Day Twenty: Mon Dieu, Seriously

The day started with breakfast. After digging Zak out of bed we headed off for our wine course. For two hours we sat and listened to the history and nature of wine, generally French and specifically Bordeaux. Grapes, terroir, as well as colour, smell and taste were all covered.

The course was taught in a special classroom where we had our own lights and sinks for spitting and also rinsing our glasses. Other than the fact it was at 10 am and only Carmen was willing to admit to drinking that early, it was a great experience. The instuctor was a young Hugh Grant clone who was quite knowledgeable and didn’t toe the pro-Bordeaux line as much as he could. I actually loved his description of the differences between Burgundy and Bordeaux. Essentially burgundy is all about the terroir, while bordeaux is reliant on blends and savior faire. One thing we did learn was the reason that Carmen had enjoyed the sweet white we had tried the day before was not because it was ‘short’ but because of the balance between sweetness and acidity. The acidity helps cleanse the sugars.

Zak had sat the course out in a nearby park, enjoying the French shade. We met up after and headed off for a walk in a generally southern direction. Leslie and I grabbed a baguette sandwich while Carmen opted for a wierd rice mix with veggies.

At about the third shop, Carmen finally broke and started lingerie shopping. I have to say they have a beautiful sense of colour in their choices. Carmen emerged last, denying have bought anything, but patting her bag smugly.

Apparently the French like to be good at their jobs; the shop girl had flicked Carmen’s sweater aside and nailed her size in one glance. Interesting skill to have and one I might try to acquire in case I need a second career. Also in favour of that particular career, is the privledge of barging into the change rooms to ‘help’. I’m not sure C properly appreciated the quality of personal service she was getting.

A few twisty, narrow streets later we came across an olive oil shop with free degustation. We tried a few oils and moved on to balsamic vinegars, mmmmm. I wanted to get the 75 Euro bottle of vinegar, but mean old Leslie made me settle for the € 25 bottle.

Next was the scarf and india fabric shop. Beautiful silk but we moved on sans purchases.

Around the corner we found the Catherdral Saint-André. It was begun in the 11th century, built mostly in the late 12th century with most of the construction complete by 1340. In the 16 century they added monsterous flying buttresses. Inside it had everything a cathedral needed, but I especially liked the green tone of the choir from the stained glass.

We spent some time soaking it in, but after having so many churches to ourselves it was hard to share it with tout les touriste. Still the beauty of a cathedral is that it’s big and it would take a massive amount of tourists (read Notre Dame de Paris) to make it an obnoxious experience.

Inside was a statue of St Anne and a baby Mary. Apparently one of the first references to the mother of Mary (and by conclusion, the grandma of Jesus). There were also some medieval paintings that had been rediscovered in 1990 under the plaster.

The Pey-Berland Bell Tower was built in high gothic style in the mid 15th century but, to minimize vibration, it was constructed as a separate building. We waited in line (only 19 people allowed up the tower at a time) for quite a while in the hot sun. The longest wait of the trip.

While we waited I spotted a t-shirt: “Life is Sailing. The rest is just details”… a good philosophy for life, although this particular trip was more of my Quebec City t-shirt: “La vie en simple: manger, dormir, boise du vin”

The tower is 230, narrow, spiral steps up to the first balcony. Passing people on their way down was, well, interesting. No one died although Carmen and Leslie’s worry gene got some exercise. The resulting view was awesome and the signage about the history of the city was informative. The sign desigenrs decided to put the 14 panels facing the area of the city they referenced rather than in order. This meant panel 3 and 11 might be on the same board, while 4 or 12 might be in complete opposite areas of the tower resulting in a haphazard learning experience.

Another couple of hundred steps further up brought us to the high point, with even better views, narrower pathways and some intimate aquaintence with protruding stonework. Descending the dark staircase was not the disaster that the less visually apt among us feared, although Leslie opted for barefeet over flipflops and Carmen did it in her sunglasses. Luckily passing people on the way down was way easier.

Next was some sorbet, a bottle of Clairet (which we had discovered in wine lessons and had never previously encountered: basically a more red rosé), and an discussion about the state of aboriginal relations in Alberta in which I had the only reasonable position no matter what Carmen and Leslie would tell you. I know this because Carmen picked up the stick with bits of tinsel on it and, while waving it around, she pretended, not to be a beautiful fairy as we were all expecting, but an S&M gnome with her magical fairy flogger. Really, could you take her seriously after that?

Afterwards the walk took us to the Art Deco museum but it was closing as we arrived: once again the girl’s boozing caused problems. I think they are going to have to go into a program when (or if…sigh) we return.

We turned back north, trying all the shops searching in vain for pickle and mustard chips. This search culminated in the big grocery store near our hotel that once again disappointed the girls, but found me exercising my newfound knowledge of wine. The problem with the tiny hotel living is that our purchasing has now vastly outpaced our consumption. I begin to fear the duties as we are way over our allowances. Three or four bottles up we dropped our loot at the hotel and made for the Church of Notre Dame. Alas the wine problem once again interfered and it was now also closed. So Carmen sat astride a giraffe to console herself. Leslie opted for the more traditional moment of sitting on her ass.

Unfortunately for them the old carousel had also just closed, extending our streak of “missed it by that much…” Pizza ensued. Pretty damn good pizza with a sangria apperitif and a Cabernet blanc for dinner. Carmen continued in her carnivorous creed and used the thin crust as an excuse for ham and mushroom.

One thing we learned in booze school was that the predominence of apperitifs was due to the fact that the French almost always had wine with food. Therefore our barbaric custom of drinking wine before eating was not practiced, and the hard core boozers need something while they wait.

More walk ensued, this time north along the quay. And, out of the blue, the friendly natives decided to pit on a display of country line dancing. Carmen wouldn’t dance with me. Leslie tried but polka, flipflops and cobblestones made it less than examplary of our native Albertan talent.

Across the street was the quinceconce (sp?) and a massive monument with larger than life bronze statues. Beautiful but we were tired and strolled by after spending a few moments. Back at home we fired up the fan to move the moist air and I attempted to finish my book. Didn’t make it before I … Zzzzzzzzz…