A walk through the 18th leads me to an interesting discovery…


Because Paris is best experienced on foot and because it was a picture perfect day in August – sunny, warm and balmy – I set out towards Batignolles, an area I had not yet walked.  Using my starred places on Google maps as a walking guide, I meandered up Rue Legendre.

In August, Paris shuts down as most residents head to Brittany or southern France.  The proprietors of my starred locations were no different.  Either their entire facades were barricaded shut or, if they had no such barricades, a white piece of paper handwritten with the words “Fermé…Bonnes Vacances…Septembre…” greeted me at every potential pitstop.  My heart sank as I realized I must wait until September to peruse any cool, local places.  Although it was not yet 10 am, the only shops opened were the liquor/alcohol shops and the ubiquitous boulangeries.  I peered into each bakery, hoping to catch something that would shout “Eat me!”, but none did.   Everything looked uninspiring; things I could easily buy at the Monoprix or some other chain shop.

I took a left onto the small Rue Lamandé avoiding the mines of dog shit littered every couple meters.  Walking up this street, I was surprised to see “École Polonaise”.  What are the odds that I would arrive from Warsaw and then a few days later randomly walk by a Polish school near my Paris flat?  Was this a hidden message from my Polish teachers reminding me to return to my Polish studies instead of jumping ship to French lessons? As this thought distracted me for a moment, I almost stepped on another mound of dog shit.  Merde!  Aside from all the positives of Parisian life, dog shit dropped on every Parisian sidewalk is definitely my top dislike about Paris.  Dare I say “hate”.

Dear Madame Hidalgo, as part of your Paris Respire, please please please rid this magnificent city of dog shit.  Would you allow your son to take a dump on the sidewalk and leave it there? No, I didn’t think so.  Is it better to let him and his friends step in dogshit whenever they leave the home and then track it into their schools or even into your home?  Think of all the extra revenue the city could earn by enforcing fantastic fines for dog owners or dog walkers who do not pick up after their pets.  You could hire a talented 20-something femme to develop an app so that citizens can take photos of polluters who do not ‘pick up’ and then post them on an online “Wanted” site with a hashtag #sidewalkshitters. Singapore, in its infancy, had a similar problem with chewing gum pestering pedestrians on the sidewalks.  The country started imposing fines and now it’s one of the cleanest countries on the planet, not quite as clean as Japan, but definitely cleaner than France.

Back to my walk…As I continued down Rue Truffaut, I saw a man cross over suddenly from the other side of the street.  As the street was pretty deserted, I could not help but notice him and when our eyes met, I smiled.  He returned my smile, stepped several meters in front of me and continued his journey.  I thought to myself, “Oh, how wonderful; the French are so much nicer and friendlier than the Germans. Usually, when I smile at someone in Germany, they just stare at me or seem to narrow their eyes in suspicion.  Because I am a relatively petite-framed frau, I do not understand why anyone, especially the Germans, who usually tower over me, would fear me.

Passing more closed storefronts, I took note of a few finds, albeit shut, that I had not marked on my map: an atelier, small hole-in-the-wall restaurants, a few wine bar, all the usual suspects that catch my attention.  Trying to register their locations on my mental map, while keeping vigilant of and avoiding the dog shit mines under mes petits pieds, I did not notice the man who kept turning and looking at me.  If it had been 10 pm instead of 10 am, I probably would have been more vigilant on a quiet street.  But it was the late morning and I had nothing to fear, or so I thought.

Soon I passed Hotel de Police, which I thought was a big, ugly hotel for tour groups.  My assumption was based on the HOTEL sign framing the front of the institutional facade. Then I realized that it was followed by “de Police”.  While my brain was busy marveling at the strangeness of police hotels in France, I did not notice that the man had slowed down his pace considerably and was now so close to me that if I so wanted, I could have lifted my hands and rested them on his shoulders, which I obviously did not do.   In order to create more personal space between us, I slowed down, expecting that we would separate, but he somehow seemed to sense my reaction and he slowed down as well.  Suddenly, I started to feel very self-conscious. Uh, what’s going on here?  I looked around me but we were the only two on the street except for two security personnel in front of the Police Hotel.

