Tag Archives: wine

Book in Hand

9 Apr

And it’s been a long December and there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell myself
To hold on to these moments as they pass. . .

Virginia springs are filled with a kind of green that I have only seen in one other place …Ireland. First growth grass is lush and bright everywhere, but the mountain trees have yet to leaf. Instead, tree limbs are laden in a first flush of starry white, rose and lavender buds. The warm edges of the breeze have fluttered open, a last veil of winter sleet swept away in front of it. Winter is saying a lingering goodbye, but none of us are crying about it, I think. This winter has been one long December, a cold lead of grey drear drawn out to the last possible edge. It’s been a hard few months for so many people I know. This weekend, however, sunshine bore the message that the worst is behind, flowers tilting their small faces upward. A turning has been made.

Saturday, Clar and I rolled up the road to Lovingston Winery’s opening day to meet dear friends who live a few hours in the opposite direction. Nelson County is the half way mark between my “wine conscience” and soul brother Paul and his lovely wife Newt. Arriving around mid-day, I eased down the steep embankment to a lovely spot by a small pond. Lovingston’s Winery is a compact place, all the workings organized into a gravity fed system. A tasting bar is tucked into a small corner of the work area. Upon tasting their selection, the whites quickly rose as top picks for both myself and my companions. Lovingston Seyval Blanc, a fantastic new release, was rounded and smooth with a bit more body than an average Chardonnay or Viognier. It will pair well with seafood and summer grilling. The Petit Manseng was bone dry, bright and lemony with a sharply citrus bite. But since their line is small and there’s not much in the way of a picnicking area to lounge in, we decided to leave right after the tasting and head toward Mountain Cove. For some reason, both Paul and I had thought we didn’t like their wine. Perhaps we had tasted with them at Rebec’s Garlic Festival? We couldn’t remember, but the trek was worth a try while exploring sunny back roads round the mountain.

Down the windy mountain ways, road after road through Nelson’s farms and fields we traveled, finally turning up a gravel drive toward some small barns resembling old tobacco sheds. After parking in the field, I chuckled. The whole place reminded me of a tiny cottage farm I once encountered in Ireland, and I half expected chickens to scoot out any moment. The sun glowed against the rustic red planks; bright yellow boxes filled with spring pansies lined the sides of… a tasting room? A porch and table in front of the small Appalachian shed signaled a possible entrance, but we weren’t really sure if it was open or if anyone was on site. Soon though, friendly lady in gardening clothes and hat rounded the corner. Her casual charm reminded me of home, of neighbors one can drop by to visit any time with that, “come on in the house” type of comfortable authenticity.

Showing us in across pallet plank floors, past the wood stove and rocking chair, she asked us, “Y’all here to taste?” The smell of past fires lingered in the light filtering through high windows and we looked around at the bottles lining the plank walls. At our assent, out came six bottles. Plunk. . . plunk, plunk…three rocks tumblers were popped onto the rough hewn bar, the sign above it letting us know that tastings were free. If we had come all that way, we were obviously interested in the wine, it said. The genuine simplicity in it struck me, nothing snooty about this place. And I’ll be honest, I wondered about what we were going to taste, especially when the fruit wines appeared on the counter. Surprisingly though, lack of pretension extended to the wine as well. Mountain Cove features some of the best wine I have had from a local vineyard, hands down. As we tasted a full bodied spicy Chardonnay, steel aged much to my surprise, our hostess told us that Mountain Cove is the oldest winery in Virginia, having been started in the early 1970’s. As we moved from wine to wine, each one proved to be impeccable, and at only $12 to $15 a bottle, a steal when comparing to the $20 plus bottles at most vineyards I have visited. The Tinto, a blend of Chambourcin and Cabernet Franc was big and spicy, less tannic than most reds, and the Skyline White, simply incredible. A Vouvray style with a slight effervescent twang, like having a jingle bell in one’s mouth on the finish. These are substantial wines, developed and solid.

Mountain Cove’s fruit wines were lovely as well. But I have a small confession, I’m a fruit wine snob. When I was directed to do a “cheese shooter” at a wine festival from one vineyard’s hot pepper wine, I rolled my eyes. Fruit wines generally fall into the sweet category. . . not a fan. However, Mountain Cove’s Blackberry is dryer than an off dry Riesling and the Apple, drier than a Gewürztraminer. I didn’t care for the Peach, but I’m not a huge peach fan anyway.

As Paul, Newt and I sat on the porch with a bottle of Skyline, we caught up on our lives. They are in the midst of professional transitions and I have been…well, on this journey. We sipped and laughed and I remembered why I love them so much. They are genuine and so real. I thank the Universe daily that they are in my life, for they love me in spite of my failings and complaints. Times I spend with them are precious, often funnu like the time we played Scrabble in December and I didn’t remember the rules. It had been nearly twenty years, and upon receiving my tiles, I promptly flipped one over and proudly announced, “F”! At which they burst into laughter and then said, ”Um Cyndi . . .you don’t tell the other players what you have”. Or the time where I told Newt that my favorite things were the three “C’s”: Coffee, Cupcakes, and Wine. She looked at me with all the kindness and yet incredulousness of the moment and said,  “Three. . .C’s?”

As we laughed and re-connected, I was reminded of a wisdom given to me on the island at the start of this long December:

To be a friend is to love and be loved as a book in hand.

Real friendship is like a book with paper pages. You hold it in your hands. You touch and turn the pages. You make time for it, experience it, commit to it and it gives you an experience in connection and you take its story with you forever. That is a real friend. And in this age of technology, nothing will replace the reality of a book, a warm hand or a smiling face or. . .

A story.

Told with love or pain, in frivolity or confidence, good books only come along once in a while. That’s why they are worth the time to read.

Our beloved friends are those who make up the shelves of our libraries, well-worn copies we’d never part with for all their annotations and dog-eared edges. Like a rustic barn with no pretension, like a wine that is unassuming but excellent in its structure, each friend bears a beautiful story which we have the honor of not only enjoying but joining.

Skyline White

The Epicurean Way

29 Mar

The art of living well and the art of dying well are one — Epicurus

As I dined Saturday evening, before one of the films of the Richmond French Film Festival, a waiter and I discussed the love of food and wine. “It’s following the Epicurean way,” he said. And I thought, yes. I do have a deep and abiding passion for tastes, but it goes beyond being a “foodie”. The sensuality of dining is one of my greatest pleasures, something I think most Americans do not practice nor understand well. If dinner isn’t served in less than twenty minutes at the local McRestaurant, they tap their proverbial toes. It’s devoured in half as much time and out they go, stuffed to the gills. Fine dining is Olive Garden? …seriously? Wine is sweet white or pink (ew…red) and mostly a feminine beverage. And the man drink, beer, is a watery pale which can be drunk by the half gallons. Over the years, it’s been amazing to me how little young adults know about food. I’ve had students who have never eaten a pear, nor a home made muffin, nor even seen a fresh fig. Most of them do not have families who cook or eat together. One poor soul did not know that pork was indeed a pig and these are academically bright, mostly affluent young people.

