Friday, January 9, 2009

Au Revoir a La France!

I am writing this final posting from home in New Hampshire after returning on December 12th to an extraordinary ice storm and eleven days with no lights, heat, or running water. Oh—la—la! Quite a shock after “city life” in Lyon!! The following are some concluding thoughts on our experience of the first Franklin Pierce Dance Semester in France.

The last week…..Although everyone was eager to reunite with family and friends in the US, there was a growing wistfulness as our departure date came near. We continued to be very busy right up until the final day with trips to the Musée Lumière and to the Musée de l’Art Contemporaine and dance rehearsals both for our February concert and for the site-specific piece we have been working on via video (lots of stairs!!). We continued to attend performances and especially enjoyed seeing the Brazilian company Groupo Corpo as guests of Guy Darmet, the director of La Biennale de la Danse. The final days also contained a flurry of gift-purchases, room cleaning, and creative packing. Our final evening in Lyon included a lovely dinner at Le Canut et Le Gone, a cozy restaurant in the Croix Rousse district, followed by a walk around town for a last look at the lights of Lyon. Christine and the students had an early flight out of St. Exupéry airport the next day that required us to get taxis at 4:15 AM to catch the airport shuttle bus, so it was hard to decide whether or not to have a cat nap. Although we had ordered four “taxi-vans” from “Allo-Taxi!,” only one van and a sedan appeared! Fortunately the van driver was a familiar friend---he was the man who ran the kebab stand around the corner! He called for reinforcements, and another van arrived. With all of the bags, it was still a miracle that we were able to get everyone sardined into the cab with the doors closed too! But, we made it to the airport and even got the giant “blanket bag” checked and on the flight. Then I returned to the Résidence for the final turn-over of keys, room assessments, and collection of student telephones.

I am very grateful to have had such a willing, cheerful, and compatible group of students on this first “Dance in France” adventure. I often told the students that they were the “pioneers” in this experience, and that they would be paving the way for the groups who would come to do this in following years. Now, that the term is over, I am even more convinced than before of the value of this project as a way of opening students up to an extraordinary variety of dance experience, while at the same time providing a valid and inspiring cross-cultural and academic opportunity in language, culture, history, and the arts. Next departure: Fall 2010!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Le Beaujolais est arrivé! ...and Thanksgiving å la France

We’re certainly in high gear for these last two weeks, trying to fit every imaginable last thing into our remaining days in France. On Wednesday evening the 19th we participated in another tradition that is unique to Lyon. It was the official release of the Beaujolais Nouveau, the celebrated wine of the region. No one in the world can taste this wine until it is opened first in Lyon. The barrels are transported down the Saône on barges and then transferred to a horse-drawn wagon to be carried to Place Bellecour accompanied by a brass band and torches! At the stroke of midnight the first bottle is uncorked, and fireworks in the square precede the first tasting. We had wonderful time walking in the torch parade and singing old pop songs (YMCA??!) with the band. Fortunately, some of our group had sharp enough elbows, and we were even able to have a ritual taste of the wine.

On Friday afternoon we left for Chateuneuf de Galuire, a tiny town in the Departement Drome (south of Lyon) where M. & Mme. Tesse, the friends with whom I have been staying in Lyon, have a country house. We took a train to St. Vallier and were met at the station by Marie-Christine and Pierre-Yves who brought both their regular car and the “camping car” to load us up because we were eleven. A half-hour drive through winding roads and villages took us to their lovely home that has a tile roof and turquoise shutters and is surrounded by fields of corn and grain. After three months as city dwellers we were stunned by the quiet and the open fields and hills all around. Attached to the house were a beautiful 18th century stone barn that Pierre-Yves has converted into his library and a petite maison that was also all made of stone.

Marie-Christine made a lovely dinner for us of salade Lyonaise with lardons and eggs, and quenelle (Lyonais dumplings) with a sauce of crevettes (shrimps). We had declared the next day to be our Thanksgiving, and a lot of time was spent preparing traditional American food. We made a huge pie of poitiron (a lot like a pumpkin, but a more irregular shape), and the other pie was good old apple. We weren’t able to find one large turkey (“dinde”) in the store, so we ended up cooking three “pintards” –which seem to be small turkeys and certainly have the flavor of turkey. Pierre-Yves gave a particularly French touch to the stuffing by adding some Calvados, something that I will definitely adopt in my recipe! We also had mashed potatoes, corn, sweet potatoes cooked with apples, and of course, cranberries. I have to say that it truly had the flavor and feeling of Thanksgiving as we all sat around the big table and shared the things for which we were thankful before diving into the feast.

