Sweet Sixteen

I love this Rock Glam Musical and, in particular, this song Midnight Radio.

Hedwig is an angry, selfish, cruel and fabulous almost-Diva, but ultimately a human who finally accepts that life throws, fleeting and unpredictable, both joy and pain.

While the story definitely uses gender as a fulcrum, the action, music and lyrics vibrate with the angst, anger, disguise, exploration, recognition, revelation and acceptance of identity or the meaning of one’s life.

I dedicate this to all the sweet sixteens of the world who will not get this until they are 30.  Happy Birthday Blue Eyes.

A European Traveling Adventure with my Teen Boys

I’ve done several trips with just one child sans husband and they were all memorable.  The first was with my son to Bermuda.  We were a walk from the beach with lots of restaurants and at age eight he was surprisingly not bored once.  The second was with my daughter also at age eight to B.C.  Another beach and more good food.  We were joined at the hip for tandem biking in Stanley Park, singing lustily on the drive from Nanimo and kayaking in Tofino.

For my son’s 16th birthday I invited his best friend, also turning 16, and we experienced the Netherlands, more specifically Amsterdam, and Paris and Biarritz, France.

Some people like to tour on buses or boats, some like to create their own schedule, some like to wing it – I like to find small personal operators and “experience” somewhere in between.  For the French part of this trip I hired Evelyne Dufau, a neighbour of mine from Toronto.  She owns and operates Expérience Authentique

After two consultations, Evelyne designed an experience to please both myself and the two boys in France by connecting unique accommodations, transportation, food, shopping, outdoor activities, French language and art. Here were some of the highlights from this memorable 2006 trip.

We took the train from Amsterdam to Paris and a taxi to The Marais section, one of Paris’ oldest and most visually stunning areas with it’s narrow cobblestone streets and gorgeous French men.  There we stayed at the Hotel de la Bretonnerie which is gently loved, well priced, quaint and wonderfully located.

The Marais reminds me of SoHo with lots of dining along narrow streets, very different than the wide avenues of central Paris.

The Marais reminds me of SoHo with lots of dining along narrow streets, very different than the wide avenues of central Paris.

Of course, immediately after I paid for dinner on our first night, the boys ditched me.  I reassured myself that with the hotel’s card in hand, a map, their rudimentary French and charming smiles, they could find their way back and they did.  The boys breathless arrival was accompanied by a story about their walking into a “sports” bar and finding it entirely male.  They weren’t sure why everyone was staring at them or why they were having such bad luck finding any teenage girls.  I had not bothered to mention that the area in which we stayed was the “gay/hip” area of Paris, but it appears that they found out.

While they had their own Paris adventure, I stumbled across a film festival within five blocks and enjoyed an evening of free short films on a balmy Paris night.   It was no matter that my French is pretty pathetic, the films were all subtitled.

Stumbled across this free event complete with deck chairs and emcee Charlotte Rampling

Stumbled across this free event complete with deck chairs and emcee Charlotte Rampling

Our visit to Paris was brief and beautiful, including my bribes to visit the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay in exchange for surfing lessons later on in Biarritz.  Like the trip to Amsterdam, we mixed equal parts of Anne Frank House and Dine with Dutch with Coffee Shops, the Cannabis Collage and a graffiti walkabout.  It all worked to expand all our Cultural minds.

These Canadian boys were a fascinated and a little freaked out by the gendarmerie who were smiling broadly while carrying automatic weapons.

These Canadian boys were a fascinated and a little freaked out by the gendarmerie who were smiling broadly while carrying automatic weapons.

My triumph was seeing a brief look of awe with the sheer scale of this painting.

Triumph was seeing mouths agape and a brief look of awe with the sheer scale of this painting.

Instead of climbing the tower, we decided to sit and watch the tourists and mess with the gypsies who tried to mess with us.

Instead of climbing the tower, we decided to sit and watch the tourists and mess with the gypsies who tried to mess with us.

We had been advised about the swarming rampant at tourist attractions like the Eiffel Tower and Sacré Coeur [Sacred Heart Church].  It’s so easy to let fear itself be the thing that ruins your travel experiences.  I’ve done that to myself in the past and found the best antidote is be prepared and use humour whenever possible.  I discussed this with both boys and we managed to sidestep the bracelet-making circus at the Sacré Coeur, but under the Eiffel Tower my son was approached by a group of women who proceeded directly with their scam.  My son, ever the polite Canadian, decided instead to mischievously pretend he was psycho and began gibbering and laughing maniacally.  The women were shocked and unsure of what to do.  As they backed off, my son trailed them and I, with ice cream cone in hand, watched from a nearby bench with some concern.  At the point where I was sure the husbands or a Gendarme would appear – it was over.

Traveling with teens can be as challenging as living with them.  They are not yet adults and clearly too big to put in a time out.  2006 was before the day when every child had a cell phone and I was glad as it forced me to do things differently.

First I had to trust that they were able to make good decisions and second they had to agree to make them.  I worried, but the entire point was that I wanted them to have the experiences.  To see that there was a different world out there that they could navigate and to plant the seed about equal parts of curiosity and responsibility being the best part of being human.

Surfing

The people in Biarritz reminded me of Canadians. It was cool and windy, but everyone was out in their bathing suits.

In Biarritz, Evelyne had booked us into another spectacular place overlooking the ocean, which included breakfast on the terrace, in Villa le Goeland.  We walked everywhere including to the beach where she had arranged surfing lessons for Colin and Mike.  While the boys surfed I managed to get in some shopping, mostly table and bed linens which my sisters and I are addicted to.

