Yesterday was a perfect day. Incomprehensible as it may be, just because I am constantly on the move, getting VIP treatment at concerts, and stumbling into bizarre objects all over the place doesn’t mean that it’s one glorious rainbow road of happiness and perfection. Sometimes I get lost. Sometimes the museum I want to see costs way more than I’m willing and able to pay. Sometimes I find myself in the midst of a massive existential crisis.
Like a pitcher who’s gone 8 innings without giving up a single hit or walk, as the day wore on I started to realize that I was inches away from perfection. I arrived in Metz from Luxembourg, where I spent the night with an awesome couple I met while couchsurfing in Maastricht. One aspect of a perfect day on the road is letting things happen without worrying too much about plans. Right off the bat I scored high marks on that one–it turns out the Centre Georges Pompidou-Metz is around the corner from the train station, so I headed there first.
It looked sort of like a turtle with a white tablecloth draped over the top, so it was pretty hard to miss. Upon entering I was told that because I was under the age of 25 admission was free, which has the twofold effect of saving money (victory!) and also making you feel very smug about yourself.
Inside the Pompidou was an interesting video exhibition about the beat poet Allen Ginsberg. Upstairs was this piece by Duchamp, as well as other DADAist works by Leger and Richter. I’m not a huge enthusiast for art from this period–it’s a little too absurd for my taste–but the ideas behind them are fun to ponder.
The last thing I saw before leaving the Pompidou was this incredible view of the Cathedral of St. Etienne through the top floor gallery window. The room was cavernous and dark upon entry, with the entire wall at the far end nothing but glass. Silhouetted against the 750 year-old monolith, the people appeared minute and temporal.
In the heart of the old city is the bustling covered market, and I was soon too caught up in the here and now to bother with worrying about the ephemeral nature of existence. This being the day before Christmas eve, each stall was filled to the brim with fresh produce, meats, cheeses, and fish. Women hunched over bulging bags of groceries, preparing for their Christmas feasts. Parents with young children in tow left stray chestnut shells and lollypop wrappers in their wake as they went looking for sweets to appease their rowdy hangers-on.
As I trundled along I noticed a worn-but polished oak bar with a chalkboard menu advertising many different types of soup. When the head chef, a bearded man wearing an apron full of souvenir buttons, told me they had vegetable lamb soup, my growling belly dictated that I order it immediately. The results were spectacular: for only 3.50 Euro the hearty bowl of perfectly tender vegetables and succulent pieces of lamb was a steal. Hints of herbs and garlic made for an edifying stock, and I was somewhere in 7th Heaven when the bowl was done.
And yet, perfection was not yet achieved. Across the square from the market was Metz Cathedral, dedicated to St. Stephen, the first martyr mentioned in the Four Gospels. Construction began in 1220 and continued on and off for the next three hundred years.
When it comes to Gothic cathedrals, Metz is a head-turner for many reasons. In all of France, Beauvais and Amiens are the only churches with higher naves. St. Etienne also has an array of exceptionally beautiful stained glass both old and new.
After the Second World War Marc Chagall and a few other artists were commissioned to create new stained glass windows in various locations around the Cathedral. This one in particular was breathtaking to behold; in the bottom right corner we see Adam and Eve embracing each other, with God reaching out to touch Adam’s finger a la Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel. On the left we see Eve, fertile and voluptuous, surrounded by the fruits of Paradise and the Serpent twirling suggestively beside her.
My thirst to see great art quenched, I decided to experience a little bit more of Metz before going back to Luxembourg. I exited the cathedral and made my way down several streets packed with revelers before emerging onto a large square with a Christmas market and a Ferris wheel. The temperature was dropping rapidly as the last bit of light drained out of the sky and the enticing smells of glühwein and hot coffee were seductive in the crisp air.
I bought a cup to go and walked back to the train station, stopping along the way to buy a baguette for my hosts. As I sat on the train with my book it dawned on my that the day had fallen into place with perfect ease. I spent very little money and didn’t use a guidebook, yet I witnessed great art, ate delicious local cuisine, and in the process ascended into traveler’s Nirvana.
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