Remembrance, Washing Machine

I’m not sure why I ended up writing about these two things in one post, because they don’t very obviously go together. Maybe just attribute it to my being fascinatingly quirky and unexpected – I mean, that’s what bigheaded writers get off on, isn’t it?

Yesterday was a jour férié in honour of Armistice Day. In France, this is commemorated on the same day as Remembrance Day, unlike in the UK, where the main observance falls on Remembrance Sunday, the nearest Sunday to the 11th November. Of course, I observed the two minutes’ silence, and was even reminded to do so by several conscientious Snapchat enthusiasts, who took time during it to blanket-send snaps to their contact list, me included, that crucial “two minute’s (sic) silence :3 (insert line of emojis here)” pic. Clearly, they must care very much about the significance of those two minutes. I respect them a lot!

British intellectual slurry aside, I found myself missing wearing a poppy, and hearing the Last Post – two very superficial aspects of the concept of Remembrance, I know, but I would argue that the stark red of the poppy and the simple but unmistakeable bugle call are two extremely strong sensory markers that connect an otherwise potentially indifferent generation of young British people to their shared past. Perhaps, if I had been at Compiègne, where the First Armistice was signed, or at Ypres, I would be relating a different impression of the day, but as it was, I felt slightly disconnected in Lyon, where shops shutting seemed to be the only sign of anything different from the norm. I had to content myself with looking at photos of the hauntingly beautiful display of poppies at the Tower of London. I wish I could have seen them (I want to say “in real life” or “in the flesh”, but both expressions seem to jar, given what these red flowers have come to symbolise). I can only hope that their remnants will still be there when I am in London next Thursday.

I’ve managed to digress for two paragraphs. It was a jour férié, so we had no classes. I had originally planned on visiting Vienne, a small town on the periphery of Lyon, by train, but friends’ illness resulted in postponing this outing for another day. I moped around a cool bit of town for a bit, which has a lot of independent cafés, restaurants and bars, but most places were closed, observing fervently the public holiday. I found a nice café, then crossed the Saône (Lyon’s other river) and took the funicular railway to the Basilique de Fourvière. I’d forgotten how impressive this building was, and although I didn’t go inside, I took the opportunity to look out from the viewpoint next to the basilica. The last time I’d taken in the vista of the city from here had been at the end of August, and so I was amazed to see how Lyon had transformed. Of course, transition from Summer to Autumn aside – a beautiful thing in itself, with the change from green to brown, blue sky to grey etc. – the city hasn’t changed a bit since August, but my knowledge of the place has: it was wonderful to be able to pick out squares, monuments, important buildings mapped out below me, and to now know, almost with intimacy, these places which, in the beginning, had had no meaning for me, other than being parts of a scary big foreign city where I was, at the time, reasonably reluctant to spend several months of my life.

I found a quiet spot to read Frankenstein in the ruins of the amphitheatre of Lugdunum (as Lyon was named under the rule of the Romans), and stayed there for about an hour before returning chez moi, reading a page here and there, getting annoyed with the wind for blowing my hair in my face (I really need to get it cut), and listening to the Marseillaise being carried to me across the amphitheatre as intrepid young Gauls sang and clambered mockingly over the remains of their historic overlords.

On returning home I had laundry to do. The privilege of not having clothes that smell like dying monkeys is extortionate here: 3€ a throw, probably 6€ if you do two loads at a time like I do. I may be slightly more cleanly than some people, so maybe it’s more of a travesty for me when I have to pay this roughly every week, but I must remind myself that at my college at university, I get free laundry service – I can even get someone else to do it for me – and I’m extremely lucky. Still, it’s money that I can’t afford to bandy about, especially now that Erasmus+ has pooed on Exchange students across Europe.

Still, I love doing my laundry. I load up the washing machines, throw in a couple of delicious-smelling liquitabs, cry as I pay to turn the machines on, and then sit and watch for a bit as they whirr and chunner, undulating, rotating, soaking, coming to life. Naturally, I don’t stand in front of the machine for its entire cycle – that would be weird. A washing machine can be quite hypnotising though. Sometimes I get quite jealous of the clothes therein, watching with envy as they get thrown around, held underwater, until their entire existence must seem, at least to them, as three hundred and sixty degrees of chaos, no dizziness, no food inside them to vomit out; just an ecstasy of motion, forced to lose their inhibitions as they tumble and collide with their fellow cyclical inmates, shed their colour, take on the colour of those around them, becoming chimerical, sodden, defeated versions of their former selves and struggling to make sense of a world that seems constant both within and without: an eternal, migratory displacement inside the drum; a picture of the outside world, a swirling escape that will be reached, but not yet. Like my last sentence, all that they are never seems to end, but will finally reach its conclusion. Dragged from their womb, thrust into another, not steel but woven, they are then crucified until their amniotic orange blossom diffuses, infuses my apartment. They are unhooked, worn, allowed twelve hours of life after both death and birth, then buried seven days in a wicker grave, until their time for rebirth comes again.

What we can perhaps glean from this is that I have a rather more personal relation with the washing machines at the bottom of my staircase than perhaps some of the other students do who live here. I would say that they are missing out, but I will probably re-read this in the morning, and conclude instead that it was not their dearth of affection that is fundamental here, but rather an excess of wine on my part.

I don’t regret it.

One thought on “Remembrance, Washing Machine

  1. Did you notice people wearing bleuets? They are now making them in France again (in a workshop which employs people with disabilities) and I understand that there has been an effort to encourage people to buy them. I think you would have found Ieper horrendous: friends report that the crowds these days are enormous, many arriving in the coaches which queue to enter and the Last Post ceremony is impossibly congested. It’s on everyone’s “grand tour of the battlefields” agenda, which means that there are some very affecting places which are almost deserted. If you ever get to the Vosges, you will see what I mean, I think. I am very relieved to have been to Ieper some years before the Centenary was on the horizon. There is a lot to be said for finding one’s own quiet place to reflect.

    (I am hoping this comment links back to my blog – there is a glitch in WP which they’re trying to sort out for me.)


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