Saturday, January 7, 2017

The French Driver's License.

Firstly, I would say that the drivers in France are considerably better than in the States. They are taught to drive preventatively, by which I mean they will gauge the traffic conditions ahead and intuit a chain of events. I believe that, in the States, we all drive in the instant, really only reacting to anything that effects a certain radius around us. In the states, we pass in the right lane, and on freeways we stay in the left lane and hit 70 mph bumper to bumper. All of those things are illegal in France and they don’t do it.  There is almost no road rage, and cars with the right of way, get it. There is no cutting in lanes at the last moment, and directionals are used 95 % of the time. The odd exception, and I don’t know where it comes from is, the French love to tailgate, it’s almost like they’re drafting Nascar style.
  To obtain a French Driver’s License in critical if you’re living over here.  Sure, you can buy a car, have it pass the Controle Technique (CT).  The CT is essentially an inspection of the vehicle.  In the states, you get a smog check, but here the car is put through a 75 point inspection. The Make and model is entered into the computer, mileage and other pertinent data is entered and the result is printed out. Using their data base, they zero in on the most common instances of problems for that car. Aside from the basic brakes, tires, electrical…e.i.e.i.o. they check the vehicle out thoroughly.  The result is a vehicle that gets a clean bill of health, it is also necessary prior to selling a car.  It’s nice because any car you buy is almost always problem free. Not like in the states where you could easily buy a lemon, sure there are laws against selling a piece of garbage, but what a hassle if you get stuck with one.  
And aside from buying a car, you can get that car insured.  My understanding though, is that if you are in an accident with an insured car, but not in possession of a French Driver’s license, your coverage would be greatly reduced.  This is true if you have lived here more than six months, because after that time period it is required that you get a French Driver’s License.  The exception is if you are part of the European Community.  What with Brexit, there is a chance that when England withdraws from the E.U., their retiree’s may need to get a French Driver’s License.
“Alright; we get it…you need a French Driver’s License. What’s the big fucking deal, Hank?”
“I’m going to tell you what the big fucking deal is!” takes a breath, “it’s in French!”
“Alright, that’s not insurmountable, big deal it’s in French.”
“And the wording of the questions is the most counter intuitive sentence structure and even the basic logic is….dare I say it….French.”
“That sounds a little xenophobic Hank!”
“Fuck you, it took me five years to get a FDR (French Driver’s License), although to be truthful, I was busy renovating the house, taking care of the 50 acres, and learning to be a French Vigneron.”
“Didn’t Caleigh and Cindy get theirs pretty quickly?”
“They’re women, they’re better at tests and studying and stuff. And Caleigh was fluent at that point.”
“You sound a little defensive there, Hank.”
“Alright…maybe. Let me give you a couple examples.”

“O.K., so this one is laughably simple. I had only four examples I could find online. The correct answer is B. Obviously, you are obligated to turn on the cars headlights when entering a tunnel in the country. Not the position lights, or the high beams.”
“That was kinda simple, Hank.”
“Let’s try one a little more difficult, shall we?”

  “Go ahead and study this one, although still a gimme on the test, it does require a couple looks. If you were taking the test, what would your answer…or answers be?”
 Your answer / answers here.
“Firstly, you are on a two lane, two-way road. As is evidenced by the dashed line on the left-hand side of the furthest left lane. The dashed center lane permits passing or turning, however the sign (panneaux) indicates that passing a car is not allowed.  It is legal however to pass an industrial tractor, or a scooter, cyclemotor, or a bicycle. So, we know instantly that:
Answer C is not allowed.
And, Answer D is allowed.
The circular sign above the no passing a car indicated that 70 is the highest speed allowed.
Answer B is allowed.
So, so far we know Answer B and D are correct. Now what about Answer A….50 k/h… maybe not because we know the speed limit is 70 k/h.
And the answers are A, B, D. because we all know that the word “pourrai” means “you could.” Not you “have to”. And there is a calculation on the slowest speeds you are allowed to travel, and at 70 k/h, you can travel at 50 k/h without it being illegal.  On the auto-route, as a for instance, 60 k/h is the slowest allowed, provided you are in the extreme right lane. And because every law has an exception or two, it is a law that in fog, heavy snow, or dense rain, we all drive at 50 k/h. That way there aren’t massive pile-ups like one hears about on the Grapevine in central California on a weekly basis. There are so many hysterically insane questions that you will encounter on the French Driver’s exam, the wording Byzantine, with logic that defies mere mortals grasps on reality…but the end result are drivers that do understand that driving is a right, that requires more than just a pedestrian thought process.

Bonne Route!       (Happy Motoring)

Sunday, February 14, 2016


I recently was informed by the local supplier of all things Vineyard, that I could not purchase pesticide for my vines.  It seems I was not certified as Certiphyto.  Firstly, if it were up to me, I would apply some natural pesticide. That is not an option yet, but I will work towards that.  A lot of viticulteur (winegrowers) in the region, and all of France for that matter, use Roundup for weed control between the vines.  I do not.  I use a weed wacker. (Which the British refer to as Strimmers?)  And it is a slow process that needs repeating three times a year.  I don’t believe in spraying the soil with chemicals that will eventually make their way into the roots, the plants, and by basic deductive reasoning; the grapes.
          I was informed by the company buying my harvest that one treatment of pesticide was required last year, one month before the harvest. So I went to the local supply house and was informed that last year was the last year for being able to buy without a certification. I would need to take a course. I imagined it to be a glorified leaf blowing course, as the product is applied by a leaf blower kinda setup that has a reservoir with water mixed with the pesticide, mounted above an engine that sprays the vines. Fucker weighs about 70 pounds full, minimum. (The photo above is of a small backpack sprayer...probably 45 pounds) Try hiking for two miles, stopping every 2000 feet to take it off your back, and refill the reservoir, then putting it back on and continuing. All the while the deafening gas engine (think leaf blower on crack) is situated right below and behind your ears. Sweet!
          So Cindy scheduled me for a Certiphyto course. It was a two-day course, eight hours a day. The following observations were a result of the course.
            The course was naturally taught in French. Just so you know, I have mastered French in relation to;
          Ordering food at a restaurant.
          Having work done to my oh so reliable British piece of Land Rover.
          Enquiring at hardware stores and lumber yards, anything regarding building trades.
          Discussing French and American Politics…they are more similar than you would think.
          I can even tell a few jokes…inappropriate and otherwise.
But, start lecturing me about the technical differences about root structure and the chemical differences between La poudre mouillable, Les granules dispersibles, Les concentre’s e’mulsifiables, Les e’mulsifiables, Les suspensions concentrees, and of course Les microencapsulees…and we got Les fucking Probleme’s.
          So our little band of leaf blower instructee’s were sitting in a horseshoe shaped group of desks, and madame instructor held court. It was like high school. There was a ratio of two jokers for every five students. In the class of twenty students there were eight jokers. By the end of day one, there were only three real candidates for the top joker spot.
          As the class started, the instructor started a slide show with some illustrations on the regulations regarding chemical usage in Agricultural Europe, Maps, charts and bullet-point presentations galore. She continued talking and took off her oversized shawl and shook it out. Then she hung it in front of her and slowly started folding it. In an elaborate manner she finally got it narrowed and then halved its length. I was dumbfounded as I thought this was some example of Europe and it dependence on imported agricultural chemicals, or something involved about an allegorical meaning. Then she wrapped it around her neck and continued. I sat there shaking my head. Then went back to concentrating on the charts that very well could have been the weakness in Germanys invasion of Mother Russia. I was way in above my head, but by the end of day one we had covered 47 pages of the 104-page handout.  
          Day two started with the Joker contest in full swing. Bright red sweater guy with the TOTALGAS logo on front made a strong bid, but my closest neighbor, who I call Brown Nose were the strongest contenders. The guy that looks like Stan Laurel is a distant third, I think he’s a little too technical in his jokes, and the teacher gives him the raised eyebrow too often.
          As I looked around the horseshow table set-up, it strikes me that, this mostly elderly group of farmers, if I were to replace the pens and paper handouts and replaced them with Lone Star beer, well I could be in any Honky Tonk Bar in Texas. I think farmers are a universal esthetic everywhere.
          Whoa…big shake up with the top Joker spot. Bright Red Sweater guy and Brown Nose were shot down by the instructor. I think they were trying to redirect her curriculum to some silly tractor jokes. I think Stan Laurel just took over top spot. Major Coup!
          Near the end of day two, there is a great bond that has been established. At lunch, over our second glass of red wine, everyone is like family. Tables of five are chatting with other tables, general laughter. They discovered there isn’t a test on the two-day course, but there is one on the one-day course. They all raise their glasses, as though they aced the nonexistent test. Truth be told, I didn’t catch the fact that there was no test, but at the end of the day, I was one happy French Viticulturist.

