Sipping Wines in the Valley on St. Patrick’s Day

The Napa Valley Wine Country Tour pulled us out of our hotel beds the last day of our four-day visit to San Francisco. Breakfast and lunch were provided in the touring limo for fourteen, so all we had to do was walk ourselves to the meeting point across from Macy’s on Union Square.

Driver Tim reassured us that we would not be disappointed with the wines he would introduce us to at the various wineries.

In well-cushioned seats, we glanced around the oval touring car at our companions for the day. Across from us sat three white women: a sixty-year old, sandwiched between her two thirtyish daughters. Further up, sat two Asian sisters in their early thirties, both petite, though one was perky and flexible, the other quiet and cautious. Following the bend of the oval was a Hispanic couple in their mid-forties, two rather nameless Caucasian women in their late twenties, next Paul and I–the not-so-young groovy white couple– and finally two fifty-year old white women friends.

First stop was Jacuzzi Family Vineyards where we tasted eight wines, two white and six red. My favorite was Rosso Di Sette Fratelli, a 2007 Carneros merlot. This wine was advertised as “complex layers of chocolate, tobacco and berries finishing with silky tannins.” I thought this an incredibly smooth merlot for a wine with this much flavor.

Our next stop was Homewood Winery. Here we sat on stools in a little house with no walls, facing a woman who taught us about wines while she tossed in personal anecdotes. Out of white wines, here we only tasted red. The one I liked best was a Homewood 2007 Eldorado, a petit syrah. This wine surprised me with its soft, almost buttery finish. I also liked the 2005 merlot tawny port which, with a little accompanying chocolate, made me smile from ear to ear because of the happy burst of sultry chocolate mixed with rich, deep berry sweetness on my tongue.

Back in the touring car, the distinct personalities of our traveling companions came out. One of the two daughters across from us turned out to be an Episcopalian minister, on a birthday vacation getting a break from her parish, her husband, and thirteen month old son. Her sister looked like a proper yuppie, but by day’s end was resting her head in a rather wobbly fashion on her mother’s shoulder.

Of the two petite Asian sisters, the perky one turned out to be the mother of a twelve-year old. When one of the other passengers heard this she said, “Then you must have been twelve when you had her.” And in fact at the end of the day–around five p.m.–when she curled up on the seat to sleep, and with her back to me, I could have taken her for a twelve-year old.

But, I was most drawn to one of the fifty-year old Caucasian women, who said she had her four children young and was now hungry for independent life. Throughout the day and into the late afternoon, she reminded me of a horse unbridled in an open field, her eyes wide open, flecked with light, shaking her mane with glee.

Jewels and Clocks

Looking for art experiences in the San Francisco Arts Monthly, I spotted “Cartier and America” at the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park. While Paul was off having lunch with his son, Jesse, and two attorneys, I treated myself to this exhibit.

All I can say is, “Wow!” I am glad I did.

The SFA Monthly claims the exhibit

covers the history of the House of Cartier from its first great successes
as the “king of jewelers and jeweler to kings during the Belle Epoque

through to the 1960s and 1970s, when Cartier supplied celebrities of the days with jewels and luxury accessories.

I came away with wonderment at the visual images of Cartier’s mystery clocks–the hands of which seem to float in the air with no signs of the working mechanism.

The diamond tiaras made me see how such a spectacular adornment could render a mere pretty woman with means into the stature of beautiful queen. These jewels draw the viewer’s eyes to the top of the head where they bedazzle the hair with the glory of flashing light and glimmer of color. Just looking at them from the outside of a glass box made me immediately enter the Belle Epoque as an onlooker exclaiming, “Oh my, oh my!” squeezing my eyes shut, only to pop them open as me now and say, “God, how lovely they are!”

And, I guess I just have to mention Grace Kelly’s 10 carat emerald cut diamond engagement ring from Prince Rainer III, accompanied by a film clip of her wearing it in “High Society.” I, like the women to either side of me at the exhibit, stared at it. I don’t know what they were thinking but I was thinking…it’s so large for a diamond ring, but that cut is such an exquisite form: so simple, so over-the-top gorgeous, so perfect for such a beauty as the young, classy Grace Kelly; a fairy tale jewel for the princess of a fairy tale. I couldn’t help it. I was swept away.

Ballet’s Jacques Revisted

The subject of Jacques D’Amboise* came up over dinner with friends at a little French restaurant in Kansas City. I was eating moules mariniére–my favorite– and sipping a Vouvray. The woman had just told a story about how the famous ballet dancer had flown to KC to speak at the funeral of Todd Bolender who, towards the end of his ballet career became artistic director of the Kansas City Ballet.

As I leaned forward to tilt the juices from the shell into my mouth, two visions of Jacques popped into my head: one, a photo card from my youth of the young dancer jumping effortlessly into space; the other, the dancer in person at a luncheon table for six honoring the memory of my aunt. This aging dancer shows up for the funerals of his friends.

I had no idea at that point that this Jacques was The Jacques. I just knew this graceful man was mesmerizing. On this day he was a verbal entertainer. He recited Russian poetry softly, simply, beautifully. When it became so important to him to communicate a particular poem, he suddenly left the table to fetch copies from his car for his luncheon friends.

Grace sometimes appears like that. Here is the poem the poem Jacques D’Amboise wanted his friends to keep:

The Happy Virus

I caught the happy virus last night
When I was out singing beneath the stars.
It is remarkably contagious–
So kiss me.

*JACQUES D’AMBOISE joined George Balanchine’s School of American Ballet in 1942 and by age seventeen became a principal dancer with New York City Ballet. In 1976, while still with the City Ballet, he founded the National Dance Institute, a program that has introduced nearly two million children throughout the country to the arts through dance. For his extraordinary contribution to arts education for young people, D’Amboise has received numerous honors including a 1990 MacArthur Fellowship.

Pale Nouns

What is a pale noun? A word with no vibrancy? A word that is shocked? A word pasted with makeup? I can see her face now, and by her looks, I would say she is young but has already been hit by life…so she’s hiding. She doesn’t think it’s safe to shimmy too seductively, to laugh too loud.

She does not want to dress herself up with adjectives. They might give too much away.
She’d rather bury behind the action in a verb: danced, succumbed, poured, seared, died. Such words carry the reader on one’s back, looking over the writer’s shoulder so he can see what the writer sees.

Pale nouns camouflage a writer’s intentions. Words like bed, dresser, rug, blinds, suggest an interior but that is all. We do not know what is lurking in the room that contains these objects…not unless the writer decides to tell you.

Carving Out Space

During the past weeks, I have been desperately seeking places with quiet, good Karma, and the least possibility of interruption in order to complete revision 7 of my memoir, Jewels that Speak. These places turned out to be a studio room in the Ozarks for a week, and my bedroom at home, with strict laws posted–“Do not knock, enter, call through the door, phone in, or in any way try to contact me from 8 a.m. till 5 p.m.”

Of course the harder one turned out to be my bedroom because, even without words spoken, I could just feel the family vibrations on the other side of the door.

The good news is the revision is complete and I am satisfied with it. It is off to the copy editor. The bad news is that I have to find a publisher–a tricky business. After all, did I only write this book for myself? But, I shouldn’t end with difficult news. Back to the good. It’s an incredible feeling to have planted a seed for my memoir on March 8, 2006, and to know–exactly four years later–that the idea has bloomed.