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.


ribbit ribbit

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