MUSINGLY By Karen D'Or

Writing Portfolio, Travel Stories & Other Diversions

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Red and White

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In California’s wine country, the grape harvest starts well before fall — the fruit ripens fast during the sweltering midsummer days when our vineyards seem like magnets for the summer sun, trapping the heat between the hills and valleys that define our terroir. Those heat wave days can quickly turn into sudden thundershowers, threatening the crops with mildew and ruination.It is turncoat weather. If grapes aren’t harvested in time a precious vintage may be lost.

As long summer days come to a close, and the erratic harvest weather sends me home earlier on Saturdays, I open a bottle of local Pinot Noir and settle in to watch BBC’s The White Queen, the poorly-reviewed ten episode production based on Philippa Gregory’s three books: The White Queen, The Red Queen and The Kingmaker’s Daughter.

Each Saturday night I turn on satellite TV to watch the small screen rendition the War of the Roses (WOTR). It is an time that historian Allison Weir calls anunfolding pageant of treason and conflict.” I’m vigilantly watching the show because this year, surprisingly, the fictional tales of the historic conflict between the (red) Lancastrians and the (white) Yorkist roses/houses are my favorite bedtime reading: escapist, romantic, devious, epic, and always volatile.

Sure, I’ve grabbed Ms. Gregory’s popular WOTR novels, but even before The White Queen TV show landed in the U.S, I’d found other fiction authors who have tackled the pivotal century with careful plot development, thoughtful character interpretations, and insights into the mercurial relationships within, and between, the two houses. Since Sheli reads loves good historical fiction, I’m delighted the saucy Welsh blogger invited me to guest post this week so I can share my thoughts on a few key re-tellings of this era.

The Tudor Rose

Tudor Rose: the Story of the Queen Who United a Kingdom and Birthed a Dynasty

Margaret Campbell Barnes wrote Tudor Rose: the Story of the Queen Who United a Kingdom and Birthed a Dynasty sixty years ago. Tudor Rose brightly weaves the history of Elizabeth of York, the White Queen’s eldest daughter, and the most recent common ancestor of all English monarchs. Elizabeth shines through as a naturally cheerful girl who develops into a wise and warm queen. The book moves quickly, is carefully researched, and is well worth reading. However, towards the end Barnes tosses in a few strange fictional twists that seem both implausible and rushed. 

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ATT Park, San Francisco, California

Five Ways to Cope with (Baseball) Loss

 

ATT Park, San Francisco, California

The World Champion San Francisco Giants are resoundingly un-championlike this year, so the foray from Sonoma County to the stunning ATT Ball Park, in San Francisco’s China Basin, can feel onerous. Call me unsportsmanlike, but it is true: the trek from the North Bay (either via auto or the ballpark Ferry) seems a breeze when our guys of summer are on a winning streak, but can drag on like a six extra unproductive innings when they are losing!

So here are my hints on how to get through these tough times:

1.    Stay overnight in a luxury hotel, particularly for night games. Nothing takes the sting out of a stunning defeat than an easy walk from ATT Park to a 4-star hotel. If you are feeling particularly frugal, pick up a nice screw-top red wine from one of those ubiquitous liquor store’s with flickering fluorescent lights — and partake in hotel glasses alongside munchies Milano cookies and sweet potato chips. If you are feeling more generous, belly up to the bar at a high-end watering hole, order a fancy cocktail (or hot brandy if it is one of those SF summer evenings!) and note the number of people around you in SF Giants gear or hipster costumes.

2.    Skip the ballpark fare and treat yourself to a nice dinner before, or after, the game.  My two new favorites dining spots near the park are Marlowe right across from the Cal-Train station on Townsend near 4th street and Zaré at the Fly Trap on Folsom near Second Street. If you need a beverage, and you don’t want to fight the brew pub crowds close to the park, head up to First Street (between Market & Mission) and belly up to 83 Proof’s fine bar.

83 Proof's Fine Bar

83 Proof’s Fine Bar

3.   Don’t let the turkeys get you down. Losing at home is even harder when an arrogant Pittsburg Pirate fan (who claims to be a Giants fan) sits behind you and yells well, like an umpire, for each and every “Buccies” run. I’ve sat next to nicer LA Dodgers fans, frankly, but you cannot let opposing fans get you down, even when they tell you to change seats after a couple of scowls. Really?

