Monday, May 23, 2011

Self Call

I wrote a little piece about the 2011 vintage in South Australia for a publication edited by my gorgeous friend Natalie.  Do check it out... the pictures are pretty :)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Back in the Game

Well hello.

I know it's been awhile.  I'm embarrassed.  I've also been bogged down and busy, and the inertia of non-communication set in.  Let's not dwell on the past.

A quick update:  I've transferred to a new University: The University of South Australia, where I'm continuing on towards a Masters in Marketing focused on Wine.  I've started playing basketball for the school team, my aim being to improve dramatically between now and the end of the season.  I'm at a new job, a new winery, new people, nice wines.  Future career planning has begun in earnest, I've published a couple little pieces, and I'm open to all suggestions.  Life moves fast.

Last night my basketball team won its first game of the season against my former university... very satisfying victory, personally as well as for the team.  My South African buddy was kind enough to come along as the support section, and he's become pleasantly intrigued by the nuances of the sport.  He didn't realize there was so much strategy!  Next time an NBA game is aired here, we'll have to get some popcorn and analyze.

When my game was over, I sat in on the first few minutes of the men's game... also being played against my newfound rival school.  In short order, one of our guys went for an aggressive rebound and accidentally came down with his elbow on the face of an opponent, breaking his nose.  Blood everywhere.

When I was about 14, an identical accident befell me in a high school game, so I felt for the guy.  He didn't have a car and his teammates were obviously busy with the game, so I volunteered to take him to the hospital and sort him out.  Turns out the guy is an American from New York, so we had something to chat about on the way to the Royal Adelaide Hospital where I turned him over to the good care of an emergency room nurse.

Feeling chuffed with my "good turn," I was making my way out of the hospital into the drizzly cold night when I passed a young man who, from a distance, looked as if he was bundled uncomfortably in a white sweater.  As I got closer, I saw both his arms were in full casts and his face was deeply lacerated, stitches around his eyes.  "Hey if you can catch that old man I just talked to," he said, "tell him North Terrace is the other way.  I thought he wanted the North Wing and I sent him in the wrong direction."

I very nearly blurted out, "What happened to you?" but was able simply to agree and jog off down the sidewalk to catch the old man.  From behind I noticed he was carrying an IV back attached to him by a tube and he was still wearing hospital slippers and a gown beneath a ratty red robe.  Again, the night was chilly and wet; the man was entirely disoriented.  When he turned toward me, I saw the whole right half of his face was red and stretched as if he had been terribly burned.  I stammered out the directions, trying to look at him directly without staring at his bulging, unnatural eye.  He mumbled thanks and shuffled around to change course.

It was hard to feel pleased at all with myself for this good deed.  Well to be reminded of how lucky--and fragile--we are.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The other side of the Hills

Sarah, how was your weekend?

Oh, well something like this:

Thursday Afternoon, 4pm: "Sarah, can you come up to the winery tomorrow morning... maybe 10am?  We need a little help setting up a wedding."  Sure!

Friday Morning, 10am: "So, this is a 250 person wedding in the barrel room."  "Oh, you mean in the space that three days ago was the retail space of our cellar door?" "Right."

It's now 10pm on Sunday night.  Between Friday morning and an hour ago, I have set up and broken down a 250 person wedding.  I have taken out 15 loads of recyclable wine bottles in a hailstorm.  I have set up another 20 person wedding.  I have slammed my own wedding ring finger in a door.  I have arranged 30 flower arrangements.  Lovely ones, I might add.  I have popped open 96 bottles of Veuve Cliquot.  I have enjoyed one glass of Veuve Cliquot.  I have located every power outlet in a 2,000 square foot space... hands and knees anyone?  I have unpacked 30 cases of wine into ice bins, and dumped the ice onto them. I stepped in mud that went up to my ankles... while I was wearing ballet flats.  It rained, it was sunny, it rained, it was sunny, the wind ripped shoots off the poor vines.  I acted as a part-time babysitter.  I have (in tandem with notable others) sold $10,000 worth of wine through a makeshift cellar door.  The wedding was supposed to be over at 4, then maybe it would be done by 6, and then the bride and groom actually left at 8.  I was the last (wo)man standing on a property on which I had never laid eyes three months ago.

