Posted by: Juliann Budimir | November 30, 2010

Succulent

California Camelot - Santa Monica Bay

It was one of those perfect Southern California afternoons that made wintering here the most delicious thing in the world.  With cool days and even colder nights, I braced for a blustery experience and wondered if I would choose to eat outside.  But with the sun shining at its brightest and the wind at bay, it felt delightfully warm and invigorating.  I had been meaning to go to Santa Monica Place since its complete renovation many months ago.  The rooftop dining terrace beckoned with supposed views of Santa Monica Bay.  I love beautiful views and being outdoors in the afternoon, especially as I’m usually inside at my desk, hard at work or writing away. 

Catalina rising from the blue

Today, I was treated with a glorious afternoon, and the modern elegance of the mall made way for the most memorable part of the redesign.  As I rode the outdoor escalator up to the top floor, the softly curving walls of the restaurants spread out like wings and drew me westward towards the unbelievable sight.  There, beyond the inspired mix of low and high tables and booths for six beneath wood-framed canopies, was the azure blue swath of sea and sky.  Horizontal hues punctuated by palms, the colors stretched as far as they could until they disappeared behind the buildings that jutted up from the street below.  I wished I could have helped them in their quest, the azure and the blue, help push away the rooftops that encroached on their nearly natural space.  But such was progress, and had it not been for the mall’s renovation, I would not have had the opportunity to savor such a view.

Santa Monica Pier and Palos Verdes

And savor, I did.  I found reasonably tasty comfort food that I brought outside to one of the booths overlooking the rooftops and the double blue.  Adding to the composition were two rare sites often hidden by fog:  Palos Verdes Peninsula and Catalina Island.  Here in full view, Catalina seemed to rise up from the sea like a great, winged bird.  No matter how many times I have looked out across Santa Monica Bay and the broad stretch of the Pacific Ocean, I have always looked for these mountainous sentinels and always delight when I do.  For less than ten bucks I enjoyed a good slab of meatloaf, corn, and mac ‘n cheese with a million dollar view.  It was my own California Camelot, paradise at the end of November, and the perfect starting point for one of my favorite ocean walks on the cliffs overlooking the sea.   

Even with soda instead of champagne, both food and fauna were succulent.  It was a perfect afternoon getaway, and a healthy dose of je ne sais quoi

Beachfront estates along Pacific Coast Highway

Juliann Budimir, 2010.  All rights reserved.

Posted by: Juliann Budimir | November 14, 2010

Effervescence

Schramsberg & the art of sabrage

It was last minute and fairly expensive, but I was compelled to do it, to do it for Stéphane.  For me, it was a pilgrimage of the grape.  After years of thinking about Stéphane and his “Schramsberg deal,” I had a Schramsberg deal, too. 

As Schramsberg has woven its way into my heart through my novel, it was especially delightful to drink such splendid sparkling wine with the vintner, himself.  My leitmotif was looking for words that float off the page and pause ever so slightly like the tingling texture of the sparkling wine.  

“Stéphane Poussin was the proud heir of Château Poussin, purveyor of fine champagne.  A relatively young label for French champagne, Château Poussin was well respected for its quality and consistency, especially at a price that would not sour the celebration.  Many would say that Stéphane lived the enviable life of a bon vivant, with decadent luxuries that far exceeded his efforts.  After fifteen years of dedication, during which time he tended more and more to the business than the grapes, he had a veritable empire and a true place in society.”

What could be more befitting, then, than an evening with California’s preeminent sparkling wine, Schramsberg Vineyards, and its esteemed vintner, Hugh Davies?  Donning pearls and black satin, I was White House ready, just as Schramsberg was when it became the first American sparkling wine served at an official U.S. State dinner.  It was an effervescent evening with scintillating notes that wafted like fond memories across my mind.  It was a moment suspended, a moment to be savored along with every culinary delight, and a moment that would transcend our ephemeral feast.  This was an evening I would not soon forget.

