The Reluctant Writer: Something Else to do When I Should Be Writing

June 26, 2009

Grey Egg — appearing Saturday night at the Art Bar

Filed under: writing — cynthiaboiter @ 23:12

(Below is a repeat appearance of my article on the local Columbia band Grey Egg — performing this Saturday night, June 27th, at the Art Bar.  The article previously appeared online in the April 2009 issue of Stir Magazine)

 

Grey Egg

            If you get the feeling, when listening to local Columbia alt band Grey Egg, that you might not be in Kansas anymore, it’s okay.  That was the plan.  For starters, chances are pretty good that the lyrics you’re hearing aren’t being sung in English.  Chances are even greater that you aren’t going to be able to translate those lyrics either – not unless you can get inside the head of band leaders Steve Dennis and Julia Elliott.  And I’m not sure you want to do that.

            Listening to Grey Egg perform is reminiscent of traveling abroad or watching the recording of a foreign film, but doing so in the comfort of your own culture.  But rather than hearing French or Farsi or Portuguese, what you hear is a fake language constructed in its entirety by Dennis and Elliott.   Not all of the lyrics are created in the heads of the couple, who literally are a couple having been married, “forever, and ever, and ever,” as Elliot says.  The English language does occasionally crop up in the vocals, sometimes jarring the listener out of that meditative place where ones head seems to hang while listening to Grey Egg’s music and forcing her or him to actually hear the familiar English words.  Luckily, the drug kicks back in pretty quickly though and you soon feel like you’re in some smoky eastern European coffee house, or huddling around the samovar in a Turkish hammam.

            The band members themselves are almost as eclectic as their music.  Co-founded in the late nineties by Elliott and Dennis, who began playing as a duo back when the two were small town South Carolina teenagers, the sounds of the band may not reflect the members’ upbringings, but seem oddly at home with the lives the musicians now lead.  And odd ain’t bad. 

            For day jobs, composer and multi-instrumentalist Dennis, who is also a permaculturalist, works with bass player John Hammond as an heirloom grain processor.  Drummer David Kelly, originally from Rock Hill, works as an historic preservationist when he is not driving the group’s experimental inclinations toward both progressive and psychedelic music a la` late sixties and early seventies.  Both Elliott, who once went by the name Liz, and violinist Sarah Quick, are part-time college professors and when Quick isn’t studying anthropology and ethnomusicology, (she is an expert on the Métis of Canada), she can sometimes be found performing with the South Carolina Philharmonic Orchestra.  Then there is saxophonist Amy Overbaugh who hails from Charleston and, rumor has it, sports a dandy dead toe she only shows to band-mates and friends.

            But much of the attention in a Grey Egg concert rests on keyboardist and vocalist Julia Liz Elliott.  She doesn’t just play the keyboards; she plays her voice as well.

            “I do use my voice like an instrument, and for some reason have always approached singing this way without really thinking about it.  Recent influences have helped me conceptualize this process more clearly – Magma, Catherine Ribeiro, Yma Sumac,” she explains.  “Steve (Dennis) also does this quite naturally.  I think that’s partially how we drifted into the fake language thing because it is much easier to compose vocals, in terms of sounds and syllables, this way – and then these sounds inevitably evoke specific language groups.” 

            According to local music aficionado and WUSC Music Director, Kyle Petersen, “Grey Egg is one of those bands that exists outside the normal margins of rock and roll.  Most bands incorporate Eastern elements and dense instrumental passages as diversions from the actual song,” he explains.  “But for Grey Egg, these elements and passages are the primary focus.  It is hard to argue that there is any other band like them on the local scene – they are like nothing else you will experience in Columbia.”

            The past few years have revealed some surprising new directions for Grey Egg, a name chosen for the band because it “somehow captures the notion of a green world in decline,” Elliott glibly shares.  Kelly and Hammond didn’t actually join the group until 2006, and the quartet recorded their more electric CD titled Indoor Ski together in 2007.  Violinist Quick and saxophonist Overbaugh came on board a year or so later, and all six musicians will be featured on their new CD, entitled Albumen, which will be out this summer.

            “We’re also starting to be more bilingual,” Elliott says.  “For us, this is a process that usually involves composing the vocals the old way via sounds, but then translating as much of that as possible into English.  More than half of the vocals in the upcoming CD Albumen are in English.”

