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5 O’Clock Somewhere

Drinking the World Every Afternoon

A Glass of Wine and a Shibboleth For Transplanted Peoples

Jan.12.16

A Glass of Wine and a Shibboleth For Transplanted Peoples

by Alexander Theodosiou

Rosato in Apulia

Apulia is one of Italy’s largest wine-producing regions and, my family being oenophiles, we relished the presence of good wine during our visit. Accompanying the excellent Pugliese food were a number of regional wines, but the most memorable was a Salice Salentino rosato, made from the Negroamaro grape.

We tried the wine in the town of Calimera, which we visited in order to experience Griko culture. The Griko are a small community in Southern Italy of Greek origin who retain their Hellenic culture and language. Having Greek heritage ourselves, we visited Calimera (which means “good day” in Greek) to ascertain how recognizable this culture is today. The largest concentration of Griko people is in Apulia’s Salentine peninsula—Italy’s heel—and Bovesia, in Calabria, the toecap of the boot. They represent the last clear living proof of a Greek presence in Southern Italy that dates back to the 8th century BC.

I had no idea what to expect. Would it be ouzo and ‘opa’s around every street corner, or only the hint of a Hellenized surname here and there? Upon entering the town’s environs, a sign read ‘kalos irthate’, (Greek for ‘welcome’), which boded well.

Calimera has a makeshift museum dedicated to preserving and showcasing Griko culture, and it was to this we headed. The small town was bathed in lazy, golden afternoon sunshine. A middle-aged, balding man with sun-weathered skin greeted us in the entrance hall, seemingly surprised to see any visitors. His Italian welcome was met by a Greek response, and, while evidently taken aback, he smiled and extended another greeting, this time in the Griko language. As he began explaining the museum’s layout in a vernacular both bizarre and familiar, we realized we could understand one another. His name was Gaetano, and he left us to inspect the collection of exhibits—farm tools, traditional and festive clothing, and, most enlightening of all, letters, poetry, and songs, written in Griko—crammed into the few rooms available.

Soon after, he beckoned us into a small garden and was eager to offer us each a glass of chilled local Salice Salentino rosato: ruby quartz in color, fruity, and simultaneously refreshing and full-bodied. We managed to a hold conversation, which represented an instantaneous marker of kinship, a kind of shibboleth we’d been subconsciously hoping for.

It was clear that Gaetano was proud of his heritage, and also of the rosé he had offered us. While undoubtedly both man and wine were local, very much products of the Salentine Peninsula, they share a foreign root. Viticulture in Southern Italy was introduced by ancient Greek colonists in the 8th century BC, the cultural forebears of Gaetano and his kin. Like the wine, the people have developed in their own way into something unique and Italian.

But sadly, there is a sense of loss, almost decay, which pervades the culture. Gaetano claimed that the Griko identity has been eroding for centuries as a result of gradual Italianization, and more recently due to Mussolini’s aggressive nationalism and the onset of mass media and globalization. Consequently, the number of self-identified Grikos is dwindling. The population today stands at around 80,000, he told us, swirling the last of the rosato in his glass, and far fewer that actually speak the language. But Gaetano also spoke of a popular movement to introduce Griko language classes into the school curriculum in Griko villages across Italy’s deep south, in a bid to preserve and strengthen the culture.

Leaving Calimera, I surveyed the scene: a sleepy, sun-bleached town, rows of gnarled, ancient olive trees, cicadas chiming in arrhythmic, atmospheric song. In the town’s quiet, leafy park stands an ancient Attic burial stone, a gift from the Greek government to recognize the region’s Hellenic heritage, inscribed with the words ‘Zeni su en ise ettù sti Kalimera’ (‘You are not a stranger here in Calimera’). After such a fine welcome, I felt as if the words were directed right at me.

Everyone Should Have a “Palm Wine Guy”

Sep.20.17

Everyone Should Have a “Palm Wine Guy”

by Mel Bailey

Palm Wine in Senegal

As we walked along the only paved road that ran parallel to the river in search of “the palm wine guy,” the haze from the sweltering spring day in southern Senegal blurred the faces of the women working in the wheat fields either side of us.

Locals in Ziguinchor’s city center told my friend, Ousmane, and I that we had to try palm wine while in Casamance, and that the best came from a guy in Boutoute, a village a little over two miles away. So we walked. We turned off the paved road and walked down the dirt path past the crocodile swamp toward the forest of palm, mango, and lemon trees. The forest was thick, dark, and moist underfoot as we trudged forward under the shadow of palms and the buzzing of horse-flies and bees.

The few villagers we met along the way directed us to the front door of a one-story, mud-brick dwelling—the home of Jean-Paul Badji, the man behind the palm wine. We told him what we were after, and with a sweet smile spread across his aging face, he pulled out a two-gallon jerry can and two aluminum cups and offered us a drink.

The wine was warm and sweet on my tongue, with a bit of tang. I watched the white, frothy liquid—which the local Jola people call Boulouk—slowly disappear from my cup.

Newly tapped palm wine has no real alcohol content, but after about an hour of fermenting, it turns into wine with 4 percent ABV. It left us feeling a slight buzz. The longer the wine ferments, the stronger it becomes—reaching its maximum proof of 40 percent ABV before it turns to vinegar.

Excited by our discovery and also wanting a decent stock for the evening, we asked for some for the road. Jean-Paul told us we had just finished the last of his morning stock, but that we could accompany him on his afternoon route to collect the last batch of the day.

Boulouk seeps out of the hole created by cutting away the three-pound clusters of crimson fruit kernels that grow near the top of the African oil palm. The trees can grow up to 100 feet tall, which makes obtaining the palm wine no easy task. Nonetheless, locals say their ancestors have been climbing palm trees and drinking their wine for thousands of years.

That night under the stars, we gathered with Jean-Paul’s family of 13 and his neighbors at the path’s crossroads outside the forest, and drank palm wine while we shared stories by the fire. By night, the wine was stronger, spurring laughter from all of us. It was a great way to toast to the night after a long day. Because the ingredients are just tree sap, we didn’t have to worry about a hangover in the morning.

All Stories Must Come to An End, But You Can Take the Wine With You

Sep.19.17

All Stories Must Come to An End, But You Can Take the Wine With You

by Zamira Kristina Skalkottas

Robola in Kefalonia

Every island has a story to tell. In the Greek archipelago, every rock in the water, no matter how big or small, speaks with its own voice. Kefalonia is like that—a rock with a very strong sense of identity.

I had come to see an old friend, and I was amazed. We’d barely struck up a friendship in California when he seemed to drop off the face of the earth, hit by dual crises of health and money. Months passed, and he began to resurface. Now a repatriated Greek, he seems to walk around in a spotlight, a celebrity on his land, his beautiful dog, John Lennon, in tow. As he took me on a tour of his village, the “Beverly Hills” of Kefalonia, which is also his family name, “Yia sous” (hellos) rang out everywhere.

Here, a wealthy ship-owner and former lover of Maria Callas (who later lost out to Onassis) rebuilt all the homes after the devastating 1953 earthquake. They are big stucco affairs, all blooming roses and wide terraces. This new California-ish posh quality is not at all what I expected from a Greek island village.

The next evening we gathered with friends and family for a huge spread of hand-cut fries, burgers, bacon, onion marmalade, and blue cheese. The wine was a local white, made from the Robola grape, and rang little bells on my palate. I was amazed again—by the caliber of the chefs, the food, the
wine.

I wanted to learn more and headed to the Robola Cooperative, up a serpentine mountain road next to a monastery in Omala Valley. Here, 85 percent of the island’s wine is produced. I tried three wines, leaving the best for last, the San Gerasimo, which is fermented in stainless steel. This was just as bright and perky as the others, but lingered, trailing scarves of honeysuckle and pineapple.

That night, we met on my friend’s veranda. There were blanched almonds, fresh kefalotiri cheese, and olives. An open bottle of the Robola. We drank from teacups, gin glasses, and mugs, and ate from a communal pot of tortellini. I was sitting in a rocker, leaning back, looking for a meteor shower that never happened. It didn’t matter. The sky was still a siren song, deep with thousands of light pinpricks.

We opened a second bottle. The wine kept playing its chimes, enlivening the conversation. My friend regaled us with stories of working in a pizza parlor back in the day, turning heads with his old-time Vespa, and yearly trips to Italy. Everyone, all of these Kefalonian Californians, had stories of Italy. There is a longstanding connection between the island and Italy, a former “protector” of Kefalonia.

My friend’s cousin walked me back to my hotel, the only one in the village. It was so quiet, even the cicadas seem to have fallen asleep. Up on Mount Ainos, the grapes were turning sun into sugar, some on 100-year-old un-grafted vines.

Every island has a story to tell, and all stories must come to an end. But the Robola came home with me on the plane.

