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Here and gone

The dilating corridors of time

GEOFFREY FINCH

MAY 16, 2024


After several weeks of punctually posting every Thursday at 11am, I’ve temporally and geographically uprooted myself and am in a time zone that is 9 hours behind Paris time. Quite suddenly and rather unexpectedly, I have travelled to the west coast of Canada to spend time with a friend whose time is counted.


As you may have surmised, this piece isn’t really about wine, but time, that most enigmatic of entities, slipping through our fingers like sand at the beach, except the beach is on an ever-receding shoreline, and the sand is actually a set of existential crises. Time is both the relentless march of the seconds and the blink of an eye, the torturous span of an hour in a traffic jam when trying to be on time for an appointment, and the fleeting eternity of a loving embrace.


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I had thought of trying to sustain the illusion of still being in Paris by posting something by 11am today Paris time, but my head is still in the clouds and my ideas, scattered like seeds on the ground that refuse to germinate. By the time I finish this wibbly-wobbly musing on time, I will still be on time to post by 11am, which is a Thursday, but 9 hours behind the usual time.


It is not just my friend’s time that is counted. Time is counted for all of us. She just happens to know how much time she has and is facing it with extraordinary aplomb and stoic acceptance. What time is left us together is also counted, so we’re going to make the most of it, adapting to the moments with philosophy and the time-tested beneficence of our friendship.


Albert Einstein, with his wild hair and wilder ideas, threw a wrench into our understanding of time by declaring it relative. There are those who posit that time is an illusion, a construct of the human mind. Philosophers, in their cozy armchairs, sipping tea and pondering the cosmos, might argue that past and future are mere figments, with only the present truly existing. But then there’s the cumulative cinematography of memory that allows us to revisit and replay some of life’s sweeter moments. As a counterpoint to this singular present there are also the living witnesses of bygone days in the form of vintage wines that fleetingly allow us to taste history in a very real way.


Sadly, we will not be tasting any vintage wines together as alcohol has been proscribed and instead, I’ve been charged with seeking out drinkable alcohol-free wines. Are there any? I will endeavour to find out, as this is an entirely new realm for me, and one that I have not yet explored having always been quite happy to allow my spirit to be elevated (and often inspired) by the intoxicating effects and mysteries of fermented grapes.


Memory, our personal historian, has a notoriously unreliable relationship with time. It picks and chooses moments to highlight, distorts events like a funhouse mirror, and often rewrites history with the flourish of a dramatic novelist. This makes time a capricious storyteller, where the same event can be remembered with fond nostalgia or as a cringe-worthy faux pas, depending on which neurons are firing that day or who is doing the remembering.


Saint Augustine in his ‘Confessions’ wrote about memory as an access to and a way of knowing God. Memory is seen as a crucial part of the human experience that, despite its imperfections, guides individuals towards a deeper spiritual understanding and connection with God. Augustine marvels at its capacity, describing it as a "vast and infinite profundity." He is particularly struck by how memory can hold not just factual knowledge but also the feelings and sensations associated with past experiences.


He also discusses the limitations of memory noting that while it is powerful, it can be fallible and selective, sometimes failing to recall important details or distorting past events. I can’t help but recall the numerous occasions I’ve been in the presence of greatness in the form of wines that briefly make one feel as though there is a god, and that this glorious mess of creation all makes sense. Those experiences are somehow engrained upon the soul, conjured again and again in moments of revery. And then I’m reminded of the thousands upon thousands of occasions I’ve enjoyed the transformative pleasures of ‘ivresse’ and forgotten most everything, the memory retaining but the merest whimsy of those delights. Despite these limitations, memory plays a crucial role in our understanding of the human soul's journey towards the divine.


In our frenetic modern world, time has been commodified, sliced into neat segments and sold back to us with alarming efficiency. It is often said that “time is money," hours turned into a currency of productivity. We schedule, optimise, and multitask, trying to squeeze every drop of value from each minute. Yet, despite all our technological advancements, we still find ourselves late for lunch (which is never free anymore), proving that while we can control many things, time remains stubbornly unruly.


Time and memory, in all their wibbly-wobblyness, refuse to be neatly categorised or fully understood. Time is a prankster, a sage, a relentless taskmaster, and a gentle friend, all rolled into one. Perhaps the best approach is not to fight its peculiarities but to embrace them—to laugh at the absurdity of our temporal dance and find joy in the fleeting moments, however they may come. For in the grand theatre of existence, time is both the stage and the actor, and we are but appreciative (and occasionally bewildered) spectators.


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My book, ‘The Hidden Vineyards of Paris’ (reviewed in Jancis Robinson’s wine blog, the Wine Economist and National Geographic Traveler UK) is available at ‘The Red Wheelbarrow Bookshop’ at 11 rue de Medicis, 75006 Paris. If you haven’t yet discovered this gem of a bookshop, now’s your chance. Open every day!


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