A Wino Confronts a Virus

The corona virus has definitely closed down the wine season: no tastings, no lunches, no new-release launches, no winemaker presentations – what Li’l Abner would have called a double-whammy for sure. For a few years now, I haven’t been too happy with most of what has been going on in the world outside of wine. Wine is altogether a pleasanter topic, and I would much rather spread some cheer than increase anyone’s gloom, so usually in these posts, I just focus on a wine or wines, and try to ignore everything else. But the coronavirus has created a whole new ballgame, and it would fatuous of me to try to pretend otherwise.

Here in New York we have entered a kind of lockdown. The streets of Greenwich Village, where I live, are now blessedly clear of the roving bands of gawping tourists who used to make it impossible to walk around my neighborhood – but that’s the only upside. The streets are clear of everyone else too – deserted, lifeless, shops closed. Every day looks like early Sunday morning in the Village of the Fifties, before the tourist boom, before the Folkie invasion, when in the evening only Village old-timers and a few Beats hung out in a few old bars – White Horse, Kettle of Fish – or a few small jazz clubs – Five Spot, Half Note. Charming memories of another time, but most of those are long gone, and their successors – all the new bars and restaurants – are now closed “for the duration,” as they said during WWII.

It’s difficult to imagine the degree of hardship that’s being inflicted on all the people who worked in the entertainment and hospitality industries, all the kitchen- and wait staff, somms and baristas, actors and musicians, stagehands and designers, all the support people in how many different fields, who are suddenly without salaries or without prospects. Not to mention all the thousands of others in countless other fields who now have to figure out how to work at home and tend their kids or – worse yet – were simply laid off without any severance or help.

And that’s only what things look like in this country. It doesn’t begin to measure the misery in the rest of the world, especially right now in Italy, where I have many friends, and where the coffins are beginning to pile up faster than they can be buried. These are grim times.

But enough of that: Nobody needs me to tell them how dire the situation can be or how to help those who need it, and I’m confident that readers of this post partake fully of the compassion and fellow-feeling that the community of wine exemplifies even in normal times.

Diane and I have been lucky: “Sheltering in place” hasn’t been too hard for us, since it fits our age and lifestyle. We still go out as early in the day as we can to do our necessary grocery shopping, and we years ago decided that most restaurants were either too noisy or too expensive or just plain not good enough to go to, so we continue to cook and eat at home pretty much as we always have. And drink at home, of course: Unless this quasi-lockdown goes on much longer than anyone expects, we’ve got enough wine stashed here to see us through.

As is widely acknowledged, it’s the psychic and emotional toll that’s most telling – no theater, no movies, no live music, and worst of all for us, not being able to see our friends, to break bread and sip wine with them while excoriating the clowns in the White House who have so screwed this thing up. The absence of that whole social dimension, plus the steadily increasing anger at how all this could have been and wasn’t prepared for, combined with the daily flow of confusing, self-serving disinformation coming from Washington – all that just plain wears one down.

I never thought I’d say this, but thank god for Andrew Cuomo: Here in New York, our governor at least is speaking honestly and acting seriously. The world will get through this in some shape or other, but my world is never going to be right again until we can again gather people at our table for dinner and wine and companionship – what Alexander Pope, describing dinners with his best friend, called “the feast of reason and the flow of soul.” As far as this wino is concerned, all the rest is window-dressing. That’s what life is for, and the loss of those human moments is the greatest loss the virus has – so far – inflicted on us. Call that superficial: It may well be – but it’s also true. In vino veritas, eh?


Diane and Betty at our Last Dinner Party Until . . . ?

22 Responses to “A Wino Confronts a Virus”

  1. myhomefoodthatsamore Says:

    I don’t think you are superficial at all. This was a very moving post, thank you.

  2. Joe Haviland Says:

    I know what you mean Tom. I used to work on ganesvoort street. When I visited recently I couldn’t believe how it had changed. If only it could be like old times but without this tragedy.

    Joe Haviland Prep ‘55

    • Tom Maresca Says:

      Amen to that, Joe. I really miss the Village of the 1950s, and not just because that was my youth.

  3. Burt Bradley Says:

    My dear Professor Maresca,
    A very dear friend (and fellow wino) sent me your column and I see your insights, wit, and wisdom still inspire me as you did so many years ago at Stony Brook. I will refrain from including my biography for the last forty years, just to say I’m a retired English professor too, who taught Dante and a few other classic authors to whom you introduced me. I’m lifting a glass now of a Sangiovese from a California vinter (from Paso Robles) that you know well: Propino tibi salute!


