Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Two Tickets to Paradise

Well, I'm back, and I was wrong about two things. One, I did in fact watch the wretched "Apprentice" while I was away (mostly because my husband has the patience of a saint - another story altogether), and two, I'm still into the show. Aargh.

But as for the trip, it was out of this world. Out of sight, even, if you don't mind 70s slang. Husband and I went to Napa Valley to celebrate one year of wedded bliss, and also for some much-needed R&R. We tend to enjoy visiting wineries, and drinking wine in general. We had been to Napa twice before, so we were looking forward to this trip for months. I'm still recuperating from all the leisure - the thing about Napa is, the people there just really know how to live. And I'm not just talking about tourists like me. I did have occasion to talk to several people who actually live and work out there this time around, and even for them, it's a whole different mentality. The attitude somewhat (somewhat) reminds me of Italy and why I love it so much there. Both places of course have outrageous natural beauty, too. But the philosophy of life is quite a bit different from my everyday reality here in Chicago. Much as I love the city, it does at times get quite on top of you (I'm looking in the general direction of the CTA here), and it does a soul good to get away.

There are many people who write about wine, most of them vastly more astute than I, but there are a couple of recommendations I don't mind throwing out there. One, if you ever have the chance, do check out this place. They're a very small winery - I think they do something like 10,000 cases a year total. The tasting room at their winery is where they age the wine in the barrels, and it's just a more rustic sort of feel. The welcome is always very, very warm, and their Zinfandel goes down extremely well. They make a late-harvest Reisling (sweet, desert-type wine) that is quite excellent, and out of the three different times I've been to visit, there hasn't been a single time I haven't been invited to taste out of the barrel. This, from what I understand, is a rarity in Napa Valley - but it comes with the intimate, one-on-one attention you can only get at a small family winery. Their wines are not widely distributed, so 1) It's not likely many people out there have even heard of them and 2) If you do have the chance to stop in, by all means, buy some stuff to take with you!

Secondly, for knock-you-off-your-feet Zinfandel, and also some great Pinot Noir, these guys are located in Forestville, in the Russian River Valley (Sonoma), and I couldn't for the life of me understand why their tasting room wasn't crowded to the rafters on the Saturday afternoon we popped in. Oh, well, more for us! Seriously - a bit of a different scene than Koves-Newlan, above, in that their winery and tasting room is actually located in a grand estate-like setting, with a rather opulent, long bar, high celings, long windows, etc. But the focus is not lost on the wine. Just last night, the husband and I opened a 2003 Pinot Noir we brought home with us, and though young (we decanted for a bit) it was very silky, slightly spicy, and just wonderful.

A more general suggestion is, if you're going, do hit the area over the winter. It's really the best time to go. Fewer crowds, less traffic, more attention at the wineries, and you just about have your pick of places for dinner, as well as accommodations (and many inns and hotels run specials over the winter because it's the off-season). The weather is just fine, too. It was 70 and sunny 3 out of the 5 days we were there. Back home it was, oh, about a high of 27 and overcast, so we would have taken it 20 degrees colder than it was and loved it.

Lastly, I have heard many a time that Napa is not "real" wine country, that one must go to Sonoma at the very least to get out of the "commercial" feeling of the Northern California winery area, and that the Central Coast is much better for true wine aficionados (much more popular these days, anyway), yada, yada, yada. It is true that along Highway 29, the main drag up and down Napa Valley, you literally cannot throw a stone without hitting a winery. They are all lined up, up and down the road, each one with their different theme, different emphasis, different look and different hook, and it can feel a bit like adult Disneyland (not that there's anything wrong with that). But don't be put off by the area just because of the sheer size, or vastness of the wine industry. I think one of the nicest things I found was that the people who work at the wineries - with few exceptions - were there because they loved what they did, and were utterly noncompetitive with one another, and completely open and willing to offer advice (including suggestions for other wineries to visit) if one would so inquire. Actually, we got quite a few freebies that way - well, OK, from name-dropping. But it works. And it works because they know there are more than enough customers to go around.

p.s. Special props to Louis M. Martini winery for making our anniversary veeeewy special. They also make a beautiful Cabernet, if you like such things. It's rather chocolately and chewy.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

The Donald, The Tool

With The Sopranos off for who knows how long (at least another year, by all accounts), I've gotten sucked into The Apprentice once again. Yeesh. Like most reality tv, it skirts the line between depressing and self-affirming. Depressing because, yes, there really are people like this in the workforce (and I think I've worked with most of them). Self-affirming because, well gee, I'm not like that! (I'm really not - ask any of my co-workers, current and former. Well, not former...)

The concept for this current go-round looked promising: pit a group of college graduates against a team of people with only a high-school education. The producers of the show also seemed to lay off the usual m.o. of choosing the very prettiest people they could find. So I started thinking maybe, perhaps, there would be an actual contest here, and maybe the emphasis would be on the work, and maybe it would start to become more interesting.

