A Memorable Ride in a Police Car (1965)

My first semester of teacher’s  college was coming to an end, when our English professor suggested a field trip to a a small island at the North Sea together with a group of American exchange students.  During our first semester there had been  very little time and opportunity for social interaction with our fellow students and staff.  The prospect of a trip offered a chance to get to know each other better at a beautiful coastal region of Germany. I immediately signed up.

Winter had been long and dull. The transition from high school to the  busy and overcrowded teacher’s college  had been stressful and demanding.  Every morning at six o’clock  I had to travel by transit bus from my hometown Velbert to the  nearby city of Wuppertal to attend my morning classes at 8:00 a.m.   By the way, Wuppertal  (among other things) is famous for its historic monorail sky train.

Wuppertal Schwebebahn


The one and a half  hour long ride on the often crowded and badly ventilated public transit bus to the main station in the city center of Wuppertal was unpleasant and nauseating.   The college was situated on top of a lovely hill in a spectacular park landscape about half an hour’s walk from the station.  After the often sickening bus ride the walk through the fresh air in the lovely park was pleasant and  revived my body and spirits.


That  year,  spring was slow in coming and I longed for sunshine and the invigorating ocean air.  Our trip was scheduled for the beginning of June.  Finally  all the arrangements were made and the departure day was approaching.

However, I had a problem.  Our train to the coast was supposed to leave at 4:00 a.m. from Wuppertal.  I had no means of transportation so early in the morning from my home. We did not own a a car and the earliest bus from Velbert was too late to catch the train in time. I had no close friends or acquaintances in Wuppertal to help me out.   My professor suggested that I could sleep on a cot in his office the night before and walk down to the station in the early morning.

Needless to say,  I was too excited and also a bit scared to sleep much in the deserted college building.  After tossing and turning for half the night, I decided to get up at the break of dawn and walk down to the station bright and early.

Wupertal Park - Photo Credit: Atamari (Wuppertal)

Wupertal Park – Photo Credit: Atamari (Wuppertal)

A few days ago spring had finally  arrived and flowers and trees were blossoming in profusion.  When I stepped out of the  college building, the first sun rays greeted me and made the dew drops on the grass and leaves sparkle in the early morning light.   The air was fragrant and fresh. Having lots of time,  I decided to walk down through the park paths  instead of the road directly leading down to the city.

My suitcase was not too heavy and I walked briskly enchanted by the beautiful light filtering through the blooming trees and bushes.  I stopped briefly to look at an unusually pretty flower when I noticed some movement behind me.

Daffodils at greenhouse sm

 Nervously I looked around me wondering who or what could have disturbed the peace.  Probably a bird or small animal just waking up.  I walked a bit faster.  All of a sudden someone in a strong male voice  called out, “Stop!”

My first impulse was to run.  But my suitcase would not let me get away fast.  I froze on the spot unable to make a decision.  When I dared to look around to confront my pursuer I was amazed to see a uniformed man.  A police man!  “What are you doing so early in the morning in this park?” he asked sternly.  “Loitering in this park at night is against the law!”, he added fixing his glance firmly on my suitcase.    When I finally regained my composure I managed to explain my situation in a shaky voice.   The policeman’s face relaxed and he assumed a kinder look.  “These isolated parks are not safe for young ladies like you, especially not at this time of day.  Come with me and I’ll drive you down to the station.”  He grabbed my suitcase and together we walked through the park paths to the road where he had parked his vehicle.  I sat beside him and we chatted like friends.  He seemed pleased to hear that I was the daughter of a retired police officer.  When we arrived at the  train station, some of the students and the professor were already gathered at the main entrance.stock-photo-57620416-german-police-van-patroling-berlin-at-sunsetThey curiously looked at the police car stopping at the curb right in front of them. I never forget their surprised and puzzled  looks, when I emerged out of it.   My friendly police escort carried  my suitcase like a valet and delivered me (and my suitcase) safely to the perplexed group.  After exchanging a few friendly words with my professor and the students he left.

During my youth,  the police in Germany had  a good reputation.  I cannot remember any derogatory words for policemen.  They were respected.    A police man was often referred to as your “friend and protector”.    This caring  policeman truly lived up to that motto.  In a friendly manner he had protected me from potential harm.





How I Lost my “Lust for Life”


Our family including my uncle and aunt spent the summer of 1963 at Lake Ammer in Bavaria, southern Germany.  Lake Ammer is the sixth largest lake in Germany.  Since sailing is a popular sport there our father equipped our fold boat with sails.    Our boat resembled a light weight canoe which could be folded up.


My twin brother was excited by the prospect of  easy sailing instead of strenuous paddling. Boats of any kind were his passion.  And he was already a very skilled model boat builder. He loved sail boats in particular.  The previous summer he had learned to sail with a friend on the island of Corsica.



The weather was beautiful that summer at Lake Ammer.   For the first few days of our stay the lake was still and calm like a mirror under a cloudless sky.  I enjoyed the wonderful sandy beach. When I was not swimming or sun bathing, I would sit under a shade tree and  read the interesting biographical novel  “Lust for Life” by Irving Stone.  A great read which is based on Vincent Van Gogh’s turbulent life. Vincent Van Gogh was and still is  my favorite painter.

Van Gogh

My brother was a bit disappointed that he had not been able to go sailing yet. However, that was to change on the first weekend.   On a beautiful Sunday morning , Walter and I went very early to the beach. Our parents had gone on a short excursion by themselves.  I was absorbed by my novel, when my brother suddenly called me.  Looking up from my book I noticed lots of  boats sailing gracefully close to shore on the white-capped lake. Sitting in a secluded and sheltered spot I had been protected from the wind.   “Biene, do you see all those sail boats?”  my brother shouted excitedly. “Let’s go and try ours.” Suddenly a cool breeze was blowing through my hair.  It wasn’t very often that my brother invited me to participate in his fun activities.  I quickly grabbed my towel wrapped it around my book and followed him to the water where our boat was anchored.


Walter expertly got everything  ready for our first sailing adventure. To try it out,  we first sailed fairly close to shore like the real sail boats in the distance.  It was exhilarating to speed effortlessly through the waves.  My brother felt like a captain in command.  He would tell me to shift my weight occasionally from side to side. I obediently followed his commands.  Normally we would argue about everything.  But I had never sailed before.   Imperceptibly, the wind was getting stronger and the waves higher.  We were ecstatic!  This was fun!   Lots of other boats were sailing ahead of us along the coast line.  Suddenly my brother suggested, “Why don’t we try to cross the lake?  We have never been to the other side.  At this speed we’ll be there in no time.”   I had no objections. I loved adventures and was curious to explore the other shore.


In no time we reached the middle of the lake.  “Strange”,  I suddenly thought,  “there are no other boats here. Why do they  keep on sailing parallel to shore?”  I tried to  gently shift my weight to look back to our now distant beach. Suddenly there was a strong gust of wind billowing our sails.  My brother frantically tried to maneuver the sails.  “Sit on the edge of the boat, quick! ” he commanded sternly looking worried.  Although I had reservations, I did not dare to voice an objection. I quickly lifted myself up to sit on the narrow rim of the boat,  when the wind shifted again without warning. Then  everything  happened like in slow motion.