Before I could cross the street and pretend I was heading to the hotel, the man turned and asked “Pardon. Est-ce que vous êtes chinoise?”  My immediate response was “Nein, ich bin nicht chinesisch.”.  It was out of my mouth before I could swallow it back.  Then I started to sputter “Nie, nie jestem…”, before realizing my brain was bringing up the wrong foreign words. Argghhh…I finally found my French words and sputtered  “Non. Non, je ne suis pas chinoise.”  He seemed surprised by my answer.  I added, “Je suis désolé. Je suis américaine.”  Now, he looked genuinely disappointed and asked, “Parlez vous chinois?” “Non,” I explained.” Je ne parle pas chinois. Je parle anglais , allemand et aussi un peu japonais…mais…”  Now, he looked intrigued but embarrassed.  He explained “J’apprends le chinois.  J’ai pensais que vous..”  I thought about asking him why he was learning Chinese, but then realized I didn’t want to get into a conversation with a stranger on a deserted street in Paris about why he thought I spoke Chinese.  I wondered how many people he accosted on the streets of Paris to see if they also spoke Chinese.  In hindsight, I should have recommended that he visit Gallerie Lafayette, whose staff all seem to speak perfect Mandarin to the mostly Mandarin-speaking clientele who now shop there.  How things have changed since my last visit to Gallerie Lafayette in the ’90’s…But instead, I bit my tongue and remained silent. He walked next to me for a bit and then smiled, wished me a “Bonne journée!” and crossed back over to the other side of the road.

IMG_3418.JPGUnsettled by the unexpected encounter, I continued my walk, past the Hotel de Police, which I now realize is a police station and not a hotel for police officers, up rue des Dames, which was filled with cute but closed cafes and storefronts, and up to a walled garden, or so I thought.  I looked on my phone and realized I was at Montmartre Cemetery, but not in Montmartre Cemetery.  Hoping that an entrance to the cemetery was not too far away, I elected to walk clockwise around the cemetery wall and headed down rue Ganneron. I assumed an entrance would appear just around the bend.  Unfortunately, my assumption was wrong; all that awaited me was street construction and blocked sidewalks.  Whilst keeping an eye on the sidewalk in front for you know what, I gazed up at the old mansions, many turned into flats, some looking as if they were still occupied by a single family.  There were some modern builds but most of the beautiful buildings and interesting architecture were from a different time, a time that has long since been forgotten.

Simone de Beauvoir came to my thoughts then.  I wondered if she and Sartre had walked these same streets when they were living in Paris. I wondered if she had called any of the houses home.  My thoughts about her and her writings distracted me from the cemetery and soon I was walking up rue Lamarck.  My google maps showed a starred location on that street so I kept my fingers crossed and headed in that direction.  Sadly, they were also fermé.  Merde!

By now I had given up hope that anything worthwhile would be open. I walked away from the main streets and looked for a small restaurant or cafe that might be a good stop for lunch. I did not have to go far to find a tiny pizzeria on a corner that was, surprise, surprise, opened!  I ordered a glass of Prosecco and their pizza of the day and opened up a book of Rumi poems.

As soon as I saw my pizza, I knew I should have ordered the pasta.  The toppings on my pizza had too much liquid in them and now all that liquid was making my crispy pizza soggy.  I dislike soggy pizza.  I had ordered the pizza because it included truffle oil. Silly me.  Now I realized, too late, that I should have read more carefully the other ingredients on the pizza.  But I was not going to let a soggy pizza ruin my lunch or beautiful day.  The glass of Prosecco and the friendly Italian service certainly helped ease my disappointment.