.... pretty par for the course, really.... 

Life skills.  Sigh.

The sunset, I should note, was stunning.  All those billowing weather-laden clouds tumbling over themselves on the horizon.  That lovely soft pastel of twilight.  A single wide beam of golden light shooting upwards towards the heavens.  The hills were like a painting, complete with round bales of hay on the rolling mossy green.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The hills are alive...

Today I took advantage of some gorgeous sunny weather to go for a stroll in the Adelaide Hills, past farms that roll along grassy knolls, and cows that seemed as happy as I for the warm morning.  I was mostly avoiding some pressing commitments, but I'm sure some philosophers would have been on my side.  Leisure is not idleness.  And this little jaunt was planned and unexecuted many weeks ago, left unfulfilled for long enough that I got antsy.

And yes, I did sing... Julie Andrews ain't got nothing on me.
Who needs Scotland?

There's nothing like a lovely walk to get the mind reflecting on things.  My thoughts this morning spanned the usual crazy gamut, pondering, pondering... The last year has been a veritable roller-coaster, just when I was starting to feel like I'd gotten a handle on it all!  There's certainly plenty of moments to rehash and analyze.

Rumination is the thinking man's curse, only slightly less gnawing than regret.  And I suppose regret is the worst feeling one can endure, if one lets it fester too deeply.  I've generally thought it best to act and live with the consequences than refrain and live with the questions.  But there are those who disagree with me, and as I grow older I am trying to understand and practice that difficult thing known as restraint.  There's a strange, deep satisfaction in delaying gratification and mastering ones' emotions.  The British are much better at all this than we rash Americans.  Discipline or regret... our wild little souls suffer either way.  Stiff upper lip!

I had a lovely chat with an old college friend (thanks to the earth-linking power of Skype!) who got on the subject of time vs. commitment.  We agreed that as Americans, and particularly as products of a liberal arts education which forced us to think broadly and quickly, we are not well-suited for being static.  Both he and I now find ourselves in the early stages of quasi-adulthood living for the first time in places where we are responsible to communities.  What a difference this permanence makes!  Suddenly Band-Aids aren't solutions and problems don't disappear with a new wave of people.  We must cultivate and nurture, and grow ourselves.  It's a new challenge, but the long-term reward is immense.  I, for one, am loving the sensation that I'm working for something larger and longer lasting than myself.  The question is no longer "if" I want to buy in.... but "how" and "where."

Which circles me back to the subject of discipline, because only with measured actions can we hope to withstand time and trials.  It's uncommon that I feel regretful about paths not taken... more often I lament things I did that I should not have done!  Quick judgment leads to bad decisions, which lead to regret in the end.
In the end I think regret vs. discipline must be a balancing act.  There is a time for impulse and spontaneity... quick action and unfiltered words are sometimes the only thing that will do.  They come from the heart, and that counts for something.  Perhaps the trick is to be in complete control of one's thoughts at all times... that way whatever slips out in the spur of the moment is representative of the whole rather than a momentary spasm of emotion. 
Master thoughts and emotions... sounds very Buddhist, no?  I think perhaps I should go back to the Hills and contemplate some more.

Monday, December 13, 2010

“The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance; the wise grows it under his feet.”  – James Oppenheim

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Kangaroos, Wallabies, Emus, Oh My!

The view from our KI rental home

Yesterday my two closest friends both departed Adelaide for holidays with their respective families.   Chocolate does not taste as good today.  I'm fighting sadness with memories of happier times.

