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In Art, Food, Literature, Travel on
June 5, 2017

Lord Byron Goes to Napa

Wine cheers the sad, revives the old, inspires the young, and makes weariness forget his toil.” ~Lord Byron

I realize that the words I am about to type will be viewed as sacrilege by many. But, I just can’t help but make the following statement and comparison: Prince, formerly “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince”, should change his name once more to “The Artist Formerly Known as Lord Byron”. Why? Because Prince is basically Lord Byron version 2.0.

Like Prince, Lord Byron was perhaps the most talented, over-sexed, famous and controversial icon of his time. For him, anything worth doing was worth overdoing. With his expressive writing, flare for the flamboyant, and political activism, Byron challenged societal norms as few artists have, making his mark on nineteenth-century art, poetry, politics, and fashion. His image and name will forever be connected to bohemianism…and wine.

According to Edna O’Brien, “Lord Byron insisted that his Cambridge college dorm room be outfitted with various glasses, decanters and four bottles each of wine, port, sherry and claret. He also brought his pet bulldog.” (See Edna O’Brien, Byron in Love (W. W. Norton & Company, 2009).

It’s impossible to speak for the dead. But, if he were alive today, I am sure Lord Byron would have loved Napa. Through this guide, I hope to share with you the specific New World bottles I think he would have requested for his dorm wine cellar, the wineries he would have frequented, and the wine club memberships he would have held. In short, the following is a Napa Valley wine tasting adventure that I hope Lord Byron, The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, and you—my fellow bohemian wine enthusiast—will all enjoy. Because, as the famous poet himself once said: “Wine cheers the sad, revives the old, inspires the young, and makes weariness forget his toil.” Cheers!

Quintessa

If Lord Byron only drank one California red wine, it would most certainly be from Quintessa. Why you ask? The answer is simple: Quintessa red wines are pure, unadulterated, poetry in a bottle. It is THE winery you go to if you can only visit one winery in the valley. Period. Full stop. Mic drop. The bottles are not cheap. But, they certainly have the leg up on their competitors when it comes to production quality. And, speaking of legs, at 14.5% alcohol content, a glass of 2013 Quintessa Rutherford Red has legs for days!

Recommended Wine Details

Appellation: Rutherford, Napa Valley
Harvest Dates: September 6 to October 18, 2013
Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Carmenere
Maceration: 21 to 25 days average

Price: $189/bottle

Winery Details

I will pick the mic back up for a moment to say that Quintessa is more than the bottles of wine it sells. Visiting Quintessa is an unparalleled back-to-nature experience. I’ll hand the mic to Lord Byron for his poetry reading to more adequately describe the way you feel when you visit Quintessa:

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep Sea, and music in its roar:
I love not Man the less, but Nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the Universe, and feel
What I can ne’er express, yet cannot all conceal.

~Lord Byron

Clearly, Lord Byron really gets Quintessa.  But, you don’t have to take Byron’s word for it. If the poem wasn’t enough to pique your curiosity about the natural wonder and beautiful setting of the Quintessa estate, you can learn more about the winery and its unique, biodynamic production process from the owners and winemakers themselves here:

Where to Eat in Napa

Too much wine on an empty stomach is never a good idea. After your tasting and tour of Quintessa, there are two excellent nearby lunch options Lord Byron would surely frequent if he could:

1. V. Sattui for a 19th Century Manet-style (minus the nudity) picnic on the grass. A short 8 minute Uber ride from Quintessa, V. Sattui is always a good idea. Bring a picnic blanket, buy your lunch and a bottle of wine from the Deli, and relax under a tree in front of the main buildings. On weekends they have outdoor BBQ and wonderful brick oven pizza you can purchase for your picnic.If you are in the mood to splurge, you can opt instead for one of their more premium picnic packages. This allows you to reserve a private picnic table on the spacious grounds, and enjoy the ideal combination of artisan foods prepared by their Michelin Star Italian chef Stefano Masanti, paired with wine from V. Sattui’s exclusive cellars. 

2. Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen is perfect if you are dealing with an inclement weather situation on your trip, or you simply would rather sit indoors at a table. You really can’t go wrong with Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen. Lord Byron would have loved the history of this place. Once a bordello and speak easy, if these walls could talk, they would have many stories of sordid love affairs and bootlegged liquor to tell.

The décor is minimalistic: light, bright, and charming. If you are “wined out” (gasp) at this point, this is the place to go for a perfectly balanced cocktail or North Coast Brewery Scrimshaw pilsner beer. The menu is full of modern twists on old comfort food favorites.

Because I love cheese almost as much as I love wine, I suggest starting with the grilled local white peaches, burrata, crispy walnuts and saba. On my last visit, I had the Chinatown Duck Burger with housemade shiitake mushroom ketchup and French fries.  Every time I visit feels like coming home—perhaps because my own mother’s name is Cindy.

Cardinale

Admittedly, I am sparing no expense with the wineries I recommend on this post. Lord Byron was not a man who worked within a budget (which got him—and his family into some trouble on many occasions). These are the “say ‘yes’ to life” wines California vineyards yield. Consistently high point wines, they are not mass-produced on a scale like Robert Mondavi. They are truly palate expanding experience wines analogous to the difference between a Thomas Kinkade painting and Mark Rothko work of art. The latter is Cardinale the former is Mondavi. Both have their place and purpose in the world. But, there is a reason that Rothko is found in museums and auctioned at Sotheby’s, and Kinkade is hung next to Dr. Seuss prints in tourist town galleries and the subject of 1000 piece puzzles shelved next to the kitten puzzles in toy stores.

I love Mondavi dessert wine! But, Cardinale is for serious vinos. This is the wine that separates the men from the boys. Like Quintessa, a Cardinale tasting experience is practically a Catholic mass. I assure you, that is not meant to be a sacrilegious statement, nor is it hyperbole. It is spiritual. If you have time after Quintessa, make a reservation for a tasting at Cardinale. You will not regret it. The 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon is definitely the bottle  Lord Byron would reserve to share with the women and men in his life he would like to impress.

Recommended Wine Details

Appellation: Mount Veeder, Napa Valley
Harvest Dates: September 6 to October 18, 2013
Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot
Maceration: 21 to 25 days average

Price: $249/bottle

Di Rosa Art Collection

Had they been contemporaries, I am sure Lord Byron and Rene di Rosa would have been friends.  Yale educated, and a writer himself (SFChronicle), he too had a flare for the flamboyant and a deep love of art and wine. The Di Rosa property is gorgeous. Peacocks roam the estate, and the views of winery lake and nearby mountains are lovely.  But, the real reason you go to di Rosa, is for the art. The collection includes significant works by Bay Area artists, including: Robert Arneson, Mark di Suvero, Robert Hudson, Paul Kos, and William T. Wiley. Purchase tickets online here for a 90 minute tour of the art and grounds.

Where to Stay in Napa

After your wine and art adventure, I recommend relaxing at the Meritage Resort and Spa. Unwind with a massage, then sit on your balcony with a glass of complimentary wine from your room and a good book of Byron poetry. Freshen up for dinner. You can take the sprinter van shuttle the hotel provides into town for more wine at Vintners collective and dinner at Morimoto.

Vintner’s Collective is a unique tasting room. This is the place Lord Byron would definitely have a wine club membership and here is why: They have a collection of wines that are usually the small-batch passion projects of some very famous winemakers in the valley. Their wine is unique and expressive. The labels are obscure. They have a whole range of wine to suit every budget.

Sit at one of the bar stools and have a tasting before walking down the street to Morimoto for an unforgettable sushi experience.  If you aren’t completely smashed after a day of tastings, be sure to order the Moshi-Moshi. It is a sake based cocktail complete with flower foam. 

I have many more  wineries to recommend, and many more Napa tales to tell. But, as this post is already too long, I feel it is time to say farewell. Yes, that was my pathetic attempt at a poem. Lord Byron will bid you adieu more elegantly:

Farewell !   if ever fondest prayer

For other’s weal availed on high,

Mine will not all be lost in air,

But waft thy name beyond the sky,

‘Twere vain to speak, to weep, to sigh:

Oh !   more than tears of blood can tell,

When wrung from guilt’s expiring eye,

Are in that word — Farewell ! — Farewell !

