26 July 2010

Secret Garden

Located just behind the Grande rue de la Croix Rousse in Lyon's 4th district sits one of the most unlikely public spaces operated and maintained by the city of Lyon - the Rosa Mir Garden.

Jules Senis (1913-1983), a Spanish mason who fled his home for France during the Spanish civil war, spent approximately the last 20 years of his life creating the garden after surviving a bout with throat cancer.

The garden takes up nearly 400 square meters of an adjacent building's inner courtyard and offers a unique vision of what one artist's eye and steady hand can create with stone, shell and plant.

To find the entrance, go through the doors of 87 Grande rue de la Croix Rousse. You'll see the entrance gate a little farther up on the left.

A stone-covered column lining one of the garden's pathways.

A quiet place to sit and contemplate this unusual space.

A detail of one of the garden walls. Where each shell has been used as a planter, a small hole drilled into the bottom allows water to flow through.

Looking from the back of the garden towards the entrance.

The garden from above. I had a crazy thought while looking into the garden from here - to see it filled with water and then swim through it.

The view from the building where Mr. Senis lived.

According to one of the young men who works for the city of Lyon, Mr. Senis was fond of geese, and even kept several of them in this garden for a while. He eventually removed them due to the neighbors' complaints, but mostly because the law did not allow geese within city limits.

Mr. Senis got rid of the geese and, true to his character, got the last laugh by replacing them with peacocks. According to the law, peacocks were allowed in the city. Even one peacock is loud, but several living together...you can imagine his neighbors' dismay.

The only place I've seen peacocks in Lyon is at the Parc de la Tête d'or. So I asked the man if it's still legal to keep peacocks in the city.

He paused, then looked at me with a smile and said quite honestly, "I don't know."

The Rosa Mir garden is open on Saturday's from 3 to 6pm from the 1st of April to the 30th of November. If you're in Lyon, it's definitely worth a visit.

22 July 2010

Evening Sky

I'm a sucker for stunning sunsets. This one just fell into my lap the other day.

21 July 2010

Bancha on Ice

Recently, on a particularly hot afternoon, I walked to our local tea shop to buy more of my favorite green tea, Bancha Hojicha. You can visit the shop's blog here and see their tea-of-the-day suggestions in both French and English.

When I walked in the door I was greeted with a genuine smile, a warm "Bonjour" and a complimentary glass of a cold and fruity ice tea brewed with a tantalizing blend of citrus and red summer fruits.

I was sipping slowly and browsing the shelves of tea samples when the question struck: would it be possible to make green ice tea? (I only began drinking hot tea - mostly green - about a year ago, so I'm still a bit of a novice.)

I took the glass bottle of Bancha Hojicha to the counter and naively asked my question.

"Of course", she said, "all you have to do is..."  And for the next several minutes I learned everything (almost) there is to know about making ice tea. She even handed me a leaflet with the instructions printed on one side in case I forgot.

To Make Green Ice Tea
Put about 15 grams of tea in 1 liter of room-temperature water (very important) and let it infuse for 20 to 30 minutes (45 - 60 minutes for black, red or blue tea).

Add citrus peel, spices, sugar or red fruits to suit your particular tastes. Pop it in the fridge and - here's the important point - drink it within 48 hours.

I thanked the tea lady and quickly took my Bancha home with me, eager to concoct my first green ice tea. By early evening it was ready. I took one sip and immediately fell under the spell of the subtle, roasted flavor, lightly perfumed with a sweet woody aroma that made it go down smoothly. Almost too smoothly. Because the next morning I finished off the liter before leaving for work.

As you might know, green tea has been used in China medicinally for about 4,000 years. Green tea contains a powerful anti-oxidant that some people claim can help with conditions such as cancer, arthritis, cardiovascular disease and cholesterol.

Maybe. I drink it because I like the taste. Hot or cold.

As for drinking it within 48 hours - not a problem. The only difficulty now is finding a good hiding spot in the fridge so my wife doesn't find it and drink it before I do.

14 July 2010

Bastille Day

I missed the fireworks show tonight in honor of Bastille Day. But it didn't really seem to matter - I looked out my window, saw this scene and grabbed my camera just in time.  Thirty seconds later the sky had changed.

This video is for Muzz, a mate from down under who goes crazy for fireworks. If you had been in Lyon for the festival of lights last December, you would have seen this.  It starts off slow, then picks up towards the end.

Enjoy, and a safe and happy Bastille Day to you.

12 July 2010

Jurassic Lakes

Here are some images from our latest weekend escape as we followed La route des Lacs in the Jura's lake region.

We started with a detour to Dramelay. They say that about 30 people live here, but the only life form we encountered was a large black dog who wouldn't even bark as we walked by. That's how stifling the heat was. From the backside of Dramelay there's a communal trail that meanders up into the hills above the village to the ruins of an ancient chateau built at the beginning of the 13th century.

Before you reach the ruins (which we didn't - no map and the trail markings were slightly confusing) sits an equally ancient chapel.

