The Real Deal

Saturday, I left my Sonoma routine, the rains, the predictable element of my daily existence to experience a foreign place wild and exotic, rich in history in southern Central America.  I went to Panama.  Few Americans speak or even know of her.  I was one of them. 

I knew of the Panama Canal which has been named one of the seven wonders of the modern world, heard of the underground drug trafficking of packaged cocaine and recall Noriega, the dictator, being overthrown during the U.S. invasion in 1989, but other than that, I knew very little of the real deal that makes up Panama.

We left Panama City with its touristy vibe this morning, and drove along miles and miles of lush jungle and shanty shacks that make up most of Panama.  Or so I thought.

Within four hours of bumpy road trip driving, we came to the breathtaking, blue Azuero Peninsula that constitutes the other Panama, or perhaps the real Panama.  Pedasi.  This area of Panama was one of the first to be colonized by Spain.  The colonial churches and historic town offer perfect backdrops for its frequent folk festivals and yearly carnival.  The town is small and sleepy, yet alive with ease. 

We came to Pedasi, a quiet beach and ranching community with plentiful gardens, and adobe homes to get away from it all.  The crystal blue Pacific ocean is home to us alone.  There is no one to ride the waves, pick up sea shells, or make castles in the sand, but my boys. 

This part of Panama is paradise.

Good Lovin’ in a Bottle of Parmelee-Hill

Last Sunday, for my 49th birthday, Dan (my husband) gifted me with an exclusive bottle of Parmelee-Hill, Estate Grown 2007 Syrah.  As I held this fine bottle of Sryah in my hand, I decided to learn more about its unique qualities, aroma, flavor, and finish before I partake in the nectar of the Gods.  

I went to Parmelee-Hill’s website, a Sonoma winery, and read about the wine’s aroma of jammy fruit, mixed berry cobbler, plum and hibiscus, the flavor of juicy fruit (and I don’t mean the gum), red plum, cherry, and raspberry, and the finish of lots of fruit, good structure, smooth with good length.  After having a glass of the Syrah, I smiled with satisfaction, having to agree from an amateur’s experience with what was written by the wine experts. 

With all this wine tasting, I couldn’t help but think about the 2004 comedy-drama called Sideways, a film about two guys, Miles Raymond (Paul Giamatti) and Jack Shephard (Thomas Hayden Church), who venture up the California coastline from Los Angeles to the Santa Barbara County wine country for a week-long road trip.  Along the way, they stop at a winery for some wine tasting, Miles a true connoisseur of wine tries to educate his ignorant friend Jack on the special qualities of wine. 

Miles holds up a glass of wine and says to Jack, “Let me show you how this is done.  First thing, hold the glass up and examine the wine against the light.  You’re looking for color and clarity.  Just, get a sense of it.  OK?  Uhh, thick?  Thin?  Watery?  Syrupy?  OK? Alright.  Now, tip it.  What you’re doing here is checking for color density as it thins out towards the rim.  Uhh, that’s gonna tell you how old it is, among other things.  It’s usually more important with reds. OK? Now, stick your nose in it.  Don’t be shy, really get your nose in there.  Mmm… a little citrus… maybe some strawberry… (smacks lips)…passion fruit…(puts hand up to ear) and, oh, there’s just like the faintest soupçon of like asparagus and just a flutter of a, like a, nutty Edam cheese…”  Jack (Thomas Hayden Church) looks at Miles, sips the wine and says, “Wow.  Strawberries, yeah! Strawberries.  Not the cheese…”

When I asked my husband what he thought of the 2007 Syrah and its qualities, he admitted, “I don’t know if its oakey, smokey, cherry, or berry, juicy fruity or jammy, but what I do know is that it tastes good.  Amen!  In the end, isn’t that what matters? 

As for what to eat with the 2007 Syrah, Dan and my two boys served me a thick cut, medium rare rib eye steak, with side orders of lightly sprinkled parmesan asparagus, and holy cow twice baked potato.  To finish the night’s affair, I was served key lime pie with whipped cream. 

The next time I open a bottle of Parmelee-Hill 2007 Syrah, I will remember the good stuff: that one of a kind good lovin’, the jammy wine, the Henry the 8th sized grub and gluttony that you can only get from your family. 

And to think, Parmelee-Hill Winery is just one mile from my home.  Life is good.

