Living to Tell About It

A cycad, blue sky, fluffy white cloud, bright sun, must be a tropical island! But no, it is Northern France, and as I take this photo, I am lying on the steps in front of Metz Gare, enjoying the warmth and the light.

In front of me, the summer plant display is a mix of ornamentals and edibles: echinacea; dahlias; salvias; rosemarinus; basilicum; tomatoes; squash; and legumes. The city gardeners are tending the display, fixing planter boxes, deadheading, pruning. I like the rotating plant displays. In California, public spaces tend to have permanent, low-maintenance plantings, which can be boring after awhile. Granted, taxes are higher in France, but...

Last night, I headed out in search of a klezmer concert. I must have misread the flyer, or missed it (as usual, I was late). Probably a good thing, as I am not a huge klezmer fan, I just wanted something to do! But I made it to a hill I discovered early on (I photographed it, but the light settings on my camera were wrong that day). There is a terraced garden there, the Jardin des Tanneurs, and that area was occupied by tanners until the Middle Ages (a branch of the Seille used to meander through). I hoped to re-photograph it, but a man lurking on a set of stairs started to walk in pace with me, staring. I think he was looking for drugs. I stared back. Hard. And he left. I did manage a few shots of the Quartier des Allemands from one of the terraces, though. It is an interesting mix of buildings.

I walked towards home, and a block from Metz Gare, a car slowed down. A man asked directions to some square I'd never heard of. Since it is a red light area, I assumed he was looking for something I wasn't about to give him, so I said, "desolée, je ne la connais pas, je suis americaine, je ne suis pas de Metz! (sorry, not familiar with it, I'm American & not from Metz," and continued on my way.

Several blocks later, a car slowed down. I was getting annoyed. It was the same guy! He asked if I would have a drink with him. "I'm sorry, I have a boyfriend." He was undeterred. So ... we had drinks and pizza, and when I told him I'm in finance/accounting, he looked sufficiently scared of me that I was pretty sure he wouldn't attack me (I'm paranoid that way). His name is Eric, he's in wholesale meats and lives in Switzerland. I think he just wanted learn a little English -- he spoke a combination of French and German to me, and would ask what different words were in English. 90 minutes later, Eric dropped me off in front of my apartment, shook my hand and drove off. And my faith in humanity makes a bit of headway....



From gang symbols and rebellious teenage statements, to doodles and elaborate artwork, graffiti is everywhere. Just as varied as the content, are the reactions to it ... blight on humanity, sign of declining neighborhoods, defacement of property, art, political statement, any combination of those. And yes, it exists in Lorraine, too.

At left, Police Everywhere Justice Nowhere, is in a tunnel by Fort de Bellecroix. I thought it a fitting description of our post-9/11 world. Governments have taken our freedoms and privacy under the guise of security. But we are no safer than before, although considerably more impinged upon, inconveniences paid for by our taxes. You can see more angst-filled statements from this tunnel in my Street Expressions Album.

The green guy at right is more innocuous in appearance, and one of a series painted on the flower boxes on a bridge over the Digue de la Pucelle here in Metz. They seem to be sanctioned by the city, since all the boxes seem to have been painted by the same person. There are also more of this series in my Street Expressions Album.

Okay, so this isn't graffiti. But the title of the album is Street Expressions, and well, I saw this display in someone's yard as I was walking down the street. I find this still life of children's toys and garden gnomes odd, creepy and fascinating. Did an adult set these up, or did a child create his or her own little world?

I often wonder how others feel about expressions, sanctioned or taboo. In a recent blog entry, Zaz discusses her dilemma with Freedom of Expression. As a writer, self expression is important for her, but as a mother, she found it impossible to defend a rapper who had been banned from a music festival for lyrics that were racist, misogynistic, and violent.

On the other hand, another friend of mine, who is a father, told me he is against censure because it gives more power to the target group. To wit, I believe that the rapper in question has had a surge in downloads of his work since that date.

I am not a parent. Nor does my livelihood depend on artistic expression. But I am a member of an ethnic group that has faced socio-political discrimination. I am inclined to agree that censure tends to grant power to the target, and often forces the movement underground, where it is more difficult to track. In this respect, I would much rather have someone's feelings out in the open.

