Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - August 4, 2023

"Putzing"and planning

In July, when husband Art and I were in France, we decided to spend the last Saturday "putzing" - a term we use for activities with little-to-no planning or definite goals. That day, it took the form of wandering through the countryside without a particular destination in mind.

We left our "headquarters" in Metz, traveling south through Jouy-aux-Arches - known for the Roman aqueduct that cuts across the main street of the town. Then, we drove west into the Meurthe-and-Moselle region, encountering acres and acres of corn, sunflowers and hay. With farmers hard at work cutting and baling the latter, it seemed like home to this Kansas farm girl.

We stopped when we saw four young people next to a field of sunflowers. They were two U.S. military couples from the Army post in Wiesbaden, Germany. We took photos for them and they took several for us. What could be better than our picture taken on a sunny summer day with the state flower of Kansas?

As we approached Chambley, we saw painted balloon signs advertising the international hot-air balloon festival at the former U.S. Air Force base. It had started the day before and is billed as the largest such festival in Europe.

We decided to return there closer to evening - the preferred flying time when winds are usually calmer. We moved on to the small village of Dommartin-la-Chaussée, population 36. Quirky art was everywhere. Painted metal cows near an old wagon stood in a hay field in front of the church. Old metal-and-wood tools hung on the sides of garages. Stuffed animals were tied to fences. A treadle sewing machine, a table set with a cloth and dishes, and an old bedstead appeared completely normal, except for being in a pasture rather than a house. Rusted metal pans, tea kettles, pots, and bicycles adorned a nearby fence. Old TVs were stacked "willy-nilly" here and there.

It was the brainchild of 60s-something Mayor Denis Petit, who had lived in Paris for 20 years and loves rural art. In a 2020 online article, he said, "It’s a village that lends itself to decoration. It's friendly, it's fun, it's funny. The people who pass by have a smile."

We certainly did!

In contrast, our next stop was solemn. Located at the highest point for miles, the St. Mihiel American Cemetery and Memorial holds the graves of 4,153 U.S. soldiers killed during World War I. The views of the countryside are beautiful in all directions. I walked to the top of the circular overlook to inspect the relief map with the names of the battlefields. In stark contrast to mid-September 1918, the setting was serene.

The guard said we could picnic on the grass, so we ate sandwiches, grapes, and potato chips under a large tree that protected us from the sun. After, Art lay on the ground using his plastic water bottle as a pillow.

We wandered on, turning back toward Chambley as 6 p.m. approached. A few miles from the field, traffic slowed to a crawl. "Gendarmes" - constables - directed traffic. Like many other motorists, we drove into a cut-hay field south of the balloon launching area and parked. We stayed in the car, amused by people trying to maneuver strollers, fold-up lawn chairs, and other paraphernalia across the uneven stubble. Some quick counting generated a "guesstimate" of 2,000 vehicles in just that one of many such fields.

But balloon sightings were not to be. The wind was too brisk.

About 8 p.m., we wandered toward "home," stopping in Ars-sur-Moselle to inspect the end of the Roman aqueduct opposite Jouy. Constructed in about 200 A.D., it carried spring water across the Moselle River to Metz.

Our "putzing" day was just one in a three-week trip planned as a sort of last "hurrah" for the project that culminated in the book we wrote about Morganville, Kansas adopting Fèves, France after World War II. The English version was completed in November 2020 and the French one last summer.

We met with friends who were part of the story and others who had helped translate it. One evening was pizza with friends Gérard and Solange and their grandson Paul. Gérard and Solange were youngsters when aid from Morganville began arriving in 1949, and Gérard's knowledge of local history was crucial to our understanding. Another night, three of our four translators joined us at a nice French restaurant for supper.

Earlier in the trip, daughter Katie and husband Matt had been with us for a week. They took us to Quintessence, a fancy French restaurant in Metz, as a thank-you for inviting them on the trip. As we were presented with each course, Matt had Google Translate running on his phone so we could understand the server's descriptions. Each course was presented as a work of art - "decorated" with flower petals, beautifully julienned vegetables, and various sauces.

The two-and-a-half-hour eight-course meal ended at about 9:30. After, we watched a laser light show on the face of the beautiful 800-year-old St. Etienne cathedral.

After the "kids" returned home, Art and I attended several free concerts - part of a 10-day series of classical music programs sponsored by Classic Metz'ival, the name being a contraction of the city name and "festival." A violin-cello-piano concert in St. Maximin church in central Metz featured classical works. The following evening was a duo singing Irish and Scottish tunes accompanied by a harp and bodhràn - a type of Celtic drum - in a community center in nearby Nouilly. The next night was at the Robert Schuman garden in nearby Scy-Chazelles. It included pieces such as "La Vie en Rose" ("Life through Rose-Colored Glasses"), "The Entertainer," and "Beyond the Sea."

Our July of 35 years ago was a busy month characterized by much organizing and socializing. Both Art and I were still working while also planning our wedding. In contrast, this July was marked by doing whatever seemed right at the moment. Putzing and planning - both can yield good things.

Top row (l-r): Aqueduct in Jouy-aux-Arches; field of sunflowers near Chambley; pots, pans and bicycles on a fence in Dommartin-la-Chaussée. Middle row (l-r): St. Mihiel American Cemetery and Memorial; waiting for the balloons south of Chambley; the start of the aqueduct that terminates at Jouy; Classic Metz'ival performance in the Robert Schuman garden. Bottom row (l-r beginning with image with candles): anniversary dessert at Quintessence; “decorations” from one of the servings; Matt, Gloria, Art and Katie with the restaurant sign in the background; laser-lit cathedral; Gloria, Solange, Gérard and Art.

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