Tuesday, June 23, 2015


I went to dinner with an old friend the other night. We agreed that at our age, it seems time to stop being a "news junkie," to stop following every political story, and reading every website we already like, and then scrolling as usual through the comments, let's say the first twenty or so, on all the events we (and the commenters, who are largely trolls) can do nothing about. Nothing except vote on that biennial, eighteenth-century schedule our forefathers found good, which seems an increasingly charade-like gesture in this era of fast-moving world government, open borders by the stroke of a pen, and the Holy Father suddenly discovering the exhausted creed of Gaia as if it were new. And he's getting ready to present it to the next session of world government. "I always think I'll just look at one item for a minute before I go to bed," my friend said, "All of a sudden a couple hours have gone by." 

"I know," I nodded while coping with my forkful of rigatoni in vodka sauce with sausage.

There are other things in life, she said. "There's botany ... and my dad loved birds ...."

"Exactly," I said. "I know absolutely nothing about the sciences. And part of what it means to live in a free society is to be free of politics, at least some of the time."

"True, I never thought of that," she said. Me neither. Somebody else thought of it for me. I think it was Jonah Goldberg. So, back to the websites. Are we all just trolls?

If so, this troll had a moment of disappointment a few days ago, when I discovered Matisse's gorgeous Goldfish on the art-reproduction website AllPosters.com, and excitedly placed my order only to learn We're Sorry this Item has Been Discontinued. Here's another category of life about which, I'll bet, most people can admit they know almost nothing: great art. I mean to truly try to know it: what are your favorites from Matisse, what was he like, how did he live? With what did he fill his hours, and with what do we? Were the political circumstances of his era just as objectionable to him, only he shrugged and painted? It looks like it.

Above, Le Difese, a super-Tuscan, which means a Tuscan-made blend of a non-traditional Italian grape, in this case cabernet sauvignon, with the traditional one, sangiovese. The producer is the famed estate Tenuta San Guido, the winemaker, Sebastiano Rosa -- thus Le Difese is a sort of younger brother to the estate's great ones, Sassicaia and Guidalberto. And it is just what our teacher for this lesson, the blog SuperTuscans, says it is: "warm, ripe, with seductively soft tannins and a burst of freshness." It's also affordable, as legendary super Tuscans go: retail, about $30, perhaps half that in a good sale. The name Le Difese, we're told, refers to the "defenses" the boar on the label has against the dogs pursuing him. Namely his tusks. What an interesting political metaphor that might be.


Monday, June 15, 2015

Look! the Bat Signal! And some wine

So far this spring and early summer has been lushly rainy. A few evenings ago we were treated to a display of mammatus clouds, the word, it seems, coming from the same Latin root that gives us "mammary." They do look breastlike. 

In snapping pictures, I was lucky enough to catch a seagull in mid flight. He poised himself perfectly so as to recreate the Bat Signal. 


All the rain has made it simple to collect runoff for the patio plants. You place your ceramic seashell just so beneath the eaves, and wait. 

And you drink some delightful wines, whites for summer. 2011 Reinhold Haart Piesporter riesling. The aroma is, mysteriously, of bread; and then of lemon, and there is a bit of syrupy mouthfeel; then all throughout, a steely core which bespeaks riesling's ability to be so much more than just "oh they're sweet aren't they." Retail, about $18. 

Below, 2013 Naia, from Spain's Rueda region. If you are accustomed to the scentlessness of pinot grigios and many chardonnays, Spain's floral, cool, and slightly weighty white wines will be a nice change. The grape is verdejo, the most important white grape of Rueda, and not to be confused with either Verdelho, the (Portuguese) grape predominant in Madeira, or with Viura, a white grape of the Rioja region also known as Macabeo.*  

One more. 2014 Muga rose, to add to the collection of lovely roses trying to compete with Fenn Valley's "Cabaret." Still delightful, of course. The blend in our Muga, below, is primarily garnacha, which helps give it a bit of flavor that Mourvedre-based roses -- and many seem to be Mourvedre -- don't always have.

