You like potato and I like potahto

rosso del cavalier tranquilloNotice all the futile bickering lately? People can’t agree on climate change, expanding MaineCare, bear hunting or whether a vote for Cutler was personal integrity or pro-LePage folly. They argue tirelessly and fruitlessly about immigration and whether that Ebola nurse in Fort Kent was a saint or a loose cannon. And the Keystone XL pipeline.

What makes the din trying is that neither side ever concedes. Or listens. No persuasion takes place. No ground is gained, none taken. It’s back and forth for all eternity. Yakety yak.

What is needed is a return to dueling. With pistols. Sure, sometimes the more admirable of the two debaters will be killed. Alexander Hamilton was probably a finer man than Aaron Burr. But one thing is certain: Once the duel is over, at least one of the disputants goes silent — and remains that way.

Back in the day, dueling was all the rage in Europe. In 1526, when a treaty between France and Spain broke down, Frances I, who inspired Le Cordon Bleu, challenged Charles V to a duel. The two kings could never quite agree on a date and eventually called the whole thing off. Nevertheless, dueling caught on. Some 10,000 Frenchmen died during a 10-year period under Henry IV. Another 4,000 nobles lost their lives in duels during the reign of Louis XIV.

Dueling evolved from the ancient concept of “single combat.” Instead of whole armies chopping each other up, each faction would send forth its champion. Thus, in Homer, Hector and Ajax.

These days, we think of dueling as a barbaric practice. But what could be more barbaric than armies of young people killing one another while drones blast away at soldiers and civilians alike. Single combat sounds pretty darn civilized to us.

Dueling arrived in the New World right after the Pilgrims. The practice improved civility among gentlemen since the least little slight or insult could result in a challenge on the field of honor. When duel they must, polite gentlefolk wore their finest suits and top hats. They bowed, they saluted one another’s honor, they toasted.

Were we to suffer the misfortune of getting roped into a duel we would toast with a 2012 Rosso del Cavalier Tranquillo (John Edwards, $8.99). Crafted from the grapes of the venerable Losi family of Italy, it’s a fresh, fruity, medium-bodied red that seethes civility. The name translates something like “the quiet red cavalier” which is a comforting thought. Maybe after a few rounds everyone could get mellow and tranquillo and decide not to shoot each other.

Getting out of a duel without a shot being fired wasn’t easy, but it was doable. Just risky. According to legend, that almost duel between Frances I and Charles V was called off by Frances, who was a terrible shot. He lived to fight another day, though he avoided fights whenever possible. The only consequence for Frances was that many of his knights — though not within his hearing — thenceforward referred to him as “Chicken Cordon Bleu.”

Stephen Fay

Stephen Fay

Managing Editor at The Ellsworth American
Stephen Fay, managing editor of The Ellsworth American since 1996, is a third-generation Californian. Starting out as a news reporter in 1974, he has been an editor since 1976, working in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont before settling in Ellsworth with his wife and two daughters. [email protected]

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