The Frogmarch

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

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Left-Turn-Only Jesus

You are driving the narrow, cobblestone streets of Vieux-Lyon. It is a maze of one-ways and dead ends, each block an obstacle course of teenagers on scooters, suicidal cyclists, and errant tourists with eyes glued to camera viewfinders. The traffic snarls along one length at a time, and your left leg is getting sore from endless neutral-first-neutral-pause-first-neutral-pause-first-second!-first-neutral. The good news is that somewhere along here, you can turn up onto Rue Tramassac, which will take you up the hill, above the crowded streets of Vieux-Lyon's tourist district to the Fortress of Solitude.

But no. You have forgotten-- this time of day, Rue Tramassac is closed to vehicular traffic.

"Jesus!" You say out loud, in spite of yourself. "Now where do I go?"

And you are answered: You must turn left, My child.

[photos: Our Lady of Intermittent Street Closure and Left-Turn Jesus, Rue Tramassac. I finally got around to taking more photos of Neighborhood Saints and Virgins, and this one spoke to me. So to speak.]

Sunday, October 11, 2009

At the Salon Auto (car show)

As car shows go, the Salon Auto de Lyon isn't one of the biggees, not compared to the shows in Geneva, Paris and Frankfurt where the manufacturers unveil both their new models and their eye-catching concepts that will never be built [photo: unlikely-looking Peugeot interior]. Still, I'm a car guy (despite not currently owning a car), I'm endlessly amused by weirdo French vehicles, and there's cheap reduced admission if you go after 5pm, so why not?

The Eurexpo conference center is way out in the no-man's land beyond Bron on the way to the airport. To get there by public transport, you have to take the A Metro to the end of the line in Vaulx-en-Velin, then catch a shuttle bus for another 10-15 minutes. I suppose because Lyon is so densely built, it wasn't possible to plunk a brand-new conference center down in the city center, but still it remains a very un-French example of autocentricity in urban planning. Fitting enough for an auto show, then.

These are tough times for the European auto industry as well, so as expected a recurring theme among the exhibits was affordable, economical, fuel efficient cars. So there were a lot of smaller manufacturers pushing tiny electric city cars that are really little more than golf carts [photo]. utterly unworkable in the US, but they might make sense for some people in Europe. People who don't have kids, that is, and who have blase attitudes about crash safety.

Though the luxury brands (BMW, Mercedes, Lexus) had the highest-profile spots right at the entrance, the French domestic marques had the greatest amount of floor space, displaying one of each of their extensive model line-ups rather than just the flashiest new iron. Plenty of Gallic je-ne-sais-quoi (read: ugly or strange cars; photo, a Citroen Cactus) to marvel at here.

There were displays of vintage cars as well, like this Citroen SM [photo]. Dig the hood intake vent with the Citroen double-chevron.

And oooh, look, a Dacia-mino! [photo] Just needs some green astroturf in the bed. Dacias are made in Romania and are the most popular car in Eastern Europe, mostly because they're dirt cheap. This El-Camino'd Dacia Logan was listed at 7999 euros. I've not driven a Dacia but apparently one pretty much gets what one pays for. I suppose if a vintage El Camino, Ranchero or Subaru Brat is out of your price range, this could be one way to get your automotive mullet on.
And what's a car show without booth babes? At car shows in the US, the eye candy in cocktail dress is ubiquitous on the rotating platforms, smiling placidly as she deftly fields "Do you come with the car, honey?" about 200 times a day. Her rent-a-skank cousin may be found at the aftermarket/tuner shows [be discreet with that link if you're at work], gaping vacantly as she drapes across the hood of a be-winged Civic Si-R in bikini and clear heels. None of that is on display here, though; booth babes are definitely present, but they're decked out in snappy Chanel suits [2 photos]. Yes, they're off center... I still haven't mastered the art of "I'm an American blogger, may I please take your picture" without looking like a complete idiot. Surreptitiously snapping off-center photos while still looking like a complete idiot is more my speed.

Best in show goes to this gull-winged Benz SLS [last 2 photos]. I'm not a huge fan of Mercedes, as a lot of what they make appears to be overpriced, soulless luxobarges aimed at retired orthodontists, but man, I'd take one of those in a heartbeat. Only 170K euros... I think I can swing it. Just need to cut unnecessary luxuries like morning patisseries. And mortgages.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Me & You & A Dog Named Poo-Face*

You may have been wondering: So, what's the deal, Frogmarch? Didn't V. take the boys and move back to the States quite some time ago? And weren't you supposed to be joining them? What's going on with that?

