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A CONNOISSEUR OF RELIEF

It is my favorite part of music, known as the diminuendo, the quieting down after a loud passage. I like the thundery stuff as much as the next guy, but what I like most is when the quiet comes as if to console me. It’s a sort of ur-reassuring, reminding me of how it felt to be comforted when I was a kid.


This seems to be true of every kind of relief. When the neighbor turns off his leaf-blower – finally – the feeling returns. A pause between wind gusts brings it on. The tempest was temporary. My flight landed safely. I braked in time. Relief: ancient and gripping and for all I know, pre-cognitive. It has some gravity, this feeling.


It’s calm and colorless outside. There is no pallor like that of a November day, and this is an utter November day, drab and low, as though the light were expiring. A late-turning tree in a neighbor’s yard offers a forlorn blast of amber, like a fluttery pumpkin left alone in the relentless gray. Someone said that colors were purest when no light was shining on them. That could be true of a lot of things.


Since the election results were finally announced, one has felt free to feel again, at least a little, until the latest pandemic news arrives on its locomotive of dread. I seek to keep this little blog as un-political as I can, because no one comes to a wine guy’s website to read about politics. At least I hope not. But my guiding assumption about wine is that it’s connected to each and all of the important things in our lives. Put another way – possibly less contentious – wine doesn’t seem to be (or need to be) disconnected from the other things that matter to us. There’s enough poverty already, of means and of spirit, and it makes no sense to starve the soul. Or so I see it.



Like many of us, if I may thus assume, I reacted to the election news with a palpable sense of relief. A friend texted me the news in the midst of a rare hiatus when I wasn’t refreshing CNN every thirteen seconds, and a few seconds after his text arrived, horns started honking and people opened their windows and cheered. It was like the end of a war, or your biopsy came back negative, or your child survived the car crash. No ones eyes were dry. Everyone said the same things; it felt like you could finally stand up straight, the anvil was removed from your shoulders; you could take a full breath again, you could open your eyes all the way. You could be hopeful. You could maybe even be grateful.


For me it was a flickering, transient and absurd moment of healing and safety. In reality it was neither of those things, but relief runs deep in me, and I let myself feel consoled.


A lot of people rushed outside. My wife went over to farmer’s market and came back with stories of widespread open weeping. I myself, as often happens in moments of powerful feeling, needed to be alone. The company of others would be too implosive. I process best in quiet. It’s hard to be calm in a crowd.


We knew we’d be drinking Champagne that evening, and I started thinking about what to open. We don’t have a slew of “trophy” Champagnes; a magnum of Cristal I got with the Roederer Award, a couple bottles of Blanc de Millenaires, possibly a stray bottle of Grand Siecle I wouldn’t know how to find. But the more I thought of it the more I didn’t want one of those Champagnes. I was feeling like it was safe to resume life in the world, to rejoin the current of fellowship, to connect with others in a way that wasn’t beleaguered, all of us huddled together to fight the nightmare.


The Champagne we opened needed to come from a friend. In my relief I was craving connection. I had to know the maker of my wine. It didn’t have to be a “great-and-grand” wine, though it easily could be. It had only to be connected to affection and memory and mutual sentiment. When I realized how many options I could choose from, how many beloved friends’ wines lay in my cellar, ready for just such a moment as this, the relief of the day culminated into a warm affirming shower, all these beautiful soul-beings in their patient bottles, the dignity and care with which they were made, the generosity with which they had been shared, the curious (if inchoate) sense that today at least we were all of us threaded together by a common spirit. And maybe not only today.


But today it could be heard. After a thunderstorm the birds peep again. I wrote to many of my friends in Champagne to tell them I was thinking of them on this of all days, as a few furtive bolts of hope seemed to be returning to our world. I needed to explain that only one single thing would suffice to celebrate this Day Of Great Relief, and that was to drink the wine of a friend. As indeed we did. I hope you did as well.


I’ll see you after Thanksgiving. Everyone please stay safe.

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