The Summer's Horizon

The end of July and summer’s gleam is turning to a glint. On the horizon is the school year and realistically, it’s time to get a little more serious. I’m lucky, teachers do get a lot of time off, of course, and that’s how I’m able to do the writing and wine events I do. No complaints, just a time for reflection.

Peanut’s having a different kind of summer this year and it’s not quite a routine yet. She’s a little uneasy about her Y-camp days as she doesn’t know too many of the people there. But it’s good to get her into new experiences and try to get her comfortable. I have to remind myself, at times, that she is not 12—and she’s still a baby. She gets a little insecure and uncomfortable at times.

I’m off to Salt Lake City in the middle of August to visit Michael, Deanna and their kids whom I have not seen since they left California two years ago. Hopefully, the summer monsoons and thunderstorms will take a break and allow me to fly in to the area. It’s a two day trip, so flying is quickest…if the weather is good. If not, I’ll try and drive up. After that, one more family trip and that will mark the end of summer.

Got a few writing gigs to finish up and I’m already preparing for my new part-time teaching gig (yes, on top of the full-time one) which I decided to do as a more steady means of secondary income. I’m excited to start….

Eek–this is starting to sound like a journal. Apologies. Move along, nothing else to see here.

A Fair Judge

The people who operate the Ventura County Fair are some of the nicest most wonderful people it has ever been my pleasure to know. Through my pal Tom Shaeffer, I was able to be a wine judge for the fair and this year, I stumbled into it once again. Tom teaches at the school where my daughter goes and the school’s librarian is in charge of the agricultural exhibits–which includes beer judging.

This year’s set up was different. Tom opted for the beer judging as he is more obsessive about his beer than his wine. I had the pleasure to sit with three other wine professionals, one a wine rep., the other a restaurant owner, manager and winemaker and the other was Michael Cervin, a fellow journalist from Santa Barbara. We all got on well and made a quick go of it. Opting to allow the very kind and nice people at the fair to do our work for us (we do get spoiled), we spoke our judgments and they recorded them. We were in agreement nearly across the board, and when we weren’t, we built consensus pretty well. It was a great experience in that way.

The downside was the wines themselves. There were no true standouts at the competition, though to be fair, I won’t reveal names until after the Fair itself begins. The bottom line is that the wines were not stellar in either the amateur or the commercial categories. It was slightly disappointing. All four of us agreed, however, that the idea here is to encourage winemakers, not discourage them. Our scoring reflected that mission–but even so, there were some wines on which we simply chose not to comment.

It made me think of the coming fall and my pal Brian’s and my exploits into making wine this year. I am in hopes that it will not be swill that we make and I pray fervently that we will be proud of our work. Two years ago, when I judged, Brian’s wine-then unknown to me because the tasting is blind, won best of show. I’m glad he entered it–it deserved to be recognized. Let’s see if we can do that again.

Harold Bloom is a git…

So might Ron Weasley say. I have just finished book 7 of Ron’s inestimable pal’s eponymous series and once again Mr. Potter entertains, thrills, jerks a few tears and ultimately, provides a nice kind of escapism. But, it’s more than that.

I’m a writer, though it’s true I don’t think I can match Mr. Bloom for erudite learnedness. I did indeed read his treatise on Hamlet and I waded into his excellent volume on Shakespeare: The invention of the human. He is a master and a serious voice of both literacy and literary criticism.

But, he’s also a git. A pretty big one, too. Why? Well–the essay he wrote in 2000 after he’d finished Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone begs some pretty serious questions. But therein lies Mr. Bloom’s gitty-ness, not to say giddyness, though I’m sure he was giddy with his appraisal of this seeming British upstart who sold millions of copies of books.

There’s no arguing the major point that the Harry Potter series is, at least, derivative. There’s no question of it. But there are few works of fiction, even really great ones, that aren’t. Shakespeare was derivative, after all. Most of his plays came from other works. No, making that argument doesn’t really create waves for me.

Bloom goes on to say that the books are “not well written.” Well, I’ve heard that before. I’ve got a friend that says, “there’s too much passive voice” in it, etc. OK–look guys, are there cliche’s? Sure. Is there passive voice? At times, yes. But the book is also written looking through the eyes of a teenager and there is certainly a great deal of simple, down-to-earth talking in the series. It’s amazing to me to hear other writers complain about such stuff as though it’s some kind of affront to the English language. For the record, it isn’t….the prose can be banal at times, but Harry Potter and his friends are anything but banal.

For my part, a big fan of histories and biography, non-fiction and essays, I find the Harry Potter books so utterly engaging that I cannot put them down. I cannot say this about most fiction I read…most. I read Tolkein’s Lord of The Rings that way, too–but generally, I’m a slow reader. I take my time and wade through most of what I read. But with Mrs. Rowling’s books, I simply cannot put them down. I want to see what happens next, how the characters will make decisions and what they will learn. The heart of the book, after all, is relationships and life decisions.

