Monthly Archives: November 2006

My Weird and Wonderful Weekend. Part I



This weekend was not just any weekend, it was what is known around here as “Les Trois Glorieuses”, or in other words, the huge Hospices de Beaune wine auction and attendent party. And this weekend starts on Friday, just to stretch out the fun and madness. And as for me, as you will read, there was a lot of both…

FRIDAY NOVEMBER 17th

8:00 am

Panicked phonecall from the Wine Authority in Beaune (the BIVB) who are big players in the Vente des Vins. There is a page long press release about the 2006 vintage that is released to the Associated Press and the freeloader journalists, and which needs to be translated into English. Can you do it?
“When will I receive the french document?”
“Around noon.”
“When do you need it by?”
“5:00pm at the very latest.”
“Well, I have an appointment in Beaune at three, so it will be rushed but if you’re sure I can get the document by noon…”
Oui, oui, no problem. Ah merde, must go, things are crazy here”. CLICK.

8:10 am

Franck has to run over to Magny to wait for the water guy to come and read the meter. Two days previously Franck had huge fight with them over the phone wondering WHY the meter guy could no simply call him when he was nearing Magny, which would save Franck from waiting around for an hour in the cold. And guess what the shining example of the french civil service answer? “Bah, monsieur, you should just wear a warm jacket!”

So Franck, disgruntled with French civil servants, is in a foul mood. When I shout “get the car back by 8:30 so I can take the girls to school!” he just grunts.

8:30 am

Where is Franck with the car???? The girls are all ready, jackets on, stuffy toy and school bag in hand, etc. etc. but where is Franck???? Finally I hear a car in the driveway and then a knock on the door. Whew, he’s back, but why on earth is he bothering to knock on the door of his own house? Open the door and see a nice young man holding a clipboard.

“Bonjour Madame, your husband made an appointment for me to come and service your furnace this morning.”

9:00 am

Through what can only be attributed to a minor miracle manage to heave mountain of dirty laundery out of the way and get furnace guy settled and drive girls to school before the big wooden door closes me out. When I come back home Franck is at home talking furnace talk with furnace guy, and the whole place smells like oil. Get into office to see answering machine light blinking. It was the damn water meter man who, in the end, DID call to say he was coming.

11:30 am

Go down to school to pick up kidlets for lunch, my two plus it was our day to have Alix and Eloi as well (my friend Charlotte’s children). Get everybody home, hands washed, and stuff them full of smiley fries and fish fingers. Balanced meals have a tendency of going out the window during days like this.

12:30 pm

Gulp down coffee and check emails to see if famous “communique de presse” has arrived.
Nada.

1:00 pm

Still Nothing. I have to leave the house again at 2:30…Call BIVB. Where is the document?
Answer: “They’re still winetasting and arguing over the wording.”
“I need it! I’m leaving home in an hour and a half.”
“I’ll call them and tell them to hurry up.”

1:30 pm

Document finally arrives. Just FYI and to paraphrase – the 2006 vintage is looking pretty good despite very difficult weather conditions this year. The whites are excellent (especially the Chablis) and the reds, while a bit more uneven, show some promise in the more robust, well-vinified wines, although there is a bit of a problem with high tannin levels. Translate madly for one hour, and send the doc off just as I hear the car wheels crunch in the driveway as Franck comes to pick me up.

3:00 pm

Sitting in gynecologist’s office for yearly exam. Reflect that it was probably a Good Thing that I was preoccupied this morning and didn’t therefore have too much time to dwell on afternoon appointment. Gynecologist has reputation of being a good doctor, but is rather off-putting as has a “Le” in his last name and is therefore an artistocrat of sorts and also wears a silk “foulard” around his neck, which is something I have certainly never encountered before in Canada. Also, in France there is no modest sheet to cover body parts during the exam. You have to strip in a little cubicle and then walk across the room and hop up on the examination table completely naked – there is no sign of any modest paper sheet at any point in the proceedings.

4:30 pm

Have survived, although personal dignity is, quite predictably, in tatters. Run off to grocery store with Franck to buy lunch food for the “Vente des Vins” meal we are having on the next day, and then dash off to pick up the girls from school.

5:30 pm

Pick up girls, go to Meme Germaine’s to have traditional Friday evening “aperitif” (kir, Bien sur). Drop off girls at Franck’s parents, and delirious with possibilities, hop back in the car and head back to Beaune in search of something to eat.