*We consult, as so often, Ron and Sharon Tyler Herbst's New Wine Lover's Companion, 2003.

Monday, June 8, 2015

New views, new wines

First, an old view. It won't do to be very sentimental, but I finally had a lilac bush blooming in my long-time-rented backyard, the day I moved out. Very tiny, no  more than a foot high. Long may it prosper.

When the men sighed and gathered up their padded ropes and straps and were paid and left -- this will sound horrible until you read the innocent details --- then it was time to put dishes in cabinets and arrange furniture. I had no idea, when one moves, how much time one spends standing around thinking where this or that should go. You also spend a lot of time walking back and forth from room to room, because no place is familiar and every thing is out of place. And like Lucia moving into Mallards, you are quite sure which boxes contain books and which contain linens, except it turns out they don't, and they all have to be rummaged through again. When everyone decides it's time to stop and rest, we open a nice bottle of wine.

2012 Yalumba shiraz/viognier (red and white together!) blend, juicy and respectable for $9.99.

Time, then, to get accustomed to new views. Third floor. We are positively in the branches of a magnolia tree. Nicholas hasn't slimmed down yet.

The settling in, and deciding swiftly, thinking "I can always change it" but you likely won't, which cabinets are most convenient for plates and which for cups, makes me feel a bit as if I am on vacation -- with the result that I am not sure I want to go anywhere else this summer for a real vacation, and be required to settle in there too. Luckily I am still supplied with a bottle of Fenn Valley, Michigan's "Cabaret" rose for patio sipping. Hands down it is the best rose I have ever tasted. I say that even while forthrightly acknowledging my pro-Michigan bias, both for its little summertime lakes and its wines. You want aromas of strawberries and cherry blossom, you want refreshing dryness and a healthy puckery acidity to go with all the season's grilled meats and fruit salads? Here you are.

Retail, at the Fenn Valley tasting room, about $13.

Then we opened another bottle of wine, after we had moved some more things and felt it was time to rest again. A friend had given me a housewarming present for just this purpose. "When you're all settled in for the day and everyone wants to relax," he said. It's a 2011 Domaine Louis Michel & Fils, Chablis Premier Cru, Montmain. In other words, it is a French chardonnay, given little oak treatment or none, from the Chablis region -- of Burgundy, tres drole! -- and of the highest legal quality, Premier Cru ("first growth"). One can call it creamy or steely or try to think up new fruit metaphors, or one can say, as I do to customers about French wine in general, that it seems to have an interior core that you almost eat. Withal the prime image in my mind as I contemplate this wine is of a calm and regal Grace Kelly in a plain mint-green satin gown. I think she did a publicity photo like that once. Retail, about $40.

A few weeks after the move came that gorgeous early June full moon. My balcony faces east.

Half the reason for the move was that I wanted to be closer to work, a ten-minute commute being so much nicer than a forty-minute one. And here is some of what I have been learning at work lately.

2013 Muga Rioja blanco. If you should tire a bit of your summertime chardonnays, pinot grigios, and sauvignon blancs, venture forth please into the world of Spanish white wines. French, too, of course, or why not Italian, or those nice little Portuguese vinho verdes? but this one happens to be a white Rioja. The best of them tend to have a lovely floral aroma plus, often, some of a chardonnay's luxurious mouthfeel without necessarily its weight or its vanilla-like effects.

