La Dolce Vita: A Contest

Given the sporadic nature of my postings and as such the sporadic traffic I enjoy, it’s always great when someone in the world reaches out to me after reading the blog.

It’s even more exciting when that person is the owner of a property in Barolo that they rent out to people like me and you.

And it’s even more exciting when for the simple act of becoming a Facebook fan of this property, you can get a chance for a free three night stay.  Yes, this is social networking at its finest.

Italy is my favorite country – I mean really, isn’t it everyone’s favorite?  In fact, I’ve been planning a two-month long villa retreat for next summer with the family, a one of a kind journey that will be cheaper than camp here in California but offer so much more than the 500th game of dodgeball, a rigged fishing trip to a fully stocked fake lake or the chance to make a comb sheath out of bits of leather and lanyard string (thanks for the memories, “Modern Family”)

So if you’re the gambling type who’d just as soon drop 100 quarters into a video poker machine, please ask lady luck to grant you an even better reward than a $5.00 surf and turf; a few nights in wine country paradise and a trip you’ll never forget.

Friend TorreBarolo NOW!  Everyone who becomes a fan of TorreBarolo between now and the end of January will be eligible for this free drawing.  Winner will be announced on February 1st.

And please remember my family only numbers four so you won’t even notice us as we come and go through the extra bedroom…

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Published in: on January 25, 2010 at 10:24 am  Comments (1)  

New York City to World: Drop Dead

3066319207_2c0031a3f2I wish my month away from the blogosphere could be attributed to some grand goings on, but alas, all the usual culprits were present:  work, kids off from school, nothing to write about, suburban ennui.

But thanks to that last procrastination excuse, I left the confines of my Encino subdivision two weeks ago for a gaudy, old Manhattan vacation and came back with a new found appreciation for my hometown, but not so much that I longed to live there again.

That’s the thing about NYC, it has the power to inspire and revile, often on a walk between Park and Madison.

The trip began with the usual rush hour cab crawl from JFK to the city but what LA born and raised kid doesn’t love the inside of a taxi?  Even though they now feature TV’s showing what basically amount to promotional videos, the boys were much more fascinated with our driver.  For there’s perhaps nothing as cute this side of a kitten falling asleep on You Tube that compares to an 8 and 6 year old trying to pronounce a name that’s got sixteen letters and no vowels in it.  But the guy was super nice and a great sport and tried his best to answer all their questions, notably Ben’s asking him what he’s going to do for a job once his license expires.

Eventually we made our way to the cozy pleasures of the Upper West Side where we dropped off our bags, and strolled across the street, Woody style, to the local Italian cubbie hole.  This, at its core is the simplistic beauty of the city.  Home in LA, whether you are headed out to dinner with the kids or just another couple, it’s a production before you leave the house – who’s going to drive, should we pick you up or you pick us up?  How long will it take us to get to Beverly Hills, should we take the canyon, the freeway, etc.  Will we have enough time to find street parking or just valet?

None of these questions are necessary in the Apple that is big.

And its magic touched us in many ways (cue: getting groped on the Subway joke here).  Ben, someone who literally only drinks water suddenly felt the need to have coffee (decaf) at every meal.  And like a true New Yorker, each morning’s jaunt to the counter at Zabar’s was an invitation for him to strike up a conversation with anyone who sat next to him, friendly strangers that were regaled with his life’s ambitions of either playing in the NHL or being a bartender (he of wildly diverse vocational aspirations).

Our days were spent walking, a lot, also a rude awakening for those children of LA, who’s sneakers are generally kept immaculate by never touching pavement.  But exploring any city on foot is a pleasure we don’t often appreciate and it made the vacation all the more special.

If there’s a recession going on, the city found a way to hide it from us.  Every restaurant and bar that lined Columbus and Amsterdam (and the Village) was packed, though we seemed to be the only ones with kids.  LA may have a reputation as Nannyville, USA but other than the park, where were the children?  No doubt sent to some upstate summer camp while their parents frolicked in the city or out in the Hamptons.  For as I can attest, there’s nothing like dragging two tikes around like dingy’s off your yacht to slow down your NYC lifestyle.