Not having any other destinations in mind, I started to walk again and soon came upon a bunch of staircases leading up higher and higher from street level. I had no idea where the stairs would lead to but, figuring that it might offer me a nice view to the other side of Paris, I started climbing.  It was an easy climb getting away from the stree noise below. Descending in the opposite direction were joggers, runners and even an enthusiastic bicyclist, who raced as if he were competing in the tour de France. It’s not often that I see a bicyclist charging down a set of stairs.  Apparently, I wasn’t alone. Two men, sitting on the stairs, chuckled and shooked their heads as the bicyclist wheezed by them.  I assume they must have been thinking, “Crazy f#58ken rider!” That’s what I was thinking as well.  I turned to see the bicyclist’s lycra shorts getting smaller and smaller until he reached the street below and cycled out of sight.  I returned to my climb.

Near the middle of my ascent, a mother descended carrying her stroller and child.  I quickened my pace to see if she needed any help but before I could reach her, she turned into the landing of one of the apartments flanking the sides of the stairs.  The pitfalls of living in such a beautiful city center- you can not just pull your car into the garage and wheel your stroller into the house. I continued to climb, past more people, past more intermediary landings, past more joggers sprinting down. Even when I was younger and running and climbing mountains regularly, I hated going downhill.  If I could have arranged a helicopter to meet me at the top of the mountain and transport me back down, I would have done it.  My enjoyment and thrill still remain in the ascent rather than the descent. Even in Paris and in my old age, I still preferred the same.

Near the top, I looked up and thought (and perhaps exclaimed), “Shit!  Large groups of people were milling around rotating postcard stands, scarfs and other sundries were flapping in the breeze and all the storefronts were open for business.   “Damn.” I thought. “I must be close to a tourist attraction.”  I searched through my bag for my phone, opened up Google maps and then realized where I was nearing.  I suppose I could have turned back at this point, but as I mentioned earlier, I dislike going back down.  I continued onward, past the hawkers trying to sell me their wares, past the artists who offered to paint my portrait, past the tide of tourists taking a selfie, laughing at a funny t-shirt or looking like they needed to take a bathroom break.

The beautiful sounds of O Mio Babbino Caro called to me and I followed it to a large, gowned woman standing on the steps of Sacré Coeur singing to her adoring fans.  Through her voice, I forgot about all the tourists around me, all the litter, all the chaos, all the screaming children, the scolding parents, the shouting vendors. I felt like I was alone on that elevated Basilica mound.  But as soon as she stopped singing, the noisy world returned.  Admittedly, I could not have chosen a more picture perfect day to stumble upon Sacré Coeur. Clear blue skies contrasting the whiteness of its structural stones would be the envy of anyone suffering in a less picture-perfect place.  I made a mental note to return again, perhaps when it’s outside the tourist times.


From there I meandered slowly through the zigzag paths to street level at Place St. Pierre. I took a left and walked away from the crowds, or so I thought.

Not too far from the mayhem of Sacré Coeur, I discovered a small area with back to back fabric shops.  And most were open for business!  One, in particular, seemed to be having a glorious sale as evidenced by the crowds of shoppers lunging for assorted “coupons” (cuttings) on the enormous display tables.  Of course, I had to investigate.  And that’s how I chanced upon Tissus Reine.

What I liked immediately about the shop was the open and friendly service. Whenever I happened to make eye contact with a salesperson, they were quick to approach and ask if I needed help.  When one saleswoman could not answer my question regarding the type of the fabric I was holding, she announced that she would ask her colleague.  We walked over to him together and he quickly identified the fabric for us.  Refreshing service!  On the first floor, they also had a small selection of Liberty prints, many of which I already knew.  But it was nice to discover to such a healthy selection of Liberty prints in Paris.  After touching, feeling and oohing over much of the fabric on the ground floor, I climbed the stairs to the first floor, which was mostly notions, decorative household fabrics and a pattern section in the back.  Unfortunately, the pattern section was closed for lunch so I was unable to look through the Vogue, Butterick, Burda or Simplicity pattern books.  But I made a note of their opening hours and planned another visit. I did not venture up to the 2nd and 3rd floors, but surely more fabrics await there as well.


My next visit to that area yielded more finds in terms of patterns, fabrics, and notions. Previously, I had had no plans to sew, but all those fabulous fabric shops have enticed me to reignite a long lost hobby.  The difficulty now is trying to decide what to sew first…





Fancy dressing Angels?

