Tales from

the Loir

A Weekly Column

April 4, 2001 - Men and Their Caves

Two caves near the Mairie (Mayor's Office) collapsed last night. Rescue efforts commenced immediately but all the wine was lost. A search for survivors will commence next week. Of course it's a blague (joke), but two wine caves did collapse two weeks ago. These caves are rarely for sale. When I first moved to Lavardin three years ago, I was looking for a cave that Aprille could use as an art studio. Everyone was very nice and said they would keep an eye open for anything that came up for sale. After a year and a half of searching, I was giving up hope. Artists are revered in France but finding a cave for Aprille just didn't seem to be a pressing problem. The attitude seems to be that caves are for wine not artists.

I mentioned to Monsieur Jean one day that our maison troglodyte (cave home) was too warm to store wine. Everything changed when word got out that my wine might be getting warm. People were stopping me on the street to offer me a key to their cave for temporary storage and many came forward with caves for sale or rent. Within a week, he found me a cave that Aprille used as a studio and I used to store wine. This is an example of the priority of wine in our little corner of France.

Madame Lallier while reminiscing about the good old days said that Lavardin was a real party town twenty years ago. Everyone had a winemaking cave with a working pressoir and a few rows of vines. Afternoon wine tasting rounds to all caves were a daily event. It makes me feel good to know that I am in my small way helping to preserve tradition. However, because of the number of caves to visit, this meant it was quite possible to overindulge. Even the curé was known to make the rounds with his flock. He would stop about 11:15 saying that he needed to be sober for mid-night mass. All the good ladies of Lavardin would watch his swaying steps as he headed back to St. Genest, our pretty little Romanesque church. A few minutes later, all the ladies would follow to receive their nightly communion. He knew the mass by heart and thought none of his women parishioners knew where he had spent his evening. With a slow shake of her head and a smile, Madame Lallier said all the ladies knew quite well but kept it to themselves.

It turns out that the locals were right about caves not being a good place for an art studio. The cave we rented was too humid for most of Aprille's supplies and equipment. When we moved her to a building in Montoire, I had to start searching for another place for my wine. My friends in Lavardin were so concerned about my soon to be orphaned wine, that everyone was again offering a space in their caves. But Monsieur Jean was the most animated. He insists that I have my own cave in case the owner dies and I have to fight with the heirs over what is actually my wine. Since I paid no more than seventy-five cents per bottle for most of it, I am not particularly concerned. I suspect that Jean is not concerned either. He just wants to go cave shopping which entails driving around all day meeting people and sharing a glass of wine at each stop. Aprille and I did this last year. We drove around for two weeks drinking wine all day long. This cave is to too wet. That cave is too small. Those caves are too dangerous. These caves are too expensive.

Monsieur Jean just loves to shop for caves. But his persistence has paid off. Pierre Caps, the mayor of St. Rimay, has a vacant cave in the village of Les Roches l'Evêque but it needs a new door. I can use it for free if I put a door on it. I am quite happy with this arrangement but Jean is not satisfied. He thinks that it is outrageous that I have to pay for the door. But he agrees that it being free is a good deal and it is a good starting point for an American. He still believes that a man ought to have his own cave and this arrangement gives him an excuse to continue our shopping.

I was ready to move the wine and jury-rig the door just to get the problem behind me. But Jean and Pierre will not stand for such gaucheries. The whole process ended up taking two more months. It is a small cave (cavelot) that sits beside Pierre's cave. It has no name but Pierre's cave has a long history and a great name. It is called Blue, Blanc, Rouge. During the fourteenth and fifteenth century it was the guard house for one of the gates to the medieval walled city of Les Roches. The rings that the guards used to tie the horses are still carved into the walls. There is a spring somewhere deep in the mountain that flows from a dark tunnel, pools in the back and then mysteriously drops into the dark depths of the underworld.

After the town lost its walls, the cave continued to serve a quasi-official function. It became the meeting/drinking place for veterans of the World War I. Its door was painted blue, white and red like the French flag. Because of those rebellious colors, the Germans who occupied this area during World War II kept a constant watch on this cave. To throw the Germans off the scent, someone reversed the colors to Red, White, and Blue. This was the order of colors on other flags. It didn't exactly fool the Nazis but it was enough cover to allow the old warriors to meet there and tell stories of better days.

This cave is full of history and mystery but we spend most of our time sitting at a table sipping Vouvray in the large guardroom near the front discussing more prosaic concerns. Namely, how we can transfer my wine to its new home. It took two months but the door is finally up. We are transfering the wine today. Our three o'clock meeting at Blue, Blanc, Rouge was agreed to last week. We share a bottle of Vouvray and Aprille contributes a bottle of her Beaumes de Venise. The transfer of the wine takes about five minutes but it is done with the proper reverence and ceremony. Monsieur Jean suggests that I leave a copy of my key on the ledge above the door in case I forget to bring the master. He says that everybody does that. I wonder why I needed the door.




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 March 21, 2001 - The Egg
March 14, 2001 - Reliquary
March 7, 2001 - The Source of the Loir
February 28, 2001 - La Marseillaise
February 21, 2001 - Still on Wheels
February 14, 2001 - Marcel Proust
February 7, 2001 - La Chandeleur
January 31, 2001 - Winter Comfort Food
January 24, 2001 - Festival of Saint Vincent
January 17, 2001 - Guest Columnist Aprille Glover
January 10, 2001 - Muscadet
January 3, 2001 - Ode to Protein
December 27, 2000 - Summer Dreaming: Escargot
December 20, 2000 - Let Them Eat Cake
December, 13 2000 - Back to France
November 29, 2000 -Beignets Aux Fleurs d'Acacia
November 15, - Thanksgiving
November 8, - Pousse D'Epine
November 1, 2000 - Col de Vence: A day on the Moon
October 25, 2000 - Cult of the Black Virgin
October 18, 2000 - Harvesting Grapes by Hand
October 4, 2000 - Provence: All Good Things



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