Wednesday, February 17, 2016

More Lyon love to share

My last two posts about my recent visit to Lyon were about museums, but my sister and I didn't spend our annual winter weekend get-together entirely indoors; Dame Nature was kind enough to cooperate so we could spend most of our time outside, discovering the beauty of France's third-largest city (a UNESCO World Heritage site).

Looking at Vieux Lyon from quai Tilsitt

One of many lion sculptures in Lyon

Lyon's history goes back about 2,000 years. Founded in 43 BC, it was one of the most important cities in the Roman empire and capital of the Three Gauls, which comprised most of modern France and Belgium. Located midway along the routes from Northern Europe and the Mediterranean, Lyon was an important center of trade. Eventually the city became renown for its silk-weaving and textile industries.

The Saône river from one of several pedestrian bridges in Lyon

Along the Rhône in Lyon

My visit begins at Place Bellecour, France third-largest square (behind Place des Quinconces in Bordeaux and Place de la Concorde in Paris) and Europe's largest pedestrian square. Located on the Presqu'ile between the Rhône and Saône rivers, it is just a short walk across la Saône into Vieux Lyon.

Carved stone face on a bridge in Lyon

We decide to forego the funicular and walk up, up, up to Basilica Notre-Dame de Fouvière. The cathedral was built in the late 1800s; its interior was completed after World War II. The panoramic view from the esplanade is awesome — even on this overcast morning.

Enroute to Notre-Dame de Fouvière in Lyon

View from the esplanade at Notre-Dame de Fouvière in Lyon

Detail of exterior of Notre-Dame de Fouvière in Lyon

Interior of Notre-Dame de Fouvière in Lyon

As the sun comes out from behind the clouds, we head a short distance to Lyon's maze of Roman ruins: an odeum, the foundation of a temple and a theater — the oldest such structure in France. Built from 17 to 15 BC under the orders of Augustus and expanded during the reign of Hadrian, the theater has steep seating and foundations of a large stage. The odeum's floor contains original inlaid marble from Italy, Greece, Turkey, Egypt and Tunisia. Even in its day, the size and variety of marble made this stage one of the most remarkable in Roman Gaul.

Remains of Amphitheater des Trois Gaules in Lyon

The Odeon Theater (or odeum) was a venue for music and poetry.

Original inlaid marble from the Mediterranean on odeum stage in Lyon 

We return to our hotel for a late-afternoon rest because we have special plans this evening — a date with "Lady Macbeth de Mtsensk." Our night at the opera provides us with some lessons. (Excuse the generalities, as this is the first time I've attended an opera here.) First of all, French audiences are silent the moment the lights go out and do not applaud between scenes. Even between the second and third acts, there is about a 10-minute silence while sets were changed — no orchestral interlude, no whispering, no quick trip to the toilet. The audience does, at the end, give a rousing and extended standing ovation. Another lesson: Do not expect that a Russian opera, especially one about heartbreak, betrayal and cold-blooded murder will be fun or uplifting. Shostakovich was no Marvin Hamlisch. But I do appreciate Dmitri Chernyakov's unusual staging. My sister and I agree it is an experience we don't regret and won't forget.

Opéra Nouvel in Lyon is named for architect Jean Nouvel who redesigned
the opera house between 1985 and 1993.

Here are some other sites from Lyon, a city I hope to return to again and again.

Temple du Change once housed Lyon's stock exchange.

"The Weight of One Self" by Michael Elmgreen and
Ingar Dragset in Lyon

Classic car on rue Victor Hugo in Lyon

Detail of la Fontaine des Jacobins in Lyon

Detail of woman cradling a fish (or is it a rabbit?) at
la Fontaine des Jacobins in Lyon.

Whimsical sign in Lyon

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

String theory: Lyon's glorious marionettes

Continuing our rather off-beat visit to Lyon, my sister and I visit the Musée des Marionnettes du Monde (Puppets of the World Museum) at the Gadagne Musées. The Gadagne reopened in 2009 in the historical Vieux-Lyon neighborhood after a 10-year refurbishment. The Renaissance building also houses the Lyon History Museum.