I see the look of horror in my brother’s face while I am gently tilted backwards into the water with the  white fluttering sails tipping in my direction. I am sinking deep down into the cold water.  When I finally surface I see my brother beside the capsized boat looking shocked and angry.  My first reaction is a fit of hysterical laughter.  “What happened?” I stupidly ask while trying to catch my breath.  It all seems so unreal.  “Stop laughing!” my brother yells holding on to the overturned boat. When he tells me to cry for help I am racked by another fit of laughter.  “Why don’t you?” I manage to  reply.  “We’ll swim to shore”,  I suggest.  I am a strong swimmer with lots of stamina. Almost beside himself my brother shouts back, “Never!!! We have to stay with the boat”  Slowly I am regaining my sanity.  I am looking around trying to assess the situation.  We are  in the middle of the lake far from either shore.  The waves are high. The water is churned up and cold.  We don’t have life vests. There are no boats in sight except the sailing boats looking like miniature toys  in the far distance.  Suddenly panic seizes me.


Our desperate attempts to right the boat fail.  The weight of the water-logged sails is beyond our strength.  One of our paddles float away on the waves.  My brother does not allow me to retrieve it.  We  continue to cling on to the boat bobbing in the waves.   occasionally crying out for help which we realize is useless.  Nobody can hear us.  Time seems to stand still like in a bad dream.  Increasing panic is gripping my heart when I look at my brother’s white horrified face.  In my heart I keep on stammering,  “Please, God help us, please, dear God help us….”.   Almost paralyzed by augmenting fear we suddenly see a big motor boat approaching. Almost instantly our fear turns into joy.  Help is on the way!!!!   But our relief and joy are short lived.  The big motorized yacht moves by us at great speed without stopping.  Didn’t they see us?  The waves are high and our overturned boat is blue.  They must have missed us. This time our desperation is almost overwhelming.   What shall we do?  What can we do?


Numbed by cold and fear I am unable to make a decision. I am worried about my brother who  looks ghastly white and is very quiet.  After what seems like an eternity, we see another (or is it the same?} boat approaching from the direction it had vanished.  A small flicker of hope revives us enough to start screaming on the top of our lungs for help. The big boat slowly approaches and then starts circling us. It stops!  Two men climb down a ladder and grab our hands to pull us out of the water onto the deck. Two ladies wrap us in blankets and help us move into a cozy cabin to warm up and rest  while the two men manage to retrieve our boat from the lake.

Our rescuers were American tourists who had initially not seen us in the water.  One of the men, however, had spotted our paddle floating on the water.  This miraculously  prompted their search for us.  Apparently we were hardly visible in the high waves and they had almost missed us again.

Luckily our parents only found out about our near drowning after we were rescued and safely returned to them. Contrary to our expectations our father did not scold us or get upset over the loss of equipment and damage to the boat.  He loved adventures and was happy and proud that we survived. He commended us for staying with the boat and not try to swim ashore.

And I did not lose my “lust for life”  at the bottom of the lake. I only lost the book which is easily replaceable. Thanks to God  who miraculously saved us for our next adventure in the mountains,43

Remembering Acts of Kindness by Strangers

Dear friends, this week’s Blue Monday seems to last all week. Or maybe this week should be called Blue Week in January. It is absolutely horrible. Of course it does not help that I am aching all over with a flue virus and are just recovering from some other stress. The weather seems to mirror my feelings.

Lone Tree small

But while it is snowing and raining and sleeting and being foggy and miserable and cold,  I am sitting here in my cozy studio cabin which our oldest son built for me a few years ago. The heater is humming softly.  Thanks to our youngest son Stefan’s expertise I am connected even in my remote sanctuary  to all of you in the world through the internet.

small cabin

My husband and best friend brought me some coffee and cake.  Suddenly my spirits start reviving.  I am thinking of all the wonderful things in my life   Yes, I have experienced great losses, sadness and pain but I have survived.  How can I let the weather and other  minor stresses or discomforts of every day life dampen my spirits?   I have my family, friends and above all LOVE.  God’s love and  all the love and kindness of people close to my heart,

Suddenly,  I remember that I even experienced love and kindness by complete strangers throughout my life.  This is the reason why I am writing  this post  I want to express thankfulness to you strangers I can no longer thank personally. But maybe, miraculously you will receive my message of gratitude in your heart.

Acts of kindness of strangers are especially felt when we are alone and in a precarious or vulnerable situation.

Throughout my childhood and adolescence I was overprotected by my parents, especially my mother.  I was seldom among strangers.

When I graduated from school, I lived for the first time away from home.  I was hired through our principal as an au pair girl  or nanny by a family with three small children in Manchester, England.

At that time, I was unofficially engaged to Peter and planned on following him to Canada in the near future.  My parents realized they could no longer stop me from making my own decisions.  In England I wanted to improve my English skills, earn some money and learn to stand on my own feet.

The prospect of living far away from home in a strange country with people I had never met did not intimidate me.  Confidence of youth, I guess!!!!  I was inexperienced in every thing, especially in handling money.  My parents never let me budget pocket money. Before leaving  my father gave me a quick crash course on the British currency.  It  was very complicated because it was not based on the decimal system. I only listened with  half an ear. I was not worried.  Somehow I would manage. coinsnew

Finally the day arrived when I left for my first adventure away from home.  The train ride from Düsseldorf to the port of Calais was very long.  The ferry ride across the English channel to Dover  happened at night.  I remember meeting other young people sitting on deck under the stars  with me. More experienced travel than I had they advised me to do some sightseeing in London before catching a late afternoon train to my destination in Manchester.

Biene smallIn the early morning hours we arrived in Dover and took a  short train ride to London.  My travel companions all dispersed in London and I was on my own.  Although dead tired I did manage to do some sightseeing before my train departure to Manchester.


I even managed to get a taxi to the right train station.  Relieved that I made it on time i wanted to be kind and  give the black taxi driver a generous tip.   I grabbed the biggest and most impressive looking coin from my change purse.  When I handed it to him,  he suddenly spat on it, threw it to the ground and stomped on it uttering swear words. I did not understand.  Before I could  remedy the situation he sped off in a fury.

Taxis Engl.

This perturbed me tremendously.  I had wanted to be kind but ignorance had prevented me from doing the right thing.  My intended kindness had turned into an insult.

A friendly elderly couple who shared my train compartment for part of the journey managed to cheer me up with their kind interest in me. They shared valuable information about my new host country and gave me some good advice. They made an effort to speak slowly and clearly so i could understand.  They were amused when I finally dared to confess my money mistake.  The coin I had offered was  of the lowest value, worth less than a penny.  That prompted them to explained to me the different values of the coins and the paper money.

train station

After many hours,  i finally arrived in Manchester.  The friendly couple had left before.  “I hope my host family will recognize me?”, I thought while maneuvering my heavy suitcase out of the train car.   Lots of passengers got off.  Eventually the crowds dispersed and less and less  people were left on the platform.  Where are my hosts?  I started to wonder.   Finally  I was the last person standing there.  A tall nice looking black porter standing a distance away kept on glancing at me.  I tried to avoid his gaze.  Eventually he approached me. “Need help,  Miss? ” he asked in a kind voice.  “Can I get you a cab?”   In my broken English I  told him about my predicament.  He advised me that it was probably best to take a taxi to my host family.  When I agreed, he took my heavy suitcase and led me through the busy  train station to the exit. He approached a taxi driver and gave him the address of my host family. I wanted to thank him with a big tip.  Since the friendly couple on the train had taught me the value of the different coins and paper money,  I took a generous amount from my purse and tried to hand it to him.  “No, no Miss”,  he protested. “I don’t want money. It was a pleasure helping  you.  Good luck to you!”  He left with a big warm smile.



