Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘wine’

Careless Joy

Quiet house. Quiet lake. Quiet mind? Not so much.

When you are riding high, hitting all of your numbers, looking out over a quiet lake as far as the eye can see and embarking on another stretch of smooth sailing, are you the type that rides the crest of that wave with the carefree joy it deserves? Or are you rather the sort that cannot shake the awareness that below your tranquil waters there lies a hidden reef that portends despair should you happen upon it? The question is more than just the old “are you an optimist or a pessimist” saw, I think. At its core lies one of the keys to happiness: can you live in a happy moment without simultaneously giving space to another darker, sadder moment?

During the dance are you always on edge waiting for the other shoe to drop?

None among us lives a life filled with only joy and happiness. Indeed, there are those whose lives are a proverbial slog from one tragic moment to another. Blessedly, in our developed world, these “treadmills of tragedy” are actually quite rare. Likely as rare as the Unicorn lives filled with nothing but rainbows and Skittles. No, for most of us it’s simply a question of degree leavened by, I dunno, attitude I guess. Do we approach the smorgasbord of our lives as ones of “quiet desperation” as so many novelists propose, or do we rather travel in a state of “careless joy”?

Beth and I are hosted friends this weekend at Casa Blanco, the invitation having come spontaneously months prior and quite amazingly accepted and consummated. The one, a classmate from college, I’ve known for 40 years. The other is my classmate’s relatively new love. How they’ve arrived together at Casa Blanco is quite fascinating. One has lived a life which from the outside seems to have been charmed beyond belief, while the other has struggled mightily to overcome significant childhood traumas. One looks back and muses on choices made and how things might have turned out if present day insights might have been available when earlier crossroads were encountered, while the other has doggedly worked through each treacherous road into and out of those crossroads.

What they have in common, at least this weekend, is the apparent ability to live fully within the joy of whatever moment they are experiencing right now, without allowing the intrusion of the “other shoe”. I am quite sure that each has some something that weighs on the balance toward the negative side of the ledger, but for the life of me I haven’t seen it. Pollyanna or a gift? I’m going with “gift” and furthermore I’m going with being able to watch this couple give themselves completely to each moment we’ve shared as one of the most meaningful “hostess” gifts Beth and I have ever received.

Those couple of things in my life (or yours, or my friends’) that are sitting there ruining your winning streak? That other shoe you just know will drop at an inopportune moment? Meh, they aren’t going away regardless of how you decide to engage with the joyful steps in your life, on your journey. Right now there’s a workout to plan and a lake to jump into. Bacon’s on the griddle while I watch the chickadees eat breakfast. Tapping or shuffling, the sound of the shoes is that of happy dancing, and I am taking my cue from our guests and simply listening.

That other shoe will drop whenever but I’ll likely not notice.  I’ll be too busy dancing to worry about it.

Sunday musings: Think for Yourself

Sunday musings…

1) Aperitivo. 6:00 PM in Italy means retreating to a soothing spot for a drink and a small snack of some sort. Saying it that way really doesn’t do “aperitivo” justice in much the same way one would insult a siesta by calling it a nap.

One doesn’t have a slice of pizza and a Bud Light for Aperitivo.

2) Blend. In the wine world there is an age-old conflict over which is better: single vineyard or blended wines. It is no different in the wider spirits community that includes whiskey (or whisky, if you will) of any and all sorts. What the question boils down to is a simple one in which we are asked to determine if we value a unique, somewhat difficult to produce experience more or less than one that is reliably consistent. Is a wine produced entirely from the famous To Kalon vineyard more special than one that uses To Kalon grapes as part of a blend meant to be consistent year after year? Is single malt scotch which varies over the years a more pleasing experience than, say, Johnny Walker blends?

And what, for Heaven’s sake, does this have to do with fitness?

Of late I have found myself working a bit of supplementary work into my CrossFit training. This additional work is not on top of my CrossFit–I’m kinda old and additional volume just crushes me now. Rather, it is inserted between WOD’s for the dual purpose of continually working on the weaker links in my 10 Essential Areas of Fitness, and it is not really varied at all. I have come to liken Crossfit when constantly varied as akin to that single vineyard red wine: you get what the vineyard gives you in any given growing season and make the best wine you possibly can in that year. “Fran” comes up on a day when I am doing CrossFit and I feel young and strong, so I do it As Rx’d, for example.

