Friday, August 31, 2007

Tocai and Tilapia

I had lunch the other day with pal Sam who has been traveling all summer. France, Colorado, Seattle, Costa Rica, Florida, San Sebastian, South Carolina. I’m exhausted just thinking about the packing.

I’m one of those people that take two days to pack for a three day trip. I labor. No, I sweat blood over every thing I put into a suitcase. I have another pal, Hank, who goes away for three months at a time. Sri Lanka, India, Cambodia, China, Italy, another one with endless wanderlust. He packs everything in a little carry-on. A great role model, but still it baffles me.

How did I get onto the subject of packing?

I had an email from Lewis Cutillo, who read about my family and their talent with sewing machines. Lewis works for Bontoni, an artisanal shoe company in the Marche. The Marche, where my friend Hank’s family is from and where he spent two months (with that little carry-on.) Near Hank’s family village of Fermo is another hilltop town called Montegranaro. It seems that's where Bontoni and a few other shoe making dynasties live. Montegranaro is to shoe makers like Casalnuovo is to tailors – a Mecca.

Shoes – a weakness of mine passed on from my father’s father’s father and on to my son. We share the same shoe size, so he often covets and gets shoes that I relinquish.

Luxury stuff. Suits, shoes and wine. Throw in travel, a good car or two, and anything else that strikes your fancy, and we are starting to see a picture develop in the tray.

Sam has taken on the task of mentoring the affluent and successful in his neighborhood. And for what purpose? It seems that Sam is an action model of how to live, for these two Ferrari families. Over achievers who work hard, play hard, make a ton of money and spend it too. But they have no free time. One couple asked Sam to take them to Italy. The caveat was, they only had three days, and needed one to visit the Ferrari factory. Excuse me? Someone else needs to be thrown out of the plane. This time it would from be their very own Hawker or Gulfstream though.

OK, OK, focus. These folks are wildly successful in channeling millions of dollars in their direction. But they don’t know what or how to appreciate the finer things that money can acquire. So Sam and I, talk it over, over Tocai and Tilapia.

When I was in my 20’s and had very little money, I found a way to feel like whatever I had coming in my direction was of a certain quality. Look, I was making maybe $7-10,000 a year. Maybe. But the food we bought was fresh. It was often organic. We’re talking 30+ years ago folks (California, not Texas, much easier on the west coast than in the south west). There was a Trader Joe's down the street, and even though Charles Shaw was yet to be reinvented, one could easily get a Two Buck Chinon. OK, so my cars weren’t so wonderful. A Corvair and a Ford Falcon station wagon. I could take the heads off the Ford's engine block and have them ground and put them back on. And the Corvair was a bit sporty, and now so very collectable.

And clothes, hmm. Well, I did know where to find gently worn threads. I worked at nights in Hollywood, so I must have passed muster somehow. Looking back, I was treading much lighter on the earth than now.

We were a family of four living in a little California cottage. I measured it on the outside, 20 feet by 20 feet. That would be 400 square feet. Today it is worth $250,000. The simple truth was, we felt the quality of our life wasn’t too bad. Were we poor? Yes by some government standards. But we had fresh eggs and great milk and wonderful veggies (we were also vegetarian at the time- so no meat = less contribution to the then unknown global warming crisis looming in the future). It was a simple life.

Did we want more? Yes. But it wasn’t something gnawing away like I see in so many folks today, young and old, rich and poor. It seems that if you’ve made it or not, there is always something more. Like Hank says, if you’re worth $10 million, you look at the guy that has $20 million and wonder how he got so lucky. So we have these up and coming young professionals, wanting the house, the cars, the wife, the husband, the lover, the nanny, the personal shopper and the therapist.

And then you have the guy with the $20 million and he doesn’t know which wine to drink (or collect), where in Italy to go ( besides the Ferrari factory), what to order at Bice or Babbo, or why he should be requesting mozzarella di bufala on his thin crust Napolitana style pizza. Isaia or Kiton? Bontoni or Area Forte? Panarea or Porto Cervo? Supertuscan or Silver Oak? A real quandary.

My little 400 square foot bungalow is now written up in architecture magazines. Seems folks spend hundreds of thousands for some property way north and west of Taos and want to put up something small, like a glorified fishing cabin. And now the small is becoming upscale. Tiny is the new big. As long as you don’t have to abandon your McMansion in the safety of your personal bubble, back home.

