Monday, February 26, 2007

Wine Snob, part II

That trip to Germany was eye opening for me because for the first time I realized that maybe Giampietro was right, maybe the quality of wine in Italy was better than that in Germany altogether. When I was living in Germany the first time we had a guy in my unit who was from Hungary. He used to drive home most weekend to visit his family and would occasionally bring back some red wine that his grandfather had made. He had once explained to me that certain countries in Europe produce good red wine and some don't and that Germany doesn't produce good red wine because the soil and climate are just not the right type. So I had never thought of Germany as a red wine country anyway. But I did think of it as a white wine country, at least until I lived in Italy for a while and started drinking the white wine there.

My introduction to Italian wine started mostly with sweet whites and reds. I believe Moscato was the first Italian wine I tried. Moscato is a sweet, bubbly white wine that goes well with sweets so it's easy to drink. One day my friend John Pitt decided to take me to a big winery called Villa Sceriman. It's in a little town called Vo Vecchio (Vo, for short) in the Colli Euganei (Euganei hills) just outside Padova. Vo is very popular with Americans who are stationed in Vicenza and I would speculate that many of them who become wine drinkers got their start in Vo. I first became addicted to a wine called Marzemino. Marzemino is a sweet, frizzante (fizzy) red wine and the one produced by Villa Sceriman is so fruity and tasty that it goes down almost too easily, like juice. Usually I would buy a few bottles of Moscato and a few of Marzemino and that was that. As I started getting engrossed more and more in the Italian culture I realized how big a part of it wine was. When Giampietro and Agnese would invite me over for dinner they always served either Cabernet or, Giampi's personal favorite, Tocai rosso. Eventually, when we would go to Vo, I started asking to try the drier wines such as their Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. I liked the Cabernet right away, not so much the Merlot. For a long time I would drink a lot of Cabernet's and not much else.

Enter Will Nason.

(stay tuned for part III)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Apparently I'm a wine snob

What can I say. I honestly have never claimed to be an expert on wine. When I got to Italy in 2000 I knew next to nothing about wine. I had come from Kitzingen, Germany, which is famous for its Franken Wines, some of the best in Germany. I had never drank wine before I got to Germany and so I immediately decided to try to local wines. I did so and I liked them. But, I was naive. I knew absolutely nothing about wine. When I got to Italy I was still a beer man. I had an extensive knowledge of hops but knew nothing of the grape. Within a month of moving into my apartment my upstairs neighbor, Giampietro, came down with two bottles of vino, one red, one white. He proceeded to explain what, specifically, I was supposed to eat with each bottle. That's where it all started. I remember a conversation I had with Giampietro early on when I told him that, while Germany didn't have any good red wine, they did have some very good white wine. Giampietro scoffed at this and said something to the effect of Italian white wine being much better quality then Germany. I just kind of chuckled to myself at this and thought "That's just him being biased towards his own country". After all, I had taken a tour of the Rhine valley and sampled some of the best wines that Germany had to offer. A few months later I went back to Germany for a week for a class on the government's nickel and I was dying to try some German wine, if only to prove Giamietro wrong. Well, I drank some of the best wines that Germany had to offer and wouldn't you know it, Giampietro was right. I remember the first sip, thinking that, wow, this just tastes like a different wine than what I remember. And by "different", I meant "not as good".

Tune in tomorrow...or, whenever I get around to it....for the next part of why I am apparently a wine snob....

Saturday, February 17, 2007

An excerpt from my book...

It was still early in the afternoon and I had no idea what I was going to do for the rest of the day since I didn’t know anybody so on my way back to the barracks I stopped at the library to get some books. Due to all the time I’d spent in Barnes and Noble before joining the army, reading all sorts of books had developed into my preferred manner of killing time. But, in reality, I wasn’t much of a reader. As I looked around and tried to figure out what kind of books might keep me busy, an interesting thought occurred to me. I’d been there about a week and based on my experiences thus far, I was worried that I was living in a culture vacuum. All the guys in my section, my roommate, and pretty much everyone else I’d met seemed to only care about getting drunk, getting into fights, discussing various parts of the female anatomy, showing off how tough they were, and generally all manner of caveman type activities. Now I was all for drinking and female companionship but where I was from we never sat around and talked about it constantly. So I was kind of worried about how I would get along with the guys in the barracks. I wanted to fit in but I didn’t want to become just like them. With that in mind I decided to borrow some books that not only interested me but that would challenge my mind a bit. This, I thought, would keep me from becoming a caveman myself.

I got my books and headed back to the barracks where a bunch of the guys were hanging around outside. In front of our barracks was a little barbecue area with a big stone grill. On the weekends a lot of the guys would get a bunch of beer and meat and continue the age old American tradition of grilling and getting drunk on watery beer. I hadn’t really talked to any of them since I was still in Head Start and none of them were particularly welcoming so I just walked into the barracks without even looking at them, although a big part of me really wanted to join them. As I was walking in SGT Hanover yelled over to me and told me to hang on. He walked over, beer in hand, and asked what I was up to and I said “nothing much, spent the morning walking around downtown and now I got some books so I figured I just go up to the room and do some reading.” Hanover looked down at the stack of books I was holding and asked to see what I was reading. He looked at the book on top – a collection of poems by Robert Frost – and got a confused look on his face, then a half-smile. “Goddamn Thibodeau, what are you, some kind of scholar?” I laughed and made a joke about wanting to keep my mind sharp and then his face took on its familiar solemn look and he kind of looked a bit uncomfortable in this semi-social situation. “Well, we’re just drinking some beers and cooking some food….you can join us if you want…” I said thanks and that I’d come down after putting my stuff away.

