Food Coma: France – Chapter 1-2


 “It’s called “Hellfest” and I don’t think we will ever be able to forgive ourselves if we miss it.”

 I propped back in my chair, nearly toppling my glass of Barbaresco all over my keyboard in the process, while trying to balance my cell phone between my shoulder and ear. I had drunkenly rang my friend Joel Beauchamp after making a late night discovery that a Swedish metal band we both liked very much, Opeth, would be headlining a music festival in the coming Spring.

“Yeah, it looks like well over 100 bands at this thing,” I continued, “Ozzy, Judas Priest, The Cult, Iggy Pop – holy shit it sounds amazing.”

When I am confident that I Joel is definitely intrigued, I share the last small detail,

“It’s in France.”

Not surprisingly, Joel is completely unfazed by this information – and by morning we are the proud owners of two tickets to Hellfest 2011.

Never one to shy away from mixing business and pleasure, and representing a strong portfolio of French vigneron through my job at the time, I set to work on a travel itinerary that will include visits to wineries in Champagne and throughout the Loire Valley, as well as an evening in Paris, before we head west to Nantes for three days of Hellfest. This will be the first music festival I have attended since the time I ate 6 hits of acid at The Horde in 1997, and I look forward to a very different experience than that, with 100% less Rusted Root in attendance.

The itinerary I set up seemed so perfect, in fact, that I kept expecting for the entire trip to fall through – but, on an early morning in June, we were officially off to the bus station en route to Logan Airport. Though we are hungover, we shotgun a few glasses of Nieport 10 year tawny port for breakfast to keep our senses razor-sharp like Eagle’s talons in case there is trouble on the bus ride.

While we are loading up my roommate’s car (he was kind enough to escort us to the bus station), Joel complains about forgetting to procure any Valium for the flight that lay ahead, and that he had three 1mg tabs of Ativan instead but that “probably just won’t be the same.” Personally I think benzos are benzos but I keep my comments to myself.

Upon arrival I hit up the vending machines for provisions. In a fit of nostalgia I purchase a bag of Cracker Jacks, which I don’t think I’ve had for over a decade and were definitely in a box not a bag when I did. I may have had Poppycock or other brands of name brand caramel corn, but not Cracker Jacks (the king of caramel corn).

Naturally you can imagine my disappointment when my prize in the box turns out to be a fucking “pencil topper.” This piece of shit, clearly designed by a cheap scumbag, would hardly keep an attention-starved cat entertained for 15 seconds. It also is quite presumptuous in assuming that I still own a pencil to top in the first place. After all, I’m not taking the goddamn SAT’s here (which reminds me of another great acid story – maybe some other time).

Once we are safely seated on the Concord Trailways, I attempt to “re-gift” my new toy to Joel, as a symbol of friendship before we start our epic journey together. His response is to toss it back in my face before putting on his headphones and closing his eyes, the international sign for “I’m taking a break from you now.”

The film, usually the highlight of my bus ride, is particularly awful this time around. Tron: Legacy, the sequel to Disney’s 1982 techno-thriller Tron had clearly suffered the fate of skipping the “straight to video” classification and proceeding to “straight to bus,” a fate far worse. The film, which features the return of Jeff Bridges as Kevin Flynn, rogue programmer, sucks so bad that I find myself far more entertained by fidgeting with my pencil topper, and soon after I have donned headphones of my own to listen to The Fame Monster in it’s entirety.

At Logan Airport we check our bags and proceed to the terminal, assuming we’ll have at least a few options for pre-flight dinner and drinks. I was eager for something basic, like Legal Seafoods, but, as it turns out, there is only once choice – a gloomy looking resto-pub called “O’Briens.”

Assuring myself that the coming repast would be of little consequence considering that we were bound for a long stretch of eating and drinking in France, we enter and are seated in a narrow dining room away from the main bar. I’m not entirely sure why, but I am craving red wine and order a dreadful bottle of Mirrassou Pinot Noir, solely based on the fact that the other options were even more alarming.

