Idle Curiosity

I mentioned in a comment on the Trail  on Saturday that I was enjoying some Veuve Clicquot champagne, and that led to some research on my part that I found fascinating.

I noticed on the bottle a portrait of a woman. I don’t speak French, so I looked up the name and found it meant “The Widow Clicquot”. I went on to find that in 1805,  at the age of 27, this woman inherited a champagne vineyard and business upon the death of her husband, and was the only woman to run a champagne house.  Her father-in-law insisted that she do an apprenticeship in champagne production, and she went on to be wildly successful. She invented a method of champagne production that is still in use today. She was the first to make Rose champagne. She was a friend of Napoleon, yet she made a point of smuggling champagne into Russia. Here is part of the Wikipedia entry for her:

On 21 July 1810, Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin launched her own company: “Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin”.

Barbe-Nicole exported the vast majority of her champagne out of France.  Unfortunately, she was facing naval blockades that kept her from sending her wine abroad. Furthermore, Czar Alexander I banned French products.

Facing bankruptcy, Barbe-Nicole took a business gamble: she decided to send her champagne to Russia, when peace returned ahead of her competitors. While the war’s naval blockades paralyzed commercial shipping, Madame Clicquot and Louis Bohne secretly planned to sneak a boat through the blockade to Russia.

With the French monarchy restored, Madame Clicquot and Louis Bohne put the plan they had been preparing for five years into execution. In 1814, as the blockades fell away, the company chartered a Dutch cargo ship, the “Zes Gebroeders”, en route to Königsberg,[6] to deliver 10,550 bottles of Veuve Clicquot champagne to the Russian market, taking advantage of the general chaos, while their competitors still believed such a move to be impossible. The boat left Le Havre on June 6, 1814. Meanwhile, Russia had lifted the ban on importing French products. The whole shipment was quickly sold. A few weeks later, another ship left Rouen laden with 12,780 bottles of champagne destined for St. Petersburg, which were sold out as soon as they arrived. When the champagne reached St.Petersburg, Grand Duke Michael Pavlovich of Russia, Czar Alexander I’s brother, declared that Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin champagne would be the only kind he would drink. Word of his preference spread throughout the Russian court.[11

During the years that followed, Russia continued to buy Veuve Clicquot wines. Sales rocketed: from 43,000 bottles in 1816, they climbed to 280,000 in 1821 and increased until the 1870s. Within two years, the widow Clicquot had become famous and was at the helm of an internationally renowned commercial business.

I just love looking up stuff like this. It makes me no richer, but it makes life interesting. Research is sort of like finding out the juicy gossip about neighbors, but it is less damaging and hurtful.

What do you like to find out about? What were you doing when you were 27?

45 thoughts on “Idle Curiosity”

  1. This is of course right up my alley. As you did with the Widow Clicquot, I frequently find myself researching historical figures that come to mind.
    Sometimes these are individuals about whom some intriguing reference has been made, but more often these are people who have repeatedly cropped up in my reading as a peripheral or adjacent influence and one who has not been sufficiently fleshed out in my mental picture.

    My intent in my reading/research, especially in the last few decades, has been to build an understanding of the web of connections between significant persons active in the middle of the nineteenth century. My curiosity is broader than that, but I couldn’t hope to encompass more than a few decades in America in that way. Needless to say, this is not the episodic way history is usually taught in schools. As you suggest, Renee, it’s akin to gossip but at a distance.

    In general, I don’t focus on the Civil War, except as individuals I’m following lead me into portions of it. I am especially pleased when I find those folks that, Zelig-like, keep cropping up at significant times and places and also those folks that kept reinventing themselves.

    When I was 27, I had just taken a job as art director at Campbell- Mithun, one of the largest advertising agencies in the Twin Cities. We had recently bought our first house and a baby was on the way.

    Liked by 6 people

        1. There was a book, published in the late nineties or early 2000s that might be a model. It’s called Chance Meetings by Rachel Cohen and it’s about meaningful connections between certain famous personages. Although it begins in mid-nineteenth century, it extends into mid-twentieth. I like the sort of relay race structure, though, where the baton keeps getting passed forward.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Can you describe the unique spirit of the times? Why do you take interest in the years that you do?

          When I look at that period I am struck, above all, by the lack of social structure and restraints. People like G A Custer and Joaquin Miller or any of the robber barons operated in a social, economic and political environment that favored radical individualism. Trump would have flourished then. Those who did well were vain and greedy to a degree I find shocking, behaving in ways I consider rapacious and unethical but which were widely respected then.