            Rare bird that the band is, it’s not easy to catch it about town.  You’ll most often find the group performing at Hunter Gatherer, or sometimes at the Art Bar or the Whig.  According to Elliott they only make forays out of town to Asheville, Athens or Charleston on occasion.  But the sure sighted will be able to spot them this summer when they settle in for a performance at the Art Bar on June 27th.  Until then, check Grey Egg out online at www.greyegg.com or www.myspace.com/greyeggmusik.

Advertisements

California, Bonnie, the Giants and Wine

One of the great things about having kids who are active, independent and just as jazzed about life as you are is watching them fly and then visiting them in the places they’re nesting for a while.  Bonnie has been our child who tends to hit the road a lot.  Her dance adventures have taken us to New York City, Boston, Prague, Ascoli Piceno, Italy, the Berkshires, and DC, among other exciting places — and last weekend they took us to visit her in San Francisco where she is immersing herself in Alonzo King’s LINES ballet program this summer. 

We took this opportunity to combine a visit with Bonnie with a celebration of Father’s Day and a little more research into California’s exquisite wine country.  Annie came along with us which made this the first time the original Boiter-Jolley clan had spent anytime together away from Muddy Ford in quite some time.  We missed Kyle, but it felt nice to re-visit our little nuclear unit for a few days.

The three of us flew into San Francisco airport on Friday morning about noon, then spent over two hours waiting on the local Fox Rental Car company to issue us our pre-ordered convertible PT Cruiser.  That gave us just enough time to sit in traffic on the way to Napa, enjoy a brief but glorious sparkling tasting at Domaine Carneros (a division of Taittanger of Reims —http://www.domainecarneros.com//index.cfm ), then sit in traffic again as we drove back into the city to meet Bonnie.  As a Father’s Day surprise Bonnie had purchased tickets to see the Giants play Friday night, so we easily made out way to the stadium and hunkered down for a cold but fun night. 

We devoted all day Saturday and all day Monday to visiting wineries we had missed on our last trip in March.  Farrari-Carano http://www.ferrari-carano.com/ easily offered us the best wines of our visit — luscious chardonnays, lightly oaked, with long, complex finishes and pleasant spice.  If you hit the Farrari-Carano winery, be sure to take the stairs down into the cellar for their reserve tasting where you’ll find a knowledgeable staff and absolutely scrumptious tastings.  And please do try the 2007 Dominique Chard, the 2007 Emelia’s Cuvee Chard (which is unfiltered) and, for a big, fat, tannin – rich meritage, try the 2005 Prevail Westface — a hard-to-come-by lush red that I plan to keep in my cellar for at least another 5 years.  It was actually our server at FC who directed us to a small winery we’d never heard of before — Bella. 

Like Ferrari-Carano, Bella Winery is located in the Dry Creek Valley; it is a small, family-owned and, obviously, well-loved winery and facility.  Bounteous lavender plants line the modest drive and lawn where rolls of yoga mats invite visitors to take a load off and enjoy the scenery and wine.  Dry Creek Valley is known for producing big fat zinfandels and the Bella Winery has a wonderful example of the best the area has to offer — the 2007 Two Patch Zinfandel, awarded a nice 95 by Wine Enthusiast.  Visit their site at http://www.bellawinery.com/

In the interest of brevity, here’s the Siskel and Ebert version of the remainder of our tastings with a few brief notes where needed.

Mayo Family — thumbs down, at least for the diner-like tasting room we visited — no problem here, just no atmosphere either and wines which didn’t really float our boats — http://www.mayofamilywinery.com/mayofamily/index.jsp

Gloria Ferrer — Sparkling is always a great way to start your winery visits wherever you are, and we thoroughly enjoyed sitting on the beautiful terrace here overlooking vineyards and sharing 4 flutes of the winery’s offerings (but still highly prefer Schramsberg and Domaine Carneros) — thumbs up —  http://www.gloriaferrer.com/

Ledson — thumbs way down — big informal corporate tasting of mediocre wines — not even gonna list the website

Benziger Family Winery —  thumbs way up — don’t miss this historical site or its embrace of biodynamic viticulture — wines range widely — http://www.benziger.com/

Gundlach-Bundschu — thumbs up — another old (1858) winery with a lot of history, a healthy dose of irreverence and some quite decent wines — http://www.gunbun.com/

Schug Carneros Estate — thumbs up — but if you’re from South Carolina you should know that our home state is the major market for this winery — so don’t bother with the first tier tasting of wines you can find on almost any grocery store shelf in the state — go for the reserve tasting where you’ll find some happy values and very nice wines that are easy to ship home — http://www.schugwinery.com/schugwinery/index.jsp