4.   Take plenty of photos. Win or lose, we all know it is one of the most beautiful ballparks in the world. Always good to catch loved ones wearing more than one hat!

Loved one in two hats

Loved one in two hats

5.  Sing. As you head home after a losing game, try NOT to listen to the post-game wrap-up show on the radio. It is always tempting to over-analyze weaknesses, and commiserate with others, but better for the soul to pop in some tunes and sing your way home— there will always be another game, and another season!

 

Cycling Back Through Nice

Cycling Back Through Nice

In the tiny Cote d’Azur town of Agay, the tired brown brick hut that was once the rail station is shuttered, and the single plastic overhang on the far side of the rails doesn’t offer much shelter as a soft rain begins. Bullet trains race past the platform. My husband and I find cover alongside well-dressed strangers, both of us hoping we haven’t missed the coastal train bound for Cannes, Antibes, and Nice. A little before eleven o’clock in the morning, second class tickets in hand, we embark the #3 TER (Transport Express Regional) train, settle in with a late-morning picnic of baguette and prosciutto, and watch out our window as the red ravine landscapes give way to famous port-filled colonies.

Red mountains above Agay, France

Red mountains above Agay, France

This is our second visit to Nice, and as the train nears the central station, I’m struck by the city’s urbanity: freeways, indistinguishable chain hotels, and gray apartment buildings congregate on the city’s outskirts before the train veers north and enters the downtown station. I know that Nice is France’s fifth largest city, and the country’s second most popular city for tourists, but this second entrance is startling, for I recall a very different arrival back in 1998: we arrived from Venice on a summer night train, with two teenagers– his son, my daughter. That first journey was only one year after I married Bob and our family was just forming, and still fragile.

It was a steamy August night, on an express overnight train chugging through tiny countries that still had kings. I awoke early, exhausted from a sleep interrupted by Italian porters who roused Bob and I repeatedly to check our documents as our children slept. (Predictably, we hadn’t loaded enough lire on our family rail pass, but after handing over all the bills we had, we were allowed back to our sleeping car.) Disheveled and groggy, I snuck out of our compartment, and tiptoed down the corridor to the vestibule window to find one of those transcendental travel sights: an ochre-hued Mediterranean sunrise illuminated sandstone apartment buildings perched between the narrow sea cliffs and the rail tracks. I lingered there alone, as the train crawled slowly toward the edges of Nice, and caught intimate glimpses of lush backyard patios, and men in yellow hard-hats getting ready to start the work day.

On that long-ago trip, Nice welcomed us with butter-pastry mornings, afternoons watching pretty sunbathers while their children negotiated the waves, long evenings trying out exotic gelato flavors, and warm nights at the quirky Hotel Canada, a divey apartment-style hotel, just two blocks from the city’s rocky beach. Nice seemed to me manageable, family-friendly and quite middle class.

I am hoping to recapture the achingly beautiful memories of that summertime “grand tour” when our teens were obedient, and still curious about grown-up beverages like coffee and red wine. All these years later— our young adult children now off on their own exotic travels — Bob and I arrive in the same Nice Ville train depot, but this time the platform looks cavernous and unwelcoming. We each drag our bags through squeaky metal turnstiles, the rooftop rattling as the storm begins to intensify.

It is only noon and already we are arguing about the best way to get to our hotel.

Approaching an empty taxi, we interrupt the driver’s lunch break — he holds a fragrant plate of rice and lamb — asking hesitantly if he can take us the scant mile to our hotel. With the grace of an expert, our driver guides us through a harrowing twenty-minute trip, a scene of streets brimming with rainwater, erratic streetlights, and shopkeepers shuttering their doors. Paul tells us this is a particularly violent September storm. At the hotel, drenched tourists who were huddling in the doorway jump out to grab his cab, but our driver firmly turns them away to go home for the day, “You are my last customers, it’s not safe!” he tells us as I hand him our Euros, and Bob wrestles our still-damp luggage onto the curb.

