We were called les belles étrangers: the beautiful foreigners. Twelve American writers brought to France as part of a cultural exchange delivering foreign literature to rural communities. After we arrived in Paris, we were paired off and given our assignments: One set was sent to Corsica, another to Nice, another to Marseille. I was informed, however, that my partner had hurt his back. I would be traveling alone to…the director looked at his clipboard. "Mulhouse," he said. Pronounced "mool-OOZE." Somewhere in Alsace. I was introduced to my chaperone—a pretty English-free Algerian girl named Sylvie—and off we went to the German border, to Mulhouse, a wind-harried industrial town once known as the "Manchester of France." There I was introduced to the Provincial Librarian, a weary, bald, monkish man. I say monkish because, though fluent in English, he seemed to have taken a vow of silence, and in this silence I was taken to dinner. Here, at last, I felt hope. One of my earliest childhood memories is of an Alsatian restaurant that served choucroute garnie, a rustic dish of sauerkraut, bacon, sausage, and potatoes. I ordered it in my halting French, but the Librarian, finally speaking, intervened. "No no," he explained, "this is not the place for choucroute." Obediently, I sat back. But I vowed I would have my choucroute.