There are plenty of folks out there who want someone like a Sam to teach them about roasting coffee and the difference between full city and city plus. Or helping them write a book about their life. But first they have to get a life with some meaning. And they aren't going to get it in three days or less.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Goose Summer

You’re on a plane and as it taxis out to the runway a little girl starts screaming, at the top of her lungs. Shrieks fill the cabin, heads turn, and yet the child continues to let out a howl. Death by a thousand cuts. We are witnessing the first of three tantrums in a plane. The wine business is an adventure. The wine business is elegant. The wine business is romantic. How can I get off this plane?

While the little she-devil wailed, mommy dearest kept repeating her failed mantra, “Use your inside voice, Haley.” Had we all fallen through a trap door into some Bizzaro-Montessori-gone-south experiment in parenting? Please bring us all a collective pair of tantrum-cancelling earphones. Snakes on a plane.

We decided instead to open the hatch and throw the child and her mother out. A young Army paratrooper on leave volunteered an extra chute for the pair. It was a little windy and we lost some papers and a laptop or two, but afterwards all the remaining kids were good, and all the parents learned some new skills, quickly.

Later, I witnessed one of those wonderful scenes one sometimes finds in the wine business. That would be people interested in learning about wine from each other. The laptop is the modern day campfire, we tell stories about vineyards and wines around it. We indoctrinate young people to come into the trade. We show them exotic places and underground caverns, measureless to man. Yeah, the wine trade is one big giant Xanadu, with the requisite vow of poverty.

The other day I broke out about 60 or so bottles of wine for a journalist. Standing room only, all the seats on this hopeful plane of press were filled. The Pinot Noir phenom- we tasted 8-10 of them- some were pricey- $35-ish. For that price, if an Italian wine isn’t perfect we hear it all the way back to 1982. "But they don’t make enough Pinot Noir," which is usually followed by the invocation, “and we need all we can get.” Yeah, I heard that spun back in the 90’s with Merlot. There is about to be a lot of broken golden goose eggs, folks.

The dog days of summer. Retailers in these parts have a floor tax. Translation: “We aren’t buying.” Things can be challenging in terms of starting anything up until after Labor Day. This is our Ferragosto without the beach, without the table, without the camaraderie of a slow time and a break taken to accommodate for the lull. We have brought in counselors for the sales staff who have to deal with the inertia of the market place (temporary). And still the onslaught continues; we keep seeing more new wines being brought in. The goose is stuffed. Can someone lock the doors now?

Seats forward and tray tables up. Pass the parachutes, please.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Naked Truth

Click on image to enlarge

I delivered some Italian wine for a recent event here in town. There were some very wealthy people there who didn't realize how lucky they were.

Unbelievably, they presume this game is all about them. But a $115,000 Maserati can't get you a ticket to immortality. Bummer, I mused, for them.

And they were so looking forward to being uber-affluent forever. Meh!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Made to Measure

My grandfather almost 100 years ago-click image to enlarge

I spent the better part of Friday and Saturday at a trunk show in a men’s store, showing Italian wine. Several young men came down from New York to show the latest from Gianluca Isaia, a family of tailors from Casalnuovo, near Naples. I love this line from their web site. “Neapolitan tradition holds that the closer a jacket is cut to the armhole, the more comfortable the fit. Northern manufacturers adopt the attitude of a deeper armhole, ‘for greater comfort’, as they do not have the tailoring skills to emulate the comfort achieved by a true southern tailor.”

These days, respect for the Southern Italian tailor eclipses the work of the Southern Italian winemaker. When one plunks down $3,000-8,000 for a suit, considered the best in the world, it makes me happy and sad. Happy for the respect the tailor has gotten for their artistry, sad for the winemaker who still has far to go to get that level of respect and price. It will come, but probably not in my lifetime.

My family, on both sides, started out by working with their hands. My mother’s mother was an amazing seamstress in her youth, working in Dallas in the days when Neiman-Marcus had just started up. She could do a perfect blind stitch by hand, my aunt once told me. I know she could roll dough for the casalinga (home made) pasta with a broom handle and it always came out perfectly round. She and the family she came from were artistic and artisans in many ways.

My grandfather and father as the business grew-click image to enlarge

My father’s father also came from similar beginnings. His father was a wholesale leather merchant. And the sons learned to make shoes, but not just any shoes. And business, but not just any business. When he first moved to Dallas 100 years ago, setting up shop at St. Paul and Pacific streets (now a gazillion story building for the corporate folks), he would work many hours at the machinery. By the time my father was a young man, my grandfather had learned the way of business, and hired workers, learned to delegate and watch the cash. He did well, retiring at the age of 50 and living for 47 years in retirement. But he learned the art of business, did not like to work the heavy machinery all his life. When my father went into that field, he worked as a sign of respect to his father, in the shop, but he hated every moment of it. He wanted to be an artist too, an actor or a musician. He never was able to realize his dream in that way.

