[ 00:22 thursday 3 april – haggerston road, london ]
everything is such a rush at the moment. i’ve just finished cataloguing a batch of slides going back to november and now the work begins to scan them and process some to put online. so much has already happened since i was snowboarding in breckenridge. i’d been in america for three and a half weeks but i only stayed in london four days before setting off again, this time to the south of france. the trip turned into something completely different from what i’d intended.
the plan was for me and timur to turn up unannounced on josselin’s doorstep in lyon and surprise him. josselin is a wonderful double bass player. he also plays the guitar, the piano and does a mean beatbox. he and i spent a many hours playing together during his months living with timur in london. but in january he decided he was sick of london and scuttled back to france. needless to say i missed him enormously. so when timur started planning a trans-european pilgrimage by bicycle and train, setting off from germany and hoping to end up in lisbon, it seemed like an ideal opportunity for us to cross paths in lyon and visit josselin.
unfortunately a few days after i’d booked my flights to lyon, it emerged that josselin wasn’t even going to be in lyon over easter. his uncle had rented a farmhouse near the village of nant, up in the mountains an hour north of montpellier, and the whole family was assembling there for two days. disaster. timur sheepishly confessed our thwarted plan to josselin and after some ingenious negotiation managed to secure invitations for both of us to join the family gathering. i grappled with the french railway’s ghastly website and finally managed to secure the last available seat on a tgv running from lyon to montpellier. then i reserved a car to pick up at montpellier airport (for some reason only scooters were available for rental at montpellier station).
so on easter saturday my alarm went off at half past four in the morning and my journey commenced. taxi to liverpool street, train to stansted airport, plane to lyon airport, bus to lyon part-dieu station, tgv to montpellier, arriving at two in the afternoon. waiting for me outside the station was josselin, it was marvellous to see him again. we took a taxi to montpellier airport, picked up the rental car and drove back to the station to collect timur who’d arrived from paris in the meantime. after struggling with the montpellier traffic we finally achieved escape velocity and nipped down to the coast where we ate oysters and watched with curiosity a reunion of elderly rugby players outside the restaurant one of whom suddenly stripped naked, ran down the beach and threw himself into the sea. once we’d recovered from this alarming sight we set off into the mountains, arriving at the house around seven in the evening; fourteen hours since i’d left home in london. the house was a big rambling stone structure whose various wings and turrets looked to have accreted over many centuries, set in isolation beside a tumbling stream.
gate-crashing family gatherings isn’t generally a recipe for popularity so timur and i were both a little uncertain how it was going to work out. but from that first evening josselin’s family was delightful and we were made to feel completely welcome. on easter morning we all went for a long walk up the hillside and along the limestone escarpment, eroded into fantastic jutting forms, that overlooks nant. while we were walking a succession of snow squalls passed down the valley and successively engulfed us, each with distinct boundaries almost like solid masses. afterwards we visited a chocalatier in the village and gorged ourselves silly. in the afternoon we drove up to roquefort and visited a cheese cellar excavated four stories down into the stone. i have an intense dislike for roquefort cheese which is too salty for my palette, but the town itself was engagingly bleak and strange.
on the monday we drove timur up to millau, the nearest railway, and left him slightly forlorn with a six hour wait until the next train was due. then josselin and i continued in convoy with his twin brother martin for the long drive across the massif central to lyon. for most of the journey we were in a blizzard with driving snow sweeping across the dazzling white landscape. it was a magical experience and driving was quite an adventure. at a certain point martin peeled off for his home in valence and josselin and i continued alone. as we descended onto the great rhone plain the surroundings became more industrial and the concentration of traffic increased. we stopped for a coffee and pain au chocolat in the town where josselin’s grandparents had lived. finally we reached the suburbs of lyon as the sun was setting. i dropped josselin close to his flat and faced the final challenge to find my way through the labyrinth of bypasses and intersections to reach the airport. all my criticisms of satellite navigation were forgotten, i’d have killed to have a supercilious robot barking instructions at me. but with a few hairy moments i made it.
the symbolism of lyon airport is very odd. the whole complex is dominated by one sublime piece of architecture, designed by santiago calatrava. however it’s got nothing to do with flying or aeroplanes. it’s the airport’s railway station.
: c :