Ewan McIntyre: Lyon, Paris, and Pétunia the lap dog - A legal letter from France ‘part deux’
Ewan McIntyre is a consultant to Burness Paull and expert in professional negligence and financial services litigation with over 25 years’ experience. He is currently enjoying a secondment with Racine, one of the main independent French law firms, in its Lyon office.
There are risks to keeping your beloved lap dog in a shoulder bag. I will come back to that.
Meantime, thanks to everyone who commented on my first ‘Letter from Lyon’. The city has transitioned from glorious late summer with blue skies and warm days to early autumn, with more cloud and rain showers. However, the Lyonnais spirit remains captivating. There is a quirkiness here that is not easily described.
You might get a flavour for it if I mention the neighbourhood bar with a ceiling entirely covered by roses in full bloom. They appear as if in a field growing downwards, with a full sized shopping bike riding through them, fixed to the ceiling. Bars such as those are often packed in the evening, with folk spilling out onto the pavements. Also on the bike theme, my spirits were lifted on a wet morning commute recently when I witnessed locals cycling one handed to their jobs, with umbrellas held aloft in the other. Emergency stops would have been interesting.
The quirkiness also shone through in one lady I encountered on the pavement as I emerged from my preferred boulangerie with the daily baguette rustique, on the way home after a morning run. I shop there because although the owner clearly disapproves of my unkempt appearance after pounding the streets, the assistant is always cheery, and she and I engage in a bit of banter. Much to the frustration of others in the queue. Perhaps they don’t know I need to road-test new vocabulary. Anyway, my new friend on the pavement could have been a clairvoyant, or straight from Woodstock. She had an eclectic appearance with coloured streaks in her hair, dangly earrings and might have been pushing retirement age. At one time I would have dodged her, but she asked me for directions to the closest organic supermarket. I was able to point her in vaguely the right direction.
It transpired that she lived in the suburbs but made a point of getting the métro to a stop miles from her destination. This routine gave her exercise walking the rest of the way. She got out of me that I was from the UK and launched into a warm but direct cross examination on what I thought of the Brexit goings on in, as she put it, “England”. It would have been easy to have underestimated this quirky lady’s awareness of the subtleties of current affairs, and my day was much the better for having met her.
In my last ‘Letter’ I promised to leave any Brexit commentary until now so that I could reflect on it as we transitioned into November. However things have changed yet again on that front, and I need say no more. Halloween here was quite an event for other reasons. A relatively recent import to France, it is not reserved for the excitable kids roaming the streets in fancy dress and dipping into shops for free sweets (by the way, Lyon has its own vocabulary and kids are ‘gones’ in the local dialect). Halloween was also embraced by the next generation filling the streets and the bars in fabulously impressive fancy dress reminiscent of Mexico City’s Day of the Dead celebration. Quite an atmosphere.
Happily, the next day is All Saints Day, a French holiday, and when out for a run the next morning I encountered a trio still partying. Looking like the Addams Family in broad daylight might not have been their plan when they headed out the evening before, but they were in fine form, and at least the holiday will have let them recover before things kicked off again for the weekend.
Travel to and from Paris, and other cities connected by the TGV high speed train, is part of business life in Lyon. I have had a few trips to Paris, which takes much the same time as the drive from Glasgow to Edinburgh on the M8 during a wet rush hour, and it was on one of those Paris trips that I learnt the risks of keeping your dog in a bag. Picture the scene reader. Two elegantly dressed ladies of a certain age, lunching in a restaurant in the Marais, with precious Pétunia the dog, in a bag next to one of them. All that was visible was a small head with tufts of white hair being fed titbits. To Pétunia’s right was a staircase to the lower floor. For reasons I cannot explain, from those stairs emerged a cat. The agitated Pétunia, zipped into her handbag like a kid in a sleeping bag, became unbalanced, fell from the seat, bag and all, and rolled down the stairs. Much fuss later, the dog’s general wellbeing was confirmed, and lunch resumed.
Having imparted that life lesson, in what I expect to be my third and final letter I will share with you my reflections on business life in Lyon.