Friday, June 07, 2013

Sunshine and wine

The last big event in my May of Fun was a visit from my lovely sister and her lovely friends on the occasion of Vitiloire, one of my favourite events in the Tours social calendar. Vitiloire is the biggest and the best of all the various wine festivals (and there are a fair few) that go on in these parts. It brings together hundreds of winemakers from all over the Loire Valley - you pays your 5€, you buys your glass and you tastes for free.

Contrary to appearances in the photos below, it actually alternated between bucketing down (and even hailing at one point) and bright sunshine. Luckily there were enough tents to hide in and the rain kept the numbers down a bit (even so, it was often difficult to get to each counter to do a tasting, since dickheads kept just crowding around while drinking their wine instead of moving out of the way).

We found out what wines of the Loire we were just by smelling various scents - I am a red Gamay, a Chinon rosé or a white Jasnières (a wine I'd never actually heard of before). I was surprised at how accurate it was based on just smell. It wasn't even wine smells per se, more like the sort of grassy or charcoaley or whatever you might actually identify in a wine if you can identify these things. I normally cannot tell you at all whether a wine smells of raspberries or grass cuttings, so it was a suprise that he nailed it (I do like a light, fruity red like a Gamay, of course I love Chinon rosé, and although I don't drink whites, I took the opportunity to taste a Jasnières and I did actually enjoy it). This was all written out for us on a "doctor's prescription", so there you go, I just have to drink wine for my health.

I didn't manage to buy as much wine as I would have liked (only three bottles!) but we had a nice time and it sttayed all very civilised. My sister and her friends also stocked up on a few bottles and - tragedy! - because they didn't have any checked luggage, we had to have a go at drinking some of them back in their hotel room that evening before heading out for a meal. (A kind of disappointing flammekueche, as opposed to the as-always delicious tartiflette we had at The Cheese Restaurant the night before.)


Everyone looks genuinely chuffed here... Could it be all the wine?

It's a bold claim, but I dunno, I think I know a better Dutch Mod Garage Beat Surf band. Fat and the Crabs on the other hand... outstanding. (Also, sounds like a night with your momma, hi-yo!)

It's obligatory to pay homage to the monster of Tours

On Sunday, we took a little daytrip down to Chinon, one of my favourite towns (which I've been to on a number of occasions, including with my sister). The girls went on a visit of the château, while I had a wander around the town and, more importantly, sipped rosé in the sunshine (Sunday was a genuinely nice day, weather-wise). We also had a long and deliciously lunch (and more rosé) at a café on the main square. I had a yummy coq au vin. It was all very relaxed - the weekend was all about food and wine, really, especially for me since I didn't even go to the château (been before). Unfortunately, Jess says the feature mould is no longer in situ :(

A street in Chinon

I found a Secret Jesus underneath some scaffolding

A statue of Rabelais in Chinon. My Rabelais Fun Fact is that he once wrote that a swan's neck makes for the best toilet paper known to man

The Vienne in Chinon

Chilling on the banks of the Vienne
We wrapped up the trip back in Tours with my first visit to the guinguette of the year (it only opened the week before). Luckily enough, it was still sunny and warm enough to make the trip, since I think we've been every time Jess has visited. And of course, the opening of the guinguette really kicks off summer in these parts (and not a moment too soon).

A lovely weekend although I'm looking forward to (continue with) a quiet June! Oh and PS DJ Pie and DJ Pie's pies made a special encore appearance at my sister's request. I even made some special goat's cheese and pumpkin pies for her (being a vege). DJ Pie is available for all your party needs! PPS Finally, we have proper consistent nice weather - sunny and hot! Seriously, I was still wearing a coat into May, as the first photo above testifies to. Long may this continue!

Saturday, June 01, 2013


This was my first French wedding, and I was interested to observe some of the differences to other weddings I’ve been to (not that many, actually). As you may know, all French weddings are secular, in accordance with the strict separation of Church and State (you’d think this would be enough to stop people protesting against gay marriage, but sadly no). You are free to have a religious ceremony if you like, but that won’t be recognized by the State. If you want to be legally married, you have to do it at the town hall with an official.

In this case, the official was the groom’s father, so obviously the ceremony was a bit different than your run-of-the-mill affair. But after the touching and funny speech, it was time for the legal elements. Unlike any Anglo wedding I’ve been to, the French ceremony includes a reading of the legal texts defining marriage and the spouses’ responsibilities. There was a lot of emphasis on Republican values – as in the values of secularism, liberté, égalité and fraternité of the French Republic, not as in promising to honour God and guns. A lot about having and bringing up children as well, although I suspect at least some of that was snuck in by the potential future grandpapa. The reading out of the full names, occupations and addresses of the spouses and witnesses was also more legalistic than I’m used to – although this provided some more comedy as Aurélien’s poor sister (who did a stellar job of providing the English translation of the speech, I must point out) had to struggle through some unfamiliar American street names. 

