Dec

15

From the Issue: Letter from Lyon

Written by

It’s coming! We promise! Meanwhile, one more teaser, from our Parisian
lyon
correspondent Sumaiya Ahmed. 

I keep thinking about the hot pink curtains Benoite puts up for wintertime, how she changes them to white for spring. The pink matches the flowers on her balcony, the cyclamens I brought her from a marché the other day. The red, mint greens, and creams in the living room chatter with the colors in her paintings on the walls. The white sunlight falls softly on the wooden floors. On days like this, you say the sunlight is “plat” or flat, Benoite tells me and I repeat it, like everything I hear on the streets or on the metro, in whispers to myself, “plat soleil, plat….”   

There is a string of glass beads on every door handle, notes tucked into the edges of a mirror, an evil eye amulet hanging over the toilet paper, a chart tracing the origins of alphabets to ancient Syrian underneath the sink. The apartment is on the fifth floor, sixth to an American, and there is no elevator. On the door outside of the apartment, Benoite has posted a note: “Vous êtes arrivé. C’est bien ici.” You have arrived. It’s good here.   

I am in Lyon for a week on a home stay trip that Columbia’s Reid Hall program organizes to give students a glimpse of French culture outside of Paris, and I don’t want to leave. I want to sit on the steps by the river Rhône and watch skateboarders twist under the brilliant sunlight all day, the waters scintillating. Children will fold paper boats and watch them float at the bottom of the steps, where grey concrete encloses a flat surface of water about one inch deep. On a hot day you can dip your feet. That spot makes me miss Low steps so badly.   

It was Benoite who spotted me at Gare de Lyon. She is petite with short, silver blond hair and hazel eyes that droop a little at the sides, wearing a string of silver beads around her neck and earrings to match. She is 59 years old, lives in this apartment in the Algerian quarter of Lyon, a city just two hours south of Paris by le train à grande vitesse. I can still see, looking into this memory seven weeks later, the rural landscapes fleeting outside the windows, me trying to get it down: two lines for a telephone pole, a line for the horizon.   

This has happened many times before. I have to take pictures of the apartment because I fear my memory won’t retain my mental notes, the big blow-up plastic globe in the living room, her lavender soap. I have already forgotten so many of the French words that Benoite taught me.   

The memories that I will no doubt retain are culinary: melon with salt (try it!); her zucchini soup, so creamy; small apples we pick from the countryside, where her daughter Caroline resides; the wine grapes we eat off the vine; slim glasses steaming with thé à la menthe.  In the ten minutes we have to spare before a movie, Benoite makes pasta in cream sauce with salmon from the marché. “We’ll add a little bit of lime juice,” she says. “Though I know not what the cream will say…we’ll see!”   

The Paris I love, the marché along rue Mouffetard, the bread, the butter, is not unique. C’est typique. Lyon, however, Lyon I love in terms of Benoite.

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16 Comments

  1. cupcake  

    FIRST! because i love sumaiya! suck it josh.

  2. eeeeeeeeeeeee  

    yay for sumaiya!

  3. Bwog....  

    Sumaiya's cool and all, but seriously Bwog, stop sucking (or I'll be forced to revert to calling you BWOG).

  4. EWWW  

    EW. i just found a fair in the dumplings they sell at Cafe East / 212

  5. uumm.  

    this post is well-written in terms of imagery and in terms of the message she gets across. however, a lot of the specific wording is totally awkward and a little passive.

    also, sumaiya is actually completely uncool. she's self-righteous and whiney, but i guess a lot of Columbia students would consider that 'cool.'

  6. Anonymous  

    As someone who admires Sumaiya as a close friend and as a writer, I find your comment pathetic and suggestive of your own shortcomings.

    First, you present an unclear critique of her writing (I'm glad you assumed we all knew what "totally awkward and a little passive" wording you were referring to).

    Then, you make an inappropriate ad hominem attack, uncalled for not only because it has no relevance to her writing but also because it is completely unfounded. I lived with her for a year, and Sumaiya is one of the kindest, most humble students whom I have met at Columbia.

    To top it off, you make your foolish remarks anonymously. You don't have the courage to stand by your own malicious statements?

    You are actually completely uncool. You are unclear, malicious, and hide behind a nameless post, I guess a lot of Columbia students would consider that 'cool.'

  7. gaaaaah  

    I can't wait for study abroad in paris!

  8. EAL  

    Wow, I guess I won't be criticizing any of Josh's friends any time soon. Way to stick up for her though, man.

  9. wow  

    this is just beautiful! nicely done

  10. i like this  

    Her writing is good, though the whole "Wow, Paris" + delicate ruminations thing annoys me. I DON'T LIKE SENTIMENTALITY. STOP NOSTALGIZING.

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