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Friday, June 24, 2005

Dambach-la-ville 

The second stop on my weekend excursions around the province was Dambach-la-ville, only one stop up on the one-car train pod from Selestat. Dambach has no historical importance that I know of; it has been a major producer of regional wines for centuries.

If there were a town that I could show you pictures of right now, it would be Dambach. It shows almost no signs of modern construction. Hugging the Vosges Mountains, the town is surrounded by fields of vines. Much of the medieval wall still stands, as do the three portals. The timbered houses, mostly in good repair, are painted red; underneath all the windows are boxes that overflow with flowers. Every bit of exposed ground has flowers. The streets are narrow. I could not walk more than a few feet without encountering another wine maker's cellar. And although it is arrestingly beautiful, I felt that I had the town to myself. I walked more than fifteen minutes from the train station to the center of town without seeing another pedestrian. I never saw more than ten people at one time. Clearly tourists have not discovered this mecca of wine and blooms.

I was also disconcerted not seeing anyone. Nothing was open, save for a restaurant in the center of town. I hiked out the other side, through the northern portal, which led up to the Chapelle Saint Sebastien among the vine covered hills. A small Romanesque edifice, it had an intricate wood alter. I believe that the chapelle is not in use; it needs restoration.

A path leads up farther into the hills. I started to hike the path. but the day was too hot to get far (this was the first day of the oppressive heat that continues today).

Back in the town, I did what I anticipated -- I tried some wine. I went to three cellars and tried three or four vintages at each. They were what I expected: fruity Rieslings and sweeter Gewurtztraminers. I also tried Cremant for the first time: Alsatian grapes put through the Champagne process.

I stopped at three. Why? I bought three bottles, and they already weighed me down. Plus I was anxious to see another town. If I had kept going I would have died. However, I would have died in heaven.

Next stop, Disneyland Obernai.
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Thursday, June 23, 2005

Sélestat (again) 

Now that my wife is back home, I can travel the way I like. I try to see everything in one day, without stopping for food until it's 9 pm. She calls this slave driving, and refuses to travel this way. But now I can do what I want!

On Saturday I went to three places: Sélestat, Dambach-la-ville, and Obernai. The weekend rail pass within the department is less than 8 euros for one day, so I figure I would see as much as I could.

First, I went back to Sélestat for one reason: to see the Bibliothèque Humaniste. The first time the library was closed, and it was high on my list of things to see.

The library's collection mostly came from Beatus Rhenanus, a native humanist who studied and taught in Paris. The town kept the collection in tact, making the library the premiere place to study humanist literature. Consequentially, Selestat became a mini-intellectual center.

Much of the reading room was roped off. A number of books were placed into five long glass cases. Wiithin them were numerous examples from the collection: books from the early Middle Ages, works on religion, Latin grammar and rhetoricm, etc.

The best works, of course, came from the 15th and 16th centuries: works by Geiler von Kaysersberg and Jacob Wimpheling (who advocated rigorous German for Alsatian students); Beatus Rhenanus' own works; works from the Protestant and Reform communities (including Bucer) .

The fifth case contained a special collection concerning maps of the "New World". The library helped to give birth to a few cartographers. One map, oriented with West on top, depicted Europe as a woman. Perhaps the most cherished work connected Amerigo Vespucci with the New World.

As small as the exhibition was, I was happy that I took the special trip to see it.

Next: the wine of Dambach-la-ville.
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I may not get my laptop fixed by the time I must return home. Dell France is impossible to work with: I keep burning out telephone card in the phone booths, and every time I get cut off I must start from scratch with them. They also won't answer e-mails. I'll put some stuff up, but the pictures must wait until my triumph back in the US. (Yes, I want to be led around town dressed like Jupiter.)
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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Fucked! 

Is the failure of my research at hand? Perhaps, perhaps not. In the stupendous heat, the fan to my laptop stopped running, and consequently my hard drive motor died. I am waiting to find out if Dell will service the laptop while I am in France.

The good news is that I lost only one day of data. I save everything to CD frequently.

More good news: I can also still use my digital camera.