It was a difficult course, and I understood a lot more than I let on. There is a process in everything French. There are steadfast rules with the ever present exceptions, but they are there for good reason.  Now if I could just get a better system than humping that 70 pound, gas engined, noise making, leaf blowing S.O.B. well that would be a good start.  

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The new farmhand.


     We had an opportunity to upgrade our fleet options recently. Cindy has her adorable little Fiat 500 and Caleigh has her cute mysterious black Seat Ibiza. My old high mileage Peugeot was starting to give hints about its long term reliability. And some friends had a 26 year old station wagon they were selling.
     First let me just say the Peugeot performed admirably for the last four plus years. I researched for months before we moved to France. Believe it or not, it was between a VW Golf four door diesel and the aforementioned Peugeot. The Peugeot won for its bulletproof engine and its aesthetics. Hard to believe, right?
     The little Peugeot had a wonderful life on the farm. When we bought it, the place selling it to us fit a trailer hitch, and trailer light plug set up and we were good to go. During its tenure with us it racked up close to 80,000 problem free miles. It took scores of dump runs with the trailer loaded from all the work we did rebuilding the house. It took Caleigh to school most every morning, in the cold weather its mini nuclear instant heater was famous, in the hot weather its non working air conditioner was infamous. Also it vacationed with us going on trips that included Antibes, Saint Cirq Lapopie, Agen (often), and Bordeaux Airport (also often). It helped us at every turn, and was retired to a really nice young lady with two children that lives in Marmande. So it gets another family to embrace.  
     It had a fun time with us until I had the option to replace it with my fantasy vehicle. I felt a little like a scoundrel replacing it, but I reasoned that the new (much older) vehicle would be of more help running a 50 acre farm – vineyard, and acclimate to the country life.   
     Ever since I was 15, I’d imagined myself behind the wheel of this archaic design. It evoked images of safari’s and wheeling through the desert chased by the forces of evil. And as I grew, the imagery turned to that of driving country roads, although quickly, not breakneck. And as more time passed, the chases slowed down to driving through Scotland, taking in the “Local Hero” charm at a gentlemanly pace. Now with grey hair chasing my hairline, I see the drive up the long driveway, kind of like an English estate wagon after a drive to the local produce market. Sure it took me 40 years to get the car of my dreams, but I feel like it’s worth slowing down and enjoying the oncoming winter. The four wheel aspect may come in handy in the winter of my life, or towing the trailer through the vines as I prune them during this hot summer.
     I bid a respectful goodbye to my old Peugeot, but embrace the (new) old station wagon. And if Cindy sees me driving a little too fast down the long rows of vines, I’m sure she’ll understand that it’s just me.

