The Frogmarch

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

Monday, October 01, 2007


We hit the street at 7:30 sharp, Boog and I, he with his Lightning McQueen book bag and me with my briefcase. Rue de la Republique is wet underfoot, thanks to the street cleaners who have just finished up here and moved their hoses across Place Bellecour to Rue Victor Hugo. A flock of pigeons flutter and fight for the scraps left by the just-emptied garbage bins outside Quickburger, then burst into the air to avoid the delivery truck pulling up to the Pomme de Pain boulangerie cafe. Boog jumps a gutter puddle, and we pull up short to avoid being run down by a kid riding a scooter in the bike lane.

[Pic: sunrise over Lyon, from Notre-Dame de Fourviere]

The free-newspaper guys at the Metro entrance are different from last year (as everything begins anew in September, at the end of vacances) and they don't know yet that I only want one paper. Non, merci, je veux seule l'un. Merci bien, et passez une bonne journee. Boog scans his pass himself and the gate zips open and zips closed, and for a second we're separated by the glass doors in a busy Metro station, and I have a brief nightmare scenario of my pass not working--and then the gate zips open for me and we're waiting on the southbound quai for Perrache.

[Pic: Morning light through trees, Parc des Hauteurs]

On the Metro, Boog continues his running narrative as five-year-olds do. Would you believe George's Marvelous Medicine made his gramma's head stick out through the roof? And her feet were in the living room? And Mr. Cranky had to get a crane to pull her out? Look, there's the orange Metro at Ampere. French people don't dote on kids overly much, but for some reason they find a little kid chattering on in English to be hilarious. Behind my head an advertising poster en anglais reads "Change Your Life! Speak English... Wall Street English!"

At Perrache, terminus, the metro car empties and we sweep with the crowd upstairs into the central hall, where the bus station is and where escalators connect with the train station. Perrache station is a 1970's nightmare of mouldering concrete, questionable architectural decisions, decrepit stores and wandering bums, like a Detroit strip mall left for dead. However, thanks to the boulangerie across from the bank of ATMs and instant-coffee machines, it smells heavenly, at least in the corner where the gate for the Number 8 bus is. A red LED digital clock reads 7:44.

[Pic: Chairs, Parc des Hauteurs]

On the 8 bus, we see many of the same people--a schoolgirl of maybe 10, a young mother with stroller, two of the older highschool-age kids from Boog's school. Boog sits by the window as the bus winds through the freight depots and abandoned warehouses of the lower end of the peninsula, a neighborhood left behind when the new, modern shipping port opened downriver outside of town. Already in this newborn day the prostitutes have taken up their positions along Cours Charlemagne, shivering in miniskirts with hands jammed in pockets of zip-up sweatshirts, backs against a concrete wall and faces seeking some warmth from the morning sun. Boog counts cargo vans at the rental center (I counted fifteen today, Da-da!) and watches traffic rip along the autoroute towards Marseille.

Across the Saone river by Pont de la Mulatiere, the bus stops in front of a stone wall pierced by a railroad tunnel that passes through the Fourviere hill. Set into the wall is a plaque, similar in form to many, many others around Lyon, commemorating a spot where the Gestapo executed Resistance members during the war. (It is instructive that the French have a specific word, fusillee, that means "executed by firing squad".) In their last moments, backs to that wall, these men would have faced the sun rising over the Rhone valley and glittering over the confluence of rivers, seen the gleaming red tile roofs of the old city below, the same sunrise as I see it each morning. The people at the bus stop take no obvious notice of the plaque or the wilted flowers taped to the wall; they stamp out their cigarettes and shuffle aboard as the doors hiss open.

[Pic: Body shop garage door, St. Just]

Right at the gas station, up the steep hillside in a series of S-curves, the traffic in the other direction already starting to pile up--a stop near a lycee (high school), and most of the bus clears out, save for kids going along to Boog's school. They're speaking English, and I cannot help eavesdropping, as my ear is drawn to any English conversation, even in a crowd. These particular kids are seniors--Boog's school is K-12--and it's a little jarring to hear my son's schoolmates talk about drinking a few beers (quite legally at age 16) and watching rugby.

La Mulatiere is a wealthy suburb, with a commanding position on a hilltop overlooking Lyon, and smack in the middle of town is a rather incongruous collection of public housing projects with what must be superb views from the upper east-facing balconies. Arab grandmothers in headscarves pulling their poussettes de marche climb aboard, bound for the morning produce market. Across the street, an elderly woman sweeps the front stoop of her small cottage; she is as regular as clockwork, for I see her every day. Or perhaps she just takes a very long time to sweep her stoop.

We reach Boog's school at last, and he drags me up the driveway at a near-run as the 8 bus motors off toward St. Foy. There is a scramble of book bags and jackets and indoor shoes and good mornings and goodbyes (this being the one place in my day where conversations begin in English rather than French) and I hoof it back down to the bus stop as Boog troops upstairs with his class, mostly Swedish kids with names like Viggo and Sigrid and Morten.

[Pic: Bibenda in junk shop window, Vieux Lyon]

If I can catch the 8:23 bus back to Perrache, and if it makes it there in time for me to catch the 8:44 tram T2, I can relax leaning against the tram doors and read my paper, headphones jammed in ears, and be at my office right at 9:00.

But today is Monday, so none of that works as it should. I slink in at 9:20 and take the back stairs so no one notices.

The day begins.


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