Tuesday, December 29, 2009

December 26, 2009 email update, sent.....

(Quail eggs devoured by the kids and cardboard figurines that Harper got for Christmas on our windowsill)

(Lyon graffiti)

hi everyone -

forgive a mass email but thought most of you would like to hear from us here in lyon. it has been a lovely and crazy transition. it was bitter cold when we arrived with daily flurries of snow, much to the delight of snowball-throwing guthrie and harper (and david).

(above is a view out our back window through our bamboo backyard.....)

it felt oddly familiar and comfortable being back in lyon after almost 10 years and being back in our cherished neighborhood of croix-rousse. we are one block from the main steps down into town, 2 blocks from the main square of croix-rouse with a statue to jacquard (the famous loom maker) and a small and sweet christmas market, complete with roasted chestnuts, a jules verne carousel, crepes, hot wine, cotton candy (papa's beard in french) and a baby goat that kept climbing on top of a sheep's back.

(tulips abloom on our dining room table)

shortly after we arrived, david woke up at 3am in excruciating pain and realized by 5am that he was suffering from kidney stones. the last time he had this was right after guthrie was born. our phone miraculously permitted me to make the calls necessary - to my friend for a 24 hour doctor number and the doctor, who arrived in less than hour. (after that our phone topped working.) he gave david a good shot of painkillers, some codeine, anti-spasmodics and prescriptions, and instructions for x-rays, ultrasounds and doctor's visits. all this for 100$. let's hear it for socialized medicine! hip hip hooray!

(neighborhood butcher shop - literally one block from our door)

luckily, david's pain was under control and he seemed to pass the stones before the x-rays and ultrasounds, all of which looked good. the kids were a bit frightened by this all and we were all pretty exhausted by christmas eve. i bought 2 bresse chickens at the best food market in the world - occupying several blocks of croix-rosse's main boulevard. they still had their heads and feet on and the kids moaned in delight as they watched the farmers "prepare" them for me. we roasted one for christmas eve - stuffed with lemons, garlic and some rosemary that i picked at an amazing playground nearby, rubbed with olive oil, butter and salt from the camargue. david made perfect mashed potatoes and i made green beans with parmesan and butter and a delicious gravy with the drippings, milk, flour and one of my favourite french ingredients - yeast that you sprinkle on salads. we drank a divine organic cremant that even the kids enjoyed. tarts bought at one of the countless neighborhood patisseries are our staple dessert - lemon, apple, pear, chocolate and cream.

(our Christmas Eve feast......)

(the cardboard angel that Harper and I painted for the top of our little tree)

christmas morning david cut his finger on a knife pretty badly. lots of blood and pain but he is ok. (luckily he knows the password to his top-secret computer because he can not swipe his fingerprint as this is the one he mangled.) guthrie cut his finger on the opinel pocketknife that santa brought him and harper sliced her lip that night as we sat down to a chicken tangine with lemon, olives, apricots, prunes and honey. ouch! i am keeping my fingers crossed that i remain injury-free.

(the kids on Chrismas morning with Harper's remote control Hello Kitty airplane and Guthrie's first pocketknife, an Opinel)

unfortunately, we do not have our own phone or internet yet - another 10 days. our french landlady is ashamed of france for this, mais c'est la vie! fortunately, she lent us hers for the time being: 33 (country code) - 65088-4766 - it's a cell phone so we don't think you need the city code which for lyon is 04. france telecom needed to turn off our line and open a new one for some reason and this takes 12 days! my dear friend cyrille (who gave me the doctor's number before dawn) lent us his free wifi codes so we have a slow and intermittent connection. hence, this email. otherwise, i go to a nearby internet cafe that plays 70s american music and serves only strong black coffee in tall clear glasses for free.

(street poster on the wayto the playground)

i have to admit to feeling a bit lonely here for the holidays and being with the kids 24/7 tries my patience, as much as i love the, which is a ton. they are troopers and harper says that she loves france regularly. it's an adventure. but they miss their friends and school, their pets and home, their relatives and routines. and i am sure i try their patience too! they will start their international school on january 6. we will try to get a sitter soon and have one lined up. david and i need a night out to feast properly and walk for hours through this gorgeous city. i have spent most of my days here so far shopping for food and things we need for the house - sheets, duvet covers, towels, brooms, aprons, doormats, shoes for guthrie, sneakers for harper, indescribable bread and pastries, wine, juice, etc. i don't mind shopping but it is harder to do with the kids. i bought them 2 play swords and they love sword fighting in the backyard that is surrounded by bamboo. they also love going to the hilly playground that offers a funky see-saw, tall slides, a climbing set and steep hills to charge down. the first day there some boys built a skinny and dirty snowman that they were proud of. the second time there other boys were throwing rocks at each other. i often do not have my camera because i am lugging groceries and the kids, but i have managed to capture some of this all and will send photos when our regular internet is working.

