We are all Caster Semenya

September 15, 2009

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Though male, Dionysos was always somewhere in-between the sexes.  He was raised by women and worshipped by women; his religion was suppressed probably because it was run by women.  In the Bacchae by Euripides, Pentheus is told by Bacchus to dress as a woman to learn the secrets of his worship, and it’s likely that the giant dildos his worshippers carried around might have been used by his male worshippers in a practical sense.  Though bearded, he was effeminate, and like a lot of great Greek men, stories were told of his bisexuality.

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In a lot of ways, he’s like the grape flower: with both male and female parts.   The grapevine is able to self pollinate, something I’m glad to be incapable of doing.

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It reminds me that we are all somewhere in-between. It makes me think of my newest vineyard employee: a transvestite man from Mexico, young and strong and gay with painted fingernails, earrings, a swish in his walk and an ability to outwork any of the macho men with moustaches who joke and laugh but cannot keep up.  Jose Antonio: I like that dude.  I like that he is willing to put up with a few jokes because he is who he is and there isn’t anything anyone can do about it.  He could hide who he is, but he doesn’t, and he doesn’t care what they say, and besides, some of theose moustachioed men probably come knocking on his door late at night, lonely and hungry for his soft embrace. He does good work and sings to himself love songs and I would love to have a whole crew of transvestites, just so long as they’re Mexican and can sing.

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When last I wrote on this here blog thing, I had found myself suddenly unemployed, alone in a haunted house, not knowing anyone in Oregon who could tell me where to find a new job.  Within three weeks, with the buds swelling and ready to burst in the vineyard, I’d found myself a good job with a good company run by a smart and knowledgeable man.  I am a vineyard manager again, of over 200 acres of dry-farmed, own-rooted, and sustainably-farmed Pinot Noir, Gris and Blanc in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.  It is beautiful, and I am grateful.

Since then it’s been a flurry of work and of life.  I bought chickens and now eat their eggs.  I planted tomatoes and now eat their fruit.  My dog and I have dispatched two delicious deer.  I have loved and been loved.  The vines awoke, burst forth with green life, and now the fruit hangs heavy in purple and rose, sweetening, ripening, yearning for its seeds to be born aloft in the belly of a bird and deposited beneath an oak tree somewhere good and rich and warm.

Also:  I bought a fiddle, and am learning to play.    I sit on my porch and I imagine myself an old man, drunk and happy and teaching a granddaughter how to play Sally Goodin.

8 years ago, I was in New York City.  I had just moved to that goddamn place to give it a go:  I was in love, trying to be an artist and a writer and a doer of good things.  On the morning of September 11, 2001 I rode my bike from Brooklyn to Manhattan, stopping on the bridge to look at the skyline and contemplate things.

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A year later I was picking grapes in France, and now I am entering my eighth grape harvest, having reinvented myself and become a professional in my field.

When the towers fell I made for myself a 15 year plan to buy myself a piece of land to farm wine.  I probably had my boxing gloves with me that day, with a plan to go spend my afternoon fighting people for fun at one of a couple of gyms in Brooklyn or Manhattan.  Things changed after that, and I began to dream of a peaceful life devoted to the art and poetry of making something true like wine for and by myself.

I am alone tonight in a 200 year old rented farmhouse, my faithful pup Sancho asleep at my feet.  I am in-between having a dream and realizing it.   I am going to be 35 soon:  In-between old and young.

We are all in-between something, always and forever and that’s alright.

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Monday was March 17th, a date celebrated in Ancient Rome as Liberalia. Liber was the name of an early Roman version of Dionysos, a God of Fertility and of wine.  The day was like a Bar Mitzvah for young Roman lads, and afterwards– after the procession of giant phallus symbols, the public drunkenness  and whatever it was that they did– they would switch their boy’s toga with its effeminate purple sash for an all-white grown man’s toga, and could vote and do pretty much whatever they wanted, I guess.

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On Tuesday I saw my first spring barn Swallow, returned from his winter sojourn, flying about the barn.  It is a beautiful bird, the swallow, and has been married to mankind since we first began to build structures.  I mean, jeesh, Virgil wrote about them like 2,000 years ago flyinga bout the rafters of the roof.

