Monday, February 18, 2013

BLANDNESS--The Best of HoseMaster

One of my favorite authors is the late Nobel Prize Winner Jose Saramago. This piece was originally published in April of 2010, a couple of months before he died. Coincidence? Writing in Saramago's unique style was very challenging, and having attempted it here (poorly, at best), I did gain even more respect for his talent and work. When he won the Nobel Prize, the brilliant book critic Richard Eder said, "Saramago winning the Nobel Prize does nothing for Saramago, but it does a lot for the Nobels."

Translated from the Portugese by Ronaldo Jose Maestro

The following day, every wine tasted the same. That is, every red wine tasted the same as every other red wine, as if they'd all been made by Siduri, and every white wine wine tasted the same as every other white wine, and sadly that white wine was Rombauer, and this fact, a fact that it took everyone a long time to acknowledge, no surprise given that so many people's livelihoods depended upon wines tasting different, just as if every baseball game had the exact same score every day and you only had to wait and see which number your team scored because the box scores were exactly the same every day and all the sports writers and morons on ESPN would be out of work and Peter Gammons would go back to being the janitor he should be, this fact that every wine tasted the same began to worry everyone in the wine business. It worried the winemakers, who swore that every vineyard designated wine they made, all 23 Pinot Noirs and all 15 Syrahs, had to taste different from each other, they came from different terroirs after all, though, when asked, they couldn't actually define terroir, speaking about terroir as if it were indefinable like God or Love or Biodynamics, which was created by God, and each wine was made differently, but even they had to admit when tasting wines that they did all taste the same, something even the pundits had to finally confess after looking at their carefully composed notes, notes that contained eerily similar phrases, dull and lifeless writing, as though tasting notes were by definition written by the thunderstruck and mentally unbalanced, notes that led to the mysterious, mystical, God and Rudolf Steiner, for they are the Same Being, inspired number 89, a number that was created for wine and only for wine and was no longer allowed to be used in any other context for it now meant the quality of every wine on the planet, red or white, still or sparkling, fortified or late harvest, and had no meaning to people outside of wine, and even BevMo, the very Cathedral of wine blandness ruled by its titular Pope, Pope Wong II, the Pope Wong as Wong can be, changed it's name to 89 Wines and everyone understood that to mean the score of every wine and not the actual count of wines available for sale there.
And after the winemakers and pundits were forced to admit that all red wines tasted like all other red wines, and all white wines tasted like all other white wines, something they were loathe to acknowledge for it surely meant that their services were no longer necessary or needed, that a winery could hire any fool, degree or no degree from UC Davis, an agricultural school in California known for its viticultural program and its veterinary program, ensuring its graduates treated animals all the same or made wines that all tasted the same, and the fool would produce a wine that was awarded 89 points from all the wine pundits who used the 100 point scale but who had now become obsolete because all the wine publications did was list wines that were released, red and white, and then print a large number 89 and awarded it to all of them, leaving its critics to look for actual jobs, something they were completely unqualified to do, so many of them went to UC Davis and became veterinarians and began to rate dogs and cats on 100 point scales, as in, Your dog is cute, has a nice wet nose, smells strongly of sulfur problems, and his tail is a bit crooked so I'd say he's an 85 point dog, which is good, not great, but nothing to be ashamed of, I rarely award dogs points over 95, that will be 100 dollars. Most pundits became homeless, ironically forced to forever drink 89 point wines, wines they had always contended were perfectly fine wines but which secretly they abhorred and had only given those scores to because it gave them pleasure to score them just below 90, a number most desired by wineries, especially for wineries that had not had the common courtesy to flatter them, send them walnuts every Christmas or buy them lavish dinners or fly them to foreign places and praise them ceaselessly, their palates, their noses, their gift for language, though these traits were clearly absent and all they really possessed was a business card and a reputation for loving sycophants, but being homeless now meant that no one praised them, no one cared what their opinions were about wines because all wines tasted the same, all wines scored 89 points, they were completely worthless as pundits, something they'd always known, but had hoped no one would discover.

