Monday morning. First day back after the holidays. Sun angling its feeble rays down onto the Opera House below. A clear day beckons in the West. The new year is seven days old. It’s good to be back.
I had a nice long weekend here in the city before the teaching onslaught started this morning. I wanted to buy something to show for my efforts, but each time I went into a shop I smelt the speeding ticket wedged in my pocket like it was a strip of rotting mackerel. The smoking gun. A sixty Euro ticket for doing no more than a slow walk near a 30km sign in Annonay the Friday before Christmas.
Full of turkey after the staff Christmas meal the night before, my foot must have rested a moment too long on the accelerator. A couple of weeks later I get a late Christmas card from the cops:
‘BONJOUR Monsieur Ogley, Philip. Every day is Christmas in France. Look, you’ve won the booby prize. A speeding ticket. Redemption value 60 Euros. Joyeux Noel.’
I put the sixty Euro all-in-one electronic pepper and salt grinder back on the shelf, curse my heavy foot and walk out of the kitchen shop. I’ve always wanted one but it’ll have to wait. The need to buy pointless gadgets will have passed by next week and I’ll be back to crushing my black pepper with a rolling-pin.
My new hangout is the Taverne La Becquée on Rue Saint-Georges. A cross between an English tea shop and a German Bierkeller. A place where you can order cold meats, cake and beer and sit on furniture that’s been stolen from a school. The food arrives from upstairs via an old-fashioned dumbwaiter that you operate yourself with a rope when the bell rings. No need to mutter a polite merci beaucoup to a coat-tailed waiter. Here it’s service à la mains. You can even get the barman to take a photo of you winding the damn thing down with your food on if you want. I did.
Unfortunately when I visited it on Thursday it had hung me out to dry. As with many French restaurants and bars they take an extended New Year break. Of about three months. Naturally an exaggeration, but normally at least a week or so. I was disappointed not to be able to sit down and see dumb tourists yank the rope of the dumbwaiter too hard and watch their onion soup slop all over the floor. In these hard economic times, you’ve got to get your laughs where you can.
I instead encircled Vieux Lyon looking for something similar. Simple beer and meat. Or coffee and cake. Not fussed. But it was slim pickings. The ones I knew were closed and the ones that weren’t, didn’t meet my exacting criteria. Mainly. They were too expensive.
In the end I made do with the a kebab and a can of Coke in a takeaway-come-diner that was doing its best to make me feel that I was somewhere hot. Row upon row of potted tropical plants lining the room desperately trying to blend in with the wallpaper that had pastel illustrations of men playing volleyball on a golden beach against a golden sunset. The sea looked a bit too chemically blue but the effect worked well and had the five or six of us sitting at our bamboo tables quietly humming samba tunes as we chewed on our shashliks. We then all walked out into the sheeting rain and quickly headed for the nearest place that sold strong alcohol to remind ourselves that we were still in the dead of winter.
But I’m an optimist and even now it feels that spring is around the corner. The nights are gradually getting longer. Fact. And if I breathe in deeply enough the scent of buds and sprouting bulbs catch my nose. Even if I have to imagine it. Soon the waters will recede from around my ankles and at some point in the very near future I’ll be able to walk to work on dry land once again. Arriving at my destination with dry socks and a dry coat. Something to look forward to. Happy Easter.