The Sunday Magazine: The Semicolon Project

There are many things I like about Facebook. One of the more interesting things about Facebook is when there are events which seem to cause large amounts of the people who I share Facebook with to gather around. This past week of August 2014 there were two things which dominated my Facebook News Feed.

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Robin Williams

One was the tragic suicide of actor Robin Williams. As I write this there has still been no concrete reason for his desperate act, and there may never be one. Facebook was full of clips from his stand-up comedy specials and movies. He had a habit of playing roles which had more than a bit of shadow to them. These characters all managed to quell those darker impulses and learn to live with them.  As I saw these clips throughout the week I am reminded we all carry our shadows. When they start to speak too strongly to us we need to ask for help. More about that in a second.

The second thing in my Facebook News Feed was the videos of people participating in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. This started a couple of weeks ago with a few people posting a video of themselves dumping a bucket of ice water over their heads. The way this works is the person in the video challenges three other people to either dump a bucket of ice water over their heads or donate $100 to the ALS Foundation. Hopefully do both. Somewhere over the last two weeks this crossed over to celebrities and it seemed to particularly peak this week as I seemed to wake up every morning to a new batch. Early in the week it was the late-night talk shows, in the middle of the week it was sports teams, and towards the end of the week it was the head of every big tech company. The videos got more elaborate especially when the likes of Bill Gates engineers a complicated contraption to dump the water over his head. (There is a Windows joke in there somewhere) The ALS foundation has received over $4million in donations over the past two weeks, three times more than they raised at the same time last year.

All of this is great for raising awareness of ALS and helping the patient community but I worry about something as narcissistic as filming yourself starts to lose the message at some point. The money raised is great but does it have a real lasting effect? I like my Facebook campaigns to be a little more subtle.

This brings me to The Semicolon Project which I also became aware of through Facebook. A very old friend who I connected with again on Facebook posted a picture of a semicolon tattoo she got. I asked about it and she sent me the link to The Semicolon Project. As you can see in the picture below it started on April 16, 2013.

the-semicolon-project

This was also a simple organic campaign to raise awareness and the pictures posted were incredibly powerful. More than a few of them had the semicolon over cutting scars on their wrist. What is fantastic is this has turned into a full-fledged organization to support those suffering from mental health issues. On April 16 this year there was another day of semicolons posted on the internet. I suspect every April 16 from now on will be the day to show off your semicolon. The power of people who have suffered showing these simple, elegant statements to those who are currently suffering is way more relevant to me. As Robin Williams’ suicide shows the decision to choose a semicolon over a period is extremely difficult. I am very happy The Semicolon Project exists so that those who suffer from mental health issues can find help and then share the ability to overcome with a simple piece of punctuation. I hope this grows into an annual celebration of finding the strength within to continue with life.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Living the Country Life

I am a city mouse. I’ve lived in cities for the great majority of my life. Mrs. Colognoisseur is a country mouse. When I describe us I often say we are a reverse “Green Acres” Mrs. C is Oliver and I am Lisa. When I changed jobs to move down to the Washington DC area we have ended up living the country life in Poolesville, MD. After three years I have become surprised at how much I have enjoyed it.

montgomery county agriculture preserve

Poolesville is right in the middle of the Montgomery County Agricultural Reserve. This was an initiative where 93,000 acres of the county was protected from development and encouraged to become working agricultural businesses. The effect is, thirty years later, we live in the middle of a flourishing farming community. From May through early November the local farms are our produce section. We go from vegetable farm to fruit farm and buy what is in season. While we aren’t interested in tilling the soil ourselves this allows me to see the change in harvest as the calendar moves on. As I have started to get a handle on when things will be ready I find myself looking forward to the crop of beets as much as I look forward to the seasonal lattes at Starbucks. I have truly come to dislike having to go back to the grocery store for the winter months.

welcome to poolesville

Besides the farms there is the town of Poolesville itself which is the smallest place I have ever lived. The population is just around 5,000 people. It is very interesting to live in a place where the guys who run Poolesville Hardware know who we are and what we need, often before we do. There is a town green which has events on a near weekly basis. It brings the town out to spend some time together. I have always heard about this concept of a “sense of community” but living in the city that get buried under the hardness of the urban landscape. In Poolesville it is a reality and it is something many feel is worth the effort to maintain.

