Champagne Dreams

A student from the last retreat I did in Bali offered us her Paris flat for the week. Martina’s beautiful home was the most amazing gift! To have an apartment in the city, complete with kitchen, lift and satellite feed of Le Tour, was beyond anything we could have asked for. From Martina’s flat we set out daily to explore Paris’ sights and gastronomical delights.

Kristin only had one full day in the city before her return flight to Denver. On that day we must have covered ten miles of landmarks, the Lovre, Notre Dame, Sangre de Criste, Eiffel Tower, the Champs, on and on. The next morning at an ungodly early hour I hugged my dear friend goodbye, put her in a cab and went promptly back to bed. Two hours later I got a text.

- U won’t believe this. Don’t have a seat on the flight – Expedia f-ed up. Next is not until Fri, so might as well stay 2 Sun. B back in 30.”

Well as Kristin’s wise uncle once told us “when life gives you lemons… throw them out and buy a bottle of champagne.” So we did.

The next day we hired a car and headed off for the Champagne region. The car was not available until 2pm, but no worry our first stop was to be a small town with Champagne in its name, just a short two-hour drive from the city, so we would be toasting by 4:30 at the latest.

We arrived only to find no champagne, no grapes, no bottles, nada, only yet another cathedral which we obligingly explored. After about an hour we found our way to the tourist info office and learned that we needed to go 40 minutes back the way we had come to a town called Epernay, the home of Avenue de Champagne.

When we arrived on Champagne Avenue it was already close to 7pm and all the Champagne houses were closed. Signs announcing Moet and Dom Perignon mocked us from above sealed doors. The only open bar we could find boasted Heineken umbrellas and dozens of beers on tap.

Parched we found a wine store and bought a split to wet our whistles. We walked into the center of town and popped the cork. I went to lift the bottle to my lips when I spied a man staring at me with a look of absolute horror. He came over and told us that it was unacceptable to drink like this and told us to stay put for a moment.

Unsure if I was about to be arrested for public consumption I waited. Henri returned with two champagne glasses from his flat. He gave them to us to keep as a souvenir and made us promise to never again defile his country’s nectar of the gods in such a hedonistic manner. We promised.

The ensuing hours we my absolute favorite in France. Our car plodded on back to Paris and along the way we visited a local winemaker's house bought three bottles and kept going. At the most beautiful part of the evening we stopped at a solitary church and cemetery where we took hundreds of soft-lighted photos of ancient headstones backed by vineyards of champagne grapes. The past and the future intrinsically entertained. Those who originally planted the vines, now resting among them for eternity.

It was a truly amazing day and one I will not soon forget.

Over the course of the next few days we visited Versaille, the Grande Palace, the Petit Palace, more cathedrals, more landmarks, retail stores we could not afford, bistros we barely could and then we took a whole day to stay indoors, watch the Tour and an entire HBO series. That day was fantastic too. While it may seem wasteful to while away a whole Parisian day indoors, the truth was we were beat.

Saturday we moved to Roberto’s hotel to await his arrival. A nightcap with him and a quick sleep and it was time for Kristin to leave me for real.

KR – Best. Vacation. Ever. Love you and I will celebrate with you anywhere, every year.


I had never even heard of road biking or the Tour until maybe ten years ago. By that time though, I was already good friends with Roberto. And so my path to Paris had already begun to unfold. We were friends for probably an entire year before I really figured out who he was to cycling fans. I remember that day vividly. Roberto and I were walking down Main Street in Durango, Colorado on our way to lunch when a nice, sane-enough-looking man in his thirties came running across the road to us, he fell to his knees and started prostrating to Roberto, all the while yelling “Bobke, Bobke you’re the man!”

I stood there a bit on the bewildered side. Once prostrating man had paid his cycling penance, Roberto resumed our forward progression. I stopped and asked him to please explain.

That is how I learned that my friend, neighbor and standing Thursday dinner date was kind of famous. This revelation did little to alter our friendship, as I was not into cycling at the time and already regarded Roberto as part of the fabric of my life, pauper or prince made no matter to me. Then a year later he started commentating for the network that covers the Tour and so obligingly as one good friend wanting to support another, I upped my Comcast Cable plan to include the obscure sports channel he was working for and so began what was once a fleeting fascination and is now bordering on fanaticism.

Since then, there was only one year where Roberto did not go to France to announce the race for the entire US, that year he sat on my couch in Durango and commentated the Tour, right there in my living room, for the benefit of just myself and my father who happed to be in town. I remember marveling at how he could possibly know that the white and red polka-dotted speck hundreds of feet below the helicopter camera was a cyclist much less some Eastern European man with a multi-multi-syllabic last name who was killing it up the mountains.

From that day I dare say I was hooked on le Tour and even more enamored of my dear friend. Not because of ‘who’ he is to Tour fans, but because I got to see him in person doing something he is really, really good at.

About five years ago Roberto started inviting me to tag along with him to France. At the time I was subjected to a woefully inadequate two weeks of vacation time per year and really couldn’t envision myself here. But that all changed in 2008. I came here last year for a week and now I am sitting on a rooftop in Paris, watching the minutes tick by before my guest pass allows me access to the Champs where I will watch the final stage of the 2009 Tour.

For the last three weeks I have used the, ‘but I am going there!” card to overrule the television choices of my parents, strangers in sports bars, and those hosting me in their homes. This last week in France I subjected poor Kristin to my audible rantings at the live BBC radio feed’s inability to perfectly sync up with Eruo Sports TV programming and the official Tour site’s live blogging.

In an attempt to help her gain interest and thereby assuage my guilt from keeping her indoors, I would commentate for her. I’d tell her why being number one or 21 or 51 was important, what the different jerseys signified, what category climbs were and so on. From the helicopter shots I would say things like, third one back in white… that’s Hincapie he’s only worn the yellow jersey once before, so he is going to give it all he’s got… there he goes, or “Schleck’s going to go again… See told you

Basically, now I acknowledge that I am a fan in the truest sense. I love this event, I honestly think it is the most amazing sporting event we have going. And my absolutely favorite part of le Tour de France happens in a few short hours. When the race is over.

After the awards are doled out, each team does ‘victory’ laps around the Champs. Can you imagine what that must be like? Twenty-one days, something like 80 hours in the saddle, countless hours of preparation, strategizing, abject suffering and then whe it’s all over, to be riding with your teammates, knowing what you just accomplished, cheered on by thousands… whether you are wearing the Maillot Jaune (overall winner) or the Lanterne Rouge (last place), you are a bad ass who has accomplished something only the most select few can ever dream of. And I applaud you all.

As I sit for hours in different corners of the world meditating, trying to obtain single-minded focus I often think about all the other paths to Samadhi. For many, and I dare say for all of these riders, exercise, physical endurance is their path,. I can’t imagine that when you are climbing up a beyond category mountain stage there is much room for the monkey mind to intrude. I can see the yoga in it, I see the Tapas the meditation and maybe that is why I so love this sport!


AspenHokie said…
yeah Rachel! great post. I continue to envy the fantastic life you have created for yourself. truly wonderful and inspirational - if only we all had the chutzpa to live our lives as close to our dreams as you do (of course, then maybe no "real work" would get done in this world, but maybe that's not necessarily a bad thing... who's to say for sure?).

all the best!!

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