Thursday, June 26, 2014

My Hypocracy with Food

I was sitting with Nick tonight as he fell asleep. He didn't feel well today and missed a bunch of fun things. We had a quiet day at home. At bedtime, he said he still didn't feel well, so I sat quietly in the dark with him for a while as he tried to sleep. I found my mind wandering back to the food I ate in Europe. Raclette, fondue, blutwurst with potatoes and onion, quiche Lorraine, Rieslingkraut,  grinertknodel, and even foie gras.

That got me to thinking about foie gras. I don't think most people should order this dish when they go to France, even if they feel they are supposed to. It has an aura, like ordering escargot or boeuf bourguignon. You're supposed to eat foie gras in France just because you're in France.

But a lot of people don't even like liver.

The dish that was served to me had a plum jam that I was told I should spread onto the pate after I put it on toast. I tried it that way. I did. What happened was that the flavor of the liver washed away. Instead, I ate the liver on the toast by itself. Then I ate the plum jam by itself, reminding me of jam my grandma used to make. A lot of the food I ate that week made me think of food my grandma used to make, the Rieslingkraut especially. I miss my grandma's food and I was surprised at how comfortable I felt with the cuisine of the Alsatian area of France and also right across the river in Germany.

So, I sat there in the dark thinking about foie gras. Finally, I heard Nick breathing evenly and deeply. He was finally asleep. And just as I stood up to leave, I realized something.

The plum jam was put on the plate for people who wanted to say they had tried foie gras. It wasn't for me, a person who actually likes the taste of liver.

If I were critiquing the restaurant, I would have told them that they should never apologize for their best food. They should never try to disguise the taste of something as fine as foie gras. I would have told them to serve it proudly and not to hide it among other flavors for the sake of those who feel they are supposed to order it because they are in France and it's the cool thing to do. If I order foie gras, I should expect it to taste like liver.

Now, I've tried lutefisk and gefilte fish. In each situation, the people serving it to me showed me how to mix it with something else so that I could get it down. I knew that it was fish soaked in lye. I knew I wouldn't like it. They knew I wouldn't like it. In those instances, I was grateful for the added flavors.

Those people never said that fish soaked in lye was their best recipe. They said it was tradition to eat it, good luck. And mixing it with other stuff was like the spoonful of honey offered after taking cod-liver oil. No, lefse is the best of Norwegian food and kugel is one of the best of Jewish fare. So you can call me hypocritical if you like. I'll happily cover the taste of something I don't like. With escargot, the butter and garlic did the trick. But with foie gras, I'd be happy with a spoon, scraping the bottom of the pan after everyone else was done tasting.

I'm still glad that the frog legs didn't appear on the French menu after our Alsatian cousins recommended it. I vaguely remember my grandpa eating frog legs. I probably tasted them myself, just like chicken only thinner and wetter. But what I remember most vividly was that I couldn't get past that strange green skin that my grandpa happily crunched. I didn't want to know what that tasted like.

Thank you for listening, jb

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Who's the Ugly American Now?

Well, I told you there would be foibles. Didn't I tell you that? 

My baggage is not as light as I would like. Let's see, I could have skipped the rain jacket, such a necessity in the Pacific Northwest, but dead weight here. I should also have left my long sleeved shirt at home. I brought too much food. 

Really, bringing pepperoni to Germany? The gall. Granted, I really do like my pepperoni. It held up to a comparison to the real thing, barely. I swear it did. 

I think I've used everything else, but I could have managed with three sets of clothes rather than four. If it hadn't been so hot, I could have gotten two or three days out of a shirt and a pair of pants. Ah well. 

My fanny pack is a failure. The little buckle keeps popping open. Who wants their passport, wallet, and tickets dropping off when you're trying to shove your oversized suitcase into the overhead compartment on the train?

I have a cold now too and all I want is soup and tea. It's been really hard to enjoy anything except the moment when I sink into that down pillow under a fluffy duvet.  Now, that is the way for all hotels in the United States to go, a sheet-covered duvet and a deep pillow. Last night, I texted Mike and asked him if I could change my tickets and come home early. He said I should wait, since I'd feel my worst on the plane then. I suppose he's right and the pillow and duvet helped. 