These lips are mute, these eyes are dry;

But in my breast, and in my brain,

Awake the pangs that pass not by,

The thought that ne’er shall sleep again.

My soul nor deigns nor dares complain,

Though grief and passion there rebel;

I only know we loved in vain —

I only feel — Farewell ! — Farewell !”

~Lord Byron

In Food, Literature, Travel on
May 16, 2017

A Bohemian Guide to North Beach

What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination?” ~Alan Ginsberg: HOWL

The above quote from the poem Howl concisely sums up the angst of most Bohemians. This poem was a howl against the pillars of capitalism, corporations, and lemming living. With his words, Alan Ginsberg inspired a new generation of poets, and came to be recognized as one of the icons of the beat movement, and one of the more famous residents of the North Beach neighborhood. When you are seeking inspiration and good food in San Francisco, there really is only one place to go: North Beach. This post is a guide to the North Beach Area through the eyes of its bohemian residents. We’re starting right on the street where Ginsberg lived: Montgomery Street.

Stop 1: 1001 Montgomery Street

This is our first stop because it is barely in North Beach. Some might challenge that it really is North Beach at all. But, it is certainly significant. This is the place where Alan Ginsberg penned his famous poem: Howl. If you look down the street across Broadway you can see the Transamerica Pyramid and the “cement and aluminum” skull bashing structures that make up the financial district.

Though many of the skyscrapers had not been constructed when Ginsberg wrote the poem, the concept of fascistic conformity to corporations and consumerism was alive and well. This is what his poem was howling about. It was met with fear and criticism on the one hand, and acclaim and praise on the other in an age when poetry truly mattered and had the power to shape society.

Readers in the ’50s found the poem exciting, even frightening, because they were already anxious about Beats, hoodlums, communists, and delinquent youths. They discovered the poem in the first place, though, because they were in the habit of reading—and reviewing—new poems. A young man’s first book from a small West Coast press (Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights), Howl nonetheless won lengthy praise in the New York Times Book Review from the established poet Richard Eberhart.” http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2006/04/the_paradox_of_howl.html

You can listen to Alan Ginsberg himself read Howl in its entirety here:

Stop 2: City Lights Bookstore & Jack Kerouac Alley

Howl was first published here at City Lights books by fellow poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti who had opened the establishment with his friend Peter Martin in 1953. Poor Ferlinghetti didn’t know what he got himself into when he published Ginsberg’s work.

On March 25, 1957, over 500 copies of the book were seized by customs officials due to “obscenity” when the books arrived on American shores after being imported from the printer in London. The seizure of goods did not stop City Lights from publishing and selling the work.

Just over two months later, on June 3, Shig Murao, the bookstore manager, was arrested and jailed for selling Howl and Other Poems to an undercover San Francisco police officer. City Lights Publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti was subsequently arrested for publishing the book. Nine literary experts testified on the poem’s behalf at the obscenity trial. Supported by the American Civil Liberties Union, and with the help of defense attorney Jake Ehrlich, Ferlinghetti won the case when California State Superior Court Judge Clayton Horn decided that the poem was of “redeeming social importance”. You can learn more about the trial by watching the 2010 film Howl. James Franco stars as the young Allen Ginsberg and Andrew Rogers portrays Ferlinghetti.

As the saying goes, “No publicity is bad publicity”, thankfully City Lights Bookstore remained open through the trial, and it along with Ginsberg’s book were better off for it. People came pouring in, and books flew off the shelves.

Speaking of flying books, if you look up across the street at the corner of Columbus and Broadway you will see a flock of books flying high above the street corner. This was part of the installation Language of the Birds by Brian Goggin and Dorka Keehn. The books light up at night and illuminate words and phrases from famous works of literature.

