An Alsatian Tale: Now and Then

36 Fall View of Vineyards Kaysersberg Cemetery

(The cemetery in Kaysersberg, Alsace, France.)

It’s fall in France. Everywhere I look, from the once green ivy blushing red to the golden vineyards, life is preparing for winter. I look at the cemetery and wonder who’s buried here? I don’t think so much about how they died, but I find myself imagining how they lived. What must life have been like to live and work in this small Alsatian village?

All work and no play makes for a really, really long day. Yesterday, Jim and I decided to break up our work day with a short trip across the Rhine.  I returned to Kaysersberg on a three-fold mission. First, to find the sun and enjoy a piece of quiche-Lorraine for lunch. Success on both parts. With tummy full and skin soaking in the Vitamin D, I embarked on my second task. Shopping. Success again.

37 My Favortite Kaysersberg Clothing Shop

(This is my favorite clothing shop ever, well it’s right up there with Anthropologie.)

There is a shop I step into every time we visit Kaysersberg. Many times I leave with some new weird and wonderful piece of clothing. The couple who own the store are really cool. He has long gray hair, and she has short magenta hair. Very artsy looking. I think we might be good friends if we lived there. And if I spoke French. They speak no English. But we somehow manage to get along quite well.

Yesterday, something crazy happened. After making another fun purchase at their shop, we walked down a couple of stores and stepped inside a shop that had watercolors, prints, and drawings of various Alsatian villages. The owner began speaking English with us (How did she know?) and explained about the artists, and then said she knew we come here every year. (Of course, we’d been there twice in as many weeks as of late.) It appears we’ve become known! Can I just say, I LOVE THIS. Who knows what they say about us. One can only imagine!

I’ve gotten carried away with the shopping, but just one more thing about this part of my mission. I was determined to buy two cookie tins I’d seen in a bakery with cute Alsatian children painted on top of them. Hansi style. (If you’re not familiar with this artist you should check him out.) They were 6.90 Euros. I thought this was very reasonable. What I didn’t know was the only way you could purchase said tins was to fill them with the gourmet cookies sold in the shop, it was after all a French Bakery. Just let me say the final cost of the tins was more than I would normally spend in a month on cookies, but the tins were so cute and the cookies, well…gourmet. Yum.

38 Me at Chateau Gate by Bridge Kaysersberg

My third and final reason for returning to Kaysersberg was to wander around as if I were my latest character and try to see things from her eyes. I walked down alley ways and took more pictures of town. I looked up at the woods on the hillside and wondered if she hunted wild mushrooms there.  I looked at the small stream running through town and imagined she might have washed her clothes there.

I left Kaysersberg feeling excited about writing her tale. Armed with more photos and story ideas, we drove home to the Black Forest. As we left France, the sun disappeared behind the low-hanging clouds and the multi-colored leaves of the forest covered hills welcomed us back to Germany. And, I wondered…

An Alsatian Tale: Letting the character tell her own story.

35 Jean Dietrich House

(Kaysersberg, Alsace, France)

How characters tell their own stories…

One of my favorite places to be in the writing process is when characters are introducing themselves to me. I’m walking through Kaysersberg (my favorite Alsatian village) and stop on the bridge. Looking at my favorite house, a young woman appears in my mind. My imagination engages and a story begins to form. I smile and begin to walk back through the village, following my new imaginary friend, looking carefully at the cobblestone streets and the timbered houses, wondering where will she take me? It’s exciting, always.

I’ve been to this village quite a number of times and have lots and lots of photographs. Three of our four adult children have accompanied my husband and I on some of these trips. The photos I have were taken by each of us. The village seen through different eyes. Always a good thing.

Next, I will chose some of my favorite shots and print them. Then, I’ll pin them to one of my cork boards and set it up on my desk while I write. I often listen to music when I write. It helps transport me and hold me inside my story. I’m listening to some of my favorite Celtic music right now. Alasdair Frasiers’s Dawn Dance. I know this isn’t French, but my new friend may have a bit of Celt flowing through her blood. I’ll know soon enough.