They lived well, for theirs was a time when the American dream was alive and well. And they dressed well, like any respectable Italian, southern or northern. I always had a respect for fine clothes, though in the 1970’s I abandoned sartorial splendor for a more comfortable, tribal Aquarian image. It lasted longer than my family cared for, I am sure, but as soon as I started going to Italy for the wine business and visited wineries near clothing manufacturers, the light turned back on inside. We could have our Montepulciano d’Abruzzo with Brioni, our Attolini with Agliancio. The tailors loved to barter; wine was as expensive for them as their suits were to us.

Now I am not overly interested in image or keeping up with the styles from Paris or Milan. But I do have a sense of responsibility to measure up to my cultural expectations of suiting up. Thankfully, in the corporate world, the suit is back, as is the tie, and the French cuff, and cufflinks, and leather. And so, when I looked into the trunk on Saturday, with the bolts of fabric so masterfully woven in Southern Italy, it didn’t take more than a night to sleep on it to decide to pick a fabric out of the trunk and order up a suit of it.

Winemaking and wine marketing is very much like the fashion business. The fashions of flavors ebb and flow as do the lapels and hemlines. But well-made is timeless. A great tie or suit will look good 5 or 10 (dare I say 20?) years from the time it was made for. Wine, well made, can go down the road too, and be a wonderful reward for the patience one put into keeping it. And while one can wear a suit many times, one can only drink that wine once. Unless one buys a case or two of it.

The boot maker and the tailor inside my bones recognizes this artistry and will pay for it. Now, for the day when people will look at the wines from around Naples (or how about all of Italy?), and see them measuring up in the same way, as they do a suit from Kiton or Isaia.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Hurricane Giorgio

While I was otherwise occupied with my flights of fancy, this week was a return to the foxholes and corridors of the tradeways. From Italy, we have new arrivals, getting here a little earlier than expected. They get bonused to move the ships ahead ( and out of the way) of the latest hurricane. These barely made it.

Looking over a recent special order for a client, it was like an heirloom seed catalog. You know, when the winter has approached and it is dark and cold outside and all one can think about is the spring. So one starts looking at seeds. Sunflowers, squash, tomatoes. But here we are in the midst of that time, the earth is bursting with flavor.

Today these eno-immigrants who have shown up at our door and have asked for asylum.

Bonarda, Ciliegiolo, Gaglioppo, Granaccia, Grechetto, Greco, Mantonico, Marzemino, Nosiola.

Not a Chardonnay or Cabernet in the bunch. Nowhere is Sangiovese or Pinot Grigio to be found. Pinot Nero is absent along with Merlot. It’s just us indigenous ones today.

No tired, no weak; just ready and willing to spill their blood on foreign soil. We're still talking about wine, folks.

The wines hail from Lombardia, Trento, Liguria, Umbria and Calabria. I am not going to describe these grapes or these wines, there are resources for that already. Two books, Wines of Italy by Patricia Guy and Wines, Grapes and Vines, by Jancis Robinson are the sources I go to read about these grapes. So have at it if you wish.

Meanwhile, I have the next few days with the folks that bring you Armani, Brioni, Kiton and their ilk. They who must know about wine, that sort of thing.

I'm ready for my close-up Mr. De Mille.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Meltdown

Annabella and her friend Lily were waiting for us at the airport. A small car, but ample enough for the four of us with our carry on bags. I had met Lily when she was married to Roberto. That was several years back at Vinitaly. They seemed happy enough then.

Lily was somewhere between 38 and 42, a dangerous time for an Italian woman, married or divorced. She can become anxious and unsettled, like a wild cat in a cage. If married, her husband’s friends can be suspect. If divorced her ex-husband’s friends can be considered provocateurs. Fear, superstition and uncertainty, with life and the future looming ahead, all add up to a powder keg of tension and explosive emotions. Perilous times.

“The first summer a newly divorced Italian woman spends is a test of how she will spend the rest of her life,” a saying goes. Here on Pantelleria she would be removed from the scrutiny of the local people who know her in Sicily. But her inner sentinel would still be on guard. For now it appeared her primary goal was getting as tan as she had been when she first blossomed into a woman at 16.

