Friday, July 25, 2008

Where is the noisome dairy product please?

Don't be put off by the German at the beginning: worth watching

The other day I noticed a piece of paper had blown in from the street into the entrance hallway of our apartment. On it, in blue pencil was written “Ou est le Munster, s.v.p.” Below that, in the same hand, was written “U E ló múnster sil wu plá.”

I pointed this out to Amynah, hypothesising it must have been given by someone to their visiting grandmother, with a phonetic approximation in her native language (Polish? Portuguese?) of how to ask directions to the Cathedral (which would explain why it was discarded in front of our apartment).

Amynah, on the other hand, thought initially thought it was some kind of strange art project : Munster is a Germanic word for Cathedral, but it’s also a kind of stinky Alsatian cheese (though, to be fair, Amynah believes pretty much everything out of the ordinary is evidence of the surrealist art conspiracy).

It’s been a weird week for language. I met up with my friend Caner on Tuesday, for our usual walk-around town and babble-bilingually language exchange. In the email to confirm the meeting, he had sent me an email saying that he couldn’t meet later in the week because he had to “Prepare his case.”

When we met, I explained that while the individual words in that sentence were correct, I assumed that as he’s planning on visiting Turkey next week, he meant to say he was going to pack his suitcase.

This led to further bewilderment on his part: he had thought that a suitcase was what we call a briefcase, reasoning that they were usually carried by men in suits.

Later in the same conversation, he asked me what the word for “cru” was.

“Raw,” I said.

“Ro-a,” he said.

“No… raw,” I said.

“Rar,” he replied.

I this point I started laughing, and explained to him the one of the French words I had the most difficulty pronouncing was “Roi,” which usually comes out of my mouth something like “raw.”

Thus, we spent the next couple of minutes, until our tongues cramped, attempting to nail this down:

Caner: “The “R” has to come from the throat [making elegant French choking sound]… roi!”

Me: Wah!

Him (attempting raw): rawer!

Me: Hhcraw!

Him: Raoer!

Me: Oauhwa!

The other folks on the sidewalk must have thought we had been raised by unusually inarticulate dogs.

* On a related note, I recently learned that “pas terrible” in French does not mean, as one would expect, “Not bad” but actually “awful.” Whereas “terrible” actually means something is good, in the same way that calling Shaft a “Bad motherf**ker” was paying him the highest of compliments. Nonetheless, I find it ironic that my language skill is so poor as to have led to me claiming to have excellent French for the last two years.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The wurst weekend ever

Now that's what I call Art! A fountain in the village of Nordrach.

There are few better ways to spend a weekend than tramping over a large portion of Germany’s Black Forest, grazing on wildberries, sleeping in remote-yet-so-very-picturesque mountain inns and having the sense that you’re breathing air that has never been breathed before.

Hiking through hilltop farms.

The period beginning the instant a bratwurst thumped onto my plate Friday afternoon, ending the moment the last morsel of boiled bauernwurst slipped down my gullet Sunday afternoon was easily the most pork-intensive of my life. Who knew the world held such a delightful variety of sausages?

In any case, the group of us (including my former French teacher, her husband and their two friends from England) hiked some 60-odd kilometers this weekend, unencumbered with a decent map or a sense of direction (it would have been only 40 km if we'd had either). However, the weather was perfect, the food plentiful, the scenery ildyllic and the two hotel/inns so comfortable that leaving them each morning caused physical pangs of regret.

The Waldpension Moosbach where we stayed on the second night. Run by a local couple, they only receive groups by special reservation. It was very hard to leave this place and commence our wanderings again, not least because my new boots were possessed, and were trying to chew my legs off at the ankles.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

How do you say disturbing in French?

This is an actual commercial for an actual soft drink. I've seen it several times in the local cinemas before the feature, but a short version is also on TV. Warning: despite the cast of cute fuzzy animals, to call this ad "suggestive" would be to wildly understate the case.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

No lack of self-esteem here

Back before Strasbourg became part of France (in 1689, I believe) it was governed by a council made up representatives from the local guilds: the butchers, bakers and candlestick makers, not to mention the barrel manufacturers, tanners and brewers. These groups ran the city and provided men for the militias that defended the people of the town from the attentions of Medieval warlords.

As a nod to their importance in the city's history, the traditional banners of the ancient guilds are hanging over Rue du dentelles. Most of these either contain geometric patterns or literal representations of the guilds main business: fish for the fisherman, a barrel for the tonneliers and a bunch of carrots for the gardeners guild.

