Monday, July 23, 2007


I woke up this morning with some ideas but, as usual, little set in stone. Breakfast and the view from the hostel kept my attention for a bit, and eventually I walked down the hill and over the Saône to Place Bellecour, billed as "Europe's largest completely clear public square". Basically this means that Lyon has the biggest public square filled only with sand. I kept walking, over the Rhône to what looks like a recently built riverbank area. There were two bowls for skaters, lots of stairs, shallow running water alongside the river, etc. Just North of the bridge I crossed was one of Lyon's two farmers markets. I'm thinking I'll get lunch there tomorrow, bananas are about two euros a kilo.

Today I got lunch near the main metro entrance on the East side of the Rhône. There were three kebab shops next to each other, all with the same prices, so I just picked the one with a guy that looked happy. I didn't know you could have "kebabs" without the "shish", but it's a lot like a gyro.

From the kebab shop I took the metro to the other market, which was a bit smaller and starting to close. The Lumière museum was just across the street, which is what I really wanted to see. The Lumière brothers were the guys who basically invented cinematography in the form we know now. The museum was dedicated to their ideas and accomplishments, and had plenty of replicas, models and artifacts. Plus it was located in their super cool Art Nouveau home. I'm not really a cinematographer, but it felt like a pilgrimage anyway considering the leap they made in time-based media and experimental art.

From the Lumière Museum I went to the big park in the Northern part of Lyon, which has a huge lake with little islands you can get to via underground passageways. I heard some singing coming from the edge of the park and happened upon a African lady in very African clothes who gave me tracts in French. I could see the Musée d'Art Contemporain from here, which I'd heard about earlier, so I headed in that direction. The first floor had an exhibit called "Freak Show", with lots of strange objects commissioned from a number of artists: 10 feet tall rain boots, a brush with hair coming out instead of bristles, an acoustic guitar with a square body, a chair that looked like it was just about to tip over, etc. My favorite was the two cubes in the corner that were attached to opposite walls but suspended in mid air next to each other, presumably magnetically attracted. I wasn't sure it was worth five euros, but the second floor, an Erwin Wurm exhibition, redeemed it for me. His video work isn't so great (unless it's in the context of an installation, like the fat house), and pieces like "Thinking About Philosophers" are more fun to think about than view; his photography, "one minute sculptures" and "interactive sculptures" were my favorite. Of the "interactive sculptures", one instructs you to sit on the ground with your legs forward and think about Spinoza. Another asks you to hold a Pepsi can between your chest and chin. I like that his work is really simple and silly but still asks "bigger questions" about the boundaries of different media.

From the museum I took the bus, subway, and tram to the top of the main mountain in the older part of Lyon. It was starting to rain hard so I just got a quick look of the cathedral and the amazing view before rushing back down the hill and up on the other tram to the hostel.

At the hostel I waited for the rain to let up so I could get dinner. As I was walking out, a girl stopped me because she noticed my RPI shirt. We both happened to know the same person at RPI, so we talked for a bit and she showed me a great place that did a sandwich, drink and dessert for five euros. I also got a crepe from a guy making them on the street, which I'd wanted to do for a while.

Back at the hostel we sat around a table with some of her friends, but she was mostly ignoring the other conversations and just talking to me. She was coming from a small town, and going to community college because she wanted to stay with her family. No one believed that she'd be able to travel Europe for a month — much less by herself. It was a little rough at first, but now she's scared to go back. She feels like she's changed so much, and if she goes back people will put her in an old box.

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