The other day my buddy, Slim Shambles, shambled up as I was working on my lawn tractor. He headed straight for a loosely covered pail on my workbench.
'Too cheap to throw out that rotting fruit?' he snooped, obviously hoping for a taste of my brew.
As I told Slim, I first realized that fruit could be more than a sweet snack when I was only a child. One day my father, a devout miser, brought home a trunk full of cantaloupes the local grocer had condemned.
Unwilling to see such a rare bounty go to waste by letting others eat it, I dug into the acquitted melons with happy gusto. Although they had a strong zingy taste, they were delicious, like cantaloupe flavored 7UP. The more I ate, the happier I got. Years later I discovered that zing was CO2 produced by natural yeast turning sugar into alcohol.
Continued experimentation taught me CO2 can be explosive. I didn't have enough pop bottles for the root beer I was making, so I bottled it in a glass jug. Unable to contain the pressure, the jug shattered, splattering its contents on the carpet. I rushed to suck up the mess with my father's shop-vac, lest it soak in.
Sadly, the vacuum failed to filter out the carpet fibers, rendering the root beer nearly undrinkable. Even I might have discarded the stuff, had I not been competing for the prestigious "Miser of the Year" award.
Wine making is safer than making root beer, but one risks the disfavor of Her Majesty's agents if one distills it into brandy. Distillation is a process that removes contaminants, such as water, from alcohol. These 'distilled spirits' can inject 'spirit' into a social gathering, or fuel your car.
Although authorities blame their disapproval on the explosive nature of stills, discerning taxpayers know better. Besides, when stills explode, there's never enough left of them to prove they're dangerous.
Slim lifted the lid off the pail and dipped a mug. 'Is this ready to drink, or haven't you rebuilt your still yet?'
'You know stills are illegal, Slim,' I said, sidestepping a prickly issue.
'Hey, this is smooth! What's it made from?'
'It's the oil from my mower.'
'I didn't know you could make wine from motor oil,' he said.
You can't, but I saw no need to ruin my reputation by telling Slim.
Then he grimaced, 'Best tasting wine you've ever made.'
Haute Couture... Okanagan... ?
What could I possibly know about glamor, you ask?
Not much, but in my corner is Rachel, of Atelier Jensen, makers of bespoke women's clothing in The Windy City. Rachel's authority on couture is irrefutable.
I can hear the muscle-shirts from the back of the peanut gallery. "Hey, your Blog is supposed to be about Wine and Art in the Okanagan. We're not interested in magnificent women or gorgeous clothing. We don't even care for wine. What we want is beer! We want beer!"
If that's you, press the 'Flush Me' button at the bottom.
A keen observer might point out that in my school years, I scarcely knew what girls were, much less how a fellow of my ilk should behave, should his arm ever be graced by some stunning enchantress.
Just so. Ipso facto. Mais oui.
But now, I know exactly what to do: pour a glass of wine, and paint the lady.
Toward that end, I sent a note to Rachel which said, "may I paint you?"
Came the reply, "please do!"
The result is a piece in my Couture Collection of art, featuring stunning enchantresses in environs like the Mediterranean. And now, Chicago.
Rachel is generous with her advice for all who aspire to a more cultured appearance.
You can tap into this rich glamour resource by visiting Rachel's photo-commentary at rachelannjensen.com.
Our sojourn in Italy
The flight was to write home about, which is why I am writing home about it. Air France was amazing. They served champagne to everyone who wanted it, and breakfast at 3 in the morning. I can only imagine first class would make me want to write twice.
On the 9 hour leg, I got stuck next to this guy (let me get a breath of air here...) This was a fella with body odor so thick you could spoon it. Every few minutes he would lift his arm to wipe sweat off his forehead with his forearm. Lord, have mercy. Lord... have mercy.
Here we are, in the heart of Tuscany.