Landmark — thumbs up — knowledgeable staff, good, afforable wines, lovely setting with a place to picnic which we used to its fullest — http://www.landmarkwine.com/home.html

Wilson Winery — thumbs up — under the direction of winemaker and general manager Diane Wilson, who is also the mother of three teenagers, Wilson has a tasty array of fruit-forward reds.  Stop in to see the small assembly — http://www.wilsonwinery.com/

June 18, 2009

updated — Down the Rue to Eguisheim

Filed under: writing — cynthiaboiter @ 12:46

Down the rue toward Eguisheim

Filed under: Alsace, Auberge du Remparts, Eguisheim, France, Hotels, Ribeauville, travel, wine, writing — cynthiaboiter @ 00:25 Edit This
Tags: , ,

We awoke our first morning in Riquewihr to a room full of smoke.  Upon rising it became obvious that the crisp cross ventilation we’d enjoyed as we drifted off to sleep the night before put us downwind from myriad chimneys spewing forth morning breakfast smoke.  A sense of anachronism flooded me as I looked out over the antiquated tile rooftops at the gushing chimneys interspersed with antennae and satellite dishes. I envied the residents who seemed so capable of blending the most root-bound of the old with the most convenient of the new. 

From Riquewihr, the Rue Du Vin led us through villages competing with one another for awards of quaintest, cutest and most delicious in their offerings of local juices.  One of our favorite stops was Ribeauville (pronounced “ree-bo-vee-yay),a beautiful gathering of medieval buildings sneaking in and out of the shadows of the Vosges mountains.   It was in Ribeauville that we visited the house of Trimbach, Alsatian wine producers since 1621.  Trimbach is an Alsatian label many people may recognize from our wine shelves in the US and, in fact, Trimbach does export in the neighborhood of half of their product.  Trimbach is also one of the exporting wineries that does not list their wines as Grand Crus, despite their meeting Grand Cru standards.  (There are 51 Grand Crus in the Alsace region, but some controversy over the whether the lines for grand crus were drawn too large.) 

Our Alsatian travels these days also allowed us to taste select wines from Hugel (another label that may be familiar to you) as well as Dopff and Irion, JungSchneider et Fils, Jean Ziegler, Preiss Zimmer, and one of our favorites, Luis Sipp.  The Jean Ziegler 2005 Grand Cru Sporen Gewurtz was among our favorites — round and spicy with a long and complex finish — delicious.  We also enjoyed the Trimbach 2002 Pinot  Gris Reserve which we found to also have a heavy, honeyed nose with a long finish that proved both smokey and spicy.  Particularly fun in the Trimbach line up was the 2002 Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives (means late harvest and therefore somewhat sweet and robust).  It was unusually balanced for a sweet wine and should keep for another twenty years.  Other highlights included the Louis Sipp  2003 Riesling Kirschberg Grand Cru and their 2004 Gewurtz Osterberg Grand Cru (spicy enough to find its way home in our suitcase), and the Siegel 2004 Guwurtz Mauberg (out of Kazersberg) and Pierre Sparr’s 2004 Gewurtz Grand Cru Sporen (who took the journey as well.) 

I’ll just take a moment here to sing the praises of a little treasure I found on the Interwebs called the Wine Mummy.  These are resealable super-padded sacks for transporting ones vino surreptitiously in ones suitcase.  (We also purchased hard-sided luggage to further protect our souvenirs on their journey to our humble cellar.)  The Wine Mummies worked wonderfully, allowing us to safely bring home five bottles, the only mishap being a small leakage in the Mauberg, requiring us to consume it within days of arrival — but that was probably due to a less than snug cork.  Here’s the link: http://www.winemummy.com/

Transporting wine from Europe is one of those things we though we’d get around once we got there but so far have been unable to.  We did purchase a pricey case of a mixture of lovelies from Aux Marches Vins in Beaune — but have been in negotiations with someone with an Hispanic accent (no idea on this)  for a few days now about how to get it to our doorstep.  Fingers crossed.

