A Place I Need to (Re)Visit Before I Die

I had originally planned to post another article today, but with Armageddon descending on South Texas today (otherwise known as Hurricane Harvey), I felt an irresistible urge to write a completely new post, in case, well, you know.

Like many others, I imagine, when I am faced with human mortality I rapidly ruminate and enumerate my numerous regrets and unfulfilled dreams. Other than never successfully performing a cartwheel, most of my regrets center around travel and places that I have never been: St. Petersburg, Vietnam, and above all, the Dalmatian Coast.

None of those are my focus here. Instead, on the precipice of a Cat 1, no Cat 2, no Cat 3 (and perhaps a Cat 4) hurricane, I am thinking most about a place I have already been, albeit briefly.

I have spent most of my life checking boxes—once visited, I usually did not see much of a point to return since time is notoriously finite and ever since I was a child, the goal was always to complete all items on the list, be it homework assignments or household chores.

But today was different.

As I stood in line at Costco, my cart full of provisions for the coming storm (I checked all those boxes…except water—who is buying all the water?—pending natural disasters bring out the worst in all of us it seems: “Why do I need 956 bottles of Kirkland water? What? You want me to leave some for others? Um. No.”), I received a text from a friend of mine in Marseille. It was a picture of his lovely wife, seated at La Boîte à Sardine, a smallish restaurant in the heart of the city that is only open for lunch (Tuesday through Saturday) and dinner (Thursday and Friday).

La Boîte à Sardine. Photo: Christophe Bristiel

Last fall, at the end of a trip to Provence, I caught a train from Aix-en-Provence down to France’s second largest city. I have been to France countless times over the last three decades, spending significant time in just about every region of the country, but I had never been to Marseille.

I arrived at the train station in Marseille on a rather overcast and soon to become stormy afternoon.

In all my years first studying French and then working there in the summers, the refrain  concerning Marseille remained rather constant: “Oh, you don’t want to go to Marseille, it is full of criminals and really dangerous.” It was surprising how consistently I heard this sentiment—from my teachers (both in high school and college), my French “mother” (the family with whom I stayed while studying in Strasbourg), and just about every other French person when the city happened to come up in conversation.

It was not a coincidence, it was unanimity.

So, pretty much from the beginning of my exposure to the French language, I learned that the oldest city in France was to avoided like the plague.

Yet there I was on a particularly stormy Friday afternoon, tethered to my iPhone’s GPS, strolling through the charming city, on my way to La Boîte à Sardine to meet my buddy Christophe, the export manager for Château la Nerthe, the oldest winery in Châteauneuf-du Pape.

I did not have time to explore much of the city, but I was able to take a few photos.

I made it to the restaurant a few minutes before our scheduled rendez-vous, which enabled a brief, unfettered meeting with the restaurant’s proprietor, Fabien Rugi.

Fabien presented the menu. Not extensive by any means, but fresh—all the fruits de mer pulled from the Mediterranean that morning.

Despite the heavy rain storm outside, the restaurant was packed (I avoided the obvious pun here) and Fabien, through his thick Provençal accent, seemed more than a bit perturbed that I was waiting for a friend before ordering, commanding a table that could have been filled by a few of the potential patrons huddled beneath their umbrellas just beyond the front door.

All was forgiven moments later, however, when Christophe arrived. Soon, the food and wine started flowing to the table: several dishes of some of the freshest fish I have ever eaten, and bottle after bottle of Château la Nerthe Blanc.

Château la Nerthe makes incredible red wines (the Cuvée des Cadettes and the Clos de Beauvenir are ethereal), but the white is other-worldly: fruity yet refined with depth and a lasting finish, by far one of my favorite wines.

As the lunch crowd started to file out, Fabien joined us, bringing more food and more la Nerthe.

Even though I like to think I speak French, Fabien’s wonderfully rich Marseillais accent was largely undecipherable to me. So I just laughed when Christophe did.

