Nomaville: Hump Island

Just one?At 10 a.m., on Sunday, the Contessa made the tactical error of answering the telephone: friends from the city had forsaken a hiking expedition in Pt. Reyes and decided to visit their wine country pals instead. A moment later, the phone rang again – other friends in the city had tired of their poolside pastimes and had likewise conspired to visit us. At the time, I was wearing little more than the New York Times and had only a single sip of coffee in me, so I was shocked when the Contessa, always game to entertain, announced that we were having a barbeque – in an hour. The fact that we didn’t even own a barbeque was immaterial.

You see, the Contessa, like many women of our generation, is from Xanadu – not the one Coleridge wrote about, but the one Olivia Newton-John is from – that magical airy-fairy place where you can roller skate on the beach. To wit, The Contessa decreed our backyard her stately pleasure-dome and dispatched me to Friedman’s to impulse-buy a propane-fueled grill (mercifully, they sold me the floor model otherwise, I’d have barbequed myself assembling the thing). My next task was to load the iPod with 80s dance hits so that she and the other muses could frolic in the Grotto, the latticed enclave on the side of our house the Contessa decorated with twinkling lights and citronella candles. I obliged because, after all, I have to believe she is magic and nothing can stand in her way.

Everyone arrived. A beautiful cut of Chateubriand was lobbed on the grill and as the corks popped, the conversation soon brined in salty humor. The women in our group began to speak of a mythical locale known quaintly as “Hump Island,” where, presuming one is stranded sans spouse, is populated by paramours of one’s own choosing. All the usual suspects were mentioned: any red carpet creature with a compound cognomen qualified, the occasional rock star came ashore, as did any of a number of assorted shag-haired boy toys for whom a magazine cover, in this case, was as good as a passport.

The girls’ respective islands were filling fast, that is until the Contessa added a younger, funnier Woody Allen to her roster, which was met with instant shrieks of derision from her sisters. She defended her nebbish cohort explaining that she thought might enjoy “talking to him,” but was reminded that we weren’t discussing “Talk Island,” an apparently less randy part of the archipelago, and Woody was voted off.

When pressed for my list, I kept it strategically esoteric. I had been in enough of these silly chats to know where the traps lurked so I loaded up my island with obscure European actresses such as Marion Cotillard and Anouk Aimee . I also made sure to represent a wide range of female morphology so as not to be indicted as an armchair sexist like my brothers-in-arms who were chided for the gamine femme fatales running amok on their islands.

“She’s a size zero – what are you going to do with a size zero?” a wife needled her husband when slight Keira Knightley washed up on his island.

Flinching, he replied “F-f-feed her?”

The girls agreed that was a good answer. So was Kate Winslet, who I had hip-pocketed for just such an emergency, though I’ve had a crush on her that predated Hump Iceberg or whatever that boat flick was called. One of the chaps attempted a similar coup by protesting the he couldn’t imagine anyone but his wife on Hump Island, but everyone saw through him and he finally admitted that Heather Graham lived there.

This kind of list making is tricky business. I remember when the island question used to be “Ginger or Mary Ann?” I never imagined the correct answer would be Mrs. Howell.

SonomaWino: Loxton Cellars

Me am like shiraz.You say ‘Syrah,’ I say ‘Shiraz;’ you say ‘posterior’ and I say ‘your ass’ – but let’s not call the whole thing off – yet.

Presumably named for the Persian city of Shiraz where it likely originated, the grape-with-two-names was originally brought to France by Guy DeSterimberg, who, of all things, was returning from hacking and slaying in the Crusades (I can imagine the T-shirt: “My Dad Slaughtered Thousands to Spread Christianity to the Middle East and All I Got Was This Dumb Grapevine…and Algebra). The grape proliferated in France’s Rhone River Valley and was later introduced to Australia in 1832, where it thrived in the warm climates of the Southern Hemisphere.

How the fruit came to bear two names is anyone’s guess. However, its double-identity lead many to believe that it was two separate grapes until genetic testing in the 1990s proved that the single grape was merely Bunburying a la The Importance of Being Earnest. It’s Syrah in France and Shiraz down under.

Having been acculturated to Syrah here in the states, I must admit I can’t help thinking of Shiraz as the evil twin, or like Superman’s addled, square-headed doppelganger Bizarro: “Me am like Syrah, same but different.” Why the grape continues to be bottled under two names is the province of beverage marketers who seem to love the letter “z” almost as much as the word “extreme” (is the day far off that “Extreme Winez” are proffered at the local bottle shop?).

I learned much of the Syrah/Shiraz saga from the sole tasting room attendant at Loxton Cellars in Glen Ellen, the shingle of Aussie Chris Loxton, who forewent a career in physics to save space-time in a bottle. Now a lauded winemaker, Loxton’s early quantum quest may account for why his list boasts a 2002 Hillside Syrah next to a 2003 Shiraz. Quoi? In physics, light can be perceived as either a particle or a wave – either way, it’s light. Syrah, Shiraz – to Loxton, it’s wine. And fine wine at that: the Shiraz was a strapping, young wine with a dominant plum note flanked by hints of clove and pepper, and a broad jammy finish. “Easily the best Shiraz I’ve made,” Loxton says in his tasting notes. In my notes, however, the page penned with my Syrah observations is illegibly blotted by wine – a dastardly graffito that made me wonder if another name for the multi-moniker grape is Sybil.

