Monday, November 28, 2011

Off The Rock: Budapest

Budapest, the Melancholic. There's an underlying broodiness to Hungary's capital as seen both from the tinted window of a tour bus and on foot in November. Andrássy Avenue, lined by the soot-laden facades of ornate Neo-renaissance mansions, opens up with a flourish as it reaches Heroes Square, desolate except for the pantheon to Magyar chieftains and statesmen. The Parliament Building, its spires like swords being raised by warriors, lights up and from across the Danube River mirrors the intricate view into a kaleidoscope. Next to Buda Castle, the Fisherman's Bastion overlooks Pest and breaks it up through its arched openings, a 35-mm filmstrip of the city's east bank. People walk briskly away from the cold, many probably saddened or burdened by hundreds of years of violence, occupation and destruction. 

From my short visit, I sense that Budapest wears its history on its sleeve. While Prague teleports you to "Neverland," setting foot on Budapest feels like actually traveling back in time and being flooded by Ottoman, Austrian and Communist influences as inherited, interpreted and transformed by the Hungarian populace. It's somber. It's enigmatic. It's a place that requires a moment or two to process and understand, eight hours certainly not enough to fully appreciate what stunning beauty lies before you. As I walked along a quaint street loaded with art galleries and antique shops on my way to a goulash dinner, I could not get Joy Division's "Atmosphere" out of my head. If there ever was a soundtrack—dark and depressingly beautiful—for the city, I know this song would be on repeat until the airplane's wheels rolled off the runway on its southbound journey to the Mediterranean.

People like you find it easy,
Naked to see,
Walking on air.
Hunting by the rivers,
Through the streets,
Every corner abandoned too soon,
Set down with due care.
Don't walk away in silence,
Don't walk away.

- Joy Division, "Atmosphere."

2009 Kettöezerkilenc Orsolya Pince (Pinot Noir, Kefrankos and Zweigelt blend) - Red forest fruit, floral aromas like a potpourri, tight nose. Raspberries on the finish, red fruit throughout with a hint of dark chocolate. Light bodied, short, no tannins, fruity and simple. 84/100.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Off The Rock: Vienna

Day One: Coffee Among Ghosts

Melange at Cafe Museum
Vienna's coffee culture is undoubtedly the best in Europe. Give me a second to take cover from Italian, Dutch and Greek gunfire. Okay, I think they've stopped aiming for my nether regions.

Along with Double Trouble, who became my partner-in-crime for the daylight portion of my sojourn in Vienna, we hit up as many historical coffee shops as possible without sacrificing valuable time that'd be better spent visiting museums and speed-walking our way through downtown's cobble-stoned streets. We gulped a Wiener melange at Cafe Museumonly a few hundred meters away from The Secession buildingand occupied a red sofa probably once used by Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele (my new favorite painter) and Koloman "My Name's Unfortunate" Moser. A string quartet serenaded us with waltzes at Cafe Bräunerhof, an old stomping grounds for Austria's literary bad boy, Thomas Bernhard. We shared a corner booth at the seriously hip Cafe Drechsler and then made our way to the cozy and bohemian Cafe Hawelka, where, if you have nothing better to do with your money, you can purchase a twelve Euro poster of its centenarian owner Leopold Hawelka and his late wife Josefine posing in full cafe regalia. Finally, this time accompanied too by The Wife, Ph.D., we split a Sachertorte and Apfelstrudel at Cafe Frauenhuber, one of Vienna's oldest coffeehouses thattrump this, Europe—saw live performances by both Mozart and Beethoven towards the end of the 18th century. After all that coffee and quality time among preeminent ghosts and tuxedoed waiters, the only thing left to do was to switch to wine.

2011 Vienna "Christkindlmärkte" @ City Hall Glühwein - Served piping hot in a tacky mug I brought back (probably like thousands of lame tourists) to The Rock. Cuddly aromas of cloves, vanilla, cinnamon, cherries and oranges. Had two mugs and could've kept going if it hadn't been for The Wife, Ph.D. who cut off both Double Trouble and me. Off-the-charts rating given the setting and evening chill factor. 

