Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Kathryn vs. Lyon, Round Two: Chapter 2

Chapter Two : The Big Bust

I’ll just come right out with it, since I know you must be expecting juicy details from The Big Reunion : it was A Big Bust. Something about a plane ticket gone awry and October 8th, which is apparently Mr. Franck’s new arrival date, rather than last Friday. This obviously makes my presence in Lyon questionable at best, hanging around with nothing particular to do while I wait for my possible October 14th hire… It also makes me one sad puppy and I thank you for the sympathy you are undoubtedly feeling towards me as you read. Really, thank you. It warms the heart.

This is not to say I haven’t been busy, as getting settled is quite a process. I’ve been walking everywhere to save subway fare. Monday, for example, I left my house with a six-point to-do list at 11:25 and got home at 5:10, with only forty minutes of internet time for sitting down. And then the elevator was broken and those six flights were all me… I’m an amazon, I don’t care what you say.

Incidentally, I accomplished absolutely nothing the entire day. Everything is closed on Monday, you see. Everything’s also closed daily from 12 to 2, which is difficult when you consider that the day generally runs from 10 to 4. Little windows of Open on either side of a generous lunch, and this makes to-do lists very tricky indeed.

If, however, I was unable to get my health insurance, set up a doctor’s appointment or mail a letter from the post office, I was at least able to reacquaint myself with lovely, sun-dappled Lyon. And walking through the richest part of town, which I obviously never had any reason to know too well, I remembered that Lyon really is as bourgeois as everyone says. Little yappy dogs on sparkling leashes, fur coats and aggressively manicured hands abounding; you’re not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.

1. I passed a park and saw two children, maybe five years old, sitting on a bench and talking on cell phones.

2. Looking at pretty journals of handmade paper, I was shocked to see that they were almost 45 euros each. Then the woman who was in the store with her pre-pubescent daughter asked if there were more in stock because they needed twelve for loot bags. For loot bags! What, no sapphire necklaces available this year? Your daughter is turning ten, after all; it’s a big one. Get with the program.

I did get one thing accomplished this week, and that was opening a bank account. I was a bit nervous about it, since my last bank in Lyon, C.I.C. Lyonnaise de banque, took my eight hundred dollars in traveler’s cheques, shook my hand and then refused to let me take out any money until I closed the accound eight months later. Not because I didn’t need the cash – quite the contrary, in fact – but just because that’s how it worked at ol’ C.I.C. (Lyonnaise de rat-bastard, let’s tell it like it is.)

Well, however the accounts turns out, and it looks like a good time for anyone lucky enough to be under 25 – ding ding ding! – I am infatuated with Anne Pegrini, my personal banker. When I first saw her, I jumped to all sorts of typical Kathryn-meets-the-French conclusions. She’s just tiny, you see, in even tinier little pants and extraordinarily pointy shoes (when – and WHY? – did those come back into style?), beautifully coiffed and made-up, in a little French sweater and a not un-pouty mouth. Great, I thought. GREAT.

Through her warm smile and startlingly firm handshake, I held my suspicious ground. She smelled just a little too good for my liking, is all I can say. Well. A lesson was learned that day. Anne, my dearest Anne, is smart, funny, exceptionally kind and particularly good at her job.

I’m by nature quite anxious in most across-the-desk situations, especially where fluorescent lighting is involved. I’m not sure why; I get all nervous and hot-faced, guilty like I’m being accused of something. Case in point: on my way out of an eight-minute chat with a friendly enough lady about transferring my health account from Guadeloupe, I saw myself in a mirror and was taken aback – taken aback, I tell you – by how red my face was. My neck was blotchy, my breathing strained… If I’m ever accused of something and end up in one of those good cop/bad cop interrogation rooms, well, it’s all over; I don’t stand a chance. I confess! I did it! Let me out of here!

Anne was so nice that even with this predisposition to break out in panic hives and bolt from the desk-room, I was able to focus and take in information and sign in all the right spots. And there’s a lot of signing for French paperwork; I was in there over an hour.