NYC is alive and well, and dare I say much better than when I left in 1990.  Sure, there are people who will complain about the Disneyfication of their formally crime and grime wonderland, but for me New York is best enjoyed when its clean, friendly and raising its collective middle finger at the world saying, sure come on and visit, then get out.

Which was alright by me because after a week of sharing my personal space with the rest of humanity, all I wanted to do was get back into my car and try to remember what pavement actually feels like.

Published in: on August 19, 2009 at 9:30 am  Leave a Comment  

Bordeaux – Act III: The Food (or What I Didn’t Eat on my French vacation

120px-foie_gras_et_sa_gelee_modified-21As many of you have been reading, my magical week in France was full of sublime pleasures.  The rolling countryside, the luscious wine, the Mona Lisa.

But the one thing missing from this trip, something that really would have made the journey an unqualified success was the food, or for me, the lack thereof.

It can now be said, not in a derogatory way, not with an ugly American accent but merely the statement of fact, France is no place for a vegetarian.  That is not to say they do not sympathize, nor wanted to make it right for me.  No, the sad reality is that the concept of foregoing eating meat is truly foreign to them.

This is especially surprising (and frustrating) to go hungry in the land of bread and cheese, which perhaps coincidentally were the only things I did eat during my trip.  That and omelettes, at any and every meal.

Note:  If you are a Vegan, visit Italy instead.

As I said, people were friendly enough about it.  But upon my declaration, “Je suis vegetarian.” I was met with a grimaced face normally reserved for when someone watches a squirrel  run across a busy street (a meal I no doubt could have ordered had I eaten small rodents).

The first reaction was always the same (and it’s a fair question) – “Poisson?”  Fish?  Now, I’ve been known, when my choices are between the grilled vegetable plate with cous cous or a non sentient being like a shrimp or clam, to sometimes opt for the latter – please refrain from your blood throwing, PETA, I love you but I can’t save the world all by myself.

So the one night when I skipped the eggs and agreed to a piece of white fish (and some of you must know where this is going) – I got a pretty big piece of white fish.  It was so big in fact that it included things like its head, its tail, all four-thousand tiny bones, and I presume the hook that snared it.

What was missing from said meal was my appetite…

So for you animal lovers headed to Marseille, or Beune or Paris or Tours, might I humbly suggest smuggling as much food as you can in your suitcase.  You’ll need it.

Footnote:  Ironically, one of the best meals I’ve ever had in my life was in France.  At a little cafe in Cannes.  It was called La Pizza.

Published in: on December 16, 2008 at 10:03 am  Comments (4)  

Bordeaux – Act II: The Wine

500522508209_0_albSo the composition of this photograph leaves a lot of creativity to be desired and that little smiling speck with the ugly green jacket is me (standing next to winemaker Ryan Waugh), but I’m hoping you can see where we are at the top of the picture.

It says, “Cheval Blanc”; a wine famous for 150 years on its own but then made even more well known by “Sideways.”  For it was the ’61 Cheval Blanc, a gem as coveted as a Ty Cobb baseball card, that anti-hero Miles enjoyed with his hamburger at the end of the film.

Our wine tasting journey (one week ago today, mind you) began at this famed house and it was every bit as memorable an experience as you can imagine.

884352508209_0_bgThe cold, rainy skies only made it more appropriate.  This is what France’s wine royalty should look like, fitting ever so nicely with the cold, ancient stones of the Chateau (part of which were actually going under renovations.

The vines pictured here, one of three main vineyards on the property are 95 years young and in their dormant state are still maintained to get ready for Spring.

What’s fascinating about spending time here is the simple fact that they’ve been doing the same thing, on the same plots of land for centuries and all you’re doing is taking part in this long and storied process.

Our tour was lead by a young oeneologist named Pierre (you can’t make that up)264352508209_0_alb – pictured right.  His easy demeanor, coupled with the fact that Cheval Blanc is his first job ever begged you to envy (read: hate) him but he was just too charming. We all hung onto his every word like a wallflower hoping to be asked to dance by the captain of the football team.

