Friday, October 5, 2012

Bordeaux Day 5 – I got stung by a bee

When I woke on my fifth day in France I had no idea that by the end of the day I would be reflecting back on a remarkable event and milestone in my life that was to take place.  While I'm a bit fuzzy on how old I was at the time, perhaps 6 or 7 but I nevertheless have a vivid memory of being in Jennifer Ciferni's backyard on 14th Street, next door to where I grew up, when I noticed a bee had landed on my arm.  Thinking for some reason that it was not alive I went to brush it off.  It didn't move but instead stung me.  It was the first time I'd ever been stung by a bee and I remember it hurting pretty bad.  Flash forward more than 30 years and despite being a fairly avid outdoorsy guy and being around loads of insects - bees included - that remained my the only time I'd ever been stung.  So it was strange that while I bent down to get my car keys from my bag in the town of Pauillac I felt something on my lower leg and, noticing it was a bee, instinctively went to brush it off only to have the little bugger sting me - just like his American cousin so many years ago.  Luckily I was able to extract the stinger immediately and Heather gave me StingEze to reduce the discomfort.  Really, quite an interesting day…oh yeah, before that I ran with 8,000 other maniacs in 90+ degrees heat through the vineyards and chateaus of the Left Bank in the Medoc Marathon.

This was it, the event that launched my planning for Bordeaux.  Its not that I hadn’t before had the desire to visit but two days after last year’s NYC Marathon I met a fellow runner who also happens to be a prominent individual within the Bordeaux wine community and he mentioned the Medoc Marathon to me.  Having never heard of it he told to me that it is “the longest marathon in the world.”  Odd, I thought, aren’t all marathons 26.2 miles long?  He went on to explain that it isn’t the length but rather that people tend to take longer to finish it because the course travels through many of the great chateaus of Medoc and they provide, along with water and usual marathon nourishment, a sampling of their oenological creations.  In addition, nearly all the participants dress in costume, some quite elaborately, which creates of a festival atmosphere.  Someone compared it to the Bay-to-Breakers in San Francisco, but longer.  Its been said there are two marathons that are must dos: New York and Medoc.  I’ve done New York twice – and am planning on a third in a month – so it was time for Medoc.

This year’s theme was “Bordeaux through the Ages” and I decided my costume would be that of an American Revolutionary War solider.  What does the American Revolution have to do with Bordeaux you might be asking, well simple, when our founding fathers finished signing the Declaration of Independence they toasted the document with glasses of Bordeaux wine.  So you see, Bordeaux was present and played a part in the beginning of our nation.  And thanks to the amazing work of Jill Folino, I arrived at the start this morning wearing an outfit patterned on the uniform worn by the 3rd New York Regiment of the American Revolutionary War, complete with hat, ammunition pouches, and the decorative hearts they had at the bottom of their jackets.  It really is a piece of work and many thanks to her last minute effort to get it done for me J.

On the way to the start/finish line in Pauillac I dropped Heather off at Ch. Beychevelle, whose team I was invited to run with, where she was going to be a volunteer to help pour the water and wine for the runners.  The chateau is at about the 10 kilometer mark and once the last runners were through there was a bus for VIPs that would take her back to Pauillac and the finish line.  From there, I headed to the the town.  My only experience with marathons up until to this point was with New York, which at more than 45,000 participants, plus logistical support, can basically be compared to a large town popping up on the fringe of Staten Island and then moving through the city.  By comparison Medoc is quite small at only about 8,000 runners.  However, the energy and enthusiasm was well beyond their numbers.  I’d expected costumes but nothing prepared me for what my fellow runners donned.  Countless members of the Roman Legion mingled with cavemen standing next to people suited to Cleopatra’s court mixed among all other manner of decadence and esoteric.  It was quite a crowd.

After some pre-race festivities that included a costume contest, arial acrobats swinging from an elevated platform, and a fly-over by a pair of French Air Force jets, the starting gun sounded and we were off. The course began by heading north and winding through the town of Pauillac but even before we had crossed the 1 kilometer mark we were at Chateau Grand-Puy Ducasse, the first of more than 20 tasting stations we would be running through.

Yes, 20 - give or take - chances to have wine while running.  Running at all let alone a marathon while drinking wine may strike you as a remarkable, if not a bit crazy, concept and you'd be right.  All the conventional wisdom and training guides would tell you that this is utterly counterintuitive but when in France one shouldn't question their traditions so with legs barely warmed from the start of the race I pulled over and picked up a small, plastic cup filled with their red wine.

Now I'm not going to bother trying to give tasting notes or impressions on the wines I would drink throughout the day because not only were there so many, which isn't normally a problem, but as the day wore on and my exhaustion increased I simply lost the ability to discern anything from the glass other than it was red (generally) and alcoholic.  Nor, I've been told, were the wines necessarily the chateau's export quality wine or more than a simple vin de pays.  Makes sense, why waste the good stuff on a bunch of sweaty, costumed runners?

