Where my last blog post left off it was Easter and the beginning of two weeks of school holidays. The first week I was shockingly well disciplined and in what I think is a first in my life actually managed to put my head down and get all my work done so that the second week I was well and truly on holiday, guilt free. During my downtime I visited the Mémorial National Prison de Montluc, with next to no expectations, and came away utterly blown away. Built between the two world wars, Montluc was initially a military prison, but was later used for resistants under the Vichy regime, deportees under the German occupation, communists during the Cold War, fighters during the Algerian war, and female prisoners with psychological problems all the way up until 2009. In 2010, it was decided to turn it into a museum. I found the visit absolutely fascinating for a raft of reasons which I am going to attempt to concisely articulate. Of course, the place has an incredible, varied history, but that was barely the tip of the iceberg. As someone who has visited a lot of museums, and taken a lot of guided tours in my life, the following is what really made this one stand out:
- the guide was extremely knowledgable; he knew the history of this place like the back of his hand and answered all questions with ease and in great detail
- however, he shared his knowledge with us in a very nonchalant, accessible way and did not at all come across like he was ‘showing off’ how much he knew
- the prison as a museum is very new and he shared insights into the museological process (that is, how to construct and organise the museum) that were of particular interest to me – pointing out that we are not visiting the prison, but a memorial to the prison, and how we experience that is entirely the result of decisions the team has to make
- he also talked about the way we interpret history, for example, the fact that Jean Moulin is today France’s most famous resistant. However, his whole legend really stems from his interment in the Panthéon in 1964 and the famous speech André Malraux made on this occasion. In actual fact, he wasn’t even that popular among other resistants during the war due to the task he had been set by de Gaulle (but I’m trying to keep this concise)
- the fact that we were standing in the actual place where all these things we were hearing about had really happened – they’re not just abstract facts or stories from the past but real things that happened that we now had a real connection to
- the fact that prisoners, no doubt aware of what was already ‘history’, continued to live in those same confines
- the fact that as recently as 2009 there were still women incarcerated here (though in a different block, brought mostly (but not completely) up to the necessary standards)
- TV and movies aside, I had never really thought about what it is like to be incarcerated, and the part of our society that represents
TL;DR: my brain basically exploded from all the things this tour gave me to think about and I truly can’t recommend it highly enough
The following week, I kept up my Anzac Day Anzac biscuit tradition with my Aussie mate Kelly, just in time before she headed back to Aus and I headed to London. I was there for five days, with the main goals being a) do something worthwhile with my holidays and get out of Lyon; b) visit friends – Aislinn (dance teacher), Jen (summer camp bud) and Al (Canadian bud). I was very lucky to stay with the wonderful Ryan family who were fabulous hosts. Although I had no fixed agenda I did manage to tick of everything on my loosely assembled list! I spent the weekdays amusing myself meandering through museums and walking all over the city – clocking up an average of 15km per day. I ended up at the Tate Modern, Tate Britain, Sir John Soane’s museum, Courtauld Institute, Saatchi Gallery, as well as the Natural History and Science museums which I had last visited as an eight year old.
I tried my hand at various West End ticket lotteries with no luck, but I was successful lining up bright and early for a £5 under 25 ticket to Matilda. Although it wasn’t the show I was most wanting to see, I got my theatre fix and at £5 certainly can’t complain! My seat was in the gods and slightly obstructed by a handrail, but it was right in the centre and I could see everything going on on stage. In what seems to be an unpopular opinion I didn’t LOVE the show; I found the humour to be too ‘obvious’ or predictable (but, totally appropriate for the target audience of children) and honestly I can’t remember any of the songs. However, I nonetheless appreciated the incredible sets and staging and was really blown away by the ensemble cast of children. So, although I wouldn’t see it again I highly recommend any young’uns in London take advantage of the offer; you can find details here. I know Matilda is coming to Auckland in August so if any of you see it I’d be interested to hear what you think. Spoiler alert: Bruce Bogtrotter steals the show.
The weekend was much more chill as we ate well and wandered round a few cool neighbourhoods. My stay happily coincided with a big barbecue bash on the Sunday, of which 90% of the attendees were Kiwis which was rather surreal. Subconsciously or otherwise I spent a lot of time talking to one of the only Brits, Kate, in what turned out to be a quite fateful meeting. More on that to come!
May signalled the end of the holidays and the last stretch of classes before the end of the year. Though, with the 1st, 8th and 25th all public holidays, resulting in only one regular week, you’d be forgiven for thinking we weren’t really back at work. We spent the weekend of the 8th (VE Day) en équipe, with the four of us lecteurs staying at our supervisor Yan’s place about half an hour out of the city. Although the weather was dismal and put paid for most of the outdoor activities we were hoping to do, we nonetheless had a great weekend. It was really nice just to get out of the city and take things easy. David and I had already worked with Yan’s wife Sophie, who is also an English teacher, and soon became best buds with their two young kids. Things worked out well for all parties! Below are some photos from Les Grottes de la Balme which we visited; a labyrinthine cave network seemingly lived in by humans since prehistoric times, and famously visited by François I in the middle ages. I had no idea what to expect so was really pleasantly surprised by how much there was to explore.
