PASSAGE TO AFRICA
Chapter 6... And I think I''m Going on an Adventure Hah, this is nothing!
“Men can go wrong with wine and women. Should we therefore ban women?” --Martin Luther
Time passes so fast and so much happens that it's impossible to keep up with it all. I'm writing at 6:30AM from a bed in my house in Strasbourg. You'll read about that later, I expect. So much happens and I have no chance to record it. For the last week, I haven't slept in the same bed twice in a row. So I'll skip ahead here, insert this anecdote and (I hope) go back and catch up later.
I'm lucky enough to be invited to a celebrity party. Two friends of Simon's and Xavier's are leaving by bike, tomorrow. The plan? See for yourself:
Yep, Strasbourg to Indonesia, by bike. Over the alps... through Iran... through countries I've never heard of Through Timor! Ouch!....They figure it'll take a year.... more. I think I biked to Plainview from Hicksville once... It was okay. Took me an hour... in 1963...
Jacks is one of the two bicymaniacs, I met yesterday at DRINK CLUB STRASBOURG. (More about that later, in a catch-up blog.) The other guy, Jean-Baptiste, lives where the farewell party will be hosted.
Here they are:
Do they look drunk and a bit out of focus? You have no idea... but you will.
The party isn't exactly in Strasbourg. It's in a town whose name I forget. All the towns in this area have German-looking names, but they're all pronounced with those sexy French accents.
Hoenheim, Ostwald, Neudorf, Reichstett, these are all French towns. Jawohl... er... mai oui!
The town is in the High Rhine, which is south of the Low Rhine... don't ask! Xavier drives us... Simon and me. Before the party, we visit La Maison du Fromage.... a CHEESE museum.
I've been to a torture museum, a whiskey museum, a sex museum, But leave it to the French to have a CHEESE MUSEUM. If the ventilation isn't very good, it's gonna smell like the mensroom at the old folks home.
The museum is housed in a small building, rather non-descript and non-cheesy looking. In front hangs, what I think is a huge cowbell. It hangs on a ribbon almost a foot wide. The bell itself is bigger than my head. It will turn out that this is a REAL COWBELL, and cows have to walk around with things that size strapped to their necks! Ah, here's a chance for a new walk of life: cow chiropractor. They could make a fortune.
As you can see from the sign, we are in the valley of Munster. Guess what kind of cheese they make here. And I thought it was German!
We enter and buy tickets for the display. This is the only museum so far that does not have a senior discount. What a moment of mixed emotion... getting a 10€ ticket for 3€... Yeah! But... not even being asked for ID when I buy that ticket. Ouch!! Itai! Here there are discounts only for kids.
The museum looks new, just off the rack. All the displays are fresh, no scratches, marks or signs of use. And, THERE IS NO SMELL! Nothing, not a clue of a curd or a wisp of a whey. The first part of the display is a movie about the life of cheesemakers. It starts with bringing the cows out of the barns in early spring... with snow still on the ground. It's in the mountains, and the cows will hike upwards to grasslands and open sun, after a winter of eating hay.
The movie is pretty good. There's almost no speaking... a few words in Alsacian... a nice Alsacian cheese-makers song and that's it. Otherwise it's all music, soft and appropriate. Makes it easy for visitors (like me) to understand without language.
After the movie we go on to look at the displays of cheese-making implements, descriptions of cheeses, a history of cheese. All odorless... or so I think. Then I notice some clay... I don't know what to call them... like mini-chimneys... they're in several displays, but I can't figure out what they were for.
Then it occurs to me. It's smellevision... a dainty-yet-rustic way of showing the fragrances of cheese, as it progresses from new cheese (almost without smell) to a very mature cheese (hello Grandpa).
I press my nose against each of the pots. Actually, I LIKE the smell. It reminds me of Murrays on Bleecker Street. It's a smell you can feel with your whole body.
After the displays come the cows. But first: a warning.
I get down on my hands and knees to check. It is not a bull.
“It's okay for step one,” I tell Simon.
He approaches, sticks out his hand. The cow pokes her head through the railing. She sniffs.
Simon touches the nose. Gives a pet. Nice cowy cowy... or however you say it in French. He does not, however, get THE LICK OF FRIENDSHIP! Next is my turn. Me? I get it. Wet, salivus, bovine. Yeah! Unfortunately, Simon took that picture with his phone, and as of this posting, I don't have it. So you'll have to take my word for it.
After the museum, we stop in town for a beer and then on to the BIKE PARTY... not far from the museum. It's in kind of a fancy house, set way back from the road... and tough to find. It takes a phonecall or two.
(What did people do before cellphones? They met more neighbors, that's what they did.... knocked on doors... made mistakes... introduced themselves... had some human contact... that's what they did.)
When we enter, the party is a bit sedate. Some tables set up in a buffet and several people, dressed in preppy casual, chatting about old times. I'd expected to be speaking French a bit better by now, but because of my poor grammar, whenever I try to speak French, the listener immediately switches to English. Usually with “where are you from?”
On the buffet is a plate of quasi-sushi: big rolls filled with salmon, wrapped in Nori, sliced like a sushi-roll. Next top that is cheese, some bread, lots of sweet things. I pick up a quasi-sushi... tastes like Korean deli sushi... worse... Bland rice, probably from California... no vinegar in it, just sits there... It's hard to eat.