So instead of trying to keep track of the wines I was drinking, I concentrated more on the views and vistas I was running through along the way, which I've already explained was nothing short of increasing levels of beautiful.  One of the first, magnificent chateau we came to was Pichon-Longueville, which was also the first to use real glass rather than plastic cups for their wine.

Chateau Pichon-Longueville

The building and grounds were quite gorgeous and because it sits right off the road behind a large reflecting pool we had actually stopped to take a picture of it a couple days earlier, without the crowds of runners milling about it.

Soon after leaving Pichon-Longueville I quickly discovered on of the things that would make this marathon quite a bit harder than New York: lack of pavement.  Unlike New York, which stays on the city streets, one of the charming - in theory - things about Medoc is that the course winds not only from chateau to chateau but also through the vineyards covering the area.  Most of the paths in and through the vineyards are unpaved so not only would I be struggling with the heat and hills but do so more often than not it felt on gravel or dirt paths.  As anyone who has ever run cross country will tell you, there is an added level of concentration necessary when running off of pavement that begins to tax your mind.  But I will admit that while running on dirt through the vineyards was an added challenge it was nevertheless quite spectacular to see the line of runners snaking backward and forward above the tops of the grapes.

After a couple more chateaus and a couple more chances to drink wine I reached Beychevelle.  Unlike when we went for the tasting on the first day, this time I arrived at the chateau from the side facing the water and was treated to the sort of view the ships' captains must have had when they gave the order to lower the sails while passing by.  Spreading out from the building itself is acres and acres of manicured lawn flanked on either side by stately trees.  It was an inspiring sight - made all the better with an American Revolutionary War "re-enactor" standing on in front.

Chateau Beychevelle

This was also were I had a choice to make.  Because I'd gotten a little worried about the temperature, which was forecasted to be in the upper 80s to lower 90s with no cloud cover, and how it would feel running in the costume, I strategized a way that I could make a uniform change if necessary.  I'd given Heather a different shirt that I could change into and leave her with the jacket and hat, if necessary, and continue on in my comfortable, traditional marathon appropriate attire.  As it turned out this wasn't necessary.  While I was quite warm in the extra clothes and don't plan to run again in such an outfit, Jill had the foresight to line the jacket so it performed great and I wore it from start to finish.

From Beychevelle, the southern most point on the course, we turned west and slightly north and headed further inland.  It wasn't long before the loss of the cooling affects of the Gironde was felt as the temperature increased as the sun rose higher in the cloudless sky.  Thankfully, in addition to the many opportunities to sample local wines, the organizers of the race were very good to have water stations placed throughout the course so it was never more than about a kilometer or two before there was an opportunity to hydrate.  As the kilometers rolled passed we passed and went through many of the most prestigious chateaus of Bordeaux including Lafite Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild, Cos d'Estournel, and Phelan Segur to name just a few.  Each was gorgeous and provided a boost to my legs that were becoming more tired with each step - or sip of wine.

As anyone who has run a marathon will tell you, spectators are a very important part of the experience and vital for giving tired legs the needed boost to keep going as the miles (or kilometers) click by - usually more slowly towards the end.  And while nothing can compare to the throngs of people that line nearly the entire length of the New York course, Medoc had amazingly supportive crowds.  In addition to all the people who gathered at or around the chateaus to cheer us along there were countless smaller groups of spectators peppered all along the route.  At one point around the half-marathon mark we came into a small town, actually little more than a few houses clustered around a single restaurant and general store-type market, where the residents had gathered to cheer us along.  Among the people lining the road was a woman holding a tray of canapés.  How could I resist her offer of pâté on a slice of baguette, especially when her daughter was standing just next to her with a tray of dry white wine with which to wash it down?  Again, perhaps not the ideal fuel to take on during a long workout but what a great treat!

That was just the start of the food also.  Sure, at all the chateaus there were tables of snacks such as sliced fruit, pretzels and chips, but in the last several kilometers the options ramped up with freshly shucked oysters, jambon (dry cured ham), grilled beef with onions, and ice cream.  Despite the exhaustion I was feeling throughout my body, the food and the lively crowds and bands kept me moving, albeit often walking, to the final kilometer banner where I reached deep inside and found a little more energy.  Raising my tempo from a fast walk to a steady jog, I covered the last meters with revived energy and - dare I say it - some pep in my step.

Crossing the finish line

Unfortunately, the heat, hills, wine and costume took its tool on me and my time was quite off my last NYC pace with a finish time was 5:40, a full hour and a half slower.  But, as every body told me leading up to the race, this isn't a marathon where time is of concern.  Rather, it is the experience of the event itself and fun of spending a day among the world famous vineyards and wineries of Bordeaux that draws people to do it and that drew me as well.  So in that respect it it was a rousing success despite my time!

