Stories of this Canadian girl's adventures exploring Europe...join me!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

a dandy-lion of a day

My new favourite thing is a warm croissant topped with goat cheese and dandelion gelee – it’s seriously good…even better than Nutella!

A few weeks ago, before our onslaught of rain and highwater, I went on a krauterwanderung (a herb hike) with ladies from the local immigrant women’s group. I’m not technically an immigrant woman (and I count my blessings for the privileges I have in Germany and Canada), but they were nice enough to let me in!

It is a lovely cauldron of personalities, cultures and accents who come together to make this culinary support group. I felt a wave of nostalgia, a familiarity, listening to the melancholy in their voices as they talked of their experiences ‘back home’; of being separated from loved ones for long periods of time; and of the challenges they still experience even after decades of living in their new country. Their precious stories reminded me of the people I used to work with back in Canada; brave, courageous men and women who left ‘home’ (for various reasons) hauling that insurmountable hope for a safer, more peaceful future.

So, at 9:00 I made me way through a field of lush green along the Rhein; cherry blossoms exploded on rows of trees, creating those romantic Anne-of-Green-Gable lanes to walk through. Big smiles, warm words and hearty handshakes greeted me; and I tried desperately to understand their heavy-accented German. In the end it didn’t matter because I just smiled as they talked and told and pointed and gestured; through open grass and bush and flowers.

I spent most of the morning with one, elderly German lady in particular, “Inge von Binge”. As she would say this (more than once) her dried-apple face crinkled and wrinkled in round happiness. She was a tiny woman, but I could tell that she could and would cook and kill (not in that order) any creature if she needed to feed her family. She was a green thumbed, herbal genius; regaling me with information on how to make cough syrup (bury a jar of herbs under the ground for six months, when cold season arrives, uncover and drink the rotten syrupy goodness), teas, and juices; guiding me through brush and thistles to show me wild water mint and edible flowers; and helping me to pick just the very best part of each dandelion.

Ah, the dandelion. Who knew that it was such a little power paket (auf Deutsch)? Well, you probably did, but not me. After a sunny, light breezy morning, our backs sore from all the dandy picking, and my basket and notebook overflowing, we headed back to town, meeting up in the kitchen of the Catholic girls’ school.

Now the magic…we all sat around a huge table, and began picking apart the dandys. Yellow heads were scattered in heaps all over the table, while yellowed fingers worked swiftly, plucking and ripping. A few aproned ladies stood at the ovens, stirring the simmering dandy blooms with huge wooden spoons, re-telling old tales and, can I say, even letting out a cackle or two. While others ripped apart the tender, young dandy leaves to eat fresh.


About two hours later, the long table was laid, baguette was sliced, and the finishing touches were made on the dandelion potato salad. Tiny gänseblümchen (wild daisies) were plucked and scattered atop the salad, making it look as pretty as a new daisy crown on a pony! I thought of the hours I spent as a seven-year-old, braiding daisy strings into horse hair, with my best friend. Who knew we should’ve been snacking instead of decorating!

As we began to dig into the various dandelion salads, sweet gelee, herb butter and schafsgabe (soft fern) dip, mason jars were filled for each of us with steaming, pee-yellow, dandelion aufguss (strong, bitter tea). This will clean your liver and refresh your kidneys, one wise woman said. I drank it all up.
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Sunday, June 9, 2013

lights, camera...and a rock'n roller

‘Let men and women make good sentences. Let them learn to spell the sound of the waterfall and the noise of the bathwater. Let us get down the colors of the baseball gloves, the difference in shade between the centerfielder’s deep pocket and the discreet indentation of the catcher’s mitt…Let us enlist the Vocabulary, the Syntax, the high grammar of the mysterious world.’ – Stanley Elkin

(A quote from the textbook I’m using in my latest writing class. Motivating.)

Over the past two weeks, ms. potter and I have been consumed with creating a plan and a script for a video we spent the last two days shooting. Not much time = much stress.

Peter rabbit came on board with his curly locks and his camera skill. And all of the other ‘stars’ who we enlisted did so without hesitation…well, except for great guy.

He is no willing actor. He would much rather design and build an entire house in a day than have to stand in front of a video camera, or any camera for that matter. But, I promised that all he’d have to do is stand beside me holding a very heavy spotlight and shine it on me…how hard can that be?

I had also asked the father if he would mind helping out. I mentioned that the video would be uploaded to youtube; that his bit would be about online learning through skype; and that he would just need to smile into the little camera on the computer monitor. He had no idea what I was actually talking about, but he said yes.

