the skies over Aachen

Gisèle Celan-Lestrange. - «Entreciel», 1979

Parlez-moi de la pluie et non pas du beau temps
Le beau temps me dégoûte et m’fait grincer les dents
Le bel azur me met en rage car le plus grand amour
Qui m’fut donné sur terre, je l’dois au mauvais temps
Je l’dois à Jupiter, il me tomba d’un ciel d’orage

Speak to me of the clouds, speak to me of the rain
Fair days drive me in rage, they go against my grain
The azure skies will only make me blue
For the greatest love to ever fall in my view
I owe to Jupiter and to his thunder coup
On the wings of a hurricane it blew.

Georges Brassens, L'Orage (The Storm)

My love tells me that before the clouds of the Atlantic move inland over the continent, they first relieve themselves over Aachen and the Low Countries. That is why, evening and morn’, the cobblestones of the city glisten romantically and mirror the festive comings and goings of Christmastide.

At 10 o’clock in the morning, while we were seated at breakfast in one of the ornamental rooms of Café Van den Daele, a gust of wind brought a tinkering of rain against the windowpanes. Beyond the prism of hand-blown 17th-century glass, the pine wreaths and their twinkling lights swayed to and fro over the street below. They brightened and dimmed to the fluctuating hues of the lathered sky above. How rapidly the nimbus traversed the atmosphere, and the stratus and the cumulus, now cloaking, now revealing the city.

Dampness is perpetual in Aix-la-Chapelle, with water pouring from the sky and water welling from the earth; the Romans called the place Aquis-Granum or Aquis Villa. Granted, it was in reference to the thermal springs that made a spa town out of a marsh. Of all places, Charlemagne set his sights on Aix to be the heart of his Empire. “For the waters,” it was written. As the Romans had discovered, natural hot springs can be comforting when you are wintering in the company of 12,000 soldiers. And what about Aix-en-Provence rather?

One of the founding fathers of Europe, Charlemagne is called, making Aachen a European city par excellence. By his imperial will, the towering Carolus Magnus, son of Pepin the Short, built and shaped a city’s and a continent’s destiny. Under Constantine’s motto, “One Empire, one God, one Emperor,” he tore down the Irminsul of the pagan Saxons and erected instead an octagonal dome dedicated to the Virgin Mary, his own pillar to heaven beyond the clouds. And water fell in ever greater quantities, and the city prospered and became one of the most beautiful of cities north of the Alps, drawing luminaries and crowning kings and emperors for 600 years. And whereas the clouds take cue whenever they pass over the cathedral of Aachen, the Allied pilots took care to spare it during their bombardment of Germany in WWII.

Gazing out at the warped sky, we measure the fleeting thoughts of Europe and Empire and the Euro crisis….

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