Over the weekend I had one of those real-life/literature cross-over moments that had to do with wine and Ramuz. I was visiting my mother-in-law and on Saturday noon we went to some of her friends for an easy lunch. They served us a wine from the canton of Valais; the wine was an Amigne, which I haven’t had in ages, but it’s a lovely and quite sweet white. There are several grape varieties grown only in Switzerland and this is one of them. Another is Humagne. Both are quite nice.
I cannot drink either an Amigne or an Humagne without thinking of Ramuz. In his short story, “Phimonette,” which I translated for the American journal Metamorphoses this past spring, there is a mention of this wine, but it’s done in quite a funny way. I wrote about the story here, but I can say briefly that it is the story of an old woman who believes she’s young again. She’s gone to meet the youth of the Alpine village where they are dancing in an abandoned hayloft and she’s pretending to be waiting for her fiancé who has gone down into the valley to save money for their wedding. The young people tease her because the way she’s lost her grip on reality is somehow funny, but it’s also very sad and the story is, at heart, really heartbreaking.
In any case, there is a moment in the story when the young people are teasing her and it goes like this:
And everyone was beside her asking questions, and among them Justin said, “So you’ve had news then?”
“Oh yes,” she said. “Good news, not like the rest. He’s coming back. Just when, I’m not exactly sure. He told me, ‘Just a bit longer, you know, you’re a brave girl… when I’ll have the money, you know, a full handkerchief or two, for the bed, and a chest of drawers.’ He told me, ‘in eight days, eight and a half days.’”
But Justin had an idea. And as she was still talking, and the others were asking her, “What’s your fiancé’s name?” and she said, “His name is Joseph” and they asked her, “What’s his full name?” and then she hesitated a bit, so Justin suddenly said, “Joseph Amigne, by God! From Umagne.”
It’s such a great line, and although he is teasing Phimonette, it’s more to show off to the group of his peers than really be cruel. She agrees immediately, delighted to have a name for her fiancé and Justin even gives her “news” from Joseph, whom he pretends to have seen the week before. It’s a powerful scene, both lighthearted and deeply serious. I cannot see a bottle of Amigne or Humagne without hearing that last line in my head.
So I sat there with my company on Saturday, and when our host placed that lovely bottle of Amigne on the table, I thought of Ramuz and smiled and had to keep myself from whispering, “Joseph Amigne, by God! From Umagne.”