Tidbit I loved:  There were many but my favorite had to do with their barrel selection.  Each year they buy barrels from several cooperages in France.  And each year they are invited to taste the wine blind from one of six barrels.  They do not know which is their barrel and are asked to rate the wines from all six.  After the scores are tallied the barrel makers are told how their work fared.  That’s how they insure that each manufacturer will send their best stuff every year.

Okay, I’ve officially become a wine geek…

After lunch in the medieval city of St. Emilion, where we saw the actual stone bed of the monk which gives the town it’s name (“Sit and Sleep will beat any advertised (rock bed) price or your rock bed is free!) we spent time with a winemaker who makes a Grand Cru in the same place his family has been making wine since 1821, Chateau Laniotte.

501303508209_0_bgIn fact, no tour would seem complete here without the proprietor entertaining us with illusions and wife jokes.  His wines (all priced around $30.00) were a little bit of magic too.

One thing that became evident here though, with everyone we met, from wines known and collected around the world to the small producer who only makes enough to sell in France, these people are simply doing what they were born to do.  Some have found this calling from a love of wine but others like the Todeschini brothers of Chateau Mangot that I had dinner with that night have it in their blood.  And from speaking with them, they’d not have it any other way.

Yes, they must (by law) make wine differently than we make it here in the States, and for most of them there is no great desire to make tons of money from wine.  We like to wax poetically here about the passion of wine – and make no mistake, it exists.  I know it does because I have it.

But for the fine people who shared their lives with us last week, there is no other life.   What else would they do?

Published in: on December 10, 2008 at 7:16 pm  Comments (1)  

Bordeaux – A Blog in Three Acts

Act I:  Observations

963372508209_0_bg1Call it the cradle of wine civilization, the region that built the bridge that all others have crossed over or just The Capital, Bordeaux amazes from all angles.

I’m no Ansel Adams but it seems hard to take a bad picture in France.  Whether pointing your lens at the vineyards themselves, the architecture, or even the simple gray, rainy sky, this place is a living, breathing postcard.

We arrived in Paris before being squeezed into a tin can (aka. the Airbus 318) for the short flight to Bordeaux.  I’m not sure why I expected the quaint environs of Burgundy, but the landscape coming in reminded me of flying into JFK.  That all changed when we made our way through the familiar high windowed, eighteenth and nineteenth century buildings of the town itself.  Somehow the thrill of driving by Paul Revere’s house in Boston does not hold the same romantic appeal.

I must give a shout out to the Mssr. and Madame’s at The Regent Hotel who did everything in their power to make me feel like I was George Clooney in town to shoot, “Jeux de dupes Deux.”

655107508209_0_bg1 I returned their unbelievable hospitality by butchering their native tounge at every turn, my nasally, New York accent making each syllable of their beautiful language sound like an episode of”The Sopranos.”

Me:  “Jay Voo-dray un cafe, si vou play.”

Waiter: Turns and walks away smiling

At this point even strong French coffee was not quite staving off the sleep my body craved so I headed out to the shopping district just outside the hotel and braved the rain and forty degree temperatures in search of a soccer (read: football) jersey for the boys.

As I walked I was immediately struck by how great everyone looked.  From Joe le Determiner  to next year’s “Top Model” contestant, the French (or maybe it’s all Europeans) seem to take note of what they look like when they step outside the door.  No sweat pants, no ratty sneakers, no mismatched hat and gloves.  All those were reserved for me, Le American…

Okay, I wasn’t wearing sweats or ratty sneakers, but the winter coat I broke out of storage stateside did look like something they’d release a mental patient in.

Oh, and did I mention that EVERYONE still smokes there (at least outdoors).  It was enough to make me lose my appetite.

More on that in Act III.

For now, lets lower the curtain and rise it back up tomorrow to discuss the real reason for this trip.  The wine of course…

Published in: on December 9, 2008 at 5:05 pm  Comments (1)