A Most Memorable Thanksgiving, 1944

A Most Memorable Thanksgiving, 1944

I originally wrote this some 20 years ago in response to a prompt to recall my most memorable Thanksgiving. I feel it’s especially timely this year, to remember this other time in recent history when “the eyes of the world were upon us,” and we, as a nation united, rose to the challenge.

Caveat – I was too young to remember this Thanksgiving experience, but I do claim it as mine, since over decades of retelling, it has become part of my family’s collective memory. It happened over seven decades ago to people who had never heard of Thanksgiving Day, but on that particular year had much to give thanks for.

It was November 1944, in a small village nestled in the hills of Eastern France, the ancestral home of my mother’s family. It had been liberated only a few weeks before from the nightmare of Nazi occupation.

France-1944 family.

My mother, brother and I in early autumn 1944, showing off the new sunday bests she had made for us from repurposed pre-war clothing.

Since the beginning of June, the villagers had been following nightly on clandestine radios the progression of Allied troops across France. First Normandy in early June, then Paris in August, then Rheims, then finally after weeks of hope, American tanks and trucks had arrived in early fall. Within days, the wooded hills were filled with tents and barracks, and all the activity of an army preparing its next onslaught toward the German border. My mother had returned to her parents’ house with my brother and my year-old self a few months before, when the frequent allied bombings and increasing shortage of food made for ever more precarious living in the Paris area.

In late November, American officers came down from the hills to the village with their translator, with a request and an invitation. Would everyone please join the troops in the hills for a special feast two days hence? Housewives were also asked to volunteer their ovens the previous day to cook dishes that GIs would bring to them. All had enthusiastically agreed.

Starting on Wednesday afternoon, people of all ages who hadn’t had a square meal in five years salivated in anticipation as the streets filled with the aroma of roasting turkeys and baking pies drifting from house to house. “That turkey was the most beautiful thing we had seen in years!” Mother said of the bird that had come to roost in their oven. “We all took turns basting it.” By mid-morning on Thursday, GIs came in a truck to collect all the food and remind everyone that they were expected at noon at the camp.

What a sight it must have been, this entire village dressed in their shabby end-of-war best, walking up the rocky country lane. The children ran ahead, anxious to get to the source of the tantalizing aromas, while the adults, the mayor at their head, ignored the pleas of their growling stomachs and kept a more dignified pace.

At the camp, they were greeted by senior officers and ushered into the dining tent. The Chaplain came “and talked a little too long,” Mother reminisced, “especially since we couldn’t understand a word he said. All I could think of was how all that food on the side tables was going to get cold if he didn’t hurry up!”

“He finally finished with his blessing and we all lined up in front of the food tables. Smiling soldiers and Red Cross ladies piled up food onto our plates as we went by… huge piles of different kinds of food, all mixed up together, meat and vegetable and sauce. (n.b. the French typically eat in distinct courses and do not mix them on their plate). “Then, at the end of the line, someone put a big spoonful of red currant jelly on top of it all!” (n.b. what my mother saw as red current jelly was cranberry sauce, a condiment unknown in France).

“My plate was so full I couldn’t see the edges. Suddenly, with so much food in front of me, I lost my appetite…. I could hardly eat a thing!”

Mother, who later frequently visited me in the U.S. and became familiar with our ways, never failed to add: “Too bad I didn’t know about take-home bags then. The whole family could have made another dinner with what was on that plate!”

Location, location, location!

Creuë

In Marseille, France – New Landmarks for an Ancient City

In Marseille, France – New Landmarks for an Ancient City

Founded by the Phoenicians some 2600 years ago, Marseille has been a crossroad of immigration ever since. Throughout its long history, the city has received successive waves of populations of many nationalities, cast adrift by political and economical chaos. Over time, these strata upon strata of immigrants seeking to find a balance between new lives and old traditions shaped the city into a colorful, multi-ethnic threshold between France and the Southern Mediterranean shores.

Marseille-Gare St Charles

The nineteenth century Gare Saint Charles has received a complete makeover.

