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.

Monday, December 31, 2007

La Carte Flamande

A small pot of meats. That, is the exact meaning of Potjevleesch, the traditional Flemish dish of terined veal, poulet, and rabbit. The jellied delicacy is accredited to the traditional recipe of Guillaume Tirel, the celebrated royal chef from the mid XIVe century whose employment included that to king Philippe de Valoise, the Duke of Normandie, and King Charles VI. Tirel authored the first written collection of Haute French cuisine (the first French cookbook) under the order of Charles V, to begin the preservation of original French recipes. The Viandier Taillevent contains th first recorded recipe for the Potjevleesch, indexed under the preparation for Ketelvleesch. In rough translation of the ancient French text, the recette instructs: boil the chicken in white wine to procure the jelly, add cooked pork, veal, and young rabbits, add to this a bit of ginger, mastis, saffron, and sour wine in accordance with your common sense. When it is cooked halfway, put it in a pot above the fire, let settle, squish it down, and then chill. Delicious, may be the only word available for description. Ehem. Cold flesh medley. mmmmm.

I know you are all exceedingly curious as to what the ancient French culinary text has to say on the subject of cod, so to you my friends, I will indulge: Cleaned and cooked like red mullet; addsome wine while cooking; eaten with Jance Sauce. Add some garlic if you wish, but some do not. Salted: eaten with Mustard Sauce or fresh melted butter. Ah Guillaume, Guillaume, Guillaume.

Well--I ate it. Tony, Tony was on my shoulder giving me encouraging words, puffs of smoke, and snide sexual remarks. Wait, no that was me. M wanted to take me out for moule frites at cafe brasserie Aux Moules, to taste the local favorites: a bucket of moules and greasy fries. Once there I spotted my potted--and I knew my quest would be completed. The brasserie is one of the oldest joints in the Lille city center, dating to their first served bucket of mollusks in 1930. The place was packed on the lazy Sunday afternoon, though we were seated in under 10 minutes in a cozy corner by the bar. When the waiter arrived I nearly shouted my order through excitement, his reaction was encouraging--raised eybrows but "la choix excellente, mademoiselle" What arrived: a squishy cold jelly, that, though bird eaten, was extremely tender, tasteful, and charming. M, with a gritted smile shockingly passed up the potted meat, and instead went for the rabbit stewed in a beer sauce. Followed by cafes, and refused drinks from the the closely hovering bartender, whose free espresso cup of whipped cream I did accept in the end while giddily clapping my hands, the meal was quite exciting.

Though my questioning of the semi-French speaking Italian bar tender, Rocco, on what there was to do in Lille for Reveillon (New Years) turned into invitations for drinks rather on that night, the afternoon and night passed with vrai cuisine du Nord of the Pas de Calais region. Excellent. I suppose potted meat, while by no means my favorite, is not bad after all.

Taillevent: Viandier (Manuscrit du Vatican). Pichon/Vicaire, Le Viandier, 1892, repr. 1967, 73-136. Electronic version: Thomas Gloning, 20.8.2000.

Bonne Fin d'Annee Mes Amis!

A bientôt

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Well Not Quite Lilloise Cuisine

In search of French, I end at Brésilien
Passing the holiday week in Lille; lazily relaxing on a comfortable mattress proffered by a great friend who has welcomed me without condition into her apartment for a near week of wandering, shopping, reading, writing, movies, and just---nothing. The most brilliant component of the recipe: we didn't know each other before for but 3 hours at the Visa Consulate General in San Fransisco last August. Yet, here I am, and what a wonderful holiday season it has become.

