Open Market Exchange – A Sport Event in France

When tourists visit Europe, one of the favorite activities is going to the market filling the town squares with luscious fruit that looked as if they were plucked from Eve’s garden,  vegetables freshly dug from the earth , whole milk and cream squeezed from the dairy cow that morning.

Like everything in France, there is a savoir faire to open market shopping, an unspoken etiquette for waiting in haphazard lines that the locals would never breech for fear of a tongue lashing by their neighbors. As an American, I never understood the rules and was always overtaken by jumping little old ladies far more savvy. Forget the la crème fraiche; I’d be stuck waiting till the dairy cows came home!  Same with bargaining. Social interaction at the market is a delicate interchange. Nor was I clear on the amounts measured in metrics. I order fruit and vegetables by number rather than kilo. How many cherries make a half-kilo? Nor was I fast on my feet counting out change and hold up the line waiting while I fumbled counting coins.

a farmer's stand

a farmer's stand

French open markets are a must see; however, visitors beware, street markets are not for the faint hearted. Shopping at a French open market is like trying to play a sport without knowing the rules. Here are few tips.

1. Bartering – friendly bantering over quality, quantity and price. Must be a native speaker to understand the peasants accents and expressions. Also helps if you understand metric system.

2. Etiquette – who’s turn?  Lines as Americans know them, do not exist. Instead waiting in line the « queue », (also the French word for tail) has no end, or beginning. First come first serve rule does not apply- line cutting is also a fine art. Elderly French women, with years of practice, are very clever about this. Only a native speaker understands the innuendos to put someone in their place politely. Youth loses every time. Old ladies are best at this.

3. Choice – if indecisive like me, impossible to pick which item.  Only medical students could positively identify  animals body parts on display. We aren’t just talking liver, kidney, intestines.  Noooo,  French enjoy spinal column, pigs feet, tail, cows tongue, brain, etc.

Each part of France displays regional specialties. For example in Normandy, in addition to charcuterie, butcher, cheese stand, peasants sell  « bootleg » calvados and cider pressed from the orchard. I once counted over twenty varieties of olives. How can anybody survive working the open markets only selling olives ?

pouring fresh cream

pouring fresh cream

4. Pasteurized in France has different meaning. It does not mean sterilized, what it means is animal rights- freedom to grow up out in the pasture. Cow’s organic milk straight from the field to farmers bucket to market. Free range chicken. Wild hare, quail, and turkey.

5. Fish  should still be flapping. In seaports, boats dock at the quay and sell fish caught that night.

fishermen sell their fresh catch on the quays

fishermen sell their fresh catch on the quays

6. Don’t be discouraged if you find that the produce in your basket does not look quite as nice as that on the stand.

7. Best trick is to take a native along. If someone who regularly goes to market, the better.

In Normandy, the Parisian weekenders throng the marketplace elbow to elbow. My husband,  now a foreigner living in Switzerland, would never be served without his mom. A loyal client at the same stands for forty years, she knows generations of farmers who sell their wares locally. Since she is so loyal, they would never think of giving her soured creamed or bruised fruit meant only for tourists, for she would be the first to elicit shame with her sharp tongue.

Customer loyalty is at a premium in open market where regulars will always get the best cut of meat, ripest melons and freshest fish.  Just as referees always favor the home-team,  merchants favor the hometown loyalty.

Coffee on the Most Expensive Boulevard in Geneva

As usual I am definitely under dressed for the overpriced cafe/bar. It has been so long since I have ordered a drink alone that I am afraid I have forgotten how to speak French.  I duck in the doorway and like a regular customer, call « Café noir s’il vous plait » to the barmaid, who is polishing glassware from the night before while the espresso machine hisses with steam.

traditional Swiss café

traditional Swiss café

At 8 a.m., there are only a few other patrons, a woman in the booth reading the newspaper, and a sleek glamour girl, who carries her elegant 6-foot-5 inch frame, as if she is balancing a tray of champagne flutes on her head. Her glamorous smile under a long mane of dyed red hair illuminates sharp cheekbones on a sculpted ebony face. Her bejeweled hands, disproportionally large, look too big to belong to a woman; however, her high-pitched voice trills as she chatters with another customer at the bar. It is impossible to tell whether she is a model or a trans; either way, she adds to the decor.