For many decades, however, and especially since the Second World War, Marseille had suffered an enduring image issue. Although one of the most important Mediterranean ports, the city was dismissed for its seedy reputation, urban decay and high crime figures. Not exactly a compelling pitch for tourism-minded visitors. But with the new century, things are turning around.

 

 

From Regional Reprobate to European Capital of Culture

Marseille-Vieux Port.

The original old harbor is now the city’s largest marina.

As part of a concerted transformation effort, Marseille prepared for, and won in 2009, the designation of European Capital of Culture 2013. It now had four years to get its act together. The city famous for its lethargic pace shifted into high gear. It was scrubbed clean and refurbished. Its waterfront got a radical facelift.

The Vieux Port (Old Harbor), the one-kilometer (over half a mile) long natural harbor that was the center of all maritime activities since antiquity had begun to decline in the mid-nineteenth century when its shallow six-meter (20 foot) depth made it unsuitable for the new steamships. Today, it is a large, sundrenched marina where sail and fishing boats bob alongside glitzy yachts and the occasional tall ship.

Marseille-L'Ombriere.

L’Ombrière transforms the waterfront into an upsidown theatre.

The entrance to the waterfront has become a vast plaza where British architect Norman Foster’s L’Ombrière (the sunshade) stretches atop slender steel stilts, six meters above the newly repaved water’s edge. The thin canopy, 46 by 22 meter (151 by 72 feet) of highly polished stainless steel, transforms the square into an astonishing inverted theatre that reflects the ever-changing space below. In the morning the fishermen selling the catch of the night right off their boats along the quay become a lively part of the show.

The Icon of Contemporary Marseille

The broad new pedestrian concourse to the right of the plaza is lined with sprawling, shaded terraces of restaurants that entice patrons with their fresh-of-the-boat menus. From there, they also get spectacular view of the south side of the Vieux Port, with the grand nineteenth century Neo-Byzantine basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde (literally Our Lady of Protection) soaring into the vivid azure sky,  high above the forest of masts.

Marseille-MuCEM.

The ancient Fort Saint Jean is now an integral part of the MuCEM..

Then, at the mouth of the harbor, the latest icon of contemporary Marseille, the Musée des Civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée (MuCEM for short) has become one of the city’s most popular destination. Open in 2013, this new museum devoted to European and Mediterranean civilizations, was allocated a spectacular location, a former port pier with sweeping westward views of the sea and the setting sun. The daring contemporary building is adjacent to the historic Fort Saint Jean that has been guarding the entrance of the Vieux Port since the seventeenth century, and is now an integral part of museum complex.

Marseille-MuCEM Exterior.

The new MuCEM is wrapped in a veil of latticed concrete .

From the top of the Fort a daring 135-meter (450 foot) long footbridge flies across the water to the roof terrace of the museum. The new MuCEM structure, designed by local architect Rudy Ricciotti, is a 72 by 72 meter (235 by 235 foot) square box of glass and steel wrapped in a veil of latticed concrete that also partially extends over the roof terrace. The fort grounds and gardens are free to explore, as are the museum terrace and the walkways that twist between the glass walls of the new exhibit space and its outer lacey shell.

Marseille-MuCEM Interior.

Interior walkways run between the glass walls of the exhibit space and the lacey outer shell

A second high footbridge connects the top of the fort’s Royal Gate to the twelfth century Provencal Romanesque church of Saint Laurent, at the edge of the historic hillside neighborhood of Le Panier (the Basket). The bridge thus opens the new site to the city and contributes its own stupendous views of the Vieux Port and the waterfront.

 

 

 

What of the Actual Museum?

Marseilie-MuCEM Waterwheel.

Thir waterwheel have been used in Egypt since times immemorial to irrigate fields.

My visit of the exhibit space leaves me with a sense that the complex is less about content than adding a striking new architectural chapter to the three-millennia history of the city. There is a disconnect between the magnificent shell and the building it is meant to serve. The core of the MuCEM is a boxy 52 by 52 by 18 meter volume that contains a basement auditorium and two floors of cramped galleries.
 
