Friday, September 23, 2016

Tiny, real world update

I was talking to a youth who mentioned Hillary Clinton's health problems. How did you know about it? I was going to ask rather snarkily, since I gather Facebook and Twitter have prevented the topic from 'trending.' But I didn't get a chance to ask, because the nice youth launched into an obedient recital of her official history. "She had a concussion in 2012, and then pneumonia -- "

I made the 'pshaw' sound. "I don't believe a word anyone says about her. I mean, anyone from her camp." The youth giggled nervously. Then we talked about what might happen if, God forbid, she is ill enough to withdraw from the race or too ill to serve if elected. Not that I want her; I simply don't want the Democrat party troweling in Elizabeth Warren to replace her.

"In that case," the youth said, "Obama would probably just sign an E.O. postponing the election, and say, 'Hey, I'd like a few more years anyway.' "

"Ah, well, he can't do that," -- I did not snap, but only said -- I think. The youth's utter, easy seriousness and his tossing out of an abbreviation for "Executive Order" annoyed me and yes, shocked me. This is an American? And he wants to be a lawyer? I went on, "There are laws about that, at least for the moment. Of course you know about that," delivered not snarkily but pleasantly (I think) -- "you're going to law school." Then, musingly, "that's what it means to have a government of law, not men."

The youth giggled nervously. We carried on to neutral ground, talking about how there must be protocols -- laws? -- for situations where high elected officials or those running for election are sick or get sick. Remember the president who caught pneumonia and died three months after his inauguration? Yes, we both knew of that, the youth and I, but neither could remember his name. Garfield?

No, Harrison, William Henry (1773-1841), as it turned out. Last president to have been born a British subject, first to die in office; grandfather of another president, Benjamin Harrison. And he died only one month after his inauguration, not three. He lived an interesting and full life: soldier, farmer, representative in Congress, Senator, territorial governor, ambassador to "Gran Colombia" for eighteen months. What were the stages of travel from Washington D.C. to Bogota in 1828? The mind reels.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

It's not "powder of antimony"

Even after At First Glass' and Pluot's many incarnations and designs and re-boots, and subsequent plunge into comparative obscurity -- did I once get 12,000 hits one Thanksgiving week? -- I still from time to time am offered a sample bottle of wine by nice people at nice publicity firms. It's not Insignia or Troussard anymore, and of course this summer with the hullabaloo of my move to a new house I could not respond to a surprising glut of invitations. Besides, "Dear things!" I want to exclaim honestly. "You know I have no readership to speak of. But thank you!"

Now as the hullabaloo moving dust has somewhat settled, here comes a delightful bottle of something from Sicily. I found the time to say yes.

The maker is Lamuri, the grape Nero d'Avola, the wine a darkly succulent, whiff-of-cherry-and-mocha bargain that would pair well with what you might call strong, lantern-jawed Mediterranean foods. Remember when archetypical handsome heroes were called lantern-jawed? A recipe in the "Wines of Sicily D.O.C." booklet that came packed with the bottle seems perfect: the fine print says that Victor Rallo, host of Eat! Drink! Italy! devised a Grilled Lamb Chops Scottadita, lamb with spicy Sicilian almond red pepper sauce, to go with our robust red Sicilian sample.

Delicious, but I can't help raising a question. I just looked at the news this morning. Shouldn't Eat! Drink! Italy! read Eat! Drink! [Muslim] Italy!? "UN chief: 235,000 more migrants in Libya ready to embark for Italy," to add to the 300,000 already arrived (in Europe) this year.

I often want to broach this same question to the Old World vendors, or winemakers and distillers, who come to the store to show us their latest products. No one says a word because to do so would, I suppose, mark one as an embarrassing killjoy. A Chicken Little, the-sky-is-falling type. But I want to ask, of them, of Sicily, of Chef Rallo: you do realize these people, these newcomers in the hundreds of thousands forbid alcohol, yes? They remain for the moment a minority and yes, perhaps those who come are the type not to like their religion's strict rules and to be glad to reach the wine-lands. On the other hand, judging by the look of those young, strong men, they may be the type to like their religion very much and to be eager to impose it on the winelands. I am glad -- I want to go on saying, to the vendors, to Sicily -- glad all of you are making such strides in trellising and quality clone selection and things, but do you never wonder if you might be forced to sketch a Plan  B or even C for your life and for the land?

