The Frogmarch

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

Sunday, June 27, 2010

It's Always Some Dam Thing

You probably already know that France is way ahead of most industrialized nations in replacing fossil-fuel power-generation sources with nuclear power (>75% of electrical production, good article here) and wind turbines (the charmingly named eoliennes). But the French were quick to jump on hydroelectric energy as well, back in the late 19th century.

One fairly early example of this is the dam on the flood-control canal diverted off the Rhone as it passes through Villeurbanne and Vaulx-en-Velin just upstream of Lyon. This dam is still in operation, and though it does not operate all of the time (depending on river levels) it still supplies most of the electricity needs for Villeurbanne.

As with everything else, the French took pains to ensure that aesthetics were just as important as functionality (in some cases more important; see "Citroen")

The dam isn't open to tourists, but there's a small shady square on the left bank that overlooks the facility, and an informational panel with various charts, blueprints, photos and diagrams, plus this groovy poster [photo] in which a sexily tousled Marianne unleashes the power of electricity for the mustachioed gent at lower right, who gazes in wonder at the works of man.

The old tow path alongside the canal remains, and can be used for an occasionally-rugged bike trip between Villeurbanne and La Grande Large, a sort of calm bay where the river widens and it suitable for use by various rowing and sailing clubs [photo].

Makes a nice spot for a waterside picnic as well, or just to take a breather before the return trip.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Hate to Say "I Told You So", But...

"A caricature of France."

[Photo: "Shame". French fans watch as Les Bleus are eliminated in the group stages of the World Cup. Credit AFP/Franck Fife for Le Monde]

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Little Late for Memorial Day

In an unloved corner of Villeurbanne (OK, most corners of Villeurbanne are unloved), between the tech school, the former wastewater treatment plant, and the beltway peripherique, lies a patch of flat land that was once used by the French army as a parade ground and drill field. During WWII, the Germans took over all French army property, and used this particular parade ground for, among other things, the execution of prisoners and suspected Resistance members. [photo: "Here at the foot of this hill, facing the German firing squads, these Resistants died for France and for liberty." Note the number of inconnus (unknowns) and the ages of some of the Resistants, including a 73-year-old printer.] When Lyon fell to the Allies in September of 1944, the ground thus consecrated became the Allied cemetery.

I biked out there the other weekend and took a few pictures.

One section of the cemetery is for Muslim soldiers [photo], and another for Jews. Many of these graves were relocated from various locations where the Nazis had summarily executed them rather than taking them prisoner.

In other parts of the cemetery, graves are grouped by nationality: Belgians and Italians [photo] and a small grouping of British and Canadian airmen from the 1943 bombing raids on the Lyon rail yards [photo].

I found no American graves, despite the American army having liberated Lyon in passing through toward the heavier fighting in the Colmar pocket. Most likely the US dead from that offensive were transported to larger cemeteries elsewhere, probably Draguignan or Epinal.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

What They Think of Us, Part 479

The question is inevitable, whenever I talk to people back home about living in France: "What do they think of us over there, anyway?" Do the French people, as a whole, separate American people from American policy, and American culture from clueless American tourists (unlike we Americans do with respect to the French)? This occasional series will highlight observations that attempt to illuminate that question.

Data point: Last night I watched the USA-England match in the World Cup. The US went down a goal early, and it looked like things were only going to get worse against the more-talented and heavily-favored English. Then just before halftime the English goalkeeper badly flubbed a routine shot and spilled it across the goal line, gifting the USA the tying score. When I stopped screaming and jumping around (as the cat cowered under the couch, terrified) I realized something: There was just as much cheering coming from outside the apartment as inside-- from the pizza place on the corner, the cafe down the street, and from the open windows of the neighboring apartments.

Now, given the enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend principle, that's not too surprising. But we can conclude that if it were true that the French do dislike Americans, they dislike the English even more.

[photo: Renault Clio delivery vehicle for Manhattan Sandwich, "Partout [everywhere] For You."]

Sunday, June 06, 2010

The Object At Hand

There's no mystery about what this is: its name is rather helpfully printed right there on it [photo]. This is a spent Flash-ball cartridge, found next to the gutter just off Place Charles Hernu by the Charpennes metro station.

Flash-ball rounds are used by law enforcement (in France, the term used is les forces d'ordre, which sounds like they should be headquartered at the Hall of Justice) in crowd control situations. Considered a less dangerous alternative to rubber bullets, a flash-ball projectile is a bit like a raquetball propelled by a 12-gauge shotgun shell [photo]; it has enough velocity to knock a person down (and presumably really really hurt) but it's less likely to break the skin, penetrate, etc.

So why did I find this spent shell on the street a few blocks from my house? I can't say exactly, but it's telling that I found it the morning after Olympique Lyon lost 3-0 to Bayern Munich in the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League, the most important tournament in club soccer. I'm sure that with the World Cup starting up next week and the France team seemingly destined to fail spectacularly despite being loaded with talent, the forces d'ordre have been stocking up on flashballs.

I have no interest at all in being on the receiving end of any of those, but in the meantime, this spent casing makes a groovy pencil holder.