Arriving at Dijon

I said goodbye to Alice and to Paris. It was 1968 and I had spent four whirlwind days in the City of Light. It was just before my 19th birthday and the world had opened up for me in Paris. I had experienced a debilitating transportation strike, was rescued by a handful of very lovely French folks, met a very kind ex-pat who allowed me to stay with her in her flat and worked in a winery co-operative in the heart of the city.

I found myself bouncing around like Raggedy Andy, landing here and there in various positions but always landing squarely on my feet. I had signed up for a work-study viticultural and winery program which would allow me to observe and participate in some Old World wine experiences. It was now time to catch the train and head toward the south and Beaujolais.

I arrived on the train and found myself sharing a compartment with a young French family that included a man and wife, two small children and the young sister of the wife.

We started a conversation and it came out very quickly, for all of the obvious reasons, that I was an American. They were delighted to meet me because the sister, who was 17, was studying English and was about to take some sort of placement exam to see if she qualified to spend a year abroad in an English-speaking country. Thankfully, a hamper was opened shortly and all sorts of goodies appeared. All I had to do was speak English and eat an array of wonderful cuisine!

I grilled the young lady and her family on the area of Burgundy and the Midi, which they were very experienced with and helpful about, and the sister grilled me on Beatles lyrics. Like so many folks who study intensely languages which are not native to them, she had the inside curve on grammar. She bombarded me with questions about definite articles, redundancies and past participles as if, in some magical way, I could pop out English grammar lessons with a flick of a wand. It is all very funny in retrospect, but at the time, sitting in this small compartment, eating a wonderful lunch and watching the lush French countryside slip by, I felt like a bit of a charlatan "explaining" English grammar to a very bright, well-versed French woman. Fortunately, I had been spoon fed "The Elements of Style" by Strunk and White so I was not at a complete loss. I had earned my lunch and when I arrived at Dijon. I felt well-fed but drained. I had, indeed, "sung" for my lunch.

After two days of eating copious amounts of moutard and rich cuisine in Dijon, I found myself standing at the gates of the chateau I was assigned to in Lancie. The chateau was in great need of repair. The structure was in the shape of a "U" with the two sides coming out of the bottom curve used as dormitories for the temporary workers.

The chateau was, essentially, all facade, keeping up a great face while the interior was shabby and ill-kept. The chateau was three stories high and from my room in the "men's" wing, the view of the grounds and the vast vineyards was nothing less than spectacular. The caretakers of the grounds and winery lived in houses on the grounds and the winery family lived above offices at the curve of the "U."

I was unceremoniously shown my room in the wing that I was to share with another man who would be arriving in the afternoon. I was issued sheets and two rough, heavy army blankets. I made my bed and lay on it looking up at chipped and curling paint on a ceiling that must have been 20 feet high. I then fell into a dead-sleep nap. When I awoke with a start, there standing at the foot of my wrought-iron bed stood a monster man with flaming red hair and beard, a man yanked right out of central casting for a Viking movie! The man was so big that he literally blocked my view of the window. With a huge grin and the offering of an enormous paw, he greeted me in some sort of almost intelligible English. I was in it now and there was no turning back.

Lorn Razzano is former owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland. Reach him at

Share This Story