Sunday Poetry: Love is like red, red wine

Above: I snapped this pic with my Blackberry as I drove across Arkansas, on my way back to Little Rock from Texarkana. I like the way the phone’s camera makes the trees look two-dimensional.

There were a lot of things about my recent sales trip to Arkansas that made me think about one of my favorite poets, Langston Hughes.

The beautiful trees that line Interstate 30 were one of them. They made me think of his poem “Daybreak in Alabama”:

    When I get to be a composer
    I’m gonna write me some music about
    Daybreak in Alabama
    And I’m gonna put the purtiest songs in it
    Rising out of the ground like a swamp mist
    And falling out of heaven like soft dew.
    I’m gonna put some tall tall trees in it

Above: In Arkansas, they’re very proud of their tomatoes. For lunch, I ate Tomato Aspic — tomato jello stuffed with mayonnaise.

Wine appears more than once in Hughes’s poetry. As a child I was fascinated by his poem “Lament over Love,” which I read over and over and set to music:

    I hope my child’ll
    Never love a man.
    I say I hope my child’ll
    Never love a man.
    Love can hurt you
    Mo’n anything else can.

    I’m goin’ down to the river
    An’ I ain’t goin’ there to swim.
    My true love’s left me
    And I’m goin’ there to think about him.

    Love is like whiskey,
    Love is like red, red wine.
    Love is like whiskey,
    Like sweet red wine.
    If you want to be happy
    You got to love all the time.

    I’m goin’ up in a tower
    Tall as a tree is tall,
    Up in a tower
    Tall as a tree is tall.
    Gonna think about my man
    And let my fool-self fall.

Above: Turnip greens in Arkansas were also really tasty.

Many of Hughes’s poems were adaptations of blues songs. As a teenager, I was also fascinated by his autobiography, The Big Sea, which I read over and over again. The chapters devoted to his time in Europe were heavily dogeared in my paperback copy (I wrote about his visit to Desenzano here).

Above: In North Little Rock where I spoke at a wine dinner, I slept at the Baker House, a Victorian home listed in the National Registry of Historic Places. The man who built it was not allowed to live there because of his color.

Life in Arkansas is certainly different than New York, California, or Austin. I’d never been there before this year. People were very nice to me and I had a lot of fun pouring and talking about wine. I certainly can’t complain.

    Though you may hear me holler,
    And you may see me cry
    I’ll be dogged, sweet baby,
    If you gonna see me die.

    Life is fine! Fine as wine! Life is fine!

    (from “Life is Fine”)

Above: I sold Barolo and Barbaresco to Tom’s Jug Shop in Texarkana. You can buy beer and liquor there at a drive-through window. They give you a cup of ice with your order, if you want. You wouldn’t think it from the sign and facade but they know their wine there.

Life is certainly never boring and as much as I miss Tracie B when I’m away from Austin, I love the travel and the new places I get to visit (Louisiana is next). As Langston Hughes wrote in the epigraph of The Big Sea:

Life is a big sea full of many fish. I let down my nets and pull.

Che due marroni! and more thoughts on the Berlusconi gaffe

Above: this morning, my college friend Steve Muench sent this pic of chestnuts roasting in Piazza della frutta in Padua, where he and I attended university in 1987-88 (my first year in Italy). I played my first Italian gig in that square, at Bar Margherita.

There’s a saying in Italian, che due marroni!, literally, what two chestnuts! I’ll spare you the figurative meaning and its reference to the male anatomy: it can be translated as what a pain in the butt!

I spent the better part of the morning getting my gmail back online. I know a lot of people had email bounce back but it seems to be working properly now. Sorry for the hassle.

In other news…

Today, Cristiano left this insightful and thoughtful comment on my Berlusconi gaffe post:

    The fact is that Berlusconi, and a lot of people in Italy for that matter, don’t seem to be able to see the fact that the pun is indeed a racist one and feel offended if this is pointed out to them.

    I really wonder how Berlusconi really is viewed by people out of Italy.

It reminded me of a passage in a book that I read over and over again as a teenager, The Big Sea by Langston Hughes (btw, I referenced a Langston Hughes poem in my post-election Harlem post from last Wednesday). In the 1920s, the young Hughes traveled to Italy and visited his friend Romeo in Desenzano in Lombardy. Note that in Italian, vino rosso can be referred to as vino nero or black wine:

    The night we arrived was Sunday and the whole village had gone to the movies. There was no one home at Romeo’s house and he had no key, so we left our baggage piled in the doorway and went to the movies, too. It was one of those theaters where the screen is at the front of the house beside the front door, so you come in facing the audience Just as we came in, the house lights went on between reels, as they were changing the film. The place was crowded, but as we entered and the people saw us, the whole crowd arose and began to make for the doorway. Soon they became a shouting, pushing mass. I didn’t know what they were saying, for they were speaking Italian, of course, and I didn’t understand Italian. But Romeo and I were swept into the street and surrounded by curious but amiable men, women, and children. Finally, Romeo’s mother got him through the crowd and threw her arms about his neck. I gather that almost all of the people of the village were Romeo’s friends, but I didn’t know why so many of them clung to me and shook my hands, while a crowd of young boys and men pulled and pushed until they had me in the midst of them in a wine shop, with a dozen big glasses of wine in front of me.

    Later that night Romeo explained to me that never in Desenzano, so far as he knew, had there been a Negro before, so naturally everybody wanted to look at me at close hand, and touch me, and treat me to a glass of vino nero. Romeo said they were all his friends, but hardly would the whole theater have rushed into the street between reels had it not been for me, a Negro, being with him.

I’ll leave the exegesis of this passage up to you…

Montage of a dream deferred (but now realized)

Yesterday I flew to NYC where I’m presenting an Apulian tasting at a New York Wine Media Guild luncheon today. Last night, my buddy Greg Wawro and I headed to Harlem after dinner to celebrate the election and drink it all in…

Outside the Apollo theater people gathered and cheered. Everyone was high-fiving and hugging and cheering. It was pretty awesome.

This dude performed a dance with the flag at 7th Ave. and 127th St.

We watched Obama’s acceptance speech on the big screen at Adam Clayton Powell Plaza.

Greg and I partied with revelers at the Seville Lounge on 7th Ave.

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

— Langston Hughes