Like all small communities there are some changes coming Poolesville’s way. Poolesville High School has been the #1 high school in the state for many years and is annually ranked in the top 100 high schools in the entire country, #47 for 2014. This has made Poolesville a desirable location for parents who want their children to go to a good school. This is where the foresight of the Agricultural Reserve runs head-on into upper middle class values. There are few areas which can be subdivided into the prototypical Mc Mansion but there are some and they have grown steadily. This is changing the socio-economic makeup of town and it is unclear how that will impact the town. A couple of signs is the arrival of two national chain stores which will directly compete with existing family-run stores. As I hear many of the older residents say their goal is to “Keep Poolesville, Poolesville.” So far that task has been easy but it might become more difficult over time.

It has turned out that Poolesville has been more interesting than my inner Lisa was worried it would be. I haven't been longing for Fifth Avenue that much. To be honest I’ve found out there is a little more Oliver in me than I suspected. So far the country life has agreed with me.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Colognoisseur Awesome Mix Vol. 1

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I went to see the new movie from Marvel, “Guardians of the Galaxy”, which is a fantastic piece of filmmaking. The movie is not going to be the topic of today’s column. Instead the movie inspired me to write something different. One of the characters in the movie is a cassette tape given to our hero Peter Quill by his mother just before he is taken from Earth. The tape is labeled “Awesome Mix Vol. 1” and was his mother’s favorite songs from her youth in the 70’s. The music is used ingeniously throughout the movie and the tape shows up as much as many of the secondary characters. My suspicion is if the movie is as successful as I expect it to be all of these songs are about to have a renaissance of sorts for the next couple of months.

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As I thought about the movie I got to thinking what would I put on a tape I labeled “Awesome Mix Vol. 1”. What were the songs of the 70’s I loved? What would make a great mix together? The thought exercise was fun as I sort of let my mind wander to that time in my life most of which was my time in high school and college. What I found as I just sort of let myself free associate was a pretty interesting group of songs. So here are the ten songs I would make a mix tape of to give my non-existent child just before being abducted by interstellar outlaws.

Joy to the World by Three Dog Night– If you just say the opening lines “Jeremiah was a bullfrog” you will inevitably smile. This was the first mega-pop hit I can remember as it dominated the charts during its release in 1971. It is still one of the best-selling singles ever.

Play That Funky Music by Wild Cherry– At the height of disco in 1976 the members of Wild Cherry were at a gig when they received a request written on a napkin, “play some funky music, white boy”.  From that request this song which is one of the most popular examples of funk rock came to be. The bass line, horns, and guitar hook make you get up and boogie.

Evil Woman by ELO– Electric Light Orchestra were one of those hybrids of rock music accompanied by a string section that the 70’s seemed to spawn weekly. ELO lasted because the impresario behind it, Jeff Lynne, had a clear vision of what he wanted. Evil Woman was the first big hit for ELO in 1975. This was not your father’s string section as halfway into this there is a moment where the strings take over for the lead guitar and show they can rock just as hard.

Rocket Man by Elton John– Elton John is one of my favorite artists and it was Rocket Man which was the first song by him that I played over and over on my cassette tape. The song about an astronaut getting ready for liftoff was a product of the post-moon landing generation. The combination of piano and synthesizer make a perfectly otherworldly duet to lay down the vocals over.

The Boys are Back in Town by Thin Lizzy- One of those songs with an insanely catchy guitar hook which lodges itself within my consciousness and sets up shop for days. It is all shimmering guitars and it might have been the first song I actively broke out the air guitar to.

Why Can’t We Be Friends? By War– War was one of those bands which tried to use almost every musical influence available and stuff it into their songs. This was one of their earliest hits which was as pop as War would ever get. The lyrics are hysterical and slyly subversive.