Time has flown since I last wrote.  I was hunkered under a pile of academic work for a while, and then, relieved of that duty, have been indulging in a bit of travel, filling the rest of time with work of the money-earning kind.  I've had two spectacular trips in the past 3 weeks, one to the Coonawarra, and another to Kangaroo Island.  Let's do a brief rundown of each!

The Coonawarra is a iron-board flat strip of land about 80 miles from the sea on the Limestone Coast.  It is famous for its Cabernet Sauvignon, a varietal which (in my old age) I am coming to appreciate as the king of grapes.  Distinctive though it is, a good Cabernet displays a singularly wide range of aromas and nuances as it gracefully, elegantly ages.  Just like a well-raised person, it is neither subject to fashion nor pleasurable to fools.  Its best expressions require proper oaking and diligent care, and only in very specific spots (Bordeaux, Coonawarra, Stellenbosch, arguably Napa) does it ripen to the sort of perfection that results in a strong, velvety, developed, and thought-provoking wine.

There are many wines that get me excited: muscled & sexy Barolo, pensive & earthy Pinot Noir, outgoing & dynamic Grenache... (this is just my homage to reds)... zesty & gritty Zinfandel... But Cabernet Sauvignon... heavens, this isn't just a wine you want to take home to mom.  It's a wine you adore and want all for yourself, even as you want to share its joy with the world.  It's a wine for now if impatience strikes, and it's a wine to cellar for 35 years and enjoy in old age.  It only improves with age.  In every bottle is the opportunity to learn more, grow into a deeper appreciation, and be inexpressibly happy with the tutorial.  By my rough estimate, one really good Cabernet is worth ten bottles of lesser stuff, yet it does not need to be pricey nor flashy nor hip to earn its respect as a noble grape.  In fact, what I liked most about the Coonawarra is the close-knit community and the sense that the winemakers there are just winemakers, the viticulturalists are just farmers with a specific passion.  The terroir is perfect for Cab Sav, and so that's what they make, humbly as that.  And, boy, what they make is brilliant.

Sparing everyone the details of the itinerary (I recognize that most people aren't as nerdy as I am about wine), suffice to say we tasted a whole heap of good wine, and were really impressed in particular by the vintage wine available for sale.  Any day you're drinking wine older than yourself... that's a good day.
The company was pretty spectacular too.  Six of us piled into my roommate's big red Holden station wagon (affectionately called "Ed"), and with the exception of a flat tire on the return drive, we tooled around the region in real style and passable comfort.  We rented a cute little beach house on the coast, and basically spent four days cooking one another good food and drinking good wine.  Hedonism?  Bring it on.

Remarkable Rocks
This past week I went to Kangaroo Island with three friends for a much quieter and calmer getaway.  Aptly named, the 90-mile long island is home to lots of native and extremely cute Australian wildlife.  We saw many wallabies, one big bounding kangaroo, sea lions, seals, and birds by the score.  The major disappointment was the platypus, who would not emerge from his watery haunt to show us his beak and webbed feet.  I suppose I'll have to go to the zoo... because I'll be bummed if I leave this place without seeing the world's most bizarre mammal.
Remarkable Danger!!

A return trip to KI is definitely in order.  We checked off the tourist must-sees, including the Remarkable Rocks (see right... complete with obligatory fear-mongering sign), Admiral's Arch, and the sheep dairy.  We had an awesome, butter-filled lunch at the Marron farm... marron are Australia's delicious little answer to Louisiana crayfish and Maine lobster.  We tasted some small-production gin and liqueurs at the tiny island distillery.  Wish I'd taken a picture of the copper still.  We checked out Clifford's Bee-and-Honey operation, which I found utterly fascinating.  KI is home to the world's only remaining pure strain of Ligurian bees, which makes it biologically special and important because Ligurian bees are prized for quality honey and a good temperament... It is now on my list to learn more about bees... absolutely fascinating creatures.

