What to Drink This Week – Nostalgia
A year ago at around this time, Tina and I were heading into the second leg of our trip through France, turning south from the green, springy, rainy streets of Paris through to Lyon, and then down to god-forsaken Marseille. We hadn’t yet decided to abandon our original gameplan, or stand in the rain while the runners of the Marseille Marathon went plunging past us, or discover the undeniable charm of Dijon as we wandered the hibou trail.
No, right about now the two of us were sitting together in one of the scummiest, creepiest hotels that either of us had ever been in — not just on that trip, but in the combined experience of our entire LIVES. The television offered BBC World News, talking about how Swine Flu (yet to be re-branded as H1N1 in deference to pig farmers everywhere) had shut down Mexico, or some French game shows that might have actually been political programming. Outside it was raining heavily, washing away some of the grime on the streets but casting a dark pall over everything else.
Tina was discouraged. The Lonely Planet guide had promised a bustling multi-cultural city that — while still considerably more rough-and-tumble than the more urbane cities of the north — had its own sense of style and substance. The North African influence, the “souk-like marketplaces”, the rich diversity of cuisines and architectures… all of it just… wasn’t really there. Instead, we were in an industrial port city with a couple of historical landmarks, a little restaurant district whose prices were all suspiciously similarly high, some hint of sunny beaches somewhere within reach, and a sinking feeling that three days might’ve been two too long to spend there.
I didn’t disagree. Rolling through Paris with our luggage, we were invisible; hauling our bags through Lyon, we were just one set of tourists among the many. But dragging our bags through Marseille felt very much like tucking a red flag down the back of our pants and running through a bull pen. We weren’t the only tourists, to be sure, but nowhere did I feel to be observed quite so… hungrily as we were in dirty ol’ Marseille.
But, there were two things that gave me hope.
First, this was the view from our hotel room:
Well, somewhat anyway, though at a greater distance and through great torrents of rain. It gave me no small consolation that someplace so pretty and striking could be sitting atop the city, lit up for everyone to see, giving us a trip to look forward to the next day. Notre Dame de la Garde turned out to be a turning point in our stay, a solemn and beautiful spot that paid unique tribute to the local culture, and from which one could enjoy breathtaking views of the Mediterranean coastline.
So, that was one. And this was the other:
This beer was absolutely everywhere in France, and it was cheaper than bottled water. I wish that was hyperbole, but I am deadly serious — bottled water or, God help you, a Coke would cost more than some lunches I buy here in Canada. Prices swung all over the place, with no apparent logic behind them: at a sandwich shop they may be 2 Euro; at a dry cleaner (??), they may be 5 Euro; at a big grocery store, 3 Euro but only 7 Euro if you buy a two-pack.
But no matter where you went, the beer was always plentiful and it was always cheap — this stuff in particular. You could buy 1664 absolutely anywhere, as long as they had a shelf and a cash register. It was on tap next to Orange Crush at the McDonald’s in train stations, it was in the same fridges as fresh-cut flowers in the little corner stores. When I wasn’t buying 2 Euro bottles of wine for our little picnics, I was buying six-packs of 1664 to refresh us as I trotted Tina from one side of a city to the other.
As funny as this may sound, it made me feel better that I could still find 1664 in Marseille. I had a hell of a time turning up wine, I should add. A nearly two-hour jaunt through all manner of backstreets and corner shops on a rainy Sunday night had me wondering if I was going to have to go back to the hotel and admit to Tina that, no, I could not locate WINE in FRANCE — but I could always find the beer, and that spared me from utter failure.
That first night in Marseille, as I furtively smuggled my six-pack into our tiny little hotel room with its minuscule television and yellow everything else, I felt like I was sneaking a little bit of optimism back with me. This was the beer we lapped up in the Paris train station, waiting to head off to our next destination; this was the drink we sipped while we cooled off on the steps of the Roman amphitheater. I can’t swear to you that the beer itself was all that great, but it reminded me of some very happy moments, which is sometimes just what’s needed when you’re sitting in a wee, downtrodden hotel room and wondering whether you took a four-hour train ride in the wrong direction.
YOUR DRINKING ASSIGNMENT: Find your nostalgia drink, and find the person who made it memorable to drink it with. For me it’s a six-pack of 1664, to commemorate the night before it all got a little better, thanks to a sunny day on the beach and a tour bus driver who only half-jokingly told us that we would probably die while riding with him.