More more good news: I have a nice, extended warranty, and Dell will fix the problem.

The bad news: I will not be able to read the files I photograph until I return home. One of the things I have relied on is making a quick determination of the value of documents and photographing them for later scrutiny. This is especially useful when reading Suetterlin, the handwriting component of Fraktur, the old German script. In the age of popular literacy, not everyone wrote perfectly. Reading on a computer allows me to look closely at words that are not easily read. Besides, with the photographs I can hang out somewhere other than a stuffy archive.

More bad news: I can't access my notes on the files that I have left to read. I'll have to start over with the catalogs in order to find out the tasty morsels that I want to consume. I am especially saddened because I finally broke through the early 20th C French bureaucratic mind. German bureaucrats, when Germany ruled Alsace-Lorraine, worked more readily with private organizations in the areas of cultural and social works -- the empire used associations (Vereine) to encourage public participation at the local level in order to discourage it at the national level. Associational life was not a priority for France. When Alsace-Lorraine returned to France, the French bureaucrats reordered the files, obscurring the evidence of "self-administration" in the process. I was puzzled that I found nothing on monument and landscape conservation (Denkmal- und Landschaftpflege), which was common in every German Land. I realized that I would have to look up each conservation effort individually. Ugh! Now my notes on that are gone

Well, I am waiting to see what happens. Wish me luck.
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Monday, June 20, 2005

Wissembourg 

Wissembourg is the Alsace of Alsace: an off to the side place that does not completely fit in with the rest. In the northeasternmost corner to the région, Wissembourg diverted from the development of Alsace in a few important ways. It preserved an older dialect Frankish dialect rather than the Alemmanic dialect, and it was unaffected by the explosion of literature that surrounded the invention of printing. It is also the only Alsatian town that can truly be called a a Resedinzstaft – a court city for the nobility, having housed the exiled king of Poland. The town is supposed to be beautiful, surrounded by wonderful countryside for hiking and beautiful ramparts.



Other than visiting for its history and nature, Wissembourg is also the perfect place to meet Uli, a friend whom I met when I was at Umass-Amherst and when he was on a study program from Germany. Perhaps because of me and a few others, Uli decided that he wanted a doctorate in history as well – we claimed another soul! Uli even pursued the history of Alsace, looking into the difficult question of why political organizations still resemble the German associational pattern rather than the French – he gave up on that, and moved on to “cultural translation”.

It was another dreary, cloudy, cool day (the cloudy skies will come to an end – as I write this, the heat and sun are almost ungodly – I hope there won’t be a repeat of the summer of 2003). Wissembourg the town did not live up to its reputation. It’s attractive and quaint, and I would not stop anyone who wanted to see an Alsatian town from visiting. However, it did not excite me. The houses were not spectacular; the much-publicized ramparts were little more than a wall surrounded by a hiking path; and there was little to do in town. Furthermore, it was overrun by Germans – clearly the language of Wissembourg, on the weekends, is neither French nor Frankisch.



One high point was the mural in the church. I think it was of St. Christopher, and it reached from the floor to the vaulted ceiling. According to Uli, the legend says that those who saw the saint were automatically forgiven of their sins. So many people wanted to be blessed, however, that the builders made the mural high enough that it could be seen from the back of the church. (I wish I could have photographed it, but the Church was too dark, even for a flash).

Regardless, the town was an interesting enough venue for K and I to catch up with Uli. Of course, Uli and I talked about our (lack of) progress on our dissertations (I have him beat in pages, but that may be because I am long-winded).



Eventually we hiked outside of town. The countryside lived up to the advertising. The town sits below a number of hills that France shares with Germany. We hiked up on a path that cut through some small farms. We talked about numerous things, although we left academia far behind.