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Wednesday, was the Spring Equinox and as the earth was briefly balanced at 10:48 pm, the winter died and the spring began.  Persephone returned to Demeter.  It was sunny and warm and we’ve almost very nearly finished our pruning for the seasons, and have already begun mowing down and disking in our cover crops.

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On Thursday, we disinterred a batch of biodynamic horn compost- those the cowshit-filled horns we buried on the fall equinox.  We unearthed some wine we’d buried alongside them and drank the two bottles, some 12 or 15 of us thirsty vineyard workers in the shade of a fig tree just beginning to glow green with the spring’s new growth.  in place of the horn compost we placed a crushed quartz-filled horn and another bottle to drink in another 6 months.  Covered by soil, I danced my version of a Mexican hat dance over the site, and went back to work.

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And today, on Friday, I did it all again at another vineyard, but this time I was filmed by a TV crew, and I was miked and interviewed, and directed to do silly things for the sake of telling a story, and will someday, in like 6 or 8 months, be seen by those who watch “In Wine Country” (on the Bay Area’s NBC 11) and I will become instantly, incredibly, and annoyingly famous.  I will be blogged about by Perez Hilton.  I will be seen stumbling out of clubs with my vagina hanging out.  I will finally, finally be recognized while pissing in a bar.

It is a full moon tonight, and I really ought not to drink as much wine as I’m about to drink.  As the last good Friday before all my anonymity is stripped away from me, I’ll enjoy it by myself, relaxing in the silence before the helicopters descend to capture me embracing whatever starlet’s career could best be furthered by being seen with the likes of me, the famous Winefarmer.  Probably Natalie Portman, I hope she speaks kindly of me to the press after we break up.  I hope, I hope I don’t accidentally lose that tape we made drunkenly screwing each other.  I’m sorry for that Natalie.  I’m sorry for everything.

on dogs and wine

January 29, 2008

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There is a silly sort of book out, available in barnes and nobles in every suburb: a big picture book of dogs in the wine country, generally owned by people whose names you might somehow match with wine (like they own the stuff you can’t afford and don’t really care for).

I’ll admit to picking it up and looking at it. I mean, why not? Nobody had a dog cooler than my dog and I decided that the book was kind of stupid, just pictures of dogs, posed, I dunno… who needs a whole big book like that? What’s the point of killing trees to print pictures of dogs?

There’s this thing about dogs and wine that keeps popping up. A weird sort-of thing. Whaddya call it? A thing. no. A congruence?  A confluence?  A commonality between the myths?

Whatever– you remember that movie Mondo Vino? There’s this funny subplot to the movie: almost everyone that’s interviewed has a dog. There’s all these mad wine people with dogs that suited their personalities, like that Monsiour Parker has a flatulent, slobbery bulldog.

I’ve got a young pup of a sheepdog, a bunny killer who’s submissive to bigger dogs; a ruthless and intelligent herder who just wants to snuggle. What does that say about me?

My dog and I spend a lot of time in the vineyard together. We inspect vineyards, he talks to me while I prune, he chases rabbits and I sing songs. So, you can understand why i think an awful lot about the mystical union of man and dog and man and vines. There’s something about dogs and wine I want for us to explore. You’re cool, right? You’ll understand that there’s a deep sort of connection between dogs and wine that, and if you’ll indulge me a little, I’ll try to explain.

In Greek mythology, the dog is intimately involved in the revelation of wine to mankind. They wed the stories of man’s friendship with the dog into the patterns of stars in the sky. I will tell you exactly 5 of these stories.

1. Sirius

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The brightest star in the sky besides the sun is Sirius, the dog star. The rising of Sirius in the summer months coincides with the rising of the Nile and the blast of scorching summer heat, which they called the dog days.

Sirius is a set of two stars that orbit each other in a helical pattern and is drawn into Canis Major, one of Ptolemy’s original 48 constellations.

The ancient writers like Columella and Pliny the Elder wrote about the timing of the grape harvest taking place on a certain time after the appearance of Sirius

in Roman times, The rising of Sirius brought the Robigo, an annual festival set to placate some goddess or god that brought mildew and rust to the crops. To keep the deadly goddess happy, they’d slaughter a goat and a puppy at her altar.

