Or, for my non-Russophone readers, Happy New Year!
For those of you who have been wondering how the saga of the move has been developing, I am happy to say that we are beginning to see the house hidden behind and beneath the piles of boxes as I have opened them, extracted the books, and flattened and discarded the now useless cardboard (obtained from a friendly liquor store in Astoria, so that we have been surrounded with rubrics like Yellow Tail, Don Juan, and Il Bastardo); as I clear floor space, my wife is able to deploy the furniture in ways that make the house begin to resemble a home. By today, there was enough clear space in the living room that we could dine in comfort as she set the table for the first time with the beautiful green dinnerware we bought to celebrate our new home. She made steak, potatoes sauteed with garlic and rosemary, and fresh string beans; with dinner we had an excellent Argentine malbec (a wine I cannot recommend highly enough; it goes with just about anything, but especially the beef Argentines love so well). After dinner I would normally, on New Year’s Eve, have opened a bottle of champagne, which we would sip until midnight (after which we would totter off to bed—no all-night parties for us, thank you). However, this year I was too busy moving and dealing with the holidays to get around to buying champagne, so I opened the last bottle remaining from my French-wine obsession of a dozen years ago.
This was a sauterne, a 1985 Doisy-Daene (needless to say, at no point in my checkered career have I been able to afford Chateau d’Yquem), the last survivor of a collection that at one point was fairly decent. Alas, when I moved from my first Astoria apartment, with its miraculous closet that somehow preserved wine intact through the muggy New York summers, to a second one with no such space, I discovered that the good stuff had to be drunk up or lost. Amazingly, the sauterne was in great shape even after being kept in far from ideal conditions for over a decade, and in the euphoria induced by the sweet dessert wine I pulled out my beloved 1951 reprint of George Saintsbury’s classic Notes on a Cellar Book (the chapter Beer and Cider is online), a delightful collection of plummy reminiscences by an Oxford-educated critic who started his cellar in the 1870s, back in the days when gentlemen bought their claret by the dozen cases, and we read each other sections that caught our eye. Here is a fine story about sauterne:
With an unnamed Haut Sauterne of ’74, bottled by one of the oldest Edinburgh merchants, but bought at somebody’s sale, I have specially fond associations. It was a very rich wine, being about thirty years old when I first had it; in fact, it was too rich for some tastes. But once there came to ‘the grey metropolis’ a Finnish lady—a most perfect representative of non-Aryan beauty and anythingarian charm—to whom not only all men, but what is more wonderful, most women, fell captive the moment they saw her. She was dining with us once, and confided to me, with rather a piteous moue, that, in this country, champagne was ‘so dreadfully dry.’ Fortunately I had remembered beforehand that the warlocks and witches of the North like sweet things; and had provided a bottle of this very Sauterne, of which I had a few left. She purred over it like one of Freya’s own cats (let it be observed that I do not think Freya was a Finnish goddess), and I promised her that I would keep the rest for her. But alas! she left Edinburgh in a short time, and after no long one I heard that she was dead. The wine lost half its flavour.
In order to keep this entry from being entirely off topic, I will note that Saintsbury uses many words so recondite even I have to look them up, and one such is in this passage: anythingarian, which the OED defines as ‘One who professes no creed in particular; an indifferentist’ (first citation from 1704: T. Brown Wks. 1760 III. 97 (D.) Such bifarious anythingarians, that always make their interest the standard of their religion). I shall have to add it to my arsenal of self-descriptions, alongside nullifidean.