It has been nearly two years since my last blog post on this site, an appreciation of my father after his death in February 2015 (Hommage à Mon Père – March 2015). Since I returned to my hometown of Houston, Texas just before his death, I have been enjoying the presence of my family and the many wondrous developments that have taken place in Houston since I last lived here in 1973. More than 40 years later, Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the world; whether you judge it by the origins of the inhabitants, their cuisines, music, architecture, art, culture, or consumer tastes. Perhaps the only unhappy relic that remains from my growing up here is the weather. It is still far too hot for this native Texan of German-Irish-Bohemian extraction.
After living in France for nearly a year, I returned to Houston and have remained here to be near my family. None of us is getting any younger, but our good health and vibrant spirits have been complemented by some new additions, notably my grand-niece Ella Jane, who will soon be joined by her brother, Jonathan James. So my family forms the solid foundation of my current existence: with our matriarch, my mother Jane, still here in Houston providing me with a solid base both mental and material, my brother Jim and sister-in-law Molly near Dallas with their daughter Amanda and her husband Brian, and Jim and Molly’s son Chris and his wife Tara in Tulsa, Oklahoma (with the aforementioned grand-niece and nephew), and my sister-in-law Debra and her husband Craig in Wharton, Texas, where I have discovered once again the pleasures of Thursday and Friday night lights, high school football enjoyed with my nephews Michael, Matthew, and Mitchell, and their step-siblings Carson and Katie.
While not quite officially retired, I still like to remain involved with fine wines. I often attend tastings with the superb young wine people at the Houston Sommelier Association, where a serious and attentive attitude and respect prevails, and some of the world’s top winemakers come to present their work. Many of the HSA are studying for their Master Sommelier credentials, and David Keck, Texas’ most recent Master Sommelier and HSA’s driving force, will soon be moving into another project, where I hope I can continue to rely on his expertise and friendship, for my own edification and pleasure. There is a serious and diverse wine scene here, supported by the population in the area that now numbers over 4 million souls, most of them thirsty, eager for exciting new wines, and the knowledge to put them in historical perspective. Other tastings where I can encounter wine legends Guy Stout, MS (Education Director for Glazer’s distributorships) and Bear Dalton (wine buyer for Spec’s Retail outlets) help refresh and sharpen my palate. Sometimes it’s fun to relive the good old days……
On my last trip to Burgundy, in June 2015, I also met an interesting Houstonian of French descent who was just beginning his ambitious enterprise – opening a new French wine importing company in Houston, Texas. Bertrand Leulliette is 25 years my junior, with significant experience working in the US for some of France’s best wine exporters, as well as a former basketball player in France’s professional league. Since we first met, he has pleaded, cajoled, teased, and very simply included me in his process, so that today I am proud to say that we work together. I often wish that I had had his fearless entrepreneurial spirit 25 years ago – there might now be a Jerome’s Wines instead of a defunct Newcastle Imports or a declining Esprit du Vin, not to mention a shuttered Jerome’s The Pitt BBQ Restaurant.
Bertrand’s Wines is a new and exciting enterprise, specializing in French wine estates of excellence and integrity. Our suppliers are mostly family enterprises, clustered around a marvelous collection of Burgundy domaines, with a few selected producers from Bordeaux, Alsace, Provence, the Rhone and Loire valleys, even Cahors. I like to think that I complement Bertrand Leulliette’s energy, enthusiasm, taste, and connections to a younger generation of French vignerons, with my own experience in the wine trade, from sourcing suppliers to selling retailers and restaurants through some of America’s most well-respected distributor networks.
