We have not starved on this trip.
As a matter of fact, we have had to conscientiously skip certain meals of lesser importance, thinking ahead to inescapable encounter with narrow airplane seats at the end of this trip. Fortunately, at each stop we have done a great deal of walking. But the food and wine surrounding the Saumur show are difficult to turn down at any time of the day.
It starts at our hotel, with its flakey croissants and pain au chocolat, and its buffet of hams and salamis and cheeses. It continues at lunch, with multiple delectable salads, a main course of fish or chicken or pork, topped with a sublime sauce, plus a variety of desserts. The desserts are each quite small, which is a good thing, because each taken individually isn’t quite a calorie bomb. But who can take one individually? They have ranged from creme brulee to lemon creams to petit fours, to pudding of every shade. Repeat daily!
We move en mass at dinners. There are 21 judges and numerous other officials at this show, so we fill up a room with dressage noise and travel stories in a variety of languages. All the dinners are at lovely restaurants, but there is one that stands out:
We arrive at the winery of Bouvet-Ladubay. It is in a building made of massive bricks of the local honey colored stone, in the efficient yet elegant architectural style of the region. We swarm into the vestibule, where we are greeted with glasses of champagne. The evening light is soft and golden, and I pose the entire group in the adjoining garden for a photo. From there we are guided into the wine caves, which are almost dark and moodily lit by candles in sconces. We pass side tunnels packed with cases and casks of wine. And then the space opens into a wider cavern. Tables are set with tall candelabra and crystal and white china on white tablecloths, and there are gifts wrapped in red at each of our places. The light stones of the arching ceilings reflect the candlelight, and everything is bathed in its warm glow.
It is a place for speeches and giving thanks. It is a place for reveling in the wines of the establishment, a different one for each course, paired beautifully with the meal itself. Most important, It is a place for savoring the company of our companions, this traveling circus that is international dressage, this family of voyagers from all corners of the dressage universe. We may have last seen them a week, or a month, or two years ago, but we continue conversations that we were having at our last meeting as if we were never apart. This is the good stuff: I will miss this part the most when this final year of FEI judging is over.
Even though it is late, it feels too soon to leave. We step out of the cave into the night air, enjoying the wash of floodlights on the winery’s exterior. When we return to the hotel, we gravitate as a group, naturally, to the bar, not because we need anything else to drink, but because we don’t want the evening to end.