Sunday, February 12, 2006

some recent reading

The last 30 days have brought a final push on the renovation, the arrival of movers with the contents of our storage unit, and a bit of vacation travel. Despite all this, I've been reading a bit. Before our move into the farmhouse, we packed up the contents of the apartment in Kennebunk, a place I've enjoyed greatly for the last five years and filled with books. Reread Walter Benjamin's essay "On Unpacking My Library" again for the umpteenth time as I put the books into boxes. It's not the first time I've experienced a feeling of dreaded mortality while preparing my library for storage. The fear of not seeing these friends again. But I try to liken it to seeing loved ones off on a long sea voyage. The return of these books, when they are finally unpacked many months from now, will be so welcome.

The rest of my reading has been light, and the cold weather here in Maine has got me looking forward to spring and working outdoors in the garden and fields. William Echikson's Noble Rot was a great introduction to the current state of affairs in Bordeaux' wine industry, and paints a more nuanced picture of the influence of Robert Parker and Michel Rolland than did Jonathan Rossiter's Mondovino. While I'm sympathetic to Rossiter's anti-globalization point of view (when it comes to food culture at least), Parker and Rolland do seem to have spurred some of the more recalcitrant small farmers toward basic modern methods (and here I mean cleanliness and harvesting at the height of ripeness, not micro-oxygenation or GMA). For a look backwards at winemakers facing technology vs. natural methods issues, I recommend Christy Campbell's The Botanist and the Vintner, which describes the decades long struggle with the dreaded phyloxera. In the end, an understanding of the biology of the plant and the predator succeeded over what appear to have been fairly blind applications of pesticides (which were encouraged by the railroad companies, which profitted from shipping the chemicals in to the countryside). I read this last one during our recent trip to a wonderful little island in the Turks and Caicos, and the section which described French farmers moving their grape fields to essentially sand dunes on the Mediterranean shore and in Algeria got me wondering what might grow amidst the scrubby Carribean plants.

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