I find myself here, in France, repeatedly experiencing that surreal yet fleeting sensation of being joyously content merely to be alive and occupy a coordinate position on this planet. La joie de la vie is the phrase I suppose. Or perhaps its just the wine.
Yes, we learned this lesson from all the hats out there, the new and old, Goerthe, Thoreau, Frost, Russel Crow, etc. But I risk here the most pretentious of boons, that of cottony dramatics steeped in other worldly prose to the extent of possible Hallmark employment, but there is something about the French country that is undervalued by the limitations of human language, English or French for that matter. Beautiful, breathtaking, comfortable...damn all fall short and denote cliche. Suffice it to say I love Paris, but there is something in the fields and air out there that seems to whisper to me a confirming ticket of belonging.
Though only a day trip on a sleepy September Sunday, my first trip south to the French countryside--to Château de Nitray just east of Tours--was a joy on par with the train ride and Spanish chicklets. A lesson on wine making: to faire les vendanges at Château Nitray, to cut grapes, taste wine, feast, dance, taste more wine, get lost in the woods on ancient bicycles, and just witness life being lived for the sake of ever present laugh lines is one of those times. En effet, pardon, I have finally become a wine fille, and not just the whites anymore, no my friends, I have tasted the grapes on the vines.
Nearly three hours south of Paris lies Château de Nitray, a vineyard and production facility of wine since the middle XVe century, though the chateau was constructed in the mid XIIIe century. Nitray's architecture is one of the most distinct in Touraine, characteristically Italian and decorated on the exterior with Boticelli shells, the Château is a typical, though quite modest and petite, batiment of the Loire Valley. The history of Nitray is a facile tale of changing masters and marriages up until the twentieth century when the chateau's long corridors were forced to quarter German soldiers during World War II, stalling the chateau's wine production until 1955. The festivities offered by the chateau today include romping through the vines with sheers and bagged feet, wine tasting, a lunch banquet, and dancing. Though the majority of party goers exceeded the jeunesse age of sixty, the time had by all surpassed a disco night club on every level. On arrival one is greeted by the patrons of Nitray--two red faced men who clearly dine with wine from dawn til dusk singing, laughing, l'anglais horrible, and laden with wine, cheese, bread, and meat. Once snacked, the caravan moved to the fields for harvest, a surreal treat of sun and seedy grapes. Ah mon dieu.
Toilsome labors harbor burgeoning appetites, and the dejeuner proffered nothing less expected of traditional French country: our vegetarian friends, you sadly save no place for existence. Rouge with lunch lunch of roasted chicken and potato gratin, salad of Nicoise, cold meats, patte, assorted fromage of chevre, brie, and roquefort, tarte au pomme, un cafe, et plus encore du vin. The accordion humming, the laughing voices rising with digestion and consumption, the petite Jack Russel Terrier on my lap finishing my plate (this is France) and then the dancing. Everyone dances in France. A spiraling conga style line formed of the elderly French, the middling Czechs, and we the American girls. Twirling and dotting about a game of handkerchiefs and bisous (cheek kisses) the afternoon slipped by in a surreal geriatric perspective of cloudy happiness, life as it should be, in the moment and without worry of table spills, missing shoes, the dog under the chair, or disheveled hair, just pleasure and laughter. C'est tout.
We were offered to gouter a Sauvignon blanc, Cabernet, and Rose--the tasters tripartite. I am traditionally partial to whites, I order the Chardonnay at every bar and cafe fearful of the sour rouge. A miracle though has passed at Château de Nitray that has brought forth the taste for reds. Now I can enjoy France, I muse as I peddle a rickety bicycle through the silent and ancient chestnut woods of the vineyard, the Jack Russel tearing alongside me. There is a feeling of home in those woods, in the vines, in the rosy cheeks of the comte as he waves aurevoir in the evening sun, there is much more to France than Paris. Though the city has merely been dusted in my two weeks thus far, the country towns and villages appear to be tapping on the doors of weekends to come. Aside from the wine and dried figs, this country has so many people, and dogs to meet.
It is difficult to relay, but the moments don't seem to leave you. If you are ever fortunate enough to stand in a dusty courtyard and are handed a roasted date wrapped in bacon, don't hesitate, you will regret it for the rest of your life. Take it, savor it, and then remember to sip slowly so as not to spill, for le petit chien has had enough to drink for one day.