31 December 2012

Stuff I've Learned in France, Part 1

For those of us whose New Year begins on January 1st, the end of December is a natural time to reflect on all those things we'd like to accomplish, or change, in the coming year.

Instead of looking forward, I've been thinking about what's happened in my life since landing in France on a cold and blustery December afternoon 13 years ago. I never expected to stay this long, but I'm happy I have.

Which is why, on the cusp of a new year, and with the promise of change in the air, it feels appropriate to kick off a new Got-France-in-My-Pants series: Stuff I've Learned in France. Here it is then, an example of the kinds of stuff you might see more of in 2013.

Counting the Months
In the past, if I needed to know how many days were in a certain month, and I didn't have a calendar nearby, I'd mentally rifle through this well-known rhyme

Thirty days hath September,
April, June, and November.
All the rest have thirty-one,
Except(ing) February alone,
With twenty-eight days clear,
And twenty-nine in each leap year.

until I got to the month in question; a bit of a laborious operation if I had been aiming for one of the unnamed months with 31 days. 

But no more, because I recently learned a simple, some might even say "childish" technique that will give me the right answer in seconds and takes less mental effort than memorizing the number of days per month, even though that might be ultimately easier. And all you need is the back of your hand.

To begin, make a fist with your left or right hand (it doesn't matter which), making sure the back of your hand (with the knuckles) is facing you. Next, starting with the knuckle of your index finger, say the months in order (January, February, March, etc.), touching each knuckle and then each dip in between knuckles, one for each month.

So the index knuckle is January, the dip in between the index and middle-finger knuckle is February, the middle-finger knuckle is March. When you get to the knuckle of your pinkie finger (July), return to the index-finger knuckle (August) and finish the year at the ring-finger knuckle (December).

The only other thing to know is that "knuckle" months have 31 days (January, March, May, July, August, October, December), while the months represented by the dips in between knuckles, with the exception of February, each have 30 days (April, June, September, November). Or put another way, knuckle months are taller, and so have more days than "dip" months. 

And that's it. This isn't mind blowing stuff for sure, but it is practical. My wife was astonished I didn't know this little trick before. Maybe you've know it for a long time. If not, try it out; you might find it useful. And to think I didn't learn this stuff until I got to France.

Thanks for reading, and see you in the New Year!

ONLYLYON Video Contest Results

The results are in!

On the 17th of this month the ONLYLYON video contest ended, and two of the three winners have already been identified:

Antoine Moyroud, whose video had been watched nearly 12,000 times on YouTube. If you haven't seen it yet, you can watch Antoine's video here. This video was one of my personal favorite's from the beginning. Congratulations Antoine!

The second prize has been awarded to Elliot Chabanis and Owen Barrow, two high school students, for their video "Lyon Internationally", which received the most number of votes on Facebook. You can see Elliot and Owen's video here.

The winner of the Jury's award - the third and final prize - will be announced in mid-January 2013. If my video wins, I'll post it here.

Thank you to everyone who voted on Facebook and watched my video on YouTube!

04 December 2012

Père Lachaise Cemetary in Paris

First-timer visitors to Paris often have a checklist of the notable sites they absolutely must visit. It often goes something like this: the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, the Champs-Elysées, Versailles, Notre Dame de Paris, Montmartre and its

Basilica of the Sacré Coeur.

An equally worthwhile site, one that might not seem obvious at first but which draws more than two million visitors per year, is the Père-Lachaise Cemetery located in Paris' 20th district.

Opened in 1804, this 108-acre plot of land is the final resting place for one million people, including many famous artists, musicians, statesmen and other figures of historical significance.

Visiting Père-Lachaise is like strolling through a hilled city with little streets meandering this way and that. The architecture of the cemetery's 70,000 tombs varies greatly from simple stone slabs laid flat to towering and ornate monuments in the Baroque, Gothic and Neo-Byzantine styles.

One could easily spend hours walking the tree-line lanes and exploring the grave sites. If you're on a tight schedule, you can decide "who" you want to see ahead of time. This site gives you a virtual tour of the cemetery, and even has an alphabetical grave index to help you prepare your visit in advance. Otherwise you can obtain a free map of the cemetery from the Conservation office just inside the main entrance on Boulevard de Ménilmontant.

During a recent visit to Père-Lachaise I couldn't resist the temptation to repeat the joke: "People are just dying to get in here". Only later did I find out that there actually is a waiting list as very few plots are available nowadays. It's also expensive - buying a plot in perpetuity will

cost you more than 5,000€ per square meter. And not everyone can "get in"; you must either have died or lived in the French capitol to be buried here.

