On my first day back after New Year, I’m unexpectedly given the day off and as I have promised myself to be more constructive on these periods away from knocking out the past perfect to unreceptive ears, I head out for a walk. Despite the struggle of buying meat and bread from the supermarket – see In Lyon 8 – I’m in high spirits as I set off up Mt. Verdun, which I’m told is a three hour walk from Lyon. From my office window I can see two hills in the distance and apparently Mt. Verdun is behind one of these. Which one I’m not quite sure, and as I haven’t got a map I’m not actually certain where I’m going, but strong optimism is a good compass in any country. Ten minutes later I’m rewarded by a signpost pointing to Mt. Verdun, 10km. Things are looking up.
The path threads it’s way up the hillside for about an hour until I reach a village where I can the smell wealth and money waft down from the chimney tops as I walk along the road. I learn later that this is St. Didier Mont D’Or, where the Lyon rich live. The bankers, the lawyers, the company execs, the marketing men. The same people I teach. As I look around it’s good to know that for 2 hours each week, we feast off the same table. After that, they return here, to St. Didier, and I return to La Guillotiere. If you did any French at school, you will quickly translate Mont D’Or as Mountain of Gold. Whereas La Guillotiere comes from the word Grillotière, which is a place where they used to grill animals in the middle ages…or so i’m told.
I leave the village and about half an hour later see a small clearing with a wooden shelter and decide to tuck into my meat and bread. My chirpy optimism is again rewarded when it starts raining the minute I step into it and I remain dry. And despite my baguette being already stale – no surprises there then – and my meat of unknown origin, I feel happy and content.
According to the sign it’s 4.4 km to the top; an hours walk in anybody’s book. But it doesn’t work out like that. Somewhere along the line I must have missed a sign or a turning and instead end up in the village of La Fortunat (The Fortunate, maybe?) which is even more ludicrously rich than the Mount of Gold place. If I go any higher, I’m scared that I might end up in a place of such richness that I may never be able to return to the city again.
But there seems to be no way up; no path and the only road heads down to where I had presumably come from. I look around for someone to ask, or a café – yes, a café, a cold beer!! But no. It’s eerily silent, devoid of form. This is strange for a French village where there’s still a great sense of community. But here it’s unreal, like a scene from a JG Ballard novel. I see big expensive cars parked on driveways behind big gates but no people or sounds. No children playing, or dogs walking the streets. No rude French women barging past me; no crazy Algerians shouting up at my window in the middle of the night; no exasperating queues at supermarket checkouts; no sad grey melancholic faces. No French. It all feels rather bland and I feel a sense of irony creeping up on me.
I start plodding down the road. I have failed to walk up Mt. Verdun and ended up in a soulless village. But strangely enough, I’m looking forward to returning to my humble flat to cook peas and ham on my two ringed stove and listen to the howls and cries of the madness of La Guillotiere, instead of staying here to watch the cold rain fall on a dead French village.