The end of autumn approaching, Bernard Biais invited me to visit him in Grenoble. As he is a family friend of John Boonen, he has been several times my guest in Marseille. One day, my ignorance was fully exposed when I asked him if he did not feel very isolated to live in such a faraway village enclosed by mountains. His question to me was: what do you know about Grenoble? Indeed, what did I know? Thinking that I had prepared myself well enough before my visit, in googling information, I discovered that the reality of things was much better.
The journey to Grenoble takes only two hours from Marseille by train, and after my arrival Bernard took me to a unique restaurant where the waiters and waitresses are autistic. Having worked with Nathan Boonen for 2+ years, who suffers from severe autism, I was intrigued by this noble enterprise. At the restaurant there was Richard Ailloud, the boyfriend of Bernard, who would join us for the three days I would be in Grenoble. During our lunch, Colette, the manager of the restaurant sat at our table and answered all my questions of how she ran her business with autists, and we shared our experience and insights on autism. A fascinating story that Bernard patiently translated between French and English.
Yes, my French takes more than two years to develop. When I realised that Richard had similar problems with English we switched between the two languages often, which improved my listening skills and impromptu spoken French. A tour of historical Grenoble was given by knowledgeable guide Bernard himself, taking me to a most interesting outline of the old part of the city. All is so well preserved. One seemingly modest street, rue Chenoise, actually revealed unusual architecture that dates back to the 13th century. We could enter the courtyards of such mansions, which provide total privacy and isolation from the usual city buzz.
Bernard tested my memory by asking which river are we seeing now, the Isère (serpent) or the Drac (lion), and of course I only got it right by the second day. The Drac river flows into the Isère and the Isère merges with the river Rhône, one of the major rivers of Europe, for your information. Talking in two languages can be tiring, but I was looking forward to the next day when we would visit the Vercors mountain range on the westside of Grenoble.
In spite of it being late autumn, the following day was beautifully sunny, too beautiful to stay in the car for too long. We walked through small villages in an agricultural setting. Fresh air, deep fall colors, and people hang gliding from luscious green hills. One double coffee and two double teas for the road, and the waitress took the photo of us.
In the middle, Bernard Biais, born in Paris, teaches project management at the Grenoble Alps University. He is inspired by Inayat Khan, who founded the Sufi Order in the West. On the left, Richard Ailloud, born in Grenoble, retired, is an astrologer and a practitioner of Reiki, and inspired by Buddhism. Myself being a practitioner of the integral yoga of Sri Aurobindo … apparently, our spiritual inclination made the communication flow easily.
And, no, Grenoble is not exactly an isolated village. It is located in the Prealps area of south-east France, famous for its winter sports and especially for being a most important center of research, technology, and innovation in Europe. The World Trade Center of Grenoble makes the city an international financial hub as well. Ask the Grenoblois themselves, as their city has the size for it they call Grenoble the capital of the Alps!