Our journey begins in earnest next Tuesday, November 15th, when we depart Houston for France. We plan to visit our suppliers in Chablis, the Cote d’Or, Chalonnaise, Macon, Beaujolais, and Provence, sandwiching our trip around the famous Trois Glorieuses weekend of the Hospices de Beaune Auction on Sunday, 19 November. I hope to be blogging often during our trip, with thoughts, tasting notes, and the usual personal opinions. If any of you dear readers have any specific requests, please send them along in your comments, or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Tuesday, February 17th, just after 6am, my father died, six weeks before his 83rd birthday. His death came suddenly, as we were anxiously awaiting a complex surgery that might have alleviated some of the symptoms of his severe cervical and lumbar stenosis, which had rendered him nearly immobile over his last few months. He died peacefully, without pain, with his wife and my mother, Jane, my brother, Jim, and his wife, Molly, and myself by his side. Since March 2014, vertebral pressures on his spinal cord had caused him to lose much of the use of his left arm, and diminished his ability to walk. By the time of my visit home to Houston, Texas in December 2014, he could neither walk nor stand without assistance. His neurosurgeon had scheduled a cervical laminectomy for February 24th. Dad was optimistic about the skills of his surgeon, and hopeful that the results would allow him some relief from a life of immobility. He was fully cognizant of the risks of such surgery given his age and condition, and he saw it as the alternative to a certain life of advancing invalidism. Unfortunately, an infection, which eventually spread to his bloodstream, ended our hopes.
My father was trained as a geophysical engineer, with a scientist’s attention to detail and a stubborn precision in his everyday life. Today my friends often point out my affinity with his punctilious habits, and I am quietly proud to accept their comparisons. But in my younger days it was an outlook and discipline against which I rebelled mightily, and it became the source of frequent family conflicts. In high school I had been lucky enough to be accepted to the University of Cambridge, England for my undergraduate studies. I cherished the idea of being 5,000 miles away from his overbearing influence, in a culture far different from my Gulf Coast upbringing. In my first week at Churchill College, Cambridge, I attended our Fresher’s Dinner for new undergraduates, and was seated next to a gentleman whose place-card read “Professor Emeritus Sir Edward Bullard”. A former physics student of Ernest Rutherford in Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory, Bullard went on to found the discipline of marine geophysics, mapping the existing land masses of the earth into the hypothetical, original Pangaea land mass before continental drift and plate tectonics had become commonly accepted science.
It was my first experience of a full Cambridge dining celebration, complete with Vintage Port and Madeira making their opposing circumnavigations of our table. At dinner that evening, Professor Sir Edward Bullard examined my place setting, and asked, “Are you any relationship to Harry Hasenpflug, Jr.?”. Somewhat taken aback, I responded that if he was referring to the Shell Oil Company geophysicist from Houston, Texas of the same name, well then yes, I was his son. I asked the Professor how he knew my father, and he replied “Oh, I have never met him, but I use his books in my graduate student seminars.” I had left Texas to remove myself as far as possible from my father’s discipline and compulsive influences, yet he had arrived at Cambridge before me. I had never known that he had written books, much less that they were groundbreaking, seminal manuals in the application of computer science to oil exploration geophysics, proprietary research of Shell Oil Company. Humbled by this new revelation of my father’s talents, I phoned home to Texas from Cambridge (in 1973 at the rate of nearly £10 per minute), only to discover that my father was more concerned that the Professor might have purloined his writings from Shell rather than with the burgeoning pride I had felt in his preceding me intellectually into Cambridge’s historic halls. It would not be the first time that my father’s experiences had preceded my own.
After Cambridge I continued my studies in Social Anthropology at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University. My fieldwork for my doctoral studies was in northwest New Mexico in the Burnham Chapter of the Navajo Nation. I spent most of 1979-80 within a community of traditional Navajos, living in a stone hogan with a dirt floor and no running water. My research concentrated on the community’s pastoral land use and matrilineal social structure, working with a legal team from the National Indian Youth Council who were preparing a lawsuit to stop what would have been the world’s largest coal strip mine, just south of the existing mine in Fruitland, New Mexico. When I came home briefly in the summer of 1979 to attend my brother Jim’s wedding, I learned that my father had preceded me to New Mexico as well. His own graduate studies and summer employment 25 years earlier had brought him to the same region near the Chaco River Basin, where he was searching for oil and natural gas on federal lands adjacent to the Navajo reservation. Such a coincidence of geography and the nearly opposite goals of our researches would mark the juxtaposition of our political views for the rest of his life.