We were also able to take a walk to a 12th century chapel not far away, and later in the afternoon the Tesses took us to Le Palais Idéal du Facteur Cheval. This is an extraordinary “palace” built over 30 years by a 19th century postman who imagined and created an fantasy structure with stones and shells. The structure looks like it might be at home in Bali or be the work of Gaudi. Many artists have found it inspirational over the years, including Picasso. It was surprising and impressive and especially magical with a few snowflakes falling while we were there.

Although the weather was cold, it was really a warm and beautiful Thanksgiving, even though away from home; and we are so grateful for the kindness and hospitality of the Tesses in having the whole herd of us to stay in their lovely home.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Back "home" in Lyon

We clearly loved Paris, but I have to admit to a sigh of pleasure at returning to the quieter streets of Lyon. There is always something going on, especially in Place Bellecour, but there is a subtle ease and relaxed atmosphere that I attribute to La Sud – Lyon is in many ways the beginning of southern France.

On our return we went right back to dance class on Monday and were also hosts to the visiting Franklin Pierce Vienna group and faculty for an afternoon tour of the city. We later met in Vieux Lyon for dinner at a traditional “bouchon Lyoonais” from which we emerged rather unfashionably stuffed with very fine food. Some of us continued on for a walk to the other side of the Rhone to look at the lights of the city.

Now back into the routine of our stay, everyone is shocked at the little time left to us in France. In September the time seemed to stretch out before us in a lovely, endless horizon. Now with only a few weeks left we’ll be concentrating on completing our choreography projects and storing up the memories that will take us through the winter.

The photos included here are of our dinner with the Vienna group, Lisa's fabulous Chicken Marengo (in honor of Napoleon), and our improvisation session in the antique Roman ampitheatre in Vieux Lyon.

We loved Paris...even though it drizzled

I knew when planning our trip to Paris that I wanted the experience to be one of several days rather than the typical mad rush of three days in the life of a tourist. Paris requires moments of relative leisure to wander the streets, relax in a café, or stroll through a garden. At the same time, the museums, monuments, and historical sites exert a form of mandate on a visitor’s time. After some searching (way back in July!) I found a miraculously budget-priced hotel right in the Latin Quarter, not far from Notre Dame, and we were able to stay for six nights in Paris, giving us really a week to experience the city.

Our first excursion was to the bateaux mouches for a tour down the Seine, and even though we fought through pouring rain to get to the dock, it was a beautiful first look at the city and its monuments and a way of orienting ourselves for the week.

Our days were punctuated with stunning moments, from the experience of the city spread out before us as we peered from the top of the Notre Dame towers to the overwhelming immensity and grandeur of Versailles. But just as importantly, we had quieter moments as when we gratefully sipped our cups of chocolat chaud in a warm and welcoming café or enjoyed a dinner together at which some of our group had their first tastes of escargot.

I think we actually came to feel that Saint Michel was “our neighborhood,” and most of the group became fairly expert at negotiating the labyrinth of the Paris Metro. We also visited the Louvre and the Tuileries, the Musée D’Orsay, Monmartre, the Cimetière Père Lachaise [where we saw the vault of Isadora Duncan ( I left her my card…) –and yes, it was a dark and stormy evening!], and Shakespeare and Company, not to mention Amorino, a shop where one can have an ice cream in the shape of a flower! There was additional time during the week for individual explorations to places like Galeries Lafayette, Giverney, and La Moulin Rouge. We even managed to see a dance performance at the Theatre Nationale de Chaillot that was an impressive (and very French) fusion of hip-hop, danse contemporaine, circus, and theatre. On the final morning before departing, a number of us were able to attend a mass at Notre Dame Cathedral, an impressive and beautiful final experience.

One of my goals for this Paris visit was to encourage in my students a desire to return. There is still so much to see and to know, and now they have a familiarity with the city and some knowledge of its pleasures that I hope will make that return more likely.

The photos in this blog include: our group at the top of Notre Dame, dancers making like gargoyles atop Notre Dame, Gabrielle on Rue Gabrielle, improv in front of La Pyramide at the Louvre, Courtney, Paige, and Maryanne at a café in Monmarte. There are also two lovely videos courtesy of Courtney.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


On Friday we left on an early train for Marseille and an overnight stay that permitted two days of exploration. We had beautiful, sunny weather that allowed everyone to experience the famous “Mediterranean light” and the stunning views of the city and the port. After dropping our bags at our little hotel, we made directly for the Vieux Port and took Le Petit Train (yes, one of those little tourist trains) that went up, up, up, to Notre Dame de la Garde, the grand basilica that is the highest point of the city (154m). It was breath taking! The Mediterranean was many shades of blue, and we could see the entire city, the port, and distant mountains as well as experiencing the gale-like wind.