     Escaping from the hordes of Axis Panzerwagens chasing me. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Autumn Aromatique'

            Another day, another chance to lead the carefree life of a vineyard owner. Ah! The smell of the vines as they go dormant. I’m well aware there is no smell associated with the dormancy of vines. Well that’s not entirely true. There is indeed a smell associated with the process in which the vines slip into a slow slumber. Not the smell you would imagine, not a breeze infused with the rich soil and crisp autumn breezes of maples drying their leaves.
            As a matter of fact the aroma is at the exact opposite spectrum, somewhere in the neighborhood of a horse’s ass. By which I am referring to the animal, not the writer of this…anyway.
            The horses at Petit Clos were getting a little tired of walking up their mound of Merde’, in order to get to their favorite sleeping spots. I was approached by the man who has a few horses here. He asked if I were free to help him relocate the pile of aged horse manure, not too dry, not too wet. Aged just right.
            “Where would we be relocating it too?” I asked.
            “Why that is being the beauty of it,” He said as he pointed in the direction of my Sauvignon Blanc vines. “We would be spreading it amongst the vines, la bah!”
            Point of topic…the French have a saying. They will point vaguely, never precisely, and say. “la bah.” It translates roughly into: in that direction, in the vicinity of, but not next to, or next to but not in the vicinity of.”  You divine the application by inferring the remainder on the sentence. The one exception is if it is used by solely by itself and accompanied by vague pointing, in which case the person is using it thusly so that later they can argue that they never meant it to be in that area.
Well, that would be nifty. The vines have been looking a bit peaked, and after the rough year it might be a welcome treat for the little dears. A nice layer of fertilizer for the long cold winter approaching. So I sign on, nod at him and say “La bah.” Pointing at the vines. He crooks his head as if to try to understand why I might be vague about the location of my own vines.
Well, my part of the bargain is to ask a couple neighbors if they have one of those manure spreading trailers. The man with the horses schedules it for the following Friday.
Thursday arrives, and so does the man with the horses.
“So have you managed the simple task of asking to borrow one of those manure spreading trailers?”
“Funny you should ask. I went by one neighbor’s house and it wasn’t the right kind. And another neighbor I didn’t ask.”
“So you’ve essentially done Jacque Merde’.”
“Pretty much.” I answered.
“Alright, I’ll be back in the morning. I will find one to borrow and you can then be asked to do as little as possible.” He smiled and shook his head as he glanced to the ground. Well at least that’s what I inferred what he said. He has a dialect…an accent so thick in the countries dialect that even my French Electrician had to have me translate for him. That actually happened, as a side note.
The next morning arrives and I’m drinking my coffee and notice that his van is parked, and his smaller tractor is gone. It’s 8 a.m. and I start looking around for him. Turns out he had to drive over to one of his neighbor’s house to pick up the special manure spreading trailer. He arrives a short while later towing the trailer. He parks the tractor trailer rig and proceeds to load it with the aged horse manure.

 The back of the trailer has two rotating flails. On the bottom of the trailer is a conveyor belt set-up. It conveys the aged manure to the two flailing rotating blender like wheels. They in essence spread the manure out behind the trailer. Only in essence. In reality it accelerates the manure to light speed in all directions, even the direction of the clown driving the tractor. Insert my name here.

Well we finished all six rows of vines. And I must admit that it was the most efficient machine for the job. I had entertained loading our small trailer and having my trusty Peugeot tow it. We would manually rake it out as it drove slowly down the rows. But this was definitely the way to go.

Experiencing life allows you a perspective. It allows you to verify the adages that others have passed down into lexicons of our language. You know, like “Never look a gift horse in the mouth.” Or “When one door closes, another opens.” Stuff like that. I enjoyed verifying the adage that “We all gotta duck when the shit hits the fan.”  Or in this case, a  flailing hyper speed manure spreader.  

