Vinexpo 2003: Sunday 22nd June
Wake up at some ungodly hour in deepest South London in order to catch a taxi to Gatwick Airport. Four immaculately folded shirts, four ties, one hired tux on loan until Monday, one battle-scarred digital camera, one electric toothbrush with flat battery, one Pomerol clay-encrusted pair of Chelsea boots and one roadmap of Bordeaux. I arrive at Gatwick at around 6:30am along with three hundred nuclear families with hyperactive kids bound for throbbing Mediterranean beaches.
I board the plane and notice the coiffured barnet of one Anthony Barton, proprietor of Chateau Leoville-Barton, sitting a couple of rows in front of me. Is he stalking me? This is the third time we have boarded the same plane together this year. I land at Merignac airport at around nine o'clock, where the Bordelaise, bless 'em, have generously arranged for a dead mouse to greet us just in front of passport control. It lies their mummifying on the carpet, perchance an ominous omen for the week ahead, some pagan witchcraft to ruin Vinexpo? Or perhaps it died of dehydration in the Saharan Bordeaux weather, which is currently peaking at a stifling 40 degrees Celsius? Thank God we booked a car with air conditioning.
Since I always leave things to the last minute there were no hotels available (you must book several centuries in advance for that) and so my colleague and I are residing as a guest of one of the good-natured citizens of Bordeaux. Madam Lopez is a most congenial host, spending the entire week fattening us up with croissants from the local patisserie and treating us like her long-lost sons.
We procrastinate over visiting the Vinexpo exhibition or whether to head for the golden sands and turquoise sea of Arcachon on the Atlantic coast? Irrationally, we opt for the former and immediately rue our decision because not only is the monstrous exhibition centre at Bordeaux Lac melting under the heat, but to make matters worse, the air conditioning in Hall 3 appears to the have made the right decision and headed to the beach, leaving the vin rouges boiling and distilling in front of their piqued owners. Fortunately, the kilometer long main hall itself is quiet and we stroll from one end to the other, a feat not dissimilar to traversing Middle Earth. I am convinced that you can see the curvature of the world as you look down its entire length.
We spend just a couple of hours at the exhibition before heat exhaustion takes its toll, so we head back to Bordeaux city for some fruits de mer at "Le Thibaut", located just behind the Grand Opera House where we find respite from the incessant heat. I am envious of that king prawn basking on mountain of ice so I devour its insides as some kind of Divine retribution.
I yearn for more bearable temperatures. I am particularly concerned about my tuxedo for La Fete de la Fleur this
coming Thursday at Chateau Mouton Rothschild, where I envisage myself turning into a walking rotisserie. My dress
shirt is a size too small round the neck (no, my neck has not expanded: the shirt must have shrunk in the wash).
There I will be, suffocating in front of the Rothschild family before having a chance to taste Mouton 1982. Perhaps
I will pass out in my chair and go unnoticed until they begin clearing up the next morning? Fortunately I have good
night's sleep since I became acclimatized to sultry nighttime temperatures when I lived in Tokyo.
Tonight, I dream of snow.