Category Archives: wine

a rambling tale of strasbourg and a bear named Otto

20130211-122228.jpg

20130211-122242.jpg

20130211-122319.jpg

20130211-122334.jpg

20130211-122405.jpg

20130211-122421.jpg

Christmas Markets + hot wine; promise me those two things in one location and I’m there.  In this case, that location was Strasbourg in mid-December.

20130211-122435.jpg

Right before Christmas, we jumped on the fast train and rocketed down to soak up the local color and drink our fair share of vin chaud in Strasbourg.  With a name like Strasbourg, doesn’t it seem like the city should be located in Germany, rather than France?  I think so, but although I was born with a directional and geographical disability, I found out that I have the ability to become more adept at geography when it benefits me.

When I think of the term “Christmas Market” the image of little old ladies knitting mittens is the first thing that pops into my head.  The second thing that pops into my head is realization that those hand knitted mittens, although often cute, never, EVER, keep your hands warm.

Getting off the train in Strasbourg, I was surprised not to be assaulted by mittens, but rather I was greeted by every type of Christmas trinket available.  Sadly, nearly none of it was handmade and virtually nothing was even made in France.  From the original product perspective, I would say the markets were a bit of a bust, unless your sole purpose was to expand your collection of mini figurines to surround your model train setup.  But once I determined that there were few goods I really wanted to buy, I changed my focus to determine which market stall had the best vin chaud (hot wine).  Hot wine tastes much better than it sounds, since it has spices in it to make it taste delicious.  Since each stand seemed to have their own recipe, I had to try them all.  In the end, there was no clear winner – it was all good.

20130211-122348.jpg

While we were there, we also found out that the Tomi Ungerer museum was located in the city.  What?  You don’t know who Tomi Ungerer is?  Have you ever read The Three Robbers?  It’s one of few children’s books which includes a blunderbuss, a pepper-blower and a huge red axe.  It is also a book that will most assuredly scare the shit out of your small children (especially if read in a deep voice in a dark room).

This is a magazine with an article about Tomi Ungerer that I bought while in Strasbourg (notice on the cover under Ungerer’s name his quote is “it is necessary to traumatize children” – maybe I like him so much because we share the same parenting philosophy):

20130211-122158.jpg

Tomi Ungerer has been one of my favorite authors and illustrators for nearly my entire life, starting with the original version of “Flat Stanley” (written by Jeff Brown and illustrated by Tomi Ungerer).  Seriously, who doesn’t dream of becoming flat and getting mailed to California?  I still dream of doing that.  Or maybe I will mail myself back to France once I finally leave…..

This year in school, Owen’s class read Ungerer’s classic “Otto” which is about a stuffed bear that was owned by a Jewish boy during WWII.  I won’t tell you how it ends, but I will tell you that it is not an easy read.  Don’t let the fact that the main character is a stuffed bear fool you; Ungerer is nothing if not a realist.

20130211-122215.jpg

In any case, once we found out that the Tomi Ungerer Museum was located close to our hotel, it was on the top of our (read: my) list of things to do.  I was so excited to go to this museum that we ended up arriving a bit early for the daily opening and I found myself nearly climbing up the giant metal gates and screaming like a groupie.  Once inside, we found a treasure trove of antique toys (Ungerer’s personal collection), as well the original illustrations to most of his books.

As we entered the top floor of the museum, Owen spotted the original stuffed Otto across the room and he ran toward him.  In French museums, it is extremely normal to ignore all rules.  In our two years here, I have witnessed untold numbers of people taking pictures of things in museums, even when they are literally surrounded by giant signs forbidding photography.  When Owen asked if I would take a picture of him with Otto, I did a cursory glance around the room to see if there were any signs forbidding photos and not seeing any, I took out my camera and snapped a picture.  As soon as the security guard, who was chatting around the corner, heard the shutter click, she rounded the corner and gave me a severe reprimand for taking a photo where they were not allowed.

In the past I would have been horrified for getting busted, but I’ve perfected my “c’est comme ça” look and I flashed her a shrug.  Even Owen wasn’t phased by her.  He tends to be the (only) rule follower in our family, however he whispered to me as we walked out of the museum, “I don’t care that we got busted.  At least we got a picture of the REAL Otto.”

