Chapter 33 (Part 1) – We Move to Lyon; linguistics and teaching


The ‘quai of la Saône’ looking north over la Croix Rousse. Photo taken from le Pont de la Feuillée.

The year 1986 was an eventful one. First of all there was the move to Lyon at the end of June.

We had to move to Lyon, since CCPN (Centre de Calcul de Physique Nucléaire) was decentralized to Villeurbanne, the sister town of Lyon. We found a suitable house with just the right size yard in the town of Genas, east of Lyon and not far from Lyon. Genas is comfortably close to our former working places, which were on the Campus in Villeurbanne. It is also just 15 minutes drive to the airport, which used to be called Satolas, but is now Saint-Exupéry.

For the big move, we first drove down with the animals — the car jam-packed with stuff, plants and other things not suited for a moving company. John returned to Paris and I was left to take care of Puppy and Lulu for one night. The house was, like most houses and apartments were, at least in those days, unfinished for all practical purposes. Installing closets and kitchen cabinets was a real mess and clothes were dumped in piles on the floor. There were, in all, two small closets built in, one at the downstairs entrance and one upstairs in what became our bedroom. The rooms were so small we had to make one bedroom out of what was supposed to be two rooms .

That first night, after the pets and I had eaten a frugal dinner, sort of, I slept on a mattress on the floor in the living room. The upstairs floors were not even fit for walking on since the parquet varnish had not dried yet.

Lulu was the problem that night. Puppy took it all  calmly, but Lulu was panicky and she literally climbed the walls. In fact, she left claw marks high up on the wallpaper all over, which I later covered up with cork tiles. They are still there today, but should have been covered over again a long time ago. Lulu was delighted with the cork tiles and used them as scratch posts. Well, the kitchen and the main bedroom were finished soon after that somewhat dramatic beginning — courtesy of IKEA. John put up off-white-door closets, an entire wall in our bedroom — a deed he would not have done today. Hats off for John. And that was far from all he did as an IKEA assembler handyman.


The very first year at ESCIL, a chemistry ‘grande école’, I was still employed by Ecole Centrale (for some unknown reason, but which I was extremely happy about). It meant a higher salary than I later made from ESCIL the following three years and, most importantly, it meant fewer work hours. We worked 12 hours a week at Centrale, and that is what I did the first year at ESCIL.

This state of things was so lucky for me that I might have become a believer in a just and bountiful god, if I had not been such a steadfast heathen.

My friend Ruth had recommended that I take a graduate course in linguistics at a Lyon university, so as to have a French diploma. The French don’t count foreign diplomas as valid of anything. It turned out that my graduate diploma (DEA) really did not make any difference in my case, but I enjoyed the classes immensely. In New York State, I had been a tenured French teacher, after a lot of haggling with the State Education Department in Albany. My friend Jürgen, however, who had an Austrian PhD had to do his dissertation all over again, in French at that, in order to teach German at French universities. My ‘DEA’ (Diplôme d’études approfondies) might have impressed someone at INSA where I ended up teaching after ESCIL. That’s not at all sure though, but I enjoyed the classes immensely.

We had five professors in all, two being associate professors and one probably Assistant professor (maître de conférence, I guess) We studied even more than five subjects since some courses sometimes changed in the middle of the year. The subjects of our classes ranged from etymology, morphosyntaxe (excellent teacher), analysis of discourse (Professor Petit, professor of English) — to the book by John Lyons: “Introduction to Theoretical Linguistics” which, among a multitude of other subjects, deals with Professor Noam Chomsky’s methods of analyzing syntax and changing sentences from, for instance, the ‘active voice’ to the ‘passive voice’ and similar studies, via a model set up to be computerized.

The most incredible thing was the way my schedule at ESCIL left me just the free time I needed for my classes at Universiié Jean Moulin Lyon 3. A puzzle that was solved by pure luck. I remember going up to our main professor of linguistics, Professor Baudry, telling him that I was an English teacher at ESCIL, and that I might have to, exceptionally, skip a class once in a while. It happened only once, and a co-student lent me her notes to copy from the class I missed.

