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.


ribbit ribbit

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