Donna Fielder: Friends go cuckoo shopping in Europe

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Maybe it was the high altitude. We had only a glass or two of autumn wine for lunch, so alcohol wasn't the problem. Could have been the dark-chicken-parts main dish, I guess, the something-yucky-in-aspic or the cherry brandy in the cake. Donna Fielder

Whatever it was, Sherry and I bought some stuff in the Black Forest and in Strasbourg that we are now wondering what to do with.

The German-language Christmas cards I had shipped home that didn't arrive until New Year's Eve are a good example. I guess if you don't read German, I could get away with sending one to you on your birthday?

It was one of our favorite days of the whole European trip. Our tour coach (bus) took us up and up until the air was rare. We didn't get into too much trouble in St. Peter because there wasn't much shopping in that little German village. We photographed the magnificent cathedral, fingered our euros and waited.

There was one bad moment when I opened a bathroom door on an unsuspecting woman in a basement stall. She screamed. I screamed. Women in line behind me screamed. For all I know the entire village erupted. Europeans are big on basement bathrooms but apparently not big on locks on the stall doors. It costs money, by the way, to use them so you'd better learn to make change beforehand.

It was in Hofgut Stermen that the trouble started. Maybe I should have expected it. The literature brags of the city's most famous visitor, Marie Antoinette, the "let them eat Black Forest cake" material girl who later lost her head.

The minute we walked into the glassblower's shop, we lost ours. Formerly molten glass in all sizes, shapes and colors cried out to be taken home. Our credit cards struggled to get free of our wallets.

We had to keep reminding each other that a bedbug would be crushed to death in our packed suitcases as it was and that our underwear would be dangerous filled with broken glass shards.

So we settled for darling shot glasses and little misshapen Santas. They were charming. But if you put one of those Santas in a mall hall for photo ops in America, you'd have screaming kids flying out the exits.

Probably it was for the best that the first thing Sherry did with hers after getting home was pop his little Santa head off and shatter it on the floor. My grandchildren are older and not subject to Santa trauma.

While we were fingering the glassware and keeping a wary eye on the guy with the red-hot poker behind us, we were looking out the window at the building next door that was, in its entirety, a cuckoo clock. One end had a big clock face. On the hour, people stopped to watch as couples danced out a clock door and a giant cuckoo bird emerged and performed for us.

We couldn't wait to scramble up the stairs to the "kuckucksnest" shop, which promised 120 different clocks and a variety of watches, beer steins and other must-have souvenirs.

It's easy to get carried away in a cuckoo clock shop. Some were big as a man, with testosterone voices. Some were tiny replicas with no chime at all. I chose a small version with a bluebird on the front, a carved wooden tree, painted Bavarian decorations and a girl on a swing dangling below.

Buying cuckoo clocks was Sherry's idea. I had mine shipped home, along with some wonderful Christmas gifts. Afterward I learned that she had backed out on buying a clock. She didn't know where she would put one, she said. I had an idea.

Mine arrived in the new year, along with some tardy presents. I hung it over my desk at home to remind me of my folly. On the hour the bluebird cheeps. Then a cuckoo sounds at random. At 8 p.m. yesterday, it cuckooed 13 times. At noon, I counted 20 cuckoos. I'm beginning to see the reason for its name.

Later on during our trip, we visited the Christmas Market in Strasbourg, France. I heard that the French don't like us, and maybe it's true. At one stall Sherry fell for a pair of silver earrings. What sort of backs do they have? she wondered, picking up the stand and turning it over.

The French proprietress grabbed it from her hands.

"Allo, cuckoo!" she shouted, setting it safely out of Sherry's reach and giving me a warning glare.

And I just can't figure out how she knew we'd been to the Black Forest the day before.

DONNA FIELDER can be reached at 940-566-6885. Her e-mail address is

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