May 30, 2009
Posted by John Cesano under Uncategorized
| Tags: Aegean sea
, Amstel Light
, English breakfast
, Fern Doyle
, Gordon Ramsey
, ionian sea
, Jose Cuervo Gold tequila
, Pinot Noir
, St. Georges
, Yarra Valley
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In 1996, I flew with a friend, Fern, to England, where we met up with Kevin and Margaret, friends of Fern, and then all four of us flew to a Greek island in the Ionian Sea, Corfu.
Most of the famed islands of Greece are in the Aegean Sea. Corfu is a little neglected island tucked away between the mainlands of Greece and Italy. There is much influence of Italy in the architecture and food of Corfu, but at no time will you mistake where you for anywhere but Greece. The national colors, blue and white, decorate many of the buildings, the views of the towns and of the water are often breathtaking, stunning in their beauty.
We arrived at the hottest time of the year, temperatures seem cold when described as a mere 41-43 degrees, until a quick conversion from centigrade to fahrenheit scales gives you a number above 100 degrees.
I had spent a few days in England and had come to love a pint at the pub, while learning to loath the unimaginative food offerings; so faced with the furnace blast upon deplaning, we went in search of a beer before checking into our hotel. Our only options at the airport were Heineken or Amstel Light, neither a beer I like the flavor of, but I drank away some of the lingering effects of the flight, and the heat, with a Heineken.
Out hotel was basic. We were shown to our two rooms, next to each other, by Stephen(os). Stephen, an enormous Greek, was our clerk when we checked in, and our bell man. Stephan easily handled the luggage of four people without the use of a cart. Our 2nd floor rooms each had two bed bedrooms, a bathroom, and a balcony. From our balconies we could sit and see the Ionian Sea, blue beyond the bluest blue imaginable.
In 1996, I drank; that is to say, I still maintained my ability to over drink. I had picked up 2 bottles of Jose Cuervo gold tequila duty free for my week. Kevin had picked up two bottles of Pernod. I don’t remember what Fern and Margaret picked up, but let me assure you, they each picked up 2 bottles for the week’s holiday. We consumed those eight bottles of alcohol in shots, with water, with mixers; we drank on our balconies, we drank by the pool, we drank at the beach; we drank. In less than half a week, we had emptied our 8 bottles of assorted alcohols. This was a vacation, every one of us was a well practiced drinker, and we were maintaining a constant state of lubrication.
Mind you, we were consuming lots of liquids, water, Heineken or Amstel Light (these were the only two beers I found on the entire island in the whole week we were there), coffee. It was hot, and the heat meant lots of fluids were called for.
We also ate. I love food. The food in England had been uniformly boring and horrible. Remember, England is the country where the best chef in the country is Gordon Ramsey, a Scotsman.
Corfu, it turns out, is largely a holiday island for vacationing English and German tourists. Our hotel was in the town of St. Georges, and it seemed our entire town was populated with English holiday goers. Fern and I were the only Americans I saw on the entire island in the week we were there. Breakfast at the hotel each day was an English breakfast. Each morning, our waiter and busboy was Stephen. Stephen would bring out 4 plates with eggs, sausage, tomato, beans and toast, along with tea for the English and Nescafe instant coffee for Fern and I. Before our week was done, I had Stephen bring Fern and I an American breakfast; sadly, I didn’t have a single decent cup of coffee during my entire European vacation (bring your own!).
I would snack each mid day on lighter fare; often having Tzatziki, a yoghurt, cucumber and garlic dip, usually scooped up with torn pita, light, tasty, refreshing; or Xhoriatiki, a Greek salad with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, onion, feta, olive, and herbs; or both. Limited in choice, I usually washed it all down with either a Heineken or Amstel Light. Stephen acted as both my snack bar attendant and beer-tender.
During the days, we traveled by bus to the only real city, conveniently named Corfu; or to the most beautiful town and harbor, inconveniently named Palaiokastritsa. We visited the olive orchards and farms in the hills, and spent time on the beach below our hotel.