7:00 pm

Bought delicious hot sandwiches (mine is chevre cheese and lettuce) at La Caravane on the Place Madeleine, and go to the bar next door with them and enjoy a beer from Belgium. Stroll around the streets, where all the Christmas lights are strung up and glowing and sparkling and basically making everything quite magical.

9:00 pm

Get home, and do an hour of mad house cleaning and table setting for lunch tommorrow.

10:00 pm

Collapse in front of the TV and decide to watch our Sopranos DVD again.

12:45 am

What total idiots. Tony and Carmela and the crew are just way too magnetic. Set the alarm for 5:45am – only five hours from now!

My Weird and Wonderful Weekend. Part II




6:00 am

The alarm rings. Why did I think this early-morning winetasting was a good idea? Stagger out of bed and get a big bowl of cafe au lait in me. OK, am semi-functional now.

7:10 am

It is still dark outside, but the air is unseasonably mild, and the sky over the black rounded hump of the Mont Saint Victor is full of stars scattered around a sickle moon. I admire the sky (I am rarely outside at this time in the morning), and wait for Franck who is still rustling around in the kitchen.

7:15 am

Our car wheels crunch on the gravel of Martial’s driveway in Ladoix-Serrigny. While Franck waits for him, I walk over to the boulangerie and pick us up a big bag of fresh croissants and pain au chocolat, just out of the oven. Franck and Martial are waiting for me outside, and then we’re off!

7:20 am

In Beaune, Franck jettisons me out of the car before going to find a parking place so as to save our place in line. There is a group of ten or so Parisians milled around the gate drinking coffee and eating croissants, but in the true french fashion I cut in front of them : you snooze, you lose. I’m second in line, right behind a freindly looking Danish couple.

7:30 am

Franck and Martial join me, and commend my cutting-in prowess. The Parisians start to clue in and line up behind us.

7:40 am

Alex and Jenny, our lovely guests from Tazmania who are staying at Le Relais de Vieux Beaune walk towards us, both clad in warm jackets and berets (pourquoi pas?) . They are suitably impressed with our place in line, and soon after they arrive a burly guard emerges from the cellars, shrugs and says “Sorry, there’s no more wine left,” and then laughs gaily at his razor-sharp wit. After a while he asesses the mob growing behind us and makes an executive decision – a wise one – to open the gate and let us in to the main courtyard, where orderly roped rows are already set up. Franck takes credit for this new organization which is a vast improvement from last year. Appartently he told Marie-Jo (Anne-Louise’s mother, who is also the head of Human Resources for the hospital and hospices) that this was the logical way to do it. Franck commends himself repeatedly.

7:50 am

Despite the gorgeous orange morning light and blue sky above, it is getting a bit chilly standing still in line. Martial pulls out a thermos full of steaming coffee and Franck a bag of plastic glasses and even a little tupperware of sugar cubes – so that’s what he was doing in the kicthen! Franck and Martial apparently cooked up their strategy on the phone the night before. Croissants, pain au chocolat, and hot, delicious coffee are enjoyed all round.

8:15 am

We distribute the tickets, and Franck realizes that we have two too many. We give out tickets to the Danish couple in front of us, who are very pleased and Franck also gives them our website and email addresses, never one to miss and opportunity to network!

8:30 am

Right on schedule the cellar opens for business. Part of me feels rather dissapointed that Alex and Jenny missed out on the chaotic mob scene that was last year, and that I had warned them repeatedly about. This year everything is shockingly well organized and orderly. Down in the beautiful vaulted cellars we buy a box off emblazoned tasting glass that we distribute, and that we’ll use after in our vacation rentals. We also buy a bag of puff pastries (gougeres) because who can winetaste on an (almost) empty stomach?

The wines are very, very young, having been just harvested just two months previously. They are served directly from the oak barrels where they are still being vinified with long glass “pipettes“. The first few reds such as the Pernand Vergelesses and the Aloxe Corton are very tannic and feel like they are scraping our throats on their way down.

As we move through the beautiful vaulted cellars (which date back from the 13th century) we find the reds on the whole rather harsh, although there are some already tasty ones (notably the red Corton Grand Cru – cuvee Charlotte something or other) that really distinguish themselves. The white are still cloudy and effervescent, as they are still in the process of fermenting. The Corton Charlemagne, however, and many others show excellent promise in a year that is reputedly going to be fabulous for whites (indeed, the price of the whites at the auction this year was up 63%, whereas the reds were just up 1% from last year).

