Last summer an old (well, 38 isn’t really all that old, is it?) friend of mine came visiting.
Michelle now lives in Europe, having married a Frenchman she met on a vacation trip over there. He is a bit older than she, is apparently quite well off, and exports-imports wines. And he is himself a wine-grower, with his own small vineyards on an estate in the St. Emilion region near Bordeaux, and they have a beautiful (to judge from the photos they brought along) house. He is into clarets, as they say.
Michelle and I have been e-mailing each other for about four years, which is as long it’s been since she was last in the States. It was exciting to see her again face to face and have the chance to talk in a little more detail than the electronic medium permits. The two of them seem to be very happy together (married now just over one year), and she is more beautiful than ever. I was especially impressed by her mastery of French, which is no small task.
Her husband, Yves, somehow looks very French, if that’s not an incorrect stereotype to put forward, and of course he speaks English quite fluently, as indeed almost all educated Europeans do today – he is also fluent in Portuguese, Spanish, Italian and German, and, obviously, French. Linguistically, it really puts us Americans to shame! He says that he really has to know these languages since he does so much wine-business in those countries and South America, and English is now the universal language of business. Yves told me that it is impossible in today’s globalization environment to do any kind of serious business unless it is in English, which has now become a lingua franca, kind of like Latin a few years back!
In any event, back to Michelle. She is busy learning things about growing grapes, running a small estate, and acquiring a sophisticated palate about wines. It is an unusual kind of thing for an American woman from the Midwest to end up doing, but it obviously agrees with her tremendously. She has always been an ebullient type, and that has certainly not changed. She is indeed very enthusiastic about French culture and the French, and told me one of the things she liked best about living in Europe was the general lack of the really oppressive puritanism that still prevails (and seems to be getting much worse this sad election season) in the United States. I guess it is part of the American inheritance from Plymouth Rock and the original Bay Colony. To be sure, she is not enchanted by the socialistic slant the French in particular put on anything, and is not ecstatic about a kind of widespread if latent xenophobia, something that seems to be increasing with the opening up – or ignoring, if you will, now at a terrible price! — of borders mandated by the high lords of the European Union in Brussels.
At the same time she enjoyed coming back to America, and thinks she will do so more often – four years is too long to stay away. But I sort of got the impression her heart is now more or less in France rather than this country, though it is easy enough to get flights out of Nice for the United States. She and Yves had been visiting her parents, who are now comfortably retired in Florida, before making a swing through the Midwest to catch up with friends in this part of the world. The weather was very sticky while they were here, but that’s par for this time of year.
Since I am not the world’s greatest cook – though I love good food – we took in some restaurants here in town. One night we ate at a pretty good Japanese restaurant, and another night at a steak place which isn’t bad. But I know that these places can’t hold a candle to the kinds of restaurants to which they are accustomed in the bigger cities (like Bordeaux) in France, both in quality and number.
Their visit slipped by very fast, but it was such a pleasure to see Michelle and Yves. They continued on to the West coast, where Yves has some contacts in the Napa Valley area of northern California whom he wanted to visit in a business capacity. But by the start of August they were back in France for the fermeture annuelle, and Michelle and I cranked up our e-mailing again.
But, really, what a terrific visit it was, complete with their insistent invitation to visit them in France any time I feel like hopping on a plane. Well, I certainly like French cuisine, and four years is a long time not to see Michelle again …
On verra, as the French say!