My (already decent-sized) family is lucky enough to have lots of relatives on both maternal and paternal branches of the family tree, so Thanksgiving weekend typically has two massive feasts: the Chinese side on the Saturday, followed by the Taylor side on the Sunday (and a day of yoga pants and recovery on the Monday). Some of my friends have been able to join in the festivities when, for whatever reason, I have deemed them to be ‘homeless’ on Thanksgiving (not allowed where I come from). This holiday – the one time of the year to simply be grateful for food, family and friends – has always been a time I make sure to be home.  Up until now.  This is the first time I’ve not made it back to Canada with my family for Thanksgiving.

Geeking out over vineyard pests.

Geeking out over vineyard pests.

But before we get there… let’s review the week in chronological order, shall we?

The new lessons this week were twofold: the first, a day of grape pathology, which involved a short trip to the lab to examine the many fungi and insects that can kill vines, and a jaunt to a local vineyard to see how many of the diseases we could identify. (Don’t worry, a certain amount of disease is quite normal at this time of year, as any late summer attacks have less impact to the grapes – aka. future wine – than treatment would.)

It’s an interesting way of looking at a vineyard – it turns out that traits that I might have previously considered pretty (particularly red leaves) and a natural part of autumn, may actually be brought on by mites or mildew.  Will have to look a little closer next time?  We all leave the vineyard feeling a bit itchy and needing to shower, just in case.  At the same time, I learn that the Dutch equivalent of ‘ants in your pants’ is ‘hedgehog in your ass’. While I try to decide which one is worse, there’s clearly no winner here…

Left to right, top to bottom: Leaf gall - cousin to the infamous phylloxera plague. Can you believe that inside each of these bumps is a teeny tiny mother bug with lots of microscopic eggs? A grey rot-affected grape berry - that fuzzy stuff ain't so tasty in the wine, but botrytis (noble rot) is.

Left to right, top to bottom: 1. Leaf gall – cousin to the infamous phylloxera plague. Can you believe that inside each of these bumps is a teeny tiny mother bug with lots of microscopic eggs? 2. A grey rot-affected grape berry – that fuzzy stuff ain’t so tasty in the wine, but botrytis (noble rot), its not so distant relative, is. 3. Looks pretty, but this leaf is being attacked by mites. 4. Don’t eat these grapes. Bad things will happen. (Once I hit my daily quota for technical terms, I detour through the colloquial to get my point across…)

He's just sawing away on that thing...

He’s just sawing away on that thing.

We return to the classroom over the next two days for a continuation of grape phenology, and I get a chance to check out the campus choir.  It’s a small group made up of people from our engineering college (yeah, you heard me… I’m an engineer now!) and a few of the surrounding campuses (that should be campi, right?).  We’re getting ready for a Christmas concert – doesn’t at all bring back memories of plaid tunics and red neck ribbons chez Hawthorn circa 1995 – which I will not be able to attend as I’ll be returning home for the holidays.  Still, it’s a great excuse to make some new friends, practice my French, and certainly put the pipes through their paces.  I haven’t sung much since New York, so it is good to have some structured musical content in my life.

The repertoire is mixed: some carols and blues in English, some French folk songs, and one Quebec ballad that is fast-paced with tough-to-follow dialect.  The French reassure me that they don’t completely understand it either.

After a well-timed cultural exchange with the second-year Master’s class (it’s a new program, so we are the only two cohorts so far) and the nightlife of Bordeaux, we return to the classroom early Friday morning for our second new lesson of the week: multi-cultural team building.  It’s designed to help us appreciate the various national perspectives we bring to our group, as well as refine our understanding of each other’s working styles. The day starts with a series of light-hearted games and ends with heartfelt discussion, a good way to go into the weekend, and the leadup to Canadian Thanksgiving.

duck hunting, rabbit hunting, duck hunting..

Now here’s a duck dynasty I can get behind.

Saturday morning sees me panicking because I’m not sure I can find whole duck anywhere – this is my French take (and secret achilles heel) on a traditional turkey dinner.  Le boutique du canard at the grocery store carries everything BUT whole duck. It turns out my worry is for nothing – the market at Capucins comes through (of course!  It’s France!), and I am able to sort out all my ingredient needs.

Which means I have lots of time in the afternoon to visit the antique flea market in Rauzan.  This is a well-known fair, only hosted twice a year in Rauzan, a village about 20 minutes south of St Emilion.  It’s a lovely day, and though I’ve never had a penchant for antiques shopping or flea markets prior to living in Bordeaux, I find them fascinating here.  Every object has a story, and I’m incredibly curious to find out how several of these things came into being.  Like, seriously.  My haul for the day is a few original Asterix comics (so I can improve my French) and a mini bottle of 1982 Armagnac.

We've all been here before: lazy Armagnac bottles, crosseyed owl figurines, and the fox wizard stealing away with a pheasant over a giant's brain.

We’ve all been here before: lazy Armagnac bottles, crosseyed owl figurines, and a fox wizard stealing away with a pheasant over a giant’s brain.  (Is that Victorian, do you think?)

We’re so close, so why not spend the rest of the evening in St Emilion?  (Yes, I hear myself saying these words, and can’t quite believe they’re coming out of my mouth either!)

The 2nd highest steeple in all of Aquitaine, from the inside of the Cordeliers church, and the sun going down behind St Emilion

The second highest steeple in all of Aquitaine, the view from the inside of the Cordeliers church, and the sun going down behind the cloisters.

It’s finally Thanksgiving; the menu this year calls for roast duck(s), mashed potatoes, paprika’d cauliflower, stuffing (my first attempt; it’s not so bad, if I say so myself!) and my signature guacamole recipe that I stole from Cam that one time.

A Greek-army-inspired quantity of potatoes. The first stuffing. Lucky duck.

A Greek-army-inspired quantity of potatoes, my first stuffing, a lucky duck: the food starts to blur together.  And up in the top right corner – leftover lunch the next day: guacamole on mashed potato pancakes.  (Followed immediately by a strong desire to nap…)

I am fortunate enough to be joined by an international mix of roommates and classmates who show up with their own dishes to share and many things to be thankful for. We all share a few in common – that we are grateful to be here in Bordeaux, to have met each other and that we are able to share quality time together like this.  My posts about daily life here are tongue in cheek, but it’s still kind of crazy to me that I have found my way here, to do this thing that I love doing. I am very grateful.

I am particularly grateful that the post season (POST SEASON!!!) Jays games are at absurdly early times in Toronto so that I can watch them 6 hours ahead in France.

this morning walk

I get to see this every morning.

PS. Shoutout to the Brulé/Chan/Do/Dumm/Elliott/Jalsevac/Javier/Joyce/Kan/Lee/McConnell/Smith/Taylor/Yee (phew!) clans that make up my family tree (did I miss anyone??) – love you and miss you all!


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