On day 2 of the weekend for Les Journées Nationales du Livre et Vin, I was on my own to make my way around the VIP literary events featuring the weekend's guest of honor, Mazarine Pingeot. This Saturday afternoon event was no struggle at all though, because being the quiet academic type, I love a library, old dusty books and a lecture about 19th-century poetry. The lecture was over at the Musée de la Cavalerie, entitled: "Les ivresses de Verlaine."
The loveliness of the day was almost ruined by my not sleeping at all the night before. The pharmacie in Fontevraud was, alas, closed when we arrived there for the previous night's event, so I could not secure a certain sleeping aid about which French friends raved (I had forgotten my Zquil).
After the "conférence" on Verlaine I made my way back down the rue St. Nicolas, recognizing I had 2 hours before the next event at 19h00. I would take a nap.
At 18h45, after a 1-hour nap, I stumbled down the stone spiral staircase at the Hotel St. Pierre to make my way to a venue for which I had only a vague idea of its location. I asked adorable Regis at the desk, who enjoyed teasing me how long I was sleeping in these mornings, if he knew the location (he seemed to know everything about everybody). He did, of course. But a driver was standing right there for other guests. He offered to take me to the event with the others. Fantastic!
The others turned out to be the lecturer from earlier that day, and a very nice, extraordinarily interesting couple who worked for France Television.
We were the first to arrive. There was a large, long table set up outside on the sidewalk, with all the telltale signs of a great apéritif hour (or two or three, as it turned out). Pigs were the decoration for the evening, and for good reason. There may be no other place in the world where one should embark upon the gastronomic discovery of pig's feet (pieds de cochon) than this place: Girardeau. Monsieur Girardeau is Europe's champion in this area.
As much as I love France and all things French, sometime my GI system does not like France so much. So faced with this table laden with a huge paté -- for Easter I am told, thus the eggs (traditionally inside, but they prepare theirs with the eggs outside) -- and many glasses waiting to be filled, I realize I will need to take it easy.
Note the adorable pig theme, celebrating Monsieur Girardeau's reputation for his amazing pig's feet recipe.
I remarked to Christophe from France Televsion my amazement at how polite the French are. Look, everyone waiting calmly around a table laden with amazing food. Ah non, he says. This is not always the case about the timing of approaching "le buffet." Not at all. Tonight though, we await our VIP Mazarine Pingeot. She arrives. They start pouring (with Bouvet Ladubay of course). Little by little, the mood changes. Things relax. People relax. I relax. My new friend Alain, one of the photographers, takes a few pictures and offers to send them to me. A few are in this post. Wish I had some lipstick on....
Trays of food start appearing.
I learn for the first time that these are pig's feet, pieds de cochon, and these people are the grand masters. I say yes to the paté but no to the pig's feet. Sure, that sounds great to be having pig's feet by Europe's grand champion in this area, but I am thinking that on 2 hours of sleep, wine, and exhaustion, this is not a good combination for me.
Two glasses of Bouvet Ladubay later, I am singing a different tune. I am trying the little toasts with the famous preparation of pig's feet by this lovely gentleman.
It may have been because the charming Jean-Maurice was handing out the tray now that I could not resist trying them.
These were hot out of the oven: thinly sliced little toasts, chewy still, with this savory topping. A revelation. DELICIOUS. I love pig's feet. At least this way.
Our happy crowd is now overflowing into the tiny rue St. Nicolas. I end up in the conversation that includes guest of honor Mazarine. The topic is absinthe. I regret I remember so little from my article about Tenneyson Absinthe, made by an Austinite via a distillery in France, but I can speak on the topic anyway. I contribute to this conversation the fact that in Austin, there are cocktails that comprise both absinthe AND mezcal (which also was a topic of conversation). Mazarine says that sounds pretty great.
About this time there is a murmur in the crowd. Something about "the quarante-cing" (le '45). Apparently the owner has brought out some very dusty bottles. Crowds move in to sample the '45. No way I'm missing this.
Emboldened by the extraordinary taste of the pig's feet and wanting to try another toast with pig's feet with a 1945 Saumur blanc, I hold my glass up to where the pouring is happening. Score.
I watch the French who are far more discerning than I critique the color and the taste. We run out of le '45 quickly, and then there is the "quarante-sept" - or '47. Sure, I will have some of that too, thank you. I would learn that the '47 truly was an exceptional year. I also am told by certain sources that last year M. GIRARDEAU had some tastings of a 1900!
Now it is getting close to 9 pm. Lunch was just a salad. And though I have thoroughly enjoyed the pig's feet, the '45, the '47, and the paté de Paques, I am starting to feel the earth pull away. I will not make it to dinner. I make the rash decision to call it a night so I can get some sleep with my new sleep aid procured that day.
It was a good call, I guess. I could end the day saying that I had a short conversation, indirectly, with the daugher of a French president. And I tried some wines I never ever would otherwise have had the opportunity to enjoy.
I would learn the next day that I missed quite a night: dancing at a private club after the dinner, complete with a gendarme theme. Maybe next year. And I'll remember to wear lipstick when there are photographers about. Cheers!