Two amusing things happened. First, we ate lunch at some anonymous cafe/restaurant in the middle of town. We ordered a bottle of wine, but we did not specify what we wanted nor did we ask for a wine list. That was a mistake. We talked so much and had so much fun that we ignored the practicalities of living. In fact, I barely took notice that the waitress had poured a glass of the Riesling for me to try. The wine was good, not great: probably it was great 5 years ago. We talked, drank, ate our Flammkuchen that tasted more like flat pizza. Then I looked over at the bottle of wine: 1979. I feared how much they would ask us to pay for it. Uli looked at it, and he was afraid. K looked at it, but she took it in stride. I was mortified. When the waitress came back, I asked her how much the bottle would cost. She had to research the matter, and when she came back she switched from speaking French to German. I was not prepared to hear German, and I thought she said siebzig. 70 Euros! Less than the worst, but still bad. I stewed for the rest of lunch, not enjoying one bite of my food (as if I could). I thought about how I would chew her out after I paid the bill – what would be the mot juste? I offered to do the gentlemanly thing: I would pay for the wine. Finally I asked, “How could they spring a 70 Euro bottle of wine on us?” Uli looked puzzled. He thought she said siebzehn – 17 Euros. But he confided that he may have heard what he wanted to hear. It was equally possible that I was unprepared for her “country German”. Suddenly, he was worried and I had hope. The bill proved Uli right and me wrong, which was the better of the two possibilities.

The other thing had to do with cheese. Uli promised to bring back French cheese to a colleague of his in Germany. Uli, unlike his friend, fears French cheese: soft, runny, smelly. (You must understand that Uli is in many ways more German than other Germans.) He wanted none for himself. At the market we both bought the same type of Munster that was infused with Gewurtztraminer. Soon after our purchases, we had to catch trains in different directions. On the train on the way back to Strasbourg, K said that she could smell the cheese. Indeed, the odor of the cheese escaped through the plastic. Later, as we ate at a café, K said that she could smell it still, and more strongly! When we got back, I through it in the fridge. However, the odor took over the fridge. The next night we tried the cheese – it was wonderful, but it was difficult to be in the same room with it. Now, I can only guess how Uli reacted to the odor. Given his extreme, über-German orderliness, I can guess that he was horrified.




By the way, if I ever want to set up a French rival blog to Nuno, I am well armed with pictures.
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Friday, June 17, 2005

Basel 

Thursday of last week we went to Basel. This should have been the one of the high points of the trip. In anticipation I read Jacob Burckhardt’s Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy to get the feel for the intellect of the city (with some attention to Gossmann’s Basel in the Age of Burckhardt). I might be the only American who ever read a detailed account of the little civil war they had in the 1830, splinting the canton in Basel-City and Basel-Country. I wanted to like it. I “kinda” like it. But I had no fun. Basel is an unforgiving city.



Basel has three problems: layout, money, and openings. First, the cityscape is very hilly, and many of the streets are without rationalization. The map that I received from the tourist office gave no indication of the challenges of walking and navigating the city. A walk of a few blocks could entail climbing several hills. Streets that appear adjacent on a map may be, in truth, far apart if altitude is taken into consideration. I wished that elevation were better marked on our poor street map.




Second, everything in Basel is expensive. Even Swiss chocolate is expensive. OK, the watches were reasonably priced, but I hadn’t the money impulsively to drop on one of them. Most paperback books on national and city history were more that 35 francs. One restaurant offered a quesidilla for 25 francs. No, I’m sorry, there’s no way that Mexican food in Switzerland can justify that price.

Finally, the museums almost never open. The Architecture Museum was closed, open only two days per week. The Swiss Museum of Jewish History was closed, open three days per week. We walked around so much looking for these places (see the first problem) that we gave up on Baseler cultural life.

My advice to anyone who wants to visit Basel: plan ahead, plan thoroughly, save up, and take the tram whenever possible.



Despite these problems, there were things about Basel that we enjoyed. As I said, Basel is unusually hilly, and it sits high above the Rhine River. It is the first navigable point on the river, and it is deservingly the first Rhenish city. The houses are beautiful. The propensity to paint the exteriors with faux decorations is stronger than in Sélestat. Our arduous journeys through the streets were rewarded by Renaissance and Classical touches. The best examples come from the Rathaus (city hall), which has numerous tableaus on its facades: myths and histories of antiquity and the confederation.



