Footloose and Fancy Free:Gallivanting Adventures

Hello Dear Friends!

I am most definitely not in Bristol anymore Toto (nor, for that matter, in Africa). No no, I have gone South; and not a moment too soon. I have been looking into the weather conditions crowding over the UK right now, and believe you me, I am happy to be away from the snowy sludge coating the ground of Bristol; an outcome made possible only by the unique climate in the UK. Honestly though, I realize this is an old bad joke, but I think one of the main reasons that the English went out and colonized land masses closer to the equator was driven by an urge to find habitations with less depressing weather patterns than good ol’ Mother England. Escaping from England’s winter weather was the impetus empowering them to face the terrors of the natives, the rigors of colonization, and the threats of viral death with vigor. After all, dying in the tropics basking in the sun has to be better than dying in England drenched in the rain. But, transitioning from my pontifications…

I flew into Lyon on Wednesday. My former teacher, Mrs. Klopp (or, as I am learning to say, Gina), met  me at Parte-Dieu stop on the Rhone Express ( a conveniently fast train from the airport to the city), and from there we rode bikes to their apartment on Victor Hugo St. As I rode my rented city bike along the streets of Lyon two thoughts hit me: first of all, how perfectly idyllic and European of me to begin my journey across the continent by riding a bike from the train station along the shores of the Rhone, backpack securely in place, and marmot pants rolled to my knees. Secondly, how very un-French I looked since I was nearly sweating in the 50F weather whilst the natives around me sported scarves, gloves, and woolen winter coats. Evidently, those that live in the South of France take rather more convincing that winter is over than I do. The perplexed looks I got the next day when I sported a pair of shorts were very illuminating about their perspective.

The Klopp’s live in a charming apartment above Rue Victor Hugo right in the very heart of Lyon. Standing at their window on the second floor provides a prime “people watching” perch as it is above one of the busier pedestrian paths in the city. Their apartment is on a little stretch of land that is almost, but not quite, an island; hugged on either side by the Rhone and the Sone. The Rhone is the clearer and bigger of the two (and  mostly identified as male); this is because the Sone is smaller and runs through the agricultural areas of France making it the muddier of the two (the Sone is also most commonly portrayed as female).

My time in Lyon has included multiple walks through the streets of the city, wandering the curving pathways and enjoying the ever growing spring sunshine. Mostly the people in Lyon keep to themselves at a rather remote distance. This generality though tends to be overruled when visiting the local farmer’s market. On the weekend, vendors come selling a multiplicity of fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, wines, flowers, and preserves. I relished wandering along the stalls with Gina as she bought her groceries, enjoying and savoring every minute of the expedition.Something funny that I came to realize though, is that nearly anytime  I am surrounded by a different language, I convince myself to some degree that I am capable of understanding what they are saying. Mostly I attribute this to a skewed understanding of being able to read body language vs being able to understand words. But, nonetheless, I find myself listening to Gina chatting with the vendors while I smile and nod my head on the side, pretending to myself and others that I completely understand the conversation being had. But, the moment someone tries to speak to me in French, I find that my false sense of ability quickly fades leaving me with nothing except the few words I actually do know in French, “merci” “bonjour””fromage” “au revoir” “un passporte” “baguette””par le vous anglais?” etc. This always feels like being shoved into cold water when I find my illusion of being able to communicate in French quickly and heartlessly shattered. I don’t know yet if this illusion of mine is helpful, but it is entertaining to myself nonetheless. I guess I will just have to learn French someday, or maybe at least a language besides Latin or Greek that isn’t as out of date (aka it is actually spoken and not just studied).

One of the things that I have truly, deeply, and passionately enjoyed about being in Lyon with the Klopps is the return to fresh cooking. I hadn’t realized until Gina and I had a salad over lunch (cucumbers, lettuce, cherry tomatoes, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar) how much I missed untampered with fruits and vegetables! England, especially my hall of residence, tends to subsidize their student population off of heavily cooked/bullied starches and root vegetables. Hence, tasting a cherry tomato unfried and uncooked was simply divine. Fresh cheeses, rich wines, and crisp fruits have been a welcome hallmark of my time in France. Which, now that I think of it, is perfectly fitting for such an adventure.

It is a lovely city, and the Klopp’s are a fantastic family. Both of which I have had the pleasure of enjoying for the past few days. Also, side note, I won’ t get into it here, but if you want to know about some of the crazy teaching methods of the French for primary and secondary school, do ask! I have heard some fascinating stories from the Klopp’s 14yr old daughter who is enrolled in the public school about their methods… it is shocking. Also, a comparative analysis of the French way of life vs the American is also a fun topic for discussion.

Tomorrow I pick up my friend Kathryn from the Rhone Express and we will go on to meet up with my friends Meg and Gordon. Around 8pm tomorrow we will board the night train and cross over into Italy. I have had a delightful time in France with multiple delicious conversations and many a stimulating meal. I will be sad to leave, but also excited to go on to Florence. I hope to post again sometime in the near future, but for now, Au Revoir!