France, Spring 1998

Part One: France sans Balloon

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Monday, April 27, 1998

Finally, Air France got it right for a change. AF#90 left Miami for Paris on time. But, that wasn’t the end of it; the cabin service was excellent, as was the choice of meals and wines. airfrance.gif (1497 bytes)On the last half dozen times that I have flown Air France the service in First was rather more like flying Cargo in a FedEx plane on a bad weather day. By the end of this flight I was convinced that this state owned airline had made a bold upturn for the best. But, that was before the cabin crew came around with evaluation forms in hand. This was the first time that I had seen this on an Air France flight. I wonder, dear reader, if there was a correlation between the excellent service and fare AND the appearance of the evaluation forms.

Tuesday, April 28, 1998

At about 11AM I arrived at CDG (Paris). I was a little ahead of the promised arrival time. After a perfunctory pass through immigration and customs I spotted Becky (aka Elisabeth) in the arrivals hall. Two hundred and twenty seven francs later found our taxi at Place Maubert on the left bank.

Le Divorce (12381 bytes)Ah! An aside: you must read the novel "Le Divorce" by Diane Johnson. It is not at all about divorce; rather, it deals with how French and Americans deal with life on a day to day and night to night basis. Parenthetically, even more revealing to its merits, the book was suggested to me by the wife of an Air France pilot whom I met at my gym ... the wife, that is.

OK, back again at #47 Ter. Bd. St. Germain ... at Place Maubert. Becky’s apartment is located on the 6th floor of this turn of the century building, and this top floor is reached by a pre World War I caged elevator that looks like it might have once been used during a scene in a Jacques Tati movie. 04as.jpg (8164 bytes)The main rooms of her flat offer a very nice view of the Notre Dame Cathedral, as well as all of the in between real estate on this part of the left bank. As a fillip to living here, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday there is a thriving street market right outside of her front door ... it cascades deep into the street and it bends around both corners at the end of the block. From 7AM until after 2PM there is no reason to shop anywhere else.

Whatever, after a quick unpack we walked over to Ile St. Louis for a sushi lunch at a small Japanese restaurant on Quai D’Orleans. Incidentally, sushi is really very new to Paris. Up until five or six years ago sushi was totally unavailable in Paris. Now you can have it delivered to your home ... sort of like pizza deliveries in the USA. French ShopsHowever, here in Burgundy sushi is still totally unknown. Hey, Burgundians very rarely even eat cooked fish ... what would it take them to jump the gap and go directly to raw fish?

That night we also dined in the neighborhood. At a small place that is tucked away from the spots where tourists usually grope for food. We opted for a traditional French fare. On the walk home I bought some postcards of the Best of France ... also, postcards depicting typical French shops.

Wednesday, April 29, 1998

This was a day of shopping and feasting. Of course, Paris is the ideal venue for these sorts of things. Bon Marche is the European quintessence of a department store. Though highly aimed at the female market (aren’t all shops that don’t sell tools and computers?), it is a pleasure palace for browsing.

Becky ShoppingWhile Becky shopped for shoes and fabrics I just followed in lock step ... with side glances at the barely post teen age Parisian models who were shopping for the swim suit season. I am sorry that I did not bring my camera.

Lunch time found us at the Hotel Lutecia on the Boulevard Raspail; just a block from our shopping spot. The ground floor of the hotel is largely inhabited by Brasserie Lutetia: an art deco Mecca for seafood. Eventually our table groaned with a huge ice chilled tray of the best goodies that France can bring from her waters. But, to be honest, the shrimp are just "so-so".

LaurentAmericans are gifted when it comes to these creatures ... remember, we also have Stone Crabs: those peerless things of the South Florida waters that the French lack but love.

To continue the seafood theme, we booked for dinner at Laurent, a Michelin two star location on the Avenue Gabriel. This restaurant is nestled in its own private garden which provides a bucolic milieu and a buffer from street noises. Its great wine list has few rivals in Paris. Since Becky’s family has been clients for years we had the most remarkable service that I have ever had in a restaurant.

Thursday, April 30, 1998

It is always so exciting riding with Becky in her Porsche ... it was yet another near constant 160 KPH (read over 100 MPH) drive from Paris to Vault de Lugny, a tiny town located in the Chablis region of Burgundy. It is wonderful to come "home". Chateau de Vault de LugnyThe Chateau de Vault de Lugny is again now surrounded with green, as spring has brought its benefits. The last time I was here ... six weeks ago ... winter still had a just surrendering grip on the place. Anyway, the interior of the Chateau itself looks wonderful as well, as dozens of hands have been at serious work since the seasonal formal closure of the Chateau in November. Every room seems to have had some treatment ... even the Le Roy room in which I stay when I am here has had a face lift, and there is some new art handing on the walls. The hotel has its own web site, a really creative design by Becky’s brother, Phillipe. But, if you search Yahoo for "Vault de Lugny" you will also be directed to some nice photos of the Chateau ... posted in various places on the WEB.

Friday, May 1, 1998

A Bad Day at Black Rock! Enough said.

Saturday, May 2, 1998

Not much better.

Sunday, May 3, 1998

The morning started off with a bit of a drizzle. It is amazing; aside from the two days of fine weather I had in Paris, the weather in northern France has been quite awful for most of the time that I have been away. Camel & DivaAnyway, since I had not been outside in two days I figured that it was about time that I looked at something other than books, monitors and television screens (all of this while subsiding on three meals a day).