I Wanna Be Sedated

I Wanna be Sedated by Ramones– I had discovered Ramones when I discovered punk music in the mid 70’s but it is this 1979 song which will always be my favorite song by them. It is everything punk rock evolved into by 1979. As a reaction to rock bands with string sections, choruses, synthesizers and orchestras Ramones stripped it down to the basics and ripped it out in two minutes or so. Gabba Gabba Hey!

Under Pressure by Queen and David Bowie– This collaboration by pop icons Queen and David Bowie is in my estimation one of the greatest songs of all-time. Bowie arrived to sing backing vocals on a different song but over time he and Freddie Mercury came up with this rock opera in four minutes of a perfect rock song.

One Way or Another by Blondie– As punk music began to gain traction it was bands like Blondie that helped provide that. Lead singer Debbie Harry had a perfect mix of punk look with the bleached blond hairdo and dark makeup while wearing a little black dress. Safe enough for people to dip their toes in the punk rock pool. Everyone knows about the vocals but Chris Stein’s driving guitar was also integral to this band’s success and in One Way or Another it is all right there.

The Ballroom Blitz by The Sweet– This song was inspired by the time the band was driven off stage by the audience throwing bottles at them. The song itself has a kinetic kind of wind-up similar to the way one might convince themselves to release their frustration. Beware what the man in the back says.

That’s my list. If you want to listen to it and are on Spotify; friend me and you will find it labeled Colognoisseur Awesome Mix Vol. 1 in my account.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Kim Harrison’s The Hollows

I am about a month away from the final book in one of my favorite urban fantasy series being released. Author Kim Harrison’s version of a contemporary world where the supernatural is real and is out in the open is called The Hollows.

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Kim Harrison

The tipping point for the supernatural races to reveal themselves is a virus spawned by genetic engineering of tomatoes. The virus destroys a quarter of humanity and at that point the combined supernatural community realize they are no longer outnumbered. Many of them help during the ensuing chaos and reveal that they were already embedded in powerful positions throughout society. This event is called The Turn and takes place in the 1960’s in the fictional timeline.

dead witch walking

The first book “Dead Witch Walking” takes place forty years after The Turn as the existence of supernatural creatures has become commonplace but not necessarily accepted. The stories within The Hollows series are set in Cincinnati. The name for the series comes from the section of town where the supernatural folk called Inderlanders live. Law enforcement is also divided with each society having their own entity. In the beginning of the series we meet witch Rachel Morgan, who is the first person narrator of all the books, and her partner vampire Ivy Tamwood. The first book sets up their friendship and along with a pixy named Jenks create the three main characters the rest of the installments will focus on.

As is common in these urban fantasy series Rachel is a character who manages to straddle many of the supernatural races. Through the course of the twelve books she has profoundly affected the power structure within The Hollows and Cincinnati. What is great about the way Ms. Harrison plots these books is every decision Rachel has made has had consequences which have rippled through the following books. All too often in urban fantasy the protagonists do things which are forgotten by the next book. Ms. Harrison has loaded the proverbial one straw short of a camel’s burden on Rachel and unflinchingly shown her main character dealing with it.

There is also a very aromatic compnent to the series as places smell of burnt amber and certain races smell of sandalwood, cinnamon, or wine. I often recall the perfumes I like best when these passages are read in my mind.

witch with no name

For all of this the series is coming to an end with the publication of the thirteenth book “The Witch with No Name” right after Labor Day. As I look back over the previous twelve books it is interesting to notice when I think Ms. Harrison switched from writing episodes to actually plotting the path to a final ending. In my estimation it is book eight “Black Magic Sanction” where Rachel begins to bear the consequences of her actions and as she resolves the issues that are placed in front of her is, slowly but surely, creating a society of the outcasts and creating a family out of her friends. Ms. Harrison writes this with gusto and I race through each new entry.

