Note: This post represents the first “chapter” in the wine stories series.
Two things mattered to Tom: food and people—everything else could fuck off as far as he was concerned. Bringing the people to the food, to the clean air, the water, that was the hard part, he thought. For some reason, human beings insisted on polluting themselves. He shut his laptop with a huff—nothing new there—and opened the leather-bound journal set beside him on the bed. It was dusk, just dark enough to turn the light on, but Tom preferred the quiet graininess of evening. It made him feel like he was moving through a living substance. He flipped to the last entry and squinted. “Georgian Wine Class – 6:30” He had forgotten. What time was it now? 6:00.
Food was easy, he thought as he walked through the hallway of his first-floor apartment. Seed, soil, water, sun, know-how and, most importantly, heart. These were not just the essential ingredients; they were all the ingredients. How hard can that be? People could follow the advice in his book, if it ever got finished. The thesis? A less is more approach to farming and the human capacity for enhanced charisma. Take his trip to Jordan, for example. Tom found the people there had a magnetic energy. Despite the women wearing hijabs—it was necessary in the hot sun—he had been embraced by people who were exuberantly alive, antithetical to the Americans he saw daily. Obviously, it was the food, Tom surmised, raised by hand and cooked by the mammas in the back kitchens using real earthenware.
People—at least the ones he saw everyday—were not as easy. They were invested in something he couldn’t give, approval. Well, that’s not true, he corrected himself. He could give it, but not easily. He’d heard the Georgians made their wines with minimal processing, which created a natural, authentic wine. None of this stuff the Europeans do. He wondered if they could transport him—like a good wine should—to the soil itself, the hills, the music.
At the end of the hallway, where laid an old Persian rug, a hand-me-down from his parents, Tom sat on the small oak bench beside the front door to put on his boots. The rug was soft and solid under his feet, despite its many years. Vibrant reds and blues had faded to shades of muted pink and cornflower. A dancing girl, woven with much care, stared up at him from its edge near the tassels, her arms bent softly at the elbows and her hands gesturing up, the fingers of each achingly expressive. She was the first thing Tom saw when he entered the apartment and the last thing he saw leaving it.
Mostly, he didn’t give the dancer much thought. But if we were to follow the string that leads from his brain through the vascular system into his heart, we would find her placed there, the model by which all others should be judged. As such, she was his companion without his being conscious of it, and each time he left the house, he said goodbye to her from some quiet, unassuming place inside him. Each time he came home, he said hello. But today, because he had no real stake in the Georgians, just a curiosity and the need to be around other people—it was necessary that humans be near other humans—he was free from his usual swirl of thoughts to spend a moment to study her.
At first, he simply noticed her there, but as his breathing slowed, he saw her fully: her half smirk, her low calf, the slight cleavage at the bodice, even the small stitch at her pointed toe. The image of the girl was so well-crafted, so lovingly depicted, he assumed in life she was the weaver’s daughter and the kind of rare being who didn’t know beauty was something one could not have, which made it so easy for her to dance like that into eternity. Could she embody everything he believed–that a human being fully loved and fed by the bounty of nature could live a life of bliss and unending potential? With that thought, something rose in him.
Then, in one fluid and surprisingly swift upward motion, Tom stood. His full six feet arranged itself along his spine. The thought of the girl was gone. It was spring, which meant no jacket or hat, the latter of which in winter flattened the tuft of light brown hair that insisted on standing upon his head, making him resemble a large, silly bird. He knew it, and now that it was warm, he’d have to embrace it. Silly bird with charm, he told himself. He grabbed his leather satchel and threw it over his shoulders, in case he bought a bottle ot two.
The class was in the basement of Provisions, the only consciously-stocked wine shop in a hundred-mile radius. Tom approved of the décor, a mixture of high-end moves with authentic every-man class. Most shop designers forgot the every-man and fell deeply into a spiraling hole of fad-like sensibilities. Had the class been in one of those shops, he would not have gone, the urge to explain the flaw directly to some poor sales girl too great.
As it was, Tom entered the shop right behind a petite brunette, her hair pulled back in a messy, yet sophisticated bun. She appeared to be his age, and as they walked into the shop, appeared also to be headed in the direction of the basement. When she glanced over her shoulder at him, he smiled and asked, “Are you going to the wine class?”
The broad and quick smile she returned pulled at something inside him. “I am,” she said. “I think it’s this way.”
With a nod, he followed.
The basement was set so that tables and chairs formed a semi-circle in the small room. Tom and the brunette sat side by side after a brief pause in which Tom surveyed the energy of the room, something he’d done since he was a child. Here was like most places–a flow of disparate energies with a smidge of tension, like a mix of oranges and milk. Pleasant enough, but slightly acrid.
After a moment, the brunette invited him to sit beside her. The other seats were soon filled with fifteen bodies, everyone chatting with their companions. He and the brunette, it seemed, were the only two on their own, and though he wanted to strike up a conversation, he could not think of one thing to say. This happened occasionally, but he usually got over it. A momentary hurdle, he figured, in what could evolve into a lingering evening. People, he said to himself, people are important.
Each setting consisted of two glasses labeled A and B, a water glass, and a thin cheese board, on which sat two styles of cheese and several slices of dried meat. Tom tried them all and found them sufficient. A large bowl filled with sliced baguette sat directly in front of him for all to share. Lucky, he thought, realizing now that he hadn’t eaten. At the front of the class, two young men readied their presentation. Tom turned his thoughts to Georgia. Mostly, he was curious to hear how the wine was made, about the soil varieties and the clay casks specific to the region, and if, as he had imagined before, he could be transported by the natural elements infused in the wine to an energetic state that resembled the vigor he’d witnessed on his many travels abroad. People here had no idea how unhealthy they were, how robbed of their own life they were just by the mere fact of lack of nutrition, of capitalism…well, no need to rant about it, he thought. It was what it was.
