The Reluctant Writer: Something Else to do When I Should Be Writing

November 10, 2009

Here’s to a seat at the Nick, The Cellar on Greene, the TRUSTUS Tasting, birthdays, family and food — cheers Y’all!

As some of you may be aware, this time last year I had just celebrated the inauguration of the Year of Wine — or the year of wining and whining as the Beer Doctor is so fond of saying.  I had chosen the occasion of my humphth birthday to embark on an intense study and appreciation of all things wine, having known just enough about wine initially to know that there was oh-so-much more to learn.  Well, much to my dismay, the months on the calendar whisked right away in the wind, and before I knew it, the same date rolled around once again, sadly bringing the year of wine to a close.

I’ve learned quite a bit.  My travels have taken me to several of France’s wine destinations where I’ve wondered through the Champagne district’s chalky caves, gotten lost in Burgundy’s enumerate vineyards, and immersed myself in Alsace’s spicy Gewurtz’s, Rieslings, and Pinot Gris’s.  We’ve traveled twice to California’s beautiful rolling hills and, happily, I only broke my nose there once.  I even gave the wines of Virginia a shot and found that, though inconsistent, they did present a brand new quality of delicacy to my palate — which shouldn’t be dismissed just because it is so different from most other wines.  We had hoped to also travel to Argentina, as well as back to Italy — just for the wine — but just as it did with the Bob’s Year of Beer, time got away from us — so these countries, and more, are still on our to-do list.  Our cellar is far fatter than it ever was and has taken over our fairly large walk-in pantry — there is literally nothing edible in there at all anymore — and will soon be spreading to the closet under the stairs — thanks for that idea to my friend, who will remain anonymous because she is having her closet converted into a cellar for her beloved as a birthday surprise — hmmm … wonder if I could score a little trompe l’oeil on my closet door, too? The one casualty of the Year of Wine, other than my nose, is the reality that bad wine is far more difficult to stomach than it ever was — and in many ways I have Ricky Mollohan, Kaitlin Ohlinger, and the rest of the good people at the Cellar on Greene to thank for that.  There is no such thing as bad wine at the Cellar, and my palate has effectively been spoiled.  Thanks guys, thanks a lot.

I celebrated my birthday on Sunday this year, and rather than the fairly immense blow-out wine tasting party that we enjoyed last year, I was more in the mood for a quiet family gathering at Muddy Ford.  It was a decision deliciously well made.  The Beer Doc created for me a beautiful Chateaubriand with bernaise sauce, my second favorite liquid — next to vino — in the world.  Annie put together a phenomenally rich potatoes dauphinoise and her lovely signature sauted vegetables.  Bonnie even got into the kitchen (she found it on her own and all!) and whipped up a scrumptious asparagus and mushroom saute — a dish of which she and I share a love.

If you’ve ever been to a meal at the Ford, you know how long it takes us to cook.  But that’s ok, because we have to also take the necessary time to fully enjoy the wines we are drinking in the process.  We started our Sunday in the kitchen off with a Clicquot Yellow Lable bubbly, followed by a 2003 Schramsburg Brut, which we much preferred.  With dinner we vertically tasted one of Helen Turley’s 2001 Magnificats — which was glorious — alongside an amazing 2006 Darioush cab — easily one of the best wines I’ve tasted this year.  Presents were served with red velvet cake — and I’m happy to say that everyone shopped locally this year, with an emphasis on jewelry and assorted creations by local artists.  My favorite (and most highly requested) gift, however, was my very own seat in the Nick’s new theatre on Main Street.  So, Larry, if  you’re listening, I’d like to take my seat as soon as possible, dear.

Even though the Year of Wine is officially over, I can promise you that the wining and whining is not.  Just for one example, I will  happily be attending the TRUSTUS wine tasting benefit at City Art in the Vista on Tuesday night, killing two very important birds — the drinking of good wine & the support of TRUSTUS Theatre, one of the most important arts institutions our city can claim — with one only slightly tipsy stone.  You can be there, too.  We’ll be tasting 8 wines — two bubblies, 2 whites, 2 reds, and 2 ports — for a cost of only $45 in advance, or $50 at the door.  I hope you’ll join me for a taste and a toast — to all good things – wine, family, food, friends, and art.

Cheers, Y’all!

