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-Nine), the group was on a tour of the Veuve Clicquot wine caves when Ohmygod turned up missing. After a frantic search (the Veuve employees were frantic, I was actually hoping that he had been hit by a bus), a trail of open champagne bottles led us to him. Perhaps convinced that he had not ruined the visit sufficiently (I was more than a bit smitten with the tour guide, convinced that we would soon be married), just as we met up with the group and the tour guide on our way to the exit, Ohmygod promptly belched and then vomited on her shoes.
We all just stood there trying to understand what had happened. This included Sophie who was at best stunned and at worst in a state of shock. I took a step toward her, to either console or help her in some way, but before I could take another step, with her eyes closed, she brusquely raised her left hand, palm out, as if she were a police officer stopping traffic. No more than a heartbeat later, she thrust her right arm forward with her index finger extended.
Pointing to the exit.
Ashamed, I instinctively took another step forward hoping to somehow ameliorate the situation, but as I did, I let out a bit of a dry heave as I instinctively looked down once more at her vomit covered heels. Again without opening her eyes, she drew back her right hand and then re-extended it toward the exit, this time with far more force, as if she were holding an épée and she was thrusting for the kill.
I got the message. I quietly motioned to my still stunned brood that we should be on our way, as I spun on my heels and quickly made my way down the drive and through the gate.
Even though the wedding was most certainly off, I was relieved, in a way: clearly Sylvie had anger issues and it was best that I found out now.
Not sure how to address the events of the previous 45 minutes, I decided to take the easiest path: I would simply ignore them. I got to my bike and before I unlocked it, I asked the group if they were all still interested in having a blind champagne tasting later that day, before dinner. They all assented with a nod of the head except Ohmygod whose normal comatose facial expression was replaced by one of profound perplexity.
Clearly, he either had forgotten or he still did not understand the concept of a blind tasting (basically, the identities of the wines are concealed from the tasters so that they are not influenced by knowing which wine they were tasting). For about two seconds, I thought about taking the time to explain it to him once more that the tasting did not require nor cause blindness (or whatever was going on in his twisted head), but frankly, after what I had transpired only moments before, I hoped that he would avoid the tasting altogether.
Instead, I hopped on my bike and instantly felt a bit of relief. Not only did I have the next several hours “off” but I was on my bike in one of my favorite cities. Riding in France is different than riding in the U.S. in myriad ways, but the most notable, perhaps, is that it is far safer, particularly in cities. Dedicated cycling lanes are common and there seem to be far more people who use bicycles as their main mode of transportation.
On the way back to the hotel, I decided to take a slight detour to go by the Basilique Saint-Remi, which was built in the 11th Century. It is an astonishing building regardless of religious affiliation, built to house the relics of Saint Remi, who, as Bishop of Reims, converted Clovis, the first king of France, to Christianity in 496.
The basilica is oft over-looked, but certainly merits a visit.
After tooling around the basilica for a bit, I hustled back to the hotel. I had a rather full afternoon even though I technically had nothing to do. First, I was going to ride out to the Grand Cru village of Mailly to do a bit of tasting (and buying) at one of my favorite champagne producers, the village co-operative in Mailly (known as “Mailly Grand Cru”). It was not far (less than 20 kilometers [12 miles]), but the ride back was bound to be a bit challenging as I find it very difficult to spit when tasting champagne and even harder to not try all the wines in their line (they have 13).
Second, I needed to get the wines for the blind tasting that I would be conducting for the clients at 4:00 that afternoon. As one might expect, there are numerous places to buy bubbles in Reims, but honestly, none of them approach Madame Salvatore’s shop in Epernay, so I usually get them from the supermarket in the center of town.
The trip out to Mailly was glorious. Not too far out of the city, after clearing the ring of suburbs, the first vines appear, most of them Pinot Noir. The co-op certainly has changed over the last twenty years or so. When I first started coming, the tasting room was more like a basement closet, below the winery. Now, due to the enormous success of the brand, there is a large glitzy showroom that can easily hold a couple dozen tasters.
Sure, some of the charm has been lost, but the bubbles are every bit as good. That is why I often buy a case (or more) when I am there. This go around, I only bought a couple of bottles: one for that afternoon’s tasting and the other I would keep in case of an emergency, which no doubt would occur since Ohmygod would continue with me to Belgium.
I took it rather easy at the tasting mostly since the tasting room employee was a bit unsettling. Normally, appearances do not faze me, but a 6’8″ 20-something man with spiked bleached white hair, countless tattoos (including a letter on each finger that spelled out the English vulgarity that begins with an “F”), and multiple piercings, many of which probably still caused considerable pain, really was not conducive to sipping and discussing the intricacies of champagne (or maybe that’s just me).
Thus, the ride back was surprisingly uneventful, which was good since I used the time to map out a better entrance into the city. (Riding into large cities is always difficult and in France this is compounded by the fact that many suburbs can be rather rough and not the place you would like to pull over and change a flat, for instance.)