Now I am down to one entry left and I am looking forward to seeing if Rachel lives happily ever after. I suspect she will but not without one more trial to overcome before getting her storybook ending. I can’t wait.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: HGTV Love It or List It

Many evenings in the Colognoissuer household are spent with me in my chair reading, testing perfume, or surfing the internet. While I do that my wife will often have the television on the cable network HGTV. Most of the time it is easy for me to tune it out and I’m only required to look up when Mrs. Colognoisseur asks me, “Do you like that?” Sadly for her the answer is often no. Over the past few months though there is one of these HGTV shows which has managed to penetrate my studied air of indifference, Love It or List It.

Love It or List It is a show where a current set of homeowners are given the opportunity to renovate their home, Love It, or find a newer improved home, List It. Most of the homeowners have begun to outgrow the home they bought years ago but have emotional reasons for not moving, or at least one of them does. Interior Designer Hilary Farr comes up with a plan to renovate the house using the budget the homeowners give her so they will want to stay. Working at odds with Hilary is realtor David Visentin who looks for a new home which has all of the things the homeowners want and might not be able to get. By the end of the hour with the renovations done and usually a perfect house found the homeowners have to make the decision to stay or go. I can’t explain it but I have so much fun trying to guess which way they will go.

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The show is formulaic as it can get but the personalities of Hilary and David as they interact with the homeowners makes it seem fresher than it should. The first part of every episode is the introduction to the couple who own the home and one of them who really wants to stay and one who really wants to move. Hilary and David do a home inspection with David snarking about the home and Hilary promising she can make magic happen. They sit down with the homeowners and get their respective budgets and “must haves” to stay or go. In the next two segments renovation gets underway and almost every episode a hidden issue is uncovered which eats up a chunk of the renovation budget forcing a choice on something to give up. Oh no Hilary is in trouble! Interspersed between that David takes the couple to two houses which also contain significant flaws and it seems as if he will need to find the impossible to satisfy these homeowners. Oh no David is in trouble! This leads to the final segment where Hilary pulls it all together despite the challenges and David finds the perfect home. Yay our heroes rally! After the new renovation is revealed the decision to Love It or List It is revealed. So far, through 118 episodes Love It leads List It 69 to 49.

Of course this is reality television and this is HGTV which has admitted other of their shows are less “real” than they might seem. I am sure Love It or List It is no different and much of the “conflict” is manufactured and the decision is pre-ordained from the moment filming begins. I don’t care as I am not expecting a documentary and it really is the way Hilary and David carry the show that makes it enjoyable for me. The real fun is the smile I get from Mrs. C when I put down the laptop, close the book, or lay down the perfume vials to pay attention because I have decided to Love, Love It or List It.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Irving Penn

When the discussion about whether perfume can be considered an art form comes up I am often reminded that photography wasn’t really considered an art form until the 1970’s. The mythical gatekeepers that consider “What is art?” finally gave way under the volume of work that could not be ignored. One of the modern photographers who I most admire, Irving Penn had one of my favorite quotes about the power of his works. He said, “A good photograph is one that communicates a fact, touches the heart, and leaves the viewer a changed person for having seen it; it is in one word, effective.” I read this on a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago just before I entered the gallery containing some of his photographs. Mr. Penn is much more than just effective his portraits and still lifes do what any art form does as it communicates the mundane on a subliminal level of beauty.

elsa schiaparelli irving penn 1948

Mr. Penn’s rise began as he started working at Vogue Magazine in 1947. Throughout 1948 he would take a series of pictures of some of the famous people who came through the Vogue offices. He posed them in a narrow “V” of plywood which was made apparent by the larger framing to allow you to see the room around the artificial confinement. The picture of Elsa Schiaparelli above is one of my favorites because it shows the fashion designer could not be contained by any artifice at all. Each subject used the narrow space differently.

jacques fath irving penn

Jacques Fath had a pair of shears with which he was trying to cut his way out.

georgia o'keeffe irving penn

Georgia O’Keeffe squeezed herself as far back as she could and Mr. Penn pulled the camera back further on that shot than any other in the series.

spencer tracy irving penn

Spencer Tracy looked at ease. This was Mr. Penn’s gift to use something as simple as a restricted space to display differences in personality.

harlequin dress irving penn

He would meet his wife while at Vogue, model Lisa Fonssagrives. She would become the subject of many of his fashion shots the most striking of which is the Harlequin Dress seen above.