I sink into the round booth in the corner and sit facing the interior, so I can eavesdrop, which makes my thimble-sized, $4 cup of coffee worth the price. I toss my jacket over the Victorian era velvet upholstered chair and absorb the atmosphere, imagining secrets from the previous evening, emitted from the dark corners. The locale is a mixture of black leather booths, dark wood tables and red chairs.

A steady stream of customers arrives. Businessmen clutching attaché cases in one hand and iPhones glued to the ear in the other. Wealthy women stir cream into coffee absentmindedly, whiling away the time until the chic boutiques on avenue du Rhone open.

Behind me, dozens of newspapers -Tribune de Genève, Le Temps, 20 Minutes – hot off the press from my husband’s printing company, line the wooden window ledges for the regulars. It is reassuring to see the clientele propped in front of open pages. It means patrons are welcome to linger indefinitely over coffee and more importantly, that some Swiss citizens continue to actually read hard-copy news, instead of online.

The barmaid sets a china cup of black coffee in front of me and I sip, savoring the flavor.  For another $2, I splurge on a croissant and break my gluten free diet to imbibe. As I skim the newspaper, I tear apart the flaky layers and pop fluffy bits into my mouth, which melts into buttery bliss.

Tables of entrepreneurs, wheeling and dealing, begin to fill. A couple holds hands and a loner downs a beer at the end of the bar. No European café is ever complete without it’s four legged friend; not just any old mutt, but a pedigree with papers, wearing a cone, like a halo over its head.

« Keeps Princess from scratching her face after surgery, » I hear the owner tell the server.

Oh pulleez! Face lifts for poochie!

Only in Geneva!

On the most expensive place on the planet, even dogs are divine, living like royalty.

Family Easter Tradition in France -A Table in Normandy

Though, Gérald and I, as empty nesters, will dine tête a tête this Sunday, our hearts are filled with memories of holidays past  when our children were younger and we were surrounded by family. As with every celebration in France, Easter begins and ends à table.

Normandy is appreciated the most at mealtime when land and sea are perfectly marinated. Mamie cooks the traditional Easter favorite, leg of lamb.  At the head of the table, Papie carves the tender meat fresh from a newborn romping on the rolling green hillside only days before. But back up, each course is an event worth savoring.

toasting champagne

toasting champagne

First a toast of champagne and a light amuse bouche aperitif. Next act is naturally an egg based, a soufflé as light as cotton candy, followed by a platter of seafood: shrimp, crab legs, clams, oysters, bullot, something for everyone’s palate.

The main lamb course is always served with flageolet, a mini lima bean, that reminds me of the word flatulence and of course, bean jokes inevitably enter the conversation, sending the children into gales of laughter. Mamie always has a special dish for every family member, so a garden of vegetables -beans, broccoli, potatoes, spinach, tomatoes – also grows out of the linen tablecloth.

The children eat with the adults where they risk being reprimanded to sit up straight. However, I never notice table manners; my fork and knife are usually in the wrong hands. Softhearted Mamie excuses the grandkids early and they scamper upstairs to read Lucky Luke or Astérix comic books until called for dessert.

Each course is accompanied by wine, a light white Burgundy for the seafood starters and then a heavier Bordeaux for the meat and cheese. Every big meal is followed by a green salad and cheese platter with triangles of creamy local cheeses like Camembert and Pont L’Evêque.

family feast

family feast

Dessert always includes seasonal fruits, which in the spring means luscious strawberries. Like little elves, the children reappear to gobble up berries dipped in fresh cream. The kids magically disappear again when they smell the coffee brewing. Papie ceremoniously opens the antique Normand hutch and pulls out his bottle of Calvados offering, “a little taste.”  True Normands swear that the fiery apple brandy aids the digestion. During weddings and christenings, the “trou Normand,” a shot served on sorbet in the middle of the feast, is customary.

Throughout each course a lively repartee of sarcasm, word play and arguments ensue that to a soft-spoken Norwegian American sounds like verbal abuse, but is only part of the French art de vivre and their love of language and debate.