Day Two: Sunday With McCoy 

Near Stephansplatz
Our first dance as a couple was to John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman's rendition of Irving Berlin's "They Say It's Wonderful." My studio apartment in La Jolla was filthy that night. An empty case of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was staggered across the kitchen floor like fallen bowling pins. Warm pisco sour coated the sides of my blender and patches of the white counter. A couple loads of dirty laundry spilled out of a rattan basket next to the radiator and the beige carpet needed vacuuming, its creases revealing mysterious signs of life. Nonetheless, we were oblivious to the staleness of our surroundings and we swayed our bodies like two buoys in calm waters and we leaned into each other as if we had never heard truer words..."they say that falling in love is wonderful"... than those suavely being trickled out by Hartman.

McCoy Tyner was the pianist on that recording, and, at the ripe young age of 73, performed that Sunday night in Vienna at Porgy & Bess, a former X-rated movie theater converted into a world-class jazz venue. The Wife, Ph.D., and I hid behind a bar, barely within view of the stage, where we drank Austrian red, nibbled on some tapas and became possessed by the legend's music. After a few instrumental pieces, Jose James, an up-and-coming jazz vocalist, joined McCoy and broke out several Coltrane and Hartman classics including "You Are Too Beautiful." Only then did I inform The Wife, Ph.D., that the show was a tribute to their music and reminded her of that romantic dance almost eight years ago. She gave me a blank stare and wondered out loud whether the owners had properly disinfected the joint before going from screening ass to hosting brass.

2010 Günter & Regina Triebaumer Blaunfränkish - Red currants, some cherries and plums. What stuns, though, is an explosion of black pepperchillies eventowards the mid-palate. Rounded out nicely by a sour cherry finish. Short and medium bodied wine. 86/100. 

Day Three: Gustav Klimt's The Kiss (or The Dream of Every College Girl) 

Mulled Wine and Mug
Back in college, I would peruse poster sales for revolutionary art and inevitably stumble upon a reproduction of Gustav Klimt's The Kiss. I pictured young coeds buying a copy of the Austrian's masterpiece to decorate their candle-scented rooms. They'd then stare at it for eons and daydream of Prince Charmingmaybe the third-string quarterback or the comical boss-man of an A cappella ensemble—tenderly engulfing them with a golden blanket and kissing them goodnight under a bed of flowers. Very romantic and very beautiful but nothing like the Austrian artist's Death and Life, which elicits similar though less sexual emotions as The Kiss but includes a stark reminder that death is right around the corner waiting to consume us. I sat before boththe former at the Belvedere, the latter at Leopold Museum—and must admit the latter's balance between dark and light sold me on it. In my book, a hint of darkness is always good. Keeps things real, you know?

2009 Giuseppe Gabbas Cannonau di Sardegna (Grenache) "LiLLovè" - Red fruit (raspberries and cherries), leather, tobacco, spice and a herbal (parsley) finish. Surprisingly light bodied, smooth and simple, perfect accompaniment for our pizza at Regina Margherita. 14.5% alcohol is hardly discernible. Great wine and our first from the Italian rock of Sardinia. 89/100.

2007 Casa Valduga Cabernet Franc (Serra Gaucha, Brazil) - Red fruit, cinnamon and vanilla, soil or fertilizer and a hint of green beans. Drinkable with mild tannins but too much oak for my taste. 84/100.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

On A Side Note

Besides occasionally typing this nonsense on wine and my life as an islander, I trywhenever time permitsto write some semi-serious fiction. During the past year or so, I published a couple of short stories in Shipwrights, the University of Malmo's (Sweden) online review of de-centered English. If you have a minute to spare or want to be put to sleep, clickety-click below:

Monday, November 7, 2011

Smart Love Monkeys

The Dancing Monkey, Greek and proud proprietor of his own imagined community where potential mates live up on puffy white clouds, George Karelia and Sons Superior Lights cigarettes grow on lemon trees, and religion consists of decrying the loss of Smyrna, is the man behind "The Rock," my moniker for Cyprus. For several years, we worked together as minor cogs in a wheel, and one day, frustrated by his boring life in Cyprus and dreaming of The (today undeserving) Motherland, The Dancing Monkey pejoratively referred to our beautiful island as "The Rock." From that day on, we somehow metamorphosed into cynical and bitter baboons dancing to the undesired beat of an island drum—I'd leave rotting Ecuadorian bananas on his keyboard and bark out the mating call of horny orangutans while he ate his chickpea and spinach stew for lunch, he would call me unflattering names such as "chimpo" and "Matyl, the macaque," while mocking my annoying (to him) dutifulness.