It Took a Catastrophe to Remind the Mainland U.S. That We Are Also Americans, FFS

Sep.15.17

It Took a Catastrophe to Remind the Mainland U.S. That We Are Also Americans, FFS

by Peter Bailey

Shots of rum in St. Thomas

The night before Hurricane Irma arrived here on St. Thomas, I exchanged texts with a friend in Anguilla, asking her if I should be worried. I was expecting just a bit of wind and rain, nothing life-altering.

My phone’s signal faded before she could share the full scope of the madness I was about to encounter.

In a few hours I found myself dodging flying debris alongside my brother as we carried my wheelchair-bound, 80-year-old father to safety in an experience I’ll describe as nothing short of hell. The wind sucked a lady out of her window, hurling her to her death, while shattered glass slit the throat of a man who bled to death in front of his wife. An electrician was electrocuted while working on a downed power line. With our hospital decimated, patients have been airlifted to Puerto Rico and beyond.

In Irma’s aftermath, one American transplant, sitting comfortably on her boat over on St. John, lamented in People magazine about “the overwhelming smell of death in the air” instead of offering aid to those who now need so much of it.

It’s not the first time people here have felt alienated from our mainland counterparts. I’m heartbroken it took this devastation for the world, and, most importantly, our neighbors to the north, to take notice: to finally realize we in the U.S. Virgin Islands are Americans, too.

Living on the U.S. mainland, I explained time and time again that I’m a U.S. citizen. My first year at the University of Delaware, a state trooper called for back up when he saw my U.S. Virgin Islands license after a routine traffic stop, asking where St. Thomas was and accusing Caribbean immigrants of bringing drugs to his beloved country.

I emphatically repeated: “I’m a U.S. citizen.”

Well, not quite.

When I voted for President Barack Obama in 2008, I had been waiting for years to vote for an American president. Although we are U.S. citizens, Virgin Islanders have to become a resident of the state we live in to be able to vote for president. Since I reside in Miami, my vote counted as a Floridian and not as a Virgin Islander.

On the other hand, our status as a territory has led to an uneasy and awkward relationship with our Caribbean neighbors, who see us as having no true identity, but also grudgingly envy our U.S. citizenship, however second-class.

We’re basically a glorified colony of the United States, a country that celebrates its crusade against tyranny far and wide.

Purchased from Denmark in 1917 to protect the U.S. mainland from European incursions, our second-class status and the ignorance that reinforces it isn’t exclusive to that unruly cop who pulled me over many years ago. It also permeates mainstream media.

Like the media coverage preceding Hurricane Marilyn in 1995, most media outlets all but ignored the islands before Irma wreaked historic havoc upon us. My family and I sat their dumbfounded switching between network news channels in the lead-up to the storm. It was as if we didn’t exist.

In the fleeting moments when the U.S. Virgin Islands were mentioned, reporters painted a scene taken from an episode of Gilligan’s Island:

“American tourists on the U.S. territory are being cautioned to hunker down.”

Hmmmm. No mention of the estimated 100,000 Virgin Islanders who reside between St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. John, and Water Island. “Locals,” as we’re called, with a tinge of condescension.

Now seeing those same tourists and U.S. mainland transplants depending on us “locals” for their survival during this catastrophe is a sight to see. Our paradise now resembles the backdrop of an apocalyptic film: crumbled houses, never-ending food lines, and a procession of military trucks blaring admonishments at residents to get back home. With trees uprooted and stripped of their leaves, our once lush, green forest looks skeletal.

With no electricity, running water, or internet access, life after the storm is taxing indeed. I’ve even stared at a few of the stray chickens perusing the island and wondered just what they might taste like roasting over the coal pot I’m using to heat up my canned meals. Those roosters, crowing all hours of the day, are a nuisance anyhow. Before my daydream turns deadly, the animal lover in me snaps back to reality. Another meal of beans over rice it is, followed by a shot of Cruzan raspberry flavored rum right before bed.

As a community facing a catastrophe that threatened to completely wipe us out, I’m inspired by our resolve as we band together to restore what Irma stole.

There’s been some benefit in being disconnected from our American counterparts to the north. The sense of entitlement and bigotry that rips at the fabric of the mainland isn’t found here. We see human first and color a distant last. Now that we Virgin Islanders have been forced into the national psyche, the rest of America stands to gain from the lessons our tiny island has to offer.

Photo by: Sam Howzit

The Familiar Shame of Ordering a Foster’s in a Real Ale Pub

Sep.12.17

The Familiar Shame of Ordering a Foster’s in a Real Ale Pub

by Steele Rudd

Ale in Oxford

The heart of scholarship in the Anglophone world, Oxford is host to the oldest and probably most renowned English-speaking university. For a thousand years, philosophers, scientists, literary types, and politicians have spent their formative years here, learning and researching and crafting ideas that have helped define the progress of the human species.

