This lent I’m giving up bread and wine.
Last night we had pancakes, a bottle of champagne, and a bottle of fizz. This was the first meal in a new flat, and the last, at least for the next forty days, I’ll have with wine.
The first pancakes were savoury. Leeks softened in butter with a bay leaf and thyme, wrapped in a pancake, laid on some reduced tomatoes in a gratin dish, like cannelloni, slathered in bechemel, topped with parmesan and grilled so that it turned golden, erupted at the edges, and bubbled. Afterwards there were pancakes with lemon and vanilla sugar, hard to beat: frivolous lacy things, enticing, fatty, doughnut-scented, nursery comfort, citrus brightness. Very good with champagne.
So today’s the first without booze. After a promising start to the year, I slipped back into the habit of drinking, a couple of finos, a bottle of wine, or so, every night. It becomes the punctuation between work and my evenings. Wine makes simple meals – omelettes, salads – sing and be beautiful, and this is a very easy option coming in late so often. But increasingly these evenings drift boozily into sleep, nothing much gets done, and evenings are not so much “mine” after all, but given up to a sensation: all punctuation becomes ellipsis. Not that I don’t like it that way. I do. But I miss reading and writing. I don’t like waking up having rambled too much and too emotionally. A bit more sober thinking might be a good thing.
And then there’s my supposed appreciation of wine itself. Perhaps I’ve lost hold of it a bit. I like the idea of wine drinking, moderate wine drinking, being a part of the the pattern of a day, the fabric of a life. It’s the ideal partner for food, a sauce for it almost, as it is for life. But you have to get it right and I don’t think I do. Is it good that wine becomes so ingrained in routine that it seems mudane – wonderful but mundane, sustenance like bread? Or would it be better for wine to be a bit hallowed, the expensive bottle of claret you save for Sunday lunch, the bottle of champagne for the last weekend of a hard month. That all seems a bit prim to me. It’s not living and drinking, it’s putting it in a safe little compartment, economic, healthy, and a bit unreal. So there’s a balance to be struck between hallowed and everyday that I suppose is moderation, careful appreciation and practical drinking. Drinking I can afford: both in terms of my health, my thinking and my money. It’s odd to think a good way to achieve that might be through a period of total restraint, punishing abstinence. I’m sure I shall find it punishing. But I hope it will make me revaluate, reposition things in my mind, lose a bit of paunch, even.
Bread too: not so damaging perhaps to my liver, my mind or my currently very sensitive wallet. (It turns out that heating an old four bedroom house with no insulation is very expensive.) But still it’s one of those things I might be a bit more appreciative of if I went without for a bit.
Let’s see what happens.