• Shelley Dark

19. end of the course

Back to the classroom for the last time this morning. That made me quite sad! The first part of the session was about making it as a travel writer, giving us a reality check on financial rewards (or not), making a living and using social media. Then the ten key points we should remember. The last one, which I liked very much, was 'remember that place is always bigger than your experience'. In other words don't be a big head. Always good advice.

I don't think I've shown you this modern take on parquetry flooring at Co-Work. Rather clever. I noticed it again when we made ourselves a cup of coffee before our three celebrity writers arrived.

Lily, Cynthia and Lisa, photo courtesy Bryan (I think!)

What a treat. A visit by three accomplished writers.

This is Lily Heise. She left Canada for Paris in 2000 and started her blog in 2012. Her niche in the market is writing about her romantic adventures and misadventures in Paris. Her first book was called 'Je T’Aime, Me Neither, a Memoir' from the title of a song by Serge Gainsborough. She says she's writing book 2 while living book 3. Mr Right may or may not have come along. It changes from week to week. She has a blog and writes for many publications. She's lots of fun.

This is Cynthia Morris, adventurer, writer and illustrator. Instead of attending her high school graduation in Canada, she jetted off to the south of France where she worked for a year as a dishwasher. She graduated from university in Western European studies, worked in a health food store, as a cook on a hot air balloon, taught vegetarian cooking, fell in love with a Portuguese rock climber. In 1994 she took a writing course, then a drawing course which set her on her way to being a travel writer and mentor. She's written several books, is a creativity coach and a sought-after illustrator.

She's filled nearly 50 notebooks with drawings and stories.

She brought a pack of affirmation cards for writers, which she designed. She invited us to draw one each from the deck. This was mine.

Lisa Pasold is the blonde. A writer and journalist, she lives part of the year in Paris, part in Canada. She has written two books of poetry and two novels. I just love her idea of creating and escorting walking tours following the lives of fictional people through Paris streets. Artists and writers over the centuries. What a great idea! She has a television travel show about Paris called Next Stop, each episode focussing on a single Paris neighbourhood. There are annual memoir writing workshops, she has taught at the American University in Paris, the Paris Writers' Workshop and the Women's Institute of Continuing Education. She's been published in newspapers and magazines and guides. An impressive person.

I loved hearing about the experiences of the three women. They all spoke about making 'noise' to be heard in the babble of travel writers all over the world. Cynthia talked about joyful persistence, how you have to be passionate about what you're doing. Lisa said to write as if no one but you will read it. Lily said that you should write for yourself, but know your audience.

On our way to lunch with our three celebrities, we walked past this perfume shop, Nose, in Rue Léopold Bellan. It's an innovative online concept where you give them the names of 5 perfumes you like and they do a perfume profile for you. Based on that profile they send you five samples. You rate the samples from -5 to +5 and then they re-recommend. Sounds like a better way of choosing perfume than sniffing randomly in a shop.

We had lunch at Eatme a couple of doors down. It's a fast-food concept offering home cooked, tasty, healthy low-cost meals. The salads are very attractively presented, ingredients layered in glass jars on the self-serve shelving. It's a slick modern space in lime-green and white. I had a zucchini soup and a thai chicken salad. Perfect for a quick healthy working lunch, followed by our one-on-one sessions with Heather and Bryan.

I have to say I was absolutely bowled over by mine. In 20 minutes Heather and Bryan gave me quick solutions to many problems I'd been agonising over. They saw things I'm not doing that I need to do. They gave me a clear path to follow with concrete steps to take. My website is too static. I need a (errrgh I hate this word) blog, make that journal, to keep readers engaged when I'm not travelling. Not daily, not even necessarily weekly. Just when I have something to say. I need to use Twitter. You know how when I post one trip the others disappear, and how I spent $$$ at a website builder without finding an answer? Heather came up with a solution for that, which led me to an even better one since I've been home. It will take me a few weeks to get it happening. They had helpful ideas to grow my audience, which I must do if I'm to continue. I was writing so fast there was smoke coming off the page.

We finished at about 4pm to give us all time to rest before our dinner date at O-Château, at the very grownup time of 8.15pm. Nearly past my bedtime!

I arrived there by Uber at 8.15pm on the dot, my rental Insidr Paris phone in its box and bag ready to be returned. I was really sorry to let it go. What a great idea. Forget worrying about getting a simcard or phone plan for Paris. This is the perfect solution. That's Nina in the photo. She and her brother Ben started this business together, and they hope to expand to other European cities.

The wine-tasting and dinner was just down the road from E. Dehillerin, the famous kitchen shop established in 1820 which still looks the same today as it did back then. Except now it has an e-shop.

O-Château occupies an historic building at 69 Rue Jean Jacques Rousseau. The hôtel itself was built in the 1640's, and at one time was the meeting place for the great thinkers of the time. George Sand's great-grandfather bought it in the 18th century, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau visited the Dupin family frequently.

The tasting room is at the rear of the bar, in a rectangular room lined with shelves of wine, with deep-buttoned leather bar chairs around a rectangular wooden table. The atmosphere is warm and casual.