          But you know the times better than just about anybody. It would be good if you could help others understand that period the way you do.

          Liked by 1 person

        3. That’s a really big question, Steve, and many books have been written about the various spirits of the times. It’s important to remember how extremely regional and disconnected the country was and how widely the character, or spirit, varied from place to place. You really can’t draw any generalities.

          The majority of my reading in the nineteenth century involves “reading around” the celebrated titans and generals and their accomplishments. We’ve heard enough about them. I’m more attracted to life at ground level as experienced by relatable persons living mid-century. Some of these people, facing adversity, carved their own path, sometimes taking advantage of the disjointedness of society to change their background, their identity and their trajectory, and sometimes just stubbornly going against the grain. The opportunities for eccentricity were unparalleled.

          One of the things I like about collecting and reading humor from mid-nineteenth century America is that it gives you a clear picture of the extent to which the writers recognized the absurdity and disfunction in their culture. It’s subversive- not the picture you get from historical romances.

          I’ve had an interest in the nineteenth century for as long as I can remember. Partly, I think, it’s because I actually knew some nineteenth century persons, as I’m sure did most of you. My particular interest in mid-century developed more recently. It feels to me more containable than late century.

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        4. That’s a great answer, Bill. Your sense of the period and mine seem to overlap a lot on what could be expressed as the idea that “anything is possible.” I’ve long felt that the westward expansion favored people who wanted to cast off old identities and get lost in the chaos of a society with relatively few institutions and laws. I think a common pattern was rags-to-riches-back to rags-back to riches. That is, careers were more like roller coaster rides than they tend to be now, with breathtaking highs and lows.

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        5. In the 1840s, the acronym, GTT, meaning Gone To Texas, indicated that an individual saddled with debt or an unhappy marriage or trouble with the law was headed for the Republic of Texas, where he (usually a he) could reinvent himself. The Republic was not yet a part of the US.

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        1. I remember once the agency had, for some reason, someone in a kilt playing bagpipes, walking around their reception area. One of my coworkers, in an attempt to break the bagpiper up, took a sharpie and wrote a sign and held it up to the window just above where he was walking. The sign said “If it’s not Scottish, it’s CRAP.”

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Where was Campbell-Mithun located when you worked there?

      When I worked in Butler Square there was an ad agency on the 8th floor, and our atrium windows looked down on portions of their office. It looked like a creative place to work. Can’t remember which agency it was, though.

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  2. When I was 27 I was a graduate student in Winnipeg and had been married for two years.We lived in a tiny house which we rented from an Italian couple who lived next door.

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  3. When I was 27 I was managing a bookstore and living in an apartment in St. Paul’s Highland Park neighborhood. Around the time I turned 28 I quit my job and moved in with two housemates, so 27 was a year of planning for change.

    I’m still in contact with a half dozen of the folks I worked with at the bookstore. It was a good group, and we always got together to watch the Oscars.

    I had a little ’68 Ford Falcon in those days, and on Saturdays my sister and I would go over to my mother’s apartment and she’d make dinner for us. M nieces would come along a few years later.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Rise and Shine Baboons,

    I love the question about what we all were doing at age 27. I was completing work for my MSW at the U of Mn in 1981. Following the election of Reagan, social work jobs were unavailable due to budget cuts. I took a temporary job downtown because I was also getting ready to be a mom. It was a big year.

    I love to look stuff up about towns and states to find out how they developed, population now, what distinguishes them now, etc.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I was a huge Civil War buff as a kid. Read every book in the school library about it and many books in the public library. These days I get distracted doing research for my books. Amazing how looking up one topic such as homeless shelters in the Twin Cities can lead down so many different paths and spark related searches (such as free clinics).

    Wife and I were huge Veuve Clicquot fans for about 20 years. Always drank it either on our anniversary or New Year’s Eve or both. Then we found equally-or-more delicious Champagnes that were cheaper, so we drifted away in recent years. We visited their winery in Reims back in the 90s and were fascinated. Chalk caves, nearly white, that must be seen to be believed. Such history and romance around the place too. Bought the book about Madame Clicquot, so I can verify what VS shared about her in this post.