Just when you think your belly will burst, Mamie rings a bell and the children race downstairs, for in France, bells, not bunnies, deliver eggs. As a token of mourning for crucified Christ, church bells remain silent from Good Friday until Easter Sunday. On Easter, when the chimes ring again, children rush outside to see the bells fly home to Rome, after dropping chocolate Easter eggs from the sky.

boy with Easter basket

boy with Easter basket

finding eggs on the balcony

finding eggs on the balcony

The children crowd onto the wrought iron balcony to find eggs tucked behind the potted geraniums and tulips. While they devour the chocolate figurines, the adults, too, savor a delicacy from the local chocolatier. Everyone moans of stomachaches and swears they will never eat again, but a few hours later after a stroll by the sea, we are à table again discussing the favorite French topic, food.

Green A Go Go On St. Patrick’s Day March 17, 2012

Shamrocks, leprechauns, fairies, oh my! Gaelic dances, Scottish bagpipes, Irish top hats, knees up,  Guinness guzzling, tall tales about beer drinking,  bar brawling, fiery redheaded, hot tempered, story-tale spinners Irish abound.

Irish pubs around the world, including the 2472 in Continental Europe, will be packed tonight, but the celebration may be even bigger in the  New World!   http://www.st-patricks-day.com/

Like so many Americans, I can trace back  a wee bit of Irish in me Scottish blood and loyally wore green to school on March 17th. 36.9 million Americans reported Irish ancestry, which is 8 times more than the population of Ireland. And another 3.5 million claim Scotch-Irish blood like myself . An estimated 50-100,000 came in the 1600s and another million arrived in 1700s continuing throughout the Potato Famine years.

Bars will spill over into the street with people dressed in green; extremists will eat only green food and hold green dinner parties. Beer, water, and even the Chicago River at Michigan and Wacker flows green on St. Paddy’s. http://www.chicagoreader.com/Bleader/archives/2012/03/15/saint-patricks-day-2012-in-chicago

Parades and celebrations proliferate across major cities in the US, especially in places with a large Irish American population like Boston, Baltimore, Chicago, New York, New Orleans, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. But what are we celebrating?

Uillean or Irish Elbow Bagpipes

Uillean or Irish Elbow Bagpipes

 

St. Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint, who introduced Christianity to Ireland in the 5th century, symbolizes the Irish worldwide, but holds particular significance for Americans. The Irish were the largest contingency, after the Germans, to immigrate. As the first big group of poor refugees to arrive  in the USA, they suffered from the brunt of American resentment.

The predominately working class people settled in cities forming the backbone of communities particularly serving in law enforcement in the Northeast. Though in the past Irish were often negatively stereotyped as drunken, reckless, kick-up-a-row, rabble rousers, they rose to leadership positions. A bit of their so called rebellious spirit helped lead to the making of America. Eight Irishmen signed the declaration of Independence and Presidents from Andrew Jackson to Woodrow Wilson, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama claim Irish ancestry.

Today Irish Americans are no longer the underdogs; they have earned the right to be educated in elite universities and to become CEOs, and civic leaders based on their talents. They paved the way for the waves of immigrants who followed in their footsteps from Europe and other place.

So enjoy St. Paddy’s Day Shamrocks, leprechauns, anything green rites of spring and lively, good of ol’Irish mischievousness.  And if life is a struggle and you are not feeling so frivolous right now,  remember  my favorite Gaelic saying:

Dá fhaid é an lá tiocfaidh an tráthnóna

No matter how long the day, the evening will come.
This too shall pass.

Wherever you are whatever your poison, I raise my fine emerald wine, to your green Guinness or  lime Kool Aid.  To the Irish!

Sláinte –to your health!

101st Anniversary- International Women’s Day-« Connecting Girls Inspiring Futures »

March 8 marks the 101st international women’s day! Bear with me guys, you may be weary about hearing about women`s rights, but when you’ve been the low ” man ” on the totem pole of life for so long you never forget. Unfortunately, in many parts of the world women are still denied equality in education, careers, income and medical care, but in my homeland, we have come a long, long way. So thanks guys for your support. This is not a rant about men, but rather a chest bump for women.

From childhood to motherhood to middle age from the Midwest to the East Coast to Europe, throughout physical relocations and emotional upheavals, each stage of my life has been shaped by women, who helped me make the transition.

I am especially grateful to the grandmothers I admired; even moreso to the mother who gave me life, then offered me to the world. To my sisters who taught me to give and take, forgive and forget, talk and listen, twist and shout !

