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

January 14, 2010

Be true to your school, I do, they dance, no day but today, & Beer! Beer! Beer! — + strings & jeans

It seems that life is getting back to normal these days — the parties are over, the garland is down (most of it, anyway), and the routine is starting to set in — if you believe in routines, that is.  I’ve never been one to dig into the rut — too claustrophobic for me.  I can see why some folks find the rut functional –it’s safe and can be comforting, I guess.  But if the rut gets too deep, it becomes harder and harder to see out of it and the next thing you know, it becomes a maze — and then — you’re trapped.

I’ve always been a fan of second and third careers, changing majors mid-stream, and letting the flow take you where it may.  Life never gets dull — it’s a sin to be boring.  That said, this is what we’re doing this weekend, starting tonight.

On Thursday at 7, my eldest and her beloved are going with me to see the Women Gamecocks play some mighty bball at the Colonial Center.  The Beer Doc drags me to as many of his little sporty events as he can, but never seems to be going in the direction of the arena when the Big Girls play.  Yesterday, after mentioning that the guys were playing LSU last night and that we should all Go Cocks and the like, one of my new students, the amazing Ms. Ebony Wilson who happens to play guard for the Women Gamecocks — and no, don’t give me any of that “lady” Gamecock crap until you’re ready to call the boys the “Gentlemen” Gamecocks when they play ball — asked me if I was going to their game tonight.  Zap!  What kind of Women’s Studies instructor am I if I don’t go out and support some of the toughest and most talented women of the university?  So, I’ll be there waving the garnet foam finger that Annie gave me for Christmas — Gamecock women are #1, in my book now, and Ms. Ebony Wilson happens to wear a #1 on her jersey.  Tonight’s game will be preceded by the best chee-boogie & brew in town at my beloved Hunter Gatherer.

And then there’s Friday night.  If you read my last blog & review of the film, you know that I’ll be attending the 5:30 showing of La Danse at the Nick, which will be preceded by some used-to-be surprise nuptials of two dear friends.  For all intents and purposes, the I dos are still a surprise if you haven’t been formally invited to the wedding or if you aren’t friends with the folks — of friends with their friends — on Facebook.  So, everything that I wrote yesterday still stands if you find yourself still in the dark — and I hope to see you there. In the light, before the film starts.

But for me and the Beer Doc, we’ll be darting out the back door of the theatre about half way through so we can grab some snacks and libation before we head down to TRUSTUS to see Rent.  This will only be like my umpteenth time of seeing this play, all other times on Broadway, but I am just so excited about seeing Kevin Bush play Mark — a role that both he and Doogie Howser were made for.  It only runs through next weekend and tickets are slim pickin’s, so if you have your heart set on going, as well you should, call the theatre at 254-9732, and beg Joe for a ticket.

After Rent we hope to make it down to CMFA at 914 Pulaski Street to take part in my friend Aaron Pelzek et. al.’s artist-driven extravaganza, Playing After Dark #4 — Free Form.  Aaron and buddies have brought together an awesome group of artists who will bring you everything from art-in-the-making via my friend Karen Storay, to Sherry Warren’s choreography (also my bud), a local band called The Noise, puppetry, poetry by Charlene Spearen (yes, a bud), scenes from Jaques Brel is Alive and Well — a play I was just writing about in the Beer Book, oddly enough, and, hell, I don’t remember — a bunch of stuff.  My friend Jeffrey wrote a nice little ditty on this event on his blog at http://carolinaculturebyjeffreyday.blogspot.com/.  The shenanigans start at 7:30 — which is why we’ll be coming in at the tail end, but never fail — the whole shebang is going to crank itself back up again Saturday night at the same time, same station.  Tickets are like $5, so seriously, head out to this event and show some love to local artist driven arts.  It’s the way it should be.

Which brings me to Saturday — the day of the second annual Columbia hosting of the World Beer Festival at the Columbia Convention Center.  There are two sessions, afternoon and evening.  Having made the mistake of attending as many sessions of beer events as offered before (read about this in Bob, Beer, and Me, coming out this spring/summer, by god!), we will only be attending the afternoon session — after which we will promptly crawl to our hotel room in the Vista and snooze until the evening festivities commence with yet another freaking basketball game — the Gentlemen Cocks, this time.  Is it possible to OD on sports?  Is that something that happens to the hard-core — read Beer Doc — or has he developed an immunity or a tolerance — built it up in his system, as it were, leaving him protected while his neophyte woman remains susceptible to sports poisoning and may just have to sneak out at half time, already clad in her blue jeans, to the Koger Center for some strings?  It is time for the Philharmonic’s Beethoven and Blue Jeans, after all.

