We’re still questing for a most elusive sauvignon blanc

A few more years ago than I’d like to admit, we were enjoying a special dinner in Portland, Maine, where our waitperson recommended a bottle of wine to accompany our dishes. We trusted her enthusiasm and agreed to go a few dollars higher than our usual ceiling.

It was well worth it and, as we learned later, the restaurant was pricing the bottle at retail rather than the usual three- or four-times any store tag. More points.

We took one sip and knew this was like no other white wine we’d had before – or, for that matter, since, not even from the same winery. It must have been a superfine vintage. It had an edge we could only describe as stony – something crisp, clear, sharp. And it did, indeed, enhance our five-star experience.

Trying to find that edge again has become something of an ongoing challenge. We’ve had some fine sauvignon blanc bottles since, but the holy grail remains a quest.

 

Remembering Nosmo

I’ve never been a dog person, but we did have cats when I was growing up and again in my first marriage. These days, it’s been household rabbits, a whole different story.

But my all-time favorite cat was an all-black, marvelously sleek male tommy who was half-Siamese. He’s the inspiration for Gobi in my latest fiction. Our dog-loving neighbors even gave him the compliment of saying he was more like a dog than a cat, and their own German shepherd was one dog I came to enjoy.

The naming came about in one of my flights of imagination. I was sitting in a classroom looking at a NO SMOKING sign and wondered about shifting the space. That led to NOSMO KING, which was soon bestowed on our kitty.

I thought I was being pretty clever, but a few years later my in-laws sent us a newspaper clipping where a human named Nosmo King was mentioned. I don’t remember if he had a different last name or whether King was it. Drat!

Yes, sometimes reality is stranger than fiction. And sometimes it just leads to some strange fiction.

Considering bang for the buck in restaurants

We don’t dine out all that often, but when we do, we want to get our money’s worth. It’s not that we’re afraid of the bill, but rather that we eat well at home and expect something that can at least match that standard.

On one hand, we’ve come to admire inexpensive menu items done precisely right. French fries or cole slaw can be especially telling, as can an amazing vanilla, as in ice cream or gelato. Freshness also is crucial, and attentive service is always a plus. That sort of thing.

Steak or lobster aren’t hard to cook, so we don’t expect to be impressed there. Scallops, on the other hand, can be tricky. And then we get to selections that require technique. That’s where we really pay attention.

What does irk us is pretentious, pricy dishes that seriously miss the mark. The stories we can tell!

Our biggest test is what we call the Oh Wow factor. You know, one bite and you’re amazed. It’s not always at the fanciest restaurants, either, so it’s not a matter of cost. Some of our favorite examples have come in storefront operations in the sleaziest parts of a town – the kind where you want to keep an eye on your car at lunchtime. Some have even been takeout only or a food truck.

I have to admit we’re more critical as the menu price escalates, but if they deliver with mastery and attention to detail, we pay gladly – and then some. Best of all, in our positive experiences, the great cooks in my family come away inspired, and I look forward to all that will follow.

What delights you the most when dining out?

One way I kept my unconventional sanity

I relied on writing poetry and fiction in my spare time as a discipline to counteract the conventions of newspaper editing, my professional career.

The job could feel quite dulling of any aesthetic awareness, and quite confining.

Still, some of the qualities between my vocation and avocation overlap, including an insistence on factual observation.

And now I’m free to focus more fully on my literary aspirations. Surprisingly, my focus has been on the fiction, rather than poetry. Could it be that without that dual tension of before, I can now steer a route between them?

How do you stay mentally sharp?

 

Magnetic center as a point of growth

I think it was in Peter Ouspensky’s writing that I came across the concept. He argued that having a foundation in  an activity that requires patience and long training is essential for anyone hoping to grow in spirituality.

Simply put, practicing an art, a sport, a craft, a trade, or the like provides the stamina for personal religious enhancement. He called it the magnetic center.

