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Sunday, February 4, 2018

Life on Chapponay

During my time in Lyon, I stayed with Sisters Rose and Marie Philippe in an apartment on Chapponay Street. They are Sisters of St. Joseph from the Congregation of Lyon. Rose was a parish minister and Marie Philippe was a teacher. They have lived together in Lyon for the past 45 years. During that time between 1-4 other sisters have lived with them. 

In their place on Chapponay, the sisters have two apartments. Rose and Marie Philippe live on the fifth floor ("le cinquième"). Meals, TV, the community gathering, and Internet are all available on the fifth floor. The second floor apartment ("le deuxième") has 3 bedrooms, a kitchen and bathroom. Over the years, 1-3 sisters have either lived there or stayed there during their travels to Lyon. I lived on the second floor.

My life in "le deuxième" has to be rated as a luxury: I was alone and had the run of the apartment. I treated this as a gift and truly enjoyed having the freedom to come and go as I wanted. The sisters also let me know that it was ok to not show up for every meal. I took advantage of this invitation by going to a restaurant by myself or more usually, with friends.  

Tour of "Le Deuxième"
My bedroom was comfortably simple, adequately equipped, and large enough to meet my needs.

The kitchen did not have a stove, but the sisters supplied it with a hot plate, microwave and electric teapot. The refrigerator (lower left) was small but big enough for my food. The appliance in the center with its top ajar is a small washing machine. Wedged between it and the black cupboard is the drying rack. Since there was no dryer, I air-dried my clothes and towels. I discovered that if I raised the heat to its highest level, my laundry would dry in about 24 hours (one of my little problem solving exercises). 

A view of the kitchen from its entrance.

The entrance to the apartment is through the door in the center left just behind my coats. Directly across from it is my bedroom. The bathroom is the door at the end of the hall and to the left of it is the shower. The kitchen is in the foreground to the right.

Daily Routine
My morning routine usually started between 5-6 a.m. (not my choice, I'd just wake up). I'd pray the office in English and read the Scriptures in French. Sometimes I'd do a little journaling. If I had homework, I dug right into it until about 7:30 a.m. when I had breakfast. About 8:15 I'd take my shower and do my exercises.

Breakfast was usually half a baguette with butter, tea, sometimes yogurt or sometimes an orange. During breakfast I'd either read a French magazine, do some homework, look at vocabulary words, or listen to a French radio station. I'd also make my lunch, which usually consisted of a sandwich and an apple. Only rarely did I eat out for lunch on school days.

My morning baguette came fresh from the boulangerie, which was 2 blocks away. If I made it there about 7:30, the baguette was just out of the oven, which made the butter melt. (I'm not a big butter fan, but French butter is unbelievably good and it goes well with a fresh baguette.) 

School started at 10 a.m. The day was divided accordingly: Session A 10-11:30, a 15-minute break, Session B 11:45-12:30, an hour for lunch, Session C 1:30-3 p.m. Teachers were rotated every day, but for the morning sessions, the same teacher stayed with us. 

Because I finished school at 3 p.m. and we didn't eat dinner until 7, I usually got hungry between 4-5 p.m. I had to be very disciplined NOT to stop at the tiny sandwich shop for the world's best fries, or the boulangerie for a chausson (apple turnover), or a café for a cappuccino or chocolat chaud, or the grocery store for potato chips. A few times I did give in to these temptations, but usually I went home and had a snack of peanuts, salad, soup, or fruit. Sometimes I just took a nap to forget that I was hungry and that would carry me through to dinner.

Le Petit Casino grocery store a couple blocks away was one of my favorite haunts. Although I ate dinner with the sisters, I bought my own breakfast and lunch. Figuring out what to get for these meals and snacks became an exercise in creative problem solving and financial management. The Petit Casino sold a lot of prepared foods and although I usually try to shy away from such things, I did buy them in Lyon because I didn't have the facilities to cook. Nevertheless, I found these meals to be very tasty. The real victory was the day I tried out the hot plate to make soup and hard boiled eggs. If I had stayed at Chapponay longer, I'm sure I would have been more adventurous.
This stuff below, for example, only cost 25 euros--and it lasted more than a week! 

Life with the Sisters
We all joined together for our evening meal at 7 p.m. It usually consisted of vegetable soup veloute (vegetables pulverized into a liquid), some kind of vegetable dish, fruit or dessert. The sisters also offered me cheese since I didn't have any for lunch as they did. Rose usually cooked, and I usually did the dishes. We'd usually talk about our day and there was much to talk about. 

We'd then watch the news at 8 p.m. Sometimes there was an interesting program at 9 p.m., and I'd stay and watch it. (It was an opportunity to practice French. Documentaries were especially good for this endeavor because they spoke more slowly than the news journalists.) Most of the time I'd go to my computer and catch up on American news, check e-mail and Facebook, and/or do my homework. I'd usually "descend" to my apartment between 9:30-10:30 p.m. and get ready for bed by reading a book in English. I actually read more books in Lyon than I have in a long time. These books included:

My Life in France by Julia Child (something I could identify with as a first timer in France)

We Were 8 Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-nehisi Coates (fascinating, sad, and engaging)

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (pretty spooky)

A Year in the Merde by Stephen Clark (an Englishman's experience living and working in Paris with comments on the culture)

Andersonville: A Story of Rebel Military Prisons by John McElroy (I've wanted to read this book for years, but for some reason decided to read it; it is a fascinating account of life in the worst Southern prison during the Civil War.)

Weekends were free days so I'd usually read French magazines, do some housekeeping, complete homework assignments, practice French grammar or read English books. On Saturdays I'd go to the market, grocery store, or the bookstore in Place Bellecour as well as 4 p.m. Mass at St. Bonaventure's (12th century building). Among the highlights was a cooking class and a Hammam, a Middle Eastern sauna. 

This Hammam is a woman-only place that offers skin care, facials, hair dressing, hot oil massages, depilatory waxing, and God knows what else! Most of the women there were young Frenchwomen. There are several other Hammams in town, so I think this is something the French do to care about their skin. The sauna was hot and yet relaxing; sometimes they added a healing scent like lavender to the steam. After about 30 minutes in the sauna, a woman was available to scrub the old skin off my body. She spared no muscle and my treatment lasted for weeks before a new layer of old skin appeared! Unlike any other spa-like place I've experienced, there were couchs available to stretch out and sleep after the treatment. After such a strenuous scrubbing, I certainly needed it!

On weekends we had the main meal together at noon. It consisted of some kind of meat with vegetables, cheese, fruit, dessert, wine, and coffee. We'd eat and talk together for about 90 minutes. Rose usually cooked, and Marie Philippe washed the dishes. 

One Sunday, Rose's niece and her family came for dinner, so it was nice to experience a French family gathering. The kids (19, 15, 12, 10) were all well-behaved and everyone sat at the table for about 2 hours. Then, as though a signal had gone off, the kids left the table. Mom and Dad went out on the balcony for a smoke. Finally, the whole family went out for a walk with Rose along the Rhône River. 

On other occasions, sisters from in-town or out-of-town visited on Saturday or Sunday. Rose and Marie Philippe may have been retired, but their lives on Chapponay were always in motion with visitors, their own travels, or activities with the sisters of the Congregation.

Many Thanks!!
I am grateful to Rose and Marie Philippe for allowing me to stay with them this winter. They made me feel comfortable, and they were willing to let me practice my French. (They proved to be very patient and kind women in this regard!) They listened intently to my activities and shared a bit of their lives with me. I also learned a lot about French culture from them, and for that, I am even more grateful.


  1. Thank you for your story! The pictures are great, too! I am living vicariously in France through your blog!