A weekend with the Strasbourgeoisie

10 October 2011 § Leave a comment

6 octobre 2011

This weekend began in a fashion similar to that of the Paris weekend, except I already had all of my train tickets and plenty of unnecessary documents, caught the navette on time, and sat in second class (the desks are not as good).  Watching the sunrise while the train flew through the French countryside, I thought about how even just looking at fields and trees and streams (and cows) is sometimes far too much for the human spirit to handle—impressions, remembrances, dreams.  I read a good bit and understood a small bit of Les Fleurs du mal, which is about the only leisure reading I’ve done since I’ve been here.  Today in art and lit, we learned that we are going to start reading it, so now I don’t think I can even count it any more.

I arrived in Strasbourg in the afternoon, dropped off my bag at the hotel, and walked around for six hours.  The plan was to go to a museum—I had even drawn a little map—but the bons temps and flowers and bridges and mélange of French and German enchanted me, and I couldn’t bring myself to go inside any building—until I found some churches, which are perfect places in cities to sit for a few minutes in the quiet air and read or do nothing.  Also, two men walking down the sidewalk saw me clearly confused with my map and stopped me in order to help me, so I had a good impression of les Strasbourgeois.

One of my first real looks at Strasbourg

Just pretend that this church is not in the middle of the remodelling process

“If I lived in a city, I would like to have a house like that one,” I thought as I walked by.

It had a Cherry-Lane-combined-with-something-nobler air about it

When I walked back on the other side of the street about half an hour later, after walking through the university garden, I discovered that the two boards that you can scarcely see (on the fence) were about the blockade.  The house is the Russian embassy . . .

Russia follows me everywhere

Later, I heard music and followed it into a building—the giant doors were open—to find the source, and I wandered right into what I thought was a concert, but when the music ended, an old man began speaking.  It seemed to be a sort of long prosy eulogy about a Catholic theologian.  (I actually just looked him up—Charles Wackenheim, author of Christianisme sans Ideologie, 1974, and apparently still a professor at the University of Strasbourg.)

I'm pretty sure this is one of the university buildings

I didn’t know how to leave without giving offence, so I just sat there, but then another song started after about twenty minutes, and after that one I escaped and had the good fortune to find a pear tart for dinner.


The next morning, I had another bout with the train station, but eventually a woman working at a bakery agreed to give me a pile of coins for a twenty-euro bill so I could buy a train ticket to Saverne, a small town that I had heard was charming—and it was.  Before my train left, I had enough time to drop by the main cathedral (apparently Hugo liked it a lot) and gaze longingly around one of the book markets.  On the train, I met a kind person who walked around and showed things to me for twenty minutes, and then I spent four hours exploring the entirety of Saverne, the castle with museum (paintings, sculpture, old religions sculptures from the cathedral, an exhibit about the life of Louis Weiss) inside,

Castle with museum inside

Louis Weiss, president of the inaugural meeting of the European Assembly (1979)

Louise's paper . . . Russia again








and nearby hill that I thought had a castle on the top of it.  After scampering up it—I hurried, because I thought I was going to miss the train I wanted to catch back to Strasbourg—and actually running down the entire thing (no clogs this time), I discovered that it wasn’t the hill with the castle on top of it.  Oh well…

Oh look, it's a mountain

The view, mostly of trees






I also found a rose garden that was closed for the year—it closes at the end of September, and I was there on the first of October—but I could still walk around it.

The rosary

The roses are still blooming in France






When I returned to Strasbourg, I went to the museum of fine arts and saw some works by a few of my favourite painters (Monet, Corot, and some northern Renaissancers) and many works by artists whom we are studying in school—even the death of Roland!

Paysage avec la mort de Roland (Achille-Etna Michallon, 1822ish)

A few of the ones I liked best:

Paysage avec Daphnis et Chloé (François-Louis Français, 1897ish)

Femme au rosier (Gustave Brion, 1875 - he also illustrated Les Mis!)

Le soleil boit la rosée (Antoine Chintreuil, 1873ish)

The next stop was the Alsace museum, a veritable labyrinth of old Alsace things.  I got lost a few times, but getting lost isn’t so bad when you encounter numerous Russian-like stoves and incredibly large cake pans:

More Russianness

Making cakes in these would be so much fun








Then, I walked to the European parliament buildings, which were all hideous.  The rights of men building, for example, looks like a giant glass space ship.  It should be one of the rights of men to decimate it.  Luckily my aesthetic sensibilities were saved by immediately entering the jardin de l’Orangerie and seeing small children run around wildly.

