It was late October, an hour before midnight, and we walked through Lyon without coats. The night was balmy, streets and squares dense with people enjoying the air – and cigarettes…
Cigarettes were not just to be smoked; they were accessories, style statements and carried with the panache of swordsmen. Couples argued using them as debating aids, jabbing the air when making a point, describing large spirals when mulling on more weighty affairs. At dusk it was like wading through a convention of fire-flies. Sometimes the cigarette would be held in midair as the smoker pondered a point. I saw a woman staring at a wall opposite, cigarette poised, as she studied the brickwork, pondering perhaps on its pattern, the molecular balance of brick-dust and mortar, or whether she may have been too hasty in voting for Francoise Hollande.
Everyone smoked: small bull-dogs, terriers and poodles, babies in prams, but especially the young; and all with conviction and style. I loathe the smell of tobacco but here it was street-theatre – when the weather was balmy. Like everywhere else in the civilised world it is strictly forbidden in restaurants and bars, and the display was more muted in rain or cold weather.
Lyon is also the home of some very fine restaurants. Exploring Rue Merciere we passed two contrasting restaurants. One was jam-packed with tables over spilling on to the pavement. The adjacent restaurant was empty. Completely empty. A waitress stood at the entrance, not so much gloomy as preoccupied with a cigarette and staring at nothing in particular. I recognised the mode. She was thinking. Possibly about liver-cake.
And perhaps it is as well now to warn you about liver-cake. I love liver – even raw – but liver-cake no! Keep it far from your mouth lest a wayward tongue be tempted. It is an abomination, even with tomato sauce. It looks inoffensive on the plate, a cake-like wedge, quivering and brown. The quivering, you might think, is warning enough. Let me put it on the record. Meaty products, even offal, should not feel like Blancmange on the tongue. It’s confusing. One set of stimuli is suggesting dessert. Your taste buds are screaming out liver.
Worse was to come. Tripe sausage is something else you might think twice about. I ate it all in the interests of research. The starter, Lyonnais Salad, was fine: poached egg on lettuce, croutons and lardoons of smoked bacon. A meal in itself. The main course, a sample of Lyonnais specialities (ie offal based) proved harder going. After the liver-cake and tripe sausage I lost the will to live never mind recall what else remained on the plate. Amnesia is a wonderful thing.
But Lyon is beautiful, worth another post - and exhortations to everyone go visit. For those interested in Praline tarte go here!