Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Second Impressions

To pick up where I left off in my last entry, I will begin with my observations over the past three weeks regarding a couple of French stereotypes. One thing that made me chuckle last week was looking at a map in a French train that purported to show the "principal rail lines of Europe." Having traveled extensively by train throughout much of Western Europe, I was somewhat surprised to see that nearly all of the lines so indicated were to be found in France. Not even the stretch of track between Frankfurt and Berlin that I traveled so many times while living in Germany was listed as a principal rail line. Meanwhile, Eastern Europe and Scandinavia were omitted from the map altogether. Oh well, France still believes it's the center of Europe, if not the known universe.
Even before I moved to France, I was well aware that not all French people possess the greatest English skills (though Nolwenn makes a fine exception to this). So, almost without exception, conversations with shop employees, passers-by, and even Nolwenn's family have been conducted en Français. I'm making a good effort- trying to learn some 176 words a week and grammar as well, but in the meantime, communication is still a bit of a hurdle.
Still despite ethnocentrism and lack of English skills, there's plenty that Lyon and France have to offer that Vienna and Austria don't. For one thing, despite the cultural offerings and despite the fact that Vienna is a much larger city, Lyon somehow feels a little bit more alive, and less a museum. Perhaps the weight of the past isn't as overwhelming here, perhaps it's the longer hours in the stores, the large immigrant population in the district where I live, perhaps it's the better weather and longer days, perhaps it's something more intangible. In any case, I clearly love it here. The architecture is softer and easier on the eye, the food is superb, and- and this is not to be underestimated- it's all new and exciting. Having never visited Lyon before December, and having never lived anywhere in France before, there's a sense of excitement I have being here that left me while I was in Vienna.
Next week takes me to the UK and Ireland for family tree research, visits with friends, and touring grad schools in advance of September studies. But for now, I'd like to end this post by simply hailing the new chief. So ave, President Obama, and Godspeed.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Bienvenue à Rhone Ramblings!

Well, if the last entry to Danube Dispatches was dispatched from Lyon, then it would only make sense for the first Rhone Rambling to be rambled from that great metropolis that straddles the Rhone... Vienna. So I'm back on my old stomping grounds for a few days to tie up a few loose ends, get some stuff I wasn't able to carry with me last time, and most importantly, investigate an outrageous genealogical claim that my great-great-great-great grandfather Franz Kohlberger was run out of town by none other than Franz Ferdinand (you know, the guy whose assassination kind of ruined the 20th century...). I'll see what I can find and will report back next week.
First though, a few notes about living in Lyon. Oddly, I had never visited Lyon before first visiting the apartment where Nolwenn and I now live back in December. However, it must be said that Lyon is an absolutely gorgeous city, with many wonderful restaurants and bakeries, great proximity to the Alps, the south of France, Paris, airports served by budget airlines, and Geneva, where my friend Xavier lives. Not that Vienna's location is bad either, but I've already spent quite a bit of time in the nearby cities and countries there, so I'm happy for the change of pace for that reason.
Furthermore, Lyon is neither as cold as Vienna (though it has been rather chilly of late), nor as dark, being farther west and south in the same time zone. Additionally, the internet cafes are cheaper, the kebabs are better, and it's fun to be learning French each day too. As far as our apartment goes, the location is extremely central in a nice neighborhood with a small park right in front of our house door. We're up on the fourth floor and have 3 square meters to call our own, though it feels like more. In any case, we have a nice loft for the bed, a great desk set up, a comfortable couch, a spacious bathroom, and a bright kitchen. On top of that, I've already added a bench press, a good tv, and an exercise bike is on the way.
When not busy arranging the apartment, I've been spending lots of time tracing cousins on, to get as complete a record as possible for my upcoming book on my family's history.
So that's life, so far. Next week, in additon to my report on my findings in Vienna, we'll take a closer look at French stereotypes and see what my initial impressions have to say about them. Au revoir!