The front on the ‘Quai du Rhône’ of my beloved ‘Université Jean Moulin Lyon 3’Wikipedia

I loved going to my classes at the old university building on the Quai du Rhône for Université Lumoère Lyon 2 and Jean Moulin Lyon 3. I had the wonderful feeling of belonging. Also, in those days — this was 1986-87 — it was always possible to find a parking space for my little Fiat Uno, usually right in the rue de l’Université. I was of course way out of the ordinary range of the students, but I did not look my age, and I felt accepted. My French was good and I did not stand out like a sore thumb. Times had already become ‘modern’, and between students they said “tu” to each other. So it got to be ‘tu’ when they addressed me too. “Ils me tutoyaient”. I liked that very much. I also like the verb ‘tutoyer‘.

The day of the big final exams in late spring or early summer, we had oral exams in the morning and two written exams in the afternoon on the same day. I knew that the morning exams had gone well. Professor Baudry had made little rolls of paper with questions written on them. I took one little roll and was not sure I knew what the professor wanted me to talk about. I asked if I could possibly take another roll. I knew the professor was positive to me, and he said “of course” right away. After I had answered that question I asked him if what he wanted as an answer to the first question was such and such, concerning Chomsky. He said “Bien sûr.” You didn’t need to ask for another question.

In the afternoon we had the two subjects Morphosyntaxe and Démodialectologie, which might have been my favorite subject, taught by a young man who could not have been more than an Assistant professor. His subject dealt with the way a language — in this case the French language — changes with time and with level of education. And, by the way, also from the laziness of the speakers in their way of pronouncing words. But that is more a matter of etymology and it is really my own addition to what I have concluded from many of my various classes that dealt with the development of words and syntax in a language.

This quite young researcher in démodialectologie used one interesting method to do his research. He would place cassette recorders in cafés and public places to record the various ways of speaking, vocabulary, etc. and he also amused us with sentences he had heard in the street or wherever. I will never forget a fun little episode of an elderly couple waiting for the green light to cross the street at a pedestrian crosswalk.Two young people ran out fearlessly against the red light. The man said : “Et puis ils se plaignent comme quoi ils se font tuer.” Very funny. I think we all broke up. I have notice, however,d that “comme quoi” is spreading, but probably among less educated people.When John says it though, he is kidding. Also the subjunctive is sadly disappearing. The example I remember  was “Il fait rentrer le foin avant qu’il pleuvra.”  (instead of  the ‘correct’ way “…avant qu’il pleuve“)

Ruth had also recommended a little book to me (which I didn’t really have to read but did anyway) about how you write a proper essay, with introduction, ta, ta, ta and conclusion. I knew that perfectly well from gymnasium, but Ruth obviously didn’t trust the Swedish educational system. I could perfectly well have written good essays about the questions we had to answer, both in morphosyntaxe and in démodialectologie. However, I was so carried away by answering the questions that I simply forgot that this was where they wanted essays, which would not have been very difficult. When in the fall, after handing in my thesis (prémémoire) about l’Enseignement Assisté par Ordinateur (in English called CAL, Computer Assisted Learning), I found out that my grades in both the written subjects were just passing, I was first dumbfounded, since I knew I had given the right answers. But after a while I understood that this was where the essays should have come in. I got very good grades though on the two seminars I presented and probably also for le Professeur Baudry, so after all, I got a “Mention“. There were only two “Mentions” in all, and I could well guess who the second one was. She was a true scholar, had studied what is called ‘grammaire‘ in France, meaning Latin and Greek. And she had even studied Hittite with Professor Baudry. I was very pleased with my Mention, even though a bit mad at myself for not realizing where those silly essays were to have come in.

A DEA is basically the first step towards a doctorat du 3e cycle, and my supervisor really wanted me to write a dissertation comparing EAO to  the classical way of teaching a language. As a parenthesis here, I want to point out that computer assisted learning is always just a support for the more “live” form of teaching/learning. We, the EAO program writers, dealt with particular stumbling blocks for French students when studying English. Or rather, that is what EAO was at the time.