Dad went on to a storied career with Shell Oil Company, and we often joked about what he might have been worth financially if he had been paid a commission for Shell’s discoveries in the Gulf Coast region under his tenure there. He was “retired” by Shell in 1989 at age 57, and he and my mom Jane began to travel the world with the same dedicated curiosity that he had brought to his scientific career. I joined them on a couple of their trips, and always saw the places that we visited in a different light because of it. Every trip produced a narrative album with his photographs and observations, and I vicariously enjoyed their travels through all 33 volumes he had produced since 1990. Only the record of the last trip, our family vacation to Ireland in July 2014, remains incomplete.
In 1981 my own academic endeavors were interrupted, as between teaching assistant jobs while trying to compose my doctoral thesis, I had found a new and fascinating addiction, food and wine. At Cambridge University I had paid attention when wines were served at our college’s formal dinners, and when I began to supplement my graduate student income as a waiter in one of Cambridge, Massachusetts’ finer restaurants, that appreciation of wine opened a new career path beyond academia. After four years of managing restaurants and writing wine lists in some of Boston’s best addresses, I began my career in wine in earnest in 1985. My father’s skills and interest in geology and geophysics would soon inform and confirm my growing conviction that distinctive wines come from unique places. With his help I became a terroiriste.
Our first trip together into the vineyards of France was in September, 1992. He, my mother, and I enjoyed a leisurely tour of eastern France from Alsace through Chablis, Burgundy, and on to Lyon, the Rhone Valley, and western Provence. I had been invited by the Trimbach family to be initiated into Alsace’s wine organization, the Confrerie St. Etienne. Yet our explorations were not merely touristic, as the geologist in my father compelled us to explore the Ribeauvillé Fault Zone, one of the world’s most complex geophysical regions. From the Rhine Basin to the Vosges Ballons, from Strasbourg to Mulhouse, and particularly from Bergheim to Riquewihr, we discovered the village vineyards, the Alsace Grands Crus and the distinctive geology of each within the region. We even drank Clos Ste. Hune in the fabled vineyard site with Hubert and Pierre Trimbach, while discussing the nature of its unique muschelkalk limestone marl.
After Alsace we continued to Chablis, and, assisted by William Fevre, we explored the difference in the Kimmeridgean marls of the 1ers and Grands Crus, and the Portlandian limestone soils of Petit Chablis. On the escarpments of the Cote d’Or, I listened intently to explanations of limestone degradation and carbonization, the formation of primary marls, the effects of the sloping escarpments on soil distribution and sun exposure, and the geologic periods responsible for the differences in the layered sedimentary deposits that became more visible each time I examined them. By the time we were heading toward the pink granite hills of the Beaujolais Crus, I could tell the difference between the rocky outcroppings of Bajocian versus Bathonian limestone, and recognize the subtle variations of the colors, density, and fossil composition between Meursault, Puligny, and Chassagne. I developed an awareness of the differences between the villages of the Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune, how they were shaped by combe and valley, small streams and underground springs, and ancient geological faults that provided the basis for the climats or vineyard sites of each.
The Rhone brought further discoveries. A stop in Ampuis exposed the difference between the mica schist of the Côte Brune and the gneiss of the Côte Blonde in Côte Rôtie. The stunning bump of granite and clay that composes Hermitage, and Cornas’ granitic schists intermingled with dense limestone, layered like the folds of an accordion, became convincingly alive and apparent to me. The lacework limestone outcroppings of the Dentelles de Montmirail and the rounded quartz stones that millennia of glaciers had strewn through the Rhone Basin around Avignon gave me new meaning for the flavors of Gigondas, Chateauneuf, Rasteau, Lirac, and Vacqueyras.
I learned more about the terroirs of France’s eastern wine-producing regions on that trip than at any time since. It became the foundation through which I came to understand and appreciate fine wines. Alas, it was only geology and geophysics to my father. Several surgeries on his sinuses in previous years had left him without his sense of smell. Unable to smell and barely able to taste the differences in the wines we drank each day, it was up to my mother and me to discuss and discover the nuances of aromas, floral, mineral, animal, that came from the specificity of soil composition and vineyard location. Ironically, six years later, in 1998, a former colleague of my father at Shell Oil Company’s Exploration and Production Department, geologist James E. Wilson, would write Terroir: The Role of Geology, Climate, and Culture in the Making of French Wines. They had worked together to find oil and natural gas in the Gulf of Mexico’s offshore limestone continental plates, but never shared a bottle or two of Chevalier or Batard to talk about rocks.
