Chateau de Pommard

September 13, 2019

One popular tourist attraction in Burgundy is the degustation or wine tasting.   You make an appointment at a fancy chateau in the countryside (or drop in on a wine merchant in town) and pay 10 Euros or so for a tasting.  Usually the tasting is “vertical,”  meaning that you start with the cheaper, less complex wines and work your way through four or five stages (a couple of sips) up to the good stuff.

This is a sales technique for the winery, of course.  They spend time with you and you feel a subtle pressure to buy at least a couple of bottles.  Tourists from the U.S. have the excuse that they are (technically) not allowed to carry bottles back on the plane, but tourists from France and Northern Europe often buy in quantity.

This week we paid 35 Euros each for a tour of the Chateau de Pommard, a high-end winery about three kilometers south of Beaune.  This turned out to be well worth it as our guide, Xavier, gave the two of us a detailed tour of the vineyards and cellars in English, and explained the wine-making process in such a way that I finally felt like I understood it.   Xavier then took us through a tasting of some top red wines produced by the Chateau.

Unfortunately we could not taste the very top (I think it is called Dominique), which comes from a small plot at the top of a hill next to the chateau and sells for about $375 a bottle as soon as it is available.  There are only six barrels produced, with each barrel containing 304 bottles.

We did this by car because, as mentioned, I find it hard to combine wine drinking and bicycling.  However, it is fun to drive around and pop in on the various chateaus.

So far the trip has gone pretty well.  We had some comic mishaps the first day (first night’s room not booked, etc.) but everything else has been smooth.  The weather — 75 or so degrees, bright sunlight, no humidity — is fantastic.

That’s it. Out for our version of a night on the town, which involves a cafe dinner and a brisk walk.  No big meditations on the meaning of life, just stretching out and enjoying it a bit.

IMG_0209 (2)

Chagny to Beaune by Bicycle

September 11, 2019

Yesterday we took a train from Beaune to Chagny (first stop on a very fast express — took about seven minutes) and got off with our bikes.   Chagny is about 12 miles south of Beaune but first we bicycled along a canal to the village of Santenay, an important “wine village” in the white wine region south of Beaune.

This is harvest time (la vendange) and the vineyards are full of work crews picking grapes by hand.  Hard work but very picturesque for passers-by.

Even the flat parts of Burgundy are hilly and bicycling here is hard work.  We went north from Santenay to Meursault and stopped at a cafe we like there for a Perrier-sirop — that’s a bottle of Perrier with about three small ice cubes and an ounce or so of sirop, a sweet syrup that’s flavored with raspberry, strawberry, grenadine or other extracts.

Other people drink wine while bicycling but it doesn’t work for us.  Fortified with our Perrier-sirop, we pedaled north through Volnay and Pommard and back to Beaune.  Total trip mileage about 22 on the bikes.  We used to take on much more ambitious outings but we simply don’t have the endurance we once did.

Photo not taken on this specific outing but it’s an indicator of the beauty of the landscape here.  This is a medieval site called Brancion, outside of Tournus and well south of Beaune:

IMG_0197

The Favorite Place

September 6, 2019

Everybody, I think, has a favorite place.  It could be someplace where you feel most at home (I think some people feel this way about childhood vacation spots) or where you envision yourself retiring.  Or it could just be a place that you return to year after year.

For me, that place is Beaune, a town of about 20,000 people in the heart of France’s Burgundy region.

I can’t explain the pull Beaune has on me.  I first came here over thirty years ago on a group bicycle trip.  I’ve been in love with it ever since and have been back four or five times.

It’s a small town, with the center encircled by medieval ramparts.  (Actually I don’t know if they are “medieval” or not, but they are old.)   You can walk anywhere in Beaune within about ten minutes.

Its only major tourist attraction is the 15th century Hospice de Beaune, which was built to help poor sick people and continues in that function, more or less, to this day.  But Beaune itself is at the center of one of the world’s great wine regions, and the merchants and distributors congregate here.  The food — and of course the wine — is unbelievable.  

The other major draw is the bicycling.  Routes fan out from Beaune all over Burgundy.  Some are relatively flat and wind through picturesque vineyards.  Others go up precipitous ridges.  We have tried most of them, with varied results.