Fortunately for us, he had been involved in some late-night-drinking embarrassments at our place two nights previously, and was feeling very sheepish about it all. I probably could’ve asked him to fund the entire video production; he was in a ‘yes’ state of mind.

So, great guy and the father showed up at the shoot together…their late-night bonding session having not worn off…and they were both total pros. This family, I must say, is very photogenic. We kept saying, ‘wow, you look so great on film’…and they would each say at their respective times, ‘Ja, ja.’ Humble not, but great-looking yes. We were just missing the sister or the model trio would’ve been complete.

Cut to rock’n roller. He showed up exactly on time (we made his call noon, thinking that would be early enough) and he had literally just rolled out of bed. He’s been having a tough time of late and so was looking quite rough around the edges…but at least he showed up, in jazzy pin-stripes, with a kerchief tied around his neck, and his beauty of a stand-up bass in tow. This particular instrument is its own character in any performance mr. roller gives.

Rock’n roller’s bit involved, of course, some jazzy-tune playing. It was groovy fun, with a hint of crazy. I rocked out a little bit beside him, while the gargoyle atop his bass hopped and wiggled along to the beat. Rock’n roller did his thing, not taking too many cues from peter, so the whole thing was a luscious mix of adlib and the spontaneous. That’s the genius behind artists who roll out of bed and create.

The shoot wouldn’t have been complete without an appearance by my newest fascinator out of Paris. She/it played the part of a Queen-like head-topper, and did it well if I do say so myself.

In a month or so, after peter has worked his magic, all of his table-top camera-angling and film slicing and dicing will be in full view for all of you to see…unless my part is so embarrassing I don’t tell you about its release. Very good possibility.
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Sunday, June 2, 2013

paris...the dark.

I'm standing in the fore-garden of the Louvre museum looking down at the manhole. I’m on the other side of the museum, away from the bustle surrounding the impressive glass pyramid. The dust from the gravel which is being kicked up by the many tourists heading through to their pointy goal, hits my face. It is windy, and for a cool day in May I’m surprised by how many non-Parisians are milling about. But if I’m here, why shouldn’t anyone else be here.

Nearby a family plays chess on one of those life-size chess boards. The little boy heaves a rook with both arms, and all of his strength, to a black square while mom and dad look on. I kneel down to get a closer look at the man hole. Everyone has seen Les Mis and Phantom; has heard the legends (or are the just rumours?) of the Parisian Underground. I am curious.


I wish I could see anything, but of course it’s just dark. I wish I was braver, but of course I’m still just me. I might be taking these days to explore the corners of a city I don’t know too well, but I’m not going to do anything crazy; nothing crazy like trying to meet a cataphile who parties and paints and hangs out “down there”.  

I’m completely intrigued though, by what I’ve heard.  Apparently, there are huge man-made ponds with fish fed by employees of the Opéra Garnier; rock quarries, which to this day still implode once in a while, gleaned for building material back in the day; France’s largest gold reserve which stays mostly hidden from thieves, except for once or twice; and huge bone-filled ‘rooms’…apparently six million Parisians were poured underground from overcrowded cemeteries in the 18th and 19th centuries. “All are anonymous, disarticulated. All individuality forgotten,” writes Neil Shea, from National Geographic, in a fascinating article about this dark side of Paris (http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/02/paris-underground/shea-text/6). If only I could see a bit of it all, but do I really want to?

Sure is a pretty manhole.
A day later, I’m sitting on the top deck of a river ferry, forcing myself to ignore the cold wind thrashing at my face. I do love this river. The view of the Seine is truly beautiful from every standpoint that I’ve seen so far. From one of its 37 bridges, from the varied banks you can amble along, from the impressive jardins, from high above, and now from the water. What is most impressive are the buildings along the river, each as eye-catching and interesting as the other. But, I’m here for the stories.


The young tour guidess, gives choppy English commentary through the gusts of wind and I hear her say something about the guillotine. For some reason, I sit up a little straighter and try to make out the rest of what she’s saying, in French…"la guillotinel'exécution de Louis XVI…et Marie Antoinette… sur les 2 498 personnes guillotinées à Paris pendant la Révolution” (okay, I didn’t actually understand the rest). I notice we’re floating past the Place de la Concorde, which I now like to call ‘Place de Guillotine’. Here stood the guillotine; a horrific death apparatus set up for, as the Germans call their outdoor soccer-viewing events, public viewing. I’m sorry. They say society has become more violent! Families used to come out to the town square to watch the latest beheading! In this respect I actually think ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’ is a sign we’ve evolved as mankind. Or, at least I’m happier thinking the violence is not as publicly-endorsed as it used to be. 
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