Some realizations take a while to ferment in your mind.
There’s a scene in Sideways where one character says to another, “What was the bottle that got you into wine? What did it for you?”
I’ve been searching for that bottle. Searching for the glass that can change my life. The glass that can open my eyes to a new way of seeing the world, and make me exclaim, “My God, come quickly—I’m seeing stars.”
Because our eyes are affected by our smell and taste more than we realize. A brief taste of the right chocolate and you’ll never be the same person again. Whole realms of possibility open up and you see clearly what it means for the world to be better and for yourself to be better and then you can’t rest until you fully integrate that vision into your life.
In Liverpool, a cup of tea changed my life.
In Liverpool for a semester, studying music in the city of popular music. I am in a mental state of uprootedness, the way people are when they decide to study abroad. We become different people depending on what ground is beneath our feet and how many times we’ve walked over it before.
At 3:30 the morning after I arrive, I wake up absolutely hungry. I walk down to the security lodge near the front of the campus. Geoff and Malcom are there—the only two people I’ve met here so far. They welcomed me the day before and showed me to my room.
I ask them if there’s any place open to find breakfast or anything edible. Horrifyingly, they tell me they can’t think of any place nearby. They invite me inside and offer me a cup of tea.
When Malcom hands me the tea he offers me some biscuits. I take one. If I had been British, I would have known it’s absurd to only take one biscuit. He seems very surprised about it and gently explains I can take more.
We sit and talk, and I drink my tea. Like Proust’s cookie, I am etched with an impression of this moment and the taste of strong black tea. I sink into the taste, the richness of my first proper cup of tea, combined with this moment of welcome and care from new friends. This ritual of hospitality, a national drink of comfort offered to a weary traveler. As this drink consoles me I understand how it conquered Britain. Rule Brittania, rule camellia sinensis.
Understand, I was ripe for conquering. My senses were keen and tuned to the smallest details, open to every new experience. But taste tells us what life can be—it hints at how to live and points us to new possibilities in the mystery of earth and sea and vegetables.
Back to fermentation.
Now I’m in Sonoma. Searching, searching for that glass of wine that will open my eyes.
And as I wake up, with the morning sun getting slightly brighter every second, a realization dawns on me. The world looks different than it did yesterday. I can still taste the fifteen different wines I tried yesterday, each one distinct in my memory. There was no single moment of this experience that made a change in me. It needed to ferment. It needed a chorus of wines, dancing, bacchanal style in my perception to make me see.
Now, when I look at a bottle of wine my heart jumps and I think, “There is a symbol of what life can be.”
“Do you think music has the power to change people? Like you listen to a piece and go through some major change inside?”
Oshima nodded. “Sure, that can happen. We have an experience—like a chemical reaction—that transforms something inside us. When we examine ourselves later on, we discover that all the standards we’ve lived by have shot up another notch and the world’s opened up in unexpected ways. Yes, I’ve had that experience. Not often, but it has happened. It’s like falling in love.”
–Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
Published 12 February 2016
Kevin McGillivray is a web developer, writer, and teacher from Wisconsin. He writes about creativity, mindfulness, code, and tea.