Monday, November 30, 2015

Floating away in barrels of wine...

Ever onward.  In the interest of giving fear and hate the middle finger held high Jude and I made our way down to la porte de Versailles for the Vigneron Independant wine fair.

Last year over 1,100 vintners installed themselves in Building 3 for 5 days to offer samples of their wares and to try and sell us a few bottles of wine.  This year they changed buildings to Building 7 which is a much smaller space.  Only 600 vintners could fit into the show space.

Previously I had trouble finding wine growers who did not add sulfites to their wines.  Yes, many/most folks say chemicals are required to stabilize the wine and to keep their harvesting yields up.  But by chance I stumbled upon Chateau l'Escart (Bordeaux).  They, in turn, pointed me to Binner (Colmar) and another vineyard from the Loire.

Jude absolutely loves the different wines offered by Chateau l'Escart.  Their wines are bio-dynamically grown and their fields are tilled with the aid of heavy horses.  No steek'n dinosaur-juice guzzling tractors for these folks!  Even better, no sulfites are added to anything they cultivate and ferment.

We also found a wonderful vineyard in Colmar that offers bio white wines.  They don't even add yeast to their mix.  Everything is as nature intended from vine to crush through fermentation and into the bottle.  Their Rieslings and Gewurztraminers are finished dry, light, and they are very lovely, indeed.  Though they're perhaps just a wee bit out of our price range.

So it came as a surprise to find this year that there were to be 20 bio-dynamic vintners in attendance.  I wrote them all down and Jude and I started our Wine Trek the day the fair opened.  I was hoping for a Near Religious Experience.



Vigneron Independant ~ Paris ~ 2015

Day One - None (the ninth hour)

First stop after gathering our free wine glasses at the entrance was, of course, Chateau l'Escart - yum!  It was great to see the man and woman again.  They remembered us from last year.  Such a lovely couple and they seemed to want to share a good conversation with us.  But damn! do they give Big Big Pours.  Our First Stop knocked us on our butts right quick.  It put to paid our "serious tasting" for the rest of the day.

We learned that the show the prior weekend in Lille was a bust.  Nobody from Brussels came to the event.  They were in lock-down over terrorist threats the entire weekend, so it didn't surprise us that not even free wine sampling could bust the Belgians loose from home and hearth.

The Day's Haul included enough cartons to make hauling home a chore without an aid of some kind.  Our Hunting and Gathering included some things Jude found from one of the bio-dynamic vintners on our list of Things To Try.  It was a Good Thing(tm) that we took le diable with us.  It made the Day's Haul easier to get safely home.


Vigneron Independant ~ Paris ~ 2015


Day Two - Terce (the third hour)

I met our good friend Jacki at the exit to the Metro station across the street from the expo center.  He arrived by bicycle in 0 degree centigrade weather.  He wore no hat.  He sported no gloves.  He said he as comfortably warm.  The guy's An Animal! I tell you.

Before stepping into the vast Wine Tasting Space we set plans for our pre-dejuner adventure: Vin de plaisir.  These, I learned, are wines poured during an apero or desert, or during a fete.  They are typically white, sweet, and/or champagne/cremant avec les bulles.

I suggested that Jacki lead the way since he seemed to know where he was going, so off we went, stalking les vins de plaisir.

At one of the counters we talked with two physicists who have a friend who works at Lawerence Livermore in CA.  What started the conversation was the that they'd overheard that I was from the US and had lived in California.  It was a fun conversation and they proudly showed off T-shirts with a photo of their French Friend who lives in California.  I didn't understand the humor, but the pictured man had a clump of yard in the shape of a bow on his bald forehead.

I really enjoy going to the fair with Jacki as I learn something new and unexpected each time we go.  This time I learned about wines from Jurancon, and Monbazillac.  The Monbazillac we tried was a fabulous semillon cepage.  The wines from Jurancon were equally interesting and had a bit more bite to them.  Still, very nice, those.

Next, we stopped at a counter of a man who's vineyard had not been represented at the fair before now.  His vineyard was from the property sitting right next door to Chateau Yequim.  It was glorious stuff, but it gave me a headache.  It contained too much sulfite.  Every bio or bio-dynamic vintner I talked with said the same thing; sulfites can give some people headaches.  So Jude's not the only one in our house who can't drink just any bottle of cheap swill.  I don't care what US-based wine marketing propaganda wants me to believe (which say all this is "bunk").  For me, too, wine must be sulfite-free (or as nearly as possible).

