Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - July 21, 2017

Balancing the familiar with the unexpected

Holiday traveling is certainly about seeing new things, trying new foods and meeting new people. But another aspect I have found equally satisfying is getting to know a place so well that it seems like a second home.

Metz, France is one of those latter places for me. Our family has visited five times since 2014, and we’ve had the good fortune of staying at the same vacation home for a total time of several months. It’s a comfortable, open house filled with eclectic items the landlord has collected over many years of owning a funky vintage clothing/collectibles gift shop. Ceiling lights wrapped with metal grape vines, chandeliers, a large wood bear, an oil painting of a mysterious-looking woman, toy robots and a caricature of the owner with his dog are intermingled with comfy sofas and chairs, an orange refrigerator with the word Germania across the front and a pink bathroom, right down to the toilet seat.

The home sits at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac on St. Symphorien, an island surrounded by the waters of the Moselle River. On three sides, we can look out on fields while the other is connected with another home. A grocery is a block away and the downtown is within walking distance via winding Moselle-River pathways or along roads.

The hill to the west was once the home to Fort St. Quentin, one of the strongholds that made the capture of the town during World War II so costly for Gen. George Patton’s Third Army. But for us, it is the home of a communications tower. Its faint red warning lights are the last thing we see from our bedroom window each night before drifting off to sleep.

Husband Art is so comfortable driving in the city that he doesn’t have to think twice before knowing which narrow cobblestone street to turn down or which way to head out of a roundabout on a larger thoroughfare.

Still, even though we’ve been in Metz often, the town still holds surprises. On our most recent trip, we saw some new things we had planned to take in, but others were pure serendipity.

Every summer, the city has free concerts at various venues. Art and I decided on one in the grand hall of the old arsenal building. The performers - a pianist and an electronic keyboard player - were both good, but the constantly-moving light show and often-times loud, dissonant sounds from the keyboard were distracting. In other words, it was not as entertaining as we had hoped.

So when it was over, we considered just going home. But when we stepped outside, we heard the National Orchestra of Lorraine playing at the nearby Place de la Republique. We listened to the final half hour of their public concert. They were excellent.

Rejuvenated, we decided to walk to the nearby magnificent St. Stephen’s Cathedral, nicknamed “The Good Lord’s Lantern” because it has the largest expanse of stained glass in the world. Every time I see it, I notice something different - flying buttresses, gargoyles, intricately-carved figures of the Apostles, different light playing off the stained glass.

We discovered a crowd at the front of the cathedral and assumed they were waiting for something. So Art found us semi-comfortable seating on a ledge next to the indoor covered market. At 10:45, a band began playing while all the area lights were extinguished, including those on the cathedral. Suddenly a grid of numbers appeared on the cathedral facade and then a laser light show began. I’d never seen anything like it. During the five- to 10- minute show, St. Stephen’s was transformed. At one point, it was seemingly wrapped in silk. At another, it appeared to crumble stone by stone as a laser “knife” cut through it. At still another, it was being reconstructed in Lego form.

At other times, the cathedral became a living, breathing thing with brilliant reds, greens, golds and purples projected onto its face, while thunderous music played. Various figures appeared. A creature with glowing eyes moved its gaze over the crowd. A 12-point buck, a Biblical-looking character and a king on his throne followed. I, like others, watched spellbound.

I read later that EZ3kiel, a French musical group formed in 1993, designed the fęte des lumičres - festival of lights. The musicians were described as “designers, technicians, producers and creators who search for absolute inventiveness through numerous collaborations and artistic experimentations.”

We were lucky enough to see the show not just once, but twice - the second time when daughters Mariya and Katie joined us later in our trip.

But the light show at the cathedral wasn’t the only surprise. We had never explored the town’s medieval Gate of the Germans, so we decided late one Sunday to do so. Our plan was to walk around the gate, which dates back to the 13th century and was connected with the Teutonic Knights.

We arrived to discover the Metz Municipal Band was performing a free concert featuring songs from “Super Heroes” movies. We sat inside the walls on temporary benches while listening to “Captain America”, “Superman”, the “Harry Potter Symphonic Suite”, “Avengers Age of Ultron”, “Spiderman” and “Batman.” Mariya and Katie - both super fans of those movies - were especially excited about coming upon the unexpected concert.

So, I suppose traveling isn’t that much different from being at home - what is most fun is a mixture of comfortable familiarity and occasional surprises.

Top: concert inside the Gate of the Germans; bottom-left: Art, Mariya, Gloria and Katie outside the gate; bottom-middle: image projected on the face of St. Stephen's Cathedral; bottom-right: Our eclectic "home away from home." The painting of the mystery woman, glass wall and ceiling fixtures, and other furnishings can be seen.

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