Les Gouttes de Dieu part 1


Lately, I have noticed people taking an interest in the Japanese art form of ’manhokusai wavega’. The word has changed connotation over time: Hokusai’s views of Mt. Fuji of which many are familiar with the “Great Wave” (while, perhaps, not realizing that Mt. Fuji is in the background) was called a ‘manga’ in the late 18th century. Today, it is comics, and there are various sub-changres (seinen, shoen … don’t know what that means, really). And wine mangas.

2004, the “Kami no Shizuku” first appeared. The title is in French translated into (lit.) “drops of  god”, where ‘god’ stands for ‘kami’.  In the universe of this manga, a well-known Japanese wine critic, Yutaka Kanzaki, in his will, stipulates that a contest shall be between his son Shizuku (to whom he is estranged) and his (hrm hrm) ‘adopted’ son Issei Tomine to find out who is worthy to receive the inheritance of his cellar containing wines worth millions and millions of yen.

The contest consist of twelve descriptions of wines, called ‘apostles’, in a flowery and very poetical mode, apparently the Japanese original is extremely difficult even for a person proficient in Japanese. The contestants are then to find out what wine is implied by the description, and present it, and render their own description of the wine. Their efforts are to be judged by Yutaka’s old drinking friend (and self-proclaimed alcoholic) Robert ‘Pepe’ Doi, who lives in a cardboard house in a park, where he keeps his wines buried in the flower beds.

The contest wgouttes de dieu vol 1ould appear weighed in favor of Isse Tomine, dubbed “The Prince of Wines” (Yutaka being ”The King”), and a world authority on fine wines, while Shizuku has, as a part of his estrangement with his father, refused to drink wine and is currently (as the story opens) engaged as a commercial seller of beer,
in a brewery.

In a way, the story is slightly reminiscent in its build-up, of a computer game. Each new wine is a new level. Shizuku gains new allies, new tools he can use, while, over time, realizing his enormous potential in the olfactory department – he can literally sniff the difference between two wines without opening the bottles. He also gets to solve various other problems, usually by finding an appropriate wine. This appears to be central: for every problem, there exists an appropriate wine. Lost interest in swimming? Chablis Le Moutonne. Your lover has died? A Gevrey-Chambertin. You will die in 6 months from an incurable illness and you are 19 years old? Yes, even to this ‘problem’ there exists an appropriate wine … though none so complicated as fnding a suitable wine for Korean cooking a, no wine goes with kimchi (spoiler alert: yes there are a few).

The arbiter, Pepe, is in his way a version of “the hermit on the mountain” – cf. Katsuichi-sensei in Usagi Yojimbo, or the guy who knows how to make the perfect broth for noodles in ‘Tampopo’. He is also fabulously rich, despite living in a cardboard box.

Shizuku, being described as one “who will be attractive to girls” is strangely uninterested despite having had very obvious come-ons from various nubile ladies – somewhat like a wine-drinking Spirou, or, possibly, Tintin (though I have never seen any girls try to go down on Tintin). Isse, on the other hand, has a rich life in terms of sexual relationships, though never with full frontal nudity (nipples are not to be shown in a SFW manga, so, they are oddly hidden by strands of hair or similar). I suspect something cultural is behind this – I mean, the protagonist is celibate, the antagonist is not.

Where the series stands today, the two combatants are in fact head to head, with ten wines identified and described.

Yutaka died in 2004, and, in the French version, oddly, wines of vintages after his death are beginning to appear. Various other oddities – even today, after more than ten years, Shizuku has not grasped that the world famous model Sara, whom he is friends with, is, in fact, Isse’s half-sister. An early competition within the competition, that the winner of the last apostle should have the use of Yutaka’s mansion-like home – this died out after two apostles, and, to this day, it has not been disclosed where Shizuku lives, if anywhere. A person who early in the story appeared to be important (the “Le Pin” lady) and who apparently was extremely well-known to, and revered by, Shizuku’s boss, Mr Kawagate, has since simply disappeared out of view – perhaps she will reappear but, I don’t hold my breath.

To be continued …


Le p’tit verre de vin blanc

Un p'tit verre de vin blanc
Un p’tit verre de vin blanc


There is, of course, always champagne.