I am still remembering him after half a century.

The next episode I am telling you is very dramatic. It happened on a wet, cold and dark  day in October. I had just arrived by plane from Canada  in Germany the day before.  My twin brother lay dying in the hospital of  Gummersbach, the place where he was last employed.   His boss had picked me up the day before at the airport and brought me to my brother’s apartment.   My brother’s close friend from Thailand had  special permission to stay with him in the same hospital room day and night.  He never left his bedside for long.  ( I am convinced he was an angel in human form.  I’ll tell this miraculous story sometime soon.)

Walter and Jazz small

The next morning i was supposed to visit my brother for the first time. His friend phoned me and gave me directions which bus to take. He also asked me to bring some roast chicken from a fast food outlet at the main bus station where i had to transfer to the hospital. Jazz, my brother’s friend, needed a change from hospital food.

It was an extremely wet and dark day and i was glad that I found an umbrella at the apartment before leaving. On the bus i sat near a window. Jet lagged and frightened, I felt dazed and confused like in a bad dream. Only one passenger sat at  the back behind me. I  held on to my umbrella like a life saver. Water was dripping  monotonously to the  floor.

gummersbach small

“Main station” the bus driver called.  I quickly grabbed my umbrella  which I had dropped  to the floor and followed the few people leaving the the bus.  The fast food outlet was easy to find. I ordered the roast chicken. Ready to pay,  I noticed  with panic that instead of holding my handbag  i was only holding my umbrella. Terror  shot through me like a bolt of lightning.  I dashed out of the door.  i had left my hand bag on the seat of the bus when I picked up the umbrella.bus

The bus I had been on was leaving.  I ran after it frantically waving. To no avail.  It  gingerly turned a corner and disappeared from sight. In shock and disbelief i stood in the pouring rain like paralyzed. Suddenly i noticed a tall man with a long rain coat which he clasped shut with  both hands  moving towards me.  When he stood closely in front of me he suddenly opened up his coat and asked in a low voice,  “Are you looking for this?”  MY HANDBAG!!!!!!  Instantly my paralyzing shock  turned into agitated euphoria.  Overjoyed I jumped up to hug the man .  “You don’t even know what’s  in my bag!”, I shouted close to tears of joy. “Everything!!!! My credit cards, my cash, my keys, my passport my flight tickets, my jewelry…and…”How can I thank you,  what can I give you?” I asked eagerly to reward him generously.   “Nothing!”, he muttered, turned on his heels and left me stunned.

rain coat

Although there are so many experiences of miraculous acts of  kindness by strangers I experienced through out my life I limit myself to one more in this post.

It happened also during that fateful stay when I saw my brother for the last time.  One night i barely caught the last bus from the hospital.  At the main terminal I found out that the  closest bus connection to my brother’s place was not running at this time of night.  I was able to catch another bus to a street from where I could walk to the apartment.

It was a very dark and wet night   I soon noticed that I must  have turned the wrong way.  I felt lost.  The residential street was deserted and badly lit. Suddenly I heard loud and agitated male voices talking in a foreign language. I saw several dark male figures coming towards me.  Fear started to grip me.  Were they drunk?  They seemed to argue back and forth in a language i could not make out.  When they spotted me, they surrounded me quickly.  In broken German one of the men asked me if I could give them some money.  “How much?”, I asked in a  trembling voice ready to give them all I had. I could not believe my ears when he asked for the equivalent of one dollar in coins.  “We need coins for phone!”, he said, “can you please give us?”   I had loose coins from my bus fare in my coat pocket and I quickly handed them to him.    “Here”, he said.  “take this!”   He gave me the equivalent of five dollars in paper money in return.  I could not refuse.  They were so happy that they could finally make a phone call. They thanked me profusely and even  helped me to find my way to my brother’s apartment.   We parted joyfully  like friends.

men on street

These acts of  kindness by strangers always restore my faith in the miraculous human spirit.   I’ll leave you with a quote from George Eliot,

 “What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?”


“Knödel” is a Forbidden Word for Thuringians

Dear friends,   after my last post talking about Stefan’s attempt at making the famous traditional Thüringer Klösse   (raw potato dumplings) for  Christmas eve, I received an email from a friend in Germany.   He voiced his extreme displeasure that I told him that our son tried to make Knödel.  Now I have to explain that in Germany there are many words for dumplings and I thought they were all interchangable.  Not so!  I found out.

I have talked about my friend Peter before in an earlier post.  He is from Thuringia and was born at the same time and place as my twin brother and I in my home town  Gotha.   There is a strong connection. He is the one who did the  “research” on the mysterious “Mrs. Goose”, my first teacher. Look in my archives for that post.

Peter is not only a proud citizen of Thuringia but also a master “Dumpling” chef.  He has a very old recipe which dates back many generations and is the treasured  secret of his family. I feel extremely honored that he shared this precious recipe with me.

Now I have to admit that in my childhood growing up in the “hotpot region” of Thüringer Klösse I was not very fond of these enormous potato dumplings. They were swimming in a rich gravy often paired with sweet and sour braised red cabbage and fatty goose meat.  I was an extremely picky eater and could not stand the smell and sight of such rich dishes.  I remember my mom and sister grating enormous amounts of potatoes and working feverishly and nervously  over the hot stove to make sure that  these dumplings would be a success. Christmas would be ruined if the dumplings , oh no I mean Klösse, did not turn out to perfection.

I have to  further admit that when my husband and I started our own household in Canada I left this “Dumpling” or “Kloss” tradition happily behind.  I never ate a Thuringer kloss for many years until exactly twenty-five years ago.  That’s when I met Peter,  the Klossmaster (not Peter, my husband who does not care for any dumplings or Knödel whatsoever.  He does not even know the differences between them.)  But I’ll get to that point soon.

Peter, the “Klossmaster”,  as I will call him now.  was visiting Richard E., his long time pen pal for the first time after the Berlin Wall came down. Since traveling from East Germany  to the western hemisphere was finally allowed  Peter and Edelgard decided to meet their friend across the ocean in person.

Peter and his wife Edelgard came to Canada to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary with Richard E.,  our friend from nearby Apple Grove.  We were invited to the party. Richard at that time lived on his beautiful property off the land  (hippie) without electricity and other modern commodities.  His idyllic setting and beautiful productive garden made up for many things. I still remember the beautiful hand woven baskets of freshly picked, sweet smelling strawberries  sitting on the rustic wooden table under the apple tree.


There  were a variety of delicious dishes the guest had brought. The spirits were high.  We did a lot of singing, laughing and teasing Peter and Edelgard who were trying to renew their wedding vows.

Peter was very excited and overjoyed when he learned that we were both born at almost the same time and same place. Such a miraculous coincidence!  He couldn’t get over it.

