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.
“If I lived in a city, I would like to have a house like that one,” I thought as I walked by.
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 . . .
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 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,
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…
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.
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!
A few of the ones I liked best:
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:
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.
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.