The first thing we saw, just outside the train station, was Auguste Bartholdi’s The Swiss coming to the aid of Strasbourg during the Siege of 1870. The statue shows angels protecting women and children. The front panel shows the diplomats of the Swiss cities negotiating to send aid to the Strasbourgeoisie; the back shows the history of the relations between the cities in commerce.



The Münster (cathedral) was spectacular. At first we were dissappointed as we walker around the exterior: it was not as well adorned as other Gothic churches we have visited. Eventually I remembered that iconoclasm had been more extensive and violent in Basel than in other German cities during the Reformation (it was comparatively tame in Strasbourg: mayor Jacob Sturm made iconoclasm illegal despite reform). Nonetheless, there were a number of interesting figures to be seen. The adjacent courtyard contained numerous memorial stones to people who were buried therein. There were plenty of Burckhardts, so I looked around for Jacob but failed to find the historian. The space must have been filled by the end of the eighteenth century. (Here are a few extra gems for BRDGT.)



The interior held more interest. For the most part the area of the congregation was sparse. On the sides the crypts of knights and bishops were in good shape. The nave (the front part of the Church, for the clergy, if I have that right) is very high above the congregation, perhaps twenty feet above them. The differences in height create clearly separated spaces, unusual for any Church. The reason for this might be that further crypts were located beneath the nave: perhaps the builders did not want to dig into the hill in order to locate it. At the back of the nave were a row of windows that offered a commanding, almost panoramic view of the city and the river.



The best part of the cathedral was the crypt area, which had numerous frescoes – the lives of saints and such. Unfortunately they have faded away (blame the Protestants for not appreciating a good idol).



The Open Church of Elizabeth is bizarre. No longer in use for worship, it is used as a space for other things. A café operates out of the side. There were long tables and fold-out chairs in place of pews. Where was the disco ball? We couldn’t find it.



Finally, the pond with fountains by Jean Tinguely was fun. Different animated fountains whimsically spewing water into the air. This was the best thing in Basel.


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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Sélestat 

Last week, on Tuesday, we took a train to Sélestat. Like Colmar and Strasbourg it was one of the cities of the Decapole, and like Colmar it grew up around the wine trade. Perhaps most significantly, it was a major intellectual center because of the library created by Beatus Rhenanus in the fifteenth century.

The coolest thing that we saw in Sélestat was the first: three storks circling us!

The old city center (vieille ville) is very attractive. There is little logic to the layout of the buildings and streets. In fact, the streets do not as much cut through the dense agglomeration of buildings as lead from one square of houses to the next. I would guess that no one (read the Germans during the period of the Kaiserreich) tried to rationalize urban planning. Consequently, the old city center of Selestat is one area, not clearly subdivided into living and shopping areas.

There are lots of the half-timbered houses that are so familiar to the region, and if they are not as tall as those of Colmar and Strasbourg, they are perhaps more beautiful. The compactness of the old town creates a traditional atmosphere: it is impossible to take a whole building in, you can only crane your neck up close and look at the buildings in awe.



Port Neuf Briesach

Many buildings are brightly colored; others have been painted with faux elements of Renaissance and Classical architecture. I sensed that painting played the same role that sculpture normally played in medieval cities, expressing the sentiments of the merchants who lived in them. Clearly some of these paintings (frescoes?) were modern, kept up by the people to maintain the visual traditions of the city.




Because of the compactness of the old city center, I never got the angle I wanted to photograph the architecture, like St. Foy (12th century). The church, an elegant Romanesque structure, alternated stones of different colors, giving a varied look to the outside. Near the back it has a wide, octagonal spire. The interior is a masterful play of light: rays stream in through the windows onto the various surfaces.



The Gothic St. Georges (completed in the 15th century) was less inviting, perhaps because Gothic is becoming quite ordinary for this trip. St. Foy and St. Georges are but a few hundred feet from one another, and one has a perfect view of the other upon exiting from the side doors. The best parts of St. Georges are the long, stained glass windows which depict the lives of saints.



My big disappointment came when the Humanist Library was closed. I had become so used to things being closed on Mondays around here that I got sloppy and did not check the times.

