Foie Gras Ban in California: Human Livers Still Legal

If one is to believe the recent news cycle, Sonoma is obsessed with liver health – not our own but those of geese. Thanks to California’s looming state-wide froie gras ban, goose liver and Sonoma (home of the state’s sole producers) have been the plat du jour of national media.

At issue is the ethical treatment of the waterfowl, who endure a process called “gavage” (French for “force-feeding”) in an effort to fatten their livers, from which froie gras is made. They say one should never witness how sausage is made. It’s like a horror film. It follows then, I’m led to believe, that froie gras is torture porn. But tastes better.

Whenever I think of liver – after dolefully patting my own tortured organ – I think of dear Prometheus, who I consider something of a spiritual cousin. He stole fire from Zeus and gave it to the mortals, then, as is in most Grecian tales of woe, Prometheus was caught and summarily punished in a disproportionately punitive and gruesome manner. He was bound to a rock so that a large eagle could devour his liver.

There are a few things to bear in mind here: a) eagles are very slow eaters; b) the duration of his sentence is eternity; and c) livers regenerate, which means the eagle returns for seconds, thirds and, well, an infinite amount of Promethean foie gras, forever. If there was ever a reason to drink to excess this would be it – you’ve got to make your liver unpalatably cirrhotic enough to turn off the big bird.

A few thousand years later, the Bible got in on the liver scene with this rather opaque admonition: “‘Til a dart strike through his liver; as a bird hasteth to the snare, and knoweth not that it is for his life.” This reads like precisely the kind of gibberish I can imagine some Renaissance-era scribe penning on deadline for King James. It’s from Proverbs 7:23 and no one seems to knoweth what exactly it means.

The proverb is titled “Warning Against the Adulterous Woman,” so we can probably assume it’s a recommendation to avoid these chicks. But that’s pretty much all the bible ever seems to say. I readily admit I’m no scholar. The first and last time I touched a Bible was in court and that hand still burneth. My liver is fine but I fully expect that the preceding 150 words might result in it being smited. Hmm. Throw in torpedo onions and a light beer batter and you might see “smited liver” on some local menus.

This brings to mind the fact that overfeeding tourists is par for the course for our local tourism industry. Likewise, our spas are a popular attraction. Brainstorm: Create a spa that indulges the body, inside and out – to the extreme. Call it “Massage and Gavage” or, if you’re feeling philistine, “Rub and Grub.” Yes, it’s difficult to dine while someone is kneading essential oils into your shoulders … unless you have a tube piping Sonoma’s finest epicuria straight into your stomach.

Said tubes can be routed through the nose or throat and come in three designer colors: slate, coal and slate-coal. As for wine, well, we all know the winery adage “tasting is wasting,” so let’s forgo the pomp of letting tourists pretend they enjoy a wine’s bouquet and mouth-feel and go straight for gut-feel. After the first bottle has been poured through and digested, I’d reckon it would start to feel pretty good. The buzz, that is – not the tube.

It’s ironic that humans with fatty livers are considered ill whereas geese with fatty livers are a mere a hatchet swing from lunch. Were it the other way around and the geese came at us in some kind of Hitchcockian culinary-themed birdemic, we could only hope they’re not up on their Greek mythology. Or at least forget the tube. Then we’d taste great with less filling.

Sonoma: How to Slum it Like a Tourist

It?s been observed that our tourists seem to enjoy themselves in our town more than we Sonomans. This perception could be the result of many factors, not least of which being that tourists can afford to enjoy themselves in Sonoma?s wine country, whereas we Sonomans spend all of our money merely trying to live here.

I suppose one could say that, as residents, we?re on some kind of ?Permanent Vacation? in our ?destination location? but unless you?re in a Jim Jarmusch film, an Aerosmith album or your ?boyfriend?s back and you?re gonna get in trouble,? the sentiment rings kind of hollow.

This is why the so-called ?staycation? always rubs some of us like a losing lottery scratcher. Though some Sonoma wineries offer free tastings to townies (Gundlach-Bundschu and Bartholomew Park come are among those with this classy take on local hospitality), there are few other experiences that tourists and locals can both enjoy without dropping a paycheck. This is a fact of life ??tourism is business, Sonoma is a tourist town, ergo Sonoma is in the business of inhaling your wallet and spitting out its empty remains like a tamale husk.

Many Sonomans are slaves to the wine country dream, which is like the American dream but served atop a bed of arugula. The iconic ?white picket fence? is crushed under the weight of zinfandel vines and there?s a church key under the every ?welcome? mat. Other Sonomans just woke up here one day to find a landscape that seems to have shifted beneath their very feet. Ask any local over 40 about what it was like ?before? and their comments are invariably preceded by a slight shake of the head and a quiet sigh. Whatever follows is academic, they?ve already said volumes. Things ain?t as sweet as they used to be ??now they?re tannic, herbaceous and sometimes jammy.