That’s why Mr. Bloom is a git. These books are far from useless, as he says, far from ignorant. At their core, they are a morality play, a derivation of The Hero’s Journey and from book one right through book seven, they are a look at how children, then adolescents, are forced to make hard choices about what is right and what is wrong–in this case, of course, on a sweeping and epic scale. But, it would be rather boring to read about Harry Potter waking up and choosing what socks to wear, wouldn’t it? Harry, Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore, Snape, Longbottom, Sirius, Remus, Tonks, the Weasley’s–all of them are truly delightful, multi-dimensional characters, who teach their readers that love matters–that respect, friendship, compassion and caring are all worthwhile ends in and of themselves.

In that sense, Mr. Bloom-Mrs. Rowling’s books do uplift the spirit, they do challenge the soul and for kids especially, they teach what Shakespeare himself taught so many times–though in many ways, Mrs. Rowling speaks to kids more lucidly on the subject–that we all have dark and light in us. All of us are capable of great evil and great good. We do have a choice and we must exercise that choice every day. If my daughter, who has not yet read the books, but will one day–takes nothing else away from them other than that important lesson–and in the meantime is entertained and feels something for Harry, Ron, Hermione and the rest–I think the book will have more than proved its worth.

The black dog takes a walk

If the black dog isn’t gone altogether, he took a long walk today. His doing so allowed me to really count my blessings and interesting life. To wit:

A few years ago when Stephen Ambrose died, it took me by surprise. I was unaware he was sick and having learned of his death, I asked the local paper for whom I’d been writing if I could do an elongated obit. They agreed and I set about the task. The fruits of that work are over there in the articles column–scroll down to Stephen Ambrose, and have a read if you’d like.

Sitting at the library desk on Tuesday, I was accessing the e-mail and I got one that had been a comment on the blog here–made to the Stephen Ambrose piece. I use a spam blocker, but I have found that in the past, comments to my articles tend to be spam hits. This one, however, was not.

It was an e-mail from Harry Ambrose, Stephen Ambrose’s brother, and it was a short simple message thanking me for my piece on his brother’s life. He must have been googling and found it or something. I wrote him back and we corresponded briefly on the subject of the plagiarism charge that was leveled and admitted to by Stephen toward the end of his life. But his brother proved what I wrote about in the piece–namely, that Stephen made an honest mistake–that he wasn’t writing an academic treatise, that the piece was indeed cited in the bibliography and that the mistake was in not putting quotes around it in the book. Stephen apologized to the author and admitted fully his mistake. Point made–the author of the quote was gracious and did not sue.

But the cool thing is–I got to discuss that with Harry Ambrose–and I was thrilled to do so. Stephen Ambrose is one of my personal heroes and I feel rather honored.

Today, then, I had a rousing good lunch with my pal Mike and we had a good time. He’s a good guy. Mike plays drums in the occasional band I’m in with our pal Edd. In any event, I left Mike’s good company to go keep a coffee appointment with Cyrus Nowrasteh, another man I’m honored to know. Cyrus is a writer, producer and director and his son was in my class a few years back–brilliant kid, Alex. Anyway, Cyrus produced the film The Path to 9/11 and was anxious to give me a copy–an uncut copy. I gladly accepted. As Cyrus has been saying in public for sometime, the editing done by ABC/Disney at the behest of the Clinton crew is shameful. It seems that the Clinton’s don’t want any truth about things that really happened during his administration, to get out. This, of course, explains why former NSA Sandy Berger went into the National Archives and removed information dealing with the Clinton’s complete mishandling of Osama Bin-laden. What it doesn’t explain is why the media has nearly ignored Berger while almost crucifying Scooter Libby. Odd standards, yes?

In any event, Cy and I had a little coffee and he gave me a copy of the film that I will indeed be using and perhaps even in my American Studies class toward the end of the year. If science teachers are allowed to teach global warming as fact, then surely real facts–like the one that it hasn’t been just the Bushies who have dropped the ball on countless occasions, surely have a place in the classroom as well.

So, you see-an interesting day indeed. And that doesn’t include the attempted robbery that I just missed up at Mike’s office….but that’s another story.

The Black Dog

Lileks usually refers to it as “the black dog.” When I started reading him, I knew I liked him and related to what he wrote–for the black dog comes to visit me as well and he is here now. I tried the past two nights to drive him away, but he won’t go. He sat on the porch and waited patiently as the summer nights rolled into warm days that meant nothing. I don’t like when he visits, and I try most times to forbid him from so doing, but as in tonight’s case–I am not always successful.

Going into detail is superfluous and self-indulgent. It’s summer, for the first time I’m working summer school and it, dear friends, blows. I suppose that was the invitation for the black dog, but he was probably already on his way, invite or no. The only thing I can do is try not to feed him while he is here…

We did taste some wonderful wines last night at Cousin’s wine bar here in town. The problem was the prices–oh my lord. One bottle of Cabernet, which I would not have deemed all the wonderful, was 72.00 bucks. Mind you, we were doing a blind tasting and didn’t know this until after we drank. Sorry, there are no wines worth that price unless they are museum wines and then, I’m not sure I would want to drink them. I mean seriously, people.

