I stood on the beach and watched the French men and women come down from the coastal roadway. Had I been responsible for this "invasion" during the closing night of the Scottish gathering?
It was 1968 and I was a winery intern in France off on an adventure at the coast. I had been invited to an annual gathering of Scots by my new friend Ian and somehow ended up being in charge of procuring the wine. It had been a delicate situation, as the Scots and the French had been at odds over a price, but I was successful.
When I returned the barrels we'd borrowed to the French co-op, my comment to the manager, as I remember it, was an off-the-cuff suggestion about perhaps coming to the beach to meet his Scottish clients. In retrospect, I think I was simply trying to be proactive and build relationships for the next gathering.
Whatever had prompted me to "invite" the French to the last evening's festivities, here they were, scuttling down the roadway to the torch-lit assemblage of Scots.
It took quite some time for the French to land on the beach. It looked like the contents of a good-sized village had arrived. On the beach sat a long, thick, hemp rope which was used for the gathering's traditional ending tug-of-war. I could see the co-op manager shaking hands with one of the Scottish elders with Ian standing on the edge.
Soon, much to my happiness, all were shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries. Before long (I had tried to fade into the throng of Scots) it came out that it was me, the guy with the blackened eyes and swollen nose (from my soccer mishap), who had invited the French. More than a few of the Scots glared at me, then looked away. It was understood by everyone (more to me than to anyone else) that I had clearly stepped far over the line.
In an extraordinary act of kindness, the co-op manager then, in front of everyone, thanked me and all of the Scots for the invitation, as well as for the considerable wine business while they were on the coast. In gratitude, he invited us to follow them to their agricultural hall for refreshments and light food after the gathering ended.
The Scots quite soundly agreed to the invitation. There was still the matter of the rope and the tug-of-war. After a few laughs and quite a bit of gesturing and cajoling, it was on.
The French would challenge the Scots on French soil. Each team chose a captain, and it was decided that 10 folks would face off against each other. It looked like a very fair matchup. When the command "allez" was shouted out by the umpire, one of the winery foremen dug deep furrows in the sand. I stood to the side. The noise was deafening. Faces turned red, muscles strained, and the French inched the Scots toward them. One little guy, possibly 10 years old, ran from the crowd of French and grabbed the rope, trying to help his father. I've never seen a mom grab a kid so fast, as she hustled him back.
The rope inched back toward the Scots, in the direction of the Channel. I could hear the groans and strains above the crashing surf. Then the rope slid toward the French. Finally, the French legs began to buckle. After five minutes, it was over, with every participant lying on the sand, heaving with exertion. The Scots had prevailed.
Then it was on to the agricultural hall for an evening I would never forget.
Lorn Razzano is former owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland and still works there part time. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For previous columns on his adventures as a winery intern in France, visit www.dailytidings.com/razzano.