I am sometimes privileged enough to get to participate in days and evenings that many people would die to experience, or have a hidden camera along with them. As a writer, I don’t need one. And believe me, I’d be a fool not to use my experiences as fodder for something extraordinary one day. I won’t disclose direct details and names are omitted (don’t worry, nothing as sordid as you’d think). The last 3 days of my life have simply been surreal – nothing short of it at all. Billed as a combination “giving back and coming together,” the winery created a three-day program for every single worker – yes, we shut down for three days. Included in this adventure:
- Community service – I spent most of the day breathing in ungodly amounts of sawdust and varnish fumes in an enclosed greenhouse for about 6 hours for the benefit of a community center for the mentally challenged – the folks came down to help us, and I ended up getting sprayed by said varnish for several minutes. Ah well. All for good. I did get to commune with donkeys, ducks, and chickens that day in their petting zoo – always a plus in my book – and it was amazing to see what 6 hours’ hard work by 100+ people actually can accomplish. It was great – although the sawdust ring and piles of sediment in the bathtub that night (I kid you not) were a cause of some concern to me.
- A romantic tour of the old city of Jerusalem. Great fun. Churches, ramparts, architecture. I’ve done it at least half a dozen times, and even led unofficial versions of it for friends. But I loved it. Towards the end I got tired, and when we got to the incredible Austrian Hospice, I simply disappeared into the cafe-garden with a lovely creamy Meinl cappuccino while the group went up to the roof for another half-hour of pointing-at-buildings. It’s a rose garden, quiet, and two foreign gentlemen smoked cigars next to me. At that moment I was happy. I loved my employer, my colleagues, the retreat, the weather, the location. It was a great day.
- Ridiculous performances — I hate using ridiculous to describe performance art, as artists try hard and need to earn a living. There just happens to be a lot I cannot tolerate, and I was subjected to some extremely…well…difficult work. Folksy mediocre sort of stuff — the fact that many, perhaps not most, but not a few, of my work colleagues enjoyed some if not all of the two evenings’ entertainment, puzzled me. But let me leave it at that. To each his own. A fantastic exercise in anthropology, one could say.
- A scavenger hunt. A big fat three-hour frantic massive-list hunt, 21st-century-style (all evidence photographed, video’ed, and internet research often required). We were broken up into groups and I knew almost nobody in mine. Running all over Jerusalem, climbing the YMCA tower (450 steps up) to count carillon bells, taking photographs while sitting inside random people’s cars, teaching tourists to speak a sentence in Hebrew about our company, archery in the park, and on and on. It was exhausting. We didn’t win, but now I have 7 new friends at the winery, most of whom I never would have met, approached, or sat with at a meal. The fact that I enjoyed this is a huge credit to the HR people at the winery. They know their stuff. It could have been cheesy-city, but almost every group participated with gusto. It was great.
- Raucous late-night adventures in the shuk — my favorite part of the trip — reminded me of my adventures in Bordeaux. A small group (12 or so) of people from almost every walk of life (department) of the winery decided to head out for some post-cheesy-art living it up on the town. We found ourselves at the Casino de Paris – a hip new bar-eatery in the middle of Machaneh Yehuda shuk (market). Yes, hidden among the vegetable stalls is quite a chic place, bright, friendly, excellent booze, people spilling out the door on a Monday night. We drank, ate, drank, told stories, drank, made merry, and drank under the stars beside the covered stalls outside the warm little bar. Then we made our way to the famous Machaneh Yehuda restaurant a couple blocks away. We drank, ate, drank, and made merry all over again, to a much higher and stranger degree. With stranger foods (shellfish after midnight). Stranger objects (wearing tea towels somehow became part of this segment of the evening). Stranger liquors (we started the evening with high-end Cognac and single malt Scotch, and somehow ended up finishing it off with cheap Arak). So it goes. Interesting taxi-back-to-hotel arrangements. And lots and lots of ibuprofen. I’m quite proud of myself, really. I can really hold my liquor, or so it seems to me. I didn’t tell any bad sex jokes, I didn’t vomit, I didn’t fall down, and I hardly cried at all. I think it was a well-maintained buzz through and through. In the course of 6 hours (with food) I think I consumed 3 glasses of wine, 2 whiskys, three sips of beer (one ale, two stout – a knowledgeable person told me to try stout with whisky and it was an excellent combination), one tiny sip of Arak, and a glass of bubbly. It was a fantastic evening. Had it occurred at the American Colony as I’d wanted, it would have been better. It’ll have to wait for the next adventure. But it was very good as it was.
It doesn’t often occur to people that they live interesting lives — but on this particular occasion, it occurred to me that I do. I don’t make wine, but I get to work with people who do. People who make world-class amazing wine. And that counts for something. It’s amazing when you know you’re working with and for good people, for a good cause. Wine is a luxury product, I suppose, but it’s far more essential than a Lexus or foie gras or an Xbox, I think. It’s a connection to land, to history, to religion, to people, to experience. What’s a wedding without wine? New Years? Anniversaries? Birthdays? Beuf Bourgignon? Coq au Vin? I’m back to stressed out life — and even if it doesn’t seem charmed 99% of the time — it is a charmed existence in many ways. There’s always that after-work glass of wine waiting.