So now I have this mystery to deal with: how can she be so lovely and feminine and appealingly French, and still be a smart, efficient business lady? More importantly, can I be all those things too? I can’t wait until I have to go back with my health insurance papers and see her again. Anne, teach me your ways. Wax on, wax off.

Here’s a funny one: a huge poster all over Lyon for shopping centre La Part-Dieu is a funhouse-mirror-demented picture of a naked woman, all gumby legs and small torso and hair flying, hands covering her fig-leaf parts, Venus-like. (Is it Venus? Who’s that naked redhead lady?) The caption: Fashion 2005 at La Part-Dieu. Now, I could have sworn fashion was about wearing things. Nudist beaches and the bathtub for naked, public life and fashion for clothes. Besides, is that okay, to have gigantic pictures of a mostly-naked woman all over the city?

(I considered criticizing something from home for each something from here, to keep things fair. The misused quotation marks, for example, on a closed check-out counter at Dominion: “Another cashier will be only too pleased to help you.” Do they realize they sound sneering and sarcastic? Are they idiots? But it would get tiring, I think, so let’s forget fairness and get back to one-sided criticism of this France we know and love.)

I kind of made a friend, which was fun. The girl whose apartment I took over, Angèle, left me some much-appreciated furniture, and we met up so I could pay her for it. We ended up spending the afternoon together and had good girl talk – useful to have someone my age who knows how things are done here – and the only thing I didn’t like was when she told me I’d love the area of Vieux Lyon, where there are lots of “people like me.”

I was wearing a purple dress, is the thing – a beautiful dress, dammit! It’s beautiful! – and Vieux Lyon, with which I am quite familiar, is where all the pretentious hippie types hang out. Like Kensington but really expensive, and I don’t know how I feel about being stuck in the Vieux Lyon category just because I am a purple sensation instead of wearing tight black jeans, a black halter top and alligator-skin pointy boots. For example.

(Really, it’s just a taste of my own medicine. I, the number one categorizer, have been judged. And not just judged, but judged to be pretentious and faux-arty.)

At any rate, I chose to interpret Angèle’s words and any bizarre looks I got throughout the day as being rooted in admiration; perhaps even awe. (It is highly possible that they were actually rooted in “is that girl wearing pyjamas?”, which I thought myself when I caught my reflection off-guard, but denial, as they say, is not just a river in Egypt.)

We went for a sandwich with some friends of hers who had driven in from a neighbouring town. Cyril was easy-going and puppy-eyed and told me all sorts of useful things about finding a soccer team in Lyon. (And he said I had beautiful eyes, so I liked him right off the bat! Oh, those French men, such charmers... tee hee...) The other one, “Aléxandre” as he called himself, was strikingly self-absorbed, vain, pompous – the whole caboodle. Flirting with Angèle while looking past her to wink at girls walking by… I once caught him trying out his wink in the mirror beside our table – who IS this clown? (Truth be told, a good wink is hard to pull off and his practising could have made us kindred spirits if he weren’t so otherwise obnoxious. As it is, I hypocritically counted it as a point against him.)

They suggested we get dressed and go dancing. What are you talking about, get dressed? Change OUT of the most beautiful dress you have ever seen? Say no more, mon a-mor. That was all I needed as a final push to hightail it out of there. I walked a long, digesting walk home (my monster sandwich, possibly the best falafel of my life, needed some help settling down), made tea and practised winking. Enough is enough.

Apparently my need for friendship persisted, though, as two days later there was a knock on my door and a girl about my age was on my landing, art portfolio in hand. Now, obviously you never invite someone who’s selling something into your house, and obviously I invited her in. She showed me the art, which is by a Spanish friend of hers who can’t afford to rent gallery space, so a team of them go door-to-door.

And I liked it, one print especially, but I have no money, no cheque book yet, I’ve just paid 1000 euros in a safety deposit for the apartment, plus rent… obviously this isn’t the time. I have two months to send payment, she says, and post-dated cheques are fine – so I buy the print! What is the matter with me? Am I that big a sucker? I mean, supporting young artists and so on, and I really do like the print, but let’s get serious.