After running in and dropping off a coat closet of old coats at the Art Bar last night — thanks to Chris Bickel for his generous offer of collecting a scad or two of coats for the cold during karaoke — I felt the yearning for the good Art Bar people in my soul, so the night should finish us up, just a few blocks from our hotel, at the best place to be in the city after 1 am.  We are so lucky to have that place.  Really, take a minute and thank your maker for the Art Bar.

Whatever your drug of choice, get drunk on the goodies going on in our beloved city this weekend.  I’ll see you around town.

Cheers, Y’all.

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January 1, 2010

The New Year, Cassie Premo Steele, The Poemgranate, & my favorite poem from Ruin

Educator, author, creativity coach, and poet, Cassie Premo Steele has a multitude of gifts that she generously shares with her community, near and far.  Next Thursday night, January 7th, Cassie will be the featured poet reading a selection of her poetry as part of the entertainment component of the FOM series on Main Street.  Her work will focus on relationships and intimate issues — such as parenthood, marriage, and family & work struggles — and she’ll be reading and signing her books at 7:30 pm.  Poets Melissa Buckner, Kristine Hartvigsen, and Chris McCormick will be reading at 6:30 and 8:30 pm, as well.

Cassie’s poem, The Poemgranate, was recently nominated for the 2009 Pushcart Prize. The first time I heard this poem, the author was standing on the front porch at Muddy Ford on a cold and drizzly autumn day, speaking the words intimately to our group of 8 women who were participants in the first Women Writing Naturally Workshop.  The day was all crisp and spicy and promising despite the gray dormancy of the woods around us.  After the reading, Cassie broke apart a pomegranate and shared seeds with all of us, then invited us each to commit our seeds to the ground with our own personal wishes and blessings.  If you can imagine how special that moment in time was for our small group, you’ll know how important it is that you come and hear Cassie read next week.  Here is the poem below.

~~~

The Poemgranate
By Cassie Premo Steele

It is fall, the time after the beginning.
Not spring, not one thing in its infancy.
No fantasy of pregnancy or baby again.

I am in a hotel room, far from home.
Next door a baby cries. The mama
Coos her sweet southern comfort.

I did this with you, when you were young.
I ran like Persephone, but with a baby,
Smoky Mountains, New Mexico plains,

Boston, and beaches—we’ve seen the insides
Of hotel rooms turned tombs as I tried
To get what all mothers want, peace

And quiet. I would put you on the floor,
My lily, my orchid, my crocus, let you
Play with plastic cups, suck from multiple

Bottles, anything for one moment
When I could look away without fear
Of falling or choking or hurt.

It is fall, the time after the beginning.
Not spring, not one thing in its infancy.
No fantasy of pregnancy or baby again.

You are no baby anymore, at eight
You have fallen from grace
Many times—not from your mother

But from yourself, which is worse.
I mourn like Demeter, even though
You are still here. You inherited

More than my eyes: my vision,
My moods, my hungers, my cycles
And sins. They live in your skin.

You told me last week you had waited
For thousands of years in the sky
For a mother who would take you in.

Me, I said, smiling, I was the best one.
And then you stuck in the pin: No,
You were the only one to be so dumb.

It is fall, the time after the beginning.
Not spring, not one thing in its infancy.
No fantasy of pregnancy or baby again.

I have no flowers to welcome you back,
No seeds to plant, no chants to make
You whole again. I am human.

Not a goddess with magic or power
To create seasons that mirror
My immense sorrow, your great need.

All I can do is to feed my desire
For solitude, find a way back
To myself through these words

That I harvest like fruits, plucked
From my head, cut open in bed,
And eaten, forbidden or not.

Seeds and core, peel and stem, entire.
It is with this poemgranate that I might
Make myself, mother, whole again.

~~~

Cassie is also the author of five books, one if which is Ruin. Here is my favorite poem from that collection.

~

What Woods

by Cassie Premo Steele

~

What woods are these, that would begin

with this bitchy little seed, so ferocious?

What good is this mean tree that tries

to cut my fingers until they bleed?

Podlike I crawl back into the earth’s

prehistoric sandied shore, and let her take these

teeth from me, let her keep me

from biting back, or biting more.

