Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Letter No 7
Hello from Colmar.
It’s only 49 miles or so between Strasbourg and Colmar – and you just follow the signs for Colmar that begin as you drive out of the campground. That’s one of the reasons we love camping in Europe. Can you think of any big city in the U.S. that is only 49 miles from another big city? In the U.S., you need to drive very long distances.
We went to the same campground we stopped at in 2002. We remember that it was raining then and we were not allowed to pick a site at the lower level, which was at river’s edge. The next morning we saw why. Swans were swimming over those sites. The river flooded in the night. The remarkable thing, for us, is that we do not remember how we found this campground the first time. We did not have the books we have now, which list many, many campgrounds and how to get to them. But we remembered it was on a river near Colmar. This year, we found one that was on the river, decided on it, and it was the same one.
When Adelle wrote Take Your RV to Europe in 2003-4, there wasn’t much doing in the way of WIFI. Boy, have things changed. We noticed a WI FI sign on a rest stop on the highway! Our blood pressure stays low when we can use our own computer because we don’t have to use a French keyboard, which is very different from what we know.
There was no problem getting to Colmar or to the campground. We wanted to do two things in town: walk around and just see the old architecture (which is justly famous) and to go to the Bartholdi Museum. Remember him? He designed and built the Statue of Liberty! But the museum is open from 10 am to 12 pm and from 2 pm to 6 pm. Lunch time, you know. No point in going right away.
So we had a leisurely lunch and walked to the bus stop across the street. We had time to let Ron take a picture of something many of us have never seen – a blooming chestnut tree. Many years ago a deadly blight began to kill all the chestnut trees in America so only those of us who were around when Ron and Adelle were teenagers have ever seen them. When we were kids, everyone learned the poem “Under the spreading chestnut tree…” I guess that doesn’t happen any more. Anyway, we took the bus that stops at the entrance to the campground. In 15 minutes we were in the middle of the old town. Us and about a million other tourists!
Ron was really taken with the bus service. You stand at the stop and an electronic sign tells you that the bus is 3 minutes away, then 2 minutes, and then finally, ARRIVE. You look up and there it is, just coming into the stop. It really is a marvel.
We walked around until just before 2 pm, then got a cup of espresso to wake us up, and went into the museum. Bartholdi was truly a remarkable sculptor. Apparently he was born into a wealthy family—in 1822-- but he certainly had enough commissions from all over the world to keep him busy and wealthy. After his death, his widow gave the house he was born in, including the furniture that was in it when she died and a great number of small studies for larger works as well as some work that hadn’t been sold. Other work he had done was given to the museum in the intervening years. It was a great collection.
Of course we were most interested in the studies that scholars have linked to Miss Liberty. We learned in the museum that they were originally done for a project in Egypt! That was supposed to be called something like: “Egypt lights the way for Asia (to enlightenment—hence the torch). But it was all interesting. We’ve seen some of his work besides Miss Liberty. There is a statue in Washington Square in NYC of Washington & Lafayette that is Bartholdi’s work, for example. And the statue of Columbus that stands at the head of the harbor in Barcelona is hard to miss. In general he was a member of a school of art that dwelt on the patriotic and the love of homeland, and veneration of the military and political heroes of the day, i.e., those whose deeds preserved or protected the motherland or its culture. You know, things that we tend to think of as corny, today. He worked mostly in plaster that became molds, and then bronzes.
Incidentally, you know the beautiful folds in Miss Liberty’s gown? They were designed by an engineer Bartholdi worked with as a way of strengthening the structure. Isn’t that interesting? Well, Ron thinks it is.
The house was a very upper class but not ostentatiously rich mansion, and the paintings on the walls and the décor was interesting. But the piece de resistance of the décor came in a room that utilized fine china plates and pitchers in a most unusual way.
One room had been dedicated to house a collection of objects owned by the Jews of Strasbourg. It included a time line of events from the 4th century to the 20th, a Torah, an Ark from a now destroyed synagogue, a table set for Sabbath dinner in the early 20th century, and a number of paintings. We shudder to think how Mr. Katz, who donated them to the museum, got them.
Colmar is a really lovely city with a great many ancient and beautiful buildings. A great number of half timbered houses, many with multicolor tile roofs and ornately carved wood exteriors, often even including wooden sculptures. The symbol for Alsace seemed to be a stork, according to the souvenirs we saw in the shops. Then, when we looked up at one building, there was a nest with a stork in it. We walked for a long time just looking at those buildings before heading home.
Tomorrow will include a high tension ride to a city called Besancon – a very long way from here. Driving 107 miles to get to another city is too long for us. We’ll let you know how it all turns out.
Adelle & Ron