Driving in Italy has its challenges. There are roundabouts everywhere. That's why real estate in Tuscany is so expensive. The government has expropriated all the farmland to grow more roundabouts. But we came prepared. We brought a GPS. That thing never gets lost. Got off the track at one point, and we begged Garmin to find our way out of the maze. So Garmin pointed us down this goat track which, predictably, was the width of a goat. We made it down there only to discover we had to drive our rental across a stream on a tightrope before entering the next roundabout. But Garmin insisted, and we followed the instructions. After all, who is the fool when you pay good money for advice, then ignore it? Well, sure enough, the tightrope led to another trail which in turn, sent us through another roundabout-farm just to teach us a lesson about trust, before letting us go back to our Agritourismo (a working farm subsidizing its income with tourism.)
Italian cars are skateboards modified with engines. Pretty zippy skateboards, too. But you don't dare drive in the left lane of the Autostrada, no sirree. You have got no business in that lane if your skateboard can't do 160kph. If you get caught there, some attitude encased in a Beemer is going to chew your bumper off, then start in on your body parts.
The working guys drive the tricycles. You never see those guys drive in the left lane. I reckon they tried it and that's how they came to have 3 wheels. Note the role cages.
In the attached photo, I am hangin' out with the guys. It's what us older fellas do, here in Tuscany after about 6PM. It was pretty interesting conversation for those of us who could understand Italian. I know, 'cause they were all laughing.
Today we went for coffee, which we ordered in Italian. What we got was, a dollop of paving tar topped with a shot of grappa. Had no problem with dozing on the drive home. I was so awake it was several hours before I could blink. Had to keep the pedal floored just to overcome the sense of slow motion. I now understand why the Italians all think anyone driving the speed limit is either dead or a tourist.
Next we visit the Cinque Terre (pronounced Chinkwa Terra) where there are 5 villages perched on cliffs within walking distance of each other. A fella in decent shape can walk the entire stretch in about 4 hours, which means it shouldn't take me more than 12.
We stayed in Monterosso, one of the villages of the Cinque Terre. The drive from Tuscany to Cinque Terre was an eye-opener or an eye closer, depending on the viewer's idea of "fun." Traveling from the A1 (Italy's version of a freeway) to Monterosso requires the use of a secondary road which a kind person might describe as serpentine. This person would be lying. Really, negotiating this road is more akin to untangling a ball of yarn the cat has played with for several years. I have only heard that the scenery was spectacular since this driver's eyes were fully occupied by the road and taxi drivers who are more gifted than we Canadians.
These villages all are restricted traffic zones. This means you park your car above and take a taxi to your dwelling. These taxi drivers routinely hold their mobiles to their ears, shift gears, carry conversations with several people in two languages, and warp their cars around the impossible curves all at the same time. I have seen some impressive juggling acts, but never one that involved my own life in such a direct fashion.
We took an apartment there for a week. The apartment is 400 square feet. The bathroom is a short hallway where you squeeze sideways by the shower before you can back up to the toilet. But no matter the lack of space, they still find room to install a bidet.
Our first night was marked by a downpour that would daunt a fish. We were going to have dinner outside, but even the restaurants gave up on that idea!
We went shopping for food daily. Monteroso has no supermarket. You buy the various elements of your planned meal from different vendors. The pasta is fresh, made that day. Ravioli, tortellini, spaghetti, pesto etc., all fresh. Anything you buy is wrapped by the vendor in paper and taped shut, just like our own butchers used to do. It would be quaint if it were not so sad that we once also enjoyed such personal service before the invasion of the box stores.
The butcher provided us with comic relief. Jennifer pointed to a slab of meat and asked what it was. The butcher made an incomprehensible reply, which of course we failed to comprehend. So I said " Ba-a-a-a?" He shook his head. I said :Bak bak bak?" he shook his head again, but held his arms about 2 feet apart. "Goobla goobla?" He nodded vigorously and we had turkey for dinner. We are getting pretty good at Italian.
The Cinque Terra is a national park which includes five villages strung out over about 10 kilometers of rugged coastline. 1% of it could be described as level, but only by an optimist. One day we walked the trail from Vernazza into Corniglia. The trail consists of a set of stairs several times the height of the sears tower, with a similar flight going down the other side. The stairs were relieved at intervals by mud puddles left by the aforementioned downpour. Jennifer remained staunchly unimpressed by both the stairs and the puddles.
