At a dinner party recently the hostess, a clown, not a “bit of a clown” but a real live professional clown with giant shoes and a red nose and 130 more clowns behind her, not tumbling headfirst out of a tiny car in a circus tent but in an association called Le Rire médecin, which she founded in 1991 and which, last year, organised 90,000 bedside shows for sick kids in 60 paediatric wards in France, and which is soon to be the subject of a major motion picture – shooting starts in April, the script is based on her book, and the director is the César-winning actor Reda Kateb (Engrenages, Un prophète, Zero Dark Thirty, L’Amour flou) – anyway, this good clown, an old friend who I admire immensely, invited C. and I to dinner in Bagnolet the other night – she’s a superb cook – and within minutes of our entering the lovely apartment she shares with her husband, a ceramic artist (I’ll deal with him later), openly and very derisively mocked me, not once but twice, and not playfully, not clownishly, but with genuine sneering, scornful contempt.
For two very good reasons:
1) after presenting her with a bottle of Vin Noé “Gueule d'Amour” Bourgogne Pinot Noir by Jonathan Purcell (named one of the “Ten Natural Wine Fascinations of 2022” by Aaron Ayscough in his essential Substack Not Drinking Poison), I then sheepishly pulled out a second bottle – labelled “Zero” and filled with de-alcoholised “wine” – and told her, knowing full well how she would react, that I would only be drinking from it that evening as I was “doing Dry January”, to which, as expected, she rolled her eyes and said, witheringly, “Jesus H. Harvey, you gonna grow a moustache in November, too?”;
2) after she pulled a perfectly roasted guinea fowl out of the oven, and after a guest then announced he had become a vegan (“Green beans for you, then, mate”), I blurted out that I had just bought a Sage Smart Oven Air Fryer, and she looked at me as if I was wearing a wet turd on the top of my head and said, “Oh Jesus H. Really? An air fryer? We don’t associate with people who have air fryers.”
I fully concur with the sentiments expressed in both 1) and 2).
In my defence, my Dry January is nothing new. I didn’t just jump on the on-the-wagon wagon. I’ve been dry every January since 2018.
Why? Because I really like wine. A lot. I find it infinitely interesting, and, of course, intoxicating, and, breakfast aside, I find it very hard not to have a glass or three while enjoying a good meal. Or even a mediocre meal. But once a year, I need to show myself that I can go without. Not just for a day or two. For a week, and then another, and then two more.
C. is especially disdainful of this “need”. “Why do you have to be so extreme in everything? Just drink less.” A perfectly rational position from a perfectly rational person, who for some reason married a chronically irrational and compulsive tippler already at that time (28 years ago!) rounding the bend(er) of the Jellinek Curve. So maybe not so rational after all.
Have I missed my wine this month? Not really. Do I notice any significant difference between my January self and my other-eleven-month self? Not really. Am I pleased with myself for having done without? Yes. Will I grow a moustache in November? No.
As for 2). The air fryer. Indefensible. Here I am pure dupe, victim of the hype, pushed toward its purchase by the beatific vision of fat-free frites. Which, so far, I am incapable of even coming close to producing. The Sage’s convection oven itself is indeed “smart”, much faster than firing up my giant Aga, and it will dramatically reduce our electricity bill, which quadrupled last month. So I’m happy with that. And I’m still experimenting with the air-frying component, trying different frites recipes (baking soda? Bleh!) and open to all suggestions. If anyone out there has figured out the frites, please let me know.
Ok, all this to say that January is all but done, and to mark its passing, Hexagon is holding its first annual Damp February Wine Tasting (DFWT).
Buy my next glass of wine!
The DFWT on 18 February will showcase European natural wines made with grape varietals that were once – or still are – part of the vignoble of Paris. As discussed in these pages a few months back, the Romans planted grape vines here in the 4th century BCE. By the time of the French Revolution, the entire region contained between 42,000 and 45,000 hectares of vines, making it the biggest wine-producing region in the world.
At various times over the centuries, Pinot Noir, Pinot Beurot, Sémillon, Gamay, Sauvignon Blanc, Savagnin (and its cousin Fromental), Chardonnay, Grenache, Noah and Baco were all grown here.
Our ambitious plan is to track down, using Aaron’s definitive bestseller, The World of Natural Wine, and the unparalleled expertise of Paris Wine Walks, the best European exemplars of wine made from these varietals, be they French, Italian, Portuguese or what have you, and present them to you during a Paris vineyard walk and cave crawl in one of the city’s heritage wine regions.
The wines will be chosen during next weekend’s road trip to La Dive Bouteille in Saumur, the world’s largest annual natural wine exposition, and the almost-as-big Greniers Saint Jean Salon des Vins Naturel in Angers.
Where will the tasting be held? That depends on the number of participants. Response so far has been incredibly enthusiastic – seems there are a lot of people here ready to dampen their spirits. Now I’m opening it up to Hexagon paid subscribers and subscription gifters who live in Paris or the Paris region or are planning to be in Paris that weekend, or are well-pocketed, flexible and foolhardy enough to consider dropping everything, packing a bag, and heading straight over.
How to book? Send me a comment or DM my IG (can’t believe I just wrote that – I can hear Dr Giraffe’s eyes roll all the way from here).
Oh. The ceramics artist. Patrick Loughran, whose clay sculpture/object assemblages combine pretty much every aspect of ceramic expression and tradition – utilitarian, figurative, architectural – with a complex appreciation of the laws of organic and evolutionary biology, geology, botany, and fluid mechanics, and a jazz connoisseur’s deep devotion to improvisation. They are among the most intensely condensed, colourful and surprising artworks I have ever laid eyes on.
See for yourself – that’s one at the top of the page. From 12 March to 24 April his works will be showcased at the CRMCS#3 biennial exhibition of contemporary ceramics at Galerie Zwart Huis in Brussels. In April and May he will be at the Woodman Foundation’s new artist’s residency in Florence. This summer he has a show at Nendo Galerie in Marseille.
Thanks for reading. Hope to see slightly blurred double-vision versions of some of you Saturday, 18 February. And of course next week when our subject will either be: the upcoming Loire Valley wine tour; or the time a few months back that I had to tell a packed room of angry factory workers in Normandy why 108 of them were about to lose their jobs.
I’ll let you choose.
Loved it 😊