We're not even four weeks into this season, and the delusions I courted have not held. This group is even whinier and more prone to drama than the ready-for-tv pretty things who have been featured on this show in the past. The one thing I do like about this group, however, is that they cuss like sailors. See, to me, that's more realistic, especially if you work in a high-pressure environment. In life, my speech is peppered with profanities. I prefer not to write like that, so you won't be seeing many naughty words here, and I don't swear indiscriminately in front of certain people (like my parents or my boss), but among friends or peers I do tend to let loose with the language. It's supposed to be unladylike, but as long as it doesn't bother my husband, I don't see the problem (we also don't have kids - otherwise, I wouldn't be swearing in front of the tykes). And sorry, I just happen to think it's funny when that stuff is edited for television. You get the succession of beeps, like a truck is backing up in your living room or something, but you can still actually read the person's lips, so it's easy to see exactly what they're saying. Good stuff!

Digression there. Other than the swearing, I don't see anything I like in these people. And probably the most telling clue that they're all morons is the fact that they want to work for Donald Trump in the first place. He's really quite a tool, big-time. His conceit is that he's teaching people about business, and thus, life. But he's no Sun-Tzu (actually, he's more like Vince Lombardi, since most of his advice is about winning, and how you get respect if you win, blahdee blah blah blah). The problem with this is that when you're talking about tasks where the teams are judged somewhat subjectively, or even if not, they tend to sometimes come quite close to one another in terms of sales (like one task last season, where the losers lost by less than $10), and in that case the "teamwork" goes out the window, and then you have a Lord of the Flies situation where the weak one needs to be picked off. I guess I can imagine in Trump's actual business empire that he might fire someone who lost a bid on a project (even if it was by $10 or less), but I certainly hope he doesn't openly encourage a backbiting atmosphere among his staff.

I have another reason for not liking Donald, which may be somewhat personal, but so be it. He is about to pollute my beloved hometown with his latest ode to himself. Well, maybe that's a bit harsh. He did get a local architect to design his latest phallic symbol, er, building. They did tweak the design to be more complementary to the surrounding buildings. And they did get rid of one of the more prominent eyesores on the Chicago River (that being the former Sun-Times building). But, see, Donald does his thing in New York and everyone thinks it's great, but Chicago ain't New York, and we're quite proud of that here. New York is awesome - it is what it is, it's incomparable, you can't even touch it for excitement, culture, or housing prices (even though the market is QUITE inflated here, thank you very much). But Chicago almost works more like a small town in a lot of ways. It's actually very conservative here. We like to be home in bed at a decent hour. We're not flashy. And we tend to be mistrustful of outsiders. Besides, with Donald's ego, it's not likely he'd even fit within the city limits - Richie Daley has about all the ego this town can handle. But then, at least he's ours. I hear a lot about "Second City syndrome", the chip we Chicagoans are supposed to have on our shoulders, because we're somehow considered second-rate when compared to NY and LA. And on an entirely subjective basis, I just don't get that. This is the City That Works. We're too busy to worry about what people think - including Donald, who seems to think he's blessing us with his presence. And even if that building of his ends up being gorgeous, a lot of folks here will just look up at it and say, "Well, it's all right, but it's no Rookery."

I won't be seeing this week's episode of The Apprentice. I'll be out of town, celebrating my first wedding anniversary, and can't be bothered to program the vcr. Maybe this will be like when I was 13 and gave up video games for Lent. These were the Atari years - I had a high score of, like, 2,000,000 on Missle Command. But once I gave it up for Lent I never touched it again. And I'm kinda hoping I won't feel the compulsion to tune in after missing Donald's all-important lesson of the week. It'll probably be something about winning, though.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Bloggerific (maybe) Beginning

They say all good things come to an end. So all good things must also begin somewhere - and here's hoping, with apologies to Martha, that this new endeavor become a good thing. Or at least marginally tolerable to those who care to drop by.

