perhaps a more unlikely title has never been written in the history of blogging. I’m entering uncharted territory for both myself and my readers as I use an object and subject in the same sentence with polar opposite visual implications. But if you know me very well, then you won’t be too surprised – my life is nothing if not an oxymoron.
By coincidence, WG and The Antiques Diva ™ were in Paris this weekend when France – with the home-field advantage – played England on October 13th for the semi-finals of the World Rugby Cup at the Stade de France. 40,000 English fans had stormed and getting either a taxi or dinner reservations in Paris on Saturday was next to impossible. Fortunately for us, good friends Madame A. and Monsieur D. had invited us “chez them” in the 15eme arrondissement for casual dinner “en face de tv”. This is a decisively and shockingly un-French thing to do and can only be done in polite French society with the best of friends. We felt sufficiently honored to be included in such an intimate family setting.
We arrived a quarter after eight Saturday night with a flurry of kisses and a “bouquet de fleurs” purchased en route at my favorite florist on the Rue de Buci. Monsieur D. poured an aperitif and immediately apologized for serving “le vin rouge”. Though the was peppery and a perfect accompaniment for the dried saucisson we were nibbling before dinner, he explained “I would serve the customary champagne to start our evening, but I’m saving the bubbly for our victory toast after the game!”. His partner, Madame A., a Chinese citizen in process of applying for a French passport, tossed our starter together with an ease and casual grace usually displayed only by native French chefs. Madame A. was “almost French”!
As she came out of the kitchen with a large bowl of salad in hand, Monsieur D. gasped, “Mais, non ! Les salade est toujours avec le fromage !” Apparently, Madame A. wasn’t fully French just yet. She had chosen to serve a salad as our starter rather than at the end of the meal with the cheese as is customary. Monsieur D was appalled!
Perhaps now is the right time to interrupt and tell you that, in France, a casual dinner is rarely casual. When invited to a French friend’s house to watch a game, you’ll never receive take-out pizza and hot wings. Cheese dip would be considered an atrocity and an affront to the French national pride. A French dinner is always that – a dinner, served properly with knife and fork, cloth napkin and table cloth and a good bottle (or two) of wine. Madame A.’s salad was casually chic and simply divine – a perfect, internationally-easy entree. She threw together arugula, shrimp cocktail and mixed together olive oil, mustard seeds and balsamic dressing to make an easy homemade vinaigrette. With tongs in hand, she piled our delicate entrée plates with heaping portions. A chilled Sancerre was quickly opened to accompany our starter, while Monsieur D. explained the rules of rugby.
”I love virgins”, Madame A. smiled deliciously as she continued, “New converts are always the most enthusiastic.” Right she was. For when La Marseillaise was played and the French players ran to the field, I stood to attention and pressed my hand to my heart, singing (and humming the parts where I didn’t know the words) the French National Anthem alongside Monsieur D. With a shout, “Viva la France,” Monsieur and Madame assumed I was “gung ho” about Rugby!
What they didn’t realize (just yet anyway) was that I was, in fact, simply ga-ga for the Rugby players who ran onto the field as if the Bay Watch introduction had been re-written and re-oriented for a mostly female viewership. Madame A. caught my eye, “Pretty, non?” as Jonny Wilkinson of the English team filled the screen in all his glory. Monsieur D. picked up where A. had left off, “There is a calendar of the ‘plus beau’ players available each year. The waiting list is a month long before you can pick up a reserved copy from FNAC.” I put my request in immediately and Monsieur D. promised to make sure I had an extra surprise in my Christmas stocking this year. *
The French uniforms fit a tad snugger than the English chaps and when I inquired about this, Madame A. explained with a wink, “A few years ago, rugby viewership was decreasing and so the association tightened the uniform and successfully increased their audience by attracting more female viewers.” Monsieur D. continued to explain that the rugby fans have significantly different demographics than soccer. Soccer, though loved by all, is really a working man’s sport, he said. “Rugby has a higher moral ground. Its followers and fans tend to show more respect towards one another.”
I questioned this as I recalled that the motto for rugby players at my university was “Give Blood. Play Rugby.” I also explained that soccer in the United States was more of an upper-middle class suburban thing, i.e., the so called soccer mom driving her SUV.
The television had been pulled out and placed temporarily on the center of a . Behind the television a lovely Gustav Klimt print was positioned perfectly so that I could study it and still look like I was in rapt attention during the boring bits of the game. We’d seen this exact painting earlier this year in Vienna and WG had recently returned from a private tour of The Belvedere where his company had held a function for the management team amidst the Klimt’s and other Secessionist works. This print reminded me that he and I had never really had a chance to chat about that recent business trip. Life was just too busy these days.
As I mused, Monsieur D. and Madame A. scurried about, putting the finishing touches on the main course – Sausage Stuffed Clams served on the Half Shell, accompanied by Poached Pears garnished with bright red snippets of Sun dried Tomatoes. It arrived with steam billowing from the plates in puffy clouds and I was poured a 2nd glass of the white wine while being delighted with my luck at having such good gourmet friends! Even rugby was fun with friends like this!
When the game broke for intermission, France was up by 1 point and we feared that the English could “make a try” and take control of the game – which they eventually did. The second half of the game brought the 3rd course, Le Fromage, and we lingered over it as the room fell to a quiet acceptance. France was losing the game. Wanting to chat with a winner, we decided to call our mutual English friend Q, a British expat living in Cleveland, Ohio. “You can’t catch the bloody game on American TV”, he ranted, but unfortunately he spoke up a little too late and we’d already revealed the outcome of the game which he was intending to download from the internet and watch later the next day. Though he did boast that certainly “les anglais” displayed heroic splendor and efforts, he handled the phone call with the utmost of English decorum. He didn’t rub our faces in the loss and he didn’t complain once when we ruined his surprise by telling the final score!
Though the spirit in the room was dampened, Madame A. shrugged her shoulders and went to the kitchen, pulling out a gorgeous “Tarte au Pomme” with custard filling, and Monsieur D. expertly opened the champagne without spraying a drop around the room. My lovely husband, WG, the philosopher in the room, sighed as he took his first sip of the bubbly and explained, “Everyone knows a good champagne goes down as easily in defeat as it does in victory.”
Gros Bisous, et Au Revoir,
The Antiques Diva ™
* For the record, WG is sufficiently appalled by his wife’s assessment of this premier matchup (and the players…)
October 20th Update – As seen on Chic Shopping Paris: