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.

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À côté du Rhône, vers 18h

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.

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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.

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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.

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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 dIMG_1244ripping 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.

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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.

Paris, Trains and Other Goings-On

“I’m going to write my next blog post” about a terrible train journey I had. Well then. I suppose it didn’t materialise as rapidly as I would have liked, but I went to Paris for the past few days, which I think is a valid enough excuse.

I had a lovely time there, which I’m really pleased about, because I had worried that I would try too hard to not count myself among that plague of doe-eyed tourists that descends daily upon the city: the type that emphatically says “Paris” every few minutes, in a tone that simultaneously evokes an enamoured sigh, a sense of privilege, and overwhelming evidence of the idiocy necessary to believe that France stops outside this city’s final arrondissement. I thought I’d spend more time hating the tourists, rather than loving the city that they zealously trample underfoot, as they jostle with others of their in order to get the perfect shot of themselves looking like they’re holding the top of the Pyramide du Louvre by their fingertips. I did hate the tourists, but I found them surprisingly un-stressful. Maybe it was because the weather was perfect, or because I was in a group of one. There is something exhilarating about visiting a place alone, and this is precisely what I did for the majority of my last couple of days, because my friend with whom I was staying was at work during the day. I loved having free reign over the city, slipping with ease through herds of guided-tour victims as they queued in the heat for the Eiffel Tower, hopping on and off the metro without having to worry whether the people I wasn’t with were tired or wanted to do something different. Travelling alone, although it has its disadvantages (no sharing moments, no group photos, etc.), is the most personal way to see a place, tailor-made to suit your interest and timetable. I loved it, but did forget to have lunch a couple of times.

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Paris was so much fun, in fact, and the train journeys so smooth (despite the homeward journey being a hideously boring exodus of about six hours, most of which was in the dark), that in my head I have come to forgive the catastrophe that was my train journey to Nîmes, and no longer really feel the need to bitch about it in a blog post. For those who may have been interested, I will give a short summary, but I don’t see the purpose of being hung up on it any longer, since it happened almost two months ago now, and the SNCF have been very nice to me recently, which leads me to think that any uncouth words on my part might result in my next journey being not so agréable. But anyway, here is the long story cut short:

A couple of months ago, despite my best efforts, I got on a train to Nîmes which then decided to go to Nice instead. I had done everything right, from finding the platform to sitting in the right seat in the right carriage, and it was only after the train had left the station that the driver deigned to announce that the train was bound for somewhere roughly three hours away by car from my destination. I made it to Nîmes in the end and had a really nice time there, but the reason that the train journey seemed so hellish was that it happened after a long series of unfortunate events that had blighted my first month in France, some of which I mentioned in my last post. I of course have a far rosier vision of things now, but at the time, I felt as if France had it in for me, and I had suspected from the beginning that something was going to go wrong.

That was a long time ago, though. More recently, I’ve been wrapped up in doing work for my Year Abroad Project, discovering Xavier Dolan, going to Annecy, which is a lovely alpine town by a Lake, and enjoying the InterENS. The InterENS are a weekend of sports competitions, food and soirées: basically Varsity between the ENS in France (Lyon, Paris, Cachan, Cachan-Bretagne/Rennes) and the Italian one in Pisa (or at least I think so, given there were definitely a fair few Italians around at the weekend). I didn’t watch any of the sport, because I was too hungover, but the parties were great. I still think the WEI was better, but that might be because it was hot, sunny, and not November. Still, the InterENS T-shirt looks cooler. It’s meant that I’ve not done any work for quite a while, but tomorrow is a day off, and I don’t have that much work anyway. Shame I can’t do anything with all this free time, though, given that my Erasmus grant looks like it will never arrive.

Two Months, plus Side-Effects

Wow. I started writing this a month ago to celebrate my first month of being here. It’s now almost two months, and I feel like I can finally be bothered to start writing again. Sorry for the long silence!