Wednesday we walked the Via del Amoure, the Lover's Walk, from Riomaggiore to Manarola. This is a spectacular paved walk that takes 1/2 hour to navigate. You can look along the coastline from points, and see the other villages perched on the cliffs.
Thursday Jennifer rented a beach chair and umbrella. Here, you rent the equipment for the day, and it is always available for you. The beach police chase off any squatters who may have taken possession while you were chasing down a gelato. Cost: about 12 Euros for 2 lounges and an umbrella.
We spoke to an English lady who lives in Italy. She said it cost 1000 Euros ($1300) to heat a typical dwelling for 2 months in winter with gas. This accounts for the laundry we see hanging under nearly every window. Our apartment has a washer, this is the dryer.
Trivia: In Italy you have to show your passport before you can buy internet time.
Scratch and Sniff - the Art of the Wine Cellar
Not long ago, my wife Dolly said, "when are you going to clean up this bomb blast you call a shop?"
"What do you mean," I said, warping an eyeball out from behind a skelter of sticks, where I was sorting wood shavings according to texture and color. "Every stick in here has a special purpose, and one day I will know what that is."
"Today is that day, and I'll tell you what that purpose is," Dolly said. "It's your excuse to avoid producing any art. Now, put a match to all these warped boards, and then get in front of your easel."
"What!" I howled. "These are staves from wine barrels that have hosted fine vintages produced in cellars hereabouts. I have rescued them from an uncertain fate, namely, being made into bad furniture. Have some respect, woman!"
As it happens, my unappreciated wine barrel staves began their existence in a forest in France. One day a woodcutter named Gascon, who had just shaved with his freshly honed axe, tromped through the forest in search of work. He came across a magnificent oak, and said in his magnificent accent, "zees looks lak zee begeening of zee Bourdeaux magnifique!" With several deft strokes of the axe, he transformed the oak into a set of barrel staves and sold them to a cooperage in Bourgogne. The coopers added some heads and strapped the collection together with bands of steel, before slinging the entire affair onto a ship bound for Slumberland.
Once here, the barrel was filled by a winemaker from Transylvania with grapes originating in Bordeaux, grown in Chile, and pressed in Tuktoyaktuk, to create an authentic Okanagan wine aged in French oak.
When the barrel could no longer impart enough frenchness
to disguise the mongrel grapes, it was decommissioned, rejected by amateur furniture makers because of rot, and finally donated to my studio where it came under the critical eye of Dolly.
"Burn them or use them!" she decreed of my staves.
The furniture I built from the staves is only mildly precarious, unless one actually sits on it. But I was still left with the aforementioned skelter of leftover barrel parts.
"Sell that junk for what you can get, then get busy painting!"
She tossed a barrel lid onto my easel, and stomped out. Not bad, I thought, this idea of painting on a wine barrel head.
Group of 7 - enquire - 250-404-0411
In my effort to add value to my barrel parts, I set out to find some lovely wine glasses with which to suggest that my unappreciated staves were worth much money. Enter the craftsmen of Baccarat, who make the Messina glass.
"What?!" Dolly screeched. But I didn't worry as she levitated only a few inches. "$180 for a wine glass?"
"I only need two,"
I enthused. "I'll paint an obscenely rich composition of these exquisite glasses with that bottle of Château la Pompe onto that barrel head, for the discerning collector."
"Château la Pompe? That means 'pump house' in French!"
"So? Who would know that?"
"Your 'discerning collector' might catch on."
"It will be a twenty year old Cabernet-Sauvignon."
"How would the collector know that from your painting?"
"Simple. They just scratch the barrel lid, and sniff."
Click the 2 minute video above to watch Will produce these unconventional wine barrel paintings.
The Innkeeper's Christmas
by Rick Cogbill and Will Enns
I don’t know why, but sometimes Dolly treats me like a small child.
‘Buck Pincher, will you stop poking the presents?’ my wife Dolly scolded.
‘You can’t find out what you're getting till tomorrow morning. Why don’t you pour us some eggnog to sip while we watch the Grinch steal Christmas!’