Introducing The Dancing Monkey
For some reason, we kept in touch after I abandoned him to begin this mega-blockbuster-of-a-blog and pass on my limited knowledge of sociology, anthropology and philosophy (gasp!) to a bunch of mostly male immigrants like myself. Every so often, we'd go out for coffee or wine up at Plato's or dance uncontrollably—like Ian Curtis before he hung himself—at three a.m. at a random club somewhere in Nicosia. While puffing away into the night, he'd share his latest encounter with flighty women and his utopian dream of weaponizing a group of Greek rough riders to take back their land from the Turks, a plan certainly bound for failure given his morale-boosting idea of granting his troops a lengthy morning and afternoon coffee-break and monthly leave to recover from the tolls of war by rolling around like satiated walruses on a remote beach leading into the Myrtoan Sea.

I kept telling The Dancing Monkey that it's time to introduce him to the blogging world as one of my antagonists. He initially refused, citing his position as a highbrow well-versed in nationalist theory as being incompatible with simian-themed mockery from a third-rate blogger. After at least a dozen attempts and a hefty contribution to his bundle of modern Mycenaean mercenaries, we landed at Academy 32 with The Godmother, My Zolpidem Supplier and The Wife, Ph.D., to clink our wine glasses and listen to Austria's jam band, Smart Love Junkies, rip through its eclectic repertoire. And just like that, for a few hours one cool autumn evening, The Dancing Monkey and I stopped flinging feces at each other and behaved like obedient and loveable circus pets.

2010 Tsalapatis Melapsopodi Sauvignon Blanc - Pineapple, mango and tropical aromas abound. Honeycomb, grapefruit, lemon zest and a bitter finish. Good length. However, it drank better the first time I tried it with R.O.I. and The Duke of Ducati. 86/100.

2008 Tsiakkas Bambakada (Maratheftiko) - Violets and dust on what is a tight nose. Red fruit, sour cherries and vanilla on the finish. Moderate flavors and medium bodied. 86/100.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Soak Me In Red Wine

I apologize for my absence. I've been dreaming of sausages. Wine-soaked, peppery, smoky, savory, crackly, juicy and perfectly charred. 

Biting into a Cypriot sausage (loukaniko) ranks third in my makeshift list of The Rock's Top Ten Greatest Contributions to Mankind, a handful of miles behind halloumi and light years away from The Wife, Ph.D., who—goes without saying—is number one with a bullet. Rounding out the list, in no particular order, are flaounes, Commandaria, the painted churches of Troodos, sheftalies, feral cats of all shapes and freaky sizes, Cypriot halva and whomever invented halloumi. Trust me, if I were dictator of this land, I'd build the latter the flashiest of pantheons, a place where all of us converts can render tribute to the cheese that grills and pray for its sales to skyrocket before we are flushed down the financial toilet handcuffed to Europe's petulant child, Greece.

Anyhow, back to the wine-soaked edible phallus. Like a meth addict, I contract the services of a loukaniko dealer. Return On Investment (R.O.I.), who runs a slaughterhouse that provides sausage casings to local butchers, often brings me some from Katidata, a village at the foothills of the Trodoos mountains and home to what I believe is The Rock's best sausage. As of today, I must have at least twenty Katidata sausages sitting in my freezer waiting to be devoured with some toasted pitta bread, a slight comfort with homo-eroticism and a side of extra-strength Pepto-Bismol.

Every so often, I share them with my fancy friends so that they too experience the high. This time around, we gathered at The Brother-in-Law's, where Double Trouble, The Wife, Ph.D., Cousin #2 and Radio Free Cyprus, helped me dispose of the links. Initially, I had planned a blind wine tasting but that quickly devolved into a sampling of a wide array of sausages. If you will, Katidata versus German bratwursts and weisswursts procured from our deli of choice, Bavarian Delicatessen. 

What's the German word for "routed"?

2009 Argyrides Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot - Lovely bouquet of red fruit, spice and dust. On the mouth, red fruit like candied dark cherries and some herbal components in a very fruit-forward wine. Good tannins, balanced, full and quite long. 90/100.

2007 Kalamos Gerani Maratheftiko - Burgundy-like in color and drank surprisingly like a Pinot Noir. Oak-y, herbaceous, good red fruit. Savory mid-palate component. Balanced and silky smooth. Unanimously voted the best wine of the night. 92/100.

2004 Vouni Panagia Barba Yiannis Maratheftiko - Cloves, cinnamon and red fruit on the exceptional nose. Blueberry-like dark fruit, violets, vanilla and chocolate flavors to the tongue. Nice menthol finish. 88/100.