They must be celebrating something. Hell, someone is always celebrating something somewhere. That’s how precious life is. The man – the one with a monstrous timepiece the size of my one-year old son’s skull – gleams as he holds a bottle of champagne, squinting at the label. The waiter stands at a respectful distance, donning a small polite smile below his moustache. His audience of three wait in such anticipation, I swear I’m tempted to pound my table in a drum-roll. Big Timepiece finally nods appreciatively. The rest breathe again.
The room seems to sigh with relief. There is a resounding pop. The bottle froths. Bubbles are poured into flutes. Glasses are raised towards the fancy chandelier; “To the god’s of good fortune!” There is laughter all around. Everyone seems so happy. Everyone seems so aff ectionate and content. That’s how people behave around champagne. It’s almost like champagne dictates that you must be happy. Like a directive. Because I spend a lot of time stalking humans in bars and lounges, documenting how they behave around (and with) alcohol, I’m always fascinated by the distinct reaction and emotion champagne evokes.
Wine is a drink that can be suited for a variety of situations, happy, sad, non-committal, it morphs according to the mood at hand. I have seen couples try to solve a problem over wine; I have seen a group of stiff suits (most likely lawyers or auditors) stand in a corner at a company function, cradling glasses of Merlot and forcing chuckles to seem sociable even when their brows say something diff erent; I have also seen many a group of girls on a night out sipping bottle after bottle of pinotage.
The raison d’être of of spirits also tends to mutate according to the scenario. Men will sit alone in bars, staring down into their glasses of single-malt, in search of answers. Brandies will be cracked open after a long raucous dinner party. A secret hip fl ask fi lled with your poison of choice, might be the only thing that gets you through the working day. But not champagne. Nobody ever pops a bottle during hard times. When you turn up and see a bottle sitting in a shivering ice bucket, you always know good news isn’t far away.
You see it on the faces of the drinkers. You hear it in the timbre of their voices. You smell it off the air around them. Champagne is a happy drink, not just sometimes but all the time. But there are rules. First, unless you are shooting a rap video, you can’t pop the cork too loudly; it’s crass. You unfoil it, you twist the bottle, and you uncork it with a thud. You don’t freeze champagne; you place it in an ice bucket. If it tastes like grape juice it most likely isn’t champagne but sparkling wine.
In fact, if it isn’t from Champagne, France then it’s not champagne. And lastly, you can’t place ice-cubes in your champagne. You just can’t. Big Timepiece’s date – a moonfaced girl with a brittle-looking nose – is giggling at something, while
leaning on the bar counter of The Champagne Bar at the Sankara Hotel where all this is unfolding. The girl’s bubbles keeps rising relentlessly in her flute. Laughter fills the room, pushing out any other emotion apart from happiness. I sit at the corner, in one of those lounges and feel the happiness slowly infect my whisky drenched heart.