October 10, 2014

On the Hunt

"You can take pictures," he told me.

The man was asking me if I would like to come hunting with his club sometime in the fall.

I nodded, my body language squarely in between "neutral" and "non-committal." He insisted that I was going to love it, and asked me several more times if I wanted to go. I moved the needle a little towards "OK," and obviously pleasing him.

Frankly, I thought the offer was fueled more by good wine, high spirits, and a tasty meal with the Arnay-le-Duc Rotary Club, the type of invite one extends to strangers at a holiday cocktail party, only to realize the next morning (with relief) that you don't have the contact information for the person you invited. I quickly forgot about it.

Then, last week, Benoît, who wasn't even at the dinner (whom I know, however; we were staying in his house at the time), emailed inviting me to join the group for the hunt on Sunday. It was no-nonsense, very guy-like: no details other than he would pick me up at 8 and we would be going to an area about 20 minutes away. 

Butbutbutbutbut...what would we be hunting? Who else would be there? How many would we be? Did I need to buy/borrow special clothes? Did everyone understand that I was not licensed to hunt in this country? That I would only be a spectator? What time would we get home? What should I bring? Would it cost me anything? 

Or, at least, that's what I might have asked at home. My local self just replied, "OK, great. See you at 8 on Sunday." (It's a subject for another time, but I have learned that invites here are typically void of detail or previews; you just say "yes" and show up, open to any and everything.)

Benoît arrived before 8 and quickly ducked into his cave for a couple of bottles for the hunt. Promising.

We drove to Pouilly-en-Auxois, where we met a few other hunters for a quick coffee (the only non-alcoholic liquid I would see before my return home) before driving off to the hunt. We parked in a big field amongst woods and hedges. On the grounds was a ramshackle hunting cabin, like a camping trailer. Men in high-spirits climbed out of BMWs, Mercedes, and Land Rovers donning the gentleman's green of the hunter. Laughter rippled across the plain, chasing cigarette smoke and the hyper barking of a ragtag assemblage of hunting dogs. 

The group made its way into the cabin via the narrow end. The room contained a long table with chairs on one side, a bench on the other, and a stove and prep table at the end opposite the door. I sat in the middle of the bench, feeling awkward in my jeans and blue sweater (definitely not hunting gear), but lucky to be invited. I quickly realized that I was the only one without a hunting knife. Every man was hacking chunks of jambon persillé, slicing sausages, cutting hunks of lard (which is pretty much exactly hat it sounds like...lard...we were firmly in Guytown), cracking fresh walnuts, and decimating baguettes with the tool of the trade. Plates and napkins were neither offered nor seen.

All this activity generated an extraordinary thirst among the assembled. While I am not a hunter, I am also not a fool. I know full well that American men in hunting lodges drink booze before and after they take aim. They drink beer of course, preferably cheap, copious, and consumed directly from the can or bottle. 

In France, it's a little different. Interspersed with storytelling, jocular ribbing, and incessant dog barking was the sweet sound of corks popping. It would be a part of the soundtrack of the day from 8:30 until we departed. Every man had a fine-stemmed wine glass. The table soon sagged with a dozen bottles of white (it was morning, after all, a good time for something refreshing), some of them sporting names one normally sees in restaurants. Here's a magnum of Puligny-Montrachet. Or perhaps some vintage Champagne. Maybe some Meursault or Pernand-Vergelesses would be to your liking. The wines flowed without ceremony, but with great rapidity. Emptying one's glass was an open invitation to the assembled to promptly refill it. While it may have been tempting to continue to drain the contents, the stimuli for day's activities were everywhere: smelly men, yapping dogs, orange blazes and camouflage vests, and, of course, guns. It was time to take it slow.

Up next: the Hunt (plus more wine)

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