It’s not a passive pleasure but rather active, with deferred gratification in terms of results. It requires doing something for its own nature rather than some final event or production, even though such things might provide inspiration. What’s important is the means itself rather than the end.

These other activities aren’t a substitute for spiritual progress, which can come about by undertaking any number of tested traditions, but it does offer a solid starting point.

Maybe there are exceptions, but I still find it an interesting insight.

What do you love to do as a disciplined practice?

 

Trying to deal with a foreign language

When we have foreign guests staying with us, I have to watch is the need to speak slower and more distinctly. (Well, that’s obviously on hold during the Covid outbreak, though we have heard from one back in China assuring us she’s fine.) The exchanges can start to sound comical, even before I face the difficult challenge of using smaller words. Me? Smaller words? Look, we have more than 200,000 in the English language for a reason!

You can imagine our situation when they’re Chinese students here for a month or so as they volunteer at ono-profits internships. Somehow, shorter visits just don’t seem to rise to the more complex communications.

~*~

My daily Spanish lessons raise the translation issues from an opposite direction, but I think I’ve crossed an important threshold there, one that goes beyond vocabulary.

Have you noticed how a spoken language becomes a musical line rather than individual words? My wife remembers her shock learning that “come on” was two words, not one, as in “cumon.”

When the Duolingo voice tells me, “Type what you hear,” I know to write what I’m supposed to hear rather than what I actually encounter at fast speed.

You could say that in common usage our sentences lose all of the spaces between words. In Spanish I sometimes notice this more as a rhythm across where a word should be between two other words rather than hearing that word or even a letter itself.

Somethinglikethispoorexample.

Rather. Than. Some. Thing. Like. This.

I’m also noticing that the endings of some words are vanishing, as they do in so much French, especially a final “s.”

Must happen in English, too, ‘cept we just take it for granted and naturally fill in the meaning.

Now, as for all of those hearing-aid solicitations I keep getting in the mail? I doubt they’d help my Spanish any.

What do you have to say here? (Please type slowly and distinctly.)

Sandals on men

When you see sandals on an American man, thank a beatnik.

In the 1950s, it would have been nearly unthinkable for a man to dress that comfortably.

Really, we were that uptight.

Now?

They’re everywhere.

At least in summer.

Remember, where I live, we get snow – lots of it, some years.

Can’t blame a beatnik for that.

Do we really mean the same thing?

I’ve had to learn the hard way that a word can mean something quite dissimilar for two people. Sometimes it’s based on assumptions or misunderstandings. Sometimes, on deliberate deception.

Either way, one person can be deeply injured by the outcome.

Take “I love you” as an example.

A used car is in “perfect condition.”

“I’ll be right there.”

In the hippie era, we had a raft of phrases that glossed over differences – “Hey, I’m cool with that,” “Don’t hassle me,” “I dig,” “Chill out.” Meaning?

It comes up especially with “God” or even “peace.”

There are plenty of other examples, some of them keeping lawyers in business.

What’s one from your own experience?

 

Why settle on one explanation?

In developing sections of The Secret Side of Jaya, a novel upcoming this fall, I found myself applying a technique I’d developed in a genealogical project. There, as I had conflicting accounts regarding a specific instance or detail, rather than trying to lean toward one over the other, I let them all stand in contrast to each other. Sometimes there were two sources, sometimes three, each seeing a person or event quite differently.

It makes me recall the way forest fires are located from lookout towers. Each observer has a horizontal azimuth for determining the direction of the fire from the tower. Once two other lookouts can zero in on the plume of smoke or the flames, the position can be triangulated on a map and forest firefighters dispatched. My technique resembles looking along that line and seeing what comes in front of the fire and what lies beyond.

By acknowledging the different observers in my stories and histories, I also allow for the wider terrain and error in positions. (The smoke might be rising from an unseen valley or be blown by wind.) In these applications, I feel the alternatives make for a richer, more lifelike story.

Well, that’s how it looks from here.