France, 1991

Images © Copyright 1991, J. H. Welsch
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By. Jack Welsch


Unfortunately, this was another trip where I failed to keep a diary so there's not as much detail here as I sometimes provide. It was primarily a business trip but we had a lot of fun and did take a few days for a brief vacation. The occasion was a meeting of our company's distributors from Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. The host was our French distributor in Paris and it was as his facilities where we held our meetings. While we held two days of meetings, the spouses spent time on tours of Paris and had a great time. On the night after the first day of meetings, all 80 of us enjoyed dinner and a show and the famous Lido Cabaret on the Champs Elysée. Not too shabby!

On the afternoon of the second meeting day, we boarded busses for a trip to Champagne (the region and the wine!) After getting settled in our hotels, we were again picked up by bus and taken to the Moët et Chandon winery in Épernay or a private visit of their caves. By this time in the evening, the place was otherwise closed. Lin and I had visited in 1989 but having a private tour was extraordinary. Everyone who's ever had a tour of a winery (or a brewery for that matter) knows that there is a tasting room at the end and that had been our experience during our first visit here. (In the case of Moët et Chandon, the tasting room is right down in the caves which are carved out of the subterranean chalk.) Normally, you get a taste or two and you're on your way. This night, it was very different. When we got to that part of the tour, we had a full-blown champagne reception as a prelude to dinner. At the conclusion of the reception, we were informed that dinner would be served and each of us was given a table assignment. Tables were arranged mostly by country or language. Those of us from the US were distributed as table hosts and Lin and I were to host the Belgians and Dutch. Huge doors were then thrown open to reveal the "Cave Napoleon" where that emperor himself has dinned on many occasions! Neither words nor my photos can possibly convey the majesty of that underground, candlelit chamber! The Cave Napoleon is not open to the public but our French distributor, the late Michel Laurent was very well connected and had made all arrangements. Dinner, of course, was extraordinary and at each table was stationed a person whose only job was to fill the glasses for that table. Each was initially armed with a magnum and the magnums were replaced as soon as they were empty. As soon as you'd take a sip, the glass would be topped off. During dinner, a group of musicians moved from table to table playing requests. Because of the makeup of the tables, the requests tended to be for music of the country represented at each table. It was pretty neat! After dinner, the musicians played music for dancing. All in all, it was a magical evening.

The next morning, while many were still suffering the after-effects of the champagne, the busses picked us up for, first another winery tour (at Mercier) and then a visit to the Abbey of Hautvilliers in Épernay where the monk Dom Perignon had been the treasurer and celler master. That facility is now owned by Moët et Chandon, who also happen to be the producers of Dom Perignon champagne. The Abbey is also closed to the public but again, Michel was able to arrange a champagne reception and a sumptuous lunch on the grounds. Again, it was a fairytale experience.

After lunch, the party was over. The busses took us back to the hotel we'd been at near Paris and Lin and I took a cab to our hotel in Paris itself where we were to spend a few vacation days. The hotel was in Montparnasse. It was a small and not particularly great one and I've already forgotten its name.

The first day in Paris, Lin and I went to the Pere Lachaise cemetery at the request of one of my sons for the sole purpose of getting some pictures of the grave of Jim Morrison. It was a long and expensive cab ride but the cemetery was really fastinating and I wouldn't mind going back some time to see more of it. There are a LOT of famous people buried there as we discovered as we tried to find old Jim. The troubling thing was that many of Morrison's fans had defaced other graves by painting directions on them pointing to Morrison's. Not surprisingly, there were a number of disreputable-looking people hanging around Morrison's grave smoking something that I'm pretty sure wasn't Prince Albert.

While in Paris, we spent some time with my friend Isabelle. She lived in Normandy but attended school in Paris. She'd spent a summer interning here in PA. With her we visited the Louvre and the palace at Versailles. The Louvre is downright overwhelming. There's no way you could see this place in a day (or maybe even in a week) so we just hit a few highlights and moved on. Lin and I walked over to Notre Dame and I climbed to the bell tower while Lin waited on terra firma. Quasimodo was nowhere in sight.

Versailles is of a scale that's hard to imagine, especially given that it was a home! The horse barns are more elaborate than many palaces! Of course, just being in the famous Hall of Mirrors was a real thrill. When we returned to town, we had lunch and I visited the (original) Paris Opera while Linda and Isabelle did a little shopping. The Opera is opulent but I was really shocked at how small it is!

The next morning was rainy and Lin and I visited the Musée d'Orsay, a museum housed in what had been a train station (Le Gare d'Orsay). The building itself is absolutely magnificent and it houses a huge collection of Impressionist works. I love Impressionist paintings; Renoir is my favorite artist followed rather closely by Monet. There were many works by each of them. From a balcony of the museum, there is a great view of the city, encompassing the Louvre, Place de la Concord, the Opera, and Sacre Coeur. I said to Lin, "This whole city is a work of art." Some years later, I read almost the same words in a book. The statement is absolutely true. The rain stopped so we took a cab to Montmartre where we visited Sacre Coeur, had a nice lunch at an outdoor café and bought a small piece from a local artist. We really need to go back there to spend more time.

Unfortunately, we did not spend as much time in Paris was we should have but, then, I think I'd need to spend a year to be happy. This was a fantastic trip. Because it seems to deny the future, I don't like the term "once-in-a-lifetime experience" but the night in the caves was certainly one.