Me and Cynth on her birthday ski trip. Oh yeah.
Month: December 2003
Cynthia, Darryl and Angela suiting up for our ski outing at Mountain High. We got the 62 year old Austrian x-Olympian ski bum Hans for most of the day. Cynthia was flying over moguls (Hans to Cynthia: Com’on Com’on Let’s Go Now!), Darryl reporting ‘he did teach me to ski’, Angela, feet together swish swish parallel stops.
Remember how I was going to the shipyard in France for work, fly then to Istanbul to meet Elizabeth, enjoy the glories of Turkey, pick up a Seabourne ship and cruise to fabulous destinations throughout the Aegean ending in Athens where we were going to spend a magnificent few days absorbing culture?
Remember how I worked on these plans for months and how I was going to leave September 12th? Didn’t work out, did it.
So then Elizabeth was NOT going to Turkey and anyway by the time flights were available the yard was grumbling for me to ‘get to the meetings, and now would be good’.
Amazingly enough, for me anyway, without even an hour on the internet, without calling for days to get agent rates, without even a guide book I decided to stay in France, rent a car and visit the Pyrenees.
This is Le Castel Marie-Louise in La Baule, a very elegant resort town just down the road from the very less than elegant shipyard. Usually we stay in shipyard facilities and this time I got to stay in La Boule at the Marie-Louise. Things were looking up.
My neighbor Margaret off to a gathering of her fellow WASPs, veteran women pilots.
She mentioned recently that sadly, their meetings were getting smaller and smaller. I allowed that rather than smaller they could be getting bigger because if they looked behind them they would see many women had got in line to follow after and fly for the military. Well, she said, actually, they didn’t invite other women to join because they wanted to keep this group to the WWII vets. (Notice the redhead’s badge – not the same – she’s a daughter, not a Real member.)
What would you do?
I was dawdling around admiring this wonderful area and by the time I’d chosen the exact perfect place to stay – sorry, no space available. Not at the exact perfect place or the next place or the next or the next. It was dark and cold and there was No Space Available.
Everyone was very kind and sent me on to the next place hopeful, but no. Around 9pm one of those classic French Hoteliers, tall, exquisitely groomed, precisely correct yet so excruciatingly charming, this gentleman said he knew a place rather far away and not up to the standards I would be expecting, but was I willing to take it. Oh yes, merci.
Up Up Up I drove in the darkness through country that was getting darker and colder by the mile. When I found the little village called St Alvere, this was the place, lit up and warm and so welcoming. I drove to the door to make sure it was the right place and a sweet couple hurried out smiling and waving me in. By now it was maybe 11pm and what looked like the whole neighborhood had gathered here.
Hungry? asked the sweet woman. Oui. She set me a little table in the corner and the sweet man went into the clearly closed kitchen and a few minutes later came out with the most extraordinary food – an omelet like I never had before or since or could hope to again and fried potatoes and toast and jam. It was beyond a dream.
Then I went to sleep in this tidy but funky Funky room, bathroom down the hall, on a pre-WWI mattress and with linens from the sweet woman’s grandmother’s hope chest.
A friend arranged that I could meet the manager of one of the wineries, L’Union De Producteurs – St Emilion, and he would offer me a tour the next day. Little could I have imagined such a treat.
The every-tourist-has-one shot in St Emilion. This was my one and only accommodation snafu. Sorry, no space available!
Meet M. Patrick Foulon (the gentleman in the tie). This man created a day so grand you’d be bored of hearing about it before I was even half done. Here is my thank you note that felt poor beside the richness of the experience:
Dear Monsieur Foulon,
I am home now and want to take this first opportunity to express my most earnest appreciation for your generosity and kindness. Although I enjoyed many wonderful meals during my time in France our lunch together will live in my memory as the most unforgettable. The delicious menu and its complement of perfectly suited wines along with your interesting and delightful commentary made for an entirely perfect afternoon.
Thank you also for the tour of the village, of the vineyards, of the cellars and the extensive and informative wine tasting. There is no doubt that I was treated to the best tour in all of France!
The bottles of wine made it safely to LA. I will carefully choose with whom to share this special gift and I will then take the opportunity to repeat the story of my beautiful day in Saint Emilion.
As evening came on so did rain. I was basically exhausted by the day’s glories and decided to drive an hour or so and then to stop at the first agreeable looking auberge.
These women exemplify a common experience – you just stop and then you have three new best friends. The ladies were from Belgium. They had spent the last month sunning themselves in Portugal and that day drove through Portugal, through Spain and into France on their way to Belgium the next day. Between them they spoke a dozen languages and we chatted away the evening.
And oh yes, they were smuggling home a Lot of Portuguese wine. They had taken the wine directly from barrels and funneled it into big plastic water jugs. After dinner they poured this wine into water glasses and shared Freely.
It could have been Eskuara, the Basque language which is widely spoken (even aggressively spoken!) or Catalan or any of the other local dialects of French and Spanish, even some Castilian pronunciations on the Mediterranean side. Also there seemed so much sharing of vocabulary between these languages and English, German etc., I was mystified.
Based on shifts in intonation and audience I could hear the shopkeepers switch between languages as naturally as blinking. The people here didn’t look like they had particularly big heads but their language-brains must have developed very early and Very Large.
This guy is pure definitive Basque.