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3 Days of Hedonism in Bordeaux

23 July, 2008 (04:50) | Living in Europe | By: admin

We awake on Friday with a big appetite but no set plan other than in the evening we would stop by for day one of Denise’s three day birthday party, set to climax on Sunday with a roasted lamb. Although I have never been a wine drinker, I figure if ever there was a time to try to stretch my palette, being in Bordeaux was it. It takes me a few tries before I locate the wine best for me, Medoc 2003. Mark and Nicole prefer the drier but fruitier Clairet, a most popular summer drink uniquely available in this region. But when I locate the Medoc 2003 they switch over so we can all 3 split a bottle of wine over a meal.

Nicole has a friend who lives in Bordeaux but is unfortunately out of town. However he has recommended a restaurant, Colchon Volante and made her promise to try it while here. She tracks the place down with inimitable German efficiency and makes us a reservation for for 9:15. Even though we are invited for dinner along with about 15 other guests arriving throughout the night of Friday night, we know this is our only real opportunity to have a total French experience on this trip. We catch the tram to downtown Bordeaux, where we spend the day wine bar hopping, toasting and snacking all day on all sorts of French delicacies. This is how I learn that I like Medoc 2003 wine.

Although by 9:15 we are not yet starving, having pretty much spent the day nibbling delicious, rich food, we head to the Colchon Volante. This is a fun restaurant, teeming with customers so I’m thankful to Nicole and her German ways for having had the foresight to make a reservation. Otherwise there would have been a one hour wait. We are seated in a comfortable booth in the back corner. On our way in my sleeve brushes against the chalk of a 6 foot chalkboard with a very full, hand written menu. I erase the second “e” on the word frappé. Oops!

We are hoping that this is not the only menu, that they will bring regular printed menus as well but after taking our wine order our waiter lumbers back, carrying the oversized chalkboard, which makes the customers in the next booth duck. Its is comical and somewhat interactive.
Nicole speaks French and knows what she’s ordering, but for Mark it is back to ordering things that he has no clue what they are, just like his first ten months in Spain. He knows the word for duck and that if he orders duck it will probably be authentically French. So he points to something on the chalkboard and ends up with a fois groi surrounded by raw duck meat. It is very rich and leaves little room for what is to come next as his main. Nicole and I order salad with roquefort cheese and walnuts, which is possibly the yummiest salad I’ve ever eaten.

For his main, Mark has no idea what he has ordered and it takes almost the entire meal to figure out what it is. It is one 1/2 of an animal. It is small. We are thinking it might be the fetus of a pig because it is so small. We learn later that it is a very young pig. Nicole and I take stabs at it. Yum! It is indulgent and decadent with as much fat as it has meat. Mark is already stuffed from the raw duck entree but manages to make it through the 1/2 a pig fetus as well. I again play it safe and have a steak. Nicole orders some exotic dish with fish and squids which I have no interest in whatsoever.

Then we have dessert, raspberries in custard, mmmmm. All three of us share a bottle of red wine throughout the meal and about half through it I notice the entire room and everything in it seems to turn pink; all objects are aglow with a reddish/pink tinge. I share my observation with Nicole and Mark and they see it too; warm red washes of color giving everything, even the beige shirt of our waiter a pink hue. It feels like a psychedelic drug coming on.

After this outrageous meal we head back to Lars’ place where he gives us more wine and brings out the cheese and black cherry confit. We can’t resist. The first few guests had arrived earlier, about 8 of them. These first few guests became our core group, the people we would get to know the most over the days to come.

Sin asunto on TwitPic

Lars is from Denmark. I first met him over 25 years ago, when he was baby faced and we were both very young. He had a best friend from Italy named Patrizio he used to travel with. At the time I had a popular band in Los Angeles (The Skanksters), Lars and Patrizio were part of my ongoing and ever changing entourage. They hung out with a German friend of mine in Los Angeles, which is how I knew him. He still has a photo of us taken in 1980, on the beach in Malibu. Here it is:

He’s been married to Denise for 18 years now. The reason we came to Bordeaux was to celebrate her 50th birthday, a literal feast that begins today, Friday. We met Denise when Lars and she travelled through Barcelona last year. I hadn’t heard from him in decades when I get an email through Partners in Rhyme from long lost friend Lars. They were travelling with there boxer Nina and staying in Raval, a neighborhood in Barcelona we once lived in and I will write about once my real life slows down a bit. We met them for lunch and found out we all hit it off delightfully. As it were, Nicole invited herself to that lunch, as she had just moved to Raval and was hungry. We all went to our favorite cafe, Le Jardin, which we like for its fresh fruit salads and its bohemian atmosphere; tables looking onto the gardens of the Gothic building that houses a University of the Arts. It is a perfect garden complete with small fountain, and terraced hillocks of grass to sit on, with strategically placed benches. Fracasados (bums) and students intermingle. We hit it off immediately with Denise and I remember sitting back and thinking to myself,

“How bizarre is this to see baby faced Lars all grown up, looking frighteningly his age (which is about the same as mine) only now he really does look like Gerard Depardieu. I can see the baby faced boy in overalls before me trapped in this older man who looks like he could be a childhood friend’s father.
Denise is fun loving and I discerned a strong character there who Lars has married, very earthy yet vivacious. She is a midwife. She makes sense. They have an 18 year old daughter who is intrigued by Partners In Rhyme.

