Marius by Michel CHAPOUTIER. France

Imagine, Paris, 1889

Marius found the young woman’s light snoring to be extremely sexy. She seemed to be lost in her dreams like a princess in her tower back in medieval times, a far cry from this summer of 1889; her sleep betrayed the pleasure that she had just experienced and Marius felt a certain masculine pride in this. Slight shards of light penetrated the shutters and were deflected upon the ceiling of the hotel room. This modest lighting allowed Marius to hastily find his clothes, and un-hastily to appreciate the naked body of the young woman whose name he had forgotten to ask. This was Paris at the time of the “Exposition Universelle”, these were festive, carefree times. She was curled up on her side, not unlike a hunting dog at the ready. The sheets covered only the bottom half of her legs. Her body was of a perfect, porcelain white colour, emblematic of these voluptuous women who make love with a smile and for a long time. Her round buttocks carved out her lower back. Her mouth was slightly open. Her breathing swelled her slightly round tummy and her generous bust with large nipples. Marius was hungry.

It had only been a few months since his eighteenth birthday and he already had numerous amorous conquests under his belt. His athletic build, apparent beneath his undershirt, and his confident patter certainly helped build his list of conquests. He was well aware that he was in his prime and so were the girls of Tain and the surrounding areas. Unknown to his mother, his reputation of being “insatiable” was already well established. But in Paris, it was a first for him, a de-flowering in good and due form, of a country boy who had come to experience all the carnal pleasures, albeit less constraining and more expensive, of the Capital. A prerequisite or passage obligé for becoming a man, Marius must come to Paris and bed some women. And he had.

He pulled in his stomach to slightly tighten his black leather belt puffing out his beige linen trousers. He kept his eye fixed on his prey to enjoy the moment for as long as possible. The young man chuckled to himself when he realized that he had kicked off his shoes without untying the laces. With a bit of effort he managed to force them back on again. Over time the leather had become supple. As he stood up he pushed his hands deep into his pockets to straighten them along his legs, he then buttoned his shirt up to the collar, and slid his fingers through his hair before grabbing his jacket and draping it over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. Pretending a lackadaisical adieu, he bought his free hand up to his eye brow and saluted his conquest, who, in response, didn’t budge an inch. As the door closed, the young woman turned over letting out a soft snoring sound that Marius didn’t hear. He had more important matters to attend to. His amorous feelings disappeared the moment he closed the door. He ran down the hall and scampered down the stairs three at a time. He settled the room bill with a slight smile and disappeared into the Rue du Cherche Midi. He wouldn’t have traded-in this morning for anything in the world. Outside, the air was chilly and its oxygen was of a feminine pureness. Marius drew up his chin as if he were the famous Gambetta standing at his rostrum.

There is no such thing as an innocent man running down the street. Either he is fleeing from something, or he is saving time. Marius sped off and was weaving through passersby while devouring a chocolate brioche. The main avenues were all clogged and Paris was swarming with people. Running silly, Marius knew that his father, Polydore Chapoutier, wine merchant by trade, was waiting for him at his stand. He was here to present his Maison’s wine to the visitors in one of the Exposition Universelle’s pavilions. The visitors were thirsty for Rhone wines.

A venue where getting lost was commonplace, the Exposition Universelle was spread out over more than 120 acres. There were more than 30 million visitors expected to attend. France went all out to celebrate the world event. It had bragging rights, not unlike our golden boy, the energetically insolent Marius. At the same time France, this young republic, was celebrating its political regime, that, since 1870 and the end of the Second Empire, had held its own despite the “inclinations” of the royalists or Bonapartists. Jules Ferry, Sadi-Carnot and Clemenceau were fighting the good fight. As such the Exposition Universelle had political undertones. The Phrygian bonnet of the French allegorical figure Marianne was gaining in popularity. And what an anniversary! No less than the centennial of the French revolution of 1789. The symbol of the Republic bore the signature of Eiffel. Originally intended as a temporary structure for the Exposition Universelle, this gigantic iron tower was erected at the far end of the Champ de Mars right next to the Seine River. Someone had even suggested it be constructed in such a manner as to straddle the Seine. The intention was to dismantle the tower a few months after the end of the Exposition Universelle and to rebuild it in Montmartre….Just yesterday evening, Marius mentioned that the two engineers, called something like “Nouguier” and “Koechlin”, who had spared no expense in developing this architectural masterpiece had lost out to their boss, Gustave Eiffel, who had taken all the glory by buying the patent.