Sunday, September 7, 2014

No good deed goes unpunished


            Every evening at around 8 p.m. the sound of sheep bleating wafts over the meadow to our little farm in Southwest France. The cool evening air is scented with the lavender of Cindy’s garden and as I lift my glass of red wine and its aroma blends in the breeze, it’s at that time that I stop and give pause. I think of those little sheep, lambs really. Cute in their cottony cloaks, and never further than a meter from their mother. And the mothers, surrounded by the other proud mothers, chewing slowly on the straw as they await their next meal. And the farmer that walks the rows of feeding troughs, spilling out the grain mixture that the sheep love so. And I think of the farmer and I fucking thank God it’s not me. Been there done that. Never again!
            Little extreme? maybe. Let’s go back a few weeks.
            My good neighbor dropped by and announced cheerfully that he and his wife were getting vaccinations. He seemed real happy about this. I was trying to figure out the reason for his apparent glee, when he then described where they had to go to get the shots. Some camping area.
            Yeah, I figured it out quick enough, he was going on vacation, not vaccination. Although; if you were vacationing on certain south Pacific Islands, you might need vaccinations. Something about leprosy. Anyway, what he was angling at was he needed me to volunteer to feed the little darlings. And all things being French, there was a specific method to this chore. I had fed them last year, and I didn’t have any negative memories of it. So I accepted his requirement that I volunteer.
The next week, I went over to his farm the morning before he and the missus were to leave for their vacation. I’m invited into their house and enjoy a cup of coffee as he draws out the floor plan of the various livestock buildings. He walked me through the floor plan, and the sequence. Next we meander over to the enclosures and he indicates the buckets used for the two blends of grain. Green for the mommies and kiddies. (I am well aware a kid is a baby Goat, just go with it.) And white is for….crap, already got it wrong. Green was for the small enclosures that held the adolescents, and white was for the moms and young kids. You could also use white for the enclosure with the four male rams. (I know male ram is redundant.)
There is a round half silo grain bin in the furthest barn. Next to it is a smaller square bin full of recently harvested beans, kinda like brown lima beany looking things. Beside the square bin is a high speed, high voltage crusher, high pitch noise maker. It’s so powerful, when you turn it on you flip the switch once to the right and wait a few seconds, then you flip it again to the lower right. When the noise it makes starts to hurt your ears, you add three bucketful’s of the brown lima beans. The shrieker machine spits out a Quaker oats looking product and you gather it in four buckets to add to the regular grain later.      
            Next you go over to the half silo looking thing that stores the grain. You get on the old tractor with the grain blender attached to the rear of the tractor. It’s like a concrete mixer; so much so that when I arrived he was washing out the last batch of concrete that he had poured as I drove up earlier. You back the tractor up to the silo. There is an 8 inch tube sticking out of the silo, so you park the mixer under the end of the chute.   You unplug the shrieker, and plug in the electrically activated grain extractor. Very important. You keep it plugged in for exactly three minutes. Then with the grain added to the mixer thing, you open a small opening in the bottom of the mixed and dole out four bucketful’s of grain in White buckets. You walk them over to the closest pen and leave them there. This of course indicates to the sheep that they should now all start bleating as loud as they can. If you stop for a second and listen you would swear they were all yelling “Mmmmerdeee.”  (Merde’ is French for shit.)
            Then with the little darlings spreading the call for all the other sheep to express their lot in life, and the crescendo of “Merde” surrounds you and mixes with the odor of merde’, you make your way to the main holding area. The sound is deafening. Silence of the lambs my ass.