What an amazing trip and awesome experience but but that isn't my last marathon of the year . . . I am registered to run the NYC Marathon for a third time and once again am running as part of Team Hole in the Wall.  Take a look at my post from last year to learn more about this great organization but as in the previous years I committed to raising a minimum of $3000 in order to run and hope you'll make a donation to help me reach my goal.  Please visit my personal fundraising page here (

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Yahrtzeit candles

I have an early memory from childhood of yahrtzeit candles illuminating the living-room of my families house at the time on 14th Street in Brooklyn during the evening following Kol Nidre services at the start of Yom Kippur.  At the time I'm quite certain that I didn't know the symbolism of the candles, which are lit and burn for around 24 hours continually during yizkor dates of the Jewish year, of which Yom Kippur is perhaps the most commonly observed.  Rather, all I knew was that one this one day of the year these special candles were allowed to burn, unattended throughout the night and day while no one was around.  This was something quite remarkable and against my understanding about the use and safety of candles at the time.

Candles, as I knew them, were always either meant to be blown out, like those on a birthday cake, or left to burn out on their own while there were people in the room or area to keep an eye on them, such as those lit on Hanukkah and Shabbat.  At an absolute minimum, if candles would need to be left burning and unattended for some remarkable reason they would be placed on a plate or other, suitably fire-retardant surface lest they fall over and set the neighborhood on fire.  But the yahrtzeit were different.  They were given dispensation to be left alone, burning, throughout the night and day.  True, typically these candles are in squat glass or metal containers making the risk of causing a visit by the FDNY, but they were, to my young mind, still candles all the same.

Thus it was that at some point in the night after Kol Nidre services when I was probably not even 8 years old - we moved from 14th Street just before I started the 4th grade - I came downstairs to see the candles burning and illuminating an otherwise near, pitch black living-room.  My memory is lacking on how many candles there might have been, but what I know for sure is that they were lit for my paternal grandmother, Helen, who passed away shortly before I was born, and the other deceased generations of my mother's and father's.  Over the years the numbers and names of people for whom my parents' lit candles for increased to include both my grandfathers, my uncle, and my great-aunts, as well as names they kept in the heart but might not have made vocal to me.  Never, however, had I lit candles of my own.  It always felt that that tradition was for my parents' generation and not (yet) something I was meant to do since, although I'd mourned the loss of people close to me and whom I held dearly, death had not "touched me."

As anyone who knows me or has read portions of this blog will know, that last vestige of innocence was ripped from me the day after my birthday in 2008.  Since then, on every Yom Kippur as well as every November 16, I light yahrtzeit candles in my own house in memory of Karen and James. This year I lit them for the fourth time before leaving for temple.  When I returned, hours later I felt like that young boy again as I opened my apartment door and was greeted with the flickering light against the wall of the two small flames gently illuminating an otherwise darkened living-room.  Pausing in the dim light I felt a peacefulness with the world around me and even a gentle innocence.

Yom Kippur is a time of year that we reflect on death, that of our loved ones who have already left this physical world as well as our own mortality.  No day passes that I do not think about Karen; indeed it is her memory that helps to guide me on my continued journey.  But the reflection at ourselves that comes from the liturgy of this day is not something I, or most people, consider - nor, I believe should it lest we become too caught up in what is to come to no longer appreciate what we have now.  The prayer book we use during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is titled in English "Gates of Repentance" and the days referred to as the "Days of Awe," and I am now, in the distancing wake of the events that changed my life so dramatically, understanding anew what those terms mean and why the rabbis chose them.

In the yizkor service I will shortly be attending, there is a line that reads something like: "birth is a beginning, and death a destination; but life is a journey, one of going and growing from stage to stage."  I've read these words hundreds of times before I lost Karen and dozens, if not hundreds, since.  There is power in that statement and one I am reminding myself more and more lately . . . life IS a journey and one I plan to be on for many, many years and stages to come.

G'mar Chatima Tova: my you all be inscribed in the Book of Life for health, happiness, and blessing in the year to come.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Bordeaux Day Two – There aren’t signs to D’Yquem

Really, don’t go to Sauternes and expect to find signs pointing the way to Chateau D’Yquem because there are none.  But more on that later. . .

Rather than try to explain what my first morning in Bordeaux looked like I might as well just show the view out of my bedroom window:

Seriously, how much more is there to say about that?  One really could get used to waking up with a view like that.

Since we were staying in rooms above the offices at Clement-Pichon and not a hotel, we were on our own for breakfast as well as all our meals.  However, we had access to a little kitchenette equipped, most importantly, with a Nespresso machine so as I would basically do for the next week, I started the day with a simple shot of espresso and some bread with jam.  As it would turn out I never really needed more than that.

