NGW: Chateau Lalande Listrac-Medoc 2009   3 comments

Do you believe in the power of curses?

1.

The sun was hot and sweat was trickling down the small of his back.  Felix spotted the young woman, Marcela, in the puny town square one late summer afternoon.  His family, owned much of the farmland surrounding the village and as such he had rank and privilege.  She was brown-eyed and raven haired– but just a girl, really.  Born to a poor family, her eyes spied on him from behind the strands of dark hair that fell across her sun-stained face.  Though she was but 14 years of age, she looked spectacular to him.  And she was smitten, though he was in his mid-twenties.  

As the aristocrat son of the landowner, he did not need to ask permission to court the girl.  In time, she bore him two children, both girls, Merin and Evangelia.  Because of his status, Marcela’s parents Tomasa and Juan, did not interfere.  Girls were married off young then and if she was to be with Felix, at least her station in life would be elevated.  But there was to be no marriage.  And though he did not need her parents’ permission to bed the girl, his parents were not so pleased with the union.  Exercising the power of the purse, they prevailed on him to withdraw from the relationship and he soon went into hiding.  Had he refused, he likely would have become a Latino Ivanhoe: disinherited, poor, excommunicated from the family.

But a line had been crossed and Tomasa, driven by protectiveness of her daughter and perhaps by seeing that her daughter’s status and by extension her own standing in the community, were dissolving right before their eyes, became enraged.  But she could not strike out at the landowners– at least not physically.  They were too powerful.  Instead, she knelt under a large tree and in the presence of Felix’s mother prayed that his family would be denied the sight him just as Marcela had been so deprived.  What she meant by that, no one really knew.

Merin and Evangelia, grew to be pretty girls, much like their mother.  Felix’s family, while never disavowing the girls, did not interfere in their upbringing. 

2.

In time, Felix emerged from hiding and he and his Brother Pedro courted and then married two sisters, Guita and Belica, respectively.  Theirs was a tight-knit relationship and the brothers and their brides moved into two homes that lay next to each other.  Felix and Guita in one and Pedro and Belica in the other.  They were family; but more importantly, they were best friends.   

During the week, , Felix would rise in the morning and after washing with some rough handmade soap, he would shave with a straight-edged razor with a carved bone handle, its finely honed edge scraping off the previous day’s stubble.  He would enter the kitchen where Guita would have his morning cafe con leche, piping hot and sweetened, just the way he liked it, waiting for him.  He would nibble on a buttered soda cracker, gulp down the sweetened elixir and energized, go off to work.  Pedro would similarly do the same in the house next door.

In the evenings, the two households would gather for a meal and talk of the day’s events.  The food was typical– platanos maduros, arroz con habichuelas, carne de cerdo, asopao de pollo, mofongo, arroz con gandules, bacalaitos, ropa vieja.  This was not a light cuisine and despite their daily regimen of work, the brothers were beginning to put on weight.  The sisters, were happy to see it and be part of it.  All that was missing was children.

Guita, of course, knew about Felix’s two children with Marcela.  Didn’t everyone?  That notion that Felix had two children, albeit illegitimate children, in close proximity, weighed heavily on Guita.  Felix’s past life cast a shadow on the house.  Merin and Evangelia were also potential heirs. 

Moreover, in this community you were defined by the number of children you had.  This was also the only real form of social security at that time.  And she wanted desperately to have her own in order to secure her future well-being as she aged.

At nightfall, the two couples, bellies full, would retire to their respective homes, undress, make love and slip into marital slumber.  In the warm tropical air, the mosquitos would arrive to draw out their daily allotment before flying off to feed their own larvae in a dark pool of still water.

3.

Returning home early from work, one afternoon, Felix thought he would surprise Guita and spend a little quality time with her.  They did not have children, though they hoped to start a family soon.  As he approached the house, he thought that perhaps today would be a good day to make more progress on that domestic project.  Ever since he had broken off the relationship with Marcela, he did not really see that much of his two girls, Merin and Evangelia.  And he felt this void in his life.  It was a wound in his life that had not quite healed and now he was hoping that he would have a second chance to heal himself by having a child with Guita. 

As he entered the house, he heard Guita’s voice in the bedroom.  “So, she speaks to herself when I’m not home,” he thought.  Hers was a delicate voice, her laughter was lightly carried aloft as if on hummingbird wings.  He opened the door, and entering the sleeping chamber, he heard a familiar man’s voice.  A stunned silence fell on the room.  Two figures, entwined and frozen by the harsh light of discovery.  Their mouths went arid as the weight of the moment began to crush them.

Felix’s heart sank.  There, before him, Pedro and Guita lying in a nude embrace, their tanned bodies in bas-relief against the freshly laundered taut white sheets.  Of course, he had seen each of them nude before.  But not like this.  The unwanted smell of human perspiration was lingering in the tropical air.  To be a cuckold was shame enough for a man of Felix’s stature and nature.  To receive the horns at the hands of his own brother was impossible to accept.  It was a double betrayal by the two people he loved the most in the world.  He walked over to the tall dresser where his shaving mirror sat on its mahogany stand.  He gazed at his own face– angrily sanguine.  He reached down and picked up the bone handled straight razor.  It felt smooth in his hand.  He gripped it tightly and his knuckles turned white with waves of loathing and nausea.  Guita, looked at him and begged for mercy, but she was too frightened to get off the bed.  She had never seen this expression on his face.  Pedro, swallowed hard and offered a stuttered and hollow excuse as he started to rise from the bed. 

Felix stared them both down for what would perhaps be the last time.  Then overwhelmed, Felix fled the room, tears streaming down his face and a scream choked off in his throat.  He had to get out of that house.  He made his way down to the creek that Pedro and he used to play in when they were younger– images of water fights, skipping stones, fishing for minnows, talk of local girls ran through his head.  And of  Guita– what could she have been thinking to let this happen?  

