After working for 3 months in the secluded life of American Village (with one week-long break and few trips to anything that could qualify as a town, let alone a city), I am entirely ready to be back on the road. Thankfully, I haven’t been disappointed by my newest travels.
When I arrived in Lyon, I found my way to my CouchSurfing (CS) host’s place and rang the bell. No voice, just a buzz in. I pressed the call button for the elevator and got into a box not much bigger than a phone booth with my backpacking backpack, electronics backpack and two bags. I squeezed against the mirror, almost entirely encircled.
As I slowly stepped backwards to leave the elevator, a tall, skinny brunette was leaving the apartment. She asked if I was from CS. I said yes. She told me that she was on her way out and Christophe (the guy that I had arranged my stay with, who had two roommates, a French girl and Marta, the Polish girl that was bringing me in) was also out because he thought that I was coming by plane. I realized that this was because I had asked about how to get to the airport (which I needed to do the next day, I was coming in by train). So I asked for the Wi-Fi access code, uploaded my remaining American Village pictures and waited for Christophe.
Not long after Christophe arrived, we went to find a restaurant for lunch. Place after place was closed or not serving meals. After a long search, we ended up at a café half a block from his apartment. We talked a little about our backgrounds. He is from Caen, in the northwest of France, a city that I visited last year. I told him that I had been in Brittany and Normandy the year before, for work. We talked about Brest (which I have never been to). He explained that it is an ugly city, as it was rebuilt by the Americans (there was a very important WWII battle there). He said that the Americans must not be very good city planners, as the streets are all straight and on a grid.
We ended up biking to the old city. On the way there, he said that there was a gay pride parade in Lyon that day. It turned out that this was where Marta, his roommate, was off to. He assured me that she wasn’t a lesbian and “loved men.” Christophe asked me if I wanted to see the gay pride parade. I said sure. Neither of us had been to one before.
Our reactions were surprisingly different. Christophe said it was nothing like he expected. It seemed about right to me. Big vehicles with all sorts of people dancing to electronic. Rainbow flags and banners with pro-gay and anti-homophobic slogans in French. My biggest surprise was a bare-chested woman with a leather jacket and a bottle of wine in hand. After I saw her, I was surprised that she was the only nudity du jour.
After the parade had passed by, we began our jaunt to old Lyon. The parade had managed to catch up to us. The sidewalks of the bridge we wanted to cross were packed. Christophe said we may as well join the parade, behind the foam-shooting vehicle advertising the club Pinks. On the “float”, there was a bald, older guy wearing stuffed leather pants grinding away to the music and a man on a bullhorn periodically getting the crowd to shout “I love Pinks!” While walking, Christophe jokingly tried to hold my hand. I laughed. He thought it was pretty funny, as he later told the story multiple times at the party at his apartment.
In old Lyon, we walked around, saw some traboules (old passageways used by the “canuts”, silk workers of olden times). We walked up to Croix-Rousse and he bought me an orange juice as he sipped on a beer. In Lyon, there are public bicycles that cost 1 Euro for the day and are free for times used under 30 minutes. Christophe pointed out that at the top of the big hill, you never see bikes, as people ride them down the hill but never bring them back to the stations at the top. That made sense to me.
While having our beverages, we talked about some French cities that we both knew. I said that the buildings in Strasbourg were described to me as German-style, but resembled buildings in Brittany, in the northwest of France. Christophe agreed that it was just an old style. He was curious about buildings in the U.S., if you would find something like that. I said that you would in Bavarian-style towns, like Leavenworth, Washington. He thought it was an amusing idea that you would create an old-looking town, as it is an irrelevant concept in Europe, since there are all sorts of olden buildings to be found.
After seeing that area, we walked back toward his place, seeing little girls getting yelled at for playing hide and seek in the open-style public urinals. We stopped at a local health food store that Christophe likes. Christophe is decidedly far-liberal. He is a fan of a newspaper called “De-growth” in French (La Décroissance). He is against the idea of American cultural imperialism and very much for sustainability. Nothing offends him more than the Part Dieu area of Lyon, with its larger, more than 3-story buildings. Within all of this, I was surprised to see foie gras being sold at this store with all of their biologique food. When I asked him about it, he smiled. I asked if it was controversial in France. He said sure. I was ready to leave it at that, but he volunteered that maybe the geese weren’t force-fed. I asked, “Really?” It was clear that he was joking about this idea. He shrugged and said that they also sold pork, too. It was left at that.
That evening, we hung out at his place, with people coming over for apero (drinks), before heading to La Fête de la Musique, a music festival that started in France, but is now enacted all around the world. The part of the festival at the park we went to vaguely reminded me of the Full Moon Party in Ko Phangan, Thailand, with different styles of electronic music.
At one point, Christophe pointed out the saveteurs. He asked if I knew what they were. The term was familiar, but I blanked. He said that they are lifeguards, because the Rhone is nearby (but nowhere within visual distance from where we were).
Earlier in the day, at the terminals to rent the public bikes, Christophe said that it was a test for drunkenness, as you have to put in numbers from a printed receipt, then a 4-digit code that you decide when you initially rent for the day. I got to see this put to the test in a long line of people trying to rent bikes, but messing up putting their credit cards in the machine, or the number, or going off of old cards, etc. It’s a wonderful test of one’s patience, being sober as people find every way imaginable to not succeed at this task.
After a night’s sleep, I was offered some muesli by Christophe’s other roommate. I accepted, then headed to the airport for my flight to Venice. At the airport, I bought some camembert and a baguette for 3 Euros and waited. One of the last things I saw before leaving, which amused me greatly was a Renault ad in a newspaper:
It isn’t us that say that our cars are more reliable than the Germans. It’s the Germans. (Ce n’est pas nous qui disons que nos voitures ont aussi fiable que des allemandes. Ce sont les allemands.)
It just seemed so typically French. And after 3 months therein, I think I know a bit more about what that means.