As a young person, I was lucky. A retired professor in my Italian class took an interest in me, recognizing a burgeoning love for culture. He took it upon himself to “train” my palate in both wine and food. I was learning to cook at the time, religiously watching episodes of Jeff Smith, the Frugal Gourmet. Through my professor friend and Jeff Smith, the basics of fine food, fine wine, and spirits as well as the beauty of dining were absorbed quite quickly. My first drink lesson was within a Manhattan, and I was probably the only college gal who regularly drank Cinzano on the rocks alongside a charcuterie board. From quiche to spanakopita, I cooked the old way, my oven producing fresh baguette and the pasta machine churning out fresh ribbons. My beau of those years was ever so happily fed. In a short decade, I could cook anything, most dishes sans recipe.

I won’t go further into my epicurean development, but needless to say, this past weekend’s visit to Carytown reminded me of just how much I enjoy all sorts of cuisine. In spite of an overwhelming number of choices, I leaned toward experiences which were most familiar to me in terms of fare or venue. Four meals present themselves as memorable, each one, reflecting a meaningful aspect of food and food culture for me.

Friday evening found me on Cary Street under the brightly striped awning of Ginger Thai Taste. The dining room inside is small, but the enormous deck will be a coveted space come summer. Seated at a beautiful eating counter facing the street, the energy of Carytown’s strip seemed far away from my peaceful tucked corner. Buddha and I sat together breathing in the sweet sharp vinegar, nuoc mam, and ginger scent. Along with an off dry Riesling, eating began with fresh shrimp spring rolls. Crisp lettuce, carrot, and basil bite stacked inside the tender wrapper, dunked into fresh peanut sauce. Lemongrass Tofu with fresh red and yellow pepper, broccoli, zucchini and button mushrooms came next in a medium spicy curry with Jasmine rice. What I adore about tofu is its ability to soak in other flavors. The sponge and barely tender vegetables tasted like a spinning pinwheel of color.

Saturday, I shopped post mid-day film and after a successful haul at Ashby’s Consignment, I crossed the street, shuffling down to Secco Wine Bar. On my walking tour of Carytown in January, this corner cafe was introduced to me. But now, filled with francophiles and among late afternoon knoshers, it felt like home. I ordered a glass of Foucher Chinon (2011), and then a quick menu browse and consultation with the bar mistress produced a slate of San Simon, Cashel Blue and bresaola with toasted baguette, dollops of grainy mustard and apple butter on the side. This type of meal is my absolute favorite. As a tiny tummied person, snacking is my main way of eating. Lingering over the flavors in sips and bites is my preferred dining experience; however, what increased my pleasure was the constancy of hearing the patrons in conversation around me. French is a most beautiful and romantic language and to be immersed in it while enjoying this type of fare is divine. C’était merveilleux.

Snow began in Carytown around mid-day Sunday, a wet icy shawl over the street which slowed the day’s pace. In the early afternoon, I stopped into Don’t Look Back, an upscale taco bar across from the Byrd Theater. I’m not a huge Mexican restaurant fan, as most are little better than a TexMex McDonald’s. However, I happened upon DLB’s first anniversary bash, including drink specials and free Dixie Donuts. Score. Local craft beers are a trend in fresh food establishments these days, and a Hardywood Chocolate Heat was my choice. A rich full bodied stout, it delivers a surprise hot pepper finish. A quick consultation with the bar man and fifteen minutes served up the most amazing fish tacos I have ever eaten. Traditionally prepared corn tortillas were filled with medium rare spicy seasoned cod cubes, pickled cabbage slaw, fresh lime, and sour cream. Two tacos were just right and only six bucks. Fresh food at its best, all the textures, colors, and flavors were in play together, even the tequila lime donut for dessert. This is bistro. . . Mexicano.

By far, this last meal was the most pleasurable, both for its sensory experience and for the company with whom it was enjoyed. A visit to Amour Wine Bistro had been the plan since meeting the owner Paul on my walking tour. What was most impressive to me about him was his excitement for the nuances of food and wine. He is like me in that respect. Each dish is like a poem for him, every word dense with meaning and connotation. In his choice of wine to serve with dishes, similar intuition and understandings of subtle flavor and character governs. He selects what best enhances both the food and the wine in balance. I could listen to him describe cuisine for hours, his delightful Bordeaux accent perfectly seasoning the description. I had no hesitation in allowing him to select the wine pairings with my menu choices. And when in an establishment focused on serving local seasonal food in authentic French style, the special of the day is the way to go. My three course dinner started with a savory mise en bouche, then an appetizer of grilled shitake. Paul chose Domaine Segiunot Bordot Chablis (2010) to accompany them. The lightly grilled mushrooms retained their firmness, nutty comte’ and sweet tart balsamic reduction rounded their earthy edges.

After another mise en bouche of watermelon and mint, fresh sautéed shad roe with lemon and capers served over sautéed brussels sprouts and golden smashed potatoes was my elaborate entrée. Having never eaten shad roe, I had no idea what to expect from what is often called the “foie gras of the sea”. I cannot describe its deliciousness, sea rich without fishiness, amazing mouth feel without heaviness. The slight bitterness of the capers balanced against the tart of the lemons all grounded on the potato base with a slight cabbage crunch. Paul chose a lovely fuller bodied Sancerre to accompany it. Délices célestes.

By the time dessert arrived, unbelievably, I was not overly full. That is the test to me of fine dining, to be satiated, yet still able to enjoy a tiny bit more of a loveliness. The films were running an hour or so behind, so I enjoyed the company of the waitstaff and Paul as well as fellow patrons. A warm salted caramel dark chocolate crème brulee was served with Made by G’s sparkling full berry Gamay. Raspberry cherry notes in a fully dry sparkling wine set off the smooth dark chocolate richness of the crème, salty caramel bits on the finish. The spoon was tiny for a reason, allowing me to really enjoy every bite.

So, you might ask. How in the world do you eat this sort food and still stay a proper weight? Well, I don’t eat it every day and I exercise… a lot. And I realize that to dine daily in such manner would be hedonistic at best. Like life, enjoyment in all pleasures should be held in balance, all the elements in harmony. One day, I won’t be able to revel in the world’s collage of sensory gifts and I must balance the “now” with the “then”. For that is the truest form of living . . the art in life and death.

But Saturday, I Didn’t Care

13 Mar

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Some days are a perfect chain of events likecrystal beads on a long strand around my neck, having so many facets it’s hard to pick the sparkles. And in the speckles of light, all one can really do is sit back and watch the play, the starry arch of a day unfolding. Hours are lengthening now, warm light lingering around in the breeze. And in its wake, as Shakespeare says, come thronging soft and delicate desires.

This weekend was full of such wonderfulness that I don’t know where to begin or how to sort. Part of me thinks, “Why bother to craft this word- hoard, to tease out the connective tissues of the experience. Why not just say, Here’s what I did…here’s how it felt…here, let me show you that the world is so big sometimes you can’t get your arms around it all.” Perhaps I should just say, “I laughed. I drank. I ate. I sang. I danced”. And the only thing that could have made it better would have been arriving home to something I’m really not willing to discuss publicly, but let’s just say that the day’s events didn’t make it any better. It’s spring and its incipient wantoness is beginning to set me on’t. So gentle reader, I’m about to go down a path of no return. It might be personal; it may be titillating; it may lead you to wonder. I’ll just tell the story because Saturday, I just didn’t care.

It snowed heavily up in the valley this week, but the warm spring turning was melting it quickly. Water ran the road and the rocky mountainside on my way to Staunton, VA. I stopped the car so many times to snap a photo, hopped out in an outfit that is the epitome of my quirk: black jodphurs and ankle boots, black suede vest, double poet’s shirts with high ruffled necks and large billowy sleeves, strands of beads jingling about my neck. At one point, someone actually thought I was part of the American Shakespeare Theater, my main activity for the day. Since Ocracoke, I barely brush my hair anymore. It dries in wild crinkle- curled whisps and I dress in contrasting layers of color and era out of the Goodwill and consignment shops. Beads, vintage hats, fringe, feathers and scarves decorate me like some rag tag tousled gypsy. This wildness mixed with a mild hedonism has spread over me like a crazy quilt. My stitches, all come loose. But Saturday, I didn’t care, so I wore what expresses this wild beauty that has taken residence in my spirit.

The first event of the day was at Blackfriar’s Playhouse to see Wycherly’s The Country Wife, a naughty comedy of manners from the 17th century. I laughed at his farcical take on the sexual and romantic appetites of men and women. This hilarious romp was bawdy and bad and several times I laughed way too loud to have been seated on my gallant’s stool on stage in plain view. But Saturday, I didn’t care and so I laughed anyway, hooted and snickered and giggled at every dirty joke. I raised my eyebrow, put my hand over my mouth, didn’t stop to worry when the crowd missed the nuance of language. I was totally absorbed, the words so beautiful, so elaborate, so juicy that they made me squirm. Upon entering, the cast was already performing saucy songs of a more modern ilk, Prince’s Kiss being one of them, sung by a gentlemen clothed in one of the most alluring eras of men’s haberdashery. Yes, this lass is all about some frock coats, ruffled shirts, and button front breeches. First thought? Uh oh, I am so in trouble. Ces pantalons dangereuses. And for me the witticisms, quips, and rakish wordplay is just as provoking as the costume. The art of intellectual coyness has been lost in the modern age, much to my dismay. As much as Wycherly focuses in on the husband as cuckhold and the wife as baggage, he balances it with the pretty young wench as mistress and handsome rake as “china” to be plundered. Through all, one thought remained clear: both men and women have the same desires, and use whatever means necessary to meet them. It’s as much about power as it is about physical desire. As Lady Fidget says, “we women of quality never think we have china enough” ….Amen, sister.

I shopped after the play, first stopping at a chocolatier. Normally, I do not indulge, but Saturday, I didn’t care. I lusted over Bailey’s truffles, chocolate dipped candied ginger, white chocolate bark and gold dusted Gran Marnier bits of lusciousness. The Cocoa Mill was filled with the thick rich smell of it and resisting the tiny tidbits was nearly impossible. I refrained, until spying the chocolate dipped apricots lolling obscenely about on their crystal cake plate. They begged. I withdrew. But it was Saturday and I didn’t care, so I bought one and promptly devoured its sticky sweet fruitishness on the spot. Among the shops, I strolled. My first conquest a new journal, Celtic knot heart on the cover, declaring “Walk this World with Hearts on Fire”. It will hold the next few months of the road.

My afternoon amble through the town ended at Ox Eye Vineyards tasting room. That is when the next temptation arrived and it wasn’t just the wine. A quite handsome gentleman tended the tasting flights; engaging him in conversation was required. Yes!


There’s that moment, you know that moment, before talking to someone you are so physically attracted to you find it hard to form a thought. That pre-conversation mind racing where you breathe slowly and pray, “Please God, don’t let me sound like an idiot. Because I’m melting already and may just end up saying something like: Hi, I’m a rutabaga and its nice to meet you too…or Oh.my.god, you are the most gorgeous thing I’ve seen in months and I’d really like to see your…. china.” I’ll stop right there; you get the picture. But Saturday, I didn’t care, so I smiled charmingly while sipping and thought about …things…. and enjoyed the view …. and then the wine…a lot. Sigh. Okay, enough.

Dinner came at sunset, a beautiful orange spreading over the blue mountains like silk on fire. Zynodoa, a locavore’s paradise, was my dining destination. Sitting in my usual bar spot, I enjoyed more Ox Eye Riesling along with two small plates, a salad of butter lettuces, black eye peas, fried onions and pancetta with buttermilk dressing and a flash fried flounder on papardelle over pureed cauliflower with sautéed wild mushrooms on the side. I won’t tempt you with the description of the flavors, but needless to say the sinful savory and sweet, softness and bite had my eyes rolling back in my head. Zynodoa’s food is ah-mazing, the atmosphere close, dim, intimate and inviting. I’ll be back, often.

Debating whether to go to Byers Street Bistro for music, I checked in with Clarence in the back seat. Mr. Sleepy yawned, “Go ahead Mom. It’s Saturday. . . I don’t care.” So I drove down three blocks and popped into a raucous college bar to hear 3/5 of Maybe Tomorrow play some acoustic sets, late 80’s through aughties pop and dance tunes. Even though it didn’t seem to be my sort of venue at first, I slowly began to blend after the music started. I swear if you call out anything these guys know it, and play it well. When they hit “Love is What I Got”, “Save Tonight” and “Two Princes”, up onto the tiny dance floor I went and then the stairs. After set one, I was feeling so fine and the crowd was as well by observing the dance floor. Despite the time change and long drive home, this Cinderella stayed well past midnight. So. I know you’re wondering…did I drop my slipper?

I laughed. I drank. I ate. I sang. I danced.

But I kept my shoes on.

Cause it was Saturday and I didn’t care.

