Archive for March, 2010

Well, maybe not directly, but some good may come of my heroic efforts last evening.  I was absolutely alone in the chateau, sitting doing something in my apartment at about 7:30 when the fire alarm went off.

By the way, being here alone is like the old line about 200 tv channels and nothing on.  How many rooms here?  I’ll guess more than 100, but I must find out some day.  Now, suppose some of those spirits from Worms (see earlier post) followed me here  and began to come out of the walls . . .  Let’s suppose something else.

Chateau alarm boxes

I pretty much already understood what’s going on with the boxes at left; Feuerwehr is fire alarm.  You are supposed to Scheibe einschlagen and push the button in deeply.  But I never bothered to look up what Scheibe meant.  Obviously cover or something like that; turns out to be pane.  But to beat in the pane?  That’s weird.  Now, Rauchabzug:  Rauch is smoke (this is German, friends, in our French- and English-speaking chateau).  Abzug I could also figure out; it means Takeaway thing.  So is that device supposed to pull smoke out of the corridor??

By the way, I screwed up the French word for smoke when speaking to the cops.  Fume, I thought.  Remember papa fume le pipe from French class?  No?  Anyway, turns out the word is la fumee (few-may), with an accent mark (accent aigue) SW-NE over the first e.

Back to my story.  The sound wasn’t so bad in my apartment, but when I opened the door the siren was screaming at a right high pitch.  I didn’t smell smoke, let alone see any fire.  So back in I went, put on shoes, my coat, got my passport, wallet, and telephone, and went out again into the corridor.  The siren was relentless.  Having no clue about how to turn it off, or whether there was really a fire somewhere–which is a scary thought, considering that this place did burn down once, either in the late 19th or early 20th century, depending on who’s telling the story–I needed some help.  Didn’t have a phone number for the fire department or the police, except the national emergency number, 112.  But, again, no smoke or fire.  I walked through the halls for a while, went outside, still nothing out of order, except that the alarm was blaring.

The only thing I could think of to do was to walk to the police station, which is only about 2 blocks away.  It didn’t seem like an emergency, and I didn’t want to upset people and have firemen rushing around for no reason.  The basic verb for to bother in French is deranger, (day-ranzh-ay) and I certainly didn’t want a bunch of derange (again the same sound) people running around the chateau.   So I reached the station, communicated in French through an intercom well enough to get my point across; the dispatcher told me to go back to the chateau (ah, first he said which chateau, making me think he was off his feed a little–but then he said Miami?  Ah, oui!).  So I walked back to the chateau and in a few minutes three cops came.  Very young–they looked like our students, except for the black uniforms and guns.  Anyway, it took them 15-20 minutes to find the alarm control panel, then to shut off the alarm.  Man, was that silence blessed!

chateau alarm control panel; best angle I could get on it

Here is the control panel, with instructions in several languages.  But you have to know where the panel is in the first place!  And then in fact it helps to know some German.

So I saved nothing in reality, except that now we will have printed instructions for every newcomer here about what to do in such cases, and I have a non-emergency number for the police and a direct number for the local fire department.

The cops, 1 F and 2 M, all shook hands with me when they left.  I said I was sorry to have deranged them; of course they replied no problem.  And I suppose that of all the calls they receive, this one was easy.

How to find a fire     extinguisher, a word I did know–now we’re back into French!  You have to be a little bit bi or trilingual to deal with fires around here.  It says “extinguisher on the other side.”  But wait, we need to know whether cote is masculine or feminine, because we don’t want to derange ourselves!  So pardon me if the alarm goes off again and I go out with 2 dictionaries.

Fire when ready, not before.


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Well, Eurofans, I have been away for a while, to Hannover, where I gave a paper at a conference, then Frankfurt, Bad Nauheim, Idstein, Worms, Heidelberg, Mainz, and Speyer again.  My friend Carl came over on his spring break and we rolled around in Das Auto, plus walked a lot.

Cossacks getting ready to speak in Frankfurt

First, here’s a pic of Russian Cossacks getting ready to speak on the main square of old town Frankfurt.  We saw them walk into the square; Carl spotted them first and even commented that their hats looked Soviet.  I had seen Cossacks in their self-designed uniforms in Ukraine, where they are considered extreme Russian nationalists.  The Ukrainian cops don’t like them much because they stir up trouble, act really important, and sometimes fool people into thinking that the uniforms mean something.  Anyway, I walked over to the guys in Frankfurt and asked in Russian where they were from.  “Russia,” one answered.  Yes, I said, that seems clear, what town?  Rostov-na-Donu, Rostov on the Don–the classic Cossack town, or so they would like to think.  Several years ago they went on a rampage in the city market there, knocking down stalls run by Georgians and Asians, beating up people.  Needless to say, I didn’t mention any of that.  Carl and I walked off, planning to come back in a few minutes to hear what the Cossacks had to say.  But when we returned 10 minutes later, no trace of them.  Maybe the German cops said no go.  Too bad I didn’t hear them, but it was good, in 1 sense, to see them.

