Friday, July 9, 2010

Greetings from: the Old City

On the plane to Luxembourg, we met a young Luxembourgois named Chris, who advised us:  you can see all of the Old City in an hour and a half, if you don't stop in anywhere.  He also suggested a bar, Scott's, to which I nodded as if excited, but since I don't drink, it was mostly for show.  As it turns out, our tour of the Old City took significantly longer than and hour and a half, but that's not because we didn't stop anywhere.  Old City sounds better than "commercial shopping district"; it sounds more quaint.  More romantic.  And if there's any doubt to the romanticism of the city, I bore witness to these five examples: 

#1:  As I sat, sipping a chocolate milkshake at the Chocolate Company, right across from the Palais Grand-Ducal, I watched a young woman of about 14, chat up the Royal Guard, who looked to be maybe 18.  There's none of that British-style, Beefeater stone-face here; the guard stared straight ahead, but he was clearly speaking back to her.  As he did his formal march, a stately fifteen paces to his left, she followed along on the other side.  There's something about a man in uniform.  After that procession, however, he continued to march in the hot afternoon sun, beret poised sharply on his forehead, and the young lady, sensing a lost cause, moved on. 

#2:  Matthew and I went down into the Bock casemates, the cavernous underground military fortifications.  We traipsed up and down stone spiral staircases, with steps so narrow that my size 9½ sneaker threatened to slip right off.  As the story goes (from the casemate brochure), the first count of Luxembourg married a woman named Mélusine, who requested that he never see her on a certain night of the week.  He, of course, couldn't resist his curiosity, and when he peeked in on her one evening, he saw that she had a fish's tail.  She sensed him spying on her, and she dived into the Alzette River, never to return. 

#3:  Around the corner from the Palais, we ran into a bachelorette party.  The friends all wore pink t-shirts with the bride's face, and around her face, appliqué letters announced that she was the "star of the evening."  Her face, of course, was in a star.  The bride herself wore a chef's toque and wheeled a cart with a banner of (I assume) her fiancé's face.  She approached me:  I'm getting married, she said.  Will you buy something from me?  Her cart had bottles and baskets.  This might be a local tradition, I guessed.  How about a cookie? she suggested, and I asked, How much?  She replied, As much as you want to give.  Her fiancé's face, above the cart, grimaced, his tongue lolling out.  I gave her €1.5 for a cookie, and she said, They're special.  Indeed they were:  they were in the shape of a penis.  Would you like some sperm? one of her friends asked, and I said, Of course!  She sprayed whipped cream on the tip, but too much, and it splattered on the ground in a white blotch.  She controlled the amount better the second time, and one of her friends photographed me as I fellated the cookie.  The cart moved on, down the street, and I noticed the bride-to-be had a plastic ball-and-chain clamped around her ankle. 

#4:  For dinner, we ate at Chiggeri, on the curve of Rue du Nord.  The road had been blocked off, and as we ate, we watched car after car drive approach the barricade, then have to do a five-point turn to go back downhill.  One brave soul drove down in reverse.  The maitre d' looked like a football hooligan:  muscular, with a shaved head except for a center strip of black hair -- a cranial lane divider.  When a group of young ladies came to dine, all the male wait staff immediately stood up straight and lined up across the road, their hands behind their backs, ready to be of service at any moment. 

#5:  In the Place D'Armes, the 'Summer in the City' festival was in full swing.  The restaurant sidewalk tables were all full, including the ones serving McDonald's, Pizza Hut, and Chi-Chi's.  We'd seen a classical quartet play earlier, and now that the sun had set (9:30 again), the Harmonie Orchestra Hesperange had taken the stage.  They were a mixed aged orchestra; the flautists seemed particularly young, while the horn players and percussionists were older men.  We arrived just in time; they played a medley of ABBA hits, "Dancing Queen" leading into "Lay All Your Love on Me," and ending with "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)."  Matthew and I sat on a bench, next to a woman eating a nectarine.  She put a plastic bottle of San Pellegrino to demarcate her personal space.  At the table next to us, a couple shared a platter of fruits de mer on a bed of ice.  Children danced in the square; other children stood on stage and pretend to conduct.  Matthew and I were sticky from exertion -- summer clinging to our skin -- but he still put his arm around my shoulder. 

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