What I didn’t like was this Sandrine girl, with the cutesy-giggly persona she’d cooked up for herself and her pretend enthusiasm about my entire life.“Where’s your accent from? Canada?!! Oh my God, I LOVE Canada!!! Awesome! Did you cut out those sunflowers yourself? That’s such a good idea! I love sunflowers!! Is that hair on your head? Oh my God, I LOVE hair! That’s so awesome!!!”

And then showing me the angel theme in the print – because we women are all angels, and you be sure to tell your boyfriend that, missy! – while wagging her finger at me and baby-talking… forget it, I hated her. Nothing but the purest loathing. My least favourite new person in a long time and what do I do? Buy a print. What I am not: someone who can say no. What I am: a big fat sucker.

A good purchase, however, was the fridge that they delivered eight peanut butter days after I moved in. I almost wept all over the delivery man’s shoulder when he said I had to wait six hours to plug it in, but all is well now. I have purchased Boursin garlic cheese, lemon sherbet and eggs, and I am pleased as punch with my little Bluesky fridge.

All that’s missing now is a Franck; hopefully he’ll get here some day. Oh, that Guadeloupe – tricky little devil sometimes.


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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Kathryn vs. Lyon, Round Two: Chapter 1

Chapter 1 : Homecoming

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the showdown of the century !! In this corner, the defending champion. Star of the South-East-ish region of France called Rhône Alpes, a beautiful city often called the gastronomical capital of this particularly gastronomical country, please put your hands together for… Lyon!!

(Audience claps politely; Lyon is quite bourgeois.)

And in this corner, hailing from the Greater Toronto Area of Ontario, Canada, back for a second round after getting seriously whooped in 2001-2002, Kathryn!!!

(Audience boos; they can tell Lyon is in for a serious fight.)

So let me bring everyone up to speed: I studied (and I use the term loosely) in Lyon four years ago and, contrary to what some readers understood, I loved it. Oh, there were bad times, I don’t deny it. But it’s a beautiful city, in a country that tortures me with how irritating it can be and how much I love it anyway, and I’ve thought about this city often in the years since. I cut out and framed no fewer than five pictures from a Lyon calendar, to give you an idea.

Now. Last year I taught English in Guadeloupe, an island in the French West Indies, and there I met a special somebody named Franck. (You may remember Franck from such winning moments as luring iguanas out of hiding with banana peels and carrying a TV down the mountain so I’d have green-screen soap operas to watch while I had dengue fever. Always a new trick up his sleeve, that Franck.)

Franck, trying to pursue a career in music and frustrated by the overall smallness of Guadeloupe, is diving into a music program in France. Shake things up a bit, if you will. I have come along for the ride (while I wait to go back to school next September, knock on wood), and when he asked me what city I would like, I voted Lyon. And here I am.


I had a disjointed beginning, possibly because I spent my last two weeks in Mississauga with no phone, internet or car, and you’d be surprised how frustrating that is. I also had strange company on my flight and got no sleep, and then was suddenly in Paris – isn’t it wild that people just live their lives in so many different places? Here’s Paris, trucking along – and nothing had changed as far as I could see, so it was kind of same old and mundane, which made me feel even more disjointed as I waited for a concrete emotion to hit.

I’m more on top of things now, though. For those who remember the hell of my first three weeks in Lyon 2001, check this out: I found an apartment in under 24 hours! Hoo-wa!

I spent the first week, while waiting for my place to be free, in the gorgeous apartment of Jacques, the brother of my mom’s French exchange partner. (No homeless Kathryn THIS time, thank you very much.) My time with Jacques and Isabelle was inspiring, and not only because I caught the contagious joy of their 20-month-old son.
1. Such a beautiful apartment shows me what life can be for people in Lyon with money.
2. There is a bookshelf, an all-out bookshelf, in the WC, which I think is a bold move.
3. Jacques, a geography professor, knows my own beloved geography professor Jacques Comby and has promised to put in a good word for me.

They’re also soccer fans and we watched in triumph as Olympique Lyonnais beat Real Madrid 3-0. THREE to ZERO! Unprecedented! I’m in the right city this year.