An Epic Wine

27 Feb

[I]t is the wine that leads me on,
the wild wine
that sets the wisest man to sing
at the top of his lungs,
laugh like a fool – it drives the
man to dancing… it even
tempts him to blurt out stories
better never told.

– Homer, The Odyssey

When I found The Map, it was like discovering a dusty worn parchment inking out the elusive burial spot of Blackbeard’s famous hoard. The Virginia Wine Board produces a free detailed map of the wineries, cideries and meaderies of the entire state of Virginia. It’s big. . . . really big. The sheer number of vintners, brewers, apple and honey fermenters in this state proves one thing. Virginians, like their forefather Thomas Jefferson, love the fruit of the vine. I had been to a few wineries in the past, but I had no idea of the literal explosion of vineyards and variety of wines produced in this state over the last twenty years. So when I stumbled upon the Virginia Wine Expo at the Richmond Convention Center, I bought my ticket more than a month in advance. Nearly all of the state wineries in one place? I imagined walking up to heavy double doors and then the treasure trove of bottled liquid ambrosia piled within awaiting my plunder.

The actual experience was a little different.

As I strode in to the main exhibition hall of the Richmond Convention Center, and luckily found a floor map, I quickly realized that this event was definitely not what I had anticipated. Imagine a home show, wine replacing the flooring and faux rock siding samples. I queued into a line in which I was promptly barcode bleeped and herded toward the branding and tagging area. Then, rounded up through the rotating gates into the main pasture where I could use my nifty ticket to gain my Riedel crystal trough. Coat check and wine check areas lined the perimeter of the pen, erhm…. I mean, “wine garden”, large round tables where we might enjoy our Circean feast. I had imagined most incorrectly, that such a venue would attract fine wine lovers, those who taste wine for its nuances, to know it, to understand it in an organic and personal way. My imagination also allowed for those who may not be so introspective, but yet, enjoy drinking Virginia wine and appreciating it for more than its ethereal properties. Those types may have been there, but I didn’t really encounter them…at least on my side of the vendor table.

Herds of wine swillers (say that three times fast), or flocks of sweet sipping sirens, are mostly what I navigated my tiny ship through, around and in between. The main group were the swillers…these were folks who mainly came to the event to drink ….and drink ….and drink a lot. Tastings were basically shots.

Slurp…that’s okay…(extend glass)…

Slurp…that’s okay…(extend glass)…

Slurp…that’s okay…(extend glass)…

I take at least q few minutes  to fully examine a wine, and I make notes. I do not taste it a second time if it isn’t to my liking, pouring it out into the waste bucket. And if I have had more than a glass or two in total over the course of the day…I taste and spit. This doesn’t seem to be the case with anybody else and by the looks, I had suddenly sprouted a second and third head at the tables from which I was able to actually get a tasting. The crowds were HUGE. And wine was literally being tossed at times into glasses over people heads in Baccanalian frenzy. Every time one of the drunken herd would drop a crystal glass on the concrete convention floor the crowd would roar in approval of the shattering like the crowds at a coliseum lion fight.

The other group was the sweet sirens, mainly women hovering about the tables who would not taste anything that didn’t have residual sugars of 2% or more. They would try a viognier or semi dry white blend and their little noses would crinkle up like little hummingbirds inserting their probosci into an allium. They flitted about the backs of tables luring pourers to hurry us toward our sugary demise.

The most humorous moment of the day was standing en masse at the Narmada Winery table, waiting for a chance at a flight. A small group had moved in beside me and one of the ladies, another tall red head, began to regale her group with the tale of finding out her teenage son was beginning to “manscape” and how proud she was of his responsibility and consideration for his girlfriend. Intimate details about their budding physical liaisons ensued. Oh…Holy…Night… I didn’t know whether to laugh, or simply stand there in excruciating empathy for her absent son who had no idea that the entire queue now knew way too much about his beloved and her reaction to his denuded state.

But there were some bright moments of the day, like when the pourer at the Gabriele Rausse table could tell I knew, or at least cared, about the wine I was tasting. We had a nice chat about the delicate differences in the varietals involved in their offerings. Or when my eyes rolled back over nearly every wine King Family Vineyards sells. Even when I tasted the foods offered alongside the wines such as amazing chocolates by Gearharts (tequila lime white chocolate truffles), roasted almonds and cashews, and delicious cheese by Emmi Roth, I began to enjoy the day’s course.

After tasting seven different wineries’ wares, my favorites were predominantly white and rose’…I need more whites in my cellar. Of course my wine conscience texted me. “Are we being good?” Surprisingly, I did not buy one bottle. I made notes instead. I’m really trying to hold onto my bag.

Top Picks from The Wayfarin’ Lass: Wine Expo 2013

King Family Vineyards: Crozet, VA

  • Roseland 2012: Chardonnay/ Viognier
  • Cabernet Franc 2011
  • Merlot 2011

Rosemont Vineyards: LaCrosse, VA

  • Rose’ 2011
  • Lake Country Red
  • Cabernet Franc 2010

Gabriele Rausse: Charlottesville, VA

  • Vin Gris de Pinot Noir 2012

Cedar Creek: Star Tannery, VA

  • Chardonnay 2011 (one of the best Chardonnays I have ever had)

Potomac Point: Stafford, VA

  • Chardonnay 2011
  • La Belle Vie: Vidal, Viognier, Chardonnay, Petit Manseng
  • La Belle Vie Rose 2012 (so pretty)
  • Cabernet Franc 2010

Narmada: Amissville, VA

  • Primita 2010 (dessert wine)

Truth be told, at the end of the day I was glad to have survived the journey generally unscathed. I learned more about why I like wine, especially Virginia wine and it has more to do with focusing on mindfulness and the senses, especially in the service of the written word, more than the drinking. For wherever there is treasure, the search is really more about the seeker than the sought. In the search, our truest desires are revealed and where we eventually find our fortunes.

Roots and Vine

22 Feb

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Winter is wearing me way thin these days, and I’m not the only one it seems. So many of my friends are in the “bring on the great one or let’s get on with spring” mindset. The days are cold, my hands perpetual briquettes. I brave the air every day at 5:15am on my nighttime jog with Clar. It’s dark…that still qualifies as night in my opinion. So, I get up at the end of the night and run before the day begins, thinking all the while,What am I doing out here? Sane people weren’t meant to be out in this …exercising. Yesterday, though, I noticed in the predawn blue under the sterile halogen of the street lamp, tiny purple-white croci pushed up in my neighbor’s yard, their little buds tight, braced against the winter air, holding their little breaths.

“It’s coming”, they say. “Hold on.”

