Monday, March 21, 2011

My Trip to Alsace (Part Two)

In 2004, my wife, Bethany, and I were given the gift of a trip to Alsace, France, to visit my accordion teacher, Sylvain Piron, his wife, storyteller Catherine Piron-Paira, and their family. I wrote the following shortly after the trip. It appeared some time later in Wolf Moon Journal, a local Maine literary magazine. I present it here in installments over the next few months.

read Part One

"Daring, come see where we are!"
One thing you need to understand about Bethany and me is that we aren’t ambitious travelers. This is not because we’re indifferent to the charms of a place, but because we’re so easily charmed. The morning of our arrival in Alsace, Bethany woke me up at six, saying, “Darling, come see where we are!” Then she took me on a tour of the backyard, pointing out the unfamiliar flora, taking pictures of the primroses and azaleas. We were amazed.Vive la difference! Admittedly, Bethany does have the gardening bug, but it still goes to show, I think, that we know how to enjoy a place without putting forth a vast amount of “tourist” effort. Our days were most decidedly not packed, and that was just the way we liked it.
Bethany, Gary, Sylvain, Alban, et Romain, in Strasbourg
Over the week, we wandered no further than Strasbourg and spent most of our time in the area directly surrounding Saverne. We saw the Chateau de Haut-Barr in Saverne, the well-kept chapels, and the walking trails. Even the fabled French gastronomical experience we approached lackadaisically -- not without care, mind you, but without urgency. Catherine and Sylvain made every meal for us but one. The fair was simple and abundant, with many breads, cheeses, sausages, and wines. One morning we went to a shop, bought sausage, and mailed it to ourselves back home. Another morning Catherine’s father called and told us that we could see some fifteenth-century tapestries if we made it to a particular chapel before 11:00am.  We did, and were delighted both by the tapestries and the docent’s stories.

A tapestry from the 15th century showing hairy men
in the New World
Every day had a nap. These were essential. Siestas are evidence of the highest level of civilization, but they are especially necessary when you’re going to be staying up to all hours. After the sun went down, more wine would be poured, the cheese board brought out, and the accordions taken up. The days were undemanding joys, the nights mild, accordion-accompanied bacchanalia. If this wasn’t the good life, then the phrase had no meaning.

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