Not to say too much, but I prefer Swiss and German toilet paper to that of the French. It's sturdy. It means business. The stuff we all use at home is either like the tissue paper I found in France or leaves little bits behind. Sorry. TMI. But I have to say-go Swiss! Go German!

Now, I'm really going to tell you the rest. I don't want to. It's embarrassing. It turns out that I am a racist though I didn't realize it. I'm so sorry. I didn't intend to be. 

I was in line with Mary and Bree for a boat ride. We had eaten lunch at an outdoor cafe where I enjoyed the scent of the waiter as much as the gruyere salad I ordered. Tall foreign black men were weaving through the tourists selling hats, belts, and other junk. These guys made me nervous. Do you know how it feels when people come too close and won't back away? That's how I felt around them. 

We window shopped and then I stopped to get some cash from an ATM. Before I walked away, I checked to see if everything, passport, wallet, spare cash was in place. I could swear that I tapped my front left pocket to feel the spare credit card I'd been carrying in case I lost my wallet. As I looked up, another one, or the same one of those junk sellers approached us. They seriously made me nervous. 

Then, as we stood in the long line and I wondered how so many people would fit on the boat, one of them cut through the line behind me. I felt a light tap on my shoulder and he was gone. 

Then, I really did feel my front left pocket and I discovered that my Visa card was gone! I checked and double checked. No Visa. 

Of course I told my sister, my niece, the people around me, the attendants at the boat. I called Mike, at 5:30 am his time, and I called, finally, to my credit card people to cancel the card. 

That reminds me. I need to call them back. 

I should go back and tell you about the warnings I read on the internet. I should tell you about Bree's story of pickpockets being trained in Barcelona and sent all over to work. I should tell you that Mary said even women with small children are doing it. One would distract you and the other would lift your valuables. It would be sufficient to say that I was primed. I was well and truly primed. Plus, I have a raging cold, my head is ballooned and wobbly, and my eyes are swollen slits. 

My taste buds still work though, and this Starbucks chocolate croissant I'm eating sucks. My latte is good though. Starbucks would never be able to compete with French pastries though would they?

So I accused those junk dealers of pick pocketing my Visa card. I told the boat officials that I couldn't identify which one, but that I was certain one of them had taken it. 

What an idiot. 

What a racist idiot. 

I cried quietly though the boat ride after I finished my calls, wished I could go home early, hiked hot streets to retrieve my suitcase, schlepped my stuff onto two trains though a rail workers strike, tried to rest my eyes while Bree and Mary chattered, and lugged my stuff onto a final tram before arriving back in Zurich at our hotel. This place was home, bed, fluffy pillow, duvet, soup, and hot tea. 

Then, before crawling under my duvet for the night, I combed through all my junk, the excess of food, jacket, heavy shirt, all of it. 

And there, in the front left pocket of my blue jeans that I had abandoned to capris at 9:00 that morning, was my Visa card. It was just where I'd left it, just not quite where I had thought I'd left it. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Running a Good Race

Dinner wasn't great. The hotel is okay. We only got to see one magnificent castle today. 

But I drove 150 kilometers per hour on the autobahn today!!!!

I did! 

That's 95.13 miles per hour! In a Renault. Not a sports car. Just a little economy car. 

Here's my secret. I didn't drive that way all afternoon. When there was a speed limit, I followed it. 

When there was traffic, I stayed with the pack. No sense being all pushy or anything. 

My sister was really nervous about it. God, she made me nervous the first day until I realized she was freaking out about 80 kilometers per hour. That's about 49 miles per hour. Really? We'd never get anywhere at that speed. 

I paid attention to what other drivers were doing. 

And then, I slowly accelerated all the while getting Mary to talk about something she was interested in, languages or history or something. 

When I could stay all the way right - cars were still speeding past about 50 mph faster than I was going - I gradually accelerated until I felt uncomfortable, just at that edge. It helped if there were fields instead of trees on either side. 

