Today marks my goodbye to Paris, at least for now. This morning I jumped the train to Bayonne and made a connection from there to my starting point St Jean Pied de Port, which means the foot of the pass of St John. It is from here that my friends and I will set off tomorrow. To be honest, I am a bit intimidated by the prospect, I am carrying more weight (both in my pack and …well,,,just me), than I had intended. The first day is considered the hardest and commences with the crossing of the Pyrenees. The thought of setting out in, what I assume will be my poorest personal fitness of the trip, to attempt a mountain crossing, frankly has worms. Still, what’s the worst that can happen?
The Basque country is a fascinating place, most would have heard of the separatist movement, and whilst I don’t condone violent means to achieve this, I can understand their position. They are a unique race of people. No one knows where their language came from, it is highly unusual amongst European languages, unrelated to any other, there is even one theory that it similar to the Sioux language. There have also been DNA studies showing that they have a unique heritage among Europeans. I can understand wanting to keep that kind of heritage alive.
The train trip in, particularly from Bayonne to SJPP was breathtaking. We rolled by a river most of the way, one of the most beautiful I have seen. Into the feet of the Pyrenees, the mountains looming up before us throwing out their challenge.
You’ll see some photos of SJPP in this posting, beautiful cobble stone (hobble stone as a friend of mine puts it), streets, a city wall, houses and shops that look as they would have in the middle ages. Having the 5 of us here is fabulous, we ate the pilgrims menu (salad, a mince stew, bread and ice cream), and then used the bread and the wine to take communion together. It was for me a very special moment.
So in saying goodbye to Paris, I have been reflecting on some of the seriously fabulous wines that I have been lucky enough to sample. Amazing Bordeaux and a Chablis that was so good that if I saw you drink it and you didn’t weep I would think you a heartless scoundrel.
As some of you closer to me would know, I come from a long line of alcoholics. My father and his father before him, it is a proud family tradition that goes back generations.
As a result I am easily given to reflecting on such things, and I have been thinking a little about the nature of wines and viticulture.
One interesting thing about French wines (and lots of others), is that many of them are grown in what would traditionally be considered uncomfortable environments. Either chalky or gravelly or low nutrient soils. In fact quality viticulturists will sometimes “stress” the vines on purpose. This results in less overall yield but a much higher quality, concentrated juice with which to make the wine. It is an art. To anthropamorphise a grape, which I’m sure you’ll agree to be highly sensible, I wonder if the grape thinks it worth it. To be stressed and go through hardship, and then to be crushed, but ending up an utterly exceptional wine, unique in the world, something aspired to and even copied by others. The thing is, there is no other way to get there, no shortcut, no cheat. It is either do the hard yards or be ordinary.
I know what I would choose. I do choose. I want to put myself in the hands of the master winemaker, trust Him to lovingly work with me, to make me the unique wine He planned me to be from the beginning of creation. Time to buckle up and try and enjoy the ride.
If you see me grimacing, you may want to remind me of this temporary insanity. Still, it beats dying of old age as the Vikings say.
Save up your hugs for the next time you see me. Remind me to bring a bottle of my favourite wine.