From 6 November to 15 March, Père-Lachaise is open from 8:00 am to 5:30 pm Monday - Friday, and from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm on Sundays and bank holidays.

The rest of the year the cemetery is open from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm Monday - Friday, and from 8:30 to 6:00 pm Sundays and bank holidays.

A few of the notable tombstones you can see in Père-Lachaise:

  • Honoré de BALZAC
  • Frédéric CHOPIN
  • Jean de LA FONTAINE
  • Jean-Baptiste MOLIERE
  • Edith PIAF
  • Gertrude STEIN
  • Oscar WILDE
  • Richard WRIGHT

The tombstone of Jim Morrison

29 October 2012

Boots and Co.

In March I posted this photo of a pair of leather boots dangling over Grande rue. 

March 2012

They've since been joined by some canvas low-top sneakers.

October 2012

As soon as another pair joins the line, you'll see it here.

23 October 2012

Breathalyzer Test For French Motorists

Source: http://www.english.rfi.fr
In 2012, while Nicolas Sarkozy was still president of La République, a law was introduced requiring all motorists traveling on French roads to carry an unused breathalyzer test in their vehicle. The idea behind the law was to raise awareness of the dangers of drunk driving and to reduce the number of alcohol-related accidents.

The breathalyzer is a small disposable device that measures one's blood alcohol content. For the tests approved by the French government, drivers simply blow into the tube before getting behind the wheel. The crystals inside the tube change color according to the level of alcohol on your breath, indicating whether or not you should be driving (based on a legal blood alcohol level of 0.5 grams per liter of blood).

Drivers were originally required to carry the test in their cars beginning July 1st, 2012; anyone caught driving without one risked an 11-euro fine as of November 1st.

With the four-month grace period coming to a close, the government is once more pushing back the deadline for individuals to procure a breathalyzer test due to the product's unavailability. Indeed, most major outlets, including pharmacies, supermarkets and gas stations that are supposed to carry breathalyzers, have been out of stock for months. Motorists now have until March 1st, 2013 to get a test.

But even then it's not certain we will actually need one. This article suggests that Interior Minister Manual Valls might be "...considering whether to drop the measure altogether..."

Whichever way the decision falls in four month's time, there's one effective measure that seems to get lost amidst the passing of laws and the scramble to industrialize and transport and sell and buy millions of breathalyzer tests: if you drink, don't drive and if you drive, don't drink.

Nearly 4,000 people will thank you for it this year alone.

10 October 2012

The Wardrobe and Mr. Saint Cyr

It was a quiet Sunday afternoon when Mr. Saint Cyr drove over with his small coil of nylon rope.  We had been rearranging the furniture in the upstairs bedrooms and decided that the four hundred pound mahogany wardrobe just didn't go anymore in the room with purple carpeting.  Had he understood that our intention was to actually lower it to the ground from the first floor balcony, he probably would have brought more rope, or his beefy farm-hand son, or his John Deere.  

So the three of us stood on the balcony, tying the little rope we had around this beast of a wardrobe and discussing how we were actually going to lower it down.  We had just enough rope to make a couple of loops around it and tie a knot.  But what all of us failed to notice until it was too late was that the rope wasn't long enough to lower the wardrobe all the way to the ground.  

But we were strong guys.  No problem.  True, Mr. Saint Cyr was pushing seventy, but he spent his life running a farm.  He had a strong back and a gorilla's grip.  Brawn over brains.  "Let's lower it down," a confident voice said in French.  "Everyone got a piece of the rope?"

We each grabbed a section of nylon and braced ourselves.  I glanced behind me at Mr. Saint Cyr whose back was relaxed and straight, holding onto the rope with one hand as if it were a garden hose and he was watering his roses on a balmy summer evening.  He was not even wearing gloves to protect from friction burn. None of us were.

"Wait, wait!" I said.  "It's not going to hold!" finally realizing the folly of what we were about to do.  But it was too late.  Muscle had already been put into motion and no amount of brain, however convincing, however true, was going to stop it.  We hoisted the wardrobe onto the railing, then prepared ourselves to lower it down on the count of three.

"One!"  In two seconds it will be over, I thought to myself.  I wonder if it's a male ego thing.  I mean, we didn't even have a real plan.  We didn't communicate who was going to hold most of the weight.  We don't even have enough f-ing rope!

