It sounds clichéd (and it is), but you can just sit around consuming bread, cheese, and wine in France and truly live the good life. I often roll my eyes when people present to me their "rediscoveries" of life's simple pleasures, as if they've just uncovered some secret they think the rest of the world is overlooking ("I've realized all I need is good food and good wine"—ugh...gag me), but I can see why Americans often get a little religious about the holy trinity of French living. The bread is so much better. The cheese is fresh and plentiful, with all the fat and none of the additives. You can get tasty, inexpensive wine just about everywhere (in just a three block radius of my hotel there are more than fifteen stores with great selections). The experience can be overwhelming if you've never experienced it first-hand, and it can also be transformative, which is why so many new-age coverts head back across the Atlantic preaching the gospel of la vie. In taking a break from the restaurant scene last night, I walked to the boulangerie next door and to get a baguette, across the street to the fromagerie to get some Camembert, and then down the road to the wine shop for a bottle of Burgundy. We opened the windows in our hotel room, turned on some music, and took it easy—tearing off pieces of bread by hand, smothering cheese in between the crust with a hotel coffee spoon, while taking sips of young Morey-Saint-Denis.
"Why don't I do this at home more often?" I thought to myself. Yeah, I know: I'm in France. But it's not like I only eat sushi if I'm in Japan, or tacos in Mexico. America is a mecca of multiculturalism. We love cold beer with spicy tuna rolls or carne asada burritos, and no one seems to have an aversion to Sapporo, Corona, or a shot of tequila. French wines, however, are a completely different story. I get the feeling that Bordeaux and Burgundy intimidate the shit out of a large percentage of Americans, or at the very least breed a certain level of uneasiness. How do I make a decision when purchasing a bottle? How do I know what's good? Do I have to pair it with a certain kind of food? And can I ask a question or look for guidance without some snarky sommelier smirking down at me in judgement? It's a shame that a wider enjoyment of French wines by Americans might be hindered by what is viewed as (true, or not) a steep learning curve carefully guarded by a gang of cultural snobs—especially considering wine is such a working-class beverage over here, consumed in large volumes by just about everyone.
I think that's going to be on my short list of things to do when I get back: come up with a way to break down the barrier a bit. In drinking that bottle of Alain Jeanniard, watching my wife ask for seconds and then thirds (which she normally will not do when we drink red), I had a bit of an epiphany. This stuff is easy to understand and easy to like, you just need the right indoctrination, I think. Now let's see if I can get home and hash the whole thing out; a plan to help us demystify many of the perceived complexities that prevent Americans from a broader enjoyment of French culture, and promote some of these delicious products to the more general base of K&L customers. More importantly, let's see if I can do it without sounding like an asshole.