That 1992 trip also opened my eyes to another facet of French wine: its history. I had known “Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres” since high school Latin class, but visiting the sites of Alesia, Lugdunum (Lyon), Arles, and Nimes gave new dimensions and depth to French wine. The legacy of the Roman Catholic Church in France and the interaction of the monastic orders with the Duchy of Burgundy were lessons I eagerly absorbed. Having been raised by devout Catholics and educated by Dominican nuns and Jesuit priests, our trip included visits to the medieval Abbeys of Pontigny, Fontenay, Vezelay, Citeaux, Tournus, Paray-le-Monial, and Cluny, as well as the Papal See of Avignon. The influence of the monastic orders in viticulture and winemaking techniques was a discovery that gave a new dimension to my relationship with my parents.
We had a similar trip in 1994 to Germany and the Czech Republic, combining a discovery of the Rheingau, Pfalz, and Mosel with genealogical searches for my father’s family ancestors near Kassel, Germany and the village of Dolni Lukoviçe outside Pilsen in the Czech Republic. In 2001 a family reunion trip brought us to the Loire Valley, where we explored the silex flint deposits of the upper Loire and the tufo chalky caves and dwellings of Saumur and the Touraine, all the while enjoying the local wines and cuisines.
These were among the most important journeys that informed my career in wine, if not my approach to life itself. I now treasure a perspective that views the concept of terroir not merely as place, but the history of human activity and achievement within that place. I embrace “Culture” written large, defining the unique and distinctive tastes of food, wine, cheese, architecture, and even social and religious beliefs, things that give definition to a singular yet shared heritage. What I have received from my father was a gift of understanding, a way to appreciate and interpret “patrimony”.
This post will end my blog “Jerome in France – Living the Dream”. I will begin a new blog soon, within this site at http://amitiesjerome.com. In it I hope to share my passion and understanding, my inheritance, appreciating life’s many gifts.
The harvest is in. With mostly glorious weather conditions prevailing from mid-August through this past weekend, September 28th, the grapes, both white and red, gold and deep purple hued, arrived in the cellars in excellent condition. Except for those vineyards hit by the hailstorms of June 28th, quantities are substantial and quality appears to be very high. Not much rot, more talk than actual acetic effects from drosophila suzukii, and a natural degree of ripeness that will require little, if any, chaptalisation.
Very healthy yeasts came into the cellars on the grapes, and fermentations have begun quickly. In many cellars the whites proceeded to barrel to complete their primary, alcoholic fermentations within a week to ten days. The reds are just finishing up in vats and tanks, with pumpovers and pigeage to extract fine, deep ruby-purple tones with ripe, fleshy flavors and the tannic backbones that should make for a very fine vintage. The dry weather of the last month has had only one sad effect: the brilliant colors of fall in the vines, with shades of autumn in New England, are more brown than yellow, red, or lively orange.
Until today’s overcast sky and periods of light rain, we have enjoyed a true Indian summer, with warm, sunny days and starry, cooler nights as we move past the autumnal equinox into fall. The days grow shorter as the sun moves south in the sky, and yet people here are reluctant to give up their summer pleasures: bicyclists are out in the hills in force, and yesterday, a national day of walks called Frandonee brought out hundreds of people for a 20 kilometer walk from Morey-St. Denis through the valley of Vergy in the Hautes Cotes de Nuits. A weekend exposition and book fair at the Chapter House of the Clos de Vougeot was packed with interested consumers. It was a wonderful weekend to be outside.
And yet the elation of the harvest, the open doors to all domaines bringing in grapes, the ritual lunches, dinners, and paulees of the harvesters with the growers after the vendange, has finished, has dissipated. The open excitement of another vintage drawing to a close is replaced by a quiet reserve as nature, in the form of fermentations that were once thought magical until Pasteur’s discoveries, takes its course.