My supplemental work comes at regular intervals and is quite planned and predictable. Longer, slower, lower intensity workouts in the oxidative pathway are easier on my joints, and they have the added benefit of allowing me the luxury of higher order cognitive engagement during the workout. Who among us is able to use anything but our reptilian brain during a full-on, high intensity CrossFit WOD? The latest version of CFSB provides me with a consistent schedule of full-body, functional movements that I am hopeful will allow me a lifetime of unassisted elevation off the loo. More along the lines of Opus One, the famed Napa Valley blend that aims for a consistent character each year.

The point, of course, is that neither is inherently better, though either may be the better choice at a given time and under given circumstances.

3) Commentary. How do you feel about celebrities of any sort offering up commentary on issues that are far afield from the activities that made them famous? While I confess that I am about to boycott any and all manner of reporting on what someone in power has said but not done, or might/could do but has not yet done, this is not an inquiry into what is opined so much as who is doing the opining. Does the fact that one is famous give one permission to speak on issues outside your direct sphere of influence, and if it does, are we to give more weight to the opinions of the famous simply because of their fame?

Why, for example, does anyone care about what George Clooney thinks about, well, anything?

I’ve long found it fascinating that talent and achievement in sports and entertainment seems to give both the famous and their followers the notion that a familiar name in, say, football makes one an expert in, oh, environmental policy. To be fair there are some celebrities who use their hard-won free time and riches to become experts in something that is far afield from their day jobs. Matt Damon and his efforts to provided potable water in developing countries comes to mind. Since it is not possible for a black man to no longer be black once he has reached a pinnacle in sports or entertainment it is entirely reasonable and appropriate for him to comment on social issues such as race, discrimination, and social mobility if he so chooses. Here I think of LeBron James and his increasing engagement in this kind of discussion.

What I am thinking about is more the question of whether celebrity ought give the speaker more gravitas, more influence in the discussion. Why should I care what the flavor of the day in Rap music thinks about immigration policy? Or that quarterback who is constantly being interviewed about reproductive rights? There isn’t an airsickness bag big enough to contain my reaction to the braying of the glitterati on both sides of the aisle in our last presidential election cycle. Why does anyone care who Tim Robbins or Kid Rock will be voting for and why?

Listen, I’d love to tell you that I am famous, and that this little rantlet is a classic pot calling the kettle black thing, but there are about 11 people who really read my drivel and 10 of them think I’m full of shit. No, what I’m saying here is really, really simple: think for yourself. Celebrities have a passkey to the bully pulpit, but they rarely have anything other than their fame that allows them to stake their claim to the podium. Seek out the thoughts and opinions of people who may be smarter than you are in a particular area and listen to what they have to say. Consume and digest views that are different from your assumptions, just realize that this dish should be consumed based on its quality, not the fame of the chef. Neither beauty nor fame nor fortune bestows upon the fortunate anything but an audience.

You don’t need the opinion of a celebrity. Think for yourself.

I’ll see you next week…

–bingo

A Love Affair, With Wine

My brother just wouldn’t leave me alone. “Have you met Beth Hurst yet?” Having just arrived at the University of Vermont, a first year medical student plopped down in the midst of 3500 UVM coeds, I had no interest in meeting a girl who Randy had decided was possibly “The One”. Seriously…3500 girls who didn’t know who I was! No way, man. No girlfriend for THIS guy! This was gonna be fun!

Well, I’d love to hate him for it, but I can’t. My brother was right. I met Beth at a med school/nursing school picnic, went on one date, and pretty much said “so long” to my excellent adventure meeting those 3500 UVM coeds. We went from a couple of dates to pretty much spending as much time together as we possibly could. This was one of those classic good thing/bad thing situations, though. I discovered that I couldn’t concentrate on my studies with Beth sitting next to me in the Library so  we did an Upstairs/Downstairs arrangement so I wouldn’t flunk out. Worked pretty well, at least for the library issue.

