Monday, August 18, 2008


Not that this is going to come as a surprise, but when I think back on my ever so short time in France, all I can think of is the food….. the food.

On Aug. 12, I took the Eurostar from London to Paris, and then jumped in a taxi over to Gare du Lyon to get the train south to Dijon, where my friend Cliff Young picked me up. He and his wife, Sherry, bought a home 10 years ago in the hamlet of Poil, about 5 km outside of Beaune, the heart of Burgundy. I helped write and edit the website for the house, and have kept a keen interest in all things in the “Domaine Montagny” world, as its called.

They’ve really increased the gardens, and there’s a bit of everything, including berries, apples, peaches, tomatoes, potatoes, radishes, etc. etc. Cliff also loves to play in the kitchen, making red currant reductions or raspberry jam. We’d often go to into Beaune to have coffee in the morning, as well as check out the market on Wednesday and Saturday (the bigger, by far, is on Saturday). Taking my lead from Cliff, it’s easy to fall under the spell of Burgundy, the home of Romanee Conti, Meursault, Pommard, Le Montrachet, Nuits St. George and on and on. Plus, it’s all so steeped in history, with many homes and towers dating to the 13th century.

One day I had a nice escargot pizza… Another night we went to their favorite local spot and had roast duck breast… and another day we tucked into a major pot of fondue, for lunch! But the highlight had to be our amazing 3.5 hour lunch at Le Charlemagne, a newish one-star Michelin restaurant overlooking the vineyards Pommard, and surprisingly it’s e a fusion of French and Japanese. Think escargot ravioli, cod with caviar, filet with edamame, amazing cheeses and three (count ‘em) dessert courses. We washed it all down with 2.5 bottles of wine as well including a premier cru Vose Romanee. Cliff and I do love to tuck into those kind of meals, where we analyze the entire experience from d├ęcor to service to food. I didn’t realize that you must get 20 points to become a Michelin three-star, and to get a two-star you must get 19 points. In other words, getting that final 20th point is the hardest thing a restaurant can do. (Le Charlemagne is probably in the 13-14 point range at the moment. Great, but still needing work. But don’t kid yourself, ANY one-star Michelin is still worth the experience!)

Since the last time I was here, in 2003, there’s been an invasion of “big box” grocery stores, and there are now four of them in Beaune where there were zero just a few years ago. The locals, naturally, like the cheap prices on staples like toilet paper and bottled water, but going to the markets and having them slice off one perfect fresh ham steak is still the only way to go when in Burgundy..

I also gained some rudimentary knowledge of “terroir,” ” (pronounced tehr-wah) the impossible-to-define concept of growing grapes naturally, not adding anything to the soil and letting nature take her course. Each parcel of grape-growing land can produce something completely different, even from a plot directly across the street – and it all has to do with “terroir.” There are entire books written about it.

Cliff, bless his heart, drove me down to the train station this morning (Mon. Aug. 18), and I took a 12-hour ride to Genoa, Italy. And what an amazing train ride throughout France!! I hadn’t really thought about it, but we passed through most of French history: Aix-en-Provence, Avignon, Marseilles, Monte Carlo, Cannes and Antibes…… I could’ve stopped at any one point along the way and spent a week! In the south, it was so awesome how the train hugged the coast the whole way, so we could watch the yachts and even check out the swim suits! But I wanted to get to Genoa so that I can catch the ferry to Tunis, the capital of Tunisia. (I did love the little girl, about 4 years old, who kept asking her mommy “porquoi?” which is “why?” in French. Why should that stage in growing up be any different here? And what about all those Japanese girl travelers who wear skin tight silk dresses with high heels, but drag around these enormous bags that they can’t even lift?

The ferry leaves tomorrow evening, and takes 20 hours, which means I’ll arrive in Tunis on Wed. Aug. 20. Should be nice and HOT, and I’m very much looking forward to it. I’ve already booked my hotel: called Hotel Salaambo. (Any of my friends from the old college days might remember that I once in a play called “Ondine” where I played the part of a swishy director who was doing a show called (you guessed it) Salaambo! I thought it might be good luck to stay there.

I’m thinking that I’ll be in Tunisia for about two weeks, then probably 3-4 weeks in Egypt, a week or so in Jordan and then another few weeks in Israel. So the real “juice” of the trip is happening…… and I couldn’t be happier! But will they be watching the closing ceremonies of the Olympics in Tunis?? Let’s hope!