For this writer it has been a complete change of rhythm. There are so many fewer people in the vines. Appointments must now be made to speak with vignerons and their oenologists about the vintage. Burgundian reserve has returned. We wait. This year the fruit has been so healthy and the weather so warm and gorgeous that fermentations are quick and easy. As the alcoholic fermentations wind down, the next issue will be how swiftly the malolactic fermentations take hold. If they, too, are swift and easy, unlike the previous two years, we could very well be watching an awesome vintage being born in 2014. Until the wines are more ready to taste and evaluate, I must find other forms of entertainment. Thankfully, Netflix has just arrived in France.
Grey, cloudy, moist, warm weather has moved up the Rhone and Saone valleys this morning, and is forecast to hover over the Cote d’Or until Wednesday afternoon. On cooler evenings one can already smell the wood burning in fireplaces and wood-burning stoves. I, for one, hope for more sunshine and a pleasant fall before the cold and grey of Burgundian winter sets in.
“Wine and music rejoice the heart, but the love of wisdom is above them both.” (Book of the All-Virtuous Wisdom of Joshua ben Sira, also known as Ecclesiasticus, Chapter 40, verse 20)
Written some two hundred years before the birth of Christ by the Hebrew scholar and scribe Shimon ben Yeshua ben Eliezer ben Sira, and included in the Christian canon, is the Book of Ecclesiasticus, a profound prescription for how to live one’s life, work with honor and dignity, and recognize the importance of friendship, wisdom, and humility as we move through life’s trials. Ecclesiasticus discourses on poverty, justice, evil, good works, everyday existence, and inspires a personal devotion to integrity and honor without hubris.
It was originally written in Hebrew poetic verse, translated into Greek and Latin, and in the early centuries of the formation of the Christian church was adopted as a significant text of ethical teachings by James, Origen, Jerome, and Augustine. Today it remains a cogent reminder of how Jewish life and philosophy informed Christian practices, beliefs, and ethics.
Interesting chapters are devoted to the pursuit of goodness and wisdom, family life, and everyday practices from marriage to child rearing to agriculture, animal husbandry, and yes, entertainment and wine. We find some excellent observations:
“Justify alike the small and the great” 5:18
“Be in peace with many, but let one of a thousand be thy counsellor” 6:6
“Happy is he that hath had no sadness of his mind, and who is not fallen from his hope” 14:2
“Before judgment prepare thee justice, and learn before thou speak” 18:19
“Keep fidelity with a friend in his poverty, that in his prosperity also thou mayst rejoice” 22:28
“Be not hasty in a feast” 31:17
“Wine was created from the beginning to make men joyful, and not to make them drunk. Wine drunken with moderation is the joy of the soul and the heart” 31:35-36
“Wine drunken with excess is bitterness of the soul” 31:39
“A concert of music in a banquet, wine is as a carbuncle set in gold. As a signet of an emerald in a work of gold: so is the melody of music with pleasant and moderate wine” 32:7-8
This last week in Burgundy I attended a series of concerts and tastings that truly gave gladness to my soul, and allowed me to rejoice my heart with several evenings of splendid aural and oral pleasure. Musique et Vin au Clos Vougeotis a festival of wine tastings and musical performances bringing together some of Burgundy’s most talented wine artists with a group of the world’s great musical virtuosos. Every year it creates a symmetry of harmony and flavor, virtuosity and ensemble excellence. The festival benefits two worthy causes: it sponsors two young artists per year with scholarships for study, and it finances the artisan reproduction of period instruments for use by upcoming young talents, each instrument produced bearing the name of one of Burgundy’s Grands Crus. The festival’s hosts are Aubert de Villaine of Domaine de Romanee Conti and Bernard Hervet of Domaine and Maison Joseph Faiveley.
The concerts feature the principal artists and soloists of the Metropolitan Opera of New York, led by Burgundy amateur David Chan, who doubles as music director and principal solo violinist. The opening night is a free concert in the covered marketplace in Beaune, with an orchestra of young talents from the Burgundy region. Subsequent concerts are presented at the 13th century Chapter House of the Clos Vougeot and the Chateau de Meursault. The music features world class solo performers, chamber ensembles, young debut artists, and an Orchestre ephemere des Climats de Bougogne, drawing from top principal players from orchestras around the world.