After the train brought us back to the port (accompanied by gypsy music), we made a trek to La Plage Catalan to put our feet onto the Mediterranean (there were two elderly women having their daily swim and even some sunbathers) and spent time strolling, café-sitting, and reading the posted menus at the port restaurants in order to decide where to sample bouillabaisse and moules. After dinner (which begins late, especially in the south) we all returned to our hotel together because as beautiful as it is, Marseille is safer for women in a large group, than in ones and twos.

The next day we got perhaps more advice than we needed about what to do next from a proud (and tipsy) Marseillais that we met as we had café and croissants not far from the hotel. When we finally escaped we went down to the port to see the Saturday market of fresh (usually still wiggling) fish. Again, the colors of everything just seemed in some way saturated by the sunshine and the light reflected off the water. We went on to a walking tour that included Le Panier, the city’s old quarter, the Cathedral Major, and the Vieille Charité, where there was a special exhibition: Van Gogh Montecelli that showed the influence that Montecelli appeared to have had on Van Gogh. After a stop for lunch, we also spent time at the Musée Cantini that housed relatively contemporary art. We had this museum almost to ourselves and could range around comfortably and discuss what we were seeing. We spent our last couple of hours in the Vieux Port drinking in the sunshine and relaxing at cafes before heading back to Lyon on the TJV train weary, but full of new experiences.

Dance, cuisine, and traboules

We’re beginning to notice the change of seasons; mornings tend to be a little misty with the clouds generally burning off by midday. Evening can feel chilly even when the afternoon is quite warm and sunny. The leaves are beginning to turn golden here, although they will not become the extraordinary reds of New England. The big, beautiful trees that line the avenues of many French cities are called plane trees and have grey, mottled bark and leaves that look like giant maple leaves. We walk through drifts of these wind-blown leaves in the streets, and there are chestnuts on the ground in Place Bellecour.

This week we began our dance classes at the ARTE studio that is in a large, 19th century building beside the Opera House. I find it interesting to contemplate the depressions worn in the stone steps as we climb to the troisième étage, which is actually four stories in American terms. The studio is smaller than the one at TDMI, but everyone at ARTE is very friendly and there is a mirror with which to work. In these next weeks we will begin to emphasize rehearsal for the work we will be creating for the dance concert in February.

One of the real highlights of our week continues to be the evening when we cook together and serve up a beautiful meal to share. Originally, when envisioning the Lyon program, I imagined this as an activity that would be interesting and a pleasure. I think we’re all finding that this has become one of our favorite things. We usually commandeer three of the apartment kitchens and prepare various parts of the meal in each. Several of the students are actually learning how to cook! We’ve been toying with the idea of creating a Lyon Dance Semester Cookbook! This last week we made chicken (with mushrooms, garlic, and onions), ratatouille, and spinach salad with pears and pistachios. This was followed by a dessert of mirabelles (small, yellow and purple plums) and fromage blanc (“white cheese” – which is actually much like yogurt and is served with a little sugar). In good French fashion, we generally spend a long time “at table,” talking and enjoying each other’s company.

On Wednesday afternoon the students completed an assignment to create a tour of Lyon’s traboules. Vieux Lyon (the old city) and the Croix Rousse area of the city are honeycombed with passageways and internal courtyards that once served as ways for the canuts, or silk workers, to cross from building to building. It is thought that this was a way to keep the bolts of silk fabric from getting wet as they were moved from workshops to warehouses. The traboules were also useful during WWII as secret passages through which Resistance members were able to move about the city.

Christine and I were met at the Louis XIV statue in Place Bellecour by the “Avec La Gauche Tours” team (our students) and taken on an interesting and informative tour of the traboules with commentary all along the way. They really did a fabulous job, right down to their “uniforms” with scarves.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

...and more

Later in the week we spent one afternoon at Lyon’s Musée Gallo Roman and another at La Maison des Canuts (silk weavers’ house) where we were given a demonstration of the methods of silk weaving for which Lyon was a European center in the 18th and 19th centuries. On Friday we went for the day to the wonderfully preserved medieval town of Pérouges. It’s tiny, and seems hardly to have been touched by time and commercialism. One of the best things about being here at this time of year is that we often have “tourist destinations” to ourselves. There were very few people there, it was very quiet, and we were able to wander the cobbled streets very freely. We decided that it must have been pretty noisy in the 1100’s when French peasants clattered along those streets in their sabots, or wooden shoes. We made a point of sampling the galettes that are a specialty of the town – a kind of thick crepe with a sugar topping.

It was lovely just to be out in the country for the day after weeks of being city folk, and we had a chance to slow down a bit on this day and look around at the countryside. These photos include: the huge silk loom, and scenes from Pérouges…including a meeting between Frédéric the gnome and Jerome the gnome.