Arriving at the water’s edge, his heart beating wildly and short of breath, he became aware once again of the shaving tool he held in his hand.  Unfurling the blade from its bony shell, the glinting edge caught the blinding sunlight as it reflected off the water in the creek.  He stared at the blade and a strange smile came over his face.  He pushed the blade into the flesh on his wrist, tearing at the tendons, slicing deeply, the skin opening up, exposing his veins, in a wide red smile.  Warm liquid poured out of him, but he felt nothing except an emptiness.  Sitting on the edge of the creek he watched as the crimson liquid spilled out of him, staining his slacks and streaking down the muddy brown bank, before trickling in and mixing with the current for its downstream journey.  Alone, he let out a small sorrowful cry.  It was the last sound he ever made.

4.

After they interred him, the family never saw Felix again.  They had probably forgotten Tomasa’s words, even if Tomasa and Marcela did not. 

However, now that Felix was beyond anyone’s grasp, the two families settled their old differences.  Marcela and Tomasa agreed that Merin, would be taken in by Felix’s family and raised as one of their own.  Marcela would continue to raise the other daughter, Evangelia, in relative poverty.  However, the girls would continue to see each other and there is no doubt that this benefitted Evangelia as well.  It was a way to acknowledge, Felix’s paternity, which pleased Marcela and Tomasa.  But it was also a way for the Felix’s  family to catch glimpses of Felix’s spirit in the children they should have acknowledged from the start. 

          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

There is not much off a segue between this story and today’s NGW, other than to say that it provided some inspiration as the words started to flow.

This one shows that there may still be good values out there in French wines even from the 2009 vintage.  This has a Cru Bourgeois designation which in a great vintage like 2009, may actually mean something.  Pay attention to your labels.

Chateau Lalande Listrac-Medoc 2009 ($14).  Lovely aromas of crushed berries.  Red and black fruits intermingle with an herbal quality.  Minerally and a little grippy with 60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot.  The finish tells us this can age for a few more years with no harm.  It over delivers at this price.  Rated ***

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Posted August 22, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

NGW: Petit Chapeau Bordeaux 2009   1 comment

In Morocco land of Sultans and Scimitars, I was with ID, my then girlfriend.  I was hoping the trip would be more Road to Morocco than Casablanca.  But in truth, I got a little bit of each and a smattering of The Sheltering Sky for good measure.

There is Morocco though a Hollywood filter:  The Road to Morocco, with Dorothy Lamour, Bing Crosby and the brilliant Bob Hope.  As a little Sybarite-Hipster-In-Training (yes, you know the acronym), with its Hollywood-movie lot scenery, I was taken with the place.   Later, I became enthralled by the place once again during a Casablanca phase.  Darker, yes, but it is not as existentially challenging as Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky– a marriage collapsing amid danger.

Early in the trip, we stopped at a roadside stand to purchase some large amethyst crystals.  Offered some lukewarm mint tea—a staple of Moroccan hospitality– I drank it without thinking about what might be lurking within the dulcet liquid that had not been killed by a good boil.  A day later when arriving at our next destination by rail, I felt a twinge of queasiness in my stomach, within minutes, I had broken into a cold sweat.  Trembling in the 85 degree heat, I grabbed a seat in the station.  Our driver arrived and crammed us and our luggage into a compact car.  Making our way to the Riad al Bartal (our hotel), I could feel the nausea building in unpleasant waves as he navigated the twists and turns of narrow medieval streets choked with pedestrians and motor scooters spewing blue burnt oil exhaust from their tailpipes.  We arrived at the Riad.  Decorated in traditional Moroccan zillij tile work, the place exceeded all of our expectations– but I did not notice that at first.

We were led to our room— and I was feeling some relief in that I was not going to redecorate the hotel lobby in a shades of vomit.  As our driver escorted us to our room, he lit an unfiltered Moroccan cigarette and the fingers of dense smoke reaching deep into my nostrils.  My body shook, as a wave of nausea came on me along with that salty taste that accompanies it.  I was green in the gills as they say.  As he unlatched the door to our room, I pushed past him into the W.C., and made an offering to the porcelain goddess.  “Welcome to Fes!” whispered the goddess. 

Thus, on this our first day in Fes, we decamped to the rooftop of the Riad where I rested under a tent overlooking spectacular views of the mountains surrounding the city underneath a blanket of pristine cerulean blue skies.  Views that were interrupted by intermittent bouts of sickness.  Nothing brings you to the brink of existential alienation like a good puke.  

 

The next morning I felt well enough to have a breakfast of strong coffee and sweet pastries. 

Morocco is like that—a blend of the sweet and bitter– and I wouldn’t want to remember it any other way.  I should have been paying closer attention to the Road to movie—because it also has that quality—with adventure and danger lurking around many corners balanced by the kindness of strangers and sweet kisses of Dorothy Lamour or was that an overly friendly camel?

Later that day, I felt well enough to explore the medina in Fes.  The medinas in these old Moroccan cities are special places, the centers of commerce and community, stretching back over a thousand years.  A place where you can buy everything you need to run a Moroccan household and get the news of the day.  Rugs, meat, nuts, perfume, dates, olives, pastries, mint tea, leather, knives, cooking pots, tagine crockery, cous cous, herbs, lanterns, woolen pillow cases, milk jugs and local gossip.

We had heard that the Moroccan King Mohammed V was in town entertaining a foreign leader.  This we learned in the first 10 minutes in the souk.