June 10, 2009

Vin français voyage – première partie (aka Clark and Ellen Griswold take on French wine country)

Filed under: aging,France,Paris,travel,wine,writer's life,writing — cynthiaboiter @ 17:32
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It’s been a while since I’ve written — both legitimate writer-type writing, and blogger-type writing as well.  But I really do have an excuse this time.  I’ve been traveling.  Read on.

 

Paris is one of those cities that, once you go there, you never really leave.  I remember so well mine and Bob’s first trip to Paris over twenty-five years ago.  It was part of our month-long adventure of back-packing through Europe on twenty-five dollars a day, financed via the South Carolina Student Loan Association.  (Never, everaccuse either of us of being financially responsible.)  We had our Monkey Ward backpacks, our Eurail passes, a strict budget and all the audacity of Southern born idiots savant.  Neither of us had ever been out of the country and I had never traveled in a plane despite growing up the daughter of the Greenville-Spartanburg airport manager and living, literally, on airport property. We were fulfilling childhood dreams of chasing horizons; of one day being passengers in those planes that flew constantly overhead. 

 
I’ll never forget rising up early morning out of the Paris metro, sleep deprived from an overnight ride from Amsterdam in a train compartment with a crazy lady who, convinced she was on her way to marry Baryshnykov, constantly packed and unpacked her trousseau.  Nighties and negligees hung from the compartment doors and the luggage racks over our heads.  We arose at the St. Michelmetro station in the heart of the Latin Quarter.  To the left of us stood Saint Michael’s fountain and to the right the Notre Dame.  Even today, I sometimes catch the scent of  how Paris, the city, smelled that morning wafting through the air — crisp and cool and clean.  (And Paris is an amazingly clean city still.)

 
Since then, we’ve had the good fortune of re-visiting this favorite city several times, both with our children and without.  This most recent time, we celebrated our 30th anniversary there and launched our explorations through some of France’s vast wine country from Paris’s Gare de L’est, as we traveled to Reims, the epicenter of Champagne country; then to Strasbourg, where we began our journey through Alsace and down the Rue du Vin; and, finally into the heart of Bourgogne to thoroughly explore Burgundy wines and the Cote d’ Or.  In the end, we returned to Paris for one last weekend of celebration and the completion of a sentimental circle, indeed.
Over the next few days I’ll use this space to share some of my thoughts and experiences garnered over this recent seventeen day long visit.  I’ll reflect on wine, hotels, tiny villages with names that sound even funnier with a Southern drawl, and what it’s like to travel now versus then. 

 

We had a great time — I’m looking forward to telling you all about it.

May 22, 2009

Rites of passage

It has been a while since I posted an entry on this blog, but personally, I’ve witnessed so much in the past few weeks — rites of passage, endings, beginnings — so much so that, if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to reflect a bit.  Maybe something will strike a common chord with you or yours.  Please share if it does.

Within the past two weeks I’ve said goodbye to the 90 some odd students to whom I swore my allegiance for the fourteen weeks of the spring semester.  I’ve often described myself as an evangelical sociologist and instructor of women’s studies and I sincerely mean that.  (God knows that, as an adjunct, I don’t teach for the money or job security.)  But I am an absolute junkie for watching the lights flash on in a student’s eyes when she comes to understand that humanity has constructed the society in which we live — that it didn’t grow up from the ground and it wasn’t set in stone from above — it is not located within our DNA; or when she learns that she can proudly declare herself a feminist without also also being a lesbian or a hairy, army booted ball-buster.  (Not that there’s anything wrong with being a lesbian OR a hairy, army-booted ball-buster.)  I love my job and am always as sad as I am happy when the end of the semester comes.

The week before last was spent in a flurry of exercises and ceremonies as Annie and her Honors College classmates revocated and graduated.  During Revocation each Honors College student has the opportunity to address the audience with words sometimes witty, sometimes profound.  Annie did me proud by thanking me for raising her as a feminist and introducing her to women’s studies — she’d won the Arlie Childs award for Women’s Studies the week before.  Of course, I was the one who wanted to thank her — for embracing what matters so much to me rather than rejecting it, which she could easily have done in the name of stubbornness or autonomy.  Then she and all the other kids who, just four lightening fast years ago, had moved into and bonded in Maxcy — the same dorm her dad lived in during his time at Carolina, and the same dorm that Bonnie would move into a year later — walked across the stage at the Colonial Center, no longer kids, now graduates, now adults. 

