Monday, October 20, 2008


Judging from my experience, one of the best parts of the entire study abroad process concerns the assignments that are allotted to the students. For example, at the beginning of this week, our Professor informed us that we would be working together in order to construct a tour for her! For our research, she gave us a fairly short book entitled Courtyards & Traboules of Lyon, which was written be Gérald Gambier, the nephew of a Lyon native who introduced Gambier to the mysteries of Lyon’s traboules at a very young age.

Overall, we were very excited to begin upon this particular task and couldn’t wait to get our hands on that book! In one evening’s work, our group (which is mostly made up of female Theater Arts majors concentrating in Acting, Directing, and/or Dance) had constructed everything feasibly possible for a tour. For example, we came up with a catchy name for our tour service, “Avec La Gauche Touring,” which happens to also serve as an inside joke for us all (including our professor). We also determined our ensembles for the day. In an attempt to look more professional and pulled together, we agreed on pulling all of our hair back into ponytails or buns, wearing silver hoop earrings, and dressing in completely black attire. Of course, the last requirement concerning “black” attire also came into being due to the fact that we wanted to poke fun at the “gothic” element of the architecture of some of the traboules, but it seemed professional nonetheless. Finally, we determined which particular traboules we would visit, made up cue cards with information about each one, and separated the tasks of guiding the tour, giving the history of the traboules, speaking about each particular traboules featured on our trip, and answering questions.

When the tour began, we meet our professor in Plas Bellecour while holding a sign that read: Avec La Gauche Touring. It most definitely set the mood. Right afterward, our two predetermined “guides” gave Wendy very specific information and directions regarding the tour. Such tidbits of knowledge included how she should not be scared by the great amount of walking that we would all be partaking in, how we all needed to remain somewhat quiet and respectful while inside the traboules because they are actually surrounded by multiple residencies, and how she ought to “keep all hands and feet inside the moving vehicle at all times.”’

Of course, the first question out of our professor’s mouth concerned the meaning of the word traboule. Apparently, although she had signed up for this tour, our client did not know what she was about to experience. We explained that traboules are hidden, somewhat underground passages for travel that originated in Lyon and date all the way back to the fourth century. Many include hidden courts and are built and decorated in a myriad of architectural treasures in both the gothic and renaissance styles. Overall, there are five hundred in the entire city of Lyon, which connect over 230 streets and make it easier to travel through this hilly landscape, especially when it is raining or the like.

As we walked along the streets making our way into Vieux-Lyon (Old Lyon) in order to find rue Saint Jean where all of our tour’s traboules were located, our “Canut Historian” described how the lives of these silk weavers connected in a very direct way to the underground system of traboules. Simply put, silk cannot get wet, so the silk workers used to use the traboule system in order to transport their material safely from one location to another. Of course, this wasn’t the only use for traboules, and it wasn’t necessarily why the traboules were built, but it was very important and helped to keep the silk industry afloat. Other reasons behind the creation of the traboules include how commerce was first being run on the Saone River (shippers could deposit their goods directly into the cellars of the merchants, and the merchants cellars would open up into the street on the other end) and the fact that property plots used to be divided so narrowly in the Middle Ages that access to the structures had to be built below them in order to optimize the space.

As the tour progressed, we took Wendy to see five different traboules that all had very particular and intriguing elements to their design. For example, one featured a stairwell with a very striking spiral core, another was made up of architectural elements all found in the Renaissance style, another was the actual home of a printer Guillaume Leroy, the fourth one connected two streets of Lyon through a maze-like passage of four courts and stairs, and the final one featured one of the finest wells in all of Old Lyon! Overall, the girls speaking about these particular traboules had a lot of very "perky and smiley" information to share with Wendy. Each one pointed out the symbolic elements and highlighted the important qualities that could be found such as the way the sunlight was able to stream into the stairwells or the colors that had been chosen to paint the walls. Plus, the viewing of these traboules opened up the floor for questions regarding what qualifies a passage as an actual traboule, where traboules can be found in literary works, and what steps the city of Lyon has taken in order to preserve these amazing and somewhat mysterious historical sites.

In conclusion, our professor, who happened to be completely floored with the creativity, effort, and research that had been required by our version of “Avec La Gauche” touring company, decided to give us all a special treat: A free cone of ice cream! It was the first time (and probably the last) that I’d ever been rewarded by a professor with such a magnificent form of appreciation, and personally, I couldn’t help but to think my ice cream reward was almost as good as seeing an “A” written at the top of a research paper. However, even so, having this hands on learning experience meant SO much more to me than a research paper ever could. You see, with a little help from Gambier’s book, I learnt everything necessary to know about the traboules of Lyon, and since I was able to actually see them in person, smell them, feel them, and exist within them, I was so much more connected to them. They had a real, tangible relevance in my life. They had a meaning beyond written text. I was emotional connected to them, and ever since our tour ended, I just can’t help but to feel like a true traboules historian!

Avec l'Amour,

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