Mohammed’s father was Hassan II, who with his almost mythic ability to avoid assassination had captured the imagination and loyalty of his people.  He had eluded two assassination attempts including an attack on his palace and an attempt to shoot down his aircraft, giving him an air of invincibility.  During the attack on the palace, where nearly 100 guests were killed and more than 125 wounded, the King hid in a bathroom.  When the firing died down, he emerged to find himself face to face with one of the rebels.  Keeping eye contact, he recited the opening verse of the Koran.  The rebel knelt and kissed his hand.  Later when pilots of his own air force attacked his Boeing 727 jetliner, the King, himself a pilot, seized the radio and shouted, ”Stop firing! The tyrant is dead!” — fooling the rebels into breaking off their attack.  Though he probably would not have appreciated the comparison, he was clearly a resourceful guy who had more than a little bit of Bob Hope in him. 

That day in Fes, we found ourselves overlooking a square and were surprised that the dirt paths, and dusty squares of the Medina were being carpeted with a sea of red area rugs—the ultimate red carpet treatment. 

We were informed that Bashar el-Assad, leader of Syria, was also in town visiting the King.  Word was that the King and Assad were going to be touring the Medina together and in an age-old tradition, the merchants laid out one or two carpets in front of their establishments creating a carpeted path for the foreign leader. 

About 30 minutes before the walk through, two men came walking through the Medina with tanks strapped to their backs.  As they walked past, they released puffs of mist from the tanks.  How odd, we thought, what could that be– a disinfectant?  A rose-scented cloud descended on the Medina covering up the less desirable odors of Moroccan commerce– a mixture of tanning leather stench, donkey urine, smoke-charred meat, desert dust, trodden carpets and sweat.  There is nothing like it that I have ever encountered in my other travels.  Then the advance security team came though.  We were identified as tourists, but were cleared because we had fortuitously hired a local guide that day who vouched for us (the only time that we took a guide during the trip).

Shortly thereafter, Assad and his attractive new wife, Asma, came strolling through.  Mohammed V, called away on the business of the Kingdom, did not accompany them.  Given that we were obviously American, we stayed in the entry way to the shop and watched the procession of security personnel, Tyrant, Spouse. 

It’s easy to lead when you are not being challenged.  But strong men, like Bashar Assad are eventually destined to fall.  Recently with the turmoil in Syria, there are rumors that the comely Mrs. Assad has fled the country and for Russia.  And news that high-ranking public officials and Syrian army generals are also fleeing. 

Assad and I made eye contact—but that was it.  Asma made eye contact with ID.  We were just three steps from the two of them. 

Later I picked up a few souvenirs including a blue painted bowl that adorns my house today.  I now call this the Assad bowl because some of the glaze has chipped off.   These days, Assad’s image is bit more than chipped than my bowl and I wonder how much longer he will remain in power before he is ousted.

 

Travel sometimes takes its toll on us.  Of course, there are the stories of the Mysterious Amethyst Illness and Tyrants in Fes.  Toward the end of the trip, there was a fissure in the relationship with ID.  You go to bed, with errant words repeating themselves in your mind, not sure whether everything is fine and you wake up as the sun starts to peek between the cracks of the shuttered windows knowing that it is over.  That’s just the way it is.  But “we will always have Fes…” and a Sheltering Cerulean Sky.

Today’s NGW wine is a little French number with a gimmicky name.  But no less of a gimmick than a Morocco setting in Hollywood.  If I’m wearing a hat, keep your bowler and give me the Bob Hope Classic Black Cap (see below).

Petit Chapeau Bordeaux 2009 ($10).  This has a rustic quality that smooths out with food.  Green notes with a touch of bell pepper and tobacco notes.  This wine is a blend of 60% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 20 % Cabernet Sauvignon.  The grapes are sourced from the Entre-Deux-Mers region of Bordeaux – from a single estate which uses organic practices.  Rated **

The little guy in the photo to the left doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body.  Neither should you.  No-Guilt Wednesday (NGW) is not about compromising on quality.  It’s all about drinking good wine that does not break the bank ($15 or less), eating good food and of course, it’s about sharing with the ones you love.

Posted August 15, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

Pardon the Interruption: NGW: Reserve de la Saurine 2011   4 comments

NGW on a Saturday?  This past week was a rough one for our family.  Two surgeries on Tuesday for Ms. R and my Dad.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t be in two places at the same time.  Everyone is on the mend, but blogging and work did not seem so important.  Though I did carry my laptop with me and have been working on a few posts during time spent in hospital waiting rooms, they just seemed terribly unfinished to publish. 

So here we are on the side deck, an overcast Saturday morning, humidity rising, the cicadas of August scratching out their love songs and everyone is still asleep in the house, except for Jake the Wonder Dog and me.  He is all about the nonverbal communication.  He is unswervingly affectionate and he would love nothing more than to be a lap dog– all 30 pounds of him.  Though he wants to jump up on her, being a pretty smart boy, he has been especially gentle with Mr. R these past few days.  

About Jake.  Several years ago, Ms. R agreed to dog sit a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel for a weekend.  Our daughters loved that dog and had in fact had a short list of the kinds of dogs that they thought we should have.  The CKCS was at the top of the list even before the dog sitting weekend.  At some point we decided well maybe we are ready to have a dog for the girls’ sake.  Thus we found ourselves at the local animal shelter.  Being brought up in households where money was never plentiful, it cuts against our grain to spend thousands of dollars to purchase a pet.  At the shelter there were many wonderful dogs and we actually took a couple out for a walk, but they did not seem quite right for us.  We, therefore, decided to wait.  However, on our way out of the shelter, Ms. R decided to put her name on a waiting list– a handwritten waiting list of all things– for a CKCS.  Right.

Here is a critical difference between Ms. R and me.  She believes in Magic.  I am… how shall I say this… more skeptical.  I thought, “We will never hear from them.”  And that is the last I thought of that.

