Monday, October 29, 2007


October is undoubtedly Amerloque's favorite month of the year. It contains quite a few milestones, and among them are family anniversaries, birthdays - and a traditional daylong family endeavor, one which is dear to Amerloque.

Twice a year – in the spring and in the autumn – the Amerloque family reserves an entire day for the making of traditional Eastern European sausage. Certainly one could go to almost any boucherie or charcuterie and purchase splendid French sausages, but these sausages are a very special kind. They are called kielbasa: traditional Eastern European sausages from Poland, Lithuania, Bielorussia and the Ukraine.

Every spring and every autumn during Amerloque's childhood, his Grandma would prepare her kitchen for sausage making. From under the sink she would pull out her old newspaper-wrapped meat grinder, the one that she had bought in 1917, just after her marriage. She would affix it firmly to a corner of the scarred wooden worktable in her kitchen. She would then produce cutting boards of various sizes, all reserved for the ceremony of sausagemaking, and place them carefully on the work surface. The appropriate cutlery was taken from a special drawer. Grandma's brother - that is, Amerloque's great uncle, a blacksmith in the old country before he came to the USA in the late 1920s - would handle the various knife- and blade-sharpening chores. When all the equipment was to her satisfaction, Grandma would remove serious quantities of fresh meat from the refrigerator and the cooling boxes behind her house: pounds and pounds of pork as well as bits of beef and veal.

After cutting the meat into pieces and adding various seasonings, including onions, Grandma would - as she always did - delegate young Amerloque to turn the handle on the sausage machine, while she or her brother fed the cut meats into the top of the grinder. Of course, it seemed a chore and rapidly became boring after the first hour or so. Why so long? Two passages of the meat through the machine were required: the first to grind the cut meat and the second to stuff the well-washed sausage casings with the seasoned meat, after the appropriate sausage horn had been attached to the grinder. At the end of the day, the sixty or so pounds of finished sausage, in links ranging from one to three feet, were hung for a couple of days to dry out in an old cupboard converted by her brother. As Amerloque grew older, he began to appreciate Grandma's sausagemaking sessions more and more, as she spoke nostalgically and volubly in her native language of the past and of the family both in the old country and her country of adoption. Of course, eating the sausage which had just been made that very day was always a special treat, well worth the hours of handle turning, while at Thanksgivings and Christmases the autumn sausage was always a big hit with family and guests.

When Amerloque had children, he decided to uphold the tradition passed down by his grandmother. Certainly it would have been easy enough back at the beginning of the 1980s to purchase an electric grinder, so as to save valuable time and to produce impressive quantities of kielbasa. Yet both Mme Amerloque and Amerloque, not for the first time, were immediately of one mind: a traditional hand grinder would be purchased and used, not a modern, efficient, electric machine. The point of the entire activity wasn't solely to make sausages; it was also to spend quality time together with other family members - talking, laughing, communicating - while one of the children turned the handle and the other fed meats into the top of the machine and tied off the casing ends. With that in mind, Mr. and Mrs. Amerloque marched down to the Samaritaine department store (closed down some time ago) on the Right Bank and purchased the best sausage machine they could find: a Spong, which has been in regular use down to today.

As the years went by, making sausages from scratch in March and October became an Amerloque family activity, one eagerly looked forward to and planned for by all. Many have been the problems solved, the decisions taken, the experiences shared, and the laughs echoed, around the sausage machine. This October's production is particularly tasty; Amerloque's children came back from university to cut meats, turn handles - and celebrate the family. Where travel is concerned, Amerloque has always felt that the voyage is as important as the destination itself, and so it is in the realm of sausage making. The sausage for Thanksgiving and Christmas is ready.

One peculiarly American event taking place in the autumn– one which Amerloque never really replaced by any other sports entertainment in his French expatriate life - is the Major League Baseball World Series. In spite of its somewhat pretentious name, of course, the best of seven series always pits one North American team against another, to the delight of those Americans and Canadians who have patiently followed the season since its beginnings in April. October, too , has always been the month of
US style football (not soccer !), with both professional and college seasons reaching their cruising speeds, after an exciting month of September during which each team harbored dreams of postseason Bowls (Rose, Cotton, Orange ! ) and fine-tuned their various offenses and defenses. Of course, there was no BCS (Bowl Championship Series) when Amerloque came to France. Moreover, state universities and colleges recruited players almost exclusively from their own states and population basins, rather than shopping for the best players throughout the country, as is done nowadays. Out West, for example, there were indeed serious differences in the levels of USC, Cal and UCLA compared to teams such as Boise State, Arizona State, and San Jose State. The latter three weren't even deemed fit to tread the football fields of the first three. When the Midwest champion from the Big 10 met the PAC 8 (now PAC 10) laureate in the storied Rose Bowl on January 1st, it was more than a simple meeting of teams: it was an encounter between two football philosophies, two ways of seeing the world, two discrete parts of the United States.

