Friday, March 4, 2016

That Girl and Her Sister in Bordeaux

That Girl and Her Sister
Blogs from Across the Pond

In Bordeaux the sun shines. The sky is a brilliant blue. The French flag flies high above us in that clear, open, blue sky. And after weeks of clouds and rain, even beautiful German rain, Czech rain, Austrian rain, we are elated to see the sun.

I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time. And here I am. In France. In wine country. In Bordeaux. Bonjour. Bon appétit. Bon voyage. Bon everything.

Our apartment is bright, orange, sunny, cozy. Our host takes us up the stairs, hands over the key, and then sits on the couch in our living room to give us a map tour of the city. She circles the places of interest, saying, “Voila!” at frequent intervals, telling us the history, and the legends. “You must go see the Place de la Bourse at night,” she says. “That’s the time to see it.” Her information is better than the tidbits I’d collected before we came, than the meager notes I’d scrawled in my notebook.  

That first night, Jesse and I take a nice long walk to work out our travel stiffness. We eventually find ourselves a few blocks away at a plaza with a cathedral, some restaurants, and a parliamentary-palace like building. We find an outdoor table at one of the restaurants and order a pizza. I get my first Bordeaux wine in Bordeaux. Jesse also gets wine. One of us gets the St. Emilion, the other a Graves. I can’t remember who gets what. We both try them both.

On our way back home, we stop to look at the cathedral, stepping through the door and going along the short entry way toward the main part of the church. Inside, the pews are packed. People hover by the aisle wall, standing room only.

“Something’s going on,” we whisper to each other. “Want to stay and see what?”

We stay, standing near the entrance in case we need to beat a hasty retreat. In case we’ve stumbled accidently into another mass. At some appointed time, soon enough, a line of men and boys marches down the center aisle and takes their places at the front of the church. At a signal from the choir master who joins in with the group, they begin to sing The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lamond. Their French-accustomed voices plying gently over the English words, the Irish? The Scottish? “You take the high road and I’ll take the low.”

We’ve stumbled into some kind of choir competition or an end of semester concert. When the second group comes to the stage, not nearly as energetic as the first, after a song or two we steal out the door and back into the darkening night with smiles on our faces.

I love Bordeaux. The Gross Cloche with its solar and lunar time. The cobblestoned streets. The Garonne river. The bridges. The arches that we find like magical portals into the heart of the city. Our hostess had called them “doors” and we pass under as many of them as we can, as many as we find. I love Bordeaux for the architecture. The old Roman ruins we chance upon around some wandered corner. The giant dog we see that I dub The One Bad Wolf of Bordeaux—writing that down as a title for some future short story. The bell towers that ring when we’re at the top. The wine. “We only serve Bordeaux wines here,” we are told nearly every place we eat. And how fortunate for us, I think. That’s precisely what we’ve come to drink.

Our second night, by our host’s recommendation, we venture over to the Place de la Bourse and stand in front of the Miroir d’ Eau which first films over with a ghostly fog followed by a mist of water that covers the flat plaza area. And then, and then in the darkness against the water’s mirror-like surface the reflections of the Bourse palace appear so clearly it’s as if there’s a second, upside down palace before us. We could step onto that watery surface and be transported to that place if the night’s magic was working just the right way. But, too quickly the water glazes over and the upside down palace disappears. The fog starts up again.

Bordeaux is a place like home. I could live here in this city that feels like a welcoming village.

I feel this way until the next day when we find the Maison d’Vin. A wine tasting house. It seems a very Bordeaux region thing to do (also recommended by our host) and I’m excited by the idea. But when we walk through the Maison’s front doors, I’m intimidated by the palatial walls, the high ceilings, the sculpted heads, the stained glass. The woman at the front desk over to the right doesn’t greet us, doesn’t ask us if we’re lost, or if she can help us. And I don’t know how this works. I feel underdressed. This looks like a place for the rich. For the cultured. For those with discerning palates. I feel unworthy. Afraid to venture further in, we beat a hasty retreat.

“I’m okay not doing this,” I say looking back over my shoulder at the building. Jesse seems pleased. We stand on the curb preparing to cross the street. And while what I’ve said is true, I still kind of want to stay. It’s the wine I’ve come for. It’s the experiences of the different houses that I want to try on for size. As I’m delaying, I see a couple walk over to the Maison’s doors and stare at a menu on the wall. We’d missed it on our way in. Gathering together my sense of worth, I go read the menu. The wine can be ordered by glass and it’s affordable. Two, three, four euroes. Jesse doesn’t chide me for my change of mind, again. And we square our shoulders and go inside, past that front desk (which is either a hotel check-in or a place to store luggage, I never actually figure that out) and into the wine holy of holies, so to speak, somewhat irreverently.

The sommelier speaks more English than we speak French. I know enough about wine, terroir, and pedigree to feel ignorant, so I sit in the chair in that fancy place and listen as he explains that we can order multiple small glasses to taste or one full glass of a wine (Bordeaux wines only served here) of our choice. We both choose to have one glass. I order a Medoc. Jesse orders something else.

The Medoc is the best wine I’ve ever had. It tastes of love. Of Bordeaux, cobblestoned streets, bell towers, ancient Roman ruins, and outdoor cafes that serve the perfect café au laits. As the sommelier says the Medoc is “More powerful, more in your face.” And it is, and it’s also like a taste of a home I didn’t know I had. Until now.

We drink our wine and sit. Jesse reads. I fill out some postcards and think about the feeling of belonging. For so often, isn’t belonging simply the courage to walk through a door and past the front desk to sit in a chair in the company of a friend, a sister, and have a glass of wine?

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