Toothpaste from France

I needed toothpaste so I made a quick trip to France. It’s a long story and I won’t bore you with it but I use this certain kind of French toothpaste and I am running out. It’s a testament to how many times I have been to France that I have used this toothpaste exclusively since 1988. 

Anyway, Strasbourg is just an hour plus from Frankfurt on the fast train and Ashish was working so I, you know, popped over. Strasbourg is beautiful. I mean seriously beautiful and I had it all mapped out. Visit this and that, get the toothpaste, have lunch and get back. Things didn’t pan out exactly and I ended up at a brasserie or bistrot or some damn thing near the train station which is never an ideal spot for food. I always think food near a train staion is just stuff getting foisted off on tourists fresh and hungry off the train. But well, It’s France. How bad can it be?

So I sit down and they bring me a beer but then I waited and waited, timidly putting my hand up as the servers buzzed by serving everyone and their crying infant children (god almighty) and I had yet to place an order. The guy in front of me had 2 bright green drinks and his lunch and I was sitting there unnoticed with an empty beer glass. Finally when there were 3 or 4 servers in front of me at the check out I said loudly, “Excusez moi?” And they all turned to me and I said, “Est-ce que quelqu’un peut m’aider?” Can someone help me? And the one guy server looked at me like I was nuts, and said scornfully, “Avec quoi?” With what? Well, I told him, I’d like to order lunch—Ben, je voudrais commander le déjeuner. And the green drink guy barked out a gaffaw. This may have been his reaction to my accent, I hope not but who knows. The waiter came over and grudingly took my order.

A pâté sandwich and french fries. It was divine. It is, after all, France. Rudeness and all.


After a hellish drive from Grenoble, Jane, our fearless dominatrix and navigator, maneuvered us into the mess of Strasbourg. I should know by now and will certainly put it on my note(s) to self that one should never drive into a pedestrian city that was built early in the middle ages. After very much agony searching for parking (and I thought Avignon was bad) we ended up in St Nicholas, a parking structure on the outskirts of freaking Moscow or some damn place and walking our bags in. Do you have any idea how much racket rolling suitcases make on cobblestones??

Strasbourg is the birthplace of my great-great-grandmother. She was called Oma and she died when I was 7 or so. I have one distinct memory of her. So I felt like I had some tie to this city. Oma, however, spoke German and it is a French city. It has been French since the mid 1600s and remained so until the Kaiser took it over in 1912 (for only a few years) by which time Oma was already in these United States at least 40 years. Although there are apparently many people who do speak German here. And it feels very German. And we ate very German. Nonetheless it is a mystery to me how my great-great-grandmother who was supposedly French, spoke German.

We ate at the delicious sounding Gurtlerhoft. Ashish had roesti which is fried shredded potatoes, like a thick potato pancake pizza base. I love this idea. He had mushrooms and goat cheese on it. I had baeckoffe. A not very french sounding casserole-like thing (actually the word sounds not unlike what you might suggest to someone who was a little in your face) that was served in a casserole dish so old that Oma might have actually owned it at one time. Both of our meals were excellent. Although I can like nearly any kind of german food. 

Ashish had black forest torte for dessert. It was good but unremarkable. I had “Alsatian coffee.” Remarkable in that it was supposed to be the Alsatian version of Irish coffee. Instead of whatever liquor they are supposed to put in Irish coffee, they used kümmel, caraway liqueur. 

In terms of my heritage, I’m sticking with the Irish for the coffee drinks.

Five stars, three forks, Avignon

Ashish and I left Hyéres on Friday for our “road trip” back to Belgium and when I say “road trip” I mean “fucking hell-drive.” We headed for Gent via Grenoble and Strasbourg. This is not the route I’d suggest to get to Belgium from the Riviera. In fact, it is a route I’d suggest if I were planning revenge on someone for something unspeakable and the end point was utterly unimportant.

I should mention that we were traveling with a GPS guidance device. A lady with an English accent impatiently ordering us hither and tither without regard to my stress level.

It was a full 4 hours to Grenoble on the freeway but to, you know, make it endless we added a little stop about half way. In Avignon we had decided (in advance) to eat at La Mirande, a five-star hotel/restaurant, (3 forks in the Michelin guide) just outside the Papal Palace. (To prolong the trip, after lunch we also threw in a cruise through the hideously dull palace itself, it’s obvious why the popes fled back to Rome, if you ask me) But first, after exiting the highway for La Mirande, we spent a good deal of unpleasant time driving through Avignon looking for a place to park while the English lady barked orders incessantly since the streets change and turn nearly every 4 feet in the tiny walled area of the city. Basically, Avignon was built before the advent of the motorized vehicle and even a small one, such as the one I attempted to navigate through the city, is too big to be there.

Probably not unexpectedly, I was not the only person attempting this. In fact, about 4 thousand other people, who hadn’t been informed about the navigation problem either, were also making their way through a town about the size of a football field with a papal palace in it. Jane, the name of the GPS lady, was clearly not hip to this info either. Eventually we had to park outside the city walls and even finding parking there was nearly impossible. By then it was already past noon which is the time for which we had made our reservations. I am not good with tardiness, my own or anyone else’s. I wasn’t that good after the 2 hours of driving as it was. And here we were, late, outside the walls of the city and not a clue where we were in relation to the restaurant and had minus 5 minutes to get to there, did I mention five-stars? One is not late for that.

Actually, one can do whatever one goddam wants when one is about to pay 150 euros (for both of us, I’m not insane) for lunch. It didn’t occur to me in the heat of the panic to get to the restaurant that in a city the size of a football field it really wouldn’t take all that long to get there and while we didn’t have Jane bellowing instructions to our destination, we did have Apple or Google or some damn thing and a lit up blue path on an iPhone (remind me how we got anywhere before) and although we arrived a little late, it turned out the restaurant didn’t even open until 12:30. They told us to sit down and cool our heels. In a French sort of way.

The menu had 2 choices. Black cod or lamb. That’s all. They brought us a little mussel with a borage flower on it as an amuse bouche and then rabbit ravioli (also decorated with a borage flower as well as some suspiciously tasteless foam) as an appetizer. The lamb was very good and followed by a strawberry thing. I don’t know what you’d call it. When it approached in the hands of the Provençally-attired waitress I thought for sure it was some damn salmon thing. But it wasn’t.

It was all great. Really, really good. And worth the 150 euros. But not the drive.