After three days in Riquewihr it was time to move on down the Alsatian wine road to it’s lower end.  As it was Saturday and we had some experience with the vast Colmar market from a previous visit, we set our sights on making it there.  Village markets are one of those glorious aspects of travel that everyone should experience some time.  Depending on the size of the town, markets happen only once or twice a week.  The streets are cleared of parking and traffic, and vendors of everything from comestibles including fruits, vegetables, cheeses, sausages, meats, candies and baked goods, to clothing — both basic and fashionable, to toys, antiques and art fill the open spaces.  If you’re in Germany you may smell the sizzle of freshly cooked sausages; in the Netherlands, stroopwaffles crisping on the griddle.  At a later market in Beaune we saw whole pigs roasting on spits and tables full of freshly cooked lamb and chicken.  These weekly markets have been going on in their respective villages for literally hundreds of years.  Yes, most villages also have clothing stores and groceries, and some even have the equivalent of our supermarkets and department stores.  But weekly markets are so much a part of culture and tradition that many of the chain type merchants actually close their doors on market days.  For the visitor, it’s a feast of sight and smell and sound. 

After Colmar we found our new temporary home in a tiny, off-the-beaten-track village called Eguisheim (pronounced “Egg-ish-heim”) — the Auberge du Remparts.  http://auberge.du.rempart.free.fr/site/  Remparts may best be described as a circle of medieval buildings that encompass the original town center, or centre ville.  Think “ramparts” in English.  The Auberge du Rempart is built within these walls.  The hotel itself is built around a large and antiquated fountain that also serves as the center piece for dining alfresco, lunch, dinner and breakfast.  We ate dinner there every night — honestly, we couldn’t think of a reason to not.

Down the rue toward Eguisheim

We awoke our first morning in Riquewihr to a room full of smoke.  Upon rising it became obvious that the crisp cross ventilation we’d enjoyed as we drifted off to sleep the night before put us downwind from myriad chimneys spewing forth morning breakfast smoke.  A sense of anachronism flooded me as I looked out over the antiquated tile rooftops at the gushing chimneys interspersed with antennae and satellite dishes. I envied the residents who seemed so capable of blending the most root-bound of the old with the most convenient of the new. 

From Riquewihr, the Rue Du Vin led us through villages competing with one another for awards of quaintest, cutest and most delicious in their offerings of local juices.  One of our favorite stops was Ribeauville (pronounced “ree-bo-vee-yay),a beautiful gathering of medieval buildings sneaking in and out of the shadows of the Vosges mountains.   It was in Ribeauville that we visited the house of Trimbach, Alsatian wine producers since 1621.  Trimbach is an Alsatian label many people may recognize from our wine shelves in the US and, in fact, Trimbach does export in the neighborhood of half of their product.  Trimbach is also one of the exporting wineries that does not list their wines as Grand Crus, despite their meeting Grand Cru standards.  (There are 51 Grand Crus in the Alsace region, but some controversy over the whether the lines for grand crus were drawn too large.) 

Our Alsatian travels these days also allowed us to taste select wines from Hugel (another label that may be familiar to you) as well as Dopff and Irion, JungSchneider et Fils, Jean Ziegler, Preiss Zimmer, and one of our favorites, Luis Sipp.  The Jean Ziegler 2005 Grand Cru Sporen Gewurtz was among our favorites — round and spicy with a long and complex finish — delicious.  We also enjoyed the Trimbach 2002 Pinot  Gris Reserve which we found to also have a heavy, honeyed nose with a long finish that proved both smokey and spicy.  Particularly fun in the Trimbach line up was the 2002 Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives (means late harvest and therefore somewhat sweet and robust).  It was unusually balanced for a sweet wine and should keep for another twenty years.  Other highlights included the Louis Sipp  2003 Riesling Kirschberg Grand Cru and their 2004 Gewurtz Osterberg Grand Cru (spicy enough to find its way home in our suitcase), and the Siegel 2004 Guwurtz Mauberg (out of Kazersberg) and Pierre Sparr’s 2004 Gewurtz Grand Cru Sporen (who took the journey as well.) 

I’ll just take a moment here to sing the praises of a little treasure I found on the Interwebs called the Wine Mummy.  These are resealable super-padded sacks for transporting ones vino surreptitiously in ones suitcase.  (We also purchased hard-sided luggage to further protect our souvenirs on their journey to our humble cellar.)  The Wine Mummies worked wonderfully, allowing us to safely bring home five bottles, the only mishap being a small leakage in the Mauberg, requiring us to consume it within days of arrival — but that was probably due to a less than snug cork.  Here’s the link: http://www.winemummy.com/

Transporting wine from Europe is one of those things we though we’d get around once we got there but so far have been unable to.  We did purchase a pricey case of a mixture of lovelies from Aux Marches Vins in Beaune — but have been in negotiations with someone with an Hispanic accent (no idea on this)  for a few days now about how to get it to our doorstep.  Fingers crossed.

