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.