- The War on Drugs, "Holding On" (Why this video for a song with this title? Watch to the end.)

Books

Tasting Georgia: A Food and Wine Journey in the Caucasus

Carla Capalbo

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Sep 18, 2017
Category: Art and Photography

The wine world’s cool kids are buzzing about Georgia.

That is, the Georgia that is bordered on the North by Russia, to the South by Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

If you’re interested in a culture that, 8,000 years ago, gave birth to wine-making and still makes some wine by the ancient method, I have a book for you. If you’re interested in visiting a country that is far off the tourist path, I have a tour guide for you. If you’re a foodie who wants to try dishes you won’t find in an restaurant in Amerrica, here are 70 recipes. And if you’re an armchair traveler who would never go halfway around the world even to see vistas and customs unchanged for centuries, here are 400 pictures so crisp you’d swear they were photo-shopped. [To see a portfolio of Capalbo’s photos, click here.]

All of that is in what’s fair to say is the only book you’ll ever read about this raw countryside and its charming people: “Tasting Georgia: A Food and Wine Journey in the Caucasus.” No surprise that the author is Carla Capalbo, who has made a career of profiling overlooked regions, cuisines and wines and has, over the years, produced one classic title after another.

She heard about Georgia as a child. Her mother danced under the direction of George Balanchine, whose father was a Georgian opera singer and composer. “You’d love Georgia,” she told Carla. “The food and wine are delicious, and there are cows in the roads.”

Decades later, she got interested in the Georgian wine-making tradition of burying wine in large terra-cotta casks called qvervri. The wine ages naturally, with the sediment settling in the qvervri’s pointed bottom. In any other country, you would say these are quaint traditions from as disappearing way of life — but in Georgia they endure.

In 2013, Capalbo visited Georgia. “It only took a few days for me to fall in love with the people, their food, wine and culture,” she says. Before she left, she knew she’d be doing a book. [To buy “Tasting Georgia” from Amazon, click here.]

And why not? Meals in Georgia are social events, without a rigid course structure. Small dishes cover the table. The recipes haven’t changed for centuries. They don’t need to: The stars are grilled meats, vegetables garnished with herbs, nuts and spices. At the most popular restaurant in the country, found on a side road between towns, the menu — soup dumplings, grilled pork, tarragon lemonade — hasn’t changed since 1966.

And the variety of landscapes! In the mountains, shepherds bring flocks of sheep down at the end of the day and then the sheep dutifully go off to their own homes. In a 6,600-foot-high resort town, every room in the shockingly affordable hotel has a view of the mountains. At a wine house near the Black Sea, you have lunch in the garden under a canopy.

Georgia’s culture stands everything we know on its head. To turn the pages of this book is an unsettling pleasure — you go back to a time of small family farms, people who know one another all their lives, and a definition of news that involves events no more than a valley away. If I could just time-travel…

Short Takes

Need a tutor in NYC? Our daughter’s math grade went from B- to A-

Last year our daughter had a math teacher who was gifted at everything but teaching. The predicable result: a bad attitude, low test scores. We asked a friend about a math tutor. After hearing her rave about Elyse Laakso, we made no other calls. Elyse started with our unhappy child last October. By January, Wednesday afternoon sessions no longer generated frowns. By April, the 9th grader was feeling good about her math scores. This year? “I may not need a tutor.” In her real life Elyse is an actress and singer; she can (almost) make math entertaining. She tutors English as well. Contact her at Elyse.laakso@gmail.com

PL Mack: One Man Band

I’m a horrific snob about a lot of things, but mostly about music. So I was pleasantly surprised to hear something new: a song that begins with a trumpet riff dreamy enough for Miles Davis in the l950s, then transitions into jazzy rap with urban lyrics. And how to explain that the same musician made a crazy drum video? And trumpet-backed reggae? This octopus talent is PL Mack, unknown to me because he’s been hiding out in the Berkshires. As a drummer, he’s toured as the drummer/percussionist for Wah! and has shared many stages with Krishna Das. A few years ago, he transitioned to singing, songwriting and production; he now performs with a guitar. If he were a wine, I’d say I get hints of chocolate and smoke and jerk chicken — the notes I also get in the music of Bob Marley and Ben Harper. An album is on the way; for now, there are a few songs on Google Play. In one, he sings that he’s “at war with desire.” Doubtful. But definitely at war with banality.

