Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Midweek Musical Muse IV - Coming Back To Life

"Coming Back To Life"

Where were you when I was burned and broken
While the days slipped by from my window watching
Where were you when I was hurt and I was helpless
Because the things you say and the things you do surround me
While you were hanging yourself on someone else's words
Dying to believe in what you heard
I was staring straight into the shining sun

Lost in thought and lost in time
While the seeds of life and the seeds of change were planted
Outside the rain fell dark and slow
While I pondered on this dangerous but irresistible pastime
I took a heavenly ride through our silence
I knew the moment had arrived
For killing the past and coming back to life

I took a heavenly ride through our silence
I knew the waiting had begun
And headed straight..into the shining sun

Pink Floyd

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Pictorial Walk Along Paseo Santa Lucia

I planned to spend all Sunday in my hotel room in Monterrey, Mexico. I had some work to do and outside it was overcast and cool, but by 1 PM the room’s 4 walls made me feel claustrophobic. I felt had to get out, so I drove to Fundidora Park for a stroll along the Paseo Santa Lucia.

The water passage snakes its way from Fundidora Park to the History Museum in the city center. It is about a 2 mile walk from the park to the city. I never planned to walk all the way, but I eventually did and back. All credit to the designers of the waterway because they keep one wondering what is around the next corner.
The Old and The New
At the entrance to the park with the Business Center in the background.

Curves and Lines
The Holiday Inn at Fundidora Park, Monterrey, Mexico.
A series of murals made with byzantine stone and marble.
Designed by Gerardo Cantu
Made by Migual Angel Cantu and David Gerstein
Top: Spring Stolen Kiss
Middle: Steeplechase
Bottom: The Little Horse
On the left: Stoneman. Artist unknown 
On the right: Beatriz Del Carmen & Jose Luis Cuevas by Jose Luis Cuavas, 2008

The Spiral. Artist unknown.

I eventually ended up in the city center at the back of the Museum for Mexican History (see previous post). At the restaurant on the left, Tenerias, I had a light late lunch before I walked back to the park.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Mexican-American War

About a year or two ago the Museum for Mexican History opened a second wing across the Paseo Santa Lucia. I had a visit to the new wing in mind when I knew I was going to stay over a weekend in Monterrey, Mexico.

On Saturday I headed for the city center. After a brief walk through the old part of the museum where nothing has changed much since my last visit several years ago, I cross to the new wing via a glass-enclosed bridge. The content of the new wing is nearly totally dedicated to the history of northeast Mexico where Monterrey is located and the influence of the southern United States on this region.

Museum for Mexican History with the original musuem building on the left and the new wing on the right, which look like uneven stacked concrete blocks on top of each other.

As with nearly all museums in Mexico the taking of photos is strictly forbidden and enforced. Around just about every corner and in every nook and cranny a museum employee was lurking. The place is certainly a great employer seeing that so many people stand around to prevent damage to exhibitions and people taking photos, or they are just very protective of their content. Because I brought my camera with and no bag to put it in and had to carry it in the open, I was approached by about 5 people to tell me no picture please. Quite ridiculous!

Nevertheless, what I took from my visit was that the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848 had a much bigger impact on both countries than what I previously thought. Granted, I knew about the war and about the Texas annexations of 1845, but the new wing of the museum focused a large section on this war I knew little about.

By 1846 several factors were on the mind of President James K Polk, 11th President of the USA (1845-1849). Foremost was the territorial expansion of the USA. Polk was a great supporter of the Manifest Destiny, which in the 19th century, prescribed that the USA had a right, even divinely, to expand across the whole North American continent, including Canada, Mexico and Central American territory. The 1845 Texan annexation got the ball of the war rolling. The Mexican government never recognized the Texas declaration of independence of 1836 and had always maintained that there will be war if the USA annexed Texas. But Mexico never had a chance. Small American forces quickly overtook California from the north, General Zachary Taylor cross the Rio Grande to fight Mexican forces around Monterrey and others under General Scott landed on the Mexican Gulf at Veracruz and marched from there to Mexico City, on the way they routed the Mexican forces.