I spent a long week-end with my mom in Annecy, the prettiest little town I’ve ever seen, where she is doing her teaching exchange. It’s near the mountains and a couple of canals run through the old city, so with the baskets of flowers and the pretty little boutiques everywhere, it’s achingly charming. (Keep in mind that Catherine, her exchange partner, left Annecy behind to spend a year in Mississauga. Every stick has a short end – what can you do.)

Everyone I met was nicer than the last, including a friend of Catherine’s who has a room set up for me to stay in, since there are cats at my mom’s house. Isn’t that nice?

(One of said cats is a big, long-haired male named Mocha, and the neighbour’s little dog apparently keep trying to mount him. His owner was joking about the dog being in love and I was laughing along, until I saw the spades in Mocha’s eyes. I guess being repeatedly humped by an ugly little dog just isn’t as funny when you’re on the inside. Life is all about perspective, isn’t it?)

We spent a day in Geneva with Mom’s old friend Judy, whose husband is a Canadian ambassador to the U.N. Life in the ambassador lane is a-okay, my friends, and includes a personal chauffeur. There are things a person can get used to.

The only negative part of the week-end was the freezing wind that blew through on Saturday, ironically named “la bise” – the kiss. Kiss of Death, maybe, especially coming after a week of 32 degrees. The upside what that I was so cold I went home and blow-dried my hair (blew my hair dry? how do you say it?) and it turns out to be a good look for me. Maybe my ratty days are over? I also got to wear my large poncho against the cold, and that’s always good news.

At one point a wedding party drove past us in town, honking and hanging out of cars, and then they blocked traffic, got out of the their cars, and danced in the street. Not long enough for anyone to get mad, just long enough for me to think: yes.
I’m just getting it out there in advance, and friends please take note: I want street-blockage at my wedding.

We got lost on the way to the train station, actually driving out of Annecy and into a completely different town, and I ended up running down the platform and diving onto the train as the whistle blew. It was very dramatic.

Now I’m settled in my apartment – minus some key furniture – which is five minutes away from my old one and has a nice view of the cathedral on the hill. It’s cozy and orange with hardwood floors and a balcony, and the elevator’s out of order so I’m getting my exercise. (Fifth floor, which is sixth in Canadian-speak.) I don’t have a fridge and was thrilled at the excuse to eat nothing but Nutella – “for protein” – but that turns out to be gross and I’m not feeling so hot. Live and learn.

I bumped into my Swedish/English friend Sarah from Guadeloupe – literally stopped dead on the street and stared at each other, trying to fit a familiar face into a new context – so it will be fun to hang out. It’s been weird to be in Lyon without my friends from last time, who were obviously more important than the city itself. Franck gets here on Friday, and hopefully I’ll start teaching soon, but just walking around makes me miss them a lot.

What’s changed is that men aren’t bugging me at all. It’s a relief, but I’m also a little bit offended. I’ve decided that it’s because I don’t seem as open or naïve as last time – I’m coming straight out of cat-calling Guadeloupe, remember, and I have learned a thing or two – and not because I’m not cute anymore.

I thought the super intendant of my building was a cute little man and he seemed utterly charmed by me, but I’ve twice since seen him be utterly charmed by other young ladies in the building. I now realize he’s just a creepy old man who likes young flesh and that’s that. So I’m on the look-out for someone to charm. The lady in the fruit market seemed touched by my commitment to her figs, so maybe I’ll make something happen there.

I did get one really outstanding line: a guy at the train station asked me for help finding his path as he was new in Lyon. Sure, I said, what path?
The path to your heart.
Use it freely; it’s a keeper.

Next in the adventure is a reunion with Franck, whom I haven’t seen in over two months. We’ll get some furniture and then we’ll have to decide how to deal with our landlord, who told me (after I’d signed and paid) he liked me because I have light eyes and am from this side of the Mediterranean. Sorry, Francko, I scored us a racist. Bienvenu en France.

I’ll write down contact information for those who wanted it, and otherwise hope everyone is well.


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