Nomaville: The Medium is the Massage

Ay, there's the rub.“Writer’s cramp” and “writer’s block” are two different phenomena plaguing scribes that share the same cure. The cramp has all the symptoms associated with carpal tunnel syndrome but has a more literary-sounding name; the block is a mental dysfunction which causes words to fail to, uh, well, er – um, hold that thought – flow. Booze is often administered in either occasion, but as a cure it’s merely palliative and can be habit-forming (see Hemingway, Faulkner, Howell, et al).

I’ve discovered another therapy, however, that’s just as euphoria-inducing, easier on the liver and appeals to my inherent sense of decadence: a massage at MacArthur Place, Sonoma’s Historic Inn and Spa.

For the sake of the writers (and for that matter readers) of the world, I elected to undergo this experimental therapy. I was a human guinea pig, but the kind swaddled in a svelte bathrobe and invited to luxuriate in a steam room and offered complimentary beverages.

“Ah, Daedalus, you didn’t have to do that for us,” you say.

“Oh, yes I did. You see, dear readers, making personal sacrifices, i.e., spending the entire afternoon at a swank day spa, is part of my commitment to the craft.”

“Thank you, Daedalus.”

“No – thank you.”

Up until last week, I figured the concept of somato-emotional memory was simply pseudoscience. It’s the idea that deeply buried memories can be accessed by physical stimulation using a variety of techniques – massage being one of them. Though this is not on the menu of methods practiced at MacArthur Place, the concept was in the back of my mind, or as it turned out, wedged beneath my left shoulder blade, when I went in for my, ahem, treatment. With only the slightest amount of pressure from the velvet and steel hands Natalia Obrasova (the brilliant Ukrainian masseuse assigned my hopeless case), I suddenly recalled in a Proustian rush why I went into the word game to begin with: to experience moments like this and get paid to write about them. I’ll admit I nearly cried from the self-satisfaction of it all.

In Natalia’s capable hands – and emphasis here on the plural, for they seemed to multiply as if she were a Slavic Shiva, the multi-armed Hindu goddess, but blond instead of blue – joints I’d long written off as frozen thawed until mushy and limber. A knee that had been irrevocably tweaked in a freak parking accident was suddenly unshackled from its persistent stiffness. My wrists, forearms and fingers, which had recently slowed to an aching 70 words per minute at the keyboard were loosened and fine-tuned back to their land-speed record of 160 wpm, well, potential.

I started tough as chuck and was pummeled, pounded, soothed, smoothed and otherwise tenderized until I was chateau briand, marinated, in this case, in eucalyptus oil (one of more than a dozen of such oils from which to choose). I was like the Tin Man in “The Wizard of Oz” when Dorothy administered his salvation from an oilcan.

The spa is a lavish outfit that did much to foster the delusion I’ve developed in recent weeks about being a VIP (that is until I realized that the automatic doors at the grocery store open for everyone and not just from the shear force of my presence). When I awoke (because, dear reader, one can’t live the dream without a little sleep), I was refreshed, repaired and recharged. But alas, I’m worried that the writer’s block persists (this column notwithstanding). I suppose I’ll have to continue the experimental treatment…

SonomaWino: Truchard Vineyard

Okay, everybody lean in the other direction!No matter how attentive you are to the directions, no matter how much you study the quaint, hand-drawn map online, no matter how vigilantly you watch the street addresses numerically climb along Old Sonoma Road – you will inevitably miss Truchard Vineyards. What follows is a three-point turn on a blind, two-lane road, with a single thought in your head: “This wine better be worth the insurance deductible.”

This stunt-driving is a rite of passage, however, that tests not only one’s skills a a motorist but the lengths to which you will go for fine wine. You see, grasshopper, Truchard Vineyards is only visible to those who are ready to see it. And after a few death-defying drive-bys and an ill-advised turn or two across the double-yellow line, I not only saw Truchard Vineyards, I tasted it. And, yes, it’s worth the deductible.

Located on the Napa side of the Carneros wine region, Tony Truchard founded his vineyard in 1974, prior to the appellation’s designation as an independent American Viticultural Area in 1983.
Six years later, Truchard started his own winery, which thrived thanks to his knack for producing excellent wines from a broad spectrum of varietals. Among them is a 2003 Roussanne, a disarming white wine with a lemon grass bouquet and a faintly butterscotch finish. With its mild floral notes of orange blossom and rose, this wine is as good a reason as any to throw a garden party or wear white linen.

The 2001 cabernet franc (the grape from which hybrid cabernet sauvignon gets its “cabernet”) is a meaty, bloody steak of a wine, with a subtle hint of char you only wish you could achieve at the grill. The wine is slightly tight, like an old pair of jeans, which may fit perfectly (again) in a few years. Drink now or later, this wine is built to last.

The chewy, pleasantly viscous 2002 syrah is an ensemble of muted berry notes that takes one’s palate to the brink of strawberry jam, then playfully shies away. It’s got a bit of a metallic bite at first, like a first kiss with someone with braces, which is not a bad thing as I remember.

A good starter wine is the 2002 tempranillo, an uncomplicated, straight-talking table wine with a hint of cassis and crafted for the table. The granddame of Truchard’s current list is the 2001 cabernet sauvignon reserve (a $75 windfall of a wine), which is surprisingly lighter on the palate than one might expect of a cab – it’s svelte, thin in the hips and quietly dynamic. It will make your tongue wish it could dance.

Truchard Vineyards, 3234 Old Sonoma Road, Napa. (707) 253-7153. www.truchardvineyards.com. By appointment only.

