Slowing Things Down

Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.

— Soren Kierkegaard

It’s 8am. The alarm goes off. Immediately, your hand reaches for the little machine beside you. The screen lights up. Messages. How many likes on that recent post? It feels like an onslaught, an attack on the senses, yet somehow it’s addicting, you cannot resist.

There isn’t much of an escape from technology; it pervades our existence and even in the most remote locations — an island, the woods, airplanes, the ashram you escaped to for the weekend — there’s WIFI, beckoning us to connect, to display our lives.

It’s been almost three months since I’ve been living in the hills of South Australia. Every morning, I awake to the birds — the magpies cawing, the wrens chirping, the cockatoos . . . screaming, for lack of a more polite term (cockatoos are extremely loud birds, in the family of parrots). The sun rises over the valley, slowly warming up the day.

Now that the frenzy of harvest is over, and Issue 2 of the magazine is ready to go out into the world, I’m enjoying a slower pace of life. There’s so much beauty around, and just walking for an hour with the dogs helps me think clearly. Making wine has been only one instance of working with my hands; there’s a huge veggie garden here on the farm and I’ve taken to pickling and fermenting everything I can. (A long-time passion for me, which I can finally realize in full!) 

For a while, I was making sourdough bread but I’ve come to the point where I have to admit: I’m not that talented at baking. I may pick it up again in the future, but meanwhile, there are olives to pick and cure, chilis to be hung to dry, tomato sauce to preserve, tree barks and wild fennel and fig and lemon leaves down by the creek to collect and soak in our Chardonnay grappa, to become vermouth.

For years, my life was about consumption, about getting into the latest restaurant — and now it’s gone to the other side. I welcome the change. And while there’s certainly enough of the New Yorker left in me that I’m quick to jump on my phone and computer in the morning, I am also taking time to read, sketch in a journal, and work on fiction — something I used to do regularly, but set aside when I decided to focus more on wine writing. finally got around to George Saunders’ first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo. I can’t really think of any reason you should not go out right this minute and locate a copy; it’s a beautifully written meditation on loss and the afterlife and American history, and such a pleasure to read. 

This blog has been many things over the years; I’ve used it to promote my published magazine articles, to defend natural wines against its critics, to share details of my visits to some of the world’s most interesting natural & artisanal winemakers. Recently, a number of people subscribed to this blog, and I’m curious who all of you are, and wanted to introduce myself anew. So: hello, there. I’m a writer who left New York after living there for almost nine years, moved to France with two suitcases, and followed my heart and the good weather to Australia, someplace I’d never been and hadn’t considered visiting. I’m discovering a lot here.

Mostly this moment in my life is about grounding, creating a new home, and getting to know Australia. But partly because I was nomadic for so many months, I really don’t take the notion of “home” for granted — I feel incredibly lucky to have a place where I can just be. I’m reflecting on the idea of “homeness,” what it means to connect to a place and make it our own, and what happens when that connection is denied or confiscated. Recently, I had the chance to see an amazing, small collection of new paintings at the South Australian Museum in Adelaide. The artist, Jacob Stengle, is an aboriginal from the Ngarrindjeri community who was taken from his family at the age of three and placed in a government run home. His story represents the legacy of Australia’s “stolen generation”: throughout the Twentieth century up until the 70s, children were systematically and forcibly removed from their homes as a way of promoting “assimilation” into the white settler culture.

Stengle’s paintings have the chilling effect of sharing his experience from a child’s perspective, as well as looking in from the outside, showing his mother’s heartbreak when he’d been taken. His grandfather, we learn through the narrative of the paintings, was one of the men who helped the South Australian Museum build their collection of aboriginal artifacts. The exhibit is about to close after this weekend, but any visitors to Australia interested in this theme must not miss the Art Gallery of NSW in Sydney, which has a stunning and well-curated collection of contemporary aboriginal art.

Coming from the U.S, of course, much of this narrative is familiar, although here in Australia the oppression of aboriginal communities happened in different sequences and more recently. In Australia’s wine and food circle, thoughtful leaders like Adelaide chef Jock Zonfrillo of Orana are working to highlight native ingredients and channel research funds back into the communities they come from; winemaker Momento Mori in the state of Victoria has written on their back labels: “We acknowledge and respect the traditional owners of this land.” These are the sentiments I want to see more of, write about and share with others, and get involved in myself.