As I lingered, she added, ‘One more sleep and you’ll see what St. Nick has for you! And you have to promise that you won’t get up before dawn again.’
Later, as I drifted of to be with the the sandman, I thought it would be nice if on this Christmas Eve, there would not be a midnight check-in to spoil my beauty rest.Suddenly, a shrill screech set my nerve endings vibrating like tuning forks.
As I dropped back into my bed from the ceiling, I realized it was my own screech, a common reaction to a midnight office call. Some idiot needed a bed for the remainder of the night.
I looked out and what to my bleary eyes should appear but a dirt road in front of our motel. What happened to the four-lane highway, I thought. And what's this young couple with a donkey doing on my doorstep?
'Sorry,' said the young man when I opened the door, 'but with the shepherd’s conference taking up every room in Bethlehem, there's nowhere else to go.' Bethlehem? I thought this was Slumberland...
After dealing with the customers I returned to bed. Dolly asked who was out there.
‘A pair of crazy kids,’ I complained. ‘Out in this weather, and on a donkey of all things!'
‘Don't they know it's the night before Christmas?’ asked Dolly.
‘I dunno. Told them there was no room in the inn, but they said they would take anything with a roof.’
‘So what did you do?’ asked Dolly, more alert now.
‘Why, I charged them five shekels of tin and put them in the pool shed, er... I mean the stable. Yeah, I put them in the stable. Hated to do that, her being pregnant and all.’
‘YOU PUT A PREGNANT WOMAN IN THE STABLE?’ squealed Dolly. ‘Have you no shame?’
‘Sure I do, but the five shekels in my pocket will buy salve for my conscience, ho ho! Besides, what's the chance she'll come due overnight?’
‘You better use those shekels to buy yourself a thick blanket, because you're sleeping in the doghouse tonight!’ snapped Dolly as she headed for the laundry.
‘Hah! The doghouse is full! Charged those three wise guys two shekels apiece for it,' I chortled. 'Dinged ‘em extra for their Camillacs, too. They said something about following ‘The Star’. Hey, is there a Broadway play in town that we don't know about?’
The scene felt like a bad dream, so I stuck my head out the window for some fresh air.
‘Oh oh, here come some more shepherds. I bet I can get a couple more shekels if I put them in the crawl space. Hey, take a look at those guys all heading for the stable. I’m gonna go out there and charge ‘em extra if they think they can co-habitate just because it's a stable.’
Dolly had no ear for my troubles. She bustled past me with blankets, pillows, hot water and towels.
‘I hope you're charging ‘em extra for all that stuff,’ I hollered. ‘I told them housekeeping was not included at that price!’
A customer pounded on the office door. ‘Hey you, Innkeeper! You didn't tell me you were running a Broadway musical tonight! Turn off the spotlight and let a tired Roman sleep, will ya?’
I looked out at the stable, lit from above like a stage.The phone rang. It was Slim Shambles the wheelwright. ‘I’m real happy you got the whole Tabernacle Choir staying with you, but do they have to practice at three in the morning? Tell ‘em to clamp a lid on it! I can hear 'em all the way to my smithy.’
No sooner had Slim slammed the phone down than Hokey Mike of the Kosher Dog and Burger called. ‘Hey, what’s with the Calgary Stampede, already? There's sheep and camels all over the road an’ my wife is givin’ me what for because her flower beds are getting eaten! Now give those guys a tune-up or I'll call the Romans down on you!’
When Dolly came back in, she was bubbling with excitement. ‘That poor sweet couple; I got to help deliver their baby,' she babbled. 'Then I gave them back their money as a baby present!’
‘You did WHAT!’ I shouted, ‘That pair has been nothing but trouble since they arrived! Simon the Soothsayer already demanded a refund - said he didn't like the vibes around here. And he was one of our best customers!’
‘Now calm down, Buck,’ Dolly soothed. ‘That young couple can't help it if everyone in town wants to gawk at their new baby. You know, there’s something special about that child, but I can’t put my finger on it. Now take a pill and come back to bed.’