There I listen, earlike, for the crowned

dawn so I can emerge from this

horrible beginning, so I can split

from my nightmare heritage

and learn to stand where I belong.

~~~

For more information on Cassie, to follow her blog, listen to her radio show, or order books that you may have signed at the FOM event, visit the following link:  http://www.cassiepremosteele.com


December 26, 2009

Poetry from a younger me

Filed under: poetry,writer's life,writing — cynthiaboiter @ 22:18
Tags: , ,

As I’ve said time and time again, I am not a poet.  But I’ve always liked to dabble in poetry for fun.  When I was a kid, the occasional poem was a much-needed outlet for quite a bit of my outsider angst.  I won my first poetry contest when I was in the third grade — can’t recall the poem, but it was awarded by a publication called Read Magazine and I won a cheap little charm shaped like a scroll.  Thanks Read Magazine — validation rocks.

Then when I was in high school, freshman year, I started entering a poetry contest that the University of South Carolina – Spartanburg, now called USC Upstate, sponsored.  The first year, one of my poems was published in their literary magazine, quirkily called Maggie’s Drawers, (from the frontispiece of the magazine are the words — For those not acquainted with the term “Maggie’s Drawers,” it signifies a complete miss of the target on the rifle range), but I didn’t win anything.  The next year, I lucked up and won an award of special merit for a poem I’m too embarrassed to re-print — although I do recognize early Pagan interests in the lines and am amused by the fact that my insecurities clearly required me to include a nod to Jesus near the ending, lest my spiritual uppitiness land me burning forever in hell.  (I’ve always recognized the utility Pascale’s wager, which says that if you believe in a supreme being but you turn out to be wrong, you’ve lost nothing — however, if you don’t believe in one and there actually is one, well, you’re just screwed.)  Shift and dodge, dodge and shift — ain’t religion grand?

Finally, by my junior year, one of my poems was awarded first place in the contest.  It’s funny now to look back and see myself as the little drama queen I was — given my distaste for such creatures as an adult.  But it won out of 500 entries, (granted 500 entries that likely originated from upstate South Carolina — not exactly the arts capital of the Southeast), so here it is, in all it’s dripping drama.  (note the lack of capitalization — e. e. cummings was my hero)

~~

doodle my name

on the place mat

set under cold bacon and egg

and warm memories

of other mornings.

I don’t ask for

clean or silent thoughts

just as long as they’re

of me and not

the ones before.

Lean on my wallshadow

and cherish yesterdays

like

8-year-old new bike Christmases.

Pretend

hours are minutes

I’m but seconds away.

~~~~~

Personally, I’m much more fond of the following poems, which were published in the same issue, but not recognized.

~~

i wear new shoes

like a dog eats grass

casually at first

taking for granted

the fields of choroglory

and soles of leatherbetter.

~

now and then i

wonder almost hope

that both would turn

to cindergravel.

~~~~~

(Quite the budding socialist there, huh?)

and this clever little gem …

~~

If you write poems

day after day

eventually you

write one you

believe in.

~

About truth

or faith

or promises –

wait – that’s not right …

~

If you write poems

day after day

eventually you

write one you

believe in.

~~~~~

By my senior year in high school, I had already won first place but I entered anyway and, this time, was awarded second place in the contest.  It’s funny now to look back and see how much difference a year makes in the growth of a young person.  It’s not that the poetry is that much better, but it is braver — and that makes me happy.  Here’s the second place winner, and it has a title.

~~

No Imitation

~

I don’t want to write down

love words or nature phrases

or spell myself with little letters

or substitute silly exclamations

where a simple word belongs.

~

And I don’t want to write of sex

as an ocean and God as a brother

or his another

or the way Mr. McKuen

makes poems into songs.

~

I just want to write of me

and my yesterdays and

next years and burst bubbles

and plan the ones I’ve yet

to purse my lips for.