And I’ve noticed that I’m tired of holding my own breath. Seriously, I need some real fun. Cut it loose, laugh my ass off, dance till I’m out of breath fun. The past few weeks have been soft and reflective, like a shifting snow but underneath, the creek is beginning to run like a mountain thaw. The ground never sleeps for long beneath its frosted blanket of white.

So Sunday morning after my run, I knew I couldn’t stay in the house all day grading papers. I had get out and go some place warm and fun. I’ll take my medicine. I’ll grade my papers like a good little underpaid, under appreciated school marm, but I will have some fun while I’m doing it. A quick on-the-fly Internet search revealed that Tara Mills and Yankee Dixie would be playing at DuCard Vineyards in Madison County up above Charlottesville. Listening to the tracks on her website suddenly reminded me what a Virginia gal I really am. Bluegrass is in my roots, both from my Roanoke upbringing and my Irish heritage. And in my love for the vine, any winery is a fine place to be. The concert was free and DuCard has a fireplace…score.

As I drove north to Madison County, I actually thought to myself with as many wineries as you are visiting Cyndi, your readership has got to be making some judgments. Let me unequivocally state that while I love wine, I can go to a winery without lolling around in inebriated reverie or purchasing a case for my cellar, really.

. . .Stop smiling at me like that, I already have a wine conscience named Paul, thank you very much. Every time I go to a wine festival, he texts me,  “And what’s our spending limit for the cellar today? Are you being good?” and I have to stick to it. Brothers are like that.

So, I rambled up the road searching for this tiny vineyard at the base of the Shenandoah National Park. It had snowed Saturday evening in a wild draping pattern over the cedar and pine speckled mountains and through rocky valleys. I ran into white, then gold,then white. Rocks and black trees appeared amid the dusting. On the last leg of the drive, I actually laughed out loud. Ruby Thewes began to echo in my head. “Waaaaaay up in the hol-ler”, describes DuCard’s location precisely. The vineyard is situated amid open fields and cow pasture, mountain ranges and winding rural state roads. As I pulled up the drive, I knew it was worth the trip, a tiny little tasting room, nestled in a modest sized vineyard. Next to it, a tiny creek, in thaw.

DuCard has one of the warmest, most open tasting rooms I’ve experienced yet. The ceilings are high and the walls are nearly all glass, revealing the view of the mountains. In other seasons, I am sure it’s even more magnificent and I plan to go back in spring with a picnic basket. They have a lovely patio area and small stage adjacent to it. Inside, though, it’s leather couches and small garden tables aside the long tasting bar, like a great room of someone’s mountain getaway. All are invited to a nice Sunday afternoon gathering, except we don’t have to bring a dish, just ourselves.

I set up shop with papers at a table near the front, the fireside being coveted and occupied. Confession time: I had a quick tasting session beforehand. Okay, no chuckles there. DuCard has a small list of about eight wines and I directed the pourer to make sips tiny. Papers need grading. My picks include their Cabernet Franc Reserve, super smoky oak, deep and well balanced blackberry notes. The Petit Verdot will store well, as its quite hearty and full-bodied. Surprisingly, their Rosé was good even though it had a bit of bottle shock, dry with a slightly strawberry edge. The prices are somewhat high for me, though. So I obtained a glass of Cab Franc and settled back into enjoying the music of Tara Mills and Yankee Dixie for the next several hours.

Second confession: bluegrass music is my long lost love. It’s like an old flame you meet again at a highschool reunion and realize you still have it bad after all those years. You know the notes, you know the dance, no matter how long ago you heard it last. So almost immediately, I was enjoying myself way too much to grade papers except during the set breaks. The trio featured Mills on guitar and vocals, John Howard on mandolin, banjo and harmonica, and Turtle Zwadlo on upright bass. That upright bass gets me every time. It’s funny, I began to remember words to songs I hadn’t heard since I was a kid. Their blend of bluegrass and folk is like a Sunday afternoon drive on a well- traveled road. You know where you’re going and it’s warm sunshine all the way

Their rendition of Ain’t Nobody Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone, had me singing with Tara’s low and steady vocals. John’s joined hers in what I call the perfect “bluegrass wind up”, both voices twining around each other, stringing the notes out low then up like the long road outside. Tapping my feet to original tunes like New Year’s Resolution and What I Need…and even The Cat Song was what I had needed to shake off the winter cold. Letting out a few Irish yips at the end of songs felt fantastic, like being home.

There was a time and I think it’s true for nearly everyone when we want to escape our roots, where a young person thinks, “I live in the most uncultured uninteresting place on the planet”, especially if one happens to be from the rural south. I had always viewed my Southwest Virginian status as somehow less cultured than others, especially in college. My friends from all parts north or even places like Texas and California, I felt were “cooler” than me. Nothing exciting happens in a cow field or in the woods behind my house. So I left bluegrass behind for rock, punk, and jazz and other musical forms, just as I left my grandmother’s home cooking for cultural delicacies and foreign wine.

But as I sat there singing and tapping my heels to familiar songs, I began to realize that like a vine, I may have grown out, curling away from where I began, but that home ground still feeds me, still attaches to my core. The roots are where I truly lie and where I will eventually return at the end of my days. John Howard even mentioned playing in a punk band for many years and now he’s back to playing his roots. Seems like we all come back home from our journeys.

As I drove that evening down the mountain, I stopped to notice the landscape in its last breath of winter, the sun setting over cold mountains with the faintest glimmer of spring, a ghost of a rose hidden under the frosted fields.

Our love was like a burning ember
It warmed us as a golden glow
We had sunshine in December
And threw our roses in the snow

In old time bluegrass, those notes of home echo a slight longing, even the happy songs, and that’s a good place to start spring. That slow movement away from the still, quiet, and deep of the sunset, toward a longing for and a stretching out in the morning to the sun.

Taste and Time

5 Feb

One should never trust a woman who tells one her real age. A woman who would tell one that, would tell one anything. — Oscar Wilde

Recently I have been thinking about age.

Aging, age differences…all of it.

It’s been quite dismaying to me to become the age I am. I certainly don’t think of myself in terms of a number. My mind is clearer now than it’s ever been. Awake is the only way to describe the contrast between my cognitive and behavioral functions now as opposed to fifteen years ago. I feel wise and open, not afraid to be my most authentic self with others. Many of my friends see me as “balls to the wall” brave,with a huge side of quirk. I’ve learned how to be kind and yet completely honest at the same time. I’ve lost the urge to become overly concerned with life happenings, letting life go much more easily than in the past. Is that a sign of maturation? Perhaps. I’ve lived long enough to know both that I’ll live through difficulties and yet in less years than imagined, I will die. That places me in the center of a road and quite conscious of every step, every gift.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how age affects my ability to be socially romantic. There aren’t many men my age who are also solo and of the same mind intellectually, artistically, and spiritually. This limits socializing quite a bit. And there’s something I’ve noticed more now than ever and that is the preference of many men of my peer group for much younger women, much younger than me anyway. Not that I wouldn’t be romantically inclined to men a many years my junior, so I don’t blame them. Almost all of the men in my life have been younger, but that has taught me a lot about the road and where one walks upon it. How comforting it can be to have a companion who understands and can negotiate the soul. The power of negotiation that age preference gives men, though, has frustrated me, a lot. I’ll live longer statistically; it makes sense to me that my partner should be the same age or younger. Not the other way around. However, my choice in the matter is severely limited through enormous cultural and social conditioning. I’m still trying to wrap my understanding around that.