Les fleurs du bon

I found the Palais des Fêtes soon afterward, after I walked for about an hour back to the main part of town, to find out about a music festival I had looked up, and I ended up buying a ticket (after running around in search of an ATM—again) for Siegfried, an opera whose story I actually know, thanks to high school German.  Sadly, I had found a honey shop earlier in the day, and the only shoes I took to Strasbourg were the plimsolls that I was wearing, so I had to attend the opera rather underdressed and carrying a large jar of honey.  The worst part was that I accidentally broke into the balcony area before we were actually allowed to go in, so then a boy at the door had to explain the situation to me and send me downstairs, after which I stood in the corner looking at all of the elegant people and trying to be invisible.  If I had been someone else, I could have had a good laugh at myself—as it was, if I had started laughing, the people in charge may have escorted me out of the theatre.  I enjoyed the opera quite a lot, even when I thought my feet were going to die (I walked about twelve miles that day—the entire day from eight in the morning until half past eight in the evening, except the time on the train).

Everything seemed done around midnight when I went to bed, but then the fire alarm went off at half past four in the morning and caused a bit of a flurry that involved getting dressed, cramming everything in my bag, and running down the stairs—all of this happened twice—only to find out that no one knew what was happening and then having to explain that to the Germans on my hall.

In the morning, I went to the history of Strasbourg museum for too little time and then, dehydrated and depressed to find no water on board, rode the train back home to Aix, with a two-hour stop in Lyon, where I found a strange park and almost missed my second train because I was reading and lost track of time.  Also, while making my way back to the train station, I encountered a woman who asked me for directions.  I said politely (in French, of course) that I didn’t know where to find whatever she had asked about and that I didn’t live there, and her response consisted of her pointing at my face and saying “AINGLEESH” loudly with a strange grin on her face.  Can a person actually say that to another person?  Is it actually possible that that happened?  I pondered that for a while, and I still have no idea.

A nice surprise was discovering that my ticket said first class on it—perhaps the man behind the counter felt like giving me a present after we struggled to formulate travel plans around my classes with a giant map of Europe spread over the information desk at the train station in Aix a week earlier.

My one photograph of Lyon


Lessons and recess

6 October 2011 § Leave a comment

5 octobre 2011

Things I knew before this trip but disregarded: It is a good idea to make travel plans in advance.  It is especially good to make train reservations early if one has a eurail pass.

Things that I didn’t know before this trip and discovered: I should travel either by private jet/train/car/boat or not travel at all.  And eurail passes shouldn’t exist.

Yet surely, I reasoned, a train from Aix to Paris at 5.54 in the morning won’t have any other eurail pass people on it.  With this thought, I woke up early to catch the 4.40 navette to the train station, but I read my clock incorrectly and left ten minutes later than planned.  I noticed this when I was leaving and decided to run to the bus station, which is a little more than a mile away.  I was wearing clogs, which make quite a racket on cobblestones, and drew a bit of unsought attention from wanderers of the night, but at least I was quite awake when I arrived there.

I missed the navette by two minutes—it’s probably the only bus in France that runs on an actual schedule—so I decided to wait around for the 5.10 navette, but a few minutes before it arrived, I was reading over my train pass guide (I can’t remember why I was doing this in the first place) in a leisurely fashion and discovered that I needed my passport to validate my pass before using it for the first time.  So I made my way back home with only a few minor obstacles and decided that I could catch the next train.  When I left (I did remember to get my passport) my auberge, I discovered that I might be late again, so I ran there again.

I finally made it to the train station, and the desk person told me that there were no more seats for eurail pass people and told me that I could upgrade to first class.  I didn’t have much of a choice, so I handed over my credit card, which I promptly discovered does not work in train stations (or at least in Aix, Paris, and Strasbourg—perhaps I can try all of the train stations in Europe), so I had to scamper away, to a place outside the train station, to withdraw money.

When the train arrived, I went in the wrong car—I think I was scared that the train would leave after two seconds, so I just jumped on the first one I could reach and figured I would wander around inside to find my seat—and then, after twenty minutes of searching, was told by a kindly old attendant that I couldn’t actually reach the car I was supposed to be in by the inside corridor.  He showed me to an empty seat, though, which was pleasant of him.