2. Canis Major

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Canis Major is a collection of stars that includes Sirius that kind of, sort of, looks like a dog. It is referred to by Homer and Hesiod as the hunting dog of Orion. The chinese call it the Celestial wolf god, I guess, and other folks do too. it’s this weird commonality in the mythology of disparate people in the world: that Sirius is a dog star, that the stars surround it form a large dog in the sky.

(Orion is the mighty hunter in the sky, chasing the big bear Ursa Major)

3. Canis Minor

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Canis Minor is another small constellation that’s supposed to be a dog. It dates back to Ptolemy too. I guess it’s supposed to be Orion’s second dog. I don’t know. It looks just like a couple of stars to me.

4. Bootes

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Bootes is a cool constellation. This little collection of stars was referred to by its name as early ago as Homer. Some folks think it might be the oldest of the constellations, whatever that means. Bootes is said to be a herdsman in the sky. Maybe he invented the plow, you know?

In another story, Bootes represents the story of Icarius, a simple sort of guy who lived in the countryside near Athens with his daughter and his dog. Dionysos visited him and bestowed upon him the secrets of grape growing and winemaking. Icarius being a cool dude, he shared this new wine with some dumbass shepherds, who upon getting drunk killed him and buried him somewhere. His daughter found the body with the help of the dog, and Dionysos placed the three of them in the sky. Icarius as Bootes, his daughter as Virgo, his dog as Sirius.

Sophocles wrote a play about it. It got lost.

5. The curious case of the Ozolians

So, if you’re not familiar with that guy Pausanias, it’s okay. You don’t have to be. He was like this wannabe Greek in Roman times-around 100 AD. He traveled around Greece and wrote about what he saw for all the other Greek wannabes. He told another story of dogs and wine.

In Phokis, near the border of Laconia, a few villages called themselves the Ozoi-a play on the word for branches. These branch people had a few stories why they called themselves as such, one of which is an alternate dog-based revelation of wine. Orestheus, a son of Deukalion (the Greek Noah), had a dog.  One day the dog gave birth or puked up a stick, which her owner then planted or buried and it grew to become a fruit-bearing vine. The vine had a bunch of branches, you see?

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So there you have it. 5 stories about wine and dogs from way back when everyone worth a damn spoke Greek. They told stories about wine and dogs but they never really said why. They never explained the linkage between the two.

My guess? I don’t know. Around the vineyards, I see a lot of coyote shit that looks like the coyotes are eating a lot of grapes. My dog likes to roll around in it. Maybe it’s just a bunch of bullshit.

But, I think its just that the two things–dogs and wine– are so elemental to the existence of homo sapiens that the two things can’t be divided. The dog was the first animal to which the human bonded, and the vine was what I believe to be the first plant to seduce us into settled life. Just like drinking wine, or pruning a vine, to be a human with a dog is to participate in the most ancient of acts. Without the dog, we’d never have made it so far as to wander northwards into the snow and find the grapevine surviving the age of ice, clinging to an oak tree.

Today, one of the people I work with that I guess is supposed to be one of my bosses or something told somebody to tell somebody that I’d have to leave my dog in my goddamn truck while in the vineyard.  It was the singlemost stupidest thing i’d heard in a while, the boss person just making up rules on the spot, trying to feel important or something.  They do that, you know, those sunsabitches: they see universal truths and try to erase them. Out in the country, up in the mountains at night, you can still see the dogs in the sky chasing bears, finding wine.  You’ll always be able to, you know.  The sunsabitches can’t do a goddamn thing about that.

The Vulgarity of Wine

October 19, 2007

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When Dionysos was officially welcomed into the Olympic Pantheon in the 6th Century BC, he and his ithyphallic (giant cocked) followers, the Sileni, quickly became the most common and popular of themes painted onto household vases. The frank sexuality of wine and satirical (satyrical) plays would be considered pornographic in today’s Christian society, but as late of 691 AD, over 300 years after the pogroms that officially ended paganism, wine was still made by mad men, naked but for their Satyr and Sileni masks, crying out to Dionysos as they tread the grapes as women danced around them.

satyr.jpgIt was that year, at the Second Council of Constantinople that it was forbidden to cry the name of the wine God Dionysos Iakhos, or Bacchus while treading grapes, and that when wine were poured into casks, nobody should provoke laughter by actions which bear the imprint of lies and madness. It was forbidden to dress as the opposite sex. Women’s public dancing was banned. Women dancing in public was considered by the celibate rulers of the church to be the root of all evil. Should anyone be caught transgressing, they would be officially excommunicated from all society.

