They say Lyon is the gastronomic capital of France, whoever “they” are.
And they might be right. For one, there are food vending machines everywhere. These were in the subway. Every station seems to have at least three or four of the contraptions. On some level, the ubiquity of the these devices with their industrial, manufactured, and prepackaged food is incongruous with France as a whole. On another level … well I don’t know that I have figured out another level.
With this in mind, it was fitting and redemptive when we finally stepped up onto the landing exiting the subway and found ourselves surrounded by a small street-market.
The two of us stood there on a tree-lined corner in the cool and misty autumn morning air and were immediately immersed in the aroma of baking flatbreads and the sights of the fruits of the season, many of them similar to those I saw just a few days ago in New York. But they were somehow better because – well, because they were in France.
The grapes were plump and ripe.
The tomatoes were surreally red.
And the garlic sat expectantly in its bowls, each bulb wrapped in delicate white sheaves of paper streaked with watercolor shades of lavender.
And the olives … I haven’t seen olives this beautiful since I left Morocco. Those olives from the markets of Marrkakech have been calling me back for months now, and these were profoundly tempting.
As enraptured as we were, still we moved on, past the cheesemakers and butchers, and into the streets of Lyon. Our goal today was Les Halles de Paul Bocuse, a food market named after the great Lyonnaise chef, Paul Bocuse. We alternately heard that this was a good place to eat and not a place to eat at all, but all sources listed it as a sight to behold.
And indeed it was. The French eat foods that many of us would not consider to be foods, such as tripe, kidneys, sweetbreads, and numerous other types of offal. There is a certain food heritage that they cling to aggressively and proudly, so all of these things that we today speak of as foods of the past are still here to be had, and more.
This case was bursting with perfectly browned and presented loaves of pate in croute.
And there were similarly tempting cases of elegant and highly specialized cheese, sausage, and desserts from around the world.
As perfect as it all was, we decided that this really wasn’t a place for us to eat, or at the very least we would not be eating from the vendors, as this would be food to take away to a home that we didn’t have. There was simply no logistical way to easily purchase a meal and eat it.
We briefly considered the restaurants scattered within the market, but they didn’t appeal to us. Upon making this decision, we instead continued further into the streets of Lyon, eventually finding a low-ceilinged restaurant with friendly proprietors and a bustling lunchtime clientele. They were happy to have us and serve us delicious food which we (specifically me) followed up with an eclair from the bakery down the street.
The afternoon was quiet, but in the evening we met up with a friend of D’s sister. K was originally from Japan, but lived for a time in New Jersey before moving here to Lyon. She works at the Chamber of Commerce and gave us a tour of the building, an opulent Napoleonic-era structure that dominates its surroundings on the street.
She took us inside and showed us some of the ballrooms and meeting rooms, pointing out some of the things that are part of her every-day experience here.
This clock, she stated, is a depiction of time. The figure looking downward is the past, and the figure gazing upward is the future. She didn’t specifically say this but I take it that the central figure must be the present.
Our visit with her then continued out into the streets, where she first tried to find us dinner, but was unsuccessful given the early hour. She then extended her expedition across the Saône and back to the old neighborhood where she insisted on showing us some of the specialized sights there. She is fearless, opening doors and diving into alleyways that neither of us would be courageous to venture given our lack of familiarity.
Eventually, however, we were spent and we all sat for a dinner at a local bouchon. As we sat we all talked well into the evening before making our final parting for the day.