There exists a text that circulates on the Internet, purportedly by Anna de Pommery, in which she claims never to drink champagne – with a few exceptions. These exceptions are then listed and amazingly, covers every conceivable aspect of her life.
So, you could, when sitting down for a lunch, or supper, in a French restaurant, start with champagne – sometimes simply referred to as, ”le coup (de)”, which indicates a hankering for the number one effervescent beverage. Champagne is a beverage? Yes, and Sole Walewska is a dead fish.
Unfortunately, champers is costly. Even if there are other fizzy wines, you are left feeling that, ordering cremant, you are having it because you can’t afford, or, are too stingy, to order TheRealMcCoy. So.

In times of spring, the young man’s heart turns lightly to thoughts of rosé, particularly if he is close to the Mediterranean, a bowl of black olives has been placed before him, and cikadas are singing in the close vicinity, in which case he is temporally confused as that would indicate it no longer is spring but rather summer. Even though there are quite decent rosé wines at affordable prices, most likely you will be offered an uninteresting pale pink alcoholic fluid from a bottle that costs EU 2.50 in the corner shop across the street (they have better, though, and their vegetables are quite good, actually, in the corner shop, I mean). There might even be ice cubes in it*).
So, why not a little glass of white?
I sometimes find that the little glass of white, in the good places, express a bit of their soul. Like the swords of a samurai? How they would like to be seen. Try it. When the waiter asks if you would like an aperitif, mention, casually, ”le p’tit verre de vin blanc”, see what he/she comes up with.
Here are a few examples:
Starting in the Roya valley, in Tende, our favorite hotel (or one of them) Miramonti, which is a rustic, but warm and friendly place, with a restaurant dimensioned for mountain hikers who will want big portions of carbohydrates and beverages served in no nonsense helpings. Here, I got, a Côte du Rhone, white, from Beaume de Venise – yes, a dry white BdV, but, quite obviously a good helping of Muscat grapes had ended up in their non-fortified … aromatic in a robust and hearty way, paving the way for a good serving of pasta.
Next, Vin sur Vin, in Rue Biscarra, off Jean Medecin, in Nice. A great little place to have a lunch when rushing about the town in and out of the shops, and a nice choice of open wines – there is always something, even if it tends to be more from the South than form the North. Their offer was a very idiosyncratic mix: Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc, without oak (oaking VIognier is a hanging offense, by the way, have I mentioned that?), very aromatic, very crisp, nicely refreshing acidity …
Going up-market a bit. A restaurant with some pretentions, the Villa Garibaldi (”Luxe d’espace et naturel fashion”, to quote from their own web page, don’t ask me what they mean) where we landed by misfortune a dark and stormy night … we were the first guests for the evening, we were asked to have a seat in the lobby bar and asked whether we would fancy an apero … and, in response to ”le p’tit verre de vin blanc, SVP” he pours a Meursault Charmes 1er Cru 2009 … slightly youngish, admittedly but … and, then he turns on the lounge music and it’s BB King singing and playing ”The Thrill is Gone” and life has suddenly got a new glow (I am an avid fan of the old blues guys).
Definitely up-market: Cordeillan Bages, in Medoc, which is a one star restaurant in the old school with white linen table cloth and everything, and where the lunch menu is good value at EU 60 if you want to eat in styel (always go to the star restaurants for lunch, is my motto – you get almost all of it but with a reduction in price). Here, in an elegant glass (Riedel?) I was served a white from Ch Lagrange in St Joseph, ”Arums de Lagrange” – pure bliss, me hearties. Pure bliss. And a harbinger of good things to come – undoubtedly one of the best meals I have had so far in 2015, and am likely to have forthwith. Recommended with a vengeance.

However, remember:
L’abus d’alcool est dangereux pour la santé. Consommer avec moderation.

*) Except in ”Saveurs & Anthocyans” in 10, r Giofreddo, in Nice, where the rosé by glass is excellent, truly.

Les Velobleus

Here is something for the ecologically minded …
Since 2010, the city of Nice operates a system of bicycles on short term lease. According to our dear Leader,
the Mayor Mr Estrosi, we need to diminish the use of private cars*) in the city, and this is one of the means to this noble end.
The years have seen the number of available bikes stevelobleuadily rise, as has the number of stations where you can obtain one.
The computer data base system that is linking bikes, stations, and customers, has been very much improved since the first
faltering steps, while the bikes remain the same – too small, too heavy, and with too few gears. Apart from that, the system, once you are into it, works quite well for most of the year – then summer comes, and tourists, and persons under the alfluence of incohol who do not understand what happens, get angry, and smash up things. This is of course slightly irritating.
To be able to use the bikes you need a) a mobile phone and b) a credit card in good standing. While it is possible to sign up ”on the fly” on a street corner, I would definitely recommend against it as the voice menu you are supposed to pick your way through is extremely difficult, besides being steadily accompanied by a little jaunty jazz manouche guitar jingle that makes it even harder to understand than it already is as the traffic around you continues unabated by your high-minded endeavours. Rather, start at home by your computer, the webadress is www.velobleu.org, and register your mobile phone and credit card number – when you next need a bicycle in Nice, look up one of the stands, press the appropriate on/off button, and follow instructions (French/English/Italian).

