Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Obama on Dylan

President Obama was interviewed by Rolling Stone for the October 15 issue (as a side note, it's kind of awesome that Jann Wenner is still out running around, and even if some people say he's a sell-out, the mag still has some hard-hitting political journalism that I think would even make Hunter S. Thompson proud). I'll need to take another gander before I sharpen my pencil about the whole interview, but at first glance, I can't help but feel good. We're in extraordinarily tough times, and people are angry and impatient. But the President has done an incredibly good job--as he says, he's crossed off seventy percent of his campaign promise list (anyone know if that's actually true, by the way?). And I'm really glad to see him trumpeting that, finally.

Of course, the part I most want to share is about Obama meeting the Zimmer-man himself. Check it out:

Here's what I love about Dylan: He was exactly as you'd
expect he would be. He wouldn't come to the rehearsal;
usually, all these guys are practicing before the set in the
evening. He didn't want to take a picture with me; usually all
the talent is dying to take a picture with me and Michelle
before the show, but he didn't show up to that. He came in
and played "The Times They Are A-Changin'." A beautiful
rendition. The guy is so steeped in this stuff that he can just
come up with some new arrangement, and the song sounds
completely different. Finishes the song, steps off the stage —
I'm sitting right in the front row — comes up, shakes my
hand, sort of tips his head, gives me just a little grin, and then
leaves. And that was it — then he left. That was our only
interaction with him. And I thought: That's how you want
Bob Dylan, right? You don't want him to be all cheesin' and
grinnin' with you. You want him to be a little skeptical about
the whole enterprise. So that was a real treat.

How can you not love both of them for that? And just the idea of Dylan singing that song in the White House makes me a little choked up inside.

Go read the whole article, especially the end, when Obama returns after being ushered off by his aides and says it's time for us to all get off our butts and get energized. As someone who's been able to quite easily sit on the sidelines because there's been a whole ocean (and sometimes an Equator) between her and the happenings in her country, it made me want to speak out. Since there really isn't a whole lot I can do from this side, apart from writing, please, regardless of your political affiliation, get out and vote!

And if you vote Democrat, that'd be kinda cool.

Monday, September 27, 2010

m2m's Founder Speaks at TED

I haven't posted in a while, so I'll put up another photo essay of sorts in the coming few days. However, I wanted to share with you Mitch's TED talk from July, which is finally up on TED's website. Mitch is the founder and Medical Director of mothers2mothers, and, though I'm a bit biased, I think his talk is pretty awesome. When you have 20 minutes, check it out.

And while I'm at it, here's a little tidbit on Babalwa Mbono, a current advocate and former client, Mentor Mother, and Site Coordinator, who was invited to speak at a panel for the UN's Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Summit in New York. Having met about a gazillion VIPs, including Presidents Obama and Bush (43), this was kind of a cakewalk for Babs but obviously an exciting prospect for the org.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Finding South African Wines in the United States

My good friend Nickole asked me in the comments to my last post on wines which South African wines I'd recommend to a US consumer. So, I thought I'd go ahead and do another wine post.

Wines from South Africa are a bit hard to find in the US, since it's a long way to ship and the styles are somewhat similar to the more-established Californian (and Aussie/Kiwi) wines. However, since it's a younger and more insulated industry, SA wines tend to not fall victim to trendiness or get as "big" as Californians, which means that they're not always so fruity and alcoholic (I personally don't much like the taste of alcohol, so I'm not always crazy about a high-alcohol wine).

One label popular in the US is Graham Beck, which generally does sparkling wines in the "Méthode Cap Classique" (MCC) style, which is the certified Champagne style for South Africa. I absolutely love their Blanc de Blancs, and their cheaper (though not cheap) Brut is also delicious. This was the label chosen by the Obamas for the Inauguration. My dad reported that Trader Joe's was selling a Graham Beck wine for well under $10 recently and that it sold out in a day. As a side note, Graham Beck recently passed away. He was one of the most prominent members of the South African wine community. My dad and I actually saw him when we went for a tasting there--he was cleaning out one of the fountains, which I found awesome.