"Two!"  Maybe the girls were right.  Maybe we should have called for more help.  But they could never understand the gravity of such an insult.  It's right up there with asking for directions.  Maybe my mother in-law should have put her Mercedes underneath like she suggested — to cushion the impact.

"Three!"  Here we go.  The wardrobe balanced on the railing for a brief moment before tilting towards the ground.  The next thing I heard was a flurry of voices — the men on the balcony, the women and kids down below — incoherent voices yelling simultaneously. Then the snap. Silence. And a thunderous crashing of wood hitting the stone patio below.

We peered over the railing, each still holding onto the lifeless rope, and saw that the wardrobe had shattered into about eight hundred indiscernible shards and splinters.

No one spoke. There was a lot of head scratching going on. Everyone seemed so surprised that our plans had failed. Finally Mr. Saint Cyr's voice broke the silence: Mais, ça se remonte. Serieusement!  But you can put it back together. Really you can!

Despite its gloomy fate, and whatever may still come of it, I will always remember Mr. Saint Cyr's optimism, prepared as he was to attempt the nearly impossible.  

The wood that once made up this wardrobe has since found itself a home in a tidy corner of the garage.  Though I fear for its future, I'm sure I will think of Mr. Saint Cyr with a cheerful smile as that old wardrobe is transformed into fire and smoke and floats up the chimney, keeping us warm on winter nights when the temperature drops below freezing — perhaps not the ending Mr. Saint Cyr would have chosen, but a practical one nonetheless.

In memory of Jean-Baptiste SAINT CYR

08 October 2012

Did You Know...? Part 8

Most sources agree that France gets its name from from the Franks, one of the many Germanic tribes that invaded Gaul during the fifth century.

The Franks' most famous chief, Clovis, became the first king to unify the Frankish tribes under one leader, and the Merovingian dynasty he founded ruled the Franks for the next two decades.

Over time the Merovingians ceded power to the Carolingians, and it was the land controlled by Charles the Bald (a grandson of Charlemagne) known as West Francia that eventually gave France its name.

04 September 2012

ONLYLYON Video Contest

The Contest
In May of this year OnlyLyon, the group responsible for promoting the city's economic, touristic and cultural attractions, initiated a concours vidéo (video competition) called OnlyLyon BUZZ!

The idea is just that - to create a "buzz" about Lyon, and to make the city an economic, touristic and cultural champion in Europe and beyond.

For the contest, participants submit an original video (1 to  2 minutes in length) which is then broadcast on the OnlyLyon BUZZ! Facebook page and YouTube channel.

The Prizes
The first prize will be awarded to the video which accumulates the most number of views on YouTube — a 1,000€ gift certificate to FNAC, a department store that sells electronics, books, music and computer equipment.

The second prize will be awarded to the video which receives the greatest number of votes on the OnlyLyon Facebook page - a 500€ gift certificate to FNAC.

The video which wins the third prize - a 500€ gift certificate to FNAC - will be chosen by a panel of marketing, video and social networking experts.

The competition closes at noon on December 17th, when the votes and views will be counted to determine the winners.

Several videos are already in the running. To see them all on YouTube click here.

To vote for your favorite video on OnlyLyon's Facebook page click here. You don't need to have a Facebook account to vote.

My Video
Here's the video I submitted last month for the contest (you'll want your sound turned up for this one):

It's called "Heartbeat". If you like it, why not go here and place your vote for me? And ask everyone else you know to do the same (and also to watch it on YouTube).

I'll post the results here in December.

Thanks for your support.

Remember, your vote — and your "view" on YouTube — can help me win!

25 July 2012

Drôme Photos

A few photos from a recent trip to the Drôme region of southeastern France.

The view from the Abbaye de Valcroissant, a few kilometers outside the village of Die. Just turning my gaze upward towards the cliffs of the Glandasse made my palms start sweating. If you're a climber, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

In Die (approximately 5,000 inhabitants) there's a snack shop that caters to tourists from Holland. There must be something the Dutch find attractive here because no other restaurant or bar in the city was decorated the same.

The St. Marcel Gate, one of the original entrances to the city, built in the 3rd Century.

Looking out over the edge of Die to the Glandasse.

12 July 2012

10 Reasons to Visit Lyon

Need another reason to visit Lyon this year?

Here are 10 of them, brought to you by Karen Schaler of Travel Therapy.

