15: Superstars & Roses

Something about the South of France screams romance.  The fashion, the beautiful women, the hot days.  And something about the local train that stops every 20 minutes for a full 7 hours as it crawls along the coast screams “this sucks.”  Seeing as it was my first real train experience (passenger trains don’t exist in Kansas) I didn’t know the difference from a high-speed train to a local train.  I came to find out the difference is about 5 hours of your life.  So, CiCi and I ended up slugging along, stopping at every town, all across the North of Italy, then the South of France on our way to Provence.

As it turns out, Provence is not just an herb,… its much more than stuff you add to food.  Provence’s motto is, “rural life lived to the fullest.”  Like Sienna, no one was in a rush, they took their time to live, laugh, and love… maybe even love a little too much.

As the local train chugged through each port:  Nice, Cannes, Toulon, CiCi and I decided we would be far to distracted by the beautiful people and beaches, so we should keep our nose to the ground, and head straight to wine country to continue our “Drink Yourself Smart” mission.  That is, until, we learned from a fellow backpacker that the love of my life (at that time) was performing in Marseilles.  Enrique Iglesias, Spanish singer, and son of Julio Iglesias, had been my young adult obsession since I was 18.

It all started one tequila-soaked day in Cancun, Mexico circa March 2000.  For months before the trip, I had starved and exercised in preparation of a week full of bikinis and beaches.  I was staying with my three best friends, CiCi included, at a posh resort along Cancun’s strip.  The four of us have been friends since we were 12, and enjoyed nothing more than finding trouble.  In 2000, we were all 18 going on 27.  From our blonde highlights, latest threads, and overly-crude language, we spent the week terrorizing Cancun.

We schlepped ourselves from every popular bar and night club in the place, and had a few favorites, one being “Fat Tuesday” which had sand volleyball courts and overlooked the ocean.  It also was our best shot at fame, because MTV’s film crew was recruiting from Fat Tuesday’s crowd of coeds for their spring break special.  So, fueled on Fat Tuesday’s signature daiquiris, tequila, and courage, I screamed “SURE!” when the local MTV crew asked me if I knew how to salsa dance.  With the squealing response, I turned twice and dipped my hips to the ground displaying my hot salsa capabilities.

The producers were looking for contestants to be on a 30-minute show called, “Win A Dream Date With Enrique Igelsias,” and I was exactly what they were looking for: young, blonde, and willing to make a total ass of myself.  The next thing I know, I was being convinced to dive in a pool of suds with only my string bikini on, hunting for an Enrique Iglesias C.D.  God, I was classy.

Low and behold, my 6-foot limbs caught hold of one, and I was, “on to the next round.”  The next round meant I had to learn a cheesy dance, humiliate myself in front of my peers, and be asked on national television something no person should be asked with only 30 seconds to prepare: “What is one sexy thing, you and only you can do?”

There I was.  High heels.  String bikini.  300 screaming coeds, 12 cameras, and Carson Daly holding a microphone in my face.  Sexy?  Shit! Shit! Shit! … Uh, chugging beer is not sexy, I thought to myself.  With a twirl of my hair, the next best thing came to mind, “Uh, my hip flexers, are like, retarded.”

I paused as I thought to myself “Not only do I sound dumb as shit, I’m sure ‘retarded’ is not a politically correct word.”  Oh well, it was too late, so I continued with the self-ambush, “I can take both my legs and put them behind my head.”  Wow!  I thought, did I really just say that?

And with that sentence, the crowd erupted, demanding that I show and tell.  Carson Daly, not much help, only commented, “If you say it, you’ve got to do it.”  So, standing on one leg, I grabbed the bottom of my right high heel and stretched it behind my head, leaving the crowd with a total bikini-ass shot.  It wasn’t my proudest moment, but one that my three best friends would not let me live down for a very long time.

Not surprisingly, I made it to the last round – it was between me, and a Latina young woman who was obsessed with Enrique.  I mean, she definitely had posters above her bed of him.  The final round came down to “Enrique Trivia,” and since I didn’t even know who the guy was before that trip, I lost by a point.  But that wasn’t when I fell in love.  Right after the show, Enrique came up to me, statuesque, twinking eyes, and total star factor.  He leaned in for a kiss, said I was beautiful, and left my life forever.  That was, until CiCi and found him again in Marseilles.

The backpakers on the local train told us he may be staying at the Ritz Carleton.  Now, CiCi and I were on a shoe-string budget (except for buying good wine), so we could never afford to stay at the Ritz.  What we could afford, though, was a hostel where we could shower, change into the nicest dresses we brought, get dolled-up and hang around the bar until some philanthropist decided to buy us drinks.  So that’s exactly what we did.

The philanthropist of the night was a college basketball coach from back home, we’ll call him David.  And since I don’t follow sports too closely, that is all I remember about who he was.  But he liked the idea of our wine trek across Europe, so he insisted that we try some local wine from the area.  It was perfect, someone else buying good wine while we waited to spy on Enrique.  Two birds with one stone, I thought.

David picked what is now one of my all-time favorite types of wine: a Rosé.  Now, in the U.S., rosé gets a bad wrap thanks to White Zinfandel.  And while the U.S. White Zinfandel is certainly rosé-colored, it is certainly NOT rosé wine.  According to David, and the pretty French barmaid, Provence specializes in making rosé, and has for centuries.  The French have a system, rigidly written into law, which categorizes which vineyards produce higher quality wines.  The system, in its somewhat overly-strict application, is not fool-proof, but the French like it, and wine snobs love it.  David had chosen a rosé from the Cote-du-Provence which bore the “Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC)”, which is French for “the good shit.”  And it was, indeed, pretty good shit.

Rosés are usually a mix of different grapes, with one predominant grape.  The winemaker mixes together the different grapes (varietals) in a process known as “assemblage,” to get the best combination of body, bouquet, and color.  The final blend, called the cuvée, usually comes from one main grape like Grenache (Gruh-NASH), Cinsault (SAN-sho), or Syrah (see-RAH).

Grenache smells of elegant aromas of small red berries; but as it ages, the wine develops spicier notes and increased body and richness.  Cinsault usually gives the wine a fresh and fruity touch, and Syrah adds the body, depth, and elegance of vanilla and red berries.  These grapes are perfect for the Provence region, because they love the Mediterranean climate and endless sunny days.  (Provence gets more sun per year than Southern California).  Together, these grapes made a delectable beverage, suitable for sipping at the Ritz while waiting for Enrique.

Unfortunately for us, the Paparazzi were the first to find him.  A scene had developed at the front of the hotel, as the camera men anxiously awaited his arrival.  A little glowing from the crisp and cool Rose, CiCi and I made our way through the grand lobby to catch a glimpse.  As he ducked out of his limo, he looked fabulous – 6’3, Spanish superstar.  Then a delicate hand reached out of the limo.

Enrique turned around, grabbed the hand, and pulled out an equally beautiful goddess – tan, blonde, and tone.  I hated her guts.  He whisked her out of the limo, through the lobby, and into the elevators, not before they engaged in a passionate kiss as the glass elevator doors closed.  Damn tennis stars!  I was over Enrique in that instance, and happy to be left with half a bottle of the Rose, and a new American friend.  We “cheers”ed as I told David the Cancun story, and we all enjoyed a good laugh, at my adolescent expense.