Thursday, September 25, 2014


After the big mural, we pile back into the taxis to visit the live silk-weavers in the Croix-Rousse quartier of Lyon. We head for the workshop of Monsieur Georges Mattelon. M. Mattelon died in 2004 at 91, but we'd met him the first time I went to the workshop on a quilters' tour. I might even have been  there one more time before his death. Silk fabric was being woven at that time, although it may have been for demonstration purposes, rather than production.

We were warned when we came in that the workshop was a mess. I get the impression that they are not usually receiving visitors, but there is a core of people who want to clean it up for more of a museum-type use.

 Our group troops up two tall floors of narrow stairs to the workshop.

We are greeted by one of the four main silk-weaving machines in the room. We are a little cramped for space with so many people, so I really can't tell you which machine does which weaving process.

Here's the little critter at the heart of the whole thing. Think of those green tomato worms that can chaw down your tomato plants overnight. These remind me of those. Imagine discovering that you can pull a strand, a very long, lightweight, very strong strand out of the cocoon it comes from (actually, I don't know what tomato worms hatch out of) and twist several of these long strands together to create a soft, silky, weavable thread that can be made into fabric. A Chinese guy did that nearly three thousand years B.C. (Historical stuff very roughly translated from French from this.)

The Greeks and Romans knew about silk fabric, which arrived from Asia via the "route de la soie," but without knowing how it was obtained.

About the 6th Century A.D., the Byzantines brought cocoons to Europe, and the secret evolved into commerce, particularly in Spain and Italy. Later, silk production made its way into the South of France. It was the 16th Century when the Italians, very prominent in Lyon, brought in the knowledge to produce fabrics of gold, silver and silk locally.

From the 18th Century, Lyon became the "capital of silk." It's position at the crossroads and fairs made it easy for the fabrics to reach the grandest families of Europe.

At this point, my translation falls a bit apart, as I can't follow the French sentence construction. I think it says that Croix-Rousse became the major fabric district in the 19th Century. Jacquard weaving was invented by Joseph Marie Charles. This technique allowed for intricate designs, notably the "N" mounted on a laurel crown that was the Emperor Napoleon's symbol, which gave a lot of cachet to the production method.

As a new quarter, the Croix-Rousse was built for myriad silk weaving shops, with very high ceilings to accommodate the tall weaving machines, and many windows to make the most of available natural light for a home-based weaving industry.  Small loft quarters might be included for the family. The entire Croix-Rousse district thumped with the clickity-clack of the weaving machines. (There's an even more onomatopoeic word that the French use, but I'm unable to relocate where I read it.)


Our personal guide, Sandrine, translates for the gentleman who seems to have been enlisted at the last moment to tell us about some of the history and artifacts in M. Mattelon's workshop, while we wander about and look at them.

Here's the brains of the jacquard weaving system, and a precursor to modern computers. Just like the old punch cards in our early computer days, each hole  or non-hole is a yes or no for a needle to drop down and pick up a particular warp thread, allowing the weft thread that crosses it to show or not. Each horizontal line of coding creates the pathway for one weft thread, and the cards advance one line at a time.

A roll of fabric, spread out on a dusty table.

A quilter must touch the fabric!

This is a special treasure of M. Mattelon's. He had it hanging from a flagpole on the wall when we met him and he pointed to it proudly. He had made it in secret during WWII, and had flown it out the window when Paris was liberated and French Resistance and Allied troops marched in victory through the streets.

*     *     *     *     *

Then we go to the Soierie Vivante.  It is  the only association which exists to protect Lyon's silk-making heritage. It welcomes the public, operates the protected looms and ensures that ancient techniques and know-how are kept alive.There are guided tours and demonstrations. See the link for information on days and times.     

Henriette Létourneau practiced her profession as a silk-weaver
for 54 years at the machines, until she died in 2005

Here is a display of samples of braids and ribbons made in this workshop,

Electricity came to the workshop in the late 19th Century and that revolutionized how the fabric was made. The electric jacquard machine can operate many times faster than a hand weaver can throw the shuttle. The museum docent explains this machine to the group. And then turns it on.

The punch cards of the jacquard machine control the designs to many rolls of braid.

The docent turns on the machine and the clickity-clack speeds on, sounding like the wheels of a trains on a track. You can see the many narrow gold ribbons emerging from the machine.

Two of our group take a little rest in front of the tall archives of jacquard patterns and pictures of people with a connection to silk-weaving.

It takes a ladder to get up top to change out the sets of cards and thread them.

M. Mattelon (1913-2004) was a master weaver who also created the Rue Richan workshop and was awarded the title of Meilleur Ouvrier de France (Best Craftsman of France).

Our group gathers to hear Sandrine describe what we'll do next as we descend the Croix-Rousse plateau through traboules while returning to our hotel or other pursuits. But we'll leave that until later.

PS: Disclaimer: Don't use this blog as a research source! I don't do research beyond trying to avoid gross inaccuracies, but this is solely my interpretation of what I've read or heard and that's no guarantee.


Monday, September 22, 2014

Hoteling it. Or packet madness!

(From a few days ago)

One of our hotels

Damn packets! I swear everything comes in damn packets of some indestructible plastic that can't be opened with anything less than kitchen shears. We stayed at this hotel a couple of years ago and I'd gone to war with the long skinny packets of shampoo and body wash for showering. I'd tried tearing them across with no luck; tearing them lengthwise from the skinny zig-zag ends, no luck. I used the tiny scissors in my tiny Leatherman tool to snip the ends off, then awkwardly tried to keep them propped upright in the soap dish in the shower until I could get to them. Eventually, I learned the surprise rapid rip. Catch it unawares.

This year, I lost my tiny Leatherman to security in San Francisco, but I remembered the surprise rapid rip technique. The packets have changed, more square than long, with an appropriate little notch toward the end of one side. I line the packets up on the little shelf in the shower, "shampooing" and fluffy body gel (or that's how I translated it) in the packet to the left, and just plain shampoo to the right. I confidently give the body gel version a rapid rip, and the surprise is mine as the gel bursts forth volcano-like. I barely manage to catch it on my bath scruffy. 

That wildly torn packet on the left spewed its shower gel.
The shampoo at the top behaved slightly better

Really, I'm just happy to wake up this morning. By the time I finished dinner last night, I knew I'd eaten too much. I don't want the chef to think I don't like the food by abandoning half of it.  Instead, I overeat and risk undoing the thousands, or maybe 10s of thousands of dollars for medical procedures?

Little trickles of GERD burn my throat as I lie down to sleep. Soon it grows into a full-blown acid attack. And in this hotel room far from home, I wonder: how do I know it's just GERD? How do I know I'm not having a heart attack? You know what they say about women and heart attacks. What did Rosy O'Donnell say about symptoms? Maybe I should unlock the deadbolt on the door so somebody can find me if?

With amazing calm, I ponder what it would be like not to wake up. What an inconvenience it would be for my tour leaders, my sad children, and Sister, who wouldn't put it past me.

When I wake up at six to go to the bathroom, I am feeling fine. I go back to bed for another hour until the alarm rings.

I'm pleased to discover that the temperature of the water in the shower is just right. I "guessed" that that might happen if I pushed the button on one of the "faucet" handles when I tested out the techy hardware.

A lovely shower, with almost mood lighting

Handle on the left end controls on/off, hand-held or overhead water source.
Handle on the right controls temperature and I think the button sets the temp you like.

It goes so well until I run into the damn packets.  And until I notice that I left the cushy French bandaids for the bottom of my feet across the room. (The podiatrist has advised me that the balls of my feet hurt so badly because there is absolutely no fat for padding on my feet. Gel orthotics are recommended but I didn't have time before I left for the trip to get them. I substitute French gel-filled blister bandaids.) 

I didn't want to walk across hotel carpeting in my fresh, clean bare feet. On top of the usual grime to feet from tramping around all day, a well-meaning friend had insisted I try on her "very comfortable" shoes, shoes she had been tramping around to most of the same places I had. I felt uncomfortable in someone else's perspiration dampened shoes and couldn't enjoy the marvelous fit. I want to preserve the clean feel. I stretch a pathway of towels across the carpet to the table to reach my fancy French bandaids.

My clean pathway to the table from the shower

The lovely French blister plasters

I had a packet issue with soap at the previous hotel. When I arrived, three little bars were each armored in unbreachable plastic on the shelf above the sink. After a struggle, I managed to pop one packet open. I got a couple of hand washes out of the little bar, then left it on the shelf for later use. After the cleaning people came, the open packet was gone, replaced by ... Well, you can guess. This happened every day of our stay there. At least the shampooing/shower gel came in little bottles that were possible to open. I took to washing my hands with shampoo.

The small rooms, the tiny elevators, the other quirks in modest French hotels, even the room where the bathroom really isn't a bathroom, don't bother me, but the packets are driving me crazy.

Flowers at a French breakfast table

I keep falling asleep at night when I'd like to blog, so no guarantees about the next installment.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Les Routes de La Soie -- The Silk Road

Silk is big in Lyon and has been for a very long time. I've been here more than once and heard the history and its importance more than once, but the details of history don't stick in my mind, never have and, at this point, never will. So if it's a history of silk and silk manufacturing you want, find something authoritative to read. There are stories of intrigue and competition, royalty and silk laborers. The silk workers and manufacturers centered on one of two plateaus in Lyon, this one known as the Croix-Rousse. I've more or less been thinking of that as "red cross," but just thought to check it out in Google translate, which informs me it is "cross red-head." I'm not convinced.

One morning three eight-passenger taxi-vans pulled up at the end of the small street our hotel is on and we all piled in to head for Croix-Rousse to see the silk weavers. We shortly pulled up along a curb and piled out in front of this complex, too large to fit in one photo from where we stood. Viewed from left to right:

There are a couple of kinds of passageways, known as traboules that we learned about and visited, here the stairways that shorten distances vertically from, for example, a winding pathway or street down a hill. The other type shortens distances horizontally, providing passageways through long rows of buildings.

Some of the gals set out towards the stairs. (Up is so much harder than down!)

Only trouble is that this particular neighborhood happens to be an enormous mural, with representations of the people and professions in the Croix-Rousse. This is the third version of the mural (1987, 1997 and 2013). In each of those years the artists returned to "age" the characters in the mural appropriately, and it's the plan to keep up this tradition. Not only is this the biggest mural, this version is the most true-to-life, not using almost-caricatures found in other murals, and, to a degree, in the earlier version of this one.

Here are views of some of the details as our ladies move in for closer looks and photo ops.

Our guide Sandrine explains the mural to our group, gathered around her.

See "Les Routes de La Soie" on a sign.

You know if there are kittens, I will show them.

Way up there, a construction crane.

"They" finally coax me into going up for my photo with them.

A further explanation of the mural (in French) can be read here on a Lyon Visite page.

This is their photo of the complete mural. I truly could not tell you anything about the underlying building. It's convincing in person, even as you know it's a mural.

See you soon.