10 July 2012

A Taste Bud Tour of Lyon - New iPhone App

***For all cheese and chocolate lovers***

The iTunes Store has just published a new walking tour guide for the city of Lyon. This app, available for the iPhone and iPod Touch, is all about chocolate, cheese and spices from around the world.

The city of Lyon is famous for its contribution to the culinary arts. Here food lovers can find hundreds of specialty shops throughout the city that offer some of the world's finest award-winning products to delight one's epicurean palate. Let your taste buds follow this guide on a voyage into the heart of chocolate, cheese and spices.

For a one-time micro-payment of only $2.99, this app provides you with descriptions of 11 different sites (specialty shops and famous outdoor markets), a detailed tour route map and turn-by-turn directions to guide you from one site to the next.

The Rolancy Pastry Shop - the first stop on the walking tour.

It's a gastronomic tour that you can walk in under four hours and which also happens takes you through some of the more scenic and historic areas of the city.

To get the app, click here to download the 'City Maps and Walks' Catalogue from iTunes. Once you've got the catalogue on your iPhone, search for "A Taste Bud's Delight". It's that easy.

There's also a free version of the app if you only want to read about the sites. But if you're coming to Lyon and want to join the walk, it's highly recommended you download the full version. It's the best way to let your taste buds run wild with ecstasy!

Click here to get your copy of "A Taste Bud's Delight" walking tour of Lyon.

28 June 2012

The End of An Era: The French Minitel

photo source
On Saturday 30 June, exactly 30 years after its launch, France's original online information and communication service known as the Minitel, then then innovative precursor to the World Wide Web, will quietly go off-line and exist no more.

Originally used as a way to make or check travel reservations or consult the telephone directory, the Minitel (the service and the now clunky computer terminal by today's standards) found its way into millions of homes and businesses. But its days were numbered, especially with the rapid growth of the Internet which quickly replaced most of the information-finding services the Minitel was created for in the first place.

The BBC website published an informative article yesterday about "the rise and fall of the France-wide web" here.

I first saw the Minitel in action during a trip to France in 1995. We were checking for some specific piece of information (train departure or movie starting time, I really don't remember which) and all I could think was, "this is so slow", watching the little blinking cursor move across the black screen at a caterpillar's pace, forgetting that just a decade before I would have been thrilled to have this little computer box on my desk to consult the great wide world of information whenever I wanted.

What was even more surprising was to see the fierce attachment and pride the Minitel brought out in some people. When I moved to France in 1999, I quickly went about setting up a personal email account and Internet access with one of the many service providers at the time. One day I was speaking to an acquaintance about searching for information and was completely baffled when he suggested I use the Minitel, but that I connect to it through the Internet. When I realized he wasn't joking, I just dropped it. But I never saw the point, like wearing a pair of slippers underneath my running shoes.

But the thing is, it worked. It just took a while for some to realize it was time to embrace a newer technology.

I don't know how much longer the Minitel website will be up and running after Saturday, so if you want to go have a look at the different services offered, you can see it here.

18 June 2012

Mallet Créations

I talked about Pascal Mallet's creations in an earlier post here. But there have since been some interesting developments in his work these past several months that deserve a second look.

It's now easier than ever to own an original Mallet creation: one-of-a-kind writing pens, rings, bracelets, pendants, necklaces and more. Since May 2012 Pascal has been selling his work through an online boutique called alittlemarket.com.

His pens and jewelry, spread over nine different categories, are each elegantly displayed in color photos with written descriptions of each product. The online order form is very simple to use and shipping charges and other relevant information are clearly explained on the site (in French).

photo credit
If you're on Facebook you can visit Pascal's new page here and keep up-to-date with all of his latest developments. There you can also find the dates and locations of the different artisanal markets (in France) where Pascal will be selling his work in person this July and August.

With the wedding and graduation season upon us, why not offer yourself, or someone you care for, an original piece of art from one of today's most trend-setting designers of handmade jewelry and writing pens.

You never know when someone will approach you with admiring eyes and ask:
"Is that a...Mallet?"

12 June 2012

Croix-Rousse Street Fair

The Croix-Rousse district of Lyon held their annual June street festival this past Saturday - La Croix-Rousse en Fête.

People come from all over the city on this day for the fun and festive atmosphere. And the shopping, of course.

It's the perfect place to come if you're looking to buy original and inventive arts and crafts. And with the garage sale on the Place de la Croix-Rousse, it's also the opportunity to take home a little bit of your neighbor's "stuff". George Carlin would no doubt have a thing or two to say about that.

