Going to a Wine Fight as an Alcoholic’s Daughter
Spain’s relaxed nature towards its lifestyle, including alcohol, is terrifying to the sober daughter of an alcoholic.
To have a childhood coloured by the not-so-parental parent my mother became when she drank has tainted my adult relationships with both alcohol itself and those who drink it.
At around eight, I taught myself to sneak wine casks out of the kitchen, empty them into the garden and return them to the fridge without my mother knowing. I needed her to think she had already drunk it all so she’d be forced to start sobering up earlier than she’d planned.
At 14, I learned to lie so that I never had to ask my mother to drive me and my friends around for fear of them seeing her blow into the interlock that claimed my mother’s car as its home.
At 18, I groomed myself to appear friendly to my peers who were experimenting with alcohol while I kept a mental tally of who I could and could not trust based on their alcohol intake.
At 24, I convinced myself to attend Haro’s Batalla de Vino in Spain despite the fear that froze my body at the mere thought of it.
Haro’s Wine Festival and the Batalla de Vino that goes with it, a regional wine fight, has a history both similar and alien to the history of my relationship with alcohol and alcohol drinkers.
“It’s from the land border battles,” one local explains as we wait in what feels like kilometres worth of line for the bus to take us to the fight.
“I will never drink because I don’t want to follow those particular footsteps of my mother,” I told the friends I made at uni once I discovered they weren’t alcohol-obsessed, as I not-so-fondly dubbed anyone I met at uni who mentioned liking drinking.
“The wine fight represents the bloodshed,” another local declares on the bus as we weave through gently sloping hills. The calm of the physical environment is completely at odds with the buzz of the human environment on the bus.
“I’ve never seen anything good come out of drinking,” I mused to the drunk boy I’d met who offered to share his beer with me, not knowing he’d become everything I’ve ever wanted in a partner.
“We just have so much wine we have enough spare to throw at each other,” chimes in a third local as we begin climbing up the concrete stairs carved into the side of the mountain that lead from the car park to the heart of the fight.
“I wish alcohol didn’t even exist,” I admitted to my mother as I moved out of home, taking with me all the survival skills she’d inadvertently provided me with.
Both histories lack consistency and clarity. Both are valid.
The concrete stairs end in a tiny uneven field with a spattering of trees providing shade. And there are so many people. People in white clothing, people already purpled by the wine. People carrying buckets sloshing with wine, people hoisting water pistols on their shoulders. Teenagers spray wine on the elderly, kids dump wine on their parents. Locals wrap their arms around tourists.
It’s like one big communal water fight.
But it would be less horrific if it was water. These poor kids—I wonder how many times they’ve been dragged here by their not-so-parental parents. And these poor elderly—I’d hate to watch my surroundings drown in alcohol.
“Blanca!” someone shouts as I step forward, my perfect white t-shirt and leggings acting as a target.
I take a deep breath, waiting for the first assault. Keep your mouth closed, I repeat to myself. Keep your centre of gravity as low as possible in case someone stumbles into you, I advise.
I unscrew the plastic cap off of my complementary juice-box-like container of wine—thank God I didn’t have to spend my hard-earned money on alcohol—and try to look tough. I straighten my shoulders and try to take up more space. I can’t look like I’m out of my element, I can’t let them see me as a weakling.
A splash of liquid hits my neck and trickles down my collarbone. I look down, watching a faint lilac smudge seep into the white of my t-shirt. I take another deep breath. Big mistake—the smell. I hold my breath, waiting for the flashback to consume me.
A spray grazes my shoulder, the wine dripping down my sleeve. I breathe shallowly, darting my eyes around, trying to locate the nearest threat.
I am surrounded by purple-wearing people armed with wine. The threat is everywhere. So I just follow the crowd.
We walk along a little trail through the field, between groups of purple people. Soon my t-shirt is sporting more purple and dirt than white. The dirt trail we’re on becomes mushy with mud and a growing river of wine. My shoes squelch with each step.
I’m still waiting for the flashbacks as I start to notice the people spraying me with wine. They squirt the people in front of me with a few bursts of wine and wait for me to come into their range. They assess how much shorter I am than the people I’m following and they lower their water guns. Their wine splashes my chest and my neck rather than my eyes.
The parents smile at me, eyes lacking the alcohol-glaze I expected. When they laugh and egg each other on, there’s no slur to their speech. The kids are gleefully splashing in the muddy river of wine. The elderly fondly stand within range of the tourists’ water pistols, delighting with the tourists who finally manage to hit a target.
I smile back.
And then I am part of it, in the moment. I’m squeezing my juice-box of wine, laughing when only the smallest splash actually catches a person, the rest just joining the rivulets of wine snaking their way through the grass and mud beneath us.
A small splash hits me in the mouth while I’m laughing, but I only take a moment to realise it doesn’t taste terrible. I stow this information in the back of my mind to deal with later. I know I’ll have to make sure this small taste that I didn’t despise doesn’t lead me down a destructive path, but I also know I don’t have to sort it out right now.
As stores of wine deplete and we begin to make our way back down the mountain, our clothes begin to dry. We begin to smell.
But there is still no threat, no trauma.
I walk, sweaty and sticky with wine, wondering if perhaps this was the best exposure therapy of all.