“Why must I fail at every attempt at masonry!” – Homer Simpson’s voice was in my head as we regarded – with not undeserved skepticism – the tartelettes that had just come out of the oven. They resembled nothing so much as patty-pans filled with bleached pieces of old tyres. Ours did, anyway – we’d been divided into two teams, and our team had forged these monstrosities, while the other team’s tartelettes looked more like pastry cups of fruit. However, as the Cavilam event co-ordinators reminded us, the taste is what really matters. I’m probably biased, but I thought ours tasted better. This was the first of Cavilam’s events which I attended.
In the end, the tartelettes themselves ended up being a relatively minor part of the dégustation workshop. I think the real purpose of these events is to mix a little bit with some of the other Cavilam students, and by putting us into two teams – with two very different approaches to making pastry – that was fairly well achieved. The preparation process was a hilarious comedy of errors, and it was good fun.
While the tartelettes (and I hesitate even to call them that) were in the oven, we had a General-French-Knowledge quiz to pass the time. In the first round, we got to choose the topic we wanted and my team chose Histoire – I think you can probably translate that without my help. My team ended up winning the next two rounds – I mean honestly, who decided to let me have contemporary French history as a topic? I think everyone ended up getting a few prizes, but I still treasure the Cavilam mug and t-shirt that I won. I was planning on buying some Cavilam swag regardless, so I actually left this workshop ahead, financially speaking.
Dinner at my host family’s house that night was probably my favourite thing that I’ve eaten here in France so far – and that’s a hard ask, the food here has been amazing. We had la raclette – it can be served a number of ways, according to Wikipedia, but for my first time it was the essential melted cheese served over potatoes with charcuterie and, naturally, bread. I love potatoes and cheese, so this (very heavy) dish was perfect for me. My host family promised we’d have it again before I left, so obviously my pleasure was evident.
The next day – at last – snow! I should specify that it was perhaps the most insubstantial snow ever known to man – it lasted a mere few hours and only about 30 minutes of that was it really snowing much. This video was taken right as it started and you can tell it’s there, but only just. That said, for me, it might as well have been a blizzard. I would go on to see snow again, and more of it – apparently it was also snowing in Paris and Lyon, among other cities – but this was my first time and, insubstantial or not, it was special.
The next day, as expected, I saw a lot more snow – it was my first trip to Lyon – and for an auspicious occasion. The 8th of December is the first day of Lyon’s Festival of Lights, an internationally renowned festival of light and multimedia displays, apparently started as a tribute to the Virgin Mary for some handy miracles in the time of plague. Thanks Mary! While it wasn’t snowing in Lyon itself (damn lying weather forecast), we went through the hills on the way though, and there was tons of snow there.
Lyon was packed with people for the festival. I was told several times that five million tourists were coming for the opening night, and it certainly felt that way. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people in one place before. Displays were everywhere, streets lit up with fancy neon-work and buildings transformed into canvases for carefully choreographed light and music shows. It really is a must-see event. The crush of people was often very unpleasant – I mean literally no space to move at all, shoving tides of people, but in a way I kind of enjoyed the hectic madness of it all – I heard at least ten different languages everywhere, there were street vendors selling vin chaud (hot, spiced wine) on every corner – which was delicious by the way, but made me feel a little ill towards the end when it cooled – and I was roundly ignored by a kebab seller and eventually decided to leave – later I got some soup. It was crazy.
The city of Lyon really goes all out for this festival – many roads were closed and transformed completely into pedestrian space, and the carefully prepared, beautifully executed light displays on the many beautiful buildings of the city are impossible to do justice in photos or even in videos – I tried both all the same. There was also a Ferris Wheel in Place Bellecour – I adore Ferris Wheels and this one gave a wonderful view of the city, and the paper lanterns everywhere floating away in the breeze. There were parades, fireworks and all manner of craziness. What a night!