No one wants to be a questioning provincial killjoy. Google a bit and you'll find there are vineyards in majority Muslim Lebanon. There are some in Morocco and Tunisia. I don't think it takes too much breath, however, to acknowledge that these are outliers and that my question still stands. It stands because of more than immigration. We must expect not only that, but that the gates are opened by our own leadership, against our will, as an ideological act. That's a new thing in history, isn't it? It accompanies one of the most important marks of our age: we vote, but eighteenth-  or nineteenth-century election cycles move too slowly to keep up with progressive rule by fiat, or to accommodate any of our changes of civic mind. It all gives a pointed freshness to calm schoolbook-style descriptions of "cultural influence of successive waves of Phoenician, Greek, Roman, and Arab," etc., say in a place like Sicily. In a pamphlet about Sicily. And that was when kings did defend their own shorelines.

Hence the idea of winemakers being forced to sketch a plan C. I don't see why it's inconceivable that a vineyard or a region could be overrun, or be told to cease production, before the good people in it could vote for a leadership willing to close the gates, or otherwise leave them alone. Why not? The Muslim mayor of London -- itself a phrase once inconceivable in my lifetime, and I'm not old -- wants to banish any billboard and bus stop advertising showing pictures of scantily-clad women. That's a little wavelet of cultural influence, wouldn't you say? Why shouldn't I worry about the wine? Because that would never happen, because it can't happen here?   

All in all, it occurs to me that in this extraordinary era when, to pick another marker, the Pope in six months might variously condemn murder in God's name as "Satanic" having humbly washed the feet of the people who tend to do it, possibly the most useful thing the Westerner can do for his tattered civilization is to support the liquor industry. To work in it may be to really man the towers. By the by, I am always encouraged when I see a woman in a hijab buying a bottle. She buys it as a present for someone else I presume. If a Muslim man buys one you can't tell, but of course the women stand out. I have seen it happen twice in two years.

Here may be what it will come down to. Whether you care about voting or religion or music or art or those same women having their private parts cut up, or not, if it comes to it -- will you give up the booze? Or might "they" be satisfactorily seduced by it? So far, outliers aside, their rejection of it has been firm. Won't it be remarkable, if in time alcohol -- an Arabic word, originally meaning for them "powder of antimony [kohl]" and for us, alcohol -- is the last hill we turn and stand on.  

Sunday, September 11, 2016

" 'Judge ye' "

But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye; for we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard. Acts 4: 19-20.

Sometimes you do come across the most remarkable things on the interwebs. Last night PJMedia posted an article about the state of Massachusetts now forcing " 'LBGT accomodation' " on churches in that state, in other words, the churches like any other institutions with buildings and bathrooms must deny that men are men and women, women, and ensure that the bathrooms are open to all. More, congregants are not to be permitted to criticize the matter. Churches tolerating such "harassment" could be sued under anti-discrimination laws.

Down in the comments section, which yes are full of sad angry trolls, as on every site, bickering at each other, nevertheless I found an extraordinary bit of information. You do find those, too, written by your talented fellow citizens who probably should be in elected office or running newsrooms but who, for many reasons, are not. This one commenter said, regarding Massachusetts demanding obeisance about our apparatchik-run insanity du jour, that "the great Christian response is Acts 4:19."

I looked up the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 4, verse 19, and found the quote above. "Whether it is right in the sight of God to obey you more than God, you decide; but we can only say what we have seen and heard."