The lovely Napa Valley Grille succeeded in designing and preparing a splendid culinary event.  From the hors d’oeuvre to the Southern Fried Quail to the delightfully decadent dessert, the flavors paired wonderfully with each Schramsberg selection.  What began as my first Wine Dinner would hopefully inspire many more.

Amidst the gregarious and charming people with whom I conversed at the always elegant Napa Valley Grille, I thought of Stéphane.  I thought of Stéphane as I listened to Hugh, and I couldn’t help admire their oenological knowledge and their charm.  Both shared an intense love of the grape, a passion for winemaking, and that je ne sais quoi.  They took great pride in creating sunlight in a glass and stepped back for the rest of the world to enjoy it. 

 “In preparation for the 150th anniversary of Château Poussin, it had been suggested to him that he personally promote the champagne on a grand scale.  He was to become so indistinguishable from the champagne that his name would touch the tip of the tongue with each effervescent sip.  

“Once he warmed to the idea of celebrating the sesquicentennial, he was surrounded by the dizzying entourage of snarling, cooing men and women who filled his life with endless meetings, fittings and phone calls.  He responded with reserved enthusiasm only to be transformed into a snazzy dandy of a man.  He had an innate elegance that befitted the Poussin tradition, yet his hubris had long gone unchecked.  What he may have lost in his home-and-hearth appeal, he doubly gained in style.  Stéphane was the quintessential Frenchman in every respect.  His taut, compact frame was elegantly clothed by the best couturiers, his social graces were impeccable, and his taste in everything was without rival.  If there was criticism to make of him, it was that his passion was broad rather than deep, superficial instead of profound.”       

Yet for those of us lucky to be sharing in that softly lit repast, we had experienced the profound.  We were ripe with inspiration and bursting full of joy. 

With charms afloat in bubbly, we would always be
Filled with hope and promise doubly, endlessly.

Juliann Budimir, 2010.  All rights reserved.

Hugh Davies demonstrating the art of sabrage... La confrérie du sabre d'or

Posted by: Juliann Budimir | October 28, 2010

Night

What do you want to be?  A question with a million answers or a single one:  me.    Me, only better.  More glamorous, more enticing, more irresistible.  It’s Halloween.  To capture in a dazzling eyeful, that je ne sais quoi, to feel the way I want him to feel about me.  To be the Rose Queen, to be the Nightly News, Sinatra onstage, that ring-a-ding-ding.  I sing songs no one ever hears.  I’ve stopped counting the years. 

Hope is an insomniac, weaving dreams at night.  The horizon of possibility is endless in the dark, imagination gliding effortlessly like a hand across smooth satin sheets.  The cool, damp air is ripe in its fruitfulness as if hanging by the thread of inspiration.  With surroundings suspended, music wafts in the far-off distance, if at all.  Others sleep, but sleep eludes me.  My mind is awhirl with thoughts of things to come, and I wait as if I’ll feel that click at one or two or three.  Why is something new so appealing?  Perhaps it’s someone new we seek.  So many people rushing aimlessly, anonymously through the night like starlight shining on another day.  Will I ever find my way?  I wonder why some pause yet never linger, let alone stay. 

We sit alone in the dark in the obscure solitude of our rooms, screens illuminating our shadowy faces and the softly pulsing hope inside.  How can something so essential to life be so hard to find?  I think, therefore I am resigned to the rule of that dense grey mass at war with the sometimes lively beating of my heart.  It is an art that some have wrought too well, their fleeting joy a costly spell.  By now, the evening’s at its dregs.  I want to kiss the day good-night and leave illusion like an empty glass on the windowsill.

Alight soft night and draw your darkened mantle, cover me in stardust and the most luminous memories of my days.  The promise of dawn awakens soon before me.  I am ready to recoup the joy of a glass half full.  A life half full awaiting the lovely mingling of its other cup.  Glimmering like ripples in reply, we find our fate, our shining star on high.

Juliann Budimir, 2010.  All rights reserved.

