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A night on the town

In 1968, I enrolled in a program where I would apprentice at various small wineries in different parts of France. I found myself in Paris, a victim, like everyone else in France, by a transportation strike.

Fortunately, the gracious nature of the French came through and I found myself rescued at Orly, taken to a Bordeaux trade tasting, then to a bistro in the heart of the Left Bank. At the Left Bank I met a young American woman from Missouri. She lived with a roommate in a series of apartments on top of a huge building which had once been a bus barn and was being used as a co-operative winery. She hooked me up with a few days of work at the winery which turned out to be quite an experience.

I was assigned to Marie as her "carrier," which meant that I ran six bottles up endless stairs while retrieving money and empty bottles and stacked the bottles in the back of our scooter. We loaded and emptied four cart loads of wine throughout the day.

From 1 until about 3 in the afternoon we ate lunch. The food came out of the back kitchen of the winery and it was hearty, filling and consisted of four courses including a liter of red, rosé or white wine in front of every two workers.

Marie never stopped talking during lunch and told everyone who would listen about what a "hard worker" I was. She got polite grunts and head nods, but that was about all. This was a hard-bitten, blue-collar crowd who made cheap but drinkable wine and were not, in any way, going to give kudos to some kid from America. I was beginning to feel that Marie was going to turn out to be my guardian angel at this brief job and I was grateful to her for trying to make me look good at the winery. After lunch, we set off again. I felt strong with good food and a glass of fiery red wine to hold me. Twice we were stopped by "Le Flick" (the cops) for going the wrong way on one-way streets, but, of course (stupid me) Marie knew every police officer who we encountered — a fast slip of a liter of wine and all was forgotten. This all sounds crazy, but it happened. Call it "bribery" or call it "expediency," it was all "business" and everyone went on his or her way without missing a beat. When we returned to the barn I was told that Marie and her "friends" were going to "take me on the town" and I was "not" going to refuse them. I was to find out that Marie played as hard as she worked.

I went upstairs to Alice's flat and begged her to come with us. I needed a compatriot to give me a little guidance. Alice made a phone call, got a worker to cover for her, and, within an hour, off we went. We left the flat and met Marie and three of her friends at about 8 in the evening. The first stop was dinner and Pernod, which is an anise-based liqueur. Then we were off to a crazy underground "counter-revolutionary" café where poetry was screamed out above the wailing of an accordion. At the end of every stanza (which included a swear word) we were supposed to chug some sort of fiery hot liqueur, then bang our heavy glass on the table where it would be refilled. Again, as in every café I went to, the smoke obscured everything beyond a 10-foot radius from where I sat. Later that evening it was tango; at another café, open-mic comedy; and at yet another café, the entrance fee was (of course, after a few drinks) confessing in front of all, one's most humiliating experience. The evening wore on until, quite literally, the sun came up. Within two hours, I was supposed to go back to work as Marie's delivery guy.

Back in the barn at 7 in the morning, everything was as it was the day before. Scooters were being loaded, breakfast was hurriedly downed and black coffee chugged. We left the barn skidding on two wheels. Marie looked none the worse for wear. I could not say that for myself. Little was I to know that within 15 minutes of leaving the barn, Marie would be headed for jail and I would be left to deliver the wine on my own.

Lorn Razzano is former owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland. Reach him at razz49@aol.com.