I have never been what you’d call a heavy drinker, but for most of my twenties I did know my way around the inside of a shot glass. I am a fun drunk (I think – anyone want to comment on that?), although I do tend towards the literary when I have imbibed too much. It is safe to say I was fun to party with, not the least because my already low levels of modesty plummet when I am inebriated.
However, the past five years have been spent: trying to conceive, pregnant, breastfeeding, trying to conceive, pregnant, breastfeeding, tired from two small children and working on a book, and then (whoopsie) pregnant again. Not a whole lotta drinking going on.
I do, however, recognize that other people like to drink, especially on festive occasions. The small sixty-fifth birthday party I am throwing tomorrow for my father-in-law seems to qualify. (I would say “we” are throwing it to maintain a polite veneer of fiction, but I am pretty sure that my in-laws and all invited guests know that J hasn’t had time to sneeze in three months, let alone plan a party.) It is an intimate event, just a few friends and relatives, and it is midday, so I know we do not need a vast array of bottles with unpronounceable Russian names or worms in the bottom. We have settled on classy – a couple bottles of champagne so we can raise a toast.
I went to the store to buy said bottles. Because I don’t know much yet about the area, I simply went to the upscale grocery store, which did have a lot of bubbly stuff. Unfortunately, even when I did drink, champagne was not my beverage of choice. I had no idea what I was looking at.
I stood in front of the bottles for a good ten minutes, perhaps hoping that if I stood there long enough, I would learn something about champagne. All I learned, however, is that the cheap stuff – something called “sparkling wine” – lives on the bottom shelf; the middle shelves are dedicated to a mixture of the more expensive California sparkling wines and the cheaper champagnes; and the top shelf has, well, the top shelf champagne that costs about the same per ounce as good cocaine.
Finally, I decided to ask for help. I flagged down a scruffy yet clearly prosperous man. “Do you know anything about champagne?” I asked him.
Did he know anything about champagne? Turns out, the dude was French. He had the kind of French accent and impeccable English grammar that immediately marked him as a man who never lost his French roots but has spent many years in the U.S.
We talked for a few minutes about the varying types of mid-level champagne. I knew I was not going for the one that made me gasp every time I looked at the price, but there was a wide variety on the middle shelves. “What about this one?” I asked.
“That one is very nice,” he said. “And a pretty good price for it. You won’t be unhappy with that one.”
Perfect, but just to be sure… “And these down here?” as I pointed to the bottom shelf.
“You are better off just drinking something else,” he declared.
As I picked up two bottles of the one we had chosen and said goodbye, I realized that I do miss a few things about London: our neighbors, a few expat friends, and, of course, all the French people.