Skip to content

Excerpt, Essay 4, Chow

(“Chow” is an essay about food and military life.)

When I got away from Hahn [Airbase], it was as far as I could get, not so much in miles from base as in distance from the endless war training machine, in search of beer and skittles, hungry for another adventure.

I didn’t have to go far. Nearly every Saturday “Fraulein Schneider” drove three kilometers to market, mingling with stocky townspeople who moved with brisk efficiency between shop-keepers and bakers and butchers along streets as cute and perfect as a town in a train set. Many nights I grilled German meat or sausage in my backyard while chatting with my neighbors in what my landlord called KinderDeutsch:

“How are you? I am fine. I like sausage very, very much!”
“Your house is very, very clean!”
“Yes, thank you, I would like a glass of wine, very, very much!”

Or I would buy fresh sliced German cold cuts from ruddy-cheeked German butchers, a bit of buttery cheese tasting of that luscious German milk, and a loaf of dark, dense, moist German bread, all to be washed down with a malty local beer or a bone-dry Mosel-Saar wine. During holidays—and Germany seems to have a lot of them—several of us would hop in a car and head to the nearest Schweinfest, where cooks would saw thick, juicy slices of pit-roasted pig, ensuring everyone got a bit of the crackling skin with the moist, smoky meat. Roast pig is such a Pied Piper that I once stood under a drizzling sky for nearly an hour, softly crooning “Singing in the Rain” with several friends while Germans on line with us smiled in our direction. Waiting in the rain for roast pig makes sense to Germans, and I admire their priorities.

I also had many sessions of psychic healing at the Hotel Morbach, a few kilometers from the house I rented in the tiny village of Bischofsdhron. The maitre d’ took a ken to me, with my German-sounding name, my stuttering German, my puckish habit of dining alone with a book, and my enthusiasm for her cuisine, which sailed above the usual gasthaus schnitzel-mit-pommes-frites affairs. “Have the lamb shank in wine,” she would whisper in German, one arm draped around my shoulder, as I leaned back in a huge, comfortable chair under a stained glass window, a glass of Mosel wine in my hand. “We have asparagus wrapped in bacon today. We have the trout you love”—Forelle Blau, whole trout boiled live so it curls in a perfect circle with an lake-blue sheen on its skin, an impeccable companion to the ubiquitous but irresistible Salzkartoffeln, small, firm boiled potatoes drenched in milk-sweet German butter. What the Germans lack in driving etiquette they make up for in good potato-growing soil. Later, the maitre d’ would come by the table, eyebrows raised, hands together as if in prayer. “Gut?” In my bad German I would enthuse, “The food is very, very good! I am very, very happy!” She would beam and sail through the dining room, hands triumphantly on hips, as I turned pages, nibbled lamb, and sipped wine.

Posted on this day, other years: