Sunday, April 11, 2010


On Saturday Susie and I drove up to Longwy, which is right next to the Belgian border. We wanted to explore the source of the Longwy enamel ware that we'd seen at the brocantes and the antiques fair. Plus, Vauban had constructed major fortifications there. Given its cultural history, I think we had imagined that Longwy would feature lots of little antique shops, interspersed around rampart walls. Instead, we found a pretty typical city of far northern France, suffering economically from loss of its steel industry and not yet that strong in helping tourists explore its heritage.

Longwy comprises two neighborhood distinguished by elevation. Upper Longwy developed within the ridgetop Vauban ramparts. There's a central square, where the biggest commercial activity seems to be bank branches. When we visited, the square was chock-a-block full of carnival rides--a kind of county fair without the vegetables and livestock. Many of the rides had American themes and names, like one that had mine cars rolling through Wild West scenery.

The fortifications were extensive but not all that well maintained. They gave a feeling less like the sharply maintained stonework of Besancon's citadel and more like an atmospheric 18th Century engraving of tumbling walls overgrown with ivy. In some ways this was interesting--you could walk right up to edge of high, unfenced walls. Susie and I walked on the upper ramparts for a while and got what I think was a pretty good impression of at least that part of the fortress. Longwy's Vauban fortress is a UNESCO world heritage site.

The Musée Municipal des Emaux (City Museum of Enamels) is housed in the former military bakery, inside the upper ramparts. The museum, through a video and a beautiful collection of Longwy enamelware, traces the history of faience and ceramics in the area. The person staffing the museum was exceptionally helpful, offering to let us continue looking at the exhibits even though the museum would be closing for lunch. The ceramics industry began here in the late 18th Century; it got a big boost when Napoleon I ordered a set of dinnerware for the Legion of Honor. Later, Longwy dinnerware would serve the president of the republic at the Elysee Palace.

The big advance for Longwy pottery involved development of a technique in enamel that gave the impression of cloisonné. Among the best-known patterns of this kind is the apple-blossom pattern, shown here on an octagonal plate.

For the Exposition Coloniale Internationale, a vast highly popular exhibition held in Paris in 1931, Longwy created a unique enamel bowl decorated in the colors and forms of France's tropical colonies.

We also spent a some time in Lower Longwy, which has a marché on Saturday mornings. In this view from the marché, you can see the city hall on the right and part of the upper city on the ridgetop.

For me, the most interesting part of the marché was the section with vendors of prepared foods. There must have been a half-dozen stands selling chickens that they were roasting on the spot. One stand sold halal roasted chickens. And this elaborate truck featured not only chickens and other meats but also an enticing selection of prepared dishes including paella.

This stand sold 15 kinds of olives, in addition to sausages and, I think, sausage sandwiches made to order.

Sellers of vegetables were grouped toward to the north end of the square, and most were under this canopy, watched over by a large dog who rose only when another dog would pass by.

Taking a highly circuitous route home, we detoured ten miles into Belgium to have lunch in Arlon, a city of Roman origins symbolized by this column on the main shopping street.

In the 11th Century, a chateau surmounted Arlon's highest point. The chateau was destroyed in 1558, but in 1621 the Capuchins built a monastery on the ruins. In 1681 the hilltop was subsequently fortified by none other than Vauban, transforming the monastery into a citadel. Although the monastery was suppressed in the wake of the French Revolution, when Revolutionary troops battling Austria occupied the city, its church, St-Donat, still exists.

On the way home we passed through the French town of Briey, which also boasts striking fortifications.

The heritage of fortifications makes it clear that this area, where France, Belgium and Luxembourg meet, had a long history of military conflict. The countryside, though, still has many less martial views. Here's part of our drive home, through springtime fields outside St-Leger, Belgium, just north of the border with France.

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