20130211-122303.jpg

In celebration of our illegal Otto picture, I suggested we go drink some vin chaud (with chocolat chaud for the kids).

a wine trance

20121217-151526.jpg

20121217-151540.jpg

When we were young, the kids in my family would wait impatiently for the Sears Catalog to arrive in the mail around the holiday season.  As soon as the catalog arrived, my mother would sit us down with pens and pads of paper to make our lists of all the things we would like for Christmas.

Isn’t that nice?

I know what you’re thinking right now…………you’re thinking, “Wow.  You must have had an incredibly generous Santa in your life.  You were SO lucky!”

Don’t be fooled by the first part of that story.  In fact, we spent hours, if not days (and maybe even weeks), writing down detailed descriptions of every toy we wanted.  We made columns.  We wrote prices.  We wrote code numbers.  And year after year, we were very optimistic.

And each Christmas morning, we would run downstairs with visions of mountains of toys from Santa/Sears piled underneath our tree.  And every year the big man let us down.  It wasn’t that we didn’t get fabulous things for Christmas, but we NEVER got a single thing that we had chosen from our hours of work with the Sears Catalogue.  Not once.

Now you know where I inherited the ability to subtly torture my children.

This fall in France, when I received a giant wine catalog in the mail, I was immediately transported back in time to my days with the Sears Catalog.  I quickly found myself circling things in the catalog and feeling hopeful.  Then I realized that at this point in life, I am my own Santa Claus.  So rather than sitting around hoping, I got in the car to attend the annual wine sale at our massive supermarket.

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I have very simple wine selection criteria.  I have only two requirements:  1) it must be under 5€,  and 2) it should have some sort of award seal on the bottle.  I know there are people who are much smarter than I am, and clearly there are those who know much more about wine than I do, so I choose to leave the big decisions to them.  If the smart wine judges give a decently priced bottle of wine an award, I buy the wine.

When I arrived at the wine sale, it was like a wonderland with crates of wine all over the massive center of the store.  I was wandering around in a daze as wine buyers in fancy suits and pointed shoes walked purposefully with their cellphones pressed to their ears.  Who were they buying wine for?  I have absolutely no idea, but I did my best to represent the low standard crowd with my wrinkled skirt and rounded shoes.

When it comes to buying things in France that I don’t know much about, I have developed one main strategy.  I find someone who looks like she (or he) knows what she is doing and I follow her around (at a safe distance) to see what she buys.  I am almost like an ape in that way, except I apply this tactic to decidedly un-apelike things like buying skin care products.  If there is a woman with really nice skin in the moisturizer aisle, you can bet that I’m trailing her.

I pulled out the dog-eared catalogue I had stuffed in my bag and I browsed nonchalantly while I waited to find someone to follow who was not wearing a suit.  Once I had identified my secret buying mentor, I walked slowly behind him watching what he was choosing.  In a few short minutes my cart seemed to be sufficiently full, and I deflected my buying mentor’s suspicious glances at me, by looking at my catalog whenever he turned around to give me the hairy eyeball.

After I finished loading up on wine, I walked by the bra section and I saw a familiar sight – French women grabbing handfuls of lacy bra and undies sets and tossing them into their carts like they were buying croissants.  Do they try them on?  No.  Do they fret about fit or comfort?  Apparently not, since this is a scene I have witnessed nearly every time I walk by the bra section.  And since I was living the spirit of France that day with a cart full of wine, I decided to toss in a few bras to top it off.

As I wandered back across the store, I go sidetracked by the home goods section (happens every time) and left my cart sitting in the middle of the dishware aisle.  After I was finished looking there, I went back to my cart and started pushing it to the other end of the store toward the checkout.

It wasn’t until I was nearly at the checkout that I heard a woman yelling behind me and I turned to look.  An elderly woman was hobbling quickly toward me.  She was saying something that I couldn’t exactly understand and I figured that she was speaking to the wrong person and began to turn around again.  That’s when I happened to glance down and I noticed that my cart was not filled with wine and bras, but rather with vacuum bags and yogurt.

I had accidentally taken the other woman’s cart and left the poor woman with a cart full of loot that appeared to be the weekly shopping trip for the brothel.

“Je suis très, très désolé, Madame.”

Sometimes I don’t get the language right, but I always know how to say “I’m sorry” correctly in French.  In fact, those are the words I speak the most on a daily basis.

As you now know, Santa really delivered this year – from a catalogue even!

For your added entertainment value, I thought I’d throw this in.  When we’re not buying wine, this is what we do in France for fun:

20121217-151613.jpg

20121217-151629.jpg

20121217-151642.jpg