~

I’m too interested in acquainting

me with me to try to imitate

you, the man who died

fifty years past, or some sea-gull

who learned to soar.

~~~~~

Cute, huh?  This was in 1975 when Rod McKuen was all the rage — he had teamed up in the fifties with Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac and moved spoken word poetry into popular culture.  Then in the sixties, he was responsible for translating much of the work of French singer/songwriter/poet, Jaqcues Brel into English before his death. I still have a few of his LPs, despite the fact that I soon learned — and may have been learning even in high school — that his work is uniformly considered pretty iffy.  Still, it meant something to me at an important time in my life — so there! to critics and idiots alike (and sometimes one in the same) who think they can determine what is and isn’t art based on their own world views alone.  As for the sea-gull reference, Richard Bach’s beautiful but naive novella, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, had been published in 1970, aiding and abetting in the non-conformity movement of the time,which, as my previous poetry so well illustrates, I was all about even as a child.  This fact could not be better illustrated than by the following self-righteous little ditty of mine that served to close out the 1977 issue of Maggie’s Drawers.

~~

… After my words have pleaded

with you,

if you still believe yesterday

can carry the weight of eternity —

~

then never shade your eyes

against my sun again …

~~~~~

Well, that was a fun little trip down the pot-holed, briar-ridden, tar and gravel path of Memory Lane.  It’s hard to not find oneself introspective at the juxtaposition of old and new years.  Funny though, I found this last poem printed in the pages of Maggie’s Drawers today, coincidentally entitled December Twenty-Six, which is the self-same date as today.  It’s a sweet little poem and I still like it a lot.  So, here’s a gift to today’s readers from an 18-year-old me.

~

Happy holidays to the children we were and will always be.

~

December Twenty-Six

~

Packing away ornaments

I store a month of memories

of crowded stores

and anxious eyes

beside a dry and brittle tree,

icicles still intact,

in a full and contented attic.

Outside, G. I. Joe spies

pink ruffled undies

mounted on a chrome horse

who toots to me at the window.

And I turn, lost in thought,

to toss away an age-old Madonna

and reach for Santa’s tiny sleigh

to gingerly wrap in tissue.

November 12, 2009

Zen & the Art of Being Busy, plus Ladies’ Night Out at the Columbia Museum of Art

I like being busy — doing different things all the time, dipping into the arts, politics, travel, intellectual pursuits, and even sports (but only for Gamecock athletics and on Super Bowl Sunday when I arbitrarily pick a team and cheer for it as if my brother were the QB.  I also like to hear when Clemson loses, but I don’t really care who beats them, and I sure as hell don’t want to watch the game.)  I’ve never been much for going to bed early, which is why I often write these posts in the wee hours of the night, and I resent the fact that I have grown to need between 6 and 7 hours sleep.  Sleep feels like lost time to me.  I don’t mind the demands of teaching a couple of classes at the university, writing freelance articles, and working almost constantly on the beer book which has turned into behemoth, but what I hope to be a nerdy beer-drinker’s dream.  (Did somebody say edit?)  But when I get too busy to do all the things I want to do, that’s when I’m sad.

Tonight is Ladies Night at the Columbia Museum of Art, and I’m going to be a big girl and do the right thing and stay home and keep working.  I’ll be honoring the zen of going out by staying  home, chained to my computer, getting shit done.  But that doesn’t mean that You have to.  Here’s the blurb, fresh off the museum’s website — go have a drink for me.   Cheers, Y’all.

Ladies Night Out
11/12/09
6:00 – 8:00 p.m.

The 5th annual Ladies Night Out – one of the most talked about events of the year celebrates the Museum’s fall exhibition, Ansel Adams: Masterworks in style with beauty products from Pout! boutique, Nana by Sally purses, Jewelry from Unforgetable, Children’s apparel by KD’s Treehouse and Swift Water Beads & Jewelry Supplies. Enjoy gourmet cupcakes from Cupcake in the Vista, libations and entertainment by DJ Peter A.

Call 803.799.2810. Tickets may also be purchased at the door.

Cost: Admission includes hors d’oeuvres and wine/beer and is $20 or $10 for members. Admission fee can be used toward the purchase of a new membership at the event.

August 25, 2009

Bubba Cromer

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Bubba Cromer.  In many ways, Bubba is Columbia’s own little personification of the gothic South.  He is our color chartreuse; our fried Moon pie.  Both our Bible salesman and our Joy Hopewell, to Bubba we are all good country people.  Bubba Cromer is what would happen if John Waters and Andy Griffith had a child.  More than anything though, I am a fan of Bubba Cromer because he is ours — and everyone knows how I feel about loving our own.

I recently wrote an article about Bubba for Lake Murray Magazine and it was published just a few days after he had found out that his beloved dog, Biscuit, who is pictured with Bubba alongside the story, was diagnosed with cancer.  We lost our golden retriever Bradie a few years back from the same diagnosis, and the crack that started in my heart that day hasn’t stopped spreading yet.  Bubba called me to thank me for the story, but had a hard time keeping his voice about him as he expressed his kind thoughts.  This is another reason that I’m a fan of Bubba’s.