So, Camel (the Chateau’s elderly lab) and I took off for a walk around the 40 acres that make up the Chateau’s lands. By the time that we reached the greenhouse and its vegetable garden we were joined by dog #2, Diva, an incredibly active mixed breed. I have known this dog since she was a little puppy. Now she is fully grown but she still retains the personality of a pup.

While Camel was content to follow along with me, Diva repeatedly charged everywhere and everything. And, when she was not doing that she was worrying Camel with playful bites and tugs to his cheeks and legs. She even took on one of the two horses that graze on the property. Not the biting part; just the charging. However, she inevitably lost those rounds.

Monday, May 4, 1998

It was time for another dog walk. This time I took Camel to town with me. Town is Pontaubert; a tiny village less than 2 kilometers from the Chateau. Camel is well known in Pontaubert as he is the "father" of a good portion of the younger canine population. Pontaubert sports a family run hotel/restaurant/bar that I occasionally visit while I am here. Camel is well known here and has free access to all of the facilities. While I was having a beer at the bar Camel was visiting the "mother" of some of his "children". The mother lives in this little place. However, I think the children have all been given up for adoption.

After lunch Becky unleashed her Porsche Carerra and aimed it toward Volnay (a wine producing town just outside of Beaune). Becky was in the market for some 1996 red Burgundies for the Chateau cellars so she had booked us for a 3PM meeting/tasting with a well respected producer and shipper of Burgundies.

Traveling at a fairly constant speed of about 160KPH we covered the distance from here to there via the Autoroute in just over an hour. For the next hour we sampled a half a dozen products. Since I didn’t have to drive I could swallow the stuff with impunity. Becky had to just sniff, swish and spit.

We took a more leisurely pace home; avoiding the Autoroute and sticking to two lane roads that meandered roughly parallel to the main route. We passed through several little Burgundian villages and market towns that probably have changed little since the war. However, since most shops in France are annoyingly closed on Mondays there was very little to buy. But, on the upside, there was also very little traffic to cope with.

Since I have been at the Chateau I have taken all of my meals in house. Either the Chateau chef has done the preparation or Simone, Becky’s mother, has done the cooking. I am so spoiled. I usually have breakfast delivered to my room. Lunch and dinner take place in the main dining room with everyone seated at a long table situated parallel to a walk-in sized working fireplace; in front of which the two Chateau dogs are usually sleeping with one eye open in case a stray morsel falls to the floor. The two Chateau cats (mother and daughter) do their best to find a spot on someone’s lap to increase their chances of getting first spills. As you probably know, the French eat at later hours than do most Americans. The mid day meal usually starts at 1:30 while the final repast begins about 7 or 8 hours later. And, the meals are longer than what most Americans are accustomed to. My guess, from my experience with this family, is that three to fours hours a day are spent at table. So, you might well ask, "Are they fat?" No! And I am sure that it all has to do with the quality of the food and the size of the portions on the plate. Also, my observation is that the French "talk and eat" while Americans "eat." This is definitely not the world of fast food ... and, I hope it never will be.

Tuesday, May 5, 1998

Today it was my turn to play chef, so to speak. For lunch I took Becky and Simone out to dine. As we were "three" and it would have been a real squeeze to do the thirty minute ride to Saulieu in Becky’s Porsche we luxuriated in Simone’s Daimler for this journey. Now get this bit, the mother drives even faster than the daughter. Fortunately, we were on back roads so she was not able to get up to her full potential on this short journey. Luckily, I sat in the rear seat so I did not have to watch the visual roar of the road passing under the bonnet.

Loiseau LogoBernard Loiseau’s restaurant is named La Cote d’Or. It is a Michelin Three Star restaurant located in a small Relais & Chateaux hotel located in the center of Saulieu. When we arrived the entire facade of the hotel was draped with industrial garb. Behind this "cloth-sheen" men with tools hanging from leather waist belts were, obviously, doing plastic surgery to an elderly dowager. However, inside this bandaged shell the internal organs were very well preserved.

Our table overlooked the hotel’s center courtyard. But, it was really odd to see the construction cranes doing their work on the far side of this oasis. Bernard LoiseauThey kept popping up with all sorts of strange things in their wonderful claws. It was almost like we were under siege by robotic monsters. Would they make it into our soft underbellies before we had the terrine de volailles a la truffe? As if to assuage our fears, glasses of Verre Champagne Perrier-Jouet appeared like magic.

Course after course.

Time after time.

It doesn’t get better in the long run. Food is like life.

Wednesday, May 6, 1998

Today is my last full day at the Chateau. Tomorrow Becky and I will drive to Beaune where we will join up with my daughter, Annie, and her two sons. Also joining us will be Corkscrew Balloon I. Then, on the 11th, all of us, including my balloon, will return to Chateau de Vault-de-Lugny.

Back to today. Unfortunately, the French weather turned fickle again. After yesterday’s sunny skies I was convinced that the weeks and weeks of gray days were a part of this spring’s history. Apparently not; this morning did start on an auspicious note, but I guess that I was just viewing the tapering out of yesterday’s fine weather.

Lunch was a bottle of Clos des Cortons Faively, 1989, accompanied by food.

Dinner looks suspiciously similar.

That’s it for now. See you in Beaune.

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