Our first destination of the day was Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte, south of the city of Bordeaux in Pessac-Léognan.  We parked on the road and walked along a cobble stone path between the rows of vines towards the sprawling building ahead of us.  As we reached the building, however, it wasn't very clear where the office or reception area was that we were supposed to meet our guide.  Through a door in the middle of the building we entered a small foyer, which passed through to another door and out the other side of the building, that had artificial turf lining the walls and ceiling.  Still we couldn't figure if we were in the right place.  It wasn't until we passed through the other door that I noticed a small sign in French and English with the instruction to ring bell for service.  Next to the sign was a large iron hood connected to a chain running toward the roof.  So like something out of medieval movie, I pulled down on it and sure enough a somewhat hidden door in the foyer opened and out came a young man - hidden doors, we would later come to realize, are something of a commonality at Smith Haut Lafitte.

Our visit, like all those to follow, had been prearranged.  Indeed, throughout Bordeaux winery tours almost always are by appointment only.  This is something quite different from Napa or other US wine producing areas where, with some exceptions, wineries are generally open to the public.  What this means is that wherever we visited in Bordeaux we were alone with a tour guide and with the feeling that the chateau was open to just us.  It gave a slightly exclusive feeling, which I'll admit I came to enjoy.

The tour was very interesting and informative.  As would become sort of the standard order for all our visits, we were taken out to the vineyards first and given a history of the property and an overview of the area with a focus on the vineyard size and proportion of the different grapes being grown.  From there, much like the process of wine making itself, we went to the sorting area and then to the vat room where the fruit is pressed, usually by gravity first - producing the free run juice - and then often a second time by pneumatic means to extract addition juice and tannins.  From the vat room we proceeded to the barrel room, which is always an impressive sight with row upon row of barrels stretching off into the distance.  Smith Haut Lafitte was no exception in that regard, theirs having been constructed relatively recently but styled to feel like it is from the middle ages with low, vaulted ceilings and dim lighting. 

There were two things that made the tour a little different than most.  The first, which we saw at the beginning, was that Smith Haut Lafitte has its own, on-site cooperage.  By my recollection, this is the first winery I've been to that had one.  The cooper only constructs a portion of the thousands of barrels they use, but it is an attention to detail and tradition that was interesting to see.  

The second, more modern thing was revealed, literally, to us in the tasting room.  We were tasting our way through several vintages in well appointed and classical feeling tasting room when the chateau's owner, who had joined us to sample the wines, picked up a remote control and pressed a button on it.  Suddenly, like something out of a James Bond movie, the floor split and began to open exposing a stair case leading down to a private cellar.  

Descending the stairs in a slightly awestruck daze, I found myself staring at hundreds of bottles lining the walls with dates stretching back decades.  In addition, there were two long (and, we were told, very heavy) iron tables, one on each side of the room.  On one was a range of bottles starting from Demi, or half a standard 750 ml bottle, all the way to Nebuchadnezzar, equivalent to 20 standard bottles.  On the other were single bottles of Smith Haut Lafitte vintages stretching back to the late 19th century.  Each table was an impressive sight in its own right but taken together in the beautiful, sleek cellar was quite remarkable.

Once finished with the tasting we headed across the vineyard for lunch at a restaurant owned and operated by the chateau.  La Table du Lavoir, located within Les Sources de Caudalie, a hotel and spa that is part of the Small Luxury Hotel network, provided an impeccable way to end our time at Smith Haut Lafitte: the scene idyllic, service lovely from welcome to dessert, and food simply extraordinary in all ways.

Done with lunch, we returned to the road for the drive to Sauternais region, the section of the Graves known for sauternes, the sweet wine made from grapes affected by botrytis cinerea.  Of the producers in the region, Chateau d'Yquem is perhaps the best known and most prestigious.  Indeed it is the only white wine awarded Premier Cru Supérieur status at the Bordeaux Wine Classification of 1855.  Consequently, the wine is highly prized and sought after.  I've been fortunate to have tried several vintages of Yquem, including a 1959 when I was assisting at a wine auction last year.  Needless to say, when I was preparing for my trip to Bordeaux it was at the top of the list of places I wanted to visit and was overjoyed when I found out that we had a reservation there.  Getting the reservation, however, proved just a little easier than actually getting to the chateau.

Even in the short time we were there, it was clear that addresses were a bit of an afterthought in Bordeaux when it comes to wine chateaus.  Were you to for a street address for a specific one you will most likely not find one but instead the chateau name, the region, and postal code.  Rarely did I see actual street names let alone property numbers like I'm familiar with.  This was a bit of a hindrance, especially given our growing reliance on GPS devices, but not necessarily detrimental to locating the wineries.  This is because most (as we would soon find out) are marked with directional signs so that once you're in the general area they can be located by paying attention to the sign posts at each intersection or roundabout.  Not so with d'Yquem: they don't put signs out because when they do they get stolen.

So, after driving around the area desperately trying to locate the chateau since we were running a little late - we let the leisure of our lunch overtake us - I asked for directions from the local tourist office and was pointed in the right direction.  When we got there the area was not only stunningly beautiful, the winery sits at the top of a hill surrounded by the vineyards sloping away, but had the sweet smell of grape juice permeating the air because they had started harvesting and crushing for their dry white wine.  The chateau itself is not a grand, elegant house as many of the others are but rather, as our guide described it, more properly described as a fortified farm...but what a farm house it is!

