19 January 2011

Cinéma St. Denis

If I turn right outside my front door and walk up the street about 250 steps, I arrive at the entrance to the only movie theater in the Croix-Rousse district of Lyon.

Cinéma St. Denis opened its doors in 1920, first for the children of the St. Denis parochial school, then to the public during the 1930s. This one-screen movie theater can seat 237 people and is run entirely by a staff of 50 or so volunteers.

At six euros, the price of an adult ticket is considerably less than what you'd pay at other cinemas throughout the city. But don't let that fool you.

The theater is equipped with fantastic Dolby Sound and can project Digital as well as 3D films. Yet these are only a few of the reasons cinéphiles frequent this surprisingly modern salle de cinéma from yesteryear.

To start with, there are 10 showings each week  And with a wide variety of genres - art-house films, kids' films, foreign language films - there's always something for everyone.

When was the last time you went to see a movie that had an intermission?

Each showing at Cinéma St. Denis begins with previews which are then followed by a short. Then the lights come back up and the curtain slides closed for several minutes while a volunteer walks up and down the aisles selling candy, chocolates and ice creams.

The red cushion seats are plush and dangerously comfortable; they're even angled so that even children sitting near the back have an unobstructed view of the screen.

Because the cinema is located in the heart of the Croix Rousse, it's easy (for Croix Roussians) to decide on a whim to go see a film. Which is exactly what I did a few days ago.

At 8:15 last Friday evening I checked on the Internet to see what movie was playing. Nowhere Boy, the story of John Lennon, pre-Beatles. By 8:30 I had laced up my shoes, thrown on my jacket and was out the door.

250 steps later I was waiting in line to buy my ticket when I heard someone behind me say Excusez-moi. I turned and was asked by a young man if I wanted a free ticket.

He had two free movie passes that were expiring after this night. And since he had come to see the film by himself, he didn't want the second ticket to go to waste. So he offered it to me.

I thanked him, took the ticket then went and found a seat in the center of the theater, eager to watch the short - a Swedish film about a group of drummers who sneak into various (and forbidden) places to make music on everything from drinking glasses and electric mixers to toilet plungers and unconscious hospital patients.

Cinéma St. Denis is located at 77, Grande Rue de la Croix Rousse in Lyon's 4th district and generally shows films six days a week. You can see the current schedule of films here or here.

The volunteers' warm welcome, the cozy seating and the wildly creative short all reminded me of why I like going to see a movie - to let myself be swept away into that majestic and magical world of make believe.

13 January 2011

Photos of the Day

Walking through the old part of the city this morning (vieux Lyon), I was hoping the sun would pierce the cloud cover, which it never did. Even though the light wasn't excellent, I shot a few photos of the Saône river and of the city seen from Fourvière hill. You can read about Fourvière here and here.

The Saône River. The tower on the left behind the building 
was originally built in 1893 and was open to tourists. There was a 
restaurant on the ground floor and and elevator would take paying guests 
to a viewing platform 80 meters up. In 1963 the tower closed to the public 
and became a television relay station.

The relay station up close.

A footbridge leading across the river.

The view of Lyon (looking east) from Fourvière hill.

These six "children", named Les Enfants du Monde, were sculpted
out of bronze by the artist Rachid Khimoune. You can see them
at the Jardin de la Basoche in the the heart of the vieux Lyon, 
open from 10am to 7pm. What's interesting is that the salmon-colored 
building to the right houses Lyon's miniature museum, while these
"kids" stand at least 6 feet tall.

12 January 2011

Fortune Cookie à la française

The holidays are over, and even if you've composted your tree (or dismantled it) and stored the decorations away in boxes for another year, there are still some small reminders - in our house at least - that les fêtes weren't that long ago.

In Lyon, the end-of-year celebrations would not be the same without a bag or two of those delicately rich, gift-wrapped chocolates laying around the house.

The papillote (pronounced pap-ee-ought) is a Lyonnais invention. You can go to this French webpage and read more about its history and lore (the photo to the left comes from there).

Like most things gustatory coming out of Lyon, these chocolates taste good. And like Chinese fortune cookies, each golden-wrapped packet contains a proverb or joke or well-known quote that can add some laughter and fun...and sometimes a healthy dose of contemplation...to any after-dinner table conversation.

So yesterday I reached for a papillote, unwrapped it and found a quote and a proverb. From Mark Twain: "They didn't know it was impossible, so they did it."

The second was a Tibetan proverb: "Learn as if you had to live forever and live as if you had to die tonight!"

Got me to thinking.

