I have been away from my balloon for less than a fortnight. As I can't stand this separation I am going to fly back to France tomorrow afternoon. Yes, of course, I am stretching the truth here a bit as I have been planning on going anyway to Avignon for months and months. You see, we have the annual meeting of the ICCA booked for Provence set for next week ... and, I dare not miss it this year as I'm the scheduled master of the punch for 1997. My recipe may not match the libations that have been offered up in the past ... but, I have some glass swizzle things that know no peer. Actually, my punch may not wash well with anyone as the ingredient list digs deep into the American south. More later on about that bit.
An uneventful flight from Fort Lauderdale to Atlanta. Followed by another uneventful flight to Paris. However, I had a very pleasant seat mate for this second leg: my daughter, Annie, who joined me at Hartsfield after her own uneventful flight from Seattle. By the way, we define uneventful flights as being ones lacking in untoward events.
We arrived at Paris (CDG) with about three hours to kill before our scheduled TGV departure to Avignon. Of all the things that I admire about the French, close to the top of the list is their railway system. Not only are the trains clean and fast (186MPH or 300KPH), but they are ever so convenient. From our luggage carousel at the airport to the train station was all of a five minute walk. Though our train was ten minutes late in departing we made up the time on the slightly less than four hour journey to Avignon.
[A major prefatory note is warranted at this point. The brilliant successes of all that follows here in Avignon, AND in all of the tangential ICCA sojourns, is largely the responsibility of Ailie Collins, a beautiful Brit who now lives here. Unfortunately, she is already spoken for]
Our hotel in Avignon, the Cloitre Saint-Louis, is "conveniently" located very near the train station. However, that word is a mixed bag. If you are lucky enough to be traveling with just hand luggage the hotel lobby is but a 100-150 meter walk. If you are lugging multiple suitcases, that walk requires multiple round trips and a great faith in the safety of unattended luggage. But, you might ask: "Do they not have luggage carts or taxis in Avignon?" No and yes! Luggage carts have not found their way this far south. And, taxi drivers are not interested in transporting people and things just a few hundred feet. So what does one do? A hundred franc note employed a station manager for this one off job.
After checking in to our eclectic suite, Annie and I wandered up the Rue de la Republique. This street is replete with shops and restaurants. After a few alfresco glasses of wine we threw a dart at a board and walked into THAT restaurant. I mean, it is hard to go wrong with restaurants in France! Dear reader, I am addicted to moules mariniere and pomme frites (Hmmmm ... my spell checker has flagged four out of the five preceding words).
After dinner I joined a half dozen or so other corkscrew addicts in the hotel lounge for some shop talk. Annie headed straight for the sack.
The first time I looked at my watch this "morning" both hands were straight up! That's 6AM in Fort Lauderdale ... or, 3AM in Seattle. But, it's lunch time in Avignon. We made it out of bed about an hour later ... just in time for wine and lunch. Funny how these time zones change things in life.
Annie was in demand for strong coffee ... she got it in itsy bitsy shot cups ... really strong stuff that made her a little jittery. I slipped into Chardonnay ... a calming beverage.
An hour later we were lunching at a place that had "tourist" written all over it. There were a lot of English there ... probably because the chips were really soggy. The service was so slow that by the time that we were finished eating it was almost time to start again. We refrained. Annie went shopping and I drifted back to the hotel to chat with my fellow addicts, who by this time were checking in right and left.
This evening the Right's Reception was hosted by Ron Maclean. He is our new Right. More about that later. No! ... I'll give it to you right now ... our leader is called "the Right" because one of our US presidents at some time in the distant past said "I'd rather be right than president" ... or, something like that. Anyway, like at any reception the men stood around and drank wine and looked at the legs of the girls who were serving us and thought how nice it would be to be decades younger. The women probably had different thoughts.
Tonight's dinner was in the hotel. The food was fine. The wine was Domaine des Riot 1996 Cotes du Rhone Blanc AND Domaine de la Presidente 1966 Cotes du Rhone Rouge.
