Places

18 – Absurd Theatre

I’m sitting in what was once a cow shed watching French Absurd Theatre. I can hardly understand a word. But it makes me laugh and by the end I’ve enjoyed veering away from reality for an evening.

The production was performed by an amateur troupe called Création at the IrepScènes Théâtre in Villeurbanne, which might be the smallest theatre in the world. With a capacity of maybe forty, the audience sit on raised benches watching the performers ‘below’ on a miniscule stage about 2cm from the front row. Continue reading

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Places

17 – Velov

‘Oh, I’ve got one of those,’ I say and smile at a girl passing me.

I’ve been in Lyon five months now and this is one of the best days I’ve had. It’s Friday, it’s been a long week, lots of rain, lots of cloud, but today the sun is shining and I’m cycling through the park on the way to my last lesson of the week. Continue reading

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Random

16 – Cancellations

It’s Wednesday, three o’clock and I’ve finished my classes for the day. I should be teaching but I’m at home. Each day at school, we wait for our managers to mention the sacred word: ‘Phil, Monsieur Decroux has just………(but wait for it Phil, don’t get excited yet, Monsieur Decroux could be calling to say he’s going to be five minutes late or wants to change the time of his lesson. It could be anything and because our managers know that I’m waiting for the sacred word, they keep the sentence hanging in the air for as long as possible. But finally)…. ‘And Phil, I’m afraid to tell you that your lesson has been…cancelled. YES! For a split second I try to look disappointed but it’s impossible in these golden moments and a broad smile spreads across my face and I start to pack up. We’re meant to stay around to do something useful, as we still get paid. But no one does that. Not anymore. Continue reading

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People

15 – Homeless Man

It’s Tuesday, two o’clock and I’ve finished my classes for the day. During my first term here all the new teachers used to hang about until five or six, keen to show we were committed to the cause. Now, three months later, the place is empty by three. Files and textbooks left exactly where they were shut tight at the end of the day; their owners rabidly sprinting down to the pub for beer and pommes frites. Rippling enthusiasm replaced by collective apathy and alcoholism within a few short months. Continue reading

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Places, Running

14 – Running

I walk down to the Rhone and start stretching. It’s Saturday. As mentioned previously, this is the best part of my week. Not that the other parts are bad; it’s just that this is what I like doing more than anything else. Hard to imagine I know, but since my first week at boarding nearly 30 years ago, I’ve always ran. It got me through those tough years then and still serves as the perfect tonic when life grinds me down. It’s a safety valve and I’m never as happy as when I’m on a run. Continue reading

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Writing and Books

13 – Fear

Last week I asked one of my students what the date was. Friday the thirteenth of January, he replied without expression. Not that I expected one. Even my suggestion a few weeks ago that the French are probably the most arrogant people in Europe after the Swiss, failed to raise an eyebrow. Continue reading

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People, Places

12 – Brotteaux Man

I live in La Guillotiere but I’m really a Brotteaux man. Sleepy, dreamy, pretentious Brotteaux with the famous Parc de la Tete D’Or on your doorstep. Roughly the size of Clifton Downs in Bristol, it acts as a sanctuary for us Lyonnais. Complete with boating lake, running track, cycle paths, restaurants, cafes, an orangey, a boules court, mini-golf, horse riding, and even a miniature train, it’s the place to be. I go there a lot to lose myself in my thoughts and dreams. Wandering aimlessly, but quite happy, among the exotic trees and neatly kept gardens. Or a visit to the zoo. Yes, the zoo. Continue reading

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Random

11 – Mahle Air Filters

I’m driving to my twice weekly visit to Mahle (they make air filters for cars), about 20 miles south of Lyon along the Autoroute du Soleil when I see Mont Blanc for the first time. I have driven this route perhaps 30 times, but never have I seen the Alps that now frame the windscreen of my Peugeot in such splendour. The brilliant sunshine bathing South Eastern France in golden light and the mountains sparkle. Continue reading

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Places

10 – Rhone and Saone

Most cities have a river. Lyon has two. The well known Rhone – as in Sainsbury’s Cote-du-Rhone – and the lesser known Soane. These two rivers form the backdrop to my days and I’m lucky to be blessed with such choice. And naturally I have walked up and down them both many times. Take the Rhone east and it leads you to Mirabelle Jonage, an impressive park and lake complex where you can cycle and sail in the day and pick up hard drugs and girls in the night. Taking the Soane north leads to Vaise, where I set off on my walk to Mt. Verdun last week (see In Lyon 9). Heading south down the Rhone leads to heavy industry, motorway flyovers and unsavoury housing estates. Continue reading

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Places

9 – Mt. Verdun

On my first day back after New Year, I’m unexpectedly given the day off and as I have promised myself to be more constructive on these periods away from knocking out the past perfect to unreceptive ears, I head out for a walk. Despite the struggle of buying meat and bread from the supermarket – see In Lyon 8 – I’m in high spirits as I set off up Mt. Verdun, which I’m told is a three hour walk from Lyon. From my office window I can see two hills in the distance and apparently Mt. Verdun is behind one of these. Which one I’m not quite sure, and as I haven’t got a map I’m not actually certain where I’m going, but strong optimism is a good compass in any country. Ten minutes later I’m rewarded by a signpost pointing to Mt. Verdun, 10km. Things are looking up. Continue reading

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The French

8 – Faces of Despair

It’s a beautiful Sunday morning and I’m walking to the park for a run. A bank of stony faces greet me as I walk up the road. The miserable faces of The French on a Sunday morning. Grey slate faces plodding along the road to get their sodding baguettes. Nothing can cheer them up. I smile at a few as I pass but nothing can stir them from their misery. Not even wine, sex and feasting, which they apparently do so well. I pass one – mid thirties, well dressed – who looks so utterly sad, it’s hard to imagine that a smile has ever crossed his face. It’s true, he could have suffered from some bad news, but I’ve seen him before and he always looks this: The face of despair. Continue reading

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