Voices from the past can not only make us revel in memories but nudge us – however inadvertently – to view our current circumstances in a new light. This can creep up on us unexpectedly. It can happen as a tangent to the catching up.
I recently re-connected with a fraternity brother. He was not a typical fraternity guy. Shiro came to the U.S. from Japan to study at my university. A stalwart friend and a dedicated brother, he immersed himself in American culture – down to buying a ’66 Mustang with a straight 6. He also shared his culture by teaching me a few Japanese turns of phrase, some of which I still remember. We had a lot of good times together and I was very sad the day a group of us saw him off at the airport.
Shiro recently contacted me via Facebook. We have been catching up and swapping family photos. In our chats and messages I also told him that I am exploring the world of sake. He responded: “Wow, you have more experience than me!”
What?! My Japanese bon vivant friend knows little about his country’s hallmark beverage?! Gasp! Travesty!
In all honesty, I am still getting my brain around the basic terminology, so I am far from an expert. However, this made me think about the fact most of my friends and family in Poland are not vodka connoisseurs. Some of them may have a general preference for rye or potato, but I cannot recall knowing anyone who conducted vodka tastings or made a point to articulate the nuances of any particular offering. Others saw it purely as an intoxicant and used it as such. Finally, there were many among friends and family who just didn’t drink the national beverage (in the years of the past of regime labeled “Produce of Poland”). Vodka was not a part of their social and culinary landscape.
Then it hit me: wine commentators often allude to how the Europeans drink wine with food, what role wine plays in their culture and what their attitude towards wine is. This conjures up, for some, images of “proper” Europeans in dickies and tweed sipping wine at a formally set table while discussing Nietzsche or Byron or gentlemen and ladies with parasols politely nibbling on cheese and bread, sipping slowly and behaving politely as they sit on a patch of grass on the bank of the Seine.
I am sure that many in Europe’s wine producing countries do not make wine part of their lives. Some are ignorant of its intricacies. No doubt, some ignore or just plain shun it. Others see it as a vehicle for the delivery of a nice buzz while others slug it back at a fast pace and then act like jackasses. This is likely the cross section in any country.
I constantly urge for the growth of a wine culture in this country. Careful not to equate “culture” with refinement (or its connotation of stuffiness), I advocate for an epicurean appreciation of the drink in its best incarnation, in moderation and as part of a culinary experience.
Some writers and commentators often reference romanticized images of European wine culture which has no doubt been pumped up by marketers. In the past year, we have seen reports from Europe, particularly from France, contradicting this idealized vision. There are indications of slumping of domestic wine interest and consumption in France juxtaposed with reports of problems with irresponsible consumption (at times by adolescents) public drunkenness and alcohol-related vehicle deaths.
Though I may have been guilty of it in the past, I’m going to make it a point to not allude to, or hold up Europeans as models of wine culture. I think it’s unrealistic to engage these idealized images.
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