Jeanne Moreau (1928-2017): My favorite quotes

“Every night I go over what I did in the day, in ethical or moral terms. Have I treated people properly? Did I tell the truth? But I’m not the sort of person who thinks, ‘Oh God, wasn’t it wonderful when I was 25.'”

“The cliche is that life is a mountain. You go up, reach the top and then go down. To me, life is going up until you are burned by flames. Life is an accomplishment, and each moment has a meaning and you must use it. Life is given to you like a flat piece of land and everything has to be done. I hope that when I am finished, my piece of land will be a beautiful garden, so there is a lot of work.”

“No, I don’t fall in love. I love differently. The word ‘fall’ is meaningless. Perhaps a ‘coup,’ to be hit by love, yes. But I’m more generous now. Passion is blind, and being blind you only see your own reflection in the eyes of others. Passion creates obstacles and pain that block what love is about. Love opens you up. It’s more generous, more fun. It’s less dark.”

How have you managed to keep most of your lovers as friends? How do you avoid the poison that can come at the end of a relationship?

Maybe it is because of the quality of the relationship, you know. I couldn’t explain that. There should be respect on both sides. There should be gratefulness. Maybe because the men and myself, we know that things don’t last. Life, you know? It’s marvelous to be able to travel for a while with somebody, when nothing ugly interferes.

To truly love someone, what do you think is required?

Well, just generosity. And gratitude. The worst enemy in love is to be possessive. To think that things ought to last. Usually, to begin with, it’s an attraction, it’s passionate, and it’s violently … there’s a sort of … everything gets all mixed up. Sex, and the heart, and the mind. It’s a painful period. If you resent the fact that it doesn’t last, you think the other one is responsible. That’s where it becomes ugly. But you know, if you have a certain knowledge … people say that one should speak to each other. No! People shouldn’t speak too much. Some people speak too much. Words can destroy things … beyond words, if you know what I mean. As long as you don’t feel that the other one is responsible, as long as you don’t feel guilty, you can keep the relationship. Love is like a flower blooming and then it fades. That doesn’t mean that you can’t keep the same roots.

You’ve said that you’d like to end your days in a big house with all the men you’ve ever loved. Who would be there?

Ah, maybe nowadays I wouldn’t do that. Nowadays I wouldn’t because I love to be alone. I love visitors.

A novel so good it needs no hype: “A Catalog of Birds”

Laura Harrington may have won the Kleban Award for most promising librettist in American Musical Theatre, but I know her only as a novelist. And I came to know her quite unwillingly. Would I read a novel about a girl in upstate New York whose father grows “the best corn and the best tomatoes in town?” No thanks. Her publicist persisted. A 14-year-old girl? A father in the National Guard whose unit is called up? Oh, and he goes to Iraq. I groaned. But the publicist really seemed to love “Alice Bliss.” And it was short. I let her send it.

There are books that manipulate you into tears, and then there are books that rip you apart, and you keep reading even though it hurts and your tears are raining — I mean that: raining — on the page. That was Alice Bliss for me. I’m not surprised that it won the Massachusetts Book Award in Fiction and will soon be staged as a musical.

In her just-published second novel, “A Catalog of Birds,” Harrington has taken on bio-chemical warfare and the poisoning of the innocent. She’s set her book in 1970, at the height of a war that damaged everyone it touched. Nell Flynn is a strong student, headed for college and a career in science. Her brother Billy is headed nowhere — he enlisted as a pilot, his helicopter is shot down in Vietnam, he’s the only survivor. He’d been a gifted artist, specializing in birds; now he can barely hold a pencil. The question that drives the book: Can Billy be healed? Can his life be saved?

As a writer, Laura Harrington’s instinct is to go directly to the broken places, the critical times, the glaring problems, the fraught relationships, and then to shine a light on them that is fresh and illuminating, and makes you glad you gave yourself over to her book. Because you’re not just reading a “family saga” here — you become a Flynn. Yes, it’s that good. To order the paperback from Amazon, click here. For the ebook, click here. To read an excerpt, click here.