Others probably come to see, or to be seen, like these seven baton-twirling men wearing shiny blue skirts and booties. They spent a good part of the morning marching up the street, stopping from time to time to dance about, toss blue and white confetti and shout their thanks to Gérard Collomb (the mayor of Lyon) — for what I never quite figured out.

If you missed the festivities this weekend, don't worry. There's usually another street fair held every September that lasts an entire weekend. There's no guarantee the baton squad will make another appearance, but chances are good you can find yourself a good deal, no matter what kind of "stuff" you're looking to buy.

29 May 2012

International Day - Les Casques bleus

Image source:action-paix.skyrock.com
In 2002 the United Nations proclaimed May 29th International Day for the United Nations Peacekeeping Force.

Les Casques blues, sometimes referred to in English as the Blue Berets (in reference to the light blue color of their helmets), first saw service in 1948 in Palestine during the UN's first official peacekeeping mission.

Today these volunteers number more than 120,000 and serve on four continents. Since it's inception, the traditional role of the Casques blues has evolved from protecting civilians and surveying cease-fires to encouraging and assisting dialogue, overseeing elections and promoting human rights, a mission not without consequence.

121 men and women lost their lives during peacekeeping missions in 2009, and by May 28th 2010, that number had reached nearly 220. (source).

To see a comprehensive list of other commemorative days celebrated around the world, you can visit the French website journée-mondial.com (in French only). To date they have collected 246 days from various sources, including the United Nations, non-governmental organizations, religious institutions and other groups.

According to journée-mondial.com, there's no commemorative day yet attributed to May 30th, but if you wait for the 31st you can celebrate World Tobacco-Free Day.

10 May 2012

Did You Know...? Part 7

Photo credit: Jean-Marc Ayrault
When he is sworn into office on May 15th, François Hollande will become the seventh elected President of the French Fifth Republic. 

Politician Alain Poher served twice as intermediary president since the start of the Fifth Republic in October 1958, stepping in after Charles de Gaulle resigned in April 1969 and then again after Georges Pompidou died in office in April 1974.

Since the early 19th century, France has had more than a handful of government systems, from republics to empires to constitutional monarchies. 

Under the current republican system, each time a new constitution is drafted and signed into law, a new republic is also created (fifth constitution = fifth republic). 

French presidents currently serve five-year terms. The next presidential elections will be held in 2017.

If you're interested, Wikipedia will give you more information about the French Fifth Republic here.

30 April 2012

An Evening of Mammatus

A friend once remarked that he saw me walking down the street one day with my head up. Not in a "keep your chin up" sort of way, but really looking up into the sky. I told him I was most likely looking at the play of light and shadows, especially on the colorful building façades, something I always seem to be doing.

Three evenings ago these mammatus clouds quietly rolled over the city. Had I not looked up when I did I would surely have missed them because they were gone in a matter of minutes. Anyone who has ever seen this particular cloud formation up close and in person knows what an eerie, surreal ambiance it creates.

27 April, 8:15 pm

27 April, 8:16 pm

27 April, 8:19 pm

23 April 2012

ONLYLYON European Bus Tour

For the second year in a row, the OnlyLyon Bus hits the road for a 10-week tour across Europe to promote Lyon's economic, cultural, educational and touristic offerings.

The tour gets a grand kick-off next weekend (April 27-28) at the Place de la République in Lyon with an exclusive preview of the shows (break dancing by the Pockemon Crew and street art by Knar) and displays meant to dazzle our European neighbors and make this year's tour a smashing success.

Click here to see which other European cities the OnlyLyon bus will visit between early May and the end of June.

Here's a short video teaser for the OnlyLyon 2012 European Bus Tour:

April Sky

Between two rainstorms, early afternoon.

20 April 2012

Make Your Own Ghee

Gandhi spun thread. I make ghee.

Though our two contexts couldn't be more different (I'm not rallying an entire sub-continent to independence), my guess is that the two activities share more in common than might first be obvious.

The trick with ghee is in the timing. Just as spinning thread façon Gandhi is a slow process, making ghee also cannot be rushed. Speed ghee burns.

In case you are wondering, ghee is clarified butter used in south Asian cooking. Because the milk solids (impurities) have been removed from the butter, it's touted as being lower in fat than regular butter and suitable for those who are lactose intolerant. You can also leave it in a jar on the counter or in the fridge for several weeks (some claim months) without spoiling.