Feeling that the day might be wasted, I rented some bicycles from the tourist office. K was not at first convinced that my idea was good. She had never biked in Europe, and was afraid of getting lost. However, it was the first beautiful day of the trip, and I thought we would enjoy seeing something other than the cities and towns.

At first things were dreary – I took us the wrong direction to get to the bike paths outside town. We also were unclear about how to ride on streets and sidewalks in France: should one stay on the road unless a bike path is marked? Will drivers see us, or even care?



Finally we got out of town and into the Ried (literally the reeds, being that Selestat is at the edge of a swampy, reedy area west of the river). The landscape was flat, with large fields divided by long stands of trees and streams. At parts the forest of the Îllwald became more dense. At some point we bike into the forest itself. We stopped to talk to an older couple who said that they hiked through the forest two miles everyday. They told us about efforts to preserve the Îllwald.

We ate lunch at a Tunisian restaurant not far from the churches. The owner was friendly and hospitable, shaking everyone’s hand as they entered and chatting with every table. The restaurant is clearly loved by the locals.
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I’ve come back from Paris, where K returned home (to attend to the bunnies, of course). I should catch up with these entries rather quickly. However, I will be divert some from the diary model.
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Friday, June 10, 2005

First Day at the Archives 

Monday I went to the archives. I expected to be put through a long wait, talking to some random archivist about my research. All they wanted was my "“numero de lecture" and I was in the reading room and working. I took it easy the first day, spending only two hours looking back over the catalogs (some of which have been reorganized since my last visit).

I ordered only two files. One was a collection of reports made to the Commissioner General of Alsace-Lorraine, something I had looked at before but wanted to see if I missed anything. The second file dealt with "“Monuments, Museums and Decorative Arts". I was eager to find something on the Musée Alsacien. The file came in a huge box, and it was at least eight inches thick. I was licking my chops, expecting something big. Unfortunately, it was full of stuff on decorative arts associations. Really boring. The stuff on museums was thin, maybe one quarter inch.

One interesting thing that I found was an initiative to created a Rhenish museum in Strasbourg. A man who had worked for the French occupation in Germany on matters related to trade between the Rhineland and France proposed a museum to call attention to the shared, but complex heritage of the Rhine in all six countries. I had not read about this effort before, and I assume that it failed completely. However, it had the support of the Commissioner General and some other powerful local officials. I intend to look more deeply at this issue, if I can find anything else.

Another oddity in the file: 300 pages of an anonymous manuscript on Henri IV. That'’s a nightmare: writing a whole lot and not being acknowledged for it.

I swung by to pick up K so that we could go out in the afternoon. We went to my favorite restaurant in France, the vegetarian Poêles des Carrotes. The interior had changed slightly, so inquired whether it had new owners -- it did. K ordered penne with mushrooms, I ate a gratin of spinach, broccoli and cauliflower. Still wonderful.

After lunch we wondered around the northeastern corner of Centre Ύle. This area had been less affected by modernization than other areas in the center of the city. We found a shop that sells some interesting African goods. K also bought a sketch book.



We descended to the level of the river and strolled slowly along its banks. We found a bench and sat for half an hour as we talked.

This day we drank half a liter of wine, a glass of beer each, and a bottle of cider, but never felt tipsy. I guess walking a lot does that.
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Colmar 



We spent Sunday in Colmar, a small city in upper Alsace that grew around the medieval wine trade. It’s history resembles Strasbourg’s: a powerful medieval center with strong artisan and art traditions; significantly changed by the Reformation, although no denomination gained the upper hand; remade by the French to represent aristocratic power and Catholicism. In the nineteenth century Colmar became a departmental capital, but it did not grow like Strasbourg, and consequentially it remained small. It owes much of its current shape to French efforts to turn it into an administrative center for upper Alsace and to undermine the influence of the local merchants. Our visit was dominated by two things: the Unterlinden Museum and the sculptures of August Bartholdi.