(the kids at the Croix-Rousse mtero - our neighborhood stop)

today we drove down the river to find their school and even though it is on the other side of town, it only took us 20 minutes. it may take longer on regular traffic days. it's a very old-modern structure with a small playground. i am excited for them to go and make some friends and be with other kids. we then drove to an old sugar factory which houses the main exhibition of this year's 10th Lyon Biennial. It is a super exhibition on the theme of the "Spectacle of the Every Day". my favorite piece was a film of kids reflected in a big mirror out in a field with the wind blowing. the central boy uses his slingshot and breaks the mirror with a rock. then kids are sitting up a big old tree with bits of mirror reflecting the sun. as it gets darker, we move away from the tree and it appears as if stars are twinkling throughout the branches. simply breathtaking. i had goosebumps and we all loved it. guthrie loves a big globe-like piece by sarah sze that she makes out of regular household objects - a fan, sticks, photos, utensils. there was quite a bit of magic in the show and there are several other venues that we will try to see tomorrow - starting at the museum of contemporary art in the "park of the golden head" (parc tete d'or) from which we may take a boat down to the other location. there is an amazing artist from hiroshima in the show. he makes tall communication towers - by tall i mean inches high - out of stiffened threads that emerge from landscapes of towels, or black plastic cities that grow out of black plastic garbage bags.....

(Lyon Biennale installation by Indonesian artist Jompet Kuswidananto, "Java's Machine: Phantasmagoria")

(a little playground on the way to the big one. You can see the big cathedral in the background, Fouvriere, on the other side of the river.)

david has gone to work a bit but missed a couple days due to his kidney stones and it's the holidays. he'll start in full on monday. he went in the day after his kidney stones and pushed himself too hard and ended up in bed all of christmas eve.

our apartment is delightful, small but sufficient. at first it was freezing and i was worried we were all going to get pneumonia. then i discovered the other radiator hidden behind the desk! now it can be downright toasty if we turn them both up all the way. you unlock a thick red door on the street into a beautiful walkway courtyard lined with plants and under an archway to our blue door. you walk into the dining-living room that has big windows and french doors that open out onto the patio and backyard. we have wood floors and high ceilings and a steel spiral staircase that goes up to the 2 bedrooms with sliding glass doors and a cool shower/laundry room between them. the cold and tiny toilet and small but workable kitchen are downstairs. we are not fond of our electric stove and the dull knives, but if they were any sharper we would be in big trouble! we have a relatively big fridge and freezer, a tv and cd player, but no dvd player. but we have our laptops. i think our couch pulls out into a bed so if single visitors (or couples) want to come stay, please do! (although everyone may be happier if you stay in one of the many reasonably priced and fine hotels in the neighborhood.) the apartment is all "open" so it feels like one big room and everyone can hear everything.

(a painting at the top of our spiral staircase)

i have read 2 mediocre novels by irish catholic women that i found in the tiny english section of a neighborhood used bookstore. the gathering by anne enright that won the booker prize in 2007 was by far the better of the 2 and it was good but dark, depressing and i just didn't find the writing spectacular. the other, a quintessential example of "chick-lit" (i hate this term but this is how the book is promoted) is by marian keyes and is called Watermelon. i soared through it because it is a chit-chatty sort of a novel about a woman who's husband leaves her for another woman in the maternity ward after she gives birth to their baby. she moves back to dublin with her baby. i found a 2nd anne enright at the same shop and will read that next. i am sure i will find some good place to get english books.

(a view of a bird's nest outside one of our skylights in the rain)

so far i am not inspired art-wise. i may be "post-partum" after my big hiroshima show at golden belt in durham (up until january 10) and in need of a break, a time to absorb and just BE. i love the ochre and orange stone walls here, the strong public culture, graffitti everywhere, comic book and art stores, museums and galleries. i am sure the new year will bring social opportunities, ideas and inspiration. I will be going to the university of hartford at the end of february to deliver a lecture on "reframing war" and will being work on an essay on memorials for the toronto journal Public.

the kids and david are upstairs napping as i write this. when they wake up we will take the train and a tramway to Ausra's - a colleague of david's for dinner. she is lithuanian and they worked together last time he was here and will work together again. she is thrilled that he is here.

(David and kids at our door on the street.)


  1. Thank you so much for this. Your photographs and words are vivid and beautiful. Even David's struggle with the kidney stones seems exotic and reasonable at the same time -- off in France - with wonderful medical care! The site - and your sight - will keep me coming back.

    PS - I love the pics from 10 years ago.

  2. Hi elin -
    Sounds like things are wonderful there (except for David's kidney stones!)
    I put a link on my igoogle homepage so I'll check in from time to time. I always enjoy your writing.
    Looking forward to my own trip to Belgium and Switzerland this April and May. I'll be at Frans Masereel in April, then in Bern for the first week of May. Can't wait!
    Take care.