As much as you know how I would love to begin a long and drawing synopsis of my dealings in Lille, I will spare you and exercise restraint to keep to a particular and yes, gastronomic topic. At the Gare du Nord train station in Paris I purchased a French culinary magazine to pass the wait time, ever so coincidentally there happened in this edition of Saveurs Magazine to be an entire culinary article on discovering the authentic cuisine of Lille. Well, how lucky for me I must say. Fries, as everyone is well aware, is the classic cuisine of the Northern pas-de -Calais region of France, served in bulk and with an abundance of artery clogging mayon-aise. Ah huh. The article expounded on the frite-obsession, venturing into the vrai Lilloise cuisine found at the tucked away brasseries and cafes of old Lille city center. Center column were prized two particularly Lilloise dishes: Waterzoi and Potjevleesch. Waterzoi is a chicken and fish dish steamed in a casserole pot with potatoes, cream, and an assortment of vegetables. Potjevleesch, the dish that beckoned me for the hunt, the one I knew Tony (Bourdain) would eat, is much more enticing: feast your eyes on the culinary description of a potted terrine of pork, rabbit, veal, and chicken in a jelly of their own make congealed to a refrigerated serving temperature. Mmm your mouth is watering I can almost see you. Saveurs recommended recommended an authentic cafe where such treats could be found, Le Bistro Lilloise on 40 rue de Gand. I say unto M: We are going, get your coat.

Not exactly, we spent the day strolling and peering through what seemed hundreds of restaurant windows, scrutinizing menus, an immensely patient (and brave) girl is M to oblige to my neurotic quest for a strange potted meat (I have quite turned her on to the dried figs as well--though I have as of late discovered Spanish figs, which I sadly must say put the Turks to shame) On rue de Gand we discovered the bistro from the article, as well as another authentic that served our desire. We returned with a Canadian and a Chinese friend at dinner time (20:30) to find both closed--on a Friday night? My poor starving troop turned to me with puppy eyes: how was I to know? They're the ones who live in this town. Un-phased I tilt my head slightly left, we should go there I say, to a small glowing cafe in the corner which looked under visited but charming. The day spent looking for Lilloise cuisine, ends in one of the most charming restaurants I have yet been in, and as far from Lilloise as possible: Brasilian and Argentinian (the both?) cuisine, bienvenue au Ipanema El Gaucho. Brazil, Brazil, Brazil I find you everywhere. Do you hear that Brazeel!

To the relief of my companions, the potted meat was postponed, and replaced instead by a carte of amusing cocktails and plats as authentic as French South American cooking can get, which, when I tell you of the French fries and cheese assortment offered on the menu you may roll the eyes back. Everything had fruit though. Ahhhhh. My maman used to call me a humming bird. The one marrying both the banana and pineapple--that one was mine. No second glance needed. Then I saw it, there, first word under entree, morue. Morue! Have i yet to see the morue on a menu in France, NO! Morue! I will translate for you, COD. I leave you there friends, with the first Morue sighting of the Salty Cod.

The setting was surreal enough, dinning Brazilian in Lille with new friend M, her friends the Canadian C and Chinese student S. How did I get here? New friends, cocktails, and carne assada con bananas de mijote de porc flambe au rhum, riz, banane plantain et ananas. Ha ha! The music makes one ancy to spring to toes and dance a type of tango, dancing was only on Thursdays, zut! All was perfect until the Canadian C committed the one unforgivable sin: asking for ketchup in France. What would one need ketchup for at a Brazilian restaurant you ask? Try to remember still in France here, and somehow steak frites made it on the menu, smuggled in there under the disguise of some Argentinian spice. Oh but one must forgive my Canadian brother, even though, sadly, he hails from Edmonton.

My Lille culinary experience: Brazilian. Why not. My Brazilian friend, named Brazeel, I say this to you now: eu acho que você está gostando do açougueiro! The bucheries are everywhere, and so is Brazil! Je ne comprends pas! But--Eu adoro a música, eu assistir 3 vezes, e uma vez com palavras Inglês. Eu estou indo para procurar música álbum. Obrigado. Eu feita Morgan assistir também (I apologize to anyone who actually speaks Portuguese) Remorse over the missed jellied meat quickly passed, but perhaps there is still time. Lille, Lille je pense que je t'aime, I will discover you!

Et maintenant, tout le monde, est-ce que vous savez le jour?
Joyeux Anniversaire to my Maman, happy happy birthday mammy je t'aime beaucoup.