No other image embodies optimism like that of a graduate in cap and gown. 

To see so many fresh young faces so pumped with pride and accomplishment — it was thrilling to me.  And to see my first born — a brilliant beauty — scooped up in the gowned arms of her beloved after the ceremony, was both thrilling and radicalizing.  I am now the mother of a grown woman.

Many of you were among the revelers at the Muddy Ford graduation celebration featuring  the musical stylings of the local Columbia band, American Gun.  It was such a joy to celebrate with the graduates and so many of their parents under the stars and in the glow of the tiki as the band played on our Gilligan’s Island stage.  Bob’s kolsch went down cool and sweet and delicious.   The boys in American Gun are not only talented but good and decent.  Sweet music for rowdy young turks and the awkward and discomfited parents they’ll grow into being.

The next afternoon we retreated to the primordial shores of South Carolina and spent the week licking the wounds of winter in the sand and under the partly cloudy skies of Hilton Head Island.  The sun finally came out on Saturday just in time for the momentous heart break of young love set asunder as Bonnie and her beau parted ways.  Tears washed us back to Muddy Ford on Sunday and have kept us under a steady but receding mist ever since.  Broken hearts heal but they do so far too slowly and the scars stay tender for life.  

All these experiences of the past few weeks — joy, pain, the bitter-sweet saying of goodbye, congratulations, you don’t need us anymore, you’re on your own, where did it go — these rites of passage have re-sensitized me to how precious our time is — and I mean this not in a syrupy, melodramatic way, but in a very literally precious — hold a bubble as it quivers in your hand — way.  Be still, hold it while you can because that very bubble will pop on your ass and then it is gone, just gone — and you’re done.

So tomorrow, Bob and I leave for 17 days in France as we celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary.  Thirty years ago we stupid and exceedingly lucky young lovers gambled it all — and it payed off in spades.  So much so that if it ended right now all we could say would be, “damn, what a run.”

I’ll try to write from the wine road, but in the meantime, here’s to the bitter and to the sweet.  Life — no regrets.  Au revoir.

May 3, 2009

Wine snobs not allowed

Filed under: aging,beer,beer book,not writing,wine,writing — cynthiaboiter @ 22:59
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Instead of writing yesterday, I spent most of the day working in what Bob and I surreptitiously call our “wine cellar.”  Don’t worry though, when we say it we look at each other and snicker like South Park characters.  What our “wine cellar” (nheh, heh, heh) consist of is several shelves in the pantry, a wooden wine box, a cardboard box and two wine fridges which we purchased from Lowe’s and stacked on top of one another in the mudroom.  So, though not technically a cellar — we don’t actually have to go down stairs or anything —  we do have to squat a lot to see what we’ve got in there, and that counts for something.

I’ve always wondered a lot about wine.  It’s fascinating to me how the taste of the earth and weather and fruit can be transformed into a liquid indulgence, and that people devote their lives to perfecting the ability to detect and evaluate these ingredients in a bottle of wine.  There’s also the cultural history that wine imbues, going back way beyond Jesus; wine has always been a lifesource, but only recently a source of controversy.  Both revered and reviled, wine has been a part of every known culture.  And then, of course, there’s the taste, the ritual, and the buzz — three of my favorite parts about being alive.  No wonder I’ve wondered about wine.

A few years ago, Bob and I decided that life was getting short, just as our parents had promised, and that if we were going to truly embrace and learn deeply about some of the things which we’d been yearning to learn, then we would need a plan.  Bob’s 50th birthday was approaching and, given that he has been both a beer aficionado and brewer for quite a while, we came up with the concept of the Year of Beer.  We would spend his 50th year reading about, traveling to, and tasting as many of the greatest beers in the world (and some not so great as well — see Lisbon, for example) as possible.  It is from this research that our upcoming book, Bob, Beer and Me, springs.  “The Year Of” was such a personal success that we decided to adopt the plan indefinitely.  So when I turned 50 this past November, we kicked off the Year of Wine.  (Future “Years Of” might include anything from castles to Dickens to Ireland — anything that we have an interest in and that allows us to learn and experience and travel.)

