There’s an old Italian saying. “in vino veritas”. Meaning, when a man in under the influence of alcohol, in particular, wine, he reaches a kind of divine sublimation. No longer impeded by his pesky inhibitions, he tells the truth. I would also add that he reaches a kind of purity and equilibrium. Flowers erupt. Fires are stoked. His mind is perversely incandescent and his fetters matter no longer. This one such scenario is an instance, taking place only recently- and serving as an unflinching example.
Its a Saturday afternoon in my district of the city and I’m feeling inordinately spry.
Its several contributing factors. A fresh haircut, a boon of confidence in my step, my look and the overall character of the new day. The seams of the city are bursting with new noise and new life. Bicyclers parade down the avenues, donning colorful masks. Young and stylish and tattooed idealists eat vegan fare at outdoor cafes. Everyone exists and co mingles in a happy if not somewhat contrived communion, face coverings optional. It’s the center of the day and I have a few hours before my next stop, so I decide to pop in a small local wine bar just down the block from my home. I’ve only been a handful of times. No real reason. I adore wine. Perhaps with an almost religious abandon that should be reserved for certain saints or holy venues.
There’s something so perfectly pure about a freshly popped bottle and that magical life giving Dionysian substance flowing into a pristinely cut glass that nothing in the world can replace. The proprietor is a man a few years older than I. With the energy of a horsefly-sturdy, affable and bursting with grand ambition. Its a bit early in the day for my usual red, so I opt for Cotes De Roses, which I’ve recently become quite fond. A small smorgasbord is placed in front of me consisting of cheese, fig jam, proseutto, artisan bread and peppers. A little slice of Naples in the center of the Arts District. I sip, I nibble, I sip again-I observe. We all have our vices, and its clear this is mine. Some men loose themselves in the speed of the racetrack. Some in the grit of the boxing ring. Others in the bloodlust of wrestling area. The arrogant grandeur of a souped up or new car, or something banal as stamps or baseball figurines. My mind flashes to Fortunato, the grandstanding drunken and ultimately doomed fool of Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” whose aggressive posturing ultimately leads to a slow solitary death, deep in the niter soaked catacombs of Venice-surrounded by caskets. A nice metaphor for what ultimately lay on the other side of any kind zealotry. We cant outrun the reaper- but can dance with bells jingling until he catches up.
I look at my surroundings. There’s a young couple at the table near mine. A girl with hair black as the center of night tracing all the way to her back. Two women sit at the bar. Outside, another woman hawks vegan ice-cream at a pink stand. The proprietor comes to my table and I request another glass of the Cotes des Roses, which is quite good. Its a light balance but not too light, with some semi sweet finishes. I rise to go to the restroom, feeling the slow trickle of the rosay work its magic through my synapsis and body. Firing off hit points like gassy nebulas and moving with a serpentine ease through my system. Everything becomes so wonderous, so tolerable under its spell. There’s a sizeable record collection outside the restroom door. I get a close look at the variety. Its a good collection. I find myself hoping its a “lending library”, as I could easily see myself taking some of these hard to find beauties home to play on my own turntable.
Suddenly, there’s a racket. A clattering noise. I look up and see all of my fellow wine drinkers pointing outside-wholly focused on something. A manic wind is tearing through the city. A powerful gale that uproots trees, rips signs off their hinges, and makes mincemeat of any outdoor diners. I think the wind will just pass but it gets worse. The clouds above grow darker and a rolling storm encompasses the area. Rain and hail spatter sporadically. Outside, lights shatter, garbage bags fly in multiple like strands of confetti, chairs and tables are jostled and overturned and in no time flat the serene afternoon is upended into a twisted ramshackle version of itself. The room shakes and the lights flicker. The doors soon thrust open violently…the ice cream tent off to the side being jostled and tossed about like a child’s toy. The couple next to me goes outside to help as the cascading winds summon tables and chairs, potted plants and unhinged signs, hoards of food and debris form a type of inverted parade, smashing into walls, shattering glass and morphing a idealistic afternoon into the type of surrealist apocalyptical scenario that directors and playwrights and poets live for.
What little is left of the ice cream tent now salvaged, the proprietor locks the door. The enormity of the situation hits me like a roving windswept patio chair outside. Suddenly, all of us, the couple, the two women, the ice cream lady and the proprietor have become characters in some sort Twilight Zone episode, or a Manuel play. Everyone around me is rattled, though I embrace the moment with a coveted secretive glee. My mind flashes to all sorts of theatrics. My imagination fraught with untold numbers of artistic scenarios, as the poetics of such a situation are too much to ignore.
