The weather had gone from muted- grey daylight struggling to break through the stubborn Piemonte sky, to a wetter, darker version of dreary as we crossed the Alps into France. We eased our way into the valley and I felt the anticipation build in my chest. The thrill of being in another country hit me as my cell service changed from Italian to French. Why are these the insignificant details I remember?
We stopped at a little café for lunch and I was shocked to discover I finally felt like I was travelling for the first time on over a week on the road. Maybe I have become too complacent in Italy- too many friends and familiar cities. I realized in that instant, I no longer really feel like a stranger in Italy. This is not to say that I feel Italian– this would be impossible. I am an American, and always will be, an American in Italy. However I don’t struggle with the language the way I once did. There are no more moments of panic when a waiter asks me a simple question- when I know the words, but I just can’t remember them.
But here in this new strange place… I feel like a child again. It is intimidating and beautiful to feel that awesome vulnerability of the foreigner. The strangeness of being a stranger in a strange land. I have spent so much time travelling in Italy over the past few years that I must have forgotten how liberating- how compelling it is- to feel totally immersed in the newness of a place, a language, an entire culture.
There I was, quietly coming to terms with myself as a human in the world, eyes wide open in the misty afternoon, following blindly as Camillo, Antonella and Fabio chattered on around me. Such a lovey and curious experience to be a foreigner in France, surrounded by Italians.
We ordered some food, and a bottle of Chardonnay from Jean Chartron. Happy conversation. A peaceful sense of well-being settled between us. These late-October days are always beautiful for winemakers. Fabio and Camillo had both just finished the bulk of the work in their wineries from the harvest and initial pressing. These are long days and nights following the wine from field to barrel, exhausting physical work and emotionally devastating. So much anxiety over the details- these critical moments when, if you are not careful, you can undo all the many months of work and preparation in the vineyards. When it’s over and the winemaker can finally take a deep breath… that is the self-contented sigh of happy satisfaction. Inhale.
We exited the restaurant cushioned by the misty grey light of the afternoon and headed towards Chambolle. There was Snow Patrol seeping out of the car stereo while we rolled through the valley, Camillo occasionally pointing out a vineyard, my brain struggling to take it all in. I resisted the urge to bury my face in a book or a map and tried to remember to just enjoy this moment. Just breath.
After a warm greeting by our fabulous hosts, Armelle and Bertrand Rion, we set out for a walk through the vineyards that I have replayed in my mind a thousand times since. The sun finally broke through, showy and golden, blanketing the vineyards in its warmth. I was half-dreaming as we walked slowly through the vineyards and up through the town of Chambolle. We looked for fossils, and smelled the soil, and felt the sunshine penetrate our jackets through cool damp of Fall. We walked, arm in arm, quiet and content to be visiting this sacred place in all of its ancient, stately beauty.
It as only later while re-reading Camillo’s book Terre e Vini di Borgogna, that I discovered Armelle had described this very passage around her home. Here is my translation of her account:
In speaking of our land and all of its emotion, for me one of the most beautiful routes to walk in the Côte de Nuits begins in the piazza of the church of Chambolle. It is a circular route that ascends along the Route de Vergy, a small path above the vines from which you can admire a beautiful view of Chambolle-Musigny and our home, Maison Toscane. You will arrive at a bend in the road which curves to the left, following the ancient footpath of the pilgrims, which leads directly to Santiago di Compestela. Passing over Chambolle-Musigny, and the vineyard Musigny, you will be able to see the view of the Château du Clos de Vougeot, complete with a magnificent view of the castle and the vineyards of Vougeot and Vosne Romanée. The path descends and then empties anew to the left, turning again in the direction of Chambolle, passing the small rue that skirts the highest part of Clos-de-Vougeot, with a view of the mill and its stream, then continuing above Les Amoureuses, from where finally you can see in the distance Morey-Saint-Denis and Gevrey-Chambertin, as well as Dijon. You will arrive at an intersection, turn to the left on D122 and, passing in front of the cemetery and the famous Linden tree of Enrico IV, and you have arrived at the beginning in the piazza of the church of Chambolle. If you enter into the side door of the church, inside you can admire the monumental frescoes from the 16th century: they are very beautiful and represent the combe of Chambolle and images of the Virgin. This walk, which can be made most easily and with time to take a few pictures, will take at maximum an hour. It is a magical way to understand the geography of the vineyards and to admire the work of humanity.
I was changed indelibly by this trip to Burgundy. I do not think I will find the same sense of peace- the comfort of simply feeling happy in a place in the world- anywhere else. Maybe it is self-indulgent, but I cannot help but link this feeling to poetry. Only a poet could possibly understand how I felt in those amber-colored days, haunting the cellars and vineyards of Burgundy with my three companions.
Appropriate- I was in love with words far before being seduced by wine.
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart