26 June 2011

Croix-Rousse Market on Sunday Morning

This morning I took one of my sons with me to the farmers' market (open six days a week) on the Boulevard de la Croix-Rousse.

I handed him a camera and asked him to shoot whatever he wanted while I was buying food for the week.

Here's a small sample of what he saw, from a perspective of four feet, two inches.

25 June 2011

It's Summertime

You know summer and end-of-school vibes are in the air when higher temperatures settle in across the hexagon...

Weather map (http://france.lachainemeteo.com) for Sunday 26 June 2011
(37°C = 98.6°F)

...country-wide scandal breaks out over the baccalauréat (secondary school exams)...
(read the article from France24.com in English here)

...and your kids go nuts relishing the inappropriateness of squirting unsuspecting pedestrians with water pistols from two stories up.

New Blog on the Block

There's a new blog in town called LovefromLyon that highlights "Lyon's attractions, services, and more..." to take directly from the blog's title. Handy, especially if you'll be traveling to the Rhône-Alpes region anytime in the future.

The blog is relatively new, with just one (albeit long) post as of today, and promises to develop into quite a comprehensive guide for anybody wishing to visit the city of Lyon. It's also worth noting that the blog's maker, originally from Liverpool, has been living in Lyon for 15 years, so he knows his stuff.

You can click here to go directly to the site and start reading. You might also want to subscribe as the author promises to update at least once a week, and will even take requests from readers to write about a specific subject or answer questions about Lyon.

Good luck LovefromLyon!

15 June 2011

La Drôme en Photo

Here are a few shots from our weekend in the Drôme, a department of the Rhône-Alpes region famous for luscious fields of lavender, picturesque villages, outdoor activities...and Clairette de Die, one of our favorite sparkling white wines.

You can read more about the Drôme here.

Click on any photo for a larger view.

Lavender in bloom

Panorama reminiscent of a Tuscan landscape

A long view of les trois becs, the three jagged peaks
just left of the dip in the above mountains, a well-known
location for hiking and rock climbing.

A peaceful homestead amidst fields of wheat and oat

08 June 2011

The Croix-Rousse Celebrates!

This coming Saturday, 11 June, the 4th district of Lyon will be hosting its 10th annual Croix-Rousse en fête, a street fair that assembles local shopkeepers, regional artisans and creators of jewelry, hand crafts and other specialized goods.

From 9am to 7pm, the entire length of the Grande rue de la Croix-Rousse, as well as several adjoining streets, will be turned into a pedestrian-friendly open-air market (no cars) where visitors can stroll and shop in a convivial and festive atmosphere.

If you're looking for second-hand items, make sure to stop by the vide grenier (yard sale) located on and around the Place de la Croix-Rousse.

This year's Fête gets jazzed up with entertainment from Musik et Dépendance(s) and a musical variety interpreted by the St. Exupéry High School students.

You can see a schedule of the day's events here. For more general information about expos, events and other activities happening in the Croix-Rousse, you can visit this site here.

Below are some of the posters used to promote the Croix-Rousse en fête from previous years.

06 June 2011

New French Words for 2012

The press today, along with several blogs and websites, offered a sneak peak at the most recent evolution of the French language by announcing a few of the newest words to appear in the 2012 edition of the French dictionary, Le Robert.

The three most oft-cited words which seem to be causing a big stir this year are:

  • tweet (as in "I loved you photo - I just tweeted it!")
  • cougar (think Courtney Cox) and
  • vuvuzela (the horn-like instrument that caused a media sensation during the 2010 Football World Cup in South Africa) 

It's a bold move for a language which historically has been deliberately and, at times, fiercely protected from foreign influence. But more and more it seems, the prevalence of the English language and technology has become too far-reaching to ignore.

A few other noteworthy words that made this year's cut are:

  • E-Learning 
  • matcha (green tea) and
  • cagole, referring to a vulgar and provocative woman. Just in case you were wondering, this is not the first time such a word has made it into the dictionary.

Nearly 1,500 new words are making their début in the 2012 edition which goes on sale tomorrow. The words are chosen according to how often they are used in the media and literary works.

If that's the case, it's only a matter of time before DSK is inducted into the French language, the meaning of which, in all fairness, has yet to be resolved.

01 June 2011

Chômage, Part 3 — The Employment Consultant

Where your talents and the needs of the world cross,
there lies your vocation.

It's a cool, breezy morning at the end of March, exactly one month after my initial meeting with the man in a shaggy grey cardigan at the Pôle-emploi, and I'm walking down the steep, cobble-stone Montée St. Sébastien that drops from the Croix-Rousse's gros caillou (big rock) and spills out into the hôtel de ville district, passing through some of Lyon's typically picturesque urban canyons.

Mental Preparation
Instead of gazing out and letting my eyes take in the sweeping views of the city, I was concentrating on my breathing; not looking up, as I usually do, to watch the dance of light and shadow against a blue sky or against the salmons and ochres of the city's architecture. Instead it was one slow, steady breath at a time.

