2.20.2011

Tales of Tannat and Time


Jose Ignacio, Uruguay.
I'm not really sure where this bit of writing is going to go.   

I’m sitting in the open air of a wine café in a tiny beach town called Jose Ignacio, in eastern Uruguay.  It’s small.  Charming.  Slightly bordering on the Stepford Wives – white houses, white furniture, white Lacoste jeans on every other passing beautifully tanned local – but enchanting enough that I don’t really care.  My mouth is salivating in anticipation of a Pinot Noir / Tannat blend of wine that’s coming any second.  I’m freshly-showered, but my body still feels of the ocean.  Dressed in a brightly colored dress, and I’m wearing lace pink and white Victoria’s Secret underwear (which no one else knows, but hey, that’s the point).  I can breathe easy.  The wine just arrived… Yum. 

Jose Ignacio, Uruguay
Tannat is – come to find out – a very unique grape.  On the scale of all things yummy, it ranks very high.  Three days earlier, I had escaped the hustle and flair of Buenos Aires by ferry, across the Rio Platte, and landed on the cobblestone streets of Colonia, Uruguay.  There, before getting in the rental car and high-tailing it to the coast, I stopped and treated myself to a glass of vino tinto, and was introduced to the tannat.  I might be going through a honeymoon period with this grape, but it’s quickly outdoing all other current contesters for favorite red.
HEALTHY pours of wine in Uruguay... and dulce de leche cookies pair just lovely.
Why?  I’m not sure yet… but it’s something to do with this beautiful mix of dusty fruit and earthiness – that hints at spice, oaky aging and story.  My new attraction for the wine landed me in this same wine café two days ago, where curiosity got the better of me amongst the hand-picked selections hanging from their holders along the wall, and I asked, “Perdon, pero que es, un tannat?”

The store owner – a woman about my age, dark with flawless skin and fantastic earrings – smiled back at me and launched in to what I’m sure was the most eloquent dissertation of the history of tannat… of which I could glean about thirty percent.  Alas, I’ve not yet mastered the Spanish language (far from it really).  She must have seen the confusion on my face.

“Are you English?”

“Yes.” I responded with a half-laugh and smile.  Never mind that I'm actually American… I just feel a bit of (albeit quasi-guilty) relief to hear the nuances unfold in a language I understood.

And she launched in to her story again, this time in English. 

Turns out the tannat was a grape originally grown in France, but it had made its way across the Atlantic grace à the Basques during the early 19th Century.  Over time, the grape eased out of French wine commercialism, nearly forgotten, while it’s ex-patriated family adapted, rooted and flourished in the Uruguayan countryside.  It wasn’t until the late 20th Century that the grape was rediscovered and heralded a resurgence of the tannat varietal in the wine industry, and quickly into the hearts of neighboring countries – Argentina, Peru, and Brazil.  Though not considered the overall best wine produced in Uruguay, the country proudly holds the tannat as its “national grape.”

Opening my first bottle of Tannat... with some deranged metal implement we found in the kitchen.  Oops.
So, I think this is where I’d harken back to phrases like, “When in Rome” to justify my sitting here on a Sunday afternoon luxuriating in the soft tannins and blackberry goodness of a wine flight, while I put fingers to keyboard (unfortunately, that will never sound as eloquent as “putting pen to paper”).  If nothing else, it’s a built in excuse to give myself some space to think and try – or more accurately, mull over the thought of – putting myself in the context of experience.  And I'm not really referring to the wine tasting.

It’s been nearly two weeks since the Sea Dragon hit land, and for being one of the most poignant experiences of my life, finding time and space to write about it – the emotional landing, the emergence back in to a community, the lessons learned and the answers to ‘what’s next’ – is just not happening yet.  And I need to own up to that: I don’t know what to say, quite yet, quite right.  And I’ll get there, I know.  For now, I’m holding all of this – profound, huge, significant, beautiful – in my stomach.  I can feel it there like a rock, and I know sooner or later (pardon the gross analogy) I will puke it up.  

At least I’m coming off 31 days of puking practice to my benefit… I’ve gotta count as a professional at that by now, right?  Time to have a little faith in the process.

Even though I just experienced 31 consecutive days of beautiful sunsets across the Atlantic, the beauty of the sun passing below the horizon never gets any less profound.

Neither does looking down at your feet after you took the picture of the sunset and seeing a plastic bag
 

2.04.2011

So close...

I can see land on the navigation screen. Not because I'm zooming out with the cursor, but because it's actually ON the screen.

Uruguay.

Today marks the end of our fourth week at sea... 28 days, 4,213 nautical miles and 60-some trawls later. Granted we still have 250 miles left to go, and our faithful skipper never fails to remind us, "We'll get there when we get there," but my thoughts are already sufficiently turned toward the imminent shift in reality about to happen in the next couple of days.