A bientôt

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas In Paris

3 bottles and the Bublé, with a bit of church hoppingMy first Christmas alone was not as terrifying as I had imagined it to be, for without familiarity and any real purpose, what resulted was not a Christmas at all, but rather just an evening of food, drink, and fun passed in the company of a friend. The foyer residence I live in decided quite belatedly to inform its inhabitants of their one week eviction for the holiday period, as such i was faced with the dilemma of homeless wandering with a budget, forced (and gravely lucky and indebted) to depend on the good graces of others. Laden with all possessions meriting any value (qualitative or quantitative) I began my homeless hopping at another foyer. After a rainy day of street strolling and a solo-night at the movies (Golden Compass is quite good actually) to not burden my hostess with my presence, I returned to a patch of linoleum floor around one in the morning. Nights two and three welcomed me into the warm charming apartment of an American friend, where our Christmas Eve Réveillon was passed in quite a jolly--and festive--manner.

I arrived at T's bearing the classic French Receillon: the Bûche de Noël, and wine. The Bûche de Noël, an edible Yule Log cake, is a traditional holiday dessert found in nearly every French speaking country (including Quebec, yes I did say country, what of it). The cake is generally a Genoise sponge cake baked flat and rolled tight with a form of jelly or frosting. My culinary student amigo a Paris, G-mo (G has already been taken) informed me of details of its exact preparation, and was helpful in scrutinizing the many, and aided in finding the perfect Bûche under 50euros. My bûche: coffee flavored butter cream with a chocolate Italian gel ribboning through the bark lines, adorned, comme d'habitude, with small figurines depicting father Christmas and Tannenbaums and you classic plastic saw. T enjoyed it immensely--well, I will tell you the frosting was good.

Accompanying our Buche was three bottles of wine, a bit of foi gras, dried fruits, apples, biscuits, and an entire jar of pickles singlehandedly consumed by yours truly (images of my family and their beloved pickle plate were circling through my tet) All the while accompanied by the immortal brilliance that is Michael Bublé's Christmas album, and the France 2 presentation of dubbed Polar Express, the evening was all cheers and tears. No tears, per say, no. But for we the two, that small consciousness of being without a loved one on Christmas was present. Christmas is Christmas if only for its passing accompanied by someone you love, pardon to those of the holidays religious persuasion, but as non religious myself, and T's faith to Judaism, our Christmas was two friends together for a winter evening celebration.

On Christmas the day of, we partook in a church quest for discovering those hidden gems of Paris off the beaten tourist track of Notre Dame, and what better day for Church hopping than Christmas when all would be open and warm as the remainder of the city lay closed and gray. Our our journey didnt take us far--not outside of the 4th and 1st, as one need not go far in Paris to find an ancient Eglise, for they are numerous and found in back alleys and corners in abundance. Our first was lay down the road, T's apartment is located on St. Denis, at the M Chatalet, the exact arterial heart of the city and metro system. Les églises: Saint Méry in the 1st, St. Gervais-St. Protais in the 4th, St. Paul-St. Louis in the 4th , and the Eglise St. Germaine L'Auxerrois, also in the 4th. The abundance of Saints is a dead give away, if I may say, of a constant reminder that one is fully plunked in the heart of Catholic land. Though I may not be of the Catholic faith, my dear Jesuits at Gonzaga would be proud to know of my recognition of two of the churches as Jesuit by symbolism and decor. Score one for Mallory.

Of the many holy houses visited, St. Paul- St. Louis, was sought out particularly for its secret of a relatively unknown Delacroix affixed to the wall and strolled under and by without even the slightest of glances at its being the offspring of a great French master. Well, you have been spotted. An amusing conversation with a Church curator enlightened us on the other paintings of the very Renaissance Jesuit church, another heart warming moment of in which my accent is not questioned, and my ability with the French language is not laughed at. The days spent out there are the lessons, not those inside the classrooms.

Paris rained chilly droplets on her Christmas day, signaling to her residents her desire for their retirement to drawing and living rooms to lazily pass the afternoons and evenings in lazy and beloved company of friends, family, books, television sets, and if you know and care about me at all--multiple tea pots. Forget not the viewing of my beloved film, Love Actually, which I sadly admit has passed my eyes 4 times in this past week. Christmas in Paris has passed, and I have survived, if anything, to appreciate those Christmases passed and to be passed with family. What is next on the nomadic wandering week--well a train to Lille of course.