While Beaune has more than its share of fine restaurants, it’s also great for cafe-sitting.  Tourists from Northern Europe come through on their way to Provence or Italy.  Many (like us) are superannuated.  They stay for a night or two, consume some boeuf bourguignon and buy a case or two of Burgundy.

We will be here for a week, bicycling, sampling wines and just hanging out.  We have established a schedule which involves joint activities in the morning — a bicycle ride or a car trip to a neighboring town — and work for me in the afternoon while W. does something on her own.

More posts on Beaune to come, with visuals.

 

Packed up and ready to go

September 3, 2019

We are leaving shortly for Dulles, then to Paris and various locations in France.  I’m thinking of the days when people packed steamer trunks, hatboxes and the like for trans-Atlantic travels.

This is what I’m taking for an 89 day journey.  (W. has roughly the same).

And yes, I know you backpacked around the world, or went from Capetown to Cairo with three shirts and a pair of hiking shorts, or made it from San Antonio to Buenos Aires with a single carry-on bag.  That’s great.

But I’m old and I need a few creature comforts, plus books, laptop, universal converter, etc.  Plus I don’t want to do hand laundry every single day.

Everything fits into my computer briefcase and my new mid-size Away suitcase, which wheels around silently and effortlessly.

Looking forward to france-blogging, wine-blogging, picturesque village-blogging and so forth.

 

IMG_0179

Allbirds

August 31, 2019

“Que no haya novedad.” 

May no new thing arise. That is a line from Patrick O’Brian’s The Far Side of the Worldone of the better Aubrey/Maturin novels and the book on which Peter Weir’s quite good film of the same name was very loosely based.

It might also be a motto for men of a certain age in terms of how they dress and how they present themselves.

Now, nobody wants me or any of my acquaintances to begin sporting beards, tattoos or other hipster insignia.  (Are hipsters still a thing?)  But it wouldn’t hurt any of us to buy some new clothes once in a while.  And by “new clothes” I don’t mean exact replacements for the same clothes we have been wearing for the past thirty-odd years.  I mean…new clothes.

Allbirds are a great example.  For the sartorially challenged: Allbirds are eco-friendly shoes that come in a wide variety of styles and colors.  They are made from wool (winter version) or plant-based fibers (summer version).   They are extremely comfortable and provide good support for walking.  They don’t cost much ($95 for the summer version) and they can, I am told, be machine washed as needed.

They are sold online, but I bought a pair on a recent trip to New York, where the Allbirds people have a nice store in SoHo.

The Allbirds feel good when you wear them.  And, once in a while, you get a compliment, which is more than I ever get when I wear my ratty old deck shoes.  So, all you sixty plus men, ditch the pleated pants, put the Topsiders at the back of the closet, and step out in style.  Once in a while, new things can be good and useful.

And here they are….

 

IMG_0176

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cuff

August 28, 2019

My cardiologist has asked/ordered me to buy a blood pressure cuff and to monitor my blood pressure every day.

The cuff itself is a wonder — totally digital, no muss, no fuss.  I slip it over my left arm and push a button.  It inflates automatically and gives me a nice clear readout a few seconds later.

The problem is the readout itself.  It’s too high, somewhere in the 145/88 region.  It’s been as high as 156/93 and as low as 135/83.  The higher reading is hypertension and the lower reading is still what they are calling “pre-hypertension.”

Dr. Cardio has told me:

  1. Blood pressure goes up with age, but
  2. These readings are too high, so
  3. I should cut down on sodium, and
  4. Keep exercising and watching what I eat, and
  5. Eliminate sources of stress, and
  6. Start taking a diuretic.

W. and I are heading off to France next week (take note that the house will be guarded by a house-sitter and a vicious dog).  The cuff machine is too heavy to bring along and I’m not going to worry too much about what I eat and drink in France.

So, I will take the diuretics and see where things stand when I get back.  Sometimes you just have to live a little.

The Joys of Reading

August 26th, 2019

One of the nice things about semi-retirement is that there is more time to read.

Of course, I always found plenty of time to read before semi-retirement.  Even when I was working crazy hours in New York, I had airplane flights, commuter trains, and time before bed.

Reading, to me, is as essential as breathing.  That’s why I’m always surprised to meet people who don’t feel that way.