I haven't had coffee in three weeks. Barring one night in St. Helena a few weeks ago, wine has all but vanished from my diet as well. Funny thing is, and I can't believe I'm admitting this, but I don't even miss it. Not a touch. Maybe that will change in Argentina... I think it would be something of a sacrilege to not imbibe in the Mecca of Malbec.

I'm looking forward to eating an avocado, a juicy orange aor an arugula salad. I'm going to drink the heck out of some mate.

Thought our dance parties on the boat - especially while doing the dishes - are fairly envious, I'm excited to have more control over the tempo of my feet and the freedom of not holding on to anything while rocking out.

Walking... walking will be nice. Or a might run around the parking lot until I can't anymore when we hit land. Some days on the boat, especially when the weather is bad, it's hard to get more than 150 paces in. I'm looking forward to hitting th ebeach or the streets of Buenos Aires, pulling a Forrest Gump and just going until I feel like stopping.

Probably most of all, at some point further down th eline, I am excited to cash in on some good hugs from friends and family that I think of often throughout the day. (From some sooner than others... D-berg, I'm hecka excited to see you!!! Hoooer!)

All that said, I don't feel that estranged... thought it's common sentiment on the boat that we could all go longer at sea if need be. This trip - albeit not over yet - has been completely different than I ever could have imagined, and pushed me in ways I didn't think possible.

Thus, if anything, it will be nice to have space to process, reflect and synthesize what the heck just happened in the last month. It will be a breath of fresh air to process my photos and muse within writing without feeling like I'm in a race against my internal puke-o-meter. I'm looking forward to the process of sharing, but also of diving in to the next adventure.

** UPDATE: sending this off the next day... the winds have been REAL intense for the last few days - and the faucet just turned off this morning. We're about 100 miles away from our final destination, bobbing along (in the wrong direction, but moving nonetheless), and will unshala be there tomorrow! More soon.


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2.01.2011

Maritime Bifurcation

I can't think of the word 'bifurcation' without laughing. A couple years ago, my dad wrote the family and other selected friends an email … a quasi-random string of events and thoughts strung into story that had us positively rolling.

To paraphrase, Dad was on one of his road trips through Ohio, headed south toward Pickerington when he got derailed by a Cracker Barrel (a common occurrence) and then ended up going back in the opposite direction along the highway toward Toledo for many miles before he realized what was going on. For some reason, the demarcation of two adult bookshops at each of the points where he turned around made it in to the story.

As he reroutes the car, he starts thinking more deeply on the concept of bifurcating – of having the opportunity to go one way or another – and came up with a book title, A Fractal Tour of Ohio: A Bifurcation Thru America's Heartland.He even had a supplemental chapter planned – Bifurcation Games to Play While Driving.His mind must have wandered for some time and pretty deeply in to the concept of bifurcation, because the next thing he knew, there was a huge explosion causing him to think the back left part of his car had blown up. Though it turned out to just be a truck tire, the scare ended his thinking of bifurcation, and as he recounts, "I decided to drive the straight and narrow for a while."

I don't know if it would have made Dad proud or not, but I bifurcated a bit today on the boat. I didn't mean to, honestly, and it was a quick happenstance wherein the First Mate had me grab the wheel of the boat so he could run down and fix a water issue. I've only ever steered the boat once (at night on flat seas), and in my defense I had spent the last two days keeled over the backside of the boat sick.

Luckily, the backside of the boat didn't seem to blow off as it had in my dad's story.

What did happen was thatI didn't keep the wind on the beam of the boat, and the boom (the main sail) swung over to the other side of the boat with a pretty cataclysmic BANG. Effectively, little old me had turned the boat around 180 degrees. Impressive, right?A good display of bifurcation in the middle of the South Atlantic, if I do say so myself.

What ensued was an hour and then some lesson on steering, navigation and wind direction from the first mate… and not only do I have more confidence now in my directional capabilities while in a choppy sea, but I have the sore biceps to prove it.

It made me giggle today to think about what book my Dad could have written on bifurcating while at sea, and even though I can't write him to ask, I'm pretty sure he would have had a field day coming up with games to play while dodging ships, tacking and route planning... he would have invariably gone through the center of the gyre as we did to take the scenic way around things. Too bad there's no "mom and pop pie shop" along the way to placate our desire for yummy goodness down the road less traveled. (Or, maybe we should finally use that pumpkin in the back of the boat to make pie!)

All intended and unintended varieties of bifurcating aside, we're moving right along in the direction of Uruguay! The wind - though it stalls quite a bit - is currently kicking over 20 knots. AND we passed a ship this evening - the first sign of other humans we've seen in over 2 weeks. Approximate landing date is February 5th (potentially the 4th), but we're getting used to slapping a good ol' "ish" on the end of everything definite. Getting closer...