Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - August 3, 2018

Heart of Metz

Husband Art and I returned to Metz again this summer. It was our sixth time since 2014 in the charming city in France’s northeastern Lorraine region. In past years, we stayed at the edge of town, making it a fairly-long walk to the bustling downtown. But this year, our flat was on the second floor of a nondescript building right in the heart of the city’s old-town. It was two blocks from St. Etienne (St. Stephen’s) Cathedral and looked out onto similar buildings separated by ancient narrow brick streets. A bar at the end of one block was the only business we could see.

In contrast to its ordinary outside appearance, inside the flat was spacious and airy with high ceilings, tall multi-paned windows and wood floors. The furnishings were an eclectic assortment of antiques, unusual light fixtures and old cupboards. Comfy pillows were everywhere. Nothing seemed to match, yet everything went together in such a manner as to create a feeling of warmth and coziness.

Interesting things could be found within a short distance in any direction - the cathedral, several churches, restaurants of all types, tree-lined parks with fountains and rows of flowers, shopping centers, and small bakeries and butcher shops.

If it weren’t for the fact that neither of us speaks much French, we would have felt like we belonged. We knew when the trash and recycling trucks would arrive and we watched for the bar lights to go on and activity to ramp up each night - except Sunday and Monday, which were their rest days. We heard small children chattering in their sing-song way as they skipped alongside their parents, the click of hard-soled shoes on the cobblestone street below our windows and a singer with a great voice who practiced in a nearby apartment most days.

Bastille Day is France’s equivalent to our 4th of July and the French celebrate much as we do. The day before, we attended ceremonies at Place de la Republique (Plaza of the Republic). It began with four fighter planes passing low overhead, first moving from north to south and later from east to west. Hundreds watched as a band played for a ceremony honoring various branches of the military, police and fire department, each in their distinctive uniforms. French, U.S. and European Union flags flew high.

On Bastille Day, we walked to the Plan d’Eau on the banks of the Moselle River, where the main celebration took place. In the past few years, 45,000 have shown up, so we made certain we were in the front of the line for the scheduled 7 p.m. gate opening. It was another 30 minutes before we passed through the bag-check point. Armed guards and local police patrolled the grounds throughout the evening.

We first sat in a grassy area by the river, but then moved nearer the outdoor stage when the Flying Orkestar, a group from the Balkans, began singing and playing their accordions, clarinets, trumpets and other instruments. They were a riot, and soon the crowd was jumping up and down and dancing to the frenetic music.

After an hour, the National Symphony Orchestra of Lorraine took the stage. Their performance was quite a change from the previous group, but was just as enthusiastically received, as the French seem to embrace classical music more than we Americans do.

Midway through the orchestra’s show, the fireworks began, synchronized with the music. Blue, white and red displays in the sky matched the intensity of the sound. The crowd loved it.

After, we joined the throngs heading home. It was shoulder to shoulder, but Art kept nudging me to the right. We joined a few brave souls who scaled a small slope up to one of the main streets. Once there, we felt so smart, watching the masses of people below inching toward the exit as we walked at full stride.

Firecrackers greeted us along the Esplanade, one of the city’s main parks. As we neared our flat, celebrations were still going strong at the bar down the street. But it didn’t stop us from going to sleep.

The next day was just as frenzied. The entire city was gearing up for the 5 p.m. world championship soccer match in Russia between France and Croatia. French flags were everywhere. Many people had them painted on their faces. Some wrapped them around their shoulders. Others wore blue, white and red hats, leis, wigs and sunglasses. One man had the colors painted on his bald pate. Bars and restaurants were struggling to keep up with all their excited customers. Even chocolate shops got in on the action. One had packages of soccer balls, shoes and jerseys made out of chocolate.

We weren’t sure who to pull for. France hadn’t won a World Cup Final since 1998, but it was the first time Croatia made it to the championship. Once the game began, we didn’t have to watch TV to know when France scored, as the streets would erupt and huge fireworks were set off. When France won, 4-2, the noise became steady. Honking cars sped through the streets and revelers made their presence known everywhere.

We thought the following Friday would be a quiet one, our only goal being to check out the stained glass windows at St. Maximin church. But we were surprised to find two violinists, a viola player, a pianist, a cello player and a singer rehearsing pieces from Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Sheherazade.” The cellist said they were playing that evening, so we grabbed supper at a nearby Vietnamese restaurant and then returned for the performance.

The program mentioned other performances, including one featuring Claude Debussy’s works the following Sunday at the city hall in recognition of the 100th anniversary of his death. We took it in before dashing across the street to an organ concert at the cathedral.

All of these events were free and kept us entertained. When our time in the heart of Metz came to an end, it was hard to say good bye..

Top-left: four French air force jets pass over Metz during the pre-Bastille-Day ceremonies. Top-center: two members of the Flying Orkestar performing at the Plan d’Eau on Bastille Day. Top-right: fireworks on Bastille Day. Bottom-left: a small-scale soccer shoe and ball made from chocolate available for 25 Euros - about $30. Bottom-middle: one of the stained-glass windows in St. Maximin church. Middle-right: group rehearsing a Rimsky-Korsakov piece for the performance in the evening. Bottom-right: same musicians in the image above accepting audience's applause after their performance.

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Other columns from 2018 may be found at: 2018 Index.
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