 
 

Marseille-MuCEM Picasso,

Torero à la résille III, (bullfighter with lattice III). Picasso, 1970.

Its main attraction is a lackluster retrospective of the history, genealogy and culture of the Mediterannean. It is supplemented by temporary exhibits that vary widely in theme. At the time my visit, it features an exposition tracing the influence of popular arts and traditions in the works of Picasso. It also includes an overview of the life and works of Jean Genet, a twentieth century French social outcast turned writer and political activist who, as a dramatist, became a leading figure in the avant-garde theatre.

While the museum is not without interest, it the site, with its unique blend of historic military architecture, contemporary structural creativity, pleasant terrace restaurant and stupendous views that I found to be most worthy of a visit.

Good to Know

  • Getting there – Marseille is easily reached by train, with multiple direct TGV (high speed train) connections throughout the day from Paris (3.5 hours) and Lyon (1.5 hour), as well as Geneva (3.5 hours), Brussels (5.5 hours) and Frankfurt (7 hours). The trains take travelers to the Saint Charles station, right in the center of the city. For air travelers, the Marseille-Provence International Airport is 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) northwest of the city has numerous flights throughout the day from Paris, London and other major European cities. A shuttle bus runs every 15 minutes between the airport and the central bus terminal behind the Saint Charles station.
  • Getting around – The greater Marseille area is served by a public transport system, known at RTM (Régie des Transports de Marseille), which includes two Metro lines, M1 (the blue line, runs east-west) and M2 (the red line, runs north-south), two Tram lines, T1 and T2, also running east-west and north-south respectively, and over 70 Bus lines. Note: most bus routes do not operate after 9:00 pm and metro and tram services stops at 0:30 am
  • Boats Excursions The Vieux Port is the starting point for a number of boat tours of the shoreline calanques (fjords) as well as excursions to the nearby Frioul island and the Château d’If (of Comte de Monte Cristo fame). Spur-of-the-moment tickets can be purchased at their berthing point. However, to find the tour best suited to your interests and budget, see the Marseille Office de Tourisme site for a comprehensive list of tour companies and their offerings.
  • Visiting – MuCEM. Promenade Robert Laffont, Marseille (official address). Its main entrance, the Fort Saint-Jean Lower Entrance is located at 201 Quai du Port. Open Wednesday through Monday. Closed on Tuesday and December 25, as well as May 1. Open at 11:00 am year-round. Closing time varies with the seasons from 6:00 pm in winter to 8:00 pm in summer. For exact opening information, check their website or contact: tel. +33 (0) 4 84 35 13 13.

A Few Souvenirs

Location, location, location!

MuCEM

A Fine-Dining Surprise in Lyon

A Fine-Dining Surprise in Lyon

From its popular Bouchons to internationally revered local chef Paul Bocuse, Lyon is a city that takes its cuisine seriously. Nowhere is it more obvious than at the little known Restaurant Vatel.

A Legendary Namesake

What first piques my interest in this teaching restaurant of the Groupe Vatel, a worldwide education group specialized in the various aspect of the hospitality industry, is its choice of patronym.

Lyon-Vatel table setting

The subdued elegance of the table setting annonces a fine-dining experience.

Granted, Francois Vatel (1631-1671) rose from pastry cook apprentice to becoming the most famous event planner at the court of French King Louis XIV (the monarch who left us Versailles). Yet history remembers him only as the man who skewered himself with his own sword because the fish delivery for a royal banquet was late. Hardly a motivating role model for aspiring hospitality business professionals! However, my musings about this long-ago case of professional burnout end at the door of Restaurant Vatel. It’s clear at first sight that its namesake would approve.

A Timeless Temple of Gastronomy

Lyon-Vatel kir royal.

A generous amuse-bouche enhances our spectacular Kir Royal à la Framboise.

