Like many of my friends, Miguel Angel is an exceptional man. He´s a Freudian analyst, in a world where everyone knows (or thinks they know) all about Sigmund Freud, but almost nobody actually practices what the old man preached.
Miguel Angel was born in central Mexico. He grew up and became an accountant, just like his family thought he should. Then he realized accounting is boring, and he went to school to study Freudian analysis. In Paris. Then he realized he liked Paris better than Mexico, so he finished his doctorate, mastered French, landed a job, and left behind everything he used to be. Then he fell in love with a French woman.
The woman´s name is Nathalie. Her family is from Cognac, the same place the fine fortified wine comes from. She and her cousins and relatives own a big old house and vineyards. They make their own brandy. It´s an old family, respected and respectable.
Miguel Angel is younger than Nathalie. He is an immigrant, with dark skin and an accent. He doesn´t even like wine. At Christmas last year he and Nathalie went to the big family gathering at the Big House, where Grandmaman presided.
Grandmaman was dying. This would be her final Christmas among them, everybody knew. It was not the best time to bring a strange new man into the fold, but there was little choice. Miguel Angel was prepared to keep his head down, to stay well out of the way. But it was not to be.
The table was set with the best linen and china. The candles were lit, and the old lady seated at the head of the table. The family filed in to take their places. Grandmaman laid her hand on the chair to her right, and singled-out Miguel with a glance like a razor.
"This is the place for you," she told him. "Sit here with me. I want to know you," she said. "You pour."
He filled her wine glass. He sat.
"She touched my hands. She laughed. She made me welcome," Miguel Angel said. "She was beautiful. She made me feel so honored to sit there by her."
He´d left his own wineglass empty, but the old lady filled it with the same Côtes de Rhone everyone else was starting with. When Grandmaman lifted hers in a toast, Miguel Angel joined in. It was only a sip, only polite, he said.
"But that wine... It was amazing," he said. "The flavor rolled over my tongue, and filled my mouth, and the scent rose up into my nose from there, and... I had never tasted anything so amazing before! I had tasted wine before, and didn´t like it, really. But this was, well -- I realized this was what everyone was always on about, what wine was."
And with that he poured out another glass of Sancerre, from the carafe on the table between us. "This was a gift from Granmaman to me," he said. "She made me welcome. And wine, too, is a gift. I can share this beautiful taste now, when I am with my friends." We touched glasses, and toasted the generous old lady, now gone to the vineyards beyond. We filled our senses with the flavor and scent of kindness.
We walked down the hill, past his university, past the tourist throngs outside Notre Dame cathedral, to a place with exquisite oysters, fished that morning from the waters of Utah Beach in Normandy, presented with great drama on drifts of dry ice and seaweed. We each had two. Any more would have been too much.
When we said goodbye, Miguel Angel gave me a box with "1971" scribbled on it. There´s a bottle inside. It´s "Napoleon," he said. Cognac. From Nathalie´s family´s supply.
Gifts. Delicious, rare gifts.
Did I tell you Miguel Angel is an exceptional man?