The State hasn’t put the article online yet and I’m not sure that they will.  So here’s my own copy of the story, and you’ll notice that I included the website for Bubba’s films.  (It was cut from my story.)  If you don’t already have your own copy of  The Long Journey Home or The Hills Have Thighs, then now is a good time to do some shopping.

 

A Coach Cromer Production:

 Filmmaking with South Carolina Attorney – James Bubba Cromer

 

By Cynthia Boiter

 

            When considering the case of James Bubba Cromer – former South Carolina State Representative, novelist, attorney, recipient of the Governor’s Order of the Palmetto, Bigfoot aficionado and Reading Clerk for the South Carolina House of Representatives – it’s not always easy to take seriously this southern boy extraordinaire.  Goofy, tall and sweet-cheeked, with a drawl like molasses and the manners of a Baptist minister, Bubba Cromer may be the kind of award winning enigma it’s tough to take seriously.

            But seriously folks, you should.

            Over the past three years, Cromer has written, produced, directed and starred in two independent Southern cult films:  The Long Way Home:  A Bigfoot Story in 2007 and, released earlier this year, The Hills Have Thighs:  An Appalachian Comedy.    While The Long Way Home has won numerous awards including Best Narrative Feature Film at the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival in 2007, and The Hills Have Thighshas also been received with significant acclaim, neither of these films is what one might expect from an ersatz southern politico with a law office downtown and a resume replete with offices held and awards earned. That’s because on paper Bubba seems like a typical successful southern guy.  In film though, he’s really something different.

            Bubba’s films are exercises in comedic absurdity, embracing the extremes of loony-ness and going beyond the quirky, all the while telling loosely entertaining tales.  His casts of neo-gothic characters fall one notch below freaky with everyone from snake handlers to drag queens to an Appalachian gangster with a penchant for hallucinogenic plants.  Names like Drip Drywall, Velveeta Adams, Tree-Tree Davenport and Pooter Brown dot the scripts, if scripts there be, and scenes take place, for the most part, in and about the funny side of the Blair Witch Woods.

            Suffice it to say, a Coach Cromer production is no more a typical independent film than Bubba is a typical South Carolina attorney.  

            A 1980 graduate of Dreher High School, Bubba attended Clemson University and the University of South Carolina School of Law.  As the prize for winning a best legs contest at a South Carolina bar – the drinking, not the judicial kind – Bubba was flown to Hollywood ostensibly to be cast in a California Wine Cooler Commercial.  Instead, the ever resourceful Bubba used the free trip as an opportunity to shop himself to Hollywood law offices where he was successfully hired as an associate at a Los Angeles law firm.  After two years on the west coast however, homesickness got the best of the Southern boy and, as Bubba says, he sucked up his pride, tucked his tail between his legs and hauled his sad self back home.

            The next few years would find Bubba practicing law, writing a novel, serving two terms as the only Independent member of the South Carolina General Assembly since Reconstruction, and being elected as the Reading Clerk for the South Carolina House of Representatives for ten years straight.  Interestingly enough, throughout it all, at no time did the future filmmaker even entertain the idea of making a motion picture.

            According to Cromer, it was almost four years ago when he and his parents were having cocktails at his family’s mountain get-away near Brevard, North Carolina when “yet another ridiculous Bigfoot Documentary crawled across the television screen.”

            Exasperated, Bubba declared to his father that even he “could make a better Bigfoot Movie than that!”   

            To which his dad replied, “Well son, here’s a hundred dollars that says you can’t.” 

            It was based solely on this dare that Bubba took on the initial filmmaking project from which The Long Way Home:  A Bigfoot Story sprang. 

            “I never expected that making a movie could be so much fun; so satisfying,” Bubba says.

            Influenced by innovative and favorite filmmakers like John Waters, David Lynch and Christopher Guest, Bubba plied the praise and criticism he received from both patrons and professionals on his first project into his second venture, The Hills Have Thighs, focusing more intently on quirky comedy.  The result is a mystery movie that Bubba himself describes aptly as “a piece of my warped and twisted mind.”

            Does that mean that the filmmaker-slash-attorney doesn’t take himself any more seriously than his loyal following is prone to do? 

            Actually, yes.

