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Allô, allô, Bonjour!

I have often tried to comprehend why some ideas turn out to be smash-hits while others bomb.
Well, I finally figured it out: the key to success is underestimation. Being too optimistic when it comes to setting targets guarantees your ABSOLUTE determination to succeed if you want to survive.
Find the watertight evidence below.

Allez, à l'attaque!


In this Slurp!

Surviving in France

How to survive the nicest Frenchman in the world

Survival part two

Movie: Love survives everyting


Surviving in France


Today it has been exactly nineteen years and sixty-three days since I signed the contract that made me the owner of a medieval wine castle in France. It wasn't my fault. I did not have, as it is known in legal terms, full capacity. So passionately in love was I with this wildly romantic fortress, that I had no idea I had just put my head on the executioner's block.


Over the following years I often thought that perhaps a caravan by the brand 'Château' would have been a better asset. It would have definitely made my life a lot less chaotic.


Because, entirely unexpectedly, Château life turns out not to take place on a cloud of pink marzipan. In order to survive the diabolical horrors that come with wineboer-hood one needs to possess unending heroism and the strength of seven oxen.


It turned out to be an untruth that the weather in France is always good. This last summer's month for example was drowned in daily torrential downpours of epic proportions. The vineyards became inaccessible to the tractor. The grapevines, direct relatives of the jungle liana, took advantage and ran riot unobstructed.


But wine-tigers Régis and Yvette donned Platoon-eque costumes and ventured out into the swampy grape fields on foot. There they, after a week of bitter combat, finally won a Pyrrhic victory against the indomitable vitis vinera.


The marshy weather conditions resulted in a baby boom of millions of bloodthirsty château-mosquitoes that indulgently gorged themselves on the wine flavoured blood of the castle lord.


But all this pales in comparison to the size of the beetles one might find in his underwear here each morning.


Or the shelled flying beasties of fearsome proportions that gnaw out holes in the wood the size of a grown up battered sausage.


Not to mention the giant sting-eager wasps, with stingers almost longer than themselves.
Or how about the mysterious inky black giant bumblebees that have the habit to come roaring around your head like flying Harley Davidsons.

deur muur

And the maintenance! A never-ending litany of insomnious tossing and turning. So widespread in fact that resident castle rabbit Flaubert perplexedly wonders when that long overdue paintjob will ever be completed.


Or the walls! In nostalgic moods I often yearn for those flawless Dutch brick walls. Hard as nails and impenetrable. The castle wall above looks meltingly idyllic, but meanwhile swallows are pecking at the joints between the stones, while a veritable Noah's ark of robins, blue tits, sparrows, starlings, lizards and other natural riff-raff build their unsolicited nests.


It may seem like a lot of fun, a home full of flying housemates, but because of those absent joints one of the castle walls started to sag, which led the girders to attempt a skydive. Unlike most other maintenance work, which we tend to sidestep with typical French nonchalance, this is the type of upkeep that tolerates no delay. Urgent action was required.


Funnily enough this brings us to the point at which the sun comes back out again. Because now we have a bona fide reason to invite someone who is very dear to our heart. After all, a mammoth job like this one; preventing the collapse of a medieval castle, can be completed by only one of two people: the strongest American on the planet, or the nicest Frenchman in the world.

How to survive the nicest Frenchman in the world


Superman couldn't make it (he would have been our second choice anyway) but monsieur Moreau presented himself at the castle gate a week after our pleading phone call. Nineteen years ago he had, with a hammer, a saw and a pencil stub behind his ear, accomplished the Seven Wonders of the World here and now he was back. When in the dimly lit attic we take stock of the damages, he laughs in exactly the same manner as he did nineteen years ago: 'Mwôah, c'est pas méchant,' as he pulls out his folding ruler.


Only six weeks later (that's lightning fast for a French builder) monsieur Moreau's pickup bumbles onto our courtyard. But two things have changed: the little big man is approaching seventy and prefers to let others do the heavy lifting for him. The second change we shall come back to later.


'Haha,' monsieur Moreau laughs. To wine giant Régis: 'You look like Jesus, on his way to put together his own cross! And with those wings on your back, you'll go straight to heaven.' Something that, considering Régis' body mass, would be no minor achievement.


While the scaffolding is being set up inside, outside the master artisan is handling the chainsaw with surgical precision.


After the wineboer has confirmed that all the heavy labour has been completed, he enters the battlefield and cowardly asks if 'there's anything he can do to help?'


Monsieur Moreau bursts out laughing. 'Can someone please take this man away from here?!' But then his heart softens and he acquiesces: the wineboer can go downstairs and collect the leftover bits of waste wood.

After only two days the titanic job has been completed. The renovated castle attic will easily be able to withstand the next two hundred years. Now the second transformation regarding monsieur Moreau presents itself. Due to the fact that he is 'En retraite', he would like to have the account settled outside the field of vision of Revenue.

It's early morning when the wineboer rushes to Choussiseul-les-deux-Ponts, the dwelling place of his beloved contractor. After he has managed to shake off one of the many wineboer-groupies that continually stalk him, he heads to the appointed location. Illuminated by the heavenly beams of the Église de Sainte-Madeleine this is where the handover will take place.


A case of French legal tender accompanied by a modest envelope change owner; both parties are satisfied. But when the overconfident wineboer suggests that monsieur Moreau come back next week to repair the castle's other attic, the craftsman chortles: 'Non merci, chef. I've done enough this summer. Come back to me after the harvest...'

Survival part two


These days we have pretty much mastered survival in this paradisiacal part of the earth. We enjoy this country where life moves so slowly that the snails need their morning cup of coffee to get going.


Where castle hen Smith answers the mail every day. While not losing sight of her, and perch-mate Wesson's, duties to provide us daily with fresh eggs.


Where the castle's security is competently managed by surveillance rabbit Flaubert. Who finds the time to paint his own signs and make snuggly love to his fiance Marie-France.

Voilà, love of wine life effortlessly wipes the floor with setbacks. Love, after all, survives everything.

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