2002 Letter from COLMAR: We’ve driven a long way in France, and it’s one big farm wherever we went. It is certainly beautiful. Today in the cold, pouring rain we traveled on a road that looked like the beautiful roads in Oregon – a river on one side and forested mountains on the other. Alsace is interesting in other ways. For nearly the first time in France, the towns have had painted, clean houses with yards and flowers. Occasionally we’ve seen that before, but always at the edge of big cities, in new suburbs. In Alsace, ancient little towns looked that way. The fields, the farm animals – everything – looks picture perfect. In our campground in Colmar, the radio station that comes in strongest is in German.
We spent a very wet day in Colmar. It can be described as Hansel & Gretel-ish. It is lovely, with many old, half-timbered houses – very German village looking. It was not comfortable outside, but we saw a lot. Then we had our lunch and went to the Unterlinden Museum – which has a large collection of medieval paintings and the really amazing Issenheim altarpiece by Grunewald . This one has about ten panels dealing with the story of Christ, including two showing St. Anthony. Since we’re not really conversant with all this stuff, we can only write what we assume to be true. The paintings were intended to ease, no, perhaps try to deal with, the suffering of patients in a hospital suffering from ergotism. For you crossword puzzlers, ergotism was a disease created by a parasite in ergot, which is part of grain. St. Anthony was the head of the Antonians whose mission was to run hospitals in the Middle Ages. One of the St. Anthony panels shows him being attacked by monsters, some of whom display the symptoms of the most terrible diseases of the age. The other shows him meeting another hermit. It was a beautiful series of paintings and the showpiece of the museum. My favorite paintings, however, were a small portrait of an Alsation man painted in 1510, and a portrait of a woman from later in the century by Holbien.
We went through the museum before going grocery shopping and getting the bus for "home". The only thing we left undone was to see the city’s other altar piece – a Madonna and Child – in a Dominican church. When we got up in the morning, the draw of this painting against the inconvenience of a long walk in the pouring rain – and the fact that Adelle was experiencing the symptoms of overkill from too many religious paintings – made us decide to try to go on.
Incidentally, the bus stops in Colmar are equipped with electronic sign boards that tell you how many minutes until the bus arrives. When we waited at the stop, it showed minutes 11 and counted down to 1. After the one minute mark, it suddenly announced "ARRIVE". We looked up and saw the bus coming!!! The same thing happened on the way home. Talk about the trains running on time in Fascist Italy!
The campground in Colmar is on a river. It has two levels, one near the water and one higher up. They told us not to use the spaces on the river. In the morning after so much rain, we could see exactly why those spaces were not to be used. The river had risen enough to flood them. Swans were swimming in some of the spaces.