    Burt Bradley

    • Tom Maresca Says:

      Wonderful to hear from you, Burt, and thank you for the compliments. I’m honored to be saluted with a glass of Caparone Sangiovese: good taste!

  4. Jennifer Says:

    Tom, you are so right about food, wine and company being essential to human life–even up here in the NH hinterlands. Everyone is outdoors walking children and happy dogs, keeping more or less 6 feet apart. On good days, we have 6 ft parties against south-facing walls (BYOB). Ironically, spring has begun early and at a joyous pace. I remember Virgil as Dante’s guide in the “dark forest,” where he told the lost Florentine that he had “to go the long way around” to the light on top the mountain. He would say the same to us.

    • Tom Maresca Says:

      My, what a literate bunch of readers/drinkers I’ve got! Well, you’re in good hands: neither Virgil nor Dante will lead you astray. Enjoy your spring: here in NY so far it’s been grey and soggy. Some sunshine would make it all more tolerable, though I doubt we’ll be able to organize any “six foot parties.”

  5. Richard Beeson Says:

    Beautiful post, Tom. Now you’ve made me want to get my Virgil books out of storage. (Yes, I kept them all these years. Complete with ponies and margin scribbles.) It also reminds me of my Latin teacher, a man named Doc Nadian. (I don’t know if he ever told us his actual first name.) He used to say (this was 1956-1959) that the worst thing that happened to the world and to civilization was the invention of the internal combustion engine. At the time we thought he was being unreasonable and cranky. Now the world realizes that he was right. He also used to talk of his college days at Columbia, when he stayed at the International House. And now that has been closed because of the virus. Your post made me realize that I have come full circle with Doc Nadian as my invisible companion.

    • Tom Maresca Says:

      Thanks, Richard. It seems as if “sheltering in place” is making us all nostalgic for our more carefree youth. Your Doc Nadian is, I think, one of the legions of invisible companions we all travel with.

  6. Philip H Christensen Says:

    As you may remember, my son Jon works at One Woman Wines in Southold. They continue to ship orders, though the State now has them bottling hand sanitizer. As Jon put it: “As least we have enough alcohol.”

    Thank goodness, Cuomo is communicating directly with Dr. Fauci!

    • Tom Maresca Says:

      I hadn’t realized that wineries had been pressed into service. Cuomo is even more on top of things than I had realized.

  7. Jonathan Levine Says:

    Well-stated about Andrew. Marge and I are ordering in a few times a week to support the local restaurants that are still open. A decent pizza place, a Thai, a higher end eclectic restaurant. Sadly, the 4 Chinese places we would order from and the Japanese place we would go to or order from are closed. Using Zoom we are having a virtual wine event on Sunday nights, a virtual coffee on Wed. and thus Friday a virtual dinner. Do you think the guy who invented Zoom started the virus so he could make many millions> Stay well.

    • Tom Maresca Says:

      Smart, Jonathan: you’re managing to live reasonably well and healthily and still manage to support the economy (without having to sacrifice your grandparents). Well done!

  8. Tablewine Says:

    Your post brought back such memories of NYC; bittersweet; My high school Virgil comes back to me often these days: sunt lacrimae rerum. Stay well, my friends.

    • Tom Maresca Says:

      Indeed, Roland, there are tears for things. You make me recall other fragments of Virgil too: There is an appropriate tag line which I cannot call back the Latin of: “Perhaps one day we will rejoice to remember even these things.”

      • Tablewine Says:

        Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit. I think it’s something like that.

        • Tom Maresca Says:

          Yes! You’ve got it exactly. My old Latin instructors would be very pleased that either of us should still be able to recall any of our Virgil. In fact, it is a little disconcerting how readily it all comes to mind in these times… It makes it clear why Virgil was the core of western education for so many centuries, doesn’t it?

  9. John Wion Says:

    Beautifully expressed, Tom. Stay well, both of you, and let’s hope to be able to gather again sooner rather than later.

  10. Victoria de Falco Says:

    So well put, Tom, and couldn’t agree more about the leadership Cuomo is showing. I’m finding myself oddly comforted by the sounds of construction outside our apartment windows right now. A sure sign of NY that I may never complain about again. Stay safe you two!

    • Tom Maresca Says:

      Who ever thought we’d miss construction noises? But you’re right. Keep well yourself (and also Frank, of course).

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