Eventually, with most of its cities occupied and American forces camping out on the lawn of the Presidential palace, the Mexican government had little choice but to agree to peace and “sell” most of their territory. For a mere $18 million dollars (about half a billion in today’s money) the Mexican government signed away a whopping 55% of its country and enlarged the USA by 33%. The USA got all the modern day states of California, Utah, Nevada, and large parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming. Furthermore, the USA now got complete control over Texas and established the border at the Rio Grande. Proof again, that one does not have much negotiating room with a gun to one’s head.

On the other hand, the more things change the more they stay the same, because border issues between the USA and Mexico, granted, with slightly different circumstances, are still with us today, just like 160 years ago.

After my Mexican history lesson and intellectual stimulation I played the tourist, snapping away pictures of statues, buildings and general scenery while slowly making my way back to my parked car down Dr Goss Avenue. I walked passed El Neuquen, an Argentinean restaurant that makes excellent empanadas and the best chimichurri sauce. My mouth watered, but my car was metered-parked and I had no more small coins left to extend the time limit, and it was still only 4:30 PM, not dinner time yet. Too early for dinner in Mexico!

I came cross the tiny church as I meandered my way back from the Museum to my car.
The tiny church has the loveliest name: Capilla de los Dulces Nombres (Chapel of the Sweet Names)

A view of Monterrey's Macro Plaza from the Mexican History Museum with the Justice Palace on the right, the statue of Benito Pablo Juárez García, Mexico's first Amerindian President (1858-1872) in front of the Palace and on the left, the high clock tower of the Basilica de Nuestra Senora del Roble.  

Monterrey skyline with its layers of mountains surrounding it.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Midweek Musical Muse III

Ter herdekking van Valiant Swart se 20ste jaar op die verhoog.

As een van dié wat vroeg met die Voëlvry beweging van die laat-tagtiger jare inklank gevind het, het Valiant nie net musikaal oorleef nie, maar ontwikkel en gegroei tot ’n welbekende naam in Afrikaanse musiek sedert daardie Dorpstraat en studentekroeë dae.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The House Of Big Reds

In general, it seems that American wine drinkers have something against clarets or blended wines. That is one of the conclusions I can extract from the fact that so few blended wines are on retail shelves. It is as if they think that a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Merlot was not good enough to stand by itself as a varietal so the winemaker had to add other cultivars to improve the primary cultivar. Well yeah…that’s what it’s all about! Making it better! It is about getting the best out of the grapes. That’s what the French do when they blend their Bordeaux wines (almost all wines in Bordeaux are blended) and the Italians do when they blend Chiantis, etc.

Of course, demographics also play a part and it could be that where I usually buy my wine clarets just don’t sell well, hence the limited stocks.

A third possibility is that until 1988 most wines in America were labeled after the primary grape cultivar that it was made of, i.e. Zinfandel, Merlot, etc. Then The Meritage Association was created by a group of Californian winemakers who wanted to make wine in the old world Bordeaux style. For marketing purposes they could not use the word Bordeaux and selected Meritage that combines “merit” and “heritage” - reflecting the quality of the grapes and the ancient art of blending wine.

The Food

Outside a 5 inch layer of fresh snow has fallen through the night and now blankets the earth in a cuddly embrace. The perfect day, after some snow shoveling to clear the driveway, for a Daube de boeuf a la Provence (French beef stew with strong overtones of herbs from Provence). I didn’t use any specific recipe, but it had all the ingredients of a classic beef stew: onions, garlic, tomatoes, carrots, celery, mushrooms, potatoes and a good helping of herbs de Provence (savory, fennel seeds, basil, thyme, and lavender flowers.) However, instead of using red wine as is the custom, I used a bottle of Amstel Lager Light to provide the liquid. The beer makes the stew lighter in taste and the vegetables, especially the carrots, are slightly more prominent. Red wine usually overrides the total taste of a Provençal stew, and I wanted the herbs to be the stars of the dish. In the end I suppose it was a semi-Flemish beef stew infused with French herbs. Nevertheless, it was potjiekos and a perfect opportunity to open a recently purchased St. Francis 2005 Sonoma Claret.

