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Mirth, Misery and Measure

Updated: Apr 18

“Wine cheers the sad, revives the old, inspires the young, and makes weariness forget his toil.” Lord Byron

It’s time to address the elephant in the room. Who was behind the entirely unfounded claim that Paris is infested with bedbugs! As a resident of this same city, I have yet to find a single person who has had the misfortune of hosting, unwittingly, these pernicious little creatures. But the impact this has had on visitors coming to Paris has been far-reaching. Suffice to say it was a hoax (the bedbug population is the same as it ever was, which I suspect is much the same as it is everywhere else) and you’re all more than welcome to visit us whenever the mood and the means next strikes you.

In the meanwhile, we must also acknowledge that there are two wars that are causing untold misery and mayhem that may have also played a role in the decrease in travel. Which is of course of no concern at all in the face of all the suffering that has been inflicted. And may all of us living safely in peace and comfort hold a thought for those who are not. ‘Peace on Earth and goodwill toward all’ is sorely needed and presumably what everyone really wants, but instead…

These matters are much too dark for comment here and there is never anything really useful to say about war, other than, to quote Edwin Starr, ‘what is it good for?’ (absolutely nothing), so instead, this post is about mirth and merriment (in moderation) as the role the vine has played in uplifting spirits since Moses first planted his vineyard is beyond measure. And don’t we all need a bit of a lift in spirit this time of year.

“Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance.” Benjamin Franklin

There is no question that (real) wine raises spirits, opens the heart, inspires hope and optimism and makes one feel better all round. Not to mention the taste… And raising spirits and inspiring hope is a very powerful force in a world of suffering and pain. According to the Mayo Clinic, a positive frame of mind contributes to:

            •          Increased life span

            •          Lower rates of depression

            •          Lower levels of distress and pain

            •          Greater resistance to illnesses

            •          Better psychological and physical well-being

There’s more, but you get the gist.

Wine has been a cherished companion during times of strife, offering solace and hope. It is a potion that has long flowed through the verses of poets and the prose of storytellers throughout the world. When times get tough, when the world seems draped in shadows and the human spirit falters, wine emerges as a beacon of light. It is a potion that eases the burdens of the soul, a companion that whispers tales of resilience and hope. Through the annals of history, we find instances where wine served as the elixir of camaraderie, forging bonds between foes and healing wounds with the balm of shared joy.

In his poem ‘Apollo and the Fates’, Robert Browning describes how Apollo visits the Fates to plead for the life of Admetus (one of the Argonauts). They scornfully point out that the life of man is mere misery; happiness only an illusion. Apollo persuades them to drink wine, man’s consolation, and they become temporarily merry, and applaud man’s potential and stubborn survival – “no defeat but a triumph”.

Taste, try, and approve of Man’s invention of – Wine! Quaff wine – how the spirits rise nimble and eager… The juice I uphold, Illuminates gloom without sunny connivance, Turns fear into hope and makes cowardice bold Touching all that is leadlike in life turns it to gold

The very nature of wine is a celebration, a ritual that connects us to the earth and its bounties. It is a sensory experience, a dance of flavours that enlivens the palate and enchants the spirit. The Romantic poets, when their heads weren’t full of laudanum, with their hearts fired with passion, often sought refuge in wine. Keats in ‘Ode to a Grecian Urn’ wrote:

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O, for a draught of vintage! that hath beenCool'd a long age in the deep-delved earth,Tasting of Flora and the country green,Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!O for a beaker full of the warm South,Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,And purple-stained mouth;That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,And with thee fade away into the forest dim

Wine is also a reminder that, like the grapevine that weathers storms to yield the sweetest fruit, we too can find strength in adversity and emerge triumphant. Take heart in these trying times and seek the consolation of the vine to brighten spirits and lend strength. The Persian poet Omar Khayyam reduces life’s necessities to the barest of minimums, offering a recipe for happiness that couldn’t be simpler: “A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou, singing beside me in the wilderness.” The essence of wine as a simple pleasure transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary.

Lord Byron in Canto Two of his epic poem Don Juan offers a sobering counterpoint to the pleasures of wine, reminding us that the joys of revelry are short-lived and ineluctably have their antidote in sobriety:

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“Let us have wine and women, mirth and laughter,Sermons and soda the day after.”

Moliere in the Bourgeois Gentilhomme exhorts us to live in the moment, taking whatever pleasure we can, insisting that wine is the elixir we need to fully appreciate the transient nature of life:

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Let's drink, dear friends, let's drink:The passing of time beckons;Let's enjoy lifeAs much as we can.When we have passed the black wave,Farewell to good wine, our loves;Let's hurry up and drink,We don't always drink.Let the fools reasonOn the true happiness of life;Our philosophyPuts it among the pots.Goods, knowledge and gloryDo not take away troublesome worries,And it is only by drinking wellThat we can be happy.Pour, pour, wine everywhere, pour, boys, pour,Pour, always pour, as long as they tell you enough

The Greek lyric poet Anacreon meanwhile was renowned for his drinking songs and unabashedly praises the virtues of wine, listing the positive effects it has, beginning with celebrating the Muses, banishing worries, swinging him through the air, weaving wreathes of flowers, singing the calm of life, filling him with a fragrant essence, pressing a young girl in his arms, drowning his spirit and frolicking joyfully with a swarm of young virgins. He claims it is a true gain and the only one he can take with him, “for dying is our common lot”.

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At a banquetWhen I drink wine, joy descends into my heart, and I begin to celebrate the Muses.When I drink wine, I banish my worries; distressing thoughts fly away on the wings of the winds that torment the seas.When I drink wine, the joyous Bacchus swings me through the fragrant air after intoxicating me with his sweet liquor.When I drink wine, I weave wreaths of flowers, place them on my head and sing of the calm of life.When I drink wine, I flood my body with the scent of a fragrant essence, press a young girl in my arms and sing Cypris.When I drink wine, I drown my spirit in the deep cups, and I frolic joyfully with a swarm of young virgins.When I drink wine, it is a true gain, the only one I can take with me, for dying is our common lot.

So, let us raise our glasses in a collective toast to this timeless elixir, to the poets and writers who have immortalized its essence in verse and prose. In the golden glow of a well-aged wine, we find not just a beverage but a muse, a source of inspiration that transcends the boundaries of time and space. May the symphony of wine continue to serenade our senses, offering a respite in times of turmoil and a celebration in moments of joy. Cheers to the enduring spirit of wine – a testament to the indomitable human spirit.

“Drinking good wine with good food in good company is one of life’s most civilized pleasures.”  Michael Broadbent

We wish you all the very best of the season and look forward to meeting you again on the other side.

(Apologies for the delay in posting. Have been travelling across continents with Santa’s elves…)

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Paris’ most famous wine producing vineyard

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The Marais seen through a wineglass

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A comprehensive overview of medieval Paris

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Drink responsibly, drink sustainably, in moderation

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