Meanwhile I continue to study the set of "Mary's apartment" from the Mary Tyler Moore show, to understand how I may make my completely pristine place, new carpet and fresh paint and all, resemble hers. It's not that I want the beige velour couches with the decorative flaps hanging off the bottom and brushing the brown shag carpet (remember those flaps? when you got new couches they stuck up for a few days until gravity pulled them correctly down), and certainly it's not that I want the brown shag carpet. What I want is the look of homeyness, the look of someone's personality absolutely impressed on her surroundings. Study the scenes of her apartment closely, and then perhaps those of Ted Baxter's and then Murray and Marie's, and you'll see there was genius going on, I'm convinced of it, among the set decorators of the show. For "Mary" they were thinking young, single, not much money, a lot of friends: therefore, a lot of hand-me-downs and flea market finds, no one table or curio-armoire to match any other, and there are too many of them -- she wants exactly what she wants, there -- but she seems to have easy seating for twenty and (probably) her grandmother's old bizarre little cabinet nailed to the wall, along with one hip '70s art print and her famous initial "M."

Images from Hooked on Houses blog

As for Ted, his place is exactly what it should be. Like him, it's sleek, silly, and grotesque. Combinations of big colored balls swirl descending from the ceiling on steel sticks, to masquerade as art; pictures of Ted's face, and a lot of matching chrome-edged surfaces, beam out from everywhere. If this reminds you of where you live, you have interior decor problems. And even Murray and Marie Slaughter's home is exactly right for them. One carefully chic oversized metal wall sculpture, and a lot of carefully crowded, soft brown sofas make a background of just some wealth, some warmth, and some slightly too careful, middle aged sophistication.

I have so far watched only five or six episodes, none earlier than the fifth season. YouTube must have already caught up with whoever pirate-uploaded any of the first four, and shut them down just as they did all the divine Joan Hickson Miss Marple programs. Anyway from what I can see, Mary Richards and her friends and co workers still, in the mid 1970s, don't drink much wine. Lou Grant keeps scotch in his desk drawer and Mary gets her boyfriend "a drink." At her parties -- and really, who everlastingly wants to socialize with her coworkers? -- she drinks a glass of orange juice which I am sure is meant to be a screwdriver. If I hear mention of a grape varietal or a region of Europe, I will let you know.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015


There are aquamarines.

And then there are aquamarines.

(Photo credit, the Tudors.wiki.)

I like hers better, but mine (in the singular) was a little milestone-birthday treat to myself, so it has sentimental value already.

And I can't tell you what a whirl it's been. Three weeks already, and counting. On the first day men hauled beds and cabinets out of one home and into another by the use of long padded ropes. They suspend heavy objects between them, just balanced on the rope, long lengths of which they twisted up their wrists and forearms. You would think the mattress at least would flop over dangerously, but it doesn't. Then they haul smaller pieces, strapped to their backs, up three flights of stairs, and when they are ready to let the partner take the "piece" they hold still, gripping the straps to their chests, and ask formally, "have you got the piece?" The other man answers "yes" and down comes the small armoire that your father built, or the even smaller nightstand or whatever. And the man who carried it stands up straight and sighs, and gathers up the loose straps to go back downstairs for more.

Not that I moved all that much. Maybe seven or eight things in all. One night in Week Two I sat down to watch television for the first time in ages, because my new tv is gorgeous and I want to see what it's like to have cable and I want to figure out how the remote control works. I ended up viewing, not anything new or trendy (because what they call basic cable is really basic) but an old episode of the Mary Tyler Moore show. Remember the set of her apartment? I tried to take note of what made it look so prettily homey. I think it was a combination of things. The step or two down into the living area, the abundance of farmhouse kitchen chairs, the plants, the pass-through or window from the "kitchen" to the dining area (I have one of those! Should I put a giant 'N' on my wall?). It all gives the illusion of room and of permanence. Of settling in. I also happen to have her exact living room lamps, those plain ivory-colored urns, real hand-me-downs from the era.

All this has nothing to do with aquamarines except that as Week Three elapses, we have also reached the anniversary of her present Majesty's coronation, sixty-two years ago yesterday. I learned about it listening to the radio. It seems nice to give a nod today to her and her jewels, while I go on finding wall studs to hang pictures on, and placing things just so.


Their faces move

It pleases me to imagine that, in a very small way, I understand the experience of St. Paul in the agora -- that is, in the public square, b...