Chapter 2: Metz
Morning came far too quick. No sooner had my head hit the pillow after wandering back from Jeanâ€™s at 2am in the morning than it was time to rise and shine. Instantly packing; I grabbed the necessary and placed it in my short stay suitcase. Shower, shave and ablutions over and I was off on my travels again. Mustnâ€™t be late for the 6:30am rendezvous with Lilly at Gare Lille Europe. I rushed down the steps to the TGV Eurostar platform. Paris 07:00am flashed up on the board. Excellent, 06:32hrs - I was only two minutes late and no sign of Lilly. I text her on my mobile with a cheeky wakeup message. After 15 minutes a pair of long legs clad in tight jeans hurriedly scurried down the steps and Lilly came into full view.
â€œNice shoes!â€ I said in greeting, for Lilly was wearing a very chic pair of Jimmy Chuâ€™s.
â€œThank you.â€ Lilly replied. â€How did you notice?â€
â€œItâ€™s a gift!â€ I laughed at her surprised expression, â€œOne of my mottoes is - shoes are art and life is theatre. I should have been a girl really!â€
Lilly grinned and gave a sigh of relief. â€œIâ€™m not used to getting up this early but at least Iâ€™ve made it.â€ She grimaced.
â€œNever mind youâ€™ll soon get used to it. Once on board you can relax and Iâ€™ll get you a coffee, jus dâ€™orange or such.â€
With that the gleaming silver and blue TGV engine glided into view followed by its long train of snake like silver carriages. It came to an effortless stop, the doors opened and we boarded the carriage in front of us, just opposite to where moments ago we had been stood chatting. Lilly stowed her bag and took her seat. I followed suite sitting opposite her. Not 2 minutes had elapsed and the train started its journey slowly gaining momentum as it left the platform.
Within minutes it had cleared the points and began accelerating to its normal cruising speed of some 250 plus kilometres per hour. I settled back in my seat and made conversation.
â€œEinstein is reported to have once said â€“ What time does Oxford reach this train?! I suppose we could ask the same question of Metzâ€ I smiled and waited to see if Lilly knew what I was on about?
â€œYes, itâ€™s all relative you know!â€ She grinned at her own reply and fumbled in her purse for some money. â€œIâ€™m getting you a coffee and a croissant and a chocolat chaud for me; no arguing.â€
â€œMerci, mademoiselle.â€ I was impressed, very modern. Lilly was good news, I liked her direct no nonsense approach. We made interesting conversation and the time flew past much as the flat scenery of Picardie flew past the window. Exactly on the hour we glided into Gare du Nord, Paris. A quick 20 minute taxi ride and we were in Gare du Est. Lilly spotted the train waiting at its allotted platform and we jumped on board.
â€œNow we can relax!â€ I said with a sigh of relief. â€œJust one and a half hours to Metz and no more changes.â€
â€œYes, itâ€™s a bit tight that one, only 40 minutes to catch the scheduled train.â€ Lilly obviously was totally aware of the need for efficient timekeeping when travelling TGV style, definitely no time to stop and stare. I could see that we already had the makings of a good team.
We settled down and reviewed the task ahead. I spread my notes and internet research documents on the orange brown table top that separated us. I was please to learn that she was excited about the trip and enjoyed history, for there is nothing worse than not enjoying your work. The 1 hour 20 minutes direct to Metz flew past as we effortlessly glided through the champagne countryside of northern eastern France. At 10:02 am precisely on schedule we pulled into Metz and alighted onto the platform.
â€œWell that was pretty painless,â€ I smiled at Lilly, â€œNow to find the Hotel Moderne, it should be just across the road.â€ A 2 minute walk across Rue La Fayette took us to the door of the large impressive sand coloured building opposite the station and we entered the lobby and checked in at the desk.
â€œOK Lilly 30 minutes to make your self comfortable and then weâ€™ll go explore!â€
â€œSure no problem, Iâ€™ll just freshen up.â€ With that Lilly shut her door and disappeared from view.
