(james benedict brown) on the road

Walking home in darkness

Posted in Posts by James Benedict Brown on 6 July, 2007

On my last evening in Strasbourg, I was able to finish packing my French life into boxes and suitcases, leaving only the echoing shell of the room I’d rented for five months. Seven kilos of books were dispatched by surface post, a bulky bag of pillows and bed linen had already gone ahead of me, and I was ‘just’ left with a suitcase, a backpack and two lightweight bags. That was already two bags over the limit, but I was more worried about being able to physically walk the five hundred metres to the station that whether or not I would be allowed to board the train with that much luggage.

Many of the close friends that I made in Strasbourg had already left the city by my last evening. But a few remained and I found them at the bottom of a verdant walled garden in the Krutenau district of town. Co-ordinating my arrival via mobile phone, I was directed towards a big double gate that opened as I approached, and allowed me into the quiet aromatic garden behind a forgettable row of houses. I took a drink, and shared non-conversations about packing, traveling and temporality with some of the other people there. As the sun set over Strasbourg, it got darker until it was no longer possible to identify the faces of the people sitting across the garden table from me. My final reams of spoken French were distributed, and the cool evening air lifted the sweat and toil generated by a frantic day of packing.

I was among the first people to leave, making my excuses, thanking those good friends who have been with me throughout my semester in Strasbourg, and quietly slipping out into the night after one final farewell. Laden with some emotion, there was no doubt in my mind that it was time to leave. Like those other cities where I have lived, Strasbourg will bring me many happy memories, but unlike them inspires in me no desire to return.

A few days earlier I had exorcised the stress and difficulties of my final weeks with a late night walk through the city streets, that ended with a tired slump on a park bench on Place Broglie. Tonight, as I traversed the city centre for the last time, I retraced some of the narrow streets that I had walked along so many times before.

As I neared Place Broglie, however, something very strange happened. I suddenly became aware that the city was much darker than usual. Walking along familiar lanes where there is little traffic, I realised that it was unusually difficult to make out the details of windows, doorways and shutters. With only the light seeping out of restaurants, bars and the open windows of apartments above, I realised that over a sizeable proportion of Strasbourg’s grande isle, every public streetlight was extinguished.

Nearing midnight in my last night in Strasbourg, I walked ‘home’ through the specially darkened lanes, hoping to empty my pockets of the mixed feelings this city has left in me.

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