Saturday, March 28, 2015

Well now...

The proverbial shit is hitting the fan.

I was sick with the dreaded flu for three weeks.  Then Jude came down with the very same flu and it's laid her low for the same amount of time.  We've been house-bound for five weeks.  Further, due to various un-related reasons (end-stage cancers in former colleagues and family members) our energies and moods have been pretty low.

Feeling like I've turned the vastly improved corner on my health I wanted to get out and about. A small packet of coupons arrived just the other day.  The coupons were for free entry and a free glass to the Vigneron Independent.  Free is such a good price, right?

The Fall event is held in the vast spaces of the Paris Expo center down at the Porte de Versailles.  The Spring event is held in the smaller yet sufficiently vast spaces at l'espace Champarret.  L'espace was where my Fiction #19 published images (works in collaboration with Etienne Barillier, Arthur Morgon, and Julien Betain) were shown.  So we knew how to get there by metro.

The question before me was this; have my taste buds recovered sufficiently from the Horrid Crud to accurately sample a few wines?  There was only one way to find out.

Regrettably I would leave Jude at home to continue to recover from her own version of the Horrid Crud.  She and I seem to go everywhere together and my going alone felt like I was missing 1/2 the Fun Team.  This meant my taste buds would have to try and remember Jude's preferences.  Red.  Not too much "jam" flavor.  Robust.  Preferably not from regions that grow the Gamay or Pinot Noir grapes.

Thinking about this a moment, I knew it would be best to buy a bottle or two, bring them home, have Jude taste them, then find the vintners at the Fall event to Buy By The Case should we uncover something really tasty.  For this reason I would leave le diable (the handcart) at home.  A small cloth bag was all I would need.  Something sufficient to hold three or four bottles of the Red Stuff.

Loins Girded, small cloth bag pocketed, and coupons in hand, off I went.

I stubbed my toe at the door entering la foire.  The guard reminded me to "mind my step."  I said something (apparently) funny in reply and we both laughed.  I hadn't yet had a drink.  The guard welcomed me to the show.

Once somewhat safely inside I could see that l'espace Champerret was indeed much smaller than the porte de Versailles independent vinters show.  Still, it looked like there might be enough wine here to slake my thirst.  Hundreds of wineries had tables.

My search criteria included the following parameters.  Red.  Cab/Merlot/Malbec/CabFranc.  Blended (the norm around here, none of that silly single varietal stuff for us!). Biologique (very important to avoid bug killing chemicals).  Sans sulfites ajouter (extremely important, as Jude is allergic to sulfites).

The bio and sans sulfites ajouter requirements really narrowed the field.  The Cab/Merlot/Malbec/CabFranc blends narrowed the field even further.  These grapes are found predominantly around la ville de Bordeaux.  Though, as I would quickly learn, these cépages are also to be found in the south-west of France near the Spanish boarder and further east around le pays d'Oc.

As the show was rather smaller than la porte de Versailles I was able to walk the aisles and get a sense of who was there and what they had on offer.  There was plenty on offer.  Champagnes (the real ones).  Cremant (like champagnes, only without the name nor the region of origin).  Cognac (strong stuff, that). White wine.  Rose wine (yuck!).  Red wine.  A little biologique.  Very little bio-dynamique.  But mostly wines with stuffed with sulfites and other wine altering chemistries.  As one show attendant suggested to me, the chemicals are just like what they add to California wines.  Thank you UC Davis.  You're bastards! for the way you've "enhanced" wines with chemicals that the Gods Themselves abhor.

I found two vendors simply by wandering around and looking carefully at their regions and sign-age, asked a question or two, hauled out my Free Wine Glass, and asked if I could sample a beverage or two.  One vendor was from le pays d'Oc.  The other was from the area south of Bordeaux.  Both, surprisingly enough, offered red wines sans sulfite ajouter.  Both offered blended wines of the right cépages.  Both offered rather healthy pours (my glass was rather filled on each occasion).  Both offered wines that seemed tasty enough to bring home a few bottles for Jude to try.

I had a good laugh with the vintner from le pays d'Oc.  First I apologized for being a foreigner and for my horrid French language skills.  Then I apologized that I was here on a Mission for my wife.  I said I knew this was a wine show, but I myself preferred beer.  At that the two men working the table broke into a deep and hearty laughter.

It turned out that they too, for most things, preferred beer over wine.  I told them this can't, therefore, be France.  Even heartier laughter ensued.  I see now that the French really do love to laugh and have a good time.

When I confessed that I also looking for something to go with sanglier (wild boar) their eyes lit up, they poured me a nice tall glass of something deep red that would likely go with sanglier.  While I sipped that beautiful wine I was regaled with wonderful stories of the two of them trying to hunt sanglier around the fields on their property.  Imagine man avec gun contre les sanglier, all who hid in tall corn.  One trying to find the other in a game of French cache-cache.  There is no way to translate into English what a good time we all seemed to be having.

With a smile on my lips and four bottles in the cloth bag slung over my shoulder, off I went to descend into the metro to make my way back to home and hearth.  

Sunday, March 22, 2015


I suddenly feel the need to climb onto my high horse.  This time the subject is economic inequality.

I started reading Jill Lepore's "Annals of Society - Richer and Poorer" in the March 16, 2015 issue of the New Yorker magazine. The article confirms in numbers (using the Gini coefficient)  what some of us have known intuitively for years.  America has the widest economic inequality of any first world nation.  By comparison England, Sweden, France, and Germany have much much lower rates of income inequality.

