Saturday, February 28, 2009

Around The Farms of France in Three Hours

28 Feb 2009

I wonder if it’s because of my country girl upbringing, but I cannot resist ag shows (as in “agriculture” for my citified friends). This holds true even way over here in Paris (one of the most cosmopolitan and fashionable cities in the world) where the Salon International de l’Agriculture is currently taking place ( Jon went on a visit there with his class yesterday and came home full of fun stories as well as the knowledge that this sort of thing would be right up my alley. So, we decided to make a visit out to the Porte de Versailles today to see it. Here's what the main gate to the salon looked like:

We brought along our friend, Olivier. Olivier is the guy we met on our first night in Paris. He is wonderfully nice and very funny. We took him out to dinner last night to thank him for saving Jon’s ass when he locked himself out of our apartment during my trip to St. Lucia (that is a story in and of itself that will have to wait for another time). We had a great Paris night- cocktails at a café, dinner at a little restaurant in the Latin Quarter, beers at the Highlander, and meeting odd characters in the street (including a guy who fell off a bus- really- because he was drunk and wearing roller blades! Olivier stopped to ask him if he was okay, and the guy instantly took a liking to us. He followed us all the way to our neighborhood, chatting and rollerblading, of course. Turns out he went to Brown University, is a computer genius, and just got dumped by his girlfriend. So, while rollerblading around the city, he decided to go on a Friday afternoon bender to drown his love sorrows, but happened to forget his unfortunate choice of foot wear. Drunkenness and wheeled shoes do not go hand-in-hand; hence the fall from the open bus door. He was quite the character.). Jon, Olivier, and I had such a nice evening that we decided to continue the fun the next day at the ag show.

The Salon International de l’Agriculture was like no other ag show I’ve ever been to. First of all, the venue is massive- eight huge buildings spread out over acres of land right in the middle of the metropolis. Each building was dedicated to something different- livestock in 1, horses and donkeys in 2, farm tools in 3… Regional foods in 7. We of course began there. Every single region in France and its departments was represented. It was a mindboggling layout of cheeses, wines, meats, fruits, ciders, and beers. We sampled ham from the Auvergne, rum and fish fritters from Guadalupe, champagne from Champagne, wine from the Rhone, oysters from the South- lordy, it was a feast!! The joint was also packed and hotter than blue blazes. We needed to see some animals to divert our attention from the potentially fatal amount of food and drink available to us, as well as to get out of the infernal heat and press of people.

Thus, we headed to Building 1 to see the sheep, cows, and pigs. There were more breeds of cattle in this place than I have ever seen in my life. Gorgeous, HUGE cows and bulls, all lined up docilely by region. The judging had already happened and the winning cows had huge blue, white, and red ribbons tied around their bodies like bows on presents. Everyone from little kids to grandmas was interested in touching and watching these animals. Every time we passed a pen of calves, Jon had to pet them. He also really liked the piglets, and seemed to enjoy jostling little kids out of his way to be able to pet their pink rumps!

Two things about this part of the show struck me as quintessentially French. The first is the advertisements spaced out at random intervals throughout the exhibition hall—hanging from the ceiling above the beef cattle were signs showing sizzling steaks; images of grilled pork chops and loins hung above the cute little piglets and their sows. No one seemed to mind looking into the sweet brown eyes of a cow and glancing above her at what she was soon to become. There was even a children’s attraction comprised of a circle of plastic piglets standing on their hind legs wearing bibs depicting different cuts of pork, surrounding a mama pig whose body parts would light up in conjunction with the piglet’s bib when its nose was pressed! Sadistic? Perhaps, but I didn’t hesitate to partake in bites of sausage from the vendor two stalls down from the cannibalistic piggies!

The second thing that seemed out of place in a venue dedicated to the products of the land was a huge and very impressive McDonald’s exhibit! No self-respecting American farmer would ever stand for the MacDo to be included in an ag show. Not the case for the French. The good ole’ Golden Arches were beaming over a huge corner of the hall, shining down on all sorts of propaganda concerning McD’s commitment to the environment, livestock, and healthy lifestyles. Hah!! There were games for the kids, pamphlets for the parents, but unfortunately no free french fries. With my penchant for frites, I might have been willing to forgive MacDo's presence if that had not been the case. Instead, I firmly denounced the idea of MacDonald's being a seriously concerned member of the agriculture community (especially since Cargill snuck a pamphlet or two in with the McNugget Hide and Seek puzzles).

After eating and drinking our fill and seeing more animals in one space than we’ve seen in years, we decided to call it a day. Three hours and God knows how many calories later, we judged the adventure a huge success and took ourselves off to the café at the Tuileries to celebrate. With cold beers in hand and a sunset over the Seine in sight, I judged that all was right with the world today. My first French ag show was one to remember and happened in Paris, no less. Quelle ville, mes amis. Quelle ville!

To see all the photos from today's adventure, visit my Picassa album:

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