Eight days in Lyon with Chevonne Ball

Chevonne Ball wants to take you to France. She wants to spoil you in France. And if you’re smart and you have the money and you want to experience a new way of traveling, you’ll let her.

Let’s back up a bit. I met Chevonne at the September Toketivity event in Portland. I just discovered Toketivity, women-run cannabis social and educational events for women, and went to this one stag. I sat down at the craft table where Chevonne and her friend were making moon mobiles and we started talking. I quickly learned she was starting her own business, Dirty Radish Travel Company, and that she planned to take people to Lyon, France next summer to partake in the food, wine and culture.

You could probably say that all of Chevonne’s life experiences have led her to this point. She grew up in a multi-cultural household “where there was always an air of fusion coming out of our kitchen.” Early on she learned how putting food down on the table can be an instant connector and that “showing love through food comes from the soul.” She had early ambitions of being a chef and went to culinary school, competed in cooking competitions and loved cooking. However, once she realized how much pressure chefs face, her skills took her on another journey.

Chevonne’s entrance into fine dining started in 2005 when she worked at the now former French-Creole restaurant Roux in North Portland. She learned the ABC’s of wine from a manager who took her under her wing. In 2006, she joined the staff at Le Pigeon and acclaimed beverage director Andrew Fortgang transformed her new love of wine into a passion. She began to learn and really understand the nuances of wine from Burgundies, Beaujolais, Sancerre, and Champagne. 

Chevonne loved her experience of French restaurants and wine, so taking French lessons seemed to be the next natural step. She started French classes at Portland State University and in 2009, found herself uprooting her Portland life to head to Lyon for PSU’s exchange program. She had been living in Portland since the age of 18 and had never been out of the country. 

She made the decision in February, and by August she was in Lyon living in a house with five other women. Within three weeks she had a new boyfriend and met five people from Portland who she didn’t know. The decision proved to be life-changing.

And the year she spent there living and working, she knew one thing was true: she loved it and wanted more.

“I made a life for myself,” she says. “The first three months were the hardest – mentally and physically. It was exhausting to translate, understand what people were saying, get your bearings, the time difference, the food difference, nothing is open on Sunday, the little nuances. After three months, it felt really good.”

Fast forward to earlier this spring. She came back to Portland after visiting France again for a friend’s wedding.

“Two things were happening. My job wasn’t the right fit and when I got back I was let go and I was feeling really sad not to be in France. There is a feeling of freedom I have in France that I don’t have here. I knew that feeling was going to be gone in some way and I knew that I want to spend more time in France.”

I asked Chevonne about the feeling that she has in Lyon, that she doesn’t have here in Portland or this country.

“It’s like the shackles are off. That’s how I can describe it. I’m never or very rarely Black first in France. I’m just a person and then I’m American so that’s the more interesting thing more over than I’m Black,” she says. “There are no pretenses or assumptions or judgments or stereotypes. It’s more weird that I’m so educated in food or wine as an American to them. In America, people should know or say they know that all Black people aren’t this particular stereotype, but then when I say I’ve lived in France there’s this sort of shock or awe in people in the states. Like over the top, really.”

She tells the story of being in a grocery store and in the flash of a second, seeing a white woman pushing a cart with some sort of package with a Black baby. Even though the interaction was just a moment, it made an impression on the difference in culture she was experiencing.

“I’m thinking to myself, ‘what is she buying for a Black person? The child in her cart is white.’ It was just a package with a photo of a Black baby. When you live your life every day where you feel like you are an afterthought, and then furthermore not even wanted, it makes it very difficult to do anything. There, it doesn’t exist or I’m not the same, so I’m able to live like most white people have lived in the United States for hundreds of years.”

Life also moves slower. People sit for coffee and even though there is Starbucks, Chevonne says you hardly see anyone out on the street with a cup of coffee in their hand.

“When people try to see France they see so much but they miss the whole point,” she says. “The best day is sitting and living a day like they do. It’s incredible how much you can get done. When I first moved there, we looked in the laundry room and it’s a washing machine. There’s no dryer. You have to hang up your clothes. Touching your clothes and having to hang them up, when you take them down there’s more connection with your clothes. Not eating on the go, makes you have a different situation with your food. A full work week there is 32 hours and I always had an hour lunch.”

So, the question remained: how would she figure out her life so she could be in France more often?

“I wrote down all the options – get married, go to school, start a business. I thought in my mind a tour guide,” Chevonne says. “Obviously, getting married is dreamy and is the hardest; going to school, I don’t want to have to go to school. Starting my business, it sort of snowballed after that.”

She found the accommodations first – a large 10-bedroom house with four bathrooms in the historic district of Villeurbanne, blocks from where she lived while attending school. Then she had her friends over for dinner and on a giant whiteboard, started talking about the idea and writing lists of what she needed to do to make it happen.

When someone went to grab a radish out of the fridge, Chevonne said, ‘Oh don’t grab that, that’s a dirty radish.’ The name just stuck throughout the dinner – and has a meaning of “raw, authentic journey.”

The business fuses Chevonne’s multiple passions- food, travel, Lyon, culture, and creating pleasurable experiences for people. Chevonne is offering four, eight-day trips next summer as her first round, all taking place between June 4 to July 12, 2018. It’s a luxury trip meant to keep you active and satiated and connected, with plenty of space for alone time, too.  

The Lyon-Beaujolais tour is $3,800 a person for eight days and seven nights and includes everything except for airfare. There’s a private chef and a housekeeper. You can bring your sweetheart or a pal or come alone. It’s for the Francophiles and culture lovers and people who are willing to have a new and memorable travel experience. If you go alone, expect to meet new friends. If you’re going in a pair or a group, expect to get to know each other better. You’ll want to bring good walking shoes and keep your luggage manageable. Chevonne has a host of others tips on her website to prep you for the best trip possible. As her site says, “Dirty Radish is open to all individuals who have a zest for life, a heart for adventure and love of French culture. Each group will be unique with a common goal of a good time!”

Even though Chevonne has culinary and wine experience, she says the trip is not solely a food and wine experience.

“It’s for people who can speak bad French and get lost and enjoy the Joie de vie that is France,” she says.”It’s knowing that you have a home base with food, wine, a place to rest and someone who is looking out for you, who speaks the language and who knows the way around. It’s a little bit of everything.”

For more information about Dirty Radish Travel Company or to put in a request to book for an upcoming trip, visit www.dirtyradish.com




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