Thursday, July 8, 2010

Greetings from: LUXEMBOURG CITY

The first day of travel is always rough going:  merry travelers suffer from cramped airline seats, creeping effects of jetlag, and, for those visiting northern climes, the sun not setting until almost 9 in the evening.  From the plane, sunset seemed to last forever, as if the plane were chasing the afterglow.  And, after it had lost the chase, sunrise broke over the horizon.  I, however, was too busy trying to cram myself into a comfortable position.  If I get some sleep, I told myself, I'll be awake and alert for Luxembourg.  Iceland Express, however, had other plans.  Its crew was scrupulously polite -- I hesitate to call them 'elfin' for fear of stereotyping -- but even the men were pale and waif-like.  It was a flight of Lord of the Rings extras:  Eymer, Gunner, Orli...

Tiny little Luxembourg and tiny little Luxembourg airport.  Several major carriers had landed there, but those planes were all twin-prop puddlejumpers.  I'd wager that the Grand Duke would bristle at hearing his fair airport being called 'regional,' but there you have it.  The bus from the airport took us through the banking district of Luxembourg -- modern glass-and-steel contraptions, men and women in gray suits having lunch in the warm afternoon sun. 

"We're the only ones wearing shorts," Matthew said.

"We're ugly Americans," I replied.  "It's sort of our uniform."

After checking into our hotel (just around the corner from the train station), we took a walk into the gorge that bisects the city.  As a matter of fact, we were not the only ones wearing shorts, but this perhaps speaks more to the monoculture of worldwide fashion:  if shorts could sag, they sagged, and if they could go beyond the knee, it might as well eat up most of the calf. 

After seven in the evening, even though the sun is still at 3/4 power, the city rolls down its shutters.  The 'ladies' of the cabarets stand outside their places of employment, smoke cigarettes, gossip, and make half-hearted efforts to lure in customers.  In the spirit of adventure, I ordered a random meal for dinner:  matjes served with an odd Dutch word that begins with g and has approximately 12 letters, 10 of them consonants.  As it turns out:  raw herring on pickled beets.

We walked the residential streets of the city until the sun set around 9, looking for a place that served glace.  There were plenty of bars open (cafes in the local parlance), and people sat at sidewalk tables or in walled-off terraces, which made the city seem almost awake.  But no ice cream.  Instead, there were snack bars, mostly of Mediterranean descent, and men who stood behind the register with gyro slicers in hand.  Cars were parked willy-nilly on the street, and we picked out the brands that don't exist in the US:  Opel, Daihatsu, Skoda, Peugeot.  National flags dangled from people's windows, especially those teams which have long since disappeared from competition.  It's an act of defiance against the Dutch, I believe, who go to the finals on Sunday.  We are here, they seem to say, and the sun rises and sets on our say-so; never mind what the clock may read.  

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