Monday, December 10, 2007

Drink Wine: Make Friends, Destroy Yourself

One time, in Barcelona, I drink about five bottles of $1 red wine. Here's what happens:

Karen and I are looking for a place to live. I see an ad at the university.

I still have a copy so I'll quote verbatim:

For Rent!
Luxury rooms in share flat.

Free breakfasts and dinners.

Vinos and champagne.

Game room.
Dancing room.
TV’s, telephones, heatings.

Maid server very morning.

English, Catalan, Spanish speaking.

Much Respect. 20.000 PTAS!!!
Call Javier.

20.000 pesetas is shockingly cheap. Is this guy Javier fucking with me? Of course, he's fucking with me. But Karen and I have already spent a month looking for a flat. We're living in a room in a pensión. It's cold, our funds are disastrously low, and we're starting to hate each other.

So I call Javier.

That night, he shows up on the street outside the pensión. He’s standing perfectly still in the rain, smoking a cigarette, and staring at the pensión door. Smoke curls up, hovers over his face. The look is suggestive of menace. But clear the smoke, he’s no menace. In fact, he seems downright giddy, his eyes glued to the pensión door as if he were awaiting the emergence of The Utterly Fantastic.

Which, judging by what happens next, would be Karen.

We go down and meet him.

"Please," he says. "Please. I am very sorry."

He bows and breaks into a shrill giggle. It’s disturbing, highly infectious. I try not to laugh, but the giggle is so addictive. I bite my lip, take a good look at him. He’s Peruvian; no, he’s Moroccan; no, maybe, Egyptian. The giggling is obscene, but beyond this, there’s a certain inappropriateness in his gestures. The best I can say, he’s incredibly foreign. I imagine him wandering the streets, peddling Kleenex.

So I shake his hand.

Then he takes a look at Karen. The giggle hits a crescendo. It’s absurd. He puts his hand on his heart. He swoons.

I burst into laughter.

So now we’re both hysterical, Javier and I. We’re standing in the rain, looking at Karen, and giggling.

And Karen?

Well, clearly, she's freaked.

Still, we go to Javier's flat.

There's no dancing room, no game room.

I ask, "Where's the dancing room?"

He says, "All the beautiful people!"

So I walk down the hallway, poke my head in the kitchen. They're two people, sitting at a table. I'm astonished. There's Aimee. She's from Long Beach, she's ridiculously cool, and she actually lives in Javier's flat. And there's Pablo. He's from Buenos Aires, he's probably my doppelgänger, and he too lives in Javier's flat.

So we sit down. Javier puts wine on the table. It’s called Vinya Del Fadrí. I’ve seen it before in the supermarket, Champion, for 150 pesetas (one US dollar, more or less.)

I recall having said to Karen, “Let’s buy ten bottles.”

And now I think of this moment with disbelief, because Javier has done just that: he has bought ten bottles, perhaps more, and on top of each unopened bottle he is placing a tall, burning candle. He lights a candle, melts the other end, and affixes it on a bottle. He repeats this gesture with five or six more bottles.

Then he puts tumblers on the table, opens a bottle, and pours each glass to the brim. One more drop, the glass overflows. I put my head down, slurp from the top. No sooner do I sip than Javier refills the glass. I bend to sip, he pours more. I sip again, he pours more.

This happens three or four times.

Finally, I put my hand over the glass.

Javier waits until I remove it and pours more.

"Please drink," Javier says. "In my flat, is normal."

So I sip. And Javier pours more wine. I sip because I want to drink. And Javier pours more because, well, I assume he wants me to drink.

Another thirty minutes, I’m drunk.

Meanwhile, Javier makes food. He makes a huge, composed salad. He makes pasta with a spicy red sauce. He serves it in large bowls, with a fried egg on top. It’s odd, addictive. I devour mine. I finish Karen's. I lick Pablo and Aimee's plates clean.

What am I doing?