At the end of the tour we tasted their 2006 and 1996 vintages and even though there were spittoons in the room there was no chance I was letting either wine go anywhere but down my throat!

From Yquem we headed to Barsac and Chateau Doisy-Védrines, another sauternes producer.  We were led on a tour around the property by the owner himself, who then sat with us as we tasted - or more precisely drank since he continued to pour us several glasses - their 2006 vintage.  On a day of great memories sitting with Monsieur Olivier Casteja enjoying his wine and talking about everything from wine, to food, to New York, to family was really truly wonderful one that will stay with me for a very long time.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Bordeaux Day One - Arrival

There’s something about stepping off a plane and savoring the arrival in a new place.  In this case, it was the third plane we were stepping off of – New York to Boston; Boston to Paris; Paris to Bordeaux – so the prospect of no longer having to readjust my legs every 6.3 minutes in a seemingly Sisyphusian effort to find “comfort” in Air France’s Voyager class seating made this arrival that much more welcome.  And that the next seat I took was behind the wheel of a convertible Peugeot 206 with manual transmission made quick work of me forgetting the in-flight meals, which I normally find to be better than average on foreign-flagged international flights but wasn’t the case this time, an issue I blame on having started off from Boston!

Next to me in the car was my friend Heather E., who had flown from Newport, California the day before to join me on this trip.  We literally met on the first day of classes at the University of Arizona when I found one of the only vacant seats in a lecture hall of about 300 people was next to hers.  That was back in 1989 and over those 20+ years we traveled to Israel together as well as trips to wine country in southern and northern California.  So when this trip came together it was an obvious and easy choice for her to accompany me and share in the experience.

It was just before 11 when we arrived at Chateau Clement-Pichon and after a quick nap our host, whom I met following last year’s NYC Marathon when he dined at my former restaurant (more about that later), treated us to lunch at the café of a friend of his nearby.  Le 1902 Restaurant has a sleek yet welcoming interior and a nicely constructed menu.  It has only recently opened but the plates prepared by the kitchen were well presented and flavorful   However, what makes the restaurant most interesting and worth noting here is not what is inside or on the plates themselves but that it was opened by and connected to a local cooperage.  Walking from the parking lot to the restaurant entrance you past the stacks of slat wood that will be crafted into the wine barrels one sees at throughout the region and the air is full of the smell of roasting of the wood that wafts from the open air production floor.

Also over lunch, we had our first tastes of Bordeaux wines.  Yannick, our host, who is the managing director of three chateaux, brought with him two vintages of Chateau La Dominique and one each of Chateau Fayat and Chateau Clement-Pichon.  Even despite our somewhat lethargic tasting skills due to the jet lag, the 1996 La Dominique stood out as a supple and wonderfully flavorful glass of wine, displaying medium tannins, nice cooked fruit, and the earthy undertones indicative of a old world wine made with care and devotion.

From lunch it was a beautiful drive up the Left Bank to Chateau Beychevelle.  A note about French roads should be made here.  They have high-speed, dual carriage-ways and even limited access toll roads that allow one to blaze along at a posted speed limited of 130 KMPH, or over 80 MPH, as well as more rural highways with speed limits on par with their American counterparts of around 55 MPH.  The difference, however, is that these French country highways are only about half as wide as those in the States, often just space enough to allow two cars to pass each other, with each having to run their outer wheels at the pavement edge, or even on the gravel – yes, gravel, no shoulder or breakdown lane here!  Perhaps the roads are kept intentionally narrow between towns because once they pass through them, with the houses creating an immovable canyon set at a distance more apt for horse-drawn carriages than automobiles and trucks, drivers have to pass quite close to one another, albeit at much slower speeds or maybe, and more likely, to widen them would mean loosing valuable vineyard acreage.  Whatever the reason, driving the roads requires close concentration but also yields an incredibly fun and exhilarating   experience, not to mention made me happy to have rented a narrow car!

But back to the drive to Beychevelle itself.  There is a scene in “French Kiss” where Meg Ryan and Kevin Klein are walking in Paris and she, an American, is seeing the city for the first time and keeps waving her hands back and forth exclaiming “gorgeous” and “beautiful” at everything, even otherwise mundane things, around her.  I’ve yet to see Paris with my own eyes but this reaction of being so overwhelmed by the beauty around you is something I had thought was little more than cinematic excess.  That was until my first drive into the heart of the Left Bank because as much as US 29 has stunning views as it climbs its way through the Napa Valley, it is of little comparison to the D2 through the Haut-Medoc.  I literally felt like Meg Ryan with my head swerving from side to side to take in each chateau and vineyard as they passed by as well as gasping at the picture-perfect little towns, hugging the narrow road, through which we passed.  Also, unlike in California, the roads weren’t clogged with other cars nor was the surrounding scenery obscured by gaudy commercialism or even gaudier McMansions clustered along the hillsides and encroaching on the vineyards – the very thing that draws so many to the area only to rip them up and build houses right alongside them.  In other words, but for the smooth black-top road, overhead power lines and occasional modern water tower, it is very easy to imagine the area as it looked a century or more ago; an area pristine and dedicated to the production of some of the world’s finest wines.

