A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Champagne Taste

A little over a year ago, I wrote to the champagne house Nicholas Feuillatte, asking if I could arrange a tour of their Centre Vinicole de la Champagne Co-operative in Chouilly. I casually mentioned at the end of my note that I was a writer thinking of doing a piece on the region. That little postscript generated an exciting chain of events which climaxed today.

I never heard back from the French company directly. Instead, I got a communication from the head of their P.R. firm in Manhattan, putting themselves at my service. A few days later she wrote back with details of my tour arrangement. After I got back from Champagne, the agency kept in touch with me, eventually inviting me on an extremely luxurious press trip--airfare included--to Beaujolais and Umbria.

I had asked to tour the plant on a weekend, when it was not in operation. They basically opened the place up just for me. An attachée spent about two hours showing me the entire operation, after which we retired to the tasting room. She uncorked increasingly expensive bottles--four in all--for me to try. The attachée, the photographer, and I made a pretty big dent in those bottles, and were best friends by the time we got to the Cuvée Palmes d'Or Rosé.

Before I left, she presented me with "a little gift"--an attractively packaged bottle of Nicholas Feuillatte champagne. Back at the château (this trip was first class all the way!), I opened the package and discovered I had been given the 1996 Cuvée Palmes d'Or--not too shabby. I carried it home carefully, set it on my sideboard, and contemplated it frequently, asking myself what festive occasion I should mark with the opening of this bottle.

What better time, I finally decided, than the week of Thanksgiving, with so many people I love around me? So today was the day.

The vintage champagne was as good as I remembered: a beautiful, fresh floral and citrus-y aroma, elegant tiny bubbles, a pale straw color, complex flavor, with lemon predominating, long finish. Almost too easy to drink...all too soon, it was gone.

But at least I've got the beginnings of a serious wine education. Also happy memories of my experiences. And, of course, the empty bottle for my collection.


Dessert for Dinner

Tonight I visited some old friends in Maine. We ended up in a Mexican restaurant called Tortilla Flat. The company was excellent, and so were the margaritas. Which was just as well, because nothing on the dinner menu excited me.

For a vegetarian who's also a pretty fair cook, typical American restaurant menus are a disappointment. Take away the meat, and it's the same four or five things, over and over. If I didn't know how to cook them myself, I might be excited. But not only are they pale imitations of what they ought to be, they rarely add up to what I call a real meal.

I could go into details here. But suffice it to say that I surveyed the menu with apathy. I decided not to fill up on a greasy main course, so that I would have room for dessert, which did look pretty good to me. Flan--yum. And there was an apple thing with caramel sauce on it, too. It was going to be hard to choose between them.

And that's when it hit me. What I really wanted was two desserts. What I'm frequently in the mood for when I dine out is just dessert, but I always end up trying to match my dining partners, course for course. And usually everyone pigs out on the main course, and then starts looking at the time and calling for the check.

So I did it. There's a first time for everything. And this was the first time for me to sit around a table full of people eating steak and quesadillas and pulled pork, happily polishing off pie and flan and whipped cream. There was no one to scold me, or even make jokes about it. That's what's nice about this particular group of friends. They're not into guilt or sarcasm or one-upsmanship. Just doing their own thing, and letting others do theirs.

I'm not going to make a habit out of it. But just once in my life, it was nice to have dessert for dinner.

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