To whoever the glory should go, be it Gustave, Peter, Paul or Mary, the tower was the first thing that Marius and Polydore saw when they arrived in Paris. Good grief! Seven thousand three hundred tons of metal on a vertical construction of over three hundred metres high. The young man couldn’t believe his eyes. His hands deep in his pockets, he almost fell flat on his back. Polydore, although pretending to be impressed in front of his son, was in reality no less astounded. “Paris, image that!” he said to himself. Marius found that the structure had the allure of a lovely woman wearing fishnet stockings.

Their amazement had only started though; they were invited to try out the American elevator and that was when Polydore’s stomach performed an up and down round trip. Marius was slightly heartier. From their viewpoint in the glass dome on the second level balcony, the Parisians strolling below were no larger than ants! “This is like looking at the city map” commented Marius. “Just like it” agreed Polydore, then repeated mechanically “Just-like-it,”, as he made out the silvery reflection of the tower in the Seine River to his right and the lawns of the Trocadero covered with thousands of roses. He admired the river but thought to himself “My Rhone….my vines…not bad either”.

Back on terra firma, Marius rummaged through his pockets before deciding what to buy; lollypops, candlesticks, trowels, lamps, post cards or boxes of camembert…bearing the effigy of the new Parisian star. For his sister Marie, he plumped for a scarf. The father and son enjoyed spending time together; making the most of it, as though they keenly knew that all good things must come to an end.

There was significant public debate about the risks of such a construction in a storm as well as about its esthetic allure. But the truth was that this was the least of the Chapoutier’s concerns…they were here to have the world discover and fall in love with their wine, followed by the signing of sales contracts. This gigantic fair was a bonanza with foreign visitors everywhere. All the more interesting for the House of Passat and Chapoutier as it had grown in size. The administrative and accounting work was dealt with by André Passat while Polydore took care of the wine side. At the beginning of the year, these two associates had purchased a new building in Tain, a house, a cellar, a vat house and a garden on the corner of Commandant Noir and Jules Nadi streets. All this for a mere 20,000 French francs from the Gaudo-Paquet family heirs! This was no mere pleasure cruise; they were going to have to sell wine to pay for this investment. Polydore had his hands full and Marius wouldn’t have missed this for the world. He was no stranger to hard work ever since joining his father in the family business. He was proud to work with him, to live and breathe wine, and to tell the truth, he had always dreamed of setting foot in Paris. So he ran like greased lightning to join his father on the stand so he could roll up his sleeves and get to work. The insolent morning heat was already upon them. Paris was like a giant village fair; steam powered machines, hydraulic cranes, and an illuminated fountain were the most popular with curious onlookers. The fairgrounds buzzed with English, Argentinian, Hungarian, Italian, and French regional accents. Individuals gathered at the colonial area in Les Invalides to observe the indigenous people wandering around in their enclosures. The street peddlers shouted about the new technologies, brandishing their advertising as well as the Petit Journal newspaper going for next to nothing. Headlining on the front page was the Prince of Wales’ state visit accompanied by President Carnot, ministers in their formal attire and the Prefect of Paris, Eugène Poubelle. Tomorrow would be the turn of the Brazilian Emperor! In the Figaro newspaper, Guy de Maupassant regurgitated his distaste for the new tower claiming that “Even the commercially minded Americans wouldn’t want”, also calling it “vertiginously ridiculous” and “an odious column of riveted tin”! “Republican, secular, and imposed as it can seen from every vantage point” mocked the Cocarde newspaper. On the support side, Gaugin praised the “iron gothic lace” and in the “Official guide to the Eiffel Tower” Gustave himself referred to it as “the sum total of contemporary modern science.” Marius was certainly not hooked on Science but Polydore was intent on inculcating his son. Whether or not they were in the “Age of steel”, “modern times” or what not, the young man quickly made his escape to the large “beverage pavilion” where the enormous Mercier champagne vat or the Heineken beer stall were the main attractions. Jokes and playfulness abounded, talk was about “progress” and Jamaican Rum, Art Nouveau and General Boulanger.

A shade disoriented, Marius arrived hot and breathless. His father’s knowing look was enough. The portly Polydore, more or less held in by his braces, tapped Marius on the shoulder and nodded to a pile of cases that needed opening. Having trained as a cooper, Polydore handled the barrels with ease and dexterity. His colossal hands could break anything in half, but with his meticulously clipped beard, and his sensitive soul, he could easily have made an excellent pianist…. had his pinky not touched two keys at a time. He had always dreamed of being a poet, and even learnt Alphonse Karr’s works by heart, but with his farmer’s heavy frame that the land, from generation to generation, had forged for the job, it was his destiny “not to displease the will of God” as Darwin said. Polydore had an ogre’s physique and kind eyes and when anyone crossed the path of this gentle giant, their first reaction was to offer to buy him a drink. If he had lived a few decades earlier, Alexandre Dumas would have used him as a model for his Porthos character. His friends amused themselves by claiming that he bore a startling resemblance to Victor Hugo.