Thus, he plunged his hands between his knees and waited, the brunette sitting quietly beside him. In the waiting, he could feel her energy, which almost had the smell of herbs. It was electrifying. From most people emanated a dustiness; fear, he felt, was a black grain that had mixed itself into the very air. But the brunette, her energy was more open than anything he’d come across in a long while. With that thought, he shifted, stood halfway up and reached for the bread bowl. Taking two pieces for himself, he turned to the girl. “Bread?”
Again, that smile. “Thanks,” she beamed.
Ah, someone who was not afraid to take bread, he mused.
The two presenters quieted the group by offering to pour a starter wine to prepare their palettes. This was standard and nice. He liked wine folks. They were not afraid to let go a little, to spill wine to bring joy. He was happy he had come.
The main presentation was by a young Georgian distributor, and as the whites were poured, he went through his Powerpoint presentation, which showed the Georgian countryside, the clay qvevris, the ancient wineries, and the roughly hewn faces of the men making the wine. Tom’s A and B glasses were close to the brunette’s, which made it easier for him to continue to exchange silent energies.
The first white was light and acidic, good, what one would expect in a first pour. Georgia, he was learning, was known for their highly acidic wines. But the second, wow! The brunette made a slight gasp once she tasted it.
“Does it make sense to say this tastes a little like apple moonshine?” she asked looking in his direction.
“Exactly,” he volleyed with a gusto not even he was clear was in him. “It is moonshine in a way. The Georgians plant the grape and let nature take its course. It’s a highly rustic wine that hasn’t been fiddled with.” He was talking straight at her now as she pushed her nose into the glass to get another whiff.
“Hmm,” she mused, not at all taken aback by his exuberance.
Tom looked out over the room to find many of the tasters wrinkling their noses and shaking their heads. It was too much for them. See? You can’t bring people to the essential ingredients without them turning up their noses. This wine had a pungency to it and a dry, syrupy feel. They preferred something doctored, something uniform. God forbid a certain wildness might appear in their midst.
“I like it,” he heard the brunette say as she finished the last swig.
At the third pour, there was a little mishap. Nothing serious. It was just that Tom and the brunette had gotten to talking, and he was already halfway through his manifesto about the power of nutrients when they were pouring the third wine a second time. Or was that the fourth wine? Did he not try the third wine, the orange? The brunette seemed confused too. She checked her notes.
“No. This is the fourth,” she said. “Maybe you didn’t get it. Maybe…am I drinking from your glass?” The two burst out laughing, which was near-ecstasy to Tom. It didn’t matter about the wine—well, it did a little. Tom wanted to try all the wines—but he would catch up the next round. What mattered now was the release of cellular tension he was feeling, within his own body and hers, which he often described in his book but which did not happen to him on a daily basis. In fact, it was this release that was at the very center of his ideas.
They checked the glasses. She was on B and he was on A. “We were distracted,” he beamed at her as if they shared a secret joke, after which she lightly touched his arm.
Tom’s cheeks felt hot now and his head like it was suddenly filling. Something was happening. A kind of bubbling heat sped through his body and sat at the edge of every nerve, a sensation he could only call an awakening, which caused him to want to jump on the table and beat his chest. Of course, this wasn’t the right place to let everything rise out of him. The others might not understand. With a concerted effort, he tamped the unbridled feeling and tried to direct it into simple happiness.
Everyone else nibbled their cheeses and swirled their glasses. Tom swirled his too and stuck his nose in. But there it was again, a scent that felt like music. Was it possible? Could he imagine being in Georgia? Those cobblestone streets, the craggy hills? Yes, he could! Truly! He thought he could smell the earth, a gracious sun, and the rain; yes, he was there walking the street, the sound of his boots on the stones, and the music!
Instinctually, he made to grab the brunette’s hand but found only the table. She had gotten up to take a phone call. The presenter poured Tom the orange wine he had missed—absolutely delicious: full-bodied, dry, and the color of a late sun. His mind unfolded. It was like a bright light had been turned on inside of him and threatened to burst out every seam. He closed his eyes and rode it.
After some time—he couldn’t be sure how long he sat with his eyes closed—he opened them to what felt like a different room. A woman in the corner with blond hair laughed when earlier he noticed her furtively glancing the room. A group of linguists who lined the other wall and had sat, pursed-lipped, were finally letting their shoulders down. It was all such a relief to Tom. The Georgians had done their job correctly.
He grabbed a pen from his leather satchel and wrote his name and email address on the brunette’s napkin. When she returned, he would invite her to get some food after the tasting. He sighed deeply and leaned back in his chair again, a little more in control of his body.
Upon return, the brunette gathered her things to leave. Tom peeked a bit of cleavage as she bent down to pick up her bag. She smiled again.
“I have to go,” she said, “but it was so nice meeting you.” She touched him once more, this time on the shoulder.
He thought maybe he could charm her into staying. He leaned back in his chair and looked directly into her eyes. “But we’ve just started. You should stay a little longer.”
“I wish I could,” she demurred, catching his intentions and tilting her head to the left.
“Well,” he sat straight up again, swooping the air with him, “here’s my information. Call me.”
She took the napkin and then one last swig of the orange wine. “So good,” she elongated the words as if to savor them and the wine together.
Tom felt her absence immediately. The air beside him had a thinner texture now. He ate a few more pieces of bread in a desperate hunger. He took another gulp of the last Georgian white as if he was throwing back the whole cosmos, and before he knew it, he was off again, running through the streets of Tbilisi! He wanted to follow her but, how could he? They hadn’t even started the reds.