Before the 1990s, it was impossible here in France to watch a baseball game or football game in anything like real time unless one lived near the Belgian or German borders, where the Armed Forces Network (also called the AFRTS) TV broadcasts could be picked up, if one were lucky. Radio broadcasts, however, were another story entirely: after sundown, one could turn on a short wave radio (SW), or a decent medium wave set (MW), and pick up US armed services programs from the occupying forces beyond the Rhine. Frequently the programs from the military bases were static ridden, choppy, and fading in and out – but they were there. That was the most important thing for Amerloque.

Amerloque remembers staying up quite late one blustery October evening to listen to a crucial World Series game, he and a few other expats polishing off a hearty meal of filets d'hareng, filet mignon de porc, pommes de terre and cheese, all washed down with a bottle of allegedly down-market Préfontaine table wine. Few expats are really aware of the urban legend (?) that the wine in the Préfontaine bottles was not necessarily undrinkable plonk, but was generally a bordeaux déclassé ! For the French, by the way, filet mignon in the vast majority of cases refers to pork and not to a tender but tasteless cut of beef. One most assuredly wouldn't enter a French butcher shop - even today - and expect to receive beef if one requested a filet mignon ! One can be grateful for some limits to Americanization and globalization.

With the advent of satellite and cable TV in the latter part of the 1990s it became easier to watch US football and baseball. The French subscription channel Canal+ introduced football to France on a regular weekly basis, and even went as far as to show summaries of World Series games. In the past two or three years, the French Sports+ channel – available on cable – has been showing one NFL and one NCAA game per week in season, as well as a selection of bowl games at the beginning of January: one per week through the end of February, as a matter of fact. Sport+ broadcasts are not live: they are simple two-hour resumés, using French reporters who generally have more enthusiasm than knowledge. Alas, Sports+ has one big drawback: it is unable to keep to its posted programming times. A broadcast set for 22h00 might start at 21h30 – or 22h25 – or not at all ! This lack of reliability is hardly a manner of building customer loyalty, but it is guaranteed to engender deep frustration chez les téléspectateurs américains expatriés. One tremendously positive aspect, though, is that there is virtually no advertising in the two-hour programs. Each game is broadcast as a continuous thread from the opening kickoff to the final whistle, with only a quick break between quarters and at halftimes.

A major event this autumn in France is the arrival of a brand new TV station called NASN, which is short for North American Sports Network. It is available through many cable and satellite providers. Amerloque first heard about this station in September, when his cable provider offered a three-week trial period, at the conclusion of which he signed up immediately. This September and October Amerloque was able to watch all the American League and National League playoffs and all the World Series games – in their entirety ! For the final World Series game, he invited a couple of other expats over … for a 2 a.m. dinner of filets d'hareng, filet mignon de porc, pommes de terre and a variety of cheeses. Préfontaine having gone to that Brand Graveyard in the Sky, it was replaced by a very nice 2002 Côte de Nuits-Villages.

Traditional French life continues to fade into memory. This October has seen the disappearance of many courts (tribunaux d'instance) and commercial courts (tribunaux de commerce) throughout France, under a reorganization scheme being put into effect by the Minister of Justice, Rachida Dati. The plan calls for more than 10% of the courts to be merged or simply eliminated. One is treated on the TV evening news to the rare spectacle of lawyers in their formal robes demonstrating in the streets and in the courthouses - and sometimes being earnestly manhandled by the French riot police, as the Minister of proceeds on her tour of France, making announcements as she goes.

In recent years, many (thousands) of municipalities in France have lost their a) train stations (no more train services, period !) , b) post offices, c) schools and d) tax offices. City and town centers are being gutted, as local and national services pull out and shops close for good. Yet successive administrations in Paris – both on the left and right - have promised that government would be "closer to the people" and "more modern".

Will traditional French life – with all its strengths and weaknesses - have to be destroyed in order to be saved ? Or will only one of the best parts of French life – the proximity and responsiveness of its public services - be bowdlerized, expurgated, or downright eliminated so as to reach some ignorant European bureaucrat's idea of the lowest common denominator ?


Text © Copyright 2007 by L'Amerloque
Images © Copyright reserved to copyright holders, including Amerloque


Blogger LASunsett said...

Hi Amerloque,

//A major event this autumn in France is the arrival of a brand new TV station called NASN//

Which seems to produce some real bloodshot eyes and periods of fatigue in those that subscribe, no? ;)

Seriously, though.

