that time of year

When it's dusk at three and the 100-year-old windows weep. And there's snow, crisp and feathery and as fleeting as a native Berliner's smile. Which only comes out when there's snow.



Anyone remember this? Eminem's "Mosh," a video to get out the youth vote. Just four years ago, but seems a lifetime. I still think it's great.


gigondas journal

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.


vote early, vote often

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.


now what have we learned

From "The Great Crash 1929," by J.K. Galbraith. Good reading, these days.

"...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."


there's about 6,000 miles

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.)


sos georgia

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.


gone south

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.


obama and the masses


bunny hop

I leave Berlin for a couple of weeks and the neighborhood turns into a zoo. We're riding through Wedding last night, twilight. A toaster-sized fuzzy brown lump on a plattenbau lawn catches our eye -- a bunny, sniffing around, nibbling dry grass. We think, aww. Poor bunny's been turned out of some uncaring household for gnawing one too many sofa corners. Brief weakness for fuzzy animals kicks in but then is quelled (we do not need a rabbit in the house.) We ride on to the next lawn where not one, but two lumps are doing the same nibble prance, complete with a couple of brief panic-bursts of hopping to a more lush plot. We look around for other amazed passers-by, but it's only us, the TV-buzzing plattenbau, and our harem of hasen grabbing a bite to eat before the sun finally sets.

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.


on the road

I got a crash course in Sangiovese yesterday at 9 a.m. Not exactly cocktail hour, sure, but the only way to really get to know a flavor is to strip down and dive in, head first. Let's just say there were about 25 bottles per person. If I had receding gums before, they're certainly mostly skipped out in search of less abrasive pastures.

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.


tongue tied

I hate speaking a foreign language on the phone. In my considerably half-assed attempts at any sort of fluency in any language, let alone English, I've relied as much on the sounds I can make with my vocal cords as the wrinkles I can make with my nose and the question marks I can carve with my eyebrows (translated as, "I have no idea what I just said. Do you?"). Language is as much sound as it is gesture, anyway. Watch any Neapolitan man have a conversation and you'll hardly see his lips move, but his neighbor might get a black eye from his rapid-fire hands.

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.


hommage à david sedaris

At dinner: "You are a shit duck and your pants have the flame!"


seasonal disorder

So last night, over a dinner of Polish dumplings mixed with fried onions, and a couple of broccoli twigs that looked decidedly limp (but were added for color), the truth came out.

"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."


station identification

Egads. Living in a work bubble is not good for general communication. I always wondered, while in San Francisco, how scores of neighbors who seemed to have called the city home for generations could still bumble about with just a couple English words. This would now be me. Put on the spot last night by a gaggle of incredibly diligent, dashing Europeans who were speaking German together as a lark for the evening (a Dutchman, a Czech woman and I think? an American who regarded me quizzically as the sad, linguistically lame sort I am) I managed to eat my tongue (twice) while describing the weather and my sad occupation. Even the basics were sweat-inducing. I apparently have gone hermit and have forgotten that people outside (outside? where is that again?) speak German. The nerve!

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.




budweiser ad, then cue obama

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.


don't let the door hit ya

I didn't even know the Pet Goat delivered his last state of the union last night. Shows you what an ocean in between can do to tweak one's perspective, let alone lower one's blood pressure. Tagesspiegel had a nice duo of headlines, however, that let me know that I wasn't alone. "Bush talks, no one listens" was the lede, yet more importantly, the follow-up was an article on Americans playing a Bush drinking game as a way to pass the time while passively listening to such drivel. (Need a cheat sheet? Here's one.) Granted, drowning one's sorrows while contemplating the state of any nation been a "tradition" for decades. There's just not enough alcohol, people.


it's true

I saw them. Birds, that is, flying in V formation, north. (No camera, no proof.) But really. I saw them flying away from the general direction of lands where there is allegedly warmth, and sun, and people building sandcastles, toward our neighborhood, where it is wet and cold and generally rain-pissy. (And no sandcastles.)

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?


wine rack

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.


das original

Peoples, chill with the tossing of slimy fish from the north to the south. "Flocke" may be a cutie but, per Tagesspiegel, there's only one Knut.


only 300 days left

But you'd think the U.S. presidential election was tomorrow, given the coverage. It will certainly be a year of surprises. My usually conservative mother's traded her mani-pedi money over to Obama; Gloria's slapping the sisterhood around. I sent in my enormous ballot envelope (and paid 4 Euro for the privilege through Deutsche Post) yesterday and got a brief buzz off it. Brief, mind you. My first serious buzz was as a doe-eyed freshperson plastered with NARAL posters and buttons at a Clinton (no, the first one) rally in San Diego, surrounded by conservative nasties, thrilled at the prospect of electing My First President. My second was driving circles in the Nevada desert for three consecutive days, pre-election 2004 -- me and quetzl knocked on doors and chatted with registered Dems about their Superfund site-cum-backyard and the possibility of kicking Bush out of office. We hoped. We and the larger team of volunteers (most of whom were holed up in the Reno Motel 6 for the extended weekend, all refugees from Cali) got 99 percent of the registered Democrats in our adopted Nevada county to the polls. Listening to the returns at 2 a.m. we almost drove into the desert.

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.