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Christmas in a Fairytale

Published February 23rd, 2012

I knew I should have booked a table for dinner on Christmas eve. I had for all the other important dates - Christmas lunch in Colmar, New Year's eve's dinner in Paris, and lunch on New Year's day inside a train station. I tried - I emailed a couple of restaurants and called a couple more - they were full or were not opening. I was busy in the week leading up to the holiday and time was short so I decided that, once there, I'm going to walk around town and find a nice little brasserie serving foie gras and lobster and Gewürztraminer. The intrepid traveller.

As we approached, hopefully, each one of the handful of restaurants that opened that evening, the word scribbled on a paper attached to the door became too familiar. 'Complet' - which, after the fourth or fifth, I began translating to 'should have booked, stupid.'

We couldn't decide whether the restaurant at the end of a narrow alleyway, well lit by the light from a sculpture's shop, was open or closed. I walked through the alleyway, past three or four people and tried to open the door which, surely enough, was locked. Amused that I didn't realise he was trying to tell me the restaurant was closed, in French, Didier started chatting with us - in French, Italian, and then we settled for English. He said we were going to find it difficult to find a restaurant that night. No shit!

He's a sculptor. The shop's his and he lives right upstairs. He introduced us to his wife and his son, my age, more or less. The flat above his is Peter's, his best friend. He was sat smoking pot but stood up to show us which buildings around us belonged to Bartholdi's family. Bartholdi was the sculptor who designed the Statue of Liberty and was born and lived in Colmar, understandably something they seemed to be quite proud of. We looked interested so he offered us Champagne. We refused politely - who gives Champagne to total strangers? Peter apparently. He hurried inside for a bottle and a few glasses and we drank. They suggested a Moroccan restaurant a couple of doors down.

I had been reading of the hearty Alsatian cuisine of French finesse and German gut-busting portions. I wanted to try the choucroute, baeckeoffe, the tarte flambée. A Moroccan restaurant on our first night in Alsace was not ideal. We walked around a little longer but we soon realised it was either couscous and tagines or we go to bed early and hungry. "Have you reserved a table?" No, of course we haven't. Who reserves a table in a Moroccan restaurant for Christmas eve dinner in Colmar? The restaurant was on two levels, both below ground. The kitchen and the larger dining space were downstairs. We walked back up. We were now heading home, resigned to go to bed.

"Are they full?" Didier did not look surprised to see us. He was standing at the top of the last flight of stairs. He smiled, asked us to wait and hurried downstairs. Did he know the owner? Was he really going to get us a table? Less than a minute later he was back. "You're going to eat with us. Yes?" I hesitated. It was Christmas. This was a family dinner. "Yes! If it's OK with you… that would be great!" I said with a big smile. Our options where somewhat limited. Peter came in with his girlfriend and son. Didier's followed.

We followed them into a huge private dining hall, warmly lit with an arched roof and exposed walls. It looked almost like a cave, beautifully decorated with Moroccan lanterns and comfortable sofas. We sat, uncomfortably, but not because we sat on stools. Peter and Didier had left and everyone else was talking French, impervious to us. We felt out of place. I should have politely refused, but it was too late by then. Or was it? I asked Alexander, Peter's son. "This is a family dinner and it's Christmas," I started. Not only was it Christmas but we were in Colmar. We had just arrived there but it was obvious, these people live for Christmas. The whole town felt like a huge Christmas market. All the streets were lit by pretty Christmas lights and decorated with Christmas trees, huge gift-wrapped boxes, Santas climbing up balconies and fake snow and snowmen and penguins. Also there were Christmas markets everywhere. "Are you sure it's OK that we join you?" He told us to relax, that their family didn't really do Christmas, and that the other three didn't speak English. He started chatting with us about his work and his house in Morocco and how they hate it that almost everywhere in Colmar shuts down on Christmas eve.

Didier entered the room, proudly holding a large bottle of wine. It was a Jeroboam, three litres of 1993 Château La Croix du Casse from Pomerol, Bordeaux. "This is a very expensive wine," Peter explained, assuming a Maltese who lived in London would not know an expensive Bordeaux from a Tesco Finest Bordeaux. I smiled at the thought of tasting it. I actually couldn't stop smiling at the thought of how lucky we were. We could have been asleep by now. Instead we were having dinner with two local families in an intimate Moroccan cave beneath the quaint streets of Colmar on Christmas eve.


Didier et al., Christmas 2011

Christmas eve dinner in Colmar

  • December 24th, 2011
  • NIKON D7000
  • 18mm / f/3.5 / 1/6 sec

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