In our wanderings, Jacki and I stumbled upon one of the vintners I'd noted as bio-dynamic.  These folks were from a small town just oustide Colmar and aren't too far from the Binner vineyard we liked so much last year (when we were flush with money and flush with wine).  We started with Francois Baur's normal Gewurztraminer and moved on to their tardive Gewurztraminers.  Oh.  My.  Gawd! those wines were tasty.

I was able to trot out my Story of Shame about where I believed the Alsace region was.  When I was a Young Man I tried a number of wines with labels written in German.  They were from the Alsace.  So I naturally thought all Alsatian wines came from Germany.  I am happy to report that my System of Belief and Understanding has been properly updated.  Proper Alsatian wines come from France.  So there!

The Day's Haul included biodynamic Rieslings, Gewurztraminers (incredible late harvest/tardive), amazing bio Monbazillac (semillon), and cremants d'Alsace.  Le diable stayed home this day, but Jude had the good insight to suggest I take our much smaller than le diable M. Caddy (our normal every day French-style shopping cart).  M. Caddy was filled to be brim with bottles of wine as I bid Jacki a bonne journee.


Vigneron Independant ~ Paris ~ 2015


Day Three - Sext (the sixth hour)

Anyone remember those late night/early morning adverts on TV in California?  Sunday!  Sunday!  Sunday!  Yes that was us.  We had to return to the Vignerons Independent on SSSunday!!  Two more free wine glasses never hurt, right?

The cremant d'Alsace I'd brought home had been chilled, poured, enjoyed, and consumed.  It was deemed Champagne Diet Worthy as the taste and price were perfect.  Back to the Francois Baur bio-dynamic Colmar vintner's counter we went.  Trois cartons de cremant, s'il vous plait.

What's this?  Jude wants to taste some of their other wines, too?  Well, OK then.  Reds.  Whites.  Dry.  Sweet.  We tried them all.  She found she loves not only the wines I'd already purchased, but a few more these folks had on offer as well.  It gave me a chance to talk a little with the fine folks about this and that and nothing in general before loading up le diable.

Later, at one of the wine stands we tried they listed their Bordeaux as bio-dynamically grown.  But only the expensive bottles were labeled as such, so I asked about the two wines we were considering trying.  We were told non, those are regular wines, sulfites and all.  It seemed like they were being a bit misleading by proudly displaying their AB signs all over and not pointing out their non-organic products.  Fortunately they were the only people we found who did this.  Everyone else was quite clear about what was in or not in their products.

A little miffed from the mis-leading labeling experience we headed off back up the aisle to a bio-labeled Rhone valley offering I spied moments earlier.  Their cheap stuff (at 6.50Euro a bottle) turned out to be perfect as a table wine.  It's 100percent Syrah and it's eminently quaff-able.  OK.  How many do we want?

By this point le diable had become heavily laden.  Such are the spoils of Hunting and Gathering on a Sunday morning in Paris.  It took me a minute to sort out how to strap the teetering stack of cartons to Super Caddy.  Once secured we were on our way back to the apartment.


Conclusion - Vespers (le couche du soleil)

Next year I think we'll use the delivery service.  Yes, it'll likely cost us something, but it might save my back.  Cartons of wine can be rather heavy and I'm getting a little too old for this kind of heavy lifting.  Besides, we might be able to buy even more wine if someone else is going to do the hauling, right?

By Jude's calculations we now have around two hundred and ten days of Pure Drinking Enjoyment stored in our cave.  There are more varieties of wine than we ever hoped to find, all resting quietly while waiting for us to pull or pop their corks.

Yes.  The Near Religious Experience has been achieved.  Nirvana has been attained.  Life is good.  There's no need to hold the Middle Finger high.  We have better things to do.  The Middle Finger Of Fate is needed to help hold un verre de vin.

Vigneron Independant ~ Paris ~ 2015

Sunday, November 22, 2015

When would we know it's time to leave?

When would we know it's time to leave?

This was the question Jude posed to me when we were talking about moving to Paris.  It felt like consumption culture, politics, and the overall level of violence in America has gotten out of control.  The answer to her question was instrumental to our leaving to live One Last Great Dream overseas.

