Thursday, December 8, 2016

A Wine Slide To "Inglourious Basterds"

Every year, a spectacular Dionysian paradise takes place in Paris. It is known officially as a wine salon, where vendors from all over the country show off their wares and the viticulturists and vin-amoureux about town investigate their products through touch, smell and most importantly, taste. Unofficially, it's an opportunity to swim in sips of wine until you stumble home with as many bottles as you can carry. Stalls and stalls of wine sellers offer a goût of their nectar so that enthusiasts can decide what to purchase and how much. Because there are hundreds of vendors, the possibilities are endless... so are the drunkards. To be fair, most people attend with the very real agenda of buying wine and I'm sure that most French patrons conduct themselves much more professionally than I am depicting. Americans in Paris, however, do not.

I attended the event last year for the first time with my dear Hot Blonde Cousin. We flirted with vendors and got so tipsytastic that I left half of my bottles behind and was fortunate enough to have friends going the next day who could retrieve them for me. This year, I demanded that my brother and sister-in-law join me in this afternoon galavant. We had Grandpa and Step-Grandma take care of wee Nephew while the soon to be soused siblings enjoyed the salon. Just as last year, it took us a while to get going, partly because there are far too many options and partly because it can be intimidating to approach a vendor and not behave like an idiot American who is more interested in free booze than in carrying cases home. We soon found our gateway into the mix and proceeded with merriment to various stalls from various regions around France. Pleasantly buzzed and with about five bottles in hand, we managed to swim our way out of the wine glass we spent the afternoon treading.

Nephew was basically handed from one babysitter to another, as our evening plans were composed of an adult night out. A student of mine had helped me find a suitable chaperone for our dapper lad, so we set him up with books and his crazy brain to fascinate the French nanny at his beck and call. And off the adults went, walking up the hill of Montmartre to a café I had only just discovered when searching for a fun place to try in that neighborhood. As luck would have it, I had stumbled upon a restaurant called La Renaissance, which has apparently been the home to scenes in many French films. Most notably, however, a scene from the Quentin Tarantino film "Inglourious Basterds" was shot there. What with the aftermath of recent political events in the States pervading almost all of our thoughts these days, Sister-in-law specifically felt the location was appropriately symbolic in the extreme. Once the menu was vetted by my vegetarian brother, we made a reservation and looked forward with gusto.

The restaurant was all that one would wish for when thinking of a classic French café. There was an old piano in one corner, tarnished mirrors on the wall, and a perfect ambiance. The staff was wonderfully accommodating, and we took our time making way from appetizer to main dish to dessert, all accompanied by that continual current of wine. The dish we all collectively swooned over was called Oeufs Cocotte au Cantal. It was eggy. It was cheesy. It was bliss. After taking appropriately atmospheric photos and eating our delicious fare, we were treated to a round of shots on the house. 

Lt. Archie Hicox: What shall we drink to, sir?
Gen. Ed Fenech: Well... down with Hitler.
Lt. Archie Hicox: All the way down, sir.

It was a cheers and a santé to another full day of indulgence. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

And A Very Raclette Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving day in Paris is different than most, mainly because most Parisians have no idea it's a holiday. Of course, it's not a holiday in France, but those of us crazy Americans running around still do our best to consider friends and family at home or abroad, love and life and all things to be grateful for. Two years ago, I was lucky enough to spend the day with Brother, Sister-in-law and Nephew wandering around the palace and gardens of Versailles. Last year, Hot Blonde Cousin from London came over and we attended a real Thanksgiving feast at the home of some of my American friends who lived in a beautiful apartment on the Seine. This year, the family was back in town and we made sure to integrate the French culture with our American holiday thoughts all the livelong day.

The first time Nephew came to Paris, he was 3-years-old and under the adorable impression that Auntie La lived in the Eiffel Tower. Though he is now 5 and had left that grand delusion behind, he still wanted more than anything to head to the top of the Tower and experience one of the best views of Paris. Interestingly, I had never been to the top either, so we spent Thanksgiving morning doing the most touristy thing in town. To be fair, what with the elevators, the machinery, and the breathtaking panoramas, it really isn't an experience to be missed. We wandered from middle floor to the summit, taking pictures of the landscape and ourselves, relishing in the sights and sounds all around.

It was actually the perfect thing for us to do while my Dad and Stepmom landed at Charles do Gaulle to join us on the rest of our adventures. But before making our way back to Montmartre, we took a swift walk over to my neck of the woods in the 16th. I spared my compatriots the epic walk up my 6 flights of stairs and instead ran the precipice to fetch the device that would create the centerpiece of our afternoon feast: a lovely raclette machine. 

When we finally arrived back in Montmartre, where my Father and Stepmother (let's call them Connecticut) would be Airbnbing as well, we found them casually waiting outside of Brother and fam's apartment (let's call them New York City). While CT settled into their own abode, NYC and I ran around the neighborhood in search of all the food and wine we would need for the evening. We were in search of not only raclette and accoutrements, but roast chicken, vegetables, an almost otherworldly amount of desserts, and of course more wine.

We dropped our purchases back at the home base and both parts of Northeastern America and I went off for one final activity before our holiday dinner: Marchés de Noël. Many parts of Europe are known for their Christmas markets, and France is no exception. While not nearly as elaborate as Strasbourg, the many booths and spectacles lined up on the Champs Elysées certainly hold their own. They sell the usual crafts and fried foods, with some gourmet fare and very strange animatronic animals interspersed, but the most important thing of all is the hot wine. Oh, the blessed hot wine. The wine that you are allowed to walk around with in the open air, Christmas lights hanging over head, boxed music blaring from the speakers, and the general feeling of merriment abounding.

Before leaving, Nephew and I went on the kiddie rollercoaster nestled in a corner of the market. To be completely honest, I have never really been on a rollercoaster (save a traumatic pre-teen experience on Thunder Mountain at Disney World). I decided that Nephew would be my guide as I faced the perils of what is probably the least scary coaster of all time. Once the ride got going, I actually had a blast while nephew feigned childlike fear and snuggled by my side.

At long last, we found ourselves back in NYC's apartment very cozy and tipsy indeed, ready to begin our raclette Thanksgiving feast. For those who may not know, raclette is a glorious Swiss invention, combining melted cheese, potatoes and charcuterie, though you can essentially use whatever you like. It's sort of a DIY cheesy wonder in the same family as fondue. You melt some cheese, pour it over a boiled potato, then add your grilled meats. It was the perfect family feasting frenzy. Along with chicken, brussels sprouts and our panoply of desserts, we all went to sleep very well fed, very well cultured, and very grateful for our wonderful time together.