Wednesday, April 3, 2013

ritual and gratification

It's been a long few weeks.

Finally, all my business school applications have been sent out. It's been a long, long process. Draining. My brain feels fried. On to the next, because of course there's no break ... waiting for the admissions committee to now review, and give their verdict.

I've been drinking more cocktails lately. Just like that, wine has become a bit of an afterthought – can you believe I just said that?! Haven’t really been in the mood for wine, to tell you the truth. Maybe it’s the stress, maybe it’s because of one late night after another … maybe I’m just finally living up to my (self-proclaimed) wino tag. But cocktails have been doing the job, to the point of obsession. And you know what happens when I get obsessed about something.

There’s been a bit of controversy lately over some comments printed about the decline of wine drinking culture in France. Why don’t I just reprint them, verbatim. From Denis Saverot, editor of La Revue des Vins de France magazine:

It is our bourgeois, technocratic elite with their campaigns against drink-driving and alcoholism, lumping wine in with every other type of alcohol, even though it should be regarded as totally different.

Recently I heard one senior health official saying that wine causes cancer from the very first glass. That coming from a Frenchman. I was flabbergasted. In hock with the health lobby and the politically correct, our elites prefer to keep the country on chemical anti-depressants and wean us off wine.

Just look at the figures. In the 1960s, we were drinking 160 litres each a year and weren't taking any pills. Today we consume 80 million packets of anti-depressants, and wine sales are collapsing.

Wine is the subtlest, most civilized, most noble of anti-depressants. But look at our villages. The village bar has gone, replaced by a pharmacy.

And from Oxford-based French writer Theodore Zeldin:

Companionship has been replaced by networking. Business means busy-ness, and in that way we are becoming like everywhere else.

The old French art de vivre is still there. It's an ideal. It's a bit like the ideal of an English gentleman. You don't often find an English gentleman, but the ideal is there and it informs society as a whole. It is the same with our art de vivre. Of course times have changed, but it still survives. It is that feeling you get in France that in human relations we need to do more than just conduct business. We have a duty to entertain, to converse. And in France - thanks to our education system - we still have that ability to converse in a general, universalist way that has been lost elsewhere.

That is the art de vivre. It is about taking your time. And wine is part of it, because with wine you have to take your time. After all, that is one of the great things about wine. You can't swig it.

Does the France of romantic ideals, the image of the romantics in berets, lounging in a cafĂ© along the Seine with a cigarette and glass of wine even exist? Does that whole idea that wine remains a common drink of the people, when workers on a lunch break would pop in for un verre de vin rouge, remain relevant? Clearly, not anymore. Modern society simply doesn’t allow for it – no one can afford to slow down and take it easy anymore. This isn’t to say that the old ways were better. Drunk driving is no joke. Nor is clinical depression. But there has to be a balance that can be struck, to actually enjoy ourselves instead of this non-stop hustle of can I meet this deadline, need to send the kids out to their lessons, what did I forget to put in the calendar??? Someone remind me what the point of all this is, why some of my friends are so eager to get married and have kids??!!

So I’ve been drinking more. No real surprise, but I’ve been settling on the classics, the sort of pure expressions of simple, classic cocktails. Martini, Old-fashioned, Manhattan … Gimlet, Tom Collins to deal with the citrus fruit after I finish with the peels. Lots of gin, lots of whiskey, lots of bourbon consumed. And you know what … I think I get it. I think I’m starting to understand why I’ve had this overnight, sub-conscious change in preference, from wine to cocktails. It’s instant satisfaction, isn’t it. It’s the ritual of preparing a cocktail, of carefully assembling not only ingredients but the process. You get exactly what you put in – unlike wine, which requires time, oxygen, whatever, to come around. A cocktail is an instant validation of whether the process has been correctly applied or not. Right. And the booze helps too. All this talk to try to intellectualize and justify why we like wine and cocktails, but all it really comes down to – the absolute truth of it all – is simply that we enjoy drinking. We like the euphoric feelings it gives us, how it makes us seem wittier, funnier, and generally more pleasant. And we like the late nights, when the mysteries of the universe seem to clarify and make sense … after the 5th round of course.

Wine is the subtlest, most civilized, most noble of anti-depressants. But cocktails aren’t that far behind.


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