cakes, prose, woes -- the photos, food & thoughts of a french-speaking seattle-native in brazil

In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it. -AB
In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A Petite Turn in April: Metz & Nancy

Trainspotting Mirabelles with a Cousin.
♫ Attention au départ, c'est le TGV♫
T'as ton ti
t'as ton ti
t'as ton ticket ?

zut, c'est râté!
J'ai pas composté
T'en fait pas le contrôleur n'a même pas regardé!

TGV TGV TGV TGV! All French children know and love the song (merci Flo for teaching me), the TGV reigns supreme. Imagine that in under an hour and a half one can be transported from the modern bubbling capital city that is Paris, to the Eastern region of Lorraine, to Metz and Nancy, where medieval dragons still call for silence, mirabelles abound in every shop window, and life appears just a little calmer, and a little closer. Bienvenue mes amis to the breathtaking region of Lorraine!

7h00 train out of Gare de l'Est, mmmm 4h30 alarm, taise-toi! I grumble at the vibrating telephone on the bed side table. Why am I waking at dawn to go to Metz--what is in Metz? Do not annunciate the name as one would that of the New York baseball team; repetez apres moi: messzz, softly, and trailing off at the end. Yes I find myself on the TGV to Metz at 7h00 on a quest to scout out my little cousin who is tripping around France with her high school French class, their first stop: individual home stays with families in Metz--therefore Metz it is.

9h00 at the train station was the plan created the previous night on the telephone with Pufflette Jr. (cousin, who will now simply be PJ). Standing at the beautiful Metz train station, i decide to telephone one of the numbers given to me at 9h30, for perhaps they are awaiting me at another entrance...(a young boy answers) allo? Ah, bonjour, je suis la cousine de (PJ), etes-vous a la gare? Non, je suis a la maison. Ah. ok, euh, puis je parle avec PJ? S'il vous plait. Elle dort. Comment? Elle dort! Arrrr non je te comprends mais....Ecoute bien: REVEILLE T-ELLE!! Tape sur la porte ou bien, c'est un peu important.... shuffle shuffle shuffle...Hello? Hi PJ, it's Mallory, you asleep? Yeah, what are you doing?.... I'm at the train station. You are?...sigh. Needless to say, I eventually made it into the company of my cousin and la Famille M, and after the blissful shock of finally seeing a member of my family after seven months, we began our wonderful weekend tour of the city guided and in the company of locals, there really can be no better way.

Once situated in the car, the non-stop questioning began. That would be, my non stop questioning. For those of you who perchance my acquaintance out there, you know I don't shut up. What's that? Why is everything purple? How long have you lived here? What's traditional Metz cuisine? I am very fond of writing about food, you said you were Italian? What's that little flag on your dashboard? Every city I travel to the rain follows me. When I went to Barcelona it rained for the first time in...yadda yadda. Ma pauvre exhausted cousin was, it appeared, relieved by my arrival if only for the break in awkward incomprehensible French questioning aimed at her. (Though may I state here that it is acutely brave to have just begun a language and venture into a foreign land and work at communicating with a family. Bravo.) The family patrons, E and C, graciously welcomed the random cousin of their host-daughter into their home for dinner and proffered an excellent tour guide service.

Following afternoon tea and a beautiful clafoutis, to which sadly i had to explain my non-wheatness and sheepishly insisted of C that it really was not necessary for her to change the nights menu on account of myself (merde--next time give warning to avoid feeling like an ass) we skimmed thorough a coffee table book on the region to plan the next days adventure. The first proposition: day trip to Verdun (are you kidding me!? are you kidding me!? im in heaven!) but that was washed on account of the rain and chill. Ah, the home of Robert Schumann, the father of Europe! He lives(d) just up the hill! Shall we? Afterwards we were treated to a charming stop in at an ancient cafe bar nestled in stone between all of the houses on the hill. Inside was a charming country inn straight from a film, complete with a party celebrating a 90th birthday off in the corner. Brilliant.