You are quite right to ask, dear reader. In fact it was last summer when they moved back to the Hill, and I had in mind that it would be no huge task for me to hook up with a cush job back stateside, what with my in-demand skills, winning personality, and chart-toppin' singing voice. However, it was shortly afterward that all hell broke loose, economically speaking, and of the potential employers I had been counting on, the ones that didn't collapse/get bought/downsize found that they had all the qualified applicants they would ever need literally storming their front doors like zombies at a shopping mall. Fly some dude in from France for an interview when there are 20 just-laid-off PhDs in the lobby willing to work for Moon Pies and RC? Pssshhh. [unrelated image: Living statue, Rue de la Republique]

It hasn't been easy.

So when V floated the idea of bringing the boys and herself to spend the summer back in Lyon, it was just a matter of finding the right place to stay (well, that and thousands of dollars in airfare). The Fortress of Solitude, while the perfect place for a single struggling novelist to confront his demons and/or stream American TV from dodgy Chinese websites over stolen Wi-Fi, is far too small for a family of four, and not very toddler-proof besides. Luckily I got word that a Canadian colleague would soon be returning to his Home and Na-tive Land, and would be leaving his apartment empty for a few months. With a few calls to an uncharacteristically laid-back landlord, we were set, with a 3-bedroom, 2-bath ground-floor apartment in (wait for it) Villeurbanne.

Villeurbanne, where we first lived on arriving in France three years ago. In fact, on the very same street.

If our old apartment on Rue de la Republique [photo: our old building] was like living on 5th Avenue or Central Park, living in Villeurbanne is like living in Queens. With rents much lower and more space available, the businesses are auto-body shops, kung-fu studios, print shops, garage-door installers and kebab joints. Without the historic district's building restrictions, the streetscape is a crazy mishmash of prewar Deco buildings next to postwar Brutalist monoliths; attempted modernist-chic apartment blocks lean uneasily on the electrical shops for the city bus garage.

Our own building is circa 1910, and once housed a boulangerie; the brick oven building in the courtyard was converted into an apartment sometime later. The storefront that would later become our apartment was a fabric store, then a sculptor's studio; the current owner extended the mezzanine that once was the store office and stockroom to create another bedroom that is open to the living room below. The old shopfront windows were converted to heavy smoked glass that almost but not entirely obscures passersby on the street.

In back, the old delivery door from the courtyard now opens from our kitchen, and while the courtyard is allegedly shared with the rest of the building, it is de facto our territory, and we leave the doors open most of the time so the boys can run around out there, and when Tater has a particularly stinky diaper it goes straight out into the courtyard for later disposal rather than stinking up our inside trash cans.

[photo: Place de la Croix-Rousse. I don't know who those people are, but V. might; she took the picture as well as the others in this post]

It was thus that we met our neighbors; I walked into the kitchen and saw, standing at the open door, a smallish poodle mix of some sort, his head cocked to one side and his entire muzzle all the way back to the ears covered in light-brown... stuff. In the courtyard behind him I saw a shred of diaper, the remains of Tater's last weapons-grade deposit. Now, I like dogs and ordinarily I'd go up to him and give him a skritch on the noggin, but I wasn't about to let this poop delivery system anywhere near me or inside our kitchen. Get outta here! Scram! Casse-toi! and he did, dutifully trotting back to his apartment, no doubt to roll around on the oriental rug, jump up on the sofa, and lick his master's face. The boys, who had witnessed the exchange, dubbed the dog Poo-Face, and he came around almost daily throughout the summer, thankfully much cleaner.

[photo: Metro on the D line, Vieux-Lyon]

It's been a real joy having them around this summer. I took Boog camping in the Black Forest, where we hiked the Wutachschluct gorge; we all went to visit friends on Lago Maggiore in northern Italy; we went to Venice again for V.'s birthday and the Venice Bienniale and Film Festival. But even day-to-day life Villeurbanne-style has been a pleasure, and V. decided that maybe she didn't hate living in France after all.

Which is a good thing, because we may end up staying a while longer. As I write this, I have just taken V. and the boys back to Chapel Hill and returned to the Fortress of Solitude, in a whirlwind weekend trip home in which I saw none of my friends (sorry, I'll catch you next time, I promise). But if I don't find a job in the US and move home in the next couple of months, they're going to come back over to France for a while. It's just not good for any of us to be split up like this.

We'll have to do it all over again, in many ways--finding a place to stay, moving things around, getting settled in, etc. But this time we at least (sort of) know what we're doing.

So The Frogmarch will continue for a while longer at least. Stay tuned.

*Yeah, sorry, from classic rawk to 70's mellow gold. I'll stop.