The Tomatis vineyard is in Chiroubles, a quaint little French village northeast of Beaujolais. In the fall of 1973, I joined a mishmash of European students and itinerant farm workers to take part in the harvesting of Monsieur Tomatis’ grapes--raisens as he called them. I was determined to uphold the honor of the American worker by rising earlier, working harder and being more productive than any other harvester on the farm. I would have done it too except for this 70 year old French lady that worked like she was born with the gene for fatigue. While the rest of us--Brits, Danes, Turks, Swedes, Spaniards, what-have-you--were sweating and tearing our fingers up on those vines, it looked like she was just caressing the grapes and they were busting their little purple back sides trying to jump into her bucket. I figure if the harvest--vendage as they call it--had gone on another half a year or so, I would have got the hang of it and figured out how to beat her to the end of the row. I just ran out of time and she was the first one through every time.
After the harvest, Monsieur Tomatis invited me to stay on with the family awhile and help his son Bernard with his English. It was in October that Monsieur Tomatis asked me to take a walk with him through his vineyard. He asked me what was going to happen now that Nixon was defying a court of appeals and refusing to turn over the Watergate tapes. Huh? I hadn’t paid a bit of attention to the goings on in the world for over a month. I didn’t know a thing about Nixon defying anybody. He asked me if I thought there were cycles in the way human affairs unrolled. Huh? I told him I never thought about it.
Turns out that October 19, the day Nixon defied the court is the anniversary of the day Napoleon started his retreat from Russia. Now we know that Napoleon’s retreat was one of the most humiliating defeats in military history. Now we know that Nixon ultimately resigned in disgrace.
That day in the vineyard, Monsieur Tomatis talked about his hope for his son; how important it was for a man to have ambition, to achieve as much as he can in his life. But, no matter how much he succeeds, he must guard against arrogance. He remarked that Napoleon could have left an unqualified legacy for good. He failed because of his arrogance. He was prophetic about the role of arrogance in Nixon’s downfall.
Up to that point, I thought the most important lesson I learned about manliness in the Tomatis vineyard was this. It’s a mistake for a man to underestimate the toughness of a 70 year old lady just by looking at her. In retrospect, that’s not a bad lesson for a man to learn.
Oh, by the way. Oct. 19 is the anniversary of the beginning of Saddam Hussein’s trial. Probably coincidence.
I’m Hink. And I’ll see ya.
Download this column
Thu, October 23, 2008
by Michael Hinkle