Hanging in the Balance with The Lady Chablis
It’s funny how the mind works. How it can go from point A to point B to point C in what appears to be perfectly logical succession — at least to the mind in question. I was listening to an interview of legendary journalist Bill Moyers, when he said,
“I think this country is in a very precarious state at the moment… the escalating, accumulating power of organized wealth is snuffing out everything public whether it’s public broadcasting, public schools, public unions, public parks, public highways.
No society, no human being, can survive without balance, without equilibrium…Madison, one of the great founders, one of the great framers of our Constitution, built equilibrium into our system. We don’t have equilibrium now. The power of money trumps the power of democracy today, and I’m very worried about it.
— June 8, 2011 broadcast of Democracy Now!
He goes on to say, “democracy should be a brake on unbridled greed and power, because capitalism, capital, like a fire, can turn from a servant, a good servant, into an evil master.”
Listening to that made me think of the 1997 film, based on The New York Times best-seller of the same name; Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, by John Berendt. The title refers to the “hoodoo” notion of “midnight,” the period between the time for good magic and the time for evil magic.
Best described as Southern gothic “faction” (a true crime story that reads like a novel) the film, directed by Clint Eastwood, tells the story from the point of a reporter played by John Cusack, who, while in Savannah, Georgia, suddenly finds himself assigned to the story of a millionaire’s murder trial. Played seductively by Kevin Spacey, antique dealer Jim Williams finds himself accused of murder after shooting Danny Hansford, a man described as both a hustler and a male prostitute.
The victim Hansford is characterized as “a good time not yet had by all.” Williams, both charming and evil at the same time, leaves us vacillating between the notion that the hustler “deserved” it, or that Williams was simply getting rid of an inconvenience for which he no longer had use. Perhaps Williams’ wealth and acclaim lends him the power to escape punishment – in this life at least. After the May 1981 real-life shooting, Williams is eventually acquitted following four murder trials which lasted over eight years.
The Lady Chablis
The most entertaining character, who shares stories of a more sympathetic Hansford with Cusack’s John Kelso, is The Lady Chablis. Playing herself in the film, Chablis Deveau, a preoperative transsexual, as well as a full-time drag queen, and her outrageous adventures provide a marvelous counterbalance (or entertaining distraction) to the “darker narrative of murder” that is central to the story. At one point she crashes a debutante ball in a very non-debutante slinky gown.
Glancing down at some notes made during a wine podcast, I read “Chablis.”
Just what is Chablis?
Back before I knew anything about wine, I remember over-hearing ladies in restaurants, saying in their best Southern drawl, “I’ll have a Chablis.” I had no idea what it was they were ordering, but it sounded crisp, smooth, light and most definitely not red.
Back before American wine drinkers fell in love with California wines, if you wanted white wine, you ordered Chablis. If you wanted red, you ordered Burgundy. Both come from the same area in France, with the Chablis being the northernmost wine district of the Burgundy region.
The region of Chablis is almost entirely planted with Chardonnay grapevines. But unlike the buttery and often-heavily oaked California Chardonnay, most basic Chablis is completely unoaked, and vinified in stainless steel tanks. The region’s cool climate produces wines with more acidity and flavors less fruity than Chardonnay wines grown in warmer climates. And the wines often have a “flinty” note, sometimes described as goût de pierre à fusil (“tasting of gunflint”), and sometimes as “steely.”
And in the master’s chambers,
They gathered for the feast
The stab it with their steely knives,
But they just can’t kill the beast…”
— Hotel California by The Eagles
Which reminds me of my favorite Eagles tune, one Don Henley once described as a song about the dark underbelly of the American Dream, and about excess in America. “We were all middle-class kids from the Midwest. Hotel California was our interpretation of the high life in Los Angeles.”
Which brings me back to Bill Moyers.
“The consensual seduction of the mainstream media with power, corporate power, government power—with exceptions, I repeat,” says Moyers, “is something that, without the antidote of independent reporting and analysis…we would be in a dark, dark pit with no light shining on us.”
“Nothing in excess, the ancient Greeks said,” Moyers recalls, earlier. “Democracy is the brake on my passions and my appetites and your greed and your wealth,” he says. “And we have to get that equilibrium back.”
Or continue to be distracted by the entertaining antics of The Lady Chablis.