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SF Giants Game

Giant Women

SF Giants Game

Summer Day at ATT Park

This summer, the World Champion San Francisco Giants struggle to make contact — the mercurial, tiny white balls fly just inches beyond the reach of their shiny bats and handsome gloves. The players’ awkward near-misses along with straining strike-outs are so hard to watch; each painful blunder seems made in slow motion. How difficult it must be to flounder as a team after the miraculous wins of just last fall? And for Bay Area baseball fans, who are perhaps over-educated and have paid too much for tickets, the 2013 season is disheartening.

So, as the players take their All-Star break, I offer tribute to a few of the Giant women in my life: women who love the game, adore these ball stars, and are making the world a better place.

Mimi

I often go to games with my dear stepdaughter, Mimi, a loyal and knowledgeable Giants fan who often teases me when I miss a play, forget a name or follow the wrong Hector Sanchez on Twitter. Mimi teaches critical living skills to students with moderate-to-severe disabilities at a very large high school, on the east side of the Bay. Some of her students are autistic, one has cerebral palsy, and most suffer from cognitive impairment. Mimi tells me that none of them will graduate with a traditional high school diploma. So each school day she teaches them the things I take for granted: cooking, counting change or elementary grade reading comprehension.

Linda

I met Linda early in 2008 and she helped inspire me to volunteer for Obama’s campaign. I went from California to Texas, where I campaigned for four days with Linda and her crew of young San Franciscans. With her warm wit, great organizing skills, and unfailing energy, she motivated me to knock on doors all around Corpus Christi. Over the years I campaigned with many others, but it was never quite as magical as those early days with Linda as our volunteer leader. Later, she became a policy analyst for a statewide health care consumer advocacy coalition, and now she is Policy Director for Young Invincibles, a new national non-profit that ensures 18- to 34 year-olds perspectives are heard wherever decisions about their collective futures are being made. Linda and I do not see each other much, but we recently shared a winning game  — and campaign memories ­— sitting high up in a boisterous ballpark, the vast green field below us on a warm June day.

Robyn

My daughter, Robyn, relocated to New Orleans two years ago. In Riverbend’s dive-y bars, she now watches Giants games surrounded by Louisiana-folk who have no major league team, and often cheer for the Atlanta Braves. Who can stand the Braves’ horrible, faux-chanting sound, a singsong irritant that bounces around my living room until I want to throw something at the TV? I digress. Robyn has found her home in the Big Easy, with an energetic group of caring new friends, she has created life that includes half-marathons with Mimosa rest-stops, walks to the Sno-Ball shop, and rides into the Quarter on the green streetcar line. With her resilience and creativity, she teaches in the Orleans Parish schools, guiding young  students to read, write and love education.

As Robyn struggled with career changes earlier this year, I wrote her a support poem. Now I offer it to all those who may be struggling —and particularly to the San Francisco Giants:

Giants Prayer

Pray for the calm savvy of Bruce Bochy.

Pray for the steady skillfulness of Matt Cain.

Pray for the youthful vigor of Buster Posey.

Pray for the exuberant joy of Pablo Sandoval.

Pray for the humble accuracy of Marco Scutaro.

Pray for the high altitude of Brandon Belt.

Pray for the sexy showmanship of Angel Pagan.

Pray for the clear vision of Gregor Blanco.

Pray for the hustle and goofiness of Hunter Pence.

Pray for the pure magician-ship of Sergio Romo.

Pray that as you “play ball” with your inner team you find the grit and guts to come back after defeat. Together, you’re giant.

Karen D’Or, July 2013 

 

 

sazerac cocktail

Transformation NOLA-style

Renowned writers have long explored the decadence and idiosyncrasy of the Big Easy. I won’t try to compete with decades of great prose and poetry, but will offer my list of personal transformations since falling in love with the city New Orleans. Here are ten ways that the Crescent City changed the life of this native northern Californian:

 

1.  Appreciation of Jazz and its history. I may not understand it, but I like Jazz — especially if brass and young people are involved. 

 

2. Now prominent in my living room bar is a bottle of artisan-distilled Rye whiskey. My rye love started with the Sazerac Cocktail. If you have not experienced a Sazerac, get thee to New Orleans!