10:30 am

Like moles, we stumble up the stairs, blinking in the sunlight. Martial and I emerge first, as Franck and Alex and Jenny are all still chatting to the winemakers below, and we each pick up a free alcohol level test, but neither of us can figure out how to use it, which we finally are forced to conclude is not a Good Sign.

After the rest of the gang emerges, we stroll around the grounds of the marvelous “Hospices” building and admire the stone statues and colourful enamel roof tiles, and then move towards the centre of town, where the party is gathering steam. We watch some people doing a demonstration of barrel making, smell the frog’s legs and escargot’s cooking at the food stands, and taste a free slice of “Tome” cheese from the Jura region.

Then we all part ways to go to our various abodes, but only for a short while, as we will be meeting back at our place at noon to warm up with a “raclette” for lunch.

11:30 am

When we get home Andre has brought back the girls and, bless him, has peeled all the potatoes and put them in the pressure cooker to cook. Franck and I scramble around preparing the plates of “charcuterie” (cold cuts). Martial soon arrives along with his wife Isabelle and their sons Gabin and Athur, laden with gifts, as usual. Cheese directly from the Jura for our raclette, some Comte just for us, and because he had the whim, two Morteau sausages to boot. Alex and Jenny arrive soon afterwards, with three lovely bottles of wine for us. We all settle down to a feast of potatoes, melted cheese, and cold cuts. I had made a salad, but of course forgot it in the kitchen.

3:00 pm

Over coffee we all lounge about, feeling satiated and quite content. I realize with dismay that Charlotte has to go to a Birthday party in Beaune that starts at 3:00. Whoops.

4:00 pm

Franck finally takes Charlotte to her party, and the guests trickle out after a very delicious and pleasant afternoon. There’s only one problem – I feel like a python who has just eaten a lamb, and starts to wonder belatedly if it was such a good idea , and we have a gala dinner we have to be at in three hours…

6:00 pm

Franck and I are collapsed on the couch, wondering how we’ll ever manage to eat again, let alone in one hour.

7:00 pm

We arrive at the Naudin-Ferrand wine Domaine in Magny-les-Villers, where our friend Claire and her sisters Anne and Marie have very kindly invited us to a wonderful “Repas de la Paulee” celebrating the Vente des Vins weekend. The cellar is beautifully decorated with flowers and decorations from last years’ Saint Vincent Festival. Most of the guests are loyal clients of theirs from elsewhere in France and Europe, but there are also some other locals – the mayor of Magny, Nicole (who cooks the great lunches as Jacky’s), her husband Joel, and of course the Naudin family.

Anne serves us all mouth-watering gougeres along with a kir. Miraculously, we seem to have room after all! We sit down and the conversation turns to Jacky, who after being ill in the hospital for some time, had finally passed away the week before. Franck told Nicole (Jacky’s sister) how Camille now insists to visit his grave every time we go an say “bonjour” to Pepe Georges at the cemetary on the top of the Mont Saint Victor. I think she will always remember him as the nice man who sold her Chupa Chups lollipops. Joel and Nicole then regaled us of the routines of the regular clients at the bar, my favorite of which was a man (who will remain nameless – this is small village after all!) who comes in every morning at 7:00am, has a coffee, a croissant, and then a glass of white wine, and then strolls up the Mont Saint Victor for his morning constitutional, takes a leak at the 12th Century chapel up there, and only after this edifying morning routine is completed, heads out to start his day.

11:00pm

We sit over coffee, digesting the absolutely fabulous meal (see menu above), and Claire fills up our empty coffee cups with Marc de Bourgogne. And the best part about it is that we only have to get in the car, put it into first, and roll down the hill to get home!

My Weird and Wonderful Weekend. Part III




Sunday November 19th

11:00 am

Finally emerge from bed, call Charlotte where the girls are sleeping over to tell her that I indeed probably won;t be down to pick the girls up before lunch

3:00pm

Finally get down to Beaune to pick up the girls, who we take into town, despite the spitting rain so that they too can experience the “Vente des Vins”. We wander past the “Halles” where the wine auction is in full swing, and continue on to the Place Carnot. After a madatory ride on the merry-go-round that looks as though its doing brisk business, we tour the stands around the place and finally stop at the one that sells escargots. The girls clamour for some (as I was a child that subsisted for years on bologna and velveeta I never in a million years could have thought myself capable of betting childfren who would be clamouring to eat snails, but there you go). Tha ir is redolent of garlic and butter and parsley, and when we are served up our “douzaine d’escargots”, piping hot, I distribute toothpicks and we devour them in record time.