To get to our beach, we walked out the front doors of our hotel, waving to Stephen, down a path past the pool, across the beach road, and down a steep and narrow path cut into a hill side cliff. On one side of the narrow path, rebar had been hammered into the hillside to keep it from falling, and remained dangerously exposed; on the other side of the path, a cliff offered a sheer fall of over 50 feet to the beach below.
At the beach, bottled water, sodas, beer (Heineken or Amstel Light) and alcohol helped fight the heat of the sun and the cold of the sea, I thought that the Mediterranean Sea would be warm. Perhaps is is, at least in some places. The part of the Med around Corfu, known as the Ionian Sea, is not warm. Not so cold that swimming is impossible, it could definitely be warmer; it was a bit uncomfortable.
I travel often, and often by myself. I am almost always in charge of myself when I travel. I was not used to traveling with others, being forced by politeness to do what others want to do, to have to listen to the often drunken ramblings of others. I’m good, I can handle quite a bit of it; but I couldn’t handle it 24/7. Each day when the sun was at it’s hottest, and we four were gathered on our balcony, shaded from the sun, and drinking; without warning or comment, I would get up, walk to the railing of out balcony, climb over it, hang from the other side, and drop to the ground below. My companions could not follow my example, and I would walk to the beach and swim alone for a bit each day. I found great comfort in my daily alone time.
Each night at midnight, I would do the same thing, except the beach was always deserted. Being the only one swimming at midnight, I shucked my clothing on the beach and swam nude under the moonlight, feeling incredibly free.
My first Corfu beach memory is of a food vender who wandered up and down the beach with a stick. Impaled on the stick was a stack of giant doughnuts. What I remember best was the shouts of the vender. It has been said that sex sells. This vender must have heard that as well because her shouts of, “sexy doughnuts, come and get your sexy, sexy doughnuts,” still makes me smile in amusement.
At night, seafood seemed an obvious island choice. unfortunately, fish was awfully expensive. I ate Sofrito, an Italian style tender veal dish featuring white wine, garlic and herbs over rice; and Mousaka, fried eggplant and beef, topped with a béchamel (basic white; butter, flour, milk; often including veal, onions, thyme, pepper, clove, nutmeg and/or salt) sauce.
Cheaper still were Souvlatzidika, kebabs made into gyros by wrapping them in a toasted pita with salad and tzatiki. It didn’t matter what meat was used, beef, veal, chicken or fish, as the marinade made it taste the same anyway. Tasty, but cheap, I ate many Souvlatzidika and liked every one.
Dessert, or a pre midnight swim snack, usually involved Baclava, honeyed filo puff pastry with chopped nuts; or yoghurt with honey, nuts and fruit; or, again, both.
The two big local alcoholic beverages were Retsina and Ouzo.
I love wine. Retsina, in theory, is wine. Retsina, in reality, is a Christmas tree in a bottle; a pine sap resin smelling and tasting wine. I found it horrible. I tried several different labels, from different producers; hey, I’m a wine guy, i wanted it to be good. Kind of like Pineapple wine from Hawaii, Retsina (or at least every one I tasted) is horrible.
Ouzo, on the other hand, is a tasty anise based, licorice flavored, thickly sticky sweet alcohol. It is similar to Italian Sambuca or French Pernod in flavor, but completely Greek.
One evening, out of tequila, I decided to drink ouzo. I started out sipping this thick licorice liquor from shot glasses, moved to drinking double shots from rocks glasses, and finished off the night drinking chimney tumblers full of ouzo. I think it is safe to say, conservatively, that I consumed at least an entire bottle of ouzo that night.
During my drunken evening, I won a slot machine jackpot and filled my pockets with foreign coins, and I took part in a trivia contest that I swear I knew all the answers to but the tavern owners claimed they couldn’t read my written answers.
At midnight, like a mechanical bird exiting a Swiss clock, I jumped off my bar stool. Drunk though I might be, I was heading down the road to swim at my beach – right up until the bush swallowed me.
In fairness, the bush that fronted the tavern I was exiting was no ordinary bush; it was large and shapely. It was very hedge-like. Perhaps it was a hedge. All I know is that as I tried to pass it, it leaped out at me. It certainly felt that way to me at least.