This excellent Slate article (thanks, Allie!) gives a good history of South African viniculture and the politics of wine in the country--for many, it's seen as a symbol of the Apartheid past and of enduring (and bitter) land redistribution issues. There are a few black-owned wineries in SA, but they are few and far between. It's a tough issue because wine and wine tourism are also a major source of income for the country. But there's little in South Africa that's not complicated.

The article in Slate also lists South African wines available in the US. Of these, I'd recommend DMZ (they make my all-time favorite Sauvignon Blanc, if you can find it--one of those most amazing noses of any wine I've ever had and a great mineral finish). DMZ/DeMorgenzon plays Baroque music to the grapes, which is cute (and also cutesy). As I wrote before, I'm also a fan of Buitenverwachting (Chardonnay was my fave). I've had Mulderbosch in the US but have not returned to it here (because it's expensive in the spectrum of South African wines that I drink, not because it's not good).

There are two South African wine bars/restaurants in New York City--Braai and Xai Xai. Both have great looking wine lists, though I'm suffering a bit from sticker shock. For example, the Chocolate Block from Boekenhoutskloof, one of my fave SA wines, is $90 (I've gotten it for $30)! And Wolftrap, also from Boekenhoutskloof and hands-down one of the best bang for your buck options, is listed at $34...when I can get it in a store here for under $5. Now, granted, wines always get marked up in restaurants...which means that you can probably get a Wolftrap for maybe $15-20 in a store, if it's available in the US. And, to be honest, $34 in a nice NYC restaurant for a great bottle of wine is an excellent deal.

Luckily, it looks like there are affordable options both in stores and restaurants. If you've found wine stores that stock SA wines or restaurants with SA labels on the menu (or if you know of any actual South African restaurants or wine bars) in your area, please post their names (and the labels that they offer!) in the comments. It'd be fun to see what you can find, since I can't get Stateside to do it until Thanksgiving.

Happy hunting!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Diversionary Tactics: Winex Review

This post was to be published on a nascent wine blog that, alas, didn’t pan out. I think mixing drinking and group blogging might not work well for a first collaboration. I thought it would be fitting to keep with the mercurial nature of this blog, which swings wildly from pictures of fun in the sun to rants about human rights. Besides, I didn't want to waste the post.

I didn’t like wine very much a year ago. I was (and mostly, still am) clueless about what makes wine good or bad, and I had only a vague understanding of what different types of wine were. I fit into the school of “good, bad, red, white.” And until some point in the recent past, I thought it was mostly bad.

This, I suspect, led me to be seen something of a black sheep in my family. Wine appreciation fits perfectly into the psyche of the overly loud know-it-all clan to which I belong. Being a native of the outskirts of California wine country and living in France for a while only compounded my vinicultural failures.

However, spending time in wineries and having the financial freedom to try many different labels and varieties of wine has helped change my mind. Because one of the greatest things about South African wines, apart from their quality, is that they’re cheap. And that warms my skinflint heart—if I mess up and get a bad bottle, I’m only out a few rand, and rarely to never out more than twenty dollars. Even better is to find a delicious bottle of wine for under forty rand—or about five US dollars. Yes, they do exist. And they’re glorious.

I’ve been thinking about this transformation in comparing my experiences at WineX, a wine festival that takes place annually in Cape Town and Johannesburg. It snuck up on me this year (as did, regrettably, the excellent Stellenbosch Wine Festival, which I completely missed). Last year’s festival was a reeling, overwhelming mess. I tasted too many and enjoyed too few.

But now, I’ve visited a few wineries and have started to learn a little bit. I even have a few favorite wines. And I learned something surprising at WineX 2010, which has crept up on me: I actually like chardonnay, and, even more surprising, I like wooded/oaked chardonnay. Go figure.

