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When Cows Come Home


It was on a whim that I purchased a ticket to Luxembourg on a pitiful Sunday morning in Brugge. I had plans to arrive in Cinque Terra on Italy’s Amalfi coast in five days time but had left my arrangements at that. I had a departure point and a destination; I’d just join the dots en route. Luxembourg seemed as good a first dot as any.

My knowledge of Luxembourg was limited at best. (I thought a Duchy was a resident of Amsterdam). Based on the fact that only the largest of European maps afforded Luxembourg its full name on its allotted space, I safely concluded it was a small country. Often it gets an ‘L’ and a footnote, occasionally a ‘Lux’, rarely a ‘Luxembourg’ and never a ‘Grand Duchy of Luxembourg’ – its official title. A quick glance at the country facts section of my guidebook confirmed my hunch – 999 square miles and with a border of some 359. The population of Luxembourg was a trifling 430,000, of which only 90,000 were based in the capital. Small was good, especially for a short stay. No need feeling overwhelmed by must see attractions on a flying 24-hour visit. A leisurely amble would more than suffice. How wrong could I be?

Some four hours later, amid a flurry of maps and guidebooks I stepped from the station out onto Place de la Gare in Luxembourg City. I have this unique ability to look flustered even when everything is well in hand. The blanketing rain that had forced me to take shelter in a Brugge Markt square café and drink copious amounts of overpriced cappuccino had been left behind, in its place, brilliant sunshine and just the slightest of breezes. I set off toward Pont Pareselle through the casually dressed Sunday crowd, impressed by the unpolluted streets and still buoyed by the last of my enduring caffeine buzz.

Then I saw them, the first of many. Three brightly painted model cows on an island at the intersection of Places de la Gare and de la Liberte. A little strange, I thought, art on cows. This called for closer inspection. I crossed the road, a dangerous occupation even on the weekend in these parts. (Luxembourg has the third highest per capita road toll in the world – I was unsure who came second but at a guess I’d say the Italians held the crown.)

The plaque on the base of the first cow offered little in the way of an explanation – Spledide by Christine Dumbsky. She was a metallic blue beast for the most part, with deep purple hooves and featured two topless pole dancers air brushed on her left flank. With sparkling pink, star shaped nipple covers and squatting down in – what I assumed to be – pole dancing position au naturel, the girls nonchalantly gripped their poles with their right hands, while their left hands were free to explore their nether regions – so I assumed. Without lying on my back to view the cow’s underbelly I’d be none the wiser. Figuring it would be pushing the boundaries of good taste to follow this course of action and see the art through to its pornographic conclusion I moved on. Splendid indeed!

What cows number two and three lacked in shock value they more than made up for in kitsch. Electra was a gold, blue, red and green Indian inspired piece of work whilst Elsa sported orange spots, a ten gallon hat and carried what looked like an oversized front half of a box brownie camera on her back. Marvellous stuff!

At Pont Passerelle, with the newer commercial centre to my rear and views over the Petrusse and Alzette Valleys to my left and right, I got a snapshot of where this tiny capital had been and where it was heading. I liked what I saw. Behind me, the clean, brisk efficiency of a city with it’s finger on the financial pulse. A city with a tax system that almost demanded personal wealth, yet lacking the signs of social decay that many associate with such an economic policy. Clean streets, affluent people and a service industry almost guaranteeing a prosperous future. And to my left and right, well…….

Mighty bridges spanned both the valleys, held aloft by impressive stone arched supports. Inviting grassy plots shaded by an abundance of huge, lush evergreens were broken by steep rock walls and hefty perimeters – a comely legacy of Luxembourg’s “Gibralter of the North” era. Majestic homes – three and four story affairs – with gray slate roofs and pastel or cream facades littered the landscape. The occasional turret breaking the horizon.

Despite countless invasions over the centuries time had a been good to Luxembourg, aesthetically at least. Nature and the lay of the land had been even better. For a small city in a small country they sure did a lot of things on a grand scale.

My search for the Place d’Armes – one of Luxembourg’s two main city squares and home to the tourist information centre – led me down quaint cobbled lanes and past more art on cows. I’d passed maybe eight of the delightful creatures as I arrived at one of the city’s smaller squares with a monument of the Grand Duchess Charlotte set atop her favourite mount as its centerpiece. A line of saplings ran along the centre of Rue de Fosse heading North.

A cow of two halves stood at the entrance to Rue de la Congregation; the back a Friesian, the front an albino. A liberal slab of concrete separated the halves. Kind of odd, but I put it down to artistic license and pressed on. “Mooooo” I stopped in my tracks. “Mooooo” Okay, there’s a twist. Who’s to say art is merely an optical medium?

