If you feel like a little tramp, consider Charlie Chaplin?s A Dog?s Life, screening as part of a silent triptych of moving pictures presented by the Sonoma Film Institute.
As the top dog of the silent era, Chaplin?s depiction of a dog-day afternoon spent with a rescued mutt was the first of his films to be heralded as a masterpiece. Trailing Chaplin, but no less a comedian, was Buster Keaton who appears in the Institute?s unspooling of the mistaken identity yarn The Goat. The all-but-forgotten man-child shtick of Harry Langdon in Three?s a Crowd completes the bill in which the clown becomes a pater familias of sorts to a mother and child weathering a snowstorm.
In an era in which filmmakers? corpus callosums are permanently yoked to CGI systems that produce enough eye-candy to send audiences into hypoglycemic shock, these quaint, quiet, black and white visual tone poems are like a mental cleansing. Consider it a spa treatment for your media-drenched mind.
I understood little of the impact of silent cinema until I was walloped by a screening of The Thief of Baghdad at Los Angles? Silent Movie Theatre. Accompanied by a live pianist, the gauzy visions and quiet erotica of the pre-Hays Code flick (a stripped-to-the-waist Douglas Fairbanks cavorts with a scantily-clad Anna May Wong as a Mongol slave among other softcore set-ups) was a potent primer in the transportive power of pure cinema. Chaplin, of course, would make the more sentimental and child-proof version of silent cinema his m?tier. Why Chaplin, armed with little more than a hand-crank camera and well-trained canine, can evoke real human emotion while contemporary filmmakers with more technology than NORAD continually shoot the pooch, is the stuff of masters theses. Suffice it to say, in an era when filmmakers can have it all, sometimes less is more.
Yes, ’twas I who wrote the January/February cover story on Gundlach-Bunschu Winery for Vineyard and Winery Management Magazine. Winery scion Jeff Bundschu is a veritable quote machine in the interesting position of maintaining four generations of family legacy while aggressively embracing the future (I once produced a Gun-Bun tribute video for the Sonoma Valley Vintner’s and Grower’s Alliance wherein pal and AC/DC tribute artist Bob Taylor impersonated Bundschu with the immortal line “Ladies, if you want more gun in your bun…”) And yes, he blogs. Alas, my cover reign ends this week, but don’t fret, my forays in national media continue this week with the release of “Sonoma County, California 72-Hour Vacation” at Gayot.com, wherein I present a three-day itinerary of earthly delights one can enjoy throughout my native county (your Sonoma County lifestyle ambassador at work, my dear Sonomans).
When photog Flash Lely and I were dispatched to Wente Vineyards to cover the winery’s “Legacy Awards” Tuesday evening, we had little conception we’d be up ’til dawn in the midst of a classic rock medley. But then, that’s how we earn our hazard pay, or at least our hangovers, which, in this economy could count as a bonus.
Our publisher at LA-based Tasting Panel Magazine has done their best to remind us that wine country extends beyond the borders of our fair valley. I admit, a certain Sonoma-myopia can occur when, from every vantage, all one sees are vineyards. It reminds me of the Borges story, The House of Asterion, in which the labyrinth-locked Minotaur believes that 17 must be an incredibly high number because that’s the most of anything he has ever counted. Correspondingly, in Sonoma County we have nearly as many appellations, which of late, has seemed a near infinity to me.
This accounts for my glaring lack of experience with Livermore’s decades-(nay, century)-old wine culture. I was soon to become acquainted: After evangelizing our man J.M. Berry’s wine and classic rock pairings at Winotone.com during a brilliant dinner at The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards, young winemaker Karl Wente invited us to join him and a couple dozen of the winery’s reps at an all-night jam session. It was there, of course, that I realized the fifth generation Wente has been pairing wine and music for at least as long as he’s been making it.
A consummate gentleman, Wente declined mentioning my ignorance of his CV and instead revealed his well-hewn acoustic guitar chops, accompanied by the restaurant’s chef on piano and the violinist pal who had earlier played a wine reception. I was soon equipped with a bass and tumbled through a classic rock set fueled by frequent trips to the basement kegerator (accessible by literally walking a plank off the back deck, where Wente assures a stairway will eventually be built).
Lely shot the shit out of the proceedings, including the inevitable pool games and bouts of Galaga on the vintage tabletop arcade console. Film reference: The Pleasure Island scene in Disney’s animated Adventures of Pinocchio. Of course, the only one of us wayward boys transforming into a jackass was me. And the dude singing falsetto “harmonies” into the mic during an extended performance of “She Came in Through the Velvet Window.” Didn’t anybody tell him? Didn’t anybody see? Regardless, a marvelous evening/morning was had by all.
Mercifully, Lely got us home in time to see my wife off to work. She’s nearly forgiven me by now.
