NGW: Petit Chapeau Bordeaux 2009   1 comment

In Morocco land of Sultans and Scimitars, I was with ID, my then girlfriend.  I was hoping the trip would be more Road to Morocco than Casablanca.  But in truth, I got a little bit of each and a smattering of The Sheltering Sky for good measure.

There is Morocco though a Hollywood filter:  The Road to Morocco, with Dorothy Lamour, Bing Crosby and the brilliant Bob Hope.  As a little Sybarite-Hipster-In-Training (yes, you know the acronym), with its Hollywood-movie lot scenery, I was taken with the place.   Later, I became enthralled by the place once again during a Casablanca phase.  Darker, yes, but it is not as existentially challenging as Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky– a marriage collapsing amid danger.

Early in the trip, we stopped at a roadside stand to purchase some large amethyst crystals.  Offered some lukewarm mint tea—a staple of Moroccan hospitality– I drank it without thinking about what might be lurking within the dulcet liquid that had not been killed by a good boil.  A day later when arriving at our next destination by rail, I felt a twinge of queasiness in my stomach, within minutes, I had broken into a cold sweat.  Trembling in the 85 degree heat, I grabbed a seat in the station.  Our driver arrived and crammed us and our luggage into a compact car.  Making our way to the Riad al Bartal (our hotel), I could feel the nausea building in unpleasant waves as he navigated the twists and turns of narrow medieval streets choked with pedestrians and motor scooters spewing blue burnt oil exhaust from their tailpipes.  We arrived at the Riad.  Decorated in traditional Moroccan zillij tile work, the place exceeded all of our expectations– but I did not notice that at first.

We were led to our room— and I was feeling some relief in that I was not going to redecorate the hotel lobby in a shades of vomit.  As our driver escorted us to our room, he lit an unfiltered Moroccan cigarette and the fingers of dense smoke reaching deep into my nostrils.  My body shook, as a wave of nausea came on me along with that salty taste that accompanies it.  I was green in the gills as they say.  As he unlatched the door to our room, I pushed past him into the W.C., and made an offering to the porcelain goddess.  “Welcome to Fes!” whispered the goddess. 

Thus, on this our first day in Fes, we decamped to the rooftop of the Riad where I rested under a tent overlooking spectacular views of the mountains surrounding the city underneath a blanket of pristine cerulean blue skies.  Views that were interrupted by intermittent bouts of sickness.  Nothing brings you to the brink of existential alienation like a good puke.  


The next morning I felt well enough to have a breakfast of strong coffee and sweet pastries. 

Morocco is like that—a blend of the sweet and bitter– and I wouldn’t want to remember it any other way.  I should have been paying closer attention to the Road to movie—because it also has that quality—with adventure and danger lurking around many corners balanced by the kindness of strangers and sweet kisses of Dorothy Lamour or was that an overly friendly camel?

Later that day, I felt well enough to explore the medina in Fes.  The medinas in these old Moroccan cities are special places, the centers of commerce and community, stretching back over a thousand years.  A place where you can buy everything you need to run a Moroccan household and get the news of the day.  Rugs, meat, nuts, perfume, dates, olives, pastries, mint tea, leather, knives, cooking pots, tagine crockery, cous cous, herbs, lanterns, woolen pillow cases, milk jugs and local gossip.

We had heard that the Moroccan King Mohammed V was in town entertaining a foreign leader.  This we learned in the first 10 minutes in the souk.

Mohammed’s father was Hassan II, who with his almost mythic ability to avoid assassination had captured the imagination and loyalty of his people.  He had eluded two assassination attempts including an attack on his palace and an attempt to shoot down his aircraft, giving him an air of invincibility.  During the attack on the palace, where nearly 100 guests were killed and more than 125 wounded, the King hid in a bathroom.  When the firing died down, he emerged to find himself face to face with one of the rebels.  Keeping eye contact, he recited the opening verse of the Koran.  The rebel knelt and kissed his hand.  Later when pilots of his own air force attacked his Boeing 727 jetliner, the King, himself a pilot, seized the radio and shouted, ”Stop firing! The tyrant is dead!” — fooling the rebels into breaking off their attack.  Though he probably would not have appreciated the comparison, he was clearly a resourceful guy who had more than a little bit of Bob Hope in him. 