The dining room has the understated elegance of a space dedicated to the appreciation of Haute Cuisine. The pale amber walls are enhanced with burled walnut wainscoting and paneling. Spotlights discretely recessed into the white plaster coffered ceilings softly light the tabletops. Dark blue wall-to-wall carpeting muffles any service noise. The generously sized, white linen-clad tables are spaced far enough apart for privacy, and the medallion-back chairs upholstered in goldenrod velvet ensure seating comfort through a multi-course meal. Add gleaming silver and stemware, monogrammed china and delicate centerpieces of fresh flowers, and you have a relaxed setting staged to fade from awareness, so guests can focus their attention on the works of culinary art on their plate.

A Memorable Dining Experience

After a day spent tracking down the famous frescoed walls throughout the city, a cocktail is in order. We start out with a Kir Royal à la Framboise (Champagne with raspberry liqueur). A generous amuse-bouche materializes along with it. It includes a verrine (miniature glass tumbler) of chilled cucumber cream, a tiny savory pound cake with an herbed crumble topping and a pair of fresh anchovy filets in a tangy marinade on a mound of cold quinoa risotto.

Lyon-Vatel guinea fowl.

Roasted breast of guinea fowl on a Gorgonzola glaze.

For our first course, both my dining companion and I opt for a refreshing salad of al dente spring vegetables. It is served on a bed of baby arugula, with dollops of light tapenade and this traditional Lyon specialty, the cervelle de canut (silk-worker’s brain; a creamy fresh cheese blended with herbs, shallots and a touch of garlic). Just the right start for an early summer’s meal.

My main course is a roasted breast of guinea fowl with tiny potatoes and whole garlic cloves, served on a creamy glaze of Gorgonzola sauce and garnished with a marinated sundried tomato. The simple dish is flawlessly executed, with the cheese glaze adding an interesting, delicately tangy note.

Lyon-Vatel stuffed squid.

Squid stuffed with haddock mousse on a coulis of shellfish.

My friend declares her squid stuffed with haddock mousse also a success. It is served with wilted baby spinach and saffron rice, on a coulis of shellfish. I have a discrete taste of the coulis. Ambrosia! Whoever is teaching the sauces class to these soon-to-be chefs deserves a medal.

The wine list offers a comprehensive sampling of the main wine growing areas of France, with a concentration on Burgundy and Côtes du Rhone. These are, after all, considered local wines here. When asked for suggestions, our student sommelier points us to a little known Mâcon vintage, a 2013 Saint Véran Chardonnay from Pierre Ferraud et Fils. The dry, pale golden wine with a faint fruity aroma is a perfect foil for the seafood, but has enough clout to hold up to my roasted fowl as well.

A Dessert Nirvana

Lyon-Vatel dessert.

It is a struggle to restrain myself to just a few options.

A look at the dessert cart convinces us to pass on the cheese course. Three trolleys are wheeled to our table, laden with most of sumptuous classics ever bequeathed to the world by French pastry chefs. There are multi-layered chocolate cakes, showing off several intriguing textures under their veil of lustrous ganache. I spot a Saint Honoré, its high peaks of whipped cream contained within a ring of creampuffs glossy with brittle caramel. Then there is a perfect strawberry cream cake, a Baba au Rhum, and a crunchy Dacquoise with its thick praline butter cream filling sandwiched between two layers of hazelnut meringue. And several varieties of fruit and chocolate tarts, and bowls filled with various flavors of mousses.

Lyon-Vatel petits fours.

An extravagant tray of petits fours closes the meal.

Lest this dessert Nirvana failed to satisfy, our post-dinner espresso arrives with an extravagant tray of petits fours: macaroons, pistachio and chocolate tarts, various miniature cookies, and even a cube of homemade marshmallow.

 

 

 

Well-choreographed Service

Lyon-Vatel wine.

Our sommerlier introduces us to the little-known Saint-Véran Chardonnay.