Hand puppets on display at Musée des Marionnettes du Monde in Lyon

The Puppets of the World Museum is the only one of its kind in France. Founded in 1950, the collection was inspired by the popularity of the original Guignol puppet, created in 1808. The exhibition changes every two years — each cycle brings a new perspective. The current collection, L'art du Paradoxe (The Art of Paradox) takes visitors beyond the "westernised perception" of puppets as playthings. Instead, with the help of slides, recordings, signs and the puppets themselves, we learn of puppets' important place in political and social change throughout the world. 

The lessons go down easily with such colorful guides. 

Marionettes on display at Musée des Marionnettes du
 in Lyon

Marionettes on display at Musée des Marionnettes du
 in Lyon

Marionette on display at Musée des Marionnettes du
 in Lyon

Marionette on display at Musée des Marionnettes du Monde in Lyon

Hand puppets on display at Musée des Marionnettes du Monde in Lyon

Marionette on display at Musée des Marionnettes du
 in Lyon

Marionettes on display at Musée des
Marionnettes du Monde
 in Lyon

Marionettes on display at Musée des Marionnettes du
 in Lyon

Marionette on display at Musée des Marionnettes du
 in Lyon

For more information about Musée des Marionnettes du Monde at the Gadagne Musées, visit the museum website here.

Friday, February 5, 2016

The view from Monbahus

I’ve passed through Monbahus many times, and nearly every time I’ve said, “We need to walk up to that structure on the hill someday.” We did just that on one recent afternoon and we were rewarded with an excellent view of the surrounding Lot-et-Garonne countryside as well as a few bits of new knowledge.

La Vierge de Monbaus can be seen from the surrounding valleys.

According to my French friends, Monbahus is pronounced mon-‘bye-ew. The little village (pop. 676) is located 40 km north of Agen, 45 km south of Bergerac, and midway laterally between Miramont-de-Guyenne and Monflanquin. In addition to the normal small-town amenities, Monbahus has two small restaurants: Le Moulin, with an English focus, and Le Portugais (another place I’ve been meaning to try). 

The village of Monbahus is seen enroute to La Vierge de Monbahus.

And then there’s the hill. Park in the village and head up the road across from Le Portugais. The sign at the trail head provides a bit of information about the path and urges visitors to to observe, link and compare the various sites ahead. The hill is maintained as a natural habitat, with each season providing specialties: wildflowers in the spring, spikey flora in the summer, green grassy hills in the fall and a time of rest in the winter.

It’s a short easy walk to our first stop, one of the observation platforms. Along le chemin (the path) there are several prompts urging visitors to note landmarks and the surrounding flora, most notably the prune and hazelnut orchards.

An observation platform on le chemin in Monbahus.

My walking companion checks out a signpost on le chemin
in Monbahus.

Le chemin is fairly easy, and except for one dog-walker, we’re alone for most of the hour we spend here. Our stroll takes us on a smooth dirt path and across grass. Since the ground is soggy, we’re glad we have worn old sneakers. It’s a beautiful day, so we take our sweet time admiring the views.

View of the village church from le chemin in Monbahus

Le cimetière as seen from le chemin in Monbahus

A large map identifies landmarks seen from the top of the hill in Monbahus.

A landscape map can be found at the top of the hill along with placards that provide a Monbahus history lesson. In addition to La Vierge perched on a tall round tower, there’s a stone structure resembling a water reservoir.

La Vierge de Monbahus

Inscription at the base of La Vierge de Monbahus

Stone structure on the top of the hill in Monbahus. 

The Virgin herself plays an interesting role in the history of Monbahus. In the late 1800s, mill owners M. et Mme. Gary longed for a child. After they eventually had a daughter, they had commissioned a three-meter tall, two-ton statue to be built and installed in the village church. Later, the statue was moved, with the help of many villagers, oxen and lumber wagons, and was perched atop of the hilltop mill. Tours of La Vierge de Monbahus are offered in the summer months.

