One of my favorite audio essays on public radio's This American Life recounts the yeshiva experience of a frequent contributor to the show, who humorously recalled learning the various blessings over food required of observant Jews, as well as proper prayer protocol for same; as those of you familiar with Jewish ritual know, different types of foods require different prayers, and there is a prescribed order to these blessings. The rabbi who taught his class would quiz the students on such theologically challenging dishes as casseroles, and many of the students would become...well, befuddled by blessings.
I thought of this during our Leelanau wine tour. The rolling hills, filled with cherry orchards and grapevines and woodlots...the bluest of blue skies...the blue waters...the charm of the wineries themselves, which were very often in otherwise nondescript buildings that had been landscaped into warm, inviting places...the varied flavors of the wine and the amuses offered by the vintners...it was indescribably pleasurable, especially in the good company of a partner who was equally delighted by it all.
We were at, I think the Chateau Fontaine, tasting different vintages as one of the owners chatted with us about each one; she pointed out a fruit-laden grapevine twining along the window, and noted that it was one of the varietals we were drinking at the moment. The Jewish wine blessing popped into my mind: Blessed are you, O God, Sovereign of the Universe, who created the fruit of the vine. But in reality, like those Jewish schoolboys remembered in the This American Life piece, so many blessings were tumbling around in my mind that I couldn't even begin to name them all.
The irony, though, was that Fellow Traveler and I found ourselves, that afternoon, in a kind of inadvertant convoy of fellow winery tourists -- everywhere we went, the same people soon showed up right behind us. We even got to know their vehicles. I'm not sure if these folks were all in a group or were likewise incidental tour companions, but their one commonality was a collective bad mood. They acted as if their wine-tasting were an annoying duty. They treated the winery owners and staff with the imperious rudeness of upstairs Victorians addressing the hired help. At one winery, when an owner asked one of them if she cared to sample some of the product, she glared back, "I DO NOT DRINK!" in a granite tone suggesting she was quite offended to have been asked...which to me would be like a vegan standing in line at KFC and then getting upset when the counter person asked, "Original or Extra Crispy?"
I don't know the story of the people who followed us from winery to winery; and everyone has a story, so perhaps there were understandable reasons for their demeanors that day. And Lord knows that I'm not always in a grateful state of mind. But I think being befuddled by the blessings around me, even if only in scattered moments of insight, is a pretty good place to be.