We are attended by a veritable chorus line of black-suited, eager young servers and sommeliers, about twice the number that would be customary in a luxury restaurant. Yet, the service is unobtrusive and rigorously synchronized. Many of the students are already quite poised; a few are still a bit tense. Understandably so since the entire evening unfolds under the eagle eye of a majordomo who, from a discrete vantage point at the back of the room, clearly doesn’t miss even the smallest detail. But neither does the dining room staff. Everybody is gracious and attentive. The courses are precisely timed and the dishes served with just the right touch of flourish. Glasses are refilled promptly and not a single crumb is ever allowed to linger on the crisp tablecloth as soon as plates are removed.

If you ever yearn to feel like visiting royalty, this is a great place to dine in Lyon. But do plan ahead. Advanced reservations are a must.

Good to Know

  • Restaurant Vatel, 8, Rue Duhamel, Lyon, 69002, is open Tuesday through Saturday, Noon to 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm to 10:00 pm. It is closed on Sunday and Monday. Contact: e-mail lyon@restaurantvatel.fr, tel. +33 (0) 4 78 38 21 92.
  • Getting there – Located in the heart of the Presqu’Ile neighborhood, it is easy to reach on foot from anywhere in central Lyon, or via Métro: station Perrache (line A) or Tram: also station Perrache (lines T1 and T2).
  • Amazing value – Restaurant Vatel is a training facility where students get hands-on experience in their chosen field. The prices, therefore, are considerably lower those of a conventional restaurant of comparable standing. There are two three-course menus at the very friendly fixed prices of 29 and 34 Euros respectively, excluding beverages. Both offer two choices per course, plus a com[limentary amuse-bouche that is a course in itself, as well as an optional cheese course. The wines and bar beverages are equally well priced.

Location, location, location!

Restaurant Vatel

Notable Museums of Lyon

Notable Museums of Lyon

First a major Gallo-Roman center of trade, then a financial and industrial powerhouse of the Renaissance Lyon has long been a fertile ground for museums. From fine arts to the history of silk, and from Gallo-Roman civilization to the invention of the cinema, there are over 20 museums in Lyon to satisfy the most diverse interests.

Musée des Beaux Arts

France- Lyon Fine Arts Veronese.

Bathsheba at her Bath, by Paolo Veronese (1528-1588)

Created in 1803 in a magnificent seventeenth century abbey in the heart of the central Presqu’Ile neighborhood, it is one of the premier regional museums of fine arts in France. Think of it as a human-size version of the Louvre without the crowds. With 70 galleries of exhibit space, it woos visitors with rich collections that offer an outstanding view of the evolution of art, from ancient Egypt to contemporary times. The paintings section alone section occupies 35 galleries where all the great European Schools from the Renaissance to the twentieth century are represented.

 

France-Lyon Fine Arts Chavannes.

The Sacred Forest Beloved by the Arts and Muses by Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824-1898).

While the museum is justifiably proud of its masterpieces by the likes of Tintoretto, Veronese, Rembrandt, Rubens and Poussin, the stairway murals by Lyon native Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, a forbearer of the Symbolism movement, are also well worth a second look. His murals, by the way, also grace the grand staircase of the Boston Public Library as well as the main amphitheatre of the Sorbonne in Paris.

 

Democritus meditating on the seat of the soul by Léon-Alexandre Delhomme (1841-1895).

Democritus Meditating on the Seat of the Soul by Léon-Alexandre Delhomme (1841-1895).

At the heart of the abbey, the former cloister is now a public garden with a central fountain created from an antique sarcophagus. This serene space shaded by ancient trees also serves as a sculpture garden, with works by nineteenth century French masters Rodin, Bourdelle, Maillol and Delhomme.

 

 

Musées des Tissus

France-Lyon Textile Museum.

Housed in a gracious eighteenth century mansion, the Musée des Tissus holds one of the richest textile collection in the world.

This unique Museum of Textiles has its genesis in the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London, the first in a series Universal Exhibitions of culture and industry that would become popular in the nineteenth century. It inspired the visiting Lyonnais manufacturers to create a museum to showcase the superior technical and artistic capabilities of the city’s silk industry. Opened in 1864, it originally offered an encyclopedic view of samples and drawings, until the 1890’s when its scope broadened to cover the history of textiles.

