December 6, 2021

Bon Appetit! Miracle in Paris Made Thanksgiving Memorable

Linda Ahnert

In 1968, I was a student at the Sorbonne and on November 28th, I wrote home to my parents: “Thanksgiving without turkey!! It’s 10:00 p.m. here which means it’s 4:00 p.m. at home and you guys are probably stuffed from eating all that delicious food.”

I continued, “As my special gastronomic treat today, I bought a bottle of real American orange juice—all the way from Florida! I received your card this morning and showed it to all the kids so they wouldn’t forget what Pilgrims and turkeys look like.”  

A bit of explanation for those who don’t know what life was like way back in the 20th century. In those Digital Dark Ages, there were no personal computers, no cell phones, and no emails. When we left home to study abroad for a year, our means of communication with family and friends back in the U.S.A. were hand-written letters airmailed back and forth across the Atlantic.  

I would write home faithfully once a week to describe everything I was experiencing in “la belle et douce France.” For someone who loved the language and literature, living in France was like a homecoming in a certain sense—all the places I had read about and dreamt of, I was now seeing. 

I would cut through the Luxembourg Gardens to attend morning lectures (inhaling the aroma of bread baking as I passed boulangeries along the way.) Afternoon language classes were held in a building a few blocks from the Seine and I could look across and see Notre-Dame. 

And by November of 1968, I had been in France for six months and had seen not just Paris but had travelled all over the country— Normandy, the Loire Valley, Grenoble and the French Alps, all the way to the Mediterranean Sea.  I didn’t dance “sur le pont d’Avignon,” but I did walk on it. 

Mais oui, I was loving my year abroad. But that Thanksgiving morning in 1968, I woke up with a severe case of mal du pays.  I was feeling very sorry for myself thinking of Turkey Day back home in Connecticut. 

I missed being in the kitchen chopping onions and celery for the stuffing. Not to mention the tantalizing aroma of the turkey roasting for hours and my mom’s pecan pie. I grew misty-eyed thinking of my parents and dear family friends, who always spent Thanksgiving with us.  

Then a miracle happened on the Boulevard Raspail

I stopped at the kiosk on the corner to pick up the International Herald Tribune. A few minutes later, I was reading for the first time Art Buchwald’s classic column in which he facetiously explains our all-American holiday of Thanksgiving to the French. 

He does this with his usual humor and by mangling the French language. The article was first published in 1952 and thus began the tradition of reprinting it every year on “Le Jour de Merci Donnant,” as Buchwald dubbed it.  

Buchwald starts off by relating how the Pèlerins (Pilgrims) came to the New World where they could eat dinde (turkey) to their hearts’ delight and continues merrily on from there. He even treats the reader to a new spin on the Pilgrim love triangle of Priscilla Mullens, John Alden, and Miles Standish (who Buchwald explains is known as Kilomètres Deboutish in France.)  

Reading Buchwald’s column was exactly what I needed to snap me out of my homesickness funk on that Thanksgiving Day in 1968.  It is such a perfect spoof for Americans, who love France and the French language. And voilà, before you knew it, I was laughing out loud.  

Buchwald concluded his piece by noting that on the fourth Thursday of November, Americans sit down at tables overflowing with tasty dishes and “for the only time during the year eat better than the French do.”    

So Happy Thanksgiving and Bon Appétit!

Editor’s Note: Linda Ahnert is a resident of Old Lyme and former Arts Editor at the now-shuttered ‘Main Street News.’ She is a long-time docent at the Florence Griswold Museum and has volunteered for numerous local art organizations.

Comments

  1. Jennifer Symonds says

    Beautiful article, enjoyed it! Good job Linda!!

  2. I, too, was in Paris that year and still have the original article that came out in the Paris Herald. Here it is:
    Paris — One of our most important holidays is Thanksgiving Day, known in France as le Jour de Merci Donnant.

    Le Jour de Merci Donnant was first started by a group of Pilgrims (Pèlerins) who fled from l’Angleterre before the McCarran Act to found a colony in the New World (le Nouveau Monde) where they could shoot Indians (les Peaux-Rouges) and eat turkey (dinde) to their heart’s content.

    They landed at a place called Plymouth (now a famous voiture Américaine) in a wooden sailing ship called the Mayflower (or Fleur de Mai) in 1620.

    But while the Pèlerins were killing the dindes, the Peaux-Rouges were killing the Pèlerins, and there were several hard winters ahead for both of them. The only way the Peaux- Rouges helped the Pèlerins was when they taught them to grow corn (maïs).

    The reason they did this was because they liked corn with their Pèlerins. In 1623, after another harsh year, the Pèlerins’ crops were so good that they decided to have a celebration and give thanks because more maïs was raised by the Pèlerins than Pèlerins were killed by Peaux-Rouges.

    Every year on the Jour de Merci Donnant, parents tell their children an amusing story about the first celebration. It concerns a brave capitaine named Miles Standish (known in France as Kilomètres Deboutish) and a young, shy lieutenant named Jean Alden. Both of them were in love with a flower of Plymouth called Priscilla Mullens (no translation).

    The vieux capitaine said to the jeune lieutenant: “Go to the damsel Priscilla (allez très vite chez Priscilla), the loveliest maiden of Plymouth (la plus jolie demoiselle de Plymouth). Say that a blunt old captain, a man not of words but of action (un vieux Fanfan la Tulipe), offers his hand and his heart, the hand and heart of a soldier.

    Not in these words, you know, but this, in short, is my meaning. “I am a maker of war (je suis un fabricant de la guerre) and not a maker of phrases. You, bred as a scholar (vous, qui êtes pain comme un étudiant), can say it in elegant language, such as you read in your books of the pleadings and wooings of lovers, such as you think best adapted to win the heart of the maiden.”

    Although Jean was fit to be tied (convenable à être emballé), friendship prevailed over love and he went to his duty. But instead of using elegant language, he blurted out his mission.Priscilla was muted with amazement and sorrow (rendue muette par l’étonnement et la tristesse).

    At length she exclaimed, interrupting the ominous silence: “If the great captain of Plymouth is so very eager to wed me, why does he not come himself and take the trouble to woo me?” (Où est-il, le vieux Kilomètres? Pourquoi ne vient-il pas auprès de moi pour tenter sa chance?)

    Jean said that Kilomètres Deboutish was very busy and didn’t have time for those things. He staggered on, telling what a wonderful husband Kilomètres would make. Finally Priscilla arched her eyebrows and said in a tremulous voice, “Why don’t you speak for yourself, Jean?” (Chacun à son goût.)

    And so, on the fourth Thursday in November, American families sit down at a large table brimming with tasty dishes, and for the only time during the year eat better than the French do.

    No one can deny that le Jour de Merci Donnant is a grande fête and no matter how well fed American families are, they never forget to give thanks to Kilomètres Deboutish, who made this great day possible.

    Well, voila!
    http://www.marilynztomlins.com/articles/merci-donnant-art-buchwald-and-the-french/

    • Linda Ahnert says

      Merci bien for posting the complete text of Art Buchwald’s column! And, yes indeed, 1968 was quite a year to be in Paris.

      Last night I was just re-reading Buchwald’s memoir “I’ll Always Have Paris!” which focuses on the years he lived and worked there.

      And thanks to Art Buchwald, I will always have wonderful memories of my Franco-American Thanksgiving! :

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