Then there are the newbies. Some come to Sonoma to aspire, others to retire ? yet another demographic comes to expire, which has is admirable in its own grim way. Ironic that science (or the wine lobby) keeps finding links to imbibing and longevity. Perhaps Sonoma?s expirees seek the fountain of youth in the wine that flows freely from the font of fundraisers, say, or perhaps the purple-drench is their exit made glass by glass like foundling footsteps toward their maker.

Of course, as a joke making the rounds goes, ?In Sonoma you drink yourself to death, in the Springs you drink yourself to meth.? Hmm. Couldn?t it have been ?math?? If drinking led to better arithmetic instead of methamphetamine I would have passed algebra the first time (I passed on the meth too, by the way). The Springs would be MIT West given all the ?math.? Instead of graffiti, there would be equations scrawled everywhere. Alas, the only numbers we got are the one?s plummeting from the real estate appraisals.

The devastation of the home market is clearly the result of the greater economic woes affecting the nation-at-large rather than a mere couple of lab busts. Likewise, as any merchant might tell you, there has been a slip in what is usually a robust season for Sonoma?s tourist business. Given the current fiscal climate how does one find the presence of mind to enjoy the wine country?s peak season whilst the recession double-dips our collective aioli?

Slum it like a tourist. Start by strolling to any of a number of our hotel lobbies, take a seat and unfurl a newspaper (this one will do). Read absently while people-watching, until a sense of superiority begins to well in the darker recesses of your soul. When satisfied, loosely fold the paper under your arm and conspicuously adjust yourself. Meander to the Plaza, walk twenty feet, pause and look at a tree you?ve never noticed before. Take a deep breath. Exhale while saying ?Mine.?

Sonoma Inn (San Francisco Edition) literally bites

sonomainnGiven my never-ending crusade to preserve Sonoma’s brand equity, imagine my surprise when I discovered poachers siphoning our identity from our own backyard.

In San Francisco, at the corner of Bush and Van Ness, is a hotel named the Sonoma Inn. I initially assumed it was a residential hotel, by which I mean flophouse, of the ilk where pensioners and burnouts share quarters with romantic visions of alcoholic writers and sad-luck dames. You know, the kind of place that would boast a plaque that reads “Charles Bukowski slept here.”

Not to disparage the residents, or Bukowski, whom I’m sure don’t need some snarky media type from a tony wine country suburb making digs at their digs. But still – did they have to use the name Sonoma? Just so there’s no confusion, when I say “Sonoma Inn,” I don’t mean any place of overnight accommodation in, around or even near Sonoma, such as the Sonoma Valley Inn, the Inn at Sonoma, the Sonoma Mission Inn or even the Sonoma Creek Inn. Those we can differentiate from the pretenders by virtue of the fact that they’re actually in Sonoma and have never been listed, say, in the Bedbug Registry, where I found this post from an apparently disgruntled guest of San Francisco’s Sonoma Inn:

“Yesterday, June 18, 2009, I rented a room there. One of the residents told me they had just been inspected and were told to spray something like three times in six weeks and that they were non-compliant to that request. The bugs are alive and biting. I don’t know any details other than they bite and I have raised welts on my skin that itch terribly.”

And they dare put “Sonoma” in their name? Deplorable.

Of course, I had to call. On my second attempt a woman answered the phone with a wan “Hello?”

I tried to confirm that I had reached the venerable Sonoma Inn and after a moment – a rather long moment – she decided that I had. I asked if she had any vacancy.

After another long pause, I realized it was incumbent upon me to define “vacancy.” I asked if there were “rooms available.” She said no. I asked when she might have a room and she said “Maybe tomorrow.” The rate? $50 plus tax.

By comparison, a real Sonoma room is anywhere between $134.99 for a king bed and complementary continental breakfast to $255 for a non-smoking room with a queen bed at the winter discount.

Just for kicks, I checked Craigslist and found a “LOVELY Sonoma Studio approximately six blocks from Historic Sonoma Plaza” with “ample parking” and a “queen feather bed, twin bed, flat screen TV, kitchen bath with shower and tub, WI-FI” with a bonus “bottle of wine, coffee, tea and of course chocolate with your room.” $160, no tax. It seems we pay a premium for bedbug abatement here in the real Sonoma.

Let me needlessly add that if you stay at my house, it’s free, but it means you’ll probably have a hangover.

I first became acquainted with Sonoma while covering the then-Sonoma Valley Film festival for the San Francisco Chronicle.

These were the days of heightened festival largesse when media, as well as filmmakers, were put up in guest rooms throughout town.

I arrived weary from the drive up from LA and followed the directions as best I could, unaware at the time that the city once had a crisis of creativity when naming its streets and doubled up the numbered streets emanating from the Plaza.

I had already unpacked and was disrobing for bed when the homeowner kindly asked why I was decamping in their guest quarters. I introduced myself, which only confused matters further.

Mercifully, Sonoma is a very hospitable town and the inadvertent host very generously directed me to the correct address without so much as calling the police to report a half-naked trespasser squatting in their granny unit.

Of course, a night in jail would have been cheaper than all the above and also comes with a complementary continental breakfast, but in this instance, one might come to miss the bedbugs.