I tried a few wines from the Hemel-en Aarde Valley, which is near Hermanus. I looked into visiting the wineries up there, including Southern Right, Newton Johnson, Sumaridge, Bouchard Finlayson, and La Vierge/Domaine des Dieux, but most of them are on a 25-mile dirt road stretch between Hermanus and Caledon. Not exactly on the beaten path, even if their wines and restaurants are highly ranked. It’s supposed to be one of those last “untouched” wine regions in South Africa. The region is known for its pinot noirs and chardonnays, whose grapes allegedly develop better in to the cooler air coming off the sea. Since I haven’t been out to Hemel-en-Aarde yet, I was eager to try some of their wines. I wasn’t blown away by La Vierge when I tasted their Pinot Noir (despite the awesome snake-shaped decanter and general Garden of Eden theme). I did like Bouchard Finlayson’s Hannibal, a red blend of Sangiovese (44%), Pinot Noir (27%), Nebbiolo (14%), Shiraz (5%), and Barbera (10%). I also loved Whalehaven's Chardonnay and unwooded Chardonnay/Viognier (the Côte Rôtie style Shiraz/Syrah-Viognier red blend from La Motte is one of my favorite wines, so it was fun to try the grape in an actual white wine blend for once).

Beyond the Hemel-en-Aarde choices at Winex, I found a few wineries that I’m excited to get out to. Apart from well-known wineries that I’ve visited and/or tasted on several occasions, such as Simonsig and Tokara, I really liked Buitenverwachting (I have no idea how to say that either), and Rupert & Rothschild. And in all cases, it was the chardonnays that got me. Again, go figure.

Obviously I've got a long while to go before I can use real wine words like "flabby" or "bouquet" or whatever, and saying "I liked it" probably keeps me firmly planted in "good/bad/red/white" territory, but at least I'm no longer ruling out whole varieties (or even colors) of wine. I guess I'll have to keep drinking until I figure out more.

Friday, September 3, 2010

"Safe for Public Consumption:" Art by Gitmo Detainees

Slate has an exclusive look at art made by prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Although I don't pretend to know a ton about the 176 who are still held at the prison, I've followed events around Gitmo for a long time (last post I did on Gitmo was here), and I found this particular piece to be fascinating. The military/USG has never let detainee artwork be made public before, citing concerns about hidden messages. I'm curious as to what was rejected for public "consumption." And I wonder why, at this particular time, they would choose to release these drawings, especially since a military tribunal is about to try Omar Khadr, the alleged "enemy combatant" captured in Afghanistan at age 15 in 2002 (I won't delve into the child soldier/trying children as adults issue here...too many worms coming out of that can).

I found the similar choice of color palette across different pieces interesting--it's dark and a bit off putting, and it made me think of Mark Rothko's shift from brighter tones into the black paintings of his final years before his suicide or of the strange, mustard-y colors that Vincent Van Gogh used at times. I started thinking about solitary confinement, and then this article from The New Yorker in March 2009 came to mind. I wonder what Guantanamo has done to the people that my government has put there. I mean that specifically in a mental sense (physical abuse and torture is another matter)--how denial of basic human rights and contact with the outside world, as well as persistent use of solitary confinement, have taken a toll on the minds of those 176 still in Gitmo and whether that gets reflected in the artwork they've created.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

I Heard Somebody Say...

...That the war ended today

But everybody knows it's going still

--Devendra Banhart

As I've written before, I will never forget the day the United States invaded Iraq--March 20, 2003. I know that we have a long way to go before we've fully disengaged from Iraq, but there's something almost relieving about all of this, even if 50,000 troops will remain for the next year.

This is no helicopter-over-the-side retreat from Hanoi. It's a detached detachment, if that makes sense. It feels strange. There's no joy in it, as there was in the World Wars. Obviously, this is partly because it's not over yet, even if President Obama declares it so. And there's good evidence that "Operation Iraqi Freedom" made a lot of things worse. I won't get into the fact that the war was started under false pretenses--or rather, outright lies--and that it was one of the most divisive factors over the last two presidencies, inside and outside the US. The war in Iraq is officially ending, after seven years. That's all there really is to say.