Sunday, July 30, 2017

An Encounter in the Bardo - The Mentor and the Longtimer

Ex ante

Walking along a hiking path, on the edge of the continent and from the neighboring country to the south, the longtimer came upon a narrow valley. The temperature was a cool 66° F. The breeze blowing from the straits that separated the two countries was refreshing but brisk. The glen offered a perfect lull from the rigors of hiking and the possibility of a little, stolen nap. After all, the old hand had worked many years and this was kind of a vacation. It would also be a point of reckoning.

Once ensconced upon a picnic blanket, and after a light meal and a sip of fresh rosé wine, he slumbered. And the dream came. And inside the dream the messenger appeared. And as with all messengers, there was a dispatch. It was meant to review the old timer’s working life, this life in wine, and deeper inside the world of Italian wine than all the other wines. And as it was a dream, there would be no escape, until all the material had been transmitted. It was more like a Grand Jury.

The courier took the form of a mentor, long gone, but one who had a similar trajectory, only the generation before. So, while it was meant to be unfiltered, it wasn’t unkind. But it was frank, this review of one’s life in work.

“So you had quite the career,” the envoy began. “Your love affair with Italy and her wines lasted quite a long time. In those years, you saw Italian wine go from tired, uninspired reds and bleak, lifeless whites, to a range of wines that any country might be proud to call their own, perhaps even France.” The mentor was of French (and Italian) background, but the French influence was stronger.

The old hand was silent; this was not the time for words from him. It was best to lie there and be quiet, passive and accepting of whatever verdict that was being handed out for a life’s work.

“And from where you stood, in the middle of the country, did you think you were doing the Lord’s work? After all, in Texas, doesn’t everyone think that? Bigger than life, your Texas is, eh? (The mentor was from Louisiana). Ah yes, you were going to change the world. Let’s look at a few places you thought you’d change.

“That little gourmet supermarket in 1985, wasn’t that a run! People told you that the rich neighbors would never drink Brunello, let alone Montepulciano. But you showed them didn’t you? You crammed the shelves and displays with anything you could from Italy. And guess what? It sold. But it didn’t last. The market was sold, torn down and rebuilt into a super-newer-market. Now you can find Moscato and Prosecco and Pinot Grigio and Chianti. And that’s about it. You really showed them, over time, didn’t you?

“And how about that Italian restaurant, where all the wealthy people showed up and drank Trebbiano and Gavi and Gattinara and Amarone? And the owner, who was so proud of his shrine to Italian wine and food. And all the wine you sold through places like that. And where are they now? All gone, all those tears, all those dreams, vanished. I’d be surprised if they even let you in those places now.

“Sure, it paid the bills, you raised your little family - you even managed to save some money for your retirement. But your legacy? Pshaw…it was your job, not your life.

“That’s the trouble with all of us when we’re young. We don’t know the things we will know. And before then, we fight and scrape and defend our position as if it meant something. They’re like all those bottles that have been opened on a Saturday night in a restaurant. They’re empty and in the dumpster outside, waiting for a new use, another purpose. But before that, we’re waging war for control.

“Hey, you’re not the only generation. Ours did it. And the next after you will as well. In fact, they look at you like they would me - you’re all but dead to them. Only you’re not dead to you. But you have to know where to direct your remaining energy. It’s not on the front lines anymore – they don’t want you there – you’re in the way.

“Look, you had a larger opinion of your place than you should. Hey, it’s like most of us; we’re the center of our universe, and that’s what takes our attention. Tending to our universe. But look around you; you’re dozing on the edge of the continent, with this cool breeze, looking over a body of water back at your native country. What do you see? Is it any longer the center of anything that you are part of?

“And when you are back home, what do they call it, flyover country? Or what did that master sommelier call it, a state full of third-tier markets? (Yes, he did.) And this was what occupied your whole life? As if getting a wine buyer to buy in to your vision was the reason you were put on this earth? Did you really aim that low?”

I’m still trapped in this dream and unable to answer a word, but somehow it did not matter. The evidence was all in; there would be no defending a life of work that had seen most of its days in the rear view mirror. It was a fruitless exercise to redeem or reclaim or redefine.

“So, now what? What do you think you can do, at this late hour? You’ve had your time at bat, you swung a few times, hit a few homers, struck out a bit. Sometimes your team won, sometimes they lost. And sometimes you were on better teams than other times. That’s pretty much the way it goes for most of us. Don’t expect much more. It’s almost October for you. No more World Series. No more All Star nominations. You’ve grown old. Like it happened to me. And like it will happen to the young Turks, although they think, as we did, that they are going to beat the rap. They won’t. In 15 minutes, it’ll be their turn for someone else to have this conversation with them. They don’t think it will ever happen. But it will.

“Is there something you are missing? Do you have all the respect you deserve? Or fame? Or fortune? When you get to where I am, you’ll see all that stuff is pretty much a bunch of hooey. Who cares? Let them flail in their Super Tuscan swim hole. Let them buy low and sell high. Let them desert you and ignore you. It doesn’t matter. You’ve done all you can do. Time to let it go.”

This, coming from my mentor, from a bardo of indeterminate destination, as I napped in a vale, on the edge of the continent, within shouting distance of my native country. I felt compelled to accept his verdict, if only to ease the release of the mentor from his bardo – so that he might move on – so that we all might move forward…

Mors est quasi quaedam migrātiō.

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