We stayed at La Boîte for most of the afternoon, drinking through all the 2014 la Nerthe on hand, and then the 2015, eventually moving on to other wines, and then beer. I likely gained close to ten pounds during that three (or was it four?) hour lunch, but when presented with such an incredible array of food and drink, you delve right in.

Needless to say, perhaps, the rest of my stay in Marseille is blurry at best, but as the rain has started to fall here in Houston, I have a new box to check—I need to get back to Marseille and La Boîte à Sardine.

Christophe and Fabien.

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About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
This entry was posted in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Provence, Wine. Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to A Place I Need to (Re)Visit Before I Die

  1. aFrankAngle says:

    I caught imagine Costco lines preceding a major storm. That must have been crazy. As for St. Petersburg, it will not disappoint! Great throwback to France. Such charm! Good luck with the storm, and remember that any problems from it are Obama’s fault.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nancy K. says:

    The other day I heard, don’t ask me where, that storms named after women are generally more fatal than those named after men. This is not some weird anomaly, but the sad fact that tend not to take women’s names as threatening. That said, who the heck names a storm “Harvey”? Glad you are taking it seriously. But honestly, that is less threatening than Hurricane Carol.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. robgradens says:

    Bonne chance, my friend. I hadn’t heard about the hurricane. I’m glad I’m on the west coast, although the heat this summer has been bad. One day I took cannabis oil and the temp reached 102’F. Well, I lost control of my legs when I was trying to walk and fell on my face. My glasses were ruined, so I just left them on the street. They were gone when I looked for them later. I had abrasions on the right side of my face and I looked terrible. A store clerk told me it looked like it hurt… Long story short, I don’t recommend cannabis after my experience… Good luck, Cyclist. You’ve been to Eugene before, yes? How did you like it? Weather in the NW is quite temperate, yet we whine here when it’s 102′. We had a severe winter this year, but people in places like Minnesota would laugh at us. Anyway, take care and keep making posts. Your Rob

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha! Thanks Rob–there must never be a dull moment around you?

      Liked by 1 person

      • robgradens says:

        It was wild, but a few months ago I met a girl at the convenience store around the block from me who had ADHD. She was glad to see me and gave me about eight bear hugs. I mean, full-body hugs, no elbows in the way. I gave her my number, but she just disappeared. Life is like that. Desiree shows up here and there, but I doubt if she has much stability, you know? It’s sad, and you know, my life is like that. I’m repeating myself. Hope you’re surviving Harvey okay. How’s your store of wine? Good to hear from you. Your Rob

        Like

  4. cpalatejane says:

    An English friend once had all his possessions stolen while taking a dip off the beach at Marseille. Having to locate the nearest police station with minimal French, attired in nothing but his swimming trunks, was quite an experience. Wishing you and the family all the best as Harvey touches down. If and when the going gets really rough, maybe ditch the water and open a bottle of Ch. La Nerthe (fabulous wines!) for solace and to remind yourself of better times that undoubtedly lie ahead.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Will do my best to go as your proxy in my remaining 36 hours in Provence!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. okiewinegirl2015 says:

    Your comments section rivals your posts. 😄Very interesting. Try not to float away when Harvey visits and always remember don’t drive into water. har har. I’m praying your family stays safe and enjoys many hours of Uno!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. tomsimard says:

    Enjoyed the post. Another place to visit!

    Best of luck with the hurricane. Here’s to hoping it fizzles out.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. What a lovely afternoon. Sounds ideal. Stay safe, and dry. And remember we are pretty much a straight shot on 45. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. merrildsmith says:

    Wow–that meal and wine sounds amazing. I hope all goes well during this hurricane. My husband’s aunt and family live outside of Houston. She made sure she was stocked with alcohol and books. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. chef mimi says:

    That’s always been my motto as well. Same with restaurants, for the most part. But I have visited Stephane in/near Bordeaux three times now, and I want to go back for more. I will never tire of that little region of France, but I still need to see northern and western France. Glad you’re safe.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. lolabees says:

    Stay safe out there!

    Liked by 1 person

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