It was another overcast day, and we started out late. We arrived in Colmar around 12.30. I hadn’t been there in several years, so I was not quite certain how to find the center of town. We wander for a little while until we came upon Parc du Champs du Mars. It has two Bartholdi statues: Rapp at the northern end, and Bruat to the south (this one had been destroyed by the Nazis, of course, and rebuilt by the town thereafter; we would see later that it was no nearly as magnificent as Bartholdi’s original).

After helping a few Japanese tourists to find their way around, I took K to what, in my opinion, is the coolest building in town: Maison des Têtes – the House of Heads. It is an early 17th century house with lost of different faces all up and down the front. It was built by the city’s mayor; it is now a restaurant.



K was less impressed by the Collégiale Saint-Martin, a Gothic church that has been used as a cathedral since the revolution. We spent only a brief period inside – it is poorly lit from both artificial and natural light, and we could not completely appreciate it.

Finally I took K to the Unterlinden Museum. The building itself had been a Dominican convent. The cloister in the center is a tranquil garden whereat people sit for hours listening to birds. The museum itself was established in the late 19th century by locals who wanted to preserve the local history of the decorative arts. It houses a number of Medieval Rhenish masterpieces, especially works by Isseman, Schöngauer and Grünewald. The Issenheim Altar by Grünewald is clearly the center of the collection. The panel of the Temptation of Saint Antony is gruesome and powerful (I wish I had taken a photo of it). However, I loved the collection of engravings from Schöngauer, which were themselves evocative and detailed.



The upper level houses early modern and modern works. Perhaps most interesting was a large work by Jules Theophile Schuler, “La Char de la Mort (The Chariot of Death)”. It depicts the revolution pulled by skeletal horses. I am tempted to call it a royalist work, but I will reserve judgement for now.



Sidenote: the other day I was looking over documents concerning museums at the archives. I came across an article in a German newspaper from the 1930s: the author was upset by the possession of the Grünewald altar by the French. He claimed that “The great German artist that is Gruenewald is lost in a museum of an emptied province, among the souvenirs of war”:
Finally, here in the great room appears in all his glory this great German artist. The spirit and the tumult blaze through the tableaus that express death and resurrection with power. And the spleandor of the colors [that are] the equal of the greatest Dutch and Italian painters. No! Its place is not here, in this provincial prison! This room is empty when it should be full of reverie. I saw no more than two visitors ... No, its place is not here: it belongs to us, we who understand it and admire it.


After Unterlinden, we went to the Musée Bartholdi. August Bartholdi was born in Colmar. Many of his works, including statues of French heroes and the Statue of Liberty, expressed his protest against German rule in Alsace. I had skipped this museum the first time I visited Colmar. I regret doing so. This museum was fantastic. It held numerous models and studies that he made for his monumental works. Among the more obvious works, there was a series on artisans, the remains of the Brualt fountain, and paintings that he made in California. One room served as a museum for the local Jewish community. I was particularly drawn to a study of Lafayette with Washington, one of a number of works that Bartholdi made of Lafayette. I bought a book detailing the planning and construction of the monument at the Basel train station: a memorial to the help given to Strasbourg during the siege of 1870.



We wandered through the rest of Colmar. The town, by this time, had been overrun by tourists (like us), but everyone was in good spirits. I bought some flavored merengues for K and me. We encountered several more works by Bartholdi throughout the town, although these were of local historical figures. One seemed to be pregnant with meaning: the mayor who resisted the forces of the Bishop of Strasbourg in the 12th century (opposition to all sorts of centralization and hegemony?). Finally I showed K “Little Venice”, the part of town near the wider part of the river.

We stopped at a brasserie for beer and (of course) Flammkuchen.
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Monday, June 06, 2005

Flammkuchen 

On Saturday we had no change to buy tickets for the tram, and we could not break our huge 50 Euro bills to get any. We were condemned to walk most of the day.

At Place Broglie there was an art market. The works were interesting, although I felt that the artists relied too much on African influences, but incorporated African elements abstractly without portraying any warmth. We also went to “the market of the mountains” near Temple Neuf where K bought a small, ceramic rabbit. The “artisans” were sitting around a pan of frying sausages as they joked with one another. Of course, the artisan had to tease me. I pointed to the one K wanted, he pointed to another – repeat several times. How long did it take before I realized he was fooling me? I am a sucker every time. We stopped at the Cathedral briefly. K obsessed over the gargoyles, I over the windows.