The airport in Trapani was unavailable for landing. Umberto had a friend in the Italian military, so he called ahead to Pantelleria for the unscheduled landing. The airport in Pantelleria is busier in August than most of the year, but it wasn’t really a problem of traffic. As the private plane touched down the temperature reading outside was 38°C. It was 10:00 AM.

A short drive to the resort went smoothly enough. A little idle chatter and gossip, nothing to sink the teeth into yet. Lily was a student of music and Marsala, her father was a winemaker, mother an opera singer. We were going to taste some of his older wines along with a few others from some of the luminary winemakers of the region. Marco de Bartoli was up in Bukkuram. Salvatore Murana was harvesting his Zibibbo at Mueggen. Donnafugata’s Ben Ryè was being harvested and taken over to Khamma Fuori. So at once a busy time for some, and a time of relaxation for others. And at night everyone would gather and eat and drink and enjoy each others company.

This time of the year they don’t do too many primi's or secondi’s. But being Sicily there was an abundance of dolci; in liquid, in solid and in other guises.

And the cards games. Ever since I watched my grandparents playing Scopa or Briscola, I was fascinated with people spending time playing cards. As a young boy I thought it odd that these old people would spend what few remaining moments they had on earth in pursuit of winning a card game. While my grandparents seemed ancient to me I knew somehow that they wouldn’t always remain so. It frightened me for them that they didn’t realize their folly.

Now I see it was a way for them to relax, unwind, stop the daily chores and duties and take a few breaths. Umberto seemed to enjoy playing with Lily. Both of them were alone, and while Umberto always has this sense of self-sufficiency, someone like Lily would be a match against his hard stone; something could ignite.

Lily was in her post meltdown sequence, according to Annabella. Not interested in men, but definitely interested in parts of them. Conflicted, angry, hurt, vulnerable, cautious. A true Sicilian.

The party at Giorgio’s that Friday. I can’t tell you anything about it, I’m sworn to secrecy. I can tell you what we tasted though.

The winesMarco de Bartoli Marsala Superiore Dieci Anni- 10 years in big oak barrels with the Solera method. 50% Grillo, 50% Inzolia

Marco de Bartoli Marsala Vigna la Miccia Cinque Anni- The wine is aged in small oak barrels for 5 years. 50% Grillo, 50 % Inzolia

Marco de Bartoli Vecchio Samperi- 20 years in old barrels. 70% Grillo, 30% Inzolia

Marco de Bartoli Bukkuram Moscato d`Alessandria (Zibibbo) Passito di Pantelleria

Donnafugata’s "Ben Ryè" 2004 Passito di Pantelleria

Salvatore Murana "Mueggen" Moscato di Pantelleria

Lily also brought some of her fathers aged Marsala wines from the 1960-1970 era. Definitely Vecchio, some Superiore, Riserva and one Vergine.

Like the women in our party, the wines were all ages, in all stages of life. Young, middle-aged and elderly.
They all shared a common familiarness. There was an attractiveness that they all had, but in many cases it was like what one feels for one's mother or daughter, or one's sister. Once in a while the lover would appear. But we were in their milieu, their surroundings, their sea. I was just a carefree observer on a short break.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Cowboy Sommelier

Click on cartoon to enlarge

While Ziff and Dale work at a feverish pitch to iron out all the last minute details for the Texas Sommelier Conference, Cowboy Sommelier drives in from his vineyard in time to deliver his pronouncement.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Pole Position

Guest commentary by Beatrice Russo

Do You Wanna Dance?

Ziff and Dale invited me to lunch today. It’s Restaurant Week and they are heading off to Austin, for the Texsom conference that they are in charge of. I am staying behind. Like I said, it’s Restaurant Week and someone has to answer the dumb questions that the R.W. amateurs ask. Like last night, I heard this one: “Do you have an Italian Pinot Noir?” Yes, and I also can recommend to you a Vermentino from France, but why? Another one I heard this week (these people must have driven in from Tyler or Longview): “What’s your best Texas wine?” How about the one that doesn’t make me puke (which, by the way, wouldn’t be some overpriced Palomino-Chardonnay from a wine-bully.)

As I said, we are at lunch, kinda celebrating. One of the restaurants took pity on some of the locals and opened up for lunch. Peaky toe crab, awe-inspiring okra (you heard me) with fried green tomatoes and a whole, grilled Branzino. Family style. Me, I’m always hungry. Ziff was watching his weight and Dale was loosening his belt. They brought a bottle or two of Burgundies for fun, A Rully and a Santenay. Look guys, anytime you want to raid the cellar, I’m there for you.