My friends report that as I got up to leave, on my way out, it appeared that I leaped into the hedge.
I extricated myself from the hedge, breaking off bits of it in my clothing, and continued down the road, staggering drunkenly toward the beach.
Let me be clear: at no time did I experience falling. I did, however, experience the ground rushing up to meet my face several times.
Over and over, the ground slammed into my body, my head, my face. I had no idea from which direction it would come at me next. Still, I moved toward my beach.
I have no idea how many times I fell on my way to the beach path. I knew intellectually that I was falling down drunk. I had never before experienced this. In spite of the novel sensations of having the Earth rush up to smash me and hedges reaching out to swallow me whole, I wasn’t having as much fun as you might imagine.
Getting to the beach had become a quest, my own Grail quest. Perhaps a swim would sober me (ignorantly unaware that I would likely drown). With my first step on the narrow path down to the beach, the earth smacked me in the head again. I lay against the path, unmoving, thinking. I probably lay on that path ten full minutes. I realized that with exposed rebar on one side and a sheer drop on the other side, this path would surely result in my death if I stayed on it. I turned around, without standing, and crawled off the path back to the roadway.
Stephen told me the next day that my path from the road to the front of the hotel involved a series of dives, head first, into the road, gravel path, and bushes and trees along the path.
My last pitch was intended to be through the doors of the hotel. Knowing I was going to fall, I squared myself up, and started running for the door, hoping to fall through it, into the lobby. I was very surprised when all of my motion was instead backward, away from the doors, and deep into another bush.
At this point, Stephen picked me up out of the bush, carried me to my room, opened the door while holding me pinned to the wall with one hand, then depositing me fully clothed in my bed to pass out.
I awoke to a horrible smell. Fern, who came in while I was passed out, had thrown up in her bed while asleep. I pulled her bedding from under her, wadded it up, and threw it outside, and over the balcony.
The next morning Fern realized with horror that the terrible smell in the room was her. Her hair had collected a bit of her stomach’s contents as she rolled when I took her bedding off the night before.
Fern, after cleaning herself, invited our friends to come view me in my passed out state. My bed had bits of trees, bushes and hedges scattered from my previous night’s battles; coins from the previous night’s jackpot were also scattered about the bed, some stuck to my body.
For the rest of the trip, I was known as Johnny Ouzo; the merest whiff of it, could produce the most severe nausea.
Fern was lucky, she got rid of her over indulgence of alcohol on her bed. I wasn’t sick; all the alcohol was still in my body the next day, and the most painful hangover of my life lay ahead of me.
Sitting hungover when the temperature is over 100 degrees is not a good way to spend a day of a Greek vacation. Getting sunburned while hungover may be the only way to make your day worse.
The tavern owners gave me a consolation bottle of (Retsina based) Champagne (sparkling wine) for my previous night’s attempt at the trivia contest. I didn’t drink that, or any ouzo, while in Greece. I did get back to being able to drink, if not enjoy, Heineken or Amstel Light.
I had a great time in Greece. I was ready, after a week. to leave Corfu and return to England to continue my vacation.
My son was born the following year; I have not taken overseas vacations since (Hawaii doesn’t count). I’m looking at a trip to Melbourne, Australia later this year (about 50/50 likelihood). I might enjoy some local Yarra Valley Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but with 12 years as a father, I don’t have to worry about drunken battles in the outback with Dingos.
May 27, 2009
Posted by John Cesano under Uncategorized
| Tags: Alexander Valley
, American Idol
, Anthony Bourdain
, Big Brother
, Charm School
, Dean Anderson
, Dolphin Crash
, Fiesta Hermosa
, Hell's Kitchen
, Hermosa Beach
, Julie Swayze
, Los Angeles
, Marie Poirer Martinsson
, Metropolitan Books
, Michael Novak
, Nickel Diner
, No One Sees God
, Project Runway
, Sonoma County
, Top Chef
, Zach Swerdzewski
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I am finally back at home sitting in front of my computer, fingers stabbing away at the keys that will result in an overdue new blog entry. A week away from my computer, from writing, I missed it. I missed home, as I was away, down south, for work and pleasure.