    At 27 I was in my second to last year of teaching up in Carlton, MN. worked on my golf game in summer, chopped a lot of wood for the woodstove, and waited patiently for my wife to get her 4-year degree in Nursing so we could start a new chapter of our lives in 1984. Thank goodness that chapter didn’t turn out to be Orwellian! 🙂

    Chris in Owatonna

    Liked by 2 people

  6. 27 was actually a momentous year for me. Wasband and I had decided we didn’t want to stay in Milwaukee after he finished his graduate degree so we are up and moved to Minneapolis. Bought a house with down payment borrowed from my parents. No jobs whatsoever. And as Jacque has already alluded to in October when Reagan was elected, public sector jobs went down the tubes within days. Wasband was unemployed in his field for 2+ years. It probably wasn’t the smartest thing we ever did to buy a house with no jobs. But we survived and it did lay the foundation for where I am today

    Liked by 3 people

  7. I spent much of my 27th year protesting. It was the end of my sophomore year at SIU, and all hell broke lose. The shootings at Kent State happened exactly one week after my birthday, and that event unleashed violent demonstrations on college campuses throughout the country. To be sure, unrest had been brewing for quite some time, but the Kent State incident became the flash point that ignited riots all over the US.

    At SIU the disruptions were no longer limited to on campus rallies and sit-ins. Confrontations between students and the local population became increasingly hostile, and clashes between demonstrators and police escalated. Peaceful marches turned into riots. At one point it was difficult to find a storefront window that hadn’t been smashed along the main drag; buildings, both on and off campus, were set on fire. Eventually the National Guard was called in, tear gas was used to control the demonstrators, a curfew was declared and enforced, and finally the university was closed down for the remainder of the quarter.

    My scholarship required that I take a full class load every quarter, including during the summer, and our financial situation was such that I needed to work fifteen hours a week. I had been doing both since I started school in September of 1968. For the remainder of 1970, the atmosphere at the research lab where I worked was extremely tense. I was the sole liberal among a group of conservative graduate students conducting cancer research. Not only was I a liberal, I was also a foreigner. How dare I oppose the war in Vietnam? My “friends” were blamed for broken windows in the lab, and damage that had compromised some experiments. I was often reminded that I could go back to where I had come from. Not exactly an atmosphere conducive to studying.

    Somehow I muddled through, but by the time my 28th birthday rolled around, a whole new set of personal troubles were on the horizon.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. In 1968 I remember being glued to the television news, watching protests, riots, hippies, and especially the Chicago Democratic Convention. MLK assassination, George Wallace attempted assassination and Bobby Kennedy’s death, which I saw on live TV and which broke my heart, were in there, too. I also remember the news coverage of Kent State shootings in 1970 which was so upsetting and a real turning point in the intensity of the protesting. I was a bit too young to protest, but it made such an impression on me that people would become activists in the way they did at that time.

      Liked by 3 people

  8. Hi-
    We’d been married just over a year when I turned 27. No kids yet. Milking cows and running the farm and arguing with my dad about that most likely. The days all kinda run together when it’s just cows and cows and cows. Just more manure the next day. 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    1. What do you think about the new fangled dairies that are selling milk from cows who don’t have the enzyme that causes lactose intolerance?

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      1. I don’t know anything about that. Hadn’t heard of it.
        Daughter drinks almond milk. one day I bought cashew milk by accident. I didn’t know that was a thing either. I didn’t even know I’d done it until she told me how much she liked it. So much she drank a half gallon in one day.
        There was a super bowl commercial about if you buy a 6 pack of some beer they’ll convert 6 square feet to organic.
        IT DOESN’T WORK THAT WAY! It’s not like it’s magic. I don’t know all the details but I know it has to not have chemicals applied for 3 years before you can use it to grow certified organic crops. So how is buying beer helping that?? It really annoyed me.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Yes, it is a real thing. I believe there is such a dairy in Minnesota. People with lactose intolerance can drink milk from these cows with fewer reactions.

          Liked by 1 person

  9. I was ready to google Cliquot after you mentioned it, Renee. Now I’m glad I waited – you saved me a lot of time…
    I am curious about lots of things. When I open up Firefox most mornings, I often find displayed there two or three tantalizing articles I’d like to delve into – about how our brains and psyches work, new discoveries in science and nature, books and authors, health, etc.

    Interesting what a pivotal age 27 was for so many baboons! I was living in an apartment in Brooklyn NY, working as a messenger (primarily by subway) for a typographic firm in Manhattan till that dried up, and then at a preschool center down the street from us. Got married to Wasband in June, and then it was two long years before I left all that.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. at 27 i had just gotten married, was rolling high on the hog
    moved into an office warehouse in edina office park, had been in my house 7 years and was doing remodels for my new wife. driving 50,000 miles a year and was enjoying the good life

    Liked by 1 person

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