Jeanne Koré Salvato

hristmas markets, ah, one of the great pleasures of living in Europe.

One of my favorites is a little market near Notre Dame on the Quais de Montebello in Paris. Toys and gifts are made by hand. You hear a French homage to an American homage to rock and roll. Not very jingle bellsy, but a little cheesy anyway.

Now come with me to Stuttgart, not so far by train, but they have there one of the most beautiful sustained celebrations of the city and their Christmas market. Why Stuttgart, you may ask, among the others in Köln (Germany) or Strasbourg (sometimes Germany, now France? See the link for a little history.)

Why the Alsace Region Changed Nationality Four Times in a Century

Well, let me explain. Once upon a time I was a high school student in a little town in the Fingers Lakes region of NY State called Canandaigua. A friend invited an AFS student to live with her family. The AFS student, named Babs, happened to be from Germany. We kept in touch, loosely as one does, but we had firmly bonded over a renegade vacation. We certainly needed to take the AFS students to visit Washington, DC. There were now two AFS students since Lucie had joined us from Ecuador. Even my strict mother gave the go ahead, a permission she soon regretted. Off we went, five of us, early in the morning heading down to DC. It was late spring, the mall lovely with Lincoln, who was naturally tall, looming over all, the city, democracy, America.

But we didn’t have anywhere to stay. We hadn’t made reservations and no parent thought to ask, to check? I mean, hello? We were seniors in high school. So somebody had the bright idea to go to the Ecuadorian Embassy, so off we went. A young woman who worked there wondered, I’m sure, at five young women on the loose, and took us to her apartment where we slept on the floor.

The next day arrived, and after the magnificence of Lincoln, it seemed only natural that we would turn our attention to Virginia Beach, don’t you agree. So off we went, only a three hour drive, took a motel room for two, managed to sneak five of us in, and spent the next day marveling at the beach. Would it surprise you to learn that we were sunburned within an inch of our lives? We travelled home via the house of an uncle who happened to be an MD, where we crashed in his basement, medicated and slathered with ointments to survive our sunburns.

At least two of us were grounded, and I, of course, was one of the lucky ones. “‘What were you thinking?” we were all asked (not the AFS students, fortunately; we took the hit for them.) Well, we were thinking we had a blast, although our emotional intelligence was so high, that we did not vouchsafe our opinion to any of our parents.

Fast forward a lot of years and Babs was the Chairwoman of the English Department in a lovely small town in Germany not far from Stuttgart. My then husband, daughter and I went off to visit Babs around Christmas time. There was a big Christmas tree in her school, with advent celebrations in progress. Advent, in the school? Yup.

Recently Babs had taught the novel Moon Palace by Paul Auster to her students. They’d actually taken a trip to NY and walked around to the various sights mentioned in the novel. Ah, the freedom to choose Paul Auster, when in my school in France I had to subject the students to Lord of the Flies. It’s a fine book, but nothing like the contemporary writer new-yorkais. (See, you speak French because you guessed that Paul Auster must be a New Yorker.)

So here we were, grownups with children, visiting together. And Babs sent us off to Stuttgart.

I invite you to enjoy this clip. It tells you everything. One of those five-minute holidays you can take from your chair. Ah, travel. Remember that’s what we used to do?

More winter celebrations; this time in Dublin. (Since we now have the time to watch endless YouTube videos.) Here’s the Samuel Beckett Bridge in Dublin, featuring its winter light show. The year is 2020 and the shadow puppets are to celebrate the front-line workers. But what do those first two figures make you think of? Hats off!!

Happy holidays, everybody!

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