When I saw the long line of people wrapped around the block, I naturally thought they were waiting for entry into one of the theaters that attract visitors to the Covent Garden area of London. However, as I rounded the block and did not see any Theatre marquee, I asked my local friend, “What are those people in line for?” Without even looking at the line, she quickly replied, “Angels, the fancy dress shop.” “Fancy dress shop?” I inquired. “Yes, for tomorrow.” she replied. “For tomorrow?” And then I realized what she meant: Halloween. Fancy dress must be a British term for costume. When we got closer to the storefront, I saw that, indeed the shop housed several floors of costumes, wigs, etc… It looked bigger than any costume shop I had ever seen in my life and I wanted to explore it, however, given the long line or ‘queue’ (as the Brits say), I made a mental note to swing by another day, perhaps after this Halloween and before the next.


If you are in London and looking for costumes, Angels may be the perfect place to check out.
Angels Fancydress

Why are Germans immune to embarrassment?

I remember the first time I entered a public toilet stall and was greeted with my own personal chamber music concert.  The piece was Mozart’s famous ‘Eine kleine Nachtmusik,’ energizing and full of determination.  As I hovered over the computerized Toto seat, I was full of expectation (for what was yet to come) and also intrigued by the musical accompaniment.  Later when I asked my Japanese girlfriend about the music in the stalls, she carefully explained that the ‘modesty music’ allowed women to relax and enjoy their bathroom experience without fearing the embarrassing noises that sometimes break the bathroom bubble.  “Ingenious!”  I exclaimed.

Modesty has no limits in Japan, a land of conflicting contractions.  During my years spent in Japan, I observed groups of Japanese women always covering their mouths when they laughed, or holding their Louis Vuitton or Prada bags behind their miniskirts as they walked up the stairwells in the subway stations.  They would always whisper or cover their mouths when they spoke on their cellphones, and they always excused themselves with, “Sumimasen,” (I’m so sorry)  when they bumped into me, even when I was the instigator. Their humility and modesty kept them from feeling embarrassed or breaking the social norm.  But social norms vary from culture to culture.  And it’s always fun to compare and observe, which is what made me wonder, “What do Germans get embarrassed about?”

Because I live with a German, I posed the question to my husband, who nonchalantly declared, “We don’t get embarrassed about anyzing.”  “Of course,”  I thought.  “Why didn’t I realize that?”  After I pestered him further by asking, “Really?  Nothing at all?”  He looked at me as if I were starving dog and threw me a little bone to gnaw on.  “Oh, alright,” he relented.  Maybe we are embarrassed to be late.”  “Of course,”  I perked up.  “Why didn’t I realize that?”  And the more I thought about it, the more I realized he’s right; the only times that I have seen him experience anything close to embarrassment or unease is when we are running late for an appointment, usually because of me.  To me 7:00 means I can show up any time between 7:15 and 7:30.  To him 7:00 means you show up at 6:45; showing up at 7:00 is too late and embarrassing.

Today, however, I did experience something rare: a blushing German.  Had I had the forethought, I would have snapped a photo to show all my friends that Germans do blush and get embarrassed.  But alas, I was equally embarrassed, given the situation, so I was too concerned about my own modesty to take note of his.  What a missed opportunity!

I will spare you all the gory details but just imagine:

You walk into a German Apotheke (pharmacy) to get a prescription filled.  Because the Apotheke is empty, you quickly approach the young man behind the counter, hoping for a quick transaction before anyone new arrives.  He greets you and takes your prescription.  Although you’re in a bit of a hurry, the young man has all the time in the world.  Welcome to Germany!  He saunters into the back to pick up your drugs.  He returns with two packages and places them on the counter. 

At this point, if you were in the U.S., Japan, Canada, or any other civilized country, he would put the drugs discretely into a bag, quietly tell you how to take them, and include a print out of the detailed instructions and let you be on your way.  Not so, in Germany. 

