La Tourette part two: the taxis of L’Arbresle
In the golden orange afternoon sunshine of Friday evening, I explored the fields and woods around Le Corbusier’s priory at La Tourette, a few kilometers from L’Arbresle in the Rhône region. A five hour train ride through Alsace, the Jura and Franche-Compte to Lyon had brought me a long way from Strasbourg. After another five hours criss-crossing Lyon on foot and by metro, I had retreated to the countryside to one of France’s most famous priories.
Fans of Le Corbusier (or Dominican priories in general) can not only visit La Tourette, but also stay the night. For €45 (students €35) you can enjoy full bed and board in the religious community that lives here. But there are some points to remember. Right now, the convent itself is undergoing major restoration. Let’s just say that while Le Corbusier loved concrete, when he used it at La Tourette the standard of construction was well below what it should have been. And while a roof garden was a vital component of Le Corbusier’s five points of architecture, his detailing around the roof was pretty weak, meaning that extensive restoration work is required on top of the building. So unless you happen to be in a large group of visitors, visitors to La Tourette are currently housed with the brothers in an annex in an adjacent farm complex.
Another point to remember about the full bed and board deal is that it is utterly dependent on the staff of the priory remembering that you are there.
Having checked in late in the afternoon, and having spent an hour or two walking around the outside of the building to sketch and photograph it, I returned to the annex for the communal dinner at 19h30. With me were the only other guests staying at the priory that night: an Argentine couple from Rosario, both practicing architects, who were spending four weeks in Europe. We started chatting as we waited outside the refectory for dinner to start. And we continued talking until about 21h00. Some time between our arrival and the projected time of dinner, the priory had become a landlocked equivilent of the Marie-Celeste. The refectory doors were locked shut, and the kitchens were deserted. We investigated the temporary chapel housed in the annex, knocked on various doors and peered through windows. We were entirely alone. Dinner, it seemed, was not forthcoming.
Being the only who had a telephone and who could speak French, I offered to try to call a taxi to take us into L’Arbresle to find something to eat. The tourist information that I had spurned earlier in the day had one taxi number, and with surprising ease I was able to call a car to our aid. A friendly driver from the miniscule company of Alizés Taxis (“pour vos petits et grands déplacements”) arrived within minutes and took us down the hill to L’Arbresle. It being after 21h, we did not have much choice in terms of places to find food. A fine little restaurant called Le Capucin in central L’Arbresle was recommended. Over a delightful three course meal, I got to know my gracious new friends. La Tourette was, for them, a stop on a grand tour of France and Spain. They were delighted to be able to visit La Tourette but were, like me, somewhat bemused about being forgotten at the end of the day. We chatted away in English about our respective careers and interests – both their careers and their interests being significantly more developed than mine. I was particularly suprised to enjoy one of the finest meals I’ve had in France: a firm and beautifully textured terrine to begin with, and a soft warm cutlet of veal for the main course, gently spiced with mediteranean herbs. I only regret not having had enough room for the chocolate tarts that I saw being ferried to the other tables, where whole families were dining out together. Having been up since about 5h that morning and having spent much of the day pounding the streets of Lyon, a gorgeous dish of herby veal and a beer was enough to make my eyelids begin to droop. It having been a long day for all of us, we quickly asked for the bill and I slipped outside to call L’Arbresle’s only taxi firm.
It being around closing time on Friday night, the only cab driver in town had (of course) finished work for the night. Noy only is it quite hard to find a place to eat late in the evening, it’s rather difficult to find a taxi. So hard in fact, that requests for taxi numbers made to the proprietors of the restaurant and neighbouring kebab shop produced the same telephone number for Alizé taxis. We were stranded some 3km from ‘home’, which was at least forty minutes walk away, at the top of a hill at the end of a winding and unlit country lane. Frantic calls were made, and remote assistance was also offered via text messages and the internet from a certain long lost architecture student back in Sheffield. Lost, bemused and very tired, the friendly waitress came up with a solution. Her husband – the chef of Le Capucin, who had just spent his evening producing plate after plate of delicious veal – offered to drive us back up the hill in his truck. We were so grateful, we did not hesitate longer than politeness would permit. Thanking the waitresses as we left, I took a card and promised to return. In the mean time, I recommend and head to Le Capucin at 27 rue Pierre Brossolette in L’Arbresle (tel. 04 37 58 02 47, closed Sundays and Mondays, transport home not included) and tell them that the young Englishman who dined with the two Argentines sent you.
Returning to the priory, there were few signs of life. We crept into our beds, and with the window in my room wide open to the noisy background sounds of the countryside at night, I slumped into a deep sleep.
Seventeen hours later, the telephone number for Alizés Taxis came in handy one more time. The driver on duty that Saturday afternoon got a paniced call from an English architecture student standing outside L’Arbresle station… my paranoia for always arriving early for trains, planes and buses had failed me, and I was late for my train. So late, in fact, that I had no choice but to call a taxi to drive me back to Lyon to make it in time for the the last train that day to Strasbourg. The cost of another night’s accommodation and another train ticket would have been more, so I had to swallow my pride, find a cashpoint, and shell out a painful and unexpected €45 to get back to the city in time for my train.
Once in the cab, I related the story of my weekend to the driver. I told him about the previous night’s events, and how the following morning I had been mildly surprised to find that both breakfast and dinner were served as promised. I explained how I’d spent the first part of the morning sketching the convent, before being allowed into the ghostly and empty priory to explore it for myself, before joining a guided tour given in English for the benefit of a group of architecture students from Kansas. It was because I decided to follow the entirity of this guided tour, and because I mis-read my train timetable, that I ended up thinking that my train from Lyon Part Dieu to Strasbourg was at 19h09 instead of 17h09. For the first time in my life, I stumbled over the 24 hour clock and paid the price (€45).
The driver laughed and said that some weekends just don’t work out. I agreed, and said that at least Alizé Taxis did alright out of my weekend in L’Arbresle.