Last night, I sat near a dim lamp and just read. It didn’t matter what I was reading. It jut happened to be a book on photography. But it could have been anything. I was just sitting there and then I started staring at this empty bottle of the 1950 Chateau Pichon Baron, a wine not only of my birth year, but one I had really enjoyed in Paris, when I was turning 60. My friend and colleague, Mozy Tehrani, had shipped the wine from his home in Los Angeles, California just so that he could surprise me. I was most surprised!
A group of us was simply sitting in a really cool, strangely lit Paris restaurant. I had no idea that this dinner was built around the day that I was born. My birthday would not be for another month, but Mozy thought this was the perfect time and with a friends that really mean something to me. We were in Paris, for God’s sake! We not only love wine and food, but we valued camaraderie and friendship above all.
So back to last night, when I really stared into this old rickety bottle, with its faded label, I thought about it history as I recalled mine and while many of us often don’t think about it- life is the most precious gift of all and I was staring in a mirror that was my life. The good, the bad and the ugly is was all there. In the end, each of us must look into ourselves for our own reconciliation.
There is a sign in my serene neighborhood in San Francisco that kind of sees the skyline in the background. While this One Way sign looks ordinary to most people, I am often intrigued by it as I pass it by. I have seen this sign hundreds of times and occasionally stop to ponder about why things are the way they are. For you see, I really want to be a free-thinker and not let others tell me what I cannot do. As I a child I was really obedient. Taking care of my siblings (I have three brothers and one sisters) and helping my parents run the family business. Yet, I was often frustrated by folks who would say, “No you can’t do that, it is not what most people do.” Perhaps I was simply rebelling at growing up.
In the early years my folks thought that was anti-social. I did have many friends, but it took me a long time to finally settle down with a steady girl friend. I met Alice when I was just senior in high school, married her when I was 23 and she was 21. We are still married and have enjoyed our 38 years of marriage, with few ups and down. You would say that we have a successful relationship and I totally agree. Yet, I still say that the One Way sign that is cemented in my brain doesn’t tell the really story of life.
I do believe that traffic signs on the roadway, on train tracks and in the air space needs to be clear and concise, just as our daily lives that need some semblance of order. While chaos does no one any good, our hearts, minds and dreams should be free to roam. Keep the structure neat and precise and set you spirit free. Life is for the living.
One often needs focus in one’s life; this bell was actually used by Warren Mason at the Judges’ Farewell Dinner at the Sydney International Wine Competition when someone spoke too long to the assembled group. I thought this was pretty clever. The evening, with the bell as the hook, went very well and no one spoke too long. But at the end of the evening as I looked at the bell, was struck with another thought. Focus, how important is it?
We often live our lives in a crowded din of noise. Exterior sounds that bounce off of one another often end up on the floor like broken words in an unorganized paragraph. Perhaps, it would be prudent to set aside part of the time to be alone with our own thoughts. We could understand ourselves much bettter if we concentrate on less moving parts and perhaps could connect the dots that matter the most in our life.
The bell, which master of ceremonies used well at the dinner, brought me back to my inner thoughts and reminded me to spend more time on the most important thoughts. Now, when I am feeling disheveled, I can call on the lonely bell and reconnect my thoughts. Clearing out the clutter could be the best way to clarity. Remember the clang of the dinner bell: It means one thing- dinner is ready!
Some of my family, pals and associates think that coffee fuels my life. I might be inclined to agree. When I was teenager I remember being uplifted with the aromas of Yuban Drip Coffee that my father brewed in the early AM. I didn’t drink the stuff then; the flavors were too strong and my dad told me that caffeine would stunt my growth. I didn’t grow very tall anyway. Well at 5 feet, 7+ inches, I was tall for an Asian who was born and raised in San Francisco in those days. But the aromas were unmistakable and memorable.
When I got deep, deep, deep into the wine business and as a crazy writer, I found that coffee indeed fuel my brazen and irrevocably independent behavior. All through my long, and trying career as undergraduate at the University of California at Berkeley, I started really enjoying the energy that really cool tasting coffee gave me.
As the years move ahead, I discovered Starbucks and Peet’s, I found that I was really captivated by coffee. My drink has now moved into the order, “I’d like a tall, non-fat, very dry cappuccino.” Of course this is a habit that would get way too expensive. Most weekdays, I just settle for our office coffee. Black, never any sugar and gulp, a cup full of dense, tough caffeine to start my day.