I worked the three days of the Memorial Day weekend at Fiesta Hermosa in Hermosa Beach, California, about 20 minutes south of LAX. I spiel my product endlessly at shows with good attendance, and the resultant sales is how I make a living. During one of my spiels this weekend, I recognized the person I was talking to from either film or television but couldn’t place him. The person I brought with me to work the show with also recognized him, but couldn’t place him. Finally, my business associate whispered “big brother”.
I am a reality TV junkie. I have watched seasons of Survivor, Big Brother, Idol, Top Chef, Hell’s Kitchen, Project Runway, Charm School…you name it, I’ve watched it. If I could only choose one, it would have to be Big Brother; the fish bowl purity of the show appeals to me. The tall, smiling, man in front of our booth was Zach Swerdzewski from Big Brother season 8. Zach came in third, losing only to the father/daughter pair of Evil Dick and Danielle.
Season 8 of Big Brother was one of the better casts, starring the broken down old rocker, Evil Dick, who used profanity laced invective, tearing apart fellow houseguests, insulting others for their sexuality, religion, and any other button he could expose. Other houseguests included Jameka, a pious black woman; Amber, a meth using drink slinging single mom from Vegas; Eric, America’s player; Jessica, Eric’s showmance; Dustin and Joe, the hilariously bitter gay ex-couple; Danielle, Evil Dick’s emaciated daughter; and Zach, a guy too nice by far to play in the same game as Evil Dick.
When we were able to place the person from our Fiesta Hermosa booth inside the Big Brother house, he let us know that yes, we remembered correctly, his name was Zach and he was from season 8. I was surprised that other reality TV addicts in the crowd didn’t recognize him, but Zach seemed to operate in a cloak of anonymity; we were the only people who seemed to recognize him. Zach was gracious in spite of our fantarding, posed for pictures with us and even gave us hats from his clothing line, Dolphin Crash. Oh, and Zach now has one of our Corkers. It was really nice to meet someone so genuinely nice.
We also saw Jason “Wee-Man” Acuña of Jackass fame. We did not fantard over Wee-Man, although my 12 year old son was excited that we had seen him.
With the show done, I stayed an extra day in Southern California and visited Metropolis Books at 440 Main in the core of downtown Los Angeles. A high school friend, Julie Swayze, owns the store and we got to spend an hour in conversation. The store is a jewel, an independent book store, and you should visit the store if in Los Angeles. Eat at the Nickel Diner when in the area, the entire area is on the verge of a revitalization, and both the book store and the diner are the future of downtown Los Angeles.
Through Julie, I picked up two more books by Anthony Bourdain, and a book that a friend, Marie Poirer Martinsson, recommended to me, “No One Sees God” by Michael Novak. The last book inspired conversation between Julie and me about spirituality, religion, and the non preachiest preacher man I know, Dean Anderson, another class mate of ours.
Finally, I drove through the Alexander Valley of Sonoma County on the way home today, stopping to get out of my car and walk in some vineyards. I am Frasier like, I know most people are Daphne like; I want to share what I know and love about wine in a way that makes it understandable, maybe even inspiring someone to try a wine instead of a beer with a meal or when out with friends. I know my wine writings will never be #1 on any most read list, but I will continue to write about wine on a regular basis. Perhaps I’ll get better at writing about it, or perhaps more people will find it a palatable topic as my readership grows.
May 19, 2009
Posted by John Cesano under Uncategorized
| Tags: Cabernet Sauvignon
, California State Fair
, Carol Shelton
, Matanzas Creek
, San Francisco
, Susan Johnson
, Union Square
, Windsor Vineyards
, Wine Enthusiast
, Wine Spectator
A few years back, Susan Johnson and I ate at Kuletos off Union Square in San Francisco. We were enjoying a special meal on the Windsor Vineyards corporate credit card as a reward for doing a special two day tasting in San Francisco for a corporate client.