About six months later– I get a call from Ms. R at work.  The shelter called and they have a CKCS and a pure bred one at that, with documentation certifying his breed.  Would we like to take a look at him? 

Now I have owned several dogs in the past and I know that they require much attention and that they do limit your lifestyle– weekends away are harder to negotiate, etc.   And if they get sick, the costs can be significant.   So I was concerned with this development.  But a CKCS?  What is wrong with this animal that someone would drop him off at the dog pound?  My curiosity was piqued and I figured, why not take a look and we can get it out of our systems, like the last time and that would be that.  Truthfully, I did not want a dog as small as a 12 pound CKCS.

The animal shelter was just a few minutes drive from my office at the time.  We arrived and entered the low slung building next to the incineration plant in town.  It is not a handsome neighborhood, to be sure.    The dog’s name was Brownie, we were told.  He was about 10 months old and his previous owners claimed that their recently newborn baby was allergic to the dog.  Sounded like a strange story to me.  Sounded like they were overwhelmed with puppy and baby at the same time and couldn’t find a shelter to drop the baby off, so Brownie had to go.

The moment Brownie came out of the cages he bounded toward us, happy to see people he could play with.  This was not a small dog– he was about 3 time the size of the CKCS we had sat for.  It did not matter that he did not know who we were.  He literally flew into our arms.  As he did so, I found my self saying, “Hey Jake!  What a good boy! Come here, Jake!”  WTF just happened!?  Before I knew it we had signed adoption papers for an extra-large CKCS– nothing “Cavalier” about him– he’s just too large.  We read somewhere that Cavaliers are the small guys.  He’s just a KCS which suits us just fine.  Even better, the adoption fee was $50. 

I guess I now believe in magic too.  Jake has been a blessing on the house– really just another kid.  He spends his entire day thinking of ways to test us to see whet he can get away with.  Well, at least that is how is seems.  But he also knows to adapt himself to our moods.  And he has taught us his own language of barks and body langauge.  He’s quite amazing really.  

And as Ms. R continues her  recovery, he continues to provide support just by being there.  Just another member of the family.

A few nights ago, I opened this nice little rose.  I am playing nurse these days and after things had calmed down a bit, this really hit the spot.

Reserve de la Saurine du Gard Rose Vin de Pays d’Oc 2011 ($8). Scents of summer peaches and with satisfying acidity and a minerally quality on the finish of this Grenache rose.  A refreshing wine that is easy to come back to glass after glass.  Another terrific value from Languedoc-Roussillon.  Rated **1/2

The little guy in the photo at the top of this page doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body.  Neither should you.  No-Guilt Wednesday (NGW) is not about compromising on quality.  It’s all about drinking good wine that does not break the bank ($15 or less), eating good food and of course, it’s about sharing with the ones you love.

Posted August 11, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

NGW: Domaine Houchart Cotes de Provence Rosé 2011   6 comments

It’s August and the heat is on. 

I not gonna mess around this week with some crazy story from a past life.  It’s too darn hot.   And when the weather is sizzlin’ hot, as the song goes, Mr Adam for his Madam may be not, but with a few sips of today’s wine, you’ll be all about Snap Backs and Tattoos before you know it!

snapbacks and tatoosSo do as we do.  Get to your local wine merchant– check out their rosés and bring a few home.)  And if you see today’s NGW, get two of them.)  Ring up some friends.  Start up the grill.  Stay up late.  And if you all end up howling the words to Hotel California together at one in the morning (that never happened),  call in sick.   You’ve earned it (and the work will still be there on Monday morning)!

Domaine Houchart Cotes de Provence Rosé 2011 ($12).  A pale salmon pink that is scented with summer fruit orchard and roses with a bit of earth stirred in, this has what you want out of a rosé– strawberries with a touch of mid-summer watermelon.  Balancing acidity and a hint of minerality on the finish.  Built with Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Cabernet Sauvignon and Mouvedre; but made to quench your thirst with friends on hot August days.  Rated **1/2 

The little guy in the photo at the top of this page doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body.  Neither should you.  No-Guilt Wednesday (NGW) is not about compromising on quality.  It’s all about drinking good wine that does not break the bank ($15 or less), eating good food and of course, it’s about sharing with the ones you love.

Posted August 2, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

NGW: Altos de la Hoya Finca Hoya de Santa Ana Olivares Jumilla 2010   6 comments

Arriving in Morocco’s capital, Rabat, a city known more in its official capacity as the seat of government, than as a tourist stop, ID and I had a couple of days there in transit to what we thought would be more interesting parts of the country.  

In search of a restaurant that we had read about, she and I set out from our hotel into the early Moroccan evening.  The sun had not yet set and we found ourselves hopelessly lost as the evening prayers were sung out by the muezzins across the city.  An elderly man in his late sixties approached us.  Wearing westernized clothing– a dress shirt and grey slacks– our defenses were down, we chatted with him.  He claimed to be a now-retired Diplomat.  We were in Rabat, so that seemed plausible.

We looked lost, he remarked.  We were.

As though we could use some assistance.  We could.

He did not know where this particular restaurant was.  Of course not.

But his son surely would.  Naturally. 

Would we follow him back to his flat where his son would help us?  Hmmm. 

Moroccans are always looking for ways to help foreigners.  Whether is was extending dinner invitations that never materialized or guiding us to a brother-in-law who sold Berber carpets.  They give the impression that they are a helpful lot.  It is not from lack of sincerity– rather it is in their nature to provide assistance and guidance.