Back in town, I headed straight to the Monoprix supermarket to get a few more bottles for the tasting. I ended up with a non-vintage Brut from Montaudon, a Gosset Grand Blanc de Blancs (100% Chardonnay), the Mailly Grand Cru Blanc de Noirs (100% Pinot Noir), a vintage Paul Bara, and a bottle of Dom Pérignon. Not a bad line-up.
I got back to the hotel, put the bottles on ice, and had a bit of time to actually relax. At 3:30, I gathered up the bottles and headed downstairs to the outdoor courtyard to set up the tasting. I procured the requisite number of glasses from the bar and placed all the bottles in its own paper bag to hide its identity.
The idea behind the tasting was rather straight forward: to taste several different styles of champagne without knowing anything about the wine (including the price) so that one could (hopefully) notice some of the differences between the wines and make some objective decisions about what he liked (or didn’t like).
Most of the time I conduct such tastings, people who tend to prefer the less expensive wines are relieved (since they realize that they do not need to spend all that much on champagne to be quench their thirst for bubbly), while those who lean toward the higher end all assume that this means they have great taste. So everyone is happy.
I also like to take a bit of time to show how to properly open a bottle of bubbles (the loud “pop” should actually be avoided unless you just won the World Series–in fact a champagne producer once told that the only sound you should hear upon opening is a slight sigh, “like that of a contented woman”).
After my brief demonstration, CC insisted on opening one of the bottles, encouraged vociferously by her not-so-secret admirer, Paul. She was visibly struggling turning the cork, so I mentioned to her that it might help if instead, she turned the bottle while holding the cork. She looked over at me briefly with a puzzled look on her face, as if the message I just conveyed had been in Urdu instead of English.
As she turned her attention back to the bottle, she picked it up again rather brusquely, and just as quickly dropped it back to the table as her hand no doubt slipped on the condensation on the bottle. She was able to quickly grab the bottle again by the neck, but she was not able to get her other hand on the cork before it came shooting out, jetting across the table, narrowly missing Ohmygod’s oblivious head (proving once more that there is no god and that Charles Darwin was wrong).
Almost every time that a cork comes out of a bottle of sparkling wine in such a fashion, there is a delayed, but equally striking rush of liquid out of the bottle. Clearly, CC did not realize this since she had turned to Paul, bottle still in hand, with a surprised, ready to burst out laughing look on her face.
By the time she had come to her senses, nearly a third of the bottle had emptied on to Paul’s meticulously pressed dress shirt.
Paul, more than a bit perturbed, excused himself to go up to his room to change, and returned moments later with another freshly pressed button-down and pants combination. While pouring him a flute I realized that in some ways, he was essentially the anti-Ohmygod, at least when it came to his approach to apparel.
The rest of the tasting went off without much of a hitch and we were able to polish off all five bottles without much effort. Before revealing the identity of the wines, I asked each which wine was their favorite, as is my custom.
For those of you keeping score at home:
- Maggie: Gosset Blanc de Blancs
- CC: Mailly Blanc de Noirs
- Paul: Dom Pérignon (he was particularly tickled when he foun out it was the Dom).
- Ellen: Montaudon
- Anne: Did not like any (and added that she thought the whole exercise was a waste of money).
- Ohmygod: Dom Pérignon (although it took a while to get a response out of him–it is entirely possible that he just copied Paul’s answer, which is how I chose to think about it).
It was now shortly past 5:00, which meant there was almost three hours before we would need to meet for our last dinner together (the trip officially ended the following morning) as Paul, Anne, and Ellen would be leaving the trip.
As I was cleaning up, I saw Paul and CC scurrying upstairs, apparently no longer concerned with keeping their “situation” secret, and obviously well passed the events from earlier on in the evening.
After returning everything to the bar, I went to the front desk to retrieve my key. The hotel keeper, whose job I had saved just a day prior when I extracted Ohmygod’s bike from the glass elevator, informed me that he had already given the key to my girlfriend about thirty minutes ago.
I climbed the stairs and entered my room, not quite sure what I would find. I opened the door and immediately realized I had a situation.
There on my bed was Maggie, wearing nothing but a smile.
As a tour guide, I certainly had been put in this position before: whether deserved or not, the guide is often held in high esteem on trips. He knows the route, the wines, the customs; he is usually a good cyclist; he speaks the language; he controls the trip funds.
I understand all that, but this was just not going to happen.
I, as warmly as I could, suggested that what she was proposing was simply not a very good idea. She was still technically engaged, I told her, and she still needed to figure out what caused her to have an affair with her dissertation chair before perhaps diving into another.
Even before I finished my sentence, she started to sob. At first I thought she was hurt by my rejection (albeit a very thoughtful decline, if I do say so myself).
I realized that it might be that she realized that her life was pretty much a hot mess, so not knowing what else to do, I sat down next to her, trying to console her.
At which point she kissed me.
As I sat there contemplating how I was going to extricate myself from the situation while trying to maintain some semblance of professionalism (she was, after all, on the trip for another week), there was a knock on the door. Before I could even stand up, it swung open and in barged Paul.
He had a stressed look on his face, which briefly became a wry smile as he assessed the situation in my room. The look of angst quickly returned, however as he blurted out:
“We have a bit of a problem….”