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Monday, August 10, 2009

From Colmar in Alsace

I am writing from the absolutely delightful Maison Martin Jund, in the middle of medieval Colmar. I have been here for the last couple of days, after leaving Germany. It is not really a hotel, more a winery/ b and b. Really charming place, oozing ambiance, on a quiet little mostly untouristed street called Rue des Anges (angels). If I can bear the idea of carrying more weight I will bring a bottle of their wine home. Did I recount how I have wound up carting all my stuff around since leaving Paris because I couldn't find the little street in the Latin Quarter where the office of Freres des Hommes is? If not, I will try to at a later point.

Speaking of points why on earth does the French keyboard have the period as upper case?

I owe my stay here to travel guide writer Rick Steves, although I am not usually one to read celebrity travel guides or much less, give them a plug. But I was reading my old guidebook before leaving home, looking for a destination between Germany and Paris to explore for a few days, and Colmar jumped out. First, a medieval city spared the damages of the war, second, a museum he described as one of the best in Europe, third, the delightful sounding Maison Martin Jund, from which I am writing. My room here is delightful, I'm pretty sure all the ancient looking beams are authentic, and, I am writing from a communal computer that is just outside my room. The best of old and new.

The Underlinten Museum, in an old church, has been a museum since the late 1800s. Its highlight is a complex piece called the Isenheim Alterpiecedone in the 16th century. It is a series of painted panels by Grunewald that all fold in doubly upon one another, and at the center is the an immense carved piece featuring Saint Anthony and some other folks. I gather that the piece was intended to help people suffering from St. Anthony's Fire, a terrible disease now called rye ergotism. The entire piece has been dissassembled so that all the panels and the centerpiece can be displayed. It is no doubt impressive, but I must confess I preferred another series of panels in the same space, by Shongauer. The details in those 12 panels are exquisite. I was especially taken by details in the faces and clothing of the men taunting Jesus.

From a balcony above, you can gaze down on both works as well as all the people with their audio guides held to their ears, as if in a modern version of worship.

The museum houses an impressive and varied collection of items ranging from armor to impressionism, and there was a temporary exhibit of painting by someone called Charles Lapicque, who the exhibit titled the "derangeur." (the disturber?) He painted from the 30s to the 80s, very bright paintings depicting all kinds of things, from the demonstrations of May 1968 to women's faces. One was called Hommage to Van Dyke, and was a group of recognizably Van Dykesque men, but painted in the ultra bright colors of Lapicque's other work.

The rest of the modern section of the museum included works by Renoir, Monet, Bonnard, Leger, and a particularly appealing self portrait of Picasso in mostly blues, plus others by people I'd never heard of which I liked equally as well.

There are at least two other museums here, and I will head out shortly to visit one and perhaps both of them. One is the house of Bartholdi, who is from Colmar, and who designed the Statue of Liberty. I love places that have been people's houses, and especially those that still have the original belongings. The other is a toy museum, which I will visit if I have the time. I have to see where the day takes me.

There is one more Colmar experience I have to relate. The first night I arrived here, I went to an outdoor restaurant, as most here are. I was exhausted after the trip from Karlsruhe, which I will relate at a future point, along with the rest of my adventures in Karlsruhe and Koln.

I sat down at a table for two, which was pushed next to another small table. Almost immediately, another woman came over, and asked if it would bother me (ca vous deranger?) if she sat at the adjoining table. Of course not, I indicated. She clearly knew the waiter, who over the course of the next half hour kept pressing her to let him bring her some paté. She kept indicating that she wasn't hungry, that she had already eaten. Meanwhile, I ordered my salad, she asked if I would like to share a bottle of wine because it wasn't worth it to just order a couple of glasses, and eventually, after asking, moved over to my table, freeing up the other for others. Over the next hour we chatted about a variety of things, ranging from her work as a teacher of classics and languages (she said she couldn't speak much English and regretted that she had focussed on dead languages) to her divorce and her 6 year old son, whom her ex-homme had for the weekend. Before long, several men had joined us at the table. They were all acqaintences, if not friends. One was a man who told me it was his dream to go to the US and ride his motorcyle across Route 66. I never figured out if the woman and the waiter were a couple, or if he but not she wanted to be, or what. He did bring the paté, and she spent the next hour or so trying to eat it slowly, joking about how she was going to offer some to people walking by, after she had already tried to offer some to each of us around the table. I think there were 5 of us by that point.

It was just a wonderful unexpected encounter, and I was very pleased that I understood nearly all of what was said. In the end, we exchanged emails, and I gave the biker guy my blog info.
It was only then that I got any of their names. The woman was Sabine. The waiter was the only one whose name I previously knew, because Sabine kept referring to him. He was Philippe. I hope they get together. I really liked them both.

Time to stop now and visit some more museums.

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