Saturday afternoon found me up the road to Charlottesville with Clar in tow. My visit to Tastings was planned for several weeks after checking out their website. Along with retail wine sales, they feature a restaurant, wine club and newsletter. Prompted by traveling, knowing more about wine has become a personal goal. I know just enough to make a fool of myself in front of someone truly experienced and that needs amending. The day was bitterly cold, and sprinkled with snow showers and truth be told, I was lonely. A caught feeling, like feeling beautiful and at my personal best and yet somehow alone was wearing on my mind. I’ll admit in these moments, the “what’s wrong with me” tends to pop up. In my case, the age factor was playing an eight track and I unfortunately began singing along.

Exiting a sudden heavy snow shower, I entered the “old world” ambiance of Tastings. Walls were lined from floor to ceiling with bottle upon bottle. Wooden boxes, stacked by racks, presented green glass flagons with colorful labels and elegant script. When Bill Curtis, the owner, asked how he could help me, I suddenly realized my complete status as a novitiate oenophile. My clever answer?

“I don’t know…I suppose I’d like to know more about French wine?”

That’s like a bride-to-be telling a florist, “I’d like the white bridal bouquet.”

Bill’s expertise is impeccable, and his fluency with a large variety of wines is intriguing to witness. He helps a wide clientele as well as serving gourmet lunch and dinner in the restaurant. As we began to chat more though, I suddenly realized the power that comes with knowledge born of experience, the ability to guide and to share. And I thought, that must be the thing for men, an innate sense of fixing things, of being the guide, the leader. I understand, but it doesn’t make the sense of having missed the love boat go away. While we discussed a variety of wines, I began to notice the price range was a bit higher than I have been accustomed to unless at a vineyard, but then quite quickly I realized the reason. Bill has great wine. He tastes everything, knows it all well and is able to recommend according to a customer’s preferences and plans.

Carafes and containers, flasks and phials, the green glass glows. That’s something I think I love most about wine. Just the way each is different, beautiful in it’s own way and the esoteric value of the label’s paper and ornamentation. Cork and ritual, it’s a fancy that doesn’t take much future commitment unless one cellars. I sat at the bar as the snow intensified, and had a flight of French reds. Bill chose for me at my request and he began to discuss really fine wines, those that were $350 to $400 a bottle. He told me a story about judging a wine that was over one hundred years old and how they kept it in a large barrel and then bottled it on order. I began to think in metaphor once again.

“Bill, how do you know that a wine will age well… that it will be better as time passes?”

He smiled, “Most likely…it’s a red.” He winked.

I smiled, and actually blushed a little.

He continued, “Well, one easy way, is that at first, it doesn’t open up immediately. It improves with being open.

Then, when you taste it, your mouth neutralizes the tannins quickly and there won’t be many in its young stage. It will be fruity. With time it will develop and deepen in complexity.

Secondly, it shouldn’t have any bitterness and then lastly, it’s got to be unfiltered.”

At that point, I almost laughed out loud.

“The organic particles in the wine have to be there for the wine to stay alive, to change and grow.”

That’s about as simple an explanation as he could give me. It was all I needed to understand not only about wine, but about me.

It’s something I think applies to everyone, not just women. Wines that last, that are precious are also rare. They demand a high price because they can. They have all the right elements from the beginning; they are kept well and appreciated for their complexity and the surprises they can bring to a discerning palate. Their rarity makes them special and therefore coveted, but only among those who know what makes a wine really good. One can drink young wine all day, every day and be quite happy. But the special vintages are old and they come around only once in a while. Once experienced, the differences are obvious. They outlive others through good planning, good keeping, and luck. One could say that to pay $400 for a bottle of Bordeaux is insane.

But if he has the knowledge to know its rarity and can understand and anticipate the promise of what it will deliver, the investment is worth it.

That’s a lesson for me, too.

Time to Breathe

24 Jan

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Drink it,
and remember in every
drop of gold,
in every topaz glass,
in every purple ladle,
that autumn labored
to fill the vessel with wine — Neruda

The past weekend’s ramblings took me into the hills of Nelson and Albemarle to some local Virginia wineries. After meeting Michael Shaps representative Santa Rava at Magnolia Foods here in Lynchburg and chatting, I knew I wanted to venture out to Wineworks for a visit. The lovely aspect of visiting wineries in Virginia is really the drive itself. Most seem to be tucked up into some “holler”, the drive a virtual “over the river and through the woods” adventure to some high hill and vines. In any season, the windy road yields more often than not a surprising vista, a tree that begs a stop to say hello or motionless cows by the fence just being cows. And when one arrives to the rows of vines, usually a small cottage is settled in behind them, filled with bright bottles. Similar to Martin Luther’s thought, if beer is of earth, wine is definitely of the heavens. The varieties are so complex, the combinations fascinating from white to rose’ to red, steel aged to oak aged, dry to sweet to fortified. All wine presents a challenge to me,  to decipher the magic that went into making it. I know a bit about wine, probably more than the average person, but there is so much more to know.  The best part about this challenge is that to do so, one must taste. So to tastings I go.

Clarence and I rambled up Route 29 to Wineworks on Saturday afternoon, but I didn’t find a little cottage in the woods in which to pause; it was the back of a warehouse. Remodeling is occurring, so finding the restroom among hoses and forklifts was an adventure in itself. The warehouse room was cold and concrete, filled with boxes and barrels, so I stood with my coat on to sample all the wines once again. Somehow this time, they were different. I previously enjoyed the Michael Shaps wines, especially the Chardonnay and the Petit Verdot, but the ones which seemed so amazing to me on Friday last were not so today, and yet others were better than before. After going through the line up white to red, my picks were the Wineworks Rose’, the nose faintly floral with a lovely soft strawberry, slight cedar back note, and the 2010 Merlot /Malbec blend. I shouldn’t even comment on it since it’s sold out, but it had wonderful cassis, cherry, and spice. I almost offered to buy the rest of the open bottle.