And I hit 150!

Speed is perception, folks. There's no doubt about it. 

If Mary had looked at the grin on my face, she would have known I was cheating.  Maybe she did. 

Maybe she just ducked her head and said a prayer. I don't know. I was busy running the race today. 

It was a good run. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Two Tiny Mistakes

Today, I messed up a French cheek kiss and ended up hugging two distant cousins. Bree was mortified at my faux pas, but at least Mary did the same thing I did. The men, yes French men, were quite polite about it. 

Oh there are so many ways to offend. 

And today, after three days of sweaty weather, my sister finally told me that my way of saying that I'm overheated meant I'm hot like a stud magnet. 


Oh God, really?

It's an adventure. I managed to drive the speed limit today, 130, but just for a moment so my niece could be thrilled by it before my sister noticed. 

Oh man. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

For the Lack of Frog Legs and Foie Gras

I drove on the autobahn today! It was easy. Driving in downtown Strasbourgh was much more difficult. Pedestrians, bicyclists with baguettes, prams, cobbled streets. Whew, I was glad to make it out of there clean. The highways were easy. 

I'll be honest. I didn't drive all that fast, 110, 112. That is kilometers per hour. Crap! That's not even seventy! Tomorrow, if there isn't traffic, I'll go faster. I won't go over 100 mph, I think. A few people were going at least 50 mph faster than me. 

I love Strasbourgh. We met so many nice people today who tolerated, even encouraged my terrible French. The man at the patisserie, who said he was hot when I asked how he was. I was too, but couldn't think of the words fast enough.  I had coffee creme, pain aux chocolat and fruit. It was lovely. Then Bree and I found the Rhine river and went into an amazing history museum, battles, fashion, lifestyles, weapons. 

The cool thing is that my ancestors are from here. I am going to a town where my great great great grandfather was burghermeister. And we were wine people. I want to see if they feel familiar, the way the men in Dublin looked like Mike. I loved all those relatives in Dublin. 

Will I wake to my relatives here, distant cousins? Tonight, it could have been a cousin who told me she didn't much like the frog legs and that they were out of foie gras. Bummer. 

I was just so happy to be here. Foie gras or not. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Tears for the Beauty of It

This morning, we moved so slowly that by the time we got to the street for breakfast, elevensies, the cafe was serving lunch. It was a very good lunch, a salad with corn, beets, wurst, and potato salad on it. Sorry, it's like those casserole photos on Facebook, not translating well. 

Every day I order l'eau or wasser mit gasse and I giggle. Nick should be here to order wasser mit gasse. He's a boy. Gas is a boy thing. Sparkling water sounds much more sophisticated. I am not sophisticated. Never was. 

Today, Mary, Bree and I traveled by train to Strasbourgh, France. I'm in France! It amazed me to hear a tiny girl so fluent in French before the realization struck that I was well and truly here. 

French women, even very young girls,  carry themselves differently. It only serves to intensify that dork feeling I carry around. 

Then, we walked through town. Every corner became more picturesque. Broad beam Tudors. Oh. Narrow streets, flower boxes hanging over bridges. Then there was the cathedral, also called the Notre Dame. I'm too tired. Look it up on google. Stunning. 

See what I mean?

Then we went and had raclette, reisling, and fondue for dinner. 

It was so good, I got tears in my eyes. Yes, I admit, the tears were not for the beauty of the cathedral, but for the taste of Strasbourg's food. 

 Good values, huh?

Thank you for listening, jb

Sunday, June 8, 2014


I love Zurich!  

I really want to tell you all the details, but I've been up since early Saturday morning. If you're in the US, I'm actually writing you from tomorrow. 

I went a little loopy today. Thank God Mary and Bree are good with the trains. I cried in the cathedral and in front of a Van Gogh and I laughed until my stomach hurt when I found a this sign: 

It made me miss my boy.

Then I found a door to a cathedral that looked like it was outlining every gory scene  from the Old Testament. Can anyone tell me what three men were beheaded? I don't have a clue. 