According to Mirassou’s website:

“Our Mirassou California Pinot Noir displays fresh fruit flavors of pomegranates, cherries and currants with complementing aromas of strawberries, pomegranates and cherries. This wine is at its best if enjoyed within a year of release, but can age in the bottle for up to three years if carefully cellared.”

If by “fresh fruit” they are referring to “Hall’s Cherry Flavored Lozenge” then I would say they’ve hit the nail right on the head. Though it is, allegedly, “At it’s best” right now, it’s reassuring to know that if “Carefully cellared” it will take on characteristics of an aged Hall’s Cherry Flavored Lozenge.

While enjoying an order of Buffalo wings that are marginally better than the wine, the paranoia takes hold that if our plane were to crash, this could potentially be my last meal. In response, I order up what I consider to be a “second meal,” consisting of three Budweisers and two shots of Jameson. Joel follows suit, and we feel much better.

We are in the air shortly after, and about an hour into the Paris-bound flight we are presented with dinner options. I will admit that my appetizer of curried orzo with chicken, followed by tender beef with mashed potatoes and wild mushrooms, is actually quite tasty – and after the Mirassou from earlier my 187ml bottle of vin de pays Merlot tastes like Lafite fucking Rothschild.

After dinner, and about two and a half hours into the flight, I begin to notice a strange look coming over Joel’s face. Prior to this, I had travelled very little with him, so I chalked it up to his aversion to flying and forget all about it. Soon, he is out cold and I proceed to put down seven more mini bottles in an unsuccessful effort to fall asleep myself. At one point in the middle of the night, out of sheer boredom, I try to sneak up to the more comfortable seating in business class but am promptly shooed back to my nest in shanty town.

When we finally land it is early morning in Paris. Though I haven’t slept or stopped drinking since the morning prior, I still somehow look better than Joel, who has been asleep for a solid five hours. Throughout the process of going through customs he is very quiet, and immediately rushes to the bathroom to vomit after we are past the line.

As he emerges, looking a bit better, he informs me that he, being unfamiliar with the potency of the drug, had originally taken two of the Ativan (after drinking with me all day) after the flight took off, and then, because it was “occupying a compartment that he needed in his contact lens case,” had taken the third pill. And here we are now.

As I lead “Ativan Beauchamp” towards baggage claim, I realize that I am now officially involved in his ordeal. Luckily, he wasn’t dead, so there’s that. However, the first and only hotel that he was in charge of booking was the one we needed to get to straight from the airport, so when we meet the driver we had arranged prior I make sure he has a firm grasp of where we are going before piling Joel into the car.

Throughout the car ride, phrases like “Look Joel, did you notice the Arc de Triomphe?” are met with forced smiles that quickly fade back into blank stares. I knew he would eventually be back to normal, I just needed to get through the next hour or two before I could get him to somewhere to rest (we were too early for check-in at the hotel).

At the Hotel le Bellechasse Saint-Germain, a boutique hotel of which Christian Lacroix had allegedly designed the interior, Joel is in charge of checking in, as he had done the booking. I perceive this to be going fine until I glance over at one point and see Joel fumbling around while the clerk looks increasingly confused. I notice that his passport is hanging out of his back pocket, and, assuming that’s what he was looking for, walk over and give him some much needed assistance.

With check in finally complete, we stash our bags and head out for some fresh air, but are quickly stopped by a British woman sitting on a couch in the lobby.

“I like your bag,” she says, referring to Joel’s tote emblazoned with the image of a puppy dog, “Where did you get it?”

“This Bag?” Joel answers loudly, “I got this bag in Maine. In the United States. In PORTLAND, Maine. In the United States.”

After an uncomfortable pause I continue to usher him outside while the woman sits and ponders the bizarre response to her very simple question.

