Saturday, February 16, 2013

A Chardonnay in February

Fruit of the Vine

Yesterday was judgment day. Did you miss it?
Chapter One: After dinner, I watched Jian Ghomeshi’s panel kick the last-but-one book off the island in the final Canada Reads event on CBC. The long-awaited judgment? Two Solitudes by Hugh MacLennan is not as good a Canadian read as is February, by Lisa Moore. But both are better Canadian reads than David Bergen’s The Age of Hope, Jane Urquhart’s Away, or Indian Horse, by Richard Wagamese.
Chapter Two: The Station Arts Centre held its Wine Tasting Fundraiser last night, an event at which locals who ferment kit and scratch wines enter their wares for judgment. The best kit wine was a Chardonnay; the best scratch wine a Mead.
So now I know what I ought to read and what I ought to drink with dinner. Or better yet, I could read February while sipping a glass of Mead, or Chardonnay perhaps. Quality on top of quality.
The wine judges used a point system to rank the many wines they were obliged to sniff, swirl and taste. The Chardonnay had the best all-round combination of colour, nose and palate, plus characteristics like clarity, balance and finish. It was all done very “objectively.” (Think about that for a moment; can taste, smell, ever be judged other than subjectively?)
Nowhere near as objective was the Canada Reads judgment. As the five-member panel debated the merits and demerits of the two finalists in the contest, I looked for criteria that are normally associated with quality in the novel art form: plot development, diction, setting, verisimilitude, character development, etc. Couldn’t find them. Had this panel been judging visual art, I expect that the debate would have come down to whether or not the moose in painting A looks better (and/or more Canadian) than the muskrat in B.
Mind you, I’m as vulnerable as the general population to misjudging what I see on TV, assuming too easily that what’s portrayed there is a “window on the real world.” As my friend once said, “You’ve got to remember that they’re not making education (or sports, or reliable information, etc.), THEY’RE MAKING TELEVISION!” The corollary being that TV is primarily a medium for marketplace advertising, the programming chosen and styled to keep the audience captive through the appeals-to-consume.
(I guess there’s no such thing as “reality TV”—as if pointing a camera at people doesn’t alter the event that’s being watched. What we know as “reality TV” should be called “shows that appeal to people’s voyeuristic inclinations and are cheaply produced.”)
Canada Reads with its tedious, drawn-out voting, its false suspense and its choosing-by-elimination has clearly adopted techniques of Survivor, American Idol, and the rest of “reality TV.”
I find that disappointing, somehow.
It’s possible that Canada Reads encourages reading, but I doubt it, at least if volume is the criterion. The country divides rather neatly into people who read novels and people who don’t. The people who do are more likely to read February than they would have otherwise, so Lois Moore must be ecstatic about this turn of events. The people who don’t read novels likely turned to the hockey game before Ghomeshi’s welcome.
As to the wine, we who were there knew full well that the event was not staged to help us recognize quality in wines, it was meant to raise money for arts programming in the Rosthern area.
Maybe that’s sour grapes talking (pardon the pun); my Chilean Merlot didn’t win! Not even an honourable mention.

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