Sunday, January 15, 2017

This post is mostly about food (but then so is my life)

I decided to visit Lyon this weekend, it being so nearby, and one of France's biggest cities and its supposed gastronomic capital. We got out of "work" at 10 AM on Friday,  so I got on a train through the snowy countryside and was in Lyon by lunchtime. Said lunch was at Les Halles Paul Bocuses, which is the upscale, expensive covered market - I had a sandwich with Spanish ham, manchego, and a tomato confit in good olive oil (think Maggie's bruschetta, upgraded). The market itself reminded me a lot of the one in Tel Aviv where we spent a lot of time last January. I think there was a shooting there not long ago. 

The afternoon was eh; partially because it was hailing, but mostly because I was stressed out about where I was going to sleep - I had a couchsurf lined up with what sounded like a nice family in the suburbs, except then they didn't answer any of my messages. So I hiked up a hill to a hostel and asked for a bed. The place turned out to be super nice - check out my 5€ breakfast: [photos later, laziness and tech issues]

And I made friends! My bunkmates were a Chilean psychology student and an Australian elementary-school teacher, both travelling Europe post-breakup. We went out for dinner together and eventually found the restaurant recommended by the hostel receptionist. Good traditional Lyonnais food, we think - not quite a bouchon (one of the 20-ish officially recognized authentic Lyonais restaurants), but close. The Chilean and I both decide to order andouillette - just a kind of sausage, right? And Lyon is famous for its meats.

The thing looks pretty good when it lands on the table. Then I poke it with a fork and it falls into small rubbery pieces. Doesn't taste like much, but the mustard sauce is all right. Then slowly a strange smell becomes evident... the rubberiness becomes nastier... the stench becomes stronger and distinctly sewer-like... Soon enough, the Chilean is holding her sweater over her mouth and beginning to gag. Meanwhile, the Australian is morosely pouring ketchup over her foie gras, which is bizarrely paired with gingerbread.

I breathed through my mouth and somehow got through two-thirds of my andouillette before I reaized exactly how gross it was. Later Googling revealed that the thing is stuffed with pig colon, which explains the uniquely fecal odor. But apparently there are whole associations of andouillette fans - to each his own, I suppose.

On Saturday, the sun came out and I got to see the prettier parts of the city. Old Lyon is touristy, but in an actually really nice kind of way. I visited a bookshop with a cave basement and an enormous volume of old choral scores, and a toy store where I learned how music boxes work (never really thought about it before, but it's a clever little system - there are tiny metal tines of different lengths, and as the cylinder turns little bumps hit the tines of the right pitches.) I spent a while talking to not one, but two old ceramics masters; one told me sadly about how the craft is dying out because young people don't care whether they buy cheap machine-produced plates, or artworks that arise as a collaboration between man and earth. 

Probably the coolest experience of the trip was the Museum of Movies and Miniatures that I stumbled across in an alley of the Old Town. The first few floors were filled with hundreds of props, sets, and costumes, as well as exhibits about the filmmaking process. The props are unbelievably realistic and detailed; sharing a small dark room with a moving ten-foot-tall Alien Queen was definitely creepy. The top floor was dedicated to miniature rooms: luxury kitchens, decrepit apartments, prisons and abandoned theaters, in soulful and extraordinarily lifelike 1/12th scale renditions. Throughout the museum - especially with the miniatures, but also with the special effects props - I wondered why these things aren't considered high art. They certainly require extraordinary skill to produce, and it seems to me that they provide just as much opportunity for creative expression as traditional painting or sculpture. Art museums are full of moody paintings of Parisian restaurants; why not the same thing in 3D?

After a fish and ships at the James Joyce Pub with Oscar Wilde hanging over my head, I hiked up to the hilltop cathedral that looks down over the city. Along the way, I climbed in the ruins of a massive two-thousand-year-old amphitheater. I sat through a mass at the church. I didn't understand much of the service, but the music was beautiful. Bean, I wish you'd been there to explain what was going on. For example, who all the different people were - there were two priests (?) who led the spoken portions, both in green robes and one also with a pink skullcap; then there was a young man dressed casually who led the singing, a women who talked briefly about current events, and a couple of others... And everyone somehow seemed to know when to stand up and sit down.

I went back down the hill, and since I had a couple of hours till my BlaBlaCar I ended up walking across the outskirts of the city to the little half-suburban commune where I caught my ride. The interesting and beautiful parts of the city seem to be limited to the historic section by and between the two rivers; the rest is pretty standard apartment buildings and offices. I feel like I got to know the city pretty well after walking twenty miles in two days.

Anyway, that was a really cool trip that finally gave me some of that omg-France adrenaline. On the Grenoble front, things haven't been that exciting. We've been sitting/napping in the back of a lot of classrooms, with a couple of brief moments of meaningful student interaction. We also toured a clean room, which the MechE's found exciting but I didn't really, and went to a hockey game with kids from our host families, which was a fun excursion. I'll be leaving for Geneva on Saturday. Feels like I've been here more than a week and a half by now.

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