Monday, September 10, 2012

Chateaux, wines, tennis, planes, trains and automobiles

So, I would like to summarize my latest observations from France in this fairly crude, American manner:

1. Practically no one in France speaks workable English. Or German. Or Spanish. Or any other language whatsoever. I am not saying they should. Just that they don't. I now speak horrendous menu-driven French out of necessity. My pronunciation is a mix of Spanish, triple-rolled tongue and a lot of randomly swallowed consonants. The effect is magnificent.

2. French people stir their coffee for hours. Even if there is no milk or sugar. Makes the observer dizzy.

3. France is shockingly efficient and modern country. I am saying it as a compliment. Even though I have been there before, I have always thought of it as a country of wine and womanizing as opposed to excellent engineering, efficiency in every detail and high technology.

4. There is no free wi fi anywhere. What?????

5. The TGV speed train rocks.

6. A one month vacation is enough to drive me crazy from idleness.

In the past 2 weeks, the Diplomat and I criss-crossed the multifaceted country of France and ate and drank wine to exhaustion. We left Paris in a neat VW and headed over for a week of exploration in the Loire valley. I had an ambitious agenda consisting of gazing at multiple chateaux and other historic fabulosities, combined with daily wine tasting, while the Diplomat had an even more ambitious agenda of finding as many tennis courts as he could. The man researched the availability of tennis courts and partners to play with a zeal I have never observed in the performance of his domestic chores. In the absence of appropriate partners, I was brought onto the courts to demonstrate my tremendous lack of skill and ever expanding thighs (blame the wine tastings and the ubiquitous baguettes). I remain enchanted with the chateaux - we visited Ambois, Chenonceau, Azay-le-Rideau, Chambord, Ussé à Rigny-Ussé, Villandry and I remained hungry for more. I honestly cannot say which one is better than the others, but one thing I'll say - it was good to be rich in France! 

Loire valley wines are a delight. It is a region of pleasant dry whites and I was in heaven - mostly coming from the Chinon grape, the wineries there produce light, fruity and delicious cheap wines (think Vouvray!) and sparkling wines that we just couldn't get enough of. The problem was that every time we went to taste, we had to buy at least one bottle. Which also meant that we had to keep drinking them since we could not exactly transport everything back to Dhaka. And so we did. 

After we were done with the chateaux we decided to spend a couple of days in Sancerre and Pouilly-sur-Loire, where Sancerre (duh!) and Pouilly Fume wines are liberally produced. Let me just say here that my love story with white wine began one day many years ago with a bottle of Pouilly Fume and the rest is history. I was in wine heaven!! What a wine, people! Made from Sauvignon Blanc, it is full-bodied, fragrant, yet delightfully dry. The Diplomat had to drag me out of every tasting cave while I was trying to buy more and more bottles. Also made of Sauvignon Blanc, Sancerre is nice but a tad too dry for me. More like drinking acid juice at times. Oddly enough, folks there delight in telling you at length about the terrain where the vines grow. In one tasting cave in particular, a young enthusiastic lady kept waving energetically in front of me random rocks and prattle in high-pitched French about the origin of the rocks and the vines they grow on each one. One can feign interest for so long, you know. Especially when already tipsy on sour dry wine. It is possible that I dozed off towards the end of the geological discussion. 
 It was in Pouilly-sur-Loire that we had a dinner in a pretentious little restaurant called "Le Coq Hardi," a name that kept sending me into fits of third-grade laughter (just sound it in your head and you'll get it). After a stern maître d’ met us at the door looking like a replica of the bad guy in the Matrix, and had a mini, thinly veiled heart attack that we apparently had the nerve to show up without a reservation, he led us to a table for two while looking at us in clear distaste. Mon Dieu! We were punished by being left to wait without menus for about 15 minutes. Thankfully, we had tasted extensively that afternoon and had arrived rather happy at the restaurant so nothing could really dampen our spirits. As we started to slowly despair (while giggling inanely most of the time), the other waiter, a gangling supertall youth all of a sudden came and lit a candle on the table giving us a cryptic surreptitious look while doing it. That must have been the magic sign that we have finished our penance since from that point on, menus, water and bread were bestowed upon us in a most serious and grim manner. The Diplomat decided that his counter offensive would be to smile absurdly at all three waiters (there was also lady, who looked like a brooding lost soul among the tables) every time he would sight them just to see what the effect would be. As a result, at the very end after we paid, the maître d’ gave us a half-tooth smile clearly thus granting us his benevolence.

We left the region sated and exhausted and headed to Paris, where the next early morning, Grandma deposited Son with us at the Paris airport after their happy one month cohabitation in Sofia. We immediately jumped on the TGV fast train and in 4 hours were in Provence to begin a further week of doing nothing at all. Through some magic, we somehow upgraded our minuscule rental car (booked for free on points) to a BMW SUV and after stuffing inside it 3 large suitcases, 2 small ones, a tennis bag, hyper child, Diplomat and a couple of fat thighs, we happily arrived at the delightful Mas Antonine, a house where we had rented out an apartment for the week. The place was pure paradise - nestled among rice fields, it had a swimming pool which cold waters could not deter a determined Son to play inside while shivering uncontrollably. The next few days were spent sightseeing in Avignon and Marseilles, home cooking and paying obscene prices for endless carousel rides for Son. 

Then we repacked our multiple suitcases, dashed back to Paris, and I mournfully bid Son and Diplomat "au revoir" as they climbed on the plane back to Bangladesh. I, in turn, crammed myself along with other sardines in a packed flight to Bulgaria to spend 5 days with the familia in Sofia. Don't worry, this vacation is coming to an end on Friday even for me. Sigh...


  1. Hi, I have been reading your blog for quite some time and I'm a big fan.I read that there were demonstrations at the Embassy in Bangladesh and thought about you. I hope you and your family are and remain safe!

  2. I was going to ask the same question. I've been reading for a while as well (I was an FSO hopeful myself until finding out that our 2-year-old son has autism). As soon as I read on CNN that there were demonstrations in Dhaka, I immediately thought of your family. I hope that you have a safe trip back to Dhaka and that all the embassy families/staff remain safe and secure.
    Phoenix, AZ

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  5. Looks like you guys had fun and too bad we missed each other completely this summer. France sounds typical (the waiter ignoring you is their specialty) - we had that kind of "royal treatment" last year and I can't say that I miss it :) We are now planning a new adventure to Costa Rica so I'll keep you posted

  6. OMG, you are writing a blog!!!! Yeah, some way to keep up with each other now! The MOab sounds divine.

  7. Hi! My husband just finished A-100 and our first post is Dhaka. I love reading your blog, and this post reminded me of something I've been wondering about. Can FSOs posted in Bangladesh bring alcohol into the country? Thanks!

  8. Yes, as much as you want. And congrats! It will be a post to remember, I assure you!