            “My films, I take seriously,” Bubba explains.  “But taking yourself too seriously is a dangerous road upon which I have no intention of traveling.  People who take themselves seriously are seldom very happy.”

            To that end the storyteller offers up the tale of one of his favorite moments in his short filmmaking career.  It was earlier this year at an advance screening of The Hills Have Thighs in Charleston and a hundred people were squeezed into a sixty person-sized room to see the premier.  The movie was well underway when a group of six disgruntled viewers made a commotion of haughtily leaving the theater in protest, slamming the door behind them.

            “The room was quiet for a moment after the slam, and then suddenly the remaining 94 viewers erupted in applause,” Bubba recalls.  “I knew then that I had my audience.”

            Seriously.

 

(For more information about Bubba Cromer’s films, including sneak peeks, viewing and ordering information, visit his website at http://www.thehillshavethighs.com.)

July 7, 2009

Brussels, Delirium Cafe, How to (Properly) Taste a Beer (and previews)

I haven’t written for a few weeks because, glory of all glories, I’ve been working diligently on the beer book — and not being the reluctant writer! 

That said, I bring to you an excerpt of the book that I hope you’ll enjoy.  (I also promise to finish my story of the wine journey in Burgundy soon — as well as the recounting of a lovely beer tasting from Greenville’s own Thomas Creek Brewery held recently at my favorite place in Columbia, the Cellar on Greene.)

~~~~~~~  

 

Brussels is famous for its waffles (gaufres), its mussels (best served as moules frites– a delicious working-class combination of mussels and French fries), and its sprouts.  But more importantly Brussels is famous for its beer – not necessarily the brewing of beer, although one of the most unique beer experiences we enjoyed was our tour of the Cantillon Brewery in the Anderlecht area of the city – but the drinking of it.  And while there are a number of places to enjoy the distinctive selection of beer that accumulates in Brussels, a few places stand out famously.

Delirium Café, hidden in the medieval area near the free township of the Ilot Sacre, has the distinction among watering holes of housing the official world’s record of most beers on one menu.  Located in an 18th century cellar, the Delirium Café might be mistaken for just another drunks’ bar and, given that such a large part of the character of any establishment is determined by the patrons within, sometimes I guess it is just that.  But don’t let the rowdies and the tourists deter you: Delirium has much to offer the beer connoisseur – starting with a menu the size of a major metropolitan area telephone book.  With more than two thousand beers available in bottles and on draft, a good five hundred genevers, and a vast collection of rare, vintage and hard to find beers, particularly Belgians, Delirium Café is not to be missed when visiting Brussels.

We dropped by Delirium Café twice during our time in Brussels and both times found the bar crowded, but not boisterous.  Vintage beer signs line the walls and metal beer trays are affixed to the ceilings.  The place is nothing fancy, but few good beer bars are.  There is no table service so patrons have two options:  gather around one of the huge old beer barrel tables, grab a stool if you can find one, and make relays to the bar; or, do as we do wherever we are, make yourself at home at the bar and enjoy all the added benefits of having bartenders at hand who, if the spirit moves them, may just enlighten your palate even further.  While the crowds at the café during our visits were for the most part made up of patrons born many years after us, there was a respectable number of mature beer aficionados, as we have come to call ourselves, and we were able to strike up conversations with several other folks just as young at heart and palate as are we.

Delirium Café is also the place where we first encountered one of the many beer-raters we were to meet during our travels.  This particular rater had wisely taken his seat at the bar as did we.  We first noticed him writing carefully in a small booklet that he lovingly guarded close to his chest.  Then we noted that he approached his beers much in the same manner as us.  First he took a good look at his beer as it set before him on the counter, appraising the color and liveliness.  Then he picked the beer up in his hand and searched in the darkness for a clear white light to which he could hold the glass in order to more fully assess the beer’s color.  Is it amber?  Yellow?  Cola-colored?  The color of weak or strongly brewed tea?  Is the beer clear or cloudy?  How lively are the bubbles – sedate like a British real ale or vivacious like a top-fermented kolsch?  Each beer is an organism unto itself; don’t be surprised to find that beers from different kegs served at different bars at different times of year look, well, different.  Such is the nature of real beer.