In the mood for a little adventure and willing to be guided by that adventuresome sense, if not common sense, we assented.  He led us back to his neighborhood.  As he took us further away from the more public avenues of the city, ID and I glanced at each other.  Not sure if we should continue, but not turning heel, she slipped her hand into mine, our fingers entwined, she gave my hand a slight squeeze.  “What do you think?”, she seemed to be asking.  Taking a deep breath, I exhaled and shrugged.  We went with our instincts and continued to follow.

Into a cul-de-sac of apartment buildings he led us.  But his son was nowhere to be found.  Perhaps the boy was up in the flat– he suggested.  Darkened windows all around, no local residents milling about, we still had a chance to turn tail.  Yet our feet pushed forward toward his residence. 

On the left side of the dead end stood the apartment building.  The sun was fading from the sky and an uneasy dusk was settling in around us.  We entered the narrow lobby and were immediately engulfed in total darkness.  A sense of heightened suspicion began to emerge.  In for a penny, in for a pound, we continued on. 

Why do we trust this man we had met a mere ten minutes before?  ID looked at me and I gave the old I’m-not-sure-what-is-going-to-happen- to-us-raised-eyebrow.  Should we be starting to panic?

Up the darkened stairwell we followed. Climbing the first flight and then onto the second flight we continued– each step more difficult than the one before.  Yet our bodies were now determined to see this to the end, come what may, even if our minds were not exactly on board.  Our little procession of three moving deeper into the blacked out void.

At the top of the second landing, a dark wooden door appeared in sculptural relief against the onyx-colored background.  He approached and knocked.  What happened next surprised us. 

If I had to do this all over again today, there is no way I would ever let myself get into this situation.  What the hell were we thinking– entrusting some guy we had just met in a foreign country that we were just visiting for a few days.  Following him away from the more populated pedestrian byways.  I stopped believing his story.  We are in trouble, I am thinking.  What could be lurking behind that door?  As my eyes strained to adjust to the darkness, I could see there was an amber glow coming from the gap between the bottom of the door and the floor.

Faint footsteps becoming louder approached from the other side of the entry.  I could see the shadowy silhouettes of two feet standing on the other side of the door.  Adrenaline pumping into my brain, my heart rate higher than I would like.  The unnerving mechanical clacking of locks, dead-bolts and security chains being undone there in the ebony air where we could barely discern each others’ features.  I am now thinking that we may have to fight our way out of this situation.  The door swung open and yellow rays of incandescent light flooded the landing where we stood. 

The diplomat’s wife stood in the entryway, angelic she was, with a welcoming smile and radiant beams of golden light exploding around the edges of her body.  At least that is the way I remember her. 

We exhaled.

Bidding us in, we were invited to make ourselves comfortable in their Moroccan living room with yellow silk cushions on the furnishings.  She laid out a spread of sweet mint tea steaming in traditional Moroccan green tea glasses.  And  then she brought out some incredible traditional Moroccan sweets– the kind we had seen in the fanciest bakeries throughout the country.  One senses this was not the first time the Mr. Diplomat had pulled this stunt dragging in stray westerners. 

I can’t recall the conversation we had that day, but it was a kind of exchange of resumes.  What he had done, where he had been.  Who we were, what we do and where we were going.  All of this whilst sitting in the Diplomats’ living room on a beautiful golden-yellow sectional sofa done in traditional Moroccan style nibbling on sweet pastry.

Leaving the apartment that night he escorted us out.  His son back from wherever, then took on the task of getting us to our destination.

We never did find that restaurant that night—it had been shuttered and no longer existed.  I think we found another local place to have our dinner, or perhaps we went without dinner, having been fortified by mint tea and Moroccan sweets. 

The history of Morocco is intertwined with those of France and Spain.  Tonight’s varietal is known as Mouvedre in France where in the Rhone it is often blended with Grenache (Garnacha) and Syrah– the GSM blend.  However its origins are Spanish where it is known as Monastrell or Mataro.  Getting onto Spain, here is a well-priced Monastrell from Jumilla in southeastern Spain.

Bodegas Olivares Altos de la Hoya 2010Altos de la Hoya Finca Hoya de Santa Ana Olivares Jumilla 2010 ($8).  Quite faint aromas and red raspberries in the mouth.  This Monastrell, is characteristic of others I have tasted from this region.  With an easygoing fruity acidity, you could do much worse.  It delivers good QPR at this price.  Rated **

The little guy in the photo at the top of this page doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body.  Neither should you.  No-Guilt Wednesday (NGW) is not about compromising on quality.  It’s all about drinking good wine that does not break the bank ($15 or less), eating good food and of course, it’s about sharing with the ones you love.

Posted July 26, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

Mano-a-Mano: Ribeira del Duero Face-off in the Park   10 comments

It does not matter if he’s gay or straight– every man wants to be Bond.  If he denies this fact, he is either lying or he is a complete idiot.  Putting aside the good looks, hi-tech toys, license-to-kill, babes, jujitsu, and uncanny runs of luck in the casino, the key to being Bond is that everything he does is effortless.    That effortlessness makes him easy to envy and emulate at the same time.  Also, having a great wardrobe, fast car, cash to burn and the right comeback for every situation does not hurt.   What guy wouldn’t want that?

But women are different from men, not that we’ve noticed.  And I’m pretty sure that while most women wouldn’t mind being with Bond for maybe a night or two, they wouldn’t want their men to behave like Bond.   Yep, I’m pretty sure that the endless parade of Bond Chicks won’t fly with the little lady waiting at home.    

But that’s what makes him Bond– there is no little lady keeping the home fires burning while he toils away at disrupting the evil plans of criminal masterminds.  As a result he gets a free pass from women when it comes to playing the field.    

Why is the ole noggin’ noodling on about Bond and gender dynamics?

Saturday night we gathered a bunch of friends for a picnic dinner at a park just around the corner from the house followed by an outdoor screening of the first Bond film, Dr. No.  Released in 1962, it was definitely a product of its time.   