4:00 pm

Wit our tummies now happily full of snails, we follow the parade of folkdancers and bands through the rue Carnot up to the Place Monge, where Charlotte and Camille discover the elastic trampoline is installed, just as it was last year.

The contraption, something I have never seen before anywhere else, is four trampolines touching edge to edge, making up a rough square. Each trampoline has poles comign up from both suides and from behind, to which a harnass is connected with huge ruber bands. So the kids get strapped into the harnesses, and then when they bounce it is an amazing combination of bungy jumping and trampolining. Charlotte, who as far as I can tell is afraid of nothing, had been dying to try it last year but there was a huge line-up so I had (somewhat relieved) said no.

This year however the line-up was minisicule, and I figured my little daredevil was allowed some fun too. Imagine my surprise, however, when Camille asserted that she also wanted to try. She seems to have inheirted what my husband refers to as “the Bradbury sense of self-preservation” meaning that if she can help it she is very careful not to put herself in danger’s path.

So I say yes to both my little risk-takers, they are strapped in and spend a good ten minutes hurtling up to the sky in their harnesses. It actually looks like a heck of a lot of fun.

5:00 pm

The rain is coming down harder, but the lights have all come on and create a sparkling canopy which we walk under to get back to out car.

The truth hurts…


OK, so I really needed a haircut. Things have been so busy lately that, to use my dear friend Andrea’s expression, at times I felt like my head was going to pop off. So one week ran into another, and my hair grew longer and longer, until my cute layered cut began to betray my Canuck roots and morph into a long, shaggy hockey mullet. As my Canadian friend Heather, who lives in Dijon, reminds me “Business in the front, Paaaaaarty in the back!”

It looked really bad, but having lived in Canada for most of my life I never dreamed in a million years that anyone would actually come out and say so…

PHOTO: The girls, my mullet, and I in Brittany last week.

So I was out on my weekly Monday morning walk with my friend Charlotte this week, and I casually announced that I had made a hair appointment for the next day.

“Are you getting it cut?” she demanded, somewhat stridently.
“Yes,” I said, absently fingering the lower layer of my mullet. “It’s gotten way too long.” I expected her to perhaps murmur in agreement, but then to cushion the blow with some sort of vague compliment about my cowlicks or something.
“Whatever you do,” she said. “Don’t let your hairdresser give you the same cut she gave you last time. That cut did nothing for you – something about the longer bit at the bottom really made you look old and hard.”
Gulp. Shock rendered me speechless. Could such words actually be coming out of the mouth of Charlotte – someone I know to be kind and generous and a very good friend? It took me at least a minute, but I made a heroic effort to rally around.
“Well, maybe I’m just starting to really look older…” I let out a hollow laugh. When in doubt, employ the old Canadian standard – self-deprecating humour.
“No, it’s not that,” she disagreed. “It was definitely the haircut. It was a bad haircut. That bottom bit doesn’t suit your face.”

In a daze I returned home from my walk and proceeded to make Franck’s life miserable for the next hour until, sitting down for lunch, he finally asked, “so why the hell are you being such a grump?”
I stared at my quiche for a moment, until it all came out in a whispered rush. “Charlotte said my haircut makes me look old and hard. Have I really been going around looking awful for the past few months without realizing it?”
Franck studied me across the table. “No. I think you’re beautiful.”
“Thanks,” I mumbled, sending silent thanks to the Gods for having such a husband, but then added, “But even if she thinks that, I can’t believe she actually said it!”
Franck considered this. “That’s considered being a good friend in France – telling the truth. It means she considers you a true friend.”
I mulled this over, still disgruntled.
“Would any of your Canadian friends have told you that?”he asked.
“No!”
“Would you have rather Charlotte lied?”
“Yes!”

But the next day as I sat in the hairdresser’s chair, staring into the mirror, I grabbed a hunk of the bottom part of my mullet. “I think I’m ready for a change,” I said. “Cut this bottom layer off completely, I’m sick of it.”

So she did, and for the rest of the day I received amazed compliments from all and sundry, even from Charlotte. And this morning as I stared at my reflection in the mirror I had to admit – it was a vast improvement, and something I might not have thought of changing if nobody had told me…

Still…I think I may work on teaching my french friends some good old Canadian tact.