 

sazerac cocktail

sazerac cocktail

 

3. I am  now staunchly spoiled when it comes to wait-staff hospitality, and am exceedingly impatient with what I now call “California-style indifference” in any restaurant.

 

4. Consider myself a foodie. Thanks to an extroverted couple from San Diego— who were also lost waiting for a streetcar at Riverwalk, we discovered a sampling of New Orleans favorites— like Casamento’s and August— on our first visit. Now I am a shameless food follower and have even been called a great ambassador by local chowhounds.

 

5. Addicted to accumulating airline and hotel miles and points. Since my darling daughter now lives in New Orleans, I have a great excuse to travel. Deep discounts and free nights make it much more fun. 

 

6. Cocktails.  Thanks to a hint from the locals,  I don’t even look at a food menu until I’ve ordered a cocktail!

 

7. Sundresses. I think they are a must in the summer, but the sundress becomes more appealing for a middle-aged women when a charming young man, walking an Uptown neighborhood street, says: “That dress is perfect for today!”

 

8. Da Track. The thought of spending Thanksgiving day at the horse races would have upset my life balance before NOLA. Da Track is a New Orleans tradition:  a spicy mix of old timers and young hipsters coming together in their best hats and finery on Thanksgiving afternoon. Looks like I will be there for 2013, too.

 

9. Hurricane alerts. My daughter may be composed during storm warnings, but her worried mother is on Twitter, Hurricane watch, Weather Channel and the NOAA website at any inkling of Gulf storms.

 

10.  Joie de vivre. I enjoy the pleasures in life more passionately knowing that in our vast nation there is a place as magical and unique as the City of New Orleans.

 

To my new friends in New Orleans, to my dear daughter who may never leave, and to all the friends I hope to meet on my journeys, I share some BB King:

 

“I don’t care if you’re young or old

Get together, let the good times roll.”

  

Karen D’Or

July 2013

 

Inside Redd, Yountville California

Redd Meet

“Oh they won’t mind, they’re pretty laid back,” said the half-naked lady about Redd, one of the throng of Yountville restaurants that have turned northern Napa valley into a food mecca.

During our annual day-spa trip, Bobbi (my best friend from college) and I tend to include post-treatment eating, drinking and shopping — often reversing spa-induced relaxation. We are both high energy; thirty years ago a man called us an “assault to the senses.” Each year we meet in Napa, get pampered, share travel stories, and express gratitude that we made it through the 80s intact.

Bobbi’s calling Redd to let them know we may arrive late, so the nice half-naked spa lady — a local — is sharing her impression. We are concerned Redd might be one of those stuffy gourmet places; it has a Michelin star and 28 Zagat points. Spa lady is right and the hostess seems surprised we would even call.

Inside Redd, Yountville California

Inside Redd, Yountville California

Luckily, our experience at Redd (named after chef Richard Reddington) is unhurried in spite of our late-lunch tardiness and concerns about a soon-to-close kitchen. We miss the last outdoor table since Redd is pleasantly crowded for a Saturday afternoon, but the interior is open, light, gleaming with shiny wood floors and pewter accents, and smiles light up our exfoliated faces as mellow hostess leads us to a corner booth.

We meet our server, Ryan, who offers top-notch hospitality, knowledge, and not-too-intrusive congeniality. I share with Ryan (and Bobbi) my annoying new habit of ignoring the food menu until after I’ve ordered a cocktail. Because this habit emanates from my favorite new destination, New Orleans, I’ve adopted it wholeheartedly. Ryan promptly brings my Prohibition Tea cocktail and Bobbi’s glass of Baker Lane Vineyards rosé. We begin to relax, finally. I’ve convinced Bobbi to go to New Orleans with me someday.

2011217_Redd_0124Ryan tells us the only addition to the menu is an appetizer of squash blossom tempura. We ask for his menu recommendations. He confidently shares that his favorites are divers scallops and steamed pork belly buns. We start with the tempura, and a refreshing greens, citrus, goat cheese, mint, and walnut salad in citrus vinaigrette. Plenty of flavors creating a balanced blend of tart, crunch and creamy. The squash blossoms are battered and fried perfectly, but with very little flavor or spice, they are our least favorite dish.

