I left two of my favourite females in Germany.

Posted on 25 June 2006

Kate and Mary Christina

Susan and I arrived in Montmiral not last night but the night before. Yesterday was filled with the practical – grocery shopping and laundry and though I did write a blog, I was moving too slowly after so much driving to type and post it… so I will take you back to yesterday, Sunday.

I woke to the sounds of the Cello – David is practising his scales in the next room. I am content to lie and listen after days of travel. Susan and I had such a sweet trip… first, our time with Kate and her family. Though we had planned to rent rooms in some little inn, I am glad we ended up staying in Kate’s apartment. It allowed us to catch more moments of conversation with Kate and more time to hold her precious Mary, talk to young Brian, and discuss soccer with John (can you believe it?)

The visit was too short but still it was good. I adore Kate. She is strong, forthright, intelligent; a thoughtful, loving friend and mother; a crusader of women’s causes; an extraordinary writer. I see her – so much younger and taller than me (though I never feel these differences when by her side) – with her wild strawberry blond hair – as a woman warrior or perhaps even the goddess, Artemia. (Don’t you love it, Kate? Yes, you are magnificent.)

Susan and I left mid-morning – onto the autoroute again (groan) and drove to the German border, stopping in the town of Breisach on the Rhine where we walked through the town, up a hill, to a Gothic church. A gold reliquary, under the main alter, caught my attention. It was beautiful but gave me the creeps. I wondered what part of what saint’s body lay inside. Can you imagine cutting some loved one’s body into pieces so many could share his or her remains?

We left, drove over the Rhine and into France – my geography improves with travel – and onto Colmar – a large city with many winding, one way streets, trying to find an Etap hotel, one of a chain that exists all over Europe, that Kate suggested. Every Etap hotel guarantees a simple, clean room at a more than reasonable rate. The one in Colmar cost us 39 euros. After showering, Susan and I walked to a small Alsacian restaurant where the food was adequate but would not have impressed my gourmet daughter (and did not impress my fussy friend.) Still we sat outside and felt perfectly content.

The next morning, we went to the Unterlinden Museum, formerly a Dominican convent, dating back to the thirteenth century. It was gorgeous. We went into the main entrance, paid a small fee, and then walked through to the inner courtyard – a square of grass, shrubs, and flowers, surrounded by a granite arcade – my dream house, I told Susan. But the best was yet to come – inside was Grunewald’s famous Isenheim Altarpiece. It’s strange studying art history from slides and then confronting the actual work. Sometimes I’m disappointed but not here. There is something about German art that is so blatant, harsh almost: the centre panel of this polyptych with Christ on the cross does not try for delicacy. Christ’s wounds are ugly, gapping, bleeding; his crown of thorns, is sharp tipped, gouging his head; and his body, large – over twice the size of the other figures – is a deathly colour, almost green, with sores everywhere.

Oh there were so many great pieces, art and sculpture, both horrific and beautiful – one of Saint George slaying the dragon (at which Susan said, she can’t help herself. She always feels sorry for the dragon) but after an hour or so, we hit the road again. Enough of large cities, autoroutes, I told Susan, so we drove through the Alsace on small country roads, rich in vineyards, famous for its Reisling until late afternoon, we stopped at a small auberge in an itsy-bitsy village. The inn had just changed hands the week before and the new owners, a young couple – the woman very pregnant – showed us our rooms that were simple French country – the same price a the Etap – and provided us with a dinner, made from products of the region, that even Gill would have approved of.

After sleep, a good breakfast of croissant, homemade preserves and cheese, fresh orange juice, ham, sausage, and coffee, we were in the car again, driving, driving, past Rodez, Carmaux, Cordes, and then blessedly home safe.

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