I Didn’t Expect to Find a Staircase There

The clouds hung low and baleful in the firmament as we crossed the river Saône to the Vieux Lyon, the old neighborhood that lies just to the west of the river.

I looked up at the preternaturally luminous churches of St. Jean and Notre Dame, standing in stark contrast to those clouds, and wondered if we were about to get drenched. I was hoping we wouldn’t, because leading up to this trip the weather forecasts had been for clear days, but the threat of rain certainly gave me cause for hesitation.

Still we continued forward, below the trees readying for hibernation and boarded the funicular. The inclined railway accelerated quickly and smoothly up the side of the hill, and soon we were well above the river, in the Fouviere area.

By the time we reached the Basilica of Notre Dame, the clouds had evolved from a threatening grey to a more reassuring white, easing my mind. And although we hadn’t come high, as I surveyed the valley below I felt like we had almost come to the level of those same clouds.

The Basilica dominates sight and mind up here as it does below, and it is breathtaking, with its pristine towers rising grandly toward the heavens.

And inside it has intricate mosaics that reflect the light playing in through the stained glass windows in brilliant blinding daggers.

Below the main altar we find the crypt, but as D points out, it is not like many of the other crypts we have seen, which are often dark isolated places with long impenetrable shadows. This crypt, built with the church on the edge of a cliff overlooking town, has its own set of windows in the apse, and near the altar the shadows fade, the light of the sun driving them aggressively away.

Leaving the cathedral, we headed south, to the remnants of the Roman era. Two thousand years ago this city was known as Lugdunum and was capital of Gaul. Today the remains of that time include the Roman theater, or at least a portion of it, which was built in 15 BCE.

My pursuit of ancient history won’t be denied, and here, again, I found myself standing on the stage of an ancient theater gazing upward. Around me the winds railed relentlessly, the golden leaves of autumn marking its pace for those insensate enough not to notice. Far above the clouds hurried across the sky at breakneck speeds.

And on these stones, these precious stones, which in ages past were carefully arranged so that man could entertain man, I stood agape and my soul sighed just a little, as I made again that connection across time. They still use this theater during the summer. Ten thousand people can assemble in these seats and make that same connection. I am jealous.

Adjacent to the main theater is the smaller Odeon, which was used for poetry recitations and musical recitals. I pause here, too, and feel the tendrils of the eons, sense the persistence of this place that won’t readily surrender to time.

At last I go and find D. His ankle is still sensitive from its injury this summer, so he didn’t explore the theater as much as I, but it seems to be recovering quickly as I put it through its paces. I have confessed before that I am a merciless traveler, and because of this I am sometimes blissfully unaware of the limits of others.

And so leaving the theaters we passed back by the basilica and began our long trek down the hill. My only admission is that I thought this a pleasant downhill walk through a garden. Seriously – senior citizens were doing it.

The interminable staircase was an accidental discovery. But I’m happy to report that the ankle did great.

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