Chapter 5 : Lyon Pulls Ahead
All bets are off ; Lyon turns out to be a tougher competitor than I had anticipated. Tough, and especially, clever; Lyon had lulled me into a false sense of security – look at my beautiful buildings! and my pretty rivers! I’m sunny in October and I occasionally play a stellar musical line-up in the subway station! Ooh, I’m so great! – so that he may better pull the rug out from under me. (This format requires me to give Lyon a gender, and my gut tells me to go with masculine.)
A quick recap: Franck came to Lyon to go to a music school. The school is ridiculously expensive but the state agreed to pay for it, as part of a Guadeloupe-France project. I came to Lyon to be with Franck and, while I’m at it, save up for school next fall.
It turns out, however, that Lyon is not accepting the Guadeloupe file – which I suspect is largely, if not exclusively, Guadeloupe’s fault – and so Franck has to start again, from here, for next year, or go back to Guadeloupe. Meanwhile, my nine hundred-odd euros a month being more than a couple’s state allowance means that Franck, as long as we live together, cannot apply for any financial aid and won’t be able to go to school at all. He has to apply before he turns thirty, so this is the last year he can do it.
In other words, I’ve taken a job I don’t particularly like, just to be with Franck, which will result in his having to take jobs he doesn’t particularly like, just to be with me. No music school, no health care, just Kathryn: a one-two punch from Lyon.
(We’re looking into possible solutions, namely Franck working in undeclared jobs – shh, don’t tell – or his renting his own place so that we don't have to declare together, so things will probably find a way to work out in the end. For now, though, it’s a bad scene.)
My birthday was low-key, largely due to our finding out about our dire financial situation the day before, but it did include the very exciting “Legend of Zorro,” which is a rip-roaring (and cape-swirling, hair-flying, spur-twinkling) good time. It’s one implausible plot point after another, complete with greasy villains and narrow escapes. There’s a horse-on-top-of-the-train sequence, a sword-fighting-on-a-scaffold sequence and even an evil plot to destroy America, including a secret passageway boiler-cum-meeting room with unexplained steam hissing all over the place that makes Rufus Sewell’s wacky eye look even wackier. It’s classic.
I confess that I walked around afterward looking for a fight, because I wanted to do a round kick like my hero, the impossibly beautiful Catherine Zeta-Jones – is it possible to be that beautiful? No, no it’s not – with my skirt and my long black hair swirling around me. (She was often filmed from above, so the effect was very successful.) Some clumsy editing made it clear that her fights were done in tiny little mini-shots, but I don’t care; all the more reason for me to become a champion sword fighter and show her (and the world!) how it’s done.
I was once again reminded of how much I need a personal soundtrack; things would obviously be more exciting in my daily existence if important moments were marked with a flamenco guitar flourish. Even without the horse, the sword or the crowds of cheering Mexicans, I think a well-timed musical cue here and there would really make my life come together. I’m looking into it.
Ah, Zorro. How I love impossible romance.
There’s a ten-day holiday around All Saints day (November 1st), so a friend of my mom’s – Rita, a Canadian teacher who’s doing an exchange in Brittany – came to Lyon with her daughter Emma and spent the week-end with Mom and me; my mom finally got to see the city when it’s sunny and warm, instead of rainy and cold like last time.
We then took the train South to meet up with Nancy and Nick, Canadian friends who are spending a year in my mom’s beloved Aix-en-Provence. I stayed on the train the extra twenty minutes to Marseille, thinking I would meet up with Franck, who was there to visit his family. I forgot, you see, that making plans around Franck is like making a bookshelf on a cloud; things always fall through. (How do we feel about my attempts at poetry? Maybe I should keep them to myself?) I obviously never met up with ol' Francklin, who was by this time with his twin in Montpellier, but spent the day wandering around Marseille with my backpack for company and a marriage proposal from a Canada-loving bartender.
The ladies came down from Aix in the afternoon and on my way to meet them at the train station, I saw either Merry or Pippin from “The Lord of the Rings,” no word of a lie. (The one with the cute, bulbous nose, not the Scottish one.) I figured it was just a Marseille incarnation of my loneliness-inspired faux celebrity sightings, but then he was muttering to himself in English – Irish English, no less – and was quite wee and let’s tell it like it is, his is a one-of-a-kind face. I didn’t know what to do about it and ended up just watching him walk away, but believe you me, I spotted a real live hobbit in the South of France and that’s got to be worth something.
We spent the next couple of days in Aix, which is every bit as charming as my mom had said. We started by wandering through the market and my life suddenly took an unexpected turn: I became a shopper. I think it was the fact of having all these supportive women around me, enthusiastically telling me that a certain sweater was just my colour; it went to my head and I couldn't stop. How about this one? Is it my colour? Let's talk about me some more!
Rita also found me cargo pants and jeans for under five euros a pair – I know! What a steal! – so it was a satisfying expedition, as I needed pants for school. We had a little fashion show at Nancy’s that evening, as everyone has made good buys, and I felt, maybe for the first time, a part of this grand, supposedly female tradition. (It didn’t last; I need a pair of shoes that aren’t sandals and the idea of going shoe-shopping makes me dead inside. Maybe I’ll have to wait until the next visit…)
One of the pairs of cargo pants has this big floppy pocket down near the ankle – I think it’s supposed to be higher, as the pants were designed for someone taller; I did some serious hemming – and a series of pen-holders. Isn’t that a bit much? There must be a limit to on-clothing gadgetry. Not that it stopped me from buying them – at four euros, how could I resist? I’m only human – but come on, now.