 

Lyon-Textile Museum Fashion.

Entire galleries illustrate the synergy between Lyon silk and Paris fashion.

Today, the museum holds one of the most important collections of textiles in the world, with close to two-and-a-half million pieces covering four millennia of production, housed in the lovely eighteenth century Hôtel de Villeroy, in the center the Presqu’Ile. From rare third century Coptic caftans to magnificent twelfth century Sicilian silk tapestries woven with gold threads made from intestine membranes coated with gold leaf, each unique item has its own fascinating story.

 

 

Lyon-Pompadour fashion.

Mid-eighteenth century court gown in the “à la Pompadour” style.

There is a doublet worn by famous historic figure Charles de Blois, Duke of Brittany (1318-1364). Made of rare Persian silk, this ceremonial quilted jacket was intended to fit under a suit of armor, so the Duke could just shed the metal garment and go straight from battle to festivities.  Stunning Lyon silks especially created for Marie Antoinette’s gowns are here, along with the rose and green tapestries she left behind in her bedroom during her ill-fated escape attempt from Versailles. Entire rooms of gowns and other ceremonial attire spanning several centuries illustrate the synergy between the development of the silk and French fashion. I could lose myself for days in here!

 

Musée des Arts Décoratifs

Lyon - Applied Arts Regny.

Original period rooms are preserved intact at the Museum of Applied Arts.

Originally part of the Museum of Textiles, this applied arts institution was spun off as a distinct collection in the adjoining Hôtel de Lacroix-Lavalle in 1925. In addition to its wealth of decorative objects from the late Middle Ages and Renaissance to contemporary times, the museum also offers the opportunity to walk through a number of period rooms, mainly from the eighteenth century, donated with their entire contents, including wall paneling, with the provision that they remain intact. Here, it is possible to appreciate in situ the artistry of furniture and textile craftsmen of the period.

Musée Lumière

Lyon-Lumière Archive.

Archive frame from the first film: “La Sortie de l’Usine Lumière à Lyon” (Workers leaving the Lumiere Factory)

For movie buffs, this is where is all began, the birthplace of le cinématographe, the nineteenth century ancestor of the camcorder invented by two brothers, Auguste and Louis Lumière. Here, on March 19,1895, they recorded a 46 second film of employees leaving their family’s photo-plate business. Next door, the grand Art Nouveau mansion where the family lived is now a museum that features their famous cinématographe, along with a number of early film-making devices, including Edison’s boxy wooden kinetoscope. In the garden, a hangar is all that remains of the factory. It is now a movie theater with a dynamic program of international film classics.

Musée Gallo-Romain de Lyon-Fourvière

Lyon-Fourviere Gallo-Roman Mosaics.

The permanent collections feature fine Roman mosaics.

Partially buried into the Fourvière hillside next to the Roman Theatre archeological site, the museum offers a journey back into ancient history with its concrete spiral ramp descending and branching out into display galleries. The permanent collections feature Roman, Celtic and pre-Roman artifacts, including fine mosaics, sculptures, jewelry, ceramics and everyday objects as well as an enigmatic Celtic calendar. There is also a relief map of the ancient town as well as scale models of its major monuments, including the Theatre and the Odeon.

Musée des Confluences

Lyon-Confluences

The futuristic Musée des Confluences is Lyon’s latest.

Built at the very southern tip of the Presqu’Ile, on a peninsula that was artificially extended a century ago at the confluence of the Saône and the Rhône rivers, the sprawling glass and steel structure brings to mind a spaceship that has just gone through a hard landing. Opened in December 2014 with the ambitious mission to “tell the story of man from its origins to modern days,” this new anthropology and science museum left me a bit dazed. Going from the skeleton of a 155 million year old Camarasaurus from Wyoming to the smart phone, and from the vision of after-life in indigenous cultures around the world to the exploration of Antarctica in a couple of hours can feel a tad disorienting.

