samedi, février 28, 2009

Fast Times at the Salon d'Agriculture

Woo! Le Salon d'Ag!

You might wonder why I'm all excited about the nation-wide equivalent of a state fair. Well, if you look at my post from this same event two years ago, you'll see that le Salon d'Agriculture is a fine place for food and alcohol-related fun. Too much fun, at times.

While I was trying to avoid the debauchery of last time (and two of my companions were trying to avoid a repeat of last week's drunken poker game), we nonetheless managed to "discover" a fair bit of food and alcohol from the various regions of France. The whole thing was too much of a jumble to recount in linear form, but here are some highlights:

  • One of my friends immediately opined that the crowd at the Salon was not at all Parisian or even from another large French town. The fashion, the accents, the attitudes (or lack thereof) all pointed to the folks that populate the countryside and small villages.
  • On that note, we proceeded to buy sandwiches from a booth selling various kinds of cured meats. The young man that helped us was being rather talkative and smiley, as if he was trying to hit on all three of us at the same time. Alas, he had very "countryside" teeth.
  • My companions were apparently too timid to sweet-talk their way into free samples of wine and liquor, so it was up to me to do it for all three of us. In most cases, all you needed to do was approach the booth, ask a couple of anodyne questions about their wine ("I've never heard of Bardol wine, what's it like?"; "Where is you winery located?") and wait for them to propose a tasting. Then, you make some vaguely-informed comments about the wine ("hmm, very smooth, but also a bit sweet." "wonderfully dry and just a bit tart" "lots of character, but a bit more tannic than I would normally drink"). And then, you make some gestures that imply that you're interested in ordering, but just not right now ("Do you take orders by phone?" "Do you have a website?"). The same technique applies to other kinds of foodstuffs and spirits.
  • One vintner pointedly presented us with a crachoir (spit-bucket), as if to see if we were really there to taste the wines and possibly buy, or just to get drunk. We didn't spit.
  • There were some disctinctive regional differences between wine-sellers. Pretty much, anybody not located in Bordeaux or Burgundy was thrilled to have us at his/her booth and spent ages presenting his/her wines. The people from Burgundy and Bordeaux, however, were dealing in 30€+ bottles of wine, and were selling wine like used-car salespeople. They would quickly offer you lots of samples from very expensive vintages, and then lean on you to order a crate of something right away. One guy in the Bordeaux section gave me at least 4 different tastings, and then whipped out his order book and started filling out an order. When I asked him to give me an estimate and I would come back later in the day, he gave me this whithering look that made one of my companions start to nervously try to back me up ("We'll be back for sure! When just need to think about it"). Not unironically, his reaction prevented me from coming back and making a smaller order (I had been thinking of maybe getting 6 bottles and paying a slightly higher delivery price).
  • After one of the trio had left, we the remaining pair headed back into the salon for a few more rounds. We discovered a beer made in the Champagne region that was surprisingly tasty, so I bought a bottle.
  • Near the end of our time there, we hit the stands in the DOM-TOM regions (yes, all of France's tropical territories were grouped together in the salon, like a little island of bright colours and loud music). We shared a sandwich filled with a sort of ginger-chicken, which was a bit messy. We were leaning on the counter of the neighboring stand, which was otherwise empty and already had the detritus of previous visitors. A moment later, just a piece of chicken fell out of the sandwich, a guy who was presumably the owner of the stand came up and started yelling at us for making a mess. I took the napkin I had and used it to clean up the counter so that there was no trace of our presence. The owner came back and started saying, "I'm not yelling at you to bother you, but—" to which my friend angrily replied, "Of course you're bothering me!" and walked off. This left me trapped with the angry owner, who gripped my forearm rather tightly and kept on insisting that my friend shouldn't have gotten angry. I told him that we had cleaned up after ourselves (and the detritus of others, besides) and that he should leave it at that, and then I managed to pry myself loose from his grip and rejoin my friend.
  • While at one of the French-Caribbean booths, we witnessed a group of guys getting stinking drunk on rum drinks. Obviously they were partying to forget something, because one of them started to stare morosely into his glass and get very quiet. One of his friends noticed and tried to cheer him up, but whatever it was that was bugging him got to his friend, too, and soon they were both wiping away tears from red-rimmed eyes. Soon, the rest of the group noticed them, took turns consoling them with hugs, pats on the shoulder, tousling of hair and so on, until they managed to cajole them into at least the appearance of a better mood. All of this was interesting and touching and all that, were it not for the fact that it was going on in a brightly-lit convention centre. There's probably something to be said about most intimate / empathetic stuff happening in dimly-lit or dark places.

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