09 December, 2008

Fete des Lumieres.

Unfortunately, boys and girls, today's story will be without illustrations, as the narrator's camera, realizing it now lives in the greatest country in the world (...), has gone truly local: it has gone on strike. It won't even oblige your gentle narrator by turning on. Not even when she shakes it, vigorously.

Life, however, goes on, and the narrator went, en famille, to visit her friend Delphine, who lives in a charming old apartment (early 1700s) in the old center of Lyon. The narrator decided to make this trip right when 4 million others also come to Lyon. Aah, you say. But of course! The narrator loves very large crowds...


Once upon a time--in 1643 to be exact--Lyon was being ravaged by the plague. The prosperous city's leaders, under siege, swore Lyon's eternal fealty to Mother Mary if the town was spared.

And it was.

So from that point on, her mercy was recognized and remembered by the city. In the 1850s, they decided to put up a statue of the Virgin Mary, overlooking the city. The inauguration of the statue was supposed to happen on the eighth of September, which is considered to be the anniversary of the birth of the Virgin Mary.

But then it began to rain. Very much. The river flooded the city, including the workshop where the statue was being prepared to be covered with ten kilos of pure gold. There was great uncertainty about what to do next. The Archbishop, however, wanted his party. And so it was agreed that the statue would be unveiled on December the 8th, which is the date the Lyonnais believed was the anniversary of merciful Mary's immaculate conception. Yes, for the people of Lyon there have been two immaculate births. But I digress.

By December the eighth, everything was in place; fireworks and Bengal flares were to be launched, bands were to serenade the procession. It was to be the event of the century.

But then it began to rain. It rained all day. The flares and fireworks were soaked through and spoiled. All seemed lost, yet again.

Then, just before sunset, the sky cleared. And, one by one, the people of Lyon began lighting candles and placing them in their windows. There was a run on the shops, every available candle was bought and lit, as the whole city lit up and came together in celebration. The procession wended its way up the hill and the new statue was unveiled, to the joy of all. The people sang songs, and shouts of "Vive Marie!" and "Merci Marie!" were heard deep into the night.

(Your humble narrator learned this by watching a children's shadow puppet show, complete with period costume. On the shadow puppets, not the puppeteers.)

Today, the lighting engineers of Lyon have become famous for their skill in lighting the beautiful old buildings of Lyon and amplifying the Fete des Lumieres. Sound, sculpture, water, and even scent, are incorporated with light to sometimes spectacular effect. The installations are across the city, every night for three nights, and vary in complexity and size. Each year, the city of Lyon has a different theme for the festival. But on the eighth itself, everyone still puts candles in all the windows of all of Lyon.

The end.

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