Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Gunfight Six

This post almost had a different title: Malbec.
As wine connoisseurs know, Malbec is a wine, although originating in France since before the Middle Ages, that is considered the "flagship" grape of Argentina, which some think produces a better Malbec than France does. I am not a wine conoisseur, of course, but I am happy to have made the acquaintance of a bottle of Malbec recently, and I am, as a writer, profoundly fascinated by the coincidental use of the word "flagship" that is used to honour the vintage by its Argentinian promoters. Every country, every culture, needs images and items of excellence that identify its uniqueness in an inarguable fashion.
Now, as my readers know, I have used the term "flagship" in my most recent post to label a book written by an Argentinian from the nineteenth century, Domingo Sarmiento, who not only wrote, but served his country as president and minister of education, and perhaps even more startling for my purposes, had something to do with introducing Malbec to his homeland. I even used the phrase "flagship novel", I think, to designate his "Facundo", generally considered the first Argentinian attempt at "fiction", the claims for which I initially took in good faith. With a new Pope from Argentina I was concerned to learn more about a culture which I had hitherto not known very much about except that it had been especially prolific at producing dictators, and recently suffered severe financial difficulties.
I was even totally ignorant about Argetinian wine. Chilean we had sampled occasionally, but our main supplies from the sun drenched southern hemisphere have been Cawara, from Australia, as Shawn waxed sympathetic toward a faltering Antipodean wine industry; and then Obikwa, from South Africa, in honour of Father Matthieu, who, though from the Congo, lived and worked in the more southern country for a time. (Father was also almost killed there, when a robber creased his skull with a bullet fired at point blank range.) Both those brands produced a litre-and-a-half bottle of excellent vintage at a modest price.
You can see the path clearly. With a habit of using wine to celebrate events it was only natural, after the papal election, to try something Jorge Bergoglio - whom I doubt for all his concern for the poor is a teetotaler - had probably tasted and was proud of.
My first choice was not Malbec, but a different grape called Dos Cardos - The Thistles - and it was so good that I instantly became interested in Argentina's stature on the world wine stage. So I've learned that the prime wine producing area of that country is Mendoza Province (or State), named after the Spaniard who led the 1536 expedition to search for gold and silver. His party found none of these minerals around Buenos Aires, so it headed north to Paraguay, but not before leaving behind a substantial quantity of breeding stock: cattle, horses, sheep, and goats. Left wild on a virtual ocean of all season grasslands, the pampas, they became the raw material of the bootleg hide industry that eventually led to Argentina becoming the wealthiest country in South America, and the home of the gaucho culture. A friend of mine said she had known how good Argentinian wine was for some time, and also told me Mendoza lay in the same latitude as the wine belt of Chile.
With the introduction of gauchos to these deliberations, the images of weaponry change. Although in the civil wars of Argentina in the earlier part of the nineteenth century there was no shortage of guns, and even cannon, the gauchos as individuals much preferred the knife for duels in small numbers. Have they ever made a movie: Knife Fight on the Buena Vista Hacienda?
I think I have seen only one Argentinian film, a strange film, to me, about some women, and I bailed fairly quickly. Last night we bailed from two films certainly not Argentinian just as fast or even faster, and settled down to thoroughly enjoy Trouble With The Curve, with Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman and a baseball that went like a rocket and was indeed the weapon of choice in its own way. For most of the film, the weapon was a bat, wielded by a big kid whose great natural strength had not undergone the needed element that good coaching so necessarily provides. But in the end it was the ball that won.
In its own way, the film was disarmingly simple, substantially aimed at kids, snarling at racial prejudice, and in Atlanta Braves scout Eastwood, letting out a couple of the secrets pretty well known only to the hitting coaches of the major leagues. For my particular purposes, one of the most useful sport films I've seen. God bless em all, and I think it will be a while before I've thoroughly digested the symbolism.