The Word Game

Photomontage by Jules White.This week’s episode of the Daedalus Howell Show is about the business of writing: We chat with scribe-shrink Karen E. Peterson, Ph.D., author of Write. 10 Day to Overcome Writer’s Block. Period; Noria Jablonski’s discusses her book Human Oddities becoming one of Seventeen Magazine’s “17 Books that Changed My Life”; publishing PR guru Rick Frishman tell us how to get famous; and Genene Miller-Cote of Digital Pulp Publishing prognosticates the future of publishing.

[audio:http://dhowell.com/podcast/dhs007.mp3]

Nomaville: My Life as a Dog

Throw me a bone.It’s been said that there are dog people and cat people. I’m neither. I’m barely a people person. This is ironic since people occasionally gravitate to me in search of a leader and become disappointed when I don’t pass the Kool-Aid.

I have been known, however, to share the wine and if you’re hip to a Jim Jones-esque experience, the diminutive size of my expense account relative to affordable yet drinkable plonk could very well yield a killer hangover. But I can’t guarantee death. At least not a mass death seeing as our supplies would likely run out between the two of us and, well, two’s company but not a cult.

More to the point, I am not, naturally speaking, a top-dog, alpha-male or über-mensch type anyway – unless I’m alone, which makes me all the above with the added bonus of being a “lone wolf.” Then I’m a total badass until I run into another lone wolf. Inevitably we discuss joining forces and forming our own pack, but running in a pack of lone wolves is rather like attending the anarchy club – oxymoronic at its best, and embarrassing if one actually shows up. (Hey, guys, I brought the Kool-Aid – guys?) To wit, none of my prospective “loner packs” have survived much past a handshake.

I once sat for a so-called “indigo child” whose parents thought he might have natural leadership qualities. This was back when I was a fledgling leader myself with poor pack retention. I figured I could glean some insight from the kid, this “child of the universe,” but his only trick was peeing in the pool and lying about it (this, I reasoned, makes everyone an indigo child).

True leaders, of course, naturally resist fomenting their own competition. That’s why underdogs created concepts like “mentoring,” which is the polite way of learning everything necessary to overthrow the person mentoring you. It’s the natural order of things; it’s damn near organic. I’m wise to this approach, so when I’m obliged to mentor someone I dispense the most egregious advice I can muster.

“Is it okay to drink water from the pool?” you ask.

“Why yes, dear minion,” I say, “The more you drink the wiser you will become.”

I once drowned an intern that way.

There are other approaches for aspirant top-dogs. A pal of mine attempted to become one in a very literal sense: apparently, in the canine world, there’s something akin to the Mason’s “to be one ask one” pitch. He had fallen in a rather rough pack of feral canines – wolves actually – and came down with a nasty case of lycanthropy. Now he does public service announcements:
“Remember, there is no cure for lycanthropy and it may be possible to spread even if there are no symptoms like excessive body hair or a full moon.”

The only headache worse than having a werewolf friend (they eat guacamole right out of the bowl) is when a dog arrives at my doorstep leashed to a (suddenly former) pal of mine, who wants to enter my home. With his dog. Though it’s unpopular to admit, I don’t like animals in my house. It sort of defeats the purpose of living indoors, doesn’t it? I mean we built houses to live apart from the animals, didn’t we?

“But the dog is part of our family,” my friend will protest.

“Then clearly there’s something wrong with your genes,” I mutter as my inner-eugenicist awakens and I have to suppress the urge to have him put down. Until I see those big puppy dog eyes…

SonomaWino: Matanzas Creek

Hot lavender.At Matanzas Creek Winery, everything is coming up lavender. Over 4,500 individual shrubs of the fragrant, violet herb canvass an acre of the winery’s terraced grounds. Now in full, glorious bloom, the lavender suggests a location shoot for a Merchant-Ivory flick as if production-designed in the palette of Dr. Seuss. It’s an impressive sight, which will be showcased on Saturday, June 24, as part of the winery’s 10th Annual Days of Wine and Lavender Festival, an afternoon celebrating wine, food, music and, of course, lavender.

Overseen by nationally recognized lavender diva Patricia Kaczmarek, the winery’s work with the flower includes something of an on-site lavender R&D department to explore its culinary possibilities. Matanzas Creek puts the same rigor into its wines. The 2005 Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc is a summery ode to lazy afternoons, porch swings and screen doors that resemble entomology labs. The wine boasts a citrus nose and honeydew palate but mercifully lacks the fresh-mowed-lawn factor, which can be grassy and herbaceous, a characteristic often associated with the varietal.

Likewise, winemaker François Cordesse bucks the recent butterball trend in Chardonnays with an airy, light Chard that forgoes lactic tactics for more refined notes of white peach and nectarine. (Wine maven Robert Parker scored the wine a healthy 87–if you care about that kind of thing.)

For contrast, consider the 2001 Jackson Park Merlot, the winery’s premier vineyard designate Merlot made by Pierre Seillan, a winemaker who consults for Matanzas Creek and who is responsible for hiring Cordesse. Unlike his protégé’s fruit-forward, kick-start of a Merlot (the 2003 Bennett Valley Merlot), Seillan’s creation is an extremely subtle affair; actually vague at first, it opens up to reveal echoes of blood orange and a kiss of currant.

The Matanzas Creek Winery 10th Annual Days of Wine and Lavender is slated for Saturday, June 24, from 1pm to 4pm. Matanzas Creek Winery, 6097 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa. Tickets are $75, advance purchase required; 21 and over only, please. The tasting room is open daily, 10am to 4:30pm. Tours offered by appointment. 707.528.6464.