We drove from Macon to see family who live
between Annecy and Geneva. We drove up into the Alps in Haute-Savoie for a day
of seeing goats, cross-country-skiers, and to eat in a small and friendly
restaurant. It was very friendly, that is, until the table next to ours was set
on fire (by the meats-over-coals dish the couple had ordered). The customers
were not worried... as the waiter was putting out the fire, their only remark
was “more sauce, please.”
After our two days there, we left for
Freiburg, a city that was re-built (after WWII) according to its original city
plan. The streets are narrow and lovely, the store- and hotel-fronts blend old
with new, and there is a canal running down one side of all the walking and
biking streets. Our hotel has been running on Oberlinden for (roughly) 700
years. Here was the view:
The city’s people are very friendly, and the
shops very interesting—do you need an
or a lovely restaurant?
Moving north, farther into Germany, we
noticed that the houses became more concerned with rooflines... that is, each
house and barn seemed hugely roof, against the snow to come. And there seems to
be some interest in trapping the sun through solar panels:
We had planned to visit more cities, but, on
finding that our next hotel had lied to us (they were not in Heidelberg, so it
was impossible to find them there), we decided to change our plans. The
autobahn is awe-inspiring; if there are no work-stations or problems, the speed
limit is up to the driver, who can go as fast as desired, as long as s/he
maintains control of the car. We were also seeing that cities seem more alike,
from one country to the next, than countryside, and we thought the German countryside
utterly gorgeous, so, why not slow down and see the landscape?
As we drove, we saw geese and swans and
hawks, and chased down hotels (that we sometimes could not find) and small and
interesting villages. “It’s a wild goose chase!” my husband said, and, yes,
that’s what we have begun.
Logs are being harvested and stacked for
pick-up. These smaller roads are accompanied by walking and biking paths. It is
late in December, but the fields are still green, or ploughed up for the next
crop. Vineyards are stacked up on careful hillside shelving. We pass a
glassblower’s huge compound, an Audi factory, a “polizei” speed trap (cars here
blink their lights, too). Someone has died along this road and her family has
left candles and a white marble angel. We stay in two hotels in a row run by
families; one speaks English, the other does not.
We drive by the town of Speilberg. It is 7
degrees Celsius. We stay in another hotel and leave the window open. The church
bells ring all night. When it is 2:00 in the morning, the louder bell rings
four times for the hour, then a smaller bell rings twice, then the louder bell
rings once to say it is the quarter hour, then twice for the half hour, then
three times for three-quarters of the hour, then at 3:00 the whole cycle begins
A covered bridge: “Did you think they
started in Vermont?” my husband asks. We are driving in and out of the
Schwarzwald, the Black Forest. Woodpiles become very important:
Two shaggy cows. Muddy sheep by a beautiful stream. We drive
higher into the mountains, and see snow, ravines, waterfalls, and our car tells
us “Risque de verglas” (black ice). The woods are dark and deep... again,
Robert Frost didn’t invent these forests... these are fairy-tale forests, thick
with moss... and dragons. I start reading Grimm’s
We stop for a Renaissance castle, WasserSchloss
Glatt, with moat and timbered buildings:
And a town, later, on the Bodensee, called
Meersburg, with defensive walls:
This is a fairy tale. Charley looks
at the orchards, bare branches now, with a few scattered apples left:
and he says the apples seem to have given
way, over the years, to decorated shiny balls and the Christmas tree.
We left Paris and drove the A6 past Fontainebleu... the forest goes on forever. The shadows of the trees lengthened as we drove. It was 2 degrees centigrade when we started in. We saw turned-up fields with frost settled into the lines of the tractor's tires. Just outside the péage (toll gates) at Fleury-en-Biére, we saw a huge abstract painting-- something along the lines of a Joan Mitchell. Just there. We headed deeper into Burgundy, and the road is now called The Autoroute du Soleil (the highway of the sun). A church with a pitched slate roof tells us we are still pretty far north. Clustered village and two distant farms, a yellow "la Poste" truck on the parallel little road.
