This one is for Christopher, whose memories of the cathedral in Cologne prompted me to tell my own anecdote about our visit there.
Darwin and I visited Cologne in the spring of 1999. Our train trip into Germany was an ordeal by non-reservation -- after tooling about laid-back Austria and Italy, no one had told us that the Germans would reserve every seat on the train. We squeezed in the corridor (along with everyone else who didn't reserve) and spent all night trying to melt into the wall to let a group of drunk Americans tromp back and forth to the lavatory. A memorable, if not comfortable, ride.
The press had lightened by the time we were approaching Cologne. Finally able to sit down in a compartment, we glued ourselves to the window, thrilled by the sight of the spires that suggested an end to our journey. But as the miles of fields stretched onward and the spires loomed ever larger and larger, our impatience to be there paled before the realization of the massive scale of the dom. The fact that we could see it meant not that we were close, but that it was mind-bogglingly, humblingly huge.
In the paved plaza before the cathedral, we strolled about amidst the other tourists, feeling dwarfish. And then, we saw it. At our feet was stone, almost indistinguishable from every other stone in the plaza, except that it was engraved. In English. We reached for the camera.
The photographic proof of this is now matted and framed in the kitchen. Every day we see it, in the triple frame between the statue of Anonymous from Budapest and the fountain from the same plaza. And almost every day we wonder: What does it mean? Who put it there? And why didn't he know whether or not it was a place of historical importance? Was he implying that one day it would be a place of historical importance? That at this moment it was a place of historical importance and he just didn't know it yet?
The one who laid the stone was a careful man, hedging his bets. He allows that historical importance might spring from, yea, this very moment, and yet he does not assume that the moment is already historical. He leaves a monument in case one day history will come back to vindicate his cautious assessment of its possible progress. And yet he leaves no name, so he will not be blamed if history proves to be a bitch and fails to provide that place with any import.
Here's some interesting history on the Cologne cathedral as well as a fascinating historical image.
The official cathedral website -- the English page, I think. There's a 3o minute documentary which one can watch in English with lots of great history and pictures.
Alessandro Manzoni, The Betrothed
57 minutes ago