Culture Shock – Part II

The story I had originally intended to publish next describes a completely different situation. It’s about my first night in France and another adventure courtesy of AirBnB. On a more optimistic and entertaining note, here it is:

It’s good to be back. Though arriving in a completely different manner – this time landing at St. Exupery in Lyon, then renting a car and driving through unfamiliar countryside after 14 hours of travel – I felt comfortable and empowered. It didn’t hurt that after reaching my destination, with just a brief moment of confusion over the address, that I was greeted by a surprisingly mature high school girl, welcoming me to her “mom’s” house in a perfectly American accent. The old farmhouse where I would spend the night was big enough for four people and set on a lovely plot in St. Bonnet de Mure, just across from the owner’s house. After setting in, I took a walk around, briefly discovering a typical small French town with Mairie, Iglese, Poste, Gendarmes, and small shopping district. A few people were out in the park feeding birds. Overall it seemed pleasant and safe. I returned and met Tracy, aka “mom”, a Brit who had emigrated 20 years before and who makes her living in oncology research in a lab on the east side of Lyon.

Thinking it a bad idea to crash and get on the wrong side of jetlag, I searched briefly online for something to do. It was too late in the afternoon to visit a museum but I did discover there was a dance festival going on in the 8th arondissement of Lyon, about a 20 minute drive from here, at La Maison de la Danse. Tonight’s performance had seats available and was looking to be rather contemporary – c’est bonne pour moi! I got dressed, jumped in the car, and made my way to Lyon. Along the way I passed through what appeared to be the local ‘brico’ and ‘meubles’ shopping districts – you can furnish, build and repair your house here, yes you can. The 20 minute drive took about 35 due to local traffic and concurrence with the tram, then a brief search for street parking, but I arrived.

The modern, and very tall, dance performance space was next store to the Mairie for the 8th and otherwise surrounded by apartments and hospitals. Not too much else happening other than a few bars and restaurants. I bought my ticket, center in the third row, but only after a slightly confusing conversation with the very nice man in the ticket booth. His accent, the vocabulary, or the context, my fatigue, all combined to make it so, but I managed a purchase and to learn that if I came back early something would be happening, though not sure what.

Maison de la Danse has a little café called Fred and Ginger so I decided to find dinner there rather than wander the neighborhood. There was no one by the name of Astaire or Rogers as far as I could tell. It was lively with people of various ages mange-ing and bois-ing, at tables between the bar and the small stage with extremely avant-garde danse-arte films projected on the wall. I was seated right away. Service was swift, my food tasty, and I was feeling confident. Returning to the lobby, I observed that indeed something was happening. A crowd was gathered and about 12 young danseurs were moving slowly through the crowd, synchronized, but not, very slowly shedding their layers upon layers of unmatched clothing from head to toe. After slowly folding their piles of clothes, they slinked away up the stairs, most of them wearing only underwear and camisoles. The night was getting more interesting.

The performance was a piece of danse-theatre by Alain Platel, “Tauberbach”. The music, by Bach stopped and started throughout the piece. The scene, a clothing dump in Brazil staged brilliantly from corner to corner of a full sized stage with no backdrop. There was one sound effect, that of a persistent fly, buzzing. Six people danced, writhed, stripped, convulsed, emoted, murmured, one of them a schizophrenic who talked and sang and yelled to herself in English and a little Portuguese. There were subtitles in French projected on the back wall. 90 minutes of avant-garde modern dance, extended vocal technique, choral singing, amplified bones, and almost but not quite porn on the stage, in and out of clothes that covered the stage and on catwalks that raised and lowered. In the face of dense and very difficult material, at times repulsive but impossible to ignore, with very few exceptions, the audience (which included college age, parents with babies, the retired, working people and me) stayed for the 100 minute spectacle without looking away. I might have dozed off for a minute or two here and there fighting the time change, but I wanted to see how this would end, and I did. The dancers stood in silence facing the audience for a full minute. Then the ovations began. One or two people stood. Most clapped their hands above their heads, the middle-aged couple next to me shouting their sincere “bravos”. The French public clapped their hands in unison for almost a full 15 minutes.

Then I drove back to my little BnB. It did take about 20 minutes this time and I did not get lost, well almost. When arriving back in St. Bonnet de Mure about 11pm, I thought I could turn right at the Mairie to return to the house, but the turn was restricted. Having pulled too far forward in the intersection in anticipation of the turn, I could no longer see the traffic signal at shoulder height behind me and to the right. The car facing me across the intersection began to drive straight ahead, so I assumed it was my turn too. The gendarmes who approached and pulled me over did not agree. I had been driving in France for less than 8 hours. One of the men in the police van approached me. No drunk driver returning from a carousing trip in Lyon, just me, freshly arrived and a little too bold. Somehow remaining calm, I explained in French, that I had just arrived, was staying at a house in town and was a little confused. The man asked for my permit and the car registration. He explained that I needed to pay attention to the “red fire” (feu rouge), that it was dangerous to pass through them. Then he asked me for the address of the house. I clamored for it and showed him. He told me to follow, that his colleague would use the GPS and escort me. Would there be a ticket? Would they awaken the family and inform them of my crime? No and no. They simply wanted to make sure I got home safe.

The next morning I chatted with Tracy and her partner about life, her property, travel, teenagers. Then I set off for Lyon, a quick look around the Institut Lumiere, and a pleasant drive through the Rhone-Alpes countryside to Riorges. I reached L’ecole des Trois Ponts around 5pm. No incidents. Not a moment of stress. Rene was waiting for me. It was like coming home again.

St. Bonnet de Mure, between Lyon and St. Exupery Airport

L’hotel de Ville, St Bonnet de Mure

Maison de la Danse, Lyon

L’institut Lumiere, Lyon

Professeur Rene, previous visit to l’ecole. Riorges.

Nouvelle amie, Holly, et moi. L’ecole des trois ponts. Riorges.




2 thoughts on “Culture Shock – Part II

  1. Très agréable de lire les aventures de Robin en France… Je suis ravie de voir que tout va bien, malgré le “culture shock,” et que tu en profites. J’attends la suite avec impatience. A bientôt. Véronique, ton professeur de Français,

    • Merci Veronique! Restes en attendance, il y aurait plus! Maintenant je m’assois dans la terrasse a cote la plage, j’ecoute les tres petites vagues parmi la bruit du boulevard. Le meteo, c’est comme un reve ici!

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