So, happy first two months in France, me! They’ve been quite eventful . Since the WEI, which was the subject of my last post, I’ve got up to quite a lot! I got my ear pierced. I auditioned for and got into a choir in the city centre. I went to a Pirate Metal concert and got so drenched in sweat that my clothes were sodden and my fingers turned into prunes. I’ve started learning Arabic and re-taken up (and subsequently dropped) German, and am doing Latin again. It’s great to get the opportunity to actually learn languages once more – after all, it was this that persuaded me to study languages in higher education, with literature and essays and being anal very much of secondary importance. On top of that, I’ve started visiting the surrounding area: I’ve ticked off Avignon, where I bought a turban, and also Nîmes, where I got to have a lovely catch-up with some of my friends from university. That isn’t to say that I’m fed up of Lyon, however, but rather that I’ve now identified some of my favourite places. These include the prostitute-infested streets surrounding the ENS (known locally as la rue des putes, particularly special when lit up at night), Starbucks, and the bottom of the Rhône. Just kidding. I actually quite like the Parc de la Tête d’Or, but that doesn’t sound as cool and I think I’m funny. Here are some photos to look at.

Alestorm: Pirate Metal at its weirdest
Alestorm: Pirate Metal at its weirdestIMG_0530
Nîmes
Nîmes
Palais des Papes, Avignon
Palais des Papes, Avignon

The fun times have been occasionally been followed by bad times, however. Just for your amusement, I thought I’d compile a by no means extensive list of some of my recent (and ongoing) misadventures:

Shit things: 

  • Last month, I had money but my card wouldn’t let me pay for anything.
  • This month, my card lets me pay for things but I have no money. Hurry up, Erasmus Grant!
  • A few weeks ago, Lyon’s vélo’vs (the city’s equivalent of the Boris Bike) robbed me temporarily of 450€.
  • I stayed up until 6am on Monday (Tuesday?) writing the fourth chapter of a depressing story about a sad Japanese girl.
  • The ENS International Office is invariably shut, despite having opening hours it *should* be keeping to.
  • The online form for applying for an accommodation grant from the French government (la CAF) crashes whenever I try to fill it in.
  • I still have no fixed idea for my Year Abroad Project.

All in all, I’m a rubbish adult, and I don’t even have money to buy myself a McDonalds to make me feel better about it. I probably don’t even need to mention the fact that I’m worried that I’m not making the most of my Year Abroad, either. As much is perhaps evident from the fact that I’m here in my room writing blog posts, rather than bah-ouais-ing my soir away with a gang of trendy potes. For those not down with the lingo, that translates as “having that fabled time-of-your-life that all languages students are supposed to have, magically becoming fluent in a heartbeat and basically fitting into the same niche you occupied whilst in the UK, or else, finding yourself and realising that your true calling is to be a brooding intellectual who renounces the Anglo-Saxon world and stalks chic coffee establishments”. Don’t worry, I’m doing that tomorrow night.

With all this in mind, it’s easy to think that I might not be enjoying myself that much. I think that sometimes as well, but then I decide that I don’t want to end up unable to get out of bed and missing classes like I did in one term of last year, so I do things to brighten the horizon. Sometimes it’s learning Dutch on Duolingo. Once it was buying flights back home for the weekend (heads-up, I’ll be in the UK from 20th-24th November, for those who are interested). Just something to escape the fact that classes are boring, the ENS is in an area that I’d affectionately describe as the arsehole of Lyon, etc. In a similar vein, I booked a first-class train to Paris for a few days next week. First class was only 4€ more expensive than the normal rate at the time, and I’ve never experienced it before, so I though it would be fun to combine two (hopefully) classy experiences and treat myself.

The excitement I’m feeling for Paris, however, cannot help but be slightly tainted by a previous experience I’ve had with the French rail network. It was the first time I’d travelled alone on a French train, and actually happened quite a while ago, now, but I’m going to write my next post about it. I enjoy recalling it to myself and others to serve as a reminder that things could always be worse.

Nous sommes de l’ENS: Le WEI

I was going to try and write this yesterday, but I got up hideously late and then had stuff to do. That wasn’t very interesting, but I feel like a little bit of backstory is necessary for an introduction, and I’m not feeling particularly imaginative today. I guess there could have been a natural disaster earlier on in the day that would have made it more intriguing, but even if there had been, I probably wouldn’t have noticed due to being asleep and slightly ill after the weekend I’ve just had.

