This time last year I had my first dose of peasantry, doing some dirty work for a Hessian prince. This time around, I opted for more mountains, less royalty. This is the Dentelles de Montmirail, at the foothills of Mont Ventoux, in Provence-Cote d'Azur. Southern France, kids, is where the grapes are. (Too bad they're not terribly ripe quite yet. But that's another story, for later.) I'm staying here for two-ish weeks as a shadow cellar rat -- that's a person who cleans a lot of sticky equipment and maybe, if I'm good, get to climb in large vats of grapes and push them around a bit -- and general go-to girl for a very cool female winemaker in the Beaumes de Venise. But why is this place cool? Refer to mountains. If you've got to be a grape-picking peasant (or rat, as the case may be), this ain't a bad place to be.
Today I got tartaric acid in my eyes. Hurt. Tomorrow, cleaning vines of nasty grapes that either haven't ripened yet or have rotted beyond hope. I hope there's no spiders.
It's here. I can't decide whether to vote this afternoon and run down to the post office, or wait and prolong the agony, continuing to refresh dozens of newspaper sites and read bug-eyed and panicked. And then vote. As a salve. Of sorts. The further this goes on the more I fear Nov. 5 may not be a day of serious drunken celebration and instead one where we make a bee-line to the Auslanderbehorde and request a change in our visa status from journalists to political refugees. At this point, such a move is surely justified.
It's also great to know that S.F. is still keeping it real. Also on the local ballot (there are five! in this envelope. I have homework to do.) are amendments to effectively legalize prostitution and rename the City's waste treatment plant in honor of George W. Bush. On the flip-side, Californians get to sound off on a state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. I certainly hope this is soundly defeated, else I lose what vestige of respect I may have left for my home state.
And for any S.F. kids out there who remember the Gonzalez-Newsom mayoral battles, WTF is Matt Gonzalez doing on the ballot with Ralph Nader. News flash, peoples: You're not helping.
"...1929 was a year of many marvels. In particular, it was one of those years that marvelously illuminate human motives and the very wellsprings of human behavior. Historians and novelists always have known that tragedy wonderfully reveals the nature of man. But, while they have made rich use of war, revolution and poverty, they have been singularly neglectful of financial panics. And one can relish the varied idiocy of human action during a panic to the full, for, while it is a time of great tragedy, nothing is being lost but money."
between Minneapolis-St.Paul, Minn., and Baku, Azerbaijan. Think that's enough space between the RNC and Cheney? No time like the present to send the VP on his first tour to the region. (Special note, per CNN: Cheney meets with oil execs from BP and Chevron, and *then* will meet with the Azerbaijani president. Never fear: American priorities are in order.)
For the past year or so Georgia (the country) has been running advertisements in The Economist -- many of which have made me laugh, only because of the sheer bravado of the message. Usually in bold red, the words "France vs. Georgia" or "Florida vs. Georgia" or some such, would be emblazoned across the top of the page, while a short text would explain why Georgia was a better place to invest, etc., than the named opponent. The tagline was always, "And the winner is: Georgia."
Looks like the country's ad men have changed their tune, and for good reason. In the Aug. 30, 2009 issue of The Economist, the above ad appeared (interestingly, located in the "United States" section of the magazine). Check out more at sosgeorgia.org.
For the winter, because apparently I don't get enough of the cold stuff here in Berlin. The latest adventure in wine for the company I scribble for is in Chile -- and there's nothing like a shock to the system than a 13-hour flight from summer to winter (and then a horse-cum-donkey ride through the high desert). I survived, not without a healthy case of stomach flu followed by hangover (multiple), but despite the sicknesses found yet another amazing land that deserves a much longer look-over than just one stinkin' week.
This was my donkeyhorse. He didn't like me very much.
Who knew that rabbits ran wild in Wedding? Not me. But then again, the wild boar have staked quite a claim on most of the city's outskirts. I think it's probably a development the locals could actually approve. Out with the invading "yuppies," and in with the wild things.
I probably should call this the damage control tour -- we are (me, my employer, one other employed, and a third party who speaks Italian (and German and French and probably three other languages just for kicks) as our very generous guide) are traveling around Italy mending fences, torn down by a cyclone of a former importer who is saying Bad Things about those generally considered Nice People. (Not that I'm biased, but I'm barely an observer on the side of the good. But still.) Turns out that egos are easily bruised by phone calls returned seven minutes too late, by towns not visited, by appointments cut too short to accommodate a three-hour lunch. Really. It's always about the drama, our multilingual guide says, and it makes you laugh -- I haven't heard this much he-said, she-said since grade school. It's given me serious pause in thinking, yah -- I could get deeper into this vinous business, I could manage estates, but who really wants to be breaking up schoolyard fights? Please.