While he avoids an office romance with Moneypenny (as usual), he manages to hook up with two other fairly gorgeous women before Honey Ryder shows up in the second half of the film.  Played by the curvaceous, Ursula Andress, he scores with Honey after the closing credits.  If only it were that easy…

Back at the picnic.  It being a Bond film, we needed some bubbly.  My local purveyor was fresh out of Dom Perignon ’55 ($1,200 per bottle), so we requisitioned 4 bottles of Riondo Prosecco ($10 per), instead.  Great on its own or as part of a refreshing Bellini.  (Yes, we packed a little peach puree in the picnic hampers.) 

Since it is a Bond film, you can always count on there being an abundance of scenes featuring cocktails and manner for serving them.      

One scene, in particular, highlighted Dr. No’s poor manners at the cocktail hour.   Offering Bond a Vodka Martini, he described in detail how it was made to Bond’s preferences– you know the drill: shaken not…, lemon peel, yada-yada.  The message clearly conveyed: the good doctor has done his homework in sizing up his opponent.  By contrast, Bond Girl du jour, Honey Ryder, is unceremoniously handed a nearly overflowing glass of red wine without any explanation as to what she was drinking.  While it does efficiently advance the storyline of the script, there are deficiencies in matters of etiquette that may be disturbing to some:

  1. Bond is served first.  In an age of sexual equality, this may not strike many as so bad.  But in 1962, it misses the mark.  But even today, it is always best to provide for the ladies first.
  2. The detailed introduction of Bond’s drink followed by the short shrift given to Honey’s drink rankled at least one of our female guests, who loudly proclaimed in most lady-like fashion: “Who gives a s**t what she’s drinking.”  It did seem like an odd oversight– what could be the harm in giving Honey a vodka martini as well? 
  3. Red wine as aperitif?  And it looked like a full-bodied red at that.  Bold move Herr Doctor, bold move.
  4. How can you drink a glass of wine filled to the brim?  Just try to swirl that sucker around to get a sniff and see what happens to that pretty dress you’re wearing.
  5. Where is Dr. No’s cocktail?  Never trust a man who serves you a drink without taking one himself.  At best you’re in for a dull time; at worst, you might get smacked around a bit at the end of the meal. 

At the end of the dinner, Dr. No serves a Dom Perignon ’55.  When Bond tries to escape, he grabs the bottle with intention of using it to club Dr. No’s guard.  “That’s a Dom Perignon ’55 – it would be a pity to break it,” says Dr. No quietly. “I prefer the ’53 myself,” replies Bond as he takes his seat.   (Note to self: armed guards looking over your shoulder as you are finishing dessert never bodes well.)

Now if I had given Honey a glass of red, she would have had something to remember.  With the grilled steak sandwiches we served, we poured two wines from the 2008 Ribeira del Duero vintage.  Although not an excellent vintage, it is nonetheless given a very good rating by Espavino.  These two comparably priced Spanish contestants come out of the gates with very different styles.  A little bit like 007 and Dr. No. 

Of course, there can only be one winner.  

Vinedos Alonso del Yerro Ribera del Duero 2008 ($19).   Tempranillo.  Check.  Earthy aromas leading to chocolate notes.  Check.  Dark yet understated fruit.  Check.  Finishing with firm tannins.  Check.  This has an emergent elegance that suggests it will get better with more time in the bottle.  Rated **1/2

Bodegas Emilio Moro Ribera del Duero 2008 ($18).  According to the website, this tempranillo is sourced from vineyards that are 15 to 25 years old and carrying the name of the winery, it represents the “heart of the winery”.  A bit more international in style, this guy was a bit more fruit forward.  But the pleasantness of the fruit was marred by an evident use of oak, most likely American oak (as I confirmed later).  And while I would drink this any day, that oakiness is a chink in the armor in a head to head tasting against the Alonso del Yerro.  And so it must take second place, even if I give it the same rating.  Rated **1/2

Back to Honey Ryder:  a girl who just happens to show up on a secluded, radioactive beach in a bikini, with a big knife and some fantastic looking seashells.  The men in our party were in agreement on the qualities that made her a sex symbol in 1962.  Those criteria still apply today.

On reconsideration, maybe Dr. No had it right– hand her a big ole goblet of red wine, coolly avert your eyes from her revealing swimwear, keep your mouth shut unless you have something truly clever to say and see what happens to you.  Just make sure you know where she has stowed the knife.

It’s effortless, you see?

Posted July 24, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in Mano-a-Mano, Wine Etiquette

NGW: Lar de Robla Vinos de Arganza Premium Castilla y Leon 2008   4 comments

Today’s wine has me thinking of the kind of baked cherry pie you can find in many diners and humble restaurants across the land.  The kind of place where lives, lust and philosophy intersect as people scratch out a living. 

Lar de Robla Vinos de Arganza Premium Castilla y Leon 2008 ($9). 100% Mencia and 100% delicious.  Opening with baked pie notes this medium bodied Spanish wine had satisfying tart cherry flavors.  Yet not so tart as to be unbalanced.  Finishing with soft acidity and tannins, this is to be savored now, but you might tuck away one or two for the future.  Rated **1/2

Continuing,  it reminded me of a place I spent a bit of time of in my late teens.  And as usual, things then took on a life of their own…
 
N was a human shark and he was always working some scam.  Whether the objective was to get a quick buck or a quick lay, he was always measuring the situation, figuring the angles.  With an avaricious heart and lascivious eyes he came into the family by marriage to my aunt.  In his youth, tall, handsome with a flat-top haircut, a winning smile, he stood out in the family photos.  His true character hidden under a polished veneer. 
 
