spirit possession

Take That, Instincts.


miracles of civilization, is what i calls ’em.

the first time i tasted a really dry sherry, i had accidentally invited a couple of folks who i barely knew to a wine bar in the East Village – i had no idea; i knew the place had a good wine list, but i was going on a recommendation that they had excellent snacks (deep-fried sage-wrapped lamb sausages and red wine oxtail arancini did not disappoint), and i hadn’t thought to ask any further questions about the type of establishment it was. so i showed up in my homemade Bolt Thrower t shirt, hung over and vigorously unkempt, and just sort of hoped for the best (it was a hipster wine bar anyway. i really had nothing to worry about but my own looming insolvency).

i wouldn’t have off the cuff ordered a sherry, but bizarrely as part of their 5 à 7 you could just have a glass of sherry for FREE, so obvs i took them up on it, and i’m glad i did, because it was just so profoundly strange. but strange in a way that has become a very useful reference point for me, an almost perverse-seeming strangeness that i can use to orient other tastes in other wines. because in a pretty undeniable way it sort of just tasted bad. bad and weird, and not really like something that human beings were supposed to drink, and yet (or, of course) i found it totally intriguing and irresistible. i don’t know what it was, and i haven’t had a sherry that quite compares since. i did pick up a bottle¹ somewhere that definitely falls into the same territory, ie: i often describe it as tasting like “if you found a way to make paint thinner start to putrefy” (i mean, there are other things – nuts…citrus zest maybe?) and every time i drink it i get this bizarre feeling of appreciation for the tremendous creaking contradictory machinery of socialization that has brought me to this drink, and this drink to my lips. for i do truly enjoy it, i’m not just putting on airs for the cat (who’s not even very smart, you know), or the pile of unread New York Review of Books that i salvaged from someone’s recycling, and there is something impressive and satisfying about being bound up in this mess that makes the genuine enjoyment of something so clearly derived from decomposing fruit a possibility. the fact that i am enjoying this, i say, is a miracle of civilization. (i actually said that. to myself. and maybe the cat. and maybe to a summer day.)

i don’t think it’s wholly unlike the pleasure one derives from reading a very difficult text.

i had a similar experience this evening at the SAT (Société des Arts TechnologiquesFoodlab. i had gone to check out their hiver francais menu (their menus are always worth checking out – always good, always affordable), and got drawn into the intrigue of their very reasonably priced private import wine collection. one of the reds i tasted smelled astonishingly (t0 me at least) not only of barnyard, but really straight up of manure.² horse manure, i think. it even tasted like it, or at least tasted like the smell, and it was really good. it was really interesting, really engaging, and yet not overly complex, just carrying very strong associations of something one does not usually eat. it’s the kind of wine that i feel like i could get addicted to. i don’t know that i’ll make the extra effort of trying to contact the importer and see if there’s any way i could get a bottle or two without having to buy a whole crate, as is usually the protocol, but i am suspicious that i will go back, just for that wine, just for that happy feeling derived from being unsure why you like something, but pretty sure that you do.

(you know what they say…

drink deep, it’s just a taste, and it might not come this way again…
it moves inside you, it stays outside you, 
and it’s not something that I could prove, or could choose,
to be moved.)

¹ Lustau’s Palo Cortado “Península”
² an organic wine called R10, by Olivier Lemasson from Loir-et-Cher (which is a place that exists, apparently?). it’s made from Grolleau (30%), Gamay (20%), Pineau d’aunis (20%), Côt (10%) et Pinot noir (20%), but i will admit that i really don’t know what most of it means, having only ever even heard of two of those grape varieties…


7 thoughts on “Take That, Instincts.

  1. I had a similar reaction to a port I tried in a wine bar that was apparently made from sun-dried grapes. It tasted like drinking raisins. But the initial weirdness quickly became love. As it was the fifth or sixth different glass into our tastings, we completely neglected to write it down. I’ve done a few cursory searches—leading me on Wikipedia to something intriguing called “Commandaria” that I can’t find anywhere either—but no one seems to know what I’m talking about.

    Anyway, I think those tastes that we initially find disturbing—like for me Grappa, stilton, Lagavulin (I’m drinking peat now?)—can become our most treasured experiences. I’m not sure it’s the challenge, like a difficult text as you suggest, so much as the lack of an existing framework from which to appreciate something wholly new to the palate.

    • stillcrapulent says:

      yeah, i think your point about the lack of an existing framework is well-made, and in some ways goes back to our discussion of food and imagination. but i think that is mostly about our first experiences. i do maintain that the ‘challenge’ is part of it, although it’s kind of strange how this makes sense to me. it’s not so much that it is about things that are hard to get into, in the usual manner “acquired tastes” are spoken about, so much as that the process of enjoying them is very engaging. even that is ambiguous, i know.

      think of it this way – some texts are hard, they’re hard to get into, hard to understand. some are easy, clear. this isn’t exactly what i mean. it’s more the analogy of sometimes when you read a text you just fly through it, you understand it, you enjoy it, you don’t even notice it happening, necessarily. but other texts while you’re reading, it may not be hard, but you really -know- you’re READING. it’s engaging you, calling on you all the time, making you think a little, or just think about the text as text. i would say this is something that happens with food like this. maybe a better way of saying it is it’s not hard to do, but it’s hard to forget you’re doing it.


  2. The more I think about it, the more I think you’re right. An “existing framework” or—I’ve been trying to avoid the word, but it makes sense in this context—paradigm is what makes a given text easy to absorb, like genre conventions for example. A text can be challenging precisely because we need to approach it on its own terms, without the benefit of a long-established, internalized, paradigm that would allow us to make quick assumptions—the expected signifiers of common types of texts. It’s hard to forget you’re doing it, when it’s a (even relatively) new process.

    Taste does work that way, or there wouldn’t be so much loose talk about “comfort food”—the assumption being that food is comforting because of long-standing pleasant associations and a lack of challenge.

    There should be a term for anti-comfort food: tastes that challenge expectations and in so doing, provide a greater reward or engender more loyalty when you develop mature tastes. Is there already a word for that?

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