There was the problem of our shared vocations,though. We found ourselves talking mostly about school, the hospital, medicine and such, pretty much to the exclusion of everything else. We risked a kind of burn-out, not only on our chosen fields, but also from each other. We needed some sort of hobby, something that we could learn about from scratch and enjoy together.

Enter Bob, the world’s most unlikely wine merchant.

Right next door to Burlington is the town of Winooski, a funky little mill town on the river that at the time was struggling to stay afloat. Keeping the rivers of beer flowing for UVM students was the “Beverage Warehouse”, purveyors of all of those kegs the frat houses rolled out on Friday and Saturday nights. Turns out the Beverage Warehouse was also the biggest wine merchant in the area. In the back of the building through an almost hidden door (it was almost like they were embarrassed)  lurked a cavernous room filled to the brim with wine. The room was populated by a single man, rather short and…how should I say it…round. Clothed each and every day in a pair of green Dickie’s work pants and a yellow Dickie’s work shirt with his name on the breast pocket.

“Bob.”

What a find! Bob became our wine muse. He may still be the single most knowledgable wine guy I’ve ever met, including the sommelier at the Ritz Carlton in San Francisco. Here was a guy who made us feel like he had nothing better to do than teach a couple of kids who were two nickels short of a rub how and what to drink when it came to wine. Being the over-read wonk that I’ve always been I peppered him with questions about what was in the Warehouse, how it was stored, why it was priced that way, what he liked. I remember him chuckling when I pressed him about having the Opus One bottles upright on the shelves instead of on their side in a temperature controlled box. “Ah, they never stay here long enough for that to matter. The last 3 bottles I sold went to some idiot rich guys who drank the first one straight from the bottle on the way to the car.”

So began our love affair with wine, one that went a long way toward letting us continue our love affair with each other. We can both still remember our “firsts”, those first wines that made an impression. Best white? Easy. A Muscadet de Sevre et Main for…wait for it…$2.15/bottle! Can you imagine? Our first memorable red was an M. Marion Cabernet Sauvignon; no idea what year or where in California it came from, but I can STILL taste the amazing explosion of fruit, see the inky purple color. Cost us all of $4.25! Sigh.

Our wine “thing” (some would call it an obsession, at least for me not without reason) also became a very effective way to expand our social universe as we moved all over kingdom come chasing the medical training thing. The first wine “tasting” we held was in Beth’s Burlington apartment and was co-hosted by my sister, Tracey, a UVM senior at the time. White wine varietals, I think it was. Very few memories of that one, actually, probably because the one memory I DO have is that not a drop of wine was discarded. You know, the “clean plate club” approach to tasting!

On and on we went, our palates expanding with our income, our experiences becoming ever more extravagant along the way. I became an insufferable wine snob, conversant with Parker and the Wine Spectator and unwilling to suffer through anything rated less than 90 from either. Our tastings expanded as well. Those intimate, 6-12 person explorations of something new and different exploded into massive gatherings of 50-75, parties at which we happened to drink wine. In truth, our little diversion, our tiny shared hobby that allowed us to concentrate on our couplehood became too big. Like work.

Until it went away. Funny, just about the time when we might have had to have an intervention for our dating intervention I got sick. Some sort of GI thing which was made worse by alcohol. Red wine was worse than white wine, was worse than beer, was worse than spirits. No alcohol for me for two, whole years. This, along with a not so little business and financial set-back, Beth’s rediscovery that beer was pretty good, and the Wall Street Journal’s introduction of a pair of wine writers who rated wine with words like “Delicious” and “Yech”, actually allowed me to fall in love with wine all over again. To fall in love with wine for exactly the same reasons and in exactly the same way as I did when Beth and I were squired through the process by Bob.

I stopped reading about wine, stopped checking ratings, and just started drinking wines that made me happy! Drinking stuff that I would rate as “yummy”. We’re on an under $20 white wine kick right now (at 50+ reds are giving us some problems), and we are drinking them together. Loving them, and falling in love all over again. Or maybe more accurately, falling more deeply in love, even after all these years.

With wine and with each other!