We decided to grab a seat at the first sidewalk bistro that we stumble upon, as it seems imperative to get some food into Joel’s stomach. After such a long day/night/morning I am in no way mentally equipped for an attempt to speak French, so I just point to a bottle of Nicolas Feuillatte Brut on the menu, and then at Joel – the server and I quickly come to an understanding.

While I drink 90% of the Champagne and eat the majority of a large plate of steak frites, Joel seems to be regaining lucidity. On the way back to the hotel, I duck into a wine shop and pick up a few more bottles of Champagne, Ruinart and Lanson, for the room. I am also feeling quite awake, with a very warm, pleasant buzz-on starting from both the wine and the realization that I have arrived in Paris.

Once we are finally settled into our suite, this buzz-on is compromised when I realized that I had foolishly forgot to place my shampoo in a plastic bag, and it’s contents were now covering the rest of my toiletries. While Joel dozes off for a couple hours, I drink Champagne and clean up my things; taking great care to prevent any soap from making it’s way into my glass. As the bottle becomes empty I take a shower before also getting some much-needed sleep until dinnertime.

After his nap, Joel is finally back to normal, and as we get ready to head out for dinner I recount his afternoon to him, and though I suppose it was kind of fucked up we can’t help but laugh uncontrollably about it (especially the incident with the woman and his bag).

It turns out that Le Comptoir, a busy, higher-end bistro located in the Hotel Relais Saint Germain that had been recommended by a friend from home, is not far from our hotel. While we wait in line outside the door, it begins to lightly rain, which actually feels quite refreshing on my skin. After about twenty minutes, the hostess acknowledges us and leads us to an outside table with an umbrella, towards the end of their sidewalk seating. Any feeling of refreshment fades away as the rain rolls down the umbrella and continuously on to my back. Rather than get bent out of shape, like they would probably expect us to, I opt for a different strategy.

When our server arrives ten minutes later, I order a bottle of Didier Dagueneau’s “Pur Sang,” one of the best examples of Pouilly Fume that I have had the privilege to taste. Though it is fabulously expensive, it is not what I would consider to be a “show-off” bottle like Cristal, Dom, etc. – and Dagueneau had been killed in place crash in 2008 so any vintage that falls within his lifetime is certainly worth splurging for.

A few minutes later, our server re-appears and asks if we would enjoy a table inside. We agree, of course, and what happens next is reminiscent of the scene in Goodfellas where Henry takes Karen out for the first time. I see a man carrying a table up from the downstairs lounge, which is promptly set up in the middle of the bustling dining room for us. We are seated, and the wine is poured.

In the words of Karen Hill, “There was nothing like it.”

While we examine the menu I order a second bottle, Vacqueryas from Chateau des Tours, so it can be decanted. We have a different server than the one outside, and we chat about wine while I insist on pouring him a glass from each bottle.

We proceed to enjoy several courses, beginning with chicken terrine with artichokes, and then velvety lobster bisque, before moving on to boudin noir with béarnaise sauce and a small apple salad. Simply put, blood sausage is one of my very favorite things to eat, and this is one of the better examples I’ve tasted. Our last “appetizer” is a plate of fresh haricot verts with artichokes and foie gras.

The Vacqueryas has opened up beautifully at this point, just in time to enjoy with my braised veal shank over white beans, which is reminiscent of cassoulet. Joel’s rabbit leg is cooked brilliantly, served atop peperonata.

As our plates are cleared our server shows up with two glasses of Vin du Bugey-Cerdon, an obscure red sparkling wine from the Savoie region. We are then presented with another treat, a dessert of bruléed Armagnac cream with orange peel.

The dining room has grown sparse with patrons, and we chat with the server a bit more before ending the meal with absinthe. We depart happy and sated, primed to wander the dark streets for a bit, laughing and carrying on about god knows what, occasionally being scolded from a random balcony for being too loud. It feels like a dream.