After many more encounters with my newfound farmyard friends I arrived at the Place d’Armes. At roughly the same time an orchestra at the east end of the square broke into the hard rock portion of Queens’ Bohemian Rhapsody. An engrossed audience of fifty or so took in the show from park benches and the steps of City Hall. Parisian style cafes with plastic seats and bow tied waiters and restaurants offering all manner of fare fringed the square. I chose a seat at an outdoor Italian cafe and ordered a coffee, quite content on letting the scene steal my attention.

Locals stopped and chatted, idling away the afternoon hours in animated discussion. I’ve always envied that aspect of life in European towns; the interaction, the sense of community spirit. The Spaniards and Italians seem to excel at it, adding a fiery dimension not seen in these parts. I’m never sure whether they’re about to exchange the triple kiss or break out the daggers. Luxembourgers seemed a little more laid back, a little less passionate but I envied their jovial exchanges all the same.

A cow with a distinct identity crisis guarded the entrance to the tourist information centre. Kubraguti Bofifanaugi by Service graphique vum natur musee had the body markings of a tiger, a zebra, a crocodile, a giraffe and a leopard smeared across its body in a semi epileptic fashion. I snapped a picture before heading inside.

I soon saw what I was looking for despite not speaking the language. In a pile on the counter was a stack of pamphlets with “MEUH!” printed across the top, set against a background of lush green grass. And here’s me thinking “Moo” was universal.

I spent the rest of the day and the following morning wandering winding lanes and chancing across the most dramatic vistas. I discovered Place de la Constitution with its awe inspiring views and roamed the well worn streets of the Grund district with its trendy bars and cafes.

At every turn I was met with an explosion of colorful heifers with titles such as ‘Potpourri on Cow’, ‘Racing Cow’, ‘Metallicow’, ‘Cows on Cow’, ‘Happy Cow’, ‘Flying Carpet Cow’, ‘Cosmic Cow’ and the enigmatic ‘A Cow is a Cow is a Cow’.

I was delighted with the seeming ease in which the city mixed its old world charm with an air of modern business efficiency. People dressed for business casually walked the streets, lacking the sense of urgency that their equals in London took for granted. Some even smiled.

As I boarded the afternoon train to Nancy in France I was still none the wiser to the mindset behind the whole Art on Cows festival. Maybe there wasn’t one. The papers in the United Kingdom had only just stopped making cows front-page news. What with the foot and mouth outbreaks of the past few months and the ever present threat of mad cow disease hanging over the nation and indeed Europe, maybe this was Luxembourg’s attempt at lightening the situation. Perhaps they were attempting to rightfully return the cow to the mantle of everyone’s favourite barnyard animal – God knows Gary Larson has done his best. All hypothetical of course, since the festival flyer offered no light on the subject. On reflection it was strange that after such a short stay I’d grown rather accustomed to the cows. Their presence had become comforting in a surreal kind of way. It would be hard to imagine Luxembourg without them.

Some four hours later, amid a flurry of maps and guidebooks I stepped from the station out onto Place de la Gare in Luxembourg City. I have this unique ability to look flustered even when everything is well in hand. The blanketing rain that had forced me to take shelter in a Brugge Markt square café and drink copious amounts of overpriced cappuccino had been left behind, in its place, brilliant sunshine and just the slightest of breezes. I set off toward Pont Pareselle through the casually dressed Sunday crowd, impressed by the unpolluted streets and still buoyed by the last of my enduring caffeine buzz.

Then I saw them, the first of many. Three brightly painted model cows on an island at the intersection of Places de la Gare and de la Liberte. A little strange, I thought, art on cows. This called for closer inspection. I crossed the road, a dangerous occupation even on the weekend in these parts. (Luxembourg has the third highest per capita road toll in the world – I was unsure who came second but at a guess I’d say the Italians held the crown.)

The plaque on the base of the first cow offered little in the way of an explanation – Spledide by Christine Dumbsky. She was a metallic blue beast for the most part, with deep purple hooves and featured two topless pole dancers air brushed on her left flank. With sparkling pink, star shaped nipple covers and squatting down in – what I assumed to be – pole dancing position au naturel, the girls nonchalantly gripped their poles with their right hands, while their left hands were free to explore their nether regions – so I assumed. Without lying on my back to view the cow’s underbelly I’d be none the wiser. Figuring it would be pushing the boundaries of good taste to follow this course of action and see the art through to its pornographic conclusion I moved on. Splendid indeed!

What cows number two and three lacked in shock value they more than made up for in kitsch. Electra was a gold, blue, red and green Indian inspired piece of work whilst Elsa sported orange spots, a ten gallon hat and carried what looked like an oversized front half of a box brownie camera on her back. Marvellous stuff!