It is cheap – base rate for one day i EU 1, for one week EU 5, for a month EU 10, and for a year EU 25. The first 30 minutes are free, meaning, after 25 minutes you change bicycle, which you can do as many times as you please.
The problems are that stands may be out of bicycles (or there are four, all with flat tyres), or, conversely, you want to leave your bike, but the stands are saturated and there is no room. This is particularly so around major holidays (July 14th comes to mind).

Remember to wear a helmet. Besides being protective, since in France bicycles are either sporting implements or toys, and noone uses protective clothing playing, the helmet will indicate that you are, in fact, a sportsman, and entitled to the respect due a veteran bicyclist. Strangely, this works (at least sometimes), and you may find that people will yield right of way to you. Still, entering downtown Nice circulation on a little bike is not for the faint of heart – wherever possible, stick to the demarcated cycle lanes.

And there is one of the problems. Some of the bike lanes just – stop. Suddenly, they, cease to be. They are no more. No excuse or explanation given.
At other times, something of a higher priority ensues, such as a petanque festival, or the need for a stand that sells T-shirts for the jazz festival, and they are out of space so … guess what.

2015-07-25 10.41.06 Yup. ”You were going there? Well … sorry mate, still, no worries, eh?” Indeed.

This summer, 2015, the bikes have been in terrible disrepair. Sometimes, 4 or 5 bikes have been tried consequently, and all found in more or less dire straits. Flat tires. No saddle. Mostly, though, the hub being dysfunctional! Of course this should be reported, but … did I tell you about Velobleu’s ansaphone? With the jazz manouche jingle? Well. Why somebody couldn’t think of an app to do the reporting is beyond me. Unfortunately, so is constructing an app.

*) He claimed in a public meeting a few years ago that a poll suggested that, at any given time, of the cars circulating downtown Nice, one out of three did so because they could not find a parking place.

Epi oinopa ponton

Looking out the window and considering. Outside, across le Promenade and the beach, are the Baie des Anges (Angels’ Bay), and the Me2015-08-03 09.45.01diterranean. Incidentally, the angels that laid name to the bay where not the kind with wings and halos, rather they were a species of fish, related to rays and sharks.

That is not my consideration, rather, I am remembering an article I read a few days ago, how the word ‘blue’ is a fairly recent addition to human language – perhaps I should say ‘concept’, rather than color. Homer, e g, never mentions any word depicting the color blue. Rather, when he speaks of the sea, which he does quite often, he calls it “epi oinopa ponton” which translates, more or less, into “the wine-dark sea”, indicating, I suppose, that he saw the sea as kind of purple – well he didn’t, did he? The legend tells us he was blind so … James Joyce lets his portrait of (stately plump) Buck Mulligan waggishly translate it into the “snotgreen sea”, but returning to Homer, he never describes the sky as blue, either, nor anything else.

Here, the sea is indeed very blue, light with a silver sheen over it, a greenish tinge close to the beach. Near the horizon, darker, a bit grey, and the silhouette of one of those yachts that appear to have stealth capabilities (missile launchers added at no extra cost). Sky over the horizon yellowish white, then, a lighter blue.

If it were the case that the contemporaries of Homer did not perceive blue, it is even more clear that the tourists of the early 19th century did not notice the sea. Odd, that. Diaries and letters of the leisured classes speak of the orchards (many of them planted expressly for the delight of the tourists), or, rather less often, the mountains – never the sea. The small town of Hyères further to the west was built to accommodate tourists, and it was situated away from the sea. No one bothered about the sea, except as a means of transportation. Persons who actually did bathe and swim were considered highly excentric, if they were rich, and bonkers if they were not but if you weren’t rich, you were not here and not a tourist. So probably not bonkers, then.

My considering leads me to the conclusion that there might be colors I do not perceive, even though I have the potential ability (the ancient Greeks were no more color blind than we are today), and, that possibly, 200 years from today, some guy will wonder why we did not admire … whatever we take so much for granted that it passes totally unperceived, as the sea did for the 19th century tourists.

I might tell you about the bakery, later.