            Once you have driven the old tractor to the main sheep dorm, you dole out seven White buckets of regular grain. Then you dole out another seven White buckets of the regular grain to use at the 8 p.m. feeding.
            Then you add the four buckets of crushed brown beans to the mixer and it combines the grain with the beans. Eh Viola! You dole out 8 buckets of the mix into the Green buckets. And then comes the fun part. This is where the system really pays off. You walk down the aisles placing the full buckets of grain (or the mixed ones) next to the troughs so when you start to pour them, it’s done in a fluid manner, and you don’t have sheep getting laryngitis while they wait.
            Then you do the walk of life. You pour the buckets evenly down the troughs and end where the next bucket is awaiting the frenzied clients. When you’re done, the next chore is to check that the auto watering devices are devicing. Then to finish it off you look outside at the balls of hay. If one is done, you get in the new tractor with the hay fork on it and place a ball of hay to replace it.
            Alright, so he’s fairly certain I’ve got the hang of it so he nods. Yep I’ll do.
            One last thing, I tell him. There is a medium small sheep body lying in the third stall. He looks at it and nods. That reminds him luckily,
“Henri, you are going for to be needing to give that sickly one a few shots. There is syringe, take from this bottle.”
“How much do I use?”
“To being this line here on syringe, Henri’.”
“So, if any of these other tiny majestic little creatures pass onto the next bye and bye, where should I place them?”
I looked around for a suitable enclosure, and saw none. He responds by pointing vaguely to the back of a nearby area where there are pallets stacked.
So like the idiot I am, I presume the little nipper will be removed by tomorrow morning when I “Start”.
            The next morning I awake and have a quick cup of coffee, thank you Cindy.
I drive over to Death Valley Ranch and Noise Making Farm and well who would have guessed it? Little dead, starting to stink smiley sheep face is lying their looking to be taken for a drag.
“Fuck me!”
            Then it went from depressing to morbidly surreal. As I’m dragging the Bambi sheep equivalent away to the next beyond (next to the stack of pallets) the other sheep start bleating, (I kid you not)
“MMMMMaaaa, MMMMaaaa.”
            I get them all fed and watered and then look at the sick one. It was easy to identify, as the farmer grabbed this waxy red crayon and made three red stripes down the sheep’s back. I take the syringe and pierce it into the magic sheep curing elixir, withdraw the required amount and make my way over to the little one. I jab the needle in and depress the syringe and retract it. Eh Viola!
I come back that night, repeat the procedure. No problem. Next morning another sheep is lying dead. I get a wheel barrow, after feeding the noise makers, and cart off today losing contestant. Then I administer the last dosage of cure-all to the little red striped one. This time the shot didn’t go so well. As I’m inserting the needle, the sheep moved, and I felt the needle hit the neck bone. So I withdrew it slightly and gave it the shot. It was fine, and still alive today.
I took care of these animals; this pack of little intelligence, these poor creatures that deserved better, for a week. In that week three died, carry the one that was left for me, four all told. Every day there was something waiting for me. A corpse, the smell of the previous dead carcasses, the futility of their existence, their lack of any quality of life. I don’t think I’m going to be available next year for slaughterhouse five.

 I think I will stay across the dell, in the garden Cindy cultivated. Smell that lavender, eye the beauty of her garden. Watch the kestrels as they flutter in flight, perched skyward. Maybe lift another glass of the regions red wine. Take a last look at our small holding of vines. I just know in my heart of hearts, that I sure the fuck won’t be over there.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The scars we carry through life.