Loxton Cellars is open by appointment 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., everyday and is located at 11466 Dunbar Road, Glen Ellen. For more information call (707) 935-7221 or got to LoxtonCellars.com.

Walken and Talkin’

Walken like a man.This episode of the Daedalus Howell looks through a glass darkly (well, not too darkly) at actor Christopher Walken: Candy Rosenbaum of The Online Christopher WalkenFanClub.com chats about her main man; Lost’s Neil Hopkins does the world’s best Walken impression; Brandon Scott of the film, website and paranormal investigative team AlienSecrets refuses to answer the question “Is Walken an alien-human hyrbid?”; singer-songwriter Orion Letizi gets paranoid ; Ben from the video store makes some special Walken selections; cultural commentator David Landis ponders the Walken enigma; and a call from “Sonoma Jared.”

[audio:http://dhowell.com/podcast/dhs002.mp3]

Winded by the Corrections Dept.

A yardstick of celluloid cool.Shame on New York Times scribe Elaine Dutka for mixing up her Nouvelle Vague auteurs. In an article about licensing film clips for documentaries (read about my own travails in this arena here), Dutka reported that an upcoming IFC documentary received a license to use a clip from seminal French New Wave flick Breathless for a pittance after producers made it known that it would otherwise resort to “fair use.”

One copyright holder, James Velaise, the president of Pretty Pictures, ultimately agreed to license a clip from François Truffaut’s “Breathless” for $1,000, a fraction of his usual asking price.

Truffaut’s Breathless? Quoi? Sure, the dude share’s story credit with Jean Luc-Godard, but going by the auteur theory of which both directors were fierce proponents, the film is clearly Godard’s. Always has been. The only thing Dutka could have done to be more ridiculous is to credit the film to Jim McBride who proffered a flaccid Americanized remake starring Richard Gere in 1983 by the same title (which itself is a bit of a misnomer seeing as the French release is titled Un Bout de Souffle — an idiomatic expression that roughly translates to “holding one’s breath,” “out of breath,” “breathless”).

Despite my protestations, the Times has yet to print a correction. I won’t hold my breath.

Nomaville: Labyrinth

Three lefts make a right.“Labyrinth” – say the word to members of my g-g-generation and a Muppet flick starring David Bowie’s worst haircut ever comes to mind (spell the word and you can have my editor’s job). When classicists mull the labyrinth they recall Theseus venturing heedless through a maze, sword in hand, to slay the Minotaur and spare a few Theban virgins. Sonomans contemplating labyrinths (tell me I’m not alone) need not let their minds wander further than East Spain Street where a circuitous stone-lined pathway twists and turns and twists again under a ring of redwood trees.

Undertaken and overseen by the Trinity Episcopal Church, the labyrinth is a quick sidestep off the sidewalk and available to people of all faiths, including wine-drenched heathens like myself, who have trouble walking the straight and narrow and tend to confuse “cyclical nature of life” with “going in circles.” That said, the Sonoma labyrinth rates well enough to be included in the Labyrinth Society’s online “labyrinth locator” which lists thousands of labyrinths the world over (no, seriously). A question looms –Why would anyone willingly tie a 20-minute knot in one’s daily constitutional?

“The labyrinth is a universal symbol of the pilgrim journey to the center of our being; it has no tricks or dead ends like a maze. One does not get lost- rather, this quiet walk leads inward,” reads a sign near the roadside attraction, which also reminds that the hand-laid stone labyrinth it is “a replica of the 13th century design found on the floor of the Chapter House in the Cathedral of Bayeux, France.” Though environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy needn’t fret about his job security, the stone and earth labyrinth does make for a fine stroll for the soul – rivaled only by the labyrinthine turns of the city of Sonoma itself, which can have the opposite effect on my soul.

For example, how is it the founding fathers named everything in the valley after themselves and their cronies but resorted to using the same numbers for the streets on both the east and west sides of the Plaza? Kindergarteners, whose wee minds amazingly contain letters and numbers, could have done better. One need not understand Cartesian coordinates to know that merely including the alphabet in city planning would save much tedious explaining to visitors.

Another labyrinth-like situation is the rather irritating fact that when driving one can only turn right onto West Napa from First Street West, likewise when approaching the Plaza from the south part of First Street West one can also only turn right onto East Napa. Confused? Me too. There isn’t enough verbiage in all of geometry to adequately explain why this must be.

Moreover, due to never-ending street work at First Street West and West Spain (The Girl and the Fig has all but included “Dust Cloud” on their menu for patio diners) the northern part of First Street West can only be reached through Second Street East according to the ubiquitous crossing guard posted there who rejoices in chiding me every time I unwittingly attempt the turn. Somewhere in ancient Greece a labyrinth is missing its minotaur.

Daedalus Howell claims to have discovered a spot on Third Street West that, if you’re not attentive, will instantly land you on Third Street East due to a feat of physics too elaborate to explain in this column (forgive the paraphrase of Fermat). He explains that the portal does not work in reverse, which is why he was late to return those DVDs to Movie Merchants.