Peter and John were answering the authority figures of their day, who demanded they stop talking about Jesus even though an entire crowd in Jerusalem had just seen them heal a paralyzed man, in (the resurrected) Jesus' name, and walk with him into the Temple precincts. But even that background story is less striking, for our purposes for the moment I think, than the utter subtlety and truth of the Apostles' response to authority's eternal demand: which in the end always seems to be, Shut up and obey. Their answer, "whether we should listen to you more than God, you decide. But we must say what we have seen and heard;" is simply an announcement of reality; of truth, because God has not made an absurd world. To look about you and see and hear, and to testify, is to testify to truth, and therefore to God. It's also to testify to the ordinary person's ability to see truth. And therefore to have authority. G. K. Chesterton notices that this is one of the things Christianity's critics dislike about it. Orthodoxy tends to stick with you even if you didn't like his sing-song paradoxes as you drove to work listening to his book on tape a few months ago.

In these two sentences in Acts, the Apostles also put the onus on authority to declare whether or not it deserves Godlike hearkening. "Judge ye." Authority must either shamefacedly say, No we do not, which negates them; or, pompously, Yes we do, which is false. Peter and John thus give us a refreshing dismissal of the webs that authority so often catch us in -- especially our modern liberal world's teaching, nanny state authority, coolly eliding, um, "God" -- when it insists that we sit up before its demands and discuss and explain why we think we should remain in error as in the bad old days, when people had unjust thoughts. No, no discussion. "You," authority, "judge" your rank. Of course it does, shamefaced or not. Don't forget the apostles must have known the risk they were taking. Authority executed every one of them except John just for a start.

So the interesting problem of authority hating truth, and hating the ordinary man's testifying to it, seems to be very old. Our quandary seems to be, what risks we take in refusing debate, but throwing truth in their laps, to do as they like with. 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

I think I'll just have a Brunello in the garden

It takes years before you begin to understand, that is, unless (I suppose) you make a frantic study of it, in order to become a "somm." We have a new staff member in the department, promoted yesterday God bless him, and I can only imagine what the tossing sea of shelves crammed with bottles looks like to him.

To refresh our memories, re: -- oh, I don't know, pick one. Italy. The simplest thing is to imagine a map of that country, with two spots highlighted, Piedmont in the northwest and tourist Tuscany in the central west of the peninsula. In Piedmont, we have the wines Barolo and Barbaresco, grandest of the grand. Both are made from the nebbiolo grape.

In Tuscany, we have that slew of wines all made from sangiovese or its close relatives and clones. Chianti, Chianti Classico. Brunello di Montalcino. Rosso di Montalcino. Whenever a fine Italian wine has a sort of humbler little brother, it's called Rosso, "red." Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Rosso (ah!) di Montepulciano. Still Tuscany.

It takes years, sans frantic study, just to get that straight. Then comes the tasting. In sum, know that Barolos and Barbarescos (back to Piedmont, or da capo you might say) are magically silky, startlingly brownish, but are also so acidic and full of tannin that, after one swallow, they can seem empty and disappointing. The lady buying her birthday treat from our cellar last weekend described to me just such a Barolo. I knew, and could confirm for her, exactly what she meant. You must drink them with great food, or else wait until your bottle is twenty years old or you are on vacation in Milano before opening it, or all three. For a sure thing right now she chose Verite La Muse instead, all plush merlot velvet and Sonoma-cult price (circa $400 a pop).

Brunellos, now. Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany. They are different. At least they seem so to me, but you know my Barolo problems ....

Brunellos also are among the grandest of the grand. In starting to like them, in noticing "they are different," one's years of experience are, perhaps, beginning to tell. They are silky, again, but they suffer less tannin and acid, and give more agreeable depths of fruit flesh; in a Brunello the sangiovese grape that makes a Chianti of  black tart berries and dry sandpaper, and a bit of olive brine and horse stable thrown in, remember? -- in a Brunello this same grape and this same region (did you remember? Tuscany) make a lovely, light, complete and liquid thing inexpressible in mere and discrete greengrocer's metaphors. Similar to a Rioja -- that's in Spain -- it's just wine. And it's the kind of thing you look forward to coming home to and planning a meal around. Almost like a person, no? A guest.

2011 Sassetti Livio Pertimali Brunello. Retail, about $40.

Now moving on, to the garden. It's best not to have your Brunello there, really, since in this late summer we find ourselves again in the season of the yellow jacket or "meat bee," hungry for any and all food and drink. They will pester you and your picnic right indoors, although Wikipedia tells us that Vespula maculifrons is a valuable predator of other annoying insects.