A week since their arrival in Paris and Marius, Polydore and the two Maison Chapoutier employees had not seen much sleep. The hours of each night’s sleep could be counted on one hand. Their stand was always full of people who had come to try the wines from Tain, Croze, Rasteau and Chateauneuf du Pape. As soon as the fair’s gates closed for the day, Marius shot off to visit the capital with his “foreign visitor’s guide to Paris” in his jacket pocket, in which he ticked off in priority order; The Natural History Museum, Notre-Dame, the sculpture exhibition, the living artists painting and sketches exhibition at the “Palais d’Industrie”, the aquarium at the Trocadero and the Pantheon, where only four years earlier the “splitting image” of his father had been transported and laid to eternal rest. But Marius’ day was far from over. Last night again a big party had been held in the yacht and war ship galleries. A large number of exhibitors had gathered there to dine and members of the wine growers and winemakers delegation were the guests of honour. Unconsciously the participants organized their seating arrangements by wine region or by estate. The Chapoutiers sat beside the Mabille brothers from Amboise who specialized in wine presses. Also present were the Sochu Pinet family from Langeais promoting their vineyard ploughs. Opposite, Polydore hit if off with his table mate, Etienne Maris, a Parisian who had made his fortune in winery stacking mechanisms. To Marius’ left were the Fruhinsholzs’ from Nancy who made a living from barrels and vat-making. Each time that one of the speakers mentioned the home town of one of the honoured guests, loud applause and cheers rang out from the crowd as if they were at a football match. Conversations became heated, countless toasts were made and everyone soon got into the spirit. They worked in the wine business, and this was all part of their trade.

When his father began to speak, Marius’ his eyes opened wide. Just one thing perturbed him; it was difficult to concentrate whenever a lovely lady came within eyeshot and his eyes were on red alert as there were a lot of “beautiful people” that evening…

There was a resounding silence when a well-known, eminent figure delivered the conventional speech:

“For the first time, and on the instigation of Mr Georges Berger, the managing director of the event, to whom we are grateful, winemaking has been honored with a special exhibition. Until now, we had always been placed among the other farm and agricultural related categories and in wine fairs.”

Marius’ eyes met those of a young woman with fine attributes, from the Vendee region, who was looking for her seat.

“We recognize that this initiative gives French winemakers their rightful place within the agricultural industry, this eminently French culture. Our wine’s reputation, the best in the world in terms of extent of its plantations and quality of its product, fully legitimized this special measure.”

In an audacious move that left many envious, Marius sat her beside him, believing that one should always rescue a woman in distress.

“Our winemakers’ heroic efforts of late, faced with all the calamities that we have suffered in the vineyards, also deserve recognition at this great fair of 1889; and even…..”

Marius had long since stopped listening to the official droning on, preferring instead to make comical quips to amuse his lovely tablemate. He was generously serving the wine that each winemaker had brought with him to the event. The Italians, the Americans and even the Australians had brought along their best crus to prove that they could hold a candle to the French. The sales representative of the Bugeaud Company refused to touch any wine other than his own, vaunting its pharmaceutical properties. His “Malaga” wine that was invigorating and nutritional, made from cocoa and quinquina bark, which, he hollered, cured anemia. Indigenous musical bands celebrating the French colonies marched between the great tables that were hundreds of metres long. At the other end of the table, a few gents from the textile trade in Lyon who knew the Chapoutiers, took turns in dancing, exhibiting all the effects of the wine and fatigue.

A labourer who had worked for 26 months on the Eiffel tower construction site began singing vindictive songs that were taken up by most of the crowd. “Kneel Prussians for here is the marvel/nowhere else in the universe /so Prussians, it is now France that carries the flame/who illuminates the smallest of the villages/ Of course Bismarck, you were desirous of a commercial Sedan/ France answers you with a marshal air/ Go get Humbert, and for his punishment/ show him the beauty of our world exhibition” The Eiffel tower allowed them to forget Alsace and Lorraine, if only for a while.

Amongst the festive hubbub that the wine had rendered hospitable and profane, not much would get in the way of Marius and the lovely demoiselle who was now laughing without restraint at whatever he said…and he said whatever. The dinner had not yet finished before these two disappeared into the night illuminated by oil lamps. Polydore, satisfied with the evening, did not notice a thing. A few minutes earlier, Marius had whispered in his princess’s ear: Let’s get out of here and go have a drink at the Porte Saint Martin theatre or go nibble on a dessert at the Halles… there’s some concerts going on there, or perhaps we could saunter up to Montmartre and see the Eiffel Tower all aglow. We could go get a room, we’re in Paris, the high life; Paris is only once in a lifetime…”

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