The past week really flew by for me. A few dinner parties, a trip to another city, a half hour when I got lost in that city, another famous trombonist. All in all, I think the highlight of my week was visiting the other city. It is only about an hour from Dijon, but it’s so different and just incredible.
A bit about Besançon
Besançon is a city east of Dijon, in the region of Franche-Comté (the home of my new favorite cheese, Comté). It’s a town steeped in history, leading all the way back to ancient times; I’m talking BC, I’m talking Julius Caesar – you get it. The city was passed around for a long time – France, Spain, France, Spain. At some point Louis XIV conquered it. Around that time, Spain built the beautiful citadel, “La Citadelle,” a UNESCO World Heritage site which I was able to explore. Also around that time, military engineer extraordinaire, Vauban, made plans to fortify the city. It took 30 years, but boy was it fortified after that! As you drive through the city nearing the center, you can’t help but be overwhelmed at the sheer awesomeness of the fortified citadel that sits atop a small mountain. Jumping ahead a bit, during WWII, Nazis occupied the citadel between 1940 and 1944. There, Nazis executed one hundred French resistance fighters. The city was also the location of an internment camp where many women and children died. After 1959, the city turned the citadel into a museum. There’s a beautiful and somber monument for the people lost during WWII. There’s also a sad zoo which harbors big cats and a lot of different types of monkeys, weirdly. I think it’s a misplaced attempt at attracting families. Anyway, I learned all of this history from an informative film at the citadel and also wikipedia. What? The film was in French, did you really expect me to understand all of it? Fun fact for anyone who maybe likes theatre or literature, here’s a famous person you know who was from Besançon: Victor Hugo, you know, the guy who wrote that sad musical? Fun!
Back to normal stuff
The real reason I went to Besançon was that I accompanied Bernard (patriarch of the family I’m staying with) to go see a concert where another very famous trombonist was playing that night. And also so that Bernard could be a tourist too; I guess he’d never been to the citadel either. It was a smooth drive over there, during which I learned how very tranquil French (or maybe european in general) autoroutes are compared to the highways I am accustomed to. However there was a small drawback to having an easy driving experience: all the highways had pretty steep tolls. When we got to the inner parts of Besançon, the old city, I realized just how different it was from Dijon. I truly appreciate Dijon, but this place was totally different and beautiful in a different way. The closer we got to the citadel, the older everything was.
We explored the citadel for a while and I got some pretty neat footage with my GoPro of the surrounding city and river (as you can see in the picture). Afterward, we walked around a bit of an area that resembled the old city portion of Dijon. Then before the concert, my very first orchestra concert to be exact, I met a few of the musicians, including the apparently über-famous one. Honestly I’m not sure how I should feel after meeting two very famous trombonists in one week. Excited? Probably. Anyway, the concert was great. Especially the trombonist. He played solo at the front of the orchestra for maybe twenty minutes and I was enthralled. I never imagined I’d be so into trombone! There were a few breaks during the concert where you could go outside and at one point I completely misunderstood something that Bernard told me and I got lost for thirty minutes and I was freaking out just a little bit, but in the end it worked out and it wasn’t so bad. Obligatory to get lost in another country, yes?
Later, when we returned to Dijon, I saw perhaps two of the most unfortunate pieces of American culture. First, just off of the highway and across the street from an Ikea, I spotted a KFC, drive-thru and all. I laughed because I couldn’t believe it! At least give the French the better option of Popeye’s! (This led me to research why colonel is not pronounced the way it is spelled and basically it’s just a big Italian/French/English mix up). Then, not far from the house, I saw something that actually shocked me. It was dark, about 11pm at night, but I could see into a house that sat on the corner of a street. The lights were on so I had a good view of what looked to be a huge confederate flag hanging on the wall. I thought to myself that there had to be another symbol like this, perhaps some european symbol. They like crosses and dots? The UK flag? I didn’t know, but I was sure it couldn’t be what I thought. Then, as we drove past, I saw on the other wall another flag that confirmed the first. On the adjacent wall hung a Texas state flag. So it was true: a Texan in Dijon was proudly representing the confederacy and all of the bullshit racism that goes with it. Honestly, it is more difficult to believe that someone like that made their wall all the way out here and is still that closed-minded. To me, there is no debate about that flag. It represents the oppression of a large group of people during a large chunk of American history. I think it’ll be rather hard to become homesick for America when I can so easily be sick of home and things like this (and people like this) from home.