Mistletoe clusters in bare trees... the mistletoe is green against the greys and browns. More frost, now on the grasses near the highway. A fat French hawk on a fence. The greens in the field sparkle... melting frost? Shadows of trees stretching down their hill.
Then, a "Pays de Charolais" sign, and up come the white cattle against the brown and green grassy hills. We see two more hawks.
Then the "Côte d'Or." Tidy little (trimmed?) hedgerows around planted fields, and more white cattle. Two trees, nearly disappearing under the mistletoe. Then we see our first field of rolled hay bales.
Molly and Bloom... two people, in one. Molly, in James Joyce's Ulysses, stays at the center of Bloom's moving world. One part of us moves, one part of us stays. This is the time when we are moving, and loving the moving.
It is so beautiful here. Charley sees a hawk hunting.
Fifth hawk, passing the Chateau d'Eguilly. A broken, but still imposing, fort/castle. A village behind, still protected. A hillside, all snow. Clumps of grass sticking together, iced and green all at once.
"Chateauneuf" village off to our left. The canal de Bourgogneon our right. Then, the valley of the Ouche River, all white hills.
"Alert Meteo: Nuit Prochaine Verglas" the sign says, warning that the roads will freeze tonight.
All of a sudden, everything is mist. Like a fairy tale. Then, at the Beaune exit, grapevines covered in white frost. It is now -2 degrees centigrade outside. Sixth hawk. Department: Saône et Loire. Seventh hawk, huge and shaggy. 8th hawk, then birches, with some yellow and some frosted leaves. -1 degree centigrade. A row of farmed poplars.
Now it is 0 degrees. The grass is green again, but anything standing up in the air is white: bushes, vines, straggly grass, trees, fences. The houses remain grey and beige. Ninth and tenth hawks.
Our diesel Citroen C3 has used 1/4 of its little tank in 4 hours.
11th hawk. 12th hawk. Charley says they are watching the cars.
13the hawk. 14th hawk, wings spread, looking down at his claws.
Fifteenth and final hawk.
We arrive in Maçon. We fall, somehow, into the best, smallest, warmest restaurant in town.
This is lapin en gelée with mâche salad and onion confit at "le Carafé: Les Vins en Liberté," a bistro-cave in Maçon. There are three choices of first course, three choices of second, three desserts. The wines of the night were Minervois and Morgon. A man came in from his vineyard with a bottle of Volnay and gave us a taste... we then talked with some of the customers about wines and Maçon.
I have this idea that the world of art
divides into monuments and archways. I think of a monument as something created
at the peak of an artist’s desire to solidify every artistic achievement that
has occurred up to the moment of signing the art work. Up against monumental
art work comes the archway piece, the one that an artist makes as s/he looks
towards an un-realized artistic future.
I’m going to take two small works, both in
London’s National Gallery, as examples. John Constable’s “Cenotaph to the
Memory of Sir Joshua Reynolds, erected in the grounds of Coleorton Hall,
Leicestershire” (from 1833-36) helps my theory by being a painting of a monument,
but that’s not why I chose it. Constable has
put everything he knows into this painting, everything about every leaf, the
way light falls within a cluster of trees, the way dead leaves blow onto
stones... it’s a memoriam to everything he would have us know that Reynolds
means to him, but, more than that, it is everything, down to the stag, pictured
in an almost photographic perfection.It is letting us know that a painting of a landscape deserves the same recognition as a painting of a battle.
The second painting, my archway painting, is
Camille Pissarro’s “Fox Hill, Upper Norwood,” from 1870:
It, too, is a landscape, but something is
different. There is a tree, but it is sketched in, a fence, caught in a few
brushstrokes, dirty lines of snow where the carriages have come, a man meeting
women... nothing is firmly placed. This is not aiming at grandeur. Blink and it’s gone.
Even though the Constable places us in the
center of his personal artistic debt, and it’s a beautiful and arresting work,
the Pissarro feels more personal to me. The viewer is invited to walk
down that same road, in that same contented mood, crossing through the archway that
links us (impossibly, but artistically) to a country road in 1870.