The evenings in KI passed in good company, eating good food (probably eating way too much, honestly), and then staying up late chatting about life and plans.  My friends might say I've been inexhaustibly talkative on the subject of "life" recently.  Lots to think about, lots of logistics and hopes and dreams to sort through.  It's nice to feel as if I'm on the right track, however hard it is to stomach the reality that not everything is within my control.  One lives in hope, and continues to work hard.

That's a nice thing about this summer.  I'm here, at the massive sacrifice of family time and traditions and comfort, in order to work... Working hard keeps the mind busy... and it's hard to do much heavy lifting with fingers crossed.  So I'll just keep my head down and keep posting the good news! 
me, worried,  in a rock

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Rally like it's 1969

I am a little sad I couldn't be in Washington DC this past weekend for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear.  Some friends have emailed with great reports on the big day out, and looking at the news coverage, I'm heartened to see 200,000 average Americans stood up and voiced the sentiment of the overwhelming majority: "Calm Down, Folks."

Perusing the signs, which range from hilarious and random to poignant and eloquent, I think the rally-goers really did justice to the theme of the event.  The sad, ageless fact is that moderate voices are--by definition--almost never heard.  (the squeaky door gets oil)  The brash and outspoken make news, regardless of their accuracy or representativeness.  America' headstrong, abrasive image in the world scene is grossly unfair to the millions of Americans who keep their heads down and work hard, practice a personal and unobtrusive form of religion, vote as sensibly as they can given the information available.  This rally was a humor-driven showcase of the moderate.

Humor is key here.   Mr. Stewart and Mr. Colbert are excellently informed, satirical entertainers, whose lighten-up philosophy is refreshing by contrast with the fear-mongering and loud commentators of traditional "news" stations.  We citizens should not be misinformed or ignorant dullards, but likewise we cannot bring the high-stress of party politicking into our homes every time we switch on the tv, look at the internet, or read the newspaper.  "Maybe I need to be more discerning," Mr. Colbert told Mr. Stewart. "Your reasonableness is poisoning my fear." My generation gets some flak for thinking Comedy Central is a source of news, but I think we're just looking to take the edge off news with a good laugh.  As my dear friend Natalie once said, "If you don't laugh, it's disturbing."  We know what's going on, or some of what's going on; as much as we care to know.  And dwelling on it can only be painful or scary.  See the humor, carry on.

I'm very glad that the National Mall was chock-full of people standing for common sanity, laughing at the absurdity of it all.  I hope it was a blow to the egos of men (and women) who have made their fame and fortune bloviating a very niche viewpoint to a very rabid, loud, and small constituency.  We Americans, for the most part, are not those pundits or radicals, just as much as Arabs and Muslims are, on the whole, not strapped with explosives.

Choosing a favorite sign was a hard ask.  For timely humor and my personal bias, I was really enamored of the guy that showed up with a life-size stuffed coyote wearing a sign: "I am not a coyote, I'm you." He was poking fun, evidently, at Christine O'Donnell's recent "I didn't go to Yale, I'm you" campaign slogan. Which, personally, I found intensely offensive.

I also really appreciated the numerous people who pretended that they'd just sort of happened on the rally, and were confused about its purpose.  "Is this the line to buy Justin Bieber tickets."  "I came for the sex!"  "I would like more tortilla chips with my fajitas."  Non-sequitur humor as always appreciated.  So is irony/logical fallacy: "I am protesting the existence of protest signs."

But the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear was not about being disoriented, catty, plaintive, or overly intellectual.  It was meant to remind us regular people that there are lots of others like us, and we should be proud to band together as Americans under a different banner than the loud, visible, fear-mongering types who have co-opted the American brand.  "We live now in hard times," Mr. Stewart said, "not the end of times." We should keep our wits about us and our sense of humor intact. In the end, I think the rally was summed up best by one sign:
thanks to for posting the originals of these sign photos, and thanks to the witty people who walked around DC carrying them on 31 October 2010!