Six-Year-Old-Karen

Gray Matter

“People will treat you differently,” said my hairstylist, Robert.

I’m face-up in a tortuous salon chair, my neck vulnerable like I’m lying upside down in a guillotine. Robert is a hair color artist and a tolerant man, so I’m shocked and feeling defensive. I’ve decided to stop dying my hair.

It was a visceral decision after watching Emmylou Harris sing on a warm July night. Wondering if I’m the only one with this gut reaction, I size up the trendy brewery’s crowd. Truly, I can’t take my eyes off of Emmylou for long— she’s a 66-year-old alt-country goddess who brings me to tears with her otherworldly, twang-tinged voice. There are plenty of gray hairs in the crowd, though none match hers.

Emmylou Harris

Emmylou Harris

Her hair is long, full, lightning-colored, and fitting for a stunning music icon. She’s dressed in a short black tunic, maroon cowgirl boots, strumming a very large acoustic guitar. My hair won’t ever look like Emmylou’s, but the vision is too tempting — right then and there, I decide no more color, no more highlights, nor more lowlights. Done.

I realize the source is somewhat suspect, but a 2008 Clairol® study says that 75 percent of American women dye their hair, and 88 percent of them feel their hair impacts their confidence. Of course it impacts confidence. We’ve got How to Not Look Old author Charla Krupp —a young, blond style expert — saying things like, ‘Go gray at your own risk…Going gray is step one of letting yourself go.” She goes on, in a Today Style interview[1], “Women cannot afford to go gray in this economy.”

I’ve been coloring my hair for nearly three decades.  Since entering the business world in my twenties, I’ve shopped stylists trying to find that perfect blond color: the match for my six-year-old shiny, streaky, out-in-the-sun all day hair.

Six-Year-Old-Karen

Six-Year-Old-Karen

I’ve done box color, bargain salons, and upscale salons, with a spectrum of results. For the three years before the Emmylou epiphany, Robert got it just right. He is a master. And so it was understandable that Robert doubted I would stick with my pledge to unblond.  He was not the only one. My best friend thought I would look like a raccoon, or maybe it was a skunk. My husband was supportive, but when he and I were courting even he colored his hair! My daughter saw me, after six months, and she called the look “ombre.”

I haven’t colored for almost a year. There have been some awkward, too-short haircuts, as Robert impatiently axed the old color. I struggle with the texture, trying to tame wirier, un-dyed hair. The transition went by quickly: now the salon women offer compliments when I walk in, and tell me that gray is the newest color for Hollywood starlets. Robert, once skeptical, is now proud.

Of course, I miss Blond Karen. Her hair was often very big. She was a sexy cocktail with a smart shot back, although sometimes she hid her true talents behind that hair.  Now, I have these silver-grey-blond-mercury colored strands. Thinner, harder to handle, I love my true color.

If people are treating me differently, I cannot tell. In fact, the only person whose behavior has changed radically is Robert. He doesn’t even spend half the time he used to with me.

Roadside Llama

Vertical Shift

Wearing tight jerseys announcing their most recent cycling event conquest, six petite women straddle their shiny carbon-framed bikes and cluster together inside a meager circle of sunlight in front of the Pink Box bakery in Santa Rosa.  They are the Hilly Jillies cycling club gathering on a chilly Saturday morning for their monthly beginning level bike tour through Sonoma County’s pot-holed wine roads. But the women’s pricy equipment and tight-lipped welcome leave me skeptical that this is the route for a novice athlete. Having started late in life, leisure cycling is a weekend sport I’ve grappled with for years, trying to find the right balance between leisure and cycling.

But the Hilly Jillies are serious, lean, and driven, and I am about to discover how they got their name.

vineyards With little ceremony or chitchat, the Jillies and I embark on a 37-mile trip east to Sonoma Valley. I quickly fall to the back of the queue, huffing and puffing just to keep up with the group that is easily flying up the first grade. Our terrain is renowned: Sonoma County is one of the top five bicycling destinations in the world, and cycling is the number two tourist draw. To me this morning the landscapes are indistinct. I’m so focused on keeping up that I barely see the new growth on the vines, and so intent on taking deep breaths that I don’t hear the robust grunts of the wild turkeys flushed out of oak groves. Already, before we even get to the steep grades that will summit this route, I’m getting discouraged as I see the entire pack of Jillies disappear around the bend.

