Theme Thursday 6
Although I don't join Theme Thursday every week, I hope that I make every post I do put up worth reading. I'm really happy that today happens to be a perfect follow-up to the last one I participated in, which was about Food . . .
This Week's Theme:
"Come and sit here, boy. Eat and listen to your next duties," [the old cook] said in an overly loud voice. The platter contained a lump of sweaty cheese and a piece of flat bread. Yeats gulped it down without a moment's thought. The cup contained a yellow liquid. Yeats could not stop his face from scrunching at the taste.
"What is wrong?" Mohassin queried. "It is good wine." Yeats raised his eyebrows. He suddenly thought of his father, scrunching his face after drinking the Scotch in Gran's kitchen . . .
When I first read this snippet, I didn't think much of it. Only later did I wonder that a story set in a land long associated with Islam would feature locals drinking wine. Did the author of this twenty-first century novel about a boy who wishes himself into the story of Shaharazad make a terrible mistake?
Then I remembered that there are references to wine in an even older text with exactly the same setting: the Thousand and One Nights, which has folktales from the Islamic Golden Age. My family no longer has its old copy, but some quick research reveals that there are "two large vessels of wine" that are definitely for human consumption in The Story of the Porter and the Ladies of Baghdad.
There's something about fermented drinks that is surprisingly universal. I don't know why this is so, but it's fascinating to think that every culture in the world has something unique you can get drunk on. When my Korean students were puzzled about lambanog, I explained that it was the Filipino soju and they understood immediately--although the former is made from coconut juice and the latter is made from rice. Even wines made from the same kind of grapes taste different depending on the soil and climate of the vineyards the grapes are grown in--which is why many European wines are named after places, and their American and Australian counterparts have more of a marketing challenge despite being, to everyone else but wine snobs, virtually the same product. And these days, many countries with majority Muslim populations are pretty relaxed about liquor; and even those others which seem bent to make up for it with their intense zeal have underground breweries here and there.
So it makes sense to me that even in a region as culturally and spiritually Islamic as "Golden Age" Arabia, there would be a lot of wine. And David Ward, who is clearly fascinated with the period, would have known that.
On the other hand, I'd be shocked to find pork and shellfish making similar casual cameos in stories set in long-ago Arabia or Persia. For both are specifically forbidden (although the latter's status is reportedly debatable) and neither is a universal staple.
Image Source: Between Two Ends by David Ward