The concerts themselves are proceeded by tastings of wines presented by some of the most illustrious producers in the Burgundy region; a list too long to reproduce here, but making for gustatory opportunities normally reserved only for experienced professionals and the well-connected collector. Each concert offers a chance to taste about 40 wines, mostly 1ers and Grands Crus. Friday the 27th of June the tasting featured wines from Meursault as the evening was presented at the Chateau de Meursault.
Sunday’s Gala on the 29th showcased Grands Crus of Gevrey-Chambertin from a dozen different producers. The concert venue was moved from the courtyard of the Clos Vougeot to the Church of Saint Denis in Nuits St. Georges because of expected inclement weather. The mood was somber, as the evening before, on Saturday, June 28th, devastating hailstorms swept northward through the Cote d’Or, eliminating as much as 90% of the 2014 crop in some vineyards in mere minutes. For some, it was the third straight year of such natural deprivations. For Burgundy as a whole, the last four years have barely produced the equivalent of two years of normal production. The tasting of so many fabulous Chambertin Grands Crus, followed by an orchestral tour de force featuring Mozart and Mendelssohn, brought tears of joy and smiles of appreciation in spite of the previous evening’s destruction in the vines.
Musical highlights of the first Clos Vougeot concert Monday the 23rd of June included an intense piano rendering of the Bach Partita #2 offered by one of this year’s scholarship recipients, Sunwook Kim, a delightful and sweepingly romantic reading of Schumann’s Trio #1 performed by the other sponsored scholarship recipients, the Trio Karenine, and a romp through the Bohemian woods with Dvorak’s Quartet for Piano and Strings, led by maestro David Chan.
Wednesday the 25th presented wonderful string ensemble works by Grieg, Borodin, and Tchaikovsky from a mixture of American and French artists, highlighted by rising star baritone Alexey Lavrov’s operatic offerings from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and Don Juan.
But it was Friday’s concert that truly redefined the reference for excellence, virtuosity, balance, harmony and ensemble vision. The presentation by the Met Opera Orchestra’s principal string soloists of Brahm’s G Major Quintet for Strings Op. 111 was breathtaking and spiritually moving. Sweepingly romantic, yet disciplined and contained, it offered a vision of purity, a taste of the sweet and melancholy, fabulously textured structures, and an ensemble sound that this writer has seldom heard before. The combination of each quintet member’s virtuoso playing, with such an ear for the whole ensemble’s complete integration, was an inspiration which I am sure the perfectionist in Brahms would have greatly admired. I look forward to next year’s program with great anticipation.
So what is it about music and wine that gladden the heart and make our spirits rejoice? David Chan, the festival’s musical director, offered a comparison between the concept of terroir and music that I find compelling, and worthy of elaboration.
Think of sound in music, finally “tempered” and clarified by the 17th century into the eight notes of the scale, as the basic raw materials, representing the varietals being used in wine. Add texture and definition with chords and keys, ultimately melodic sequences, which brings a real life and identity to musical notes, just as the soils, subsoils, exposure, and climate give singularity and individuality, a climat to a wine of distinction. Finally, it is the artistic unity of the composer’s vision in sound, the sonority of the instrument itself in the hands of a particular artist’s interpretation of the composer’s vision, that brings us the actual revelation of cru and vintage, the singularity of terroir. How often do we have a musical tune “stuck in our heads”? That is the musical definition of the individual wines we still can inwardly savor, whose tastes, balance, harmony, and complex integration bring joy to our hearts and wisdom to our minds, a deeper meaning to our lives.
Matt Kramer famously defined terroir as “a place where man, and plant, and planet meet.” Here in France, where one speaks of the terroir in the tastes and appellations of cheese, chickens, lamb, cattle, fruits, and vegetables, the Festival of Musique et Vin au Clos Vougeothas achieved Grands Crus status. Bravo !
I am loath to admit it, and today, even ashamed at the realization, but I was a travel snob. I have traveled over 50% of my professional career in the last 30 years. I firmly believed that if it could not fit in a carry-on in the overhead compartment, it wasn’t worth bringing. I would often arrive at JFK or any other large international airport and see people with huge suitcases, piles of stuff, boxes held together by ducktape and plastic wrap, people moving their lives and dreams to another place, another continent, another beginning.
