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Knowledge, London cabbies and American sommeliers

[ by Charles Cameron — inheritor of yet another form of knowledge]
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  • NYT, The Knowledge, London’s Legendary Taxi-Driver Test, Puts Up a Fight in the Age of GPS
  • New Yorker, The Cheating Scandal That Has Shaken the World of Master Wine Sommeliers
  • **

    For Bates it came down to a lifetime of knowledge. “While many questions may seem simple taken on their own, it is really about the amount of information needed to correctly answer one question. For example, if a question was asked about the location of a village in Germany, knowing where that one village is located is a very small part of the preparation for that question. To be sure to get that one question correct, I had to learn every major wine producing village in Germany, broken down by region, in order from north to south and west to east, with 2 or 3 of the most important villages in each. In order to be able to recall that information on demand, I had to learn to draw a map from memory of every wine growing region in the country. All that for the sake of be able to answer one or two questions that, out of context, may not have been all that hard.

    McCabe turned east on Coldharbour Lane, wending through the neighborhoods of Peckham and Bermondsey before reaching the tunnel. He emerged on the far side of the Thames in Limehouse, and from there his three-mile-long trip followed a zigzagging path northeast. “I came out of the tunnel and went forward into Yorkshire Road,” he told me. “I went right into Salmon Lane. Left into Rhodeswell Road, right into Turners Road. I went right into St. Paul’s Way, left into Burdett Road, right into Mile End Road. Left Tredegar Square. I went right Morgan Street, left Coborn Road, right into Tredegar Road. That gave me a forward into Wick Lane, a right into Monier Road, right into Smeed Road — and we’re there. Left into Stour Road.”

    **

    In early September, fifty-six nervous sommeliers in pressed suits and shined shoes assembled at the Four Seasons Hotel in St. Louis, Missouri. They were there to attempt the most difficult and prestigious test in their industry: the Master Sommelier Exam, a three-part, application-only ordeal that just two hundred and forty-nine individuals worldwide have passed—fewer than have travelled to space.

    It’s not enough to know every wine region, village and district in the world, candidates also need to know which years were better than others for each region. The blind tasting of six wines requires not only identifying the grape varietal, but the region it came from and the year it was made. That’s merely scratching the testing surface though; during the service portion examinees have to recall facts about sake, spirits, distilling methods, apertifs and of course ideal food pairings.

    Knowledge of cigar production, with special reference to Havanas, will be required.

    **

    When trees leave, they find a spot where the sunlight can get through despite the existing leaves, and put out a leaf there.

    Suggestion: find, on the limb, branch, and in time, twig of the tree of knowledge you feel most passionate about, a space nobody else is occupying, and know it — in the kind of detail a knowledgeable cabbie knows London, or a master sommelier the aperitifs, wines, beers, ciders, liqueurs, brandies, whiskeys and cigars of the world.

    It’s worth a try.

    **

    esto nobis praegustatum
    in mortis examine.

    In the case of such Knowledge as most concerns us, the examen is still to come.

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