Monday, May 28, 2007

Typical Weekend

Although I spend half my working time in Hamburg, I do (usually) get to have a three or four day weekend on my return before plugging away on projects at home for another few days, before returning.

I find I'm getting really stressed on the journeys and am trying to locate my more 'zen' atttitude. I'm not sure I've ever found my inner peace but if I don't soon I'm likely to take out one of my fellow passengers or Air France staff in the frustration that I feel mounting every time there's another delay or another group of pushy, selfish business travellers or Air France dealing in its usual lack of understanding of the meaning of customer service and rewarding loyalty.

Rant over.

So, this weekend we managed a pretty normal, relaxing pace at home. I'd had a day to unwind from the six hour journey home. On Friday evening we agreed that we'd head out to eat that evening. The beginnings of a storm were threatening and we knew that we should decide where we were going in advance, rather than our usual meandering and discussion before ending up at a usual place. However, we ended up being incapable of making a decision and did our usual meandering, our pace only quickening when large drops started to slowly fall.

Frog remarked that "as usual I had got my own way" as we entered the Medina, a new restaurant for us to try, that serves couscous and tagines in a tented Moroccan decoration. I'd like to point out that I very rarely get my way with the Frog, who is probably more stubborn than I am. And of course nothing makes him happier than a plate of merguez, so of course I had his best interest at heart from the beginning.

One glass of champagne, one bottle of Vitttel, two enormous couscous, finished up with a plate of dates and sweets accompanied by mint tea and a Chocolate Liégois for Frog, we were presented with a very reasonable bill. We had noticed a couple at the neighbouring table, Frog had recognised the woman from one of the church dinners this year and from the overheard chat, they seemed to be on a date. Frog managed to put his foot in it by telling her, "Well I wouldn't have recognised you except by your voice, because you're wearing so much make up tonight". A swift kick under the table from me and tight smile from the woman and Frog began to realise he'd said something wrong. Her retort was more pointed in my direction that she, "remembered the young English wife who had given up everything to follow her husband and live in Reims". As Frog (pat on the back) said, "I'm not sure that's entirely true, since that would rather elevate my importance". All of course said with perfect French politeness and smiles. Nevertheless, the conversation stopped there and the couple turned their backs as far as is possible on an small, adjaecent table.

The storm hit Reims, with a short blackout and (unlike other parts of the region) no hail stones to damage the young grapes and we hurried home.

It's not unusual for us to have visitors at the village, usually Anglo Saxons on a weekend. They mostly come through word of mouth to visit the premises and enjoy a tasting. This weekend there was a small group of Kiwis visiting from London.

I usually drive over to the village with Frog and do the initial welcome. Then I leave Frog to do the tour of the vines and production whilst I set up for the tasting (alright, I read the newspaper and have a coffee in the kitchen). Frog absolutely loves this part of his job. He's far better at the small talk than I am and is a great host. I can see him getting his fix of "outside contact" when chatting with visitors and finding out about their lives in London, their travels and sharing his knowledge of the wines. He adores his job in the village and the new challenges but I can see that the visitors bring a refreshing change from the politics and chores of a traditional family business in the region.

Once we'd waved the visitors goodbye, we headed off to Carrefour for a dodgy Flunch lunch and did our bi-weekly stock up. Coming home, I unpacked the shopping and Frog went for a game of squash with a friend. I have mastered the art of 'pootling' around the flat, which I did for a couple of hours till Frog returned and we installed ourselves on the sofa with a home made steak sandwich, salad and strawberries.

Sunday was a perfect example of 'doing nothing' for me. Frog made it to the gym, I stayed in my pyjamas until 3pm when we went for a stroll around the park and installed ourselves in a café for an hour or so, reading magazines before walking home and plonking ourselves on the sofa for the evening.

So, if we had a standard weekend in Reims, that's how it would look.

Monday, May 21, 2007

One Year On

It was our first wedding anniversary this weekend. We went out for dinner on Saturday night but were happy to end the evening on the sofa watching Life On Mars. Old farts that we are!
As Frog says, the Anglo Saxons really do love their greeting cards. So whilst we had nothing from our French 'side', we got five cards from the British family and friends. Mum sent over a framed WW1 postcard of Reims cathedral in flames (like she said, don't read anything into it!) and we finally got to open a huge box that had been waiting for a year in the office.

Inside we found:
  • Copies of the local newspaper L'union and the International Herald Tribune from May 20th 2006

  • Drink Me: A bottle of prosecco

  • Use Me: Two beautifully designed flutes

  • Develop Me: A disposable camera to be developed from the wedding weekend

  • Remember Me: A 2006 World Cup calendar

My fab friends Gaby and Ralf had given the box to us on the day following our wedding. I think it's one of the best gifts I've ever had! (Gaby was the office manager and Ralf my first ever boss - although he passed me onto someone else after 24 hours! - when I arrived in London ten years ago).

Frog bought me a beautiful bunch of red roses that were identical to the ones he gave me when he proposed.

It's been quite a year. A brilliant honeymoon, my search for freelance work, two miscarriages, our first time 'hosting' Christmas, Frog has been adjusting to becoming more embroiled in the family business and now I head off to Hamburg every two weeks for work. Ups and some fairly low downs but when we look at it on balance it's been wonderful. And just watch this space, things will be changing again around here, for sure.

Friday, May 18, 2007


I spent the last two nights on a flying visit to London with Frog. One of his importers had invited him to attend a tasting he'd organised with a select group of small winemakers from around the world attending. The first evening was a private event in a swanky private club in Mayfair. We'd arrived directly from the ferry and did the quick freshen up and change in the loo thing (yes, very glamorous). The second evening was a public event held in the basement of a bar/restaurant next to the Barbican.

