Monday, May 3, 2010
Sipping the Delights of France in Springtime
Recently I went to the village of Panzoult, about 90 minutes northwest of where I live in Martizay, to sample some of the local wines at the annual Chinon wine festival. They hold it in a deep troglodyte cave that has been beautifully restored and decorated with carvings in the limestone walls.
Upon entering, we paid two euros each to purchase an etched wine glass commemorating the tasting, and began making our way from niche to niche to visit the various winemakers and sample their offerings. No actual purchasing is done; you simply taste the various wines and note what you like for a future trip to the winery itself. As the driver, I had to exhibit some discretion so I limited myself to one or two sips of just those wines that my friends enthused about and skipped the majority, focusing more on reds versus whites or rosés. I jotted down the wines and vintages that I might buy should the opportunity ever arise. The final glass was a Vouvray petillant, or sparkling Vouvray, which we jokingly said was our pre-lunch aperitif.
From there we headed to a restaurant in Sainte-Maure-de-Touraine, La Ciboulette ('ciboulette' is French for chives), which promised to be a bit more upscale than our norm. However, while sipping our aperitifs, and after perusing the extensive menu and anticipating our selections, the server proceeded to tell us that virtually none of what we wanted was available, that the menu had been changed in honor of May Day, as it was the 1st of May. We wondered, somewhat irritably, why we hadn't been furnished the appropriate menu. It did feel like a bit of a bait and switch.
Here in France, it's traditional to gift ladies with a sprig of lily of the valley to mark May Day or springtime, yet another neopagan celebration later appropriated by Christianity. This particular tradition originated here with King Charles IX in 1561 giving the ladies of his court this flower as a gesture of appreciation. The restaurant followed suit by handing us each sprigs. We would have preferred it if they'd just given us the food selections we'd wanted. (Actually, all parts of the lily of the valley plant are highly poisonous, although that seems to have been conveniently ignored.)
After that initial hurdle—which admittedly did threaten to color the entire lunch—we settled down to a nice meal, accompanied by, naturally, more wine. By the meal's end, this is what we were reduced to.
Before you accuse us of being naught but a bunch of lushes, let me explain. There was a huge party nearby of war veterans who'd all fought in the same local regiment (May 8 marks VE Day--Victory in Europe, or when WWII ended here, for those of you who have forgotten your history.) They were together celebrating, and partaking in various forms of charming silliness. They raffled off various prizes including free electricity for one year (a box of candles), a free service contract with Orange, France Telecom's mobile phone service (a bag with a piece of fruit in it), and an Italian dinner for two (a package of dry spaghetti). They opened the spaghetti and began passing around strands, cautioning everyone to take one and ensure they did not break or eat it. To our delight, they included the six of us, the only other remaining table by this time. Then they began passing this tiny plastic top hat from one strand of spaghetti to another, using only their mouths. Naturally we had to participate! It did create an atmosphere of conviviality which was appreciated when the bill was presented. Or maybe it was just all that wine...hic