I once had a student who felt a strong revulsion to Asians. Her sole experience with Asians had been a family who lived across from her, and they happened to be slobs. She was from a small town, where the "wrong" influences were strong, and ended up in prison, where racist tendencies were reinforced due to the way inmates tend to group themselves. After her release, she forced herself to deal with her issues, and did that very much out in the open, and this Asian spent many evenings after class discussing her progress with her. I appreciated her candor and efforts to overcome her issues. It was important that she express how she felt and why she felt that way, no matter how ugly those feelings were, in order to work through them. Interestingly, I was disappointed by other peoples' reactions when I described her and her efforts. People I had thought were open-minded were quick to condemn her, completely overlooking her background and the fact that she was working hard to evolve her way of thinking. I did not see the same efforts from them.

I would love to hear how others feel about the freedom of expression, artistic, social, political or otherwise. My door is always open.

In this, my final weekend in Metz for quite possibly a long time, I am a bit sad. There are so many things I still want to see and experience here, but I am out of time on this run. And as luck would have it, I'm fighting off a cold and feeling a little run-down, so I stayed relatively close to the apartment and packed a few items this weekend, rather than go anywhere interesting.


Fête Nationale

I have learned that what we call Bastille Day in America, is actually called Fête Nationale (National Holiday) or quatorze juillet (14th of July) in France. I guess we gave it a distinctive moniker to distinguish it from other countries' national holidays. France's holiday is a commemoration of the fête de la Fédération of 14 July 1790, the first anniversary of the taking of the Bastille, and the establishment of a Constitutional Monarchy in France. The interesting fact about this holiday, at least for me, is that it celebrates the first anniversary festivities, because the actual taking of the Bastille was considered too bloody to commemorate!

Anne-Lise and Arnaud told me that every year, there are balls and fireworks associated with the holiday, and then warned me that every year, it rains on the 14th. It had rained every day since I had returned to Metz, so I was prepared, with rain jacket in hand, as I stepped out my door to join the line of people walking toward the Moselle, and Plan d'Eau, an islet on (in?) the Moselle. As luck would have it, the night was clear and warm, and actually marked the beginning of warmer, sunnier days for me (at least for the last two days).

The fireworks had already started, the air was filled with smoke and flashes of light, and people were everywhere. I commandeered one of those police barricades so I could lean on it for stability while I snapped photos. I need a tripod if I am going to continue to take photos at night. That said, I would probably never remember to bring it with me, and I would be stuck doing the same search for stable objects to lean on, anyway.

After the fireworks, people were still lined up at the food vendors and children were still on the carnival rides, as I strolled by on my way North up to Centre Ville, to see what else was going on in town. As I walked up the promenade of the Moselle, I heard the standard 12-bar blues rhythm coming from one of the tunnels. I followed the sound, and saw a bar with a small outdoor seating area, a few people dancing in the street next to it, and one woman dancing up near the band. You can see her, the lead singer, and more fête photos in my Metz Events Album on Picasa.

I wandered a bit more before heading back to the apartment to send some documents to my boss, who seems to know when I do not want to be bothered, because he called several times that evening after I had not heard from him in weeks. I got a few half-decent shots of Temple Neuf, of which this funky long exposure is one of my favorites (I tried to hold the camera steady by myself ... no luck). I also got some shots of the L'Opéra-Théatre at Place de la Comédie, and the Temple Evangélique de la Garnison, both of which you can see in my Lorraine Structures album on Picasaweb. I had nothing to support the camera with other than myself on the last temple, but luckily, it was well-lit.

I have two weeks before I need to be out of this apartment. At the risk of sounding high maintenance, it would not be my first choice should I return here, because it has no oven and it is a bit of a walk to do laundry. But I will miss it in my own way. In the meantime, my main concern is what to do with all my junk! I may just give away the housewares and mail my clothes home, as I think it is probable it will cost more to ship my things home than it would cost me to replace them the next time I move.


Happy Bastille Day!

Although here I think people just call it the National Holiday. There are dances, music, fireworks, and other activities planned around the holiday, and I will hopefully be out there tonight. Hopefully, because last night I also meant to head out to see what was going on and I accidentally fell asleep.

