La rentrée is such a handy term in French. It means, by default, the return to school after the summer holidays, thereafter any return to school after any holiday, or indeed any return to anything. So I had my rentrée en France followed by my rentrée at work in September, and another rentrée at the start of November after the autumn holidays, when I first started chipping away at this post.
Like last year, the first three weeks of September were spent doing not much back at work – desperately wanting to get on top of things before they got on top of us, but being pretty helpless in the face of timetables and class information that was barely in place before we were meant to be in said classes. None of this was a surprise though, and at least David and I knew what to expect after last year. Our two new lecteurs, Mónica from Colombia and Hannah from Germany, were really thrown into the deep end as on top of all this our boss is on leave this year and has two colleagues replacing him. Given that all of this is taking place in the context of French public education system, you can imagine how fun and efficient it has been.
Nonetheless, despite what has felt like a Herculean effort at times, the year has actually got off to a good start for the language centre. We have had various big projects entrusted to us for the year by our boss, mostly to do with promoting the language centre in various ways to get people to actually come and use it. This is partly what made things so hectic at the beginning of the year as there was a certain window we really had to capitalise on to get students’ and colleagues’ attention. And it worked! Our new facebook page is slowly but surely raking in the likes, our conversation workshops have doubled in size, and our online CV correction tool has taken off like a house on fire. The downside of this of course is that we have been absolutely inundated with CVs to correct which is not exactly the most thrilling aspect of our job – a true case of be careful what you wish for…
So, at the beginning of November we had a week off for the Toussaint (All Saints’ day) holidays after only five weeks of class. This might sound rather ridiculous, and it is, but boy did we all need it this year.
Despite all that doom and gloom though I have actually been up to an interesting thing or two:
Les journées européennes du patrimoine
It’s the most wonderful time of the year…every September, cultural institutions of all sorts open their doors to the public over the European Heritage Days weekend, which is highly relevant to my interests. Last year I wasn’t able to go as I had another totally-worthwhile-but-very-unfortunately-timed engagement, so this year I crammed in as much as possible to really make the most of it.
First up, and the highlight for me, was a two-hour walking tour of my neighbourhood Gratte Ciel. This was all about the development of the neighbourhood from fields of sheep to an industrial hub at the turn of the 20th Century and the subsequent need for housing for all the workers, which resulted in France’s very first skyscrapers (gratte-ciel). It was really fascinating to learn how everything in the neighbourhood stemmed from social needs, designed by a doctor, Lazare Goujon, who went on to become the mayor. He designed the development based on what he understood as important for the workers from a health and hygiene perspective.
The development began with the construction of the palais du travail, a ‘secular temple’ which combined a dispensary, communal baths (for getting clean), union offices, a brasserie, and a small theatre – really the hub for the community entirely designed to serve the workers. From there, the next stage was to provide housing for the booming industrial population. As the local council didn’t have the funds for a project of this scale, the Villeurbanne Urbanism Society was established, combining the council and local construction companies who had a direct interest in seeing the project succeed. The SVU is still in charge of the properties, which remain social housing today.
Along with the architect Môrice Leroux, Goujon was instrumental in the tiered design of the buildings which maximised air and light. The entire project began in 1929 with the palais du travail and was finished with the gratte-ciel by 1934, thanks to modernist building techniques. Unfortunately, the project was initially a failure as the locals didn’t understand the process which used a metal frame instead of thick load-bearing walls, and thought the buildings would collapse. This cost Goujon his political career. However, it was eventually the hot and cold running water that drew in tenants and it ultimately became a great success. Housing 1500 at the time in largely single-bedroom apartments, this number has now been reduced to 1250 after some interior restructuring.
From there I went on a guided tour of the TNP, Théatre National Populaire, which talked about the building itself (building on what I had learnt about the former palais du travail in the previous tour) as well as the history of the TNP as an entity – providing theatre to the people. It was a comprehensive tour that took us all through the building, including on stage kitted out for the upcoming production of Ubu Roi. We even stopped in a giant lift used to ferry equipment from trucks on ground level to where it was needed in the theatre, something that is totally logical and yet I never would have thought about it.
The following day I went on a walking tour in the morning called Lyon matrimoine – a play on the word patrimoine, meaning heritage – about notable but generally unknown women from Lyon’s history. They included:
- Françoise Hélène Jourda – contemporary architect
- Claudia Stavisky, current director of the Théâtre des Céléstins, and Irène Pratt who in 2006 released a damning report into gender equality in the performing arts
- France Pégot, a WWII resistant
- Louise Labé, a 16th-century poet
- Mme Bizolon, ‘la maman des poilus’ who fundraised for soldiers during WWI
- La mère Brazier, a working-class cook who became a Michelin-starred chef instrumental in turning Lyon into the gastronomic capital it is today
- Les Ovalistes, female silkworkers who unionised and successfully fought for vastly improved working hours and remuneration in 1869
All in all a very enlightening tour and it was encouraging to see huge numbers turn out for it, swamping the volunteer guides from the FilAction anti-domestic violence association.
Next I visited the Théatre des Céléstins, a traditional Italianate-style theatre. This was a self-guided tour and while it was cool to see behind the scenes was not quite on the same level as the TNP. I think also the fact that I’ve been backstage at a fair number of theatres/similar venues in NZ meant that aspect alone wasn’t so special.
