November kicked off with 25°C sunshine in sunny southern France, and is ending with sub-Arctic temperatures here in Lyon. The leaves in the park have gone from lush greens to fiery oranges and reds to non-existent; the streets are now bedecked with fairy lights, an enormous Christmas tree complete with giant bears is the new centrepiece of the Part Dieu shopping centre, and the Christmas markets have opened. Christmas is well and truly on its way – and the festive-themed lessons have begun before it’s even hit December.
France, 1943. In Lyon, amidst the roundups, barbarism and inquisitions, the French Resistance was gaining ground. Losing faith in Pétain and his politics, the Lyonnais turned to the clandestine resistance movement, a lifestyle fraught with risk.
Montluc ceased to be a military prison in February 1943, at which point the Gestapo transformed it into an interrogation centre, prison and internment camp. For many, it was a holding pen prior to being transferred to Drancy; for others, it was to be their final resting place. Today, the Mémorial National de la Prison de Montluc is open to the public, offering a heart-wrenching insight into the fate which awaited those who sought to free France from the German Occupation.
Forget idyllic snapshots of the Mer Méditerranéenne, for over the past month I’ve been drowning in the Mer de Bureaucratie – my apologies for the horrendous pun, but the analogy is just indescribably accurate. Practically a cultural institution, the formidable administration gleefully creates more paperasse (red tape) than anyone should ever have to deal with in their lifetime and, more often than not, not even its devout worshippers (read: personnel) can be bothered to deal with it. Fortunately, there’s an exception to every rule and last week the marvellous Mme Goudet resolved 99% of my administrative problems with one swipe of the keyboard. The reason for my problems? There were two Mme Mahers at Université Jean Moulin Lyon 3, and someone, somewhere, had muddled up the details in the system. I’ve never come across someone with my surname before, so imagine my surprise when that turned out to be the reason behind the timetabling chaos!
La rentrée: a uniquely French phenomenon which bears little-to-no resemblance to its British counterpart “Back to School”. Otherwise known as administrative chaos, wall-to-wall lengthy réunions and a near-constant torrent of paperwork – but with a few delights from my favourite pâtisserie du coin thrown in to take the edge off it.
Already, it’s been a week since my (delayed) flight touched down on French soil. The old adage of time flying when you’re having fun is, so far, holding true. The sight of Flybe’s automated baggage-drop machines at Manchester Airport was a relief, not least because it meant no-one was ever going to know how overweight my hand luggage was! A hot chocolate and a teary goodbye to Laurence later, and the baggage scanners at security were having the last laugh. My bag was scanned not once, not twice, but three times – by two different machines – before it was hand-checked and my large number of chargers and plugs were deemed to be the culprit.
When I started my degree at the University of Leeds back in 2012, entering the real world seemed light years away. Fast forward four years, two countries, a metric ton of French literature and seemingly endless vocabulary lists and I’m packing my life into two suitcases once again and moving back across La Manche, this time to Lyon in the beautiful Rhône-Alpes region. Sales-focused graduate schemes weren’t really for me, so when the opportunity arose to teach English in the land of baguettes through an exchange programme between Leeds and its partner universities in France it’s safe to say I was pretty excited about the prospect of another year abroad (albeit one with marginally more working hours).