My favourite banner by far, is this one for the baker's guild. It strikes me as being comically self-important, and I can only imagine that it must have been designed with tongue at least partially in cheek. I like to imagine a heraldic specialist describing it thusly: Argent, crowned lion rampant, bearing baguette and pretzel, unsalted.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Water of life

First, thanks to everyone who commented on my previous post, either here, on Facebook or via email. It was a different kind of article for me, in that it was about my family, and I'm glad you all seemed to enjoy it. It served as a nice belated Father's Day/Birthday surprise for my Dad, though next time I think I'll give them a heads up: my folks very nearly failed to read that section of the paper. Anyway, back to our irregularly scheduled programming...

Having been in London over the weekend for a celebration with Amynah’s family, we found ourselves short of food on our return, since we’d not managed to hit any of our usual Saturday markets.

This left Amynah short of her weekly ration of fresh berries,* and I short on bread so, to rectify the situation, we arose at 6:30 yesterday morning in order to visit the Esplanade market before Amynah biked to work.

We went to the cherry guy** to make our first purchases. Amynah and he got into a discussion about griottes (a type of blueberry, I think). He informed us that sadly, they were out of season, but he then explained to Amynah how his wife makes some sort of Christmas treat with that fruit and schnapps. Amynah, as is her wont, made polite expressions of interest in this topic, which prompted the gentleman – an older fellow, whose lifetime of subsisting on cherries and other sugary fruits had, through some strange alchemy, transformed most of his teeth into metal – to pull out a bottle three-quarters filled with a mysterious brown liquid.

It was, he explained as he poured her a shot, an eau de vie (homemade schnapps) made from walnuts – the technique for its manufacture, as far as I could gather, was to mush together a bunch of fruit, including the walnuts, and leave it in the sun for forty days. Amynah declined, so he passed the cup to me. Not wishing to be impolite, I swigged it. He immediately took my cup and poured another, larger shot for Amynah. She explained to him that her religious convictions prevented her from sampling it, but she was sure that his nut-based barn-brewed hooch was excellent.*** Thwarted, he handed the cup back to me, which I reluctantly drained, again.

Thus, I became truly Alsatian: biking home through the early morning traffic with a baguette jutting proudly from a bicycle basket full of fresh fruit, half-sozzled by 7:30 a.m.

*In summer, our fridge is jam-packed with two varieties of cherry, several baskets of strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries, leaving no room for any non-berry foodstuffs.

** He also sells an apple-carrot juice concoction that is surprisingly not disgusting.

*** It was.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Skeletons from the family closet

Grandpa Tom "TJ" Reynolds, aged 23 or thereabouts, from 1924.

The Globe and Mail has finally got around to publishing
an essay of mine I had initially written for Father's Day, on a bit of Reynolds family history my Dad an I uncovered just prior to my move to France.

I will thank those parties in the know to refrain from pointing out that my grandfather's sartorial proclivities appear to have been passed down through the generations.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Gimme shelter

Another weekend, another hike. This time it was quite simply a walk in the woods; there were no rocks or gates of the devil, no castles, no mountains. Despite this, we still managed some adventure when Luc, our guide, decided that we were on the wrong path and therefore led us through 400 metres of thick, thorny underbrush to get us on the proper path. Given how itchy my legs have been since, I’m not sure all the vegetation was of the non-poisonous variety (though that does not include, I hope, the mushrooms Amynah picked for dinner).

Foxglove, aka digitalis - very poisonous, though not nearly so menacing seeming when you translate its name from English to French and back: "The gloves of the fox."

On the other hand, we did see a stag, and I learned that Amynah and Luc are apparently coordinating their outfits before leaving the house in the morning.

The day before, we were at a farewell party for our friends Danielle and David. Danielle was my French teacher, and the woman who introduced us to Sami the Finn, along with many other good friends we've made here.* Danielle and David are moving to Great Britain for David's job, and the party took the form of a picnic on the German side of the Rhine. We're very sad to see them go - not only have they been good friends, but they've been an excellent source of English-language movies and books. It was slightly cheering, however, to be biking over the Rhine just as the fireworks from the Foire St Jean Baptiste reached their climax.

Unfortunately, the organizers of the party had neglected to tell us that they were planning on giving the guests of honour a photo montage of their friends here, for which we were supposed to bring photos of ourselves. To my chagrin, Amynah happened to have photos: spares from our recent renewal of our passports, in which we were forbidden to smile. Thus, my farewell gift to them consists of a photo of me looking like I want them dead.

* For whom I cannot think of any good, mobster-esque nicknames. Fast talkin' Lama? Breakfast mix Qi? Catalan Carlos?