Posted by: Juliann Budimir | September 29, 2010

Love Notes

Once, there were bubbles.  Large, white spheres that hung like notes from the top of the shell of the Hollywood Bowl.  From their smooth, white surface, the passionate refrain was amply reflected back to me where I sat, halfway up the hillside in full view of the stage.  Listening to the Mendelssohn violin concerto was always a gripping experience, but hearing it live made me tingle like the touch of a long-awaited hand suddenly clasping my own.  After the first four notes, I could feel my heartbeat quicken, and a warmth crept slowly up my back and broke, full-flush, in my rose-colored cheeks.  He was a genius, our concert master, and handsome, too.  With an upswept bow, he came to rest, and wiped his brow as the orchestra continued to play.  His Stradivarius at the ready, he began again, gently, tauntingly, as if daring the listener to focus even more acutely on the overwhelming artistry of his technique, on the devastating beauty of his soul. 

Halfway up the hill, in the gently leading light I felt a quiver of another night, a memory of bubbles hanging overhead, of a stippled view of family and friends looking back at us.  One-hundred and thirty-five young ladies standing proudly in our matching dresses.  This was our Hollywood Bowl, the one we graduated in many years ago.  Countless composers have filled the summer nights.  I have heard Strauss and Tchaikovsky, Debussy and Ravel, Mozart and Haydn, Beethoven and Brahms, to name just a few of the masters brought to life by the world class musicians of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.  Scheduled somewhere on that illustrious list, my high school graduation class proudly and humbly took the stage.

With programming that celebrates both high art and pop culture, the Hollywood Bowl is truly an icon.  For sentimental reasons, one of my favorite evenings is The Sound of Music sing-along.  With a fondness for Julie Andrews as Maria and her effervescent je ne sais quoi, my closest childhood friends and I share a touchstone of memory, an Austrian version of Proust’s madeleine.  Here we were years later, sitting in the first row of the bench seats, the box hedge before us decorated for the occasion, and I dressed up as an impromptu Fraulein Maria.  Unfortunately, I looked more like a Pilgrim, but I had edelweiss in my heart.  Filled with wine and best intentions, this was our Aulde lang syne.  Under the new moon and starlight, I felt like the Captain was looking at me.  

Like an intermezzo linking one movement to the next, the Los Angeles Philharmonic moves from the Hollywood Bowl to the Walt Disney Concert Hall for the upcoming season.  With iridescent, flowering folds, Disney Hall rises from the remains of Bunker Hill like a silver phoenix poised for flight.  The unexpected curves of its wings are seemingly midway through a syncopated dance or, perhaps, considering a rapturous response to a well-known riff.  Inside, I know beside me in my lofty perch will alight a symphonic splendor.

I wish for words that float like music, lyrical at first, then lingering in the soul after the last note is played.  To be one with the music, one with the words, adrift in linguistic song until the final measure of our days!  And then, if sweat and magic meld to sweet effect, we sip the tears of posterity.  What does it take to receive this joyous cup?  Is desire, alone, enough to taste the blessed brew?  Are images that spring from words as lovely as those musically inclined?  We seek, we dream, we find.  We hope.  

The LA Philharmonic and the Hollywood Bowl have inspired my words, deepened my stories, and filled my scenes with light.

Juliann Budimir, 2010.  All rights reserved.

Posted by: Juliann Budimir | September 21, 2010

Paris

Paris.  I’ve worn it ever since a Frenchman gave me a bottle when I was sixteen.  Was it the headiness of the perfume or the charm of the giver that lead me away from Chanel No 19?  There was, indeed, a magic to the scent, an exhilaration akin to its namesake, as if the delicately faceted bottle somehow encapsulated a dazzling ounce of the Champs-Elysées, a glint of light reflected off the fountain in the Place de la Concorde, or the tart red awning of a quintessential brasserie.

Before I knew of the evocative power of Proust’s madeleine, memories of Paris lingered on my neck in aromatic hues recalling flowering avenues and literary loves.  From my far-off, temperate clime, I could smile as I read The Sun Also Rises for the second time.  With my senses awakened, the words had visceral impact.  I could see the bars of Montparnasse, the narrow streets of Montmartre, and the Count in all his glory.  Like Hemingway, I had been to Paris, too.

