LILY: Paris? That’s the first stop?
ARTHUR: Paris! The smoky cafés, the Seine at dawn, the clatter of the horses hooves on the cobblestone, the little ecole where I studied so hard…the musk of the people. The ‘cri de la revolution.’
LILY: You know Paris quite well!
MAURICE: He’s never been there.
ARTHUR: (sighs)…Not physically.
- The Impostors (1998)
All I’m expecting to see when I set foot in Paris are the most stereotypically French things: Old men on bikes, accordion players in striped shirts and red bandanas, bakeries with fresh baguettes lining the windows, and couples arguing passionately, cigarettes in hand—only to embrace moments later. My vision of France is cobbled together from years of French textbooks and old cartoons. I’m aware it’s not realistic. I want to have my fantasy shattered.
I studied French for four years. Three years of my terrifying-yet-amazing high school French teacher, Mme. Laybourne, who would make us dance and sing in French. One year of college French arguing politics I was ill-informed of, in a language I was ill-equipped to use. For the last eight years I’ve studied wine and food, and specifically a great deal of French wine, since it’s the world’s most important country for wine. Dear reader, don’t argue it. It’s a fact. I am going to now set foot in a place that I know much about but don’t fully understand.
I am a sommelier who’s never been to France. That’s like a musical theatre actor who’s never seen a Broadway play, or a LARP-er who’s never made their own foam sword, or a cinephile who’s never seen The Grown Ups 2. I’ve spent thousands of hours memorizing the names of tiny villages I’ve never been to. Yes, Gueux is a real place, and it’s pronounced ‘GOO’ with a frown on your face. I’ve traveled to Burgundy, Bordeaux, Champagne, Alsace, and the Rhône only in a wine glass, and now I’m going for real.
The next seven days I’ll attempt to share with you what the heck I’m up to, and what I’m learning. I’ve loved this country from afar for many years. I’m a WWI buff and I’m going to one of the places where it’s fiercest battles took place. I’m a cheese hound and I’ve never eaten Époisses in Burgundy. I’m a professed Champagne junkie who’s educated others about the belimnata quadrata fossils in the chalk soil, yet never gotten a handful. Well I’m going to get more than a handful, and I’m going to tell you all about it. Stay tuned.