Monthly Archives: September 2006

Les Vendanges 2006

My sister Jayne and my future brother-in-law Mark arrived in Beaune on Tuesday, and by Thursday we had them dressed up in their rattiest clothes, hats on heads, and sequeters in hand to cut grapes with Franck at the family Domaine of our friends Charlotte and Marco in Volnay.

The harvest is in full swing here since the beginning of this week. Tractors full of grapes clog up the roads, the vineyards are dotted with harvesters, and the redolent scent of crushed grapes fills the air. I love it. Even though I didn’t cut grapes myself this year (someone has to hold down the fort, feed the kids, etc.) just being here makes me feel like I’m part of something big and important.

Jayne and Mark were game and endured with a smile sore backs, bunches of rotten grapes thrown at their heads (all in good fun, bien sur), and HUGE spiders, according to Jayne. The reward at the end of the day is not only bragging rights that they particpated in harvesting some of the world’s most prestigious grapes, but also a tour of the Domaine’s impressive wine caves and a select tasting of last years’ wine, straight from the barrel, that so far only Marco’s closest family members have had the privilege to taste. Ah, the best treats are those you have to work for!

And we sure picked the right day. Today we woke up to pouring rain, which translates to knee deep mud between the rows of vines.

The fabulous Quiche-Making Meme

Franck’s grandmother Meme is feeling very good and fiesty these days, despite the fact that she is 96, so we have resumed our cooking Wednesdays. In France the girls don’t have school on Wednesdays, so we have Meme over in the afternoon and she and Franck cook up a storm.

Usually one or both of the girls is also allowed to sit at the table, rolling and patting a litle piece of pastry. I’m tolerated if I’m doing the dishes or some other sous-chef task, but otherwise I’m quickly shooed away.

So, just for anybody who is considering whinging that they are getting too old to be productive, here is what Meme and Franck accomplished last Wednesday afternoon:

– three kilos of pastry (some used, the rest frozen for a later date)
– 28 mini quiches (to be frozen flat)
– 1 apple tart
– delicious pork roast with piece of meat that Franck had unearthed from freezer and had no clue what to do with
– wonderful tomato, onion, cream sauce for aforementioned pork roast
-concocted plan with Franck to purchase meat grinder and start making homemade “terrines” next Wednesday

The Germain’s Paris Guide

One of the highlights of our summer vacation was a week spent in Paris. Our good friends Joelle and Nicolas have a stunning apartment smack in the middle of the quartier Montparnasse. They offered it to us while they sunned on the beaches of Tunisia, and of course we said “oui, oui, oui!”. To make what was already an amazing opportunity absolutely perfect was the fact that they have a little girl, Violette, who is Charlotte’s age and has a room full of Playmobile and Polly Pockets.

Franck and I lived in Paris for a year in 1993-94 when I did a year at the Sorbonne studying medieval french for my BA and Franck did an assortment of interesting jobs such as a journalist (got a free trip to Morrocco that included a nifty Djalaba) and coat check at the Louvre (free passes galore and he now knows the Louvre like the back of his hand). We lived in an apartment just behind Notre Dame, and just steps away from the Seine. We loved our year, so jumped at the opportunity to be able to share our love of Paris with our girls.

Here is our family’s little guide of our favorite things in Paris:

1. Glaces Berthillon

Franck and I have long thought this is the world’s best ice cream, and Charlotte and Camille have resoundly seconded this opinion, although Camille insists on calling it “Tourbillon” ice cream. You will find this nectar on the exquisite Isle Saint Louis (right behind Notre Dame), where it is made. Here, ten or so shops sell authentic Berthillon ice cream. Look for the line-ups on the sidealks and you’ll have found the right place.

2. The Louvre’s pyramids at night

It’s almost hard now to imagine how shocked many people were when IM Pei went through with his plans to add glass pyramids to the classically renaissance main courtyard of the Louvre in 1989. Now, however, they have now been fully accepted as part of the magical Parisian landscape, and rightly so in my opinion. Although they are certainly neat to look at during the day, where the largest pyramid serves as the main entrance to the museum, I think they really become magical when the museum closes, the tourists leave, and night falls. Go and see what I mean.

3. Bateaux Mouches at night

I never get tired of this one hour trip, and seeing Paris, its bridges, and most of its important monuments lit up in their nocturnal glory. We always take the boats right underneath the Pont Neuf – called “Les Vedettes de Pont-Neuf”, and of course we always get a seat up top in the open.

4. A dinner and walk at Saint Michel

Paris doesn’t need to be expensive. For dinner, go to Saint Michel and studiously avoid the tourist trap sit down greek restaurants with their plastic food in the vitrines, and instead buy a crepe or a greek sandwich for dinner, walk around being endlessly entertained by the people watching and plate breaking at the aforementioned tourist traps, and finish off your meal with a North African pastry from one of the local pastry shops. Voila – dinner for under five Euros.

