Friday, November 14, 2008

Lyon’s Corner House

We spent All Saints weekend in Lyon, France’s second city. It sits between the Rhone and Saône, and it’s where the two rivers converge. Fittingly, for the weekend of the dead, it rained almost non-stop. There’s a block of flats on a corner in Lyon, one side of which is flat, windowless and pretty boring. Or was, until a local art school decided to make it a monumental trompe l’oeil. A lot of people chipped in money for paints, ladders, etc. and this is the result. Even standing right in front of it it’s hard to tell if the windows, cats, cars etc. are real. They're not: only the delivery van and the pedestrian crossings out front are real.

The next weekend we were in Palermo, Sicily. It is one of those cities whose fictional image is so intense that it obscures its factual one. Oh yes, there’s still a Mafia presence all right, but the visitor doesn’t see it – unlike St. Petersburg, where the mobsters sit proudly in their smoky-windowed Mercedes as they speed along the pavements. What the tourist sees is what travel brochures call a "bustling" city that lies between a blue crescent-shaped bay and a concentric semi-circle of green mountains. There are baroque churches in dozens and almost as many medieval monasteries. The picture is a 12th century mosaic the size of a cricket pitch.
Its cathedral is a hodgepodge of architectural history, from Roman to Moorish to Norman to Baroque with a touch of Gothic – yet strangely harmonious.
We were a group of “mature students” who, almost 12 years ago, met in the semi-circular piazza in front of the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena and every year since then have deserted our patient partners to go off to some historic European city for a weekend of museums, galleries and food. The main difference this time was that – thanks to a strike of Alitalia air crews - the weekend became almost a week. One of us is still waiting for his suitcase.

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