So the count in the last 48 hours goes as follows: A millionaire-winemaker turned biodynamic messiah (who also raises pigs and grows wheat and buys small villages) and who also sticks heart-monitor equipment on barrels to watch them "breathe"; a Milanese retired couple making passable Brunello because, hell, everyone from Milan in Tuscany thinks they can; a banker winemaker who sails every afternoon and somewhat embarrassingly got down on his knees to make sure I "wrote something good" about his wines; and a brother-sister team with Montepulciano to simply pass out and die for who think their wines are just "OK," which makes you gurgle briefly but then giggle as you realize the sister is a splitting image of Cher, circa 1969.
In sum: good times. My liver will thank me later.
I could pretend to be Italian, but really, I'm just lazy. I could study, bone up on vocabulary, actually listen to the words spoken on the radio instead of treat it as so much white noise, just like I do the mumblings of the checkout lady at Extra (Zammlnzeepunken?) and patient lectures of my tax advisor. I could pay attention to grammar and phrasing, but on good days, I just cross my fingers and dial, hoping I'll connect with some kind Frau who won't mind repeating the same question 20 times. I realize that my sponge method of language learning is a strategy of limited returns; I'm totally saturated, yet I've only soaked up a few sentences.
So I had to make a reservation for a car in Tours. I tried the person-free method over the Internet, but like any good French company in the business of customer service, they ignored my emails for a week. So I had to call. While I can ramble about the taste of Pinot Noir midway through malolactic fermentation in French (money = motivation), talking about the weather, let alone about the pros and cons of station wagons vs. SUVs en francais, is not something I'm suited to tackle. So the conversation went something like this:
Me: "I want car at train stop 21 May for five big Americans."
Operator: "Are you 25 years old?"
Me: "I am five people. We are on train at 9 in the mornings."
Operator: "What is your telephone number?"
Me: "I want the big car, not the small car, we are many baggages and large men."
And so on for another 20 minutes until the woman gave up (I couldn't spell my name, using German sounds for the alphabet, a sure way to piss off any French person) and said that her office would get back to me. Or ignore me completely. I may have missed a crucial verb, but who knows. One thing's for sure, I'll be walking to Tours.
"Don't get me wrong, I like Berlin a lot." Quetzl intoned, pushing around his pelmeni with a fork. "But I keep thinking, you know. Greece would be nice too."
But I have reason for the bunker mentality, no? (The bubble mentality. I have no grenades. I am not at war with my surroundings, unless they shoot first. Then again, I should really get on with those taxes...) Financial markets and Tibet on fire. It snowed yesterday. Did the day before, too. While the sky was blue. Which gave the whole scene a pallid, golden, nuclear-winter sort of feel. I've got two pairs of socks on, a scarf wrapped around my woolly-sweatered neck and a blanket draped sanatorium-style around my legs with the window open as by gods, I will get some Vitamin D even if I can't leave this damn laptop for the next three months. Or so.
And that was the local station identification. Stand by for a small, high pitched tweet to linger through the frozen Easter holiday.
It's for stuff like this that I'm glad I'm not watching the "super" bowl, or, television in general. (Super Tuesday, now, that's a different story.) Ads always taste and sound and look like cheese. I don't know if this will swing your average swinging voter, but perhaps it will get a couple of 20-somethings to pretend voting for Obama is kinda like screaming for Justin Timberlake. Whatever works.
Which means it's going to get warmer, right? And I don't have to stare at this basket of Spanish oranges much longer, in the vain assumption that they emit, like little nuclear fruits, previously absorbed Vitamin D?
Thirsty? (Or need a napkin?) Competition for wine sales in France has become so dire that the industry has had to bring out the boobs (and I'm not talking Liberty's racks, here) to get people to tip a glass or two. While at the same time (and this is where it gets really weird) the French courts are pursuing requirements for newspapers that feature articles about alcohol to carry health warnings, just like advertising. Someone pinch me. I'm guessing the next step would be to outlaw fois gras, while instituting a 20-hour work week? La belle France, I fear, is suffering from bit of schizophrenia. Which is why the "article" attached to the skin shot (and three others like it, in tasteful black and white, scattered throughout la RVF) amuses me so -- I'd say it was a razzberry at the puritan French police if the mag wasn't on good days such a vapid piece of marketing trash. The story? Wine and Love. Three thousand words on someone's afternoon of Googling "vin" and "amour." Now just try to add a warning label on that one.
I've spent a good amount of time kicking myself for my lack of "political participation" since then but short of kidnapping VP Vader and leaving him pants-less somewhere in Anbar Province, I haven't come up with any strategy that is very constructive. So, I voted, dammit. The clock's ticking.