Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Just As Good, Sometimes Better

WARNING this is not for the faint of heart

Garage Bands
Lung-blown balloons
A fire escape in lieu of a terrace
Spayed cats
Canned laughter
Hydrox cookies
Jackson Pollock’s placemat
Royal Crown Cola
Anything from Chinatown
Fingers (for stirring)
Species when you can’t remember Genus
Auxiliary Cops
Four-seamed fastballs
Unscented urinal cakes

Friday, November 20, 2015

Banville's The Blue Guitar

Banville’s The Blue Guitar is a fine yarn told by the aging artist, Oliver Orme. Right off the bat, he grabs the reader (tickles him really) with “Call me Autolycus.” This engaging intro, a clear nod to Melville, is more of a cannonball plunge into erudition than the chummy flair offered in Melville’s iconic opener. A brief refresher of high Greek drama is needed to unlock the symbolic significance. Autolycus, the son of Hermes and Chione, is known as the wolf. He wore a helmet that made himself invisible, and was a great thief. Our narrator, Oliver the artist, is also a seasoned swiper.

The story is told, in reflection, by a self-absorbed artist, who is regaling the reader in his prurient past more so than unburdening his conscience. He calls his penchant for stealing as a “childish vice”, but really it is a reoccurring trope that ties in neatly with establishing the impetus behind his affair with Polly. He compares his first childhood theft in the art shop to his snatching Polly. “I did steal her, picked her up when her husband wasn’t looking and popped her in my pocket.” To extricate himself of the sheer banality of wrongdoing, he goes on to say that he stole things as “an attempt to break through the surface, to pluck out the fragments of the world’s wall and put me eye to the holes.” His vainglorious curiosity exonerates any wrongdoing. So Oliver leads us to believe.

Banville is a logophile, and it’s a good idea to have something in the way of a pencil and scrap paper to jot down words to add to your own repertoire. Some fun and frolicky references to painters like a “Poussin sky” and “Bosch the devil-dreamer” are peppered through the story. At times, his prose, drips with newly dappled paint droplets: “pink-cheeked shepherdesses and pirouetting ballerinas, blue-coated Cherubinos in powdered wigs.” After his estranged paramour, Polly catches up with him after some years, Oliver describes her “with her fist pressed to her cheek … like that oddly burly angel in Dürer’s Melancolia.” He’s miffed that she has discovered him holed up in his childhood home, never gave her credit for piecing together the meaningful scraps he’d shared from his past. It underscores his appalling lack of sensitivity. Things heat up when Polly confesses she messed up and admits she has ebbed into the profound cliché of going back home herself, to her mother. Polly asks Oliver to take her and her daughter there, and Oliver obliges.

Chalk up another smartly done work for the Irish stylist.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Inzolia, Not to Be Confused With Émile Zola

Sicilian reds are already on the map, and burgeoning in popularity. Nero d’Avola is old hat. People ask for Cerasuolo di Vittoria by the case, by the truck if they have a deep enough cellar. Grillo is wonderful goto with steamed mussels. And who doesn’t love to say Frappato? I’m hooked on saying it myself. It reminds me of Fraggle Rock, sound-wise. Also, it gives me a Muppet-fuzzy sensation. Even Nerello Mascalese is no longer an oddball. Not since Etna Rosso has become shamelessly fashionable.

What still might be under-the-radar are Sicilian whites. Sure we’ve swigged Marsala, but most of us don’t go hunting for its constituents (except for Grillo). The other two blending buddies Catarratto and Inzolia are underappreciated, if not unknown to most wine lovers. As their mono-varietal selves, they make some very interesting and refreshing light to medium-bodied summer quaffers, but also have the stuff to be enjoyed all year long. Inzolia in particular. Inzolia is a white grape found primarily in Western Sicily which goes by Ansonica in Tuscany. In blind tasting lineups, the wine is usually betrayed by its nutty nose. Garbed in a splendidly unctuous core it is supported by bright minerality and floral notes. Weight-wise, it’s perfect for briny faire and bacon-wrapped scallops.

I’ve always been a huge fan of Hauner, if I can snag one, but I’ve also grown rather fond of Feudo Montoni’s Colle del Mandorlo. Their estate sits in the province of Cammarata where the altitude has a wide range between 400 to 700 meters above sea level. The cooler climate, relative to most of the sun-scorched Sicily, adds vibrancy to the wine. Fabio Sireci serves as the estate’s wine steward. It has been in his family’s hands for three generations. He follows the old family recipe for farming success, letting the grapes fend for themselves and cough up their “emotions”. The vines are allowed to graft onto the wild plants and work their own hocus pocus.

I find their interpretation of Inzolia to be sturdier than many other producers’. Sireci’s wine is stonier and pleasantly oily with a kiss of sea foam. Yet, it isn’t briny so much as there is a charming, salty finish. It’s a great wine with lighter chicken dishes.