Saturday Session August 25th

On the 25th of August, some friends and I walked through Maastricht, the Netherlands, which was built by the Romans as Mosa ad Trajectum, and which borders the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. Although technically part of the Netherlands, Maastricht is culturally a city-state, a bit Dutch, a bit Belgium, a bit German, with its own dialect and full of eccentric Maastrichtenaars who seem to think their city is the center of the world.

I moved to Maastricht with my wife, who was born here, almost two years ago, and although we miss our previous home in Vermont, we have found Maastricht to be a cornucopia of wonderful eccentricities, oddities and hidden gems.

To pay homage to our new locale, I decided to create a series called “Saturday Sessions,” to showcase the interesting, curious, hidden, absurd and sublime of our new locale. The Sessions will be at least twice a month, maybe more, and they will usually occur on Saturday — although Saturday may also mean Friday or Sunday, or any other day of the week, and regardless of the day they’ll be called “Saturday” sessions to preserve the alliteration, although, on second thought, Sunday would also serve this purpose, but I’ve picked Saturday, so there! Moving right along…

Maastricht is full of little villages that it gobbled up as it expanded over the past millennium or so, many of which still have a powerful, local identity and there are even variances on the local dialect. One of the more incorporated villages is Wijck, on the other side of the river from Old Maastricht. It’s full of cobbled alleyways with flowering vines, beautiful facades and locally owned shops. We gradually moved to the antique market, full of typically overpriced but lovely relics, taking pictures along the way.

We went to a farm on the edge of the city, which is only open for two hours on Saturday (how convenient) and which sells all manner of used furniture, housewares and the like. It’s extraordinary, not for its wares, but because it’s in a beautiful building, square-shaped with a central courtyard, in the middle of a farm field.

Later, in the Vrijthof, or central square of the city, we went to the Preuvenemint, one of the many festivals that occur throughout the year. In theory, the Preuvenemint is a chance for local restaurants to sell small portions of their fare at affordable prices, but in practice, the festival has evolved into a chic affair, with Maastrichtenaars often decked out in full Sunday regalia, out to see and be seen. The food has become so expensive that many small, ethnic restaurants have been priced out, and it has become normal or people to eat before going out.

Accompanied by the strains of local musical acts, we slithered through the crowds, stopping to drink wine and observe the atmosphere. A local brass band played a song on the edge of the square. The “booths” where people are eating dinner are virtual restaurants, with crystal chandeliers, neon and mood lighting. It’s beautiful, really, despite the ridiculous prices, and surreal, that the interiors of Maastricht’s best restaurants would unfold, inside out, into the city square.

The highlight of the day, though, was the tango. Away from the noise of the Vrijthof, in a small square lined with old trees, was a stage set up for local tango enthusiasts. As we walked around the corner and into the soft light, I was struck with that feeling I get so often in Europe, of rootedness, of feeling a sense of place, a thing that is very rare in the United States. It was dancing of a kind I do not often see in America, where dancing often takes on the form of whatever vulgarity appears in recent pop-media. American students in Maastricht often seem to be simulating sex instead of dancing, and the art of seduction, of romance, even platonic intimacy, is lost. The people in the square were like an old movie, dignified, lovely, civilized.

Say what you will about American innovation, cultural or technological, I often feel that the U.S. is suffering from a lack of roots. Though free form, it often leaves us without the grounded sanity of old cultures. Watching the people tango was enchanting, a reminder of why we live, really. Art not only enriches our culture, it makes us sane. Where often artists tend to make me nuts, art without the intent of art is what makes us human.

More pictures from Saturday, August 25th, are available at the AttiCusInk Flickr.

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