Miss W has been away with the fairies in the last few days. There was a disastrous weekend trip to Lyon to see a friend where I was ill the whole weekend so I didn’t get to see the city, or eat yummy French food, or drink yummy French wine. On my way home my Eurostar train was stopped for 3 hours just outside the tunnel in Calais because of migrants attempting to get on. As you will know from previous posts I am totally appalled by the situation these migrants are in, and I wish the UK government would do something to help the situation, but I was not best pleased on Sunday night.
I then made it to St Pancras in the wee hours of the morning, and thankfully Eurostar paid for a taxi home, HOWEVER… the story doesn’t end here! the taxi driver couldn’t find me, so I handed my phone to one of the guys working at the station for him to give the driver directions. Well, it was one of those moments where time slowed down, I watched him miss my hand when he handed my phone back,and the screen of my super vintage iPhone 4 (which I had managed to keep scratch free for 3 years!) smashed into a million pieces, just like the shards of ice that pierced Kai’s heart in the Snow Queen. The worst part was he didn’t even apologise (Mr King’s Cross St Pancras worker, I will try hard not to wish you seven years of smashed iPhones for what you did to me!)
Miss W was dejected, disappointed, frustrated, ill, upset, tired, to say the least. But all is better in the world of Miss W now. I got a new phone, I will get a free Eurostar return trip (YAY for French visits), and I have a very nice boss who was very understanding when I was a bit of a mess last Monday morning. Spare a thought for the migrants trying to get on trains to the UK every evening, although, lesson learnt, never take a 9:00pm Eurostar.
However, all was not lost during my disaster trip to Lyon. I was feeling very ill, but since the sun was shining I decided to go for a wander. I walked through the district of the Croix Rousse, which is in Lyon’s 1st arrondissement. Traditionally this was the area where all the Canut people lived in the 19th Century. The Canuts were industrious silk workers and lived in these incredible stone apartments with massive ceilings made specially for their silk weaving. I was kind of wandering without aim, and feeling pretty down and depressed. As I walked into a sun filled square I heard someone playing the guitar and singing in English. Normally on my trips I steer well clear of any English speaking people, but last Saturday I was feeling particularly low and in need of some comfort, so I sat on a little concrete bollard on the Rue Victor Fort and listened to this guy’s song. I quickly realised he was from the North of England from his accent. He was singing Nights in White Satin by Moody Blues.
This song made me cry a bit, and I went up to him to ask him who sang it originally, and this scruffy looking semi-indigent artist from Newcastle and I started talking. Sometimes when you meet someone you know you are supposed to be there at that moment and time. It was funny because he smoked the same cigarettes as my dad used to, and very much reminded me of him. This wise man told me he lived out of his rucksack, was a little bit drunk and went from here to there, singing, staying with friends and finding out about the world.
I wish I had recorded our conversation, because I don’t think anyone has ever been so right about so many things in one single conversation. It felt like he was an unceasing fountain of truth and knowledge that had just sprouted up on that street corner and would just as easily be absorbed back into the concrete. One of the things that really struck me about what he said was that we are all made of colour. All the world is colour, even we are. He explained that when the sun’s light refracts through the atmosphere it then becomes a million different bits of colour, which is what we see all around us. Slight caveat here; any scientists reading this please don’t hold me to it as I have no clue what the actual process is… I just like the idea of us all being colour, I studied literature based subjects, OK?? If I had to choose a colour to be I would choose turquoise. It makes me think of the Mediterranean, of peacock feathers,the intricate geometric patterns of mosque domes in Iran, of jewellery made by mysterious native American craftsmen (Pocahontas much?), anyway, you get the idea, I love the luxurious complexity of the colour turquoise.
Another thing he said that stuck in my mind was the mock Latin aphorism Illegitimi non carborundum, which basically translates as “Don’t let the bastards grind you down”. Apparently this phrase started during WWII amongst British army intelligence. Sometimes shit happens to us, our lives do not turn out the way we wanted them to, we hate our jobs, our rent is high, our bills higher, we are ill, or the person we love doesn’t love us back, but when we have a really bad day sometimes that strength of the human spirit is all that is left, so we can’t give in to all those bastard things that are trying to grind us down and reduce us to nothing.
Anyway, while I was talking to this busker, who by the way is called Paul Danks and whose album Totale Liquidation is available to buy on iTunes, a man came out of the building across the road to give Paul a diagram of how to build a stove that recycles smoke to combust… (yeah, I didn’t quite get the mechanics of that either). This charming French gentleman and I spent the next few hours talking on the street about all kinds of things, from books to word play to the history of Lyon. Although that Saturday could have been a really awful day, considering how ill and miserable I felt, these two characters totally brightened it up for me. As my friend always says, our soul makes contracts with the people we encounter before we even meet.
Another thing that hit me while I was in Lyon was a sculpture called The weight of One Self by Michael Elmgreen & Ingar Dragset. It is a sculpture of a man holding an identical version of himself on the banks of the river Saône. It represents the questions of civil and individual responsibilities which are debated every day in the Palais de Justice just across the road. It really made me think as often the weight of ourselves is very heavy indeed, sometimes we simply cannot stand being, but we are the only ones responsible for carrying ourselves, and in the end, the ones that can save us. It can be difficult to accept the weight of oneself, and not try to pass it on to others or shirk it.
In the end I didn’t visit much of Lyon, or eat all the delicious French food on offer, but I met two enchanting people who brought me out of the black hole I was sitting in feasting on my own misery. Sometimes that is the meaning of travel, not to visit monuments and tick places off a list, but to engage with people in a different place and through that learn something new about ourselves. There will be more opportunities to visit Lyon, I’m sure, and I just hope they are under happier circumstances than last weekend.