From there I headed to the Croix-Rousse where I visited two silkweaving workshops, both of which have been preserved by the association Soierie Vivante. Even though I have been to many a museum that has told me about Lyon’s silkweaving history, I have never really managed to get my head around how the looms work (manual or mechanical). So, this live demonstration was invaluable! It really helped to be able to see it in action, up close, to compute how the threads…thread. I was surprised to learn also that even though the mechanical loom was much more efficient than the manual one in terms of the vast quantities of fabric it could produce, it was limited to only two colours of thread, and very simple patterns. So the manual loom was not totally rendered redundant.
The workshops are housed in the original canut apartments still typical of the Croix-Rousse area, characterised by high ceilings, huge windows and thick floors (all designed to accommodate the looms). The workshop took up maybe 80% of the apartment with family life confined to one corner, with a mezzanine atop a tiny kitchen/laundry. The racket from the mechanical loom definitely made it an immersive experience. I can’t recommend visiting and supporting this organisation highly enough.
The last stop on my mammoth tour was the hôtel du gouverneur militaire in the swanky sixth arrondissement. This was most interesting for the fact that I discovered that Lyon still has a military governor. Call me jaded but I’ve got the point where I feel like if you’ve seen one posh residence of a certain period, you’ve seen them all. It was interesting to see how it was squished in between a hodgepodge of other buildings, and there was a band playing which gave me the oomph I needed to make it home after being on my feet ALL DAY. All in all, a weekend well spent!
Weekend of ALL THE THINGS
My life seems to be a constant cycle of having absolutely nothing on the horizon, and all of a sudden having EVERYTHING HAPPEN AT ONCE. The latter was exemplified at its most extreme yet the first weekend of October, when:
- Lucy was back in Lyon staying with me before leaving Europe for good
- Lucy had a party for said departure on the Saturday night
- Lorde was here in concert on the Sunday night
- All while I had two days of Irish dance workshops
All exciting things that I didn’t want to miss but just v unfortunate that they all happened on top of one another. The dance workshop was great, but physically gruelling as I’m just so out of practise. Like last year though I really enjoyed the mental challenge of being a student and having difficult steps to learn, as well as catching up with the wonderful Aislinn and Marcus of course. Somehow I made it through the second day on only a few hours’ sleep, managed to squish in a wee siesta, and powered on to Lorde. She was playing at Le Transbordeur, a venue of about 1800 capacity where I’ve been to a couple of concerts. I thought this size was perfect for her and her style of show. She played for nearly an hour an a half total, not every song but a good range from both her albums even though there were one or two of my faves missing. The crowd was SO into it too, who knew there was such a hub of Lorde superfans here.
Like last year, three of us four flatmates again had birthdays at the end of September/beginning of October. Like last year, we wanted to have a joint bash, only this time the first date we were all free together was the 28th of October. We started the day off with an escape game which we smashed in 39 minutes 31 seconds (out of a possible 60). They said this was the second fastest time they had had, and as a reward (or rather, compensation) invited us to be beta testers on the new room they’re opening. Writing this has reminded me that we must follow up on that!
After the escape game, lunch and a communal siesta, it was time for the main event. Given our previous downstairs-neighbour dramas, we decided to move the event offsite, so we didn’t have to worry about the numbers or noise. The chosen venue was l’Atenium, Mathilde and Gus’ ‘local’ (that is not local at all) – a bar with all sorts of local beers, board games and good food at very reasonable prices. In the end, there weren’t actually that many of us so we could have done it at home after all – but while it wasn’t the big bash we had in mind it was still a really nice evening. Quality not quantity, right?
Speaking of quality, a high quality person who was there was my friend Sarah who came down especially from Paris. Sarah is from Vancouver and we met on exchange in Lyon in 2013. Though she has been based in Paris for a few years with a stint in Berlin she hadn’t been back to Lyon since Easter 2016 so this retour à la source was much anticipated. We had a really nice couple of days just hanging out, mostly eating food. We even went for a run which I am pretty bloody proud of! It was really great for her to meet some of my friends here and especially my flatmates. Vivement la suite!
After Sarah left I was already halfway through my holidays so spent the rest of the week just chilling and doing work. Not very exciting, but necessary. It paid off as I’ve been much more on top of things and relaxed since then – fingers crossed I can ride this wave until Christmas.
The following week the All Blacks played France in Lyon, so I did my patriotic duty and went along to the match. It was a great game with a fantastic atmosphere, even though there were approximately 10 NZ supporters scattered throughout the 58,000+ record crowd. What was not so great though was the whole stadium experience either side of the game with the special match-day trams having a wait of an hour in each direction. We very nearly missed the anthems – I once again did a lovely solo as I didn’t even make it to my one and only compatriot in time.
Up next is the annual Fête des Lumières in two weeks’ time, and aside from that I have absolutely nothing on my calendar. I have two weeks off over Christmas and have the usual dilemma of not wanting to waste them away here twiddling my thumbs, but not wanting to jet off somewhere just for the sake of it either. Suggestions welcome! Winter has well and truly set is and it is so dark so early it’s hard to be motivated to do much. But, I’m still chugging along much the same as last year: still diligently going to the gym (big turnover in trainers but I have made new buddies), still going to choir (we have a new director, still finding our groove), still doing salsa, was doing beginner rock and roll too but had to ditch that when the salsa classes merged, am blending with the students and taking a Spanish class at work which is reawakening that part of my brain which has been dormant since 2012…keeping busy keeping busy, as usual.
See you when I see you..