            Here’s a little pointer I want to share with anyone ever thinking of moving to France. If you make an appointment over here…keep it. We learned this lesson from Caleigh missing a couple doctors’ appointments. She was then instructed to find another doctor.
            I had swelling in my lower abdomen…knock it off!....from over exerting myself… behave!...while working with large heavy stones. I made an appointment with my doctor and had an appointment for the following week. Well a week passes and the swelling is gone, but I don’t want to annoy him by missing the appointment, so I show up. After waiting the hour in the waiting room, I am ushered in.
            “Good afternoon Mr. Petterson. What seems to be the problem?”
            “Good afternoon Doctor Biamou…well I had swelling here (points) and it’s gone down.”
            “Let me see…(Unrobes) …Ah you had a hernia….you will need an operation.”
            “Um…O.K. good thing I didn’t skip my appointment.”
            “It is a very serious condition…if you don’t have this operation…it could be catastrophic if anything happened.”
            Then he calls the Marmande Hospital and sets up a screening for me. I attend two different observations and the operation is set for the following month. The surgery is a great success…as is proof as I am still sucking air, and not taking a dirt nap.
            After recovering for a few weeks, the bandage is removed and a scar is in the place where there wasn’t one before. It was my first real scar. I got smacked next to my right eye socket once playing Ice Hockey when I was younger, my own team mate as a matter of fact. But we all have scars…every single one of us.
            So I check out my scar and notice how irregular it seems. It’s serrated almost. I can’t help but imagine the scene during the operation.
            Picture two tables set up in a hospital operating room. One has a nice red checkered table cloth on it, the other is a white spotless ironed cloth. The doctors enter and start placing Cheese, bottles of red wine, and baguettes on the pristine white cloth. I am wheeled in semi-conscious and placed on the picnic table cloth. The anesthesia’s inserted and I’m out. The doctors then wave in the half dozen medical students and they commence carving up the baguettes. The doctors take note of how each student carves off a piece of baguette.
            “Why Claude…your knife work is being exquisite…I have drawn a line on the patient…please make the incision.” The doctor turns to fill his empty wine glass as Claude starts the incision. He turns and laughs and says.
            “No Claude…although it is being a very nice cut…I think you are to be using one of those very sharp pointy surgery knife thingy’s….you are not to be using the baguette knife…really…we have to eat with that.”
            Well, it does look as though a few apprentices had their hands in the incision; because it looks as straight as West Hollywood. But the surgery, the prescriptions, and nurse visits cost us a grand total of zero euros, so I really can’t complain.
            To finish on the subject of scars both visible and otherwise, it has to be how you look at them and not others. I remember one of my most memorable scars. I was 25 and had just moved to Southern California. I got a job as a construction superintendent in high end estate building. It paid well, but being young and going out it didn’t seem to stretch as much as I would have liked.
A friend told me he moonlighted at this dance place called Chippendales. He told me to just show up and once the music started, start taking off my clothes. The money would start being tossed on stage because all the housewives were bored and this was an escape for them.
Well not knowing the area too well, I asked around and was given directions. I had to pay to get in, and it seemed expensive to me…but you can’t make money without spending a little.
            I make my way over to the stage and brace up myself…being naturally shy. Well the music starts and I try to get into it, and finally I get a second wind and it’s going pretty well. I look around and all these women are crowding the stage…there are quite a few one dollar bills by my feet and so I turn it up a notch and loose myself. There must have been fifty dollar bills about the stage. Then I hear it…some guy starts yelling.
            “Are you insane?....what are you doing.” The women drown out his heckling by yelling louder. The guy jumps on the stage and I yell to him.
            “You can dance after this song…that money is mine.” I go back to dancing but keep my eye on him.
            Another couple guys get on stage in these stupid outfits, and I’m getting angry. “Get off the stage until I’m done.” No effect. The guys start picking up my clothes and trying to hand them to me. Then this tall guy stands in front of me and says.
“Sha…sha…shows over…yuk, yuk, yuk.”
            Well I haul back and punch the goofy son of a bitch in the kisser, then all these cops from Anaheim storm the stage, and I’m escorted off. The housewives start grabbing back their dollar bills.
I remember thinking how hard I worked, and then I get pissed at having to dance to “It’s a small world after all” and how inappropriate the lyrics were. Well I’m escorted out of the park and was astonished how many families’ brought their kids to a Chippendale s’ Adventure Park for adults.

(I should note that the above was fiction…other than the odd serpentine scar. And that I never danced topless or otherwise at the Disney park…located in Anaheim California. And Goofy and I have partied many times. Don’t get him started on he and Minnie…that’s a joke for the Disney brand lawyers as well.) 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Cold vine pruning weather has arrived.


    The really, really cold weather has arrived…in all its glory.  yippee!! The photo below was taken in the summer...not in the freezing December weather we have now.