As I drifted off five shekels poorer, I thought I heard a choir of angels. I couldn't be sure though; the only angel I know is Dolly, and her singing doesn't sound like that when she takes a shower after I've used up the hot water.
The next morning when I awoke, the snow was melting off the pavement. Hey, what happened to the dirt road? I got dressed and went out to check the stable, er...pool shed? That’s funny, I mused, there were sheep and camels all over here last night. I searched the snow outside the shed, but found no signs of sheep tracks or even footprints!
‘That was some dream,’ I muttered as I went into the house. Dolly looked up from the stove.
‘What was a dream, dear?’ she asked as she seared the bacon into submission.
‘Don’t you remember the young couple with the baby and the donkey…' I stopped, because Dolly was giving me the owly eye.I turned towards the Christmas tree and changed the subject.
‘It must be time for presents! Can't wait to see if I got that freon-cooled turbo-charged BIOS chip for my computer! Ah, I'm glad they invented Christmas, with all its commercialism. It’s the only day of the year where you can be greedy without feeling guilty!’ But inside of me, something was different.
Dolly put her arms around me and looked at the plastic Christmas tree, nearly buried beneath a mountain of brightly-wrapped packages. ‘Is that really why we have Christmas? Isn’t there more to it than just presents?’
‘Maybe,’ I shrugged. But a glance at the tiny manger scene on the mantle left me with a powerful sense of déjà vu. There were sure a lot of people around that manger last night. I wonder, why did they all come?
To contact the authors:
Will Enns <email@example.com>
Each year, my wife Jennifer (Dolly) celebrates Christmas with her interior home decor. Friends come from far to ooh and aah and sip libations with us, but mostly just to ooh and aah. For those of you who didn't hear about our gathering, here is a brief video. We hope Christmas is as happy for you as it is for us.
Will and Jennifer
"It's all about the Okanagan Wine Art. You're famous for it. You're so famous, even I have heard of you."
So says my new Blog Boss, who heard of me when I called her for help. She goes on to say, "get busy! Blog about your art, talk about the Okanagan, say something about wine."
I resisted for years because 'Blog' isn't an actual word so much as a guttural muttering, similar to the sound a redneck makes by cupping a hand under his armpit and pumping the arm up and down. That's why so many rednecks tear their sleeves off - so they can get at their armpits. Blog. It turns out this pathetic sound actually denotes a Commentary. In my case, it's to be an Okanagan Wine Art commentary.
The conversation with my wife went like this: "Dolly, I need food."
"So go sell some art while I boil you some potatoes."
I whined, "I'm trying, but the buyers are all texting and facebooking and wine touring and being everywhere except in our Art Gallery! Some of them are even bl***ing."
"You need to seize their attention - so hire an attention-seizing expert!"
The Attention Seizer said, "You're an artist - you paint wine - you live in the Okanagan - that makes you an Okanagan Wine Art expert. So start an Okanagan Wine Art b**g - I mean commentary - and share your expertise. People will put on their sunglasses to bask in the radiance that is you!" Wow! With an expert like that in my corner, I'll soon need a pedestal.
So I'll address the issues art lovers might be conflicted about it. Maybe you don't know how much you should pay for a picture. I'll talk about that. Perhaps your "walls are full." Mine are full too, but you'll be amazed at the solutions Dolly has devised, and you'll want to follow suit. I'm writing and illustrating a kid's book that is so much fun a dead guy smiled when I showed it to him at his funeral. You'll hear more about it here. The book, not the funeral. There is an endless array of art subjects we can discuss, and I will try to avoid revealing my ignorance about any of them. And I promise I won't tear my sleeves off.
Are you worrying how often I'll send you stuff? NOT once an hour. NOT once a day. NOT once a week. Maybe, once a month. Because honestly, if I'm going to be an Okanagan Wine Art expert, I need time to paint and sip some of these magnificent Okanagan vintages.
So I hope you stick with me, because it's going to be fun. Look for me in your inbox, or at OkanaganWineArt.ca
If you think your friends would also like to put their melancholy at risk, please forward this note, or share on your social media.
Thanks for joining!
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