Well, this was it, I was finally about to hang out with the guys. I was actually pretty nervous, like I was the new kid at school who was being invited to a party for the first time where you didn’t really know anybody. I had never been a very outgoing person and didn’t make friends very easily so I was probably more uncomfortable than anything. These were people that I had no experience hanging out with. Even in the reserves most of the people I knew were college students or people with families. I didn’t have much “caveman” in me so I wasn’t sure I’d fit in very well because I had no intention of changing my personality just to be one of the guys. As it turned out, most of them were pretty cool. Of course it helped that they had been drinking for a while and were a bit friendlier than they might have been otherwise. What I didn’t realize at the time was that in the military, people are constantly coming and going. People leave, new people arrive. So being the new guy wasn’t really any big deal. To them, everything was the same except that there was a new person around. To me, I was the same but the entire world around me was new.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The X Man loves his Uncle Eric

The wife and I have a running joke about our new place here in Heidelberg that goes something like this; we've only been here less than a year but we've already had at least twice as many people come stay with us than I (we) had in 6 years in Italy. There's something about our place here that is very welcoming and people sometimes end up staying longer than they anticipated.

A perfect example is my brother Eric. For those of you who don't know him, Eric lives and works in Africa as a volunteer for the Mercy Ships. Last fall he had planned a trip home to the US for a couple months and he decided to swing by Heidelberg on his way back to spend a few days visiting us. It's not that often that we get to see Eric and we always enjoy his visits so we were looking forward to seeing him. Well, nobody enjoyed his visit more than the X Man. Uncle Eric played cars with him, took him to the playground, generally did all the things that the X Man loves doing. Uncle Eric is probably the only person in our family who is more traveled than I am - and that's saying a lot - and yet despite being all around the world, he was pretty impressed by Heidelberg. In fact, he mentioned that he might even cut his time in the US short just so that he could spend more time here on his way back to Africa. And sure enough, he was back here a couple weeks ago on his way back to Africa. And of course, nobody was happier about that then the X Man. We started giving him a hint about a week before Uncle Eric arrived by occasionally dropping the "Uncle Eric will be here next week..." bomb, to which he always got excited. In fact, one night about 2 days before Eric arrived, he asked when Uncle Eric would be there and when we told him it would be a couple more days he actually started crying! "I want Uncle Eric!", he whined. It was very sweet.

Anyway, Uncle Eric's visit was, once again, enjoyable and the X Man really misses him. Here's a few pictures of Uncle Eric's two visits...

If you'd like to read more about Uncle Eric, check out
his website

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Heidelberg Pictures

Just thought I'd post some pictures of the area that we live in. This is the Heidelberg "Altstadt", which is German for "Old Town". The Castle is in ruins now, destroyed for good by Napolean Bonaparte but even the ruins are quite a sight to see. Much of the interior is still intact as well.

If you click to enlarge the last pic and find the white circle, that's our house...

Anytime you want to come visit, just give us a yell...

Monday, February 05, 2007

I'm Back, Baby!

I've decided to come off sabbatical and start updating the blog again. With a couple of caveats - I'll update it when I feel like it and will write about whatever I feel like writing about. If you don't like it, tough. I don't know how often I'll update it but if it gets to be too much of a chore like it was before than maybe I'll just shut it down altogether.

So what have I been up to during my self-imposed exile from the blogosphere? Well, for one thing I've started writing a book, which is something I've always wanted to do. It's nothing special and I'm not planning on a second career as a writer or anything. Writing is just something I've always enjoyed and after getting a few comments from people that they enjoy my writing style I started thinking that maybe it's something I would enjoy doing as well as giving me a hobby during the winter. However I had no idea what the hell I could possibly write a book about since I'm not enough of an expert on anything to actually write an entire book about it. Then, a couple months ago, I happened to be watching the movie "Under the Tuscan Sun" for the umpteenth time and it dawned on me that my story is more interesting than hers. So I figured I'd write about the past ten years of my life, about how I went from a nowhere office job to living in Europe and traveling around the world. So far I've finished the first four chapters and the fifth is coming along nicely. If I'm feeling froggy, I may even post snippets here on the blog to give you an idea of what I'm writing.

Other than the book, we've been exploring all that Heidelberg has to offer. It really is a great city and place to live. I still miss Italy incredibly but I'm enjoying Heidelberg so much that sometimes I forget how much I miss Italy. We went back down to visit Giampi and Agnese for New Years and had a great visit. We've also been lucky enough to have my brother Eric visit a couple times in the last few months. Hopefully I'll be able to post pictures from these and other adventures in the near future.
Anyway, it's good to be back and I hope everyone who used to check in is doing well.