I’ve heard Wine Country described as “Disneyland for adults,” though I’ve never heard Disneyland described as Wine Country for kids. My inner child, the one who stole sips of Carlo Rossi Vin Rose when the parents’ theater troupe wasn’t looking, somehow resents this. Though Disneyland’s adjacent “California Adventure” theme park makes an attempt with its “Wine Country Trattoria” decorated like a mini Sonoma County and boasting a wine list that would make Charles Shaw blush (that is, if Shaw made a rosé), both me and my inner-kid prefer the real deal. Yes, I accept that I’ll never be invited on another press junket by Uncle Walt for saying so, but alas, I’m not 8-years-old either. Besides, I live in the “Disneyland for adults” and seek my immortality whilst bobbing in wine, not liquid nitrogen.
The fact that Sonoma is the destination du jour for our thousands of annual visitors is somehow affirming, though it begs the rhetorical question, “If this is the place to be, why go anywhere else?” Given the current financial climate, we shouldn’t go anywhere else. We should stay put and keep our dollars in local circulation. Having sidestepped my own economic downturn, which accounts for the recent move of this column (call it musical chairs, bed-hopping or both, I’m no longer arranging deck chairs, which is a relief while assembling a crib), I can relate implicitly. Moreover, the marketer in me sees a bounty of opportunity. All we need is our own snappy term to make the place seem perpetually novel to ourselves. Consider the popular “stay-cation” (staying near), or “gay-cation” (staying near a same-sex partner), or the not-as-popular “hay-cation” (rolling around in a field). Forget the so-called “Che-cation” (putting your Che Guevera T-shirt in the laundry) and “nay-cation” (just saying “yes” all the time). We can do better, Sonoma. I suggest losing the “-cation” part entirely and plucking the suffix from “holiday,” the Anglophile’s synonym for “vacation” but redolent of lavender and Merchant-Ivory films. If your room with a view is anything like the one in which I’m presently writing – a garret above a light-industrial facility, sufficient for script to screen gigs and occasional runs to the taco truck – “going on holiday” has a certain ineffable charm.
To wit, I’m going to take a “Nomaday,” a micro vacation that takes the “So?” out of Sonoma while contributing to the local economy. Here are some pocketbook-friendly notions for enjoying your own Nomaday. Sonoma and the surrounding area brims with Bed and Breakfasts, but it’s difficult to justify the expense of an overnight stay when one lives here. However, if our B&Bs offered hourly rates, like the no-tell motels of yore, many of us would gladly visit for a little snooze and a snack. Call it a “Nap and Nosh” and watch the travel mags clamor for the inevitable “trend piece.”
After your Sonoma-style siesta at the N&N, it’s time for a spa treatment, but without the expense of either the spa or the treatment. Somewhere between a spa and schvitz, the Sonoma “spritz” squeezes an entire spa experience into a single, atomized spray, finished with a solid slap on the back to suggest the vague muscular soreness that follows a good massage. Of course, the same effect can be achieved by walking into any of a number of local taverns wherein a common salutation is a misty, beer-tinged greeting followed by a back-cracking bear-hug. Both are cheap and somehow therapeutic.
No Nomaday would be complete, of course, without sampling some of our local wines. Here’s a tip – many tasting rooms waive their fees for locals.
For a deeper pour, drop my name. If, for some unearthly reason, my name isn’t recognized, spare us mutual embarrassment by invoking a foreign accent. Should you be asked your country of origin, say that you’re “from Disneyland.” It’s a small town after all.
Recently, Ad Age?s Michael Learmouth published ?Wanted: Online Payment Plan for Print,? in which industry pundits grope for a monetization model that won?t incite readers of traditional print media to scurry to the blogosphere by mere mention of paying for content.
As a 15-year media pro working a micro-market with more than its share of newspapers and their corresponding web-presences, flanked by open-mic style broadcast media and an island mentality from which at least one entity seems eager to recover, the view from the inside is not cluttered with dollar signs. However, given the burgeoning brand-equity of ?Sonoma? to national and international lifestyle marketers, it would seem local media is rather well-poised to leverage its native provenance to attract a readership outside the valley. Attract readers interested in the Sonoma brand and attract affinity marketers who seek affiliation with the brand and all that it entails. And, of course, don’t charge the readers for the privilege of being sponsor-bait.
Interestingly, legacy newspapers like the New York Times, or indeed, the Sonoma Index-Tribune, for which I pen a weekly column, have over a century of longtail content that can be aggregated and packaged into modules edible by smart phones and on-demand publishing projects. Wine and travel guides as well as publications that speak to the historical tourism trend are a natural for the valley. Likewise, those with an eye to the future might embrace the fact that the denizens of the local mediascape are experts on Sonoma. Who better to represent the ethos of the town and its myriad experiences to interested parties worldwide? Targeted content could be subsidized online with the same ?brought to by? sponsorships already getting traction in blogs such as Mashable.
Does this model fall outside the purview of the traditional small town newspaper, whose m?tier is a printed product that encapsulates the civic and cultural experience of its community? Yes, but in a finite market such as Sonoma, I submit that growth will come with exporting the Sonoma concept beyond our borders. What we do with wine, we can do with words. And beyond.
Indeed, it’s an exciting time to be a Sonoman in the biz. Lest my local readers think I’m too Pollyana about the state of media monetization, I’ll keep off the sunny side of the street.