Back at the hotel, I open up the bottle of Lanson that I had purchased earlier. It proves to be the nightcap that we needed, and it is time to finally call it a day. Besides, we leave for the town of Ay in Champagne in the AM, so there will be no shortage of bubbly to consume once we arrive…



 Upon waking, I am thankful for the small amount of Champagne still in the bottle of Lanson as I pour myself a glass to stave off a slowly creeping and very powerful hangover. In the moment, it seems to be a fitting substitute for coffee, though about 45 minutes later I am definitely crashing again and in need of another drink.

Unfortunately, there is no time for that.

We have to catch our train to Epernay, one of the primary cities in Champagne, which is about an hour away, before hooking up with a pre-arranged car service to take us to the small town of Ay. After the lodging debacle the day prior, Joel’s responsibilities have been reassigned to the Minister of Transportation, or, as he came to be known, “The Tranny Boss.”

Instead of the alcoholic beverage I so desired, I only had time to shovel a quick pain du chocolat into my mouth before we board the train. Once we are in our seats, I spend the next hour resisting the urge to barge into the adjoining cabin and tell a group of irritating 13-year old French girls EXACTLY how I feel about their very loud adaptation of Oops I did it again.

Once in Epernay, we meet with our driver and set out for the Hotel Castel Jeanson, which is, in fact, a castle, in Ay. En route, I “entertain” Joel with my alter ego, Cajun Willy from Louisiana. He gives me a look and a nod before informing me that if “Cajun Willy makes an appearance I will deny that I know you and walk away as quickly as possible.” Fair enough.

As we cross the border into Ay, I transition from Cajun Willy into Eddie Vedder, performing a very convincing acapella version of Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town. This particular Monday happens to be a holiday, and thus we are virtually the only ones on the streets at mid-morning.

At the hotel, which according to its pamphlet used to belong to “Regional famous families” but is now owner by the winery, Goutorbe, I make the executive decision to upgrade us to a suite. As we pass the hotel’s salon on the way to our room, the owner explains that it is a great place for “Reading books, having peaceful times, and tasting a glass of Champagne.” Little did I know that this would be a harbinger of things to come…

Once we arrive at the suite, the clerk hands us a large key and bids us farewell. Five minutes later, upon having “technical difficulties” operating said key, he is once again assisting us, effortlessly sliding the key into the hole and popping open the door. In my defense, Joel couldn’t get the fucking thing to work either so whatever.

This was, by far, the largest European hotel room I have ever had the pleasure of staying in. I would go so far as to say it was almost too large, as it made the brightly colored décor feel a bit sparse. Luckily, in the bathroom we were treated to “his and her” vanities as well as two separate showers, imparting a kind of “gay locker room” ambience that made us both feel so at home. I was pleased to see that the minibar is stocked with Goutorbe Champagne.

During our stay in Champagne, I have made appointments to visit two of the wineries I was representing in Maine at the time, Rene Geofrroy and Pierre Gimmonet. Both fall under the portfolio of prestigious importer Terry Theise, the reigning cheerleader for a style of bubbly called “Grower Champagne” or, as many would prefer, “Farmer Fizz.”

These wineries have grown in popularity over the years, and rightfully so. The term refers to wine that is made from grapes grown by the winery, as opposed to the negociant approach of buying grapes from elsewhere practiced by most big name producers. This results in a product that is not only more interesting, but also reflective of its vintage.

In The New France, author Andrew Jefford sums up the Champagne region nicely:

It’s wine is one of the most successful processed agricultural products in human history. It is prized worldwide, and intimately associated with luxury and wealth. The average price of a bottle of branded, non-vintage Champagne is, to be frank, several times more than a wine of it’s sometimes modest concentration (made from France’s highest yielding AOC vines) should cost. It is able to command these exorbitant prices because it has built an impregnable image over the last 150 years, and because (thanks to its climate and soils) at present has no rival on Earth for piercing and disarming finesse. Champagne is France’s only region of strong brands; Champagne is France’s only region of monolithic, consumer-friendly simplicity. We are prepared to pay that much for Champagne not because it is worth it, but because there is no functional alternative and that is what the experience of drinking it costs.”

 The “branded, non-vintage Champagne” that many people will pay for “Not because it is worth it, but because that’s’ what the experience of drinking it costs,” he refers to are houses like Veuve Clicquot, whose Brut Yellow Label, one of the most recognizable bottles in the world, fetches inflated price tags not for the quality of the wine, but rather the consistency of the product and the experience it suggests. Honestly, if that’s what you’re looking for it doesn’t make you a bad person and you should most certainly carry on, but if you crave sparkling wines with more depth that are a much better value, grower producers are very much worth seeking out.

After settling into the hotel we set out to explore a bit before our scheduled visit to Rene Geoffroy. We are told that the winery is holding it’s annual “picnique” event, where half of the town shows up with hunks of meat to toss on the grills, so our first destination is the butcher shop as not to show up empty handed.

The fucking butcher shop is closed, due to the holiday, so it looks like we are going to be showing up empty-handed after all, goddamn it. I’m also starting to progress to a very urgent state of “hangry” that is in no way appropriate to expose to strangers, so we, after about a thirty minute search to find one that’s open, stop at a small café for a “light lunch.”

Initially, our limited grasp of conversational French causes problems with the waitress, who simply assumes we are lost when all we want to do is sit down at a table. Once we are seated, I decide to calm my nerves with two glasses of bubbly while we inspect the menus. I begin to get the impression that it is not “lunchtime” and I find that in many European countries the idea of thinking outside the box in this regard throws people right into a tizzy – hence the confusion over getting the waitress to seat us. Admittedly, I’m too hungry/thirsty to care.

In my famished state, I order the andouillette sausage over greens because it sounds like something that it is not. While waiting for our order, and after finishing a glass of wine, my memory is jogged and I recall that andouillette is actually offal of some kind but I can’t remember which. No worries, I like offal.

My lunch arrives; a big plump, juicy looking sausage perched atop a bed of greens. It has a slight aroma of barnyard, which is fine, but when I cut into it tripe immediately comes bursting out, reminding me of one of those gag cans of nuts that shitty magicians love to give people. I normally love tripe, but in this case it is just too gamey for me, especially on such an empty stomach. Joel has a taste and agrees with me, while relishing his merguez sausage that is so much more along the lines of what I was in the mood for. We establish that it is pork tripe, not beef, and I struggle through a few more bites before pushing the rest around on my plate. I choose not to make eye contact with the waitress as she clears our plates.

Afterwards we take a walk around, and though I’m still hungry I was able to get down a few drinks so I can finally relax and take in my surroundings. Ay is technically a commune with a population of about 4,000, and is very quaint and very old.

As we meander towards our destination, we pass by several prestigious Champagne houses including Bollinger and Deutz. We turn the corner to see the entrance to the courtyard at Geoffroy, where there are tents suspended over a goodly amount of people who have come to get their drink on. At the door, a jovial man in his late fifties who introduces himself as Renault warmly greets us. I apologize for our failure to bring meat to the party, to which he seems completely unconcerned, telling us that we are expected and leading us through the courtyard to a separate area where there is a table set up with multiple bottles.

Renault begins filling our glasses as Jean-Baptiste Geoffroy, who has taken the reins of the winery from his father Rene, joins us. We chat and taste through everything from the current offerings to much older vintages, all staggeringly delicious. Jean-Baptiste encourages us to eat and drink our fill this afternoon, hoping that we will join him on a tour of the vineyards in an hour or so, to which we happily agree.

You may or may or may not know that Champagne is made exclusively from three grapes – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. It can be a single varietal or a combination of the three, but only these three. A wine made up of exclusively Chardonnay is called a blanc de blanc, and if it is only Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, or a combination of the two, it is called blanc de noir. Geoffroy favors Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes from the vineyard site of Cumieres, where the rugged terroir gives Jean Baptiste’s wines their distinct flavor profile.