Next, our beer-rater friend looked at the beer’s head – the foamy, frothy meringue-like substance that floats on top as the carbon dioxide within rises up through the beer to the surface, holding fast to the malt-created proteins along the way.  Beer head can vary in appearance and consistency depending upon, among other things, the type of beer, alcohol content, the glass and the condition of the glass in which it is served, and how quickly or slowly the beer is poured.  Tiny, tightly knit bubbles will result in a head that is smooth and creamy, but heads can vary from appearing foamy and sudsy like bathtub bubbles to heads that are rocky and large, standing up of their own accord over the edge of the glass.  Color is dependent upon the style of beer, snowy white to light brown, taupe or darker, like the foam on a root beer float.  Too many people are surprised when they find that their dark beers taste sweet or mild and their lighter colored beers taste strong.  Color in a beer is created primarily by the malt in the beer and the manner in which the malt is dried.

The next step for a beer-rater is to smell the beer.  Smell, not sniff.  The beer-rater we studied brought his glass to his face, as if to drink, then thoroughly introduced his nose into the odors and fumes and mists that his beer released as it slid down the side of the glass.  Smell deeply, when you’re investigating the olfactory components of your beer.  Smell, exhale through your mouth, then smell deeply again.  Between eighty and ninety percent of what we call tastes is actually attributable to smell.  Fundamental elements of taste and smell tell us whether our beers are sweet, salty, sour and/or bitter, but beer can smell like so much more:  fruits, herbs, spices, leathers, meats, milk, coffee, chocolate, tea, tobacco, even barnyard and bubblegum.  Don’t disregard the smells you think you smell in your beer – if you smell them they are real.

Finally comes the fun part.  Tasting our beer.  Few things can be as personal as the way in which beer-lovers approach the tasting of their beers.  Unlike with wine, it is difficult to splash beer around in one’s mouth by swirling air into the liquid mix, but it is equally important to be sure your beer blankets your mouth, stimulating all the taste receptors found lurking on the surface of the fifty to one hundred taste cells that each taste bud holds.  We watched as our Delirium beer rating friend took his initial sip of beer – a smaller amount to start with allowing him to let the beer wash over his tongue and into the back of his mouth.  Swallow.  Breathe.  He then took his next and more substantial mouthful, swallowed, breathed and then, the important part: he thought about what he was tasting. 

But it doesn’t stop with the first or second taste.  Notice how the passage of time affects your beer:  how it settles into itself as the head erodes (if it does erode) and the temperature drops.  And temperature is something to actively consider.  The flavor of good beer has been done a disservice by all the hype over drinking a cold beer.  It’s not that drinking a cold beer isn’t enjoyable – but think about what you’re enjoying:  is it the beer itself or the fact that something liquid and chilly is traveling down your throat?  As with wine, overly chilled beer has a numbing effect on the palate, potentially disguising the myriad taste sensations hiding there and waiting for your tongue to find and celebrate them.

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 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.

 

 

 

 

April 4, 2009

Flash Fiction — Releasing Raylene

I was recently honored to be the inaugural winner for fiction in the South Carolina Writers’ Workshop Quill Contest.  I submitted a short, short piece — typically termed “flash fiction” and was awarded a small but thoughtful prize.  It was a fun little piece that, like Dobie, another flash fiction winner in a Women on Writing contest sponsored by WW Norton, seemed to flow fairly effortlessly — very much the way you might tell a story or share an anecdote.  The lightness of this piece is a bit of a departure for me and, since it’s short, I thought my astute readers my get a kick out of it.  Here is Releasing Raylene.

Releasing Raylene

By Cynthia Boiter

 

The idea that anything Lula said could be something other than a hoot had never crossed Raylene’s mind.  She loved going to the little mill village beauty shop for the banter and the foolishness as much as she did for the attention Lula gave to the top of her head.  She had tried to convince herself that the conceit of an occasional shampoo and set was something she did more for her husband than for herself.  But when Dewey got the call from the Lord to become the associate pastor of the Church of the Beloved Body of Christ the same week that a Saturday morning slot opened miraculously at Lula’s shop, Raylene was convinced it was the Lord’s will her hair be pretty.  So she booked herself in perpetuity.  In some ways she did it for Dewey; in others, she did it for the Lord.

            Lula had a knack for working people up.  She would read a story about a half baby – half alien in The National Enquirer, or see a segment on 60 Minutes about a campground full of bigamists, then relay a portion of the information she had learned to the women in her shop, embellishing the parts she could not recall.  Raylene would hear snippets of Lula’s latest broadcast in line at the A & P, or catch a familiar phrase before the chatter died down in Sunday school, and know what was on everyone’s mind.  Always on her best behavior, Raylene rarely took part in any discourse that teetered near the theatric.  Even as a grown woman, there was enough little lady in her to know when to best look at her feet and smile.   