I alighted at the gare de Lyon and, after a train station mix-up with Katie, we found ourselves waiting in line to buy my ticket back to Aix in the evening.  Alas, no seats left for eurail pass people!  So I had the privilege of upgrading again (I am now used to travelling only in first class) for the train the next evening.  As I said before, an extra day with Katie in Paris!  We departed from the ticket counter—I should add that the ticket boy schemed and strategized and generally helped considerably with plans—and walked in circles beneath the train station to find the metro line we were seeking.  It was silly and an appropriate reunion…and just like the story we wrote/are still writing about two girls hopping around Europe.

We ate lunch in the jardin du Luxembourg, found an orchestra playing a concert that included quite a range of music (even Pink Panther…?), and bumbled around.  In the evening, we went to a large open area full of people sitting on the ground (Question: how many of those girls will be infertile?  Answer: how many of them are Russian?) to see the Petit Prince mystery—we didn’t know what to expect.  I also met a French friend of Katie’s and two girls in her program, so we were a merry party.  An actor famous for his imposing voice and a child read the story while different images and film clip things were projected on a giant arch-building, and music was playing the entire time, with coloured lights and frequent fireworks.

Aside from ballets and Russian music and Chopin concerts and the opera a week later, it was my favourite performance ever.

You'll have to imagine the music

In the morning, we went to mass at Notre Dame and then to a delightful lunch at La Fourmi Ailée (the winged—flying?—ant).

No ladders = no reading during lunch

It used to be a book shop, and you should go there if you are in Paris.  We also went to Shakespeare and Company, which I have always wanted to visit.  What a charming book shop!  It even has desks and a piano upstairs.

We meandered to Ménilmontant for the weekend of open artist’s studios, which ended up like museum time combined with a walk outside.  It was probably the first time I actually enjoyed modern art.

My idea of the artistic representation of The Gift (and of Nabokov's life in general)

There was one charmingly crammed studio especially that had to be the artistic combination of the personalities of Katie and me: it had an actual rabbit, a blue Emily dress, paintings of bees, flowers, butterflies, and evanescent girls, giant white paper elephants hanging from the ceiling, paintings of funny little creatures that look like animals on Katie’s Japanese notebook things—and the artist was Japanese, too.

There was also a cheerfully crowded flower garden right outside the door.

The two girls separated suddenly when the metro whisked one away to the train station, there to write essays on medieval French poetry all the way back to Aix…


The last two weeks

4 October 2011 § Leave a comment

4 octobre 2011

Since it’s already late and an art and literature quiz looms in the near future (tomorrow morning), I can’t really catch up on everything, so I will write just a bit and add more later.

Two weekends ago, I went to Paris to visit Katie.   It was supposed to be a day trip, but because of train pass complications, I ended up staying for two days, which was much more fun, of course.  It involved much flâner-ing (wandering), a spectacle (there is not a good translation of that French word) of Le Petit Prince, exploring the ateliers of the artists of Ménilmontant, and much of that beloved traditional Katie-and-Emily-(ridiculous)ness.

This past weekend, I went to Strasbourg.  Contrary to the belief of two people in my program, Strasbourg is not located in Germany…it has been completely under French control since 1954, and for most of the time before that, as well.  At least that is not as bad as someone that Mme Marchetto had the bad luck to meet in the Chicago airport who did not know that France was a country.  When she relayed that story a week or two ago, none of us knew what to say.  How is it possible not to know that France is a country?  Especially if you are in an airport…

Here is traditional Alsatian clothing:

Hansi (from Colmar, near Strasbourg), drew a lot of these. Alsace girls win the giant bow prize!

Much joy awaited me when I arrived at school today–three letters!  (And one a few days ago, too.)  C’est magnifique!  I was surprised that they arrived so soon–six days from the post mark–especially given the French postal system in general.  That deserves its own post (oops, that was not supposed to be a joke).  Those four wonderful people are going to receive letters soon : ) I’ve already spent heaps of money on postage, so if I sent a letter to everyone I know, I would have to live on potatoes and milk (I already did that in Russia), but I will reply at great length to anyone who writes to me, bien sûr.

Also…my birthday is in one week!  If you send large boxes of flowers, books of poetry, and butterfly farms now, they will probably arrive in time.

Where Am I?

You are currently viewing the archives for October, 2011 at aixpatriate.