We are all Caster Semenya

September 15, 2009

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Though male, Dionysos was always somewhere in-between the sexes.  He was raised by women and worshipped by women; his religion was suppressed probably because it was run by women.  In the Bacchae by Euripides, Pentheus is told by Bacchus to dress as a woman to learn the secrets of his worship, and it’s likely that the giant dildos his worshippers carried around might have been used by his male worshippers in a practical sense.  Though bearded, he was effeminate, and like a lot of great Greek men, stories were told of his bisexuality.

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In a lot of ways, he’s like the grape flower: with both male and female parts.   The grapevine is able to self pollinate, something I’m glad to be incapable of doing.

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It reminds me that we are all somewhere in-between. It makes me think of my newest vineyard employee: a transvestite man from Mexico, young and strong and gay with painted fingernails, earrings, a swish in his walk and an ability to outwork any of the macho men with moustaches who joke and laugh but cannot keep up.  Jose Antonio: I like that dude.  I like that he is willing to put up with a few jokes because he is who he is and there isn’t anything anyone can do about it.  He could hide who he is, but he doesn’t, and he doesn’t care what they say, and besides, some of theose moustachioed men probably come knocking on his door late at night, lonely and hungry for his soft embrace. He does good work and sings to himself love songs and I would love to have a whole crew of transvestites, just so long as they’re Mexican and can sing.

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When last I wrote on this here blog thing, I had found myself suddenly unemployed, alone in a haunted house, not knowing anyone in Oregon who could tell me where to find a new job.  Within three weeks, with the buds swelling and ready to burst in the vineyard, I’d found myself a good job with a good company run by a smart and knowledgeable man.  I am a vineyard manager again, of over 200 acres of dry-farmed, own-rooted, and sustainably-farmed Pinot Noir, Gris and Blanc in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.  It is beautiful, and I am grateful.

Since then it’s been a flurry of work and of life.  I bought chickens and now eat their eggs.  I planted tomatoes and now eat their fruit.  My dog and I have dispatched two delicious deer.  I have loved and been loved.  The vines awoke, burst forth with green life, and now the fruit hangs heavy in purple and rose, sweetening, ripening, yearning for its seeds to be born aloft in the belly of a bird and deposited beneath an oak tree somewhere good and rich and warm.

Also:  I bought a fiddle, and am learning to play.    I sit on my porch and I imagine myself an old man, drunk and happy and teaching a granddaughter how to play Sally Goodin.

8 years ago, I was in New York City.  I had just moved to that goddamn place to give it a go:  I was in love, trying to be an artist and a writer and a doer of good things.  On the morning of September 11, 2001 I rode my bike from Brooklyn to Manhattan, stopping on the bridge to look at the skyline and contemplate things.

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A year later I was picking grapes in France, and now I am entering my eighth grape harvest, having reinvented myself and become a professional in my field.

When the towers fell I made for myself a 15 year plan to buy myself a piece of land to farm wine.  I probably had my boxing gloves with me that day, with a plan to go spend my afternoon fighting people for fun at one of a couple of gyms in Brooklyn or Manhattan.  Things changed after that, and I began to dream of a peaceful life devoted to the art and poetry of making something true like wine for and by myself.

I am alone tonight in a 200 year old rented farmhouse, my faithful pup Sancho asleep at my feet.  I am in-between having a dream and realizing it.   I am going to be 35 soon:  In-between old and young.

We are all in-between something, always and forever and that’s alright.

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Equinox, Yom Kippur, Harvest

September 23, 2007

It rained. I told you so. We farmers know these things. We also have the internet, so it makes it easier to predict.

Equinox

Today is the fall equinox. It seems like always around the equinox, at least since I started to pay attention, the clouds are a bit more swirly, and rain or hail is a lot more likely. The Earth is now balanced upright but the atmosphere is still in flux.

It’s also, or was recently, Yom Kippur. I’m a lousy jew of a jew, and instead of repenting and fasting, spent my Friday practicing the neo-pagan rituals of biodynamics: I unearthed some cow horns full of crushed rose quartz powder and buried some others filled with fresh cow shit. I sprayed a bunch of the shadier blocks of our vineyards with the quartz powder, dynamized into water.

From my recent studies of the ancient roots of the Dionysian religion, much of Jewish law seems as if it were written to prevent its members from participating in the worship of the wine god. For instance, a typical greek sacrifice to Dionysos was to boil a kid (goat that is) in the milk of its mother, something strictly forbidden under Kosher rules. Another injunction was the story of the Egyptian slaves and the worship of the Golden Calf, something intimately linked to the worship of Dionysos. It would seem that I’ve made my choice, wouldn’t it?, between the religion of my mother’s family and the spirituality of my vocation. Although biodynamics isn’t truly rooted in the worship of the wine god, it’s supposed to be some sort of rebirth of sprituality that might mimic or replace what once was practiced by the first civilized farmers for thousands of years.

That being said, there seems to have been some confusion amongst the Greeks as to the origins of the Jewish religion. In Plutach’s Convivial Questions, one of the guests claims to be able to prove that the God of the Jews is really Dionysus Sabazius, the barley god of Thrace and Phyrgia. In Tacitus’ History he writes that “some maintain that the rites of the Jews were founded in honour of Dionysos.”

So, if I were a real academic, instead of a part-time, half-assed one, I might look into the link between the Jewish and Dionysian religions. I’ve read that it’s the ancient city of Obeid that the man later known as Abraham probably left from to found his own religion. There in Obeid, the central religious compoud was formed in the shape of, well, ahem… the female genitalia in all its beauty. Poychrome mosaics found among the ruins show a company of priests at their holy task of milking cows. The figure of Dionysos was probably known better as Tammuz at this time, son of the the Earth mother and a vegetation god of rebirth and death. He had horns. The Earth mother was represented by a cow.

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It all gets mixed up in prehistory, and that’s what I love about my profession: what I do and what I think about can be traced back to the foundations of civilization. I might never really figure it all out. But I get to think about it, see how I feel about things, and enact ancient rituals of my choosing when i want.

The grapes aren’t ripening. The flavors are developing but the acidity remains high and the sugars low. the rain won’t help the thinner-skinned varieties’ tendency to develop botyritis. Tomorrow I’m picking 3 tons of Gewurtztraminer in Sonoma. Old vines we tend and tend to neglect a bit, but the fruit is delicious and makes a great wine.