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Florence in Words

Summer 2014: Strasbourg, France and Luzerne, Switzerland

Edmond, Irene, and their daughter Christiane
From July 30 to August 12—virtually two weeks—I lived with Christiane Owusu-Sarpong in her own beautiful apartment in Strasbourg, and for a short time in Luzerne, with other friends. I want to say, first, how much I owe to Christiane for putting up with this old lady’s quirks and inabilities. She was a genius for finding and supplying me with daily copies of the International New York Times (the new name of the old International Herald Tribune). So, yes, I had the crossword, to my delight. And she understood that my mobility was limited. And as we left for France and Switzerland, mobility became the first issue for me, since I probably had overdone the walking in London.

In Strasbourg, Christiane’s parents wanted to see us at once, and we agreed to have a traditional mid-day dinner with them at a restaurant I remembered from a previous visit. Elegant and beautifully set in gardens, the restaurant served its traditional plate of ham, stuffed cabbage, potato, and sauerkraut. These items really do all go together, and I expect I delighted these warm and kind people by leaving only a clean plate. Later, in the apartment of Christiane’s parents, she and I played Rummikub with Irene, Christiane’s mother, while her father, Edmond, took a nap. That was a quiet, restful day, and I should have had several of these in a row. (Yes, Irene is the champ of Rummikub.)

Christiane and her mother, IreneChristiane and her father, EdmondChristiane playing Rummyikub
Christiane and her mother, IreneChristiane and her father, EdmondChristiane playing Rummikub

But on the following day, Christiane and I set out to do half a dozen errands and a bit of shopping, and of course it proved far too much for me, though we were back in the apartment long before dinner time. Yes, I was frustrated. There were many places in Strasbourg I had never been to, the weather was perfect, sunny and comfortable, and I seemed grounded. So I insisted on going out again, and this proved my downfall. Christine arranged for me to have special help as we traveled by train to Switzerland to see some of Christiane’s old friends and to enjoy views of Lake Luzerne.

Like the trains in England, these were very comfortable, the first from Strasbourg to Basel, was French; the second from Basel to Luzerne, was Swiss. In both places, we were helped with the luggage and I was in a wheelchair.

In Luzerne, we enjoyed more fine weather, a few memorable thunder-and-lightening storms, and great sunsets. We enjoyed being on the lake in a boat, and driving around the lake, as well as up a small mountain so that we could see Luzerne—the town and the lake—spread out below. And I rested enough so that, on our final day, I could visit Luzerne’s museum, which tested the limits of my ability to photograph using the I-Phone. I failed. We did see an exhibit of one of Switzerland’s most beloved painter-heroes, Hans Emmenegger (1866-1940), whose art I had never seen before. The exhibit included samples of his various subjects. I was most taken with his early paintings of tree trunks in sunlight, and almost as obsessive, his interest in trying to paint the movement of water in various forms.

From inside the museum in LuzerneInside the museum in StrasburgPart of exhibit in Strasburg
From inside the museum in LuzerneInside the museum in StrasburgPart of exhibit in Strasburg

Back in Strasbourg for the last remaining days, Christiane and I had lunch at the Art Café of the Strasbourg Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. Much of the museum was taken up by Daniel Buren’s work, an artist whose exhibit called “Like Child’s Play, Work in Situ” consisted of 104 giant wooden pieces in the form of children’s geometric, traditional building blocks, half of them painted white and half in bright colors. Clearly families with small children were having a good time walking through the exhibit. The same artist’s idea of “in situ” had also transformed the museum itself. And here I was more successful with my I-Phone. The museum’s glass-paneled walls had been covered with “tinted film affixed directly to the glass canopy.” As the museum’s pamphlet continues, “Thus, added to the 25 meter high “nave,” these “stained glass windows create a striking effect, radically altering our external vision of the museum’s iconic façade, as well as our perception of its interior space.”

Finally, I will conclude with another tribute to Christiane for making my holiday possible, both in London and on the Continent. While I wrote, she worked on her translations, and we could talk together of books we had and hadn’t both read. And despite our cultural differences, we shared mutual interests in film and theatre. We also liked playing games, and especially Rummy-kub, which I hadn’t played in decades, and in which, dear reader, she beat me almost every time.
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