One thing that makes the ENS de Lyon great is that although its freshers’ fortnight does feel a bit dragged-out, it is certainly concluded with style. Le Week-end d’Intégration, or WEI, is a Friday-to-Sunday weirdfest of sports, booze, nudity, sleep deprivation, poor hygiene and nudity. I think I saw more willies and bottoms last weekend than I’ve seen in the rest of my life, and it’s not even as if I had to actively look for them. They were just everywhere, at every opportunity, as if they felt they were adding something to whatever scene your eyes happened to be looking at. It was like having the sun burn a phallus on to your retina, except that it was nothing like that. I’m exaggerating. There was a lot of nudity, but there was a lot of other stuff as well.

Nudity aside, I think the purpose of the WEI is multifaceted: to make lots of new friends, make better friends with the people you’ve met already, and generally create a sense of community among the members of the ENS, which is important considering that the whole institution is made up of just over 2,000 students (in comparison with over ten times that number at my home university); I imagine that such a small student body could feel quite claustrophobic if nobody talked to each other, or if things became too cliquey. To achieve this, the BDE (bureau des élèves = ENS student union) ships at least five busloads of students off to an unknown location in France to have fun and get to know each other. It’s not as if it’s just the freshers that participate, either. People from across all the years join in, and it seemed to me that at some points during the weekend, it was the older students who were more keen for the whole thing. I suppose they had the advantage of having gone on previous WEIs, so were better prepared for what lay in wait.

There’s that cheesy proverb that annoying people occasionally like to wheel out that goes something like, “It’s not the destination that’s important, but the journey.” I never used to listen to them, because of course, I always know better than everyone else, but the bus journey to the WEI brought a whole new meaning to the saying for me. Each bus has a theme, be it music, electro-pop, the Association Sportive, or the notorious bus de merde (roughly translated as ‘the shit bus’ – seemingly for all the weird burnout older students who spent the whole weekend off their face on awful boxed wine, naked or wearing weird combinations of gimpsuits, tights, morphsuits etc). I had originally been really keen to go on the music bus, but I arrived too late to the sign-up session, and so instead opted for the bus pom-pom. This was the cheerleading bus, apparently the ‘second-coolest’, and I knew a couple of people who were going on it, so I followed suit, thinking it could be fun. Looking back, I’m not sure whether to say it was fun, or just to say that it set the tone for the rest of the weekend, or maybe a bit of both. There were crude songs about vicars, buggering someone’s sister on the table, and even a corruption of the Marseillaise, transformed to be about how the students of the ENS are the best, most sexually active and most drunk. Then there were fun games. One of my favourites involved a competition where both sides of the bus competed to take as many clothes off as possible and throw them to the front. Our side won. There were lots of naked people. Another good game was the cul-fenêtre, where you had to pull down your pants and moon at any of the other WEI buses as they passed on the motorway. Some people didn’t stop there, but went instead for full-frontal nudity along the back window. I think that was called a Garfield, but I’m not sure if that’s just what I heard, and it’s actually spelt differently. Also of vital importance was letting the rest of the bus know whether you were chopable or not. If you were, it meant you were game for a bit of whatever over the course of the weekend. Most people were chopable! Who knew? I guess that after two years of intense classes préparatoires you might be quite up for a bit of whatever, with whoever.

I spent the majority of the bus journey being an English prude and secretly hoping that if I sang the songs in the paillardier loudly enough, they wouldn’t ask me to come to the front of the bus and tell people whether I preferred boys or girls, whether I had any interesting sexual anecdotes, and if I wanted a shag that weekend. I got my wish, but instead of being relieved, I was quite disappointed: at least more people would have known my name then, and I could have been Ed, the Awkward Brit, rather than just The Awkward Brit. Anyway, after about two hours, we finally arrived at the campsite where we would be spending the WEI, and once being mooned at by the guys from the Association Sportive bus was out of the way, it became clear that we were in for a treat. We’d arrived in the Ardèche region, at a campsite that had its own water park (supposedly the biggest one to be found on any French campsite), which had been booked out exclusively for us. Needless to say, everyone headed straight for the pool, and unsurprisingly, there were yet again several naked people.

Fun times were swiftly followed by fun times, as one would expect, with drinks, jazz and the presence of the piquette society (who specialise in serving crap wine), and then one of the ENS’s by-now notorious soirées, this time in a marquee in a car park. I don’t really remember much, except being sweaty, suddenly becoming a really great (or maybe just enthusiastic) dancer, and then reaching that overly emotional and tearful stage of drunkenness because I was the only person who didn’t seem to be snogging someone on the dance floor. Drunk me felt so unwanted. Maybe I just really give off a pas chopable vibe.