Use ghee just as you would butter or oil — spread it on toast, or use it in your cooking. Ghee has a higher burning point than butter, meaning you can cook with it at higher temperatures, and for longer. You can even make light with it. A cotton wick dipped in a bowl of liquid ghee will burn for hours, and with no waxy build-up.

And the best part, aside from its fabulously rich aroma and taste, is that you can easily make your own ghee at home. You don't need a lot of fancy or specialized equipment, only time.

Here's what you'll need:

- butter, preferably unsalted (use the best quality butter you can find). 1.5 kilos (a little over 3 US pounds) will fill approximately two half-quart jars with ghee.
- a heavy-bottomed pot
- metal spoon
- glass jars
- time

Step One 
Place butter in the pot over a low flame. This is probably the most important thing to remember. Don't think of the dial on your gas/electric range as an accelerator. The butter will melt faster on a higher heat, but it will also burn, ruining the ghee. So keep the flame low throughout the whole process.

Step Two
Allow the butter to melt completely.

Step Three
After about 30 minutes you should begin to see whitish, frothy milk solids rising to the surface. You want to carefully remove these from the pot.

With the backside of my spoon I gently herd the froth to one side of the pot to make it easier to skim off the surface.

After 45 minutes I'm still skimming the milk solids from the surface, but the liquid is beginning to clarify and I can nearly see through to the bottom of the pot.

After 75 minutes of gentle stirring and skimming, the ghee is almost done. There are only a few milk solids left at the bottom, but the ghee is now a clear, golden liquid.

Sometimes at this point I transfer the ghee to another pot and continue heating on low flame to make sure I get all the impurities. You can also strain it through a cheesecloth. Then I transfer it to my glass jars.

An hour and a half is a small investment of time to make for a food product that could literally last months without spoiling. And yet, who can spare this much time these days, aside from retired folks and professional cooks (and even they're always on the go) to stand around and watch butter melt?

In an age where professional and personal productivity, as well as quality of life are frequently reduced to the amount of time it takes to complete a task, it seems unthinkable to "waste" time on such an endeavor.

But if you've never had the pleasure of cooking with, or tasting ghee (it's been described as the "nectar of the Gods"), you just might want to find the time. I might go as far as to say, you can't afford not to. Political and moral arguments aside, Gandhi may have said the same about spinning.

Both require a slow, diligent and uninterrupted effort. Though you have something material to show for it at the end, you might just find that the cotton — or butter, in this case — wasn't the only thing that got transformed in the process.

Happy cooking and most importantly, bon appetit!

16 April 2012

Astronomical Clock - Cathédral St. Jean

Tucked away in a dimly lit corner of the Cathédral St. Jean in Lyon sits this astronomical clock dating back to the late 14th century. Though damaged and repaired several times throughout its 600 year history, the majority of the clock's original components remain intact — and functional — today.

At the time of its construction it was commonly believed that the earth was the center of the universe and that the sun and other celestial objects orbited around it. The fact that this worldview has since been turned upside down doesn't take away from the beauty and craftsmanship that can be seen in every fine detail.

A second clock face just below the one pictured here is a perpetual calendar showing the months of the year and is accurate for 66 years at a stretch. The next time this clock will need adjusting is in 2019, another seven years.

I doubt I own anything mechanical that will last 66 years. My digital watch and computer will have broken or fallen victim to technical obsolescence well before, and yet this clock, built sometime during the Hundred Years' War, will still be giving us the time of day, much as it has for over 600 years.

31 March 2012

Did You Know...? Part 6

The ancient theater accommodated 11,000 spectators.
The city of Lyon was founded in the year 43 BC by the Roman politician Lucius Munatius Plancus.  Early on it was given the name Lugdunum and, except for Rome, was the most important city in the western part of the Roman Empire for many years.

Several emperors played a significant role in the development and growth of Lugdunum: Augustus, Tiberius, Claudius, Caligula and Nero, to name a few.

Though the city would eventually spread to what's known today as the presqu'île (the strip of land between the Saône and Rhône rivers) and beyond, the hub of activity was located at the top of the Fourvière hill where a theater, odeon, houses, and public baths had been built.

The hillside that hides the Gallo-Roman museum.
What's left of these ancient stone structures, including the theater and odeon, are open year round to visitors, and the Gallo-Roman museum, half-buried into the hillside, offers visitors a glimpse of what life was like for a citizen of Lugdunum more than 2,000 years ago.

