I should probably start this entry off by introducing myself. Hi, UCSB, I’m Drea. I’m a third-year history major studying abroad in Lyon, France. I’ve been here since August and let’s just say that it’s been one hell of a vacation. I’m not going to beat around the bush with that because it’s true — sure, I “go” to class. But I don’t like to let “class” get in the way of my travels or joie de vivre (See what I did there? I tried to be cross-cultural by saying “joy of living” in French).
If you’ve already stopped and asked yourself, “But Drea? I’ve heard of Paris, France — but Lyon? That’s crazy speak. Where is that?” To you, I say: I had that exact same question seven months ago. Lyon is the second largest metropolitan area in France — the first being Paris. It’s situated in the Rhone Alps (which means snowboarding, or as I like to call it “shredding the gnar-gnar,” in the Alps is a mere one-hour train ride away). Lyon is the hometown of modern cinema (thanks to the Lumière Brothers), and it’s the gastronomical capital of France.
What does “gastronomical capital of France” mean exactly? It means that Lyon’s culture and reputation are based largely on food — mouth-watering, taste-bud titillating, “I wish it were more socially acceptable to wear sweat pants out to dinner” food. Allow me to start by explaining (while salivating) the assortment of French cheeses. They have hundreds of specialty cheese shops and open-air markets dedicated to just finding the perfect cheese, from Camembert to Roquefort to anything in between.
I don’t want to be one of those people who comes back from being abroad and is a bigger food snob than usual — and I love you, Santa Barbara Cheese Shop — but you can’t even hold a candle to these places. I’ve come to love and appreciate some of the smelliest French cheeses (imagine smelling three-week old gym socks dipped in bourbon, and voilà — the smell of bourbon-soaked goat cheese, rolled in raisins for a sweet kick at the end of a good old-fashioned olfactory beating). Good cheese is supposed to hurt you a little bit, deep down. My stomach doesn’t agree so much with my new-found love of dairy, but to my lactose intolerance I say: “pfft” and “sorry.”
Have you ever heard of Chef Paul Bocuse? To be honest, I hadn’t before I moved here. But he’s legendary: the big-daddy of modern cuisine, if you will. He set the precedent for super-star chefs and nouvelle cuisine in the 1970s. Lyon became the belle of the gastronomical ball when Bocuse opened his restaurant here, where sausage is a serious subject for discussion (yes, sausage… as in sausage). The Lyonnais mean business when it comes to pig parts: Nothing is wasted. They’ll serve you andouillettes (pig intestines), pig’s feet and, if you’re up for it, an entire pig’s head. All with a glass of wine from Beaujolais, Cote du Rhone or Bordeaux to help mélange the savory, pig-licious (this is clearly a technical term) flavors.
The last bit of French food culture? Wine. After two years of Two Buck Chuck, “slap the bag” (my friend David and I actually tried to bring this game to France after we found boxed wine next to the juice-boxed wine… for thirsty elementary schoolers?) and “Tour de Franzia” themed parties, I didn’t think my wine-tasting experiences could get any better. But I was proven wrong again. Here in Lyon, we live in between les trois fleuves (the three rivers): the Rhone, the Saone and the Beaujolais. The Beaujolais isn’t actually a river; it’s a region close to Lyon that produces a large percentage of Lyon’s wine. In essence, this is Lyon’s metaphor for being big winos. So my suggestion is that if you find any wine from Beaujolais, Cote du Rhone or Bordeaux, don’t hesitate to drink up. I know it’s no Charles Shaw, but your taste buds will thank you later.
Lastly and non-food related, we (well not me personally, but Olympique Lyonnais, our local soccer team) just beat Real Madrid for the second time in a row in the Champion’s League last week. I’m not big on soccer (or football, as they call it in every country outside of America) but it’s always fun to cut loose, go to the local pub, drink a beer (the Isla Vistan in me misses the watery Natty Light from time to time) and yell at the screen with a bunch of soccer hooligans every once and a while. Now if only they’d let us throw tortillas onto the field and chuck a soccer goal into the ocean. That’d really be the icing on a sweet Lyonnais victory cake.
So that’s Lyon in a nutshell: It’s no Isla Vista (no Freebirds, no Kegs, no Pirate and definitely no Del Playa), but you’ve got to make do with what you have. And that’s what we have here. Until next time, mes amis (my friends) — enchanté (nice to meet you) and à tout à l’heure (see you later).