There's still a host of foreign languages I want to learn; if I had to live forever, or even half that time, I just might get to them all.

And if I had to die tonight?

Ideally I'd be able to tell my kids the story of how I did everything I ever wanted simply because I never thought it impossible.

And then we'd sit down together and finish that bag of papillotes.

06 January 2011

La Maison d'être

Eleven years ago this month I signed up at a language school in Lyon to learn French. One day early on into the course we were conjugating the verb 'to be' when Claudine, our aging professor, walked around the room and slapped a handout on each student's desk. She thought a visual tool might help us remember this fundamental rule more easily.

On the verge of retirement, Claudine's teaching career had already spanned many decades. She knew her French cold and could answer any grammar question with a dictatorial pride (and ferocity), yet it didn't take a genius to know that her methods had stubbornly refused to evolve with the times. You didn't even have to speak French to figure that one out.

She ruled her class with an iron fist and was prone to outbursts of anger for questions answered incorrectly. On more than one occasion it must have taken the strength of a rhinoceros to resist whacking us upside the head.

So on this particular day we were studying the verb être (to be)...je suis...tu es...il est....elle est...We learned that when conjugating certain verbs in the past tense, we must combine them with the auxiliary 'être'. Apparently a house provides the perfect structure to drive the point...home.

The lesson went something like this:

In the attic is where Jacques was born (Jacques est né). This is also where he died (il est mort) all alone.

We all know how dangerous it can be to work on the roof. Jacques was not wearing his safety harness this day and he fell (il est tombé).

This particular house has a lot of stairs going up and down. Jacques went up (il est monté) and then back down again (il est descendu).

One day Jacques stayed (il est resté) in front of the TV for hours, became (il est devenu) old and decrepit, then went through (il est passé) the living room to the kitchen to get a Rolaids and a glass of warm milk.

Jacques went in (il est entré) through the front door. There was a party going on and he arrived (il est arrivé) 15 minutes late, which is the French custom. 

He came (il est venu) to the party to see Béatrice, his girlfriend. Jacques went (il est allé) to the back room where the guests were dancing.

"Have you seen Béatrice?" Jacques asked the host of the party.

"Yes", she said. "But she went (elle est sorti) out of the room ten minutes ago. She left (elle est parti) with Peter.

Confused and disappointed, Jacques returned (il est retourné) to the back room and sat on the couch to wait for Béatrice to come back.

During the lesson I wrote la maison d'être on top of the page Only one month of lessons and already I was making a pun in French (maison d'être / raison d'être). I was so pleased with myself that I blurted it out to Claudine, thinking she would be proud at my cleverness.

I thought it was funny, but all I got in return was a cold, silent regard. It was like staring down a Rodin. Fortunately Claudine had been on the other side of the room. I cringe to think what would have happened had she been standing next to me.

But I learned my lesson that day, mainly that learning French is not a funny undertaking or for those seeking points for being clever. At least not with a teacher like Claudine.

To be fair about it though, the French language does embody a certain logic. It also possesses a tantalizingly rich vocabulary, some of which doesn't seem to exist elsewhere.

For example, the phrase 'l'esprit de l'escalier' is known as that feeling you get when you leave a conversation and suddenly think of all the things you should have said, or could have said better. Only now it's too late. As far as I know, English doesn't have an equivalent, which is too bad because I would already have had several occasions to put it to good use.

But even native speakers, it seems, have their fair share of difficulty with the language. Today's top news flash headline for MSN France asks the question: Is Our President A Bad Student in French?

According to the article the opinions are divided, some experts claiming he uses vulgar language while others say he expresses himself rather well. Whatever your take on it, it's hard to deny the "Casse-toi, pauve con" incident from February 2008.

I imagine sparks - and vulgarities (grammatically correct or not) - would most certainly fly, should the President of the Republic ever go head to head with a teacher of Claudine's ilk. But why even bother?

A much better use of our time would be to contemplate the ups and downs and ins and outs of our own maison d'être. After all, if we follow the worksheet to the letter, it's where we're born and spend the bulk of our lives before retiring to the attic forever.

04 January 2011

Solar Eclipse - January 4th, 2011

Today's partial solar eclipse was visible from Lyon this morning from approximately 7:50am to 10:30am, GMT+01:00.

I didn't 'see' the eclipse directly as I had no special lens or protective glasses. But the reflection from the neighbor's window let me see it without burning my eyes.

Here's the building across the street at 9:26am (cropped from a wider shot).

 And here's a close up of the window.

It's not a perfect image, but we can definitely see that the sun is being eclipsed.