After he places the drugs on the counter, he asks if you have ever taken them, to which you lean in and whisper, “No.”  He seems to misunderstand your whispering as a sign that you are deaf or stupid.  He nonchalantly increases his volume as he explains what the drugs are for, how often you should take them, for how long, etc.  Of course, he’s saying all this in rapid-fire German and the only word you catch is “Tablette” so you think, “Oh, it’s a tablet that I ingest orally.”  You ask him if you can eat it with water or milk.  He stares at you, in surprise, as if you have just declared that you will squeeze Preparation H into your mouth a la Cheez Whiz, which, based on your limited German, you may have asked.  Realizing that something is ‘lost in translation,’ you do the only thing that comes to mind: you smile.  Your smile suddenly interrupts him and he says, “Nein, Sie sollen die nicht essen.” (No, you shouldn’t eat it!).  When you ask him where it should be taken, he seems confused and then his face colors a deep red.  “OMG!” you think.  “I’ve embarrassed him with my stupidity; he’s blushing.” After he explains clearly how, where and how often you are to administer the medication (it’s not a ‘tablet’ as you assumed it to be), you pay the bill, he wishes you a good day, you say, “Ihnen auch!” (You, too) and then you turn to leave. 

Suddenly your face colors crimson as you discover a dense line of about 10 customers hovering behind me.  They heard everything about what you have, how you will administer your drug, etc., but, surprisingly, they don’t look embarrassed, surprised, or in any way interested in what they just heard.  They only look bored and eager to pay for their purchases.  However, you’re still feeling hot and embarrassed and wishing you were back in Japan, in your own little bathroom sanctuary, listening to loud Mozart music, drowning out everything embarrassing around you.




Shoebox full of memories…where are my friends now?

In my nomadic lifestyle of constantly moving from one place to the next, I have met and befriended many wonderful people, and yet I have failed to keep in touch adequately.  It makes me cringe when I think of “out of sight, out of mind” because I never thought that would be me; and yet I have fallen victim to it.

Old cards and letters

Old cards and letters

These rueful thoughts sprang to mind as I was organizing the closet and found boxes and boxes of letters, cards and photos from the past.  For whatever reason, I never threw these away.  In our current culture of SMS, tweets and Facebook posts, it’s hard to imagine a time when we used to write letters and send cards to communicate with our family and friends.  I can still remember how anxiously I used to check my mailbox every day, hoping for a card or letter from a friend in another city, state or country.  Now, I often go days without remembering to check my mail box.  When I want to communicate, I either send an email, which has suddenly become synonymous with snail mail in our ‘instant gratification’ culture, or send an ‘instant gratification’ message with Whatsapp, Viber and Skype.  Admittedly technology has advanced our ability to communicate effortlessly and instantly, and we are all slaves to it.  But what are the costs that we are paying?”  For me, the costs are memories, especially as I get older and can’t remember sometimes what I ate the previous day for lunch.  Yikes!  When did I became so old?

How many times do we reread an email message from a friend?  Once?  Twice?  Never?  Email is like a continuous dialogue- no need to look back and reflect because there is just too much filling in the inbox.  After I read an email, it’s ‘out of sight and out of mind’ for me.  Sometimes, if I read an email on my Iphone, I get so overwhelmed by all the other things grabbing my attention, that I forget to respond until a week or months later when I suddenly wake up in the middle of the night in a panic, thinking, “Did I answer that email from Gene or was I planning to do it but never actually sent it?”  I don’t remember that ever happening when communication was relegated to 1) in person; 2) via phone; or 3)via letters and cards.

Looking through my boxes of old cards and letters, I was taken back to those earlier periods in my life: First year at University – cultivating new friends who turn out to be friends for life, having no curfew, having no adult supervision, discovering new things every day; My first solo cross-country journey across the United States – the generous people I met, the friendships I developed, the countless couches I crashed on, the national parks I mountain biked and backpacked through; Months hospitalized in a foreign country recovering from a motorcycle accident – the amazing warmth and curiosity of the staff and the generous love of my friends.