A bientôt

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


what happens when one eats gold
Just a short publicity add for a divine sorcerer of sweets. I wasn't even going to taste it. But then...but then. Chocolate is often described with the word ecstasy--not even close for this. Praline, cacao noir, dark, crisp, nutty, hints of caramel and kirsch, yes and tea; there was no description, no label, no words, just taste. Just taste. I know what chocolate is now. What the movie was about. Why the masses lust for it. Why humans need this sucre of a drug. Is it better than life? Better than sex? Better than.... marzipan? No. I am not prepared to make a statement of any sort on that matter as things of such different categories should never be compared. It will suffice to say that it is incandescently delicious. But that is all. It is how something one eats should taste, it is how the French eat. How we should eat. How what we eat should look like. Ask me, friend, if I will ever be able to eat packaged chocolate again. To be honest, and in no fear of the label snob, I will tell you no. This wasn't chocolate, this was chocolat, the closest (and nearly equal in cost) to edible gold one will find. And there is no guilt. No, with shit (pardon) there is guilt, with greatness there is nothing but satisfaction; although it did not reach I can die now status. Though close. Vive la France.

Maison Gantier: Pâtisserie

2, rue Corot--Paris 16eme
01. 42. 15. 14. 41

A bientôt

Sunday, December 16, 2007

come walk with me

my jardins botaniquesWalking. I dearly love to walk. Of everything I have done in Paris unto this point, I can faithfully reveal to you that walking her gardens and streets has been and continues to be my blissfully coveted pleasure above all others. Now my beloved readers, a note on a subject many have brought to my attention: perhaps you are all correct, and I have a fairytale life for a year with little responsibility, few hours devoted to French grammatical review; a life comparable to that of the Bennett sisters in which my day consists of matters of colorful hair ribbons and neighborhood gossip. Jane could most certainly write a novella of my days. If that is true, then I count my blessings in praise for it. And I promise you I will not let the days slip without exploitation, for while I do often doubt myself and feel the haunting guilt of idleness and fear that there are other matters I should be doing in this world at anyone time, I realize you too would wish to be given this. I won't have this year again, perhaps, ever. This year of selfishness and solitude is just me--just me. Just me in the morning to say, what shall I do today? It is wearing to be alone, but more rewarding than any words will ever lead you to believe. We have to know how to answer what shall i do today? before we can answer what shall we do today?---and today, and tomorrow, i shall go for a walk. Then, perhaps the next, or many after the next, when these shoes are worn out, we will go on one together.

Busy shopping avenues, buzzing neighborhood boulevards, and quiet residential streets and alleys are perfect for absorbing the "French essence" both environmentally and socially, and that just by strolling. Never take the same alley home. Risk being lost. I often leave the metro two or three stops prematurely to faire the remainder of my way home on foot. Too much is overlooked when cramped underground in the dark like rats. And as there is no one awaiting my return, there is nothing pressing and pulling me home in any haste. Except, of course, that one tiny pest--Mr. Rain. Though I must say leave your wallet at home if strolling the streets, or, make for the many fanciful parks and gardens that give breath to the city.

The Luxembourg gardens, Jardins de Plants, Tuilleries--their paths have ceased to dub my soles as strangers. However--there is always the one garden that is visited above the others, and more times than not it is precisely based on location. My garden park is but 20 minutes walk, and therefore I find myself drawn there every weekend. It is my botanical escape; and as a lucky resident of the 16eme, my gardens double as classic neighborhood park, and a tropical paradise encased in glass--a welcome escape into humid warm green houses after briskly strolling through the winter-barren lanes of trees and sorrowfully naked rose beds. My local gardens are the Jardin des Serres d'Auteuil--one of the four pole botanical gardens of Paris.

My quartier of the 16eme is quite near the periphery of the city, located to the southwest at the Porte d'Auteuil bordering the Bois de Boulogne. This area is grouped as Auteuil-Neuilly-Passy, (Auteuil and Passy are in the city, while Neuilly is a Perret suburb) and is characteristically known as the calmest and most financially well-off districts of Paris. After four months I have greatly grown to appreciate its tranquility. Auteuil is home to the Parc de Princes, the football stadium where the Paris-St. Germaine team plays. Located just a stones throw from the stadium is the stadt Roland-Garros, the infamous site of the French Open. A giddying fact to ponder as one passes its fences daily or weekly on the way to the market or other affairs. My botanical gardens are located between the two--a fact that has led me to bestow them the epithet princess court. Figure it out.