Countless bottles hence, Paris calls again.  Did I actually expect to escape the city’s devastating grasp with a daily dose of the delicate spray on either side of my neck?  How could I not succumb to the numerous monuments bathed in crystalline moonlight or the endless rows of chestnut trees lining the quais above the silvery Seine?  Drinking wine in the shadow of Notre Dame as I gazed up in amazement at the gilded glory of the Pont Alexandre III from the Bateau Mouche, I knew it was true.  One could be in love with this city.

“C’est la plus belle ville du monde,” was the catchphrase of French and francophones alike, “The most beautiful city in the world.”  I agreed, yet my furtive smile revealed a similar passion for Venezia.  (But I’ll save La Serenissima for another time.)  I am not alone in feeling that je ne sais quoi that arises the moment you arrive in Paris.  As a character close to my heart experienced it, “He always felt a certain energy pulse through him as he entered Paris.  It was as if he were visiting both the source and the fulfillment of his desires.  Every building, every monument was a physical representation of his exuberance.  He rode in the taxi from the Gare de l’Est and through the first arrondissement past the Palais Royal and down the Rue de Rivoli towards the Louvre.  He could feel his heart beat with a passion unlike anywhere else in the world and somehow, as the smile spread wide across his face, he felt young again.”

Is a visit to the City of Lights enough to transcend Time?  Can we lose ourselves in its dizzying splendor?  Like starlight caught between the dark and dawn, we breathe the air of dreams.  Enchanted and aglow, we seek the endless light of bright, Parisian days and cool, perfumèd nights.

Juliann Budimir, 2010.  All rights reserved.

Posted by: Juliann Budimir | September 5, 2010

That je ne sais quoi

BLOG!  The words should float like bubbles up to the rim, effervescent and dreamy as I would be after the first sip from my second glass.

I christen my blog with an entry on champagne, that decadent delight in a bottle, that wondrous discovery of a Benedictine monk.  Could he have known, in 1668, in far-away Hautvillers how this golden liquid would set our minds and hearts awhirl for centuries to come?  How, paired with a grain of inspiration, a glass would inspire Pygmalion to create Galatea?  How, with a little luck, I might be that charming Galatea smiling back at Pygmalion over the top of my crystal flute? 

One of my characters is similarly dazzled by the grape.  “Just when he felt he had nowhere to go, nowhere to turn, his eyes landed on a miraculous sight.  There, sitting on the edge of the brick walkway leading to the pool was a bit of eternity in a glass and the effervescent touch of his long lost home.  He tiptoed stealthily over to the glass and put his nose over the rim.  The faint, heady aroma was more than he could handle.  He thrust his face into the cool, golden liquid and drank with abandon.  It was not as good as his own, he thought, but it was still French champagne.  After he drank as much as he could from the glass, he raised his head and smiled.  ‘Now, for un peu de fromage,’ he thought, and he made his way back onto the lawn in search of cheese.”

Perhaps the magic of champagne is its ability to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary, if only for the duration of the elixir’s charm.  With time suspended, we float like lovers in a Chagall lithograph, curiously free of mundane concerns.  In this dreamscape, our fantasy, we seek new worlds, discover new love, are born anew.

Why must it be only with champagne, or any other intoxicating brew?  Why can’t we unfurl the banner of life and embrace everything that awaits us?  With names emblazoned on street signs or signed in Christmas cards, we look for meaning in everything from the grandiose to the quiet recesses of our lives.  Yet, even in the breathless little sighs of our days, we desire a level of transcendence that makes moments memories; that heartfelt yearning that comes not with loss, but with the realization that we have achieved greatness.  We are all seeking, dreaming, and living that certain something, that je ne sais quoi.

And thus, I swing not bottle to bow but raise a glass to you, dear reader.  May we write, communicate and dream across platforms, across worlds.

Juliann Budimir, 2010.  All rights reserved.

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