Soon the public wondered why, if all the red wines tasted the same, which they had suspected was the case all along and that the whole rating system was some kind of inside industry joke, not particularly funny, but lucrative, and if all white wines tasted the same, which they knew from experience, all you had to do was serve them all cold from the refrigerator and no one could tell if it was actual white wine or Santa Margharita, a famous wine substitute, which now tasted exactly like Rombauer anyway, why do we pay different prices for them? Well, I only made 90 cases of this wine, a winemaker might say, even though he'd actually made 89 cases but knew that 89 was no longer a recognized number so he had to say 90, And it's from the very best part of my property and thus it's the finest wine I produce and worth every penny, though in this economy if you want to buy six bottles I can give you thirty percent off, not that I need to bargain with my hundred dollar wine, I don't, I just like you and you've been a loyal customer and I want to reward you by only charging you seventy dollars for my 89 point wine that tastes like every other red wine. But if it tastes just like every other wine you produce, if indeed it tastes like every wine produced everywhere, consumers started to say, Why should I pay one hundred dollars for your bottle when I can get exactly the same flavors and aromas, as described by famous pundits who awarded you 89 points, pundits who are now deservedly homeless and scorned, from a bottle that costs three dollars? Because those bottles, the winemaker replied, Do not have my label on them, and my label is famous, recognized the world over as desirable and rare and special, and that three dollar bottle has a cheap label that will say to your guests that you are cheap, you don't care much about them or their happiness, and, furthermore, that you know nothing about wine or you would have nicer labels in your collection, not just a bunch of cheap labels, which may taste the same but are not the same because when your guests see my label they are going to think, oh, this is great wine, surely this isn't an 89 point wine, surely this is one of the greatest wines ever made, I can see that by the label, and so it must be me, must be my inability to understand wine, to list the aromas I'm smelling, to enjoy wine without knowing what the label looks like, and that will be worth the ninety-seven extra dollars you spent, dollars you will have spent on self-esteem and imaginary prestige. This argument worked for a while.


Unknown said...

I'd give both paragraphs an 89

Samantha Dugan said...

Ron My Love,
Cannot believe you ran this piece today. I went online and bought The Gospel According to Jesus Christ just yesterday. I've never read Saramago and I'm sure, much like you, he's too smart for me but, well I knew how much you adore and admire his work and I got the book to understand you just a little better. God, so weird you would post this today. I love it Ron but nearly as much as I love you.

Thomas said...

I was expecting the original comments too, and I know that is too short a response but anything longer would be too long, like the line at an Andrew Lloyd Weber musical or the time it takes to get a plagiarist Web site to take down an entry, a length of time un surpassed only by the interminable feeling that reading a blog engenders, it is so much time to take but not so much to give, yet we can never know where the time winds up after it goes...

Marcia Macomber said...

Love it! Never read Saramago. A bit Eugene O'Neill-esque in length, no? The "Wong Pope" -- you are on a roll on that topic.

My dog would rate an 89 because she still barks at strangers (very rude). (Of course, she rates 100 in my heart because she's so sweet to me!)

Missed you Saturday. We were practically in S.F. Bay at the back.

Cris Whetstone said...

I've not read Saramago but for some reason this made me think of Beckett.

_Waiting For Laube_?

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Gotta love score inflation.

My Gorgeous Samantha,
Saramago is, for me, one of the great writers of the past century. Been a while since I read The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, but always keep in mind that Saramago was an avowed atheist, and always sneaky funny. Of his other works, I love Blindness, Death Interrupted, The Double, and The Cave. It takes a bit to get into the rhythm of his style, but you get the hang of it quickly.

Not sure you'll understand me from reading Saramago. Not sure understanding me is even a worthy goal.

I love you too!

What you said.

I think loving Saramago may be the literary equivalent of loving orange wines, but love him I do. When I wrote this long ago, the fun was rereading him simply to dissect his style and to try to capture his sardonic sense of humor. I failed, but I had fun.

I didn't make it on Saturday, sadly, which is why you didn't see me.

Do read Saramago some day. He's one of the great writers who is vastly underappreciated. The books I recommended to Samantha are a good place to start. Now that you mention it, he and Beckett share a similar worldview, but Beckett is often a man of few words, whereas Saramago is a man of many commas.

voice of reason said...

it as been a while, but the style that you have just demonstrated reminds me of the first time that I read (not heard) Steppenwolf...

voice of reason said...

*has, not "as"...

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Hermann Hesse? That's interesting. I read Steppenwolf in college, and I don't recall liking it much. Of course, I wasn't stoned, so that may have made the difference.

I just write these sorts of pieces for my own amusement. I'm sure most of the people who show up here don't bother to read it when it's this dense on the page. Someone on Twitter wrote that I was usually funny but this post just quotes Saramago about wine. That's what I mean.

Anonymous said...


I give you a 90 on the article. Your comments, an 88.

Next post-ee cummings comes back from the dead as a homeless wine blog critic, and gives his rendition of '[anyone lived in a pretty bev-mo town]


Anonymous said...

Kind of Saramago as parodied by Hemingway, and not badly .