At a table nearby, one of IWG’s gulag-mates was entertaining a chef. He stopped by on his way in, asking where IWG went this time. I said Fort Worth and acted like I didn't know what he was talking about. They had some cool stuff in their bag, sent over a taste of Camartina. IWG loves Querciabella. The wine was tasty, especially with the lamb.

We finished with incredible slices of Pecos melon (not cantaloupe) and some German shots that were bitter and gave me a headache. But hey, it was a 2 hour business lunch.

Nice Melons

I sent the boys on their way. They had to be in Austin, and tropical storm Erin was racing to meet them.

The gulag-mate called me over to come taste some Priorat. It had been opened about 4 hours earlier, so it tasted almost bearable. After Santenay, Sangiovese and bitters, Garnacha and Carignane were maybe too much in the same day. And it’s like 102°F outside.

The chef we sat with had a funny story about Spanish wines. I gathered he ran the wine program and the kitchen at this place where he worked, a gentleman’s club. You know, pole dancing, scantily clad girls, and plenty of smoked salmon on the buffet. And bubbly, lots of bubbly, you get the picture?

Last Call

Anyway, chef likes Spanish wine, been to Spain a couple of times lately. Likes it a lot. So he gets real sore when he goes to the tapas restaurants in town and the Spanish wine selection is lame-o, like a liquor store in some river bottom area. His line, “I have a better selection of Spanish wine in a topless bar than a tapas restaurant,” really nailed Dallas with another bulls-eye. That ain't the wind, folks, that’s the sound of the wine business sucking, this time with Spain. He was right when he said, “Buy good wines and sell them, push your customers, make them drink something besides Silver Oak or Coppola.” I know IWG says that and Ziff and Dale too. So, I’m on board, guys, even if you never see me in a gentleman’s club. I leave the testosterone and pole-positioning to the other species.

To the Moon, Alice

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Way In

Dale's mom has been talking to her son about his girth. Ziff just started a new work-out program. This could get ugly.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Fantasy Island Fever

To the bat cave, Robin

Monday Aug 13

Daniele calls me. His family has a house on the beach in Mazzara del Vallo. Ten days, only shorts and sandals, the beach and relaxing. “So how will your vacation be?” he asks. “Where are you going?” I tell him I have just been away, but when I think of that little stretch of sand and Ferragosto, my blood boils. Nothing to do with the fact that it is 104° F, where I am today.

Later in the day I get an email from Lucio. “Here it is sunny and perfect. We are invited to Giorgio’s home, Friday night, for a light dinner and some cards. He asks why you don’t join us?”

There isn't much to do on Pantelleria, but what does one need to do in August? Change the world? There’s a carnival of revolutions among the pranksters who run the world; Napoleon, Ho Chí Minh, Yeltsin, Rove, and the beat goes on.

About this time, I think, what would be the harm in catching a flight of fantasy to Sicily? One friend is in Trapani and another is in Pantelleria. Why not call up Umberto and talk him into a 5 day quick trip to catch a cure for this island fever?

Umberto, always ready and even more generous, thinks for a New York second and calls Million Air to ready the plane, a long hauler.

Tuesday Aug 14

By the end of the day the jet will harness our spirits and once again lift them towards the heavens. This is no dark dream, this is one of light and sun and water and wind. A late afternoon departure is planned.

I call Lucio and tell him to call Annabella to set three more places. “Do you folks want anything from Texas?” Annabella loves BBQ sauce from Sonny’s, so we send Tony to bring back a couple of gallons. She thinks it helps to marinate the tuna, calm down the gaminess. I think she is crazy, but wonderful. One thing- these people don’t get themselves an article in a magazine and leave out the rest of their family. They are genuine. Successful, yes, but never forgetting that they saw far, because of the shoulders they stood upon.

Sicilians are not like some of the other islanders; they have been exposed to the global community for some time now. They know the future is built upon the ruins of the past, but best to not destroy it in the present. Some of the lesser island cultures are still feeding off the milk of the golden jackals.

This is an intense time. I can only escape for short periods of time. Work is constant. Competition is relentless. The economy is unstable. The war is getting closer. A little time on a boat, by the water, with friends, a little Zibibbo and Inzolia, maybe some Cerasuolo. Fresh fish, tomatoes that taste like they are supposed to. Melons that are ripe. Uncongested space, stars, lots of stars. Cooler nights. Longer days. Leave Tuesday late afternoon, return Monday. It will have to be enough. All of Italy is taking a break. Even the unemployed ones.