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That Bar

It’s Funny About That Bar

That Bar

That Bar

 

While defining the word musingly, I found:

Adv.

1.

musingly – in a reflective manner; “`It’s funny about that bar,’ he said musingly.”*

A not-so-coincidental perfect quotation as I launch this new site to share new writing, travel and curious stories told sitting at the bar.

The root word, musing, also has a more serious use:

adj. Deep in thought; contemplative  n.1. Contemplation; meditation. 2. A product of contemplation; a thought. “an elegant tapestry of quotations, musings, aphorisms, and autobiographical reflections” (James Atlas).

Please enjoy my compiled writing whether it sends you to a place of contemplation… or a seat at your favorite bar.

*Source: 2003-2012 Princeton University, Farlex Inc.

 

 


 

Maurepas Lunch

New Orleans Food and Drink Marathon

SoBou Delights

SoBou Delights

I posted this trip report on Chowhound after my most recent visit to New Orleans, and a local chowhounder commented that I was a great ambassador for his City. Here is the full report; I take my eating and drinking seriously!

     It was her first night in New Orleans. We arrived late but not too late to mosey over to Irv Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse in the elegant Royal Sonesta hotel. I had a delightful house version of the Dark n Stormy, Dear Friend had a bright pink Passionfruit cocktail. We were too tired to venture much farther so opted for Desire Bistro and Oyster Bar, next door, for salads and sweet potato fries — which arrived as cold as the salads. A glorified coffee shop. My earlier Dark N Stormy was prophetic as it started sprinkling, followed later that night by a scary April T-storm.

French Quarter Fest 2013

French Quarter Fest 2013

     The sun came out for Sunday morning, the last day of French Quarter Fest (FQF) 2013. We started at Cafe Beignet for hot beignets, cafe au lait, and the Royal Street location did not disappoint. Met Dear Daughter and her friends for FQF music and a leisurely food graze which included: crab sliders from Something Else cafe (hit the spot!), Abita Amber, Tropical Daiquiris from Organic Banana and a highly-anticipated early dinner at Killer Po Boys. We each chose a different Po Boy filling: pork, shrimp, veggie and beef. Not the raves I expected from companions, however I liked my veggie/coulis version and felt Killer’s lived up to the hype.

     DF and I went to the famed Carousel Bar in Hotel Monteleone to find that  lightning from the prior night’s t-storm halted electricity so: a) the carousel was motionless, b) glasses were not cold, and c) no air conditioning. They closed the bar at 8 pm. DF took a sip of my sazerac; sadly it was warm. However, Monday was fantastic! Took the Confederacy of Cruisers “History of Drinking” tour with Lara the bartendress from R Bar. She led us all around the quarter on cruiser bikes with clipped-on moveable drink holders on drizzly Monday morning. First, she prepares island style (unblended) daiquiris before launching a multi-stop 3-hour French Quarter bike tour with stops for full size: 1) Finnegan’s Easy for local beer, 2) Napolean’s House for classic Pimm’s cups, stop 3) Roosevelt Hotel for Sazerac or Ramos Gin Fizz and 4) Erin Rose for frozen (or hot) Irish Coffees. At several other stops she tells the history of New Orleans relationship with alcohol. Rain was coming down as we cycled down Bourbon back to the Marigny, drinks in tow.
     A great morning followed by lunch at Maurepas Foods. After the tour we couldn’t conceive of a Maurepas cocktails, however hitting the spot were their Strawberry Salad, Arugula salad, Braised Broccoli — along with cheesy bread and their top-notch grits. Service was fantastic and everyone loved their dishes which warmed us up after the soggy bike ride.
Maurepas Lunch

     That night DF & I tried to get into Mr. B’s Bar: mobbed. Carousel was still out of power. Thank goodness we found French 75 which we loved. Why had I not been there before? Lovely bar and great drinks. DF enjoyed The Baroness cocktail x 2, and I had the very creative Caibiscus — a blend of a caipirinha with hibiscus tea. Chris Hannah is a legend and lives up to his reputation as a superb bartender.

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