Monday, December 14, 2009

Toronto-Lyon: Let there be light!

The Newborn. c. 1645. Oil on canvas. Georges de La Tour. Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rennes.

While Toronto is greeting the winter cold with the Cavalcade of Lights, Lyon (France) does so with another ritual of multicoloured Lights that is celebrated on December the 8th; it is called the Festival of Lights -or Les Illuminations du 8 décembre.

Several stories explain the origins of this festival, but most commonly it is agreed on that the tradition started in 1852 to express gratitude toward the Virgin Mary for sparing Lyon from the plague (back then in 1643). Since then, tradition has had it that the citizens of Lyon, and of the nearby towns, place little candles on their windowsills to celebrate the Lights on December 8th. Simple, sobre, and luminously warm! Today's festival also includes other activities based on light, and usually lasts 4 days, with the peak of activity occurring on the 8th.


The intimacy of a chiaroscuro by Geoges de la Tour

On the first weekend of December, my friends then walked the streets of Lyon to see the Illuminations. Obviously, I could not partake in the event this year as I now live in Canada. But, if I delve well into my memories, I still have clear images coming back to the surface. To me, the most poetic representation of Lyon celebrating the Lights will remain the lumignons, these little colourful candles, forming lines of light defying the dark of the night. The visual beauty of such sobre ornaments is just magical! With the windowsills all decked out, new shadows would be projected, thus reshaping the contours of the buildings, and I would gape at the rediscovered beauty of these facades.

Another memory was when I ventured into the old town (Quartier du Vieux Lyon - St Jean) with my college friends while studying in Lyon. Believe me it was dangerous back then! One had to dare the crowd of well hidden enemies, waiting for the ideal candid targets to drop a load of flour and eggs from their windows...It has now been forbidden, I must admit that the stains were hard to remove and some people could easily get hurt in the process of receiving an egg dropped like a bullet...Today, many tourists come for the occasion and enjoy walking in the heart of the old town without being hit by any projectiles of the sort. Little do they know how lucky they are! A sign of the times..Lyon's Festival of Lights used to be a local, regional festival, and now it has become an international event, with many (too many) installations on a bigger scale. The light spectacles produced these days are a far cry from the original candles and flare...

I was not in Lyon, but my good friend Cécile was! An artist herself, she enjoys the festival every year. Here is her impressions for this year's enlightening festival:

Faite des lumières (Made of Lights)... On the dance floor, Cécile Cornu, our special reporter for the Festival of Lights- 2009, in Lyon.
(Photo by Cédric Roulliat)

"Des tableaux sur une roue, des Fiat 500 qui se draguent sous les draps qui sèchent au son de "Ti Amo", des mecs lumineux qui parlent, des bâtisseurs de cathédrale sur la cathédrale, des lutins en quête de lumière : magnifique et poétique nourriture pour les yeux! Le vendeur de vin chaud et de crêpes du coin de la rue, lui, s'est bien occupé de nos estomacs. Moi, je l'aime mon 8 décembre à Lyon!" Cécile Cornu

Fête des Lumières : La Grande Roue, Place Bellecour - Lyon 2009 (Photo: Cécile Cornu)

Fête des Lumières : La Préfecture- Lyon 2009 (Photo: Cécile Cornu)
Fête des Lumières : La Préfecture - Lyon 2009 (Photo: Cécile Cornu)

Reading suggestion :
Illuminations, poems by Arthur Rimbaud

1 comment:

Zuly said...

What an interesting tradition. Thank you for the info my dear Christine. One day I would love to be there and experience it.

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