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Archive for April, 2010

You remember the chateau in snow, dear readers.  No?  Here it is again.

The chateau in January, from my apt. window

And here it is in late April.

The green thing is trying to eat the chateau

Now, I will not say when the chateau is prettier; but the weather lately has made not quite everything seem fine, but most things.  Fruit trees and magnolias are in bloom everywhere; the forsythia is almost gone, but the tulips and many millions of dandelions (from the French, dent de lion, tooth of the lion) are wonderful.  Who cares if the lawn is taken over by lion’s teeth?

I will leave the chateau, if my plans go according to my plans, on Friday evening, heading in an arc to the south and then the southwest of Paris, along the Loire Valley.  I rode through part of the valley on a bicycle in the fall of 1971.  Funny, what I remember most is the many signs offering free tastes of wine.  This time, I am determined to see some of the glorious French chateaux in the valley, e.g. at Blois.

This old chateau, I mean my abode of the last several months, has a particular smell–old stone and young hormones.  I do like the smell of most of it, except for the dungeon laundry room, which smells like old dirty wet laundry.  Until just now, I had not thought of taking pictures of the interior.  Well, I’ve just corrected that.

part of the dining hall as seen from the balcony of the library

So I came here with vast expectations, of teaching, of research, of driving, of social life, of improving my French and German, of seeing many new and familiar things.  Many of my expectations have been met or exceeded; it was, for instance, great to teach here.  I love my car, as some of you may know.  You go somewhere with extravagant ideas of what will be and what will change, and how you will change.  You change and you don’t, but maybe you realize that many of the things that come to you are excellent.  Maybe you don’t take the rest of life too seriously, except when you forget to dwell on the good stuff.  Remember that deep thoughts are free. Anyway, it has been a good several months here.  Soon I will move on to new smells.

Karma, karma, karma.

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I still don’t have a visa, but tomorrow is supposed to bring a telephone call to the associate dean here from the HEAD of Lux immigration, so apparently I have a chance to get one.   Got a whole pile of documents from the US today, proving, at least to me, that I was born and that I have a PhD.  Also that in the last 7 years I have not made it onto the national register of sex offenders.  You can’t have everything.  We will see if all this impresses the guardians of the gates of Lux.

In the mean- or downtime, I have been active!  Yes!  I saw happy children who don’t know yet that they are not supposed to smile at strangers.  They were here, way after Easter, I don’t know why, for an Easter egg hunt–which they had never heard of–on the chateau grounds.  They seemed to be having great fun.

Last weekend went to Bastogne, the city held by American troops and surrounded by Germans during the Battle of the Bulge, Dec.-Feb. 1944-45.  Actually, it was only surrounded for a few days, before crazy George Patton drove his troops through the Germans and opened a corridor to the city.  Then he held the corridor despite massive German counter-attacks from both sides.  It made me feel proud for a while to be an American; the citizen-soldiers faced massive German superiority in men, artillery, and tanks–yes, the last German punch, but with men who had been in combat before vs. essentially untested Americans.  Our lines buckled but never broke, and there was some heroic fighting.  And this while Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin were meeting at Yalta.  Roos. had to ask Stalin to step up a planned attack on the Eastern Front in order to relieve pressure on our guys . . . and you wondered why we made key concessions (not really concessions; we didn’t have anything or any territory to concede) to the Soviets at Yalta!  That was only one of several good reasons to do so.

The museum at Bastogne and the memorial to US casualties there did move me.  80,000 on our side, 100,000 on the German side.

Got to drive the dean’s almost new BMW X3 SUV today.  Nice, but after Das the Auto, I’ll take Das.  Sticky on the roads, it is.

But then had pate de foie gras and sweet wine with the dean.  I know about the geese and how they get stuffed in order to get them to produce the pate, but it is so good on fresh bread, with a little onion preserves on top.  You have to have this with sweet wine to do it properly a la francais.  Man, sign me back up for another tour here!  Well, maybe not, esp. if I don’t get a visa.  Stay tuned for the latest hot news!

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If people can write phrases like “smells like teen spirit” and “the roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd,” I can write about how something smells like Kafka.  The thing that smells that way is the immigration department of the Luxembourg Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  And it’s not their fault.  It’s never their fault.

What would Kafka’s stories smell like?  Well, duh, like the final years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Glamor, formality, horses, the waltz, Jews in kaftans and socialists turning into fascists, coffee in Vienna with whipped cream piled high on top (of the coffee, not Vienna), nerves, nerves, nerves everywhere, Catholics against modernity and modern Catholics for nudes in art, national hatreds balancing each other, pomp and roar and an aging warrior state with a two-headed eagle for a flag, symbolizing the fact that it didn’t know which way to go.

So can I compare all that to the Lux bureaucracy?  Yes–it’s blog power!  I don’t, I must admit, remember Kafka’s story, or short novel, The Trial (pub. 1925, after  the A-H Empire had been dead for 7 years), especially well, but I recall that poor Joseph K was arrested but never even found out what the charge against him was. You’ll have to look it up.  He just goes from office to office to be questioned by faceless bureaucrats.  Kafka didn’t finish the story, which is perfectly appropriate.