We brought a bottle of our 1994 Windsor Vineyards Carol Shelton Signature Series Merlot. Both Susan and I are big red fans, generally preferring the power and strength of a Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel to a the softness of a Merlot, but this wine had taken four gold medals, including a double gold/best Merlot award at the California State Fair, and we knew from several previous tastings that this was a monster of a Merlot.
As the Windsor wine was not on the wine list, we asked our waiter about a corkage fee, agreed to it, asked the waiter to bring a glass for himself, and let him do the honors of opening our bottle to breathe.
We noticed that there was a Matanzas Creek Merlot from the same big 1994 vintage that had earned some of the highest ratings for a ’94 Merlot from Wine Spectator or Wine Enthusiast, 97/100 or above, on the wine list and available at $60, a very fair restaurant price, and as we were staying in San Francisco overnight, we ordered a bottle to taste against the Windsor Merlot.
For our meals, we chose a roast duck breast in a grappa soaked cherry reduction special that seemed made to be paired with our wines.
If you have never eaten at Kuletos, the restaurant is warm and inviting, an upscale yet comfortable Northern Italian restaurant, rich with wood and marble, professional yet friendly service staff, and consistently well turned out food that can be paired with wines by the glass, half bottle or full bottle from their more than adequate wine list.
Having snacked earlier in the day, we chose a selection of cured meats and salumi to start us off, and a deconstructed Caesar hearts of romaine salad dressed in an anchovy and garlic dressing with croutons to share before our duck dinner.
Carol Shelton’s Windsor Merlot opened with a rich ruby red color, and the nose of warm cherry was echoed in the mouth and joined by notes of plum and berry against spicy French oak. There was even a hint of bacon fat, and everyone loves bacon fat. Not overpowering, but perfectly balanced, the iron fist in a velvet glove, this Merlot had loads of gorgeous fruit hanging on a well structured backbone of firm tannins and good acidity, and the finish kept each note in balance with the others as it disappeared over time.
Our waiter was pleased to be invited to taste our wine, and surprised that a wine he had never run across before was so good.
The 1994 Matanzas Creek, reserve something or other, Merlot, Sonoma Valley was simply gorgeous. It is heaven to have two beautiful and delicious wines, at once similar and very different, to experience and enjoy with a good friend, also wine knowledgeable, over foods perfectly matched to the wines.
The Matanzas Creek Merlot showed a garnet color, the nose more like Cabernet with Blackberry and Cassis notes against oak in the front with perfumed floral notes behind. Again, this was a power Merlot, more iron, less velvet, and the tannins were big for a Merlot. Flavors of candied cherry, toast, oak, and creamy vanilla. A Merlot you can eat, thick and chewy, with a long and powerful finish.
The salumi and cured meat plate was a treat, popping bits of tasty meats into our mouth to be joined by a small sip of wine and swallowed.
I don’t know if inviting your waiter to taste two remarkably wonderful wines will have the same effect it seemed to have on our waiter, but that night he made a slew of errors, or helped the kitchen out of their slew of errors, because long before our duck hit the table, we had a soup and two more appetizers, all unordered, find their way to our table. All mistakes, we were told, could we possibly help the restaurant by consuming them?
Susan and I are great friends, we have worked together twice, almost thrice, and have helped each other on our separate employments. We enjoy each other’s company, conversation is never difficult for us, we both love wine and have remained in the industry for many years, and we both love food and have cooked for the other on a number of occasions.
While all of the food was good, and it was nice to taste each course with first one wine and then the other; the highlight of the evening was tasting the wines against and with the grappa soaked cherry reduction sauced duck breasts, crispy skin, and delicious fat, juicy meat and two great wines, either of which would have been perfect. Wine and food flavors marrying delightfully, the union richer, more delicious, than the individual flavors alone.
Susan and I communicated through this course largely by shared moans of pleasure.
We shared a chocolate and cherry cake torte for dessert, and I risked ruining a perfect meal by ordering coffee. Don’t you hate a bad cup of old, unattended, burnt coffee at a meal’s end?
