Igor Pomerantsev


        You only remember you're white if you're in Africa, or you're a man when you're next a woman you find attractive. It's the sideways looks and prohibitions that make you aware to nationality. In the 21st century it is ever harder to preserve the 'I', to remain yourself. Put homogenised egos in a crowd and they may buck and and squirm a bit, but they will, in the end, surrender. Over the years I attended a number of Caribbean carnivals in London. No more than a few hundred spectators were at the first one. The most recent, at the end of August 2015, drew more than a million. A reveller puts on a carnival mask and does things for which he bears no responsibility. The London West Indians lose all sense of decorum. They beat the living daylights out of steel drums, dance like demons, wear skin-tight costumes that leave nothing to the imagination, guzzle tons of spicy food and hot sauces. For three days blacks exact revenge on a city of albinos with a strong case of vitamin deficiency. London makes no attempt to fight back. For London the Notting Hill Carnival is a hot sauce, a vindaloo, a Jamaica pepper. The memory of the Carnival keeps London going for a year. Without it life in the capital would truly be as dull as ditchwater.

        But what is a European paleface to do in London? The French have a word, terre. The primary meaning is earth. From this word grew a great concept, a whole image  —  terroir, one used by tea blenders, cheesemakers, baristas, connoisseurs of olives and, first and foremost, by vintners. The image encompasses the rising and setting of the sun, snow and rain, landscape and soil, forests and scrub, wild winds and gentle breezes, rivers and lakes, fauna and flora. An experienced palate can tell the soil a vine grows in: flinty for a white Loire Sancerre, pebbly clay in a Pomerol merlot, Rhone valley quartzite in a Chateauneuf – du – Pape. Man is the only thing excluded in terroir: he is too intellectual, civilized, unnatural. Yes, man does have his terroir, in no way inferior to nature. Man is also a product of terroir, but the produce is richer, more complex, more surprising than even the finest of wines. Then add to all the natural phenomena such things as emotions, transient as clouds, the nooks and crannies of memory, heartfelt passions, solitary conversations with God, the inhalations and exhalations of inspiration. I see no need to add terroir as an entry in one's passport, though. There are more important documents in life, and nobody has the authority to take away what each of us has been given from birth.


©Igor Pomerantsev translated by ©Frank Williams

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