After three days in Riquewihr it was time to move on down the Alsatian wine road to it’s lower end.  As it was Saturday and we had some experience with the vast Colmar market from a previous visit, we set our sights on making it there.  Village markets are one of those glorious aspects of travel that everyone should experience some time.  Depending on the size of the town, markets happen only once or twice a week.  The streets are cleared of parking and traffic, and vendors of everything from comestibles including fruits, vegetables, cheeses, sausages, meats, candies and baked goods, to clothing — both basic and fashionable, to toys, antiques and art fill the open spaces.  If you’re in Germany you may smell the sizzle of freshly cooked sausages; in the Netherlands, stroopwaffles crisping on the griddle.  At a later market in Beaune we saw whole pigs roasting on spits and tables full of freshly cooked lamb and chicken.  These weekly markets have been going on in their respective villages for literally hundreds of years.  Yes, most villages also have clothing stores and groceries, and some even have the equivalent of our supermarkets and department stores.  But weekly markets are so much a part of culture and tradition that many of the chain type merchants actually close their doors on market days.  For the visitor, it’s a feast of sight and smell and sound. 

After Colmar we found our new temporary home in a tiny, off-the-beaten-track village called Eguisheim (pronounced “Egg-ish-heim”) — the Auberge du Remparts.  http://auberge.du.rempart.free.fr/site/  Remparts may best be described as a circle of medieval buildings that encompass the original town center, or centre ville.  Think “ramparts” in English.  The Auberge du Rempart is built within these walls.  The hotel itself is built around a large and antiquated fountain that also serves as the center piece for dining alfresco, lunch, dinner and breakfast.  We ate dinner there every night — honestly, we couldn’t think of a reason to not.

June 16, 2009

Alsatian paradis — Strasbourg, Obernai, Barr, Riquewihr

Filed under: France,travel,wine,writing — cynthiaboiter @ 02:44
Tags: , , , ,

If I had to pick a favorite wine — it would have to be an Alsatian Gewurztraminer.  There is just something about the complexity and round layers of spice that I almost always find satisfying.  That’s one of the reasons we planned to spend such a big hunk of our time in the Alsace region of France — to give us time to really explore and soak up the Gewurtz, along with the Riesling and Pinot Blanc prevalent in the area.  We weren’t disappointed.

The Alsatian region of France is, throughout, very much like the fairytale photos you see in story books.  Half timbered houses, ancient fountains and village walls, carvings,  Gothic, Romanesque, and Renaissance architecture all crowded in together, beauty for the sake of beauty.   It is easy to get comfortable with beauty and intricacy surrounding you.  It is less easy to get comfortable with the cuisine which centers on pork, sauerkraut and tarts flambe.  (Who doesn’t like the occasional Alsatian meal, you may be thinking?  Go back and re-examine the term occasional and ask yourself if that means more than a dozen times per week.  Enough said.)

It was a quick train ride from Reims to Strasbourg where we began the Alsatian leg of our journey, and another short walk from the train station to our hotel, The Hotel Monopole-Metropole.  (www.bestwestern-monopole.com/component/option,com_frontpage/Itemid,1/lang,en/).  We had been looking forward to returning to the Monopole-Metropole (Bob and I had stayed there on one of our earlier jaunts years before), and as I dragged my suitcase along the uneven sidewalk I remembered the place and it’s one-step-up-from-a-fleabag charm.  Musty old furniture once beautiful in its day, ornate carvings in unexpected places, deep cast iron tub providing the opportunity for a proper bath.  We had barely walked down the hall to our room before we realized something huge had happened to one of the favorite hotels — it had been remodeled.  Majorly.  It’s hard to complain about modern comforts, but we were a bit disappointed. 

Our one night in Strasbourg was spent visiting our favorite European cathedral with its overabundance of delicate carvings and statuary, then eating spaetzle along the canal in a fantasy area of the city called Petit France.  And drinking Gewurtz — a  nice AOC Vielles Vignes (old vine) by Gerard Metz.

By the next morning we had our little rented Citroen packed up and were ready to take on the Rue du Vin.  The Rue du Vin is an ambling roadway that stretches through vineyards from Strasbourg south to just beyond Colmar, which is arguably the cultural capitol of the area.  Along the way the road snakes in and out of one quaint and totally authentic village after another — and each village is inhabitated by locals, many of whom make their livings by working with wine.