Some people don’t read at all.  Some read only detective novels or bestsellers.  Some read only business or self-help books.

I read history and serious fiction (but I also read spy and detective novels).  Lately, I’ve become obsessed with books that sort of “explain it all” for you:  Stephen Pinker’s Enlightenment Now, Yuval Harari’s Sapiens and similar tomes.  I have also enjoyed reading books about exploration and discovery, including David McCullough’s The Pioneers and Hampton Sides’ In the Kingdom of Ice.

I just finished an interesting book called Endeavour:  The Ship that Changed the World, by an English author named Peter Moore.  Most of the book is about James Cook’s first voyage, during which he “discovered” New Zealand and Australia.  But the core of the book is about the ship itself, a 368-ton ship built in Whitby in the north of England and designed originally to transport coal.

In its 20-year lifespan, the ship was used as a coal bark, as an exploration vessel, as a troop transport and, finally, as a prison barge, one of the “hulks” on which the British kept American prisoners of war in Newport Harbor during the Revolutionary War.

Moore goes into detail — perhaps a little too much detail — about how ships were built in the mid-18th Century, starting with the search for sturdy oak trees.  It’s hard not to be impressed by the ingenuity and industry of shipbuilders in the great age of sail.

A good, not too demanding read covering a vast array of connected topics — shipbuilding, exploration, late 18th century British politics, natural history — what more can we ask for?

 

 

Morning Swim

August 24, 2019

Here we are again.

Up late (about 7 am) this morning.  After lolling about for an hour, out for a 1 mile swim.

There seems to be near-universal agreement on the benefits of 45 minutes or so of daily exercise.  For sixty-plus people, swimming is more or less ideal;  it places little stress on joints, is highly aerobic, and builds strength as well as endurance.

It’s also sociable.  We have been swimming at the same place (the pool is heated but we swim outdoors all winter) for about eight years.  We know all the regulars and have become friends with more than a few of them.  The Polar Bears throw a nice cocktail party every January.

The swimmers tend to be fit, organized, and, well, nice.  Maybe a touch less neurotic than competitive tennis players.  There are morning and evening regulars but we are morning people, so those are the ones we know.

Swimming takes some getting used to, but once you are into it, it imparts a zen-like calm along with the other fitness benefits.  If you are tired and groggy, it wakes you up.

A mile swim, followed by a hot shower and a shave, and you are ready, as they used to say at Bear, Stearns, to “bite the ass off a bear.”

On to the next thing.

 

 

August 21, 2019 — Embracing the Fox

Well, here goes.

Welcome to Real Life Retirement.

The name is a little misleading — I’m not really retired.  I work somewhere between 80 and 100 hours a month writing marketing materials for a variety of clients.  But that leaves plenty of time for other pursuits.

I’m a 66-year old white man, married for almost 33 years.   I just got back from my 31- year old son’s wedding to a wonderful young woman.  I have a daughter who is in her late twenties.

My intention is to leave them out of this.  Real Life Retirement will be about life as it is actually lived by people in their sixties and seventies.  Some of us still work but we are “retired” from worries about where our careers are going or how or children will turn out.  For the most part, these issues are settled.

Many of us are grandparents (we are not, yet) and a few of us are still dealing with (very) aged parents.  All of us think and worry about money to some degree.

Yet we are healthy (for the most part) and active (usually).

So what, then, is to be done?

That’s what we will be exploring:  Fitness, intellectual pursuits, travel, volunteering, sports, work, you name it.  I’ll be talking to people who are doing interesting things and to other people who are looking for interesting things to do.

What do I mean by “Embracing the Fox?”

That’s a reference to Isaiah Berlin, who made a famous comparison between intellectuals who are “hedgehogs” (that is, they know a lot about one thing) and “foxes” (who know a little about a lot of things. This in turn refers to a Greek quote: “a fox knows many things, but a hedgehog one important thing.”

I’m definitely in the fox category.  My interests include fiction, history, economics, politics (although I’m going to steer clear of politics), movies, music, technology, birds, bicycling and golf.

I’m new to blogging and I will be upgrading format and content as we move along.  I expect to post at least a couple of times a week, more often if I actually have something to say.