It’s complicated to explain why I dragged my feet to the altar — or rather to the county clerk’s office. My reluctance had nothing to do with the relationship itself, which has lasted nearly 30 years and will (I trust) — if we both manage to survive that long (unlikely) — last another 30.
That 30 years was a small part of the problem. In a way, I felt a bit resentful that the strong and long-lived bond between me and my partner should only now be recognized by the state and federal governments as equal to others’ bonds (some of them — Las Vegas anyone? — lasting about as long as it took the participants to wake up from their hangovers).
But I don’t hold grudges. Long.
There are, though, other sources of disquiet. Historically, the institution of marriage served to control and oppress women — only in my lifetime has civil marriage become a contract between legal equals. And marriage even now reinforces what I think of as “the tyranny of coupledom.” Do I want to be a part of it? Is it possible to be married and not infected by that cultural history?
And then, the unholy link between economically based civil unions — called marriage — and religious unions — also called marriage — has muddled our thinking about people’s rights to heath care and other social securities. Not just muddled our thinking, but muddled the entire system whereby people gain access to necessary “benefits.” And this muddle lies at the heart of my eventual acceptance of “legalizing” my relationship now that same-sex marriage has become a reality.
In other words we did it for the perks.
(Note: other, more civilized, countries do not consider health insurance a “perk.”)
On the other hand, while our reasons were largely economic and practical, I admit that hearing, via the Internet, the National Cathedral bells ringing and seeing San Francisco City Hall lit up like a rainbow to celebrate the Supreme Court decisions in favor (kinda sorta) of marriage equality stirred up all sorts of less tangible “perks” — those bells were tolling for us.
Those lights were shining for us.
And then there were the emails and the phone calls and the conversations with folks who stopped us on the street — all filled with good wishes from friends, neighbors, relatives, colleagues, students, readers of this column. How could I not be moved and grateful and happy? (Thanks to you all.)
And when, a week later, we presented ourselves to the Yolo County Clerk-Recorder’s Office, it seemed the whole office was in celebration mode. Freddie Oakley, long a supporter of marriage equality, officiated and conducted the whole affair with such grace and humor and, well, care, that everyone in the room (including Freddie herself) teared up.
So in spite of my misgivings (and in spite of a few other Supreme Court decisions), I think it’s time to celebrate. Time, maybe, for some dancing in the street. Time, certainly, for popping some corks.
The day the decisions came down coincided with daughter Julian’s birthday and an already-planned celebratory lunch at Monticello. Julian generously shared the occasion, and the wine we had planned to order quickly became a bottle of bubbles. Cristolino Brut Rosé is a ubiquitous and inexpensive Cava, but I’ve always liked it, and this rosé version is especially mood-enhancing. And I have to say that on June 26 it tasted as good as the finest champagne.
(A tribute to our local food scene: Julian, who lives within easy walking distance of Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto, remarked as we finished our delicious, fresh food, “If this place were in Berkeley it would be my favorite lunch spot.”)
The day the papers were signed, my partner and I shared another bottle of bubbles (Zonin Prosecco — also a good, inexpensive celebratory drink) with our witness and spouse. Perfect with that homemade peach ice cream. But for dinner that night we decided a little splurge was in order. In fact, I had made a trip all the way to Corti Brothers (you know by now that I hate to drive) earlier in the week just to find this particular wine, the 2010 Coenobium.
I wrote about the 2009 Coenobium a couple of years ago — I even took the unusual step of dedicating the entire column to it. Coenobium — Latin for “monastery” — has haunted me since. A blend of trebbiano, malvasia and verdicchio (proportions change each year), it’s made by a community of Trappistine nuns in Lazio (about 60 miles north of Rome) from the old vines that for many years just sat on their property. They now make wine commercially but just this one blend in two versions that differ only in the amount of time spent on the skins (the Rusticum, which stays longer, has, I’m told, an orange tinge).
Giampiero Bea, a famous Italian proponent of non-interventionist wine-making (a “naturalista.”) is the consulting winemaker. He advocates a long soak on the skins even for the white version (actually a lovely gold) and the use of only wild yeast. The vines themselves have never been touched by commercial fertilizer much less pesticides, and the nuns eschew additives of any kind.
I like the idea of celebrating our legal union with a wine made by nuns, nuns being, to my mind, the sanest folks in the Catholic Church right now. I have no idea what sort of politics these particular nuns espouse, but I fantasize that they’re immensely pleased to know the occasion of our drinking their golden ambrosia.
The 2010, which I hadn’t tasted, lived up to all my expectations. I kept trying during dinner to come up with my usual descriptive words. But I ended up completely puzzled. And when I went back to the first Coenobium column for a little help, I remembered that I was equally puzzled then: “Both delicious and mysterious, it tasted different with every sip. While perfectly dry and wonderfully minerally, it tasted intensely fruity, but I had a hard time pinning it down further — Melon? Peach? Apricot? Fig? Hazelnuts? Pear? Apple? All of the above? When someone suggested fennel and mint, I nodded at that, too.” (How did the good nuns get all of these flavors to marry so seamlessly?)
That probably wasn’t a very helpful description then, and it isn’t any more helpful now, but if it intrigues you, you can take a short trip to Corti Brothers and put down your $25 for a wine almost as complicated, mysterious and elusive as this thing called marriage.
— Reach Susan Leonardi at [email protected] Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com