The House of Big Reds

In the past 30 years St. Francis Winery has build up a reputation among the wine media as The House of Big Reds. Located in the heart of Sonoma County, California, it produces bold, full-bodied wines that over deliver on flavor while not hurting your pocket. Nearly all their wines retail for under $20 although it taste like $50 wines.

St. Francis Winery

In 1971 Joe Martin acquired the 100-acre Behler Ranch vineyard (with grapes original planted in 1910) in Sonoma County in the historic town of Kenwood, halfway between the towns of Santa Rosa and Sonoma on the Sonoma Highway/Highway 12. The winery is squeezed between the Sugarloaf Ridge State Park in the east and the Annadal State Park in the west, in the upper part of the Sonoma Valley, a region sometimes called the Valley of the Moon.

In 1972 Lloyd Canton joined Joe Martin in a partnership and they grew grapes and sold their fruit to local wineries. But in 1979 they established their own winery named after Saint Francis of Assisi. Since then they have steadily added more vineyards in the Sonoma and surrounding area and today the St. Francis winery have four vineyards: The original Behler Vineyard in the upper Sonoma Valley floor; the Wild Oak Vineyard in the Sonoma Valley; Nuns Canyon Vineyard in the Mayacamas Mountains, and Lagomarsino Vineyard just east of the Russian River Valley.

Over the years St. Francis has built up a solid reputation of producing wines of depth, complexity and elegance under the leadership of cellar master Tom Mackey. Accolades would follow: “Master of Merlot” (Wine Spectator), Tom Mackey as “International Red Winemaker of the Year” (at the 2001 London International Wine Challenge), “Number One Zinfandel in the World” (Wine Spectator), “California’s Hottest Winery” (Robert Parker), etc. Their wines are available in the best restaurants in America, and have been served at the White House by four American Presidents.

The Claret

The 2005 Claret is crafted from Cabernet Sauvignon (72%), Merlot (26%) and Cabernet Franc (2%). The color was a beautiful shiny dark red with light purple notes on top. Held against the light of the fading afternoon sun it looked like a dark ruby. On the nose the aroma was overwhelmingly fruity with faint hints of spiciness, oak, and a little smokiness from the Merlot. The taste did not disappoint. On the palate it started off smooth and fully flavored with lots of plum and berries and I also taste a little licorice. It is a medium-bodied wine with complex fruitiness, but well-balanced between the tannins and the oak. Initially the tannins were very bold with a dry-ish finish, but after a bit of air and a bit of warming up in the glass (it was stored at 55 degrees Fahrenheit) it smoothed out to a rich, semi-velvety finish with a hint of almonds in the after taste.

This is a true Bordeaux style wine and reminds me a lot of Nederburg Edelrood and the other well-blended reds from the Cape of Good Hope (among other the never-fail Chateau Libertas), but “the Rood” is usually a bit smoother and a full-bodied wine. Nevertheless, this is a classic Californian Meritage wine, which, as with many Californian wines, probably have a higher alcohol level than most Bordeaux wines and is made to drink immediately.

For the price ($17) St. Francis 2005 Claret is a well-crafted and excellent value for money wine. Highly recommended and I would also recommend to decanter 45 minutes before drinking.

BTW. I have noticed that St. Francis have a new claret on the market, simply and appropriately called RED. This wine is made in the “reverse” Bordeaux style with 48% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Syrah, 3% Zinfandel and 6 % Mixed Blacks (Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Alicante, Malbec). I can already imagine the overload on fruit flavors and spicy aromas.

Happy tasting!