So the mishmash of hedonism which is my life continues with a couple of weeks in the South of France and the North of Italy and let me tell you that Nice in August is really, really, hot, hot enough to smelt nickel, but that's only one of the difficulties we have to face. More significantly, the Pound has tanked, post-Brexit, against the Euro, down from around 1.4 Euros last summer, to near-parity this summer. Hilarious. Everything now costs a week's wages, from two small coffees to a third of a tankful of petrol to a single flip-flop. We wander among the shops and cafes, staring helplessly at other, fatter, cleaner, better-shod tourists, squabbling over the single grissino which is our lunch. 'Watch out for the price of wine,' PK says brightly, before I leave, and I have no option but to do just that.
Yet there's an irony in this, just waiting to express itself. Years of overpaying for cheap grog in the UK have yielded a benefit: I don't even notice the price hike occasioned by Sterling's collapse. By the time we get to our fastness in the hills of Liguria, I have acquired a bottle of something called La Banina, a Monferrato with a cork and a bit of paper round the neck, just like a real wine, and it's cost me no more than €2.60 on special offer at the local Conad. I try it with a slice of banana, just to see if there are any name-related synergies, but that's by the by. The fact is that it tastes like something I would stump up at least £5 for in London, perhaps as much as £6.49, has no apparent health disadvantages, tastes like wine from the off - none of that tiresome 24-hour wait while it renders itself potable - and is still plainly a cheap bottle of wine, especially when judged against UK prices.
It gets better. A day later, I find something on sale for €1.99 a bottle - and not just any bottle, but a moulded plastic bottle with a screw top - containing one and a half litres of very very rudimentary grog. I get a red (Sangiovese from Puglia, it says) and a white (a Trebbiano, whatever that is, from Rubbicone, wherever that is) and that's three litres of wine for the price of a phone call home. Do we even need to bring up the question of flavour, of drinkability? Can't we stop there and humbly reverence the legally-retailed zero-cost booze in its bottles and not even have to drink it? Haven't we already achieved so much? €1.99 for a litre and a half! It's just beautiful, even if the wine tastes of used nappies and open graves. Out in the rest of the world, my finances are despicable; here, with my Trebbiano, I am a king.
Actually, I can even keep the stuff down. A whiff of sewage treatment works at first, some unwashed bedding, but it calms down quite quickly, becoming a completely unthreatening go-anywhere white - at 11% I suppose it would be - which I knock off so rapidly that I almost forget to take the statutory picture (see pic), wondering all the time what it reminds me of: something to do with wine, maybe even an actual wine, although I have no memory for tastes, so probably not the latter -
- Until I taste the red, the Sangiovese, and realise that (of course) I'm drinking carafe wine, a wine I love, no matter how crappy or pernicious, not least because of its terrible/adorable freight of nostalgia: carafe wine, the first wine I ever really enjoyed, a wine from a time long before all these failed attempts at expertise or indeed any kind of knowledgability, a wine without qualities, almost. The job is done, and has a compete internal consistency: the whole looming wine/Sterling collapse crisis is solved by the simplest expedient, the one which involves no compromises or ideological revisions, the one which says, buy the cheapest thing you can find and drink it. How easy life can be if you only give it the opportunity!