Just as well that we don't mind the rain because now it's been a week since it hasn't stopped falling. We were prepared, as a local saying goes like this: the four seasons of Gerardmer ... winter and 15th of August. Silly, but it gives you an idea. It isn't necessarily heavy rain. OK, there is also that, but mostly it is a light and persistent mist, almost a spray that often dissolves in an hesitant veil.
I am sure that Merja would have liked some sun. Maybe next time.
However we didn't let a few drops stop us and spoil her weekend. Oh no, nobody puts baby in the corner! We managed to fit in some long walks during the three days in which she stayed with us.
These walks have also helped me rediscover the magic of the autumn woods.
If the week before was all about a play of lights: of filtering rays, of bright mosses, of orange leaves against an infinite sky. This week gave us an offering of misty paths that blended into the distance, in a haze of dull greens, black trunks and wet shadows.
The smell of the forest, of the soil, of mushrooms. And then, where the hazelnut, chestnut and rowan trees hid among the firs; a yellow rug flashed on the carpet of spent needles, a leaf trapped in a pearly spiderweb, like a red brush. On the ground hazelnuts with round holes that invariably reminded me of Chip and Dale, and chestnuts covered in pale, immature spikes. And then we went up, inside the low clouds, and I was thankful for having company. Because had I been alone my mind would have drifted to Black Spot, the Netflix series inspired by Twin Peaks filmed entirely in these woods. Better to keep away from these thoughts.
It must have been the rain, or the cold wind that had crept through the scarf that just didn't want to stay in its place. Or perhaps the warm dinner and a few glasses of red wine with a good friend. Who knows? But we all fell victim to a sudden winter craving that needed to be satisfied.
Christmas movies. On the 4th of October!
And I'm not talking about the classics!
No. Shamelessly and basking in the glow of our untamed guilty pleasure we managed to get through three of these American masterpieces for which even a Raspberry nomination would have been the greatest honour. You know, those in which very little effort has been made to pretend they were actually filmed in winter: a little white foam here and there, a few Christmas lights, while the trees wear their lush summer foliage, the extras their T shirts and the main characters fluffy hats, jumpers and heavy coats. Yes, that bad!
The plot is, in most cases, an option: interchangeable without anyone noticing. It works like this:
She: choose among the following, one or more:
- Works in a big city
- Is in an unhappy relationship
- Works for an evil finance company
- Hates children
- Hates Christmas
- Hates life in the countryside
- Likes spending Christmas alone/working
Event: choose from the following, one or more:
- She receives a letter from a distant relative, must go to a village
- She receives an inheritance, must go to a village
-The evil finance company she works for must close/liquidate/sell an artisanal products company. She must go to a village
-She must organize the sale of a property (quaint country house/hotel/craft store). She must go to a village
He: choose from the following, one or more:
- Hot, nice big shoulders
- Works for one of the aforementioned companies
- Handy man
-Widower with children
- Something in the past makes him reluctant to have a new relationship
Plot: choose from the following, one or more:
-She , pretends not to notice that he is hot and has nice big shoulders
- He immediately feels a certain attraction and makes all the gallant moves (typical male)
-She, doesn't want to stay one more day in that village
-He can no longer stand her city-type attitude
-She, gets to know an aunt/cousin/ friend of him who explains to her why he is still single
-She, again, realizes that country life is not so bad after all.
Unexpected event: choose from the following, one or more:
- Here comes the boyfriend (the one from the unhappy relationship, see above) from the big city
-The evil financial company pressures her to hasten the deal
- A blizzard stops anyone from leaving the village
-A rival in love seeks the attention of the hot, nice shouldered guy
Conclusion: choose from the following, one or more:
-He falls in love, but now he thinks it's too late: she must leave soon!
-She finally admits that he is hot and nicely shoulder-endowed, if it applies, she also likes his children, but now she believes it is too late: she must leave soon!
- He wins, over his rival in love
- She wins, over her rival in love
- Only two days to Christmas!
-The evil financial company changes its mind/She resign and opens an organic jam kitchen/They buy together the quaint country house/hotel/craft shop
- It's Christmas ... they kiss!
- They live happily ever after
So, this is the kit for your DIY "Christmas Movie". Or better still, why not a nice little drinking game with friends? Take a bottle of grappa or whiskey (any liqueur is fine, but these are the most seasonal) and pour yourself a shot whenever you come across something from the aforementioned list ... the film will improve in no time. Guaranteed!
Hurry up, there are only two months left.
But don't think that our seasonal rituals are limited to some crappy entertainment...
No! Once Merja left for Brighton, our Vosgienne adventure brought us face to face, and definitely hands on, with one of Lorraine's (and Alsace's) autumn must dos.
During their history, both these regions have been, on and off, part of the Germanic world. This is reflected in the regions' culinary traditions.
Often these consist in sausages of various shapes and forms, some honestly too graphic for pictures..., stuffed with, or accompanied by, more types of lard than I thought could ever exist. So not for us ... (Chatte, see previous paragraphs, would appreciate it).
But a local delight, a the pillar of the Vosges cooking, makes a welcome exception.
I don't know about Italy, but in Brighton lives an army of very determined fermenters (is it a word?). Whether it's Kimchi, Kombucha or Kefir, nothing can stop them from fermenting something (as long as its name starts with a K, it appears...).
It is, therefore, with them in mind that we embraced the opportunity of preparing sauerkraut the French way: the Choucroute.
For all the social media shortcomings, it must be said that when not abused, they open up doors that would have otherwise been difficult to unlock.
A month or two before our departure I saw an announcement on the Gerardmer Facebook page similar to "Brighton people ...". A lady: Sophie, was looking for Italian or Arabic lessons. So I got in touch asking if she was happy for me to teach her Italian in exchange for a little conversation in French.
We finally met last week, in the "Le Grattoir" the bar/live music dive where she used to work as a cook. A woman walked in with a huge bag of freshly picked wild mushrooms and Sophie bought us a large box of delicious "chanterelles". The next day, we met again at the market. Everybody seemed to know her: Sophie buzzed like a tiny concentration of unreleased energy. She introduced us to the sellers she trusted and discretely pointed out those she thought best to be avoided.
And it was there that we were invited to join her family in the annual ritual of the choucroute preparation.
I am not going into the details: there are plenty of recipes out there and I wouldn't want to divulge the family's secret. It has been a really pleasant, learning experience, from having the opportunity to use a giant mandolin slicer, that has been passed on from generation to generation, to beating the shit out of the poor cabbage to help it release its juices. Among other things, the journey between Gerardmer and Clefcy (the now not so secret location) took us through the fabulous, and unknown to us, Hervafaing valley.
According to Sophie's dad it will be at least six weeks before the sauerkraut will be ready. He told us so over some delicious Alsatian wine, promising that there will be some for us. Salut!
Click here if you'd like to read the previous installments.
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