I could almost hear the musical notes of George Gershwin as I stepped off the Train à Grande Vitesse at the Gare d’Angoulême. Coincidently, a Gene Kelly grin swept across my face as my eyes first met the Charentes landscape. There I was – almost – an American in Cognac.
Pull up a chair next to the piano and let me recount to you a melody I’ll forever remember. Here is a snifter of XO Cognac, a liquid memento of the few days I spent in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region of France. Take a sip of history and listen to what I have to say about a journey most enchanting…
Growing up, I acquired a taste for vintage films. One that has always topped the list is Vincente Minnelli’s An American in Paris. The visual and acoustic nostalgia served as a looking glass into a world I may never know – a world that may have never even existed. The overtones of finding love in and falling in love with a far-off place called Paris forever shaped my romantic expectation of France. For all I knew, though, it was simply just fanciful Hollywood fiction.
Imagine my delighted surprise, upon landing in Paris last month, to discover that it was all true. The hustle and bustle of metropolitan French life, set amongst the backdrop of Belle Époque buildings and Art Nouveau signage. My flirtation with the City of Light was brief, however, as I was on my way to somewhere even more mysterious and renowned to a cocktail-minded outsider: Cognac.
Ticket in hand, I boarded a train at Montparnasse with a 2-hour 30-minute countryside cruise ahead. Speeding alongside the Loire River, flashes of what I would experience ahead greeted my curious mind. I could almost hear the musical notes of George Gershwin as I stepped off the Train à Grande Vitesse at the Gare d’Angoulême. Coincidently, a Gene Kelly grin swept across my face as my eyes first met the Charente landscape. There I was – almost – an American in Cognac.
What followed is difficult to articulate, which is why I brought along a stack of my favorite photos from my three-day adventure in Cognac. There were picturesque villages made of stone, old buildings hiding spiritual secrets under a layer of black soot-like staining, rolling vineyards with vines that could tell stories from another generation, and dramatic sunlight that seemed to bend my very concept of space and time.
Adjusting from the grit and noise of Brooklyn, the pace of life slowed to a comfortable calm as I over-looked the roundabout of the city center from my hotel window. It was in that moment, as I inhaled a deep-breath of jet-lagged traveler’s relief, that I recalled the lyrics to Georges Guétary’s I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise: “Every new step helps a bit; but, any old kind of two-step does as well. It doesn’t matter what step you step, if you work it into your soul. You’ll get to heaven.” In a place so foreign, I found a beautiful world that some are lucky enough to call home. For the rest of us, we may visit any time by raising a glass of their eponymous spirit.
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