3 Chanel Products Irving Penn

The other large part of his artistic collection was still lifes of objects placed exactly so. The picture of the 3 Chanel Products is a perfect example of this style.

leggy nude new york irving penn

By the 1990’s he shot some spectacular nudes of which my favorite, “Leggy Nude, New York” is seen above.

Mr. Penn always shot what he loved and what moved him and that emotion is apparent in every one of the photographs. In the end I believe art is all about connecting to our emotional core and if something can reliably do that there should be no question about whether it is art. I believe perfume has its Penns and Adamses who will also eventually create a volume of work that will be undeniably art, it just takes time. Thankfully Mr. Penn’s time arrived before his death in 2009 so he could see his creations lauded for their artistic value.

All images by Irving Penn found on the Art Institute of Chicago website.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill Gin

It seems like everywhere you turn there are artisanal small batch versions to be found. When it comes to fragrance it is my pleasure to support the independent perfumers who work to their own rhythm. I am also finding the same is true when it comes to the potent potables I drink. One of the best examples of this is the story behind Vermont’s Caledonia Spirits and their Barr Hill Gin.

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Todd Hardie

Todd Hardie has been fascinated with bees since he was 12-years old. This has led to a life of beekeeping and farming in the far northern Vermont region hard against the Quebec, Canada border. This is a land of dairy farms and one of my favorite quotes on the website is Mr. Hardie mentions that his bees require no documentation to cross the border and pollinate. As a working honey farmer he also grew grains and on Barr Hill there was wild juniper growing. One night as he was wondering how to maximize the use of all of his land the idea of distilling the grain for alcohol, using that to extract the juniper to make gin and then finish that gin by adding raw honey came to be. Over about 24 months a still was built, from recycled parts which produced the ethanol and allowed for vapor extraction of the juniper berries. The bees added their special ingredient and Barr Hill Gin was created. At first Mr. Hardie sold it in Vermont and one store in NYC. Since then Barr Hill Gin has become a true word-of-mouth success.

Gin is my favorite liquor. I used to distill my own when I was in graduate school and got to be competent at it. Once I had a job I was content to let the more experienced make my gin for me. I’ve probably been through all of the gin crazes from Tanqueray to Bombay Sapphire, to Hendrick’s and I like all of them. The addition of honey to Barr Hill Gin sets it apart. It makes it a gin for many people who aren’t fond of gin.

While sipping Barr Hill by itself, as an extremely dry martini, is a pleasure and the honey takes the coriander “edge” off that many people don’t like. It really comes to life in the right cocktails. As a class Barr Hill would be considered an Old Tom Gin as opposed to a London Dry Gin like Tanqueray or Bombay. The difference is an Old Tom Gin is a sweeter gin and the craft cocktail movement has made this style more sought after as more and more bartenders want to use it in their new cocktails.

barr hill gin

There is no gin-based cocktail I haven’t found to be improved by the addition of this gin but there is one which far and away almost seems it was particularly made for.  Back in the 1920’s the phrase used to describe something as cool was the “bee’s knees”. It is no surprise that a bartender created a cocktail by that name. Unfortunately because this bartender created the Bee’s Knees during Prohibition nobody knows who to appropriately attribute it to. Considering the gin used in speakeasies during that period was probably more like my amateur efforts in grad school bartenders were really looking for a way to take the “edge” off. The Bee’s Knees does it quite simply with honey and lemon juice.

beesknees

Bee’s Knees Cocktail

2oz. Barr Hill gin

¾ oz. lemon juice

¾ oz. honey simple syrup (dissolve 1oz of honey into 1oz of water)

Pour all of the ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Shake and strain into a highball glass with a couple of cubes of ice.