Good to Know

  • Musée des Beaux Arts20 Place des Terreaux, Lyon, 69001. Open Wednesday through Monday from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Open until 10:00 on the first Friday of the month except August. Closed on Tuesday and national holidays. Contact: Tel. + 33 (0) 4 72 10 17 40.
  • Musée des Tissus et des Arts Décoratifs 34 Rue de la Charité, Lyon, 69002. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm. Closed on Monday and national holidays. Contact: +33 (0) 4 78 38 42 02
  • Musee Lumière – 25 rue du Premier-Film, place Ambroise Courtois, Lyon, 69008. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 am to 6:30 pm. Closed Monday. Open all holidays except January 1, May 1 and December 25. Contact: Tel. +33 (0) 4 78 78 18 95.
  • Musée Gallo-Romain de Lyon-Fourvière17 Rue Cléberg, Lyon, 69005. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Closed Monday and national holidays. Contact: Tel. + 33(0) 4 72 38 49 30
  • Musée des Confluences – 86 quai Perrache 69002 Lyon, 60002. Open every day and most national holidays – schedule varies throughout the week. For exact opening hours, check their website or contact: Tel. +33 (0) 4 28 38 11 90.

Location, location, location!

Musée des Beaux Arts

Written on the Wall – the Story of Lyon

Written on the Wall – the Story of Lyon

The story of France’s third largest city, Lyon, is written, or rather painted on its walls, in giant trompe l’oeil frescos that cover entire buildings to illustrate its evolution through the centuries. It began in 1987, when a cooperative of artists, CitéCréation, decided to “play” with the restoration of the Croix-Rousse, the historic hillside neighborhood once home to the Canuts, the artisans who, over five centuries, made the city the Capital of Silk.

La Fresque des Canuts

France-Lyon, Canut Fresco Detail

A detail from the Silk Workers’ Wall pays homage to the Canut past of the Croix Rousse.

Commonly known as Le Mur des Canuts (Silk Workers’ Wall), the city block-size trompe l’oeil fresco covers a 1200 square meter (13,000 square foot) blank wall. It illustrates the history and development of the neighborhood and the daily life of its inhabitants. At its center, a long stairway street emblematic of the Croix-Rousse environment gives a startling depth to the work. On both sides, apartment buildings with the tall windows characteristic of the weavers’ homes depict the current life of the area while reminding the viewer of the harsh nineteenth-century existence of the artisans whose life centered around the giant looms. One of the largest trompe l’oeil frescoes in Europe, the Silk Workers’ Wall has become a Lyon landmark

La Fresque des Lyonnais

In 1994-1995, following the success of the original fresco, the city commissions another project to honor its most illustrious citizens though the ages. The ideal canvas, an 800 square meter (8,600 square foot), seven-story blank wall along the right bank of the Saône River, is proposed by the residents of the Presqu’Ile neighborhood.

France-Lyon ,Fresque Lyonnais.

The Fresque des Lyonnais honors illustrious sons and daughters who left their mark on the city.

The Fresque (or Mur) des Lyonnais honors thirty illustrious native sons and daughters who left their mark on the city. From Sainte Blandine, a young early-Christian slave martyred during the reign of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius and the Patron Saint of Lyon, to Paul Bocuse, the world-famous French chef and leading figure of the Nouvelle Cuisine movement, from one balcony to the next, the wall is a stage. The higher you look, the further you go back in history. On the third floor, I spot Juliette Recamier, the celebrated society leader whose Parisian salon drew the foremost literary and political figures of the early nineteenth century.

France-Lyon Fresque Abbee Pierre.

L’abbée Pierre and Paul Bocuse share the spotlight on the Fresque des Lyonnais.

André-Marie Ampère the eighteenth century physicist who founded the science of electrodynamics and gave his name to the unit of electric current (Amp. for short) is on the second floor. Well-loved contemporary figures are on the street level, including L’Abbée Pierre (1912-2007), a Catholic priest, active member of the Resistance during World War Two and founder in 1949 of the Emmaus movement to help the poor, homeless and refugees; and Bertrand Tavernier (noted film director and producer of such award-winning films as “Mississippi Blues” and “Life and nothing but”).