For the moment, I’m going to put up just a few photos of details of sculptures on or in German cathedrals.  I do like the churches themselves, but, as in Italy, I’m hooked now on the small touches here and there that for me make the places come alive.  On this trip, I looked carefully at the figures of apes, bears, lions, hideous faces, put usually on the outside of the cathedrals.  The goal was to keep evil spirits away.  But why such a fear of evil spirits in Christian holy places?  Wasn’t the Church with a capital C or the power of Jesus enough to keep away evil?  Or were the twisted faces more for the ignorant masses, an appeal to their constant belief in magic, whether flowing through the church or not?  Just for decoration?  Now, these figures are not the ends of downspouts, as they are at Notre Dame in Paris.  These are just stone carvings.  Maybe I’ll research the topic some day.

on the Speyer Dom

head from the Speyer Dom

The Dom at Worms (say Vorhms)

Worms lion, outside the church

The final figure suggests that evil spirits could physically attack people.  The West was on the way to the creation of the Big Devil and of  witches as his actual servants on earth.

The 11th century was a crucial period.  The Worms cathedral was begun between 1000 and 1025, Speyer begun 1030, as part of a great wave of church building in the West.  Consider these changes in the 11th c:  1022 first known execution of heretics for many centuries, Orleans, France; Synod of Rome demands celibacy for priests, 1047; schism between the eastern and western churches, 1054; first slaughter of Jews, Spain, 1063; expansion of claims for the papacy’s right to spiritual rule, 1049 on; Seljuk Turks capture Jerusalem, 1070; first official ghetto for Jews, Germany, 1084; First Crusade, 1095.  Western Christianity began to attack Muslims, soaking Jerusalem in blood.  Okay, the Arabs (Moors) had swept into Spain in  711, so maybe they started it.   But in the Solomon Temple in Jerusalem, “men rode up to their knees and bridle reins in blood,” wrote Raymond of Agiles about the Christian capture of the city in 1099.

Must write a book, tentative title, “The Most Critical Century:  Christianity Goes to War at Home and Abroad, 1000-1100 AD.  Please submit any snappier titles you can think of.

Don’t let an evil spirit eat your head.

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Here’s a pic of good clean fun at the chateau.

I’m one of the guys with a beard.  The other one is the dean.  You will have to guess which one of us dressed for the occasion, a Harry Potter dinner.  The students wanted this fest in a big way, and a number of them worked hard to put it on.  All the food was English, based, or so I understand, on the books.  It’s remarkable how many people in their very late teens or early 20s I’ve met who got totally wrapped up in Harry Potter.  One woman told me that she stuck with HP –what are there, 7 books?–from about the age of 8 until 20.  She grew up with the guy.  Somehow my daughter didn’t.  I’ve only read a few pages of the stuff and watched a few minutes of one or 2 of the films.  But I have to ask, “Why Harry Potter?”  What was the magic formula that Rowlands hit on, besides having the characters grow up in the stories?

When I was 13, I think, I found the first Tarzan novel on a friend’s bookshelf.  I was hooked right away, so I can’t complain, don’t want to complain, about fantasy.  In my early teens I read 6-7 Tarzan books and several of the John Carter, Swordsman of Mars, series, also by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  And I failed to see the dark side of Tarzan, the racist comments.  But hold on, because I’ve reread the first novel (1913) and several others lately, and in fact Tarzan’s (or maybe Burroughs’) views on race are pretty complex.  At one point Tarzan says, in perfect French, that one cannot judge all lions by one’s behavior, or all blacks, or all gentlemen.

A Tarzan cover from 1914. He is still wearing his dead mother's diamond pendant, so he has not yet met Jane, to whom he gave the bauble. Luckily, he starts to wear a loincloth before meeting her.

My friend, already a smooth character, told me I could take the book home to finish if I would write an English paper for him–my grades were a lot better than his.  Naturally I agreed.  But he only got a B on it, although I did my best.  There’s some justice in this world after all.  But I’m pretty sure that my friend, whom I haven’t seen since 1965, now lives in Potomac, Maryland.  I.e., big bucks.

And yet I’m the guy living in the Chateau of Greatness.

It’s just a world, let’s hope it’s occasionally a just world.

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My wife has come and gone.  We had a great time in Brussels, Trier, and here in Lux.  She will be back in May with our daughter and her (the daughter’s!) boyfriend.

