* We are back in Hong Kong. For the past three weeks, we have been in mainland China and unable to use our blog due to Chinese blocking foreign social media sites. Don’t worry, everyone seems to get on just fine without facebook over there. Now we are playing catch up and posting some old blogs that were ready to go before we realized we were being blocked.
posted by David
We were in a tiny little town called Nerac in southern France trying to capture the only WIFI available for miles inside a quirky pub over a beer and some Schweppes (beer for me and Schweppes soda for the kids in case you were wondering).
The Bar was called Henri’s and I assumed that was the name of the hyper kinetic guy who owned the place.
Henri bounced from behind the bar to the outside patio and back to a booth where he watched the French news on T.V. and drank espresso after espresso (which may have explained his extreme energy). At one point, Henri sprang out of the booth and started cheering at the T.V as Europeans are known to do when an important football match is playing only it wasn’t football on the television but a big helicopter rescuing some stranded mountain climbers. “That’s it, that’s that’s it, I can’t believe it, did you see that?” I asked him what he was talking about and he told me he was a helicopter pilot in addition to flying planes and also dabbling in Formula racing. He sat down and we talked. He showed me the wooden propeller hanging on the wall of his pub that was from his first airplane. He asked where we were from in the States and was somewhat familiar with Michigan (which was not the case in most of Europe outside the big cities) as he had lived in Chicago for six months 25 years ago when he was working with his brother trying to import Mercedes to the States.
I found out that Henri was from Belgium and had been in Nerac for 15 years. He came to look after a failing vineyard operation his father had bought. After four catastrophic years with the grapes (all had been wiped out by hail), he called it quits.
I asked Henri for a dinner suggestion since it was Monday in France and everything is closed. He called someone and then told me he’d show me the place. I figured he’d walk me out, and point in the right direction, but instead he got in his very old Fiat Panda and gestured for me to get in. The next 90 seconds are a blur. He drove down the very narrow streets which were really more like unpaved switchbacks descending Mt. Everest at such insane speeds that I nearly vomited on his dashboard. Fortunately it was quick to get to the restaurant and tell his friend that my family and I were coming back for dinner. On the way home, Henri nearly crashed into a brand new Mercedes Benz that he said was driven by the local drug dealer but thankfully it was a calmer ride than the one to the restaurant. Once back at the restaurant, I gathered the family and we made our way to the restaurant where we were seated and serviced by a very nice waiter. We had an amazing meal consisting of huge buckets of muscles in a spicy stew. Midway through dinner, Henri surprisingly showed up and the fun began.
We heard in graphic detail about Henri and his wife’s procreative attempts, his wife’s headaches, which he mistakenly called earthquakes, and lots of other biological discussion complete with back of the napkin drawings and unmentionable gesticulations. The kids were loving the entertainment, especially his liberal use of the word, shit, which he pronounced to rhyme with EAT.
Henri was a regular at the place and every time he needed help with a word, he’d call over our waiter. The waiter was patient but was also quite busy and Henri was constantly asking for help with this or that English word or phrase. At one point, Henry called the waiter saying, “Jean Francois…….?” The waiter responded by saying, “Jean Francois? How long have you been coming here? My name is Giovanni!” At which point Henri laughed like a madman. He really didn’t know Giovanni’s name. It made sense though….Henri had been calling me Steve because he thought, for some reason, that I looked like Steve Jobs, I had been calling him Henri but found out that his name was actually Thierry, and his bar, which was called Henri, was named after Henri the 3rd who had renamed himself Henri the 4th (and had a summer home in Nerac). So, in the end, nobody was calling anyone by the correct name but it didn’t matter one bit.
The very best story though came during dinner when Henri told us that his father invented the whipped cream can – his Dad, Armand Schellens, was in the whipped cream business when he met a man in the nitrous oxide business and had a eureka moment (probably induced by the very first whippit) that changed the world of whipped cream forever. He grew the business, merged, bought another business called Capra and turned it into the largest manufacturer of goat cheese in Europe.
Thierry, AKA Henri, was yet another great character that we continue to collect on our journey around the world.