We visited villages like Obernai where we tasted the wines of the Seilly Winery — visiting with Mr. Seilly himself who spoke virtually no English but somehow persuaded us to purchase two of his bottles.  Just down the road in Barr we happily found the Leip-Leininger Winery where we met Luc, the son in the wining family.  While we tried his 2008 Saveur D’Agruma, a light summery blend of Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc, Riesling and Muscat, it was his 2007 Riesling Grand Cru Kirchberg that we really enjoyed (and at the bargain price of only 11 Euros, we purchased a couple of bottles of these as well).

Some 55 miles from Strasbourg we ended the day’s travels in a town called Riquewihr (pronounced “Reek-veer”) where we would settle for a few nights.  Medieval, beautiful, touristy by day but all ours and the locals at night.  We checked into the Hotel Dolder, (http://www.dolder.fr/index_gb.html) named after the upper town gate built in the 1291.  The house itself was built in the 16th century and the rooms, though renovated, still fall at the end of winding staircases and have windows that look out over the village’s historic rooftops to the vineyards that surround the town.

If you’re wondering if we thought we were in heaven — well, yeah, actually we did.

June 14, 2009

Reims, French showers, Chagall, Taittinger, Clicquot and Pommery, Oh my!

Filed under: France,travel,wine,writing — cynthiaboiter @ 00:44
Tags: , ,

We rose early the morning after our anniversary and left our hotel in the Rue Cler area of Paris — La Motte Picquet http://www.hotelmottepicquetparis.com/  in the 7th arrondisement near the Eiffel Tower and Les Invalides — via taxi.  La Motte Picquet is a small, two star establishment with accommodating staff and just the right amount of Parisian charm.  Located around the corner from Rue Cler,  a short street that serves as a sort of microcosm of French culture with its boulangeries, patisseries, fromageries, etc., all gathered on a few short blocks.  We’ve never stayed in this area before, usually opting for the 6th and sometimes even the Marais, and we probably won’t again — too many Americans!   (We  didn’t travel that far to hang out with a bunch of Yanks!)  We also had one little complaint with the hotel — the shower.

At the risk of sounding ethnocentric here, what is it about Europe and showers? 

Now, I am perfectly aware of the beauty and the texture that multi-culturalism provides — I am the resident preacher against judging the content of another culture based on the content of ones own.  But really, what is the benefit of a shower that drenches an entire room and all its contents?  And, I know that many of the French are certainly smaller (fitter) than many Americans, but seriously, Kate Moss couldn’t fit in the tiny shower in our otherwise lovely hotel in Paris.  A little off topic here.  Sorry.

Anyway, …

A train awaited us at the Gare L’Est station which would take us just 45 minutes out of the city to a town called Reims, pronounced “Rahnce” in France.  Reims is the home of France’s Champagne region in large part due to its excessively chalky soil — perfect for growing Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes, the main ingredients in classic Champagne.  The chalk provides good drainage for the soil, absorbing the sun’s heat during the day and gradually releasing it onto the grapes through the night.  It also served as a fine source of construction for the vast underground caves — many of which are hundreds of years old — in which the wine bottles are stored and matured.

The train deposited us a short walk from out hotel, the Hotel Grand Continental, http://www.grandhotelcontinental.com/, set on a pedestrian street lined with restaurants, wine bars and shops.  Early for check-in, we stored our luggage and stretched our legs with a short walk to the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Reims — home for hundreds of years to the coronations of France’s kings,  and home now to Marc Chagall’s gorgeous Apse Chapel stained glass windows.

Having given our respects to my one of the 20th century’s finest artist, it was time for some fruit of the vine. 

There are far more champagne houses in the Reims and neighboring Epernay area than anyone has time to visit, so we had carefully selected our choices, limiting it to the houses at which we had previously made reservations:  three for our day of arrival and two for the following day before continuing on our journey.  I noticed that Mo from the Hotel La Motte Picquet in Paris who had helped me make reservations seemed somewhat impressed that we were taking in as many as five houses.  I’d assured him that we were old pros at visiting and tasting, having researched a book on beer that required us to visit and taste for over a year’s time.  Mo had just smiled … or was that a smirk?