Passing under the flock, pedestrians notice words and phrases embedded in the plaza floor that appear to have fallen from the pages. On closer inspection the fallen words are in English, Italian and Chinese and were selected from the neighborhood’s rich literary history, ranging from the Beats, to SF Renaissance poets and Chinese writers, over 90 authors are represented including Armistead Maupin, Gary Snyder,William T. Vollman, and Jade Snow Wong.” http://www.metaphorm.org/works/language-of-the-birds/

This bookstore was the first “all-paperback” selling bookstore in the country. Its goal was to bring literature to the proletariat. It accomplished this by publishing books in house and selling them too.

With this bookstore-publisher combination, “it is as if,” says Ferlinghetti, “the public were being invited, in person and in books, to participate in that ‘great conversation’ between authors of all ages, ancient and modern.” City Lights has become world-famous, but it has retained an intimate, casual, anarchic charm. It’s a completely unique San Francisco experience, and a must for anyone who appreciates good books.” http://www.citylights.com/info/?fa=aboutus

I recommend purchasing a copy of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road”. After you have had your fill of books, it’s time for a nice drink or a sweet treat, or both. Check out Jack Kerouac Alley, named after the famous beat author himself. Directly across the alley, behind City Lights Books, you will find Vesuvio Cafe serving up a drink bearing the same name.

The Jack Kerouac cocktail, just like the man himself, is larger than life. It is a combination of rum, tequila, cranberry juice and a splash of lime served up in a big glass. Cheers!

Stop 3: The Baked Bear

So, because the beats of North Beach were all about rebelling and questioning systems of authority, I suggest you do the same by having dessert first before your main meal. One block up from City Lights Books is a blue sign with a polar bear that you just can’t miss. This spot serves up ice cream sandwiches like you wouldn’t believe. If you have ever had a late night Pazookie at BJ’s be prepared to replace that old standby with this new decadent treat.

This isn’t a historical gem, or one of a kind. It’s a four year old company with lots of west coast locations. But, it’s just so damn delicious; I thought it was worth mentioning.

Stop 4: Molinari Delicatessen

Back to history, and back on track to more complex carbs, step right up to Molinari’s. This place has been around in San Francisco since 1895. It’s still in the family, and is currently run by Frank Giorgi, the great grandson of founder P.G. Molinari.

Upon entering, take a number and make your way to the bread bin back by the refrigerators. Choose your bread and make your sandwich selection. I recommend the North Beach Special. They roast the red peppers right there at the deli. The meat and cheese are incredible. You would be hard pressed to find a better sandwich anywhere else.

Pick up a nice Italian soda to wash down the sandwich and head out to Washington Park for a picnic.

Stop 5: Washington Square Park

This park was a favorite hangout for the beat bohemians. At the height of the movement there were many poetry readings, folk songs and gatherings that took place here.

One Sunday per month, local artists gather in the park to paint and sell their wares. You can see the schedule for the artists guild Washington Park art shows here: http://www.artistsguildsf.com/showSchedule.html.

Other interesting attractions in and near the park include sculpture and a historic church. There is a statue of Benjamin Franklin is located at the heart of the park. The monument was a gift from dentist and entrepreneur Henry Cogswell whose Gold Rush investments made him one of the city’s first millionaires. I don’t think many of the beats practiced the temperance Cogswell chose to erect a statue to. But, they were probably a fan of Franklin’s free love practice.

Another sculpture of note near Columbus Avenue honors the volunteer firefighters of the city. Lillie Hitchcock Coit, the namesake of the tower located on Telegraph Hill, sponsored the monument. It is a testament to the ephemeral nature of things–how quickly an entire city went up in smoke in 1906, and the courage and endurance of the human spirit to put out fires and move forward.

The adjacent Saints Peter and Paul Church served as a backdrop for a scene in the Clint Eastwood film Dirty Harry. It was also the setting for Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe wedding pictures. The famous baseball player and Hollywood star were actually married at City Hall. But, DiMaggio–a North Beach homeboy–wanted to have photos taken that made it look like they were married in his hometown church. Sadly, both of those stories (Dirty Harry and the Monroe and DiMaggio love story), as we all know, would end in tragedy.  Built in 1924, the Italianate style structure has a remarkable stained-glass rose window similar to the ones found at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.