The economy being what it is, I’m not sure we’ll be able to travel quite as much for the wine year as we did for the beer year, but we have spent some time in Napa and Sonoma, (see my previous post on how to break your nose in wine country), and we’ll be leaving in a few weeks for a combination anniversary/wine trip to France.  And we’ve drank some wine. And bought some wine.  Hence our new wine cellar (nheh, heh, heh).  I just got up from the computer to get another Diet Pepsi, (coke is for dopes), and counted the bottles of wine that we have managed to purchase over the past few months, and it made me dizzier than if I had sucked down the whole bunch in a setting — there are one hundred and sixteen bottles of wine in there!  And that’s not counting the case of chard sitting in the corner of the kitchen for the graduation party next week.  

So if you’re out Muddy Ford way and feeling a little parched, please stop by and let me take you on a little tasting tour of our brand new wine cellar (nheh,heh, heh).  And if you have any empty cardboard boxes laying around, we’re taking contributions for the cause.

April 15, 2009

Dying in spring at fifty

Filed under: aging,poetry,writer's life,writing — cynthiaboiter @ 23:29
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My head has been all about high school lately — a place and time to which I seldom hearken back.  The bad old days.  But they’ve been steadily in my head since last Thursday when my old friend Marguerite emailed me that Allen, our mutual old friend, had died.  So this is how my generation will learn of its passing.  Via email.

I’ve known Allen since elementary school — another sad and oppressive period of my life that I like to keep at a mental and emotional distance.  We didn’t become friends until high school though.  Allen was a trumpet player in the marching band and I was in the flag corps.  (Yes, I was one of those girls, skimpy costume and all, advancing to team captain by my senior year; Allen became the drum major.)  We lived relatively near one another out in the vast expanse that used to be rural Spartanburg County before BMW carpetbagged in, and it came to be that we often drove into school and band practice together.  He was a sweet boy  — a furtive blusher — shy, kind, funny, big old grin.  We talked a lot. It was sometime during high school that Allen learned he had been diagnosed with juvenile onset diabetes.

Allen was in the second group of our friends who came to USC for college; my husband Bob being in the first group, with me in the third. When I finally came to school my roommate was Diana, Allen’s girlfriend, also from our old school.  A group of the boys from high school roomed together and down the hall from one another in Maxcy, just off the USC Horseshoe, and Allen was one of them.  So was Bob.  They played Rook almost every Sunday night.  They watched TV together, went to ballgames together, drove back and forth on weekends from the various mill villages where their homes were together.  And being typical college students, they partied together, as well.

More times than I care to remember, Allen, like a lot of the guys, overdid it.  But the problem was that while the other boys would bounce back in the way that 18 and 19 year olds do, Allen did not suffer his hangovers so easily.  Drinking was not the best thing for a severely diabetic adolescent.  He did a lot of damage to his body during those years.  And in the years to come, after we had lost touch and only heard bits and pieces of one anothers’ lives from relatives and the few friends we kept up with, we heard that health wise, Allen continued to suffer.  Eventually, he underwent a kidney and pancreas transplant. There were other hospitalizations as well.

So when I saw the subject heading listing Allen’s name in Marguerite’s email, I thought the worse before I even opened it.  I was right. 

I wrote a little something to honor my old friend Allen.  It’s not a very good poem, but it says what I feel, and that’s the point then, isn’t it?  Here’s to my old friend — and here’s to youth.

~~~

                                   Dying in Spring at Fifty

 

He was the first of us.

 

The boy we called Jaime

who raised the Reidville flag

and sold us pencils

two for a nickel

at the student store.

 

Smart and sweet and bespectacled

not an athlete or a pretty boy

but destined to the part

of the boy who was not

and thereby, to become himself.

 

An unlikely drum major

but they followed him

more than a hundred

onto the Friday night chalk

with reluctant, begrudging respect.

 

His body was less the legionnaire

betraying him like a bandit

sending him teetering

to brinks and bottoms and quandaries

no man, no boy should wander.

 

College taught no mercy

for fickle bodies

punishment that would

last a lifetime

a lifetime that would not last.

 

Then there was time

twenties and thirties and more

the preacher said he’d been happy

the preacher said he was loved

amen.

 

And so in spring and at fifty

the boy we called Allen

who raised the Reidville flag

smart and sweet and bespectacled

is dead and dead so soon.

 

He was the first of us.

 

 

 

 

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