Saturday, September 5, 2009

homer and hemingway

I'm sitting at the bar at Roscoe's, with Hemingway on my mind, and sangiovese in my glass. It's lunchtime, and I am waiting for a bowl of cannelini and leek soup.

Moody I am. The bartender--one of the two lookalike brothers who own the place--started my pour with the dregs of the bottle.

"When was that bottle opened?"

"It was opened last night," he replied, without a hint of regret. Somewhat clumsily--for a bistroteur--he uncorked a fresh bottle to top me off.

The glass is stemless. Our mingled fingerprints mar the tranquility of my miniature sea, the perfection of its transitions from transparency to opacity. grrrrr. Heavy, stemless stemware, the nod to bad busmanship, emblem of a society in decline.

But ahhhh, despite my apprehensions, the wine is OK--a little cranky, perhaps, like the one who consumes it--who woke before 4, like a lightbulb clicked on inside his skull.

The cannelini arrives. It's what brings me back to this joint--that, and the bonhomie of the other brother, whose natural warmth I take at face value. Sadly, neither of us remember the other's name as we greet.

The soup is satisfying, though it might be nicer if it had some whole beans in with the puree--persuade me, please, that it is not from a can. But it does not linger in the bowl.

Now the wine turns harsh; I am no longer welcome. My glass is drained, and out under the cloudless sky, it's no wonder I think of a book review, years ago, on the Fagles Odyssey. It quoted the passage where Telemachus' crew

...sprang to orders,
hoisting the pinewood mast, they stepped it firm
in its block amidships, lashed it firm with stays
and with braided halyards hauled the white sail high.
Suddenly wind hit full and the canvas bellied out
and a dark blue wave, foaming up at the bow,
sang out loud and strong as the ship made way,
skimming the whitecaps, cutting toward her goal.

The lines electrified me, as terse and vivid as Tatie's--and I was surprised that it was as easy to plow through the book as it was for Telemachus' ship to plow through the wine-dark sea.

But now, with running gear secure, and the sun still showering its light on immortal gods, this mortal man makes briskly back for the office.

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