Monday, December 10, 2012

Fête des Lumières -- Lyon

The streets of Lyon swarm with people inching . . . elbowing forward, some working against the flow, some in groups drinking vin chaud apparently oblivious to the fact that they are causing people jams everywhere. As we near the Place des Terreaux, the streetlights become darker and darker until we are lurching with the crowd in almost complete darkness. Once on the square, I look up at the light-dappled houses and say, "Pretty!" I am so glad I didn't give into my partner's supplications for me to see pictures of Lyon's festival of lights before I actually experienced this spectacle in person. I wouldn't have had this "pretty!" moment.

Most of the old part of Lyon is squished between two rivers--the Saône and the Rhône--as they come together to the city's south. Above the city towers the Basilica Notre Dame de Fourvière, an impressive sight certainly in most pictures of the city. From December 6 to 9, Lyon is transformed into a truly amazing light show. There are a few less than spectacular installations in the city, but most of the art is enchanting. It's no wonder hordes and hordes of people attend this event--over 4 million!

The origins of the festival go all the way back to 1643 when Lyon, spared from the plague, promised to honor Mary (mother Christ) every year. Since 1852, the citizens of Lyon have been lighting candles in their windows to celebrate and give thanks to Marie. And now, as things go, the world wants to see it all.

Crowds. Crowds. Crowds. I had the impression that Lyon must be busiest during the Fête des Lumières. There were streets blocked off obviously to control the flow of people--and for good reason. This weekend the train stations and the Christmas markets--all public places--were overcrowded and at times precariously so. Only one other time have I found myself being pushed along with a crowd--Sylvester in London 1999-2000. We were all smiling at each other, but you could see the fear in people's eyes. If even one person had lost control, the evening might have ended in sirens and worse.

Sorry this came out blurry, guys. But I promised. Here's your pic!

Still, we had a grand time. There were charity organizations selling vin chaud (hot mulled wine) on every corner, so we drank quite a lot of it (always willing to help out a charity). We ate dinner in a crowded restaurant (Lyon was generally crowded on Saturday evening; it was impossible to be anywhere alone) populated by young people eating stuff smeared on bread, which I couldn't eat of course (gluten problem). I did, however, find a dish that, if my French-English translation skills were right, looked like pepper sausage and a green salad. It turns out I was exactly right. The waiter brought me a hard pepper sausage of average length but impressive girth--and a serrated knife. I'm sure I burned more calories cutting that blasted thing than I consumed eating it. And our poor little rickety table was a bit worse for wear after the cutting. But: it was a delicious, inexpensive dinner.

The restaurant must have been part of the Fête des Lumières because the power kept going off every ten minutes. It became a excuse for everyone to cheer and laugh. I'm sure the light shows were sapping the life out of the city.

Though we had a great time, I think Lyon isn't quite up to this onslaught of 4m-strong tourism. Our hotel was booked solid for the first time in a year, according to the cleaning person. The personnel were completely overwhelmed. On Sunday morning when we went down to breakfast, there were at least 20 people waiting to get a table. We finally got food and took it up to the lobby, where at least another 20 people were already eating. I'm sure now that the festival is over, life has returned to normal in Lyon.

To continue with I Must Be Off! A-Z, go to M is for Mackinac Island.

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, The Best of Every Day Ficton, Pure Slush, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He is the managing editor of the daily litzine Metazen. Recently, Allen--along with editors Michelle Elvy and Linda Simoni-Wastila--hosted Flash Mob 2013 in celebration of International Flash Fiction Day.