One of the attractions of this particular condo building, otherwise no different from the several tucked along a quiet street here, and all backed by their parking lots, open land, and walking path beneath the huge high tension wires, is the garden. Somewhere in the details of the condo association's thirty-year-old bylaws I saw something about every owner having approximately an 8 percent stake in everything. I thought, "won't it be nice if that means we all get 8 percent of the garden, to do as we like with?"

One evening my gentleman friend and I approached. The sun was setting. Everywhere were red cannas, yellow Black-eyed Susans, and purple phlox; and huge lavish green prehistoric-looking leaf clumps that turned out to hide butternut squash, hanging in modest salmon-hued glory in the shade, and acorn squash too, sitting modestly green on the earth beneath more yellow blossoms of the same, shaped weirdly like elegant drooping half-clenched yellow hands. Gentleman friend is a grower of cannas and begonias and a tender of tomatoes, too. This gives him an almost professional interest in everything. (An ex-girlfriend taught him to garden. He still shakes his head. "I never thought I'd like it. If anyone ever told the guys...." ) "There's someone who can tell us," he now remarked. A middle-aged lady had straightened up from her work in the really huge plot.

 We asked questions. Who started this, who participates, etc.? "Oh, no, it's just me," Carla said. She told her story of dismay at seeing nothing but a stand of dead, collapsed poplars from her third floor balcony -- with its view of the high tension wires -- when she moved in twenty years ago. So she planted a little plot of zinnias. And then, over the years, her project expanded.

"Just me." I should have guessed. How many people like to garden? I can only measure it in human terms. How many people like to garden, such that a plot as big as this, about forty-five paces broad and ten or fifteen deep, might be maintained by the enthusiastic common effort of an at least occasionally-changing cadre of owners in this one building, across twenty years? Count twelve units, times twenty years, plus or minus, let us say, three owners leaving and three more arriving per, let us say, -- every five years? Already the arithmetic is too complex to think about. Far more likely that it's just one person, everlastingly, who likes to garden. Just Carla. That explains the variety too. A group effort would have installed flowers by committee consensus, and you would have nothing but petunias and vinca vine ground cover.

"Things come and go over the years," she went on. The wagon wheel was an anonymous gift. "The bench is made of deckwood," so it proved too heavy to steal. She spotted it one summer morning, halfway across the greensward under the high tension wires, on the way to the woods beyond and to some other home and garden. But the thieves had given up. The beautiful heavy glossy brown bench returned, thanks to the efforts of honest condominium owners, to its rightful place. Carla's father built it.

Sometime during our evening talk, when gentleman friend and Carla were quite hitting it off -- he was telling her all about the feral parrots of the inner city, and they do exist, I have seen them -- I said, dear me, I would like to play a part in this garden, but I wouldn't want to intrude.

"Oh, it wouldn't be an intrusion." So kind, but I couldn't help but wonder. Really? Human nature being what it is, and considering her twenty years of effort, and never knowing whether or when the condo association, or ComEd under their high tension wires, might say Stop That, we're going to get sued for something or other, I couldn't help but wonder. No intrusion? You mean I could help clean it up, and get rid of the Welcome mats and strips of carpet keeping down weeds at the back? How about less dead brown vegetable growth and more interesting things? The cottage garden look is all very well, but then where are the foxgloves, delphinium, and hollyhocks? No lavender, no potted orange or lemon trees? I see a few remnants of lilies, but otherwise no glorious peonies, no spring bulbs? No cinder paths where one  may really walk, almost no bushes or trees (except Rose of Sharon, which I am sorry I do not like), "the bones of the garden"? And why the huge central bed of raspberries? I am glad to feed the birds and voles, but it looks a bit exhausted.

Then I had a fresh thought, which may seem soapy but I hope is not. Anyway "she'd probably appreciate the help," my friend had said. And I thought: the garden is a metaphor for the world, isn't it. You find it lacking; yet here it was before you arrived. Step back and look, and you may find suddenly you see, you metaphorical insect, that it is a privilege to participate.

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...