By profession, he was a waiter in an upscale restaurant which he used to catapult him into a series of marital infidelities.  His wife was devoted and beautiful.  But he was compelled by an uncontrollable libido.
 
Naturally took a mistress– an Italian-American girl.  One of those Italian girls from the Borough of Queens in New York City. 
 
While entertaining out-of-town relations, N received a phone call from his teary-eyed mistress.  The blood drained from his face.  His hands turned cold and he broke into a cold sweat.  Seems the girl’s father, who was a local mobster, had supposedly dispatched an armed goon squad to N’s home to exact retribution for some disrespect shown to himself or his daughter.  Probably the fact that she was with a married man was sufficient to put Daddy in a sour mood.  But knowing N, as I do, there is much more to the story, which we will never know.  Turning to his visiting relatives, and explaining the situation with the least detail that he could, in a panic, he summoned them to quickly pack some bags for the hasty retreat out-of-town.  Piling into two cars, they headed down the NJ Turnpike to relative anonymity in the heart of southern New Jersey. 
 
How he explained this to his wife, I do not know.  Somehow, it never became an issue that destroyed their marriage.  But he is a slippery character. 

Women may forgive, but they do not forget.  Women of that generation surrendered themselves to their men, opened their legs, bore children and sealed their fates.  Surrender and capture at the same time.  But some men are not meant for the captivity of domesticity.  They are of two minds– they desire the normalcy, if you want to call it that of a home life– wife, kids, making donuts from 9-to-5, weekends in the park flying kites, dinner on the table, Johnny Carson fading to a silent deathly marital slumber.  But they have the craving for that life outside of home.  And in N’s case, with as many other women as would have him.  To him, each of these women were the same– surrendering themselves to him, opening their legs, and sealing their fates.  Is she playing him?  Or is he playing her?  It is a dangerous game.  And no one is in control though everyone thinks he or she is. 

Finding himself in one of the darker parts of the State of New Jersey, with his restaurant expertise, and because he was “family”, he convinced his brother-in-law to help him purchase a local eatery in a neighboring town.  It was a greasy spoon of an establishment in the heart of southern New Jersey.  For a short while, I worked there as a 16-year-old dishwasher.  

The town was at that time home to hillbillies, whores, racists and those who coveted thy neighbor’s wives.  (Of course, there were normal folks there as well, but they were pretty boring.)  He fell right in with the rhythm of the place.   However, being a Big City Boy of Puerto Rican descent, his perception was that he would not be considered desirable by the Welcoming Committee of the local branch of the Ku Klux Klan.  His concern may not have been so far-fetched: the town was lily-white at that time and it was rumored that the local KKK branch was led by a suspicious and crusty old coot who was a sometime customer of the restaurant.  N’s solution to the problem was to claim Greek heritage.  So he was a Big City Greek.  Somehow, he thought this was better.  Most of the locals had never met a Greek before and he could pass for a reasonable facsimile if one did not know better.  But most of them also knew the sound of spoken Spanish even if they had never heard Greek before.  Still the ploy must have worked because we never found any burning crosses in front of the restaurant.  Or perhaps this was just all a product of N’s paranoia.  (As Curt Cobain once wrote: “Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not after you.”)

He was in his element—with an urbane manner and the exoticism of being thought of as a son of the Peloponnesus, the horny middle-aged local gals beat a path to his door.  Not having learned his lesson from the Italian Job, he reeled them in and had his way with them in a myriad of places including the restaurant kitchen after closing time: flesh slapping panting grunting rendezvous amongst the detritus of restaurant life: piles of plates, cutlery, wet dish rags, saucers, fry pans, spatulas and strainers, tomato sauce cans, pepper, oregano, garlic, dried basil, paprika, pickles, salt and leftover spaghetti. 

Meanwhile, his wife waited for him in the apartment above the restaurant.

He always made a point of justifying his behavior to me by explaining that once a man aged to the point in life where an erection was physically impossible to obtain, all he had was his memories.  So his mission was to build a pornographic library of memories that he could run like a highlight reel toward the end of his life.  His wife was not permitted the same privileges.  I wonder if she ever took on a lover of her own?  If she did , then she did it in a way that he never found out.  Soft-spoken and shy because she was not confident in her ability to speak English, she was nonetheless striking.  Raven-haired, with piercing dark eyes, she was tall, slim, you would never hear her walk into a room, she just seemed to appear, as a ghost appears.  

During business hours, the restaurant was populated by an oddball collection of customers who were served by a tiny cadre of waitresses culled from the local workforce.  The front of the house had a total of 16 booths and a juke box by the window to the left of the entrance.  Though small, the place was never filled.  One waitress could handle it easily on most evenings. 

There were 2, maybe 3 waitresses employed at any one time.  These were women with stories to tell and secrets to hide.  All of them were just decent people just trying to make it, living paycheck to paycheck, carrying the burdens of working class poverty and dreams of a better tomorrow for themselves and their families.  Sometimes, they were trying just to earn enough to buy their next round of drinks at the local road house, a place where they could sit back, Venus fly traps with legs spread open waiting for their next meal ticket to alight on their fragrant petals.   The smells of the restaurant kitchen, a combination of sweat and cooking grease stuck to their clothes and their salty skin at the end of each day.  Some went home and burnished their skin, till it glowed as white as porcelain and carried the scent of Ivory Soap.  Some covered  their musky odor with strong perfume.  Either way, theirs was a smell redolent of struggle and survival. 

And since the pay was meager and the tips inadequate—the place was a revolving door for a stream of waitresses.    