As I tasted, I fell into conversation with two lovely young nurses who had also stopped by. As we talked, the conversation rolled into traveling and philosophy, and then the universe was at work again. One of them said, “You know, I should be getting married and having children, but somehow that’s just not really what I want right now” There’s that “should”. So I chatted with her about journeys and Joe, and as she talked about what she wanted in her life, I thought about how conditioned we are to walking a cleared road, one we can see without too much scrutiny. We talked about relationships, about personal ambitions and it lead me to think of the many lessons in wine.

Like so many other women, I was conditioned to believe that this is how it goes:

You educate yourself enough to get a good paying job while trying to find a partner to marry, have children, and live out the middle suburban dream of house and hearth and family, either working in the home or doing the job and family like Superwoman. There is that time issue when it comes to children we are told and honestly, it is true that most people partner in the first part of their adult lives with greater ease. Meeting these two young women confirmed for me, though, that the development of self is so important. To be entirely who one is with no apologies. Then, the bringing of that lovely prepared wine to the table of relationship can happen.

But as I reflected further and we chatted more, I realized there is another caveat in this. To fully appreciate the wine, it must be served correctly. Most good wine needs to breathe, to develop into what it was intended to be while it is being enjoyed. There is the making of self and then there is the sharing of it and both must be accomplished in balance for magic to happen. Nuances are lost in crowding, in not letting the air transform it. From one bottle to the next, in one environment to the next, the wine changes and one must allow the time and space to then experience it at the right moment.

I traveled to First Colony later on in the day and then to Delfosse on Sunday, but the visit to Wineworks stayed with me. At First Colony, the pourer barely gave me a sip in each tasting, so I couldn’t judge well. She stood right in front of me with the next bottle, so I felt pressure to decide quickly. It was the shortest tasting session I’ve ever had, and although I liked the Reserve Chardonnay well enough to buy a bottle, my experience wasn’t pleasant. I’ll not go back.

At Delfosse, the pourer was busy, and I’m sure tired of pouring the same thing, saying the same thing, for the hundredth time. It showed. But I slowed my experience, and that in turn, slowed his pouring. He didn’t seem to mind me taking a tiny bit of extra time to smell, to taste, to note. In a way, it gave him some moments to catch his breath, to take in some air. My decision of what to buy waited until after I had enjoyed the delicious crepes offered for the day, too. My picks? The Viognier, which has a wonderful apricot and honey quality and slight effervescence, and their Deer Rock Farm red blend which has a slight sweet berry edge with high vanilla notes and is served chilled. Then, my favorite, the 2007 Merlot which is so balanced. Beautiful nose, firm structure and body, rich blackberry, smoke, and oak on the palate.

I stayed until closing, resisting the urge to watch the clock or my phone. Before I left, I took Clarence for a walk around the small lake there and on the way home, I pulled over on Route 29 to watch the last bits of sunset behind black velvet and Chantilly  tree limbs against an apricot grey-blue panorama. I thought of how important this time is to take, to allow space enough for changes to this wine of self, and to breathe. I sat for a long while on the side of the road. A long while.

Raising the Bar

7 Jan

Where do you write best?, Donna said. 

Up at the bar or in the coffee shop, I said.

She tilted her head to the side. What about at home?

No…not so much there, I sighed. Only when it’s warm, outside in the back room.

I need to be alone, in public.

Her eyes narrowed a bit above a slight smile, which meant I needed to explain. Only I couldn’t. The only thought that came to mind was that wherever I was writing, I needed to have someone take care of my needs while I dove into the images in my head surrounding an experience, either real or remembered. When I swim in words, like a channel glider, I need to be only a writer, only a writer and nothing else.

So reader, I have decided to invite you into my world of traveling for one. This blog, filled with my peculiar style of half review half non-fiction essay was born of two parents. One, a lengthy list of experiences I wanted to accomplish in my life, a “bucket list”. Living with intention, I call it. And second, the absence of anyone to really take with me.  As a single woman at my age, most of my friends are married with children and as much as I might like to find a companion for many of my experiences, there seems to be a singular lack of them.

Because I did not want to wait to live, I decided I should just do whatever I wanted now. My travel to Richmond in July 2012 was really the beginning of this mindset. But after December on the island, where I needed to retreat for healing and soul searching, I discovered I actually enjoy being with myself. Traveling alone or with Clarence in tow, it doesn’t much matter. I am able to see the world with greater clarity, fully immersing myself in whatever I am doing and learn how to balance savoring and saving, being present and yet keeping it for future contemplation.

I don’t prefer my own company to the company of like-minded people, but I do prefer it to settling for a companion whose presence seems needed solely to provide me social permission to be out of the house. I see so many women doing that. They feel they need the security of others to validate somehow pursuing their desires. They need not do that. Men don’t. When I go eat up at the bar, or attend an event alone, I am generally the only woman among a crowd of men who do not think twice about enjoying their own company in a fine place.

When one lives with intention, one adopts the mindset that the only person responsible for one’s own happiness is oneself. A marvelous time  or a miserable time, just as any companion might provide, can result. It’s one in the same. And for me this said, Why wait? Safety? There are ways to ensure that as much as possible. Comfort? Hopefully that’s where recommendations  come in. Some dining places and events seem to be more conducive to solo  enjoyment than others.

My hope is that in following my travels, you might either enjoy these same spots or find new ideas about ones to enjoy on your own, both my feminine readers and masculine alike. The focus of my writing is changing more toward  review now, but with a personal twist. It will take me a few posts to get the right balance, but I aim to share the experience first and then find the lesson in it if I can.

I don’t pretend to be the world’s best writer or photographer. So the writing is imperfect and I am okay with that. Its human. And my camera and eye has its limitations. If  you  comment please do so in kindness. I want to share all this with you, hoping that you will find something to carry along in your own journey.

That’s really what all this is about: a journey. Joe Campbell would say we all walk the same journey; we are just on different points of it at particular times. The joy is already knowing how it will turn out, because we all do. We return home, master of two worlds and then, we share our wisdom with those we love. That is my intention.


All that Glitters

23 Dec

Sometimes, something can seem so marvelous …so perfectly exciting. People can be like that. Places can be like that. Experiences can be like that. But tonight, I went to Sax Restaurant and Lounge. Hours before going, I had a nagging feeling about the experience, something that overshadowed my long held anticipation and excitement.  Verdict: It was an expensive lesson in not worth it.

I’ve been wanting to experience the place for a long while, the main draw for me being burlesque and modern dance. First, let me say that the burlesque I have come to enjoy is about NOT revealing rather than revealing. I’m not a fan of pole dancing nor stripping. Twelve inch clear plastic platforms and lap dances are not in the least artistic expressions, in my opinion, nor appealing to me. However, after having watched With a Wink and Smile last year, falling in love with it, and then subsequent reading and research on vintage style burlesque, I found out that this is one of the few places in my area which features anything similar. The shows here are of the highest class, resembling acts from Cirque du Soleil and modern ballet rather than a gentleman’s club. The interior is rich, a literal explosion of bordello red velvet….and I mean 19th century New Orleans style, Moulin Rouge, lavish French baroque golden splendor.

