Thursday, June 3, 2010

Today's Moment - Being A Tourist in My Own Town

One of the things I love most about hosting out of town visitors is the opportunity to see my city through their eyes.  I just spent a couple days showing some American friends around, and many of the sights I take for granted became new to me again through their exclamations of admiration.  I also got to re-visit beautiful places that I tend to forget about until it's time to play tour guide - like the Fourvière Basilica with it's stunning views of the city, and the nearby gallo-roman amphitheater built in 15 BC which blows my mind every time I think about the Romans watching plays there two millenia ago.  The theater is partly in ruins, but much of it is in good enough condition to host a concert series every summer:

With my friends in tow I also took on a tourist attitude, and allowed myself to do things that tourists do and I don't - like have an ice cream on the Place des Terreaux, or a drink on the barges that dock along the Rhône river.  These places are of course way over-priced for what you get, which is why I'm such an infrequent customer.  But you're paying for the pleasure of hanging out in one of the most beautiful plazas in France, next to the famous Bartholdi fountain (by the same sculptor who made the statue of liberty) and surrounded by architectural gems like the fine art museum and the ornately gilded city hall.  I cut through the plaza on my bike all the time, only sometimes noticing it's loveliness, but I never linger.  Same with the barges on the Rhone - I pedal by them quite often on my way to somewhere else, but rarely allow myself the simple pleasure that is having a drink on the deck of a boat while watching the river flow by below.

Lyon's ornate city hall on the Place des Terreaux:

In fact I realized these past few days that I almost never walk around Lyon, since I'm always on my bike - even more so now because at 8 months pregnant, cycling (albeit slowly) is actually much easier than carrying around the weight of my big belly!  But in cycling I miss out on the famous French tradition of 'flânerie.' It's hard to translate directly - the dictionary says to stroll or saunter.  But it's more of an attitude - walking slowly, just to enjoy yourself, with no particular destination in mind.  It's actually a pretty zen-like way of doing things, the idea being that the journey itself is much more important the the destination.  And it's something I have a hard time with.  Even with the aforementioned heavy belly, I was still rushing along ahead of my friends, just thinking about what I was going to show them.  While they were just sauntering along, appreciating their surroundings in the true French tradition of flânerie. 

So I taught my friends the verb 'flâner' and congratulated them on their mastery of this fine French art.  Then I decided that I needed to take a lesson from both the tourists (at least the ones who stroll, since many are in a hurry to see as much as possible) and the French.   I'm going to try to slow myself down (yes, even on my bike) and really be mindful about where I am - especially now that I'm on maternity leave and have no reason to rush anymore.  I want to notice and appreciate the beauty that is around me, without waiting for visitors to remind me to look around. 


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