We took a train this morning. Well, it wasn't a train proper ... rather, it was one of those things on tires that you normally see on Disney properties. Anyway, it took us all over Avignon before depositing us at the Palais des Papes d'Avignon (the Palace of the Popes). During the 14th century Rome played second fiddle to Avignon in the Pope thing. Apparently Rome, at that time, was a dusky place to live and sleep while Avignon offered comfort, safety and convenience for those who traced their papal ring back to Saint Peter.
After a lunch at a place in Avignon that did NOT take plastic (can you believe that?) we napped a smart amount of time before leaving the hotel for a wine tasting at Chateau la Nerthe in Chateauneuf du Pape.
This wine tasting followed a tour of the facilities by a young girl guide who wore spray paint tight white pants. I don't remember much about the tour, except that.
The tasting was followed by a dinner at Pierre Paumel's Restaurant La Sommellerie in Chateaunuef du Pape. We were treated with a Charlotte de Homard that was washed down with ample quantities of Chateauneuf de Pape Blanc 1996 (Domaine Roger Perrin). The main dish was Cuisse de Canard Farcie aux Cepes. The wine for this one was a Chateaunef du Pape Rouge 1992 (Domaine Lou Frejau).
That pretty much ended the day on a nice note.
We opted out. At least for the better part of the day.
We slept until elevenish. Had a breakfast built around kir, salad verte and moules. Not a Wheaties type, was it?
While Annie hiked up to the Palace of the Popes I had a good read with Agatha Christie.
This hotel has a weird phone system. It is impossible to log on from the rooms ... not because of tied wiring; rather it has to do with a switchboard system that faults modems. Those of us who brought our machines have to go the manager's office to reach the outside world, i.e. e-mail.
This evening Annie & I and fellow corkscrew addicts, Don & Virginia Squair, hiked up to the Hotel d'Europe for drinks and dinner. The Hotel d'Europe is but a fifteen minute walk from where we are staying. It is also rather close to the Palace of the Popes.
The bottles that the corkscrews attacked here tonight were: Crozes Hermitage "Meysonniers" Blanc AND Cote du Rhone Villages - Chateau St. Esteve "Grand Reserve" Rouge. Oh, the food, you ask about! I don't remember. But, I am sure that it was not to be despised.
Annie and I hiked home around midnight.
The alarm! Such a loud noise from such a little box.
Annie was feeling somewhat fragile from last night's libations so she declined the rendezvous with the bus. I don't blame her in the least; I have known those awful days.
Anyway, a half a hundred of us corkscrew survivors headed for the bus a little after the sun was at 30 degrees. I found a seat on the top level at the front. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but it was not. That part of the bus gets hot and stays hot. The air conditioning never does a good job there. So, I had hours of in flight baking on the out and back journeys.
After about 90 minutes on the outbound leg we were in Menerbes ... a cool village that has a mayor that collects corkscrews. OK, Dear Reader, this was why we were here to begin with. One of our members, Yves Rousset-Rouard, owns the Domaine de la Citadelle, which is also the home of the Musee du Tire-Bouchon (corkscrew museum). And, he has graciously hosted our trip to Provence. After a tour of the museum and the wine making facilities we all repaired to the village for a welcome speech. I cut out to a local pub for a pint while the droning was in progress. After the speeches, it was straight back to the Domaine for a buffet lunch. Yes, I made the bus despite my involvement with the Herald Tribune and a pint of Guinness.
When we returned to Avignon, the AGM (annual general meeting) was first on our menu of the afternoon's activities. After getting through the bit and pieces of our budget, remembrances of the deceased addicts, assorted membership things and laying out honors for "best sixes" ... we confirmed our site for next year's 25th ICCA AGM: London. All of us are looking forward to another Frank Ellis presentation. He did it so well with the CCCC earlier.
