Natalie Zed: Defying Gravity

Thursday, September 18, 2008

charred a shard of

So I drank the chardonnay.

I hate chardonnay. It's is my least favourite grape, scourge of the house white, feet-like and over-oaked and not for me. I've never found one that did anything for me. At best, I was left unmoved; at worst, openly repelled.

On our second-last day in Paris, Ed and I spent the day going around to various open-air markets. We'd had a series of very, very bad days at that point, and after an epic meltdown the day before were trying to reclaim what joy might be left in the trip. We went to the market that stretches for half a kilometer around the Bastille metro station, filled with incomparable produce and spices and beautiful things. I didn't buy much when I was in Paris. On that day, I bough some herbes de provence and lavender, a kilogram of the best strawberries I had ever encountered, scarves for my mother and grandmother, and a bottle of chardonnay.

There was a very small stall set up between a cheesemonger and a woman selling asparagus. The man behind the stand was a ruddy-faced, portly fellow with wire-framed glasses and an apron. nearby, a man with an impossibly theatrical moustache smoked a pipe played the accordion. Ed, tired already, sat down. I sidled to the stall when I noticed the man was both selling wine and, more importantly, offering samples. I arrived in time to hear a fat businessman order several cases of the 2005.

The wineseller, it turned out, owned a very small vineyard in the village of Chardonnay and made some of the only name-controlled chardonnay on the planet. I confessed that I generally didin't like it and begged him to reeducate me. He took pity on my Canadian-ness (apparently the North American climate is completely unsuited to the grape, and we over-oak the shit out of it) and offered me sips if the 2004, 2005, and 2006 vintages. Each was life-changing. I had very little money left, so after a seroius deliberation process I bought a single bottle of the 2005. I brought my prize over to where Ed was sitting. He was impressed with the novelty and we made plans to drink the bottle once we got home, on our 3rd anniversary, a few months away.

On the flight home, Ed and I filled out a customs form and realized that we had brought back too much alcohol (some vodka for Ed and several bottles of wine exceeded the unexpected small per-person limit). We got into a fight about how to handle it that ended extremely badly. We ended up telling the border patrol exactly what we had, and they let us keep it. The wine was saved, but it seemed then that maybe we couldn't be. It would, in fact, only be a few days before Ed asked to separate for the first time.

I actually don't know what happened in May and June. I really can't remember what happened during those months at all, save for a few days. I must have left The Print Shop; I must have started my job at Pages and worked there for many shifts. I must have visited with friends and worked on the magazine and written poems. All I really remember from that time, though, is the morning I begged Ed to try, and punched the glass sliding door in grief when he refused to answer me. Later, I went to a late breakfast with friends, in a complete daze, and dimly realized that I could no longer use my right hand (It was distinctly broken, I now believe, though I never sought medical attention, like a complete idiot. eventually the swelling and bruising reduced, I began to move it again. recently, the ache even went away). Sometime later (a few days? a few weeks?), Ed asked me to move out. I remember weeping all night, actually all night and into the next day, begging to stay. To try. The next afternoon, swollen and probably unrecognizable, I went to a poetry salon and acted like a complete basketcase. Ryan and Jonathan and Kaylan consoled me; Ian walked me home. Late that afternoon, Ed agreed to let me stay. An indeterminate amount of time after that, on the night of Markapalooza, Ed told me over the phone that he wanted to separate, but knew I couldn't afford to leave, so we could live in the same apartment, as roommates. I refused. This time, I still wept, but not as much, or as long. and I begged less. But I still begged.

I remember almost nothing at all about visiting Ontario at the end of June other than, right at the end, there was an ultimatum. Shortly after I returned, ultimatum was called. Things got even stranger. On June 28th, I finally gave up. I agreed to leave.

Then Ian fell, and everything changed.

I intended to drink the bottle of Chardonnay on what would have been our third anniversary. I would uphold my end of the bargain, at least. Instead, I had dinner with my brother at The Cook's Shop. The tortellini was fantastic. I drank most of a bottle of Valpolicella instead, and fell asleep early, like the sad bastard that I was.

Finally, I moved to Toronto. I carried to bottle with me like a totem, in and out of more than one party. The moment never seemed right, and so it remained unopened. Then, at the end of my first weekend here, there was a moment. Gennie, Bill, Lily the Pirate and I were all sitting in the living room. There was a pause, and a moment of peace like I could not remember feeling for a very long time. Bill then suggested, very gently, if the time was right. I stood up and found a corkscrew.

The wine was a golden colour, not pissy like most Chardonnays I have tried. Bill commented on the forwardness of the flavour, then it's unexpected mellowness in the middle. We agreed that it had a muskiness to it, a delicate kind of complexity.

And I could feel in my mouth the same golden light that I had felt in my eyes that morning at the Bastille market. The smells of fresh meet and cheese and produce all competing, the sun and the dusk and the sweat under that. Somewhere, a fruitseller cut open a mango, a tropical high note above it all. I could feel the tightness in my throat that day, felt again the knowing that even this, even this place, might not be enough. In my right hand, I clutched a bag of leaking strawberries, soaking and staining their paper bag. Like blood. Like I was holding my damn heart in a blood-soaked paper bag.

So we drank it, and when all I had left was the strong green bottle, the white and gold label, I felt lighter. I don't have to carry the bottle with me any longer, waiting for the right moment, or just waiting. I am learning to put things down, to stop carrying them. To drink them. To drink deep.

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Natalie Zed updated @ 10:00 p.m.!!