To be sure, the champagne was amazing. After two glasses of Jean Baptiste Adam Rose (Cremant d’Alsace ) I was feeling rather fancy. The manager, Franco, came to my table to greet me and chat, offering a glass of Spanish Cava on the house. Its mossy earthy nose and mineral finish was amazing. You can’t come to a place like this without drinking stars.

To be sure, the food was to die for, small bits and bites in tiny plates, one after the next.  I nibbled and sipped at my table for one all evening. First, an arugula salad with strawberries, goat cheese and pistachio vinaigrette arrived, then some gorgonzola fondue, tiny bites of beef and bread to dip in a small pot just for one. Afterward, as the evening rolled on, three prawns in carrot ginger butter were followed by fried oyster sliders presented on tiny pristine white plates. It sounds like an amazing array of food I’m sure, but truly each small dish was two to three bites and although delicious and artfully presented, not really worth the cost.

To be sure, the service was impeccable. My waitress was so charming, and also so surprised that I was completely there by myself that her first reaction was to exclaim, “Oh…oh my god, you are my new hero.” She attended to me like a loyal waiting gentlewoman and truly made me feel more comfortable. The hovering of the other wait staff, though those to clear away dishes or glasses was oppressive. The pressure of what seemed to me to be constant supervision, or inherent curiosity at my single seating caused me to flinch more than once. There was one moment where one of the other waitresses looked at me, her gaze mixed with sadness and empathy. My instant thought was, “Oh child, don’t look so sadly at me. I’m not lonely.” And to tell the truth I wasn’t. The shows were what I truly went for but there again, the spin and the actual turn part ways.

Each absolutely fabulous, artfully choreographed, and beautifully lighted show was three minutes of pure bliss for me, separated by twenty minutes of blank dark stage. I am still disappointed… a lot. All I can really think about was how much of a better time I had spending twenty bucks dancing to the Rockers last Saturday night at the Topless Oyster community Christmas potluck in Ocracoke, dogs trotting across the dance floor. It was more real, more genuine. When this place turned into a true dance club at 11pm, I paid my check and took a cab home. No one spoke to me all evening; no one but staff acknowledged my presence. I was a ghost seated at the edge of a red velvet dance floor, entirely invisible.

The opulence of this place hides the feeling I could never shake the minute I walked in the door….beautiful…but no heart. And heart and soul are the ingredients to me that make a good dining/ lounge experience as a woman. Its not about the icing. Its about the cake. The elements have to be there, but what makes a woman feel alluring and adventurous and drawn into a sensual conversation with herself isn’t red velvet perfection…its genuine connection. And you can get that in a space like that, but it takes an emphasis on the personal aspect at the core. There is a taste for love, for bravery, for the sheer joy of decadence, but it comes with the expectation that not all diners will be providing their own companions to achieve the perfect mix.

It’s like some people. They create this wonderful exterior that just draws others in and then, when experienced, you can’t really figure out exactly why, but you feel let down. They have all of what seems like the perfect combination of characteristics, but when you really sit down to the table, they can’t provide any depth of heart.

Tonight is the last time I will place myself and my aspirations into fancy and empty rather than real and warm. Sometimes, I do already know better.

My Favorite Things

12 Dec

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The rain was intensifying, the sky darkening by the minute. And the wind was in that middle place between sweeps of cold and down drafts of warm. I stared at the bending cedars and oaks from inside  “my happy place” waiting for Bob and Brenda, new friends I met at Trivia Night. There is no other place that I would rather spend an afternoon, alone or in company than at Zillie’s Island Pantry. I suppose I am the queen of the “happy hour” in a way, not that I have it daily. Most every day I workout, but around five, I sigh and think to myself, What I wouldn’t give right now to be sitting at Zillie’s on the deck watching Back Road with a Bellini or a nice Chenin Blanc or Petit Syrah in my hand, listening to Billie Holiday, or other assorted vintage jazz and blues, cheese and charcuterie spread out before me?

The music is part of what links me into the era of my grandparents and the nostalgia of the 1940’s. When I am there, I feel totally in the moment. As a highly creative person, space and place are important to me. I need the right atmosphere like some need the right music; its a soundtrack of sort, for sinking into myself.  It has to “feel” right, and Zillie’s has that for me. Vintage signs and music create a grandma’s kitchen meets gourmet interior. It’s small, brightly colored and filled with bottles of fine wine and beer amid jars of gourmet sauces and other delicacies. Outside, the atmosphere is a different story. I think everyone has a friend that his or her home just seems to be the place everybody likes to frequent come summer. Someone usually has a deck that becomes the neighborhood gathering place and the deck at Zillie’s captures that for me. And even in this off season, I see locals coming here for the fire outside in the big copper fireplace along with fine spirits.

I remember Summer 2010 sitting outside on the computer writing, sipping ice cold Sauvignon Blanc and monitoring my students’ summer blog. Being a teacher seems to be the only thing I have done for the last quarter century, as if the love of young people and literature would be enough to sustain me. I have come to realize it doesn’t. My whole career has been one long “should”. But I’m really good at it, which has complicated my sense of obligation for more years than I’d like to admit.

Bob and Brenda came in around five and then all hell broke loose outside. The trees swayed and bent while the puddles deepened. We chatted a long while about places we’ve traveled to and a bit about my bucket list. But the conversations turned more personal as they tend to do with a fine glass or two of red and I began to talk with Brenda about some of my personal relationships, one in particular.  I expressed to her how frustrated I was, how caught I felt in not being able to express my emotions, nor be my honest self. I revealed to my new friend how strange the communication with him seemed and how ultimately sad and unhappy I was with the whole situation. This was the uncomfortable pressure on the partially healed sore from a divorce accident.

There was one point, where when my phone lit up with a text from this person and I shook my head and teared up. Brenda did something I will never forget. She reached over, took the phone out of my hand, laid her hand on top of mine and said in the most calm way, “Cyndi, love is simple…it doesn’t have to be that hard.” Like a wave too big to stand in, the pressure of her words tumbled over me and I realized She was right. I had to let go.

She gave me a gift last night. Those three words set me free somehow. LOVE…IS…SIMPLE.

Its funny. I never thought I’d be learning these types of tough lessons now at my age. I suppose no one ever does. But it strikes me that we learn when we are ready. Perhaps I have spent so much time growing up other people, that I need to tend to me now. I’m not really sure.

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