Across from the bad sushi is a pretty oriental woman, serving slices of Alsatian Pizza aka La Tarte Flambee. It looks and tastes like pizza made with matzoh instead of bread.
And it's delicious!!! The only reason you wouldn't make it for Passover is that it's got cheese, and ham on it. The combination is not a traditional Passover one.
As is my hobby, I like to play guess-the-Asians. I know she's not Japanese because the sushi is so bad. For some reason, there are very few Koreans in France. Not one Korean restaurant in Strasbourg... they don't know what they're missing! She doesn't have that special South East Asian look... so I guess Chinese. Of course, she's probably French... one of the many things I like about France (and one of the few things I like about the U.S.) is that you can look any way... any face... and still be a native.
I mentally rehearse my opening line: Est-ce que tu es d'ici.
I open my mouth to talk to her, but she speaks first.
“Do you like the tourte?” she asks me in English.
“Ok,” I ask, “how'd you know?”
“Your cowboy shirt,” she says. “It's a dead give-away.”
We talk. I don't mention her bad sushi. It turns out she was an English teacher... in China. English is her second language. She's learning French now.
“I met my HUSBAND in China. He speaks very good Mandarin.” she waves to this youngish handsome guy with a scraggly beard.
Do I have some switch? What is it? Any time people talk to me, they always say the words: MY HUSBAND, MY WIFE, MY BOYFRIEND, MY GIRLFRIEND in vocal capital letters. Like an making an impression on melted wax... branding... just letting me know... I'm taken. Sheesh.
We talk a bit about China, Strasbourg and New York. Someone hands me a beer. It's a small bottle, so I drink it right down. It's then that the heroes make their entrance, to the applause of the attendees. They invite us outside to look at the bikes.
Jacks comes over to me (we met last night at Drink Club Strasbourg).
“Hey Mykel,” he says, “how'd you like my sushi?”
“Je l'ai beaucoup aimé,” I lie.
“Great!” he says, handing me a glass of something much more alcoholic than beer. Then he goes on to show us the bikes.
I'm not much of a judge, but they look like pretty ordinary bikes to me... especially late at night and half drunk... me, not the bikes.
The beer and wine flow outside. The beer and wine flow inside. The music gets louder. It's about 11 o'clock and the floor is shaking.
An extremely hirsute young man discos with his t-shirt rolled up to show his belly. Another one bumps hips with him. Another one bumps the table. A beer bottle hits a wine bottle. It's like dominoes. Booze everywhere. People dancing in it, lapping it up from the table. Sponging it, wringing out the sponges and drinking the remains. The music gets louder.
Here's Jacks, the biggest disco bunny of them all. Wearing a bright green t-shirt. Looking fresh as... well... look at the photo at the beginning of this blog-entry. And he' gonna set off on a twelve thousand mile bike trip.. tomorrow.
“Weeee!” he screams. “On y va!”
I can't imagine him va-ing anywhere. He knocks over a bottle of vodka. No problem, it's almost empty anyway. I look around. The Chinese girl has left. Half the party has left. I see Jean-Baptiste in a corner, swaying slightly from side to side, eyes closed... his swaying having no relation to the music playing. Jacks is nowhere to be found. I'm getting tired, but can't do a thing without Simon, who has the car... besides, I think we're staying here for the night.
Simon runs past me. Looking over his shoulder, he says: “you see....?” some name I can't understand. I shrug. He goes out the front door.
The porch door opens with a slam, I almost drop the fresh glass of wine in my hand. It's incredible the door glass doesn't break into shards. Xavier comes in from the porch with someone I don't know. Between them they drag Jacks... head lolling... feet dragging, toes making twin lines in the scum now on the floor of the party area. I'm not sure what happens after that, but Jacks does not reappear. Xavier does, however.
“Did you see Simon?” Xavier asks.
“Last time I saw him he went out that door,” I say, pointing.
Xavier goes out the door. In a few minutes he's back.
“No sign of him,” he says. “I'm worried.”
What happens here I don't remember so well. I do remember getting up in the morning with the urge... not that one... but the same general area. I walk out of wherever it was that I fell asleep. I run into Jean-Baptist's brother, a nice guy, who spoke to me in English the night before. I've nick-named him Machu Pichu for some reason.
I smile at him and head for the bathroom. He grabs my wrist.
“I have to introduce you,” he says.
“Er...” says I pointing to the bathroom.
“Oh,” he says, “sorry.”
In the house are relatives from here to Timbuktu. Lots of people from last night including the cute Chinese girl and HER HUSBAND. Simon is there safe and hung-over. The press. Everyone. Jacks and Jean-Baptiste are both on their feet. Jacks wraps an arm around my shoulder.
“Mykel,” he whispers, “I have a hangover.”
“Quelle surprise!” I say.
It's about 3PM and people are eating, drinking, and still arriving from all over. Only 12,000 miles to go, and they're starting in the afternoon? Ah well, vive la France and les francaises.
You can follow these guy's journey at world-bike-trippers.com. You can follow mine right here:
Episode 1 here
Episode 2 here
Episode 3 here
Episode 4 here.
Episode 5 here