Have no fear, oh blog reader, the dessert and coffee were both perfect. I don’t really recall the salad, or the numerous unordered appetizers, except to say that they were uniformly good. This was one of those perfect meals.
We even saved a glass of the Windsor Merlot and had the waiter prepare a plate from our leftovers for a homeless man who had asked us for change on our way to the restaurant. On that night everyone ate and drank well.
May 7, 2009
Posted by John Cesano under Uncategorized
| Tags: Anthony Bourdain
, Kitchen Confidential
, Ron Pipes
, Sonoma Country
, Star Trek
, Stephen King
, United Air Lines
, Wine Country Golf Invitational
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I just finished re-reading a few chapters of Anthony Bourdain’s book, Kitchen Confidential, while sitting outside of my nearby Starbucks, sipping a large coffee with cream and three raw sugars, enjoying the feeling of the warm sun, dressed in shorts, a loose buttoned tropical shirt, and flip flops. I am happy.
For the last half dozen years, I have golfed in an annual tournament called the Wine Country Golf Invitational. The charity that is supported by the tournament is a ridiculously wasteful exercise in vanity on the part of the charity’s creators, the money could be used to achieve the same purpose more effectively; but any good is better than no good, and hey, I’m really just about the golf anyway.
Yesterday, feeling tightness in my back, as I ventured from my warm house into cold and drizzle, I thought about the tournament. When my back seized, I dismissed thoughts of golfing.
Today, feeling great, I received a call from my business partner, asking, pleading, cajoling, and finally convincing me to golf in the tournament next week.
I am among the world’s worst golfers; I don’t have a golf swing so much as a baseball swing tilted to a more vertical plane. I have seen my swing on video once, something I vow never to see again. Stephen King’s clown Pennywise from the book IT is less disturbing than my swing.
In spite of my swing, the little team we field each year for the tournament has taken second place three of the years we’ve competed.
We could come in last, and I would still love the day. We are treated to a terrific lunch, there are kegs of Sonoma County’s best micro brewed ales conveniently situated on the course, different holes have different snacks waiting from fresh baked cookies to BBQ oysters, and after the golf there is both a wine tasting and buffet put on by local restaurants and wineries AND a sit down multi-course meal. Oh, and we golf. And the kids win, it’s all about the charity.
I was looking at a Qantas sale on flights to Australia. I really wanted to go, but I passed on the opportunity.
Today, I found that United is running the same sale; the big difference: I fly United and can use the frequent flyer miles, and United is offering an additional 10,000 flight miles for this special.
After my last booked holiday art and craft show of the year, in December, I am looking to fly from San Francisco to Melbourne and return just before Christmas.
Melbourne is Australia’s destination for “foodies”, I have friends in Melbourne, and I have extended family in Melbourne.
In a year when I have decided that I deserve to gift myself without justification, this may be among my best gifts I give myself.
My son’s mom asked me today to help her create a resume. I am thrilled to do anything I can that will help her find gainful employment. It may seem small, but this is a good thing.
My son and his mom will get to spend some time together this weekend as they will visit with her parents, my son’s grandparents, in Sonoma County for the mother’s day weekend.
I will be taking a solo holiday, not leaving my home, but enjoying some alone time to read and nap.
I called Charlie’s mom at her boyfriend’s house to tell her how to score some “mom of the year” points with her son. She is buying movie tickets for the premiere screening of the new Star Trek movie here in Ukiah.
Charlie will get to stay up super late on a school night, then spoil the plot for his schoolmates at school tomorrow. 12 year old boy Heaven.
I am bemused that my blog has readers. I write because I have to write. I am doing it for me.
I read someone else’s blog entries. I look forward to each new entry. She lives a very different life than the one I live. She lives in a foreign, but not too foreign, country. She is fantastically talented, but questions her self worth; I wish I could express how much I care about her and her life. Her writing is the only connection we will ever have. She is young, I am old. She eats veggies, I love meat. She lives there, I live here. We will never meet; but her writing is so good, so revealing, so honest, so brave – it is as if I know her. I definitely look forward to each new posted entry she writes.
It is because her writing is so good that I try to be a more thoughtful writer, to be a better craftsman.