Our guide for the evening was Gérald, who went to the Cordon Bleu school and is a sommelier with a list of qualifications as long as your arm. He's demonstrating in the photo how to take the top off a champagne bottle. Take off the wire cap first and then put your thumb on top. With the other hand, twist the bottle at the base, until there is a discreet pfffft. Unless, Gérald sniffed, you're at a barbeque where where you wish it to shoot across the pool.

He showed us a map of France with the different wine areas.

Our aperatif was a premier cru champagne. It's made by the Montmarthe family from the town of Ludes who have lived there since 1737. Jean-Guy Monmarthe is a 6th generation champagne maker. They produce less than 100,000 bottles a year from their own vineyard, using pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay grapes. Their champagne is much more representative of the terroir than a champagne by one of the bigger companies who mix the grapes from different vineyards. The Champagne terroir has by definition an underlying bedrock of chalk.

The price for premier cru grapes is set by a board, and this year Gérald tells us, it was $5.80 per kg. Because there is no year on our bottle, it's a blend of vintages.

This Perrier Jouet Belle Époque on the other hand is a grand cru vintage champagne. I love the bottle as much as the champagne in it.

I asked if grand cru and premier cru appellations work the same in Champagne as in Burgundy. No. Where in Burgundy a particular vineyard is given the appellation, in Champagne the whole village gets it. So there's varying degrees of quality within a village brand. Champagne is not nearly so well defined as wine in Burgundy.

While we were sipping or in my case letting it just slide down, Gérald told us about the champenoise method. It's a double fermentation method, where sugar and yeast are added for the second fermentation. The degree of sweetness of the champagne is determined by the amount of sugar added. A brut champagne would have 6-12 grams of sugar. Above 50 grams of sugar, it's called doux. It takes quite some terroir and winemaking skill to make a champagne with no sugar. He also described riddling, which is part of the process to remove the yeast sedimentation. Where once it was skilled work, the bottles are now twisted and raised by machines.

Gérald also mentioned that in ten years, we'll be talking about Chinese wines. They're importing rootstock and vignerons, planting in suitable land, and will have the best wine-makers.

The foie-gras, which I just loved, delicately flavoured with an ubelievably smooth creaminess,comes from the south-west of France and is produced especially for O-Château.

With it, we had a premier cru chablis called Vaulorent from Burgundy, made by Louis Michel and Son. Gerald calls chablis a 'lean' wine, with minerality. I like my wine lean, I decided.

This was followed by steak and roasted potatoes, accompanied by a Cahors, also from the south-west made with malbec grapes. I don't generally drink much red, but I had no trouble emptying my glass. I was losing what little ability I had to discern.

The mention of Cahors reminded Gérald of an apocryphal story about Dominique Perrin, who owns a vineyard there. He heads up the luxury goods company Richemont, the second largest luxury goods company in the world after LVMH. A few of its brands are Cartier, Piaget, Chloë, Montblanc and Net-a-Porter.com.

Gérald said that Dominique's holidays as a child were spent on the island of Noirmoutier off the west coast, probably a factor in his purchase of a camping ground there in 2008. Upset by the invasion of the island by land developers who were paying the farmers high prices for the land, he cast about for a way to stop the island being spoiled.

There's a potato called La Bonnotte which grows only on the island whose salty delicious tuber remains attached to the stem and is so fragile that it has to be harvested by hand. With Perrin's marketing skills, in six months he made it the most expensive potato in the world with one kilogram now bringing up to $700 per kilo, served by only the finest restaurants. The farmers are making a bundle, the developers can't buy any land. Mission accomplished.

Our dessert was a chocolate tartlette, mousse over a biscuit. Gérald explained that it's difficult to pair a wine with chocolate, which is bitter and sweet. You can either serve port, or a big red. In this case, the big red was from Minervois in the Languedoc region. It's the product of a collaboration between a local winemaker and a winemaker from Burgundy. Syrah, grenache and carignan grapes grown on granite soil at a high elevation produce a rich red, full of fruit with a wild flavour and a little musk. I nodded my head. Absolutely. My fourth wine always tastes rich and wild whatever colour it is.

The evening ended with lots of hugs and goodbyes and thank you's. We were all of the same voice in appreciation for what we had learned from Heather and Bryan, for their generosity in sharing their knowledge with us. They're going to send us lots of follow-up information. I don't doubt that we'll keep in touch. The emails have been flying back and forth already.

It's a late night. But tomorrow is our last day in Paris and we're going to make the most of it. Until then, buddies....

ps here are the websites for Heather and Bryan, and the 3 girls.

Heather www.secretsofparis.com

Bryan www.bryanpirolli.com

Lily www.jetaimemeneither.com

Cynthia www.originalimpulse.com

Lisa www.lisapasold.com



"I never travel without my diary.  

One should always have something

sensational to read on the train."  

                                - OSCAR WILDE

shelley dark 

email: shelleydarkwriter@gmail.com

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