As Joel and I plow down glass after glass, Renault materializes again bearing “Great news!” Apparently they have plenty of meat for us, provided that we “Would love to try a local specialty called andouillette.” I politely attempt to explain that I generally like tripe but am not a huge fan of this style of sausage, which gets lost in translation and is interpreted by Renault as “My vagina hurts.”

I immediately regret not just going with the flow, as Renault laughingly conveys the message about the state of my vagina to the men working the grill. In an effort to repair the damage that had been done, I insist that they pile it onto my plate, attempting to explain, again without success, that I’d had some earlier that had been fucking disgusting but I’d LOVE to put this in my mouth again. They appear pleased with my decision to conform, and we are seated with Renault and Jean Baptiste’s family, at a separate table away from the others. We are handed down bowl after bowl of different side dishes, as well as several bottles of both bubbly and still wine. I will say that, while still bit aggressive, this andouillette is MUCH better than the one from earlier, and pairs nicely with the wines.

After we’ve had our fill, several local cheeses are passed around with five more bottles of Champagne. I normally wouldn’t get all misty-eyed while evoking brie cheese, but holy shit this stuff was transcendent. It is rich, creamy, and redolent with a flavor that reminded me of white truffles. I slather a liberal amount on a chunk of crusty bread and go to town, a glass of 2004 vintage Champagne in hand. Life is good.

Renault seems pleased by our performance, and once we have had our fill he escorts us down a rickety flight of stairs to the wine caves below. The cellar is ancient and vast, and we pass by rack after rack of bottles resting quietly as they mature. There are cube shaped machines that turn the bottles a specific number of times per day, save for the rose, which, due to it’s bottle shape, is still turned by hand the old fashioned way.

We move into a large corridor that reminds me of the sewer system in the beginning of Ghostbusters 2, and we witness a sea of bottles, 60,000 to be exact, resting on their sides Renault promises me this entire stock for free if I can manage to consume it all in a year’s time, which as it turns out will only require that I drink 164 bottles a day. I’m in.

After finishing our tour of the caverns, we ascend and return to the fray, where we enjoy a glass of wine with the winery’s founder, Rene. It’s safe to say that Joel and I are a tad bit “lit up” around now, and after a few more glasses Renault informs us that our tour of the vineyards is getting underway. It appears that the whole group is coming along for the “walk,” but Renault informs us that he is going to “sit this one out.”

What ensues is about a three-mile excursion on foot through the vineyards and hills of Champagne, that is all at once breathtaking and soul crushing. Though that distance may not seem excessive at first, consider all of the things we have consumed prior and you’ll get a clearer picture of where I’m at with it. Granted, I should have been thankful for this impromptu fitness quest to break up the day, but it would have helped to have known what I was getting into so I could have prepared by drinking a touch more water.

After about 45 minutes, my choice of hiking footwear, nori-green Gucci ankle boots (with leather soles), has become problematic. I liken this to how the banker must have felt in the video game Oregon Trail, as he would have clearly encountered the same difficulties with the treacherous terrain while wearing leather dress shoes that were more suited for office floors.

As we ascend towards what I perceive to be the summit of the vineyards, I have definitely sweat out some of the booze. At the top (which, trust me, wasn’t high up at all) there is a small table set up with paper cups. I am handed one of them and fire it back, assuming it is water – but no, it’s more Champagne. Oh well, might as well renew some of my buzz as we enjoy the stunning view of the vineyards that gives way to the town. As I reach for my second cup, a cool breeze kicks in, and I am at peace.

There is still about an hour to go before arriving back in town, and I take advantage of this opportunity to enjoy conversation with Jean Baptiste. We discuss many things, from his experiences with Terry Theise to his opinions on past vintages. He speaks of how his wines differ stylistically from those of this father, as does his level of involvement with the entire winemaking process. He points out which vineyards belong to who, all very small plots, and explains the characteristics of the terroir for each one. Each step I take is also a reminder that I have accumulated a fair amount of this terroir in my boots as well.

