Wednesday, April 25, 2007

I suppose it is almost inevitable to wonder, at least briefly, what I might have done if shots started ringing out down the corridors of the BIC as they did in Norris Hall last week. Would I have followed the example of Liviu Librescu and held the door against the oncoming murderer while the students leaped to safety? Hopefully I will never get to answer the question since I am not sure that I really like the answer I might find. It seems somehow terribly ironic that a chap that survived the Holocaust should be laid low by such a random act, and on such a day.

Incidentally, who could fail to note the astonishing art imitating life (for most of the time we are familiar with life imitating art) plot of The Sopranos last Sunday with Uncle Junior and his deranged protege?

Inevitably the gun nutters respond with unfailing logic that this all would not have happened if the students were armed to the teeth. In the ideal NRA world no doubt incoming freshmen would receive a small automatic weapon in addition to the obligatory i-pod. Extending the logic, expensive security measures at high schools could be done away with provided all the students carried a gun. In a conversation with my father (in England) the topic came up. He, like the rest of the largely civilized world, simply cannot comprehend the culture of weaponry that the U.S. indulges in. The apologists point to its enshrinement in the Constitution, as if to say that is the final word. I am no student of the Constitution, but last time I checked, the gun thing was in an amendment. Needless to say, not a single politician of note, particularly those engaged in the eternal, unending flog for presidential glory will take a stand for the obvious. My father asked if things would ever change. I replied that, so far as I could tell, they never would.

Certain things set America apart. An obsession with weapons is just one of them. A subculture of fermentation is another. Dulcie and I attended a meeting of some local winemakers last Friday, brimming with expectation about what we would learn about the craft as we prepare to launch Chateau Aylwin. What portended to be an evening of viticultural education turned out to be one of anthropological amusement. What fools we were to believe that amateur "wine-makers" actually like wine or even know what it tastes like. I was on the alert immediately when I was offered something from a large jam jar that bore a disturbing similarity to something I had passed into the water closet earlier in the day. "Pear" I was told with emphasis by the slightly glassy-eyed red-faced man clutching a giant glass of some other suspicious looking beverage. I proceeded to survey the offerings with their homemade labels. I was relieved that I had not gone for something more impressive than the Juan Gil we had brought to share; but at the same time I was annoyed that even that was way too good for these folks. Monastrel? Is that a grape? Questions like that. It went from bad to worse. Discussion about what to order to eat ranged between Chinese and pizza; neither one being the ideal accompaniment to most wines. My mistake of course, because the "wines" on offer were not wines in any traditional sense. Later, (we stayed for as long as we could bear just to luxuriate in the nuttiness - where do they all come from?) large polythene buckets were produced along with a giant bag of frozen strawberries and a huge can of cling peaches. Some of the leaders of this motley crew fiddled with bags of sugar, little bottles of this and that, and pH probes (I don't suppose for a moment that any of them could define pH) and densitometers while the rest watched in a semi-drunken awe.

I had an epiphany that night. These people who like to make "wine" are not motivated by any attraction to rendering their own version of the most noble of beverages, but rather by a perverse desire to ferment things - seemingly anything. There is also the base desire to get drunk cheaply. For a hundred dollars I was told, I could get thirty bottles of wine. Why, I ask, would I wish to take the trouble to make thirty bottles of something that would best be thrown down the toilet when for the same money I can simply go to TJ's? Worse, I had mentioned the event to one of my students, who happens to make real wine from real grapes, and he actually appeared with a rose from the latest vintage. Fortunately he took it all in good humour.

Once though was quite enough with those Corkers.

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