I am not Joseph K!  Not yet!  For the charge against me, as yet without consequences, is specific and clear:  that I do not have a visa to be in the Schengen Zone.  If you are not an EU citizen, you cannot stay in the zone (25 or 26 countries now, but not the UK or Republic of Ireland) for more than 90 days without a visa.  Yes, I have mentioned this before.  But lately it has taken on larger significance for me, because I don’t have a visa, and I have been here for more than 90 days.  I did all the stuff I was told to do when I first arrived, like see a doctor and get him to listen to my breathing, register with the town authorities, etc.  Then I was supposed to receive a letter from the Min of For Aff telling me what to do next.  It never came.  So finally I got someone here to call the Min, only to learn that they had never heard of me.  So I rushed down to Lux town and took them all the documents.  Numerous phone calls and e-mails later, it turns out that they want a whole new pile of documents. They want a certified copy of my birth certificate.  From my mother-in-law’s successful sleuthing a year ago, when she found a way for my wife and me to finally actually obtain a marriage license, I know that one can get such documents by ordering them on line.  Wow, is that possible?  Is it legal?  If I’m an illegal immigrant from, say, Mexico, can I get a birth certificate saying I was born in Ohio??  Probably not; for that you have to go back to Juarez.

And I am supposed to get a certified copy of my graduate diploma, in case I have been faking it as a professor for 30 years.  Maybe, maybe, I can get those docs, or maybe there’s another way to get a visa, or a 90-day extension of my original stay.  There’s also a slim chance I could be arrested and deported tomorrow, leaving my car sitting here.

Meanwhile, I can’t go to the UK, which, remember, is outside the Schengen Zone (Schengen Sie gut?).  So while I might get into England, I might not get back into the Continent.  If I could ship the car home tomorrow and fly out, I would, but my wife, daughter, and d’s boyfriend are coming for 2 weeks in May.  You have to stay out of the Schengen Zone for 60 days before reentering, and there isn’t time for me to do that.  The UK is a place I need to go to, because I want/need to do research in the Bodleian Library at Oxford University.  That’s almost the only place I need to visit; northern Italy to see coffee houses and collections of artifacts related to coffee–mere frosting on the crema.  Maybe I can go there, in my car with the bright red license plates that practically scream check my documents.

Thus I am trapped!  I am Joseph K!  It smells like bureaucratic spirit.  I don’t want anything from this lovely little rich country, not their money, not their jobs, not their women.  Only a visa!

Help!  I am trapped in the equivalent of a Chinese fortune cookie factory.  Soon they will use my rotting body for rat bait.

Moral:   Europe stinks, or it does without a visa.

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Vianden, Luxembourg, is described in the guide books as the country’s “medieval village.”  Victor Hugo lived here as an exile from France in 1871; he said that the town was a “jewel set amid splendid scenery, characterized by two both comforting and magnificent elements:  the sinister ruins of its fortress and its cheerful bred of men.”  Well, the fortress was restored beginning in the 1970s, and the waiter who brought me coffee and a piece of cake seemed cheerful, on a pretty rainy day.  The chateau is set way above the village, and it’s a great success as restoration.  The town itself is charming as it slopes down cobblestone streets to the river.  All in all a good day trip from Differdange.

The castle, which was begun on a much smaller scale in the 9th century, has some especially beautiful rooms and some rare exhibits, like a hall with 10 or so large Flemish tapestries, mostly 17th century.

The chapel

I especially liked the Byzantine room.

The Byzantine Room

And of course the valley below.

And I don't know the name of this river.

Never lose your zest for tourism.

Vianden tapestries

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Went to Veckring, France, today, about 45 minutes away, to see the biggest fort on the Maginot Line.  I had always thought that it was a totally stupid project that cost billions and accomplished nothing.  Why did the French build a fortified line from the Lux border to the Swiss one in the 1920s and ’30s, with the idea of keeping the Germans out, when in WWI the Germans had not come that way, but through Belgium?  Well, it seems that nobody but Hitler and a few others could imagine crashing through the hilly part of Belgium, the Ardennes, in 1940; so the Line wasn’t all that stupid.  Plus the French hoped it would hold up the Huns until the Fr. could completely mobilize, which would have taken weeks.  Finally, the French population was much smaller than the German pop. post WWI, roughly 41 million to 66 m in Germany in the early 1930s.  And the German pop. was growing much faster.  Therefore the French tried to rely more on fortifications than on men.  Well, it didn’t work.  The Germans smashed through the Ardennes in May 1940 and simply bypassed the Maginot Line.  The only military function it did have was in late 1944, when the Germans held it and fired shells at American troops, until more artillery could be brought up on the weak side of the line, i.e. from the rear, to silence the German guns.

Anyway, a lot of equipment in the fortress at Hackenberg, the largest on the Line, still works.  The gun turrets rise out of the ground, rotate, and do everything but fire.  The diesel generators (not the originals, which the Germans took out after 1940 to use at submarine bases in occupied France) and a small electric-powered train work.  You get two long rides on the train, which was intended to haul ammunition and supplies around.  The tunnels have held up well–and of course there has been a lot of restoration.  And now it looks like the most peaceful place on earth.

uniforms of French colonial troops

The French colonial troops fought well, but in both wars in

Europe they learned that white people could be poor and

could be killed.  Not good for the future of colonialism.

watch the turret turn

Give me fields without guns, please.

Happy Easter.

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