Most recently, I have discovered little coffee places that are really neat. The coffee is made with TLC and as you want it or in the way the barista feels is best. I visited the Blue Bottle kiosk near city hall in San Francisco. I asked for my dry cap and they said, “Sir, we don’t do that here, ours is “wet!” (I am not sure he said the word, “wet!”). But I ordered it anyway and it was really delicious. A couple of weeks ago, I sought out a place in San Francisco’s outer Mission district called Grand Coffee and this place was perfect. A really cool barista there made me a cappuccino with organic whole milk. It was one of the best cappuccinos I had ever savored and drank and nearly topped the best cappuccino in the Bay Area (found at the stand outside of the Acme Baking Company in Berkeley).
Through all of this, I have gained great coffee clarity. I do enjoy Starbucks because they are everywhere, but the little coffee houses can bright caffeine to you like no others. Of course, finding the right “little” coffee houses can be a tricky and there is no placebo in their creations of art!
As children, we were taught to eat three square meals a day and that was that. No additional instructions, lots of refined sugar and simple starches. More recently, we are learning that 5 small meals a day is much better and that we should eat more veggies, less protein and less carbs. Of course, all theories are subject to counter-theories and everyone argues about everything. With the years gaining on me faster than I like to have happen, I gotten more into the idea of simplicity. Yes, I am studying all of the suggestions out there and I actually do a little bit of calorie counting, when I have the time. But in the end, I like the idea of clearing up the clutter. What does that mean?
Sauces are overrated, they can be great to accentuate the dish, but far too often, we have too much of it on our dishes. Dishes come to the table with too many moving parts and the meal often looks like a mess of confusion. Quantities are way too high in their respective serving portions. How often does one really need to clean their plate at a restaurant. Plates are often more abundant simply to justify the $$$ ring.
My hope is to have simple dishes, thoughtful and flavorful sauces, and smaller portions. This sashimi in my photo could actually be plenty for a light meal. Just think, four pieces over a half an hour’s time. It’s not as bad as it sounds, I’ll bet if we eat slower, we will enjoy the meal just as much or better and be plenty satisfied. A simple meal could be the ticket to great health.
How many times have said to ourselves, if I only had a camera, a notebook, a pen or anything to capture that moment? We spend our days walking through life, sometimes passively sometimes actively. But how do we balance just living life and recording what we just did? With the increasing quality of smartphone cameras, we can do both. Without losing the trueness of the moment, we can whip our iphone or whatever we have and take a pretty fine photo of the moment. In past years we might have jotted something on a napkin, with a pen that barely worked (then mistakeningly tossed it all away). Today we have more tools at our disposal.
At the 2012 Sonoma County Harvest Fair Wine Competition Judges Dinner at Thomas George Estates in Healdsburg, California, I just knew the moment would be special. We dined in winery’s caves in a place that provided a perfect backdrop for wonderful times amongst friends in the business. After a day of judging around 100 wines or so, each judge was ready to unwind and relax. I would have to bet that
most everyone had their smartphone with them. Everyone was enjoying themselves and smartphones were snapping away as needed.
As a photographer, I loved the lighting in the cave did not hesitate in snapping the night away. With so many tools in hand, I was able to enjoy the night and recorded what I needed. Of course, I savored the meal, drank the wine and enjoyed the time with my friends. Capturing the moment is more than just shooting pictures, it involves living in the present.
Sometimes, I just like to be alone, without any clutter around me. No people, no electronics, no paper. Just alone to think as I have my tea or bowl of noodles, often Pho (one of my favorite soups). My life has so much going on and it is really good…but one needs to clear the clutter. The question now is where?
There is a Vietnamese Pho place, not far from our office. The food is good, but the ambiance is something special. I’ve seen this place before. It may have been a Paris train station (Gare Lyon or somewhere like that) when I was alone, without my gang. Don’t get me wrong, I am very fond of my gang, but I don’t need to be with them all the time. Many years ago, when I was headed to Bordeaux to meet members of my team, I took a
circuitous route from the USA to Paris and then onto Bordeaux. This place in Concord, CA reminds me of that time.
Why a lonely table in a the corner? Perhaps it is a good place to get away from the crowd and to re-discover one’s self. In these quiet moments, one can learn a lot about where one has been and where one would like to go.