The staff and the surf kept the boys engaged physically and mentally and they dropped into bed contentedly having only grumbled once.  Apparently the gaggles of French teenage girls disappeared at night and the only people they ran into were the gendarmerie who teased them about Canadians lax laws concerning pot smoking.   What?

Evelyne’s specialty is South West France, particularly the Basque Regions that straddle France and Spain.  My sweet sixteen year old boys were excited about what I told them would be bar hopping, but they were in for a cultural surprise.  Our driver regaled us with stories of the Basque people and history [comparing it to Quebec] and we soon arrived to the beautiful City of San Sebastian.  We parked in the port section, cleverly not dominated by condos and whose medieval architecture was home to a large number of bars in close quarters serving beer, pintxos or pinchos and tapas.

Having ordered a selection of small plates of hot and cold food to share, the beer arrived and eyeing it my son whispered that they were ripping us off because the glass was just one third full.  Our guide laughed and said yes, but since we had four more bars to go there was no use filling up in one place.  Pace yourself he said, enjoy the food, the beer and the company.

 

I can't say enough about how adventurous the boys were about eating.

I can’t say enough about how adventurous the boys were about eating.

If you didn’t already guess, food is really important to me as a travel feature, heck as an everything feature.  On the last night  in Biarritz, however, the boys were ready for some comfort food and ordered fresh shrimp, “French” fries and Coca-Cola – I could not believe at last that the novelty of ordering wine or beer had worn off.  The night’s finale was a fisherman beside the roadside restaurant who swung his catch, a wiggling squid, around the crowd, the screaming girls, and the catch discharged to be someone’s calamari.  Welcome to France!

Bison Chili Wine Pairing

I asked Georgia and Susanne, aka The Wine Ladies, for a pairing for Bison Chili where I was using the hot, citrusy, smoky and nutty flavours of dried Pequin Peppers and Cumin.  The Wine Ladies emphatically stated power with power and spice with spice, then recommended Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Carménère or a Malbec.  My dear husband, Rick, won’t buy French wines saying that they just send their swill to Canada, so I headed for an Argentinian wine to try.

According to Wine Folly because Malbec doesn’t have a super long finish, it’s a good choice for meats with less fat like Bison.  It also works well with “funky flavors like blue cheese and rustic flavors like mushrooms and Cumin”, which is exactly the spice in my chili.

BacoNoir

LCBO directed me to the Argentina section for a large selection of Malbec wines.  I don’t know one vintner from another, which is why we need people like the Wine Ladies, so I choose a couple of bottles by a tried and true method … a pretty label.   Trapiche Broquel Malbec 2011 and Norton Reserva Malbec  2010 were selected.

There is so little time and so much damn wine, but I really need to visit the Ontario wine trail just like we did in Sonoma.  Visiting wineries, especially the small ones, does two things.  Most obviously you get to taste wine, but what I love is learning about the vintner and picking their brains.   What grapes they are using, what they are trying to accomplish and what food comes to mind when they are designing their wines.

I won’t buy Canadian wines without having tasted them or by a recommendation from a foodie like me.   I was delighted when an unexpected recommendation of Henry of Pelham’s Baco Noir, as being a “lush red, best served with food”, was dropped by a Twitter acquaintance Shelley Nelson.

I opened the Norton and the Henry Pelham and gave for a blind taste test with dear hubby.  Rick confirmed the smooth short finish on them both, saying that the Norton was a little fuller, while I commented on the lovely bouquet on the Pelham.  With no clear preference, but being patriotic, we opted to serve the Ontario wine with the Bison chili and sadly both are all gone.

Dinner with Colette

Inevitably you find yourself pondering about if you had a dinner party, who you would invite.  I’ve decided that meeting Colette would be most satisfying.  French novelist and performer Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette [1873-1954] lived through an amazing time of change from wars, slavery, suffrage to the emergence of technology which would change everything from manufacturing and domestic labour to the exploration of outer space.   Colette was also ahead of her time, a confident precocious human who explored her, and women’s in general, sexuality through writing, performance art and in relationships with men and women.  What dinner conversation would be had with this amazing person.

Source: Moulin Rouge Tectum Publishers /       Moulin Rouge Private Collection

Source: Moulin Rouge Tectum Publishers /Moulin Rouge Private Collection

Chéri and Gigi, both books written by Colette, and later adapted into movies respectively with actresses, Michelle Pfeiffer and Leslie Caron, are fascinating looks at social Culture, love, wealth, women and youth.  In the case of Chéri, Pfeiffer plays an aging courtesan in a mad love affair with a young man called Chéri [dear].  In Gigi, Caron plays a girl on the cusp of womanhood navigating family pressure to abandon hope of romantic love for security as a courtesan.  I’ve always wondered what Colette would have to say about the adaptation of her novel, Gigi, into a musical.  There are lots of prostitution movies that are either gritty or become romantic comedies like Disney’s Pretty Woman, but the movie Gigi always made me feel uncomfortable particularly with what became a beloved song sung by Maurice Chevalier, Thank Heaven for Little Girls.

Spoiler Alert.  One interesting note is that in the Chéri novel, the final act shows the young lover leaving the courtesan because she has “aged”, but in the Chéri movie the novel and it’s sequel [Fin de Chéri ] are merged.  The courtesan ends the affair when Chéri’s to be married, but sometime later he returns to the courtesan who while she says she loves him, it’s too late, she’s turned into an old woman and she asks him to leave permanently.

In the movie a narrator says Chéri leaves feeling relieved, but later understands that he loves only the courtesan and he reacts by killing himself?!?  There must be more to it than that and I am longing to read the books AND grill Colette over a hot Cassoulet and wine from the Madiran region or maybe an inky Cahors.

If you could invite someone, living or dead, to a dinner party, who would it be?