Monday, August 26, 2013

California Wine 2013

Yesterday, the San Francisco Chronicle published its annual 'California Wine' section. It was subtitled 'Sunny days - Now's the best time in years to enjoy the state's bounty.' In it were numerous articles about regional wines, corresponding foods, fall events, wine tasting, and different grapes. Unfortunately, this group of articles isn't available as a separate section online; but here is the link to their "wine" homepage.

No aspect of regional northern California culture brings out more the long standing local Cisalpine heritage than the wine industry. Not just the older wineries, but newer ones; as well as Cisalpines who came here in later times like Robert Mondavi. One of the wineries featured is the Fanucchi Vineyards in Fresno County.

In one of the articles entitled 'A toast to California wines', it states "California wine is booming as never before. You can see it clearly in the numbers. As we'll relate in the following pages, the state's wine industry remains on a nearly two-decde surge of popularity, accounting for more than $34 billion in sales last year."

In another article from the section entitled 'California wine enjoys a long boom', a sub-section shows the following facts:
*California's wine economy
-$61.5 billion in overall economic impact in the state
-330,000 jobs generated
-$12.3 billion in wages
-$14.7 billion generated in state and federal taxes

I often like to try foreign wines, and it's easy for for locals to forget that we live in very likely the best wine producing region in the world. One interesting development in recent years has been the growth of wine in Sonoma County; although I don't really know if it actually comes close to challenging the famous Napa County wine region in sales. Another interesting aspect of this industry is that there are big growers who don't even have a label of their own, and find it profitable enough in the farming end of the business.

The wine community of Lodi in the Central Valley--a city named after Lodi, Lombardy--had a full page ad to promote their wines, with their website If you're near a Chronicle distributor, you could just walk in and purchase the Sunday paper of August 26; especially if you wanted to attend some of the late Summer and Fall events. I find to be hard to search and navigate. Lastly, St. Helena is the heart of the wine industry in North America. It truly is a great place to visit. Our people were predominant in making this industry from it's inception.


Friday, August 23, 2013

Caffe D'Melanio: Restaurent Review

Being keenly interested in Argentina, I took notice recently while driving down Ocean Avenue in San Francisco when I saw the sign "Caffe D'Melanio - Argentinean Italian Cuisine." I dined there this past week, and wanted to review it. A quick glance at showed inconsistent reviews, but mostly very positive. The establishment is both a coffee shop and deli during the day, and a restaurant and bar in the evening. It was named after the Argentine-expatriate owner Melanio Duarte, who passed away a couple of years ago, and seemed to live a very interesting life. I don't know if there is any Italian heritage connection or not; a person doesn't have to be Italian to serve Italian food, and certainly it is a very prominent culture in Argentina.

I noticed while quickly scanning the reviews, and from my own experience there, that's it's a difficult place to "review." It comes down to personal preference. I went on a weeknight at 5:30 PM, and we were the only ones there except for a person to two at the bar. It's a spacious place with a high ceiling, and well maintained, with a mixture of modern equipment and rustic art on the walls that reminded me of what I at least perceived to be South American. There was a type of monitor near one side playing oldies with the volume low at this time, with trivia, etc. I got the impression that they had been busy with coffee all day, and were making the transition to the restaurant part of the business. There was a bar near the entrance with big coffee blenders. They seem to cater to college students during the day, and there is a Wifi available.

I'm not familiar with "Italian-Argentinian cuisine," so I wasn't certain what items may have been Argentinian; but to me it looked like Italian and eclectic items (ex. Greek salad). Wine was available and they brought bread. I ordered the Chicken Pesto Ravioli and the other person ordered the salmon. My order was $11, but they have a nightly special which was about $6. I thought the homemade pomodoro sauce was very good, and the ravioli's were large and tasty. If you have a big appetite, then you probably should get an appetizer as well. It was pretty adequate food, although not a big menu.

Being a "politicophobe," I didn't care for the political statement(s) on the wall though. Then I had remembered when I scanned the article above, that the founder was a political activist who had fled to Brazil, then fled there apparently. Personally, I can't see a dime's worth of difference between far-right dictatorships and far-left dictatorships in Latin America. Anyway, what's the rule-of-thumb with strangers? "No religion and no politics." If this establishment was closer to places that I frequent more often, I would be more interested. I would like to go back to try their coffee. Basically, I liked it and its casual atmosphere. It looks like what you would think a cafe would appear like in Buenos Aires. It is like a little touch of the cone of South America.


Monday, August 19, 2013

'Le Nozze Di Figaro' ("Opera Song" from the 'Shawshank Redemption')

'Le Nozze Di Figaro', or 'The Marriage of Figaro', was the "Opera Song" featured in the movie 'The Shawshank Redemption'.

From Wikipedia: Le nozze di Figaro, ossia la folle giornata (The Marriage of Figaro, or The Day of Madness), K. 492, is an opera buffa (comic opera) in four acts composed in 1786 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, with an Italian libretto written by Lorenzo Da Ponte based on a stage comedy by Pierre Beaumarchais, La folle journée, ou le Mariage de Figaro (1784).