(Do you not adore random tourists captured in a photo to be stored in your memories forever? I wonder how many photos atop fireplace mantels in the world I inhabit.) Returning to the home we faced the aperitif hour--including a dineritif (tapas) of Italian ham, sausages, and radishes (A conversation on ham did indeed ensue). Dinner was enthralling not only for the food itself, but for the table; to be seated around a family in conversation, finally passing easily with the language one has struggle so violently to tame, is a gift not suitable for explication through words. The meal passed far too briskly, and when the cheese hour came I was introduced to a fiend who may cause an affair to my relationship with chevre--Italian Pepato (E was born and raised by Italians), a hard asiago with whole peppercorns. That settles it. I must now go to Italy.

The following day we ventured to the neighboring city of Nancy (non-see), which I was particularly pleased to visit so as to send my mum, of the same name, photos of her ville du nom. Nancy, what a belle ville, the Place Stanislas (named for the Polish king, who became the Duke of Nancy) scorches the eyes with its polished white stone and gilded Napoleonic-like gold embellishments. We set to Nancy to visit the Ecole de Nancy museum of art nouveau, the beautiful genre of nature, curves, wood, and glass that undoubtedly held bilbo baggins as an enrolled student. For lunch we supped on the Place Stanislaus, sharing a platter of assorted treats including fois gras, legumes, sausages, tapenades, and frog legs. Yes, I have finally tasted frog legs: and god smiled, and it was good. Ma pauvre cousin however looked but a stones throw short of regurgitation, though the brave she is, nibbled a thigh in good traveling spirit. Bravo!

Travel diary aside, my village meandering did bring me to note the gastronomic specialty of the region--the sucre little mirabelle. And you thought I was going to interject the quiche here.

Every store front window of alimentation hosted some form of the petite little orange ball--cakes, candies, pastries, jams, bottled liqueur, biscuits, etc. Bringing the subject to my locals, I was explained that yes! the mirabelle is a specialty unique to the Lorraine region of France, and only to the Lorraine region of France, just as Champagne is unique only to the region of Champagne. The mirabelle is also known as a mirabelle plum, or prune, and is bright orange/yellow in color. The two main regional growers: why Metz and Nancy of course. The mirabelle of Metz differs from the mirabelle of Nancy in its smaller size, deeper color, and higher taste of acidity. Aside from its rampant use in baked goods, mirabelles are predominately found jarred, jamed, and distilled into a plum brandy. E also mentioned of the annual mirabelle festival in late August, at which tarts rule the day, and a mirabelle queen is named.

A weekend away with mirabelles, how truly lucky is the one who utters such a phrase. The French are spoiled with their easy access to the country side through the genius darling that is the TGV. After the day trip to Nancy, we were back by car to Metz to catch my 4h00 train back to Paris. An hour and a half later I find myself back in Paris, with the sight of yellow stone and the taste of sour mirabelles tucked into memory already. What in the end is a day and a half really to see anything, but it was a day and a half to see my darling cousin, and a day and a half to meet some genuinely enchanting people, of whom i remercier beaucoup, for my next trip to Metz and Nancy, I am prepared. Shall we say it again o bitter world--vive la France!

A bientôt


Núria said...

You are so lucky Mallory! I wonder when I'll be able to visit that beautiful region!!! Hopefully, one day, when I'm a grand mom we'll have TGV joining Paris-Barcelona. I don't know if you've heard about our big mess with TGV... never mind!

Lovely pictures as always :D. Please send some of the rain here, we need it soooooo badly :(

Sylvia said...

Beautiful trip Mallory, and I agree with Nuria you are so lucky,. The only city that I know in France is Paris and a few small cities near Switzerland like Evian. I love French cuisine too.I am glad to know that you are learning Portuguese if you droll dawn , you can read mi recipes im Portuguese and Spanish as well.
I am linking you blog right now.
Espero que tenha um otimo fim de semana

Ryan said...

Around here all the rails turned into walking trials.. I wish we had something like the TGV!

PS. I love that bird in the one Mirabelle picture!

Mallory Elise said...

Hahaha. I am very lucky. Eh, Nuria but the rain only follows me, so if you want rain down there then i'll have to come to Barcelona again!

Obriagada Sylvia! I'm linking to yours too!

Ryan of course you like that bird statue. I'll print it out really big, frame it, and send it to you. hehe.