Monday, September 18, 2006

on becoming a better wino

It's 2:00 in the afternoon and about a dozen or so of us are gathered around the bar in the tasting room of the Beringer Estate in Napa Valley, holding our glasses by the stems like the sophisticated oenophiles we have become, and not the plonk-swilling cretins that we once were.

Swirling, sniffing and 'chewing' our wine in the proper fashion, we are learning to use descriptive phrases such as, " amusing little wine, with just a hint of tobacco and cork and a nice, strong finish," without smirking. Turk holds his glass aloft, squinting into it's ruby depths and murmurs, "It's a saucy little floozy, with just a whiff of cigarette butts, long nights and turpentine, and a strong, strange finish." Excellent. But I think he's talking about me.

He is bonding with Kevin, the barman who came in after the tour to help with the tasting. Kevin, a very funny guy who retired from a desk job a couple of years ago, allows as to how he has moved on to what is probably the best job in the world.

"I just have to remind myself," he said as he sipped an light-bodied chenin blanc with traces of melon and grapefruit and just a suggestion of lemongrass, "not to drink the whole glass. I have two more tastings this afternoon. I don't get to finish a glass until the last one. And then..." He winked.

Aaron, our tour guide, is explaining the importance of holding one's glass in the correct manner.

"In some of the local restaurants, grabbing the glass like this, " he says, grasping the goblet by the bowl, "will result in bells, sirens and whistles going off all around you." Kevin adds the sound effects.

"A spotlight will hit your table, the staff will come running, and you will be forever ostracized by the locals as a beer drinker from Chicago." Turk laughs out loud. He is not just a beer drinker from Chicago. He is their king. And he doesn't care who knows.

We had been in one such restaurant the previous night, and it was the only disappointing meal of the trip, all the more so because it was Julia's Kitchen at Copa, named for the late and much lamented Julia Child. The food was bland and the service stiff ~ Madame Julia would not have been pleased.

In fact, although we were lucky enough to indulge in some scrumptious repasts, the very best meal of our tour may have been the picnic we enjoyed on the peaceful grounds of the beautiful V. Sattui winery; a loaf of bread, a jug of wine, a book of poems and...well, no poetry exactly, but we did substitute a hunk of some exotic-sounding Spanish cheese and a nice salami. Which is almost the same thing, I'm sure. Cheers.

A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,

A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread—and Thou

Beside me singing in the Wilderness—

Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!

~~~Omar Khayyam

Sunday, September 10, 2006

the road to monterey

The last time we visited Monterey we breezed in without plans or reservations. Turk calls this 'flying by the seat of our pants', and it is by far his preferred style of travel. In this case spontaneity worked in our favor and we lucked into a luxurious room at the splendid Spindrift Inn. Our room had a cozy double bed covered by a plump duvet and soft, downy pillows, and boasted a wide balcony with wicker chairs overlooking the action down below on Cannery Row. It did not have a view of the ocean. What it did have was it's very own private sauna.
Now, I don't know if you've ever had a room with it's very own private sauna ~ we certainly hadn't ~ so just let me say this: if you have a choice between a room with an ocean view and a sauna, take the sauna. If you have a choice between a balcony and a sauna, take the sauna. If you have a choice between a TV, a mini bar, a phone, internet access or even a window, take the sauna. You will not be sorry. And you will thank me later.
Hoping to recreate what had been a perfect evening the first time, we hit town again gambling on the availability of our room. Needless to say, the hotel was booked solid for some business convention or another in what I can only imagine was a terrible waste of our room and our sauna. Forlorn, we moved on.
Just around the corner from Cannery Row is Pacific Grove, a truly beautiful community of stately Victorian homes and elegant beach cottages. Originally settled as a Methodist summer camp, Pacific Grove grew in population as word got out of the area's breathtaking scenery and unrivalled beauty. Today, many of the old mansions have been converted to popular Bed and Breakfast inns, and we found a room in one of these. The first thing you notice about this stretch of the coastline are the colors; each time we come this way my travel log reads the same ~ remember the colors! There are no blues or greens or grays here. Here there are only azures and turquoise, heathers and mauve. The sky is cobalt, the flowers fuscia. Wild mustard and orange cactus cover the slopes and hills. The sea is wild, the coast spectacular ~ the famously gorgeous 17 Mile Drive is here, winding along adjoining Pebble Beach. When I win the lottery, (which, let's face it, I'm due to do any day now) this is where you'll find me, enjoying the fruits of my non-existent labors.
We spent the day hiking the coast and had a delightful dinner at the same restaurant we'd enjoyed on our last visit. The genial young host at Abalonetti's on Fisherman's Wharf was adorable, and even saw to it that we got 'our' table in time to enjoy the sunset. We dined happily on artichoke hearts and sauteed eggplant, succulent mussels, fresh King Salmon, and a rich mushroom ravioli.Afterwards, we strolled back to the Martine Inn, where we took a bottle of wine and sat outside at a tiny stone table in the terrace garden, watching the waves crash along the shore and musing dreamily as one does, deep in merlot and the moonlight, about sailing and serenity, everything and nothing. And which house would be ours when our ship came in.The lovely Martine had everything we could have hoped for in a romantic inn: a warm and cozy room decorated with period antiques; wine and hors d'oeuvres in the library, an amiable staff and, of course, that spectacular view.

There was only one thing it didn't have. It didn't have it's own personal sauna. Sometimes, life can be so hard.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

moonstone beach

There are as many romantic places in this world as there are romantics to seek them, and I've been lucky enough to have spent sometime in several ~ Florence, Paris, Rome. The streets of Venice. The beaches of Maui. The backseat of a vintage '67 Mustang.

But none are more romantic than the fabulous Moonstone Beach, just off Pacific Coast Highway 1, and one of the most wildly beautiful bits of coastline I've ever seen.

I'm not sure what a moonstone is precisely, except that it's one of my birthstones and I'm sure I should have one. Probably several. But whatever a moonstone is, I know it must be enchanted, for I never fail to come to this beach of coarse dark sand and diamond-tossed, blue-green waters and find creatures of myth or whimsy. Sometimes it's just stars on the water. Or it could be that mysterious lean-to, intricately constructed of driftwood and tied with seaweed, looking for all the world like the skeleton of a prehistoric giant, gazing mournfully out to sea.

It might be a seawitch, undone by her own sorcery and trapped forever in spectral driftwood.

Or it could be a sleeping dragon, a shaman's stick left resting on his charmed neck.

On black rocks sleepy sirens wail and whisper siren calls.

The sea elephants of Moonstone Beach are a friendly lot and quite accustomed to respectful commune. I'm not sure how long I spent gazing soulfully into my merfriend's eyes, or watching her pals splash, dive and swim mischievously toward me. I'd steel myself, wary, and dare not move, meeting inquiring eyes with my own and wondering just how close we would dare each other to come. Each time they dove, they'd surface just a small bit closer, before laughing (I thought) and swimming gaily away.

Time and reality fall away in places such as this, leaving behind only essential truths, which are felt more than reasoned. I am no clear-eyed seeker; what little wisdom I possess has had to chase me down, knock me on the head and beat me sensible. And yet serenity finds me at this beach. Always.
We are all connected on this planet. In this universe. We need to take better care of each other. We need to take better care of every living thing on this earth; of this ocean. We need to take better care.

This is beauty. This is truth. And that is all I know, or need to know.*

* with many abject apologies to Keats