I’m starting a new segment on my blog. And by new segment, I mean that I’ve thus far written about six different topics and the seventh one is maybe going to be something I come back to in the future—once a week, once a month, sporadically, never. We’ll see. There are about five of you actually keeping track, and I know that you secretly just click through the pictures and won’t remember any promises I make about future blog entries. So the new segment that I promise to make a regular part of this corner of the Internet is: “How I survived not drowning in…(insert metaphorical liquid substance here.)” On this inauguration of the extremely intriguing bi-daily post to come every three months in the future, I get to talk about the champagne of sparkling wines: champagne!
This week, the professor of my Comenius group asked me if I would like to skip all five of my classes on Tuesday in order to help her chaperone a group of French and visiting students to Essoyes, a neighboring town known for being the home of the famous impressionist artist Renoir, and also for having more champagne growers than actual inhabitants. The Comenius group, by the way, is a Europe-wide project in high schools that allows students to visit neighboring countries and attempt to speak English, the universal language, and talk about integration, but only the form of integration where everyone speaks broken English when they all really speak better German than English. If you are confused, this is just a sampling of how I make it through my days while communicating in my third language. Anyways, I obviously ditched class to tour a champagne cave and visit Renoir’s studio, and it just so happens that about one hundred students of varying nationalities came with me. The caveat: the teacher forgot to mention that the interpreter was out for the day and that I would have to translate all the tours, which, in the spirit of integration, were conducted only in French.
I think I hit it off pretty well with the tour guide at Charles Collin, the champagne cave we visited. If I ever didn’t know a word, I just made a guess based on his exaggerated gesticulations. The students ended up with a very imprecise understanding of the champagne-making process, for, to paraphrase Adam Gopnik, my French becomes vague and existentialist when I don’t know exactly how to say something. “Vats” became “large cylinders in which the wine is held for years at a time” and “Riddling” became “turning of the bottles so that the added alcohol is evenly distributed” (if you know what riddling is and could translate it from the French remisage, then you are my aunt.) Between the guide and myself, we managed to lead a tour in French and English that was somehow understood by a bunch of Dutch and German students. Bravo. At the end of the tour, the guide informed me that the French professor had warned him that the students were too young to taste champagne (yes, there is a legal drinking age in France, and it’s not fourteen on a field trip), but that they could purchase it (because that makes sense.) Because I am a tourist, too, I asked if the professors could have a sip. His response, in the traditional family-owned champagne cellar manner was, But of course, my co-guide! and he opened up two new bottles to give us each a full glass of champagne. I challenge all my high school teachers to tell me if they have ever gotten tipsy on champagne while chaperoning a field trip.
After a stop for a picnic (which, by the way, consisted of two mini loaves of bread, a can of pâté and three varieties of dessert each…no comment), we were in shape to tour Renoir’s old stomping ground. I had the pleasure of continuously disciplining two French girls who had decided they were done paying attention and being respectful, because clearly I was the most authoritative adult voice on the trip (this is sarcasm, in case you are not used to mine yet), but we nonetheless had a lovely tour of Renoir’s studio and the cemetery where he was buried, though I think the chaperones were the only ones interested. The Renoir tour guide spoke pretty good broken English, so I only had to step in on occasion. It was notably difficult to translate, “He requested that his gravestone be thinner than the others so that he could come out at night to walk around,” because jokes are the hardest thing to transmit culturally, and by the end of the day my brain was shot with children’s’ antics and too much champagne. Though I was unprepared for the amount of responsibility I was given (I backed away from authority when a French student got carsick all over one of his French classmates—that’s something for the older and wiser to handle), it turns out that interpretation is actually really fun. I had previously thought that I would be a lousy interpreter because I am used to spending hours closed off in a quiet room analyzing literature, and not interacting in a fast-paced environment with people speaking other languages, but it turns out that reading has given me a pretty wide vocabulary and that on-the-spot translation is an exciting challenge. Who knows, maybe I will quit student life and move to Charles Collin wineries as expert tour translator, because it turns out that the only way to survive drowning in a sea of champagne terminology is simple: just relax and drink it.