Mediterranean outpost in Europe
When I started teaching at CES in Spring 1999, I noticed a signpost near the Kennedy bridge in Maastricht indicating that the motorway running along the river Maas towards Belgium is called ‘Route du Soleil’. Using a French phrase in the Netherlands seems odd enough, but the same title ‘Road of the Sun’ was given to the fast lanes of the ‘autoroute’ connecting Burgundy through the Rhone valley with the Mediterranean shores. The simple explanation for this correlation is probably that the Dutch motorway - in passing through Belgium – connects with the French one and one can practically stay on the same road to reach the sun.
However, to me there is more to it. I got the impression that the regions of the Mediterranean have an outpost in Maastricht. The city somehow has a southern atmosphere. On a fine day, sitting on a cafe terrace in one of its beautiful squares, it almost feels as being in the neighbourhood of Provence (France). Interestingly enough, there are historical connections. The Romans were here two thousand years ago and left their traces.
The people of Maastricht certainly don’t claim to belong to the Mediterranean part of Europe. Yet they fancy themselves as having a Burgundian lifestyle with a solid taste for the arts and the better things in life. Wine grapes are grown just outside the city.
Maybe it is all about interrelations. Maastricht and its people are successfully combining what is European to me: the past with the present; an awareness of history with a firm and flexible attitude towards the 21st century; Burgundian culture with a tradition of tolerance and open-mindedness; and sometimes the feeling that we are not so far from the Mediterranean where European civilization had its origins.
From the beginning I felt very welcome at CES and enjoyed working with my colleagues, with the staff and students coming from all over the world. In teaching Comparative Literature, specializing in European studies, I constantly meet the ‘unity in diversity’ of this continent in the texts that are my subject. It is both pleasing and exciting to have a similar experience in real life while working in Maastricht.
Karl Ulrich Syndram
CES Professor in Literature