Monday, October 01, 2007

The Long Day's Journey Into Wine Country

The time has come to tell the story of the day Paul The Globetrotting Wargamer, His Friend Terry the Globetrotting Visitor From Maryland, Mrs Stevie, The Stevieling and I congregated and attempted to make merry on the North Fork of Long Island.

Mainly because if I wait any longer the tale will need to be filed alongside "The Tale of Gilgamesh and Enkidu" as a historical oddity with no contemporary significance1.

Paul had gotten in contact with us and asked if it would be okay if he spent a few days with us, which was jake with everyone in Chaeaû Stevie since we were all fed up to the back teeth with each other and Paul would prove to be a welcome distraction. He is always welcome and we see far too little of him, so any time he asks we generally say "Please come" and "How long will you be staying?" and (if we remember) "When are you coming?" and after one embarrassing incident about 15 years ago "Which airport will you be landing at?". Paul, it transpired, was globetrotting again, this time to Peru and some sort of brutal ceremony involving obsidian knives, step pyramids and unauthorised amateur open-heart surgery. Something to do with the national heritage. Doubtless I have some of the details muddled.

At the mention of "Peru", Mrs Stevie and I shuddered.

On a previous visit Paul and his fellow traveller were on their way back from Peru. We laid in a vast supply of wines and cheeses and rubbed our hands at the thought of much merrymaking and carrying on until the wee hours, but we had reckoned without the virulent parasite that they had both picked up, and the anti-Peruvian Lurgi medication which had to be taken in the complete absence of dairy products ('bye cheese) and alcohol ('bye wine). As it happened, on about the third day they cracked under the strain and we broached a bottle of fermented Peruvian spit that they had presented us with. We were all laid low by it, Myself with the most virulent headache the next day, and Paul and his friend by the interaction of the tequila-like beverage2 with the best that western medicine could offer against Peruvian bugs. It was all very tiresome.

However, Peru was on the outbound itnerary this time around, so any bugs would be of American persuasion and would be taking effect sometime around the second or third sacrifice, so that was all right. "Yes, come over!" we carolled. That was when he mentioned he would like to touch base with another friend of his during the stay, and asked about getting to dinner with someone in Washington DC.

I was a bit nonplussed 3 and, treading carefully because I was getting no read from Paul as to the nature of this friendship, I explained that DC was a good five hours4 by car from our house. Paul thought he might take a train. I said that in that case he might be in for a whole day of travelling each way. Paul made some non-committal noises and went off for a think.

What he and his friend came up with was a meeting in New York. Terry (for that was the young lady's name) would fly to McArthur and we would pick her up from there, then continue on for a day of merriment, Long Island style.

This spur of the moment interstate gadding about was as nothing to Terry, since she was also a globetrotter of no mean trotters. Indeed she and Paul had met in some Turkish casbah5 so a few miles within the contiguous states were no problem.

I was in a bit of a quandary as to what to do with the day. Long Island has quite a bit to offer, but Terry the Globetrotter only had about ten hours before her flight back home and we had to feed the poor woman sometime. Starting with breakfast, which we took in The Diner That Never Gets It Right.

This establishment has the signal property that no matter how simple or complex the order, no matter how many people in your party, one aspect of one meal will be persistently not to order. I have yet to perform the landmark experiment in which I go there alone and order a round of wholewheat toast, but I have high expectations they'll get that wrong. This day they managed to keep it down to serving me the dregs of the coffee pot. Then we picked up The Stevieling and began our odessy.

It had been decided over breakfast that my plan of venturing for the day into wine country was acceptable to everyone, so we did that.

As we drove, it turned out that Terry, Mrs Stevie and the Stevieling all shared a passion for Harry Potter, and so they passed away the journey to the first vineyard discussing what they thought the next movie would be like, various plot elements of the books, whether Snape was treated fairly and a number of other issues arising from the body of work in question. It was all good, apart from when Mrs Stevie kicked the back of my seat to indicate I was groaning too loudly and the time she opined that I couldn't properly control the vehicle if I was biting the steering wheel.

In the very nick of time we arrived at our first winery and I leaped for the sanctuary of the tasting room.

We passed a pleasant 45 minutes or so sampling a "flight"6 of their wines, purchased a bottle or two then discussed continuing to the next winery. As I was finishing my fourth quarter glass I was called outside by The Stevieling, who was drinking water on the veranda and reading while the adults were appreciating wine. She looked anxiously into my face and said "How much more will you have to drink before you are too drunk to drive?". I looked into her face and told her that I wasn't drunk or anywhere near it, and that we wouldn't be getting drunk that day, and revised my personal drinking agenda down by a couple of flights. She looked pointedly at my (full) glass. I let her smell my ice-water, and she was reassured.

Our next stop was at Martha Claire, a very nice vineyard we sometimes visit with friends as part of an organised tasting. I wasn't expecting to come upon this vineyard so quickly, since in the past I have always been driven there and so have never paid attention to its location on the map. That said, the wines this place produces are notable on occasion7 and we had a fine time there, until Terry wished for a view of the sea.