Re-reading Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, I am again confronted with superior word-smithery. Another goad, I have to strive to be better at this writing thing.
The last four words of Bourdain’s that I read: “Shut the fuck up.”
With that, I will for today.
Edited to Add:
I just returned from the new Star Trek movie and logged on to say I thought it was really enjoyable.
It was also great to see my high school friend Ron Pipes’ name in the credits at the end of the movie. Hurray for Ron!
Golfing, we came in second again, good for 36 teams.
May 6, 2009
In 1979, I was part of a group of graduating high school seniors who flew to Hawaii for a week long trip. While 21 was the legal age for drinking alcohol in California; most of us would be 18 which was the legal age for alcohol consumption in Hawaii at the time of our Summer trip. The few classmates who were only 17 magically secured identification stating they were in fact 18 at least. While there was much alcohol consumption, and at least one couple paired up due largely to over consumption of alcohol, this tale will not be about young drunken island sex.
At the age of 18, I spent one afternoon surfing. I had never surfed off the coast of Northern California, where I live, because the water is far too cold for surfing. I did water ski and had done so for several years on both rivers and lakes.
I went to the beach in Waikiki and found someone renting surf boards. In 1979, surf boards were roughly the size of Greyhound busses and nearly as heavy. After perhaps 2 minutes of instruction at the beach, I paddled the QEII out past the first breaking waves to the next set of waves. I turned my board around, timed a wave, paddled to build momentum, felt the board start to catch, moved quickly to get my feet under me, and just like that I was surfing.
I surfed for about an hour, catching several rides that day, and felt quite accomplished.
Ten years later, in 1989, I returned to Oahu for business, and on a day off I headed down to the same beach to try surfing again.
Remembering the ease with which I previously surfed, and the fun I had doing it, I paid for three hours of surf board rental. While the technique to get up on the board hadn’t changed in ten years, the boards certainly had. The boards available for rent were all shorter, narrower, lighter, sport type surf boards. I paddled my board, seemingly not much bigger than a skate board, out past the first waves and past the second waves until I reached the third waves forming and breaking. There were only two others out as far as I was, everyone else was trying for shorter rides. I turned my board around, spotted my ride begin to swell, paddled like mad, moved my feet under me, and felt my board slip out from underneath me like a banana peel on a frozen pond. I went one direction, my board another, and I realized that I was pretty far out to be without a board, so I turned to look in the direction my board had shot off to find it smashing into the bridge of my nose.
If you are ever hit in the face by a wave propelled surf board when you are out by yourself in the ocean, far beyond any other surfers, and feel yourself start to lose consciousness, you too may regret paying for three hours of board rental as it seems one hour would suffice for your drowning and death.
With blood exploding from my nose, instinctively I threw my arms around the board, and held on, resting my head on the board, letting waves wash over me. Holding on for I have no idea how long, until I was able to straddle the board more securely, and until I finally regained full consciousness and awareness.
Smarter people than I would have paddled into the beach and been grateful to trade their unrideable small surf board for their life. I thought about the three hours of paid for board rental, paddled in to where there were more people in case of another mishap, and tried to get up on my board for a ride again.
Out of perhaps two dozen attempts, I may have succeeded in getting my feet under my upright body three times, once riding the board for an entire five seconds.
I spent nearly three hours laying on the surfboard, paddling back into position after each failed attempt to surf. During the entire three hours, the sun beat down on the back of my body and was reflected by the water onto the front of my body.
When I turned my board in, I was the reddest a human being can be and still live. The severity of my sunburn became increasingly evident as my clothing caused pain and children pointed and ran crying from the lobster man.
The pain only swelled with the passage of time. The skin over my nose had been split by collision with my surf board, both my eyes were blackened, and my body except the area my shorts protected was radiating red hot waves of pain.
I bought the largest container of aloe vera gel sold on the island and proceeded to slather it all over my body by emptying half the container into the bathtub, getting naked, laying down in the gel, and rolling until I was covered.
The relief was incredible but short lived. I had to reapply the aloe vera gel often but gladly did so because the alternative was a feeling of salt being ground into exposed flesh all over my body. Gel, good; pain, very bad.
