“Un Hot-Dog S’il Vous Plait”
After more than 20 years of traveling with Lisa Peterson I have come to understand that every meal time (and all the time in between) presents itself with an opportunity for yet another culinary discovery, if not adventure. After all, isn’t that the purpose of the outing?
So with that in mind, perhaps you will have some understanding of the rather un-intended consequences that played out the other day during a detour we took to what is clearly a “tourist attraction” in the high mountain French ski-resort of Chamonix. (pronounced sham-O-nee) although I insisted on referring to it as “Chimney-wax” just to exacerbate my adult children.
A small group of us had arrived in this hinterland on our way to Northern Italy to prepare for the arrival of even more culinary adventure seekers who had signed on for Lisa’s first official guided culinary client tour of well, anywhere for that matter.
This tour happens to be set in Tuscany, a region she has considerable knowledge and experience of. (A second week in Spain and the Basque region will follow from here)
Not to be totally distracted by the dozens of fine restaurants and regional food choices, our group determined that it was a must that we take the not so in-expensive cable car “ride’ up the Aiguille du Midi which is a 3,842m (12,604 feet) peak in the Mont Blanc massif of the French Alps.
I rather reluctantly agreed and the 9 of us packed ourselves into this glass walled box with some 50 other tourists and up we went.
To what seemed to be my good fortune at the time, it turned out the route was actually divided into “two separate” legs with a “transfer” mid-way up the mountain.
This of course gave me the opportunity to re-think the decision I had made to even attempt this folly to begin with. After taking one look at the steep vertical climb the second leg of the trip presented it was an easy decision.
“I”m staying here” I announced.
Perhaps it was the years I spent in my youth as part of the Ski Patrol evacuating weekend snow bunnies off of malfunctioning chair-lifts, or even the almost catastrophic lift failure I witnessed throwing dozens of riders through the air to the slopes below and being part of the rescue team tasked with picking them up and transporting them to whatever medical support they were in need of.
Or maybe it’s just my fear of heights!
Whatever the reason, I wasn’t about to go any farther.
One of the benefits of being of a certain age is that peer pressure is no longer a consideration.
Now my youngest child is not unknown for favoring her Dad in these situations and not surprisingly she quickly chimed in and said “I’m staying here too”….
So while the others boarded the next Cable Car for the death defying trip to the top, we stumbled off the platform with a few strangers to the mid-way building.
By now lunch time was upon us, and we frankly had no idea just how long we would be waiting for the rest of our group to return from what promised to be a potentially captivating experience at almost 13,000 feet.
So, we promptly perched ourselves at an outdoor table overlooking the stunning views of this French mountain resort in the valley below, and also of the windy precipice and the cable cars making their ascent to the top.
“Make the best of this” I thought to myself, trying not to think about the fact that I could be back on the valley floor right now, whiling away the hours over a leisurely and scrumptious lunch selected from the extensive regional offerings of the resort.
Instead, I left my daughter waiting at the table and made the journey of a few steps into what I would have referred to in my youth as an Alpine “warming hut” with a snack bar inside.
Waiting patiently in line behind a few other tourists, it was finally my turn. I had already read the blackboard menu which listed three “Sandwich” offerings….and my high school and college French were more than adequate to inform me that we had three choices.
Ham sandwich, cheese sandwich, or sausage sandwich.
Oh yes, and one more combination…Ham and cheese sandwich.
A quick check with my daughter and it was ham and cheese for her, while I decided to go with Sausage.
Now here is where it get’s really memorable.
I will not soon forget the face of the French proprietor of this establishment when I asked for my selections in English, not even feigning French with my tourist accent, only to have him open his mouth and reply…”no more sandwiches….we are out of bread”…
“What?” I replied….was it the altitude or did I just hear him say they were out of bread? He repeated in broken english….”we are out of bread”….
“Well, what do you have” I responded…..
“Un Hot-Dog” was his reply…..
Again, at the risk of totally exacerbating him I responded “What?”
“We have Un Hot-Dog left”…..not, we have hot dogs, but we have ONE hot dog left.
This is where I remember the room starting to spin….there were people in line behind me, this decision had to be made quickly and I was 7,600 feet and one terrifying ride down from the nearest restaurant.
“I’ll take it!” I responded. As if I had just declared my fidelity to the crown!
Then came the un-expected from the proprietor…”Mustard or Ketchup?”
“What? I replied again…and sounding like a broken record.
“Mustard or Ketchup” he repeated…
Again this required quick thinking….”Both” I said….after all I am on a culinary tour of Europe.
Almost immediately the irony of that fact started to sink in. And the humor of it.
If you are reading this at all, you likely have some idea of the culinary standards and variety that my wife surrounds herself with, and that while in her company, you become accustomed to having access to.
Being on a trip specifically dedicated to these opportunities and finding myself at what was one of the first “lunch’ opportunities of the trip, to be splitting an albeit French “convenience store” hot dog with my daughter was quickly revealing itself for just what it was. Hysterically funny.
After waiting a few polite minutes for the proprietor and his wife (I’m not kidding, there were two of them running this nut house) they completed whatever sort of preparation was required to heat and insert this rather odd looking, and as my daughter pointed out…”Scary Red” hot dog into it’s yeast and flour sleeve….crisped to perfection.
I don’t really remember too much after that.
The photo opportunity was totally irresistible. I thought it photographed rather well for a $400.00 Hot Dog (6 round trip tickets).
Eating it was the least memorable part of the experience other then the fact that it did not fail to dis-appoint and the inside of what I think was possibly meat was equally mysterious.
The surprise came when the very next Gondola down from the top contained all but one of the rest of our party. Almost in total, rather sheepishly declaring that the entire experience was “terrifying” and that while “breathtakingly beautiful” it was too Breath-Taking to remain there any longer.
This only revealed to me that had I known our wait would be so short, I could have saved myself for something slightly more appetizing on the valley floor below.
What un-folded next was my insistence on immediately telling parts of this story to the rest of our group, only to continue to embarrass my daughter who had been witness to my hysterics in front of the few lingering tourists at adjacent tables.
As is so common in these days of social media, and unbeknownst to me, my daughter captured part of this re-telling on her video which while completely entertaining, it is not suitable for posting. It will simply have to remain available when needed as proof of this absurdly funny event.
I will leave it up to you to determine if you think my reaction was proportional or not.
Keep in mind, even in the midst of this region renown for it’s fine wines, I do not drink alcohol and while it may sound as if I were intoxicated, and I was accused of being overtaken by “altitude sickness”, I continue to maintain that anyone finding themselves in my shoes would have reacted exactly the same.
In any event, there you have it.
While not the expected outcome for lunch on one of our tours, I will certainly long remember my mid-mountain lunch in the French Alps. “Un Hot-Dog S’il Vous Plait!”