CentauresseAnn CreminChez Merle

It was just ten years ago that I moved definitively to Lyon . I knew the city from many trips here, especially for the Biennale and other art related events.
I was looking for an alternative to Paris and Lyon seemed to suit my requirements : only 2 hours by TGV, meaning it was easy to come up to the capital for a luncheon, a vernissage or any other amusing event that took my fancy. I had not sooner settled in than Aer Lingus opened up a direct line to Dublin – no getting way from Dublin completely !I must admit that I have not regretted my move – despite all the confusion engendered by the vagaries of the SNCF and its capricious time tables, making journeys hazardous at times .
ConfluenceThe city itself was a delight : its two thousand year old history, reflected in many fascinating buildings, from Roman amphitheatres to Renaissance palaces, haute bourgeoisie areas built by the silk merchants in the prosperous 17th and 18th centuries, superseded by newer areas. At the moment the city is undergoing a major face-lift, with the new Confluence area, designated as the showcase for an ambitious museum, somewhat along the lines of Bilbao’s Guggenheim flagship.
As for the Lyonnais themselves, they remind me a lot of Dublin the far-off fifties : a small core of older families, entrenched for centuries and very much aware of their own history. Strangers (and foreigners even more so) are regarded with caution and approached with a certain mistrust. They rarely – if ever – receive in their own homes – not surprising really when you think of the enormous range of restaurants of every sort in this city. The HSP ( Haute Société Protestante) which includes most of the banking and industrial families are a world unto themselves – very secretive and loath to display any outward signs of wealth.
One family I knew on arrival has decided to move to Nimes « because Lyon is no longer Protestant enough »…
But of course one of the main attractions of Lyon as a place to visit is its incredible range of restaurants and various eateries. One literally never needs to thinks about food since a walk down the smallest street provides endless vistas of restaurants and food stores.
When I moved here, I was all by myself, but I had carefully labelled all the various packing cases: to wit: kitchen, bathroom, bedroom etc. Three bulky movers dragged everything upstairs and deposited the various objects. As I was busy overseeing the placement of bed, sofas and tables etc I did not pay much attention to the actual cases. After their departure I examined the stacks of boxes and realised they had carefully positioned the 3000 books on top of all the everyday necessities…no way to get hold of a toothbrush nor even a nightdress!!! I slept in a sheetless bed and the next morning set out to find the most basic requirements – I could not even get hold of a kettle to make a cup of tea – a stool was available but my fear was that, as I am very clumsy, I would topple over all the cases and find myself buried under a sea of books – not to be found for days, as no one had my new address.
So I set out to find the basics in the neighbouring shops – which I did not know either, as I had bought the place very much on the spur of the moment. I noticed in my neighbouring street a little “troquet” , an unpretentious eating place. So I trudged along and explained my dilemma and suggested that I would eat there every day that week by splitting up the meal: i.e. the first course and cheese at lunchtime and the main course and dessert in the evening. The owners were very sweet and accepted this rather odd arrangement – it seemed perfectly logical to me. By the week’s end I had got myself sorted out –
Later on when I made a few friends in Lyon I mentioned this to my new acquaintances – I was asked the name of the small restaurant – “Daniel et Denise” I replied. My God, everyone exclaimed, that is one of the most famous “Bouchons” in Lyon!!!! And so by sheer serendipity I discovered the culture of bouchons – a Lyonnais specialty that is world famous. They are usually small spaces, dedicated to real home cooking, specialising in traditional dishes such as quenelles de brochet, pot au feu and of course foie gras.
In olden times, it was the women who cooked and hence the tradition still exists of giving these restaurants names such as La Mère Brazier – in fact Paul Bocuse’s mother had such a restaurant in what is now the headquarters of the Bocuse empire, Collonges aux Monts d’Or. Despite their world wide success, the authentic bouchons are still active in Lyon, with very sensible prices.
Quenelle fraicheBecause of its dedication to and fascination with good food and wines, the food markets are a really enjoyable experience. The biggest is Les Halles, where everyone is competing in freshness and good service – nothing nicer than to wander in and enjoy a few oysters at the counter of one of the many fishmongers (– there are also other specialities like the Armenian Bahadourian, a Corsican counter, home made pastries and quenelles (Giraudet), etc. The open air markets on the quai St Antoine and in La Croix Rousse are also worth visiting. As for restaurants, well there is a plethora of possibilities with every possible permutation and price range. As well as food Lyon is a very active fashion centre – owing to its past as the city of silk makers, there is a splendid museum devoted to fashion past and present, and of course all the usual suspects are to be found in the golden triangle! Vuitton, Dior, St Laurent, Hermés etc…Recently some smaller but equally elegant brands have opened here: Joe Malone, Santa Maria Novella, and Dyptique.
Of course, that begs the question : what is daily life like here ? Well, on the whole it is very agreeable, slower than Paris but not remote either. The museums are very active and vying with each other to attract the greatest numbers in the best conditions. The Musée des Beaux Arts has just ended the year with a splendid exhibition of Pierre Soulages – the city has bought three wondrous paintings for their collection. Soulages really does stand out as one of the major artists of the 20th century , and proves it here with an incredible selection from the past ten years – hard to believe he has now reached his ninety-third year – as active and inventive as ever.
Theatre des célestins The MAC (Contemporary art museum) puts on innovative displays, ranging from Keith Haring to musical interludes by John Cage, La Monte Young and Philip Glass recently. Both these institutions are well positioned: the Beaux Arts in the heart of the peninsula, beside the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) and the Opéra, and the MAC at the edge of the du Parc de la Tête d’Or. They both have restaurants and host concerts, conferences and the like…
The intellectual life here is active, with an excellent Opera House, a very inventive Biennale de la Danse, many theatres, especially the stunning Theatre des Celestins – an authentic Italian Renaissance building that took ten years to restore and bring up to modern standards. They recently put on Beckett’s “Ah Les Beaux Jours”, to great acclaim. The Auditorium has a very broad range of musical offerings and experimental concerts. There is also an excellent TNP, Villeurbanne, run by a very committed director Christian Schiaretti who is always ready to take chances on off-beat productions. On alternate years, there is a Biennale de la Danse featuring artists from all over the world, and the other year is devoted to the Art Biennale, spread out throughout the city. Another pleasant surprise was the Villa Gillet – an erstwhile private house now devoted to literary conferences, with multicultural references. Colm Toibin was among the Irish writers invited – the events are well attended and frequently broach the joys and hazards of literary translation.
All in all, I am happy to have made the move, despite the fact that Lyonnais do not take kindly to foreigners. Among my various drawbacks is that I deemed to be Parisienne – anathema to the Lyonnais – they detest Paris with a passion, deeming it to be superficial, frivolous, and worse of all, intellectual. Another of my handicaps, apart from being involved in the art world, and interested in the media generally, is that I play neither bridge nor golf – but that at least saves me from tedious afternoons and evenings.

More about : Tourism à Lyon - Culture in Lyon