I don’t care. I've hit that red-wine plateau when the evening is full of possibility, when everything promises benevolence and hope. I’m fabulously happy. I go to the bathroom. On my way, I drop to the floor, do fifty push-ups.

Alone, in the bathroom, I amuse myself with visions of large numbers.

“One billion,” I say. “One trillion!”

I come back and there's Pablo, sipping from a full glass of wine, there's Aimee, clearly amused, and there's Karen, talking to Javier, still clearly freaked.

And there's Javier making more food.

Next comes the fish, a huge sizzling platter of fried onion and flesh.

I eat so much I need to drink wine. I drink so much I need to quote several lines from the Chinese poets.

“Everywhere I go I owe money for wine,” I say.

“Everyday I am drunk all day long,” I say.

Pablo observes this spectacle with a certain look of pleasure. I can tell, he finds me petulant and rowdy. I already like him. In fact, from the moment I see him, I sense my life is about to become more interesting, in the sense that Pablo seems like the kind of guy who I can sit down and share a few bottles of wine with and later part with a handshake, a few good laughs, and a jab in the ribs.

So I look at him, give him a triumphant arm-raising gesture.

In this way, quoting the Chinese poets, pumping my arm into the air, and happily eating, I drink five bottles of $1 wine.

And in this way, over the course of six or seven ridiculous hours, I cement a few life-long friendships.


We all have similar experiences. We share a fabulous occasion with someone and we become fabulous friends. Some might say it's the occasion that inspires friendship. Some might say, obviously, that people inspire friendship. Of course, I agree.

But when I look back to the birth of my greatest friendships, I also see a lot of wine. I see that moment when the evening is full of possibility, when everything promises benevolence and hope, and I look at my new friend and think: I fuckin' love this person!

I edited Steve's last post on beer. Foolishly, I inserted one of my most treasured lines: "There's nothing quite as unifying as sharing horrid beer." I'm taking that line back and restoring its proper meaning. That line should read: "There's nothing quite as unifying as sharing wine."

Beer, of course, creates unity. But beer is for the frat-boy, the guy who needs to create elaborate rituals and games (beer bong, circle of death, etc...) to induce "brotherhood" and friendship. These games strike me as weirdly competitive: Like frat boys, they're full of anger and shouts. I never made a friend over beer pong, although I certainly made a few enemies.

I've never really played a wine game. What's the point? I don't drink wine to get drunk. I drink wine to talk. The only wine "game" I know is this one: Let's see how much we can fall in love by the end of this bottle of wine.


In Greek mythology there's this guy Dionysus. You know he's kick-ass because he's the son of Zeus--The King of Gods. Here's what happens:

Zeus makes love to Persophone, The Queen of the Underworld. She gives birth to Dionysus. Zeus' wife, Hera, discovers the baby. Of course, she's full of jealous rage. So she sends the goddamn Titans (of all people!) to eat the baby.

The Titans are mushroom cloud-laying motherfuckers. They don't mess around.

Here's what they do:

They give Dionysus a mirror. He's mesmerized. He's so mesmerized, in fact, that he totally misses the bum rush. The Titans sneak up on him, tear him up, boil him in a cauldron, and eat him.

Only thing, Rhea, the mother of Zeus, saves Dionysus' heart. She gives it to Zeus.

Imagine this: Your Mom gives you the beating heart of your child. Somebody's devoured the rest of him. The heart is all that's left.

So you're Zeus, what do you do?

You hide the heart in your thigh.Sometime later, your son bursts out, reborn. Then, to shelter the newly re-born Dionysus from the recriminations of the Titans, you leave him in the care of a band of nymphs. The nymphs hide him in a cave, feed him honey, and raise him with tigers.

Soon, though, that jealous nut Hera finds Dionysus. Showing no mercy, she twists his brain, leaving him outrageous. So Dionysus suddenly rejects the gentle nymphs and instead chooses as his companions the satyrs (see below) and the maenads, wild women with wicked, gleaming eyes.

