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.

La fin de la seizième semaine

Over the last week and a half we have shifted our focus from being exclusively on dance to begin also to look at French history and culture. In class sessions we have discussed pre-history and Roman Gaul, and we’ve just begun to look at the medieval period. Our study of Roman Gaul was made stunningly real by a walk through the Roman amphitheatre and Odeon (smaller theatre) on Fauvriere hill that overlooks Lyon from the top of the “vieux ville” or old city. Lyon began as the Roman city of Lugdunam in 43BC; in fact, the Emperor Claudius was born in Lugdunam, which became the capital of the “three Gauls.” We were also able to see La Cathédrale St. Georges and the Fauvriere Basillica. On the weekend we took a short train ride south to the city of Vienne, another important city of Roman Gaul, to see the “Vinalia,” a recreation of a Roman wine harvest festival complete with togas and grapes squashed by feet! (We bravely tasted the juice!) I’m including here some photos: the amphitheatre, Sarah looking out at Lyon from the top of Fauvriere hill, and the group in front of the Temple d’Auguste et de Livie in Vienne. Also, thanks to Courtney we have a little video clip of wine-stomping and a shot of a “Roman Banquet.” (We all thought that they must have developed indigestion from reclining while eating…)