Plus, there was this guy that Nick would love:

Then, there was Rodin. Oh Rodin.

For dinner, another group of waiters patiently listened to me mangle three languages at another sidewalk cafe along with live jazz. 

And just now, Bree and I discovered this:

Our shower has a light show. What a good life, huh?

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Anticipation is Making Me Wait

There's an element to my trip on Saturday that I have to admit is exciting and unnerving. I'm actually traveling alone for the first part. I'm used to traveling with my family. Oh, I've gotten on a plane by myself and gone to visit extended family. That's a flight I'm so very familiar with, nearly boring.

Saturday, I'm getting on a plane and going to Europe alone. Oh, I'll meet up with folks once I land.

Or will I?

See, that's the interesting part, the part that gives me little chills to my knees that feel like the first flutterings of too much wine. I can make waves of these tinglings just by asking myself, 'What if no one shows up in Zurich?'

There it is, another wave outlining the nerves that travel the length of my legs. I wonder if I could get them to go all the way down to my feet.

What if something happens and I can't get back?

Down to my arches. Cool. Or not cool, depending on your perspective.

Now, some people don't like to fly. I do. The only thing I don't like is being jammed into a plane like a veal flanked by other veal or like those poor chickens we don't like to think about when we have our nuggets. Please people, buy stuff made with free-range chickens. Just do it. Even our food deserves to be treated humanely.

Sorry. I got off track there for a minute.

So, I look forward to getting on a plane and landing in a country whose languages I don't speak. I look forward to reading my book for eleven hours. I'm excited to see foreign mountains, to see the difference in the way the sun lights the sky. To listen to people talk and have no idea what they're saying. I can't wait to see if I understand more after eleven days. I can't wait to feel the cultural differences. Will life run more slowly? Will I eat too fast even though I'm always the last to finish at my house? Will I be able to put my phone down and feel the pulse of the neighborhood where I'm eating breakfast? Will I be naive to tourist traps?

My guys are going to miss me, man, child, dog, cat, and even the frogs. I hope the frogs don't miss me too much, but I have to tell you that it's heartening to see them jumping around their tank in excitement when I get out of the shower. Okay, you might say that the sound of the shower has become a Pavlovian stimulus to them and they're anticipating their lunch, but maybe they really do like me. My cat is going to miss my lap. My dog is going to miss our walks. My guy is going to miss the way I laugh too loudly and how I demand a kiss and a hug when he gets home. My boy is going to miss the way I cook. He might even miss how I push him to do the right thing.

Wow, I just realized that I promised to make something they could eat for a few days in a row when I left. Why did I promise that? We just finished up a mess of meatballs that I made late last week. That would have been the thing to leave them with. Now, what do I do?

I'm not going to have to cook on my trip. I'm not going to have to pick up after anyone but myself and I'm not bringing much stuff. I'm really not. I don't have to help with homework or argue about behavior or chores. Oh, I'm probably going to get dragged into homework a little when I make my eight-minutes-a-day call.

I'm going to get a break from acting Mom.

And that's going the be the worst part of my trip too. Huh. Guess I'm due. Three days has been my maximum so far. I guess eleven days will be a test.

I'm hoping to come home to a new level of appreciation, a 'Mom, I really missed you!' I'm hoping that Nick will get some practice being a little more self-sufficient. I'm going to enjoy the break and it's going to be the worst part of my trip at the same time.

And maybe I can bring home some of that slow lifestyle when I return. Maybe I can bring home a way of being that I didn't know before. Will I cut flowers and bring them inside? Will I work on my house as if it will exist for millenia instead of decades? Maybe I'll feel more independent, knowing that I can get on a plane and travel half way around the world to a place where I don't speak the language and somehow meet my sister and my niece, have a good time eating our way across France and then making my way home.

Oh, I have to tell you that I'm obsessing about this, but in a way, I'm tired of being so excited and I'm ready to get the whole thing rolling.

I am going to have a great time. I'm telling you. I will. I'll let you know if I change my mind.

Thank you for listening, jb