The trail then leads from the chapel back down the hill through a dense forest where lichen hang from the trees in thick clumps like shaggy hair in need of a good cut. It's an enchanting place that belongs to another age, and we fully expected to hear the faint and peaceful whisperings of fairies or wood elves; that or the thunderous crashing of dinosaur stomping toward us.


 Lichen-covered branches.

 Having a quiet lunch on the stone bridge above the stream.

From Dramely we  headed north-east to visit the lakes: sinuous Lake Vouglans (see map below), Ilay, Narlay, Maclu, Bonlieu and the Herisson Falls.

We walked the trail (11 kilometers) that goes around the four
lakes seen here in the middle.

Small Maclu Lake

We swam in two of the four lakes along our walk despite the obvious "Swimming Forbidden" warning signs. My wife reassured me that the signs were posted more in the spirit of "No Lifeguard on Duty - Swim at Your Own Risk". In that case, the hundreds of others in the water that day were not doing so from that sometimes annoying propensity of the French to go against authority - they were just having a good time.

Here are three different views of the lakes from Eagle's Peak (993 meters).

07 July 2010

Strange French Laws

Here are some strange French "laws" that have popped up on blogs and Internet sites over the last 10 years.

Some claim the laws are bogus. They certainly seem antiquated.  But I'm guessing that some, if not all, were true at one time or another.

Judge for yourself.

                                                 Strange French Laws

1. In France it is illegal to call a pig Napoleon.

2. In France it is illegal to kiss on railways. (I'm a felon and didn't even know it)

3.Between 8am and 8pm, 70% of the music played on the radio must be by French artists.

4. It is forbidden to die on the territory of the commune without having bought a cemetery plot first.

5. In France, an ashtray is considered to be a lethal weapon.

6. In Paris it is illegal to walk with your hand up a woman's skirt. However, if you are on the metro, you may touch breasts.

If you think these are strange, this site here and this one here list some other, equally bizarre laws from around the world. 

Happy reading.

04 July 2010

4th of July Weekend

The city of Nantua in the east of France has two main streets, both of which are one-way. This one heads west, towards Lyon (74 kilometers), while the second continues east, eventually delivering you to Geneva on the French-Swiss border.

From nearly any location, the city's 3,500+ inhabitants, known as Nantuatiens, can look up and see the imposing rock face dominating their city.

The center of attraction in Nantua is the lake. At nearly 3 kilometers long, it supports a variety of activities such as swimming, sailing, fishing, pedal-boating, water-skiing, picnicking and more.

You can go here to see the official site for the city of Nantua; there are some interesting aerial photos of the lake and surrounding areas.

This photo is for my son who loves fast cars.  I just had time to take this one shot before the owner, wearing tight blue jeans and cowboy boots, walked up to the car, hopped inside and rumbled away down the street. 

It's not that uncommon to see Ferraris or Maseratis or even Lamborghinis here in France, but a Dodge Viper?

That's a first for me.

Nantua, of course, is better known for lending its name to the succulent white sauce made from milk, flour, fresh cream and butter infused with the essence of crayfish, aka Sauce Nantua.

Not far from Nantua, in the Jura mountains, is a interesting place called Les marmites de Géant, or, the giant potholes.

The Semine river flows around the village of St. Germain de Joux in successive cascades that have, over time, dug these cylindical holes about 3 meters deep. 

I read somewhere that trout love to hang out in these deep pools, but I didn't see any on this morning.

These "potholes" also mark the trail head for a three-hour walk that climbs to nearly 1,000 meters up the mountain, then loops back down to the St. Germain de Joux.

The Bed & Breakfast we stayed in last night (with the red-tiled roof) sits at the bottom of a valley with spectacular views of the cliffs that shoot straight up for 500 meters or more.

The owners say that they can barely make a living running a B&B. Fortunately for them, the husband is an artisan who crafts bows and arrows by hand and also leads introductory archery courses. This link here takes you to their site.

The forest about one-hour's walk straight up the mountain
from the Bed & Breakfast was quiet, cool and enchanting.

Once out of the forest, a gentle grassy slope leads down
to the quiet village of Bellydoux (Belly-doo).


We didn't have barbecues and we didn't see any fireworks this weekend. We have to wait until July 14th for that.

But we did have lots of clean, fresh, playful nature - an experience worthy of a celebration in honor of our freedom. 

02 July 2010

Pasta del Sol

School's out, and to honor the heat wave spreading across the country, and the kids who are going away to summer camp in the wee hours of the morning, I decided to make a special dinner I call Pasta del Sol.

Pasta del Sol

- 1 cup (approx.) dried tomatoes packed in olive oil
- 250 grams of marscapone cheese
- 1 1/2 to 2 cups flat parsley
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1/2 cup of pistachios (or pine nuts)
- salt to taste

Put everything in a blender and mix. Adjust the ingredients (more cheese, olive oil, etc.) until you get a smooth, creamy paste-like sauce. Add to your favorite pasta and top with Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese.

I used castellane pasta. They look like ridged shells that curl in on themselves. It's a good choice for pasta del sol or pesto since the sauce easily finds its way into the nooks and crannies.

We sipped a room-temperature red wine with this dish tonight, but in this heat, a nice chilled rosé would have gone down easily.

Bon appétit.