One of the "hot button" words in America these days is "socialism."  We've had people tell us that they can't stand President Obama because he is trying to turn America into a "socialist" nation.  But in considering the aforementioned short list of countries only Sweden could fairly be classified as "socialist."  France is anything but a "socialist" state.  According to many people we speak with here (former professors, economist, fonctionaires, engineers) France continues to suffer and lumber on under Napoleonic Law, and nothing could be less "socialist" than Napoleonic Law.  Germany is very similar to the US in that it is a Federalist Republic.  England is clearly more like the US in terms of capitalism and business and banking.  So what is the difference between these European nations and the US?

One area is governmental oversight.  We've had conversations with friends and colleagues where some people feel that it's not the role of the US Government to legislate "morality" or "ethics".  Yet when we look at the data, America's most economically equitable period came with the highest levels of government economic oversight.  Caps on corporate greed (some might call it "profitability") were imposed during the second world war.  Companies were limited to earnings of 10 percent a year (overseen by the Office of Price Administration).  It's no surprise then that as regulations on capitalism dramatically decreased starting in the 1970's income inequality increased equally dramatically.

What are some of the economic effects of disproportionate wealth distribution?  None other the Fortune magazine provides part of the answer.

The gap between the Haves and the Have-nots is so wide now that Jill Lepore says in her article that some economists in America feel that democracy is at risk.  I've come to believe that democracy in America is already dead.  When the Haves can buy access to the system of governance, democracies turn into fascist states.  This is what happened in Italy under Mussolini.  Monied interests became the government.

The AFL-CIO tracks corporate greed on their site Paywatch.  Having worked for several companies in my career where "profitability" was upper-most in the executives mind, I've come to understand the role of executive stock options and quarterly revenue reports as the most significant driving force behind the "rewards" (though some might call it "compensation") corporate leaders in America receive (some might say "steal" from the working classes).  I feel that corporate executive wealth is a good indicator.  With money comes the ability to buy influence and power.  The CEO of the company that laid me off was part of the Tri-Lateral Commission that does more than just lobby the US Government.

The very same things that happened in Fascist Italy have already happened in America.  Money runs Government.  In turn, Government responds to the interests of money.  Period.  The will of the people?  No one seems to pay much attention to it.

One example of the influence of money on the formerly democratic nation is the Koch brothers funding of a vast database of voter information.  The goal is to influence elections and it's capabilities exceed the "official" Republican party database.   The system of information helps Republicans identify individuals (yes, I said that right) who's vote might be influenced.  While many are rightly concerned with NSA data collection and it's impacts on freedom and liberty, I have to ask how the Koch brothers database is any better or any different?   I feel in both cases that too much personal information has been concentrated into the hands of those who seek to use it against us.

In an example more directly fascist in nature, corporate monies influences governmental policies on a global scale.  Business writes policy.  Or in the cases where they've not actually taken pen in hand to physically write the words themselves, money provides the required "incentives" and "lubrication" for politicians to craft language of law.  While it could be argued that Democrats do this less often than Republicans, just look at the vast sums of tax-payer money given to insurance companies as part of the Affordable Care Act and you'll understand how little "say" We The People have in anything that passes for governance.

I cast about for a good example of what might happen next in America and, well, I'm stumped.  While the Greeks and Spaniards can rise up and agitate against German austerity measures, Americans sit on their couches seemingly complacently distracted by anything that passes for news, commentary, movies or video-games.  For this reason I can't see anything but continued economic inequality in America.  Where politics has been consumed by banks, business, and money, those who suffer under fascism seem to know their place and fail to raise a hand in their own favor.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Mardi Gras

A couple years ago when Jude and I visited the Edgar Quinet art marche (every Sunday, rain or shine or snow or sleet or hail hail the gang's all here) we met a very nice man by the name of Basil Pashkof.  We were talking with a friend of his, a very kind lady who makes wonderful hats, when she turned and said we needed to be introduced to someone important.

Carnaval de Paris ~ 2015
 Our Man Basil leading the defile.

Basil is a kind, soft spoken man.  But it was clear he was passionate about one thing; making sure Paris shed some of it's conservativeness and could kick up it's heels.  To this end, Basil organizes not one but two defile here in the city.  They are the Mardi Gras and the Festival of Woman parades.

I didn't a first realize what a mountainous task this had been.  After reading one of Basil's long missives on the topic, I came to learn the "authorities" in this city don't seem to take to citizen marches very kindly.  Marches by the government (ie: le 14 juilliet)?  Fine.  Marches by the trade-unions (ie: the kind that bottle up the entire circle around la Bastille)?  Great!  Bring it on!  But happy citizens wanting to take over the streets for a little parade of their own?  Good luck trying to get a permit.

After years of working on city hall to take him seriously Basil met a man "on the inside" who offered to blend his Gras de Beouf with Basil's Mardi Gras parade.  The two men made for a strong duo and the rest, as they say, is history.

Carnaval de Paris ~ 2015
 Bolivians showing the Parisians how to Party!

I've missed the first two years defiles, so I was happy to be able to attend this year's event.

There is a strong presence of groups from Bolivia and Brazil.  Great music abounded.  Sturdy French men dressed as Knights Templar (or was that Knight Hospitalier?) stood guard around those who rode in automobiles.

This Sunday will be le 7ème Carnaval des Femmes, Fête des Reines des Blanchisseuses de la Mi-Carême!  

The City of Light isn't as conservative I was once believed after all.  Thank you, Basil.

[Photos album from Mardi Gras]

Carnaval de Paris ~ 2015
Hah!  Paris has it's very own Cruise Knight!  Who would've guessed?