August 26, 2022
Dear Frenchly Readers,
When we arrived in Lyon it was hot. The kind of still heat that stifles a yawn and interrupts thoughts. We had flown all night and our flights were late. The Saint-Exupéry airport had had a bomb scare, and, at first, we couldn’t leave. When we finally did make our way out the doors, our dear friend, Nils, who had come to collect us at the airport, told us through his mask that he thought he might have contracted Covid. After some tortured conversation and making a call to our friends Jerrod and Karen, who were expecting us a week later, we moved to a nearby hotel.
It was a small, well-lighted place. Clean, with beds that were covered with bright white duvet covers, and louvered windows looked out to pigeons nesting in plane trees and cooing outside. More hostel than hotel,* it was all we could find in the middle of July and still stay nearby Nils and his family so that we could at least see them outside as the week progressed. Our room had two beds, one large enough for Dan and me and our seven-year-old to share, and one single for our teenager. We slept off our jet lag, emerging late into the hot sun, venturing out to collect cheese and bread and fruit for lunch and to get a lay of the land.
And we all fell in love, hard, with Lyon. A sprawling city sandwiched between the Saône and Rhône rivers, it is known for the Lumière brothers, who invented cinema, the author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, who wrote, among other titles, The Little Prince, and the chef, Paul Bocuse, who put Lyon on the map as the gastronomic capital of France. It is a city that feels both fresh, young, innovative and also ancient at the same time. Lyon doesn’t put much truck in the quaint, but instead gets along in its business and behaviors as if beauty were just normal, merci beaucoup, and what this affords the city is a low-key vibe that is neither pretentious nor unfriendly, and, in fact, is just the opposite of either. We felt immediately at home, safe, and with our people, in Lyon.
The neighborhood, the Croix Rousse, where we stayed, is an 18th century neighborhood that was the silk district of the city. The canuts (silk workers) had terrible working conditions and, eventually, there was an uprising in 1831 called the Révolte des Canuts. The history of both the canuts and the silk workshops permeates the area; even the café where we returned regularly for a child-pleasing French spin on a chicken Caesar salad, was called La Grande Café de la Soierie, or the Grand Silk Café.
We loved the fun graffiti everywhere in Lyon; the fries (our younger son decided on day two that he hated “smelly French cheese”–only to miss that same cheese the second we left France– so he subsisted for four days on fries at every café or brasserie in the city, becoming a connoisseur of les frites); the hilly up-and-down of the narrow streets; the golden light and southern pace; all of the ateliers and artists and tattooed under-thirties everywhere; the cafés and little book shops full of bandes dessinées (graphic novels or, comic books) which my younger one spent every penny of his saved-up allowance on; terrific grocery stores and ice cream shops on every corner, all boasting a different “special;” and wide boulevards baking in the sun. Lyon has all the best of New York’s Soho before it became a mall; Paris without the ‘tude; the hills of San Francisco, only not as insanely expensive, and the hip-laid-back, wide boulevard vibe of Los Angeles. It is, in my opinion, a perfect city. So perfect, I can’t wait to go back! There’s so much more to see and do, or do again!
While there, I posted some photos of Lyon on my Instagram page, and I am inspired writing this to put more up this weekend, too. Check that out by Sunday, here.
*For the traveler, it was called the Hotel Ibis Styles in the neighborhood of Croix Rousse (this is a chain). The staff was incredibly friendly and helpful and every morning there was a buffet breakfast until 10:30 of cheeses, yogurts, muesli, eggs and the most amazing chia and fruit pudding you’ll ever try. Also a sign above the buffet that encourages you to only take what you will eat as food waste is a problem (something I can’t imagine seeing in the U.S. But then, the French surprised me time and time again with their incredible, forward-thinking acumen.)
Cook, watch, listen & read ce weekend (Cuisinier, regarder, écouter et lire):
This week, we have a profile of the French/American singer/songwriter, Emma Doo, who has a new hit song in the new hit Netflix movie, a modern take on the iconic epistolary 1782 novel, Dangerous Liaisons.We have this great list of the best bites of Provence; a 2019 French rom-com movie, Someone Somewhere, now streaming on Roku and a history lesson on whether Catherine de Medici really brought cooking to France, by way of Italy.
Next weekend is Labor Day and we’ll have a couple of good reads for the long weekend (a new Rue du Soleil!) and then, as school starts, we will try to wipe the haze from our eyes and get back to work in earnest.
Take a few extra plunges this week, take a nap in the sun, and remember that summer will come back around, so you’ll have another chance.
Photo credit Daniel E. Davis.
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