Further to my previous post on this matter, Strasbourg excelled itself last weekend. The main Festival of the weekend was Rhine Fest (a Franco-German knees-up either side of the Rhine) and there was also Musica 2006 (the Strasbourg Music festival), both of which are 'biggies' on the annual festival calendar. So - you would have been forgiven for thinking, if having passed through Place Zurich that same weekend, where a stage, beer tents and stalls were erected, that the festivities there were something to do with one of the aforementioned Festivals. However - this was another Festival entirely! The only way I know this for sure was the publicity attached to a tree in the middle of Place Zurich (just in front of the stage where a Lenny Kravitz tribute band were jamming at the time). It was of course the neighbourhood jumble sale: Three days of jammin' music and second-hand clothes! (I've marked it in my diary for next year.)
When it comes to making soft cheese, the French are world-beaters. Camembert, Munster, and Brie, for example, have to be some of the tastiest ways of serving up rotting milk that have ever been invented. So I am having difficulty in understanding why, when you ask for a cheese-filled sandwich anywhere in France, they give you a baugette stuffed with Emmental!? Emmental, for starters, isn't even French, it's Swiss; but it also happens to be the most flavourless, rubbery, un-cheesey cheese that you could possibly imagine, yet it is the staple diet of half of France. In the supermarket there's usually an entire shelf dedicated to Emmental. French Emmental, Swiss Emmental, Bavarian Emmental, big packets, small packets, grated .... and it all tastes the same: B-L-A-N-D. So why is it so popular? Could it be that the only reason people buy it is because they like the way it looks? Why on earth did you buy Emmental? I'm sorry I couldn't resist it. I just like the funny little holes it has.
Yesterday was the first time, since learning to walk, that my son managed to step in a dog turd. Given that there is so much doggy excrement about, he's done pretty well to avoid it until now. But the good news is that he stepped in it with his left foot which, as any one in France will tell you, is supposed to be lucky! I won't ponder the reasons why, except to say that in the UK they say that if a bird poops on you it's supposed to be lucky too, so the whole poo equals good-luck thing does exist both sides of the channel. What doesn't exist in the UK is "Merde!" which is what you say to someone when you want to wish them good-luck. Translated literally this just means "Sh1t!"! Of course, I assume there has to be some sort of context of camaraderie existing first before you use it. Though maybe I'm being presumptuous? Perhaps I should test it out in the bakers today? Bonjour, une baugette s'il vous plait. Merci. Au revoir. [...]
Today I ventured out to the post office with a parcel. On the way I bumped into my French teacher - who used the opportunity to test my off-the-cuff French conversation. If it had been a real exam I would have flunked with flying colours. We swapped pleasantries, but the look on her face said it all: "I'm dissappointed with you". I was fairly dissappointed myself. I scooted through Place Zurich (where they were preparing for the Rhine Festival) to the local branch of 'La Poste' and queued up in a pleasant, clean, air-conditioned environment, where I hoped to redeem myself with a bit of brisk parlez-ing. Again I failed miserably and had to admit, halfway through my non-communication with the cashier, that "my French isn't the best". "No" she agreed. Then, stumbling home, I happened upon a 'jeune fille' on a bicycle looking for Place de la Republique. Resisting the urge to ignore her and shirk off home - I delivered a number of phrases in her general direction. To my surprise, she seemed to understand. So I [...]
I got caught out yesterday. Due for a meeting in Cronenbourg at 12 midday, I scooted out of the house some ten minutes late to catch the tram, and so arrived at my appointment some 30 minutes early. Yes, early. Having spent ten years in London I've got so used to adding a certain amount of 'what-if' time to my travel-schedule, so much so that I'm now habitually early everywhere I go. In most cases, whenever I left the London pad for a not-to-be-missed rendez-vous, I would usually allow enough time to walk the distance, only gambling with a bus or tube-train if I felt lucky or didn't particularly care how long it was going to take. Now I regard walking as a last resort, just behind cycling. I need to get used to the idea of public transport that works though, otherwise my now common pre-meet loitering is bound to get me into trouble. After all it's difficult to stand around for long without looking like a drug-dealer/tramp/thief in someone's eyes.
