I currently live in the Second Arrondisement in the Presqu’ile between the Saone and the Rhone. The late night bars of Rue de Marseille replaced by the quaint cafes of Rue du Lac that serve fine wine from the Gironde and close at ten. The fiery mosques transformed into gentile chapels and Norman churches. The only thing that wakes me up are the bells of Fourvière summoning angels on the hill. The heated arguments on the ghetto’s street corners, a distant memory. The rubbish is collected, the baguettes are fluffier and the cars are parked straight.
So what’s happened? I wrote last year in this Blog: “It’s great living here in such a vibrant crucible that is Guillotière.” Now I’m writing like a little Englander who goes crying to mummy for a glass of warm milk when the going gets tough. The truth is, I’m a privately educated white middle class ponce. I like to sit outside the museum in the morning with a firm espresso dressed in a white blouse, linen chinos and tanned brogues reading Tender is The Night. And I like to walk home at night feeling safe. It’s all perception I know. Guillotiere isn’t dangerous at all; it just feels dangerous. When the ‘safer’ option is offered, I’m the one running to mummy for that glass of warm milk.
Funnily enough, where I live now is just across the river from where I used to live. But like in so many civilisations, being ‘just’ across the river makes all the difference. It’s not a stream, it’s the Rhone, one of the biggest rivers in Europe. I can see my enemies coming a mile away. A couple of well-aimed cannon shots would have any intruder quickly drown in the muddy waters of the Rhone.
As an aside, I’m not sure I’ve ever lived so close to a city centre before. Especially not in a major European city like this. It’s slightly unnerving to see throngs of tourists loitering outside your door. Yanks and Japanese aiming cameras and light meters up at every gargoyle, statue and door knob. ‘Could you keep the noise down, old bean, I’m trying to sleep!’ Rarely in Nottingham would you get mown down by a horde of tourists chasing men dressed as lions down the street. Not even Robin Hood is that popular.
Lyon isn’t top of the European tourist circuit like Barcelona or Rome, but it’s not unusual to get asked in a Texan drawl: ‘Doo-yoo-speak-Ennglishh?’ as they try to operate the Velo’v terminals, which are, admittedly, ludicrously complicated. But this is France. In some languages the word ‘ludicrously complicated’ simply translates as ‘France’ believe it or not.
After I reply yes, they normally say: ‘Doo-you-live-heree? Gee-thatt-muust-b’-great?
‘Yeh, it’s swell,’ I reply. ‘But you kinda wanna kill yourself in winter.’ Nodding towards the bridge. That normally scares them off.
Living in Granada years back was like living in a circus. A carnival of tourists, students, stoners, travellers, and eager beaver TEFL teachers looking for scraps of low paid work. It was all too much in the end; I had to leave. Ended up in Salamanca and fell into the same trap. Not one cathedral, but two. Tourists love that sort of thing, so I ended up back in Exeter, which also has a famous cathedral.
Luckily Fourvière, that massive block of stone on the hill whose almighty towers cast a dark shadow over Lyon, is a Basilica. Not a cathedral. Why, I can’t remember, but whoever built it had the good sense to construct it on top of a hill out of the centre. This has the effect of draining the tourists out of the old town during the day, giving the restaurant owners time to dream of ringing cash registers later on when the armies of ravenous Texans come flooding through their doors demanding to be fed.