At Beychevelle we had our first tour, and what a way to start off the trip.  Legend has it that Beychevelle's name derives from the phrase "Baisse-Vaille" meaning "lower sails" because ships passing by the property would lower their sails as a sing of allegiance to the the original owner, Jean-Louis Nogaret de la Valette, who was the Admiral and Governor of the Guyenne and the property and chateau are about as impressive as one can imagine.  Just walking around the building and grounds it is easy to see why it has been referred to as the "Versailles of the Médoc."  We were taken on a tour of the vineyards, vat room where the sorted grapes are gravity pressed into juice, and then the barrel room where the magic of oenology takes place.  After we met with the general manager, Philippe, and tasted Chateau Beychevelle from 2005, 2009, 2010 and a barrel sample of 2011 with him.  Needless to say, the wines were fantastic, even the barrel sample which while young clearly displayed the characteristics of the more mature wines.

Even though we were still jet lagged, we left Beychevelle but didn't go back to Clement-Pichon directly.  Instead we drove further toward Pauillac and stopped at Village de Bages, a small and picturesque collection of shops near Chateau Lynch-Bages.  Purchasing a small baguette and piece of cheese, we sipped on a pair of glasses of wine and enjoyed the perfect weather.  Even though the area initially felt like a tourist-type "village," it was clear by the people coming and going from the charcuterie and other shops surrounding the that this was where locals did shopping on their way home and we were glad to have taken the detour that led us here.

Now sated from the snack and wines, we headed back to Clement-Pichon.  It was an amazing first day in Bordeaux and I was already thinking about our itinerary for day two, which included one of the highlights I had for the trip:  Chateau d'Yquem.

Lots going on and more new posts coming soon

Wow, didn't realized it has been almost a year since my last posting....time sure did fly by on that. So much has happened in that year and I'm working on a series of posts about my recent (just returned last night) trip to Bordeaux, France where I ran the Medoc Marathon. It was amazing as was the entire trip so keep an eye posted for those once I've had a chance to finish and edit them properly - something I was unable to focus on while overseas or get online with until now.

Some other changes to note now though:

After about a year and a half at Maloney & Porcelli I've decided it was time for me to make a change and have accepted a position with another restaurant group here in New York. I had an amazing time at M&P and loved working with the wonderful people there and wish them amazing success, which I'm sure they'll have, with the changes they've made there so far and all the exciting things still to come. Thanks to you all for the opportunity and I will definitely be seeing you around the city.

Also, after over two years debating it in my head, I decided to get the tattoo I've been thinking about for so long. Its an an ohm sign in the shape of a heart located on the inside of my left biceps right at my own heart level. I've been wanting to get it because the ohm sign was something Karen, who was also a yoga instructor, wore on so many things and that was so important to her - indeed it is inscribed on her memorial plaque. The heart, well I don't think I need to explain that part of it.

Getting it done was, as so many things in my life are, an interesting experience.  I made an appointment with my friend's sister-in-law who is a really amazing tattoo artist working in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  I already knew there was some symbolism at work since her name is Karen too.  What I didn't realize, until I was on the train to her, was that the day I had "randomly" picked to have it done was the day before what would have been our third wedding anniversary.  Add to that that during the middle of the session a Tibetan chant came on the iPod that made Karen stop in mid-inking to remark that they've had that iPod playing at the studio for months and that was the first time she'd ever heard that song.  Really, if these things didn't keep happening to me I wouldn't believe it.  Anyway, I can't be happier with the decision to have had it done nor how well it came out - a huge thank you to Karen Rockower for doing it.

Lastly, as I mentioned above, I just ran a marathon in France but that isn't the last one for me this year.  I'm once more running the NYC Marathon at the beginning of November and again doing it with Team Hole in the Wall.  As with the previous two years, I have to raise a minimum of $3000 in order to get my entry and am hoping for your support to reach, and surpass, that amount.  Please go to my fundraising home page to show your support with a donation.

Well that's a quick update but, as I mentioned earlier, stay tuned for a series of new posts about my trip.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Do marathoners improve with age?

Based on my personal empirical evidence it would seem so.

Last year I ran the marathon in 4:30:04, a very respectably time for a first time runner in my age group. This year I was worried that my time would be slower because I was unable to train as consistently as before because I was back working. However, and despite stopping and/or walking several times because of late mile cramping in my legs, something that didn't occur in 2010, on a day that saw the course record broken by two and a half minutes, I shattered mine by running the course almost a full 22 minutes faster, crossing the finish line in 4:08:09. If I can keep this rate of improvement I'll be competing against the elite men in a couple of years!

