Discovery in a Deli
Four days after the end of hostilities, the corps of engineers cleared a minefield and opened a passage to East Jerusalem, the relatively modern part of the Jordanian side of the city, which faces the Damascus Gate to the north. I was still dressed in battle fatigues and hobbling on a cane, when I came across a deli in East Jerusalem.
I noticed a number of wines in the window display, and made my way into the store. The shopkeeper had a worried expression on his face. I asked him if he spoke English, and he said "a little." I said I wasn’t there to threaten him, but just to look around and maybe buy a few souvenirs. When I enquired about his selection of wines, he said he had purchased the deli from a Christian Arab a few months before the war. Being a Moslem, he didn’t drink alcohol—he was selling off his wines and liquor. He also told me he didn’t accept Israeli currency because he didn’t know its value yet, but asked if I had American dollars. I replied in the affirmative. He was eager to bargain.
As I looked around, my eye caught an interesting square bottle on which was inscribed: "Rocher/Eau de Vie de Danzig." This was the famous Danziger Goldwasser, a liqueur with tiny gold leaves floating in it. I noticed that the wax capsule was embossed with the words "3À me Republique." From school, I knew that the Third Republic fell in 1940, when France signed an armistice with Nazi Germany. I asked him how much he wanted for this bottle. "Five dollars," he replied. I told him that there was a lot of junk floating in it, and that it was all dusty and dirty and old—I would give him two dollars. We finally agreed on three.
Then I saw an interesting slender bottle of Gewürztraminer from Alsace, produced by Preiss-Henny. I also noticed bottles of Pommard and various other wines. This was all new to me, of course, because I had never tasted fine wines. But, over the years, my father had told me stories about his travels through the capitals of Europe between the two World Wars, when he lived for awhile in Bucharest, Prague, and Vienna, and visited Paris, Warsaw, and Budapest. He told me that he tasted various Cognacs and Champagnes—including his favourite, Veuve Clicquot—and also fine Burgundies, Alsatian wines, and red Bordeaux.
I selected five bottles in that little deli, plus the bottle of Danzig liqueur, and after haggling for about ten minutes, we agreed on US$30 for the lot. When I walked through the door of our flat, my father was stunned. "Where on Earth did you find these treasures?" I told him the story. Over the next few months, he and I enjoyed these fine bottles about which I knew so little and he so much. This was my introduction to the world of fine wines.