XXII. Rhône

The city of Lyon is known for its guignols, wooden hand puppets that, these days, are used frequently for political satire. I’ve seen a few of the faux-news television shows in my room back in Chambéry. Nicolas Sarkozy, the newly elected French president at the time, has just married model-turned-singer Carla Bruni, and their guignol doppelgangers make frequent appearances.

I am tagging along on this day trip with two girls I met by happenstance in the supermarket. Annabel and Lucy are college juniors and are in Chambéry for their semester abroad. They seem so much older than me, even though the difference in our ages is only three years. They seem so much more fun, so much better at being happy where they are.

As we wander the tiny, packed streets of the Lyon old town, I pass guignol after guignol. Someone would probably like one as a present, I think, but I don’t buy anything. We keep walking for a while, look around a cathedral, eat crêpes, and then take the train to Chambéry. Annabel and Lucy go happily to their student dorm, getting ready to go out for the night, and I go back to my quiet apartment on the hill.

As I sit on the edge of my bed, I compare Annabel and Lucy’s experience of Chambéry to mine. They are so much more in the present than I am, constantly light and focusing only on the moment they’re in. Not only have I been looking forward to going home essentially since my arrival, but I came here in the first place because of the past—I chose this part of the country because my ancestors are from this Alpine region, my great-great-grandparents who made their way across the Atlantic from Switzerland more than a century ago.

And if I expected to find ghosts here, or at least something innately familiar, I was wrong.

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