As a Colognoisseur variant to add some fragrant aspects to it I take a teaspoon of Crème de Violette and float it on top and add a sprig of rosemary. This combination always reminds me of two of my favorite fragrances both of which contain a honey and violet accord; Ulrich Lang Anvers and Serge Lutens Bois de Violette.

I do have to say the use of Barr Hill Gin has made gin lovers out of many of my friends who thought they didn’t like gin. You might even say they think it is the bee’s knees of gins.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: The Songs of Summer 2014

When it comes to summer for some reason it is the season when we allow ourselves to enjoy multiple guilty pleasures. Summer seems to give us permission to go see the new Transformers movie and wallow in the explosions and robots. The books we read are page-turners, India Drummond’s Caledonia Fae series is my beach companion this year, meant to entertain instead of provoke thought. The fragrances we wear are meant to be lighter, cleaner, less challenging; summer is cologne season. Underneath all of this is each year’s soundtrack of music. It seems every summer has a song to remind me of it. Whenever I hear it I am back in the sun-drenched time and place I heard it. In 1977 it was Sheena is a Punk Rocker by The Ramones. The aptly named The Boys of Summer provided the backbeat to 1984. Len’s Steal my Sunshine had me pounding on my steering wheel in 1999. Shakira’s Hips Don’t Lie fueled 2006 and Katy Perry’s California Gurls took 2010. Of course Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines was last summer’s infectious beat.

For a summer song I want something which allows me to play imaginary keyboards or slash at a drum set only I can see. I want it to have a chorus I want to sing at the top of my not American Idol quality voice with the sun roof open headed to the beach. It also needs to hold up to being on a short playlist set on permanent repeat without boring me. I am headed to the beach for the Fourth of July and here are the five new songs which will be added to my perpetual summer playlist.

Rather Be by Clean Bandit– I break out my air violin for the opening of this before switching to the catchy keyboard hook. The band enlists Jess Glynne to do the vocals over the tracks they lay down. It puts a happy skip into my step.

I Wanna Get Better by Bleachers– Bleachers is Jack Antonoff’s of Fun. solo project and it has the same catchy drum line as the best tracks of that band. Mr. Antonoff also adds in hook after hook until we get to the chorus where I am singing/yelling “I Wanna Get Better”. The last minute of this from the guitar solo straight through to the end is everything I want from a summer song.

Am I Wrong by Nico & Vinz– The guitar line in this one is infectious and it builds to a crescendo by the first chorus which powers this all the way throughout.

She Looks So Perfect by 5 Seconds of Summer– This Australian sort of boy band produces a power pop confection that is the very definition of guilty pleasure. It is so formulaic that it should be forgettable but there is a genuine joy in the performance which allows this to rise above that formula

Summer by Calvin Harris– If you name your song Summer you’re clearly angling to be put on people’s summer playlists. It is a good thing that Mr. Harris produces a synthesizer laden homage to the dog days.

I hope everyone is having a great summer and allowing yourself to enjoy the simple pleasures of this time of year. If you need me you’ll find me on the beach, headphones in, sunglasses on, nose buried in my book.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Petite Sirah

When I teach my wine course for wines under $15 I ask people what wine they serve with burgers off the grill in the summertime. The usual answers are a bunch of white wines which opens the door for me to introduce the class to an underrated grape varietal, Petite Sirah.

Petite Sirah was a varietal imported from France, to California, where it was called Durif. In France it was never a very remarkable grape for wine and that is probably one of the reasons it isn’t very well known. If French winemakers can’t do something with it there must be a reason….right? This is an example of an unremarkable grape in one microclimate being transferred to a different one and flourishing. As the California vintners planted it the drier climate there caused it to blossom, literally and figuratively, and the small intense fruit to produce some wonderful red wines.

