Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Current Nonsensicalness of International Travel: Part I

As I am just about to board a plane, in tomorrow's early afternoon, I did not want to piss the travel's gods off too much with my rantings! So, I chose to begin with something gently chiding.

P.S. Before anyone comments upon it, I completely realize that "Nonsensicalness" is not a word, and thus, makes no sense. Kind of fits the point, eh? Bon Voyage!

The Current Nonsensicalness of International Travel:

Part I: Check-In Information Boards On these grand, overhead dangling panels, one can find flight numbers, destinations, gates, and departure times, blaring in letters of bright and block yellow. Missing from this panel? A real time clock. Now, I don't know about you, but at the end of an international flight, when the pilot, you know that genial, reassuring voice that reminds you of your best friend's father who you adored or your favorite grandfather, is announcing the local time and weather, unless I have been really lucky, I have slept a total of 2 hours and the passable coffee is doing its best to seep through my pretzeled system. Not my short term memory's shining moment! And, unlike European or Asian carriers, U.S. mobile phone companies make it financially-prohibitive for the budget traveler to have international phone access, i.e. no checking the cell phone for the time. And, before you ask about a watch, not all of like to wear them whilst traveling, although, point taken, maybe I should. Either way, those boards should STILL post real time. I mean, what if your hands are completely full with whatever or you are one of those people to whom "Unattended Baggage" means not letting it out of hands, let alone out of your sight? Some questions to ponder, as I try to catch a few winks of sleep...

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Belote, not just a game at Tous Va Bien!!!

About a year ago, Ben and I were sharing our plans with each other for the week. On Tuesday, I said, "I'm watching Paulina and Gabby for Outi", to which Ben replied, "okay, then I'll go to Belote". Belote, I thought. Is this the name of a new bar?

Upon finishing with the kids, I called Ben to see if I could meet him. Turns out, he was still at Belote. Instead of giving me foreign directions, he offered me a very familiar address: that of the Bretagne (or thee of Brittany-descent)- run, French Expat restaurant in Manhattan Midtown West, known simply as Tout Va Bien.

Upon my arrival, I was offered a seat, a glass of red, and a cursory rule rundown. Oh, and a buddy, a real Belote card shark (pun intended)... to help to me win. And, I did. But, only because of him. I left that evening with no knowledge of the game beyond that it was played in pairs, and one lays down cards in some order!

And, that's what I came with, into the game with Ben and Herve and Ben's father: Belote is played in facing pairs and one lays down cards in some order!

Yet, what I came out with, after two evenings of intense play and exchanging smiles with his father over Ben's competitive nature, was this:

Belote is a game is played with a special 32 card deck. Really, it's just a U.S. deck, with all cards from 7 up, without the Joker either.

The game begins with the Dealer asking the person to his/her right to cut the deck, after which the Dealer begins, beginning w. the player to his/her left to deal 2 or 3 cards each to each player. Then, the Dealer continues to deal either 3 or 2 cards to each player, until all players have 5 cards. The dealer then places the remaining part of the deck in the middle of the table and flips over the top card.

At this time, the player to the Dealer's Left can decide whether he/she wants to take the flipped card, thus making the suit it represents the TRUMP. The TRUMP means that, no matter what card is laid down, this suit can cut or win over that card. BUT, there is an order to the TRUMPS as well, which is Jack, 9, Ace, 10, King, Queen, 8, 7. The higher the better. For Non-Trumps, the Order of Worth goes Ace, 10, King, Queen, Jack, 9, 8, 7.

If s/he does not want it, the next player to the Left can take it, and so on. If no one takes the card, the Player to the Dealer's Left then takes the card that is face up, but can decide which suit s/he wants to be the TRUMP. The Dealer continues to finish dealing the deck, giving the player to his/her Left 2 cards, and all other player's 3.

Play commences with the player to the Dealer's Left laying down a card, and play moving to the Left. Obviously, each player is trying to lay down the card that will win the hand (see Non-Trump Order of Worth). BUT, each player also must keep in mind what his/her partner is laying down. Because if your partner has laid down, say that Ace of a suit, and no one has cut, why would you waste your Ace, and thus give away points to your competing team?

In conclusion, I have no idea how the points are counted, or what each of the cards are worth! I just know the order that makes me win! For the rest, I could suggest going to the following website: Me? I'm just going to ask my card shark buddy next time at Belote at Tout Va Bien. Happy learning!!!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Royal Lessons Learned, from a game of "Le Rummy"

I can't recall the first time that I played Gin or Rummy with my Mother. But, on every plane ride and by every poolside thereafter, she and my little sister and I we were never without our deck of 52.

