Saturday, 6 February 2016

Metz, one of those Franco-German tennis balls of recent history.

I don't know whether any of you know Metz (mainly because I don't know any of you, but that's by the by), but it's a city of around 120,000 inhabitants, sitting on the Moselle river in the Lorraine region of France, just south of Luxembourg. It was founded around 1000 years BC and has had a pretty riotous history, amongst other things being confiscated by Romans in the Middle Ages and, more famously, playing the role of the ball in a tennis match started in 1871 between Henri Leconte and Boris Becker.

So why did everyone want Metz? Commerce? Its strategic location? Maybe. It certainly wasn't for the weather. It's rained every day since I arrived here a week ago to do a production of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Today is sunny, but it's the only dry day forecast until February 16th, and that's iffy, apparently, with the probability of rain a mere 30%, as opposed to the 150% it's been so far.

Arriving in Metz, I was struck by how German the place looked. The architecture of and around the railway station is resolutely Wilhelminian: no-nonsense, spiked helmet monoliths to eternity. Built in the early 1900's, it's called the Imperial Quarter, quartier impérial or Kaiserviertel It was like arriving in Koblenz back in 1987 for my first full-time job. Even the shop names were German: Roediger, Knieff etc. The first couple of days were like one of those strange dreams you have: you're in a country, but everyone's speaking a foreign language. I felt I was in Germany, but everyone was speaking French.

The true centre is much more recognisably French. In the second half of the 18th century, Maréchal Belle-Isle commissioned the architect Jacques-François Blondel to create a centre around the cathedral, and he came up with the Place d'armes:

and the place de la Comédie, where my opera house is situated:

That's it on the left. All very pretty, I'm sure you'll agree. Needless to say, none of these photos were taken by me this last week. The square outside the theatre is currently bereft of gardens, yet the excellent restaurant next door, El Theatris, drags a few tables out in the infrequent moments when Noah isn't sailing by.

In truth, the centre is really beautiful, apparently. I say that because, thanks to the euro-permadrizzle we're all stoically enduring, it's practically impossible to see any buildings. I did visit the cathedral this afternoon after rehearsal, and it's pretty damned impressive:

That's the view we get from the stage door when we leave the building. As it's always pitch black when we finish, we see the local Jaumont stone of God's Lantern (its nickname) illuminated:

…and  very impressive it is, too. I then slither over to by bike in the rain and get back to my flat fifteen minutes later, saturated.

Metz also has a branch of the Centre Pompidou, funnily enough. I'm going there tomorrow as it's not only our free day, but rain is also forecast. A solo indoor pursuit is therefore preferable and visiting an arts complex beats the other option.

Metz also has a decent library and media centre. They let me join after running my passport past Interpol (or Europol or whatever they're called this week) and shot to the top of my list of fave places when they proved to have not only the recording of Béatrice et Bénédict I was looking for, but also the entire opus of Benoît Duteutre, my favourite contemporary French author. Armed with enough words and music to stave off the hardiest of inclemencies I cycled back to the flat in the fading sun. The bike I rented from the council already has a broken brake cable. In true gallo-soviet fashion, I won't be able to get this fixed until Monday afternoon; heaven forefend you should provide tourist services at the weekend.

I hope there'll be a bit more light during the day these next few weeks, or that they at least floodlight some of the more picturesque buildings during office hours. Coming from Toulouse, where we live on top of a hill with a view of the Pyrenees, living in half-light is somewhat depressing. I can understand why so many Swedes top themselves in winter. Anyhow, despite the work at the opera being immensely enjoyable, the midsummer night is likely to remain a dream until it's time to head back down south in a month's time…

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