Quote from the movie: I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singin about. Truth is I dont wanna know. Id like to think they were singin about something so beautiful it can't be expressed in words and makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away and for the briefest of moments every last man in Shawshank felt free.


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Ben-Hur (movie review)

Last evening on TCM, I watched 'Ben-Hur' for the first time in a very long time, and I wanted to review it. It is considered one of the epic movies of all time. One aspect of the film which I overlooked when I had watched it as a boy, was the Christian element to it; as it was subtitled 'A Tale of the Christ'. "Ben-Hur" was apparently not based on a real historical figure, but the film was based on an very popular 1880 fictional novel by Govenor/General Lew Wallace of the same title and subtitle.

There had been a 1907 film and a 1925 film based on the novel, and with the same title and subtitle as well. With the upcoming remake, there will be four different film adaptations of the novel, as well as television and many stage adaptations going back over a century. This is one of those movies where a film buff could have a field day researching, including documentaries about it and of how it was made.

The movie opens just as Christ is born. It doesn't actually show it, but it implies it with powerful symbolism, including the Star of Bethlehem moving in the sky and illuminating the spot where he is born. Ben-Hur seems to be the same age as Jesus, and his life runs parallel to his in many ways. Then the film shoots forward twenty-six years as "XXVI" is then shown on the screen with Jerusalem in the background. At this point, the nation of Judea has been conquered by the Roman Empire.

Judah Ben-Hur, played by Charlton Heston, is a wealthy prince and merchant in Jerusalem. At this point his childhood friend Messala, who had joined up with the Romans, has just returned to Judea to rule it as Roman colonial governor. Initially, they are overjoyed to see each other again, and speak of old times... as they are from the same cultural background. However, this soon changes when they begin to speak of Roman colonization. Messala wants to use Ben-Hur to help him crush the rebellions. The heated conversations they have, in my opinion, are the same arguments that people have had from the dawn of mankind to the present day: "Is it okay to betray your people?" Obviously most people have answered "yes" to this question... sometimes even while wrapped up in a flag.

Both have become important young men now. Messala insists that "it's a Roman world now!," while Ben-Hur believes that the Judean nation should go back to being free and sovereign. Messala wants to crush the resistance, while Ben-Hur calls them "patriots." Although it would be much more practical and easy to join up with Messala, Ben-Hur will not give in as he stated that he believes in both the past and future of HIS people.

Eventually Messala finds a reason to lock up Ben-Hur, and he becomes a galley slave, rowing oars on Roman ships. I won't give the movie away, but just as there are parallels with Jesus and Ben-Hur, there is a long battle between Ben-Hur and Messala that takes many dramatic twists and turns. At one point, while being marched across the desert as a slave, the Roman guards will not allow him to drink. While face down on the sand, Jesus gives him water... and he connects with Jesus in a very dramatic way at the end, but I don't want to give it away.

The one scene which the film is best known for is "the chariot race scene," a dramatic sporting competition in Judea, of chariot riders from different Roman colonies; and of which Messala rides for Rome, while Ben-Hur competes for Judea. I wish I could give thoughts about the entire movie, but I won't... but I highly recommend it for anyone who has not seen it yet. Through much suffering, the ending is... to say the least.. special. The movie, espeically the ending, says a lot about love, character, faith, family, culture, and nation.

I thought some of the scenes from Rome, and even some from Jerusalem--especially at night with backgrounds--reminded me of how I perceive what ancient Etruria was like. Even some of the architecture seemed more Etruscan than Greek or Roman. Some of the grand movies of that time, which were based upon the ancient world, were starting to effectively use background imagery.. which I saw some of in 'Ben-Hur.' Also, for the naval battles, believable-looking miniature models were used. A lot of these and other artifacts are available for public viewing.

Ben-Hur is known for its cinematography, which included tremendous Roman pageantry... of which they retained for applicable scenes... without overdoing it. This was a movie with many dramatic ups and downs. There are a lot of dark scenes. The ending scene from Ben-Hur could be metaphorically tied to the scene in the 'Shawshank Redemption' where Andy Dufresne finally emerges from the sanitation pipe... except even better. There was a great cast, as well as many other remarkable aspects to the film, which you can see some of in the below link:

Ben-Hur (1959 film) [Wikipedia]

Ben-Hur is a 1959 American epic historical drama film set in ancient Rome, directed by William Wyler, produced by Sam Zimbalist and starring Charlton Heston, Stephen Boyd, Jack Hawkins, Hugh Griffith and Haya Harareet. It won a record 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, an accomplishment that was not equaled until Titanic in 1997 and then again by The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in 2003.

A remake of the 1925 silent film with the same name, Ben-Hur was adapted from Lew Wallace's 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. The screenplay is credited to Karl Tunberg but includes contributions from Maxwell Anderson, S. N. Behrman, Gore Vidal, and Christopher Fry. Ben-Hur had the largest budget and the largest sets built for any film produced. The nine-minute chariot race has become one of cinema's most famous sequences. The score composed by Miklós Rózsa was highly influential on cinema for more than 15 years, and is the longest ever composed for a film.