Legalities done (although not quite, since as I only discovered on Ella’s blog, the bride and groom were held up inside due to a paperwork snafu), it was back to the reception on foot in the rain. (I never actually made it into my heels until we got back to the garden party, thankfully enough as it turned out, since the little town hall was crammed with well-wishers and I had to stand for the marriage ceremony. Then I promptly sunk into the wet grass, but bravely kept my heels on for the vast majority of the evening nonetheless.) 

I was having too much fun catching up with the Lancelots and Mary Kay and family under a tree (for reasons of rainyness) to even notice that apparently beverages were not being consumed, but once I found the cocktail and snack tent, I didn’t stray too far from the yummy themed cocktails while chatting to blogfriends and many of Ella’s lovely friends from America and Aurélien’s French (and non-French) mates. (Surprisingly, my favourite was a cosmopolitan – I would have gone with the mojito if you’d told me I could only have one.)

Enjoying a cosmo with some of Ella's friends
This got me into a bit of trouble, however. As the afternoon wore on and the cocktails kept rolling, we were having a lovely discussion about poetry and other literary matters with a couple of Ella’s friends (genuine poets!) and a few of Aurélien’s friends. At some point, it was remarked upon that the punch bowls were getting a bit empty and we set ourselves the challenge of finishing the cocktails before moving on. Now, I did realize that things had emptied out a bit in the garden, but if there was a formal announcement that dinner was served, we missed it and, well, you just don’t issue a drinking challenge to a Kiwi chick. In my much younger days, I was known for such party tricks as “opening my throat” and pouring a specified amount of booze down in one. I once bested a 6-foot-something man built like a brick sh!thouse at a challenge which involved drinking half a bottle of peach schnapps (ugh) each in the shortest amount of time possible. Then I probably demonstrated how I can fit my whole fist (well, up to the knuckles) in my mouth. Because that’s how classy Gwan rolls. Or rolled, I don’t tend to engage in competitive drinking anymore, but you can probably still persuade me to put my fist in my mouth after a few beverages, if no-one has a camera handy.

Some of the cocktails in question
Long story short (actually, the above was more a case of making a short story long, and unnecessarily filled with embarrassing drinking stories from my youth), before too long the handful of others had also drifted away and only myself and one of Aurélien’s friends were left finishing up our cocktails in the tent.
I only realized that quite a bit of time had passed when I got a call from Ella’s phone asking where I was. I should have figured something was up when my jokey reply to "Where were you?" (I answered, "We were in the bushes", obvs) was met with an excited squeal and a "Who's 'we'?!?". But I really wasn’t expecting to walk into the dining tent a) to find that everyone was not only seated, but had *finished the first course* and b) to a round of applause from the assembled guests. Hugely awkward, especially since I didn’t even know where I was sitting so couldn’t flee to my seat as quickly as I’d have liked! The rest of the evening, I had people coming up and saying (hopefully at least half-jokingly) that they’d heard I’d been “otherwise engaged” in the bushes while they were tucking into their entrées. Cringe! The end result was that the young gentleman and myself kept well away from each other and any suspicious bushes for the rest of the evening…

This post is getting long already, so I’ll just say that the rest of the evening was fab. I’ve never seen a bride and groom actually boogie on down in their first dance instead of doing a sedate shuffle, and I did plenty of my own moving and shaking as well. (Seriously, I dread to think of the millions of photos probably floating around of me with what was uber-fluffy hair and probably more cleavage than anyone was comfortable with.) As well as being my first French wedding, this was also my first New York wedding, so I even got to participate in a Jewish chair dance (sorry, I’m sure there’s a proper name for that). I was right next to the bride and groom when the call went out, so ended up being the only girl to take a leg of the chair. Turns out that holding up a chair with a fully-grown man (even a slim one) is hard, so I drafted in a replacement man about halfway through and joined the circle of dancers instead.

It really was a fun evening, and I loved getting to chat with some awesome people (including meeting the lovely Grenobloise for the first time). All in all, it was a great party and félicitations to the happy couple! 

Balloons of good fortune (or something). Grenobloise and I were a tad concerned these might end up setting one of the tents on fire
Ella didn't specify, but I suspect this shot of yours truly is courtesy of Camille Collin
Does the hovering wizard claw of death shooting out of my chest remind you more of the Holy Spirit in Piero della Francesca's Baptism of Christ, or one of the chicken feet from Baba Yaga's hut? Discuss...
Either way, don't worry, I can tell from this photo I'm not trying to put a curse on anyone, this is a classic Gwan "here I am being funny" expression/gesture captured from the ages. The wizard claw is merely shooting out (attempted) witty rays. PS, talking of "witticisms", I have been dying to use this post title and secretly hoping the bride wouldn't get there first (selfishly!) It's not even that great!