In my last post I unfairly referred to the local specialty 'Tarte-flambÃ©e' as a 'Pizza'. May the gods of Alsace strike me down for my blasphemous words, the humble Tarte-flambÃ©e is nothing like a pizza! While both Pizza's and Tarte-flambÃ©es are generally circular and edible, that is where the similarity ends. While a pizza base is made of bread-dough, a Tarte-flambÃ©e's is made of pastry, and while the classic toppings on a pizza are tomato and cheese, on a Tarte-flambÃ©e they are bacon (lardons), onion and cream. Also, the Tarte-flambÃ©e is wafer-thin which (one would hope) means fewer calories per mouthful (I mean how many fat people have you seen stuffing their face with a Tarte-flambÃ©e?). So you see - they're completely different! And it is plain to see too that the Tarte-flambÃ©e is infintely superiour to it's Italian cousin. If that's true then why have I never heard of a 'Tarte-flombay' ? The international success of the pizza is down entirely to it's snappy name. "Tarte-flambÃ©e" just doesn't roll off of the tongue like "pizza" does. AND THIS [...]
One of the most wonderful things about Strasbourg is it's amazing capacity for springing events and festivals. On any given weekend you can more or less guarantee that there will be something going on in the city, but the chances are that you'll be totally oblivious to it until you stumble upon it. Today it was the turn of the 'rue des frÃ¨res flammenkuchen fÃªte' (brother's road tarte flambee festival). Okay it may not sound like much, but it's not every day they close a road in the city just so that Joe public can eat ham and cheese pizzas in the open. Next weekend it will be something else - an open-air abattoir festival perhaps - or an aboriginal artists market maybe - but whatever the case the chances that you will know about it in advance are slim to none. This is because festivals are officially banned in Strasbourg, and so the organisers have to keep it under wraps for fear of persecution... at least that's the only logical explanation I can come up with to explain [...]
It is peculiar the way the French regard many things, that you and I might class as German, as 'Alsacienne'. This is particularly true when it comes to food. While some things such as Sauerkraut/Flammekuche are known by their equivalent French names (choucroute/tarte flambee), other things seem to be simply adopted with the prefix 'Alsacienne' (Frankfurters = Alsacienne Sausages). But curiously there appears to be only one speciality that carries the same name on both the German and French sides of the border: the humble 'kugelhopf'. This is the rather odd shaped tea-cake that is baked using a special top-hat-cum-doughnut shaped dish. It is neither identifiable as Alsacienne nor German, this is either because it is held in such high regard on both sides of the border, that to rename it would be nothing short of sacrilige; OR it tastes so bland that neither nation would want to lay claim to it's invention. One assumes that this conundrum must be what keeps the patissieres of Strasbourg selling Kugelhopfs by the crate-load to tourists day-in day-out. Personally, having tasted a [...]
At times Strasbourg is so full of coach parties - it seems that the entire population of the city has decided to spontaneouly divide itself into, and move about in, groups of 54. It isn't uncommon to find the traffic being held up by 54 German pensioners crossing the road at the same time; the entrance to the Cathedral being blocked by 54 Italian teenagers going in at the same time; or Molly Malone's (oh yes) bursting at the seams while 54 Brits try and buy a beer at the same time. It is for this reason that each party's tour guide is faced with an almighty problem: how to keep their group together. The usual trick is to hold something aloft. Common favourites are a brolly, European flag or (my favourite) a brolly with the European flag on it. More unusual solutions include - a large freshly cut rose; getting everyone in the party to wear yellow baseball caps; or simply speaking Japanese perpetually and volubly (this works particularly well for the Japanese coach parties). I'm entertaining the [...]