28 March 2012

A Gastronomic History of Lyon

The musée Gadagne, also known as the Historical Museum of Lyon, is dedicating its first temporary exhibit to the one art form which has, perhaps more than any other, propelled Lyon to worldwide fame and recognition — gastronomy.

The exhibit, titled Gourmandises! A History of Gastronomy in Lyon, runs until April 29th and takes a chronological look at the literature, personalities and traditional foods that helped establish Lyon's reputation as the gastronomic capital of the world.

From it's earliest beginnings to today's newest trends, this exhibit maps out a rich and unique culinary legacy that is still very much alive in Lyon today, a creative commitment which no doubt influenced UNESCO to add the traditional French meal to the world's intangible heritage list.

If you won't make it to the exhibit but want to know more, you can download the English version of the mini visit guide here.

And if you can make it, remember that the Gadagne museums (there's also a museum dedicated to the puppets of the world) are open Wednesday to Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

20 March 2012

Lyon Trash Collectors on Strike

Since my wife and I first went Gaga (ok, Gaga light — we still scan headlines and read the occasional news story), we are often among the last to know about current events, even in our own city.

Still, we knew something was up last week when the trash cans in our building courtyard and around the neighborhood began to overflow. A quick Google search revealed why: the sanitation collectors (ébouers) in the city of Lyon have been striking for more than one week now. And sources say they are not yet ready to call it quits.

The purpose of the strike is to protest a plan by city authorities to privatize the trash collection. The ébouers are also demanding to have Saturdays off.

When the public transportation workers strike, surface traffic backs up, annoying commuters for a few days. At least they have a good excuse to fall back on if they arrive late for work. Once the strike is over, however, congestion on streets and highways generally eases up immediately.

But a strike by the ébouers touches closer to home. Trash piles up along city streets and sidewalks. It smells and looks bad, not to mention the potential health risks involved.

Unless an agreement is reached soon, trash piles throughout the city (like the one pictured above) will continue to mushroom and invade larger portions of our public spaces.

This is nothing compared to what people in developing countries experience on a day-to-day basis. I know because I've lived there.

But it does get me to wondering: how long are we willing to let this go on before finding a solution that serves everyone?

13 March 2012

Boots Over the Grande Rue

These boots have been stuck on a wire 30 feet above the street for so long that they've blended into the urban landscape. 

As a friend of mine would say: "Why would anybody want to do that?"

10 March 2012

A Weekend In Lyon

If Lyon is your destination or simply one stop on a multi-city tour through France or the rest of Europe, there's a website you might want to know about: monweekendalyon.com.

An extension of Lyon's office of tourism, monweekendalyon is a comprehensive resource for visitors (even locals!) coming for a short stay. For now the site is available only in French (get your dictionaries out), but in it you'll find up-to-date information about current and upcoming cultural events such as concerts, conferences and museum expositions.

There are also ideas for restaurants, movies and sporting activities. And if night life is your thing, there's a listing of pubs, clubs and discos to keep you partying and dancing into the wee hours of the morning.

La Grande roue, seen from Fourvière.

What I also like about the site is that it not only gives you ideas for what's happening now or in the near future, but what you might miss out on if you don't hurry up. 

For example, you have until Thursday March 15th to ride the 55-meter high wheel at Place Bellecour. I've never done it myself, but I'm told the views of the city, including Fourvière hill, are quite impressive from that height.

There's also a "springtime of poets" event at the Fine Arts Museum (finishing this weekend) and an exposition at the Military History Museum of Lyon (on for another three weeks).

You can even subscribe to the monweekendalyon newsletter and get four coup de coeur weekend activity ideas emailed to you every week.  And if you want to visit them at their Facebook page, you can do that here.

There's only one thing left to say: enjoy your weekend visit to Lyon.

24 February 2012

Lyon — Another "Best" City

For the first time ever, QS (you can read about who they are and what they do here) have put together a list of the best cities in the world for students.

As with other best-city rankings, Lyon once again finds itself rather high up on the list, this time at number 14. Only seven other cities in continental Europe place higher, including Paris (no. 1), Vienna (no. 5), Zurich (no. 7) and Berlin (no. 8).

The study claims that Lyon is the most affordable student city in the top 20. Combine that with several top ranked institutions, the best food in the world, a rich cultural diversity, and you have a formidable cocktail with the potential for creating a most unforgettable learning — and life — experience.

The see the full list of the top 50 cities in the world, click here. You can also see this page to read more about the methodology used to develop the list.

If you had the opportunity to be a student in one of these 50 cities, which would it be, and why?

