When your craigslist.fr 1995 Citroën breathes its last on the D951 near Le Clous and even though you have a France-ready Vodafone SIM card you don't have the first clue who to call to get you out of this, do one thing first: sit on the hood and watch the Loire river--murky and shallow here--pass by.
Even though it's silent, as rivers go, try to listen. Walk to the bank, put your hands in the water. Grab some mud and extrude it between your fingers. How long did it take for these particles to end up in your hands in this order? These centuries of limestone and granite, these underwater fiefdoms of tuffeau. Take all the time you need to realize there's no answer. When you're ready, go back to the car and deal with reality.
You're only a little screwed. Maybe you should have started in Orleans and followed the river to the ocean, rather than trundling upstream and away from civilization like this. But then you wouldn't have met that girl in Nantes, the one who looks like Anna Paquin and and sings Motown songs in the shower in her funny accent. Auréline. You stayed with her for three unplanned days of earthly delights that you'll remember on your deathbed--stop pretending you're so cool that you forgot her name.
As you walk the roadside, the jerry can you've optimistically brought along even though you definitely didn't just run out of gas clangs against your leg. The rhythm of it spells out a logic that would not fly in Math 103, but is so right it stings:
Citroën - Citron - Citrus - Lemon
The sun is beautiful and generous and you pray to it that you'll get ten more minutes alone with that butter-scented grad student who sold you the lemon in Bordeaux. You'll let him pick the Edith Piaf melody to which he can croon his plea for mercy.
An hour later you make it to Gien and just start drinking. They can tow the autocarcass if they want, they can roll it into the river for all you care. It's late afternoon, you have money to burn since you bought a cheap shit car, and alcohol is the only help you're going to get until tomorrow morning.
You're surprised not to be sick of white wine yet, not to have bolted for the voluptuous, pillowy epiphanies you came to expect from the reds and brandies that floated you through Southern France last week. These Loire whites are rigid, fierce, with the essence of cold stone and acidity like a wasp sting. In your mouth they dictate, not discuss. They are the opposite of what you thought you liked in wine.
So what is it that's kept you coming back to them, besides geography? When you were much younger you used to press a nine-volt battery to your tongue once, twice, again, holding it a little longer each time until the pain became unbearable. This is not exactly like that, but it's not exactly different either.
At the bar you are into your second plate of sardines and ready to knock down an entire bottle of something. You look at the carte des vins and take a guess towards the middle of the list--that's what you've been doing so far this trip and so far so good. You let yourself assume "Coteaux du Giennois" means it was delivered from the winery to the restaurant on foot.
The poker-faced bartender nods and you wonder if you just picked a tourist wine as he turns to the refrigerator. He uncorks the bottle, gives you a new glass and walks away.
You pour into the same glass you've been using. What comes out is pale, with a green aurora around the rim you're used to seeing after five days in the Loire Valley. It glows so radiantly, even in this dim brown room, is the glass plugged into a wall outlet?
Swirling and sniffing still makes you feel like an ass. Even after however many thousand wines, it's as though your pants drop to your ankles every time you go through the motion. But the dinner crowd hasn't arrived yet and the red-nosed old men down the bar pay you no attention as you expose yourself. And it's worth it this time for the face-slap of glistening, dewy grass and fruit that issues forth.
You sip and do the suck-through-the-teeth aeration that is another habit of occasional-at-best value. But for once the noise is not the obnoxious slurp of air disrupting wine, it's the fresh crunch of incisors penetrating an almost-ripe Anjou pear, ravenously, over and over. "Dry" seems--no, is--the wrong word for something this refreshing, but the overachieving little saccharomyces cerevisae cells did their job well, obliterating every memory of sugar. You eat an oily fish and take a much bigger drink.
The bottle empties quickly and your instinct is to get another, but it's 18h45 and maybe time for some rilletes de porc and red wine, something "imported" from Chinon. You turn the menu over in your hands, not really reading it, and then you catch yourself singing softly.
I 'eard it srruuu ze grape-vine.
You change your mind, pay l'addition and walk back towards the river.