It is the beginning of another month and thus time for another installment of the Ohmygod saga (to catch up on the previous installments click on the Ohmygod menu up top). As you will recall, I used to be a cycling tour guide in Europe for several years. Through that job (yes, it is a bit difficult to call it a ‘job’) I met countless interesting people and have a few compelling stories to tell, but most of them pale to the story of Ohmygod, one of the clients that I had for three weeks. Some may wonder about the moniker, but the name chose itself really; it is what I uttered repeatedly during just about every interaction with him.
In the previous installment (Part Thirty), we learned that Paul, whom we all assumed was gay, had just divorced his second wife. This occurred after several bottles of champagne before dinner at a neighboring bar, where at least Anne had far too much to drink. I had just entered the restaurant to find a curiously “dapper” (at least for him) Ohmygod waiting patiently at the table.
As intrigued as I was to find a clearly showered and “presentable” Ohmygod at the table, I was more concerned about what would soon follow me into the restaurant. Moments after I arrived, CC and Maggie entered together—with Maggie visibly agitated and almost on the verge of tears. CC, on the other hand, was resplendent with a broad smile and a hop in her step. Had I stopped to think about it, I would have sworn that she was rejoicing in Maggie’s misery (all while appearing to be supportive). But that would have required confronting one of the parade of elephants in the room—it was clear that they were both vying for my affection.
After my two “suitors”, Paul sauntered in and he seemed perplexed (for lack of a better term). I was not sure if he was contemplating his recurrent bachelor status, Maggie’s public refutation of his advances, or consternation with the group collective incredulity concerning his proclaimed sexuality.
Paul approached the table, and as he was about to sit down in the seat next to Maggie, she glared at him with a ferocity that suggested she might light him on fire should he actually occupy the chair next to her. To his credit, Paul, after an ever-so-brief touch of the chair back, continued on as if he were playing a game of musical chairs, eventually circling the table and opting for a seat next to Ohmygod.
Anne and Ellen were the last two to join the party, as they strolled in a couple of minutes after Paul. Well, Ellen certainly “strolled” in, quickly surveying the room, glancing at all the dishes in front of the other patrons. Anne, on the other hand, did not look good. She was perhaps just a shade darker than the pristine tablecloths covering the tables, but just a shade. She also looked as though she might pass out at any moment and although Ellen was initially clutching her arm for support, once Ellen caught glimpse of the room’s bounty, she left her partner to fend for herself as she made a bee-line for our table.
Although Anne’s condition indicated that the group had likely had more than enough alcohol for the evening, one of the reasons that I loved the current restaurant was their fantastic collection of champagnes. Of particular interest for me was what has become a peculiarity. The vast majority of modern champagne is made from a combination of three grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. There are several other grapes that are technically allowed, but most have been uprooted for the more popular (and profitable) trio just mentioned.
The restaurant, though had one champagne, an L. Aubry et Fils “Le Nombre d’Or Campanae Veteres Vites” that is one of the few that still uses the ancient grapes of Fromenteau (Pinot Gris), Petit Meslier, and Arbanne (the last two are black grapes that are unique to Champagne, but have largely disappeared since the Phylloxera louse invaded the region in the mid-1800’s). They also can throw in a bit of Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc, so the wine is a wonderful blend of rich deep flavors from the black grapes and floral and citrus elements from the white varieties.
The wine was delightful and since everyone else was a bit schnockered, I pretty much had it to myself. Ohmygod initially showed a bit of interest in having a glass, but since I was convinced that it would be wasted on him, I suggested that he should have a beer instead. The shocked look on his face lasted only for a moment, and when the waiter appeared, Ohmygod proceeded to ask him no fewer than five times to repeat the four beer options before settling on an Amstel.
Even though I had spent most of the trip trying to get Ohmygod to drink anything but beer, I was more than happy to cut him out of the Aubry altogether.
The rest of dinner was surprisingly uneventful. There was a moment that it seemed as though Anne would have another vomiting episode, but after a couple of dry heaves, she regained a semblance of composure and held it together. Less than three minutes later, though, her head was on the table, asleep. Another five minutes on, she began to snore loudly, but Ellen was quick to respond with an elbow to the ribs, causing Anne to shift slightly, momentarily ending the episodic eruption. This series of events would repeat itself approximately every five minutes or so throughout the meal. At one point, Paul asked Ellen if it would not be better to escort Anne back to the room, but Ellen merely grunted and waved her hand as if shooing a fly, as she returned to the meal before her.
The only other interesting element was the group interrogation of Ohmygod concerning his rather dapper (at least for him) appearance. He informed us that he locked his bike up as I instructed, got his room key, and after taking his gear up to his room, he returned to the lobby. There I can only assume that he met a shocked hotelier as, according to Ohmygod’s own recounting, she held up her hand as if she were stopping traffic and instructed Ohmygod to return to his room, shower, and put on his nicest clothes as the restaurant was very nice and they would not allow him in the dining room dressed in cycling clothes.
No doubt reminded of his mother, he obliged, and returned to his room as instructed. He added that while he was in the shower (an image I would rather not visualize ever again) he realized that he had not told her the restaurant where we would be dining. This clearly upset Ohmygod as he felt that he was duped into performing unnecessary personal hygiene.
Upon his re-entry to the lobby, he confronted the hotelier, demanding to know whether she knew his target restaurant. When she replied negatively, somewhat out of hand, he questioned why she would then demand that he shower and change if she had no idea where he would be dining.
Ohmygod then repeated what she said in his attempt of a French accent, which was decidedly more Australian than anything else: “What you were wearing would not be accepted in any restaurant, particularly here in Epernay.”
I considered a cross-examination, but given the sniggering that had engulfed the table, I remained quiet. Instead, I decided that I needed to buy a bottle of champagne for the owner of the hotel.
After dinner, a few in the crowd decided to go out for another bottle of champagne, having regained their desire for bubbles after a bit of food, but I decided to head back to the hotel and not tempt fate any further—in the last few hours, Ohmygod got kicked out of a bar for trying to bring his bike inside, we learned that Paul was indeed not gay (just after he had groped Maggie, who was under the impression that since she thought he was gay, it was essentially harmless), and Anne had vomited violently in a bush along the road. For a moment, it looked like Maggie, once she learned that I was headed back to the hotel alone, was also going to call it a night, but CC stepped in and convinced her that she had to stay out. CC claimed that she feared what Paul might do if Maggie did not stay out and protect her, but, even though I am not all that adept at always picking up the clues laid down by members of the opposite sex, it seemed that she was more concerned about protecting me from Maggie.
The following day was to be a full one—our final destination was Reims, one of the three “capitals” of Champagne (along with Epernay and Troyes). It was going to be a relatively early start to the day as we had a reservation for a tour at Moët et Chandon (the largest producer of champagne) at 9:00. Frankly, the tour is not all that good, and the champagne, in my opinion, is even worse, but everyone has heard of both Moët and Dom Pérignon (made by Moët), so it is almost a must-see. Given the current and anticipated future condition of the group, I was not expecting that many of them would show up for the tour in the morning, but I had to be there to orchestrate the visit regardless.
After the visit to the Moët caves, I was hoping to ride back to the town of Villiers-sous-Châtillon to have a tasting at one of my favorite producers, the very tiny Collard-Chardelle. It was less than 20k (12 miles) away, but it was back the way we came the day before, which is essentially in the opposite direction of Reims. That meant adding another 40k (25 miles) on to the suggested route—not normally a problem, but the tour at Moët would last an hour, and the tasting at Collard-Chardelle would likely last twice that long (if past iterations were any indication). The problem? There are no real suitable restaurants in the tiny town of Villers, so lunch would be a problem.
I could go to a supermarket beforehand and buy some provisions for a sandwich, but, well, that would be uncivilized.
After the Moét tour, I would visit one of my favorite Champagne houses, Gosset, the oldest house in Champagne (founded in 1584). Until recently, Gosset was in the legendary Champagne town of Aÿ, 6k out of Epernay, and it was generally not possible to visit. A few years ago, however, Gosset bought a large property in Epernay with several buildings and nearly 2k of cellars, and they were now accepting many more visitors.
As I was walking back to the hotel, making my mental notes for the following day’s plan, I passed by La Cave Salvatore, which just might be the finest champagne store that I have ever seen. It is a tiny place, but Madame Salvatore, the owner of the shop, and one of the sweetest women I have ever met, packs just about every space available with some of the finest champagnes imaginable. It was near 11:30 as I passed by the shop, but I noticed that all the lights were on, so I peered in to see what was going on. There I saw Madame Salvatore, who has to be at least 80 years old, wheeling around cases of champagne, apparently restocking the shelves.
I knocked on the door and waved. Why? Well, I have this ridiculous assumption that I am rather unforgettable and I just assume, for whatever reason, that if I remember someone, they certainly must remember me. Sure, I had been in the store close to a dozen times, but the visits had been spread out over several years. I had also only talked to her 3 or 4 times total. But seeing her there, I thought I could cross an item off my to-do list and pick up that bottle of champagne for the front desk clerk at the hotel.
After a couple of gentle taps on the door, she glared over with a scornful look on her face and flicked her hand as if she were backhanding a petulant child. I then realized that even though Madame Salvatore is as sweet as can be, and despite her Italian last name, she still was very French. The store closed at 6 p.m., more than five hours ago, and if there was one thing the French strictly respected, it was the hours of the work day. Sure, she was in there toiling away, but even if I was flashing a fistful of cash, she would never open the door to make a sale since the store officially closed at 6.
I would have to try again tomorrow–maybe she won’t remember me…..
I proceeded on to the hotel, ready to actually get to bed before midnight for a change. I opened the door, made my way across the lobby, and as I was about to head up the stairs to my room, the attendant at the desk called out my name.
At first, I thought that Ohmygod had done something–flooded his room again, set something on fire, killed someone’s dog. Nope. The clerk simply handed me a note, which read:
Jeff, I need to speak to you right away. Will you come up to my room as soon as you get this?