Brussels:  about 992,000 people.  Not many tall buildings; in fact, I don’t think we saw much over 10-12 stories.  The old part of the city has nothing over 6-7 stories.  Everyone loves the Grand Place (note that for old phrases, another e.g. being Grand Mere, the e that should be at the end of Grand for female nouns is missing), and it is one of the most striking ensembles I’ve seen.  The buildings are not ancient, partly because in 1695 the French came around and aimed their cannon at the tallest spire on the square.  They succeeded in destroying most of it, except of course for the spire they were aiming at.  It’s remarkable how much damage the French caused in this general area, mostly during Louis XIV’s wars but also in the spread of the French Revolution.  They looted, burned, shelled, stabled their horses in historic buildings, etc.  I’m not saying that revolutions are bad and should be avoided at all costs, as Edmund Burke did.  Revolutions, including the Russian and American ones, are never planned.  They make their own twists, turns, and violence according to circumstances–and according to the violence that greets them from conservatives.  It’s not logical to oppose revolutions as somehow stupid or inherently bad.  It is useful to ask why revolutions take the course they do.

Where was I?  Ah, Brussels.  We stayed in a 4-star hotel, which to my mind was a 3-star place with a pretentious lobby and a great central location, in a fairly tacky neighborhood.  And why don’t the Belgians put a few ATMs around?  Or did they ship them all to Lux?  But when we walked a few blocks away from the hotel, we found absolutely gorgeous spots.  Here is the Petit Sablon square:

And chocolate everywhere.  We had heard that Godiva chocolate, so highly esteemed in the US, is considered just pretty good in Belgium.  I had seen a lot of chocolate in Bruges in Jan. and had even eaten some; wonderful!  But one cold day in Brussels we got hot chocolate in a Godiva shop.  The choco barista made it with chunks of various kinds of chocolate and milk kept at a high temp. in a small machine.  Out of this world!  Not the kind your mother gave you made from powder.  Must make real hot chocolate at home.

And fine food everywhere.  Finally found out what chicon (try some recipes if you can handle the French) means; it’s not in my dictionary.  It’s a local word for endive, which I thought was only used cold in salads.  But steamed and doused with sauce or au gratin, it’s excellent.  One night we each had a bucket of mussels with different sauces.  Loved them.  Belgian beer:  there are many kinds, but each of the several I tried had lots of body and terrific flavor.

But back to the tacky side:  the most popular and most photographed figure in Brussels is the Mannekin-Pis, a figure of a little boy taking a piss.  The thing turns out to be all of about 2 feet tall.  It really is a fountain peeing a small stream of water.  Every day it has a different outfit on; I have no idea who dresses it and who decides what it will wear.  Okay, so there’s a statue of a little boy taking a pee.  Cute and harmless.  But why do the tourists go bonkers about it, crowding around it (luckily it’s up on a wall with a fence around it), taking pictures, laughing as though it’s the funniest joke they’ve ever seen?  And why did my wife and I go to see it–well, we just happened to walk past it–3 times?  And why are replicas of the Mannekin-Pis, many of them several times the size of the statue itself, available in everything from stone to polyester to chocolate?  Of course, many of the copies are fountains with little hoses you can hook up, so that at home you can have a fabulous time watching it pee.  Maybe tomorrow you can watch the grass grow.  For a Freudian delight, you could have your statue pee chocolate, or the statue could be chocolate, and you could have your favorite relatives over to eat it.

So here’s the M-P, followed by dedicated tourists and a display of replicas you can buy for hundreds of euros.

The crowd called out for more.

Get enough for the whole family.

While we were in Brussels–we only heard about this–a young mother of 3 tried to resist a car-jacking and was shot to death.  The cops caught the trio who did it.  That could happen any day in any American city.  But somehow that event brought Brussels full circle for me:  great beauty, great food, the world’s best chocolate, seedy and goofy, a center of dumb jokes and violence.

Viva Brussels.

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A good day is when the sun is out and you can sense that spring is on the way.

Septfontaines, Lux

A good day is when you escape from the chateau, as nice as it is, for a while and drive out into the countryside.  The photo above doesn’t quite do justice to the blue sky and the emerging green grass; or maybe I just wanted the grass to be especially green today.  Why, by the way, the French name of this village–Seven Springs–after all the places like Niederkorn, Solange, and my own favorite name, Pissange?

A good day is when you see a beautiful old barn that has been patched repeatedly over the centuries but is still in use and standing strong.

A good day is when you were speeding seriously through the countryside, pushing Das the Auto more than ever to get the feel of the car around the curves, then slowed down but not enough as you went through another town, then were stopped by the cops (65 kph in a 50 kph zone, or about 43 mph in a 33 mph zone), who dealt with your nervous French and did not give you a ticket.  No, I don’t have a photo of the cops, but they looked absolutely sharp in white, blue, and red uniforms with high black boots.  Vous parlez quoi, francais?  What do you speak, French, one asked?  Yes.  Show me the car’s documents and your permission to drive, he said, and seemed very interested in the Ohio driver (sic) license.  Maybe that’s why he let me off.

A good day is when you still have a job, even if the BS is flying thick and fast (and I don’t mean here at the chateau).

Good day, messieurs, mesdames, mesdemoiselles.

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