I picked up Hilaire Belloc’s book, Places, at a little bookshop tucked beneath Edinburgh Castle. The book, a collection of travel essays, was spotty: some cogent thoughts that resonated and some essays I had to force myself to get through. The essay About Wine is definitely the crowning jewel of the book. Written from the vantage point of 1942, Belloc’s perspective on political shifts is intriguing. Here are some passages I copied into my journal:
I have wandered all my life, and I have also traveled; the difference between the two being this, that we wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment.
St. Paul said …”Take a little wine for your stomach’s sake.” But I say, take plenty of it for the sake of your soul and all that appertains to the soul; scholarship, verse; social memory and the continuity of all culture.
“How does one tell good wine?” “By the taste.” It is not the year, nor the vineyard that distinguishes good wine, exceptional wine. It is the taste.
I remember well one day when I walked, not of my own choice, over the hills from the Lake Bolsena to Orvieto against so bitter a blast of sleet and driving snow that it needed all one’s courage to push on. It was like being in Scotland without the fun. (For I am one of those who always think it fun to be in Scotland.)
I find nothing more satisfactory than places which remind me of the Opera, with the added advantage that there is no blaring music. (That quote is for my brother who sings in the opera!)
Who today would die for Babylon? To whom is the King of Egypt a divine incarnation of the people and of the River? So when you look at a fixed State of your own time always remember two things about it. First, that not so very long ago it was not. Next, that after some added generations of men, it will not be.
We are perhaps today at this very moment, the mid-twentieth century, about to see another change: either the resurrection of Islam, the reaffirmation of its power and a further assault from the East against the West, or what is less likely (because we Europeans have lost our unity), a return of the West Eastward and a European stamp set again upon the whole of the Mediterranean and its shores, even to Mesopotamia.