I'm sitting in a wine cellar some half dozen or so floors underground in a major Northeastern city. There are a couple of hundred wine bottles lining the walls. All the wine has been purchased at auction. To reach the wine cellar, we went into the sub-basement of a skyscraper and then took a discreet elevator down. Because we're so far underground, air has to be pumped in.
The family purchased the office tower above us about 30 years ago for a song. Less then a decade ago they found the rooms where we're now enjoying bottles of classic wine and choosing from a variety of exotic meats ranging from alligator and camel to kangaroo and stingray.
The building belongs to a corporation directly owned by a European family located at the higher end of the Forbes 400 list. My host is benefiting from the economic crisis by selectively buying distressed assets. When he suggested dinner in his wine cellar, I expected a meal and a couple of hours of conversation. We left the wine cellar about six hours after entering.
My host is a self-proclaimed Cathar. In the 12th and 13th centuries, more than 6,000 Cathars were murdered by the Christian church because of their Gnostic beliefs. Aside from two of his friends and myself, the other two guests are his employees who have been hired to find the legendary Four Hallows of the Holy Grail.
The first Grail Hallow is the platter used at the Last Supper. The second is the lance that killed Jesus on the cross. The third is the Holy Grail itself-the cup that caught Jesus' blood so none touched the ground. The fourth is the Sword of King David, which was used to decapitate St. John the Baptist. When properly combined, the four Grail Hallows are reputed to bring untold riches, astounding pleasures and amazing longevity.
The Knights Templar supposedly excavated these relics from below their quarters in Jerusalem. Their temple was on the site of King Solomon's temple. There are many legends surrounding the Grail Hallows. One has King Arthur taking holy communion where the Holy Grail was used and sending his knights to find the relic to restore Camelot to its former glory. Another legend has Hitler searching for them to use their powers to dominate the world.
The employees are archeologists with colorful histories and very large bank accounts. They have a penchant for uncovering hard-to-find artifacts and managing the appropriate logistical problems on behalf of their patrons. This is the first time they've been hired to acquire such specific and unique items. While they're intrigued by the assignment, the treasure hunters are motivated by the fees-guaranteed and success-based-they can earn.
Why pay tens of millions to obtain the Grail Hallows? Our host is motivated by religious reasons. However, over a couple of bottles of wine, we did spend hours discussing the spiritual and worldly benefits that would accrue to the person who can bring the Grail Hallows together and unleash their majesty.
A lottery ticket costs a dollar but a
winning lottery ticket can pay off in the hundreds of millions. The
odds are stacked miles high against the buyer of the ticket, but the
rewards are quite attractive. Funding an expedition for the Grail
Hallows has a cost, but that cost is equivalent to a multi-millionaire
investing a dollar in a lottery ticket for the super jackpot.