When Peter and Edelgard finally had renewed their wedding vows after long humorous negotiations and tense moments when Peter threatened to drown himself in the beautiful sauna pond, the guests started to leave.

sauna blog small

Ready to say our good-byes to the newly rewed pair, Peter held us back excitedly.  “You cannot leave until you have tasted my Thüringer Klösse.  They are the crowning conclusion of this wonderful day,”  We couldn’t decline.  Peter led us to Richard’s rustic log house which seemed to belong to another time in the long past.  In the dim candle light Peter dished out two enormous, perfectly round and fluffy white Klösse (dumplings).  He ladled a generous amount of glistening and shiny gravy over these balls and lots of tender meat. He waited eagerly for our approval. When we finally managed to express our appreciation of this delicious food in between big  mouthfuls of  dumplings he told us how he managed to make them that day in spite of major obstacles.

Richard at that time (before Margret) lived mostly from fresh produce from his garden and rarely wasted his time with cooking.  He had a small propane camp stove for these eventualities. The big and beautiful antique wood stoves were only used in the winter.

Green house Ri.jpgsmall

Early in the morning, when Peter was ready to start the arduous process of  his Thüringer Klösse preparations he experienced an unwelcome delay.  Although Richard prided himself with the freshest produce from his garden almost all year round his last year’s  potatoes in the late spring were no longer of top quality.  Peter was almost in tears when he looked at the shriveled and sprouting specimens.  In spite of Richard’s protests and risking to insult his host, he jumped into the car and raced to Nakusp,  a 45 minute drive  at normal speed, to buy the best quality potatoes he could find. The end result of all his efforts was a culinary delight and changed my taste. I finally enjoyed the iconic dish of my birth place.

I never tried to duplicate his efforts though and went for many years without tasting them again until my nephews from Thüringia came for a visit and successfully prepared them for us paired with a turkey dinner and gravy,  a delicious German Canadian combination.

Almost 25 years after Peter’s visit our youngest son Stefan tried to go back to his”roots” and to try his hand at making these Klösse on Christmas Eve with the help of our big brother Google.  With passion and enthusiasm and lots of youthful vigor he set out for this daunting task.Stefan smalling the Klosssmall

Stefan Klosssmall

Knodel bowlsmall

Table Klosssmall

I won’t go into detail but he was moderately successful.  A great accomplishment for the first attempt.  Although they were not perfect, we enjoyed our dinner. The absolutely well seasoned gravy covered the imperfections.  Stefan’s meal was delicious. A few days ago Peter sent me an email showing off his master pieces and reminding me that it is a grave insult to all the people and Klösse makers from Thuringia to call these  famous specialties Knödel, which is another German word for dumplings.  Luckily in English the word dumpling covers them all.

Klosse Petersmall

Peter sent me his secret family recipe again and I promised myself to try and make them on the next special occasion.  I’ll let you know if I succeed.

Have a successful and happy New Year.

  And remember NEVER  call Thüringer  KLÖSSE






An Unforgettable Christmas Gift (1948)

Christmas is so fast approaching and I am caught up in the hustle and bustle of preparing for that short wonderful time of bliss.

I missed writing my post on the weekend because we were attending  one of the most festive and beloved Advent Celebrations at our friends Klaus and Erika. For many years now they have been inviting all their German friends from our village for an afternoon and evening of feasting and celebrating Advent with stories, poems and songs.  It has become a cherished tradition.

Festive baking

The Gerhards are the most amazing hosts. Their warm and cozy log house is beautifully decorated with traditional ornaments and lit with softly glowing bees’ wax candles. Erika’s spectacular desserts would put any pastry maker to shame. They not only look like pieces of art, but also taste heavenly. Klaus is the chef. After the kaffeeklatsch we are joyously singing all the traditional Christmas songs. Suddenly an enticing aroma from his supper concoctions wafts over from the oven, where a big ham and Sauerkraut is heating up.   The spices of the mulled wine simmering on the stove also emanate an tantalizing scent.

There is a lot of joyous chatting and reminiscing going on. Memories of past Christmases and especially from our childhood are evoked and told. I will tell you mine.

My first vivid Christmas recollection dates back to 1948. My twin brother and I had just turned four in October. Our older half sister had recently married. Since there was still a housing shortage from the war they moved in with us. Our spacious and well designed home could comfortably accommodate all of us. My sister was expecting her first child and seemed to need the comforting nearness of my mom.

For the first time I was aware of all the preparations going on in our household. One snowy day our father took us into the forest to get evergreen branches, which my parents and sister wound into a beautiful fragrant wreath for the first Sunday of Advent. They decorated it with pine cones, ribbons and dried red berries. They placed four red candles on it. I was delighted when I was allowed to help. My sister taught us a little Advent poem, which we recited excitedly.four candlessmall

Advent, Advent

ein Lichtlein brennt

erst eins

dann zwei

dann drei

dann vier

dann steht das Christkind

vor der Tür.

Shortly after our first candle lighting with singing and sweet goodies, St. Nicholaus came for a visit with Knecht Ruprecht.  My sister’s husband and a young friend had dressed up as the pair. We were in awe and fear, when they loudly banged on the door to announce their arrival. Had we been good or bad? Would they leave little presents and goodies in our boots placed in front of the door or would they admonish us and leave a stick or clumps of coal instead?

With trembling voices we would recite little poems and sing songs.


In spite of our doubts and fears we always were rewarded by Nicholaus.

Throughout the Advent season our sister and mom would help us create little tree decorations. I loved to make stars out of paper or straw.

In spite of the shortage of many ingredients in East Germany after the war, there was always a delicious smell of baking and roasting apples in the house.

On the morning of Christmas Eve our father would go out to get a Christmas tree. Since our living room was very spacious and had a high ceiling our tree was enormous.

Throughout the day my brother and I would rehearse songs and poems we had learned or try to play quietly so the Christkind would not be upset with us and not bring us any presents.

After an early supper we were sent to our room to get dressed into our Sunday clothes and we had to wait quietly.

Suddenly a little bell would ring and our parents and my sister and brother-in-law would sing   “Ihr Kinderlein kommet….”,  which means  “Come little children…”

My mother and father would lead us by hand into the festive room lit only by real wax candles on the big Christmas tree. We would all stand around the marvelous tree inhaling the wonderful fragrance, hear my father read the Christmas story.and sing the  Christmas songs we had learned by now. Finally, after my brother and I had recited a prayer or poem, we were allowed to look at the gift table, where all the presents were lovingly arranged and an individual plate with goodies for every one was placed.

That particular year our new brother-in-law had worked hard, often at night to make a beautiful wooden crib for my dolls and carve some authentic traditional puppet heads for my brother. My sister had sewn the costumes and knitted outfits for my dolls.


For many years my brother loved to perform puppet shows. When we fled to West Germany, my sister send him the puppets to the West. My brother kept them, until he died. They were sent by his company across the ocean to us in Canada.

These puppets are a precious symbol of the short time we had been living as an extended family in Gotha. They are also a symbol of the love, which went into gift giving. Our brother-in-law created these gifts with his own hands many a night after work.

Love is the greatest gift we can give and receive. It will never be forgotten.

May you all give and receive that great gift of LOVE this Christmas and always.

Frohe Weihnacht.   Merry Christmas to all of you.

New Year’s Eve with Anna Karenina (1960)

Dear friends,

Christmas is approaching fast and as it often happens I am far behind with my preparations.  However, I do not want to disappoint you and take another break from writing. After all, I just recently got back into the routine.

As I indicated before, my teenage years were not always easy and happy for me and very trying for my parents as well.  In spite of my good friends, I often felt isolated, alone and confused.  I wanted to experience life more fully than i was allowed to by my restrictive parents.  Often I withdrew for long periods of time into the world of literature.   Thus I experienced life and love vicariously.