A bald, bearded, horse-tailed satyr balances a winecup on his erect penis. In Greek mythology Satyrs are often associated with sex and vase-painters often portray them with uncontrollable erections.

He travels abroad. He fights battles. He subdues entire continents. Here and there, he plants vines. He discovers wine. He invents the wild party.

Upon his return to Greece, Rhea drives the madness from his brain, but it's too late. Though calmed, Dionysus never gives up his former life. He's too attached to his companions and the common bond they shared: their love of revelry and wine.

This is the early life of Dionysus, the God of Wine.



In his book
Iron John Robert Bly writes:

Dionysus is the Greek god most connected with wounds and woundedness...Some of the other Greek gods, Apollo and Zeus, for example, stand for wholeness, radiance, and sun-like integrity; but Dionysus stands for the ecstasy that can come from tearing and being torn apart.

Dionysus is the clump of grapes that hands tore apart in the Greek villages and threw into the wine vat. When the men and women were trampling on those grapes, it is known that they would sing: 'O Dionysus, I did not know, I did not know.' When cattle culture came to Greece, the village people ritually killed a bull in the spring, and as they ate the raw flesh, spoke the name 'Dionysus' over and over.

We tend to think of wine as a sophisticated drink, but when we do we neglect its wild origins. Other drinks might represent wholeness and purity (distilled vodka, for example) but wine represents the ecstasy of tearing and being torn apart. Wine is the drink of the wounded god Dionysus and his wild community, where self-obliteration is a way of life.


Follow the metaphor of the grape: Sooner or later, youthful sweetness is trampled, torn apart. And then we make wine. Wine improves with age. Wine gets richer, fuller. Imagine, you're Dionysus. Or maybe you're young and living in Barcelona. You're still one big nerve with a mouth at one end and a wing at the other. But your heart will get bigger. A glass of wine, really, might just be the perfect metaphor for what you might become: mature, bold, intoxicating.

So you got out, seeking obliteration. This is not nearly the same as getting drunk. In fact, it's the thing most opposite of getting drunk. When you get drunk, you destroy unintentionally: you foolishly break things, you haphazardly fuck things.

When you self-obliterate, though, you break with intention: You destroy in order to create.

You're Picasso (an avid wine-drinker) painting the
Les Demoiselles d'Avignon; you're Rimbaud (an avid wine drinker) fucking around Paris, writing ridiculous lines:

Once, if my memory serves me well, my life was a banquet where every heart revealed itself, where every wine flowed.

One evening I took Beauty in my arms--and I thought her bitter--and I insulted her.

Possibly, though, you're just You, drinking wine. You're pumping your fist, getting into strange encounters, loving, and, yes, getting drunk. But when you wake up the next day, after five $1 bottles of wine, don't you feel a little bit re-vivified?
Sure, you wake up, your head hurts, and you feel a little sick, but your heart--Oh, your heart feels fantastic!

You're light, giddy.

Sometimes you want to feel like this--utterly destroyed, each part of you throbbing with pain, but your heart.


dsc said...

I am not a connoisseur.
I was a bit fickle about the shoe polish brand I used to filter through a sock to extract its alcohol content. “Punch” definitely had a better bouquet than “Kiwi”. Many a fine bond was to be had in the day.


Toby said...

Seth, you are a fine and wonderful writer. This piece really captivated me, made me laugh out loud, and wish I'd been at that dinner with you; it made me miss you.

My fast comes to an end in three days, by the end of the year my vegetarianism is up for reassessment, and after a seven year hiatus I am drinking wine again.

In January, lets do the chicken and wine thing. Hell, I've earned it!

Love ya.

Karen said...

I'm not sure you're giving beer a fair shake with your frat-boy drinking image, which I think is more applicable to bad beer (e.g., Natural Ice, the Beast). But good beer is another entity altogether and I can think of nothing more fun and enjoyable than drinking great beer with friends, old or new.