As this Indian summer turns into the cooler days of fall, I am gearing up to travel to Europe, where I’ll be tasting wines, celebrating the release of Terre Issue 2 (if you didn’t pre-order, hopefully there’s a stockist near you!), and researching articles for a few magazines. Speaking of, if anyone can get ahold of the latest issue of Imbibe Magazine, I’m in there writing about amazing examples of winemakers collaborating around the world. It’s a feature I really enjoyed writing, highlighting some producers I really admire.

Aaaaaaaand . . . I have a new self-publishing book project on the horizon. It’s just a bit too early to say more, but I will let you know this: it’s not about wine. Stay tuned, I’ll be ready soon to share details and will be asking for your support.

I hope that, wherever you are, you’re finding ways to slow down, tune out the noise — there’s so, so much of it — and perhaps, use your hands to make something beautiful and nourishing. At the very least, take a walk — it does so much for the soul.

 

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I Can Only Confirm That I Wrote This Story (But Not Which Parts Are True)

Most of you who follow this blog probably don’t know that wine and food journalism is only part of my overall writing repertoire. Fiction, as well, is a large part of my life, and it’s actually because of my desire to learn fiction writing that I fell into this whole wine thing: I was writing a novel, and taking a really engrossing workshop called the Writers Institute, at the City University of New York. Having hostessed and served in restaurants throughout high school and college, I figured that working in a restaurant would be the logical way to support these unprofitable habits. Just a few tastes of the vin nature at Reynard, and as soon as the manuscript was finished I cast it aside–the proverbial first novel in the drawer; I’m glad I wrote the whole book but I don’t think anyone needs to read it–and I promptly delved into wine study.

But today, I am really happy to share a published short story, that I wrote back when I was studying fiction at the Writers Institute, on the Daily Beast. I hope you’ll find a moment to sit back with a glass of wine (or two? It’s a fairly long piece) and read it–link here. And if any of you out there are fiction writers, I’d love to hear what literary publications you’re into at the moment. I might start polishing up some more of these old workshop stories to send out!

Only one request . . . if you do read my story, “Dancer,” which takes place in Costa Rica, please don’t try to get me to divulge what parts of it are true. I’m sure it’s tempting, but don’t even bother; I am a seasoned writer and I know when to zip my lips, only offering the phrase, “I can neither confirm nor deny.” (OK, I can confirm that I’ve been to Costa Rica. But that’s all! No more concessions.)

Written from a quiet hillside in Italy, where I’m on the Franciacorta trail at the moment. Stay tuned.

Just Another Excuse To Write About Paris

au-passage-paris-2016I am desperately in love with the city of Paris. If I could do really anything in my life, I would move there to write a novel, and I don’t care at all if that sounds like a cliché. To substantiate it a bit, I do think that France right now is a really interesting place, but the reasons for that aren’t exactly positive: the country as a whole is in a difficult moment, with extremely heightened racial tensions and the constant threat of terrorism on the heels of severe attacks. I have wanted to live in Paris ever since I was 20, and while the romance of the city may have been part of that desire and still is, along with its incredible culinary scene, the complicated nature of that country appeals to the writer in me. And maybe I’m just a nostalgic sap, like everybody else who read A Movable Feast after high school and dreamt of being a poor writer in Paris, ideally minus the poor part.

Well, I’m not sure how I got onto such a serious note, because the point of this blog post was to share my latest Vogue.com article, on the vibrant nighttime scene at Paris’ little neo-bistros. These restaurants are helmed by young and talented chefs and sommeliers, and they have incredible atmosphere. Each time I go to Paris, I manage to try one or two new places, and I fall more and more in love with the city’s dining culture.

Read the article here. And thank you for putting up with my eternal bohemian disposition (it drove my mother crazy for eighteen years). But it persists: the other day, I pulled out the novel I finished in 2014 while I was waiting tables at Reynard–the job that led me to fall in love with wine–and I found myself wondering when I would be ready for my second attempt. And what the setting would be, for me to write it.

