Saturday, September 17, 2016

It's not "powder of antimony"

Even after At First Glass' and Pluot's many incarnations and designs and re-boots, and subsequent plunge into comparative obscurity -- did I once get 12,000 hits one Thanksgiving week? -- I still from time to time am offered a sample bottle of wine by nice people at nice publicity firms. It's not Insignia or Troussard anymore, and of course this summer with the hullabaloo of my move to a new house I could not respond to a surprising glut of invitations. Besides, "Dear things!" I want to exclaim honestly. "You know I have no readership to speak of. But thank you!"

Now as the hullabaloo moving dust has somewhat settled, here comes a delightful bottle of something from Sicily. I found the time to say yes.




The maker is Lamuri, the grape Nero d'Avola, the wine a darkly succulent, whiff-of-cherry-and-mocha bargain that would pair well with what you might call strong, lantern-jawed Mediterranean foods. Remember when archetypical handsome heroes were called lantern-jawed? A recipe in the "Wines of Sicily D.O.C." booklet that came packed with the bottle seems perfect: the fine print says that Victor Rallo, host of Eat! Drink! Italy! devised a Grilled Lamb Chops Scottadita, lamb with spicy Sicilian almond red pepper sauce, to go with our robust red Sicilian sample.

Delicious, but I can't help raising a question. I just looked at the news this morning. Shouldn't Eat! Drink! Italy! read Eat! Drink! [Muslim] Italy!? "UN chief: 235,000 more migrants in Libya ready to embark for Italy," to add to the 300,000 already arrived (in Europe) this year.

I often want to broach this same question to the Old World vendors, or winemakers and distillers, who come to the store to show us their latest products. No one says a word because to do so would, I suppose, mark one as an embarrassing killjoy. A Chicken Little, the-sky-is-falling type. But I want to ask, of them, of Sicily, of Chef Rallo: you do realize these people, these newcomers in the hundreds of thousands forbid alcohol, yes? They remain for the moment a minority and yes, perhaps those who come are the type not to like their religion's strict rules and to be glad to reach the wine-lands. On the other hand, judging by the look of those young, strong men, they may be the type to like their religion very much and to be eager to impose it on the winelands. I am glad -- I want to go on saying, to the vendors, to Sicily -- glad all of you are making such strides in trellising and quality clone selection and things, but do you never wonder if you might be forced to sketch a Plan  B or even C for your life and for the land?

No one wants to be a questioning provincial killjoy. Google a bit and you'll find there are vineyards in majority Muslim Lebanon. There are some in Morocco and Tunisia. I don't think it takes too much breath, however, to acknowledge that these are outliers and that my question still stands. It stands because of more than immigration. We must expect not only that, but that the gates are opened by our own leadership, against our will, as an ideological act. That's a new thing in history, isn't it? It accompanies one of the most important marks of our age: we vote, but eighteenth-  or nineteenth-century election cycles move too slowly to keep up with progressive rule by fiat, or to accommodate any of our changes of civic mind. It all gives a pointed freshness to calm schoolbook-style descriptions of "cultural influence of successive waves of Phoenician, Greek, Roman, and Arab," etc., say in a place like Sicily. In a pamphlet about Sicily. And that was when kings did defend their own shorelines.

Hence the idea of winemakers being forced to sketch a plan C. I don't see why it's inconceivable that a vineyard or a region could be overrun, or be told to cease production, before the good people in it could vote for a leadership willing to close the gates, or otherwise leave them alone. Why not? The Muslim mayor of London -- itself a phrase once inconceivable in my lifetime, and I'm not old -- wants to banish any billboard and bus stop advertising showing pictures of scantily-clad women. That's a little wavelet of cultural influence, wouldn't you say? Why shouldn't I worry about the wine? Because that would never happen, because it can't happen here?   

All in all, it occurs to me that in this extraordinary era when, to pick another marker, the Pope in six months might variously condemn murder in God's name as "Satanic" having humbly washed the feet of the people who tend to do it, possibly the most useful thing the Westerner can do for his tattered civilization is to support the liquor industry. To work in it may be to really man the towers. By the by, I am always encouraged when I see a woman in a hijab buying a bottle. She buys it as a present for someone else I presume. If a Muslim man buys one you can't tell, but of course the women stand out. I have seen it happen twice in two years.

Here may be what it will come down to. Whether you care about voting or religion or music or art or those same women having their private parts cut up, or not, if it comes to it -- will you give up the booze? Or might "they" be satisfactorily seduced by it? So far, outliers aside, their rejection of it has been firm. Won't it be remarkable, if in time alcohol -- an Arabic word, originally meaning for them "powder of antimony [kohl]" and for us, alcohol -- is the last hill we turn and stand on.  

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