There was a pause of a few minutes while we all slapped our heads8 because, of course, we could have driven Terry to the sea in about fifteen minutes but had chosen to take her on a route stubbornly far enough inland to deny her a view of the ocean. Mr Stevie resolved that nothing would suffice but that we take luncheon on Shelter Island, as suggested by one of the winery staff. She felt that only there could we enjoy fine dining with a guaranteed sea view, and I had to admit she had a point9 so we set out for Terra Incognita.

I had never been on Shelter Island.

Getting there involved driving until we were almost in the sea, then taking a ferry similar to the one in that Stephen King movie "Delores Clayborn". Or was it "The Perfect Storm?" Whatever.

We arrived on the benighted rock at around two thirty in the afternoon and proceeded to drive all over the bloody thing searching for a sea view with a place to eat in front of it. Several times I thought we might be in with a chance, only to be confronted by a "DO NOT ENTER UNDER PAIN OF THE LAW" signs. I had neglected to be aware that Shelter Island, like 99% of all the decent real estate on or around Long Island, has been infested with, and sold off to, Rich Gits for generations. We drove and drove and then we were at the ferry at the other side of the island.


Mrs Stevie began letting the world and his dog know that I was a moron. This was a service to our guests, in the unlikely event that they hadn't formed the same conclusion themselves.

In desperation I flagged down a passing National Park personage10 and begged him to direct me to a restaurant, any restaurant that was within view of the water, and got directions to almost back where we came from. We went there, parked and found the restaurant in question. The kitchen had closed apart from "pub snacks" and the water could only be seen if one closed one eye and squinted between the branches of some trees that neatly filled the gap between two large houses.

I was pretty disgusted by the whole affair, I have to admit, and called down a curse of no mean dimensions on the head of the person that suggested Shelter Island as a good place to look at the sea and eat. The reason for my chagrin is that I lived for a while in the same area that Terry does now, and I know for a fact that it is almost impossible to find a nice restaurant that doesn't look out over Chesapeake Bay. Right now we were very much in oversize shoes/red nose territory.

We distracted ourselves by provoking Terry and Paul to start trading stories of their travels, and they were kind enough to oblige us.

Both Terry and Paul have adventurous spirits and they indulge them from time to time. Paul and Terry had met because (if I have the story right) they had each tired of the "canned" nature of their respective tours of Turkey and had gone off-plan in order to see a little more of the country than the others wanted to. They kept us on the edge of our seats with stories of overnight stays in remote villages, run-ins with the various people infesting the world beyond the boundaries of a civilisation defined by the availability of cable television, broadband internet and a cell phone signal.

Inwardly, I alternated between marvelling and shuddering as each of them casually tossed off tales of horror, fiasco and, at the end of the trip, sheer wonder while standing in some ruin, or before some notable geographic feature. During one exchange one of them (I forget who) remarked that Machu-Pichu was "alright, worth a visit" but that they felt other places had it beat, and did it with total ingenuousness. Someone who had seen a ruined Inca city and could shrug it off as maybe a 6 out of 10 can truly be said to be enjoying the world for its own sake.

Try as I might I can no longer detect that sense of wonder and the desire to see for my self first-hand what nature and people long dead have to offer. I've long said that our young people need a new frontier to explore. It is sobering to realise that one is part of the problem.


All too soon we had to take Terry back to her plane. As we were driving towards the ferry, Mrs Stevie noticed a restaurant, obviously open and serving to outside tables, with a fine view of the sea right next to it. It had been hidden within three feet of driving off the ferry, but was revealed as we drove onto it just in the nick of time for Mrs Stevie to give me hell for the next hour or so.

We stopped off at a very ordinary11 diner for coffee since I was pegging out and needed the boost, then we dropped Terry off and waved goodbye. I could see why Paul liked her. It's a shame she won't be coming back to Long Island on a bet.

I wouldn't in her place.

  1. Muscular Rich Git gets drunk and raises hell, and nobody dares stop him. Big whoop. Stranger in Town gives him a Damn Good Thrashing, and Rich Git straightens up, flies right and the two become Best Pals
  2. I still have a half bottle of this. I forgot to offer Paul any this time around, and he for some reason didn't bring it up (this time)
  3. which was a good thing because I'd wondered all my life up till then what nonplussed felt like
  4. on a good day
  5. or possibly cashbar: My ears were still giving me gyp at the time and I might have misunderstood, and Paul is a right dipso when the mood takes him
  6. the term for a series of quarter glass tastings, of typically between four or six wines. Some breweries do the same with beer, but I think drinking flights of beer smacks of namby-pambyism. Beer should be consumed in vast quantities so that the taster forgets what he or she has tasted, necessitating a return to the brewery at some future date for a rematch
  7. notable to an amateur palate long out of practice
  8. Mrs Stevie saved time by slapping my head
  9. I did feel she was driving it a little too vigorously into my stomach though
  10. The Rich Gits' first move would have been to slap the unsold-off bits of Shelter Island with a protected National Park status so that any Nouveau-Rich Gits couldn't hone in on their preserve
  11. As in we won't be going back

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