Now as for food (and this is FoodVibe, right?), I think wine rules. Although I occasionally enjoy beer with food (such as a Guinness with my fish and chips with peas), I delight in the pairing of a great meal with wine (but eschew traditional notions of how the two should be paired).

Vodka sucks.

vodka said...

how dare you karen.
drink me.
your husband has already lost the battle.
drink me.

did i mention,
drink me.

Steve said...

Wine certainly plays a dubious, often violent role in mythology.

I always found its connection to the femenine to be problematic and odd.

As if women and wine share some sort of mystical union that is personified by a certain type of violent, penis chopping frenzy.

Girls gone wild (with wine).

This post reminds me of one of my all-time favorite poems.

"April" By Ezra Pound:

Three spirits came to me

And drew me apart

To where the olive boughs

Lay stripped upon the ground:

Pale carnage beneath bright mist.


This poem tells the story of Pentheus, the young Theban king who tried to supress the cult of Dionysus in Thebes.

Dionysus, his cousin, got pissed and lured him to a mountain top to spy a Bacchanalian rite.

While observing it from the safety of a laurel tree, Pentheus was discovered by the women, who then tore him apart, limb from limb.

The women who led the carnage were his mother and aunt.

As if something about wine, or what it represents, turns women into homicidal freaks-people who can murder their own children.

Mothers eating their babies.

There is something so elemental here.

Wine intoxicates and strips away theouter layers of our consciousness, often revealing our most primal and basest instincts.

I've often wondered if the mythological connection between women and wine is perhaps the precursor to all of western femenist theory.

That at some level, women rebel against the roles they find themselves in, and seek their own communities to express themselves in ways that men would not allow them to?

That the western religious traditons have supressed expressions of female sexuality, branded it as deviant, and barred it from the inner sanctum of what is considered "holy"?

That at some deep level, women rebel against their own children, against motherhood?

That at some level, they want to let out this rage and direct it at those who caused it?

dsc said...

Remember, the victor writes the history. Man.
Evil women according to man.


“Naboth owned a vineyard. Ahab desired it but Naboth refused to sell the king the family property. Jezebel soon intervened and had Naboth killed simply to meet Ahab's selfish needs.”

My gods better than your drunken goddess.

Proverbs 7:9-27 Evil women seduce men, send them to hell.

“Even so Zeus the Thunderer on High created women as an evil for men and conspirers in troublesome works.
And in exchange for a good he gave a balancing evil.”

Personally, I was fond of Mouton Cadet, the simple dry French white. For me it went with everything and nothing, well.


Jeffrey said...

Just a short comment here Seth as I'm not really sure if this'll work. Read your blog and enjoyed it.
Just to let you know I'm reading.

I love a refreshing beer on a hot day, and God we get them, cleanses the palate and sharpens the appetite, then wine is, for food...the wine you drink while preparing the food, the wine you drink when you begin to eat your food, half way through, towards the end, finished and then digesting. Get the idea :)

One of the best things to do in winter is eat Japanese food and drink sake, it's tops!

Vodka? Why drink it when single malt scotch exists? though I've heard from Russian friends that a vodka massage is pretty damned good and I'd believe it.


Suzanne said...

Give me a box of Don Simon and park bench any day.

dsc said...

Woman you haven’t lived until you have chugged Cinzano Vermouth while reclining on your fave cardboard box. Don’t bogart that bottle my friend, pass it over to me.

Seth said...

I prefer a garage, magically transformed into a hang-out spot, and a bottle of King's White Port.

Mark said...

"Alone, in the bathroom, I amuse myself with visions of large numbers.

'One billion,' I say. 'One trillion!'"

I was right there with you, Seth. There's something about wine alcohol-enhanced(?) neural firings and big numbers that tickles.

david said...

but I am feeling much better now

Anonymous said...

I prefer the beer, but I agree with you about that in some cases it will be for guys who need to buy viagra and create elaborate rituals and games. but how I said, just in some cases, that does not happen always.