Friday, January 10, 2014

Lanson black label brut for Christmas

"But it is in the old story that all the beasts can talk in the night between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in the morning (though there are very few folk that can hear them, or know what it is that they say)."  

It's an enchanting idea, isn't it? We find it in Beatrix Potter's "The Tailor of Gloucester." Years ago when my children were watching the animated series The World of Beatrix Potter and I was in the throes of, shall we say, quite the religious adventure, it used to strike me that for all its Christmas setting, "The Tailor of Gloucester" was a surprisingly Jewish story. You may scream with laughter, but consider. 

To begin with, a tailor is plying an often Jewish trade. This tailor has to finish his work, the making of a gorgeous coat for the Mayor, by "noon of Saturday," which is the Sabbath when work is forbidden, -- although here of course the Saturday is more importantly Christmas Day, and the day of the Mayor's wedding. 

Our tailor performs the mitzvah, the good deed of freeing the mice from beneath all the overturned teacups and other crockery where the cat, Simpkin, had imprisoned them. The pangs of guilt he suffers about it may as well be Jewish too ("should I have freed those mice, undoubtedly the property of Simpkin?"). On the day of triumph, the Saturday when he lets himself into his shop to discover that the grateful mice have entirely made up the Mayor's coat and waistcoat "of cherry colored corded silk" on Christmas Eve, he finds also that they have left one item unfinished -- a buttonhole. This might be a subtle touch: for somewhere in Jewish law it is written that anyone who completes a task is regarded as though he had done the whole thing. So our tailor sews the last buttonhole, using the skein of cherry-colored "twist" that the peeved Simpkin had hidden from him, the Mayor is splendidly married at noon on Christmas Day, and the tailor's fortune is assured.   

The little, if you will, Jewish coincidences in the story are of course only that, coincidences which amateurs giving sermons like to do up into ten-minute packages of preciousness which tolerant, smiling (or just hard-of-hearing) congregations let pass for wisdom. It so happens that as I wrote of Beatrix Potter and her stories just now -- why does she occur to me? possibly all the seasonal nattering on about "the magic of Christmas" is in my mind -- a fat gray squirrel, boasting a very handsome full tail, scrambled up the porch railing and sat in front of the window, actually rubbing his paws against the bitter cold. He might have been straight out of "The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin." He looked at me. 

There was nothing for it but to get up, go into the kitchen, heap up a plate of bread crumbs, orange slices, and an aging apple, and put it out on the frozen ground for the same small creatures who so maddeningly begin destroying the garden every spring. It is after all Christmas; one imagines oneself, if one does not take care, cast as the villainess of a fable in which the mistress of a warm brightly lit house crammed with food cruelly shares nothing with Tom Titmouse, and so on, even at This Festive Season. One can't have that. I might add that Squirrel Nutkin grabbed a chunk of apple and dashed across the snowy grass to hide it in the roots of the neighbor's lilac bush, where it surely can't do him much good. He came back for more. 

Whether the beasts can talk in the night between Christmas Eve and Christmas day in the morning, I don't know. I was busy enjoying a scandalously luxurious treat at the time, and so heard nothing. There were pillows, a night light, the radio playing medieval carols, and then champagne -- what champagne --  and Agatha Christie's "Christmas Tragedy." This story includes one of Miss Marple's wisest observations: 
"Now young people nowadays -- they talk very freely about things that weren't mentioned in my young days, but on the other hand their minds are terribly innocent. They believe in everyone and everything. And if one tries to warn them, ever so gently, they tell one that one has a Victorian mind -- and that, they say, is like a sink."   
"After all," said Sir Henry, "what is wrong with a sink?" 
"Exactly," said Miss Marple eagerly. "It's the most necessary thing in any house ...."
Exactly. The champagne was something both Agatha Christie and Beatrix Potter could have recognized, since the maison was fondée in 1760. It was a bottle of Lanson "black label," which had been resting in my little wine fridge for at least a year and perhaps two. I can hardly tell you how delicious it was. Toast and nuts and toast again, and then some fruit on toast. The next morning, with freshly squeezed orange juice, it made a very fine mimosa. Don't put this out for Squirrel Nutkin.

Retail, about $37.


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