LYONS is famous for food and murals, huge paintings on the end of buildings, depicting scenes or characters from the city.
The gable end of the food market is given over to the chef Paul Bocuse, who died last week, captured in his tall white chef’s hat and with one hand up to his chin.
Two aspects of his long life, he was 91 when he died, leapt out from the report in last Sunday’s first tabloid edition of The Observer. Oh, make that three, if you include his suitably calorific nickname, the “pope of gastronomy”.
Bocuse was a hero to Lyons – and to the rest of France, too. He was a Michelin-starred chef and celebrated master of haute cuisine, remembered by Le Point newspaper as follows: “Bocuse’s style? In a word: constant. An eternal mariage-a-tois between cream, butter and wine.”
That was the first aspect of his life to leap out, and it was oddly comforting, because here was a man who made and ate rich but simple food – and he lived to the age of 91. And that dietary triptych of cream, butter and wine is the sort of food the health police frown at nowadays; or, to be fair, sometimes frown at, as it can be hard to keep up with the advice about what one should and shouldn’t eat.
Anyway, how heartening that a man famed for such ingredients, and for simple dishes such as pot-au-feu or boeuf bourguignon, should have lived such a long and seemingly healthy life.
Not only did he live to an age riper than the ripest camembert, he died – and this really did surprise me – in his sleep in the same room in which he was born, in his family restaurant north of Lyons.
Bocuse was a man of continuity, a chef in a long life of chefs stretching back to the 17th century. It must be unusual to complete the circle in such a satisfying manner nowadays. Most are denied such a circular exit, having been born in the maternity ward; it seems unlikely that the doctors and midwives would welcome elderly men and women, chefs or otherwise, turning up to depart from where they began.
Bocuse was firmly tied to place, telling Le Point magazine in 2013 that he had trouble sleeping in another bed – he had to find his bearings until he had the Saone river to his left.
If the life and death of Paul Bocuse speaks of old France, the Nutella riots seem to tell a different story. And, yes, you did just read the words ‘Nutella riots’ – a riot no one had been predicting.
A 70% discount on the over-sweet spread led to violent scenes in Intermarché supermarkets, as shoppers jostled to grab a bargain. Police had to be called when people began fighting and shoving each other. According to the BBC website, one woman told French media: “They are like animals. A woman had her hair pulled, an elderly lady took a box on her head, another had a bloody hand.”
A member of staff at one branch in central France told reporters: “We were trying to get in between the customers but they were pushing us.”
Countries can, to an extent, pick and choose the images by which they like to be represented. Old France, with its rules on how properly to make baguettes and so forth, will probably cling to Paul Bocuse; new France couldn’t care less as its people are too busy fighting each other for jars of cheap Nutella.
And then perhaps they will spread over-sweet stuff on the horrible baguettes to be found in French supermarkets. For here is another example of two Frances: the traditional bakers produce from their ovens some of the world’s greatest bread, while the supermarkets sell commercial pap that pretends to be the real thing.
If you ever visit Lyons, and it’s well worth the trip, do hunt out those giant murals, especially the one of Paul Bocuse. Give him a nod and say hello to the man who died in the room where he was born.