Having had a strange day trying to get to Madrid on 13 November, 2015 (not having our passports during our first trip to the airport and spending a lot of money to buy tickets for a later flight), and after coming back to our hotel room relaxed and ready for a nice sleep (after having enjoyed a full bottle of tempranillo) before visiting a museum the next day, it was quite shocking to see our paradise had for the second time in less than a year been shot and blown to pieces.  My first thought was to Jude's original question.

A week has passed and I feel the better question is what would it take to make us leave?  Yes, we love living here that much, but we don't want to be willfully ignorant about our decision to stay.  I feel it important to take a rational approach to evaluating our situation.  I don't want to respond in a purely emotional manner.  Fear is a very powerful feeling, after all.

To illustrate my thought processes I want to compare and contrast the American and European responses to similarly graphic violent tragedies.  By doing so we might be able to arrive at a well considered (and hopefully not temporary) decision.

Immediately after the Paris attacks France started a military campaign against ISIS in Syria.  It's not using (at this time) this as an excuse to attack a country nor organization that had nothing to do with the murders.

By contrast, after a short military intervention in Afghanistan where al qaeda and Osama bin Laden (the perpetrator of the events of 9/11) actually were, the then US President GWBush decided it was better to attack and occupy Iraq. This led directly to the creation of the group that carried out the attacks against France.

Even as the saftey of the people is being debated, France is continuing to open it's country to Syrian refugees.  America's response is a disappointing "no."  What is remarkable about this is that France recognizes that the Paris attackers were home-grown (they were Belgian in most cases) and were not Syrian refugees.  Why do many Americans (led by Republican politicians) not want to recognize this?  What are Americans really afraid of?

Heavy weapon were used in the Paris attacks.  Instead of ignoring the problem, the EU, with France leading the way, is working to enact stronger control of these kinds of weapons.  Small arms are already controlled.  While the real benefits of new controls may take some time to realize, this seems to me to be prudent concrete action.

By contrast, Americans are not afraid of mass shootings shootings, even as the number of dead is quite staggering.   It was recently reported that there were 994 mass shootings in 1004 days.  No serious effort is presently being made by US politicians to control the weapons used in these (ongoing) attacks.  It's unclear to me what, if anything, is being done about the on-going tragic violence in America.  So why would we want to go to a clearly unsafe place?

There are also large cultural differences between how the US and Europe responds to these kinds of tragedies.  For instance, after the horrible attacks of 9/11, then President GWBush told Americans to go out and shop.  He didn't want al qaeda to "win" by letting the economy collapse.

By contrast, the French media has brought on experts on trauma, psychology, and philosophy.  They talk with people about how to work with their emotions and fears.  They tell people where good resources can be found and where to get support.  They explore how best to help children feel safe.  The French are not going to let ISIS "win" by not enjoying life.

It's not over, yet.  No.  Not by a long shot.  The trauma in fact continues.  It's very disturbing to see Brussels locked down.  Emotionally we feel battered.  We sometimes feel like running away.

Rationally what would we rather have?  Isn't it better to have governments that tell the people the truth and actively work toward keeping citizens safe?  Or would it be better to live in America's dream world of continued violence and un-founded/mis-directed fears?  Asked this way an answer should be clear.  But there remains an very palpable underlying concern for our safety.

When my father got into the cab that took he and my brother to the Madrid airport the morning we said our goodbyes he said to me "come back."  I know he's very frightened for us, and it's hard not to feel the strong urge for something that might pass at this moment for a peaceful place.  This is an emotional response.   A rational response is one of caution, observation, listening, and action.  With perhaps a bit more cremant in our diet than is normally consumed (as coping medicine).

The answer the question of what would it take to drive us away seems at first to be larger than the present situation.  If nations were to throw themselves against each other (such as Russia invading Germany while on it's way to France) then we would be "out of here" right quick.  If the EU is unable to contain it's own (radicalized) citizens and if attacks continue, then we will need to re-evaluate where we live.

I just hope the month of March where we intend to spend our time in Lisbon isn't too far off.  I shudder to think we would have to reconsider our place in the world before then.  We're already overly tired and ready for a long stretch of life and living that might pass for "normal."

In the mean time, we will do as the Parisians are doing.  We'll try and go on with our lives as an act of political defiance against those who would do us harm.  I just hope we're not being brashly stupid.


Scenes of Mourning ~ Paris after the November 13, 2015 attacks

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

On being out of town...