The following weekend it was time for another bash at our place, officially in honour of Noémie moving in. We decided to go big or go home, and that if our grinch neighbours were going to complain (there was precedent, from downstairs – the next doors are lovely) then we might as well make the most of it. We threw caution to the wind with the invites, and had at least thirty people there. While this was cool, it also meant I was so preoccupied with managing my own various friends that I barely talked to any of the people I didn’t already know, which was a shame. The neighbours didn’t complain though (we decided they must have gone away for the weekend), so great success!
The following week is where my barbecue networking comes back into play. To cut a long story short, Kate is an agent and one of her opera singers was performing in Lyon, and she was going to be here for one night only to see him perform and would I like to go to the show with her? Um…yes please! We had a lovely catch up before the show and she prepped me for what to expect for my first ever opera. It was Alceste by Gluck, and she warned me not really the best opera to begin with. Honestly, I didn’t think much of the story (or lack thereof), but I could nonetheless appreciate the talent of the singers, and couldn’t believe the sheer number of people involved! We had fabulous seats right in the centre of the stalls, so I definitely couldn’t have asked for a better experience. As if that wasn’t enough, after the show we trotted off through the stage door and up to the dressing rooms, with Kate seemingly knowing everyone we met on the way (including the Big Boss). Her client was Alexandre Duhamel, a baritone, who played a ‘cameo’ role of the high priest. He was absolutely lovely, and took us with him to the after party as it turned out that was the last show. Both him and his buddy Julien Behr, the lead tenor, bantered with us from the get go (especially when Kate mentioned the Irish dancing), and everyone was making sure we had something to eat and drink. I couldn’t believe it – everyone there was so friendly and down to earth, and had great taste in the party playlist too! We didn’t stay long, just long enough for Alexandre to say his goodbyes before we headed out for a drink, but sadly by this point I had to bail to get the last bus home. What a night! And all that from a mutual friend and a barbecue. Merci Kate!
The last long weekend of the month was Thursday 25th (Ascension) which most people ‘bridge’ over Friday for a four day weekend. I hadn’t planned anything as I was basically going to be not really working for the month of June, so didn’t really see the fuss about a long weekend. However, as it approached it soon became apparent that EVERYONE was doing something and the prospect of staying in and twiddling my thumbs got the better of me. Miraculously, a plan came together last minute and Rose and I headed off to Annecy for three days. The first afternoon we set off rather late into the day to climb Mount Veyrier, 1291m. Although we were potentially racing against the clock to sundown, things worked out perfectly. Somehow we made it to the top in only two hours, rather than the 2h45 marked on the signposts – and we certainly didn’t feel like we were going quickly. The descent took longer as it coincided with a trail running event, who we had to keep stopping to let past. We nonetheless made it down and back to the city before sundown. Despite the heat, a hearty Savoyarde tartiflette was in order.
The next day we hired bikes from Vélonecy, bike hire linked to the train station. If you have an SNCF ticket it is only €7 to hire a bike for the whole day! Our mission: cycle the 40km around Lake Annecy, most (but not all) of which has a special bike path by the water. It was a perfect day; not unbearably hot, with a nice breeze by the water. It was quite congested near the city lakefront, but once we got going we could ride a lot more comfortably. On the advice of our couchsurfing host we set off anticlockwise, and stopped first at Duingt where there was a medieval village. We made it all the way round to Talloires where we finally had lunch at a popular beach on the lake, and I clocked up my first swim of the summer, followed by some well deserved sunbathing. We eventually set off again as we had a deadline for the bike hire place. Unfortunately, what followed was not all fun. After cycling the previous 2km on the road, the bike lane reappeared…just in time for a massive hill. We had been warned, but it was nonetheless horrible, and took SO LONG to walk. The joy of whizzing down the slope was shortlived as the bike lane once again abruptly stopped and we found ourselves again on the road, now in peak hour traffic. This was fine until I got road raged at by a driver yelling out the window at me that there was a cycle lane. Needless to say, this startled me, so I tried to get back onto the footpath before the upcoming roundabout, only I took the angle too sharply and promptly stacked it and sliced open my hand on the gravel. It hurt, but I was mostly embarrassed, and MAD at the driver. What were they hoping to achieve?! More to the point, there WAS no bloody cycle lane or we would have been on it. We were also not the only cyclists on the road. We walked several more kilometres on the footpath before the bike lane started up again, and luckily made it back just in time with the bikes. The next day we went for a meander up the hill behind the basilica, but soon gave up on the paths which seemed to lead nowhere. Back in the city we caught the end of the Sunday market and spent the rest of the afternoon chilling at the lake.
The outdoorsy weekend was exactly what we needed, and I couldn’t believe how well everything worked out last minute! Little did I know though that that was only the beginning of what would turn out to be six weeks running at a million miles an hour with no time to stop and catch my breath. The next instalment with that rundown is in the works and should be out in a couple of days…
A très vite,