Monday, August 11, 2008

Farewell, Sami the Finn

Yeah, I'm talking about pottery again. But it's manly pottery, with pictures of hockey sticks and muscle cars on them. Those only look like flowers: they're actually crudely drawn explosions.

Every once in a while, through no particular effort on our own part, we end up having more unusually “Euro” weekends here than even living in Europe would seem to indicate as the norm. This weekend, our last before our grand return to Our Home and Native Land for the rest of the month, was such an occasion.

Saturday, we went through our normal routine of hitting the local farmer’s market. Amynah’s flower guy was so distraught at her impending departure that he doubled the size of her bouquet, free of charge. A hopeful sign for our afternoon’s planned excursion.

At 1PM we met Sami the Finn and a new addition to Amynah’s institute, Belinda the Aussie (surely there’s a better nickname available than that?). Sami the Finn recently accepted a position in Kuopio, Finland. He’s leaving when Amynah and I are in Canada, and so this was our farewell trip with him. Belinda, on the other hand, had only been in Strasbourg for 10 days, and this was her first excursion outside of the city.

Our destination for the day was Soufflenheim, the pottery capital of Alsace. At one point in the 19th century, there were more than 50 pottery workshops in this tiny village, employing roughly 600 people. Today, there are considerably fewer, but the place is famous for the quality of its ceramics.

Over the course of the afternoon, Amynah and I picked up a few pieces, mainly to complete a set of mugs we already owned. Belinda, in need of dishes, also picked up a pair of mugs.

Sami the Finn, on the other hand, is nothing if not extreme. Pottery is apparently no exception. Having spent the last three years in a furnished apartment, to which he never felt the need to add any of his own possessions, he had built up a mighty thirst to own his own dishes. He waited until the end of the afternoon to make his move, after the rest of us were pretty much pottered out.

He dropped roughly 200 Euros in the last store, walking out with an enormous box filled to the brim with plates, bowls, vases, mugs, cups, platters. At some point, the potter himself, sensing a wonderful thing was happening of the store came out, and seeing the small mountain of merchandise piled in front of his cashier, insisted she throw in some free items for the Golden Finn. Sami graciously accepted, and then went out to bring his car around to load it up with his glazed loot.

The merchant, still feeling he had not expressed enough gratitude for Sami the Finn’s largesse, then handed Amynah, who had been helping Sami with his choices, a complimentary bowl. Effectively, she got a freebie for being in the vicinity of a major purchase. Nice work!

On our way back, we drove through the village of Drusenheim. As we passed through the main street, we saw a crowd gathered around a parking lot of colourful, superannuated tractors. We stopped to take pictures as the owners filed into the restaurant on the other side of the street.

It turned out the group was from Germany. I found one that spoke English, and asked him what was going on – an exhibition? Tractor races? Competitive tilling?

“It is a hobby. They are from 1960,” he said, adding, by way of explaining his Teutonic impatience with the discussion, “And now we drink.”

Sunday, we hopped on our bikes, and made our way to Amynah’s institute. Before we got very far, I stopped to ask a couple deciphering a map if they needed directions. It transpired that they were from Mainz, Germany, biking to Basel. I explained I had some experience with this route, and since we it followed the same path we use to get to Amynah’s lab we invited them to follow us. They were pathologists, it turns out, and the man seemed quite pleased to have the guidance. The woman, on the other hand, seemed convinced we were trying to lead them astray, if not kidnap them entirely. Nonetheless, they invited us to visit them if we’re ever in Mainz. As soon as I figure out where it is, I’ll take them up on it.

Anyway, moving on to the main event: Duck! Specifically, barbecued duck, courtest Audrey and Greg, whose hospitality is always a treat, at least when they’re not trying to kill us. We were joined by an Argentinian couple, one half of which is also in Amynah’s lab.

The idea of barbecueing a duck seems pretty French to me, (served with a nice light rosé in the courtyard of our host’s home, located in a small farming village 15 kilometers outside of Strasbourg. Life’s hard). I didn’t manage to take any pictures of the meal, being to concerned with consuming as much of the food on offer as I could.

As an digestif, Greg pulled out a selection of Eau de vie from his kitchen. Technically, he didn’t want me to post this, for reasons of the murky provenance of the hooch, but I doubt the French authorities read this blog, and I’m willing to go to jail to protect my sources on this.

Some of Greg's stash. The green bottle is plum schnapps from 1985. One of the clear bottles contains hooch made from holly.

Effectively, it is against the law to make any more than 10 liters of the stuff without a license. However, it is impossible to buy an alembic that makes any less than fifty liters. This Catch-22 doesn’t discomfit many East of the Vosges, because schnapps-making is a sacred custom that Alsatians believe to be above any liquor control laws those fools in Paris might concoct.

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