In the past few weeks I was able to visit the towns where my family lived once upon a time, ages ago. I got to see our old apartment in Grenoble, our old house in La Ravoire (which still looked exactly the same), the old schools my brother and I attended, and other places that I still have memories of from childhood.
These towns are not known as especially famous tourists destinations or anything, but I took a few pictures anyway. First is the large-ish town of Grenoble, in south-east France, not far from Lyon. I don’t know what its claim to fame is or if it has one, but the most visible attraction is the téléphérique (cable car) that ascends from downtown up to the old Fort de la Bastille on the north side of the river. From the fort you can get great views of the city. If you want some nature, you can take a hike from the fort uphill through forests to the Mémorial National des Troupes de Montagne, higher up Mont Jalla. The views are even better from there, you can get some exercise, and if you go on a random Tuesday as I did, you may be the only person at the top.
Next we have Chambéry, a small town halfway between Grenoble and Annecy. I’m sure it has no claim to fame, but it really is a picturesque, quiet, clean and very beautiful town, nestled between massive mountains. It was an idyllic place to be a kid and it doesn’t seem to have changed much over the years (by comparison Grenoble has definitely changed over the past 30 years and probably not for the better).
There is a four-sided elephant fountain in downtown Chambéry that my brothers and I always thought was very exciting. It is approaching 200 years old and the elephants are still shooting water out of their trunks.
The Chambéry cathedral is not very large and looks very plain on the outside, but the inside is covered in the largest collection of trompe l’œil in all of Europe (a type of painting meant to “trick the eye”). I have to say the effect is quite convincing and it fooled me completely at first.
I don’t know if there is any special reason why anyone needs to visit their childhood haunts again after such a long time, clear on the other side of the globe, and that is not the reason I came to France in the first place. But since I am here it seemed a shame not to, so anyway, I can now check that off the list.
Otherwise life is going on here in Annecy. I’ve been fortunate to find a Meetup group where French locals get together with expats in order to practice English and other languages and generally just to meet new people and be exposed to other cultures. For the first time in a year I am no longer a stranger wandering around in complete isolation, in fact I have a more active social life now than I did back in America (which admittedly is not saying much).
I’ve been here about two months. The beginning was stressful as usual but the adjustment was relatively quick. By now I have my familiar bakery. I go to the cathedral every day, or the basilica. I know my way all around town without looking at a map, even around the narrow windy streets of the vieille ville. I take the bus all the time hither and fro without trouble. My French is still exécrable but has at least improved to the point where interacting in stores and shops is no longer much of a problem. I quit reading the news a few months ago, I am to the point now where I strictly avoid even glancing at a headline out of the corner of my eye. I have no idea what is going on in the world, nor could I care less. Life here is beautiful, and slow. The lake reflects the enormous sky in all her moods, the trees along the river Thiou have turned yellow, snow is slowly starting to creep down the sides of the mountains, and the peaks are swirling in mists. The nights are cold, but during the day the white swans still paddle around near the shore. I bought a nice coat and some better shoes that don’t need glueing every night. People blather on in French everywhere I go, and somehow, some of those people are actually in my contacts list on my phone.
I started this train of thought by saying that “life is going on here in Annecy.” Indeed, without being very aware of the process at first, I have discovered that in fact I do now have a life here. I have a daily routine, my job, a place to live, friends and acquaintances, things to do. I am not itching to move on to the next place or see the next great thing. Day-to-day life is satisfying. I have no desire to leave or change or do anything different, I could stay here indefinitely and be content. In fact, I am already happy. In double fact, about the only thing that would make me unhappy at this point is if I were forced to leave.
Which, therefore, is of course precisely what I will be forced to do very soon. Back in the real world which I have managed to forget about for a while, there are still such things as visas, and bureaucracies, and coronavirus, and who knows what else that I wished there wasn’t.
But there will probably be time enough for another blog post or two before the end. I will try to keep them cheerful!