25 September 2010

Tibetan Soup

It was at a beautifully restored, underground café/bookshop in Lyon where we discovered Tibetan soup for the very first time.

We didn't actually taste it, not that day anyway. But we did memorize the ingredients that had been chalked into the black board at the entrance.

It was a late autumn day when we ducked into the café to get out of the cold and to drink a hot chocolate, the kind that's served in those elegantly tall glasses and comes with a tower of crème chantilly on top.

Tibetan Soup

-chop and sauté two medium onions in some olive oil
-add two or three whole garlic cloves
-add two medium eggplants (not peeled), chunked
-when you see the eggplant start to soften and turn brown, add one can of whole peeled tomatoes
-cover with water, add about 5 handfuls of red lentils (that's about a cup and a half, I guess) and bring to a boil, then let simmer for about 20 minutes.

Next, add one 400ml can of coconut milk and mix with an immersion blender until smooth.

Season with salt, fresh or dried corriander, cardamom and red chili powder or cayenne pepper.

If you get the seasoning just right, little bursts of flavor will pop in your mouth and the tastes won't overpower each other.

This is a great soup when the weather is cold, and goes particularly well with a side dish of rice or semolina (couscous).

Bon appétit.

21 September 2010

September Sunset

Last Friday we were gathered around the table for a 40th birthday dinner bash, the last one we'll have in our family for another 30 years.

Somewhere between the salad course and the grilled salmon, I looked out the window and said, "Excuse me, I gotta go for a second."

One minute later the light had changed, as it always does. But not before I got this shot.

Enjoy, and if you were born in September, happy birthday!

19 September 2010

Cultural Heritage Weekend

Every September France celebrates its cultural heritage by opening the doors to its museums, libraries, historical monuments, gardens (public and private) and various government buildings for an entire weekend, all free of charge.

Music was an integral part of this year's heritage weekend, with the national orchestra of Lyon performing eight free concerts throughout the city on Sunday afternoon.

They played Mozart. They played Berlioz. They played Vivaldi, Dvorak, Bach and Brahms. And in the courtyard of the hôtel de ville, four cellists played melodies coming from the high Kenyan plateaus.

If you didn't want to listen to music, but rather wanted to see how it was 'made', luthier Christian Charlemagne, a stringed-instrument maker, offered free tours of his workshop with demonstrations of how violins (and cellos and altos) are made and repaired.

This man spends his days repairing old violins, some dating back to the 1700s. He explained that there are several factors which can damage a violin, including excess humidity and lack of playing.

Then he held up this violin in front of the lamp and said, "Worms are the worst."

If you look carefully, you can see the light shining through the bottom of the violin where the worms have eaten through the wood. This, he said, is the most difficult repair of all. (Click on the photo for a larger image.)

Walking out of the workshop and back onto the narrow cobblestone street after the tour, I mentally added another profession to the growing list of careers I would choose if I could do it all over again.

I'm not that skilled with my hands, and I've only just begun my fourth year of violin, but the thought of being able to unlock centuries' worth of music - past and future - all for the preservation of our cultural heritage, is for me a most enchanting prospect.

Expats en Photo

I recently met with a photographer in Lyon who's showing some recent work, parallel to 'US Today After' exposition.

Her name is Rose-Marie Loisy and you can visit her website here.

Rose interviewed, then photographed, five Americans living in Lyon, including myself.

She wanted to convey a sense of what it was like for us, as expatriates, to make the transition to living in France.

What was challenging? What was fun? What was new and interesting?  Not surprisingly, food and language came out the dominant themes.

You can see Rose's photos at the atelier des Moirages in Lyon's 1st district every Wednesday from 5 to 7pm and on Fridays and Saturdays from 2 to 7pm until October 30th.

16 September 2010

Two Rivers Run Through It

Two rivers run through the city of Lyon - the Rhône (actually called a fleuve in French - a river that flows into the sea) and the Saône, which flows into the Rhône at the southern edge of the city.

Below are two photos of the Rhône.  I'll post more of the Saône soon.

From the banks of the Rhône, looking across
to the opera house (the domed building on the left)
and the Croix Rousse hill on the right.

Looking across from the west bank. Some of the péniches, or barges, 
docked along the river are private residences while others have been 
transformed into bars and restaurants.

11 September 2010

USA Today After...

There are only a handful of moments in my life, compared to the total number lived, that I can recall with absolute clarity:

-sitting in 10th grade biology class and hearing the principal, Glenn Fisher, announce that the Space Shuttle Challenger had just exploded seconds after liftoff

-listening to our high school valedictorian compare life to a tossed salad

-getting married in a black tux with tails

-watching (or nearly so) my wife give birth to our two children

-driving home from work one September afternoon and thinking that the radio announcers must be joking about the twin towers falling to the ground

On each of these occasions I can remember where I was exactly, what I was doing, who was with me, even what I was wearing.