In all seriousness, this years race was - once again - an amazing experience. Not only did I run it faster than I expected, or could have anticipated, but thanks to the generous support of so many friends and family, along with donations collected by the other 216 members of the Team this year, we raised close to $800,000 to support the family of Hole in the Wall Camps. A truly remarkable amount by any perspective.

The race itself couldn't have taken place on a more perfect day. Without a cloud in the sky and balmy temperatures in the high-50s to low-60s, the course was exceptional. It was probably thanks to the amazing weather and a familiarity with the course, but my pace started quick, something in the range of an eight and half minute mile, and continued at that until around about mile 21. Over the final 5 miles, however, my pace began to suffer as the accumulated effects of the day built up in my legs and my thigh muscles began cramping up on me. The cramping was in addition to a developing pain in one knee caused, I believe, from an an abrupt lateral movement to avoid a fellow runner who tripped in front of me around mile 8. These combined to force me to walk at times and even stop completely in order to massage and stretch my muscles. Were it not for the fatigue, I was on pace to run a sub-four hour time, which would have literally floored me. As it was, I finished just slightly longer than that but in a fantastic time nonetheless and one that I am exceedingly happy about.

The gorgeous early fall weather also made for exceptional conditions for spectators, and they were out in absolute droves. Portions of the course that weren't very crowded last year were lined with people and sections known to be popular viewing spots, such as Fourth Avenue in Park Slope, First Avenue between 59th and 96th Streets, and Central Park, were absolutely overflowing with people. In fact the "canyon of sound," just after the Queensboro Bridge, known for attracting some of the largest crowds along the course, was lined almost 10 people deep.

The only downside to my pace and the day was that because I was running more quickly than expected, my friends and family, who saw me on 4th Avenue in Park Slope and planned to see me again on 111th and 1st and then once more on 107th and 5th, missed me those other times because I already passed those points when they got there. Of course if the reason I missed them was because I was running faster than expected, that wasn't such a bad thing in the end. After all, I got to see them at the best part: at the post-race finisher party with my finisher medal around my neck.

So now I'm already thinking about next year. Who would have imagined I'd go from running one marathon to preparing for a third. And, once more, I expect to run for Team Hole in the Wall and hope to have your support.

Thanks to one and all and stay tuned for pictures.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Bib Number 44578

For those of you who don't know, I'm running the NYC Marathon again this year and the race is only a couple days away. I want to thank all those who contributed generously to Team Hole in the Wall, the charity that I am running with again this year, and to let you know that although I've reached my minimum it is never too late to make a donation. Please click here to be directed to my fundraising website.

One of the amazing things about running the marathon is seeing the thousands, if not millions, of people lining the route cheering us along. But while the throngs of supporters is motivating, nothing compares to seeing familiar faces in the crowd. If you're going to be among the crowd and want to better your chances of seeing me, or want to track my progress from wherever you are, you can click here to see the various options available to track runners in near real time using your cell/smart phones. I will once again be wearing my Team Hole in the Wall jersey (white with green sides and sleeves) and my bib number this year is 44578.

However, one thing I learned from 2010 is that it is far easier for me to find you than it may be for you to spot me among the 47,000+ runners passing by. So if you do plan to come out, please let me know where you'll be, which cross street and side of the course, and I'll keep an eye out for you. Also, while places like the areas along 4th Avenue in Brooklyn, First Avenue around the 59th Street Bridge, and Central Park are the popular sites for fans to gather, stretches in northern Manhattan and through Harlem (approximately mile 18 - 22) have way less spectators - making it easier to spot people - and is where support was most important for me last year.

Thank you all once again for your continued support and I'll be looking for you along the course.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

One and done? Nope.

Last year I signed up for the NYC Marathon with the intention of doing one and being done. What I didn't expect, and what I wrote about here and here, is what a great and fun experience it would be. Sure my legs were sore for a day or so and there was a few moments around mile 22 that I seriously questioned my sanity, but despite that it was an amazing thing to be a part of....which is I why I've decided to run again!

Unfortunately, I didn't win a spot in the race through the lottery so have decided to run again with Team Hole in the Wall, the same charity I signed up with last year -- actually, even had I gotten a number from the lottery I would have joined the team anyway. As I wrote about last year, Team Hole in the Wall is a fantastic organization that supports camps where children with serious, life threatening illness can spend time being kids at no financial cost to them or their parents.

Like last year, in order to run I must first meet my fundraising goal of $3000. If you are one of the many who supported me last year I hope you'll do so again this year, but if you weren't able to before I hope you'll consider making a donation this time around. Yes it will help me get on this year's course but, more importantly, you will be helping so many deserving children. Please visit my donation homepage and show your support today (there is also a link there for a off-line donation form if you prefer to contribute that way).

Thank you for your support!


Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Land of Milk and Honey

Well I’m back in Israel. I know it might sound strange to be abroad again, especially since I just started a new job, but this isn’t an ordinary trip. Several months ago my eldest niece, Madelyn, was bat mitzvahed and this year our synagogue decided to organize a trip to Israel for those celebrating this milestone. Naturally, as an uncle with a zeal for traveling, familiarity with the country, and no job I offered my services as chaperon. Thankfully my new employer understood this prior commitment and generously agreed to my taking 10 days off so soon after starting work. So here I am.

We left on Thursday night and, after an uneventful – and surprisingly on time – flight, arrived at Ben Gurion airport Friday afternoon. It is always such a thrill when the plane touches down here, not the least because it seems to be one of the few times when people still clap upon landing, but with the new terminal there is something missing. No longer do you deplane down a staircase and onto the tarmac so gone are the scenes of people kneeling to kiss Eretz Israel – it just isn’t the same to kiss the carpet of a jetway. That said, the airport authority has installed the biggest mezuzah I’ve ever seen at the entrance to the arrival hall and passport control area. So that’s something I suppose.

With our arrival formalities done we boarded our bus for a quick trip to Haifa. For all but one of the kids, this was there first time setting foot in Israel so on the way north we stopped along the beach near the site where so many Jews fleeing Europe in the 1930s and 1940s were detained by the British, who controlled the entire region at the time. Despite a bit of jet lag it was a moving moment to stand within sight of such a place and say the shehecheyanu, a traditional Jewish prayer that is said to celebrate special occasions such as this.

Today we joined with several Israeli peers, some of whom our congregation's kids are staying overnight with this evening, to tour several sites around here. One of the most interesting was the area burned by the recent forest fire in the mountains surrounding Haifa. Seeing the charred earth and trees, especially in such close proximity to towns and the prison (the one to which 40 guards were headed to help evacuated when their bus was caught in the fast moving wall of fire and killed) that were nearly engulfed in the inferno, was a stark reminder of just how precarious much of our man-made world truly is. From there we went to a nearby Druze village for a lunch feast of traditional salads, appetizers, and fire roasted chicken. Except for a brisk wind that wreaked havoc on napkins, cups, and anything else not sufficiently weighted down, it was a picturesque and extremely tasty meal.

Tomorrow we're off to Tel Aviv, then the Upper Galilee and Golan Heights before the final days in Jerusalem with a day trip to Masada and the Dead Sea. It goes without saying that as exciting as it is being in Haifa and meeting their Israeli peers, all the kids are eagerly looking forward to these days the most -- as am I to be honest.

[Yes I'm taking many pictures but due to a spotty internet connection I will likely wait until I return Stateside to upload any.]

Friday, January 28, 2011

Becoming a citizen again

I made the news on Wednesday! Okay, maybe you didn't actually see my name, but if you heard about a drop in the rate of unemployment, it was me they were talking about. Yup, after almost sixteen months of voluntary unemployment, I returned to the working world this past week. As I explained in my earlier post, I left the practice of law with an eye toward returning to the hospitality business. After taking time for myself, which I've documented pretty well here, I reevaluated my goal of opening my own place and realized it was a little premature.

While I've worked in many restaurants over the years, it has primarily been as a server and not on the management side. Therefore, I decided to seek out a position where I could re-acclimate myself to working in the hospitality industry while gaining more knowledge and experience on the business aspect of it. I began reaching out to anyone I know with contacts in the field in hopes of gaining a foothold with a restaurant management group or other similar company. After many meetings and interviews, I was offered and accepted the position as wine manager at Maloney and Porcelli in midtown Manhattan. My first day was Wednesday, hence the dip in unemployment this week. Just doing my part to help the economy.

I'm really excited for this job. On the one had it fits exactly what I was hoping to do by allowing me to be on the floor interacting with the servers and customers while bolstering my wine related knowledge, but also gives me the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of managing a business with an eye toward pursuing the eventual goal I had for myself when I left law. Indeed I don't think I could have hoped for a better fit. As part of Fourth Wall Restaurant Group, which includes other notable restaurants such as Smith and Wollensky, Post House, and The Hurricane Club, to name a few, I get to be part of an organization with an established history and reputation for exceptional service. (And in bit of poetic irony perhaps, the restaurant is named for a pair of lawyers who specialize in the industry.)

Only two days into my new job and I already know I made the right decision. Sure there are things that need getting used to, but as much as it is an adjustment starting work at 4 pm, ending at or after midnight, and being on my feet most of the time, the way I feel when I'm in the whirlwind that is a busy restaurant during evening service is unlike anything I ever felt in my prior profession. I feel comfortable, in control - even if sometimes that feeling is an illusion - and, most importantly, happy and in my element.

As I've come to starkly realize over the past years, no one can know what the future holds for them. I certainly could never have imagined the tragic turn my life would take nor conceive during those dark days that I would ever be where I am now. I can't say whether or not I'll reach the point when I have my own business or what other turns - good or bad - that my life will take, but for now I am once again paying taxes (hence the citizenship concept in the title) and doing something I really enjoy.