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Jack Cullen


Lyon, The Bitch, and the Towelling Robe

Confessions of a Gay Road Tripper pt.4


Six French chavs stare in utter horror, almost dropping their cigarettes, as they see our blacked-out VW screech up, mere inches from toppling into the river Rhône, the side door slides open, and out crawls a car-sick me to the sound of a booming Mini Viva EP, startled by the sunlight, I’m wearing nothing but my shit pink New Look sunnies and some ripped grey rugby shorts, and clutching in my hand, for no reason but with a strange sense of importance, a Barcelona snow dome… “Er, Hey”

This is the beautiful historic French city of Lyon and that was my entrance. Things like this always happen when I’ve had too many Sour Cream Pringles.

Lyon is known for its churches, contributions to French cinema, business district and gastronomy. As you know, I’m rarely moved by guide books, although there is one line on the website Just France (“Just Jaaack”) that caught my imagination –

“Lyon is called the 'City of Light' because of its history which began on Fourvière Hill, when the city was under the Romans.”

Now there’s a challenge. If Lyon is the city of light, surely as a serious investigative journalist it is my duty to seek out its darkest corner? If this city’s been under the Romans, I want to be under the Romans too. And so sitting in a quiet cobbled street, sipping a coffee, frowning at the local LGBT listings, my eyes fall upon just the thing I’m looking for: A late night club called Le Trou. As previously stated, French wasn’t my forte at school, but I’m pretty sure Le Trou means “The Hole”. If there’s one thing I love more than references to extreme wealth in a Mariah Carey song it’s sex clubs that share their names with early Keira Knightley movies. But before we get digging, I’ve got 8 hours to waste…

So let’s release the David Starkey inside me* for a paragraph:

Lyon’s historical centre is called the ‘Presqu’ile’ (“almost island”) because it’s wedged between two rivers. The city has seen several uprisings, including one in 1973 where a famous dramatist Jean-Marie Collot d’Herbois oversaw the execution of 2,000 locals. Take a look at his Wikipedia page, you thinking what I’m thinking? Haha. Because of its many sieges, Lyon created a set of rules where locals could run through each other’s houses and courtyards in order to lose pursuers. I visited the famous Notre Dame de Fourvière - an ornate and totally camp cathedral on top of a hill that overlooks the city. I overheard an American woman shouting that “the resident choir of this cathedral were used for the French film “Les Choristes”. I lit a candle for my Italian grandmother and then fled.

Admittedly, a David Starkey account of Lyon would have been a bit different but at least I saved you the nostril hair**.

Le Trou (5 Rue Coustou) is situated in an old house with a kind of dungeon level beneath it. I want to say family-run, but couldn’t find confirmation of this. Tonight there it is underwear night so I make sure not to wear my Batman novelty pants or the white jock strap. I pick a blue pair the Serbian left in my hotel in Sitges (I washed them in the sink, I think). They’ll match my eyes.

I arrive at Le Trou (5 minute walk from Presqu’ile) and ring the door bell. A man slides a hatch back, stares at me for 3 seconds, I stare back, then he smiles. A door opens. Inside there’s a surprisingly modern reception that boasts a glass cabinet displaying over 20 brands of poppers. I notice a pair of purple roller skates hanging up in the cloakroom. I’ve no idea who roller skates uphill to a sex dungeon but I like my fetish nights served with a slice of buttered humour and some mid-1980s eccentricity. Sadly there are no music videos in Le Trou, just videos of wrists plunging into what looks like semi-defrosted mince.

I meet a guy my age called Carl at the unlicensed bar who, being my age, instantly becomes my buddy. We buy each other Oranginas and sit at the bar, watching men arrive and disappear into the darkness. Later we find ourselves a cosy private room with a black bench and a swinging light bulb that flickers. We discuss Renaissance literature for two hours.

After this intense conversing there’s a large shower on the ground floor that appeals to us, so we jump in, but then realise we’ve no towels, so have to walk to reception naked and dripping. The proprietor loans me a towel for 1 euro, but snaps at us for getting his floor wet. He tells me off with a huge poster behind him announcing that every Tuesday is water sports night. Jo Brand would find that amusing.

It’s 4am now and I’m sitting by my hotel window in a toweling robe, watching the city of Lyon sleep. Do I feel guilty for not visiting any galleries or museums? Have I been to one sex club too many on this trip? Perhaps I should seek out more intellectual stimulation? Luckily for you, these thoughts will have deferred by the morning.

Next on the Gay Times Road Trip, Jack hits the streets of Geneva in search of a United Nations boyfriend.

*You don’t understand how long I’ve been trying to get these four words sequentially into my work.
**I still love you David. Can I dress up as Mary and you lock me in the tower?

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