The party was over. The horse carriage made its final pass. The intense beam from the wedding spotlight broke off of us. With tired eyes and warm smiles we blended back into ambiguity. Now we were merely a pair amongst strangers on a plane bound for Europe. They were uninterested in our plans, our origin, and our final destination. A commonality we shared. We were left alone to enjoy each other. I looked out the window. It was dark and revealed little. But good sightseeing is slim from 32,000 feet in an airplane crossing the Atlantic.
My hand locked hers as she drifted off. Then my mind wandered. For months I envisioned France through a lens of romance. I imagined the weather, the food, and the people. I imagined the first cool breeze grazing my face. I imagined the charcuterie and cheese boards from the delicate wine shops; the fresh baguettes and pain au chocolate from the bakeries that seem to be on every corner; and an orchestra of gluttony led by escargot, quiche, chocolate mousse, and crème brûlée. Finally all of it would be washed down by a blur of aperitifs, wine, cocktails, and digestifs. I imagined sharing my admiration with the people of France for their food, wine, and way of life. But a feeling of concern started to shape in my head. At first it was small. But it started to grow. It filled every corner of my mind like a storm cloud. It grew until I couldn't ignore it anymore.
Am I expecting too much from this trip?
Am I setting myself up for gut wrenching disappointment with these expectations?
Lofty expectations are dangerous. I have a tendency to pile them on until they become mountains. And when I see them in the light of day they always seem to fall short. But a romantic’s life has its hazards. We build everything up in our heads. Setting high standards for people, events, and places. Resulting in us putting pressure on ourselves to enjoy everything as much as we hoped. And if expectations aren’t met, we’re left with an effort to be content. We reason with ourselves and pretend to be amused with our outrageous expectations to begin with. We smile and nod but our hearts are secretly broken. So is the price of being a romantic.
Had I put too much stock in this trip?
Off the plane, on and off a train, and a short drive later we arrived in Saint Sabine. A village in eastern France within the wine rich region of Burgundy. The 196 inhabitants preserved and built upon the humble medieval structures. A walk through the village-a task easily accomplished in under ten minutes- would unveil a mixture of new and old homes and barns. Homes of stone with large wooden beams hanging out of decaying walls sat naturally next to 20thcentury built garden homes covered in ivy. When we arrived to Chateau Saint Sabine, the 17thcentury castle and crowning jewel of the namesake village, it was late and dark. I was tired. I would greet my mountain in the morning.
I awoke and started to familiarize myself with the room. The Victorian decor was a welcoming time jump to when maximalists ruled. The walls stretched up to vain proportions. Ivory curtains hung from the full length French doors leading to the overlook situated on the chateau’s ramparts. Once serving as a tool for defense, spanning from one end of the chateau to the other, now retired, the top of the ramparts duties included hosting honeymooners on its improved deck. I brushed the curtains aside and admired it. A portion of the railing appeared to still be the original stone. It also had a pair of chairs and a table resting on the new wood planks. From there you could see the horse stables next door, the two lane road leading away from the town, and greenery for miles. I shuffled through my duffle bag-overpacked and unorganized-and snatched my robe to celebrate the view. I remember being greeted by three things.
The first was the sun. I could see it peeking over a group of hills out in the distance. The hills were full and green. They were adorned by trees with leaves who were caught changing seasons. The second was the cool breeze. I tightened my robe as it blew by. The final greeting was the crowing of a rooster. As if the rooster was an alarm, groundskeepers and maids appeared. They crossed paths through the courtyard with guests sprinkled in as the sun put the hills under its shadow. Perched on my tower I saw the day begin.
I went back inside to find my new wife awake. Through a stream of yawns she negotiated breakfast plans. A quick shower and another visit to the duffel bag, and I was ready to descend from my tower. At the bottom was the courtyard. I took a few steps and stopped. I was engulfed by the chateau itself. Thirty windows on the east side of the chateau looked in at me. Thirty windows on the west did the same. Other patrons were admiring the third side of the chateau. The original archway carved out under our ramparts. I could see the horse carriages stomping under the family crest centered on top of the arch; making wide circles towards the main door and delivering wig wearing aristocrats for balls and reports on the revolution.
Walking across the courtyard, I spotted a man, alone, sitting at a table. He was examining a newspaper and nursing an espresso. I could see the steam rising as we got closer. He was elegance personified. It was something I had never seen before in person. He wore a white dress shirt with the collar and few buttons open. He countered the breeze with a cashmere sweater draped over his shoulders. His hair was white, full, and looked as if it combed itself back naturally. He looked as much a part of the chateau as the archway or curtains. At his feet was a dog. It laid still like good dogs should. And it remained quiet and uninterested in us as we passed. I couldn’t contain my grin as we entered the reception area. I felt a sense of fulfillment. Everything was as I imagined it.