I really, really didn't want to start off with politics, but the State of the Union was last night, and this should have been good cause to end the self-indulgent political slumber I had adopted since the election. Even though I try to be reasonably well-informed, the process (and, to a lesser extent, the net result) of the election last November depressed the hell out of me. I have rather complex feelings about the president (gosh, makes me sound like a stalker) and even more complex feelings about Republicans in general (no - I'm OK, really - no need for that restraining order!). Though I'm nominally identified as a Democrat, I don't really like the Dems any better than Republicans - in fact, the whole labeling thing is sort of useless to my mind when it comes to ideology. I've just come to think of people who identify specifically as (D) or (R) as folks who happen to prefer one schoolyard bully over another. I do agree with certain things the Republicans stand for, but I have to tell you, it smarted when I was told last November, ad nauseam, that my values were not moral - partially because I live in a "blue" state, whatever the *f* that truly means. No, I know what it means in the basic sense - and not so long ago, incidentally, IL was actually a red state, but I'm choosing not to get into that right now. I was also told over and over that I'm not a 'real' Catholic, or at least not a real good one, because I voted for Kerry. Fine, whatever. Like it's really up to someone else to make that call. My vote was not a knee-jerk reaction out of hatred for the president, or anyone else for that matter. Not that I'm denying that there is an unhealthy amount of hatred for W out there. I just happened to have grave doubts about the road we're taking - specifically in Iraq, more generally here at home. I can't agree with certain things the president is dead-set on (and likely to get, now that his party even more decisively controls the legislative houses). I am willing to consider - or more accurately hope - that I was wrong about Iraq. The Iraqi election this past week was a good thing for them, and a great thing for us, which as of last November, was looking all but impossible. And it just astounds me that Bush might actually pull off this bold, visionary feat of truly creating a democracy where one hadn't existed. I mean, visionary has got to be the word for this. I had been thinking of him as rather mediocre, and now he will probably go down in history as one of the greats (scratching my head here - can't help it). That's sort of the complicated part of my feelings. And they're only further complicated by the fact that Social Security reform, which is working out to be W's next pet project, does need to happen. The Dems are very much on the wrong side of this one. They could be at the forefront of the argument, fighting to make their voices heard, or at least trying to make sure their concerns are addressed and the plan that is ultimately adopted includes their input, but they refuse to be engaged on this issue at all - it's just a big nonstarter to them. Which perhaps is due to them not wanting to lose their senior base. Not smart, on 2 levels - 1) being that it's not like the seniors voted for the Dems in big numbers last year. 2) Much as I hate to have to point this out, they'd do better at this point to get the younger people on board - for the obvious reason that seniors, um, don't live forever, or at least not usually as long as younger people, and thus can't vote forever (even in my home of Cook County, contrary to popular opinion). So I can't like the Democrats' tactics on this fight, neither for my own personal, practical (that is, pocketbook) reasons nor for their poor political strategy. Just digging in your heels and saying "No! I don't wanna!" is not going to cut it, and that, along with all this whining I'm hearing about the Republicans not "coming across the aisle" really does make the (D)s sound like a bunch of 2-year-olds. Bush is right (who said that? - hee) - things are drastically, fundamentally different socially and economically than they were when the program was first implemented, so tweaking it a bit would seem to be in our best interests. Now, I'm not suggesting the Dems give Bush a blank check and let him bankrupt the Treasury for the next 5 generations. What they need to do is recognize that this IS going to happen, and that some sort of reform is not only inevitable but also right, THEN get into the fray and make sure the other fellows don't, you know, bankrupt the Treasury for the next 5 generations. Or something like that.

Of course, the part I did happen to catch when I flipped the channel to the State of the Union was where the pres said we shouldn't let "activist judges" define marriage. Uh oh, here we go. This is the other side of my stalker's complication - the part where, sorry, but I honestly can't stand the sound of the man's voice. At its most basic level, my problem is, why should anyone in the government define marriage? And is an amendment to our constitution really needed - specifically one that moves us backwards, by denying rather than granting rights to a certain class of citizens? If marriage as an institution is in "crisis" mode, is it wise to look to the government to step in and fix it? Isn't this the opposite of what conservatives are actually supposed to feel about government and the powers we grant it? (And more importantly, does this make me a closet conservative?) On a more personal level, I can't stomach the thought of the guys in Congress (a lot of whom, frankly, are on their second or third marriages) pontificating about the sanctity of marriage. And I don't get how a group of people who are clamoring just to be let in under the tent are going to undermine the whole thing, particularly when those of us already there haven't set a resoundingly good example ourselves. Just noticed that I've so far typed this entire paragraph without mentioning the word "gay" - but gays are who we are talking about, so maybe I should address that. I know that some people feel that being gay is morally wrong. I also know that not all, but a lot of these people believe this mainly for religious reasons. I'll admit that I don't really understand this in the first place, but even leaving it aside, and assuming just for the sake of this argument that it is in fact morally wrong to be gay, why on earth is there such a pressing need to single out this one particular behavior for legally sanctioned discrimination? And also insist that others fall into line with you on it, and further insist that the government basically adopt your personal religious beliefs on behalf of everyone in this country regardless of others' specific religions, and pass restrictive, backwards amendments? There are all sorts of things that are considered wrong by the many religions of the world. According to my own religion, contraceptives are morally wrong. According to the basic tenets of Judaism, on the other hand, eating pork is morally wrong. I happen to disagree with both of these, and thank goodness the government allows me to make this decision for myself by not blocking access based on the beliefs of a few (particularly in the case of pork, because bacon and prosciutto are two things that just happen to make the world a better place). But if the government started making law for basically religious reasons, would this not be a bad road to start upon? Just a basic question here. And I am not anti-religion. It is true that I have a low threshold for piety, but that goes for everyone's piety - regardless of that person's religious affiliation, or whatever letter happens to be after his/her name.

So much for not discussing politics. Next time: "The Apprentice". Unless W does something to piss me off (kidding!)