I went to bed, and was woken up again too soon by the ENS Fanfare marching round the campsite at some ungodly hour, playing Brooklyn by Young Blood Brass Band. I think I would have found it hilarious, if the night before hadn’t happened. I felt like crying, and just wanted to stay in bed and die, but had to make do with internal, spiritual death and went to find breakfast. Some people were still drinking; I was almost sick as I drank cold coffee and forced down pieces of baguette smothered in fake Nutella. The rest of the morning consisted of team activities, including wrestling, dodgeball, and spinning round in circles, none of which were my top priority at that point, given that a day-long hangover was looking like it was on the cards. There was also a great water-slide-thing that left someone with a gash along their side because the soapy tarpaulin that people were sliding along had sharp stones underneath. Such fun! I remember finding the poor person’s misfortune quite funny at the time, but it might have just been because I’d found the one person on the WEI who was slightly more worse-for-wear than me that morning. I chose to go canoeing along the Ardèche River in the afternoon. The views were stunning, and the cool breeze coming off the river and the excitement of going down the rapids were an excellent hangover cure. Sadly, I was unable to take any photos, because I risked drowning my phone. I really hope I can go back there over the course of this year, though; I’ve never felt so much like Aragorn paddling the Hobbits down the River Anduin.

Saturday evening was much like Friday: drinks, music, then another soirée. I managed to not embarrass myself in floods of tears this time, but got really randomly angry at the end and again had to go to bed prematurely. I don’t think that alcohol and I are a particularly good match. I’d probably swipe left on Tinder, if you know what I’m saying. Especially since I’m seemingly so pas chopable anyway. It was a pretty crazy, fun night apart from that, but I felt that bed was probably the answer at that point. The rest of the people at the soirée didn’t seem to agree though, because they turned up at my chalet at about 4am, came into my room and tried to tip me out of bed. Trying to tell people in French that you just want to sleep, when it’s 4am and you’re still quite drunk, is quite hard, but I suppose I wouldn’t have been particularly eloquent in English then, either.

Sunday was more relaxed. Everyone just hung out by the pool until the buses arrived, and by some miracle I had not a trace of a hangover. The bus journey back to Lyon was a bit of a chore, because I was knackered and some people still insisted on screaming the awful songs from the outward journey, but I came back to my apartment with a feeling that I’d definitely achieved something by going on the WEI. I suppose that even if it had been three days of being uncomfortable, drunk, constantly at emotional extremes, and not even managing to choper anyone, I’d had a really great time. The closest I can imagining any British university offering to the WEI would be a trip to Center Parcs, and it would be nowhere near as good, because nowhere in Britain is hot and sunny in September, and nobody would think to organise it. I remember being offered a canoeing trip on the Ardèche just before GCSEs for around £400. This weekend cost less than a quarter of that, and we got so much more than a poxy canoe trip.

I’m extremely grateful to those who organised the WEI, and am actually quite keen to go on it again next year, but we’ll see. Two days on, I still feel exhausted. What’s more, my classes have now started properly, I’m yet to organise my timetable properly, and I still don’t have a supervisor for my Year Abroad Project. It was great to finish the Rentrée with 3-day party, but boring stuff sadly beckons. Plus there’s another soirée on the way in the next two days, so I really should start preparing for that.

Admin, Soirées, Repeat: The First Week

 

 

 

I’m a massive fan of milestones, so I thought I’d commemorate reaching the end of my first week here with a post. I did think about saying that I survived my first week, or something cheesy like that, but then I suppose there wasn’t really much chance of that not happening, given that Lyon is quite a nice place, and I’ve not been intentionally starving myself. I’ve not really been in any particularly dangerous situations yet either, which is unfortunate, because that would be far more interesting for people to read. Maybe tomorrow, I’ll go and aggravate the lions at the free zoo in the parc de la Tête d’Or or something. 

