How a Chocolate Bar Got Me Through: A Reflection on the Value of Wine Blogging

The Architecture of the Everyday

Lyeta Elaine

It was summer on Montmarte. The cobbled streets felt cool and round in the heat. I appreciated the texture of walking the artists’ neighborhood of the 18th arrondissement of Paris. The hillside was dotted with little boutiques–a woman that hand-painted textiles, then cut them into baguette shaped handbags; a twosome that hammered pastel leather shoes hunched over a pointed toe wooden foot; another woman that had worked for Yves Saint Laurent’s design team then quit in order to create clothing made from antique silk neck ties she lifted from friends’ closets around town. The expressions of these people fascinated me.

I’d arrived in Paris on a student scholarship. During my undergraduate degree I focused on poetry writing, while also studying philosophy and literature. That year I won entry into two summer programs working with poet-teachers for writing, alongside studying literature of the regions–one in St Petersburg, the other in Prague. My scholarships covered the cost of me getting to Europe, the programs’ fees and housing, both of which included breakfast. For the two months I was abroad, breakfast was most of what I’d eat.

Between locations I was on my own for nine days. It turned out the price of getting from Russia to Prague was actually cheaper routed through Paris, so I’d chosen my break be spent there, nine days on the side of Montmarte. I arrived having pre-paid for a dorm style hostel that fed me coffee and baguette in the morning. For nine days I walked the city unable to afford the metro.

To visit Paris was such a gift in the midst of everything I didn’t mind how poor it also felt. My daughter and I barely covered our expenses through my three years of undergrad, so to find myself in Europe was stunning. I couldn’t believe I’d made my way to Paris in the midst of time in Russia (my childhood dream country. At the age of 9, my long term goal had been to make it to the Soviet Union someday.) and Czech Republic. Day 7 the feeling changed. I’d walk 9 hours a day tearing off baguette a little at a time as I went. For the week I had 5 Euro to spend.

Walking up Montmarte my body felt bedraggled. I’d woken up depressed, and spent the morning berating my attitude. To go without food in Paris in the midst of a summer of poetry was too symbolically perfect not to laugh. I was angry for feeling sucked into the negative feeling of the moment. Part of me kept saying I just needed a chocolate bar, a double chocolate ice cream bar sold from a little cart below the Sacré Cœur–the Sacred Heart Cathedral at the top of the hill. The thought was ridiculous though as the treat cost $4.25 and buying one would mean most of my money for the week. After several hours I finally gave in, gave my money away for chocolate. The seduction of suffering was too strong to convince myself I should be saving my money. I was to get another small student payment after arriving in Prague.

Half way into the ice cream I caught myself beaming as I walked. I was happy again. I was in Paris, on Montmarte, my favorite part of town, and the woman with neck ties had created a new vest from the stash she found in her boyfriend’s closet. She let me try it on. A bit down the road a local bartender offered me a glass of wine if I would fill a seat at the bar.

That evening I returned to my dorm and a new roommate had appeared. We’d actually met my first night but she’d moved out for a time, then come back. Her travels took her all the way from Australia, where she’d worked two jobs for two years, one at a pizza joint in Perth, to save money for half a years travels. She asked if I’d like to make dinner with her. My money gone, she took me across the street and bought a jar of tomato sauce, some dried noodles, and a bottle of red wine that cost two Euro. We boiled water, drank wine, and ate. The next day she took me across town to a poetry reading along the Seine. Another roommate had given her a handful of extra Metro tickets before he left Paris.

The day after that I flew to Prague. She sent me emails about getting lost on a hillside in Corsica at dark, finally sleeping in bushes till sunrise rather than hurt herself stumbling down hill. She WWOOFed in Southern France to subsidize her travels. I walked Prague, and sweated through concentration camp side trips I could barely handle visiting.

Six years later, she visited me in Arizona. It was absurdly cold that week and I gave her wool hat and gloves to travel with. We made homemade noodles and sauce in my home, and walked all over my little town. She cooked me vegetarian meals. I introduced her to new white wines. (She’s allergic now to red.)

We’d kept in contact emailing an update every few months for six years. I watched as she completed an undergraduate degree, fell in love and moved East across Australia, then closed that relationship and started a new career. She saw me advance from my undergrad, into grad school, move to Canada, and then back again to the United States, and through pictures watched Jr grow.

I’ve spent time with her in person only twice. Most of the nine days in Paris, and another ten in Arizona. Still, there is a camaraderie we share that overlaps into similar perspectives on curiosity, passion, and compassion. We’ve shared insight on friendship, spirituality, and personal growth. She’s taught me about developing community sustainability programs through her work. Even from the Southern hemisphere, she’s part of the architecture of my life. It’s a friendship made possible by a chance meeting at a hostel in Montmarte.

It didn’t occur to me in advance, but wine blogging turns out to carry a similar treasure. People like Dan Fredman, Alfonso Cevola, and Jeremy Parzen reached out and in differing ways encouraged me to keep writing. Their blogs served too as differing insights into how people engage with wine, and the way wine enriches the larger aspects of their lives–family, friends, travel, the everyday.

Fredric Koppel, Ron Washam, Christopher Watkins appeared as enthusiasts, again with outrageously different approaches but each talented and sincere in their style. Gwendolyn Alley bolsters my enthusiasm through her own. Lisa Shara Hall, and Amy Cleary (writers and professionals in other avenues that happen to also blog) I’ve been lucky enough to become friends with. I’ve been lucky enough too to connect with other blog-writers, and to learn from them about the craft of writing, the value of the everyday, and yes, too, wine. Writers that also blog, like Janice Cable, and Alice Feiring deepen the threads of information.

(All of this to speak only of other blog keepers, not to even mention the blog readers, and the people I write about that have been met and befriended along the way.)

Connecting to people through their stories online has enriched the decor on that same architecture of my life. These are a few examples of connections made through this weird practice of blogging while following other bloggers.

The experience is a lot like that Montmarte hostel. By chance, we all ended up in the same metaphorical dorm room, and now choose to keep in touch. We ended up there because we’re broke, or cheap, or just looking to meet more people. But through noodles and a bottle of wine we just might share our life.

***

Congratulations to the winners of the 2013 Wine Bloggers’ Awards. I’m so grateful to have been included among the finalists, and so happy for each of the winners.

Cheers!

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Comments

8 Comments so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. What a beautiful story about your lifelong learning curve and experiences…and thank you for mentioning me.

  2. Very lovely essay, Elaine. Once again, an example of why I love your blog.

    PS I feel like i just won a blog award! Thank you for the mention and link to my blog!

  3. Jacques Rendu,

    Always a pleasure to read you Elaine. Keep the blog posts coming. I love the many threads and connections you bring to the table. Many cheers!

  4. You had me at “summer on Montmarte.” Thanks for the lovely shout out. It’s been such a thrill to watch your career as a wine blogger unfold and expand… You already know all the reasons I feel a deep kinship with you (Star Trek is just one of them). I’m so happy that we’re all part of the same community and that you and family are part of our family’s lives. :) un abbraccione j

  5. I nominate this one, next year, for Best blog post of the year (2014). well done, Elaine!

  6. Truly wonderful piece–Montmartre is a fantastic place, thanks for sharing and best of luck next year!

  7. What a wonderful story! True inspiration.

    Best
    Niklas

  8. You are real. A real writer. I am proud to know you, proud to be highlighted by you. But above all else, I am glad you are.

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