Friday, October 20, 2006

If It's Bled, It Led

Little Democratic Whines: Storming the Château d’Yquem

Today's New York Times brings us another of their wry, "Oh the French they are a funny race" stories, this one about the decision by Paris' low-key, gay Socialist mayor, Bertrand Delanoë, to auction off close to 5,000 of City Hall's prized bottles of grands crus, the Château Petrus, Romanée Conti and Château Margaux wines that make oenophiles' hearts beat faster with cupidity.

The Times piece speaks of "offended oenophiles" ascribing political motives to the cost-cutting move, and quotes food historian and former Gault & Millau restaurant critic Anthony Rowley (such a French name, n'est-ce pas?) crying, “It’s demagogic!” and "propaganda" and putting forth the theory that Mayor Delanoë “thinks it is fashionable and modern to serve little democratic wines.”

You can practically hear him saying these words in his best Charles Laughton voice, which rather makes the point that he sounds more like an American version of an English parody of a Tory than he does like a real Frenchman.

The only other "offended oenophile" the Times could muster up was Bernard Bled, the Jacques Chirac chief of staff who put together the municipal wine cellar in the first place (fun fact: "bled" in French is slang for Podunk or Hicksville). The Times quotes Bled as "sniffing" that “There’s a puritan side to this. I was always an epicurean,” once again turning him into a sort of caricature.

If you turn to the French press, however, the reaction is a little different. The conservative Le Figaro, the sort of newspaper you would expect to see foaming at the mouth à l'Anthony Rowley, has a rather straightforward account of the auction, the unexpectedly high prices, the money raised for the city's coffers, and the official reason for the sale.

In the end, it's up to the leftist Le Monde to restore to Bled his true dimension as a Frenchman. The Le Monde article doesn't mention Rowley, or, indeed, any "offended oenophiles." Rather, it quotes Bled as casting aspersions on one of the Mayor's official reasons for the sale--the possibility that a sudden flood ("crue" in French) by the Seine would damage the wine ("crus") in the cellars, which are located at the river's edge at City Hall, the Hôtel de Ville. In the sort of witty aphorism the French favor, Bled says, "La crue n'est pas l'ennemi des crus." The flood is not the enemy of the grands crus, and if the glove doesn't fit, you must acquit.

God forbid we should turn into foodie versions of Jack Shafer, the resident press and Times scourge at Slate, but it does seem to us that the Times is putting its finger on the scale, and all for the sake of a good chuckle based on stereotypes. Well, it appears to have worked, as the piece has quickly made its way onto the list of most e-mailed articles.

New York Times
Le Monde
Le Figaro

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