This week has actually been quite an interesting one, absence of dangerous lion encounters aside. The paperwork just seems to keep coming, so you’re never at a loss for something to do in the daytime, even though it might bore you to tears or make so little sense that you wonder whether the people in the ENS office are just trolling you. On Monday, having newly discovered that my card could actually let me into my flat if it really tried, I went to do my inscription administrative, which is the process of enrolment at the School. I thought I had all of the documents that Erasmus students needed in order to enrol, but it turned out that I was missing basically everything. I would say that it taught me a lesson in being better organised and arriving better prepared to things like that, but I would be lying. I think that whatever pieces of paper I brought into that office, they would have sent me away and asked me to come back with ten copies of obscure meaningless documents that you probably don’t even have to fill in if you wanted to emigrate to Narnia. What’s worse is how bitterly disappointed they were in me. The meeting started with happy smiles and ended with sighs and looks of genuine betrayal, and they didn’t seem particularly fussed about helping me get sorted out either. It’s not particularly productive for either parties to just get cross and tell someone to come back with the required paperwork, without suggesting how they might go about finding said paperwork. But I didn’t say that, because my French isn’t good enough. 

Site Descartes, École Normale Supérieure
Site Descartes, École Normale Supérieure

The evenings have been pretty packed as well. There seems to be a Freshers’ Fortnight going on at the moment, which is a novelty, given that Freshers’ ‘Week’ at the university I’ve come from is essentially three days, but I feel like it might be something that I was more ready for as an 18-year-old, rather than now at the ripe old age of 20. Amazing how much two years at Cambridge can age you… But anyway: almost every night there has been a soirée organised by one of the associations at the ENS, and they’re really good fun, with a vibe that reminds me of Oxbridge college bops, given that they’re themed, have imaginative but dubious drinks, and take place on campus. Alongside that, there have been barbecues and jam sessions in the ENS gardens, and visits to see the School’s resident herd of mouflon. I don’t really know why they’re there, but why not, I suppose. I’m pretty sure they’re going to be let out of their cage at some point though. Maybe instead of trekking to the zoo, I could aggravate the ENS mouflon and get that dangerous experience I was looking for with slightly less effort. I mean, they’re quite horny and could probably butt you quite hard. Take that however you like. 

Les mouflons
Les mouflons

What I would say about the ENS soirées, however, is that although they’re really good fun, and a great opportunity to meet and dance crazily with other students, they have a tendency to get a bit weird. There seems to be a song that comes on which has the same tune as the Schlager Griechischer Wein (maybe it’s the same song), that makes a train of men suddenly appear on the dance floor, one sat behind the other, and to get to the back of the train, the next guy has to sort of crowd-surf over the people in front of him. I asked a couple of other onlookers what was going on, and they didn’t really know either. Oh, and I saw a guy with a highlighter up his bum. Just enjoying the atmosphere, I suppose. 

A couple of times, to spice things up a bit, I’ve been with some of the other international students to specially organised Erasmus nights in the city itself. The last one I went to was on an Australian-themed boat/nightclub called Ayer’s Rock. At the start of the night, it was lovely: cocktails in an open-air terrace overlooking the Rhône and some of Lyon’s fancier architecture, artfully lit up so that their reflection shimmers on the surface of the river. However, the terrace and the dance floor soon filled up with that vapid sort of Brit Abroad who doesn’t even try to speak French, insists that France is backward, and for whom the Erasmus nights must be a homely anglophone beacon in the gallic wilderness. I don’t understand why you’d even bother doing a year abroad if you weren’t prepared to go out and speak to the locals in their own language. You might as well go to the Costa del Sol instead… or maybe even Skegness. I might give Ayer’s Rock a miss in the future. 

IMG_0433
View across the river from Ayer’s Rock

I’ve had time to do touristy things as well. Yesterday, we spent a day travelling around to different places on the Metro, and it’s a really pleasant surprise to come up above ground again and be surprised to find oneself in an area that has a completely different feel from the last, despite being in the same city. We spent the morning in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, which has a lovely leafy courtyard in the middle of it, and then walked across the Saône (the other river that runs through the city) to Vieux Lyon. It’s an area full of character, but more importantly, bouchons. These restaurants are native to Lyon and serve cuisine typical of the area. I had a quenelle, which is a sort of creamed fish dumpling with a light egg binding (or so Wikipedia says), and it was very nice. I’m very keen to go back and sample other things there. There are also some cracking ice cream places along some of the streets, but after the bouchon lunch, I was regrettably too full for anything else. Another time. 