Then it was off to the PUNCH at the Hotel Mirande. The Mirande is, again, only a fifteen minute walk from where we parked our luggage ... but, since we were running a tad late and since we had to throw all the ingredients together ... Annie and I opted for a taxi. We got there way ahead of everyone else and we were spirited into a kitchen alcove and presented with the ingredients. Mercifully for us (me) the bar tender had done some preparatory work for us. Hell, to be truthful, he had done the lion's share of the bits and pieces and our job was reduced to adding the fizzy stuff and perching the little glass grape clusters on the stemware. For those of you who never read footnotes I'll say in the body of the text that the ICCA, for years, has transported its own punch bowl and ladle to all events. The punch bowl was a gift of Richard Dennis while the ladle came from Paul Shaub. Both are pieces of art. I would hate to be the venue host or the master of the punch who cracked the bowl or dented the ladle. Anyway, as Master of the Punch this year it was imperative that I come up with something tasty and punchy. OK, here is what I did:
The following recipe was found in the personal papers of President Jefferson Davis and was served for the Holidays at the Confederate White House.
Jeff Davis Punch
Mix all ingredients and garnish with thin slices of lemon, orange and cucumber (with peel). If too strong, water may be added until the quantity reaches five gallons. Best made 24 hours ahead of time. Add soda and ginger ale just before serving. Serve with plenty of ice.
From the F.F.V Recipe Book
Museum of the Confederacy
Linda Crist, Ed.
Jefferson Davis Papers
The dinner, which was also served at the Hotel la Mirande in Avignon, offered up Supreme de Pintade aux Petits Legumes. The wine for this dish was Crozes-Hermitage, La Petite Ruchel 1995. This was trailed by a Terrine de Roquefort and a bottle of Cotes du Rhone, Coudoulet de Beaucastel 1995.
Annie and I had sort of a latish morning ... well, we lounged about before leaving the room. Just in time for a lunch of salad and fries ... and wine. Our stomachs figured it was breakfast so they were not really ready for what we tossed down.
About an hour later we had the corkscrew auction. Bertie Miles was our auctioneer again. He has been doing this for years and I am surprised that Christie's South Kensington has not snapped up this wonderful man. I only bought a couple of pieces today. They were small but nice pieces. Annie bought a corkscrew to give to a girl friend (Tilman) who has been minding her kids.
I did nothing this morning except read some Agatha Christie in the lobby ... followed by a spot of lunch. Hey, that is a pleasant time ... sure beats traveling on a bus to visit something old and dead.
Tonight we had our farewell thingys at the Hotel Cloitre Saint Louis. We had glasses of wine beforehand in the courtyard of the hotel. It was a sunny-clear very late afternoon and everyone was sad that all things were winding down. The dinner was uneventful.
Lunch at Le Cintra on the Cours Jean Jaures with Annie. This was our first day sans the ICCA. So, one chapter is ending and another one is about to start tomorrow.
In the afternoon, tomorrow, Annie and I are going to fly to Paris. We'll be there for about a week. Annie wants to photograph the Eiffel Tower in black and white. Dear Reader, if I have not already told you, Annie is an excellent professional photographer. Take a peek at her black and white photo portfolio of North Korea on my Home Page. She is quite good.
Tonight father and daughter are going to drift not too far away for a minor meal and shallow bottle of wine.
After dinner Annie and I had drinks in a little café on the Cours Jean Jaures ... we were two tables away from a French couple who were either married to each other or, who were lovers who had their spouses conveniently parked somewhere else. We watched them for the longest time ... their emotions ranged from dispair to elation ... but, they were always touching each other. They left the café with arms around each other. I miss that. Love is wonderful!
This afternoon Annie and I shall fly to Paris. The flight is scheduled to leave Avignon at 4PM and arrive at Orly at 5:10PM; just in time to catch the rush hour traffic in Paris. Yummy! But, at the end of the travel day lies the Hotel Plaza Athenee.
Next: Paris with Annie covers the next part of our French trip!