Rita and Emma are food-based tourists and we all agreed that it was a relief not to find ourselves with picky eaters or dainty “I just couldn’t possibly order a dessert” loser-types. We had dessert like it was going out of style, enough to leave me generally bloated and gunky by the end. Now, I can handle more dessert than your average sweet tooth, so when I break down and draw the line, you can be sure that we’ve had too much. I’m okay now, though. Back to the patisserie!
Hey, my cute neighbour? I figured out what he’s been hearing from across the wall: my nose-blowing! Oh no! It’s a shameful and irritating honk – due to a deviated nasal septum; I am not to be blamed – and the bathroom is particularly resonant, not to mention a thin wall away from his own bathroom. Sorry, neighbour. Another friendship down the septum.
As for the central intrigue in my life: there is a phone booth on my street, the only one for miles around, and it is in front of a students’ residence. Every single evening, from just after 7:00 to however late I happen to walk by, the same woman is on the phone. (Luckily it's a double phone booth, or no one else would ever get to talk.) She is around forty, with glasses and straight black bangs, always nicely dressed, kind of a sexy secretary look. She leans back against the glass and crosses one nylon-clad leg over the other, at the ankle, for hours. Every single night.
At first I saw her when I was calling Guadeloupe all the time and I felt like we were comrades in arms, waiting for someone to arrive. I had nothing but sympathy for her and found it touching that she hardly ever spoke, figuring that she was listening to someone’s comforting voice before sleep.
Then, seeing people waiting outside the booth for her to get off the phone, and often waiting myself, I began to feel a little resentful. How can she commandeer the phone for hours every night? And why isn’t she talking? Is this some kind of kinky operation? Can a phone sex thing be run through a phone booth? How does she get paid? I’ve now heard her talk a few times, but I don’t understand Chinese and don’t know what she’s talking about. It doesn’t sound like she's being very sexy, though.
Franck, calling Guadeloupe once, made her wait for the phone, and we were unreasonably triumphant. Take that, mystery phone lady! Don’t feel so hot now, do you?! But then one evening I was out for some reason or other and was feeling kind of blue, and she wasn’t in her booth. I felt so sad not to see her, and even betrayed, that I realized I have to get a grip over my emotions. Why does she have such power over me? Why the rage, Kathryn? Why the sadness?
A fun part of waiting for the phone to be free last night was that this guy walked by in jeans and a t-shirt -- it was freezing out -- and crossed in front of me to the wall beside the pharmacy where there's a condom dispenser. I guess I don't have a particularly good story to pull out of this, but I just found it funny to see him saunter up and buy two boxes of condoms (two boxes! not two condoms, but two boxes!) and then go back home. Very funny.
I saw my Lyon buddy Florian, who is living in Nice this year but was here for a few days. We both felt I’d gotten taller.
The suspense must be killing you, so I’ll tell you that the staff dinner from last time went fine, the bitchy lady is actually really smart and interesting (if a bit bitchy) and the teachers paid for my meal. Phew. I told them all about the Hutt River Province and was the hit of the party, but I still haven’t checked out the web page, so it could be a hoax and I could be building my reputation here on lies. Anyone have time to throw together a web page?
They play music in the subway and on the buses, and this month they’re on fire: I have now heard, on no fewer than six subway-and-bus trips, excerpts from the fabulous and timeless West Side Story. I don’t know who’s in charge, and I think it may just be a ploy to keep the young hoodlums from loitering – think Beethoven outside of Tim Horton’s – but I feel like it’s a special tribute to me and I accept.
I took Franck up to Fourvière, the beautiful cathedral we can see from our balcony. (I remember making a big fat fuss when Paul took us up for the festival of lights last time, and feel it necessary to make a public apology: it’s not such a bad climb, I’m a whiner, I should have just sucked it up. Sorry, Paul.) It was a perfect day, not least because it’s warmer outside our apartment than in, and also because I’ve been reading too many Alice Munro stories and have little to no faith left in life or love, so a bit of sunshine and exercise provided a much-needed shake-up.
Nothing in particular to report about Fourvière. The highlight for me, perhaps shamefully, was that the sun was just at the right angle to make my shadow look something like Angelina Jolie. I was wearing those pen-friendly cargo pants for the first time and had almost convinced myself that the shadow was a true likeness; I must look about six feet tall and narrow. Or even, dare I say, willowy. But then I looked at Franck, who actually is six feet tall and narrow, and his shadow looked like an eleven-foot flag pole, so I had to admit to the possibility of distortion.
Fortunately, Franck baked the best strawberry pie of my life when we got home – after seeing the overpriced little mini-pies in the windows of neighbourhood patisseries and deciding that he should just make one himself – see why we keep him around? – and I forgot all about my woes and dug in. (I think I may have still believed somewhere that I had Angelina’s metabolism; here’s hoping I can ever fit into those cargo pants ever again…)