I have to say Tuesday evening was more engaging in terms of tastings - it was a fairly wealthy group who had paid to be there and were really interested in the champagnes. It's not really work for me because it's talking about something that's not my day to day business but that I appreciate and can sound fairly knowledgeable on now. The 'punters' enjoy it because they get to meet the winemaker in person rather than some big house label bought from Tescos (or more likely Waitrose in these cases!).

The second evening was quieter in terms of attendance except for when about sixteen of Frog and my friends turned up! The only reason we got through more bottles that night was because we were enjoying a coupe with our mates. I got to catch up with my sister, and seven other friends, some of whom I hadn't seen since the wedding. A couple of Frog's friends arrived a little early to announce their engagement, which of course meant another few coupes in celebration! Frog's friends also included a group of ex-colleagues using the event as a sort of reunion. Some of those he hadn't seen since he left London six years ago. I think they were rather shocked to hear his once well balanced London accent having mutated into a more traditional French bloke's tone that the last few years have given him.

Yesterday morning was spent shopping in M&S for some 'essentials'. Unfortunately, I left my bank card behind when paying which will mean hassle and admin today in ordering a new one from my local bank. I also met my best friend from school and her 6 month old, who does nothing but smile and gurgle, for lunch in a shockingly modernised Spitalfields (what happened to the grunge??).

So, we're home now. I'm pretty shattered to tell the truth but working in my pyjamas whilst the Germans are on holiday for the day, I might get to catch up on some work.

Sunday, May 13, 2007


After an entire working week in a hotel room in Hamburg it's good to be home. Not that we've really stopped since I got back!

I arrived Friday evening at Charles de Gaulle airport and instead of heading to Reims, took a taxi into the suburbs of Paris. Frog had been making deliveries all day in the city and we were meeting up at a friend, David''s, flat for dinner. A group of eight of us ate and chatted and I found it a little bizarre going from a week of German and English (alright, I'm not speaking much German but that's the aural surroundings) to an evening of fast, colloquial French. I managed to keep up until about half past midnight. After toasting the arrival of Frog's birthday, I left the others and fell into a donated bed.

Back to Reims on Saturday morning, last night we took off for Frog's birthday gift. I was buying dinner at the Assiette Champenoise, a two star Michelin restaurant and hotel, which is just outside the city centre. The suburb it's situated in is pretty grotty which makes it all the more surprising to turn into a classical, beautiful setting, away from the street lined with dark, smokey bars (where Father Frog likes to meet his mates every morning for a café).

Frog took the large tasting menu accompanied by glasses of a Krug cuvée and I selected a couple of the à la carte items. I'd been worried that I would be hungry watching Frog work his way through the enormous menu. No fear of that. The servings were copius for this type of establishment and the morsels that came 'between courses' included a pre-dessert table including smallsticks of candy floss (how could I resist?), mini chocolate eclairs, peach flavoured marshmallow, peanut brittle and more...

We left holding our stomachs and were handed a small bag containing a loaf of bread for this morning's breakfast. Since it's already 10am, I'm still full from last night and soon heading out for lunch to celebrate Father Frog's 60th birthday, I might have to freeze the loaf for a day when we'll appreciate it!

Much to Frog's discomfort I worked out why both he, his father and sister's birthdays all fall within one day of each other. Nine months back is August, traditionally the only month (in addition to a quiet February) when the wine makers have time on their hands. Seems that's one another local tradition that we'll have to watch out for!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Great Debate

Well last night was the much hyped TV debate between Ségolène Royale and Nicolas Sarkozy.

It's a slightly odd feeling when there is so much riding on the presidential candidate and I am no longer an expatriate 'passing through'. As an travailleur indépendent (self employed) who hands over nearly 75% of income to the government in either cotisations (fees) or taxes, I have as much to win or lose as any other French person and yet I have no voice.

So, that means that Frog gets it in the ear!

A few things I have noted:

  • The popular press refers to Ségolène by her first name and 'Sarko' by his surname.
  • Last night's debate reminded me of occasions I have experienced at my family-in-law's. It begins courteously and then as the discussions progress the sniping begins until voices start to rise and it descends into full on verbal aggression. Doesn't sit so well with my passive aggressive tendencies and at times I found last night's debate quite stressful!
  • Whilst Frog and I agree on the economic policies required for this country, I'm a little more left leaning when it comes to social and welfare policies.
  • Frog was quite scared when he saw the results of the first round in his family village:

    1. Sarkozy (160 votes); 2. JM Le Penn (65 votes); 3. F Bayrou (50 votes) and 4. S Royal (47 votes).

    So despite Le Pen's national downfall, this village apparently still stays faithful. Which is odd because what I understood as so often the source of tensions don't exist here - although it's a conservative rural village, it's also one with a relatively wealthy profile since people either own vines or have a regular income working the vines or servicing in some way the industry. And I'm pretty sure there's 100% non-ethnic diversity.
  • What's also strange in a small village is that you see the exact numbers i.e. only 47 people voted for Royal and I'm sure that I know two of them. In fact I suspect the Frog Family are split 50/50 in their support between the two final candidates. At least we can claim that none of the Le Pen voters were from his family...

Perhaps in the end there's a slight relief that I can't vote since I do find that my left/right; social/economic conscience are split down the middle.

Oh and the debate? I fell asleep and missed the one most explosive moment....