They are harvesting the early Zibibbo in Pantelleria. It has been an early year in Italy for the grapes. Plenty of sun and heat, not enough hang time. But Zibibbo has grown accustomed to the cycles and will deliver. We won’t harvest, but we will witness. And swim in the cool pool overlooking the salty sea. And take naps and walks under the moonless sky looking at the waning Perseid meteor showers. Heaven on earth. Summer in Sicily, my fantasy island mini-vacation.

Bea, Arthur, take it away...

All photographs of Pantelleria by the author

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Reincarbonation *

Click image to enlarge

*What happens when a light red wine goes through a slight fermentation in the bottle, and is closed out to a Spanish restaurant, to make Sangria.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Dreams In My Cellar

The Dream:

I walk into an ancient Italian restaurant where I used to work that no longer exists. Ali is standing by the salad pick-up line, in his waiter clothes. I say hello to him. Then I ask him, “What are you doing here?” He says, “What?” I say, “Ali, you died. What are you doing here?” He says, “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know where I am.” I move forward to give him a hug and tell him, “You’ll be back. Just relax and move through this.”

I’m still in the restaurant, now discovering that the building that went up over it (a 4-story condo complex) has kept most of the original restaurant. The owner is there with his wife, and they are running the place. All this at their current ages (he is 90). People are coming in. I think to myself that I should bring the restaurant critic here. I see the wines that are there and that the selection needs work. The interior of the restaurant is looking more Mexican-Southwestern than Italian.

I am now shirtless and shoeless and know I must get out of the restaurant because the owner will say something to me.

My friend, Ali, died almost two years ago. He was in his early 50s. Although he played soccer and didn’t smoke, he had diabetes and was overweight. He had a heart attack and died. It was Christmastime, and his parents came from Iran. They have a large and close family. They buried their son and went back to Iran.

I felt like I lost my friend and his family. We talked of going to Iran; this was before the two countries started acting like enemies. Then he dies, and the country turns into our enemy.

How would it affect me if this happened to Italy? I don’t know what I would do. My parents and their parents had to deal with it during WWII. I remember talking to my cousin Luigi in Calabria about what that was like, from his perspective. He had been compelled to join the Italian army and was captured by the Americans and sent to a prison in Tunisia. While he didn’t seem bitter 30 years later, he lost part of his youth, incarcerated for the crimes of his leader.

Ali and I often talked about Persia, one of the birthplaces of the grape. I studied the Persian people from my work in restaurants and learned some of their language, enough to back off the most macho bullies. I think the Persians were, to me, the most Italian of the peoples of the Middle East. I recognized some of the moves and traits, probably from my own DNA, the Sicilian melting pot that houses all these codes.

And, out of the blue in my dream, Ali appears and looks lost and confused. As if he hasn’t even been able to rest in peace. I know there are souls who don’t know they have lost their bodies. Was he one of them? And what was I doing telling him to relax, that he’d return?

Another friend of mine, Brad, should have died many times, but he is very much alive. Working as a war correspondent, he reported from the front lines of the first gulf war (GWI?), under the night lights, in front of the advancing Marines. And in Afghanistan and China and Albania, wherever there was a conflict or trouble, Brad was there. When he wrote me and told me he had stage 4 cancer, we stayed in touch. My wife was entering the beginning of the end of her life, which had been ravaged by multiple sclerosis. So we had a common thread, the closeness of death and the fragility of life.

After my wife died and after my friend overcame his cancer, through meditation (and with a little luck), I have managed to stay in touch with him. As with many people in my life, it seems I have to be the one to reach out over to their side. Now Brad has embraced yoga, is on his way to mastery of it, changed his name to a more appropriate yogic moniker, and passed into the fogless realm of self-realization. It’s not that we aren’t friends. It’s just that he seems too busy to be an active friend. So I talk to my dead friend while a living one is as if he had passed over.

These friends are like wines in my cellar. There are old wines that have lost their life and sit in the darkness, not knowing they will never be opened or enjoyed. There are wines that are still alive but going through a stage where they are undrinkable. Of course there are wines in there that are ready today, like some of my friends. A Carlo or a Patty or a William or a Joe. A Chianti or a Riesling or a Zinfandel or a Barbera.

Choose your wines like your friends. Enjoy them both. Forgive the friends (and the wines) if they don’t come up to par all the time. And open them all, often.

Photos by the author
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