At Pont Passerelle, with the newer commercial centre to my rear and views over the Petrusse and Alzette Valleys to my left and right, I got a snapshot of where this tiny capital had been and where it was heading. I liked what I saw. Behind me, the clean, brisk efficiency of a city with it’s finger on the financial pulse. A city with a tax system that almost demanded personal wealth, yet lacking the signs of social decay that many associate with such an economic policy. Clean streets, affluent people and a service industry almost guaranteeing a prosperous future. And to my left and right, well…….

Mighty bridges spanned both the valleys, held aloft by impressive stone arched supports. Inviting grassy plots shaded by an abundance of huge, lush evergreens were broken by steep rock walls and hefty perimeters – a comely legacy of Luxembourg’s “Gibralter of the North” era. Majestic homes – three and four story affairs – with gray slate roofs and pastel or cream facades littered the landscape. The occasional turret breaking the horizon.

Despite countless invasions over the centuries time had a been good to Luxembourg, aesthetically at least. Nature and the lay of the land had been even better. For a small city in a small country they sure did a lot of things on a grand scale.

My search for the Place d’Armes – one of Luxembourg’s two main city squares and home to the tourist information centre – led me down quaint cobbled lanes and past more art on cows. I’d passed maybe eight of the delightful creatures as I arrived at one of the city’s smaller squares with a monument of the Grand Duchess Charlotte set atop her favourite mount as its centerpiece. A line of saplings ran along the centre of Rue de Fosse heading North.

A cow of two halves stood at the entrance to Rue de la Congregation; the back a Friesian, the front an albino. A liberal slab of concrete separated the halves. Kind of odd, but I put it down to artistic license and pressed on. “Mooooo” I stopped in my tracks. “Mooooo” Okay, there’s a twist. Who’s to say art is merely an optical medium?

After many more encounters with my newfound farmyard friends I arrived at the Place d’Armes. At roughly the same time an orchestra at the east end of the square broke into the hard rock portion of Queens’ Bohemian Rhapsody. An engrossed audience of fifty or so took in the show from park benches and the steps of City Hall. Parisian style cafes with plastic seats and bow tied waiters and restaurants offering all manner of fare fringed the square. I chose a seat at an outdoor Italian cafe and ordered a coffee, quite content on letting the scene steal my attention.

Locals stopped and chatted, idling away the afternoon hours in animated discussion. I’ve always envied that aspect of life in European towns; the interaction, the sense of community spirit. The Spaniards and Italians seem to excel at it, adding a fiery dimension not seen in these parts. I’m never sure whether they’re about to exchange the triple kiss or break out the daggers. Luxembourgers seemed a little more laid back, a little less passionate but I envied their jovial exchanges all the same.

A cow with a distinct identity crisis guarded the entrance to the tourist information centre. Kubraguti Bofifanaugi by Service graphique vum natur musee had the body markings of a tiger, a zebra, a crocodile, a giraffe and a leopard smeared across its body in a semi epileptic fashion. I snapped a picture before heading inside.

I soon saw what I was looking for despite not speaking the language. In a pile on the counter was a stack of pamphlets with “MEUH!” printed across the top, set against a background of lush green grass. And here’s me thinking “Moo” was universal.

I spent the rest of the day and the following morning wandering winding lanes and chancing across the most dramatic vistas. I discovered Place de la Constitution with its awe inspiring views and roamed the well worn streets of the Grund district with its trendy bars and cafes.

At every turn I was met with an explosion of colorful heifers with titles such as ‘Potpourri on Cow’, ‘Racing Cow’, ‘Metallicow’, ‘Cows on Cow’, ‘Happy Cow’, ‘Flying Carpet Cow’, ‘Cosmic Cow’ and the enigmatic ‘A Cow is a Cow is a Cow’.

I was delighted with the seeming ease in which the city mixed its old world charm with an air of modern business efficiency. People dressed for business casually walked the streets, lacking the sense of urgency that their equals in London took for granted. Some even smiled.

As I boarded the afternoon train to Nancy in France I was still none the wiser to the mindset behind the whole Art on Cows festival. Maybe there wasn’t one. The papers in the United Kingdom had only just stopped making cows front-page news. What with the foot and mouth outbreaks of the past few months and the ever present threat of mad cow disease hanging over the nation and indeed Europe, maybe this was Luxembourg’s attempt at lightening the situation. Perhaps they were attempting to rightfully return the cow to the mantle of everyone’s favourite barnyard animal – God knows Gary Larson has done his best. All hypothetical of course, since the festival flyer offered no light on the subject. On reflection it was strange that after such a short stay I’d grown rather accustomed to the cows. Their presence had become comforting in a surreal kind of way. It would be hard to imagine Luxembourg without them.

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