Letter from Loocy

Letter from Loocy

In my box of memories, I found an old letter from my dear friend Loocy, who I met almost 30 years ago at University.  She was spending a year abroad in India and we exchanged correspondences the old fashioned way, via long letters, waiting weeks and months for each other’s letters.  Sitting on my bedroom floor, reading this newly discovered letter, her words from the past urged me to be better about keeping in touch in the future:

“It is really gonna upset me, if in a couple of years we just send Christmas cards to each other.  I still want to know EVERYTHING that is going on in your life. And if twenty years from now you have a shitty day at work, you had better pick up the phone and give me a call, so we can bitch together.”

Fortunately, Loocy and I have managed to keep in touch over the decades of our separate journeys through life.  Unfortunately, I have lost touch with many other friends, whose rediscovered letters remind me of wonderful shared times long long ago.  Because I only had their physical addresses (we didn’t have email back then), I have lost track of them.  They are no longer living where they used to.  I often wonder how they are doing, where they are now, whether they think of me as I do of them, and if our paths will ever cross again.  I hope so; I would love to see them again!

Maia Banks:  Are you still in Portland, Oregon?
Mark Netherland, are you still working and living in Richmond, Virginia?

Julie Cobalt, did you return to Peru, where we met, or are you still somewhere in San Diego?  Sue and Obie, are you two still together and journeying through Africa or are you settled back in Charlottesville?

Fujiwara, a Japanese Restaurant in Frankfurt, is better than Sushimoto

After a week of heavy German cuisine at every single meal, I was craving something different, something fresh, something non-German.  I settled on Japanese.  Because I was feeling lazy and unadventurous, I thought of Sushimoto, my go-to place for good Japanese in Frankfurt.  My husband suggested we meet there for lunch, and I decided to check their website to make sure they were open.  Unfortunately their website indicated that they closed between Christmas and New Year’s, like so many other restaurants this time of year.  After checking a few other Japanese restaurants, whose websites showed that they also were taking a long vacation, I found a place in Sachsenhausen called Fujiwara.  My husband called them and someone answered so he reserved us a table for noon, and we agreed to meet there. 

I was the first to arrive in the small, intimate corner restaurant, just a few blocks away from Schweizer Strasse in Sachsenhausen.  As soon as I entered, the sushi-chef and the two staff members greeted me warmly.  I noticed that all the tables had reserved signs on them and was glad that we had also reserved.  After I took off my coat and hung it up on the coat rack near the door, I took a seat at our table and waited for my husband.  As I waited, a few more groups of diners arrived, all with reservations.  After placing her order, one Japanese got up and returned to her table with a folded Japanese newspaper, which she grabbed from a display on the wall, that was hidden from my view.  I assumed she was a regular.

Fujiwara has a two-page lunch menu including sashimi, sushi, yaki sakana (choice of salmon or mackerel), tempera and a few soba/udon dishes.  The lunch menu comes with the usual Japanese rice, miso soup, and small salad.  With prices between 10 Euros and 16 Euros, it’s a great value for lunch and comparable to Sushimoto’s lunch menu and prices. 

My husband ordered the grilled mackerel and I ordered the sashimi.  My sashimi included several luscious pieces of fresh salmon, tuna, red snapper, shrimp, octopus, and squid.  My husband received two tender pieces of mackerel, comparable to the three small pieces usually served at Sushimoto.  Both of us drank down our miso soup, which was flavorful and full of wakame.  The pickles included cucumbers, purple pickles and carrots, and the salad dressing did not overpower the salad of mesclun greens and a few iceberg pieces.  Everything was delicious and quickly disappeared from our plates.

After our meal, my husband and I agreed that we now prefer Fujiwara to Sushimoto.  We have a new favorite Japanese restaurant in Frankfurt!  Here are the reasons why:

1. Fujiwara is smaller, more intimate, and quieter than Sushimoto.  Sushimoto has become more and more like a chain restaurant.  As soon as you order, the waitress bring out large metal trays with the salads and miso soups arranged in rows, like you see in cafeterias or lunch halls.  As she tosses the dishes in front of me, in a hurried and distracted manner, I am reminded of some flight attendants on U.S. air carriers who throw pretzels at their customers.  This isn’t the type of quality service I expect at Japanese restaurants.

2. Fujiwara’s service is so much better than Sushimoto’s, which seems to lack attentive and trained staff.  The last time we ate at Sushimoto, a couple weeks ago, our lunch was interrupted by the grill chef, who started yelling in Chinese across the restaurant to one of the Chinese waitresses.  The outburst shocked us and we looked around to see what had happened.  We saw nothing that would warrant such an outburst, especially from the staff in front of customers.  Who does that?  If he was upset about something she did, he should have taken her aside privately and spoken with her instead of reprimanding her in the middle of the restaurant.  Based on his outrage and volume of voice, I could easily see him beating her or striking out at her if she had been standing right next to him.  I have never witnessed such an outburst in a restaurant.  Sushimoto needs to train their staff.

3. Fujiwara’s staff all speak Japanese.  If I want to hear Chinese, I will go to a Chinese restaurant.  When I go to a Japanese restaurant, I expect the staff to speak and understand Japanese.  Is this too much to ask for?

4. Fujiwara’s food takes a little longer to receive, is fresher and tastes better.  With Sushimoto’s quick delivery, I always wonder how long the food has been sitting on the tray waiting for someone to order it.  Food should be served fresh.  I think we sometimes forget that there is effort and time involved in receiving good, fresh food. 

In hindsight, I am glad that Sushimoto was closed for the holidays.  It gave us an opportunity to discover a new and better Japanese restaurant, Fujiwara.  And we’ll be back, for sure.


Zweiter Weihnachtsfeiertag – Groundhog Day

If you are trying to lose weight or refrain from over-consumption this time of year, avoid Germany at all costs.  You will fail.

Between the first day when I walked through the welcoming entryway of the in-law’s fairytale gingerbread house to the last day of the holiday, when I waddled out, barely squeezing yourself through the narrow entryway, I had unwittingly consumed enough food to feed a large village in Mali, China or even India.  Dare I say even two villages.  Usually a restrained and temperate person, how had I succumbed to such unbridled indulgence?  I will tell you how.  In Germany Christmas is a two-day national holiday.  “What?” you ask.  Yes, it’s true.  But if you think about it, it shouldn’t surprise you that much.  In keeping with their traditions, like the fact that Germany is the land of the 90-day mandatory vacations a year (okay, maybe not quite that many, but definitely closer to 90 days than the meager 2 weeks or less that most Americans earn but are often encouraged not to take), perhaps Germans feel one day for Christmas isn’t enough.

On the 26th, otherwise know as zweiter Weihnachtsfeiertag (2nd Christmas day), we all sat down again, at the same table, with freshly lit candles on the Weihnachtsbaum, again providing a twinkle (and considerable heat to the cozy room), and again dove into another Christmas meal of roasted goose,  plump raisin stuffing, piping hot gravy, red cabbage and Kartoffelkloesze, something like an over-sized gnocchi.  As on the 25th, the meat was perfectly cooked and roasted, with its skin crispy and fatty in all the right places and the meat falling off the bones; the plump sweet raisins complimented the tangy red cabbage; and the Kartoffelkloeszes bathed itself in gravy before finding its way into my eager mouth.  Can you say “Groundhog Day”?

When I asked my family why Germany has two Christmas days, no one seemed to know for sure.  They were just relieved to have a two-day holiday.  The likely guess may be that traditionally it allowed couples to spend one day with one family and the next with the other family.  Brilliant!  This would solve a lot of family angst during the holidays. In the U.S., many couples usually negotiate which holidays to spend with each side of the family.  If you have ever done this, you know how much stress and anxiety this can put on some fragile family relationships.  Maybe, Germany’s two-day Christmas holiday is the perfect answer to this dilemma.  But one thing is certain: it’s not the solution to losing weight or maintaining a healthy diet.