The village center of Monbahus

Weather vane atop the Monbahus Mairie

A splash of color in Monbahus

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Movie magic and miniatures in Lyon

A world of movie magic can be found in the beautiful city of Lyon. My sister and I decide to meet up in France's third-largest city for our annual weekend together. After taking trains, planes and automobiles (along with shuttle buses and subways), we find each other at Gare Part-Dieu, drop our bags at the hotel and head to Musée Miniature & Cinema — a site I've deemed to be a "must-see."

This room actually is a tiny model with amazing intricate
detail — just one of the hundreds of miniatures displayed at the 
Musée Miniature and Cinema in Lyon, France.

I had located the museum earlier in the day. Good thing too, because the narrow streets of Vieux-Lyon could be confusing after dark (and après un peu de vin) if I hadn't had the time to get oriented while waiting for Sandy's train to arrive from Paris. The collections are housed in the 16th-century Maison des Avocats, a UNESCO world heritage site. 

Musée Miniature and Cinema is housed in the Maison des Avocats (Lawyer's
House) in Lyon.

The museum is the brainchild of Dan Ohlmann, cabinet-maker-turned-miniaturist. Ohlmann gained notoriety in Paris in the 1980s when he created his first miniature: a 1/12th scale model of the Art Nouveau-style restaurant Chez Maxim's and went on to organize a successful international miniatures exhibition. He eventually moved to Lyon and created the Palais de la Miniature in which he exhibited 1,000 tiny pieces. Backed by a Swiss art-collector and patron, Ohlmann's miniatures eventually were moved to its present location and expanded to include hundreds of film props. For a movie-fan like me, Musée Miniature and Cinema just had to be experienced. And believe me, I was wowed!

One of the smaller-than-life props at the Musée Miniature and Cinema in Lyon

The collection is spread over five floors, linked by winding stone staircases. Delightful surprises await us in each room. Our visit starts with a sizeable exhibit centered around a film I've never heard of: "Le parfum:  Histoire d'un meurtrier" (or "Perfume: The Story of a Murder.") How on earth did I miss this 2006 film staring Dustin Hoffman, and Alan Rickman — two of my favorite actors? (However, once I see the gory sets I figure out why I passed on "Parfum.")

A set from the 2006 film "Perfume: The Story of a Murder"

Signs at the entrance to some of the rooms advise those who are young or sensitive to avoid the bloody scenes inside. There are plenty of body parts and spooky monsters, for sure. And there also are plenty of cinematic icons: Harry Potter's wand, Mrs. Doubtfire's face and, as part of a special temporary exhibit dedicated to the films of Wes Anderson, the exterior of the Grand Budapest Hotel.

Prosthetic worn by Robin Williams in "Mrs. Doubtfire"
at the Musée Miniature and Cinema in Lyon.

Exterior of the Grand Budapest Hotel as seen in the 2014 film by the same name
is part of a temporary Wes Anderson exhibit at the Musée Miniature and Cinema
in Lyon.

A miniature from "Planet of the Apes" (2001) at the Musée
Miniature and Cinema in Lyon

A model from the 2007 horror film "The Mist" at the
Musée Miniature and Cinema in Lyon

A "green-screen" model reveals a little movie magic at
the Musée Miniature and Cinema in Lyon.

The last half of our visit is dedicated to Ohlmann's miniatures and if it wasn't getting near to closing time, we could linger for hours examining these miraculous scenes. Each intricate detail, some seen only with the help of a magnifying glass, is amazing.

Subway car miniature by artist Dan Ohlmann at the Musée Miniature and Cinema
in Lyon.

Ohlmann is passing along his passion and expertise to a team of miniature artists who work in the museum workshop. His team also includes artists who repair and restore film artifacts.

For more information about Lyon's Musée Miniature and Cinema, visit the website here.

Next up: My sister and I spend some quality time with marionettes as our weekend in Lyon continues.