Now, my supervisor went over with me what my dissertation would contain, chapter by chapter. He was probably a bit let down when I decided that there was no way I could take on an enormous task like working on a doctoral dissertation and teach at the same time. Besides, I was very busy writing learning programs for my students both at ESCIL and, later, at INSA. Especially at INSA I sometimes got so carried away in the evenings that the janitor whose apartment was just across the corridor from my lab and office, had already pulled down the iron curtain to the main entrance when I finally got to my senses and noticed the time. Anyway, I decided I was too old to start in on a doctoral program, since I had more important work to do, which was creating immediately useful programs for my students.

Keith looking just the way I remembered him, my very dear English friend and colleague.

And there was my great friend Keith Gordon, the head of the language department at ESCIL. When I first arrived in 1986, Louise was the head and Keith took care of placing ESCIL students in similar schools in England. I think it was called exchange with England, so I suppose that ESCIL also had English students coming who wanted to improve their French.

Then Louise got tired of teaching, and she got a very good job as a manager in some big chemical company. After that it was Keith and I who shared the office which had two big desks placed together by the long side, so that we could see each other and easily talk to each other. I had my computer on my desk and worked non-stop on creating new programs. As I remember, Keith was mainly busy on the telephone with England.

Much later, after we were both retired, we got back in touch through a coincidence. Both Keith and John were doing genealogy, online of course. Keith who had made fun of me and my computer, calling it my hurdy-gurdy. Now he said “You will never believe this,, but I have a computer too now.” He had somehow come across John’s name online and he sent us a message.

Contact was resumed and we were always very pleased to have lunch out in Lyon somewhere with Keith, Place Carnot usually. The funny thing is that our personalities were so wide apart but we had come to like and respect each other’s different ways anyway.

Keith as young when he was a lieutenant in the British army

Keith liked the military — he was a former lieutenant in the British army, he was religious, or at least profoundly respectful of religion, whereas I see religion as the scourge of mankind. He was anti-socialist and, since he was of Scottish origin (last name Gordon), he was concerned about the way “the socialists were ruining Scotland” And he never hesitated to say so. But we agreed 100% on one point. We both despised Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady. So you see, our cooperation in the office of the ESCIL language department goes back a while. The other teachers came in for their classes and left when they were over. Only Keith and I stayed.

Keith never really enjoyed life, I don’t think, after his very nice and pretty wife Monique died from breast cancer. Monique had, as I understand it, been living and, amazingly, living well, with her breast cancer for several years. She even traveled alone to Australia where they had a married daughter, Anne. This daughter was back home when Keith got very sick, from cancer too. I learned about this from Louise at the funeral, and I felt very relieved about Keith’s not being all alone at that time. They also had a son whom I know less of.

It was Louise, always the arranger, who had sent the message through to us that Keith was no more. Always gorgeous dark haired Louise was still beautiful, though of course looking a bit older.


It was dear Keith who made it possible for me to get the contract post at INSA de Lyon by talking about me to his friend M. Ottavi who was then the head of les Humlanités. It was also arranged for me to give private lessons in English speaking to Professor M who was the head of the department of génie civil (civil engineering) and soon thereafter also became Diretceur de la Formation for all of INSA. We became good friends and his English was actually very good. He just needed more practice. That way I had a foot in the door and the Agent comptable was made to see that the school would fill the vacuum that existed for the first-year students in not providing them with any classes in English. The way I was hired by INSA was strictly what in Frenchg-h is known as magouillage. I was supposed to  give classes using EAO where classroom teaching would have been required. This is not recommended — ever. But I was so anxious to get the job that I accepted. Of course after a few years classroom teaching was organized for the first-year students, and I was not needed any more. Or rather i had become too privileged and they wanted someone cheaper for EAO, which became incorporated in Libre service, and that is as it should be. The problem was the mental harassment i underwent during my last year at INSA, espaecially from Veronica arleguy who was the epitome of meanness and cruelty.

So my last contract was not renewed and I was unemployed for three years. There was nothing Monsieur M, my good friend, could do, since the head accountant and the director of les Humanités, André B with Veronica as their figurehead were all set oseeing me go. The fun thing was, however, that INSA had to pay me for almost three years, and pretty well during the first two years. The accountant must not have been very pleased. Until he realized that INSA had to go on paying me until my retirement, a bit less, but no really great difference.

Continued:  Chapter 32 (Part 2) — Lyon,  family, friends and animals