After this weekend, I had originally written off Sunday as a day to do nothing, but ended up going walking in the rain instead.
My day started neither early nor well. It’s the fault of the InterENS; at least, it’s the fault of the soirées and the meals, since I can’t vouch for the sports that I paid to watch but didn’t see. Fun is an exhilarating but errant lover who gives you some of the best nights of your life, but afterwards leaves you to awake in the afternoon, head throbbing, alone.
I managed to wash the smoke out of my hair, but not the rosy stroke of genius that had occurred two nights previously in the name of ENS solidarity; I have to look like some sort of livestock that has been branded by farmers for identification purposes (read: identified as an idiot) for a further ten shampooings. Clothes came afterwards, but not immediately – when you start your day at two in the afternoon, the point of rushing is minimal.
It’s been raining a lot recently. Sometimes there is sun. Mostly rain, though. This is problematic when you live in a charmless cell of a room with no carpets, curtains or comfortable chairs. Cosy surroundings are great for rainy days in; a cuboid with a bed in it is not, so today, like so many other rainy days, I had to escape. Please do not judge me when I say that my escaping was a trip with a book to Starbucks: it’s one of the only places where you can get a drink on a Sunday (I think that might be a lie), and it has Wi-Fi. Bizarrely, every other Anglo-Saxon in Lyon had had the same idea, which has me beginning to think that it must be ingrained in the British psyche to spite the weather at all times, staying inside when the Sun shines, but unabashedly striding out into the rain.
Lack of seating and excess of West Germanic braying pushed me, my latte and my rather sad-looking muffin (you could say that it was a Muffin aux Moaning-Myrtilles, LOL) back into the rain, but I was unbothered. I stalked down the Rue de la République underneath my colossal umbrella, and had this normally teeming street almost to myself. Catching the metro home at the next stop along my route seemed an unjust end to the voluntary solitude I was currently quite enjoying, so I decided, perhaps against my better judgement, to walk home.
I like the rain here: it’s persistent, but has self-confidence. This makes a nice change to British rain, which seems insecure and attention-seeking by comparison, sometimes embarrassed and doing half a job, other times making a scene and throwing itself at you, getting in your face as if to prove a point. Here, though, it seemed like the perfect match for dusk in a city like Lyon in November: the atmosphere was heavy but not crushing; a grey cityscape, not bleak, just profound, dense, almost protective. I stopped on a bridge across the Rhône and looked out over the swollen river to the buildings on its banks, illuminated, steaming in the downpour and staining the clouds.
I crossed the bridge and felt the darkness arrive, gradually, as I descended to be level with the water and walk along a path on the riverbank, under many bridges. There were streetlamps, but their light was confused and lost in the water both above and below. They produced a scattered, dappled vision of the world more misleading than darkness – the kind that allows the path to be seen, but not the deep puddles along it, which are subsequently stepped in, soaking the feet. Ahead of me by about a hundred yards, a romance of over twenty years was re-enacting itself, promenading along the promenade underneath a shared umbrella. I imagine they must have been that old, given that it would have occurred to no one of any generation younger than that to unplug themselves from the virtual universe and go walking through the rain.
Every bridge passed under brought a new vision, ornamenting differently the constant Rhône. The eternal sigh of nearby traffic lost its edge and politely surrendered to the voices of the rain. The new scene was one of giant river cruisers, floating hotels into which life in its autumn years bustles to drink wine and sit, upgrading from bus to boat as the guests continue on their quest to see the world brought to them, weary of discovering it for themselves. As I watched them settle into their river-view cabins from the banks, any jealousy I felt stemmed not from their position of warmth and contented duality, but from their ability and means to travel. What I wouldn’t give to have the time and money to guiltlessly glide along the Rhône, to look forward to it beforehand, and not have my trip marred by worries of future commitment. Conversely, I’m sure that if I had exactly that, I wouldn’t be satisfied either.
It was completely dark once I’d passed the moored cruise boats. That is to say, it was as completely dark as one can get in a city, with rusty sky and neither Sun nor stars. A dripping railway bridge rumbled overhead, and phantom seagulls arched through the wet sky as the ducks on the bank conducted business as usual, preening and foraging, unperturbed by such petty things as night and bad weather. The path led me even closer to the water’s edge. The river now stretched out before me with overwhelming immediacy, like the map of an unknown continent, flat and still like a sheet, textured by the clamour of hammering raindrops. The lights of the city streaked across its surface, their glare kindling a dull ache in my tired eyes. I felt a strange urge to hurl myself into the water; not out of any suicidal desire, but rather a desire to shatter its still perfection, in search of the sensation of submersion, engulfment, to feel the icy grasp of the water as it soaked me instantly through to my scalp, my eyes closed, suspended in cold, weightless, black eternity.
Standing there, reflecting upon myself and other reflections, I felt tendrils of water seep through my shoes and immerse my toes, as if to tempt me towards this fulfilment. I carried on walking. The path rose up, away from the bank, and vegetation rose as a barrier between me and the hypnotic draw of the river. A sodden jogger staggered past, pursued by the grumbling of a lorry. I was now on a path that I normally run along, and in the distance the Pont Schuman and the Musée des Confluences rose out of the night. The bored but well-practiced boom of the Medrano Circus Ringmaster carried to me across the water from the opposite bank, and I turned left, away from the glare of the Rhône, into the high-rise neighbourhood of tower-block flats, kebab joints and laundrettes that surround the ENS.
It was really nice to walk back home along the river in the rain. I enjoy doing things like that because time alone to just zone out and think is something I find very important. Being under an umbrella in the rain gives both feelings of comfort and freedom: you’re surrounded by a constant force on all sides, but the shelter above your head allows you to traverse the force, to be engulfed by it but also separate from it. It’s very different from being alone in your room, and that’s why I like it. I’m glad I took the walk: seeing a city in which you live transformed in such a way is refreshing, and it’s served as a reminder to me that my time here need not be monotonous, provided that I keep a constant lookout for unique opportunities to make every day yield something different.