Grenoble was my first glimpse of France. I flew in expecting to see the Eiffel tower under the airborne plane wings and with fond memories of past French housemates in my mind. Aside from this, I didn’t know much. I am not a Francophile, can say 4 words in French and choose a far different and northern identity for my stint as a European resident. As I strolled out of the airplane ramp onto the concrete below the small plane at the Lyon airport, I saw trees, blue skies and a plastic tunnel heading into the building and out of the cold. I was still blinking my way into believing I was there, much like I blinked my way into saying “Ok I’ll go!” as I paced around the empty patio of my workplace a month or so before.
It seemed that I hadn’t seen my brother in a year. We puzzled about this as we traveled on a shuttle bus into a foggy, mountainous landscape. My brother and I shared a big hug, which can be difficult when you are weighed down with an overstuffed backpack and are 5’7″ trying to hug a 6’5″ guy. He looked very french, young, modern, active, grad-student French. Aaron was wearing a bright green T-shirt with some modernized icon of a mountain on it and light blue cloth pants. The only pants he had. At all.
My first beverage was a hot chocolate from an airport cafe. It was brown water compared to the hot chocolate in Paris. But the thought was wonderful and it was a nice rest till we waited for the shuttle bus- ran back inside to get the right ticket, ran back to the shuttle and loaded a train. It took about 45 minutes to finish the public transit portion of the trip. I was ready to figure out France when we stepped out of the metro station in Grenoble. It was drizzling, gusty and cold as I pulled my rolling suitcase behind me, over the cobblestone, curving sidewalk. We passed quietly ornate buildings. They were just fancy enough to remind you that we were in France. Up the teeny-tiny elevator with the manual door and into the white apartment for a Baguette and Cheese. Yes, we are in France. The Comte was really good – like a smooth, sweet Cheddar.
Later, we just walked around with Patrisse, one of the roommates. Patrisse was actually French, so I felt sheepish talking to him in my Californian way. They found and I followed a packed bar on a shadowy side street. We waited for a good long while for anyone to give us a menu. The waiter was chummy with all of us. It was like he knew my brother and Patrisse. I could only motion pathetically at the menu when he talked to me in French. Then he switched to English, and figured out that I was the American’s sister. Yep, I have been confused for many nationalities, but French has never been one.
The beer was reviving and tasty. It was fun watching what appeared to be a French ladies night as this group of women laughed loudly nearby. Aaron’s beer tasted like vinegar. We sat by the door and I looked over the stuccoed walls and the little cartoon man someone has painted, pushing a barrel over the corner. I found that people were not so serious in Grenoble, more interested in a bike-ride followed by simple dining experiences.
Afterwards, we found tacos. Or….well I am not sure what they were. They weren’t tacos. It was schwarma-esque with some spicy-sweet sauce, cooked like a panini, and called a taco. Whatever, it was good.
A wandering around the city blocks, where the balconies just hang confidently like the mountaintops behind them, to sleep and face French day 2