Sunday, December 07, 2008

Umlaut Ahead! Strasbourg's Marché de Noël

Roughly half the 700 hundred Strasbourg Christmas market vendors are selling these miniature Alsatian houses. One day, I will buy enough to make a model Alsatian village, in which I will hold a miniature Christmas market, half of which will be selling even tinier Alsatian houses. Did I just blow your mind?

For a small city, Strasbourg claims pre-eminence in a startlingly broad spectrum of fields; it is the capital of the Bas-Rhin department of course, and the largest city in Alsace, but claims also to be both the crossroads and capital of Europe, by grace of the number of European Union institutions based here.

However, Streetsville, France, claims to be central to something much, much more important that a mere region, or even continent. It brazenly advertises itself as the Capital of Christmas.

The reason, of course, is the Christmas market, one of the largest in Europe and definitely the largest in France (though not, of course, unique, as Zurika can attest). Several hundred stallholders set up all around the city, selling all manner of toys, handmade objets, ornaments and, of course, vin chaud.*

The event draws tourists in their thousands, who choke the narrow alleys between the stalls as they search, usually in vain, for that one vendor selling something, anything, unique enough to make enduring the cold, damp, and crowds worth it.

Outdoor skating rink with the Musée Oeuvre Notre Dame behind. Where are their hockey sticks?

I sound cranky about it, but in truth I’m rather fond of the market, even if I rarely buy anything from it. It is divided into many sub-markets around the city, ranging from the main market in front of the Cathedral (where the whole tradition kicked off in 1570), to an almost hidden square near our apartment where, in my first year here, I sampled garlic bread smeared with a paste made from escargot.

Two for one sale: God and Mammon. Why choose?

My favourite market is the “guest” market located on Place Gutenberg, next-door to my former apartment on View of the Marching Fishes Street. Our first year here, it was occupied by Romanians, from whom I failed to buy anything as I was still in anti-materialist shock from having sold all my possessions in Canada. Last year, it was occupied by merchants from Québec, of all places, from whom I bought a number of nostalgia-inducing items, mainly of the winter-clothing variety.

Did I mention the Christmas lights strung up throughout the city? No? Well, then this photo doesn't make a lot of sense then, does it?

This year Gutenberg is occupied by the nations of the European Union, thus featuring artisans from everywhere from Malta to… errr… France. I got suckered by the Bulgarian stall, staffed by a trio of ladies who proffered to me almost every item in their inventory, from soap to plastic figurines, each one offered with the hopeful assertion “It’s from Bulgaria!” Being a sucker with a soft touch for the exotic, that actually worked. I am now the proud owner of the prettiest children’s doll you’ve ever seen. It’s from Bulgaria!

* Vin chaud is, I believe, wine of insufficient quality to merit use as insecticide, mixed with a packet of chemicals that make it taste like turpentine. The potion is then heated; if you're lucky, you may scald your tongue and thus be unable to taste how awful it is.


Jul said...

And what will you be doing with your pretty new Bulgarian doll?

My fondest memory of the Strasbourg markt was a crepe I had there... blue cheese and walnuts and something else... at a stand run by a very enthusiastic older French couple. But you probably get that kind of thing all the time there.

Mark Reynolds said...

Blue cheese and walnut? You're a braver woman than I, (obviously). You're probably braver even than my Bulgarian doll, and I've discovered she has a stomach full of cheap, rose-scented perfume, and thus evidently in possession of a formidable appetite. Or chronic alcoholism.