I was a little nervous because, well, I thought things were really going to get moving forward during this morning's meeting with the consultant; getting into the nuts and bolts of job hunting: CVs, cover letters, interview techniques. That was the promise of the CRP, what I was told many times over I could count on. And how many times had I heard that 'everything would be explained'? Maybe this was really going to be it.

Consultant No. 1
The first moments of the meeting were quite ordinary — Bonjour...how are you...did you have any trouble finding us?

Everything after that — and for the remaining hour — fell squarely in line with the weird groove already laid out by my first two encounters.

It soon became apparent that this was just another "verification" moment, as if some deep, invisible part of me had escaped all previous attempts of scrutinization.

The consultant asked what kind of job I was looking for. Communication, I said, feeling the sudden nasty urge to remain purposely vague. Previous job's salary? xxx per year, I replied honestly and somewhat embarrassed. Oh, that can't be right, she said. It must be more like xxx. No, I said. Yes, it is, she insisted. I was a teacher, I reminded her. Oh anyway, it doesn't matter, she conceded. It doesn't? All of this she wrote down in my file with a studious yet bubbly enthusiasm that suggested she was having a ball.

But then a glimmer of hope: We won't be meeting again, she said. The consultant who's been assigned your case is ill today. She'll call you in a few days for another appointment. We're just here to...verify your information. Of course.

And what will my meetings with the other consultant be like? I asked. Madame R. is going to work on you with your skills base, and developing a network. Network? Yes, and remember to bring her a copy of your CV — we're going to validate it. You are going to validate my CV? Yes. But it's in English. That's fine, we have a consultant who speaks good English. Ok.

One hour later I walked out the door a vetted man. Again. Never before had I been so validated, verified, confirmed, vindicated, authenticated or legitimized.

Consultant No. 2
Six days later Madame R. sits across the table from me and reads through the CV I've brought. She apologizes, as many French will do, that her English isn't perfect, but says everything is clear to her.

I then show her the cover letters I wrote in response to two different job ads for international organizations in Geneva and Lyon, both in English. She nods her head all the way through, eyes following her finger to the bottom of the page. Reaching the end she looks up and says slowly: Ah, I think I understand, you're looking for a job job, a real job.

Our professional relationship is only minutes old but already bang on, and ready to go places; I can feel it. Finally. No validation. No questions I've already answered. Then, This is clear. You express yourself very well.

Thank you. But it's what I do, I respond. But to be honest, I spent a lot of time on those letters. They were difficult to write. I've always thought that—

Writing about yourself is the most difficult thing? she finishes my thought perfectly. Don't worry, it's the same for me.

More clarity and candor than I've heard since this whole process began three months before. Madame R. is obviously not of the same mold as my previous interlocutors. Borrowing from Joseph Campbell's description of the hero's journey, I've just come in contact with a guide bearing magical gifts to ferry me successfully across any challenge that lies ahead.

And that's exactly what happens. Meeting regularly, every seven to 10 days, Madame R. guides me through some tedious exercises that help reform, expand and update the list of my professional skills, arranged by category, covering my entire career, and in French.

With that information now on hand, we work on writing CVs and cover letters in the French style, or according to her, what companies in France today expect. Which leads to a conversation about how rigid and unforgiving the professional culture here can be.

You have to fit this profile, she begins, and have this degree and know this person...I hate it, but that's how it's done, and it's important to learn how to play the game if you want to work here. We agree on so many basic 'facts' it's borderline spooky.

Around our sixth meeting, When I tell her I want to create my own freelance writing business, she whips out a stack of forms as if expecting it. Fifty percent of my clients all want to create their own enterprise, she says. I'm not surprised.

Because of my CRP status, the Pôle-emploi must first validate my project, which means filling out a lot of forms specific to the activity I want to create. Once that's done they'll send me to an independent consultant who specializes in helping people like me finalize a proper business plan. If you get this far, says Madame R., and the specialist thinks you need more training to start your business, the Pôle-emploi cannot refuse. He's got the final say. 

For those addicted to power, it must be a massive rush to pick up the phone and tell a huge, state-run agency what to do and know it will be done.

Final Thoughts
So this is where I find myself today, working hard to complete a jumble of forms spread over my desk, their electronic counterparts blinking at me from my computer screen, so the employment office can authenticate that I have a viable project to create my own business.

I have no doubt it will happen; it's more a question of when. The unemployment checks will stop coming in January 2012; that gives me another seven months to jump through all the proper hoops the system requires.

But it will be worth it. Writing freelance full time is something I've been dreaming about for longer than I care to admit. And the timing — and available resources — have never been better.

Bulky as the system may be, with its manic penchant for sweeping, all-inclusive validation, it works as well as can be expected, and then some. When I hear people complaining about it, I wonder if they're simply forgetting who's really in charge, and giving the 'system' a disproportionate responsibility to make decisions for them.

Walking home from my most recent meeting with Madame R., I was feeling expansive and free, more so than usual. In my mind I replayed our discussion until I found what might have triggered this sudden rise of passion. Eventually it came back to me — during the meeting I had made a suggestion about something I wanted to do and how I would like to go about it.

Of course, she said. I'm here for you. Don't forget it's what you decide that matters.