Friday, September 19, 2014

Lingering in Lyon

Yarn Vender
Since it looked like I could do three museums in a day if I worked at it, I decided to get another Lyon three- day card and took off for the silk district ~ Croix Rousse. The subways are a dream; easy to get on and off and easy to navigate. What is not so apparent is how to find ‘tourist attractions’ in the Croix Rousse area. I did wander through a few street venders selling kitchen goods, underwear, casual clothes, yarn and a hundred other items before I hooked up with a Near-Normal lady from from Australia. Val and I had a lovely time getting lost, found and lost again. We finally got to the Maison des Canuts, a working silk jacquard business. The young lady at the desk was very kind and patient. She showed us how to find the famous ‘Painted Wall’ (Le Mur des Canuts) and let us know that we could go see it and come back in plenty of time to make the jacquard weaving tour. The tour is given in French and in English and is all about this tightly woven silk fabric that only the very wealthy can afford (White House, Kremlin, kings and queens, movie stars, etc.). The looms are huge and it
takes a month to string the miles of thread needed for a specific length of fabric; they know ahead of time how much fabric they are making and load that amount of thread onto the loom. Different colors of silk thread are also loaded onto bobbins that are put in shuttles, then used at intervals to
Left to Right: Shuttles, Loom, Punch Card Pattern
make lovely patterns. The weavers (canuts) have to memorize the patterns or continuously refer to a pattern sheet. It takes about seven hours to weave 30 centimeters (approximately 12 inches) of 60” wide fabric. Usually women do the actual weaving with men doing the threading and setting up of the loom. All of this is still done by hand; however, there is a punch card pattern that controls which warp threads are lifted for the shuttles to go under. The punch card is actually a binary ‘computer’; the holes program the loom to lift threads while the areas with no holes allow the threads to remain in place. I’m still not clear on just what drives the card through what part of the loom to make the warp threads move; it’s an amazing process. The punch cards are made by another set of crafts people and now, rather than being hand drawn, the completed pattern the punchers work from is generated by computer drawing programs. These are printed out on graph paper for the weavers to read with one line representing one thread and 10 lines (threads) per millimeter. It’s all very time consuming and exacting, which is why all of their cloth is ordered rather than having cloth woven for someone ‘on spec’. Our docent did some weaving for us; because she’s not a weaver it took her about five minutes to weave one line. Professional weavers complete about two lines per minute. In her defense, she was using several colors of weaving thread to make the pattern, telling us about the process and answering questions all at the same time.

Since we had two hours before the next tour of Sollerie-Vivante, Val and I hunted for a place
to eat and found a local (very local) café. In my disastrous French I asked the owner if we could have lunch and he agreed. Unlike many of the folks I’d interacted with in Lyon, he had no (zippo, nadda, naught) English. We nearly had to stand on our heads to get a salad, and he was not at all sure that it was what we really wanted. But, it was a nice mix of lettuce (a bit gritty in places) with a fresh tomato and some really crusty bread. He kept looking askance at us, but we kept saying ‘Merci bien’ and he kept chuckling. Paying was equally funny because as we each paid for our own lunch he kept trying to tell us that we had to pay the total bill rather than just half. All worked out fine in the end, much to his delight and to the great amusement of his regular customers who thought we were barking mad for sitting outside and only having a salad for lunch.

In a very old house, up a flight of well-worn stairs and behind a closed door is Sollerie-Vivante. This is the last trim/ribbon making shop in Lyon that is still family owned. The family members who are making the ribbon (if there still are any) are ancient. Surely there is
Left to Right: Shuttles, Ribbon, Woven Portrait, Loom
someone younger making new decorations. This is the type of ribbon and/or trip you’d see on the robes of catholic priests, monarchs and other such official folks. These looms now run on electricity rather than a man turning a wheel to lift the threads on the loom and a woman sliding a long stick with several shuttles on it back and forth. Instead of using shuttles that are about a foot long, the bobbins are inside shuttles that are maybe four inches. The thread is gold, silver, or colored silk and exceedingly fine. The large looms make probably 20 pieces of ribbon at a time. The width of the ribbon varies by order, but once it is set on the loom, that’s all that is made on that loom. The shuttles are propelled back and forth as the punch cards (substantially smaller than the ones at the Maison des Canuts) are read by the loom. One loom makes a ghastly racket; I can’t imagine what it’s like in the room that houses several of these mechanisms. They also have one jacquard loom that has to be hand operated. On display were weavings so fine that I thought I was looking at a black/white picture or at worst a picture from a newspaper. The young lady who gave this presentation only spoke French, so it was really good that we’d been to the Maison des Canuts earlier.

Back out on the streets, Le Mur des Canuts is at the corner of Boulevard des Canuts and
Three views of Le Mur des Canuts
the rue Denfert-Rochereau. As with most places, once you find it, it’s not hard to find. This mural, like the others in Lyon, was created by Cité de la Création. In 1986 this was a blank wall (of course) then was painted as a tribute to the canuts. It became such a popular attraction that the City of Lyon embraced their efforts and made this a part of the city’s culture. In 1997 the painting was updated to reflect the changes in this part of the city and the people in the original paintings were aged 10 years. Fifteen years later, in 2013, the painting was again updated to reflect the evolution of the area. Again, people in the painting are aged, the plant growth is added, and the buildings are updated. It’s really quite a fantastic piece of art, and the history of it makes it even more interesting. I would have loved to really climb those stairs!

Le Mur des Canuts is only one of the approximately 250 murals in Lyon. I got to linger in front of two more intriguing examples of the art presented by Cité de la Création. At the
History of Lyon
corner of quai St Vincent and rue de la Martinière is an 800m² mural representing 2000 years of history. Featured are 25 historical and six contemporary figures from Lyon (see Only Lyon for a complete listing by level). Favorites among these are Laurent Mourguet and Guignol, Le Petit Prince and Antoine de St-Exupéry, Auguste and Louis Lumière and the unnamed can-can dancer who is mooning the passersby. This is one of those places that you can visit time and again only to find new details that previously escaped your notice.

The librarians on this trip went nuts when they saw the Mur des Ecrivains. Located at the
Lyon Authors
intersection of rue de la Platière and quai de la Pêcherie, this mural features about 300 writers who were either born or worked in Lyon. Of course the librarians immediately spotted Le Petit Prince and author Saint-Exupery. They also found references to Voltaire, Rabelais, Frédéric Dard and Louise Labé. I found the Xerox machine and the snacks in the book store represented on the lower level. Evidently Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christi, Rex Stout, Laurell K Hamilton or Elizabeth Peters never worked in Lyon.

I had many other adventures in Lyon; some may turn up in subsequent blog postings. One of the most pleasant things about this city, other than meeting and touring with Val, is the friendliness of the French. While I’ve never been treated badly anywhere in France, I’ve always made a point to speak some French and to keep in mind that I’m not in the US. Surprisingly a lot of English is spoken in Lyon and although I wasn’t asked to speak English rather than using my French, I’m sure several folks wished I had! Almost every time I spoke in French to someone, other than the hotel maid, the person switched to English immediately. Perhaps they were just looking for someone with whom to practice their English? Maybe not. 
Cynthia and Val
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