To my college basketball coach, who dared me to become all that I could be.

I am thankful for female friendships spanning different generations, time zones and continents. From childhood, high school and college pals, part of the past that shaped me and  connect me to my roots, to my French hosts and German teammates, who adopted me into their homes and hearts when I first moved abroad. To my international friends from Africa, Australia, Scandinavia –England, Ireland, Scotland, Switzerland and Other Lands I could never place on a map, who shared their stories and an understanding of their culture.                         .

To my noisy friends, quiet friends,
old friends,new friends,
black, white, brown friends.
To my tall friends, short friends,
big friends, small friends,
to my athletic friends, to my intellectual friends
to my coaching friends, my teaching friends, my writing friends.
To my blogging buddies, to my cyber pals.
To my girlfriends here, there and everywhere.

No matter where I settled, women of all sizes, shapes, and colors have befriended me.  They helped me feel a sense of belonging not only to the farm community of Sterling, to the Illinois State college town of Normal-Bloomington, to romantic Paris, to Middle Ages Marburg, to international  Geneva, but to something greater.

Merci mille fois to the women who shaped me, so that one day, I  could become a role model to my nieces and the young girls I have taught and coached.

Special thanks to my daughter, my link to the future, who achieved her goal of becoming a doctor, a dream made possible in part, because of the courageous steps women took in the past to help pave the way.

So on International Women’s Day 2012, I  raise my glass to the ladies ‘round the globe in my ya ya sisterhood!

Hop Skip Jump Happy Leap Year Into Spring

We celebrate President’s day, Valentine’s day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Mother and Father’s Day, but where is good ol’ Hallmark when it comes to commemorating Leap Year. Where is the fuss over February 29th, which should be special, as it only rolls around every four years?

I was born on February 28, but my sister arrived in the wee hours of March 1, 1960 during a Leap Year.  My mom said that other mothers in the hospital, who gave birth on the 29th, begged doctors to change the date. Apparently in Scotland, it is unlucky to be born Leap Year Day. Since we are part Scottish, my sister and I could have been in for inauspicious times.

sisters, sisters...

Born 3 years, 13 hours, 34 minutes apart-sisters celebrate birthdays together

 

However there is more likely a link with my Norwegian ancestry, like some stat showing the Nordic women give birth more often in late February. I am no mathematician, but statisticians will love this little known fact. A Norwegian family from Andenes holds the official record of number of children born on February 29. Karin Henriksen’s daughter, Heidi was born the same year as my sister, and her sons Olav and Leif-Martin followed in 1964 and 1968 respectively.  Calculate those odds!

According to legend, February 29th is also the one day of year when women can propose to men but hey, in the 21st century, any day is good for a liberated gal with gumption to propose.

Many famous people were born on Leap Year. In 1692, the English poet John Byron, inventor of a system of shorthand, was born. Jimmy Dorsey, legendary saxophonist, conductor, songwriter, composer and bandleader, was born in 1904. In 1916 Dinah Shore, actress, singer, talk show host was born.

Astrologers swear that those born under sign of Pisces Feb. 20th  – Mar. 20th have unusual talents and personalities. That fits, I am quirky as they come.

On a more serious note, February 29, 2012, twenty-five European countries coordinated by EURORDIS will mark the fifth international Rare Disease Day. Under the slogan “Rare but strong together” patient organizations from more than 40 countries worldwide unite to heighten public awareness. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LBVug-GVLg0

I attempted to figure out the mind-boggling logistics of calculating Leap Year, which has to do with 60th day in Gregorian calendar. We have one extra day this year, 366 instead of 365, which is great if you are old and retired but not so cool if your are employed because February 29th falls on a Wednesday, which means an extra day of work. Can you deduct an extra day of work from taxes?

Leap year allows our Gregorian calendar to remain in alignment with the Earth’s revolution. It takes a little longer than a year to travel around the Sun, 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 6 seconds, or about 365.242199 days. It becomes even more complicated when I tried to figure out how Chinese, Jewish, Iranian, Islamic, Baha’i, Hindu and Ethiopian Calendars calculate Leap Year.

So let’s stop right there and leap into March, which brings us one day closer to spring! Oh yeah, and happy birthday little sister