Once again Renault greets us back at the winery, and his grin suggests that he is amused at the fact that I am still standing. We purchase several bottles of both the NV Rose and the 2004 Single Vineyard Champagne’s before thanking our hosts for a wonderful afternoon and making our way back to the castle. Joel makes plans to “Take a nap, go swimming in the pool (they have a pool? No one told me about a pool), read in the bathtub of our gay locker room, and then get ready to go out for dinner.”

 Though the nap goes according to schedule, other elements of the plan fail to materialize for us. There is, in fact, a pool – but it is closed. We linger about the suite for a bit until it starts to get dark, at which point we strike out in search of dinner.

The minute we set foot into the streets of Ay, it is apparent that this town is officially closed for business. Every residence, every storefront, and even the front desk at our hotel are dark, presumably in observance of the holiday. We walk for about 45 minutes, taking a few obligatory “gothic church photos” in the process, before arriving at the inevitable and painful conclusion that food just wasn’t going to happen.

Now, to be honest, I can’t recall a time in my life when food simply was not an option. Normally, there is at least a shitty 24-hour gas station open where one can procure Red Baron Pizza and French Onion Sun Chips (and maybe some Diet Peach Snapple if you happen to be feeling a splurge coming on). In this case, there are absolutely ZERO options for food, and though we had a decent sized lunch we are starting to get pretty damn hungry again.

My brilliant idea for dinner involves several tabs of Prilosec and as much Champagne as we can drink. Hence the prophecy of the hotel’s information pamphlet comes to life and finds us sitting very quietly, reading, and drinking bubbly. Eventually Joel succumbs to a particularly brutal case of the hiccups and turns the remainder of the booze over to me, focusing on bottled water as he settles into his copy of Star Magazine. Eventually, we go to bed but I am only able to sleep for about an hour and a half before waking up in the middle of the night, and beginning the countdown to morning, when I would head out in search of a bakery or ANYPLACE that served food.

At 6:00AM, the town is still silent, save for the sound of my footfalls echoing on the cobblestone streets. Each shop that I pass is still closed, and I am about to give up when I see a light in the distance, a bakery! My elation is hard to put to words as I purchase several croissants, inhaling one on my walk back to the hotel. Joel is still asleep, so I wait patiently for the lobby breakfast to start at 7:15 before making my way down.

It’s the usual Euro-spread, with a few American touches, but I’m so tired (and still a bit drunk) that it takes me about five minutes of staring blankly at the food to decide my plan of attack. I grab a plate and help myself to a few slices of mortadella, while putting two slices of bread into the toaster. I consider if I want to actually negotiate the “boil your own egg” station, and eventually place two into the water and set the timer. The hotel clerk from the day before notices what I am doing, and politely informs me that the water “isn’t hot enough yet.” He is surely recalling my struggle with the key in the door yesterday when he explains that I should “let the water boil and leave the eggs in until they are cooked.”

After following instructions, it takes me an additional ten minutes to actually peel my two eggs. I look around the dining room, and note that the only other patrons are an elderly couple in the corner who seems completely oblivious to my presence. I quickly place the eggs, mortadella, and two packages of Boursin cheese onto my toast and go all ‘Murica on a heaping breakfast sandwich, which, admittedly, is fucking glorious. Who cares if it was boorish, it was worth it.

Back at the suite I find Joel packed and ready, wanting only coffee after consuming the pastry I had left out for him. At check-out, I meet the owner of the hotel, and the winery, and after chatting a bit about our itinerary she comps my breakfast, a very nice gesture indeed (I hope she didn’t see me eating it).

We have one more appointment in Champagne, at Pierre Gimmonet, before beginning the next leg of our journey in the city of Tours. We both vow that dinner will not be skipped a second time.