          So the first thing we did was fire up the recently added wood furnace that heats the water for the radiators. The house has legitimate heat for the first time in…well since it was built …a hundred and twenty some odd years ago.
         The second thing I did was trudge out of the sauna like environment of the house and headed north to frozen adventure…vine pruning. The vines had eased themselves into dormancy…me not so much. I love the process so much that I thought I would post a how to prune vines.
         Not many people will do this in their lifetime…so why not experience it vicariously through this blog.  I have always gotten my nose out of joint whenever I read some jerk ass reviewing some bottle of wine. It’s like the “Emperor’s new clothes.” Wine is not some special elixir that only toffee nosed snobs can truly appreciate. That is such bullshit! Wine is a great equalizer…you don’t need a degree…you don’t need excessive finances….you don’t need some custom built wine tasting room…or even one of those overpriced glass door wine refrigerators.
         All you need is a glass…and a church key…or what most people would call a corkscrew.   The secret to wine is this…buy a bottle of say…ten dollar wine. Go to a Bevmo…Trader Joe’s…a large grocery store where there is a huge selection.
         Try it out…pour a glass…relax. Nibble on different snacky things …cheese... crackers with spread, sliced fruit. Relax…  
         If you enjoy it …guess what….you’re part of the club. No fee’s, no Mercedes required, just a glass. You don’t need to write 50 word sentences describing the “florally jasmine tinted aroma mixed with colored pencil shavings that were passed through an Amazonian rainforest, and yet the color resembles the red found in a salmons blood swirl after the spawning during the second week of September, served in the 20 ounce snifting goblet that had been cooled to 57 degrees and imparted the mildest hint of….fucking Palmolive dishwashing soap”.
         Give me a break.  
          The first time I pruned vines I was mortified….what if I do it wrong and cripple all these innocent plants. The French guy tutoring me said, “Henri’, cut as I show you…and don’t worry…next summer you will have grapes…there won’t be asparagus growing from the vines.” I smiled, he had erased this great expectation I was harboring if awe of the vines. So anyway below is the process for pruning vines. Ideally you should be sitting in your refrigerator reading this to impart the feeling of numbness your hands should have.

        First address the customer. This is what our subject looks like…don’t judge.

        “Hello….my name is Henri…I will be pruning your vines today...darling your tendrils are looking so dry…you are using conditioner no? I am thinking you are wanting it short for the winter look?”

         The main thing that pruning accomplishes is choosing the two shoots that will carry next year’s crop. There will also be two smaller reserve shoots…should something happen to the main two shoots. Pruning tames the vines so to speak…otherwise there would be an anarchy of shoots multiplying each year…like Medusa on speed. We certainly don’t want that. 
          What I do is select the two shoots that are placed on the vine stock in the most optimum location. Two that will allow me to attach them to the wire trellis structure that supports the vines during the growing season. They should be low on the stock so that they will allow next year’s vines plenty of trellis to hang on. Otherwise each year it would start a little higher and after five years the plant would be really tall with the grape shoots at the top of the six foot high trellis system. Also I was taught you ideally want the shoots that are starting from under last year’s larger branch. In my mind I imagine the flow of nutriments going in the least obstructed path to the leaves and grapes. Odd maybe but it helps me visualize the process of growth for the little darlings. 

          After pruning the unneeded shoots it looks like this. I have kept all four shoots long. I do this because if one of the shoots has a weak connection to the stock head I will need to use my second choice for the next year’s crop. (or runner) Meanwhile all the shoots I cut off, I throw into a pile for collection and burning later.

         Here is a close up of the pruned vine. In this case all four shoots for next year are located on the underside of last year’s stock. Not always the case. As this is my third year pruning, I find myself correcting the first two years occasional mistakes. Hey it’s all about experience. It’s also like enjoying wine, as you sample more and more, you develop a taste for different aspects of the different wines. And you don’t need to read some puffed windbag pontificating about his/her special talents in describing the complexities of this most noble….blah,blah,blah. (I admit a perverse pleasure in reading the articles if only to count how many words in a sentence they use…my record find to date 54 words in one sentence.) There were 30 words in the parenthesis…gotta work on it.

          This is a photo of the first row being pruned and the five rows behind are still waiting. Our subject is in the lower left. You can make out a small pile of trimmings between the first and second row in the upper right corner. You can see I’ve chosen the lower two shoots for next year’s runners, and the upper two are the reserves.

         Cheers Hank.