I often thought of Bob Dylan’s sad and pessimistic “I Pity the Poor Immigrant”, and I, often smug, self-absorbed and aloof, considered myself the intrepid, sophisticated traveler. Some of you may have traveled with me in the past, and perhaps you detected my air of bourgeois superiority at being able to pack light, dispense with the unnecessary, and waltz on board the aircraft without the worry of checked luggage, upgraded and prioritized.
The tables were turned today, and Dylan’s immigrants had their revenge. Today I was the emigre, the dream seeker, the tired and huddled mass of luggage and too much stuff, yearning for a new and exciting, happier life. Winter clothes, coats, summer wear, suits and swimsuits, sportcoats, pants, shirts, ties, jeans, all the underwear and socks I possess, tennis shoes, dress shoes, flipflops, laptop, chargers, electric converters, wires for connecting multiple devices, an umbrella, toiletries, prescriptions…. I spent almost a week packing my possessions into two huge plastic suitcases, one silver and one lurid pentacost-purple, and two carry-on bags to begin my new life in France.
As I arrived at JFK today, I was shamed by my previous travel snobbery, humbled by the many people I had disdainfully passed in previous journeys, people whose sole desire was to live a happier life by following their desires or whims or dreams in a journey to a new, and hopefully welcoming place. Today I was the poor immigrant.
I have been anxiety-ridden all month long. Will I be “the poor immigrant… who wishes he would’ve stayed home… whose strength is spent in vain… whose tears are like rain…
whose visions in the final end must shatter like the glass…
when his gladness comes to pass”?
I think and hope not. The support I have received, from my family, my friends, colleagues, competitors, associates, and acquaintences tells me to move forward, grasp my dreams, make my future, and rely on the strengths of character and personality that brought me to the airport today fully laden with my possessions and my aspirations. Thank you all for your confidence. It inspires and thrills me. And as these days go by, I know it will sustain and nurture me as I begin a new phase of my life in France.
My final day at Esprit du Vin was the first day I began to live my dream. On March 28th, 2014 I spoke with the French Consulate about my desire to live and work in France. I had read on their website about a visa called Competences et Talents, for people with special skills and talents who want to make a contribution to Franco-American relations. Thirty years in the wine importing business has given me a lot of wonderful experience in which I have developed some special skills, and I thought I should qualify.
After two months of preparing and collecting the documents necessary for my visa application, I registered for my interview at the French Consulate. I put the documents together in fine professional binder presentations (3 copies required!), from the Application Form, to Project Proposal, Resume/CV, FBI Report, Personal Finances, proof of Medical Insurance including emergency evacuation, and over 60 References from French suppliers, American importers, distributors, and friends. Security was extremely tight, and it was a warm day with no evidence of air conditioning. I was dripping with sweat.
I am sure that a wonderful tribute can be made to the fonctionnaires who run France’s civil service. Suffice it to say that the particular person handling my case more than exceeded the reputation of a classic French bureaucrat. I was told that the Competences et Talents visa was probably not for me, that it would take six to nine months for approval, that I needed a budget, a list of potential business contacts, and another appointment. After a panic attack of major proportions and approaching despondency, I abandoned all hope of my special Competences et Talents application being appreciated by the NY French Consulate.
Maybe it was my visible enthusiasm for France that turned the tide in my favor with this particular consular official. Maybe my rudimentary but fearless French speaking talents. Or maybe it was my crestfallen disappointment that touched a nerve of kindness and Franco-American diplomacy. With the help and direction of this particular fonctionnaire, I was allowed to apply for a long stay tourist visa instead. All I had to do was prove that someone in France would invite me to stay for an entire year! And oh yes, proof of medical insurance for the period as well.
Luckily, I think I have lived a decent life, and a friend volunteered my invitation. Travel medical insurance is actually quite inexpensive, and I returned to the consulate two days later with all the documents required. Five business days later, I have my new visa in hand. My dream will happen, and I depart June 18 for la belle France.