Up early and out the door to catch a flight to Madrid we were like a  small storm cell on the move.  We were to meet my father and brother in Spain while on their homeward leg of a trip to Andalusia.

It took a while to sort out where the counter was to drop our bags off.  We'd printed our boarding passes the night before and thought we were in a good position to have lunch in Madrid and to visit a museum in the afternoon that we'd missed the last time we were there.

We hand over our paperwork to the man behind the counter and... um... wot's all this then?  We need our passports?  When did this start?  Ugh.  Our Carte de Sejour aren't sufficient?  Non! There's no time to rush back to the apartment and be back in time for our flight, right?  Geez!  OK.  OK.  What to do now?

Over at the ticket counter we sort out our Next Steps.  These include buying new tickets.  At near full price.  For a 17h00 flight later the same day.  That would give us just enough time to return home, have lunch, nap a few minutes, and head back out to the airport.

An easy start to our trip had been disrupted.  Oh well, such is life, right?

Our return to the airport went much easier the second time around.  Even though my arm was tired from pulling the suitcases back and forth, to and fro, it was good to climb into the aircraft and be ready to head to Madrid.  A little asperine would keep any dull arm pains at bay.

Once installed at the hotel we headed out to dinner.  We missed our reservation for a famous place down near the mercado, but found what looked to be a decent place just down the street.  Suckling pig and lamb shoulder were on the menu, so why not give it a try?

Well, here's why.  The lamb was overcooked by French standards and looked like something the Egyptians mummified.  We confirmed this was normal practice after seeing other mummified lamb remains being hauled out of the kitchen.  As for the suckling pig, all I can see is that it's an acquired taste.  Much like andouillette sausage is an acquired taste.  The flavor is, oh, how shall we say?  Different.

After such a long and arduous day I felt we could do with a nice bottle of wine.  Red.  Delicious.  Just what the Doctor Ordered.  It left us a little tipsy for the walk up the street to our hotel and very ill-prepared for what came next.

Flopped out on the bed I thought I should check my messages to see if there was anything from my brother.  They'd be coming up from Cordoba the next day and I wanted to see if there'd been any changes in their plans.  Nope.  Nothing from my brother.

Instead the tablet's HD screen was lit up with questions/chats/emails demanding to know if we were all right.  I didn't know what was going on but quickly told everyone I could that we were safe and sound.  Jude kept asking me to see what was going on, even as I was frantically trying to reply to everyone.  With the first round of responses out of the way, I checked the news.  Horror of Horrors, Paris had again been attacked.  This would be the second time in less than a year.

An odd and frustrating day had instantly turned into a nightmare.

All we could do was watch the nightmare unfold and to try and contact as many people we could to inquire as to their safety.

In the end, an MUA I know still hasn't heard from two friends of hers and a shopkeeper's husband has a cousin who was shot in the leg.  We've not caught up with everyone, but it's looking like most of the people we know are still thankfully with us.

We weren't sure what we were heading home to, but after a four day stay in Madrid we are happy to report that security is very tight here.  Finally, some would say.  The idea of an open and free Europe that stretches from Greece to Brittany served rather well some who would do us harm.  That's changed.

Jude said we shouldn't let the Bastards win by staying home.  So we went out for dinner to a place where the burgers aren't half bad and une coupe de champ is a prerequisite to any meal.  At first the place seemed a little empty.  Not bad, mind you, just not quite as bustling as it sometimes is.

I can't explain it, but it gives me comfort to recognize the faces of people we've seen as we walk the streets in our neighborhood.  I don't know their names.  All I know is that they live.  It's a joy to me to see them.

A nearby table was clearing out after three elders had finished their drinks (it was far too early for a proper French meal - those start after 20h00 normally and it was only 18h00 when we sat down).  The man stopped to comment approvingly about my increasingly bushy beard.  His wife did the same.  We wished them both a bonne soiree.

A few moments later the woman returned returned.

"Vous ĂȘtes d'ou?"

"Nous venons des Etats-Unis", I replied

"Mais nous habitons ce quartier, en fait" said Jude

"Vive l’Amerique!" the older woman exclaimed.

"Vive la France!" I told her.

With a broad smile she leaned in a little closer and said in a rather quiet voice "Merci."


A pastry shop in Madrid decorated their window with
this symbol of solidarity.  It's amazing how quickly
a meme such as this can spread.