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Ever since then, ever since the end of the pagan age, a puritan wind has blown over everything, and everything once considered Dionysian, except for wine, is now considered evil. But wine needs a raw sexuality, a certain measure of vulgarity surrounding its upbringing in order to fully flower, a little bit of the horned god, you know? It’s important for you to realize that under optimum conditions, the wine that you drink is still made by salty men of the earth, and in mostly Spanish, but also ancient Mayan dialects and a bit of English too, men sing and curse at the top of their lungs.

A report from the vineyards, harvest 2007: The men respond favorably to two newly learned swear words in English: “Dingleberry” as in, “You are a Dingleberry,” and “Douchebag” as in, “You are a Douchebag”.

They also respond favorably to my teaching the new intern learning to say “Sacate los pedos, buey,” meaning “suck the farts out my ass, buey”

A note: A buey is a castrated bull, a steer. A buey can be a term of affection, but said to a stranger, can lead to fisticuffs. Buey is pronouned only softly pronouncing the “b” often sounding more like “Way”.

Equinox, Yom Kippur, Harvest

September 23, 2007

It rained. I told you so. We farmers know these things. We also have the internet, so it makes it easier to predict.

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Today is the fall equinox. It seems like always around the equinox, at least since I started to pay attention, the clouds are a bit more swirly, and rain or hail is a lot more likely. The Earth is now balanced upright but the atmosphere is still in flux.

It’s also, or was recently, Yom Kippur. I’m a lousy jew of a jew, and instead of repenting and fasting, spent my Friday practicing the neo-pagan rituals of biodynamics: I unearthed some cow horns full of crushed rose quartz powder and buried some others filled with fresh cow shit. I sprayed a bunch of the shadier blocks of our vineyards with the quartz powder, dynamized into water.

From my recent studies of the ancient roots of the Dionysian religion, much of Jewish law seems as if it were written to prevent its members from participating in the worship of the wine god. For instance, a typical greek sacrifice to Dionysos was to boil a kid (goat that is) in the milk of its mother, something strictly forbidden under Kosher rules. Another injunction was the story of the Egyptian slaves and the worship of the Golden Calf, something intimately linked to the worship of Dionysos. It would seem that I’ve made my choice, wouldn’t it?, between the religion of my mother’s family and the spirituality of my vocation. Although biodynamics isn’t truly rooted in the worship of the wine god, it’s supposed to be some sort of rebirth of sprituality that might mimic or replace what once was practiced by the first civilized farmers for thousands of years.

That being said, there seems to have been some confusion amongst the Greeks as to the origins of the Jewish religion. In Plutach’s Convivial Questions, one of the guests claims to be able to prove that the God of the Jews is really Dionysus Sabazius, the barley god of Thrace and Phyrgia. In Tacitus’ History he writes that “some maintain that the rites of the Jews were founded in honour of Dionysos.”

So, if I were a real academic, instead of a part-time, half-assed one, I might look into the link between the Jewish and Dionysian religions. I’ve read that it’s the ancient city of Obeid that the man later known as Abraham probably left from to found his own religion. There in Obeid, the central religious compoud was formed in the shape of, well, ahem… the female genitalia in all its beauty. Poychrome mosaics found among the ruins show a company of priests at their holy task of milking cows. The figure of Dionysos was probably known better as Tammuz at this time, son of the the Earth mother and a vegetation god of rebirth and death. He had horns. The Earth mother was represented by a cow.

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It all gets mixed up in prehistory, and that’s what I love about my profession: what I do and what I think about can be traced back to the foundations of civilization. I might never really figure it all out. But I get to think about it, see how I feel about things, and enact ancient rituals of my choosing when i want.

The grapes aren’t ripening. The flavors are developing but the acidity remains high and the sugars low. the rain won’t help the thinner-skinned varieties’ tendency to develop botyritis. Tomorrow I’m picking 3 tons of Gewurtztraminer in Sonoma. Old vines we tend and tend to neglect a bit, but the fruit is delicious and makes a great wine.