My husband and I were married in a chateau just outside of Paris which was the former home of Anne Boleyn’s aunt, now home to dear friends whom we toast every 11th of April. It was a symbolic (not legal) ceremony, which we later formalized complete with license, name change, and the whole crêpe. But the French anniversary is the one we celebrate.
Around five centuries old, the home had walls more than a foot thick graced with the wife’s paintings, and fireplaces you could walk into. The ceremony was accompanied by songs of the husband’s composing played on the grand piano in the family room. The minister asked the requisite questions, in French, to which we replied “oui” at each pause (hopefully we were agreeing to be married and not joining some foreign army.) Afterward, we had dinner in their enormous and appropriately updated kitchen – a simple meal of fresh oysters and steak fondue, and a label-less bottle of wine rummaged from the cellar that could have been four or forty or four hundred years old.
Our first trip to Paris was romantic and beautiful and bittersweet. My former husband of 28 years had passed away the previous year, and for the last couple years of our marriage we had been planning and preparing for our first trip to Paris. And now here I was, in the City of Lights with the sweet dear man who has brought joy back into my life, and wanting to tell my best friend of 28 years all about it.
My about-to-be husband had also lost his wife the previous year. We had been casual friends for almost two decades, and our coming together when we did was kind of poetic and magical. We had each, independently, made lists of what we would want in a partner should we dare to stick a toe in that water again. On just our second date at a small coffee shop, we bravely handed each other our lists, and we laughed and we cried as we read about ourselves.
Three weeks later we were married. Compulsive? Maybe. Decisive? Definitely. Nuts? A little – but in a good way.
Hard to believe we are now celebrating our sixth anniversary. So what do you do when you want to celebrate but you don’t have the time or resources to jet off to Paris? Well, you go to the Napa Valley of course!
Napa Valley has a feel that to me is very reminiscent of Provence. The rolling hills, the vineyards and the quaint towns wipe from your mind any thought of work or worries and you become immersed in the language of wine and art and cuisine and amour.
This trip, we stayed in Yountville, home of the world-renowned, 3 Michelin-starred restaurant, French Laundry. I’m not sure yet what sort of god or king you have to be to get a reservation, but a couple of days before we left I got the crazy idea that maybe we could. I went on the website and – Holy Hell! – there was a table for two available at 5:00! I texted my husband uncertain if he would be jumping for joy or think I was out of my mind (since dinner is a prix fixe menu of $300+ per person before wine). Turns out it was the jumping for joy thing, but unfortunately his response took longer than the 3 minutes that the website had allocated for me to waffle, and the opportunity was lost.
I put our names on the waitlist in case the goddess of food smiled upon us. She did not.
We began our trip rather ungloriously. Our Friday flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco was delayed so there was really nowhere to stop along the way for dinner. Being the ever-resourceful French-at-heart woman, we stopped in at a local store where we bought a nice assortment of cheeses and bread and chocolate and wine, and had a picnic in front of the fireplace in our room in the little French bed and breakfast where we stayed, Maison Fleurie.
Saturday was spent driving around from one winery to another, ending at one of my favorites, Gundlach Bundschu (pronounced gun-lock-bun-shoe, complete with graphics so you won’t forget). The oldest family-owned winery in California, their wines are complex and earthy and their tasting room is friendly and unpretentious. The property, which you are welcome to wander to your heart’s content, is immense and beautiful. With a flight of wine tasted and a case of wine ordered, we headed back to our cozy room to prepare for the evening.
Failing at our attempt to dine at French Laundry, we had dinner reservations at its poor cousin, Ad Hoc, another Thomas Keller restaurant. They have a very interesting concept – they make what they make and that is the offering for dinner. And you have to admit, there’s something very French about that.
My husband doesn’t eat pork. I told him about the concept of the restaurant and told him there was a 50/50 chance dinner would be pork, to which he acquiesced. Dinner was pork. But it was over-the-top amazing – a four-course dinner all completely fresh and seasonal, not surprising since the produce is grown and picked fresh from the roughly one-acre Thomas Keller Culinary Garden just across the street. We waddled home warm from wonderful food and too much wine.
Sunday was shopping and a meandering drive back from Napa to San Francisco with a stop along a “private property – do not enter” lane for a rustic picnic of Ad Hoc leftovers and wine drunk from the bottle. Felt sort of wicked and … French.
Mostly it was just a wonderful weekend of appreciating each other and that fact that, despite the many ups and downs and twists and turns life had given us, we had joy and happiness and many good times (and French Laundry) to look forward to.
Joyeux anniversaire mon amour.