Saturday, May 23, 2009

Lyon At Leisure

Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Lyon, France

On Wednesday morning, I woke up feeling sleep-deprived. My body clock wakes me up by 7 am, no matter how much or how little sleep it has awarded me. Still, I felt confident about finding my way into the city independently and after a shower in their beautiful old-fashioned bathroom up on the third floor of the chateau-like Ducote home, I descended to the stillness of the kitchen in search of breakfast. Genevieve and sons had started their day long before me; Frederic was out by the pool working on the landscaping. I found myself a bit of baguette and with Frederic making a magical appearance to fix my café au lait, I was all set to start my adventures for the day.

On the Metro to Lyon:
I went out in search of a completely different part of Lyon today taking the metro to Saxe-Gambetta to look for the French couturiers who apparently sell their wares for a fraction of the prices in the big stores on this shop-lined street. I could not have been more disappointed. There was absolutely nothing to be found and using the same metro ticket (that is valid for one hour in the same direction), I took a bus to the northern part of the city called Croix-Rousse where the canuts (silk-weavers) once used to live in a labyrinth of narrow streets that today house a multitude of small shops and street markets that sell fresh produce and artisinal cheeses. Though I was pleased to be in the midst of a completely ignored part of the city, a particular store I sought called Braderie de Chariot d’Or (on Rue du Chariot d’Or) turned out to be another damp squib and with little choice, I took the metro once again to arrive at the Hotel de Ville stop so that I could explore the Musee de Beaux-Arts.

The Musee de Beaux-Arts:
Perhaps the best part of Lyon’s Musee de Beaux-Arts is its spectacular building. Once a monastery, it has been reconfigured to display a collection of wonderful paintings that are considered to be among the best outside of Paris. However, to anyone who has visited and knows the work of such marvelous places as the Louvre in Paris, the National Gallery in London or the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the really stunning part of this museum is its building. In fact, the best part of the building is a long room called the Refectory where the monks once used to dine. This has been recently restored and the end result is a receptacle of astounding bas relief sculptures in Plaster of Paris that are so detailed and so deep as to be almost three-dimensional. They portray the lives of a number of saints and do so with such lavish detail in a purely Renaissance style that they stun the viewer.

I was rather hungry by this point and decided to find sustenance, first and foremost, in the very cool interior of the museum’s restaurant. There I ordered the Chef’s Tea Time Special which was a combination of four tiny desserts and a drink of my choice—I chose a tall glass of freshly squeezed grapefruit juice as the day had been warm and I had started to feel parched. The desserts were fresh fruit served with Chantilly cream, a cinnamon mousse, a sweet yogurt served with a raspberry coulis and a tiny rum baba—all of which were perfect little morsels that made me feel very sophisticated and very French indeed as I sat and nibbled at them.

They also provided the pep-up I badly needed after my rather disappointing morning, so it was with renewed enthusiasm that I went in search of the Highlights of the museum’s collection, very helpfully detailed on its map. The ground floor housed a number of marble and bronze sculptures, many of which were outside in the Sculpture Gardens. Works by August Rodin are the star attractions as is a large painting of the Ascension of Christ by the Italian Perugino. The first floor is notable for its antiquities which include an Egyptian sarcophagus, the Gates of Medamud from the reign of Ptolemy, a fifth century bas relief sculpture from Persia and a Greek female Kouros. The Italian section had some wonderful wooden sculptures from Tuscany while the French section had a Renaissance bust of a 15th century Frenchwoman that was very lovely indeed. Of special note was the Art Nouveau bedroom designed by Hector Guimard for his wife that belongs to the 1909-1912 phase of his work.

The second floor of the museum was notable for paintings by rather well-known names such as Lucius Cranach and Veronese (indeed these works were superb) as well as a number of really great ones by Rubens and Rembrandt. It could easily take a whole day to see the entire collection at leisure and I am pleased to say that most of the galleries were completely empty when I was there (which would have made their contemplation even more pleasurable); but I decided to focus only on the highlights in the leaflet, though I did often stop to inspect a painting and the curator’s note if another one caught my eye.

It was the Modern Art in the extension that was also very interesting such as the works by Picasso and Fernand Leger and a number of really enchanting works by the Impressionists especially Renoir who was very well represented in the museum.

Almost three hours later, I made my way out of the museum and crossed the Pont de Lafayette to arrive in the third section of the city—the most modern part where the roads are wide and lined with beautiful buildings in a warm color palette—ochre and sand and yellow and pink. It was from a metro station in this area that I took the underground back to Gare de Vaise but not before I purchased a cranberry and almond tart. It was also at this time that I realized that the stores were closing up for the long Ascension Day Weekend which is a bank holiday in Catholic France. I made sure then that I bought a magnet and a post card of the city and then hopped into a train that took me to Garde de Vaise from where I caught the bus that took me back to Genevieve’s home.

Another Companionable Evening:
Later that evening, I sat down to dinner with the Ducotes. It was a lovely Rice Salad that Genevieve fixed us with Chicken Cordon Blue (which is one of my favorite French dishes—gruyere cheese and a thin slice of ham sandwiched in a chicken breast that is then shallow fried). These meal times with the family were always great fun and I fully enjoyed interacting with them at the end of the day and telling them about my adventures.

I went to bed, sans coffee, hoping to catch up on my sleep, but I had no such luck. Sleep continued to elude me and again it was only in the early hours of the morning that I finally fell asleep.

No comments: