As if the political climate wasn’t bad enough, changing the clocks to winter mode casts an even longer shadow.
But not so in Lyon, a city I hadn’t visited in over ten years.
The city hosts the world’s biggest light festival each December and I was back in Lyon, or Lugdunum as it was founded by the Romans in 43AD, for a preview of this year’s event.
With the gloom of winter setting in, it brightened up my week no end.
“Lyon is the mother of all light festivals,” said Jean-Francois Zurawik.
I was having lunch with the Event Director of Lyon’s Fete des Lumierés in one of the low-key bistros France’s capital of gastronomy does so well — see the mural of Lyon’s most famous chef, Paul Bocuse, above.
“Light is universal. The battle between light and darkness is fundamental to the human condition,” he added.
This year’s event runs December 6-9 with 75 light and laser installations at 45 locations across the city, many focused on the historic buildings of Old Lyon.
The festival has its origins in the Middle Ages and took its inspiration from a 1852 celebration to mark the blessing of the Virgin Mary by placing candles in the windows of houses across the city.
It will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2019 and has grown to a spectacle attracting some 2m people to the city, spawning spin-off festivals in places as diverse as Ghent, Hong Kong and Durham.
For Jean-Francois, however, it’s less about the size of the spectacle and more about bringing people together.
“My job is to find light artists to create a poetic moment. It’s about emotion, not technology,” he told me, finishing his petit café before heading out to another last-minute planning meeting.
And let’s face it: when we live in dark times like these, anything that can bring people together is something to cherish.
I’ve been three times on assignment in the past year and recently returned from another and very timely sojourn.
The reason? The Cannes International Film Festival opens tomorrow — May 17. This year marks 70 years of cinema heritage [mural pictured above].
I was there to report back on preparations for a feature in this weekend’s Telegraph Travel.
But, joining an escorted tour for a few days, I was also trying to put the glamour of the Riviera into context.
I explored some of the reports, spanning the French-Italian border, frequented by the British gentry long before the likes of Brigitte Bardot [pictured below] arrived with photographers in hot pursuit.
Here’s an extract from my first draft, based around a visit to Monte Carlo Casino.
I’m not a natural high roller.
If I was Daniel Craig in Casino Royale, then I’d be sporting a freshly pressed tuxedo, sipping a martini, shaken not stirred of course, and nonchalantly placing all my chips on black 17.
In reality I’m budget Bond: a Ben Sherman shirt, sipping an espresso and observing the oligarchs at play from a safe distance.
Still, at least I can still admire the Belle Époque ceiling and renaissance frescos in the Europa gaming room of Monte Carlo Casino.
After all, I have paid 17 Euros just to walk inside.
The Cannes Film Festival marks its 70th anniversary this year. The event runs May 17 to 28.
I’ve always been a French film fan — ever since taking a module in French cinema as a student at Leeds University.
I was in Cannes last weekend, indulging my interest in cinema and French culture, to preview the build up to the festival.
I was there on assignment for France Magazine.
Touring the attractions for a cinephile’s guide to Cannes, I found the handprints of Pedro Almodovar [pictured above], the president of the jury for this year’s festival, outside the Palais des Festivals.
I also followed a trail of film-themed murals around the town, including giant facade-dominating images of Buster Keaton and Alain Delon.
Cannes is not an obvious weekend-break destination for Brits but, I discovered, it’s compact, culturally rich and pleasantly spring like — even in low-season February.
Here’s a preview of my story:
Cannes has been closely associated with the glamour of the world of cinema’s cornerstone event since the origins of the festival in 1939. The red carpet, today rolled out in front of the Palais des Festivals et des Congres just off the Boulevard de la Croisette, retains a frisson of Hollywood glitter. Not bad for the town that provided the backdrop to Meg Ryan’s French Kiss and Mr Bean’s Holliday.
Look out for this and more stories from the trip in May.
Literary types gather soon for the annual Manchester Literature Festival.
They’re in for a surprise. Manchester has a host of hidden-gem treasures and a slew of new openings for bookish types keen to explore the city’s rich literacy legacy – from Karl Marx observing working life in the mid 19th century to the UK’s current Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy.
“Manchester always had an edgy, radical feel as a city,” says Blue Badge Guide Kate Dibble of Manchester Tours, who leads literary tours of the city.
“Great authors through the ages have always tried to capture it.”
I joined a walking tour to trace a route around the modern-industrial city, following in the footsteps of the writers who have documented its evolution.
We started by Oxford Road train station where the Cornerhouse arts centre – moving to the new HOME development in May next year – remains one of the city’s best bookshops for art and cinema literature.
The short stroll along Whitworth Street West leads us past The Ritz, the gig venue where the performance poet John Cooper Clarke famously met Salome Maloney:
“In lurex and terylene, she hypnotised me.”
The nearby International Anthony Burgess Centre, dedicated to the Manchester-born author of the dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange, houses an eccentric collection of possessions, including letters to the film director Stanley Kubrick and his personal copy of A Clockwork Orange with doodles by the author.
The upstairs performance space hosts author Blake Morrison for the Burgess Lecture during the MLF on October 16, while the guided Unlocking the Archive tour is on October 22.
Heading towards St Peter’s Square, Manchester Central Library reopened in March this year after a £50m refurbishment to open up the library as a living-room space for the city.
It has welcomed some 300,000 visitors since, combining a high-tech media lounge, contemporary exhibition space and an interactive children’s library with the faithful restoration of the original architectural flourishes to their 1930s glory.
Neil MacInnes, Head of Libraries, Information and Archives, says:
“It’s the library as the street-corner university, a place to engage with knowledge and wisdom.”
By contrast, a visit to the Portico Library and Gallery, the Neo-Classical newsroom and library accessed from Charlotte Street, is like stepping back in time.
The 19th-century collection of dusty tomes, including travel literature, biographies and first-edition fiction, offers an insight into the mindset of Manchester in the industrial age. The genteel Reading Room is for members only but the café and gallery is open to all, as is the programme of literary events.
Cutting through the sidestreets towards Deansgate, the John Rylands Library, named after the 19th-century cotton magnate, is the third largest academic library in the UK.
Transformed by fusing a modern wing onto the existing neo-Gothic structure, new exhibition space and a study centre now complement the hushed reverence of the historic reading room. The John Rylands has a tour of the building and its collection on the third Thursday of each month.
Chetham’s Library, the oldest public library in the English-speaking world, traces Manchester’s literary legacy back to the medieval period.
The 17th-century Manchester textile merchant Humphrey Chetham established the library in his 1651 will as a free library for the use of scholars and the rambling space of cloisters and courtyards has been a haven for study ever since.
Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx researched here and their desk is now a place of pilgrimage in the 16th-century, wood-paneled reading room.
Writing in The Condition of the Working Class in England, Engels describes industrial Manchester:
”If anyone wishes to see in how little space a human being can move, how little air he can breathe, how little of civilisation he may share and yet live, it is only necessary to travel hither.“
I finish my tour in the city’s Ardwick district where Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, the family home of the Cranford author, reopens on October 5 after three years, restoring the Grade II-listed Regency villa as if the family had just popped out and left the table set for dinner.
The opening is timed to host two MLF events, the Manchester Salon exploring Gaskell’s 1855 novel North and South on October 8 and a walking tour of Gaskell’s Manchester, culminating at the house, on October 15.
Gaskell documented Manchester’s burgeoning industrial revolution from her writing desk at 84 Plymouth Grove after the family moved to the house in 1850 and her views contrasted starkly with the ideals of the Victorian era.
“As a female voice, few were as courageous as hers,” says Janet Allan, Chair of the Manchester Historic Buildings Trust [pictured above].
“Her greatest skill was to use storytelling to address the social issues of the era.”
A walking tour of Manchester proves the city may have evolved but its penchant for speaking out remains a constant source of literary inspiration.
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