For once, just for once (apart from when I won that tasty Spanish grog the other week) things have gone my way. I was sitting at home the other night, the doorbell rang, it's our friend from the South of France, and he's just driven all the way back from Carpentras with my cubi of TerraVentoux Red fully refreshed, plus a bottle of the primeur. I hereby publicly proclaim my complete devotion to Allan and Sandra (Francophiles extraordinaires) and their incredible generosity, while noting at the same time that they also have some of their very own extra-extra-virgin olive oil coming through in a couple of weeks and that I can scarcely wait.
Observe my familiarity, incidentally, with this chi-chi term primeur, such as would send PK into a tizzy of noddings and approvings. I have carefully laid this precious bottle in my dusty and almost entirely unpopulated wine rack, and am now amassing a collection of empties in which to pour my cubi wine for later consumption, determined not to make the mistake of last time (see the post for 12 October), when I left it in the jerrycan a day or two too long. As long as I can amass enough bottles (why did I chuck out the whisky and the vodka empties? why?) then the next few weeks are going to be joy, just joy, or as near as you get in the modern world.
It's the liberality of the cubi, with its easy-twist plastic tap and its imposing squatness, that so moves me. It says enjoy, shamelessly, in French, with none of the timidity and haunting self-reproach that the middle-class English habitually experience when in the presence of a lot of cheap wine. And it chimes in rather nicely with a incredible picture I found in a Paris Match from 1952, of a French family of four, posing with their entire annual food and drink consumption: Ce Qu'une Famille Française A Mangé Cette Année.
Sponsored by Félix Potin, legendary suppliers of alimentations and boissons to the French public, this showed Maman, Papa and two enfants surrounded by everything they nominally chomped and slurped through in a twelve-month period. I've reproduced a tiny detail, because the original (apart from being, in all probability, copyright) is a double-page spread of scarcely credible eventfulness, containing entire sides of beef, whole pigs, several metric tonnes of bread and potatoes, some game, a lot of charcuterie, enough cheeses to stop an armoured car, a Baroque superabundance of fruit & veg, you name it.
And, of course, alcohol. Three hundred litres of wine; one hundred and sixty-eight litres of beer; fifty-eight litres of cider. The bottles are set out at the feet of the typical French famille (although not typical bons Catholiques, surely, only two kids) like a stockade, behind which they sit with understandable complacency. It's not quite clear whether this represents purely domestic consumption or whether it includes a notional account of what they might have got through outside the home, in restaurants, in the staff canteen, at family parties, funerals etc. Either way, it is described as une ménagère économe, which may or may not be an instance of charming modesty, because, after all, maman and papa are knocking back well over a litre of booze a day between them (the kids are plainly too young), to say nothing of the apéritifs and digestifs (about four litres' worth) which Félix Potin has also bunged in the photo. And this in 1952, less than a decade after the end of the War, at a time when the pathetic Brits had only just got tea off the ration. As an advertisement of French priorities, it is hard to beat; and even now, has a cave-of-wonders feel which combines with a nostalgia for something one has never actually experienced, in a deeply affecting whole.
And it is an image to which, with my cubi and my assortment of rinsed-out old wine bottles, I intend to pay homage.