October 17, 2014

Hunt Part 2

As the wine flowed and our jaws worked their way through the meat, a white-haired French Senator (Fren-ator) arrived. He was a bit late (deliberately, I guessed) and, judging from his outfit -- sky blue sweater, bright orange scarf knotted around his neck -- this was not someone who was afraid of a little attention. Quickly, the sole bottle of red on the table -- opened expressly for him -- was passed his way. He installed himself at the head of the table.

Politicians the world over share certain character traits, and our friend from the Senate was no different. Eager to meet new people? Yessir. Quick to smile? Yep. Happy with some attention? Check. Good storyteller? Among the best. Remarkable precision with words? Yup. The Fren-ator was obviously in high spirits, happy to be away from the capital with some old friends in a hunting cabin. He spun yarns about broken promises from his supporters ("I'm going to vote for you" said to his face, followed by the same "supporter" mistakenly calling the Fren-ator's cellphone, thinking it was in fact his opponent and saying, "I just told the Fren-ator I was voting for him, but don't worry, I'm with you"); told tales about requests from the Prime Minister to accommodate Chinese tourists looking to drop serious coin on Burgundy wines; and let forth an avalanche of political/hunting/manly slang that had me racing to keep up. His glass, like everyone else's, was rarely empty, though professional responsibility did require him to cover his glass -- with both hands layered, one on top of the other, a sign that he could not be moved from his position -- when over-zealous pourers made the rounds.

Eventually, the laughter began to wane and the collective shuffle of a group on a mission began. I recognized this shift from my time at the lunch table during harvest; while it was wonderful to be relaxing with food and wine, there was serious business to be taken care of. It was the same at the hunting lodge.

We had officially squandered the only dry part of the day by sitting cooped up in a trailer filled with booze, smoke, flesh, and hot air. Now, it was pouring rain. 

As the crew put on rain gear (I was loaned an authentic hunting jacket and sweet orange vest), Paul informed me that each week, a farmer brings 90 birds -- pheasants and partridge, primarily -- to this little spot of Burgundy and releases them for the hunter's pleasure. (The crates behind the lodge were the evidence of this set up.) In classic good-little-American-boy fashion, I nodded and waited expectantly for a preview of the day's events and a gun/hunting safety primer. 

The first crack of a shotgun 25 feet away made me realize that neither of these things would be forthcoming. I affixed myself to Paul's flank, and off we walked. He talked a little to his dogs, and gave some instructions to a few other members of the hunting party, coaching them behind hedges or around a flank of woods. What had been a peaceful field surrounded by vegetation suddenly sounded like a bowl of Rice Krispies: snap, crackle, and pop. Dogs were flushing birds every minute, and my new friends had quick trigger fingers. 

Within three minutes of starting, I saw my first pheasant meeting its demise. The dog flushed it, a man shot it, the dog carried it to the man, and the man brought it in my direction, muttering, as he wrung the neck of the fowl, relieving it of the pressures of life, "They always give me shit for being a lousy shot. Well, today, I got the first one." He shoved the bird into the big pocket in the back of his jacket, the corpse making a little hump in the small of his back. I liked this guy, and decided to tag along behind him.

About ten minutes later, I realized I wasn't quite close enough to him. As a bird flew out of the brush to my right, I watched the prey fly quickly on a diagonal, going from my original 3 o'clock to my 6 o'clock. My "friend" was at my original 12 o'clock...putting me squarely in between the barrel of his gun and the flying dinner. He yelled, "Get down!" and down I went, faster than you can say "Dick Cheney." Gunfire crackled and then subsided. Another member of our party, who had me nowhere near his firing line, had gunned down the bird. As he put it in his coat, my buddy, none too pleased with me for wrecking his shot, said, "I wasn't going to shoot you, but you really need to stay glued to a hunter while you're out here."

Rain trickled into my earlobes at the same pace that sweat puddled in strange places on my body. A break sounded like a good idea, and a group of us trudged back into the trailer in silent agreement, where wine and food awaited. Thirst for fermented grape juice never seemed more appropriate for 10:30am.

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