Thumbnail photos of Denise:

By the time we take a tram back to our place after our extravagant dinner it is already approaching midnight, but we have been invited to Lars to meet the first batch of visitors, so we drop by his place before walking back to our hotel. He and 10 or 12 friends are all sitting outside in the garden, drinking wine and eating cheese with cherry comfiture. Both Nicole and I are a little shy at first to speak French, as neither of us has had the opportunity to do so in years, and I discover one of these friends is a wise guy that makes everyone crack up, even Mark who doesn’t speak French but has a rudimentary grasp when the subject matter is simple. Giuseppe is really Italian but moved from Italy with his family age 3. Once I discover this, and that he does speak Italian, probably better than my French, he becomes one of my main accomplices in the days to come. He knows the scoop on everyone at the party.

All the men are taken with Nicole – she is really beautiful but I believe the French find her irresistable. Giuseppe asks (for the sake of all the single men at the party) how old she is, guessing her to be in her mid 30’s. When I tell him she is 41 he gets animated – maybe one of them has a chance… (not likely, as they are all older and scruffier than her usual boy toy preference.)

Mark takes it all in. Lars speaks English and so does Denise and their daughter Charlotte. But not many others do. He must feel how he did at some of the first parties we attended together in Spain, before he learned how to speak, only now it is fun whereas two years ago when we first moved to Barcelona it was sink or swim. He finds that although he doesn’t speak French at all, if he speaks Spanish to people they understand him. I am surprised to look around and always find him engaged in a conversation, holding a glass of wine, smoozing and cruising with the French with élan and ease.

We stay until about 3 am.

On Saturday we stumble upon a funky restaurant full of happy locals chowing down. This is where we have lunch.

Mark again orders the duck and the waiter asks him how he wants it cooked, rare, medium or well done. Mark is puzzled but chooses medium rare. He is brought a duck breast steak. It is excellent, tender and cooked to perfection with authentic, crisp, french fries on the side. Nicole keeps sliding things from her plate to Mark’s; fried duck heart, duck liver, all kinds of duck organs. I don’t go for that kind of thing. I play it safe and get Côtolettes d’agneau persillade (fancy and huge lamb chop), which is also delicious. We all wash our meals down with fantastic red wine.

We go directly to the birthday party from dinner. There are now about 35 guests, most of them having driven or taken the train from Paris, Marseilles, other locations smattered around France. Both Denise and Lars met each other later in life, so they have accumulated several cliques of friends between the two of them, some of whom had never met. Lars’s biggest fear is that the cliques will not intermingle, which is evidently the way French normally behave. We are told they prefer to talk to people they already have a history with than to try to forge a new bridge with a new clique of friends. But his fears are unfounded. Between the table layout (the yard is half filled with long banguet tables intended to seat up to 60 guests), the way people would arrive in 2´s and 3’s, the element of Nicole, Mark and I striking up conversations with whoever, having no previous history with any of them, the magic of the setting – there is a growing bon sentiment et amitie (good feeling and friendship) enveloping the group. Many are camping in the garden or on the floor in the house.

Lar’s mother arrives. She comes up to me at once, saying in a extremely slow but perfect Englsih “I know who you are, “she says,” I have a photo of you and Lars he sent me 30 years ago. i believe he was infatuated with you.¨

This is news to me, but of course, I forget that so many years ago I was a full on scenster and local luminary of the Hollywood scene. I was so stuck up on myself I was unaware half my entourage, both male and female, had crushes on me. I just figured they liked the music and that’s why they hung around.

Video of my band from 1990:

Lar’s mother is amazing. She is a sculptor and artist, whose work is exhibited throughout Lar’s house. She is Danish, not French, and proud of it. Throughout the party, even at its thickest she would make it a point every so often to seek me out for a chat. I believe I must represent to her Lars “crazy years of living and traveling through USA with Patrizio, whom I am saddened to hear died 11 years ago of AIDS.

Everyday is a food feast and today is no different, this evening the vegetable soup with pesto impresses me most. Yum! Never mind that the three of us had all had another decadent meal at lunch time in the city, complete with dessert.

