The Scots' annual Gathering on the coast of France was over, and my host, co-worker and friend, Ian, and I headed to Paris.
I was enrolled in a wine and viticultural work-study program that fall of 1968 and was employed by Mr. Chagny, whom I'd discovered was the head of a small-time but lucrative bootlegging operation. Ian and I were to stop in Paris on our way back to Beaujolais to drop off documents and supply requests and money to Chagny's partner. I would find out, very soon, that the Chagny family had its hands in many, many ventures and was well-known in Paris.
The ride to Paris on Chagny's BMW motorcycle was breathtaking. There are very few elegant experiences to match the autumn colors of France. In every village we passed, the red, gold and soft patina colors were enchanting, and from time to time we found ourselves in the midst of swirling carpets of rainbows of colorful leaves. At one point, as we turned into a small village to gas up and have lunch, schoolchildren were kicking these almost iridescent leaves into the air as well as dumping them onto the shoulders of their mates.
Beyond the small square of the village was a large vineyard. We got off the bike at the gas station and stretched our legs. To the left of us, getting out of vans, were the vineyard workers. We watched them gather at the end of the rows of vines and talk while buckets were hefted out of a third van.
After filling the bike, we stood in the sun and ate cheese and bread and watched as the foreman instructed the vineyard workers on where and what to pick. Without saying anything to me, Ian sauntered over to a small fence, jumped it and walked over to the foreman. In less than a minute, Ian waved me over to him. "Got us a job working for dinner," he said.
We had an extra day before we had to be in Paris and five days to head back to Beaujolais, so why not?
The pickers were very experienced and scuttled like crabs in the sand. They rarely spoke, never looked up and plowed through the vines at incredible speed. These were professional vineyard and orchard people who were paid by row and poundage. It was clear from the outset that no matter what I did, I was going to look like a slacker.
I had never seen such fast, efficient and completely dedicated workers in my life. Ian kept up with them, but barely. We had parallel rows, and he and the others moved along the vines at what seemed an impossible rate. Every once in a while, he would stick his head up, laugh, and remark in his very thick Scottish accent, "What's wrong with you, sonny boy? Get crackin'!"
It was the hardest four hours in my life. I am embarrassed to admit it, but I was outpaced by everyone involved. To add insult to injury, many times other vineyard workers had to finish the last 10 or so vines in my row.
By the end of the day, I was covered in dirt, had a number of spider bites on my hands and was completely sunburned. We headed to the estate where we were to have dinner. We were shown where to shower — outside, in the back. It appeared that the small concrete pads with a half curtain and bent pipe, exposed to everyone, with cold water coming out of it, was the shower — for both women and men! Welcome to rural France.
Lorn Razzano is former owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland and still works there part time. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read previous columns about his adventures in France, visit www.dailytidings.com/razzano.