Our first stop was one of the venerable old houses of champagne, Taittinger, (pronounced Tat-tone-zhay).  As at many wineries, our visit began with a film educating us on the processes of viticulture and methode champenoise.  We had visited a few sparkling wine houses during our time in Napa and Sonoma earlier this Spring so the film served as something of a review for us and gave us a chance to catch our breath after racing in to make our reservation.  Soon though we filed our way down a long and winding flight of stairs that deposited us deep in the cold bowels of Taittinger’s chalky caves and under the ruins of the Saint Nicaise Abbey.  Beautiful, massive mountains of bottles were stored on their sides in the shadows of the caves which went on and on, further than we could see.  (During World War I, many of the residents of Reims took refuge in the champagne caves under the city, living there as most of the city walls collapsed above them.)  After wandering about a bit we were escorted back up the long flight of stairs which proved to be just as long, if not longer, on the way up as they were on the way down.  A quick glance at my watch told me we had only moments to scoff down the Brut we were offered and hurry on to our next destination — 

Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin — I am just a messy sentimentalist when it comes to this champagne and the story behind it.  Madame Clicquot, widowed at the age of 27 and in a time (1805) when even French women were thought incapable of  purposeful thought and action, changed the world of wine and put Reims on the map.  First she discovered a way to rid champagne of its previously cloudy appearance, (the process is called riddling and is still practiced either by hand or machine in virtually every champagne house today).  Secondly, she opened up shipping arrangements with Russia, creating the first real demand for the wine — a demand that also continues today.

The Clicquot tour began quite elegantly and we were pleased to mostly wander about as our tour guide used perfect English to draw attention to various items in the Clicquot collection — the Madame’s desk, photographs, etc.  But before we knew it, again we were descending another long dark staircase into the caves under the city of Reims.  And again, we were expected to climb back up them.  I’m not being a wimp here — I’m talking hundreds of stairs.  Again. 

Luckily there was a flute of Yellow Label at the top and a bit of another 2002 Vintage to boot. 

As we ran to our next appointment at the House of Pommery (hauling a heavy wooden box containing a Cuvee Saint Petersbourg and two Clicquot flutes) I remembered Mo’s smile from the day before.  He clearly wasn’t concerned about the amount of champagne involved in multiple tastings — he was concerned about the amount of steps.  And he was right.  Descending into the caves of Pommery — which interestingly enough looked very much like the caves of Clicquot and the caves of Taittinger and, I feel certain the caves of the other two houses we had planned on visiting but ditched, I vowed to be more proactive in discerning the difference in a smirk and a smile in the future. 

Happily, the House of Pommery was more forthcoming with their tastings, allowing us to sample their Blanc de Blanc, Blanc de Noir, 2000 vintage Brut, and their Dry champagne, which is actually more sec or sweet than I would have thought.  Another bonus from the Pommery visit was the site specific art installed throughout the caves — innovative and exciting, it took the edge off the cold and made the Pommery tour much more unique.

June 11, 2009

Paris, Jules Verne, Obama and Us

As I mentioned last time, we began and ended our journey through France in Paris, flying in and out of the Jetsonian Charles de Gaulle Airport.  Visiting Paris is in so many ways like visiting New York City.  There’s a lot to see behind the doors of the cities’ museums and galleries — and we enjoy seeing it — but so much of the magic of both places happens on the sidewalks.  So we spent a lot of our time there — walking the sidewalks or sitting in their sprawling ribbons of cafes watching others do the walking.

 

It’s easy to over-do museums, particularly when you’re somewhere like Paris and almost every great known artist is represented.  Too many tours and eventually you may find yourself passing some of the world’s most stimulating works of art feeling a bit non-plussed.  Ho hum, another Van Gogh.  So we’ve learned to limit our exposure and only bite off small morsels at a time.  This trip we focused on The Picasso Museum, the newly re-opened L’Orangery featuring Monet’s water lilies, and the three big exhibits at the Pompidou — Calder, Kandinsky and Women in Art.  (The exhibition on Men in Art is at the Louvre — it is called, “The Louvre.”)

 

The Pompidou Centre is what it is.  What once seemed shiny and innovative now looks rusty and very much shat upon by arrogant Parisian pigeons.  (The Pompidou Centre was revolutionary when it debuted in 1977, with all the structural and  functional elements exposed rather than hidden behind walls and ceilings and floors, and color-coded as well:  the electrical casings are yellow, the plumbing pipes green, and the heating and air conditioning ducts are blue, for example.  Patrons enter the museum almost midway up the building via a series of clear escalators located on an exterior wall.)  Maybe premonitions of its current state help explain why the French hated the Pompidou so when it was first built. 