I went into the adjacent room and put my suitcase next to the bed. Going to the window I pulled wide the curtains and enjoyed looking at the view of the impressive station building opposite. Its stone faÃ§ade had a sense of medieval solidity for it was built from the same local sandstone as used in many of the Metz city buildings. A single large impressive clock tower rose to the right of the main entrance. It all looked too grand for a simple railway station. Metz had been an important riverside city since Roman times as it was situated on the Moselle. The river and several water features dominated the geography of the city to the north and west of the old town. The old German quarter was situated near the station to the left of my view and was famous for its porte des allemands which faced the German border not far away to the east. The sense of history was all around me despite the modern look of the large public buildings in this area. Metz is a very French city with deep German roots as it had been fought over and besieged for millennia by its belligerent neighbours. It was now the capital of the province of Lorraine which in earlier times was known as Lotharingia. After Charlemagneâ€™s death his empire was split into 3 parts at the treaty of Verdun 843, Emperor Lothair took control of the middle portion which stretched down into Italy and hence he gave his name to the province. Charles the Bald took what would become modern France and his brother Louis took what would later become Germany. The Germans had renamed the province Lothringen after the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 â€“ 71 and it had remained German for 5 decades there after.
I was suddenly aware that even though I had never physically been to Metz I had for some unknown reason a lifelong fascination with this part of France. Well I was here now and perhaps some answers would leap out at me over the next two days as we explored? I certainly had found it very easy to learn German as a boy, perhaps there was a tangible connection? My thoughts were interrupted by a gentle but firm knock at my door. I opened it and Lilly stood there dressed more like Lara Croft than the chic young lady with whom I had had the pleasure of travelling with.
â€œI think you look very business like!â€ I nodded my approval.
â€œWell you said we would be exploring so I wanted to be more comfortable.â€ Lilly looked the part dressed in her chomped khaki trousers, trainers and an olive green tee shirt, all topped off with a feminine straw hat and a small army style olive green backpack.
â€œRight off to the porte des allemands,â€ I grabbed my note pad and camera, â€œwe just follow the Rue La Fayette back past the station and carry on around the outside of the old German quarter.â€
We then left the hotel in the summer sunshine and walked briskly along the route I had previously outlined. Following the railway line we came to Avenue Jean XXIII and continued the curving path towards our goal. The impressive large scale public buildings of the station area gave way to more suburban human sized housing as we strolled down the Boulevard AndrÃ© Maginot. I crossed confidently over the road with Lilly and walked along the bank of the small river that runs to that side of the city.
â€œHow do you know the way?â€ Lilly enquired inquisitively, â€œitâ€™s like you know where you are going, are you sure you have never been here before?â€
â€œIt just seems familiar,â€ I said with a shrug of the shoulders, â€œItâ€™s all changed but the water course is still the same as it was.â€ Thatâ€™s spooky how did I know that? Why indeed should I say such a thing having not been here before? It seemed to unexplainably come from within. â€œYouâ€™ve got to go with the flow Lilly! Itâ€™s my journalistic sixth sense.â€ I tried to laugh it off but I definitely somehow knew my way. I tucked that strange feeling away for later analysis.
Just 20 minutes later we approached the medieval structure of the barbican entrance to the city known as the German gate which was just beyond the modern road bridge. We continued over the pedestrian crossing and got to the twin towers on the city side of the famous gate. They loomed above us with their black pointed witches hats.
â€œThis is it. A living history link thatâ€™s still here after 600 years,â€ I paused to take a picture, â€œYes itâ€™s stillâ€¦â€¦â€
With that I step across an invisible threshold and through the arch that joined the twin sand coloured towers; the world went silent! Everything became instantly brighter in colour, the sound of the automotive traffic suddenly disappeared and was replaced by human voices speaking a strange part French part German dialect, carts moved drawn by oxen and the road bed was densely mud covered with interspersed patches of rotting straw and dung. I was surrounded by many people all were dressed in strange cut old woollen clothes of muted colours, the men with tight leggings and pointed shoes. I looked down at myself and found I was dressed all in black with the same sort of garments and hose. They felt tight, itched terribly and smelt! Oh my God, the smell was awful, everything smelt of dung, including me. I touched my clothes, they seemed real enough but very dusty. I brushed the dry dirt and could taste it in my mouth as the cloud of particles rose in the air surrounding me. I continued walking and approached the main barbican gate on far side of the short curving bridge with its arched structures and pillars on the north side. Deformed people sat begging with their backs against the wall and dogs roamed freely. Two soldiers armed with halberds stood by the outer portcullis and chatted casually. As I approached they stood to attention, smiled and greeted me. I somehow understood their strange dialect and answered them back in their own Lorraine Franconian tongue. I passed uninhibited and â€¦â€¦â€¦..
