It’s Saturday and Gerard, a colleague of Summer’s, has invited me to join him for a day trip to Colmar, France. An opportunity for me to reacquaint with Alsace, and for Summer to have a quiet day to herself. I’ve been feeling a little off since Friday morning…a migraine is trying to sneak up on me. Summer asks if a day of traveling is a good plan. But I’m not missing out! I pack snacks, sunglasses and high-test Advil. Gerard is waiting in the car, having arrived precisely at the prearranged time of 8:30. Of course he did. I am in Switzerland after all.
Colmar is charming with what you would expect…typical Alsatian character barely
touched by time. I am stunned by the beauty. It’s sensorially familiar as I’m pulled back into the memory of another time. The smells, the language, the architecture, the colour palette and the quality of light. I mention this to Gerard a few times! He nods, smiles, providing the commentary on the region with robust enthusiasm. This is one of his favoured places for weekend escapes. Colmar is situated in the heart of the Alsatian vineyards, although many of the residents believe that Colmar is the heart of the vineyards and of Alsace itself. The slipping away of the knowledge of the old ways, and the rich yet unwritten language, is grievous to even the younger generations. Evidence of this is passionately expressed by an Alsatian version of Kevin Kline (sharp wit and all), who is managing one of the wine distribution shops. He is attempting a quiet early lunch, but allows us to enter for conversation. We are keeping it brief and promise to return after our lunch and a market visit.
This town hosts an international gastronomic event known as Festiga, drawing serious talent and unique food products from everywhere in the world. The town also boasts significant military achievement in the defense of this rich and productive land. And like many places of natural beauty in the world, it boasts several famous artists. The most notable during our time is Auguste Bartholdi, known for the Statue of Liberty. As we’re winding our way through cobbled streets and into a cathedral, I realize the migraine is upgrading to a psychedelic beast. I’m suggesting strong coffee upon leaving the cathedral. I am keeping the nausea, dizziness, vision apparently through streams of water and thought-scrambling pretty much to myself (I think). But the pain and Gerard’s fractured face are disconcerting and aggravating. I choose a quiet dark corner in the little café, and with the sunglasses on, gulp water, coffee, too much Advil and nibble on my take-with food. Gerard is quietly continuing with the history of Colmar, while I’m coming back to myself at the café and during a slow walk to the market. I’m giddy with delight, or Advil, while purchasing fresh cheese, duck paté and just-picked apples. The dried-sausage stall is next, where the vendor tells us we can get one more at no added cost if we purchase four. No problem! A hasty conference of choosing and we have hazelnut, blueberry, two kinds of cheese sausage and a plain one (but not really), which is the runner-up for the sold-out venison. And for Gerard…the pastries that he holds dear. The pastries that will smooth rough-edged workweeks.
We put the food in the cooler and decide to have a traditional lunch of tarte flambée (an Alsatian-style pizza that is finished with crème fraiche). And throwing caution away, I sip a small glass of Riesling. Wines are often served in the Alsace region in a green-stemmed small bowl glass, which is a perfect little glass for an aperitif or white wine (rosé too). Everyday glasses that Summer should have in her collection.
We leave the café looking for the signature glasses that a few of the little shops sell for a modest price. We purchase six each and head over to the wine distributor. The timing is perfect! There are several other English-speaking people in the shop and they all want wine knowledge of the region. And so our Kevin Kline lookalike puts on the sommelier hat and begins a spur-of-the-moment wine facts and wine-tasting class. And I won’t miss a word of it. His English is as fluent as his French and Alsatian German. Europeans amaze me, with the number of languages they can typically use to express themselves. This group consists of two Danes, three Americans and two Canadians. The shop glows with lovely wine, good conversation and bursts of laughter. A surprise party! All while the back history of the region’s wines and vineyards was being delivered by our multilinguist with such heartfelt pride and care.
The day’s adventures finish with a trip across to the Autobahn side for a brief period at a leisurely 228 km per hour. Gerard’s testing his car, some video thing that he’s installed on the dash, and quite possibly my nerve. I participated in the wine tasting. Gerard did not. I’m grateful on both counts. And the heavy traffic begins…….. before the wine glow ends. Perfect.
I have included a few photos of Colmar (including a psychedelic vision to match my migraine view) and one photo of the Gewurtztraminer we had later that week. We drank this wine with a salad of butter lettuce and melon, along with fresh cheese, dried sausage and paté. A perfect little feast of lightly sweet, salt and tang. The Riesling is in the cellar maturing for a further 6 to 12 months, and I’m sure we’ll get to the Muscat and the Cremant d’Alsace soon. I’ll send along menu ideas and techniques after we do.
|Susan is a culinary arts instructor, Cordon Bleu- trained chef, and back-to-the-dirt food activist in the Ottawa/Outaouais region, currently on a short sabbatical in Switzerland, where she is following another of her passions, painting.|
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