My friend Svetlana is a friendly sort, and, although there is plenty of good humor in her smile, she is not prone to outbursts of laughter. My guess is that she would be a good neighbor, mainly because she would leave you alone.
She operates with calm and without fuss. If she likes you, she wouldn’t need to buy billboard space to tell you. You would just know it. She is accommodatingly friendly, but I am not sure if she would embrace me for any reason—even on my birthday. So, you see, I really don’t know her. Nonetheless, I am intrigued by her measured and introspective style. A wry smile and an unemotional demeanor are part of her being — along with a resonating voice, which is deep, for a woman, adding to her charm. The morning after an evening of reverie, I suspect that voice is husky and commanding.
Although I don’t know her, I have concluded that if you earned her friendship, she would never deceive or betray you. She is a nice Russian girl with a common name. In her high school class in Rostov there were 20 girls and ten were named Svetlana.
Now hear this. She has a degree in nuclear physics and a masters in film and art from the California Institute of Art. She does not hold a formal degree, but she is an oenophile, a sommelier who knows her wine. Too many wine aficionados, including connoisseurs, are swayed by a label. She might introduce you to a better wine which would not be as expensive. She frequently touts Eastern European wines, not because of hereditary loyalty but because “there are some really good places where they are making good wines, and nobody knows about them.” Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the best Eastern European wines suffered because they had no marketing opportunity. Wine aficionados are taking note.
She knows those wines, just like she knows South African wines, Chilean wines, and a knothole winery in the Napa Valley, which has a nice vintage that you never heard of. Lately, she has discovered some very good Portuguese wines. She ordered a glass of Casa Garcia Vinho Verde at the Royal Pheasant in Five Points and savored its taste as she took a trip into her past.
Married to an American, she is divorced. She came to Athens to see a friend for a weekend visit. She couldn’t make herself leave. Now, she has no interest in changing addresses. “There is something different about a college town,” she says. “You are energized here, and you have so many cultural options. The atmosphere is very exciting. I felt comfortable here from the start.” She doesn’t like the cold weather, which is harsher here than what she knew growing up in Rostov, on the Black Sea. “Most Americans think that it is bitterly cold in Russia. It is in some places, but it is warmer where I lived than it is here. You saw people surfing on the Black Sea during the winter Olympics at Sochi.”
Svetlana is an artist. You can see her works in the Five Points Bottle Shop. She has made the unbecoming appearance of a façade, which has more advertisements than a NASCAR driver’s coveralls, more soothing to the eye. She has convinced management that the bottle shop should represent every area of France and Italy. She reads the New York Times and learns about new wines and where they are made. Customers know that more than likely she will lead them to a wine that they were introduced to in some foreign port on their latest trip. “It is nice to have a bottle or two of the favorite wines of your customers,” she says.
For months, I have been enjoying conversation with Svetlana whose father made wines in Soviet Georgia where he grew up and in Rostov where he settled. “People there don’t drink water,” she smiled. “Only wine.”
That led to a discussion about something she can do to help certain people. If you should ever become afflicted with cenosillicaphobia, something that is very common in Rostov, you should call Svetlana.
Cenosillicaphobia is the fear of an empty glass.
Loran Smith is co-host of “The Tailgate Show” and sideline announcer for Georgia football. He is also a freelance writer and columnist.