I thought we could share some of our more unusual holiday stories. I was in Dijon, staying in the 'apartment' (the euphemism my college's French department used for half of the mansion they rented) for two weeks before Christmas a few years back. I decided to make myself a Julia Child Christmas, so I went to the public market and bought all the makings for fresh oysters for Christmas eve and the makings for soupe à l'oignon gratinée, boeuf bourguignon, and cherry clafouti for Christmas. I knew the Christmas dishes would be easy because JC's recipes are super easy to make. But I had never opened oysters, and even though there was an oyster opening thing in the kitchen, I waited till Christmas eve, when it was snowing.The above photos are of Dijon center and looking toward the entrance to the 'apartment' and then the walkway which plays a larger part in the story. I decided opening the oysters (I'd gotten 3 different varieties) would likely be a dirty job, so I put on the puffy white bathrobe of the French Dept.'s usual resident there and began. For over two hours I labored to get 1/2 dozen oysters open and while one looked passibly edible by the time I got done with it, most had shell pieces strewn throughout. Then finally, with great determination, I attacked the last oyster. I considered a hammer, but decided against. The oyster knife went straight into my left thumb ( I still have a painful scar ) and I began bleeding all over my colleague's bathrobe. I raced upstairs to where the washer was (go figure) and threw it in, leaving a trail of blood all the way up the staircase. When I finally made a tourniquet around my left thumb, I ate the one edible oyster, decided to skip the wine, and went to bed. Then a curious thing happened. I always left all the downstairs doors between rooms open (the place was huge). Next morning, Christmas day, I woke up in pain but went down to survey the damage in the kitchen. All of the doors were shut to the different rooms. I got seriously spooked out because I was the only one there. Bandaged up and much the worse for wear, I jokingly wrote an email to the French dept. person and asked if the building had a ghost. To my surprise, he responded later in the day via email: "You mean Charles?" Apparently a benevolent 17th C. fellow goes around shutting doors and also crossing the passageway between the two sides of the buildings (I had been told NEVER to open THAT window). I decide Charles was preferable to oyster knives, and have eaten but not shucked oysters ever since.
The day after Christmas, needing sustenance, I took the train to Beaune, the Burgundy bottling capital. The first photo is of the Hospice de Beaune, one of the first poor hospitals in the world, from the 15th C. Its gabled multicolored roof is typical of Burgundy. It is where the confraternity of the Chevaliers du Tastevins meet for their annual auction. After the visit and a mostly bread lunch, I visited nearby Père Patriarche et Fils, where you can try 22 wines in the ancient caves on your own and get a free silver-plated tastevin for a very small entrance fee. You're expected to maybe buy a bottle at the end but no requirements. The first time I was there was with my ex as a grad student, and we didn't realize how it worked. We went before lunch and of course started to drink (without spitting out, but thoroughly enjoying all the bottles starting with barrel 1). We had a tasting card to fill in our thoughts. By the 22nd wine (the best and most expensive), we were done in and our cards were looked like chicken scribble. I knew better this time so I went straight toward the end tables. And I drank a glass to the ghost of Charles past. Santé, ProfChiara
I was going to be melodramatic with the transition to the wine tasting in Beaune and say "after my self-inflicted nearly fatal wound and encounter with the ghost," but then thought, "just the facts, ma'am." The lesson I learned is leave the oysters to the experts .
When I called Jon the next day, he assured me that Charles was an entirely benign ghost . And I never had any problems with him after that except opening the doors he kept closing... It's a very old and beautiful mansion with Louis XIV furniture, fireplaces, chandeliers, and you feel like you're living in another century (ghost and all). Unfortunately my college had to cut down on costs and rented another smaller place nearer to the university.
When I was thinking again about how I told the story (truthfully), it occurred to me as a writer I should have reversed things. If it had happened in a novel, I would have gone to Beaune for the 22 wine tastings first, then gone home and nearly fatally wounded myself with an oyster shucker before Charles The Ghost confronted me.
Hey, maybe I will write a novel based on that!