The park is modest, a small field (though most of the grass you actually are not allowed to touch), towering ancients trees, circling paths, a small play area with swings and a slide for the many children who come tout les weekends with their parents to giggle and chase after papa while maman clicks the camera. A Victorian drinking fountain and white marble statues remind you where you are, and myriad signs forbidding the fondling of grass reaffirms the, ah yes notion; I am in France. But then--an escape from France? At the end of the park is a gate leading to the botanical greenhouse gardens.

The Jardin des Serres d'Auteuil were built in 1895 under the fashion of the epoch for all things foreign and exotic. The age of politically and commercially driven colonialism and economic imperialism left its mark in the imaginations of those who dreamt for the distant deserts and jungles of the world. The architecture of the greenhouses is classic of the XIX century, reminiscent of many others found throughout Western Europe. Keeping with the symmetrical theme found in all gardens in Paris, the serre has a main pavilion in the center rear (esthetically reminiscent of a train station) known as the palmarium in which is kept the variety of flora found equatorial throughout the world: central and south America, central Africa, southeast Asia and Indonesia--over 150 different species from their original habitats (as well as a menagerie of tropical birds and fish) it is apparent I spend too much time in here. I have begun naming the birds.

There are also smaller (though symmetrically pleasing) greenhouses scattered throughout the grounds including the Chinese collection, Azalea collection, and Plateau collection. The fresh air grounds are made of a classic French garden, Japonaise garden, English garden, row of "remarkable trees" (exact translation) and ancient rose garden. Though not nearly as breathtaking in the dead of cold, the structure and layout of the paths make them enjoyable anytime of the year. Though on mornings hovering at and under that little zero mark it is much the relief to tuck into the tropical hide-away behind the heavy glass door.

Once through the door you are squished into a jungle, squeezing down the narrow aisles as branches and leaves stick in your hair and grab at your back almost as if begging you to stay. It is claustrophobic and private. The birds and sloshing of the 50lbs fish are the only sounds to be heard, and the only light that which is coming through the wilting glass ceiling from the rising sun. As strange as it sounds, I am reminded of Spokane and the Maniteau park gardens, whose greenhouses (though modest compared to these) also felt like a little escape from the familiarity around. Though in Spokane there was an orange tree--at Auteuil, though there can be found apricots, figs, and berries of many walks--no oranges.

These are my gardens. Well, one, of my gardens. Paris is the walkers paradise with her many parks, but then where in the world can one not walk? If there is space and a beauty that draws the eye one can walk there. Parks are pleasant, safe, and quiet, though one should never be afraid of walking off the path. Greenhouses are a mini-world condensed in a glass bubble, one with placards proffering enhancement of one's botanic vocabulary as well as a reminder that you are, in fact, in a simulation, and that it is time to go home and do the laundry and start that essay. Fairy tales--what's wrong with fairy tales. Life would be so much brighter if everyone just tried for a little more fairy tale. How to start: go for a walk. This one's for you Marius!

A bientôt

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Could it get any Frencher

Diner sur la seineYet another classic romantic movie moment: Paris at night aboard a swank river boat on the Seine with haute French cuisine, wine, and entertainment. Though not a private candlelight moment between two star crossed lovers basked in the port side glow of the passing Tour Eiffel, our dinner party of 14 was rewarding in its own right. A dinner in holiday spirit, to gather together all of those who've aided in our Paris adventure thus far before the coming of January when a third of our party will return to US. What a better send off than a bateau adorned from bow to stern with frosted twinkling branches that welcomed us aboard for a holiday soirée straight from a Cary Grant film.

At ninety euros a plate, I will confess au debut that I did not organize nor pay for this finery--directly. In the end it truly is part of the near 40 grand Gonzaga commandeers from its students each year. Lovely. Therefore what I meant to say is that I will pay for this diner, 30 years from now. Worth every penny. The attire was formal black tie; the Gonzaga filles all wrapped in billowy skirts and pretty scarfs (I, the patent rebel that I am, decided to go all French in head to toe black and yes, my shocked readers, no skirt--I say Tim Gunn would be quite proud of my French skinny pants and sling backs that push the limits of that 6ft barrier.) To eat French one must dress French. And eat French we did.

The menu was three course choice: I, as I have grown to adore all things snail, fancied the escargot and muchroom cassolette for entrée over the scallops and fois gras. Heaven. The shelled snails and wild forest mushrooms came sautéed in a bourguignonne sauce spattered with fresh herbs. If one has not had escargots, then well, I suppose I can do nothing but pity you. Of course as a self-proclaimed fish-connoisseur, the main had to be the poached pike simmered in a leak fondue and matolote sauce. And desert--yes I know there was chocolate and cheese on the menu, but I am a hummingbird, fixedly drawn to any menu item that reads exotic fruit delight. Yes, dreams of mangos and mirabelles. J'ai fait les choix exceptionels, alors, selon moi.

Dainty petite-baguettes, perfumed butters, aperitif kirs, entrée whites, main reds, and desert coffees--the dinner was enchanting, even with the spotlighted cocktail singer bellowing his most syrupy Parisian love songs. The on-board photographer was quite the horsefly though, and offered a bounty of portraits bordered in touristy cartoons of the Parisian skyline. 25euros each? Dans tes rêves mon ami. We then proceeded to play the photo-a-photo game, though unlucky is the flash when faced with the glossy finish. The dinner passed too quickly (though over three hours) all the while gliding along the reposeful river past the city's glittering landmarks. French cuisine is unmatched in this world--Ina and Morimoto you did indeed choose well. A statement, my friends, that is nonnegotiable. Bon appétit.

A bientôt

Monday, December 10, 2007

Going Dutch & Deutsch for the Weekend

Köln, Aix la Chapelle, and MaastrichtThough the title implies a weekend in the nude, my petite adventure east sadly did not reach such heights. Rather the time spent was an out-of-country shopping trip to myriad Christmas markets as well as Cathedral touring. Markets and churches? Oui mesdames et messieurs I do in fact know how to party. Wooden ornaments and a German Saint Nicolas aboard a dinner boat on the Rhine--I did, however, have a cup of coffee in a Marijuana cafe owned by a round little Irish man in Holland, but that is for later.

I would like to say that I had some say in the planning of this trip, alas though I did not. The director of my academic program here in Paris sent the five of us on the northern market tour as part of a bus tour. Yes a bus tour. You have seen the movies; now just imagine 13 hours aboard this auto cab packed to capacity with we the five famille Gonzaga, and a large portion of Paris's retired community. A cozy bus full of sleepy quiet elderly is generally not a bad way to travel, unless of course one belongs to the disproportionately long-legged spider family and must sit knee-to-chin for hours as the gentleman in front leisurely reclines his seat. Blood clots... Anyways, Köln is one of the oldest cities in Germany, founded by the Romans in 38BCE, the city is of the top 5 largest and one of the most booming tourist destinations behind Berlin, Munich, and Hamburg. To the English and French speakers of the world, the German city of Köln is pronounced Cologne--our first stop. Aside from the 6 adorable medieval Christmas markets scared throughout the city center peddling an abundance of pretzels, china, chocolates, crafts, and gluhwein--hot wine--Köln's main attractions are the Calogne Cathedral, or Kölner Dom. Built in 1248, it is among the first Gothic cathedrals of its time, tailing behind by but one century. The Dom is a mammoth batiment, one that even with a pollution-blacked facade puts majestic Notre Dam to shame. Aside from the awe-inspiring beauty, size, and overall daunting presence, the Dom's celebrity pilgrimage point is its housing of the remains of the Three Wise Kings. Tres chouette.If one does not have an ample amount of time to explore a city, river tours, it is said, are an excellent way to see the city and rural landscape. Dinner aboard the Rhine, Santa was on board, and I proudly got the 5 of us through the German menu. Surprisingly, as I have said before, the farther my German classes in high school slip into the past, the more German I remember. And oh yes, I sang the Christmas carols, and I sang loud, with Santa. If anything, this girl-bonding trip--which I am generally no good at--was quite ego-stimulating for myself, as no one wanted to by, order, or speak to anyone without me doing it for them. Is it that difficult to say Eins bitte? Either way I'm finally popular for a weekend. On the river cruise the ladies all clinked German Biers and munched sticky Apfelstrudel. I had peppermint tea. But I drank beer and strudel in spirit! However the highlight of Köln, I will say, was the German breakfast at the hotel: meat, cheese, and fruit. Meat. Cheese. Meat....cheese!! Who would even bother looking at
that dry crumbly bread when there is such a plethora of cold cuts, wurst, and kase to be wrapped around apples, pear, and oranges? I do believe I was German in another life, I have no other way to explain my Germanophilia. Aufwiedersehen Köln.
A modest bus ride took us north the next morning, to Aix la Chapelle, the ancient capital of the first Franco-Germanic Empire and home to non other than Mr. Carolus Magnus Charlemagne himself. Aix is known in the local tongue (ja, Deutsch who would have thought) as Aachen, though the name Aix comes from the Latin for hot water springs, for the city sits atop an abundance of bubbling spa pools. Once in the city it's ties to antiquity become quite apparent. Quainter than a tea party in your Grandmother's backyard, the city centre of Aix is like a medieval fun fair with wooden toys and sausages the length of your arm. All in a cluster in a quartier de pietons, the famous Rathaus, Aachen Cathedral built in 786, and medieval shopping alleys form a cozy German fairytale straight from Hansel and Gretel's woods. I suppose I will now mention the city's infamous specialty: gingerbread.

