Connoisseurship (1)

The Connoisseurs

I was told in England of an American who claimed he could distinguish nuantial differences between Coca Cola bottled in different plants, in Denver, say, vs. Atlanta. That reminded me of a remark by a French friend to the effect that American hippies were extremely fussy about the provenance of their weed (America was at the time the center of the green revolution). They believed that different strains and different styles produced different highs. Neither of these tales is as clear as it appears at first blush. Coca Cola can taste different depending on whether it was bottled or sent as syrup to a local bar for mixing. And, of course, Coca Cola not only tastes different from Pepsi Cola, Coca Cola itself constantly releases and retracts new versions of its basic formula. Likewise, marijuana has become an object of discrimination among cognoscenti. It is now commonplace to distinguish between strains of the plant, soil, climate and methods of extraction. Nevertheless the failure of detail in the reports of the Europeans is less important than the (“metalinguistic,” so to speak) message they were trying to communicate, or, more precisely, the conceptual framework they were trying to use to help perceive an alien society. No doubt each of my informants regarded connoisseurship as an important part of his own experience, and, by extension, assumed it was an important part of his society’s experience. What he wished to do was to find the practice of connoisseurship in a society that undervalued wine, for example, or the bibelots of various ages racketing about in European attics. What they reported, however, was not quite what they thought they saw. The Coca Cola example is closer to mere discrimination perhaps accompanied by preference. It is akin to knowing the difference between various classes of Mercedes. Connoisseurship in its more exclusive sense places value on the uniqueness or near uniqueness of the object of value. The wine connoisseur discriminates not only between territories and varietals, he also stresses vintage and sometimes even a proper section of a vineyard from which the happy bottles are so few that they assume something of a human personality. Marijuana connoisseurship is something like this, but at present it is much closer to brand loyalty than to true connoisseurship. Americans are big on brand loyalty. To test this, just ask a club girl to drink a vodka that is not currently anointed (A porn star I once fucked took the trouble to explain her selectiveness: Grey Goose was unique among vodkas in that it didn’t cause hangovers (a fact that, psychosomatically or not, I since verified)). The European connoisseur is anything but brand loyal. His ability to discriminate presents a constant challenge to the purveyor to meet independent and a priori standards. Different vintages might just as well come from different planets. America has changed greatly since the days when most restaurants were glorified diners and the wine selection consisted in “burgundy” and “chablis.” Since then effective propaganda has managed to convince the world that the alcoholic grape juice bottled in California is worthy of close attention.