• An "Innsider's" View of Napa Valley

The Art of the Kiss

Much like a smile, a kiss is one of the very special things a face offers us.

It is a welcome, an apology, a kindness, and an explosion of passion. Kissing, along with hand-holding and hugs, offers us a way to express ourselves without the need for words. In my opinion, it is the ultimate communication of the mouth.

I am not as much a fan of the formal buss: a dry lipped greeting that tries to straddle the line of casual and intimate. I can be warm, in-your-face-intimate, and I love a kiss in accompaniment of merry eyes, and approbation of personal space.

“I have a favorite kiss story. Two actually, but one adventure is about a man, the other about the experience. This story is about the experience.”

Kissing in Napa can be a bit wine soaked. Lips bearing a slight ring of burgundy color, teeth stained rosy, eyes bright, and breath a touch high in alcohol content. It happens in wine bars, on street corners, at happy hour, and during the height of winery tasting room hours. Decorum is usually maintained, but sometimes a look around the room is followed by an “oh hell, I will never see these people again” shrug and then background noise fades as you allow your tactile senses to connect the warmth of the wine glow with the love of companionship.

I have a favorite kiss story. Two actually, but one adventure is about a man, the other about the experience. This story is about the experience. One summer, when my children were small, I took sailing lessons on San Francisco Bay. The Bay is one of the best places in the world to learn to sail: heavy winds, strong tides, varying channel depths, and world-class commercial traffic. This is not floating on an inner tube down easy rapids with a beer in your hand. This is salt spray in your eyes, fingers frozen by the cold, and hypothermia that can set in two minutes or less.

I was on a boat for the weekend with three other students for some reefing and man-overboard drills in about a 25 knot wind. One of our fenders (white boat bumpers) fell into the white-capped rolling waters and the students were not able to retrieve it. Our instructor took the helm and requested that one student – a man who was taking lessons to help overcome his deep fear of water – stand, unprotected outside the stanchions on the stern, and grab the fender as the instructor sailed along side it.

This student was not hooked on to any lifeline. He had one hand on the railing and was leaning back in cold, slippery, wet flailing waves and winds and tried to catch the bobbing fender. Earlier that day, over a cold sandwich in the cockpit of the yacht, he had talked to me about his water phobia and struggles to over come it. Standing on the stern of that boat had to take every bit of emotional strength he could bring to bear.

I lay on the deck and reached through the stanchions and grabbed tightly to both sides of his pfd (personal floatation device). The salt water stung my eyes, my fingers cramped, and my heart beat in empathy of his fear. It took about 15 minutes to catch that piece of unintentional jetsam. It felt like years.

Once grasped it was cast into the cockpit, like a cold fish that smacked and flopped defiantly. The student looked into my face. He leaned through the stanchions, closed eyelashes crusted with salt, cold lips slightly parted; and gently, briefly, pressed them to my mouth. Never a word was spoken.

It was the most heart-felt acknowledgment of a small kindness that I have ever experienced. I remember not his name, or what he looks like. But the feeling of his lips on mine is a tangible recollection that will linger with me forever.

Melodie Hilton

View posts by Melodie Hilton
Director of Marketing and PR for the Napa River Inn, and long-time Napa resident. Hilton started her career as a journalist, working many years covering food, travel, and news.
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