We have hurtled through Lyon on our previous trips to the Côte d'Azur but this year we decided to take a couple of days to look around. It's a beautiful city, straddling the rivers Saône and Rhône. It's the third largest in France with a population of 1.78 million. It is the culinary capital of France (and therefore the world) and home to her most famous living chef. This is a pioneer of Nouvelle Cuisine who has held his Michelin stars (currently three) for a staggering 42 consecutive years. Paul Bocuse's genius has - as he claims modestly on his menus - elevated chefs in general from "lackeys" to potential stars. It has also won him membership of the Legion d'honneur.
Last night, Mrs P. and I were lucky enough to dine at his home restaurant, l'Auberge du Pont de Collonges. At the suggestion of our hotel's manager, we hired a motor yacht for an hour to take us there down the Saône. This was a brilliant idea as we had a splendid view of the city en route, and also arrived much cooler than we would in a taxi. The picture of Bocuse with "our" yacht at his pier is from the yacht company's website - the others (click to enlarge) are my own from yesterday.
Mâitre Bocuse's art did not disappoint. Of course, at 82, he is as constrained as an old rocker who must play his hits or disappoint his fans. For a creative genius who won his fame by innovation, it must be hard to cater to those who want to experience the dishes they have read about (and who then must often, as we did, notice that what was revolutionary in 1975 is a little passé now). We were surprised to see many Japanese guests an learned that this was because Bocuse introduced French gastronomy to that country in partnership with his late friend, a renowned Japanese chef.
It was a great experience and as we worked our way chattily through the menu de dégustation in the charming surroundings of L'Auberge - sipping at a delicious Puligny Montrachet - we were quietly conscious of how lucky we are to experience the best of this life. At such moments it is my habit to raise my glass silently to the many ordinary young people, just like Mrs P. and I were, who - thanks to Labour's systematic destruction of British education system - will never have the chance to appreciate the good life, or even to know it is there.
It is a scandal that today's Britons are not more, but less, socially-mobile than they were in our day (when mobility was declining from its peak in the grammar school era). It is a scandal that Mrs Thatcher's Cabinet was more classless than Gordon Brown's. It is a scandal that so many will live their lives unfulfilled, with a vague sense that "there must be something more." There is, guys, there is. The squalid life of the Labour heartlands is not, by any means, "it". Out there, if you will lift your eyes, there is beauty, truth and excellence in all fields of endeavour - whether literature, science, engineering or gastronomy. Paul Bocuse is a rich man who has lived a charmed life, but to the French he is a source of pride. They are right to feel that way. Whether you strive for it yourself, or learn to appreciate it in others, excellence is not to be despised, but embraced. Every man's achievement takes humanity forward and should be a source of pride, not envy, for us all.