She had long blond hair, skied black slopes, spoke French (well, she was French) and wore a light purple lipstick, which coordinated rather well with her lavender Peugeot. I, on the other hand, had short hair, an increasingly ordinary figure as my first unrestrained months of French eating stretched out along with my waistline, spoke enough French to get myself into linguistic trouble and was a complete novice on the ski fields. The tag-along. She was good about including me, even though I had been foisted on her by her teacher step-father who had had no ready accommodation solution for an overwhelmed Australian English-teaching assistant, so sent me to live with her.
Not unkindly, I think, and when her newest conquest was not around, she referred to me as her concubine. She smoked like a chimney, partied hard, changed jobs like I changed travellers’ cheques (frequently and until there were no more) and courted trouble. Her apartment was in the grounds of the school where I was teaching in Grenoble, so when she suggested that I accompany her and some friends down the road to Lyon for the night-to the ‘Fête des Illuminations’, she told me-I agreed.
Night fell quickly at that time of the year and, for early December, it was cold but there was no snow. My pre-departure preparations included reaching for my insufficiently warm and nondescript jacket and checking that I had a few survival francs on me. Theirs, was to fill the boot with bags of cheap glow sticks that, presumably, they had bought earlier in the afternoon. This was decades before Instagram, mobile phones and Facebook, so there was no starter selfie to be shared, liked and commented upon, although the event itself would have been excellent fodder for such platforms. Lyon was prettily done-up with strings of lights, windowsills jammed with candles, a few simple light projections on a couple of public buildings and a jovial, festive atmosphere.
I had been briefed on the forward journey. We were there to make money; to sell our sticks to the highest bidder as we infiltrated the street crowds, and we garnered attention by wearing them ourselves in our hair, around our neck and on our wrists. Unsurprisingly, with my sexy purple-parka-clad flatmate in the lead, we were most successful.
I have not been back since. To Lyon, yes, but not for the light festival. It has become a bit of a monster and, from what I understand, requires an excess of patience and a lack of claustrophobia as one becomes one with the masses surging through the streets, experiencing the light. I’d like to go but wonder if I would be downcast at the differences, both in me and my experience.
It is, though, the season to be jolly, so waving away such errant thoughts, I will share a list of all the possible Christmas magic in my region as compiled by Taste of Savoie.
Two for three francs anyone?
PS If you hop over to Amazon, copies of ‘But you are in France, Madame’ can be purchased as Kindle or print options. Perhaps one for a Francophile friend, one for you? It sure would help light up my Christmas :)