All in all, things are fairly sluggish at the moment, given that there’s still quite a while before anything serious starts at the École, but I’m enjoying the relaxation. It’s quite nice to think about living life at a more normal pace for a year, rather than mentally bracing myself up for another year’s hard slog at uni. Plus, next weekend there is this thing called the weekend d’intégration (WEI for short), which as far as I know is going to be a lot of fun and a good bonding experience. Apparently, they cart you off in a bus to an undisclosed location and you do sports and party for a couple of days. I’m sure I’ll write about it afterwards, so stay tuned! Or don’t, I don’t really mind. 

 

First Impressions

I’ve technically been in my accommodation for two and a bit days now, but I’m going to count yesterday as my first day for various reasons that I won’t bore people with now. 

I’d like to say that my first day at the ENS went swimmingly, but it felt a little bit more like drowning at some points. I’d moved all my stuff into my room on Friday, and it was all very exciting: I had keys, my flat and room were (and still are) lovely, and the École seems welcoming and fun. I think I might have cursed it, however, when I decided to go and spend one last night with my family in a small town about an hour from Lyon, before they drove back to the UK. We had a lovely evening and then the next day we went up into the beginnings of the Alps with a picnic, and made it as far as Switzerland before heading back down to Lyon to drop me off. This is where the fun starts. My badge d’accès (basically my university card) allowed me in through the back gate  without a problem, so it was an nasty surprise when it stalwartly refused to let me into my flat. It was almost too predictable. Moving in the day before had been stressful, as moving in normally is, but there had been no complications whatsoever, and I could just sense that the fact that nothing had gone wrong was too good to be true. I think fate had cottoned on to the fact that I had clocked what it was up to, and so decided to bite me in the arse extra hard by postponing disaster for 24 hours, daring me to hope that I might actually be able to start my Year Abroad without panic-stricken despair.

After a brief moment where I was convinced that the world had ended, I pulled myself together and proceeded to the security desk to ask them to help me solve the problem with my card. It then transpired that the only person able to fix the card wouldn’t be back on campus until Monday. It was Saturday, and I had a small internal cry at the prospect of being housebound with nothing to eat but bananas and raw rice for almost two days, whilst I tried to make light of the matter in my bastardised French (“c’est pas grave” my arse). In fairness, the guards on duty did let me into my flat, but the prospect of not being able to leave it again without having to go back and explain why I’d left was reasonably bleak.

I moped in my room for a bit on Facebook – I’d had the foresight to buy an ethernet cable, thank God – and indulged myself like  a brat by fantasising about calling up my parents and asking them to take me back with them when they caught the ferry in the morning. There was an Erasmus event near the Vieux Lyon side of town that evening, but I felt like I couldn’t go because I wouldn’t be able to get back into my flat again without facing the scary security people. In the end, I did go because I have extremely bad FOMO, and I optimistically propped open my front door with a loo roll to skirt round the problem of having a badge d’accès that hates me. It was a really fun night. I met a lot of nice people, and got to go on the metro for the first time and see a lot of the city that I’d not found yet. I was exhausted though, and so I left the night early on my own to go to bed.

Amazingly, it turns out, Lyon is actually not the same size as Cambridge, but bigger than Liverpool in terms of area, so my stupid assumption that I’d be fine walking back to my room from the clubs on the other side of town (something you can easily do in Cambridge) led me on a walk that lasted an hour and a half through some pretty scary banlieues. My phone was about to die on me, and I wasn’t absolutely sure where I was going, so when I finally stumbled upon the back gate of the Site Descartes where I’m staying, it felt like I’d reached the promised land, or as if I’d suddenly realised what I’m going to do for my Year Abroad Project. I panicked a little bit when I got back up to my front door and found that my toilet roll doorstop had been removed, but luckily my lovely flatmate Rocío let me in, despite it being almost 2am.

Looking back, it was all quite funny, and I’m sure that there will be more hiccups like this lying in wait somewhere along the line, but it wasn’t the way I would have chosen to start things off. Nevertheless, things are looking ever upwards: I’ve pretty much unpacked, the sun is shining, and I can understand pretty much everything that people are saying to me, provided that they’re not drunk! I still need to sort a few things out, like a bin (surprisingly necessary – I already have a weirdly large pile of rubbish), bank accounts, travel passes, and knowing what the merde is happening with my Erasmus grant, but my strategy is to not worry about things. I might work, or I might just end up dying of hunger. We’ll see.