But on the rare morning when business at the shop was slow, or if Lula wasn’t feeling hoarse from a hard week’s work, she would occasionally engage Raylene as her private audience.  No stranger to the shortfalls of humanity, Lula could be counted on to apply pristine judgment to the workings of the world.  It was with this prudence that she introduced Raylene to the concept of the women’s libber.

            “Right there in the road with both Bert Parks and God looking on,” Lula rasped, her voice hardly a whisper but the certainty of scandal in her eyes.  “Hairspray, curlers, make-up, what have you, right into a fifty-five gallon drum.  Some even threw in their bras and girdles, if you can believe that!  Stripped ‘em right off their bodies, tossed ‘em in, and – whoosh!  Up in flames!”

            It wasn’t that Raylene was insensitive to Lula’s distress at the destruction of articles of beauty.  In fact, the very idea of throwing away a perfectly good lipstick made her gasp.  But the thought of summarily dispensing with a bra struck a tender nerve somewhere near her breastbone and she felt herself squirm beneath the elastic, lace and wire.  The kind of woman who wore her brassier like a second layer of skin, the concept of not wearing it was as foreign to Raylene as going barefoot in the rain or dancing in the street.  She wore her bra like she wore her own smell.  The only thing she took off her body less than her bra was her wedding band – because it needn’t be laundered or changed.  Raylene wore her bra to shop in, to clean in, and to sleep in.  It was the last thing she took off before bathing and the first thing she put back on.  It wasn’t that she wanted to wear it, or that she even liked wearing it.  She had made no conscious decision in the matter.  She wore her bra because that was what women did, which was all she thought she needed to know.

            Raylene left Lula’s shop that Saturday morning with an uneasy feeling swimming about her head.  Try as she might she couldn’t shake Lula’s story and, throughout her walk home, she revisited the idea with a guilty sense of confusion.  Never one to notice her own body, much less that of another woman, Raylene began to let her eyes slide down the faces of  the women she encountered to the area below their chins and, finally, to their breasts.  Aware that God could read her every thought she quickly reassured both Him, and herself, that she had no untoward interests in the women; their brassieres were where her interests lie.

But once the day’s duties were done and she found herself alone in the little tile bathroom where she freshened and changed her clothes, her own image in the mirror caught her eye.  Raylene couldn’t remember the last time she had looked at her body; it was as much a stranger to her as it was to Dewey, who sought only specific parts and then in the quiet ambiguity of the dark.  The woman in the mirror wore white cotton panties below a sturdy brassiere that crossed her heart neatly, leaving a narrow ribbon of flesh in between.  Eyes closed, Raylene slid the fingers of one hand down her neck, across her shoulder and under the strap. The cool touch of her hand gave way to a deep and glowing warmth.  She took a breath and let her palm move further down, across skin that felt sumptuous – like peach fuzz.  There was a roundness below she could sense as much as feel – a whole, satisfying, centering roundness that took Raylene’s thoughts out of the bathroom and into her summer garden where she cupped her palm around the imperfect sphere of a ripe tomato, full and warmed by morning sun.  It took her into the sweet smells of her morning kitchen, where a raised mound of dough was firm, living, ready to reinvent itself as hot buttered biscuits.  It took her to the furry belly of a childhood pup – round and wonderful and sated with absolute trust.

The grind of gravel in the driveway told her that Dewey was home from the church.  Out the window she could see the splat of fresh spring rain dot the windshield of his car.  His keys jingled in the back door then, slam, and all the air in the house pushed through the doorways and walls.

“I’m home,” he called as he sifted the mail in his hands.  He could hear the pat of Raylene’s feet down the hallway and through the kitchen, then away toward the back porch and door.  He looked up into the emptiness of the kitchen and realized she was gone. 

The rain, no longer a drizzle, ran in sleek rivulets down the window panes that looked out Raylene’s kitchen onto the street and the houses and shops and churches beyond.

“Raylene?” Dewey called, wiping the fog from the window.  “Good God, Raylene, where are you?”

And in the middle of the tar and gravel road that took the woman everywhere she went in the world in which she lived, Raylene stood, feet bare, face raised to heaven, arms extended like a wind mill in the steady rain that streamed and puddled in a tender valley between her breasts, separated from the world by nothing more than a thin layer of cotton and the unmistakable veil of joy.  

 

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