I can tell lately that Mr. Amerloque and Mr. Rocket have lurked online and even posted comments at PYY at late hours, Paris time. So, I know you must be enjoying it. Let me say that I couldn't be happier for you guys and all of the ex-pats that have missed live American sports for so long.

When I was in Germany, they started up the first live broadcasts of NFL, World Series, NCAA football, and NCAA BB Tourney games, on AFN. We got the semi-finals of the Final Four and about one live football game a week. And we thought that was a treat.

But, in some ways, I am glad I didn't have more. I am afraid we would have lived more of an American existence and not ventured out as much. This forced us all to either be bored silly watching an afternoon Sunday game that was taped the previous weekend, or get on a train and go to a town that had a neat castle to scope out. (I figured I has the rest of my life to watch football on Sunday afternoon and only s short window of time to experience this thing they called Europe.)

The thing that got the military interested in the live sporting broadcasts was the fact that there was a marked drop in crime within the American military community (mostly fights and disorderly conducts), during the broadcasts. It got to be so popular that most units that weren't involved in some kind of project or exercise would not require troops to be at work until 1300 the Monday after the SB.

5:12 PM  
Blogger L'Amerloque said...

Hi LAS !

/*/ Which seems to produce some real bloodshot eyes and periods of fatigue in those that subscribe, no? ;) /*/

And how ! (grin)

/*/ But, in some ways, I am glad I didn't have more. I am afraid we would have lived more of an American existence and not ventured out as much. /*/

Amerloque is in 100% agreement with this.

It's one of the issues with many of the new "expats", Amerloque feels: they seem to be very much living a kind of ethnocentric "American" existence here in Paris, justement, what with the easy availability of the media, including the internet and cheapo phone calls and flights home (grin). In addition, there are now McDos and Starbucks and suchlike all over town … one can consume almost 100% "American", and never really interact with "the French", unless there is a very good reason, such as a job … or having a French significant other. A lot of the expats appear to be simply surfing (what they think is) French life, to judge from a lot of the inane comments on blogs.

Many extrapolations Amerloque reads are quite simply incorrect: shopping at the Porte de Vanves flea market, is for suckers with more money than sense, for example … paying those kinds of prices for fakes and bitzas ! Recommending that flea market as a "good place to shop" reminds Amerloque of the words scriptwriter Michel Audiard put into the mouth of actor Jean Gabin: La Bourse est la nécropole des dots bourgeoises. ("The Stock Exchange is the graveyard of bourgeois dowries.") Replace "Stock Exchange " with "Porte de Vanves Flea Market" … (smile)

There have been so, so many changes. There's even a "Chinatown" now in Paris: quite a new phenomenon here. Back when Amerloque came, inexpensive Chinese restaurants were few and far between. There were only two or three in the entire Latin Quarter (5th and 6th arrondissements), for example … there were virtually no Oriental grocers, either, nor were there (allegedly) "Greek" sandwich shops all over town.

Perhaps Amerloque is too elitist. (sigh, then grin)

Thanks for stopping by !


12:47 AM  
Blogger LASunsett said...

//There's even a "Chinatown" now in Paris: quite a new phenomenon here. Back when Amerloque came, inexpensive Chinese restaurants were few and far between.//

I remember one Chinese restaurant in Aschaffenburg, where I was stationed. It was priced fairly well, not overly expensive, but not a schnellimbiss either. To this day, it is was the best Chinese food I have ever eaten.

We have a chain here in the States, called PF Chang's. It's a bit on the pricey side, but it's good. There's also a place near where I work, it's not expensive. But neither of them are in the league that the one in A-burg had, when I was there.

I rarely do the Chinese buffets that are quite numerous here. Many of them get hit with health department violations, mostly from not keeping the buffet food at proper temperature. There is one little take out place near here, that is great for after a long day at work. I call Mrs. Sunsett when I leave, she calls the order in, I drive right by and swing in to pick it up on the way home. It's fresh and not overly loaded with sodium.

6:55 AM  
Anonymous Rocket said...

Hi Guys

Just a comment on Chinese restaurants before I retreat (back) into my own little world. There's a joke in France and in Spain also that says that the beef in your plate is actually someone's grandma. I've heard that there are more deaths in the Chinese community than there are death certificates. Ugh!

The Spanish tell the same "joke"

Sometimes I've got to wonder what is in those "Spring rolls"

It's Sunday night so.....later

1:17 PM  
Anonymous pat said...

I am like you in that I have not replaced my love of baseball for any other sport here in France. I, too, stayed up all night to watch the World Series this year (on our Sky satellite system) as I am a HUGE Red Sox fan (been for many, many years!). I had to see them win again this year - watched them win as well in 2004.

btw - your homemade kielbasa looks so yummy! Have not had any in years!

3:27 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home