After an afternoon of my slave-driving, K insisted that we stop to eat. We stopped at a brasserie across from Pont de Corbeau (where the patricides and infanticides were put in cages and cast into the river to die). K ordered her first Flammkuchen (tarte flambée) and loved it! – cream, onions, potatoes and Munster. Afterwards we stopped at a cheese shop to buy more Munster. I spoke with the cheese monger for a while – he hummed a verse of the Bee Gees’ “Massachusetts” when I told him where we were from.

Altars and Statues
Sunday we took the train to Colmar, a small city that grew as a market for the wine trade.
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The Place 

K refers to my room as “Small House” (referencing the mock reality show in the Geico commercial). She’s right. I have a small room with a small kitchenette and a “bathroom pod” (the small plastic shower, sink and toilette unit that gets put into the rooms of older buildings). The size would not be a problem if there were sufficient storage space. I have not unpacked because there is only a sliver of a closet to put clothes in. All my stuff is still in my luggage, pushed underneath the bed. The room and the building, however, are immaculately clean, receive a cool breeze, and the bed is quite comfortable.

The neighborhood is surprisingly charming. Two blocks from the main synagogue, the area has a large and visible Jewish population. We arrived in Strasbourg just as people started Shabbat. The neighborhood is almost completely residential, with lots of four and five-story buildings that were erected after 1890. Every now and then there is a touch of Jugendstil design in a door or window. The lack of shops creates an air of being deserted.



Our building is two blocks from Avenue de la Paix, which leads into the Place de la Republique. The Germans built up the area in order to create a second center to the city, one dominated by government buildings and residences of bureaucrats. I should credit German urban planning with making interesting choices. Everyday we walk down to Avenue de la Paix to catch the tram, and the same sight greets us: the Avenue gives a clear, centered view of the spire of the Cathedral that is absolutely charming. After the Germans, the French put a war memorial in the Place de la Republique right underneath the spire.

The weather has, so far, sucked. It rained the first evening as we walked back from eating. It was overcast yesterday when we were in Colmar. Today is drizzled some as we walked around the southeastern edge of Centre Ile.
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Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Maps of Alsace 



I guess this one explains the Germanness of Elsaß.




Relief of the department of Lower Rhine.
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Things to do 

OK, I am trying to create an itinerary for the things that K and I want to do while in Alsace. One thing is a must: we will meet our friend Uli in Wissembourg, an old Frankish town on the border with Germany. (I think it once served as a residence for the exiled king Stanislaw.) Wissembourg is an old looking town with its ramparts still intact, so we may hike around them.

The other place that I am anxious to see is the humanist library in Selestat. The small town houses one of the oldest libraries in France (thanks to the donation by Beatus Rhenanus). I believe that Jacob Wimpheling made good use of this collection.

Finally, I am overdue for a visit to Basel. It's the last of the great medieval Rhenish bishoprics (after Cologne, Trier and Strasbourg) that I have not yet seen. This might be a day trip on the weekend: the hotels are expensive, but the trains between Strasbourg and Basel are frequent and quick. I might want to check out the Architecture Museum, but the Münster is a must.

Everything else we will figure out when we get there. I know Strasbourg quite well, but K still has experienced little of it. I also must take her to Colmar so that she can see the Issenheim Altar. Other possibilities are a boat tour of Strasbourg from the Îll River, the vineyards around Mulhouse, Thann, Obernai (virtual tour), and Hagenau. Lots of photos can be seen here.
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Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Lyon Off, Looking for a new place to visit 

As you might have guest, our planned vacation to the Lyon region of France has been postponed until October. The health of our little bunny Ollie is limiting us. However, Karen's vacation week is only ten days away. We want to go somewhere that will allow us to return quickly home: either somewhere that can be reached by car, train, or one short plane flight. So far, we are considering Philadelphia, Finger Lakes (for wine tasting esp.), and Toronto.
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