Formerly Blogless

True confessions of a girl who writes dirty books--and loves it!

Saturday, November 11, 2006


The food of thy soul is light and space; feed it then on light and space. But the food of thy body is champagne and oysters; feed it then on champagne and oysters; and so shall it merit a joyful resurrection, if there is any to be.
--Herman Melville

The Champagne region of France is beyond lovely. The countryside, at least. It has rolling hills and picturesque vineyards and just generally everything you see in the brochure. The cities, however...well. I wouldn't recommend Epernay or Rheims for an extended visit.

Okay, Epernay first. We stayed at a lovely hotel in the country, 15 minutes or so from the center of town. We had a balcony off the back of the room, with a fabulous view, and we had our wonderful breakfast out there every morning, in spite of the chill. The hotel was great--Epernay, less so. There's really nothing there, and it's not a charming, Olde World kind of nothing, either. It's more of a dusty-roadwork-traffic circle-one-day-this-might-be-a-real-city-but-until-then-it's-not-even-a-cute-town kind of nothing. There's one particular stretch of road, though, that is the address of quite a few famous Champagne houses. Perrier-Jouet, Mercier, Moet et Chandon, etc. The Champagne houses themselves are stunning--very impressive and imposing, and all as individual as the different wines they make. Of course, once you get past the exteriors and the public rooms, one cellar tour is much like another. There are only so many times you can hear about la methode champegnoise and degorgement. It's a fascinating process, but they all do it the same way. They all use the same grapes, grown in the same place. Sort of the point. What's interesting about it is the different results each house obtains from that process.

I happen to adore champagne. It was the first wine I truly loved to drink, and I've devoted more time than is strictly healthy or rational to developing my taste for it. So obviously, the tasting portion of the tour is the best bit, for me. We took the Moet et Chandon tour, all very traditional, and although we didn't get to have any Dom Perignon (MeC's highest level stuff), we thoroughly enjoyed (read: swilled back) the regular vintages they had on offer. Our tour guide was a seriously delightful woman of a certain age, with short, silvery hair and enormous dark blue eyes. Her makeup was flawless and understated, and she wore a bright red wool wrap against the chill of the caves. Meg and I decided her name was Clothilde. It might have been. Anyway, we loved her, and we loved the wine. But we didn't love Epernay, on the whole.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


Little bit of trivia: Strasbourg is where the French national anthem was composed. It's called the Marseillaise because it was taken up and popularized by a group of foot soldiers from Marseille. It's a great anthem, very stirring--anyone who's seen Casablanca can attest to that. I cry every time, when Paul Henreid gets everyone at Rick's to start singing it, including that sad, pretty girl who's spent the first half of the movie flirting desperately with the Nazi officers to save her own neck, and she sings it with tears in her eyes, and Paul Henreid raises a fist in the air and looks just generally like he's burning with fierce resolve, and before I know it, I'm sobbing. So on this trip, I learned all the words to the Marseillaise. It's very bloody! I like it a lot. French is fun. I also speak Spanish (I was a Romance Language major in college) and supposedly Italian, although that's pretty much a fantasy these days. My Italian is beyon rusty--it's corroded into unusability. I wish I spoke Greek, and maybe Russian. Does that betray my liberal commie pinko upbringing too much?

So what languages do you speak? And if you were going to learn a new one, what would it be?

Monday, November 06, 2006


Strasbourg! The Gateway to Europe! Capital of the New European Union! And all around, the most memorable, gorgeous, livable, sophisticated city we visited.

I'm not kidding--Strasbourg is wonderful. It's a tiny city, with a famous university, numerous bridges over a gorgeous canal system, fabulously high end shopping (even the middle-brow, Gap-esque boutiques are timelessly stylish), and its very own Notre Dame Cathedral. It's like a miniature Paris, with all the character and charm that Paris has for everyone who isn't me.

Strasbourg is also the capital of Alsace, and it was the first time I'd ever been to that region of France. I didn't have much experience with the food prior to this trip, either, and let me tell you, I'm never going back. Alsatian food rocks. It's a mix of French and German food, and you wouldn't believe what those crafty French manage to do with a little sauerkraut and sausage! Choucroute garni, occasionally garnished with a sausage called 'mannershultz'--fifty points to anyone who can translate that little gem. I'd post a picture, but it would probably render this blog unsuitable for viewing in the workplace. They're famous for flammekeuche, or tarte flambe, which is essentially pizza with bacon and onions on a crust like a cracker. It's amazing. We had the best meal of our entire trip on a quaint little back street in Strasbourg, at a place called Chez Yvonne--the Alsations are also famous for foie gras, and Chez Yvonne served what was basically the Platonic ideal of foie gras. Simple and incredible.

I honestly can't recommend Strasbourg highly enough. Meg loved it so much, she was talking seriously about moving there--although the highly skilled and thoroughly charming Frenchman who hit on her at a bar our first night there may have had something to do with it. The nightlife was friendly and vibrant, without feeling overly hip or intimidating in any way, and the city is very walkable. There's tons to see and do--including the wonderful old carousel in Place Gutenberg. It's my favorite kind of carousel, with animals other than horses, all beautifully painted and crafted, including a giraffe, an elephant, a mule, and my personal favorite, a pig. Look at that tongue! Hmm, I seem to be a little preoccupied with tongues, lately. There's a book fair in that square twice a week, where I found several translated editions of familiar favorites.

It's a city of contrasts, the stolid German and the flamboyant French, the ancient Roman roots and the developing new European Union, the quaint small-town charm with all the appeal and opportunity of a big city. The people who live there are warm and open, and perfectly happy to speak French with non-natives--in fact, they seemed pleased when we made the effort. As for us, we were perfectly happy every second of our stay in Strasbourg. Part of me is praying my friend, Meg, will actually live the dream, and move to Strasbourg, even though it would mean she'd live hundreds of miles further from me than she does now, because damn. I would so love to visit her there.