This weekend is the Ventura County Fair and on Sunday, I’ll be doing my second time as wine judge. I did this back in 05 and it too is a blind tasting. That year, my pal Brian won and I didn’t know it until well after we’d awarded best of show. Brian is a great wine-maker–and this year, I’ll be making Sangiovese and Barbera with him.

This year, the Fair is allowing commercial wineries to participate and that should be interesting. I hope to God no one throws in a 2 buck Chuck again. I really don’t like that wine and I’m pretty sure that if they throw it in, I’ll find it—he said confidently.

Well….it’s a long day tomorrow–and the black dog is still here. I’d best be off.

Make your mark

I have posted so many times on the global warming swindle that it’s time to ante up. So, here I will do it. Don’t just berate Algore and the crew–go ahead and purchase carbon debits–that is–the opposite of carbon credits. You can pay these people to tear down trees, fire up big diesel machinersy and destroy other things in your name. I strongly urge you to do so….and I’ll go further. I think a bunch of us should go in on the ultimate purchase: the flight up north, the driving of a big tractor and the leaving behind of a huge carbon footprint. I’m ready to go if you are.

Bottom line here is this: The whackos, as they always do, overplayed their hand and so now we too can overplay ours. Let’s fire up some heavy machinery, tear down some trees, and have ourselves a little warming party. After all–it can do no more harm than the greenies did when they fired up all the rock bands to slow warming down, eh?

Huzzah! Briglio is Back!

Kelly Briglio is back in the limelight again. For those that don’t know Kelly, she is the chef that brought Westside Cellar in Ventura to fruition before promptly leaving after a parting of the ways with her then partner, Jimmy Mesa.

Westside was a trendsetting place where petite entree’s that were exquisite and beautiful were paired with some of the coolest and best wines on the market. When Kelly left, the quality of the place went downhill, though word on the street is that they are coming back again.

Kelly, however, has purchased the shop called Paradise Wines which was owned by my friends Leah and Cheryl, and renamed it the Paradise Pantry. In what I think is a brilliant foodie move, Kelly has opened a wine and cheese shop with artisan cheeses from around the state of California and beyond–and wines that are spectacular. Indeed, if yesterday’s tasting of Dancing Coyote Verdelho and Judd and Son’s Cabernet is any example, Kelly has tapped into the heart of unpretentious, wonderfully made, handcrafted wines and cheeses that are spectacular.

The store itself has been revamped to include the signature art pieces and warm colors with which Kelly is so familiar. The wine bar retains Leah and Chery’s signature wine barrel stands but the familiar varnished wood top has been replaced by granite. Comfortable chairs, warm and inviting atmosphere and Kelly along with her partner Tina–who dearly love to serve and talk about the products they are sharing. I’m simply going to be in Ventura more often.

Moving ahead in the Wine Business

It was not hard to walk away from Wine Country This Week, as I explained earlier. As a freelance writer who makes his living in other ways, writing has got to present a challenge, an interest–some kind of hook. And yes, that hook can be money–but WCTW’s pay scale was not the best (nor was it the worst, though it was closer to the bottom than the top). If I’m going to write formula PR pieces, there has to be a motivation there for me–and less than 100 bucks a piece isn’t the motivation. Occasionally, I’d get to write a piece worth $225.00, but those were becoming fewer and fewer.

That said, writing about wine is still something I love to do. I don’t blog about it much, though I used to, and there are reasons for that as well. I don’t feel I’m a strong wine reviewer. My palate is not as up to snuff as so many others that are out there doing it. My friend Tom Wark has written about this at his site and lists some places where you can go to read reviews. There are indeed many.

What I’ve developed as a kind of niche for myself is writing about wine as a business and a passion. The stories I’ve sold to Wines and Vines, California Wine and Food, WCTW and a few others, are mostly pieces about the people who make the wine, how they do it and why they do it. I would at some point like to venture into writing reviews, but I need to seriously work on my own tasting vocabulary and my own palate. I drink wine nearly every day, but to be honest–I don’t rush right into the blog here to report what I’ve been drinking. Part of that is because when I do drink wine, I do it with my family and friends and as an experience with those people–you know, the experience the winemakers want you to have…”Drink with family and friends–and joy!” all that sort of tripe. I actually do that. It’s very rare for me to pick up a bottle of wine and do a “tasting” in the traditional sense of that word.

Shameless Plug Ahead

So, I am on the hunt for some more wine and wine business writing gigs and I’ll report the findings as I go. This should also serve as fair warning to those of you in the wine press (pun intended) that I am indeed available, I’ve got a large body of work behind me, I’ve got a sommelier certificate and experience, contacts and just a wee bit of knowledge about wine.

The Global Warming Swindle

This piece by the maker of the film, The Great Global Warming Swindle, is a must read. I don’t know what it will take to get public policy makers off the gw bandwagon, but if democracy really does work–certainly, the majority of the people see right through the bs that is global warming theory–and yes, it is a pet peeve of mine. The silliness attached to this theory and the apparent willingness to buy into it by people who claim to be enlightened and led by scientific fact, is profoundly disturbing. These are the same people that say those of us with religious faith are misled–when in fact, there is more evidence in the historical accuracy of the bible than there is for man-made or any other kind–of global warming.