That day in Fes, we found ourselves overlooking a square and were surprised that the dirt paths, and dusty squares of the Medina were being carpeted with a sea of red area rugs—the ultimate red carpet treatment. 

We were informed that Bashar el-Assad, leader of Syria, was also in town visiting the King.  Word was that the King and Assad were going to be touring the Medina together and in an age-old tradition, the merchants laid out one or two carpets in front of their establishments creating a carpeted path for the foreign leader. 

About 30 minutes before the walk through, two men came walking through the Medina with tanks strapped to their backs.  As they walked past, they released puffs of mist from the tanks.  How odd, we thought, what could that be– a disinfectant?  A rose-scented cloud descended on the Medina covering up the less desirable odors of Moroccan commerce– a mixture of tanning leather stench, donkey urine, smoke-charred meat, desert dust, trodden carpets and sweat.  There is nothing like it that I have ever encountered in my other travels.  Then the advance security team came though.  We were identified as tourists, but were cleared because we had fortuitously hired a local guide that day who vouched for us (the only time that we took a guide during the trip).

Shortly thereafter, Assad and his attractive new wife, Asma, came strolling through.  Mohammed V, called away on the business of the Kingdom, did not accompany them.  Given that we were obviously American, we stayed in the entry way to the shop and watched the procession of security personnel, Tyrant, Spouse. 

It’s easy to lead when you are not being challenged.  But strong men, like Bashar Assad are eventually destined to fall.  Recently with the turmoil in Syria, there are rumors that the comely Mrs. Assad has fled the country and for Russia.  And news that high-ranking public officials and Syrian army generals are also fleeing. 

Assad and I made eye contact—but that was it.  Asma made eye contact with ID.  We were just three steps from the two of them. 

Later I picked up a few souvenirs including a blue painted bowl that adorns my house today.  I now call this the Assad bowl because some of the glaze has chipped off.   These days, Assad’s image is bit more than chipped than my bowl and I wonder how much longer he will remain in power before he is ousted.


Travel sometimes takes its toll on us.  Of course, there are the stories of the Mysterious Amethyst Illness and Tyrants in Fes.  Toward the end of the trip, there was a fissure in the relationship with ID.  You go to bed, with errant words repeating themselves in your mind, not sure whether everything is fine and you wake up as the sun starts to peek between the cracks of the shuttered windows knowing that it is over.  That’s just the way it is.  But “we will always have Fes…” and a Sheltering Cerulean Sky.

Today’s NGW wine is a little French number with a gimmicky name.  But no less of a gimmick than a Morocco setting in Hollywood.  If I’m wearing a hat, keep your bowler and give me the Bob Hope Classic Black Cap (see below).

Petit Chapeau Bordeaux 2009 ($10).  This has a rustic quality that smooths out with food.  Green notes with a touch of bell pepper and tobacco notes.  This wine is a blend of 60% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 20 % Cabernet Sauvignon.  The grapes are sourced from the Entre-Deux-Mers region of Bordeaux – from a single estate which uses organic practices.  Rated **

The little guy in the photo to the left doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body.  Neither should you.  No-Guilt Wednesday (NGW) is not about compromising on quality.  It’s all about drinking good wine that does not break the bank ($15 or less), eating good food and of course, it’s about sharing with the ones you love.

Posted August 15, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

One response to “NGW: Petit Chapeau Bordeaux 2009

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  1. Great post…many of our surf trips have the same beauty/puke/beauty days- such is foreign travel. Would like to visit, and surf, in Morocco.

    Nice note on Assad. The bowl will probably last longer and certainly have more benefit to society…

    As for the wine, we have a thing with bell pepper notes- yuck. One of the reasons we sometimes prefer California, Spain or Australian reds, less green flavors.

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