5. Brasserie Chartier

We tried this traditional brasserie for the first time on this trip, but we’ve already decided to return. Count on;

1) standing in line to get in
2) getting yelled at by the officious matron because you’re standing in the wrong line or had the audacity to leave for a moment to go to the bathroom
3) the fact that the bustling atmosphere and reasonably priced traditional fare in this joint will have you coming back for more abuse

We were mortified when the matron led us inside the restaurant, saying our table was ready, and then proceeded to position us right beside our future table, which was still occupied by a nice couple who were commiting the unpardonable sin of taking to long to savour their dessert. After the matron billowed off like a ship at full sail to harangue other customers we apologized to the couple, and reassured them that they should feel free to take their time. They just laughed, picked up the pace a bit, and commented with a shrug, “c’est comme ca ici, mais on reviens toujours quand meme.”

Brasserie Chartier
7, rue du Faubourg Montmartre
75009 Paris o1.

6. Les Jardins des Plantes / la Grand Mosquee

These are both in Franck’s and my old “quartier”. The jardin is a relaxing place to walk around, and includes both a gallery of Evolution and Gallery of Paleontology within its walls – great for the kids. For a break afterwards, go for a mint tea and a pastry in the enchanting tiled courtyard of the neighbouring mosque, and almost put yourself to sleep with the burble of the fountain. Apparently they have great and inexpensive massages at the “Hamam” here too.

7. Le Marais

This quartier is a fascinating place to poke around. For those who like home shops and funky cafes, you will have found Nirvana here. You can also visit Victor Hugo’s old house here on the Place des Voges for free, as well as Le Musee Carnavalet which documents the history of Paris, from Neolithic to present time – fascinating.

8. Montparnasse

This is where we stayed on this trip, and it gave us the chance to discover this quartier that has managed to maintain its bohemian spirit. Go for the famous cafes such as Le Dome and La Rotonde where Gauguin, Mogdiliani and friends used to hang out. Check out the amazingly comprehensive art supply stores and all of the neat little art galleries. My friend Joelle is opening up a vacation rental in the heart of Montparnasse this Fall, in a converted artist’s studio (baptised L’Atelier) in the same building which housed both Gauguin’s and Mogdiliani’s studios – it promises to be amazing and you can always contact me for further details…

9. Picnic in the Arenes du Lutece / rue Mouffetard

This ancient Roman amphitheatre is hidden behind stout wooden doors on the rue Monge, not far away from our apartment when we lived in Paris. It is a great place to take a picnic, and lounge where the Romans once did, except now you can watch children playing and elderly men debating their petanque game rather than slaves being devoured by lions: slightly less edifying perhaps, but certainly more of a balm to the spirit. Don’t forget to check out the nearby street the “rue Mouffetard” for the more authentic, untoutisty version of the Latin Quarter. If you are there on a Saturday morning, don’t miss the market which runs almost the whole length of the street ambling, twisting, medieval street.

10. The Eiffel Tower

Ahhhh…a tourist trap it may be, but for good reason. The view from up above is just about as good as it gets, especially at dusk when you can watch all the lights of Paris flicker on at your feet. This time we walked down by foot from the second floor, and for those who don’t have vertigo, it is very fun.

Camille and Charlotte will have the last word. Pretty much all that my daughters retained from their first Paris trip almost two years ago now (except for Violette’s toys) was the Eiffel Tower shaped lollipops that Nicolas had bought the kids from the cafeteria on the first floor. Since that momentous day, the girls would wax nostalgic about these special lollipops any time Paris was mentioned. Thus, this was the top and non-negotiable item on their “List of Must-Do Things” this time around. As you can see from the photo above, the girls got their wish and, clearly, when it comes right down to it, Paris is really all about the Eiffel Tower lollipops.

Good Grapes

The girls are back in school, and Charlotte is (gasp!) in Grade 1 already. This means that every night Franck or I plunge into her reading book with her to sound out such words as “tapis“, “chat“, or “ananas” for her evening “devoirs“. They take school very seriously here – a little too seriously at times – and we’re all finding it’s taking us a little while to adapt to our new routine.

But today Franck and I temporarily ignored the towering piles of backlogged work teetering on our desks (the concrete bybroduct of summer vacation) and went out for a walk after lunch. From Villers-la-Faye or Magny-les-Villers it is pretty much impossible to go anywhere without going past and / or through some vineyards. So on our way back down from “Les Chaumes” we walked for a while through the rows of vines. These partcular vines, planted on the slope just a few metres behind our house, are planted with white “aligote” grapes that are typical of the “Hautes-Cotes“.

This summer July was stinking hot (and, of course, the heatwave peaked just as we were scrambling to finish Le Relais du Vieux Beaune for our first guests). August was very rainy and quite cool, but September is turning out to be nice and sunny and warm – today with temps going up to 30 degrees. Of course, this being Burgundy, the only question in everyone’s mind is “WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE WINE?”.

In July the winemakers were wary – would this be an unusually hot summer like 2003 that would turn Burgundy’s famed output into something that tasted far too much like those rowdy, tannic wines from further South (quel horreur!)? In August they were inconsolable. Their vines needed the rain, to be sure, but if this cool, wet weather continued the weeds would be uncontrollable and rot could set in…but now that the weather has dried up and the sun has reappeared the winemakers are wearing sly, satisfied little smiles.

Franck and I decided to find out for ourselves, so we picked a few lovely little white grapes to taste on the way home. They were delectable. If their high sugar content and lovely balanced flavour are anything to go on, this year is shaping up pretty nicely indeed.