My mission to tell the beautiful tale of the marriage between wine and literature continues. Until people stop writing or stop making wine (never and never), there will be chapters upon chapters of this timeless union.
So, I was an English major in college back in 19^*. That’s weird, my keyboard just malfunctioned on that date, but now you know it was in the 20th century. Not the 21st century in which we now live. That makes it seem like I went to college a century ago, which makes me feel so old than I want to cry into a glass of wine.
Back in my day (as we old folk say), it was cool and hip, if not altogether necessary, to spend some measure of time as an English major raving about the literature of the Beat Generation. Several years out of college now (a whole century, apparently), I appreciate the works of the Beat writers as a legitimate and unique contribution to the American literary canon. When I was in college, I was practically summoning the souls of the Beat writers with my gushing admiration while swilling coffee and bumming cigarettes. Who are these prolific San Francisco icons? Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Neal Cassady, and, of course, Jack Kerouac.
Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road in three weeks in 1951 on a continuous, 120-foot scroll of tracing paper sheets that he taped together. It is essentially the story of a cross-country trip with his pals between 1947 and 1950, but is ultimately much more than that—it is a treasured part of literary history. It’s a lot of narrative about driving, hitchhiking, drinking, doing the drug of choice back then (Benzedrine), sex, and jazz. What’s a formerly sheltered undergraduate English major not to like? When I think about wine and literature, this book does come to mind. Wine is only one of many “recreations” enjoyed in the novel, but it’s in there.
“I was beginning to despair. What I needed, what Terry needed too was a drink, so we bought a quart of California port for 35 cents and went to the railroad yards to drink. We found a place where hobos had drawn up crates to sit over fires. We sat there and drank the wine.”
Kerouac (Sal Paradise is his name in the novel) had about 6875 drinks with about 397 different people while he was on the road in this book, and that included some railroad yard time, which we all need every now and then. I would like to point out that wine has never been 35 cents a quart in my lifetime, so I’m not that old.
A second work of literature that comes to mind is Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Right away, the mention of a vampire conjures images of blood that can easily be translated into images of wine. If you Google search “vampire + wine,” you’ll find, among other things, a 2010 Dracula Merlot. As I have already confessed, I’m old school—my idea of a vampire is the creation of an Irish writer in 1897, not pale kids who twinkle in sunlight (I have nothing against the Twilight books/movies/dolls). The interesting thing about the wine reference in Dracula is that Jonathan Harker, the narrator writing a journal about what he discovers at this creepy castle, wants to convey that he is not drunk despite the crazy things he is seeing. He may also want to write about the amazing meals he had at the Count’s castle in Transylvania, which could be the original version of posting pictures of one’s dinner on Facebook. In Chapter 1:
“There are many odd things to put down, and, lest who reads them may fancy that I dined too well before I left Bistritz, let me put down my dinner exactly.
I dined on what they called "robber steak"--bits of bacon, onion, and beef, seasoned with red pepper, and strung on sticks, and roasted over the fire, in simple style of the London cat's meat!
The wine was Golden Mediasch, which produces a queer sting on the tongue, which is, however, not disagreeable.
I had only a couple of glasses of this, and nothing else.”
And later in Chapter 2:
“The count himself came forward and took off the cover of a dish, and I fell to at once on an excellent roast chicken. This, with some cheese and a salad and a bottle of old Tokay, of which I had two glasses, was my supper.”
Seriously, how hungry are you right now? I don’t think a Bram Stroker's Dracula Cookbook would sell too well, but that “robber steak” recipe sounds fantastic. I’m already roasting a chicken, getting out cheese, and making a salad. So, despite becoming a prisoner in the castle of a blood-sucking vampire, being subjected to some questionable activity with lady vampires, and having his fiancée relentlessly stalked by the ageless Count Dracula, Jonathan Harker at least had a few good meals with some good wine.
I mentioned Ernest Hemmingway in the last literature + wine post, and I will again. He may have actually invented the concept of literature and wine as perfect companions, or he may have just gotten the idea from every ancient culture that drank wine and wrote stuff. Whatever the source of his inspiration, he writes inescapable prose. He takes your hand, leads you into his narrative, and gives you words that are so satisfying they are food and wine. One of his books is aptly titled A Moveable Feast. This is a memoir, published posthumously, by his FOURTH wife. The memoir comprises Hemingway's personal accounts, observations, and stories during his time in Paris with his first wife and many formidable literary contemporaries. This man lived all over the world, married often, and wrote many intricate, beautiful things. In my next literature post, I will tell you about “Hills Like White Elephants,” but right now, let’s just enjoy the concept of a moveable feast and wine.
“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”
Are you dreamy-eyed yet for a book to accompany your wine? I hope so. There is so much beauty to be found in the literary classics. This is essentially how any of us has learned to speak, read, or write. So many lovely human secrets hide in our literature. Go grab a glass of wine and find them.