benefit of not requiring translation.

I'm not proud of that. [photo: park St Just, overlooking the city]

The Pollsters
Our building is also home to a polling agency, and frequently their clipboard-wielding employees patrol the street looking for people with opinions. These folks at least have come to recognize us, and know that (a) my French is only so-so, (b) I lack an opinion about nearly every French political issue, brand of yogurt, or TV program, and (c) we're not French citizens and our data probably would just be thrown out anyway. They're good neighbors, though, and once when our elevator was broken one of them helped V. up the stairs with a stroller, a baby, and a load of groceries.

[photo: getting a better view of the parade]

The Free-Newspaper Guys
There are 3 free daily newspapers that can be found littering the floor of Metro trains in Lyon every weekday: LyonPlus, published by the leading local paper Le Progres and the best free source of local news and information; 20Minutes, a national publication with a Lyon bureau, useful largely because its smaller format allows one to read it on a crowded train without elbowing anyone; and Metro, another nationwide that reads like a cross between Parade and your high school paper, and is useful only for its TV listings and sports scores.

Each of these papers hires people to hand out copies to people entering or leaving major Metro stations, and the impression I get is that once an employee has handed out his allotment of 1000 papers or whatever, he can go home. So each morning I see the LyonPlus guy, the 20Minutes guy and the Metro guy at the entrance to Bellecour station. They know that I will only take 1 paper a day to read on my commute, and that I'll wave the rest of them off, so when they see Boog and me approaching, there's a brief scramble to be the first to stick a paper in my hand, a Bonne journee, monsieur to me, and then some good-natured taunting of the other two by the winner.

Oh, on Fridays there's also the weekly Sport, which I never fail to pick up for its 2-3 pages of NBA coverage, plus its back-pages topless pinup spread with amusingly tenous connection to sports ("Aurelie was a fencer at university! En garde!").

[photo: Levels 2 and 3 of Metro Bellecour]

The Metro Boulangerie Lady
Subway stations around the world smell like stale urine, body odor, and desperation. But the Metro station at Saxe-Gambetta smells like fresh-baked bread, because there's a boulangerie right where the Gare de Vaise line interchanges with the Gerland-Charpennes line. For a long time I resisted buying anything there, because the concept of buying bread in a Metro station seemed roughly equivalent to buying meat at the Greyhound bus station. But the sheer convenience of it won me over--I don't even have to go 20 feet out of my way to get fresh bread.
And the boulangerie lady: what an oasis of calm among the rush-hour madness! She is able to understand orders mumbled in broken French over the din of 200 simultaneous conversations, running feet, and braking trains. She smiles benignly when V pays for a 80-cent baguette with 16 euronickels, and waits patiently while they are counted out and the line begins to stretch toward the Cours Gambetta escalators. She may be a quasi-human cyborg who will one day go haywire and turn on her masters, dealing gooey, delicious oven-fresh destruction.

[photo: Late afternoon, Hotel-Dieu and the Rhone]

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