Dawn

78_522520911756_2891_nThe streets of San Telmo are dirty, littered with evening remnants – cigarette butts, beer bottles, a crumpled pair of red panties – and you step carefully, weaving amogst the landmine of debris, listening to your heels clicking on the cobblestones. You wish you had a Valium, a gun, a trench coat full of fake Rolexes – anything to make you in this moment less mundane and desperately normal than you are. The smell of urine hangs in the air. You walk by a homeless man curled up, snoring on the sidewalk. You see no taxis. You walk.

Earlier you refused to dance, sulking in a corner, sipping wine, because you knew you could not be led – could not pretend to enjoy a strange man’s hand around your waist, pressing into you telling you to step or move your hips, his eyes softening in approval when you cede to his guidance. You watched your friends dancing and smiling and laughing, and silently critiqued them and their bodies and everything they were doing. Marta’s hips have widened at least five inches either way, and Becky has developed adult acne, since college. Jess looks fantastic and her music career has taken off, to all of your surprise, but you reminded yourself as she leaned backward, lifting one leg dramatically as her dance partner supported her with strong arms, that Jess and her husband fight constantly and are both having affairs that the other knows about. Read more

“City,” a short story

Check out my short story “City” in the online Construction magazine, a NYC-based publication founded by graduates of the City College Fiction MFA. Thanks for reading.

“‘Do you want to go to some amazing galleries?’ she asked me. I said yes. I had to go to the bathroom, first, because of the beer. In the bathroom I looked in the mirror and I had literally the hugest pimple you can possibly imagine right in the middle of my forehead. I was like, shit, this is so embarrassing, and so I started trying to pop it even though I know you’re not supposed to do that, especially when your skin is dirty, but I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t believe that Talia was looking at me that whole time with that pimple on my face. Suddenly the door opened and Talia came in. I tried to pretend I wasn’t doing anything and grabbed a paper towel and put it on my forehead and said something about sweat. She went and stood by the window and lit a cigarette.”

browser poem

CM Capture 4somebody once told me that when she gets distracted by the Internet, she just makes a poem out of the open tabs on her browser.

 

1)   gmail – here I just e-mailed my boss

2)   wethinkalone.us – here I signed up to receive a weekly e-mail from some writers including Sheila Heti, whose novel I’ve just read

3)   Vamoose Bus – here I am investigating the purchase of a bus ticket to Virginia, where my family lives, for Thanksgiving

4)   WebBeams – this is a portal used to get online at a coffee shop; today I used it at Bedford Hill, one of my staple writing spots, and I reflected that it’s a nice change to see fewer people on computers (because Bedford Hill only implemented the WebBeams policy recently; I’ve noticed other Brooklyn coffee shops doing this lately!)

5)   http://www.margauxwilliamson.com/ – a painter portrayed in Sheila Heti’s novel as the narrator’s (Sheila Heti’s) best friend. Much has been written about Heti’s novel so I’m late the literary party as usual, but God that woman has transformed literature in this hemisphere forever, I am sure of it. A woman writing about being a woman, and how fucking confusing that is (both the writing about being one, and the being one). A new work of literary fiction that takes place outside of New York, for a very nice change (ahem, Mr. Shteyngart/Mr. Lipsyte/Ms. Egan/Mr. Auster, etc etc etc). And the form—the e-mails! Each snippet of meaning, separated out and numbered! The lowercase letters! Each chapter title: “Margaux Goes To . . .” As if it were a children’s book, so cute, this woman’s story about the utter pain of living, of being a postmodernist creature divorced from most of nature, enslaved by economics, addicted to screens and substances. This is vital, crucial! Anyway, I think Margaux is a beautiful name (imagine having a name that ends with “X!” Wouldn’t you feel so special?) and I like her paintings

6)   A map of the New Amsterdam Market, where I went this afternoon for some special events, including an array of goods delivered by a wind-powered barge that sailed from Vermont. Don’t worry, all the magazines are writing about it already. After the event, I tried to shop at the market, but everything was too expensive. I finally bought a delicatta squash for two bucks (which I knew it would cost, even before it was weighed) and a ham/cheese/béchamel hot pocket thingy

7)   The Groupon page for exercise classes – I have too much energy, and I need to dance more often