As Thursday was Bastille Day, I felt obliged to visit my local wine bar and raise a toast to Liberte. A small gathering of co-workers assembled at Vino Rosina for wine and light fare. We sampled two varieties of white wine listed on the Happy Hour menu.
Now here is where I am supposed to provide the details of the wines, but at this point all I know for certain is the first one had too much bite and the second one, while sweeter, was the overall winner. The aroma was light and fruity, and the top note was similar to a good Pinot Grigio. There were very few other undertones, and the finish was clean and final with no lingering after taste. This was a very simple wine, and after a fairly gruelling week, none of us seemed up for any additional complexity.
An off-hand reference to how my Libertarianism is perceived led to an enthusiastic toast of "Let them eat cake", and our Bastille Day observance was officially in full swing.
The best commemoration of Bastille Day was observed by a former classmate in Madison of French decent, and someone I knew through an on-campus job we both worked at before he left to study abroad. He spent a year in France and when he returned, he had lost 30 pounds, gained some cultural awareness, and launched the first Bastille Day Bad Wine and Cheese Party.
Located at the top of the hill on East Gorham (Madison alum know the hill I mean), he and his friends had rented a house with a large front porch and an almost perfect view of Lake Mendota. I arrived with a mutual friend shortly after sun set before things got into full swing. Like all house parties, invitation was word of mouth. Admittance, however, was another thing altogether. To get in, you had to present an acceptable item of bad wine or cheese. And by acceptable, it was meant completely unacceptable - Night Train, Ripple, Mad Dog in the full rainbow of flavors - all set out on a folding table for partiers to consume at their own risk. A bottle of NyQuil was accepted. And Velveeta, CheezWhiz, EasyCheese in the aerosol dispenser. Any presented items considered too high brow - like a gallon of Ernest and Julio Gallo's Best - meant admission denied.
Truly this was the best concept party ever. We got silly. We drank the Night Train. We mixed the Ripple with shitty champagne. We sprayed the EasyCheese at each other. We danced and sang and embraced each other without care or concern as if we would all be friends for the rest of our lives. And when it was time to go home, our host cut the music and replaced it with a scratchy rendition of the French National Anthem. We all sang along for the first several playings, but he continued to play it repeatedly until the novelty wore off and we all cleared out.
On a campus know for its parties, that one - held over the summer when the population of Madison drops by several thousand - was the best party I attended, and one of the few I can remember. I don't know how many more Bad Wine and Cheese parties there were after that. I lost my connection to the host through a falling out with our mutual friend that now seems childish and wasteful in retrospect. I started focusing on finishing college and trying to figure out what would come next. We all still ran into each other on campus, separated by the inevitable pre-graduation drift.
But every Bastille Day, I remember that night and how perfect it was. The summer seemed the only moment in time, and graduation a lifetime away. But I also remember the people and what a wonderful crowd I was running with that summer.