Buck-toothed Carol for one—we did not really call her that, but her upper mandible stuck out so as to give her a rather horsey appearance—so it seems fitting today.  Due to this unique physical feature, some words, like “perspiration” were often too difficult for her to pronounce: “sperspiration, I mean sweat!” she would say.  After the dinner “rush”, she would feed the juke box.  Her favorite was the Eagles, Lyin’ Eyes with its western twang:  

So she tells him she must go out for the evening
To comfort an old friend who’s feelin’ down
But he knows where she’s goin’ as she’s leavin’
She is headed for the cheatin’ side of town

You can’t hide your lyin’ eyes
And your smile is a thin disguise
I thought by now you’d realize
There ain’t no way to hide your lyin eyes

On the other side of town a boy is waiting
with fiery eyes and dreams no one could steal
She drives on through the night anticipating
‘Cause he makes her feel the way she used to feel

She rushes to his arms,
They fall together
She whispers that it’s only for a while
She swears that soon she’ll be comin’ back forever
She pulls away and leaves him with a smile

You can’t hide your lyin’ eyes
And your smile is a thin disguise
I thought by now you’d realize
There ain’t no way to hide your lyin’ eyes

In her late thirties or perhaps early forties and married to a greasy-haired flaccid hillbilly of a husband with two equally greasy gelatinous children, she befriended Bearded Norman, a regular customer whose greatest attributes were a prodigiously full and dark Agamemnon-like beard and the fact that his chariot was an equally dark pickup truck that he would park in front of the restaurant where he would take many of his dinners on nights when Carol was working.  Combine these fine qualities with a middle-aged paunch, and you could see that Bearded Norman was quite the catch– if you were Buck-toothed Carol.  I realized that their relationship had progressed beyond professional when I spied them chatting intimately in the cab of the pickup as I was leaving work one evening.  After Buck-toothed Carol quit, I never saw Bearded Norman again.  I guess he wasn’t there for the fine cuisine.

There was Faye, a younger woman than Carol, then in her late twenties, perhaps, early thirties, curvaceous, pretty face, but most remarkable for the fact that at such a young age, she wore dentures after having lost all of her front teeth.  Whether this loss was caused by disease or fist, I do not know.  Leaving little to the imagination, she did let on as indiscreetly as possible that many of her paramours were entranced by this attribute.  Not being the shy type, she once popped out her dentures to show us her naked gums. 

These were people serving food, right?  So yummy.

After Carol and Faye, there were two other waitresses there that made an impression on me.  First there was a Nordic beauty, whose name is now lost to me.  She was married to fellow named Hans.  They lived in a mobile trailer home, but she was comfortable with what she had and I sensed that she had no shame about living in such impoverished circumstances.  She was one of the most centered people I have ever met.  In some respects, she was angelic.  But she had lived enough to see the other, darker side of human nature.

Then, there was my secret crush, Terry.  She was in her early 20’s, a trim brown-eyed mass of mischief, freckles and brown hair.  Her boyfriend, Bad-Boy-George, was what my father would disparagingly have referred to as a hippie: stringy long-haired, moustached, and drugged-up.  The kind of guy Dad wanted me to avoid.  She was too good for him, but she seemed happy.  Visiting the restaurant during one of my college breaks my Freshman year, I sat in a booth with the Scandinavian goddess, to catch up on the stuff going on in my new collegiate life.  Terry was finishing the afternoon shift, and plopped herself down in the booth directly across from me—just a big how-do-you-do smile beaming across her face.  We leaned across the table to give a friendly greeting kiss.  As we met, I was surprised by the warm and wet kiss that was waiting for me.  We lingered there for a moment.  Then we sat down– each of us a little embarrassed.  Not knowing whether she was serious or just playing around for fun, I did not say a word.  A quick query, “Did I just see some tongue there?”, asked Ms. Scandinavia.  I blushed.  Neither of us was going to answer that question.  It just sort of happened.  Apparently, my crush was not so secret.

Later that evening, accepting an invitation from Terry, I ended up at the house that she shared with George.  I knew that George and one of his buddies would also be also there, but I figured, why not go and check out the scene.  Also, I was secretly hoping that maybe he would not be there.  Naturally, he was right on time and waiting for her arrival. 

Despite the fact that he was a ne’er-do-well, he wasn’t such a bad guy, really.  But she was still too good for him. 

Taking leave that night, I got in my car, turned the engine over and pulled out the driveway, each stone in the gravel driveway heaving under the crush of the rubber tires.  It had started to rain and waving good-bye, her smile faded, through tear-like droplets of water, as I spied her through the rear view mirror.  She turned her back and walked back into her life.  Driving home that night, I thought I would see her on my return trips back home.  But I never made the time to do that.  That was 1978.  Some years later, I asked N about her.  Terry had succumbed to cancer before reaching the age of 40. 

I like to think that Terry thought of me over the years.  Maybe she did.  Maybe not.  I know she pops into my mind now and again.  When she does, I remember that last day we spent together and my lonesome drive home in a light rain that night.

The years pass us by in an instant.  N is a broken man now– on dialysis, diabetic, and hollowed out.  When it comes to me, he can’t hide behind the now cracked veneer– elderly and ailing.  The wood beneath that veneer was never of the highest quality.  I know him from the inside out.  I suspect that, as he predicted, he is replaying that highlight reel in his head even as his broken body is failing him.

Despite his lack of qualifications as a role model, N was right in one respect: as you take the last few laps of life, ONE of the things we are left with is memories.  The others, if you play your cards well, are love and respect.  I am not sure how much he has of these last two.  These are the good things in life that one should always linger over…

Those Things and Memories of Accidental kisses.

 
The little guy in the photo at the top of this page doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body.  Neither should you.  No-Guilt Wednesday (NGW) is not about compromising on quality.  It’s all about drinking good wine that does not break the bank ($15 or less), eating good food and of course, it’s about sharing with the ones you love.
 
 

Posted July 18, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday