One of the original ideas for this blog thingy was for me to encounter new curves in media and technology and … ok, ok, I am the first to admit I have been a bit of a slow learner in those areas. But at least when I posted something on Red Branch Chronicles it also appeared, as if by magic, on my FaceBook thing which I never actually look at. No idea how that happens – it is something that automatically occurs when I post on my WordPress account. Now, for some reason, FaceBook no longer accepts direct input from WordPress unless I convert my FaceBook ‘Profile’ – didn’t even know I had one – to a Facebook ‘Page’.
Im not 100% sure what the difference is, but perhaps a page is more business-like than a (more?) informal profile? Who knows? Not sure I care actually, but I feel as if technology – and FaceBook in particular – have thrown up another obstacle in my snail like approach to media literacy.
Anyway, having followed explicit on-screen instructions (from FaceBook) on how to convert my Profile to a Page, this post should now magically spring up on Facebook to the shock and awe of … myself, anyway.
One of the reasons I went to the Caucasus – and Georgia in particular – was because of the claims wine was ‘invented’ there in 6000 BCE, or 8000 years ago, give or take a few centuries. The Washington Post, National Geographic, The Daily Mail, the BBC, CNN, The New York Times and the ABC all ran fairly recent stories bruiting the news of radio-carbon dating of pot shards and bio-molecular and DNA archaeology of grape pips from the Stone Age accurately dating wine making to that period in Georgia.
Alvin Toffler in his seminal book The Third Wave claimed that humanity advanced in sudden ‘waves’ or periods of intense adaptation and progress. The third wave was the technological and communications one which swept the world within the last century. The second was the Industrial Revolution but the first – and probably the most important wave – was the adaption of farming and the domestication of animals by our Neolithic Stone Age ancestors. Without this first wave, Toffler claimed, nothing else could have been achieved, which brings me back to wine.
To my mind, there is no question that wine was ever invented. Just as no one can claim the invention of the wheel or the discoverer of fire, similarly, no one can claim to have invented wine. Nevertheless, legends lay easy claim to the latter. Noah, after he landed the ark on Mt. Ararat (on the borders of modern day Turkey and Armenia) disembarked the animals and planted a vineyard after which he got horribly drunk and made a disgrace of himself. All of which begs the question of where he originally came from because he must have brought the vine shoots or saplings with him in the ark! Then there is the much older Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh which also details a deluge after which the eponymous hero sets out on a quest to discover wine and the immortality it can bestow. Another Persian legend describes how Jamshyd – a semi-mythical king – kept grapes to be eaten in jars. One of his handmaids, out of temper with the king and his court, attempted to top herself by drinking the juice from the foaming grapes in one jar, believing it to be poison. Instead she discovered the delights of alcoholic inebriation which she then passed on to the king who, according to the XVII Rubaiyát of Omar Khayyam (The Fitzgerald Translation 1859)
‘They say the Lion and the Lizard keep
the courts where Jamshyd gloried and drank deep
It must have been a joyous discovery when the first Neolithic farmers found that the grapes, hoarded for leaner times, had fermented and changed magically into a drink other than the contaminated and disease ridden water that they had been dependent upon all their lives.
Three factors independently appeared, more or less at the same time, that all combined to give us the wine that we know today. Firstly the widespread presence of vitis vinifera, the wild Eurasian grape vine in the valleys between the greater and lesser Caucasus mountains, secondly the cultivation of barley and wheat which allowed food reserves to be stored, and thirdly the invention of pottery for making and storing wine.
But back to Georgia where the most astonishing thing is that wine is still made in the same way that our prehistoric ancestors made it.
First the grapes are crushed – sometimes in large, hollowed out logs – before the juice, the skins, the grape pips and even the stalks are poured into qvevri, large earthenware jars, (several hundred to thousands of litres in size) often lined with beeswax, which are then buried in the ground. The juice ferments using wild yeast while the ground maintains a steady geothermal temperature and the conical shape of the qvevri allows the wine to circulate and clarify naturally.
These qvevri wines – also known as ‘natural’ or ‘raw’ or unfiltered wines – have a distinct orange or amber coloured hue due to the skin contact during fermentation and taste quite different to European wines which are fermented without the pulp. Nevertheless, qvevri wines can differ in style with both sweet, semi sweet and dry wine all being made from the Saparavi grape.
Wine is such an integral part of Georgian life that wine is made by just about every family as grape vines are ubiquitous throughout the country. Roughly 500 of the world’s 2000 grape varieties hail from Georgia although less than 20 varieties are used in wine making.
Kakheti, in the eastern part of the country is probably the most famous wine producing area in the country and that is where I went to sample the Saparavi dry red and the white Tsinandali in the town of Sighnaghi.
Under the Soviet rule, the Russian taste was for strong, sweet wine with extra sugar added which led to a decline in quality but since Georgia’s independence in 1991, wine makers have upped their game and while still producing wine in the traditional qvevri fashion, now also produce high quality wines in the western style.
When I was in school, I used to enjoy Geography and was proud of my childish ability to name European capital cities. Then the world seemed more compact, comprising of Western Europe, The USSR, Asia, Africa, The Americas and Antarctica. Then, of course from the ethnocentric European point of view, there was the Near East (Egypt and Suez), the Middle East (Syria, Turkey) and the Far East (China, Japan) and, intriguingly, Asia Minor or was it Eurasia? And then there was something called the Balkans, famously described by Bismarck, I think, as the ‘sick man of Europe’ and the Caucasus, which, in my mind, was a sort of no-go area. Nevertheless, none of those areas was ever clarified in my mind.
Confusingly too, in American crime news and novels, there were always references to “Caucasian males, armed and dangerous, if encountered, do not approach”. Who or what they were I was never quite sure but I suspected that I might be one of them – no, not the armed and dangerous bit, of course.
Anyway, as I learned recently, the currently outmoded system of classifying our species depended on a 19th century German physiologist and anthropologist, Blumenbach. He classified human kind in traditional terms of Caucasian / Caucasoid, Mongoloid, Australoid and Negroid, but it was the use of the term Caucasian that fascinated me.
The Caucasus Mountains in modern day Georgia, and specifically the southern slopes,
were apparently the home of, not only the autochthones – the original members of mankind – and the site at which Noah’s (of the Ark fame) son, Japheth – the traditional Biblical ancestor of the Europeans – established his tribes before migrating into Europe proper but also the birthplace of wine more than 8,000 years ago!With a history like that, what was there not to like about exploring this hitherto unknown – to me – part of the world.
Factually, the Caucasus is the area of land, composed mostly of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan (along with lesser, recognised and / or unofficial Republics of Ossetia (north & South), Abkhazia, Adjara, Ardsakh, bounded in the north by the Greater Caucasian Mountains and about 100 kilometres south by the lesser Caucasian Mountains.
Nevertheless, without bothering particularly to look at maps, I arbitrarily decided for myself that my Caucasus (trip) would start in Istanbul where the Bosporus drained from the Black Sea and would encompass everything as far as Baku in Azerbaijan on the Caspian Sea. It seemed simple – Black to the Caspian Sea with the Caucasus somewhere in between – and the wine bit sounded good, to me at least.
I remember, years ago, I dozed through a class called Comparative Analysis of an Uncommonly Taught Language, Turkish and English. The only definitive thing I took away from that class was that Turkish is an ‘agglutinative’ language. I could still remember a smattering of Arabic phrases from my time in the Gulf so language shouldn’t be a problem! All I had to do now was get to Istanbul and start discovering 8000-year-old wines!
I think that I have a good to excellent vocabulary; I read a lot, I write a bit, I had a good education and I tend not to need a dictionary – I don’t believe that I actually have a paper dictionary here in the house. When, on the rare occasions, I do come across an unfamiliar word – one that I might be hard pressed to give an accurate dictionary-style definition – it doesn’t matter because I can understand the general meaning from the context. For the vast majority of books and articles that I read, I would say I have a total understanding of every word used in my own native language.
So, imagine my chagrin when I recently reread a novel I had read some 25 years ago (hint: referred to recently on this blog) and was dismayed to come across a plethora of words, some of which, luckily, stirred a vague memory in my word-hoard. Nevertheless many of them forced me to stop, and go to my online Oxford Dictionary of English and check to see if my understanding tallied with the author’s use and, embarrassingly, to actually look up new words that appeared almost on every page – it was like reading in a foreign language.
I remember – I think – reading somewhere that Anthony Burgess (The Malaysian Trilogy; A Clockwork Orange; Earthly Powers, etc.) kept a dictionary on the shelf in his toilet and tore out a page each day after having committed it to memory!
I am not going to go that far, of course and, besides, I don’t have a paper dictionary, remember?
Wasn’t it Humpty Dumpty who said (rather crossly, as far as I can remember) that words mean what you want them to mean, so here is a sample of words that I came across – hats off to anyone who can understand these, lifted, as they are, from context – but all from the same novel published in 1989 – shortlisted for the Booker Prize too!
^ jorum *
In all honesty, I can’t remember what half of them mean now – and I only finished reading the novel yesterday, too. Luckily my online OED keeps track of recently looked up words so there you have it. Nevertheless, it’s humbling to think that the English language is so vast and complex that there will always be new words to come across and not just the recently added ones as in “Milkshake Duck” which was recently acclaimed as the Word of the Year here in Australia. Go figure it out yourself.
* Words I have a memory my father used to use but I still had to check to ensure the author’s use tallied with my understanding of my father’s usage all those years ago.
^ Words which the inbuilt dictionary on my iMac does not recognise.
I don’t know why, but ever since I returned from Europe in August 2017, I seem to have hit a dry patch with regard to my writing and this blog thingy. I have been able to write neither bucolic accounts of my European Peace Walk, nor do research for my Red Branch Chronicles.
That’s not to say that I’ve been lazy – far from it. I seem to have been busy all day and everyday, just doing things that need doing and that won’t get done by themselves. There is always something “new” that has to be done in everyday, general living which has completely blotted out my creative world or perhaps, then again, I have voluntarily chosen to neglect it.
Despite the scribbled contents of a grubby, wine-stained notebook that I dragged along on the EPW and my eclectic, albeit desultory, readings in the Celtic area and era, over the last few months, nothing has sparked my interests. In truth, it may well be the other way around. I have this vague reluctance to commit myself to write about Celtic Iron Age,
and those sorts of things on my blog so I have done absolutely nothing. Saying that nothing resonated with what I felt able to write allowed me to stagnate. I’ve barely sat down in front of the computer, let alone attempted to write something about my forays into Christmas cooking so, as Ian Dury intones, I have most certainly not been “a pencil squeezer”!
However, today was different. My kitchen clock, permanently stopped at 8:42, since before I went to Europe and the September calendar on the back of the door, were all physical manifestations, I was told, of my sloth, stagnation and inactivity. Half-heartedly defending myself from those (acknowledged) charges, I pointed out the clock is always right twice a day and who needs a paper calendar anyway, when we are all tooled up with smart wearable gadgets? Nevertheless, I put up a new calendar on the back of the kitchen door and threw the recalcitrant clock into the bin (no more K-Mart clocks for me, thank you very much), resolving to buy a proper clock as soon as possible.
Seems such an easy feng shui fix, doesn’t it – buy a new clock and put up a 2018 calendar? I’m sure there is more to it than that but let’s see. I suppose the proof will be in the pudding. How much will I have written by the end of this month (January), season (Summer) or year (2018)? Well, there’s a nice attempt at temporising if ever I saw one! I started out writing about a nosedive but I may be able to convert that downward plunge into a Bigglesian loop de loop. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biggles
I watched a Christopher Nolan* movie recently on the long flight home – holy-moly, who understands or follows any of his plots on first viewing as they weave in and out, forward and back in undefined flash-forwards and backs? – and one of the main characters ejected from a doomed space station in a streamlined, white pod that zoomed through the atmosphere before plunging into the ocean.
I didn’t actually plunge but tentatively tried “a float’ in a space-aged pod to recover from my walk in Europe. Sleek and gently oval in shape, the pod is loaded with 500Kg of Epsom salts and the water gently heated to body temperature, allowing you to float and relax while the magnesium salts permeate the skin and relax tired muscles.
Remarkable therapeutic benefits, relieving stress, pain, fatigue, arthritis and fibromyalgia, are just some of the benefits claimed for the float and I was keen to try. Who wouldn’t? Described by some as otherworldly, a pure, blissful experience accompanied by deep feelings of lightens and grace.
Anyway, I turned up for this new adventure and there it was – the pod from the Nolan movie that had crashed into the ocean, only this one was sleeker and more inviting, a smooth, eggshell shape, yawning temptingly before me, soft internal pastel lights changing automatically.
I stepped into knee deep, warm water, pulled the (escape) hatch down, and lay back on the subtly shifting water as it adjusted so perfectly that I was barely aware of floating.
With the hatch down, it was stygian black – I couldn’t actually say ‘inside’, because I had no sense of the space around me, where right or left were, and which way was up or down – and alone, I floated or drifted in complete silence and darkness not knowing if my eyes were open or closed. There was no current, no movement until I thrashed around trying to centre myself, as if that were important.
I suddenly realised that everything I was experiencing then came from within me. There was no distraction, no outside stimuli to lead my wandering mind, nothing to look at, and nothing to hear or see. Deprived of most of the usual senses, I hung there passively, doing nothing.
Things are so black that I could imagine seeing vivid, other worldly scenes but all I saw was nothing. It reminded me of a comic scene where one character says, appreciatively, ‘ah, the sound of silence’ and the other character responds, ‘what? I don’t hear anything.’
I giggled then and listened to the sound of my heart and the blood pulsing in my body and then it was all over and I stepped out into the “chill-out” room with a cup of herbal tea. Did I feel lighter, more vibrant, was I boosted, were my dopamine and endorphin levels brimming over?
Not knowing what my endorphin or dopamine levels were before, it was difficult to say if they were raised after the float but I certainly felt pleased with myself for no apparent reason, and there might even have been a bounce to my step and my hair definitely felt fluffy!
* Christopher Nolan directed Inception, Momento, Batman Begins, Interstellar, The Dark Knight, The Prestige, Dunkirk, among others
I was in an outdoor cafe recently when I met a bloke who told me how he had suddenly woken up blind! It was terrifying, as you can imagine. He had had a stroke and a blood clot had formed in the occipital cortex of his brain, slowly starving his vision centres of blood and oxygen.
I have nothing to compare with that but in a recent eye test I was told that I had cataracts in both eyes with one being far worse than the other and that henceforth, driving would be at my own risk. Ah hah, I thought, that was why I was seeing double when I looked at the moon.
Eye surgery, as pioneered by the Australian Dr. Fred Hollows is a fairly simple procedure where, after cataract extraction, an inter-ocular lens (IOL) is implanted, usually resulting in a massive improvement in sight for more than 99% of patients.
I had my right eye done several months ago and the effect was immediate. Within a day or two, I was up and running, as it were, with no side effects. The second operation on my worst eye was a different matter. Itchy, red, uncomfortable and incredibly blurred vision, so much so that, for more than three weeks, I was unable to drive and any bright light was intolerable.
This was all normal, the surgeon informed me, after a major operation and he cautioned me against “using the eye too much”! Twenty-two days later, my vision is still quite blurry in the recently operated upon eye and I can expect another three weeks or so before the eye fully heals. Amazing!
Even more amazing is the surgery. The inter-ocular lens is manufactured in both Nepal and Eritrea for approximately $8 in factories set up by the Fred Hollows Foundation and the cataract extraction and IOL implant can be performed for $25. Not so in Australia, as I discovered, where the mark-up is, roughly, $2500 per eye. The fee is made up in three parts – the surgeon’s fee, the anaesthetist’s fee and finally the rental of the surgical theatre. Thank God for public health, which is what I used for both eyes and thank God for the Fred Hollows Foundation for all the afflicted punters in those less developed countries where the Foundation works.
I suppose the above is an excuse for the total neglect of my blog after I uploaded the 100th post quite some time ago. Anyway, YIPPEE, I can see again and it is only going to get better. Thank you to my doctor and all the people who have put up with my semi-incapacity. All I have to do now is get new ears and possibly a bigger brain!
* I once was lost but now I’m found.
Was blind but now I see.