The Mad Ones

“You must give up the life you planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you.” – Joseph Campbell

A sales agent at the wine fair was pitching her company’s wines to me and a friend this summer. My friend knew the winemaker and was curious to try his latest vintage. He examined its colour, swirled his glass around, took a whiff and then tasted. He smiled in delight, but with a slight look of surprise in his eyes. The agent then said to us as if telling us a secret, “winemakers are a little mad, you know? They are artists.” Her eyebrows went up as if to indicate that we, the non-artists, can’t relate to these mad ones who concoct these beautiful aromas, flavours and tastes in this fascinating beverage called wine. Well, I thought, I would like to be a winemaker.  In fact, I would like to be a little mad too. After all, if we remember the words of Jack Kerouac:

The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.

Why would we want to be anything else than mad?

But it got me thinking, aren’t we all artists? If we left creating art to just a few mad people then the rest of us would have to contend with ordinary living, ordinary experiences and with no ability to create a masterpiece of our lives. In fact, we would be left working in a cubicle in the suburbs of Toronto facing a computer screen for eight hours a day. We would be left commuting to work for over an hour every morning and evening experiencing life through the window of a car.  We would be fearful of trying new things, of exploring our interests, of giving into our passions in order to discover hidden talents. We would be afraid of following our dreams, of carving out our own path and living an extraordinary life.

Since moving to Porto life has unfolded in crazy beautiful ways. Somehow I found myself road tripping to the Douro (Superior) with three men a few weeks ago: a sommelier, Sergio Santos, a restaurateur, Helder Sousa, and a winemaker,Luis Seabra. While there were no sing-along songs about California, nor were there frequent stops to take pictures of sunrises or sunsets for that matter, there was good conversation: from embarrassingly terrible Canadian musicians, to killing chickens, pigs or cows without traumatizing them (Portuguese country-living 101) and, of course, wine wine wine. As the day progressed, and after sampling various wines at Muxagat and ViniLourenco wineries, I got to know these gentlemen’s stories, their journeys and their experiences of going it alone in their careers. What I discovered was that I was in the company of truly mad men. Men who left the stability and certainty of jobs they knew so well and set off to create their own projects and businesses because of a calling, a vision or perhaps just perfect timing.

There exists in all of us a burning desire to be artists and create masterpieces, to give something that is our own and to celebrate it with the world. It is our duty to live up to our potential. It is our responsibility to take a leap of faith into the unknown. It is our right to be truly mad and ‘burn, burn, burn’.

At the end of our long and extraordinary trip, I was left with a feeling of deep admiration for my companions. Many of us, myself included, are fearful of making changes, of starting our own projects, of respecting our talents by breaking free of any restrictions. We are fearful of failure and disappointment, of facing the ups-and-downs that come with trying something new and of knowing ourselves, the light and shadow self, in this tumultuous but exciting journey. Sergio, Helder and Luis proved to me there is beauty and joy in going it alone. Perhaps they may not see it as I do. Perhaps I am completely nuts. But ordinary people, the non-artists, live life from their computer screens, from their car windows. Ordinary people don’t make changes because they cannot see that beauty, they cannot feel that joy. As Sergio says, “Change is the only constant thing in life,” so we might as well embrace change if we truly desire to live, to give and to celebrate life like absolute lunatics.

the man ones
At O Antigo Carteiro with Helder Sousa, Luis Seabra, Vinka Danitza and Sergio Santos (from left to right)

In the following posts you can read about Sergio Santos, a sommelier-turned-entrepreneur, Hélder Sousa, a theatre producer-turned-restaurateur and Luis Seabra, a winemaker who is  still a winemaker only now producing his own wines under his name. Each one has a different story with a different perspective yet they all have one common denominator: carving out their own path.

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