Dinner at the Tropic of Cancer

This fragment of novel was freely inspired by 
Randhall Gram's comment on Twitter (here)*.
This is set Nowhere and in a Never Existed past, present or future.
(The one in the picture below is not a hallucinogenic mushroom)


He is always late. As I'm always late in getting his wit. But damn! He is always late. And I'm hungry. That's always the case, the hungrier I am the later he is. It remains true the fact that I'm not an anchorite or, to be fair, I'm just a coward in front of solitude. Solitude that I fear most when seating at a dining table. That's why I'm wearing a smile full of calm and tolerance when the waiter approached my table.

"Could I suggest some aperitif or a glass of Champagne, Sir? 
We have some really good stuff tonight. "

"No Toddy, thanks a lot" - my playful hands rotating the wine glass on its bottom edge - "I'm waiting for Henry. He is always a bit late, never as much as Godot anyway. He will be here soon and I do not want to do him a grievous wrong in drinking alone beforehand."

I know, 'What a liar!', I thought. It was too hard for me admitting I was terrorised to drink alone. 
'What a nice wine glass'. I should ask Toddy where I can buy some of these crystals...
It took Henry two pieces of Jazz and one of Blues to arrive at the restaurant. The orchestra was bloody good and their chirping swings worked well in deceiving my sense of time and hunger.   

"Maestro!" - Henry entered the scene with the usual unapologetic exuberance

"And Margarita." - I tried to be just sarcastic

"Both with lime or lemon juice?" -  Toddy arrived impeccably in time for buffering my collision with Henry.

"It was just a joke Toddy. You know, Henry can't suffer Bulgakov." - Toddy was looking at me with concerned interrogation from which he quit asking if we would like to have the list of drinks together with the menu.

"Yes Toddy, please." - I said smiling to the waiter for then turning towards Henry. 

As my head was slowly rotating nighty degrees from Toddy towards Henry, my smile was curving down in perfect synchronism, so that arrived staring him with a flat face.

"Henry, you are always late."

"Pablo, you don't know what a pleasure is for me to see you again! I have so many things to tell you!" Henry had no great strategies, but in terms of tactics I have to admit he was number one. He was spontaneously number one.    

"Here we are, Sir" - Toddy arrived with the wine list

"We are a quite late Toddy. Do you have anything nice to suggest?"

"Yes, Maestro. We have something which may suit the occasion. We just got a new release from Bonny Doon. It's called Contra, something a tad contro-corrente."

"Henry and myself trust your judgment Toddy! Please bring us a bottle."

"What a humongous nose! Poor guy." - Henry mesmerised to me as Toddy left.

"Henry, you are so subtle. Could you please shout it louder next time? By the way, you are not alone. They call him Toddy Big Nose here around."

"You could make him a portrait, Pablo!". 

"I don't think so, I'm already painting lots of big noses. It would be too obvious. You! You could use him in one of your novels, with such a nose he could be mastering the art of cunn..."

"Here we are Sirs, that's the wine I'm suggesting" - Henry had to pull himself together from laughing. He put on a serious yet puzzled face and exclaimed: 

"What a label !?! What do you think the producer wanted to say with this?" 

"Mhhh... A sofa in a vineyard...well...Lavorare Stanca...Have you ever read Pavese?"

"So what? Working is tiring so it's good to have a sofa to sit down times to times? Come on! I don't understand why people think you are a genius. For me it's more metaphysical. You need to go beyond the image...Ceci n'est pas une pipe, Ceci n'est pas un sofa. You should know this stuff, Pablo!" - Henry was like this, a clever chap but he liked indulging in metaphysics. 

"I can see just a bottle of wine behind that sofa. Let's drink!"

"What do you think?" Henry asked me. I was the expert for him.

"It's quite mineral, typical signature of old vines Carignan! It may indeed result even reductive when the wine is too young. However, a sign of great longevity. There is a good core fruit. Very well done, it's not made for the high end market, it's not super complex but it has great verve and goes very well with food. And it's a field blend, that means different grape varieties are cultivated together in the same vineyard. The best for expressing Terroir and it's quite the standard in California, although people will forget this in the future. Could you imagine there will be some sort of eugenic work on vines? Cabernet will be the favorite victim and only prisoners 4, 6, 7 and 337 will manage to survive the camp. But that's a too long story. Good choice, Toddy!"

"Thank you Sir. The winemaker used to dream of that Carignan a bit like horny geniuses like Picasso or Henry Miller."

"Have you noticed what else on the back label?" 


"Yes, Henry. You mean the list of ingredients?"

"Yes, Pablo. What does it mean Ingredients? I thought this stuff was just fermented grape juice??"

The next half an hour went in tedious discussions about winemaking practices. People close to our table were looking at us like at aliens. Some woman at a distant table was willing to flirt at first sight, but we were too busy and lost in the roots of the bloody Carinena.  

"How would you rank this wine? How many points?"

"You mean Barker's points?"

"You can't use Barker! He is not yet a wine critic! He will be one of the most famous soon, but he doesn't know yet and I don't want posteri to think I gave him the idea. I don't want to mess up with the evolutionary paths of the many parallel universes."
  
"So how would you score this wine? Why you just don't shut up and enjoy the wine, who cares about points?"

"Come on, even Pliny the Elder was reviewing wines. His favourite? Falerno. Oh I must keep repeating myself too often, eh?"

"Let's ask Toddy!"

"Cameriere! Please!"
  
"Yes Sir, how can I help you?"

"Here...with my friend...we were talking about...I mean...how...if we could use your capable nose...yes, I mean for helping us judging this wine." 

"Why? You don't like it? Do you think it's corked?"

"No for God's sake it has a screw-cap" 

"Well taint can come from other source. Anyway, how can I assist you?" 

"It's for fun, we always rate the wines we drink, I like to keep notes, it helps me to remember my happy moments. Henry keeps a diary of his women, I keep a diary of my wines. Could you please help us scoring this wine? What's your way of ranking wines?"

"Of course Sir! The main objective is to identify which criteria are important for you, which elements characterise a great wine. Here we use 5 criteria. Integrity, with respect to variety and Terroir, Balance, Complexity, Persistence and Hedonism."  

"Interesting. So, do you believe in Terroir?..."

We went on all night, until only our rumbling winey discussion had strength to fill the empty space left behind by the numerous customers.

Too much wine. We moved outside to the wooden porch while the orchestra inside dismantled its pieces, replaced then by a vinyl record playing A little drop of Poison. I'm lightning my cigarette while looking straight to the night reflected in that dark sea. The salty breeze brings to mind my wines, their minerality, my women, their minerality. Henry is sad, I can sense it. 

"What are you thinking, Henry?"

"Nothing. I just preferred when the orchestra was on."



*This work is pure fiction. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.


















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