This is a process. For me, at the beginning especially, I wander up and down different paths trying to find just where to start. It’s not always the beginning of the story. Often, the beginning comes when I’m deep in the middle of a tale and my characters let me know more about themselves. I love making new friends. I love telling their stories.

After writing for a bit, just becoming familiar with painting a picture of the village with my pen, I’ll do a bit of research, about the history of the place, the people who have lived here, legends that might already exist. She’ll let me know if one of these suits her fancy or if she has her own tale to tale.

So here we go. As I look out my window the fog sits heavy on the hillsides, the brilliant fall colored leaves peeking through. It’s a great day to write.


Living in Europe: Ancient Voices

53 Lowen Apotheke

(Lion Pharmacy in Kandern, Germany)

One of the many things I love about living in Europe is being surrounded by ancient civilizations. Every where I go there is evidence of those that lived and walked here before me. Roman ruins are exciting, but there are ruins here that pre-date Rome. Amazing.

The fact that our pharmacy has been here since 1665 gives me vertigo! On every hilltop there is a castle ruin, some dating back to the 600s. And, beneath some of those ruins there is evidence of a BC site. Crazy.

With these antiquated civilizations come rich lore and ancient voices. My mind hears them all and stories are beginning to form demanding a home on paper. There are so many, I’m not sure where to begin. But begin I will. Exciting.

I’ve decided to write them down as short stories and let them sit on the page for a bit to see which one has the strongest voice. Or maybe I’ll write an anthology of short stories from this region, the Black Forest. But then, I drive across the border to Eastern France and more voices fill my head. So I jot down more stories. Next, I discover Frankenstein’s Castle further north in Germany, and there are whispers now, dark voices. More stories. In a few weeks I’ll be in Prague, Czech Republic. Bohemian voices have spoken to me on past trips there. They too will ride my pen onto the parchment. (A poetic way of saying: they will ride my fingers onto the keyboard. See what I mean, this doesn’t sound quite so romantic.) As you can see there’s a lot of writing to be done. Daunting.

Let the writing begin!

The Exclamation Point: Trucks and Trees

56 German Exclamation Point Sign

Driving in Germany is always an adventure…

Leaving the village of Haimhausen, near Munich, this sign appeared. Several questions came to mind.

1.  Who are they yelling at?

2. What are they yelling about?

3.  Will there be chocolate at the end of this road?

Let me offer up a few suggestions for what this might be saying.




What are your thoughts about what this sign might be saying? And, oh by the way, there was no chocolate at the end of this road. Just the Autobahn. Which, as everyone knows, is the fastest route to whatever you’re looking for.



Germany’s Favorite Punctuation Mark: The Exclamation Point

56 German Exclamation Point Sign

Driving in Germany is always an adventure…

It’s impossible to drive very far without seeing a sign bearing an exclamation point. Why is this? I’ve come up with several possibilities.

1. It’s easier to fit on a road sign than…DANGER, DANGER…WATCH OUT…PAY ATTENTION…READ THIS…HEY YOU.

2.  You forgot your glasses and can’t read the words on a sign, but you CAN see this.

3.  You can’t read. (But then, why are you driving? Do you have a license?)

Normally, you will see the triangle sign with the exclamation point in the center. Then, underneath will be an attached sign with words or a picture. I have several personal problems with this. First of all, I feel as though I’m constantly being yelled at. Secondly, and this is because of my lack of understanding German, I don’t always know what the words are saying.

So, this is what’s going on inside my head: What is it saying? Is the bridge out just ahead? Are there terrorist sharp-shooters at the next exit? What? What?

The other day I was driving along and there was a road sign with just the exclamation point in the middle, no attached picture, no words. They just wanted to yell at me for no reason. This troubles me. Really.

I will be posting a new sign each week and we’ll see if you can figure out what it says. No cheating. No looking up the words. Of course sometimes there’ll just be a picture underneath. For example, the frog in my earlier post on Life in Germany. Are you in? I promise not to yell at you.