I had a minor meltdown that threatened to erupt as a major tanty when I was in Japan last October.
The Tokyo Airbnb that I’d booked was much better than I expected. Stylish and spacious – especially compared with the shoebox in Kyoto, where I needed to slop through the shower recess to get to the toilet. It also had the added advantage of being located in Shimotakazawa, that mega-city’s newest hipster district (Harajuku is SO yesterday).
Disaster struck, however, when I attempted to go online. I couldn’t. Bafflingly, the modem refused to communicate with my laptop. No network could be found. I was without wi-fi – in Tokyo, of all places. OMG + wailing emoji!
Over a tall can of Kirin beer and a packet of avocado and wasabi flavoured chips (can’t wait to see them on the shelves at Woolies), I wondered how I had descended into this fretful state of helplessness.
Somehow I’ve managed to travel up and down the Nile, cross India from Darjeeling in the East to Jaisalmer in distant Rajasthan, from the holy waters of Rishikesh to the grunge of Chennai without the net holding my hand. I’ve even driven from Bondi to Cabramatta sans satnav. It doesn’t seem possible now.
Currently I’m planning another trip to India, with my little mate Rapid Eye Movement. We hope to attend the Australian cricketers’ second test against Virat Kohli’s XI at Bangalore in March. Being part of Gen-Y, iMoo will probably arrange accommodation and transport for us overnight.
‘How else can you do it, mate?’
‘Well, back when dinosaurs still roamed the earth … ‘
‘Dinosaurs like you?’
Harsh but fair, I thought. Contrary to paleontologists’ assertions, we are not entirely extinct.
I poured iMoo another glass of decanted De Bortoli and, inspired by the bargain-basement Cab Merlot, I reminisced about the 1974 grape harvest at Saint-Émilion.
‘Just outside of Bordeaux.’
‘How did you know where to go?’
‘I didn’t. But that’s the point … not knowing. Not having everything down pat beforehand is not necessarily a bad thing.’
I’d been hanging around Biarritz with a bunch of Australian surfers and a guy from Alabama called Dwayne who was making money hand over fist selling Moroccan hashish and LSD from the States to the waxheads and backpackers who were camped in the area. It was a high old time for us all, but my money was running out.
Somebody suggested heading north to pick grapes. Next day the train dropped me at Gare Bordeaux-Saint-Jean, where I bumped into a couple of blokes from Wollongong, who also were there for the ‘vendange’ and who happened to have encountered the same source of Moroccan hashish as Alabama Dwayne.
From Bordeaux a local bus took me to Saint-Émilion.
‘And you hadn’t planned to go there?’
‘Nuh. Just jumped on the first bus that was leaving the depot.’ Whatever happened to serendipity?
‘Then what? Did you have a contact?’
As the bus wove through the hills striped with ancient vineyards, I spotted the grand Chateau Ausone. I got off the bus, hiked up to it and was greeted by its bemused owner, Madame Dubois. In my memory she looks like Cate Blanchett in a Coco Chanel black dress. She told me that the work would commence in a week, but ‘bien sur’, if I wanted the job all I had to do was turn up.
I returned to Bordeaux and checked for any mail at the Poste Restante.
‘People could write letters for you to collect at the post office of whatever town you happened to be in.’
How exciting it was to see one of those par avion envelopes – the ones with the red and blue piping around the edges. They could be weeks, months old, depending on how long you’d been on the road, and the news was not invariably good (‘Souths are having a shit season, mate’), but they were treasured in a way that instantaneous emails can never be. Because you were not crippled by today’s FoMO syndrome (‘Fear of Missing Out’ – I’ve only just heard of the term myself. It’s a beauty, isn’t it?), they added to the mystique and romance of the journey.
‘How was the gig at the chateau?’
Up at sparrow’s fart for breakfast in a vast cavern hewn out of a cliff-face in Roman times, drinking the house wine at smoko, lunch and dinner (I was fed my first boudin noir – blood sausage), working with a Romany-speaking gypsy family that had been cutting Ausone’s grapes for time out of mind. Smoking Gitanes.
‘The one in the middle’s cute.’
I’d shown iMoo the pic of some of the gypsy kids.
‘Torute. I think she was sweet on me.’
‘Did you … you know, do the no-pants dance?’
‘The patriarch of the family never went anywhere without his knife.’
‘Discretion the better part of valour?’
I was paid a lump sum at the end of the fortnight’s labour. Not a lot, but enough to get me to Morocco …
My twenty-four hours of anguish in Tokyo ended when Cheiko, the Airbnb hostess, dropped by to see that everything was okay.
‘It’s the modem,’ I moaned.
‘Are you sure it’s turned on?’
What a relief! I logged on to Facebook. One of my friends had that minute posted a pic of her dinner. She hadn’t even started eating it yet.
- John Campbell is The Echo’s film critic and a sports tragic. He also operates an homunculus on Facebook.
Enjoying grape harvest rituals in France
Every September the entire French nation goes mad for grapes. September is the month of harvest – the Vendanges is a yearly ritual that every Frenchman is invested in, whether vintner, farmer, or not. Nearly every region in France produces wine, with some of the world’s most famed wines coming from otherwise unassuming valleys scattered throughout the French countryside. Wine is so vital that many families have a small plot of vines that they harvest each year. The grapes go to a communal neighborhood ‘cave cooperative’, where it is made into wine and redistributed according to the amount of grapes invested.
Spending September at my childhood home in Languedoc-Roussillon, my husband Jacob and I were bound for a crash course in winemaking. It was inescapable. We passed by the ripe vineyards every day, the fields lush and fragrant, stretching in neat rows up the hillsides.
Ancient stone huts dot the fields, remnants from an earlier time, now used to house rusty farm equipment. We passed countless vineyards in the midst of harvest, often seeing the husband operating an automated harvesting machine while the wife sat on a folding chair among the vines, smoking a cigarette.
Every dinner party, every conversation, revolved around the famed Vendanges. People swapped experiences like merit badges, puffing with pride to share their stories of years past.
While most contemporary vineyards harvest their grapes with machines, the best wine, the really, truly expensive bottles, are made from hand-harvested grapes. A strange world, a world where helicopters are hired to fly low over the grapes and whisk away the humidity in the night air.
– Read more at http://bit.ly/trangrape