Did you Know?

France-Lyon Jacquard.

Joseph Marie Jacquard, inventor of the loom that bears his name.

Some Wall residents are now household names, like Joseph Marie Jacquard (second floor), the early nineteenth century weaver and merchant who developed the earliest known programmable loom. Which, by the way, played an important part in the development of other programmable machines, including an early version of the digital compiler used by IBM to develop the modern day computer.

 

 

France-Lyon Lumière.

The brothers Lumière and their moving pictures invention.

Then there are the brothers Lumière, Auguste and Jean, late nineteenth century inventors with over 170 patents to their name. The Lumière brothers played a major role in the history of photography and moving pictures. And yes, in French, the word for light is lumière.

 

 

Saint Ex and the Little Prince

Antoine de Saint-Exupery, pioneer aviator and author with his word-famous Little Prince.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, pioneer aviator and author with his word-famous Little Prince.

And let’s not forget Antoine de Saint-Exupéry on the second floor, side-by-side with the yellow-haired hero of his famous Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince), one of the most translated and best-selling books ever published. Although most widely remembered for this novella, Saint-Exupéry was a pioneer commercial aviator before the Second World War, working airmail routes in Europe, Africa and South America. He later joined the Free French Air Force in North Africa and disappeared during a reconnaissance flight over the Mediterranean in July 1944. Although Saint-Ex, as he is lovingly known in France, is not technically a household name, if you fly to Lyon, you will land at Saint-Exupéry Airport.

Le Mur des Ecrivains

France-Lyon Writers.

Over 300 authors who were born or lived in and round Lyon figure on the Writers’ Wall.

Just around the corner, La Bibliothèque de la Cité, better known as the Wall of the Writers, evokes a giant library filled with the works of authors who were born or lived in and near Lyon. Over three hundred of them are on file, representing all literary genres and periods from the Renaissance to the present, excerpts and quotes included. They range from Rabelais and Voltaire to Frédéric Dart (who under the pen name San-Antonio, after his famous character, is arguably the most famous contemporary mystery writer in France). Saint Ex and his Little Prince are here too, of course. The street-level consists of three trompe l’oeil storefronts and a mailman near a mailbox. The mailbox, however, is real.

Good to Know

  • The frescoed walls of Lyon are famous for their originality and artistry. To date, the artists of CitéCréation have produced over one hundred of them in Lyon and surrounding areas alone and close to 600 around the world. To find a list of their major works, check: CitéCréation , and for a comprehensive itinerary of the walls in central Lyon: Murs Peints.
  • Visiting – Fresque des Canuts, 36 Boulevard des Canuts, at the corner of Rue Denfert Rochereau. Best visited as part of a walking itinerary, it can also be reached by public transportation: Métro station Hénon (line C). Fresque des Lyonnais, 2 Rue de la Martinière, at the corner of 43 Quai St. Vincent, on the right bank of the Saône River. Best visited as part of a walking itinerary, it can also be reached by public transportation: Métro station Hôtel de Ville-Louis Pradel. Multiple Bus lines also service this area. Mur des Ecrivains, 6 Rue de la Platière, at the corner of the Quai de la Pêcherie, just a few steps away from the Fresque des Lyonnais.
  • Getting there – Lyon is easily reached by rail, with several direct TGV (high speed trains) connections throughout the day from Paris (2 hours), Lille (3 hours), Strasbourg (3 hours and 30 minutes) and Marseille (1hour and 40 minutes) as well as Geneva (2 hours). Lyon Saint-Exupery airport, with connections to Paris, Geneva and other major European cities, is located 20 kilometers east of the city. The Rhonexpress light-rail link offers easy access to the centre of Lyon in just 30 minutes. Note: Lyon has two main train stations. All TGV high-speed trains come into the new Lyon Part Dieu station, on the east side of the Rhone. Some continue, along with many local trains, to the old main station at Perrache, on the Presqu’ile, one kilometer south of the main square in the city, Place Bellecour.

Location, location, location!

La Fresque des Canuts