Strasbourg, France. . . once upon a time

On the border of France and Germany, in the enchanting region of Alsace, sits the ancient town of Strasbourg. She’s the sort of beauty that can bring tears to your eyes– really.  The ancient cathedral that pops up like a startled giant as you turn the corner of a tight, wending alley;  the rustic half-timbered houses that are painted in cheery colors as a brace against the moody fog of winter mornings in Europe; the myriad small, exquisite restaurants nestled into the tiny crannies of the old town; and the thriving modern art that pulses of youth and energy.  This is the town of Strasbourg to me.  A fairytale town, both in and out of time– existing somehow as a real, brick and mortar (or wattle and daub) city, but also, so clearly, a space of literal enchantment where you are transported back to a different time, a different world, both fabulous and fierce.

And this is one of the reasons why the terror attack this past week, on the edge of the Strasbourg Christmas market, strikes hard with a poignancy and earthy tragedy.  It shouldn’t happen in such a beautiful place.  Senseless violence in a fairytale city.  It shouldn’t happen.

But it has happened before in this place and others of its ilk.  Because what is the stuff of fairytales, anyway?  Dire cruelty always runs through their marrow: just after the achingly beautiful characters capture our hearts, just before we convince ourselves that there is a happily ever after, we get to the bones of the story.  And, there at the core, we find violence, malevolence, jealousy.  Ugliness.

Strasbourg has known its share of ugliness over the centuries: famine, border wars, plague, the German occupation of  WWII.  There was even The Dancing Plague of 1518– in true fairytale fashion, a plague that was by equal measures farcical and grotesque.  (Honestly, look it up– it’s a bizarre episode that has  zombie-overtones and a  possible psychogenic explanation.)

What I can’t decide today, my heart aching for Strasbourg (and for all of us in a world marred by cruelty), is whether this fairytale cycle of ugliness and hope, of cruelty and resilience, lifts me up in a moment of sadness or deflates my sense that our better angels will ever truly win out.

All I know is, while hope doesn’t prevent the ugliness, the cut to the bone, it refuses to end the narrative there.


Sunday Morning Photo Musings

 Petite Promenade, Grand Voyage

Yesterday, in Bitche, France/Hier, a Bitche/ Gestern in  Bitche


Click on the photo if you wish to expand it.

I stopped to look out over the rooftops of Bitche–which were so beautiful, serene, and orderly in a charming, hodge-podge way.  (Like all the most beautiful things–with just a hint of asymmetry to keep the eye interested.)   It took me a few moments to realize that I was standing by a simple wooden cross, and I wondered how long it had been standing there, keeping its own unwavering  watch over the rooftops of the citizens of Bitche.  And if those citizens had, like me, been largely oblivious to its presence.

At the center of town, the church steeple kept peeping through the rooftops to note our progress through the streets.

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But the watchers in Bitche were not only of a religous ilk:  along many rows of old houses, the iron shutter stops (“shutter dogs”) were decorative women’s heads…some still distinct, others weathered or rusted to a ghostly decay.  Charming, haunting, and resiliently  functional. The story of life,  n’est-ce  pas?


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And when all of the watching eyes had seen our small procession of four through the streets of the city, here is where we popped out on the other side:       (The small photo doesn’t do it justice; click on the photo to expand it to a larger size.)

Hotel de Ville, Bitche, France


A day of small wanderings, but a fabulous journey.    Surely the French have a phrase that captures this.  Perhaps, “petite promenade, grand voyage”?


 A few notes on Bitche:  

*It’s located in Northeastern France, on the German border

*From the 17th century on, Bitche was a stronghold and much of the old citadel still stands

*If you are a  modern history buff, Bitche sits very close to sections of the Maginot Line