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Such a delicate smoked fish

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I have a visitor from Paris at my cottage on the shore of Lake Winnipeg. So the choice is obvious -- pickerel or goldeye, both fish of superb quality.

The pickerel was frozen (enclosed in ice) so I presented Martine Ronssin-Gregory of Boulevard de Grenelle with a bag of goldeye.

In Winnipeg she dined on goldeye, salad, red wine and good bread with her hosts Jan and Nadya Kamienski.

Her appraisal: "I have never eaten such delicate tasting smoked fish. It was just perfect, so light and tasteful."

In the view of Mr. Kamienski, this was lavish praise from a citizen of a country where food is virtually an object of worship.

Certainly the goldeye is an estimable dish especially when smoked in the fashion of Lake Winnipeg fishers in a tradition handed over generations.

Ed Isfeld, fisher of Sandy Hook, had smoked the goldeye to perfection -- not too dry and not too fat. He smoked it first with poplar, a fire set to produce a "cold" smoke. Then it was smoked in a hot fire with willow as fuel.

It turned a beautiful golden colour, which brought praise from Ms Ronssin-Gregory. She has travelled widely. Now 55, she came here as an au pair girl 31 years ago, staying with the Kamienskis, friends of mine. I met her at the time, and later my wife Eve and I visited her in Paris.

The span of years tells a tale of two cities. In that interval, Winnipeg, typical of other cities, has seen the rise of big box stores, big supermarkets, increasing dominance of the car and the diminution of the role of the pedestrian.

In Winnipeg, more stores are out of reach of the pedestrian. In Paris, a city of much greater density, Ms Ronssin-Gregory and husband need no car. All her material needs are available within a five-minute walk.

"I can exist entirely within my neighbourhood," she tells me.

Yet she lives in the heart of Paris, a 10-minute walk from the Eiffel Tower. Within two minutes of her flat are two bakeries, from crusty baguettes to pastry. She buys fresh bread daily, as most do with bakeries so handy.

She goes by foot to all the other shops -- fishmonger, butcher, grocery, pharmacy, shoemaker, wine, cheese, clothing, florist and a small supermarket. There are a variety of restaurants, including a McDonald's.

In addition, every Wednesday and Sunday morning, a "street market" is set up under the elevated tracks where all manner of foods are sold. It's a nice setup -- the stores come to the people and they fraternize on the street.

Ms Ronssin-Gregory speaks in voice full of joie de vie and a British accent when conversing in English because of education in England. She is petite and I wondered how she looked so much younger than her age.

One reason: a lift was installed in her 1904 sandstone block 12 years ago but she still walks five flights of stairs to her flat. She takes the elevator only when carrying parcels.

She also walks several flights of stairs at school where she teaches English.

What is remarkable is that her father, Pierre, and his wife, Andree, climb four flights to their apartment. Pierre is 97! The seven-story block built in 1913 has no elevator. These apartments have higher ceilings than modern blocks so the flights of stairs are longer.

"My father has no trouble going up," says Ms. Ronssin-Gregory. "The problem is going down when he may stumble."

Her father has lived in that flat since the block was built 90 years ago.

The family tree traces nine successive generations of residence in Paris that goes back to 1789.

With such a background, Ms Ronssin-Gregory says, "I cannot imagine living anywhere else."

And this Parisienne thinks Winnipeg is a beautiful city. "I didn't remember the city is so green -- and so many flowers."

And she loves our lake. At my cottage we sat on the deck enjoying the peace and quiet, observing the play of our great inland sea. Ms Ronssin-Gregory was captivated by its vast presence. There is no body of water in France that approaches its size, nor for that matter, any lake in Europe. To impress her further, I mentioned that my nearest neighbour to the east was 22 miles away. That is the distance across the lake from the location of my cottage. Our country, she said, was big and beautiful.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 28, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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