Thursday, June 21, 2012
So, here I am, after three years, back at the chateau owned by my close friends Genevieve and Frederic on the verdant heights of St. Didier Au Mont D'Or, overlooking the beautiful city of Lyon. But, to begin at the beginning...
NEH Session of The Black Book of Communism:
Nicholas Werth and Henri Russo led our discourse this morning on the topic we had begun to examine on Tuesday: The Black Book of Communism. The emphasis was on the controversial Introduction by Stephane Courtois and the reception of the book around the world. A lively discussion followed our coffee break at 11. 00 and continued till almost 1.00 pm. Although most of my colleagues were headed off for lunch in the quartier, I had to rush off home to pick up my backpack to travel for the weekend to Lyon.
I got home within the hour, grabbed some of my delicious goat cheese quiche for lunch with Marks and Spencer's sausages (I am having the strangest but most delicious meals here) and then, having modified my packing a bit (it got so warm today), I disconnected my laptop, decided to take it with me and left the house. It was really easy to get to the Gare de Lyon for my 4.00 pm TVG train to Lyon (the RER got me there easily with just one small change at Chatelet).
At Gare de Lyon:
Gare de Lyon was buzzing--it is one of the outstation train stations of which Paris has a few. It was with the expert moves of the seasoned traveler that I found my way to my correct Hall and correct Voie (Platform)--speaking French doesn't hurt! But when I got to the main lobby, my platform had not yet been announced. I waited for a good half hour with my book for company. Just then, like magic, within minutes, the skies blackened ominously and the rain came crashing down on the glass roof and thunder rolled loud and furiously and it seemed as if the heavens had opened to pour a whole year's worth of rain down on the earth. Ten minutes later, the downpour had passed--as if someone had just remembered to turn off a tap! When my platform was announced, I boarded my train (remembering to validate my ticket before I entered it).
On the TGV to Lyon:
Gosh, they're not kidding about these trains: they actually do have TGV (Tres Grande Vitesse). I mean my train just flew! It might have been faster than a plane. And it was simply noiseless. I watched the landscape fly by me--a lovely rural one of yellow fields, small unknown villages that time forgot with shy church steeples rising from their midst, ivory cows chewing the cud in emerald pasture. The sun was out and threw warm light over the entire scene unfolding outside my window. The train made just one three minute stop (at Les Meaux) and then we were off again. Within two hours--yes, that's two hours--we were pulling into Lyon Part Dieu station where I spied my friend Genevieve's husband Frederic with their son Louis on the platform, waiting to receive me. A few minutes later, we had a fond reunion. Genevieve was still at work but I would be seeing her shortly at their home.Louis gallantly picked up my bag and carried it all the way to the car. What a fine gentleman!
At Home with My 'Penpal' and her Family:
The drive through Lyon to their chateau-like home at St. Didier Au Mont D'Or was lovely as the sun was bright. Over the bridges of the Rivers Rhone and Saone we went to climb the mountain (Mont D'Or) on which their home is situated and then we were pulling into the beautiful wrought-iron gates and parking on their gravel driveway to be greeted by their labradors, Sweet and Edna! It was a perfectly suburban French scene!
I should explain that Genevieve and I began exchanging letters as 'penfriends' when we were both 13 years old (in those dinosaur days before Facebook) and I lived in Bombay. Over the years, we have met in India, Paris, in the Haute Savoie village of Rumilly where she was born and raised and in Lyon where she has lived since her marriage. It still amazes me that, despite the long passage of a lifetime and the many ups and downs and many moves and relocations in both our lives, we have stayed in close contact and have remained friends. This is largely thanks to her late Mum, Lisette, who took over the task of writing to me (in French) when Genevieve was too busy with her engineering studies, her position as Senior Executive in a top Engineering firm or raising her sons. It is always a joy to reconnect with her and when we do, the years just fall away as they always do between good old friends.
Genevieve, fortunately, was home for just a few minutes and it was great to see her again as well as her younger son, 14-year old Amaury, who had been swimming in their pool. But, in a few minutes, she left for a professional cocktail meeting (as a senior civil engineers, she designs and builds airports) and I did not see her again for the rest of the evening. I spent it with Frederic and the boys talking about my course and the recent French history that is unfolding. Frederic told me that there are only two French 'movements' of the past century that he "detests": Communism and Nazi-ism. Funnily enough, these were exactly the two movements we had been comparing during our NEH sessions this past week. It was wonderful to receive the perspectives of a non-academic Frenchman on the subject: one who is passionate about his beliefs and waxes eloquent about politics, religion, history, society, and loves an attentive audience.
Dinner was simple and prepared by their housekeeper Virginie: small amuse-bouche in the form of guacamole with seafood paste and potted shrimp in little pots; scrambled eggs with zucchini and fresh strawberries for dessert with whipped cream. We missed Genevieve but I shall be spending most of the weekend with her (which will give us ample time to catch up).
To Bed, To Bed:
Frederic and Louis showed me my room on the third floor of the house right next to the one I had occupied when I had stayed with them, three years ago. 'My' room is now occupied by Louis, but I had the one next door with the bathroom near by. Louis connected me to their wireless internet which allowed me to check up on email and then I went to bed, hoping we will have good weather as I have a young and very enthusiastic companion in 16-year Louis who wishes to show me his Lyon and hopes to improve his English in the process. It should be a lot of fun!