Mark brought his guitar and I my melodica plus a couple egg shakers for Nicole or anyone else to shake to the beat, so by 2 in the morning we find ourselves jamming in a quiet corner of Lar’s living room with a harmonica player and later a woman singer who is French but sings in Spanish. We jam awhile and throw in a song from our repertoire when things lull, the way they can in some jam sessions. I sing “Caminitos” in the corner, accompanied by Mark on guitar and the singer with the lovely voice coming in on cue during the chorus. I give one of the sultriest performances I´ve ever given of that song, which has become my song. I sing it with a tragic voice, very melodramatic. The words and melody suit me. It is a hit. I catch Lars´s eye every so often as I sing and I know this is probably the best magic I could bring to his party.

The singer then teaches us a song which I´ve always wanted to learn, which feels like destiny. She “happens” to have the words and chords in her purse to the song “Gracias a la Vida”, and passes them to us. She instructs Nicole and I to sing a part and she will do a harmony above it. It takes several run throughs for us all to get it somewhat right (the harmonica player has switched to guitar). As a result Mark and I now have a 6th song to add to our repertoire. I will learn the words and we will give it our own more uptempo arrangement, but I intend to give it the same sultry diva interpretation as I do for “Caminitos”.

So when we see new dishes being put out we decide to make a quick exit before we find ourselves eating strawberry parfait. Besides, it is 4 am.

Haka has been enjoying these parties, hanging out in the yard with their dog Nina, who is a boxer but looks a lot like Haka. They have similar goofy personalities, so they get along. Moki instead gets left in the hotel room because she can be mischief. But she gets two long hikes a day with Nicole, through the garden filled suburbs where we are staying.

Now it is Sunday, the day of the big feast. We feel like we are in a French movie. Everyone knows and likes us by now, and as soon as we arrive quite a few people, both male and female, come up to me and give me genuine compliments on my voice and how that song, with the melodica and guitar, transported them back to another era, maybe in a smoky Parisian bar in the 30`s, with a torch singer singing in a corner. I have never gotten such flattering, specific, genuine, graphic compliments before as I have this last hour. It makes me glow. I look over and I see Mark also has an appreciative entourage complimenting him.

Le mutton arrives early – a whole lamb which will roast all day on the roasting grill the caterer brings. She is a tiny woman with two very obedient kid helpers. They empty the lamb of its innards, stuff cus cus in the middle, sew it back up and put it on the roaster (which they brought with them).

For the next four or five hours the lamb will roast while people wake up in their tents, arrive from the far corners of France, nibble on appetizers. People stand around the fire pit with an atavistic glow in their eyes, the sight of an animal turning over and over in the spit, the aroma and sound of fresh lamb crackling with spices. There is a note going around asking people to contribute a line or two about how they know Denise. We have only met her, and politely decline. (“I know Denise who is married to Lars, who I don’t know that well either” would be all I might be able to say, but not in French…)

Four or five hours later, after lots of chit chatting with our new friends, the lamb is ready. We all stand in line. Amazingly it feeds everyone with enough for seconds for everyone who wants it (we three all do). The cus cus inside the lamb melts on your tongue, a sensation of sassafras and pimientos. There are side dishes in vats on each buffet table, the most memorable being the creamy, sturdy vegetables, too good for words – yum! And of course each table had a mound of fresh baguettes, and several bottles filled with Bordeaux clairet, which I am beginning to enjoy along with my food. All my life my family tried to teach me to drink wine with my dinner, as a kid trying to mix it with 7-up or ginger-ale in order to trick me into drinking it. But it never worked – I have never enjoyed a glass of wine in my life. Until now. It took going to France to become a true Italian! Nicole is proud of me and keeps an eye on my glass, making sure to top it up every so often. The more I eat the more I appreciate how wine helps digest and how it really becomes a part of the meal, a sip of this and a bite of that… I never understood this until now.

We hang out in various spots in the yard, inside someone’s tent, on the hammock in the back, at the tables while the caterer and her obedient kids clear up the pit. Suddenly everyone gets together on one side of the yard in front of the harmonica payer we jammed with last night, who now has a guitar. The group (of about 50 people) all tune their voices to the guitar, with the singer from last night at the front of the pack. Everyone has a sheet of paper with words. Evidently they gathered everyone’s quips about how they know Denise and forged them into a song with lots and lots and lots of verses. They had worked it out that the words can be sung to a famous French pop song everyone knows the melody of, so they all proceed to sing the very long song in unison to the accompaniment of simple guitar chords. Mark and I look at each other. This is amazing! It is totally a French Film, everyone singing along in unison that way. After they finish the first song the guitar player puts his instrument down and joins the group. They all tune up to the singer and start singing a capella a rewrite to La Merseilleise (French National Anthem) using the same words, if I´m not mistaken. It is very silly, and to make it through all the verses they have to sing the already long anthem about four times through.

Heh heh heh. An appropriate climax to this big day of feast! And so very French, it makes me want to retrace my French heritage (it is rumored I have a tad of French blood on my father’s side) because these people truly know how to enjoy life!