Friday, September 28, 2007

Dreams of Reims

Reims, France, an hour south of Paris, is exactly as picturesque as a small French town should be with its cobbled streets and provincial stone buildings, window boxes spilling pink geraniums and purple salvia. The men are dark, handsome and scarf-clad and the women are elegant and beautifully dressed. It appears to be a law that residents carry around a warm bread baguette and bicycles sport a basket holding freshly cut flowers.

It has a lovely Notre Dame Cathedral with stained glass windows created by Marc Chagall and an alter to my favorite Catholic Saint, Joan of Arc, looking all brave and small and female in her battle armor. The Cathedral is dimly lit by overhead fixtures and thin, tall taper candles in standing candelabras. As we walked through I noticed bullet holes from WWI scattered throughout the walls and pillars. They give you that thrilling sense of “danger in the sanctuary.”

And it is the home of eight or so Champagne houses. Champagne is proof that life is beautiful, we were meant to be happy, and it is acceptable to drink at breakfast.

Mike and I toured Tattingers and Veuve Clicquot Champagne Houses. We nodded appreciatively as we learned of the origin of champagne, the process by which the champagne is made, fermented and clarified. But mostly just were just silently wishing the huge, blonde, middle-aged British biker dudes (in their full leather chaps) would stop asking questions so that we could get to the tasting room.

We tromped through the dark, cold caves which are dug out of the chalk that is the bedrock of the city. Chalk is evidently the perfect environment for the making and storing of champagne. It is also pretty cool for carving “Jules Rules” with the heel of your shoe when no one is looking.

The good news is that the champagne was exquisite as expected. The bad news is that it is hugely expensive – even at the houses themselves. But the best news is that my unsophisticated palate appreciates the $16 bottles just as much at the $40 bottles, and the “cheap stuff” was widely available at the bottle shops near our hotel.

We spent the bulk of the afternoon carrying around a bread baguette (as is the law), my purse full of stinky cheese and trying to find the most righteous spot to sit in the grass and enjoy our picnic.

On our way out of town we passed a park. There, sitting on a bench, was a shabbily dressed man, looking rather homeless, but giggling to himself and drinking French Champagne out of the bottle - for breakfast. He has a better zip code than I do.

The drive to Zurich from Reims was picturesque, but somehow sad. Our car wasn’t hard to identify. It was the VW Taurag with a grown woman, face pressed longingly to the back window, tears streaming, arms outstretched as it motored down the Autobahn, away from France.

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