Stop 6: Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Café

When you visit Mario’s, you feel all the rich history of North Beach. Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store founded by Mario Crismani and his wife, Liliana has all the wonderful ambiance of North Beach packed into one little Cafe. No longer selling cigars, the focus of this joint is on good eats and coffee.

They make the best no-nonsense lattes around. It’s great coffee at an even better price. This is the place that I wish I lived above. I would have my coffee here every morning if I could. It’s the place that tempts me to leave my SOMA digs every time I visit North Beach.

Sit a while with your bohemian brew and read the book you bought at City Lights Bookstore. Forget about the soul crushing political and social cement and steel ceilings. Enjoy the moment, let your imagination run free, and as Jack Kerouac would say: “Be in love with your life–every minute of it.”

In Art, Literature, Philosophy on
April 24, 2017

To Be or Not to Be Bohemian

On a spring day in 1423 in the Kingdom of Bohemia (modern day Czech republic) a declaration was made and a letter signed which stated that Bohemia was officially a sanctuary state for illegal Roma immigrants, and asked that others throughout Europe treat these people with the same hospitality:

We, Zikmund, King of Hungary, Bohemia, Dalmatia, Croatia, …, Our loyal Ladislav, Duke of his Gypsy people, humbly beseeches us for affirmation of our special leniency. Receive then his civil appeal and don’t refuse this letter. In the case that the aforementioned Ladislav and his people appear in whichever place in Our Empire, in any town or village, we recommend that you show to him the loyalty which you would show to us. Protect them, so that Duke Ladislav and his people may live without prejudice within your walls.”

As these immigrants traveled from Bohemia throughout Europe, they became known as Bohemians.  They were nomadic by nature, and quick to assimilate into the cultures they traveled to.

Fast forward 500 years to a spring day in another sanctuary state: California. A group of journalists gathered in the Astor hotel in San Francisco to start a club comprised of artists, authors and philosophers whose aim it was to leave the cares of the urban world behind them and reflect on the higher things that made life worth living. The club needed a name that aptly described its members and its mission. It became known as “The Bohemian Club”.

Isn’t it interesting how words are shaped and evolve through time to express ideas, and communicate thoughts and feelings? Bohemian. Think it. Say it. What comes to your mind? Maybe you think of the peace, love, and Donny Osmond era; San Francisco flower children; and lots of macramé.  Maybe you only go back that far. Back to the 70’s when the word Bohemian was synonymous with the word Hippie.

Or, maybe you go further back. Back to the roaring 20’s; back to Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, flapper culture and feminist awakenings; back to anti-establishment speakeasies and abstract art. That was a time when cubism was just coming onto the scene, and philosopher Albert Camus’ absurdist writing was giving a voice to what many were contemplating about existence.

Or, maybe you stay right here in the present day. You think about digital nomads, location independence, and hipsters dressed in Urban Outfitters chic.  Side question…are hipsters really Bohemian? Or, are they Fauxhemian (posers trying to look like the real thing)?

What does Becoming Bohemian even mean? Can it be clearly defined? Is the fact that there is no clear definition itself descriptive of what a Bohemian truly is: something that has no box, no home, and no label? While difficult to pin down with any degree of specificity, one common thread woven through history as far back the Kingdom of Bohemia emerges, and that thread is freedom. Bohemianism is all about freedom: freedom from oppression, freedom of thought and expression, and freedom to explore the world.

I want to become Bohemian because I want to be truly free.  I want to become Bohemian because I want to live rather than simply exist. I want to become Bohemian because I honestly don’t see any other alternative. This is the lifestyle I wish to cultivate. If the ultimate existential question is “to be, or not to be”, the answer to all of that existential angst, I am convinced, is to become Bohemian.

I plan to explore Bohemianism through the lenses of my Bohemian Idols: artists, thought leaders and philosophers, innovators, world travelers and anthropologists. I will write about my findings here.

Do you want to join in the quest to Become Bohemian? Subscribe to be a part of the community, and receive our monthly newsletter. In addition, if you have a Bohemian Idol you think I should research, please let me know in the comments below.

Yours freely,

~Bohemian in Training~