Petite sirah grapes

Petite Sirah Grapes on the vine

Over the last 15-20 years these California Petite Sirahs are true red wine bargains although you can find expensive ones, the more economical versions are very good. These are great wines for cheeseburgers and I have successfully paired them with spicy curry dishes. Petite Sirah often manages to be the perfect answer to foods that don’t have obvious food pairings. These are also red wines that are very drinkable when you purchase them, they can improve with some aging but the ones I recommend below are ready to go right from the store shelf to your glass.

spellbound ps

Spellbound Petite Sirah is my favorite low price Petite Sirah regularly found for less than $15. Spellbound is the vineyard run by Rob Mondavi, Jr. the fourth generation of Modavis to go into winemaking. His Petite Sirah is one of the easiest drinking red wines you can buy and it has gourmand notes of caramel and coffee to the nose before getting a rich deep berry flavor over the oak of the barrels used to age the wine. The currently available 2012 vintage is excellent and shows all of the qualities that make Spellbound Petite Sirah exceptional.

mcmannis ps

McManis Petite Sirah runs a close second to Spellbound for me. It generally has a more pronounced caramel quality and the berries are juicier which makes it drink much softer. The 2012 vintage is available now for less than $10.

cupcake_petite_sirah_label

One of the things I find fascinating about Petite Sirah is the variations that can be found and the Cupcake Vineyards Petite Sirah is very different than either of the ones above. The winemakers accentuate all of the sweeter character inherent in the grape and so this becomes the perfect companion to a dessert of summer berries and whipped cream or key lime pie. The 2012 vintage overflows in cherry, raspberry, and blackberry flavors. This is on top of a nose of cinnamon and coffee as you sniff before drinking. This is also widely available for less than $15.

So fire up your grill, gather some summer fruit and pop the cork on a Petite Sirah it’s a perfect summertime combination.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: The Newport Mansions

We currently live in a world where the power brokers like putting their names on things, often as big as they can get it. The size of the sign somehow has something to do with the size of the influence, I guess. Not that competition among the wealthy is anything new it has been going on for centuries. Each trying to have the biggest and/or grandest whatever is important in that era. I am reminded of that every year when I attend a scientific conference in Newport, RI.

Chateau-sur-Mer

Chateau sur Mer

For the burgeoning American industrialists of the late 19th century the competition was for the biggest house with the most exotic building materials designed by the premiere architects of the day. For the architects these had to be half dream project-half nightmare. The dream part was having a client who could acquire any material you wanted to be incorporated into the design and you would be encouraged to push the envelope on that design to be wholly original. The nightmare part must have been the pressure of not delivering to the most powerful families in America, if they weren’t satisfied you were probably done as an architect. I’m sure the same thing is true for bespoke perfumes as the perfumer has some freedom to create singularly but if it misses what the client is hoping for then the perfumer will be seen as untalented for not being able to deliver.

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Beechwood

One heavy concentration of these mansions is located in Newport. The influential families of the day had decided that Newport was where they wanted to spend their summers and they had to have homes which confirmed their status. The acknowledged first mansion was called Chateau sur Mer which was built by the Wetmore family who had made their fortune in the shipping business. Chateau sur Mer was built in 1852 but it was barely twenty years later when they asked architect Richard Morris Hunt to redesign it in what was called the “Second Empire” style. The Wetmores had started the race.

Marble_House_Front

Marble House

Once it had been started the two most prominent families of the day, the Astors and the Vanderbilts, had to enter. What is funny is the same architect, Mr. Hunt, was used almost in succession as the Astors employed him to renovate Beechwood. William Vanderbilt would hire him to build Marble House only to have his older brother Cornelius outdo those all by having Mr. Hunt design The Breakers.

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The Breakers

My conference is at Salve Regina University and it sits next door to The Breakers while the once Carriage House and stables of Chateau sur Mer now make up Wetmore Hall. Making an interesting bit of historical bookends to my daily walk back and forth across campus.

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Richard Morris Hunt

One final thought about all of this was none of these were the main residence for any of these families they were referred to as “cottages”. They spent 8-10 weeks a year here. The influence of this summer society is still apparent today as their preferred method of play was sailing and tennis. Even there the competitive nature would rear its head and the early beginnings of the America’s Cup and tennis’ US Open were borne out of this endless trying to be on top.

The names may have changed and the area of competition may have evolved but the game remains the same.

Mark Behnke