Inevitably, that involves drinking. And along with a millennium of scholarship comes a millennium of misbehavior. At the Turf Tavern—a hideaway watering hole that dates back to the 14th century—a blackboard hung up on the ancient stonework in the beer garden celebrates the spot where Bill Clinton did not inhale. Another commemorates the 1963 achievement of a Rhodes Scholar named Robert Hawke, who set a world record for downing a yard-glass of ale in 11 seconds. Impressive enough in itself, Bob would later cap this with the secondary feat of becoming prime minister of Australia.

In other ways the Turf is commonplace enough; a fairly typical English pub given its age and pedigree. The menu is unsurprising; sausage rolls and Scotch eggs and burgers and pulled-pork nachos. And on the day I visit, the clientele is representative of Oxford in the late summer: plenty of German families, American backpackers, Chinese retirees, English road-trippers, and a smattering of town-and-gown (locals and academics).

But if the nature of a pub is home away from home, that’s doubly true for an English pub. Whether it’s your local down the road, a Wetherspoons on the Orkney Islands, or an ancient tavern in Oxford, a good pub is familiar. On tap at the Turf you’ll find a drink common across the country—real ale.

Real ale, or cask ale, as it used to be known, differs in a couple of important ways from the beer that most of us drink today. Primarily, it’s brewed in the cask in which it’s served. That means it continues to ferment even while it’s sitting in the pub. Secondly, it’s made using traditional ingredients and without added carbonation. For someone used to a beer that crackles like cola, real ale feels very flat on the tongue and sits heavily on the stomach.

Often, and particularly near to the end of the cask, a muddy sediment will rest at the bottom of the glass; a result of the absence of filtering and pasteurization that most beers go through.

At one stage in the 1970s, cask ale was so rare that a group of enthusiasts banded together to form a consumer campaign for its preservation. The successful relabeling of cask ale by the “Campaign for Real Ale” (CAMRA), alongside a more recent hipster-led interest in craft brewing, has led to a more than 250 percent growth in the number of cask ale breweries in the last 10 years.

I take my pint—a Cornish amber ale called Doom Bar—out the back; settle in, and take a sip. It’s turbid. It tastes familiar, but with more flavors, and also more muted, like a drink from a rainwater tank. If I’d grown up with it, I decide, real ale would certainly be my drop. But too accustomed now to the acrid flatus of a mass-produced lager, my next drink’s a shameful Foster’s.

A Successful Introduction to Indonesian Wine

Sep.11.17

A Successful Introduction to Indonesian Wine

by Iain Shaw

Wine in Ubud

In Ubud, we drank when the clouds came in. Every afternoon of my stay in the hub of traditional Balinese arts and crafts, the skies became overcast around 4 p.m. Like cigarette smoke weaving a singular sheet of haze across a crowded room, the clouds steadily drew in, blotting out the sun. The threat of an imminent downpour wasn’t always real, but often persuaded me to postpone more cultural pursuits. There was always tomorrow.

Most days, that first afternoon drink was an ice-cold Bintang, the Indonesian beer that seems to feature on every drink list in Bali. On one particular day, though, we drank Indonesian wine. Specifically, a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, created in Bali by local producers Plaga Wines. I had spotted it on the way out of a restaurant at lunch, and made a snap decision: this would be the bottle by which we would get to know—and judge—Indonesian wine.

I hadn’t expected to find locally produced wine in Indonesia, but there are good reasons a robust, if small, wine culture has grown up here in recent decades. First, many tourists—and there are many tourists in Bali alone—want to drink wine. However, high import duties on alcohol mean bloated retail prices on even the most ordinary imported wines. Since the early 90s, local entrepreneurs have been gradually plugging the gap in the market for affordable wines, and a number of wineries now produce their own vintages with locally grown grapes.

I was excited about trying the wine, and growing in confidence on its behalf. Of course, there was a chance—a chance one takes with all wine—that it would be irredeemable plonk. As the clouds thickened the sky into a uniform white, we retreated to our hotel, near Ubud’s Monkey Forest. We set up with our wine and glasses by the hotel pool. The poolside seemed a good place to drink the wine, in the shade of palm trees and bordered on two sides by the hotel’s bamboo exteriors.

We poured the wine, clinked glasses, and sipped. It was all over with the first taste. This was a good, solid wine, with deep, dark berry flavors that hung around through subsequent sips. It wasn’t the kind of wine to gulp, but soon enough I was on my second glass. I definitely wouldn’t be going for a swim.

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