 

I entered the exhibition hall as a sort of double shot espresso fan of Kandinsky — liking his early work (especially) all the way into his Bauhaus period — but left feeling more like weak coffee toward the artist.  And though I admit to feeling a bit like a poser even saying this (who am I to criticize the museum’s curator?) I think it all had to do with the redundancy of the selected pieces.  Kandinsky was nothing if not prolific, but the sheer number of the pieces displayed detracted from the impact they had as a whole. 

 

The Calder exhibition was completely opposite.  Selected pieces demonstrated both his tendency toward whimsy (Alexander Calder was the Texas born inventor of the mobile with a fascination for the circus) and his prowess at sculpture of literally monumental proportions.  (His piece installed at the World Trade Center — “Bent Propeller” — you may remember, was destroyed in the attack on 9/11.

~~~~~~~

Two of the highlights of our stays in Paris sort of overlap, despite having taken place on opposite ends of our trip. 

 

Bob and I decided to bite the bullet and celebrate our anniversary in style this year by having a once-in-a-lifetime dinner at the Jules Verne Restaurant atop the Eiffle Tower.  What can I say?  The food wasn’t as good as the view, but the view was as astronomical as the check!  This we did on the 25th of May.  Upon returning for our last weekend in Paris, we noticed on Saturday that one of the streets in the Latin Quarter leading to the Notre Dame was cordoned off and lined with French police.  After considerable multi-lingual eavesdropping we deduced that President Obama (pronounced OH – BA – MA, with equal inflection on each syllable in France) would soon be passing through.  Being above neither gawking nor stalking, we scored ourselves two primo spots on the curb and cheered along with all the French fans as his iron-clad motorcade sped by.  Twice. 

 

The cool part to me though was finding out that the president and first lady would be dining that night at the very same restaurant where we had celebrated our anniversary two weeks before.  I wonder if they sat at our table? 

 

What I didn’t know then was that the whole Obama clan would also be visiting the Pompidou on Sunday, the same day as us. 

 

Somehow we missed them in the crowd.

June 10, 2009

Vin français voyage – première partie (aka Clark and Ellen Griswold take on French wine country)

Filed under: aging,France,Paris,travel,wine,writer's life,writing — cynthiaboiter @ 17:32
Tags: , , , , ,

It’s been a while since I’ve written — both legitimate writer-type writing, and blogger-type writing as well.  But I really do have an excuse this time.  I’ve been traveling.  Read on.

 

Paris is one of those cities that, once you go there, you never really leave.  I remember so well mine and Bob’s first trip to Paris over twenty-five years ago.  It was part of our month-long adventure of back-packing through Europe on twenty-five dollars a day, financed via the South Carolina Student Loan Association.  (Never, everaccuse either of us of being financially responsible.)  We had our Monkey Ward backpacks, our Eurail passes, a strict budget and all the audacity of Southern born idiots savant.  Neither of us had ever been out of the country and I had never traveled in a plane despite growing up the daughter of the Greenville-Spartanburg airport manager and living, literally, on airport property. We were fulfilling childhood dreams of chasing horizons; of one day being passengers in those planes that flew constantly overhead. 

 
I’ll never forget rising up early morning out of the Paris metro, sleep deprived from an overnight ride from Amsterdam in a train compartment with a crazy lady who, convinced she was on her way to marry Baryshnykov, constantly packed and unpacked her trousseau.  Nighties and negligees hung from the compartment doors and the luggage racks over our heads.  We arose at the St. Michelmetro station in the heart of the Latin Quarter.  To the left of us stood Saint Michael’s fountain and to the right the Notre Dame.  Even today, I sometimes catch the scent of  how Paris, the city, smelled that morning wafting through the air — crisp and cool and clean.  (And Paris is an amazingly clean city still.)

 
Since then, we’ve had the good fortune of re-visiting this favorite city several times, both with our children and without.  This most recent time, we celebrated our 30th anniversary there and launched our explorations through some of France’s vast wine country from Paris’s Gare de L’est, as we traveled to Reims, the epicenter of Champagne country; then to Strasbourg, where we began our journey through Alsace and down the Rue du Vin; and, finally into the heart of Bourgogne to thoroughly explore Burgundy wines and the Cote d’ Or.  In the end, we returned to Paris for one last weekend of celebration and the completion of a sentimental circle, indeed.
Over the next few days I’ll use this space to share some of my thoughts and experiences garnered over this recent seventeen day long visit.  I’ll reflect on wine, hotels, tiny villages with names that sound even funnier with a Southern drawl, and what it’s like to travel now versus then. 

 

We had a great time — I’m looking forward to telling you all about it.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.