No, I'm not talking about the chichi, big-ticket stuff -- just an every
day simple glass (or two) of rouge, blanc or rosé.
You see, in France, drinking wine is effortless.
There's no need to immerse yourself in a wine education or consult
a sommelier to get a glass of grape that makes you smile.
That's why, overjoyed to be in Paris during a significant week in October, my
wine joie-de-vivre took on new meaning in an emotionally charged setting.
Smack dab on the celebrated hills of Montmartre, where cobbled streets and
unmatched views are out-of-the-ordinary just about any time of the year,
the village with the vines struts its stuff like nobody's business.
For five days in October, this stretch of Paris makes merry -- and,
this being France, the results are delicious.
Montmartre's Harvest Festival -- la Fête de Vendanges -- is an
unforgettable celebration of history, wine culture & local pride
wrapped around France's fruity cultural icon.
Since 1934, Parisians and wine lovers around the globe have memorialized the
first harvest from a tiny plot of land in Montmartre with a no-holds-barred
street party that nurtures our shared love for wine.
"Wine is sunlight held together by water."
Galileo, the "father" of modern science
Look for it on the hilly rue de Saules, just down the street from La Maison Rose,
the iconic rose colored café that's too cute to pass up without a photo op.
No one has ever claimed the wine cultivated here is extraordinary.
The story is simple.
It's beloved because it's produced here, a testament to Paris past,
a throwback to long ago when the Romans planted the vines which
were later nursed by monks from a nearby Benedictine abbey.
The vineyard is protected from property developers, helping to keep a village-like
ambience in Montmartre -- charmingly unsophisticated and hopelessly romantic.
These days, the orchard is run by the city which donates
all proceeds (from about 1500 bottles a year) to charity.
The Fête de Vendanges is a combination wine, food, and arts festival
capped off by a parade that is in equal parts serious and zany.
"Too much of anything is bad, but too much champagne is just right."
F. Scott Fitzgerald, American author
Wine dignitaries share the streets with marching bands and 25-foot-tall giants.
Even the local gendarmes were caught smiling at the entertainment,
though I'm sure trying to police thousands of people
standing on a small hill is no small matter.
For someone who hates crowds (that means me),
I definitely found it a worthwhile place to "hang" with the locals.
When you get to interact with folks in costume -- the Bretons in particular were
entrancing -- you soon forget you're being jostled & tugged by too many people.
Community schools, restaurants and regional winemakers entertain,
the festivities going well beyond the parade.
In the 86th version of this annual festival, Montmartre delivered five days of
hoopla with an expected visitor count of around 500,000.
you come to Montmartre, you're likely to have a big time.
But the harvest festival makes a visit something exceptional.
Even Montmartre's never-ending but iconic stairs
were made extra special for the event.
Local school children painted them keeping with a "chromatic climb" theme.
Event organizers offered a myriad of activities -- including a
fashion show with a catwalk for those who love
to strut their stuff in outrageous and daring dress,
followed by a fluorescent race at night.
Oh what a party that must be....
"I love a parade, the tramping of feet,
I love every beat I hear of a drum.
I love a parade, when I hear a band
I just want to stand and cheer as they come."
"I Love a Parade"
Harry Richman, composer
French tradition honors a serious sense of place so if the "terroir"
for wine is considered sacred, so too is the God given harvest that feeds us.
The art of food and wine at the Fête de Vendanges does not disappoint.
Growing up in the Midwest, I'm used to "Fair Food" -- fun and festive,
we were happy with a good corndog or pork chop sandwich and
a caramel apple or funnel cake on the side....
Nope, not here.
First of all, notice they serve champagne in REAL CHAMPAGNE GLASSES.
Not plastic, not paper, the real deal.
They had me at bonjour.
And the price was aces.
Instead of marking up the food, I swear, they offered
everything at bargain basement prices.
Did I already mention entry to the event is free??
Paris always makes me feel like I have won the lottery; in this case,
I feel like I won the Mega Millions.
It was Julia Child who reminded us
"In France, cooking is a serious art form and a national sport."
Of course, she also said,
"The best way to execute French cooking is to get good and loaded
and whack the hell out of a chicken."
Perhaps America's favorite master of French cooking
knew her way around the Fête de Vendanges....
The farmer who harvested them grinned from ear to ear
as I slurped and appreciated every last one.
He rushed the briny treasures to the festival -- all the way from the
Ile d'Oléron, an island just off the west coast of France near La Rochelle.
Though mightily tempted by fromage chaud (hot cheese!),
I wisely chose a plate of steaming hot vegetables mixed with Corsican sausage. There are not enough adjectives and exclamation points
to describe how happy this made me.
It's a memory I'll forever cherish.
And of course, we paired everything with wine of the region.
"Wine makes every meal an occasion,
every table more elegant, every day more civilized."
Andre Simon, French born wine merchant, writer, connoisseur
elbow our way around and embrace the community.
A festival offers an opportunity to get away
from the urban sprawl and let our hair down.
Just about any day of the week, Montmartre has the kind of magic that
makes us feel the sun shine down on our face even when it's raining.
Festival time is even more irresistible,
a chance to have our very own Ferris Bueller moment.
The Fête de Vendanges is not the place you come to show off your
new Christian Louboutin heels; it's where you wear your favorite old shirt so
you can get a grease spot on it from the yummy tartiflette you practically inhaled.
It's one part church revival, one part double rainbow.
This may be the exact moment you realize you're no longer dreaming Paris.
You are living it.