Whitman on my Mind

As I write by the fire in my living room, candles burning, the day cold and dreary, Walt Whitman pays me a visit.  I was thinking about the simple life and what that meant for most Americans today, when the voice of America himself, shows up as my well suited muse.  
I was looking for inspiration on simple living, so who am I to say no?  He inspires like no other.  He’s been gone some 100 years and yet, lives forever on the book shelves of homes, classrooms and libraries around the world.   
Whitman first came to me last night in a dream.  He was roaming around his birthplace in Long Island, a small farmhouse in rural West Hills, Long Island which I visited years ago.  I don’t know why I dreamt about him and his life, but I did.  I woke with Whitman on the brain.  He answered my subconscious call to be with me today. 
Much has been written about the simple life.  When I think of the advocates of plain living and high thinking, I think of the Amish people, or iconic individuals such as Thoreau, Emerson, Jefferson, Truman, to name a handful, but I think first of the national poet, Whitman.  (He’s smiling at me as I write this.)
In 1871, he said, “Singleness and normal simplicity and separation, amid this more and more complex, more and more artificialized state of society–how pensively we yearn for them!  how we would welcome their return!  Modern civilization, with all its improvements, is in vain, and we are on the road to a destiny, a status, equivalent, in its real world, to that of the fabled damned.”  If he wrote this 130 years ago, what would he think of our artificial state of society, our civilization today?  (Whitman shakes his head in disgust.)  I sigh.
It has taken me years to fall in natural step with the simple life in the wine country.  Thirteen years to be exact.   I have to consciously choose this way of life each and every day, whether it be the daily walking with my dog through the neighboring wineries, the making of a home cooked meal to be shared at the table with my family, or the harvesting of grapes in my small parcelled vineyard.  I take steps each day to introduce the fresh flowers from my garden into each living room, or read “Song of Myself” for my preferred form of entertainment, instead of t.v..  (Walt Whitman is smiling with approval).     
I don’t think you have to be in your golden years to live the simple life, or a stay at home mom while the husband works  (please, raising children simple?), or live the artist’s life, or be a monk in a monastery.  I see this single-minded way of being as a moment by moment choice, whittling away what does work and looking hard at what matters to you in this one precious life. 
Whitman is growing impatient.  I am the only one doing the writing here.  He looks at me in his black solid suit, long gray beard and piercing eyes and asks, “Do you want to know what I think you should do when it comes to plain living?
I immediately think of his poetic words, O Captain! my captain!  Rise up and hear the bells!  I nod with certainty.  “This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”           
Nobody says it better than Whitman.  I subscribe to what my bearded muse has recited and with that affirmation, I am left alone by the fire, satisfied with the answers to my simple question on how to live the simple life.

Taking It All In

I am taking a writing class, called Just a Moment.  The name called my attention, as this is what I am doing now, blogging about moments and musings in the wine country. 

I signed up for the class, knowing I would come across as a middle-aged beginner at a night school.  I can’t tell you how humbling it feels, looking like a has-been, a ‘writer wanna be’ rather than someone who has fulfilled one and two careers, thus far, who chooses to continue to learn the fundamentals of writing and get the moments down right. 

I wondered if it was too late for me.  The teacher exclaimed, “It’s never too late to write!  Write!”  Then I remember…”The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.”—Mary Heaton Vorse

When I signed up for the class, being the mother of two busy boys, who spends most of her time running around, I was called to its description: Slow down your mind, speed up your pen, take it ALL in.  Whether in the past or in the present, you can use ink, your own to fully inhabit any moment, snare the senses, capture the truth by the tale.  Writing, it is the window through which you can see the world tall or tiny, macro or mini, obscure or obvious. 

I love ‘taking it all in,’ and getting it onto the page, but I had this nagging concern.  How do I write about life in the wine country, moment by moment without boring the reader to tears?  I like the movement in a moment best, so how do I include the stages of story, (1. exposition, 2. rising action, 3. climax, 4. falling action, and 5. resolution.) into a compelling blog, into Just a Moment in time?

I was going to bring this specific question to the first night of class, but when I walked into the room, there was a quote on the board that answered my question.  “Like Chehov, (novelist and short story writer) Andre’ Dubus’s stories contain the arc of a whole life in a specific moment.”  

I went to my garden searching for story.  I picked up the red Dahlia bulbs that were lying in plastic bags for a number of days, pleading to be planted.  I held the neglected bulbs in my hands and thought I would never do to this to my good friend who gave these bulbs to me on Valentine’s day, leaving her to shrivel up and die, unattended.  

“Procrastination is the thief of time.” I thought of this quote by Edward Young.  And I’m the thief! 

As I dug holes 6 inches deep to plant the Dahlia bulbs, I remembered the first day I met my 69 year old friend, sitting on the wooden benches of the town square amphitheatre, the years lining her warm smiling face.  I recalled our walks together and the serious tumble I took when my German Shepherd lunged toward a dog the likes of Cujo, sending me flying into the air, falling hard to the ground.  There she was to get me home.  I remember our exchange of favorite books, for no other reason, than because.  We gave each other the greatest gifts one can give another, time and attention. 

I covered the bulbs with a nurturing top soil made of rain water, fertilizer and sun.  Soon, the red Dahlias will grow four to five feet tall, and when they do, they won’t just be red flowers in the garden, but a colorful show of friendship that will last a life time in my heart, yet taking hold for mere moments in my garden this spring.  

After I wrote this experience down, I understood intrinsically what Dubus meant when he wrote, stories contain the arc of a whole life into a specific moment

Or better still, William Blake’s words, “To see the world in a grain of sand, and to see heaven in a wildflower, hold infinity in the palm of your hands, and eternity in an hour. ”

When I write about life in the wine country, I must remember to let the journey unfold and allow the day to speak to me in its wondrous ways. 

It’s raining hard outside.  Another memory comes to mind, of how my mother, when it would rain, ran up and down the hall of my childhood home, screaming with deligt in her thick Argentine/Italian accent, “It’s raYning, it’s raYning!”  I smile. 

Her happiness lives in the rain drops.