When I was about 15 years old, i discovered the Russian classical authors, especially Dostojevsky and Tolstoy.  Their voluminous novels were right for my taste.  The longer the better.  I would immerse myself into the fictional worlds and  hated to come back to my reality.

New Year’s eve 1960 was a dreary dark day.  My parents had invited some friends to celebrate with  us, but many had to decline because of the flue going around.  My mother had worked very hard to prepare for a cheery and festive night, but I was in  a gloomy mood.  There were no young people only friends of my parents and towards the end of the party my brother, who had celebrated with his buddies.

I felt depressed.  Life was passing me by I thought.   After spending some obligatory time with my parents and their company I withdrew into my room with the excuse that I was not feeling well.  My mother knew that my time of the month was coming up and let me go without major protest.

Wrapped in a warm and cozy blanket I sat in my easy chair trying to uplift  my spirits with some fancy chocolates, which one of the kind guests had brought for me. Then I started reading Leo Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina and didn’t stop reading until way into the New Year when all the guests had left and my family was fast asleep. Needless to say, Anna Karenina’s life and tragic end affected me very much.  For a long time I felt caught in the restrictive webs of fate like Anna….but by the grace of God I did not succumb, but was able to get free and find the love and life I always longed for like Kitty and Levin in the novel.

Anna Karenina

Many years later I took a course on Russian literature at the University of Waterloo and wrote this book review.  My professor was impressed by my insights and rewarded my efforts with an A+.  Hope you give my a good grade as well.


Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Most readers will agree that Tolstoy*s Anna Karenina is a masterpiece of world literature. In this novel Tolstoy is able to express with amazing simplicity, what is seemingly inexpressable in human nature.

He not only brings to light but also to lucid understanding the most secret inner life of his characters. He conveys their subtlest, and most elusive intimate thoughts, feelings, emotions, spiritual longings and hidden motives. And he analyzes with utmost precision moral and psychological issues and conflicts. He also illuminates the elements of life’s mysterious relationships and links, which may lead to a character’s fate. Tolstoy creates a powerful illusion of reality in his novel mainly through the abundance of detail. From detailed de­scriptive narrative the author frequently shifts over to generalizations and thus leads the reader imperceptibly to metaphysical understanding. Tolstoy manipulates the reader’s consciousness from seeing to knowing by directing his attention from particulars to universals. He constantly juxtaposes characters, events and philosophies and thus provides a multifaceted view of his world. The numerous themes and plot lines are all interwoven and linked together in an intricate way. Each short chapter of the eight books develops its own theme, which may only be concluded later on in the novel. There are two major plot lines.

Anna k2
Anna is the main character of the first plot. Although the novel was written over 100 years ago, Anna is a modem woman in the sense that she seeks personal happiness at all cost. She refuses to live a life of self-denial with a husband she cannot love and who is unable to ful­fill her passionate longings. Anna places her quest for happiness over her social and moral duty. Through her extra-marital relationship with Vronsky whom she deeply loves she expects to find self-fulfillment and happiness. Anna, a beautiful and talented woman, is great in her honesty and courage to refuse a life of pretense and duplicity. She does not lead a secret affair, as so many do in her society. She separates from her husband and lives openly with her lover. Anna is not evil in a sense that she acts out of malice. She is very loving and attracts the love of many, yet the consequences of her unconventional behavior are disastrous. Anna who is de­nied a divorce from her husband is pushed into the role of an outsider from society through her open illicit affair. She also has no right and access to her son, whom she loves dearly. He becomes the innocent victim of the marriage break-up and so does her infant daughter by Vronsky.

Tolstoy does not deal harshly with Anna but shows with deep insight and sympathy how Anna suffers from the psychological consequences and the irreconcilable conflicts resulting from her broken marriage and her living together with Vronsky. He also illuminates the complex inter­relationships of Anna’s inner being with the circumstances of her life, which lead to her fateful death. Tormented by guilt and unable to cope with her compulsive jealousy towards Vronsky she commits suicide.
Although the enigma of death is a recurring theme in this novel; the book does not end on this note of despair. Tolstoy juxtaposes life to death. Life triumphs.
With Levin, the major character of the second plot, Tolstoy deeply probes into the purpose and meaning of life.
Levin, who is modeled after the author himself ,is a seeker and an eccentric thinker. He lives in the country and is deeply concerned with serious social, moral and religious questions. Levin marries Kitty who once was romantically attracted to Vronsky, Anna’s lover. Tolstoy describes with delicate tenderness how Levin and his young wife get to know each other and grow together in spite of struggles and conflicts in their young married relationship.
Out of his experiences with Kitty and the search for answers from the simple life of the peasants on his estate. Levin comes to understand the meaning of life. He realizes that it is man’s purpose to live for goodness and unselfish love as a reflection of divine love and goodness. Levin also regains faith in a God he rationally rejects but prays to in times of crisis and need.

With these two plots Tolstoy leaves the reader with the powerful message that uncompromising egoistical passion in the pursuit of happiness will lead to destruction and death. However, the pursuit of goodness out of love for others will lead to life and spiritual happiness. In this respect, both Karenin and Anna have failed in life. Anna loved without adhering to the principles of goodness while Karenin acted on principles of goodness without true love of the heart. Love without goodness and goodness without love can be destructive. This idea is expressed in many different ways throughout the novel. For example Tolstoy juxtaposes two wronged spouses. Dolly forgives her husband out of committed love and concern for her family. Karenin forgives and acts out of rational principles of goodness but without considerations of true love. While Dolly’s family prospers in spite of material worries, Karenin’s family is destroyed. Disintegration of the family unit was a great moral concern for Tolstoy. He valued the welfare and integrity of the family highly because of its utmost importance to society.
In our day many of the social conditions, which played a major role in Anna’s fate, such as obtaining a divorce and gaining custody of her son, have changed. However, the psychological consequences of a marriage break-up,, which Tolstoy so masterfully describes, remain largely the same.
All the characters of this novel are convincingly complex human beings with whom the reader can identify and who elicit his sympathy.
Tolstoy never openly moralizes or judges, yet he conveys a powerful message of faith in love and goodness, which will never lose its relevance to humanity.

My Favorite Novel

Dear friends,

It’s a very cold November night and after a busy day baking bread and buns and  a delicious apple tart, plus writing an important letter, doing laundry, making a yummy pizza from scratch,  writing comments for  my Flickr friends’ amazing photos I am finally sitting down on my cozy couch near the crackling fire to write my weekly post.  Now I can catch my breath after this lengthy sentence, which my teacher in my long past school days would not have approved of.


I am remembering the long fall and winter evenings in my childhood and youth, which i would spend reading curled up in a comfortable chair or in my bed.

When i grew up, books were for me the major source of entertainment,  diversion and education. Our family like most of my friends didn’t have television, computers, record players or even a phone or other electronic gadgets. My father had a small radio to listen to the news.  We had to find other means of entertainment.

Although I was allowed to visit my friends, I had to return home before dark, which cut my visits short in the fall and winter months.

Thus, books were my major source of exploring the world. As I mentioned in an earlier post  i read my first novel secretly,  when I was six or seven years old.  This book was my first love and I still love it to this day.

I remember seeing it on my mother’s bedside table, when we still lived in our big house in Gotha. I had just learned to read and was intrigued by the size of this book, which my father had given my mother as a present. The title “Antonio Adverso”  (Anthony Adverse is the original title)  sounded mysterious and beautiful like a lovely melody.

I started reading the first few words and sentences feeling accomplished and proud that I could decipher and understand some of what I read. Intoxicated by my success i continued and suddenly felt drawn into a mysterious strange world far beyond my years. I would take every opportunity to hide in the bedroom and continue to immerse myself into the fascinating adventures and experiences of my hero Antonio Adverso as he was called in German. When confronted with difficult passages I had a great capacity for intuitively feeling or sensing what my brain could not yet understand or explain. With the help of my vivid imagination i was able to finish reading this amazing life story of an orphaned twin and his miraculous and adventurous life journey spanning many countries of the world. All universal aspects and topics of life are touched in this epic novel. Eventually i told my incredulous mother that I had secretly read her amazing  book.

Over the years I have reread this fascinating novel of more than a 1000 pages several times.  i sent it to Peter to read when we were first engaged and i wanted to name our first son Anthony.  We ended up giving that name to our third son because there were already four Anthonys in the maternity ward, when our first son was born,

My mom’s book is still in my possession, but it is old and tattered now.  However, Peter was able to find an original Amarican edition on ebay a few years ago.  I was surprised to discover that the previous owner of the book may have never read it but used it to press delicate flowers.  Some pages were still not cut open as was the custom in the long past.

Anthony Adverse was first published in 1933 and remained the bestseller of that time until Gone with the Wind swiped away the lead.

In 1999 Anthony Adverse was republished and is available through amazon.com. I can highly recommend this epic novel, which spans continents and touches all aspects of life.  It still has relevance for this day and age.  Anthony Adverse’s miraculous story will touch the heart and mind of  every reader as it touched mine.  Anthony Adverse has been my first love and I’ll never forget him.




Hello friends. I am Back

Dear friends  and followers of my blog, last year, on my birthday I started writing about  my  journey through life.  Every living being on this planet has a unique and miraculous story.  This is my attempt to share my experiences with family, friends and the world since we are all interconnected in mysterious ways.

Eagle feather blog

I am a person who lives in the present and does not often dwell on the past or daydream of the future    However, by writing this blog  I started to like reliving memories of my life.

At the beginning of summer I took a break from writing because that beautiful season is so short.   I am like a sunflower and need to turn to the light to survive,


I love the sunshine and activities outdoors with family, friends and new people we meet when camping or travelling.  In summer when I charge up  energies there is no time to spend in front of the screen  The vibrant and life-giving forces of Nature are calling me to the wonderful world  outside.

Whatshan Lake

I am a sun worshiper.  For me sunlight is vital to my physical and emotional well being.  Water is another element I adore which enhances my joy in life and invigorates my spirit,  Since my early childhood I love the freedom and peace when swimming in lakes and rivers,   Gliding through pristine waters always washes away stress, negative feelings or thoughts It energizes me.

Solitary walks along the beach or in the forest have the same calming and uplifting effects on my sense of well being.  I come to realize that many of my best memories are connected to experiences in the natural world with people I love.

It gives me joy to see that our five sons are all drawn to the same life-giving forces of the outdoors  and are seeking out experiences in beautiful natural environments like hiking, mountain climbing, horseback riding, swimming, boating, gardening and walking.

Forest Light

This summer started off with the wonderful visit of our second son Richard from Montreal. He came with our two little granddaughters, Azure and Emeline.   I let the pictures speak for themselves. As the well known saying  goes,  “A picture is worth a thousand words.”   Azure and her little sister are such sparkling and multifaceted  personalities that i could not even do them justice by attempting to describe them in a thousand words.   Their unique personalities have to be experienced in person.

Azure Em

Uncle Stefan, our youngest son from Vancouver, also joined us during that time to share in the family fun.   He is the strongest family bonding glue of all his brothers.

Me girls Rick




One of the highlights of the short visit was a trip to my favorite beach and campsite at Taite Creek.  June is always a wet month and a storm was brewing.   In spite of the menacing clouds on the horizon,  spunky little Azure   (following in the footsteps of her grandma) was the first to brave the still frigid waters of the Arrow Lake    With chattering teeth but bubbling over with excitement she then danced around the fire.   Little Emeline snuggling in her father’s arm clapped her hands in admiration of her older sister  Their singing and dancing around the fire at my favorite campsite are memories i never forget,

Em taite

Dear friends,  for today I’ll close my post.  I am so glad to be back  It’s a dark and stormy November night.  Through the coming dark season there will be more time to write   The last picture was taken at Taite Creek which is even beautiful at this time of year.   I wish you happy memories of your miraculous life.   Let the summer sun be reflected in our hearts.

Dunkle nacht

Smelly Childhood Prank (1957)

Dear friends,  after digressing from my childhood memories for  several posts I am now back on track and will continue to tell you about my journey through this miraculous life.

As you may remember I had a fairly strict upbringing.  At the time of my growing up children lived under an authoritarian regime especially at school.  We had to treat our teachers with utmost respect.  Their word was law except at classroom debates and discussions.   If we had sound arguments and could back them up effectively we were allowed to express contrary opinions.

However, children at all times did outrages and even cruel  things and we were no exceptions.   I am still ashamed to remember the prank our whole class played on a teacher.

Our art teacher was a middle aged lady of great proportions  who loved to eat.  She would sit at her front desk in the art room munching away on enormous sandwiches filled with strong smelling  cheeses or odiferous garlic sausages and cold cuts.


Bacon sandwich

Bacon sandwich


Instead of giving us inspiring instruction of drawing or painting techniques  or providing us with shining examples of fine arts she would devour her heavy lunches  leisurely reading the newspaper. Absentmindedly she would sweep away crumbs from her desk with her sausage-like fingers.

sandwich 2

We had the freedom to draw or paint whatever we fancied.  She never showed any interest in our  “masterpieces”.  Her sole interest was directed to her prolific victuals.

Because of our teacher’s  lack of good modeling behavior and lack of interest  one of our class mates was inspired to rouse her out of her lethargy. She wanted to  pay her back on her assaults on our aesthetic sensibilities.  This inspired student asked us to bring smelly soft cheeses to school for the next day.  And I have to admit we all followed her lead without any reservations or scruples and did what she told us. Before our art lessons started  the next morning she directed us to quickly smear the smelly soft cheeses on all the surfaces of the art room especially on  our teacher’s chair and desk.

We could hardly cope with the overpowering stench ourselves  before our teacher entered the room.  Maybe she was already desensitized by these odors. To our secret delight she sat down on the greasy chair without noticing the unusual sheen and smell.

When she calmly started unpacking her lunch,  we politely asked her if something was spoiling  in her bag.  Suddenly she seemed to become aware of the stronger than normal aromas. Bewildered she looked around and  seemed to notice that they came wafting from all sides and not just from the usual place in front of her. That’s when she smelled the “rat”.She left the room and returned in a short while with the principal who was a very proficient “rat smeller”.

Our classmate who had hatched the idea of the plot bravely and willingly accepted the role as scapegoat in spite of our strong protests.  She took her lashes in front of the class with dignity and even humor as we noticed a twinkle in her tearing eye and a tiny smile in spite of the obvious pain and humiliation.


Photo Credit: 123RF.com

The rest of us had to scrub and clean the art room and polish the furniture without the aid of  disintegrating  aromatic cheeses.

From that day on our art teacher seemed to have lost her appetite during art lessons.   She even started teaching us techniques as for example in different  perspectives.

In spite of my  sketchy art lessons I have developed a lifelong love and appreciation for art.  In retrospect I thank my teacher who gave us the freedom and opportunity  to explore our own creativity.


Traveling with Rob in La Belle France-Part 2

In the soft evening light the pastoral landscape is flying by like a series of beautiful paintings. My memory is blurred like a dream. I only remember, meandering little rivers, soft wooded hills, small orchards, vineyards, and villages nestled into the valleys. Over the ages houses and walls built out of local rocks and materials have become an integral part of their natural surroundings. I wished to have more time to explore and to meet the local people.

200701311328340.Wine-RegionsDarkness is setting in, when we arrive at Brays et Mons. Rob has no problem finding his destination. There are only a few houses built out of gray rocks almost looking like fortresses. We reach a beautifully fenced in yard. A dense profusion of blooming shrubs and budding leaf trees is hiding the residence from view. Rob drives slowly through the decorative iron gate onto a wide driveway leading through a small park towards a charming white building. It looks like an elegant mansion or small castle. Big windows, balconies, terraces and airy French doors are leading from all directions into the garden. In contrast to the well-kept building, the flowerbeds and lawns are overgrown with weeds and winter debris and look neglected.

Here we are, at the Castello de Bray et Mons,” says Rob with a big smile.

I am delighted. It has been a full day, progressively getting better after a stressful start with our vehicle. And there is the prospect of a grand finale.

The patron of the estate meets us at the colorful stained glass doors of the entrance. He is a stout, middle-aged man of medium height with unremarkable features. He greets us formally in French. Obviously he has been expecting us, and as he indicates, a bit sooner. Grabbing our luggage, he immediately leads us up a flight of an amazing spiral staircase. It is the masterpiece of a noted French architect whose name I forget. The bedrooms are situated in a circle around the landing. The patron deposits our luggage in front of one of the doors and unlocks it with a big old-fashioned key.

spiral staircase

Voilà,” he says with a discreet side-glance at me.

I am riveted to the floor. After having seen the dolorous black room decorated in somber colours at Chanonceau this room is a dream in white. The enormous bed dominating the chamber is covered with starched, immaculately white linen adorned with precious lace. The wall tapestry is of a shining white silk material. The soft white carpet is spotless. Delicate sheer curtains like bridal veils are gently moving in the evening breeze in front of the open French doors. On a lace covered table stands a magnificent vase with blossoming branches in it. White petals have fallen on a small statue of stone lovers intertwined forever in a passionate embrace. The end of the room is partitioned off by a white Dutch gate barely hiding a huge white enameled bathtub standing on golden feet in front of a mirrored wall. Two luxurious white bathrobes are hanging over a bench. The room radiates such untouched beauty that I envision a delicate princess, like Snow White, lying on that immaculate bed, forever waiting for her prince.


Rob and I are standing at the entrance spell bound. I don’t know for how long.

Ça vous plaît?” the proprietor suddenly asks breaking the silence.

Enchantée”, I reply, “mais…” I stumble nervously searching for appropriate words to explain that I cannot sleep in this enchanting bridal chamber with my son.

C’est mon fils”, I finally manage to say in French.

The patron seems unperturbed. “Votre fils, votre frère, votre mari, ça ne m’intéresse pas. C’est votre affaire,” he answers shrugging his shoulders to show his indifference.

Rob,” I whisper panic stricken in English, “we have to get another room. This is a honeymoon suite.”

Yes, Mom,” Rob agrees, “but it is getting late, and I don’t know if there are other hotels in this small village.”

Trying to take control of this embarrassing situation, I ask in an assertive voice, “Une autre chambre, s’il vous plaît?”

The proprietor staring into space with a bored expression mumbles, “C’est dommage, but..,” he continues in perfect English, “ we have one more room available, which, however, will cost you more.”

Oh, you speak English!” I exclaim surprised. Taking a deep breath I almost shout, “In my fax I told you that I would come with my son. How can you offer us this inappropriate room and charge us more for another one!”

Provoked by his arrogance I am not afraid to create a scene. Rob, however, immediately interrupts my attempts to fight for a fair deal saying in a firm voice, “Mom, leave it to me, I am paying for the room.”

Grabbing our luggage the proprietor quickly leads us to the adjacent hunter’s chamber.

Voilà, Monsieur,” he says completely ignoring me.

Rob whose face had disappointment written all over moments ago immediately lights up. This room is more to our liking. Two solid rustic beds with beautifully crafted thick quilts look very inviting. Original paintings and precious tapestries depicting local wild life and colourful hunting scenes adorn the walls. Fresh scented air is wafting in from the garden through the big open windows. I am happy that there is a door in front of the bathroom allowing for privacy. The bathtub is not standing on golden feet as in the white room but is spacious and comfortable. To my great joy there are also two thick, luxurious bathrobes at our disposal, one pink and one blue. Would Peter and I have enjoyed sleeping in the white room I briefly ask myself. Definitely not!

hunters room

Blissfully relaxing in soapy suds before changing for dinner I call out to Rob, “This is so wonderful Rob, I feel like a queen!”

We arrive in the floral dining room around nine, which for French standards is not late. The tablecloths, napkins, curtains and tapestry are all printed with boldly colored oversized spring flowers. The small bouquets of real flowers on the tables are lost in this overpowering display. A tall, young waiter with a sad look in his dark eyes seats us at a corner table with velvety green benches. Only two other tables are occupied. One with two formally dressed middle-aged couples from Belgium, overweight and red faced, talking loudly. On the other table are two elderly couples from Britain, sprightly thin and wrinkled, engaged in a more subdued conversation. I wonder with a chuckle, if they have also been offered the bridal chamber first.


Rob decides to be adventurous and orders snails for his entrée. That would be my last choice. Only under the ultimate threat of starvation would I try them. But for Rob’s sake I make a special effort to hide my feelings of disgust. I order salmon mousse. Both Rob and I are pleased by our first choices.

Snails taste a bit like squid,” Rob informs me.

Animated by a second glass of delicious house wine, we try to select the main course. We both have developed a hearty appetite.

Rognons de boeuf seems like a good choice to me,” I tell Rob who is seeking my advice.

Rognons I think means little round pieces and boeuf is beef. While studying the menu, I realize that my language skills are still very limited when it comes to deciphering specialties of French cuisine. At least I know that boeuf is beef. A safe choice, I think.

We are on our third glass of wine and in animated spirits, when the serious looking young waiter quietly serves us our main course. I notice a faintly sour smell coming from my plate and those little round pieces in the whitish sauce are definitely not pieces of beef.

French beef looks very different,” I say jokingly to Rob discreetly inspecting a small round specimen on my fork.

Mom, this is not beef, these are kidneys you ordered,” Rob says with a disgusted look on his face.

I hate kidneys!” I had not seen kidneys since my early childhood when my father sometimes used to eat them.

I am immediately overcome with the same strong feelings of nausea, which this dish used to provoke in me then. Trying to keep control, I quickly push the plate aside. In an instant the young waiter arrives at our table.

Is something wrong?” he asks in perfect English pointing to my plate.

I am perplexed. He had stood there silently waiting for our orders when I had explained to Rob that ‘rognons de boeuf’ mean little round pieces of beef. I had assumed that he did not speak English. He could have helped us with our selection. But I will not blame him.

Sorry, we made a mistake ordering this dish. We both don’t like kidneys,” I say.

For the first time this evening the young man’s face lights up in a sympathetic smile and he answers, “I don’t like them either. I’ll take your plates back and you can order something else,” he offers. “Maybe I can convince my father not to charge you extra for these,” he adds.

But I have my doubts. “No!” I say firmly brushing aside Rob’s protests. ”This is my mistake and I’ll pay.”

Anyway,” the young waiter briefly interrupts, “I’ll bring you another glass of wine which is on me and I’ll help you with the selection on the menu when you are ready.”

Having lost our appetite for meat this evening, we choose a local seafood dish, which turns out to be a tasty choice.

Where did you learn English so well?” I ask the young man who seems to like talking to us.

In Florida,” he answers. “I was born and raised there by my Francophone parents. After their divorce two years ago, my father bought this place and moved back to France.

You must love it here!” I exclaim. Impressions of the beautiful countryside and castles are still vivid in my memory.

Not at all! I hate it here!” he says emphatically, looking sad again. “I want to go back home to the States.”

Lingering over a delicious desert of crème brulé, we are the only guests left. The young man takes the opportunity to join us again. In an animated conversation, he and Rob, both natives of North America, amicably exchange their thoughts and impressions of their life in Europe. I sit back relaxing, sipping my wine, enjoying the moment, and the transient friendly relationship with this young man. Before he can say good-bye, he is abruptly called to the kitchen by his rude father. I am glad he does not take after him.

We have a wonderful sleep under those heavy warm quilts protecting us snugly from the frosty night. Crisp, chilly air has invaded our room. It is early morning. We have to return our little car to the dealer in Tours before lunch to catch an afternoon train to Paris for the wedding. Shivering in my light spring outfit, waiting for Rob to finish shaving, I can hardly wait for breakfast. The prospect of steaming hot coffee and warm croissants with melted butter is already warming me up.

Go down and start breakfast without me. I’ll join you in a while,” Rob shouts from the washroom. He is not a big breakfast eater.

Today I have a ravenous appetite and decide to have a substantial meal. I almost fall down those famous spiral stairs in my haste to get to the dining room. Everything is quiet there. No one in sight. After my third “hallo” tentatively called into different directions, the proprietor shuffles in. He is well protected against the cold by wearing warm fleece slippers and a beautifully knit heavy wool sweater, which must have cost a fortune. It looks very new. Seating myself on a small round table close to the entrance, I eagerly ask for the breakfast menu.

Breakfast is not included!” he answers curtly avoiding my glance.

Although a continental breakfast is almost always included in the price of an overnight stay in France, I am so starved and in need of coffee that I am ready to pay extra.

I’ll pay,” I reply quickly.

Oh, no!” he says with emphasis turning to leave. ”We are not serving breakfast today.”

I am shocked. “O.K.,” I plead trying to hide my disappointment, “you can serve me at least a cup of coffee!”

It will take a while,” he replies and reluctantly shuffles into the nearby kitchen.

The door is left ajar and I can hear him putter around. Obviously there hasn’t been any coffee brewed yet. Suddenly I hear the shatter of glass, followed immediately by a loud expletive, ”Merde.” In a flash the patron dashes out of the kitchen door with a brown liquid dripping from the front of his precious sweater. After a few moments he returns heading straight back to the kitchen. This time he is wearing an apron and an old flannel shirt. I hear some more clanking noises, and eventually he serves me with a stony face a cup of steaming hot, black coffee. He does not say a word and I refrain from expressing my sympathy at his mishap. It would have been hypocritical to say the least. To his credit, the coffee tastes wonderfully strong and I enjoy every sip of it.

There is frost on the windshield, when Rob puts the luggage in the car. I pity the flowering fruit trees, which had burst so early into bloom. Nibbling on some cookies and apples we drive off to Tours. Trying to ward off our hunger pangs, we are planning to have an early lunch before catching the train to Paris. Late morning we safely arrive in Tours. Before returning our car to the dealer, Rob drops me off at the train station with the luggage. We want to store it there before going out for lunch. I am amazed how deserted the train station is at this hour. Not a soul in sight. And to my dismay I remember that you cannot store luggage at train stations in France because of threats of terrorism.


It takes Rob about twenty minutes to return and I am puzzled that nobody enters the station during that time. Very strange, I think. Tours is a big place. Don’t people take trains? None of the ticket counters are open, either. Stepping out of the building for a moment, I spot a policeman. I manage to ask him in French why the train station is so deserted. “En grève”, he informs me laconically. Quickly looking up ”grève” in my pocket dictionary I am shocked to find out that it means strike. We quickly forget our plans to find a place to eat but rather try to find a way to get to Paris. Still debating what to do, we are suddenly approached by the policeman. He informs us that at around four o’clock at near-by subsidiary station one train to Paris is coming through. This friendly policeman also helps us to find a small office close to the station where we can temporarily store our luggage. Obviously we do not look like terrorists to him.

View of the 'Place Plumereau', located in the old city of Tours, with its café terrasse and famous half-timbered houses. The french city of Tours is located on the lower reaches of the river Loire, between Orléans and Saumur. It has a central location in the Loire Valley for anyone eager to discover the World Heritage site composed by Chateaux de la Loire and the Loire river.

View of the ‘Place Plumereau’, located in the old city of Tours, with its café terrasse and famous half-timbered houses. The french city of Tours is located on the lower reaches of the river Loire, between Orléans and Saumur. It has a central location in the Loire Valley for anyone eager to discover the World Heritage site composed by Chateaux de la Loire and the Loire river.

Downtown is in walking distance. The streets are bustling with people on this wonderful spring day, and there are lots of different eating establishments. Rob selects an Italian restaurant, which serves his comfort food, spaghetti with meat sauce. I seem to have lost my appetite and go for a salad. After retrieving our luggage, we take a taxi to the near by station. The taxi driver, a young passionate man, with a slight accent is very sympathetic to our predicament. Hearing that we are from Canada going to a wedding, he is raving and ranting about the stupidity of the government, which lets these apparently frequent strikes happen. Apologizing for the inconvenience, which this strike is causing us, he is adamant in not accepting any fare or tip. He even carries our luggage into the station wishing us luck and “bon voyage” like a friend.


Canada is a good country,” he says in parting with a big generous smile. We are deeply impressed by this unexpected hospitality of a complete stranger.

The station is packed with people. On the quay where the train to Paris is supposed to arrive crowds of people are standing, sitting or even lying around. Strangely enough, it is very quiet. There is definitely no holiday atmosphere. Most people have an apprehensive look staring silently in the direction from where the train is to come. No one knows the exact time. I have visions of people in war times, fugitives, soldiers, families, desperately waiting for a train to escape danger. There is no danger for us, only inconvenience.



Eventually, after a long, silent wait, we hear the train approaching. My fear that people will brutally force their way into it, pushing and shoving, does not materialize. Everyone quietly and civilly waits their turn and boards in orderly fashion. Miraculously no one is left behind. A courteous gentleman with a friendly smile even offers me his seat in the overcrowded compartments. People start relaxing. Lively conversations spring up even among strangers as if everyone is trying to make up for the long silence. In this cheerful atmosphere we travel to Paris and make it from there safely to Saint Etienne to Richard and Agathe’s wedding. But that’s another long story.