As if the Rhineland weren't enough for one weekend, our autocab takes us a step further! Back on the bleeding bus she says...grumble grumble ich komme ich komme, tragst deine Hemd für gottes Willem! I will surmise the spelling and grammar to be horrifically incorrect...but notice I capitalized the nouns like a good little frauleine. Frau S, if you cared, I know you would be proud. Aufwiedersehen Deutschland--Ich gehe auf die Nederlands, ou pour les Francais, les Pays-Bas, and for you SJP, Hello Holland!

Maastrich, Netherlands, is quite the example of homogeneous Europe confused by superfluous borders; more German and Belgian than the Smurfs themselves, the populous culture of Maastricht is markedly non-Dutch. The Christmas market that awaited us was slightly frightening, reminiscent of a summer fun fair with carnival rides and penned animals. As well as plaster statues of my little buddy Napo-B, who, it is said, had quite a soft spot for the city while it remained in his empire. A few hours spent in a city is shameful, though that is all we could tender. For those of you who have been to a christmas or traders market, one knows that by the third or fourth one begins to detest all things reminiscent of pot potpourri and tinned crackers.

Alas, I tell the others, I need coffee to remedy this Dutch headache of American 80's music playing at the market centre ice rink.So I wander away from the people...searching...searching...ah a sign that reads Coffee Cafe, perfect. Shuttered windows...must be a Dutch thing. Cling, door bell announces my entrance, into a dark pub. Not your typical coffee shop I suppose as I make my way to the bar when a little fat man in an Irish football jersey jumps up and salutes asking for my ID. ID? What on earth do you need my ID for? He points to a sign, "No Entrance Under 18", Do I look under 18 to you? At this point he moved to English in his syrupy Irish accent, "An American! So you're on holiday and want to smoke a little weed--It's always the innocent looking good girls." Say what? I want a cup of coffee. It turns out coffee cafe in Holland means cannabis house. Go figure. I'm in a pot house. Well can I still have some coffee? I got my coffee and extracted the story from the owner; an Irish ex-pat whose owned Heaven 69 Coffee Shop for over 30 years and dearly misses his green motherland like the dickens, though has lived in Maastricht for so long that it too has become his home. When I asked why he left in the first place, his eyes glassed over in memories of no work in the Eire. Oh the travesty of how occupations and work must dictate and run human life, though, to state the overused platitude, home is where you make it, I am beginning to understand, as I travel around, that It is possible to live anywhere, one can adapt, learn the language, put on (or take off) the extra pair of socks, and just remember that people are people everywhere; there is only one kind of human.

Back to Paris by 21:30 Sunday night, quite the modest weekend. My city rains to welcome back her cramped-legged residents, reminding us (me) that no matter how much one (I) may love Germany and Germans, France is (my) home, and (my) language, and there is nothing that could make me forget how truly lucky I am to be given the chance to be tucked away inside her borders. Vive la France.

A bientôt