As I stepped through the arch of the outer barbican the noise, pollution and mechanical smell of the modern world hit my nostrils again. The bright colours were instantly replaced by the everyday world of colour that was so familiar and real. I blinked and stumbled. A hand grasped my arm as if to steady me. It was Lilly; she looked into my eyes with a gaze of astonishment. â€œYann, Yann are you OK?â€ she continued to support me as a friend supports a drunken man, â€œsit on the wall over there. You scared me. You seemed to blank off and then started talking is a strange German like language!â€
â€œIâ€™m fine honest, not sure what happened. Iâ€™ll sit on the bridge wall and tell you what happened,â€ I sat down, now fully recovered and started to consciously marshal the events in my head, â€œThis is very interesting, it all happened when I stepped through the arch at the other end of the bridge and it stopped just as abruptly when I stepped through the barbican arch this end.â€ I went on to relate in as much detail what I had experienced whilst it was still vivid in my memory. Lilly listened entranced and took in all of the detail.
â€œHmmmâ€¦the language you spoke was a bit like the modern Alsatian dialect, but it sounded much more archaic. The dress of the people and soldiers you talk of definitely make it the medieval period, I would swear on that just from the description.â€
Lilly went on to describe what she had noticed about my behaviour so as to corroborate the events that had taken place. â€œYour whole gait and stance changed as you strode towards the barbican. You were definitely not with me at all!â€
â€œItâ€™s a flashback, no doubt about it, positive. I have had them all my life but never one as vivid as this!â€ I laughed nervously, â€œItâ€™s this place Lilly, something triggered a massive displacement in my consciousness. It was so real. I was there. It was pure time travel Lilly, pure time travel. Now what is going to happen when we walk back through the gate? Letâ€™s do the experiment!â€
With that I stood up straight, stretched my legs and made my way back to the barbican gate. Gingerly I paused and stepped over the threshold like Alice entering the looking glass. To my utter disappointment nothing happened. I deliberately paced my steps as I walked past the arches and columns again. Still nothing, again through the other gate past the twin towers, still nothing; I was disappointed. With Lillyâ€™s encouragement I repeated the experiment several times, still nothing.
At this point Lilly produced a pair of right angled copper metal rods from her rucksack and gleefully chirped, â€œTime for me to do an experiment of my own!â€ With that she held the rods one in each hand parallel to the ground and began to retrace our steps. I looked on in amazement as I had no idea of what on earth she was doing? She moved smoothly back and forth in straight lines between the gates. I watched as she homed in on some invisible force that she was testing for. The rods seemed to move by their own freewill as if by magic or witchcraft. At the threshold of the gates they crossed violently with several similar strong results between the two invisible portals.
â€œItâ€™s as I thought, this is an extremely energetic place! The ley lines are very powerful. Here you try.â€ With that Lilly handed the shiny copper rods to me. I grasped them at first too tightly and nothing happened. â€œYou have to hold them loosely like this.â€ She adjusted my grip and I retraced my steps exactly. To my utter amazement it worked! The rods seemed to have a mind of their own, they moved of their own freewill. The reaction was strongest at the thresholds.
â€œThe flowing water concentrates the energy,â€ Lilly added enthusiastically, â€œItâ€™s particularly strong in the middle.â€
â€œRight, time for a cafÃ© cognac and Iâ€™m buying! In fact the paper is buying,â€ I said clapping my hands together, â€œLetâ€™s find a nice bar and relax, thatâ€™s enough fun and games for one day.â€
â€œWe had better take some photographs first. I think we got a little sidetracked. Now the sun is low in the sky I can get some good shots for the article.â€ Lilly ever practical and on the job whipped out her digital SLR camera and busied herself taking several pictures from various points and angles. â€œNice buttress work!â€ She said pulling my leg and winked.
â€œHey great joke and I thought you were such a nice girl!â€
â€œLooks can be deceptive Yann Baillieu, Iâ€™m a tough cookie underneath this sweet exterior.â€
â€œI donâ€™t doubt it for one minute,â€ and I laughed, â€œWe make quite a team, donâ€™t you think?â€
Crossing the busy road we entered the German quarter looking for a convivial bar restaurant. One thing was certain we would be discussing the dayâ€™s events for most of the evening.