So, when Ben's mother suggested a round of 'Le Rummy' after dinner the other evening, I was thrilled! A break for them! No teaching involved on their part! I knew the rules! And, because of our Belote of the other evening, I had been refreshed on the French vocabulary for the suits: le trefle, le pique, la coeur and le carrot, and the Royal Family, la Dame, le Roi, le Valet, as well as, of course, the most powerful, L'As! I was so ready to rock 'n roll, in fact, that I smiled at the their choice to stack the cards next to the Take Pile, a la Gin, meaning players can only take the top card to play, versus spreading them out, allowing for that oh-so-fun, grand sweep!

However, the first time that I went to lay down my cards, one finger and three heads were shaken at me. What, I thought, staring once at my hand, then at their faces? Since when wasn't a Royal Threesome of Jack-Queen-King an acceptable Rummy laydown?

Since the rules in France require the following! First, one must go through three rounds of taking a card until one is allowed to lay down anything. I had presented my Royals in Round 2. Second, one must have 51 points in one's hand. This first laydown must consist of a combination of the following: a run or runs of the same suit or run or runs of cards of the same number, with a minimum of 3 cards per group. I had had a mere 30 points. Each Royal is worth 10 points in Rummy. Still with me? As play continued, I also learned the following. Because in France, one plays le Rummy with not one, but two decks of 54 cards, one must be conscious of not laying two numbers of the same suit in any run combination! Cool?

Finally, in the game my Mother had taught me, I could add points to what I had already laid down. Well, in France, you add points to what your competitors have already laid down! Because, once a player goes out (the same way as in the U.S, by placing down one last card or three or foursome, then placing one's final card on top of the deck next to the big pile) one counts the number of points remaining in each player's hand, not what each player has laid down!

The moral of the story, which applies to both card sharks and non-card sharks alike? Never ever assume, when in a country where you are still learning the language, and thus, ever learning the culture, that you can sit back, count your cards, and quietly sip your schnapps! Happy playing!!!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Unadulterated Meal Planning

There is meal planning, and I have learned in the past few days, there is meal planning. The first is the kind that my mother and sister do, to ensure that all tastes are accommodated and the work is not doubled, for one or another family gathering. Or, the kind that I do when I have offered, for reasons I cannot recall once knee deep and crying into onions, to cater an affair in New York City for 60 plus people.

I learned of the second, markedly more intense level, in Alsace over these Christmas holidays. Mind you, I have witnessed pieces of this second type before. It begins with Ben emailing or calling each of his parents, separately and with each of their culinary strengths close in mind, about a week prior to departure, with his stomach's deepest desires. Usually, it continues with Ben salivating on the plane as he tells me what we will eat at midi, or midday meal, upon landing.

This year, and what leaves me no choice but to declare a 'second' level, is two things. First, calls were actually made between Ben's long- since- divorced parents to compare menus. And, at each home, prior to parting ways for the evening, we have been told exactly what we will be eating the next day for each meal we will be sharing.

A bit intense? Yes and no. Yes, because there is a chance that your stomach will growl in your sleep! No, because it makes the hazy breakfast choice oh-so-very much easier. Espresso and croissant or espresso and yogurt? When escargots and mussels, with white wine and garlic and parsley, and real, unadulterated butter, is going to be only your lunch appetizer, you too may find yourself saying, "just a double espresso for me, this morning, please!"

Friday, December 25, 2009

For Christmas 2009, the Duck was Sober.

This year, the duck was sober. For my new readers, that's the duck in the two-toned (i.e. goose and duck), Armagnac-infused foie gras Ben's father makes annually for Christmas and NYE. Last year, one whiff of it had sent my already wine infused system reeling into that whole 'nother dimension. So, why so sober this year, I wondered? Had the duck been that naughty in 2009?

I soon found out, that, indeed, no naughtiness had occurred. On the contrary, I believe the Armagnac just knew it could not hold a candle to this year's wine; and so, it had left the poor duck alone! First, there was a Sauternes, which I normally find way too syrupy and sweet. This one melted into the foie gras of duck and goose. Then, there was the first red, served with a lamb that one could only eat just beyond rare, for fear it would turn dry instead of pillowy tender. This Bourgogne was such a rare, ruddish amber, that Ben's father, who, in my opinion, cannot pull a bad bottle of wine out of his cave (i.e. wine cellar) nodded in awe at its color, as I held it up to the beaded chandelier. And it tasted really amazing too! Then, there was the 2nd red, a fruitier and really ruby St. Emmilion, that perfectly complemented a tangy Comte and buttery Camembert. Then, lunch dishes were put away (at 5:15pm, mind you!) cards for Belote, a French pair card game, were pulled out...and the neighbor showed up with a bottle of Champagne!

I won't get into what happened at dinner. Needless to say, I am writing in a state of great debate. Is my 2010 Christmas Wish Armagnac-soaked foie gras...or the cave raid that occurs when the poor duck is not forced to throw back a few more than he had foreseen with the barnyard boys?