14 February 2012

Sign For The Day

Photo credit: www.lesjetaime.com

This "I love you" image comes from a monument dedicated to love. Click here to find out more.

You might be asking yourself: where can I see this monument?

In Paris, of course.

12 February 2012

New Car Sharing Service in Lyon

Lyon leads the way. Again.

Photo: http://media.daimler.com
First there was Vélo'V. Then there was Rhônexpress. Now it's car2go.

In an effort to facilitate urban mobility while reducing inner-city congestion, Lyon has just become the first city in France to adopt the concept car2go, a car-sharing service that has at its core a fleet of 200 low-emission smart cars.

The idea is innovative, brilliant and refreshingly easy to use.

If you need a vehicle to move about the city center, whether for a few minutes or a full day, simply unlock the car with your personal membership card and drive away. Cars can be located in the city using the internet site www.car2go.com, various smartphone applications or simply when you come across one parked on the street.

Members of Lyon's car2go pay a one-time, inexpensive registration fee of 14.90€ (approximately 20 USD). You'll then be charged .29 euro cents per driving minute and a rate of .09 euro cents to park during stopovers. The driving and parking rates cover all costs for insurance, taxes, parking and fuel.  Discounted rates can be had for hourly or daily use.

It's that simple.

And when you're done, just park the car in any public parking place (admittedly not always so simple) or in a car sharing station inside the car2go business area. There's no need to pay for parking since that's included in your per minute rate.

For more details about using car2go in Lyon, you can visit the company website here (in French only) or this press release (in English) from Daimler, one of car2go's main partners.

If I didn't already own car, I'd seriously think of signing up. It sure would be more economical for short jaunts around town.

Then again, maybe I will anyway.

09 February 2012

Le Goûter

When I was teaching English at an engineering firm in Lyon several years ago, I overheard a conversation between two colleagues that called into question one of my all-time favorite habits — the afternoon snack.

It was morning break time and I had just plunked 35 cents down the slot in the coffee machine. As the coins dropped down into the metal belly, two engineers walked up behind me and were talking about the weekend:

            So what'd you do on Saturday?

            I was home with the kids. Maxime had some school friends over.

            For his birthday?

            No, that was last week.

            Oh right. What'd you do?

            We all played some football out back for a while, then went inside, played             some Wii, then had a goûter.


Then came the question:

            "Est-ce que tu prends un goûter, toi?" (you mean to tell me that you still                 eat a snack in the afternoon?)

The question was asked with an equal mix of surprise and disgust, as if his friend had just admitted to indulging in some socially or morally forbidden act. He could have just declared he still wears diapers.

            No no no, of course not, just the kids, came the quick reply.

I quietly slipped away into the corridor, suddenly feeling like a kid with my hand caught in the cookie jar.

Probably because for as long as I can remember, and despite all modern health and dietary warnings that advise against the practice, I still enjoy, given the opportunity, and whenever the occasion presents itself, taking an afternoon goûter.

The goûter has as much staying power as any other French institution and can rightfully be compared to, say, eating oysters at New Years, taking holidays in August or shaking hands with your colleagues.

Every day between 4 and 4:30 pm, millions of tiny hands (and others not so tiny) reach for their afternoon snack at the end of school. The ultra-traditional goûter is a baguette or roll with chocolate or butter and jam.

But the wonderful thing is that when it comes to goûter, the possibilities are endless. No matter what the combination though, they do tend to share a common trait: sugar and carbs.

Here are just a few variations I've seen (and eaten on occasion) over the past 12 years:

1) crepes with jam, honey or Nutella
2) waffles with powdered sugar or other sweet spread
3) cake, sweet buns or sweet bread
4) spice bread
5) cookies
6) fruit tarts
7) croissants and other pastries
8) candy
9) rice cakes (for the health conscious)
10) fruit (for the really health conscious)
11) ice-cream cones (seasonal)

In fact, anything will suffice, as long as it fills that inner gnawing and holds one over until dinner, which typically doesn't get put on the table until 7 or 8 PM.

I don't know why Engineer no. 1 made it sound like immoral misconduct for adults to have a goûter. My gut feeling tells me that many more people do it than openly admit.

And the critical question is: at what age are we expected to stop the goûter? To this day I have yet to hear or read any authoritative decision on the matter.

But even if there were, it wouldn't hold much sway. Decades of habit — and memories — of young and old alike have seen to that.

No, the French goûter, despite what anyone might say to the contrary, is going to be around for a very long time.