I ended up curtailing many of my daytime activities in Hawaii, unable to withstand any more direct sunlight; and my aloe vera gel baths continued two full weeks before I felt it safe to stop. My red skin had changed to the look of tanned skin, clothing wasn’t painful to wear any longer, and aloe vera gel isn’t cheap in the quantities I was being forced to use to slather my entire body.
Within 36 hours of aloe vera withdrawal, my body started to peel. I felt more snake than human as enormous patches of skin were sloughing off my body at the merest contact. It was freaky to have my facial hair and body hair be the only thing preventing shedding my entire skin in just two pieces, one above and one below my shorts.
I now know that renting the biggest longest, widest, heaviest surf board is the way to go; but on my last trip to Hawaii in 2007, I chose instead to spend my trip in search of the perfect Mai Tai. Unlike my previous search for the perfect wave to ride, every Mai Tai turned out to be perfect.
May 5, 2009
I love Anthony Bourdain. I am envious of him. Bourdain earned his privileges, he was the executive chef at Les Halles in New York for ten years, he wrote Kitchen Confidential (which I will be rereading today), and a number of other books, he writes shorter pieces for magazines and his own blog, and he is now best known as the host of the Travel Channel’s show No Reservations.
You will never hear Bourdain describe food as “Yum-O”, scream “Bam!”, try to “Kick It Up A Notch” with some “Eee-Vee-Oh-Oh”. He’s not a fan of the concept of celebrity chef, and isn’t ironic about having become one. He loves cooking, cooks, and chefs, be they unknown or celebrity; he mocks and derides celebrities who play chef.
Bourdain is too easily hurt, he has a million self defense mechanisms in place, cynicism most chiefly evident. What makes his No Reservations show appointment television in my house is being able to see the cynicism slip, then fall away, as beauty, pure and powerful, undoes Bourdain and transforms him before our eyes.
I have worked restaurants, mostly front of house, waiting tables from Dennys to tuxedo service, and managing a restaurant/nightclub where I made sure I knew how to do everyone’s job in case I needed to in an emergency. I can tend bar, I can wash dishes, I can make soups and salads and prep food, and I can cook. I loved cooking.
In my personal life, I still love to cook. I would like a little more room to do it in, and my 12 year old son wishes that our dishwasher was automatic and not named Charlie, but I love to cook. I have the ability to see a recipe, imagine it, re-imagine it better with mental adjustments of ingredients and cooking techniques, mentally select a perfect pairing wine, then go shopping and come home to execute a wonderful meal…or not. A few of my best dishes took 3 or 4 improvements before they taste as good or better than I originally imagined.
I have been hurt in my past, who hasn’t? Like Bourdain, I spent many years being cynical. Cynicism protects the cynic from hurt, but it also drives away the people you don’t need to protect yourself from. Self inflicted unnecessary and tiring armor.
I have dropped the armor. Well, I may still have a shield handy, but I’m not wearing a full suit anymore. I can get hurt, but I can also join with happier, sweeter, better, and more interesting people. My life is much improved, and continues to improve. Perfect? No, but I think the process of striving for the rarely and transitorily attainable is worth the effort.
Anyway, I am going to be applying for a new job. A winery is looking for someone to get the message of what they do out in a non-traditional way, using social network sites and blog/vblog entries.
I am a native of the area they want described. I worked for a winery for eight years. I know wine, and food, and share what I know with anyone who will listen out of love now. I love Sonoma County, my home, where I grew up. I sold, drank and cooked with wine made from grapes grown by this winery in their own vineyard ranch. I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing. Exhibitor Magazine awarded me the Expert Exhibitor Award three consecutive years for tradeshow marketing of Sonoma County wine. As you are reading this, you know I blog, and am on myspace. I also have facebook and twitter accounts. I post on a number of forums.
I may actually be as qualified, as perfect for the job I will be seeking, as Bourdain is for his. I really can’t imagine anyone else being as good at what I am uniquely able to do, and get the job or not, this is exciting.