I've heard other people describe with uncanny accuracy the details of what they were doing when they heard about Kennedy or Martin Luther King, Jr., or Nixon resigning, or man first landing on the moon - all events which, for the American psyche at least, were supercharged with emotion.

Coinciding with one of these powerful events, the anniversary of September 11, is a photo exposition hosted by the city of Lyon titled "US Today After". The exposition runs from 9 September to 4 November in selected galleries around the city.

The organizers of the exposition speak about the theme here. But because it's a translation from an original French text, and therefore mostly word-for-word (and not always so clear), I've summed up my own thoughts about it below:

The driving force behind the exposition is to explore that place where documentary photography meets contemporary art.

America's steps through history, though always moving forward, are often marked - and sometimes marred - by major events that are at odds with what we normally identify as American idealism or the American way.

The media's reactions in the wake of these turbulent events are continually pushing the boundaries outward, rendering the search for an American identity more complicated and at the same time, that much more necessary.

In this post-Katrina, post-September 11 America, we see a paradox of a disenchanting American dream, but there is also, always, the dream of a happy future.

The photos in this exposition, by these photographers, will explore these themes visually, no doubt in their own unique and artistic ways.

Intense emotional events - political assassinations, natural disasters, financial crises, terrorist attacks - leave their mark both individually and collectively. The ancient Greek philosophers referred to such moments as kairos - moments in time that signify opening and opportunity, the chance to manifest a future potential into the present reality.

The other side of a kairos moment holds the possibility of transformation. Go through it and you - and the reality you once knew  - will never be the same again.

If that's the case, America, like much of the world today, has had plenty of opportunity in the recent past to forge a new identity.  Will we still be struggling with the paradox of disillusionment and happy future on the other side?

Philosophers and scholars and artists can show us what they think.

But one thing is for sure: that reality is the responsibility of each one of us...and the experience of how we got there will be unforgettable.

10 September 2010

What do you hear?

Imagine 10 people see the same movie and you ask each one, separately, to tell you what it was about. What generally happens?

Everyone tells you something different.

Someone remembers the love story. Another remembers the violence, while someone else recalls the motorcycle chase through congested city streets or the camera slowly panning across a windswept desert or lush green countryside. In fact, you often hear 10 very different accounts of the same movie.

Sometimes we see the same phenomenon in our social interactions.

The other day two old men were sitting around the table after lunch and shooting the breeze about whatever it is old French buddies like to talk about, in this case their past hunting exploits and World War II.

The women in this story were in the kitchen cleaning up (please don't send me any sexist hate mail - I'm just giving you the facts as I heard them) and were listening to the two men talking away.

In the course of conversation, man no.1 mumbled something that neither of the women understood with absolute certainty. So they asked for clarity.

Man no.2: "Mais bien sur, he said un grand cerf", meaning, a large red deer. Man no.2 is a hunter after all.

(from the kitchen)
Woman no. 1: "No no no, he said a concert." Woman no.1 plays the cello.

Woman no.2: "But no, he said cancer. What's ironic - and sad - is that this woman has had serious problems with cancer in the past.

In English it would be hard to mistake the words deer, concert and cancer. But in French the words grand cerf, concert and cancer have nearly identical pronunciation.

After a brief, but heated debate, the word in question was revealed: un grand cerf. The two men were thinking along the same lines after all. And the women? Well...

The kitchen that night was noisy with utensils and ceramic plates clanging around in the sink. So was it bad acoustics...coincidence...or something else?

What do you hear?

04 September 2010

Climbing the Gerbier - Vercors

About 33 kilometers south-west of the city of Grenoble is the Gerbier, an impressive - some say mythic -  mass of limestone in the Vercors mountains whose summit reaches 2109 meters.

To get there, you park in a place called le hameau des Clots, then walk up a meandering trail that takes you past a shepherd's house and then high up into the valley. After two hours of walking up, you reach the start of the climb at the base of the mountain's west face.

You can get to the top in four pitches, about 120 meters of vertical climbing, then walk the narrow ridge to the summit. Just past the summit, and at the southern end of the rock, you can rappel down (15 meters) to a hard-sloping, zig-zagging trail that takes you back down the valley.

Guidebooks claim that the Gerbier constitutes an excellent introduction to mountain climbing. It's not for the beginning climber, however. Or anyone afflicted with vertigo.

These photos are courtesy of Laurent Fondacci, the guy who brought me up and back down the Gerbier...safely. Thanks Laurent!

The south-west face of the Gerbier in the morning light.

 Getting closer.

The slope leading up to the base - west-face.

 Almost there!

The start of the climb. You can see two climbers 
already on the rock, about 3/4 of the way up.

Laurent leading us to the summit.  It was late August but cold
and windy enough to wear polar fleece and Gore-Tex jackets.

Enjoying the view from the top.