All of us. Characters in this farcical moment. Plucked from a moment of frivolity by the desert roar of Mother Nature who honors no such things. The Couple. The Ladies. The Proprietor. The Ice Cream Girl….and I? The Wanderer, I suppose. Suddenly, we aren’t in Las Vegas. We are in War time Berlin. A man plays a piano off in the distance. In spite of the rumble of tanks outside, the marching of boots, café goers sip their cognac, sample their caviar, albeit with hands shaking nervously. What will tomorrow bring? Making hay whilst the sun shines, forming some scope of normalcy in the midst of madness, we drink our champagne with unsteady hands, never knowing if it shall be our last…
Now we’re in a play. The curtains rise. The doors close. It is just us, taking on whatever form. Perhaps a ballerina, a solider, a banker, an aristocrat, a cad and a pauper. With hinges sized shut , we observe a fallen world. We look outside, recognizing nothing….there is a large and looming light ahead…what is in the light? Nobody knows, for all who venture close to it vanish, the one after the other. A stern parable that in the grand scheme things our titles, our vanity-mean nothing. In the distance, we hear a strange unearthly roar. What being could make such a sound? There is no God in this moment. There is no God anywhere. Something much older-and unseen.
Now we’re in modern days. A café in Madrid. A student, a fashionable woman, an older matron, an unhinged drunkard, and a failed writer are taking in the afternoon. Suddenly a bomb goes off outside. Government officials are called. Tanks go by the windows and men and women and children run bloody and screaming in the streets. Strange deformities appear on their faces…. All of us have suddenly, unaskingly become unified if only by instinct and necessity, huddled en masse in the café corner near the cigarette machine, quivering like pet shop mice in a cage soon to be plucked. Something bad is going on outside, something we aren’t supposed to know about. Things become more and more grotesque as men in bloodied hazmat suits walk the area and barricade us inside. One after the other, we look around- our titles falling like dead skin. Uncertainty, primal fear-rule the moment. We wonder- what lay on the other end- not simply tomorrow- but the next series of seconds?
Then the final scenario. Belgium. 19th century. Several people have been invited to a party. A Baron, a lady, a stenographer, a penniless duke, a corrupted priest. They celebrate a long languorous evening, sampling every kind of caviar- every scrumptious bit of finery only fortune and prestigious connection or sheer dumb luck can enable. The night runs long, inhibitions are let loose, laughter roars and its soon time to leave. Yet, there’s no door. The guests look all around themselves. Soon sobered by fear. No exit. No door. Just a party room with empty champagnes bottles. Panic, uncertainty, fear and trepidation quickly set in. Soon titles fall to the way side and peoples true nature set in. Ugly, self interested, manic -crazed. In this once elegant room, man kind shows its teeth, true, uncouth and beastial-barbaric. Yet, the next morning, the maid, curious as to where the party guests have gone, opens the door-not prepared for what will soon meet her eyes.
How will our story play out? How will the series of stories like this taking place in cafes all over the valley play out? What will greet the eyes of those that thrust those doors open? Smashed wine bottles, discarded clothing, strange howling in darkened corners…or perhaps-the most unsettling possibility of all-nothing. Only a few solitary scrapes. Only a few missed hours. Business as usual. Sloughing off the moment like a loose hair with an offhand casualty and commencing living in our phones, disavowing the scared lessons of such scarce moments.
Yet, instead something wonderful happens. We gather in circle. We look around. We pour another glass. We begin to talk. We talk about our fears, our hopes, our childhoods. We talk about what went wrong in our lives- how even our best laid plans were for naught. How we don’t know what to make of ourselves anymore let alone such a world. In this span of time, not one of us looks at a phone. Looks at the clock. Our masks are on, yet simultaneously off. We look in each other eyes.
I look up. The weather is unsteady, but calming down. A semblance of normalcy begins to descent like a weary spider. The couple next to me is getting ready to leave. What was this, I think? Outside, awnings slowly reopen and café chairs are reclaimed from heaps. The ice cream girl gives us free scoops of something delicious in gratitude for assisting. Too surreal, I think.
I summon my ride and bid goodbye to my new friends, almost sad our strange unity has come to an end as abrupt as it began, yet I feel all the richer. My mind still swimming in Dali-esque, Bradberry worthy scenarios. Some moments are so random, so abstract, so our of our usual scope of monotony that we must preserve them and all their madness in some sublime way- if anything leaving them on a shelf in our mind, so as to age well, let them gather dust and become part of our own personal collection of parables.
Maybe one day cracking them open and drinking them with a sense of reclaimation.
Familiarly well aged. Like a very fine wine.
In vino veritas!