How could I fall asleep?!? I went out early in the evening for drinks with Anne-Lise and Arnaud (no cooking lesson this time), who are off to Iran on vacation today. We went to a bar in the city centre, of which I cannot remember the name, but liked enough to track down again before I go. I had a raspberry beer. It has about half the alcohol of regular beer, sweet, fruity flavor, and beer undertones.

For those who know me well, I actually drank the whole beer! And then had hot chocolate while Anne-Lise and Arnaud had a second drink. I was feeling a little drowsy when I got back to the apartment, so I picked up my laptop and brought it over to the sofa, so I could sit comfortably while I perused local activities to see. The next thing I knew, it was three hours later, and after midnight. At that point, I was too lazy to even pull the sofa out into its bed form, so I drew the blanket up and passed out for the rest of the night.

So ... I have been awake since somewhere around 6 this morning. I am starting to feel a little drowsy again, but am afraid to take a nap!


My Backup Drive is Like an Egg...

... Fried!

The night before I returned to France, I copied all my personal files and work backups to my backup drive. As I shut down the computer, I unplugged the drive, which made a wheezing sound. Well, that's never happened before! I turned the computer back on and plugged in the drive. Nothing. I hooked the drive up to my other computer. Nada.

I spent the rest of the night trying to fix the drive, when I probably should have been transferring my personal files to my work computer, which is here with me in France, because here I am with a bunch of photos I wanted to upload to my photo albums ... all on a useless drive! I guess they will have to wait until I get home. In the meantime, I hope to take more in the next few weeks while I am moving out of my apartment.

I had my first negative experience in a Metz place of business! At Namur, a tea house in centre ville, it took forever for a server to come by, and when she finally did, she acted as though taking an order was far too difficult a chore for her. Since it was late afternoon, the selections were a bit limited. She waved toward the display counter, said what was there was what was left to eat, and then took off, passing by several times, ignoring us ... we left. It's a pastry shop, and Metz suffers no dearth of pastry shops with quality fare. The staff at every other one I've been to here has been at the very least cordial, and more likely than not, warm and welcoming. Ah well, can't win 'em all!



My first day in my little Metz studio, I grasped the plastic handle on my kitchen sink cabinet ... and it came off in two pieces! Arrgh! I was still unpacking, so I set the pieces on the sink, picked up my shoes, turned to the small wardrobe, and placed my shoes on the shelf ... which promptly tilted downward, due to a missing support peg. I couldn't believe it, my first day, and already two problems, albeit small, with the apartment! This was not a good sign.

I wasn't about to call the landlord for such minor problems (I am a landlord's dream when it comes to small maintenance issues -- I typically leave places I rent in better condition than when I move in), so I left in search of a hardware store for new pulls and pegs. I asked people on the street for suggestions, and they sent me toward the Porte des Allemands. As I got closer, the people in that area pointed me to a narrow street at the end of a small square.

Across the street from the square, in a corner space about two or three times the size of my studio, I saw cookware crowded into a tiny window, and QUINCAILLERIE INTER MENAGER in large red letters above. I walked through the door, and was hit with aisles of merchandise overflowing the shelves, more merchandise propped up on the floors and hanging from the ceiling. The proprietress was with another customer, so I wandered up and and down the three aisles, each of which had maybe two feet of walking space down the middle (okay, maybe one foot in places).

I was amazed at how much she had packed into such a small space! She had, literally, everything you could want in a hardware store -- electrical and plumbing supplies, tools, hardware, housewares. Some of it was a little complicated to reach, but it was all there, including my handles and and pegs.

I love small proprietorships, and I try to patronize them when I can. I grew up in my parents' little corner pharmacy. It is where I learned to count change, budget time and money, and most importantly, interact with people. I truly believe that small businesses provide real human contact that is just not possible in an online, or even at a brick and mortar chain store. The owner thought I was crazy when I wanted to take photos of her shop, but she let me do it. In case you are in town:

Quincaillerie Inter-Ménagere
54 rue Mazelle
57000 Metz, France
+33 3 87 74 38 17