The title comes from A Moveable Feast, and seemed appropriate. I went back to Lyon for the first time since I left thirteen years ago.
Mostly I wandered, and took it all in. The best part of the afternoon was reconnecting with old friends I hadn’t seen since I left. I only had a few hours before I caught the train back to Paris, and in that time I was reminded of how beautiful Lyon’s old quarter truly is. It’s not that I didn’t know it when I lived there, or that I didn’t appreciate it then, rather that so much time has passed that other memories took precedence over the rose colored courtyards, the honey kissed light filtering down through the buildings onto the cobble stoned rue St. Jean, the half pipe of ancient sewer running down its middle, not quite wide enough to walk in and just smooth enough to almost slip down trying.
I didn’t make it by the Smoking Dog, or walk down rue de la République, or go up the hill to the amphithéatre or the basilica, to see the views looking out over the city. I didn’t go inside la cathédrale St. Jean. As I boarded the six o’clock train back to Paris, I thought about all the things I didn’t do. Then, as the train left the station and the once familiar sights of Lyon began to recede, I thought, how many pictures do I need of 25 Quai Romain Rolland? Who cares if I didn’t ride the metro or wander past the patisserie where I bought a hundred baguettes and slices of flan nature? Did I intend to recreate every special and painful memory in the span of only a few hours? I’d spent time with people instead, with old friends. I met their three children, learned a little bit about their lives, and shared a little bit about mine. We drank coffee and watched the kids play in the park. We went by Dan’s bar so he could show me the pub he runs, around the corner from one we used to haunt, and his adorable seven year old son played bar tender and served me a Shandy while the three year old pushed a broom around the floor announcing with delight, je suis Madame Félix, who turns out to be his great grandmother’s cleaning lady. I’m thankful to have reconnected. That matters more.
When I arrived in the early afternoon I decided to walk from the Gare Part Dieu over to Vieux Lyon, and along the way, as I grew warm and got lost and couldn’t find my way, I remembered the frustration of living there – the early days when I couldn’t get a bank account without a lease and I couldn’t get a lease without a bank account; when I didn’t know anyone and felt humbled and thwarted by the language; when I was nearly paralyzed by homesickness. Those memories are still there, and may never go away. But what surprised me, after just a few hours in the city, was how much I hope to one day go back – to see my friends again, as well as others I didn’t get a chance to see; to show Jeremy; to spend a few days doing all the things I never did when I lived there; and then maybe to leave it behind and go south – back to Provence, perhaps, or to the Pyrénées where I have never been, or down to Italy or to Spain. Lyon lives so large in my imagination, in my memory, and it’s always a mixed bag. It was no exception on Saturday when I went back. When I arrived I remembered all the frustration and the fear. By the time I left, I had remembered the beauty.