Musings by Leah Jorgensen

Archive for January, 2011

O Mio Babbino Caro

Banner from the opera Gianni Schicchi

One of my favorite movies of my girlhood was A Room with a View, a beautifully produced Merchant-Ivory film based on the classic by E.M Forrester, one of my favorite authors.

Being a romantic girl, I loved the gorgeous cinematography of Florence and the Italian countryside.  The most romantic kiss in film history, as far as I’m concerned, is passionately and aesthetically presented in this film.

Julian Sands as George Emerson and Helena
Bonham Carter as Lucy Honeychurch

What also struck me was the opening credits that included an ephemeral, graceful opera song, which is one of Puccini’s sweetest arias, O Mio Babbino Caro

Clip from the Merchant-Ivory film A Room with a View

I remembered hearing that song in our kitchen – as my Italian grandmother used to love to play opera records when she’d visit, just as the preparation of a meal would commence.  Usually my mother would play the likes of Mario Lanza, Sergio Franchi, the Great Caruso, and, most especially, Luciano Pavarotti.  Later, when my mother added a compact disk player to her kitchen, we developed a vast collection of opera CDs, many of which were compilations.  I loved it whenever O Mio Babbino Caro came on.  I soon began to sing along.  When my grandmother would praise my performance, I felt like I was on to something.  It made her happy when I sang opera.  So, it made me happy.

My grandmother has since passed on, but, I still get very sentimental about that song.  And, it still makes me really happy when I sing it.

As it came to be, O Mio Babbino Caro has a certain travel history with me.  I have belted out that very song on a number of occasions walking at night under the stars in different cities around the world.  And, often under the influence of some very good wines.

I have “performed” O Mio Babbino Caro in the following places: 

  • In the kitchen at my parents house in Fairfax, Virginia
  • On campus at Sweet Briar College
  • On campus at Hampden-Sydney College, after midnight
  • In the streets of Washington, DC after midnight
  • In the streets of Atlanta, GA after midnight
  • On the walking bridge in Chattanooga, TN under the stars
  • In the streets of New York City at 2:30 a.m.
  • In the streets of Boston at midnight
  • In the streets of Roma, Italia at midnight
  • In the streets of Paris, France at midnight
  • In the streets of San Francisco at 2:00 a.m.
  • In the streets of L. A. (Sunset Blvd – I think), at 2:00 a.m.
  • On the boardwalk in South Beach, Miami just after midnight
  • On a cruise ship, on the deck looking at the stars somewhere in the middle of the Caribbean
  • In the streets of Seattle, WA  just after midnight
  • In the streets of Portland, OR just after midnight
  • In the streets of Ashland, OR
  • On the gondola coming down the mountain restaurant in Telluride, CO (after dinner, stars were out)
  • At the Painted Lady in McMinnville, OR (the restaurant was empty – we were the last guests!)

I think I should start video documenting my travelling performances.  It’s like a travelling gnome thing for me – where’s Leah going to sing O Mio Babbino Caro next?

The song originates from Giacomo Puccini’s comedic opera, Gianni Schicchi, based on an incident mentioned in Dante’s Divine Comedy, and was first performed at New York’s Metropolitan Opera on December 14, 1918.

The work is the third and final part of Puccini’s Il trittico—three one-act operas with contrasting themes, written to be presented together. Although it continues to be performed with one or both of the other trittico operas, Gianni Schicchi is now more frequently staged either alone or with short operas by other composers.

O Mio Babbino Caro Italian Lyrics
O mio babbino caro,
mi piace, è bello bello,
vo’andare in Porta Rossa
a comperar l’anello!
Si, si, ci voglio andare!
E se l’amassi indarno,
andrei sul Ponte Vecchio
ma per buttarmi in Arno!
Mi struggo e mi tormento,
O Dio! Vorrei morir!
Babbo, pietà, pietà!
Babbo, pietà, pietà!

O Mio Bambino Caro English Translation
Oh my dear father,
I like him, he is very handsome.
I want to go to Porta Rossa
to buy the ring!
Yes, yes, I want to go there!
And if my love were in vain,
I would go to Ponte Vecchio
and throw myself in the Arno!
I am pining and I am tormented,
Oh God! I would want to die!
Daddy, have mercy, have mercy!
Daddy, have mercy, have mercy!

The song has been made internationally famous by opera and pop-opera singers including Maria Callas, Rene Fleming, and Sarah Brightman.


Vertical 1.0

Miles and Jack are back…

If you haven’t heard they’re back, then you need to get up to speed.

First, there was Sideways the novel, which, in 2004, was turned into a critically acclaimed box office hit starring Paul Giamatti as the self-loathing, failed writer, Miles, who had a deep affection for Pinot Noir, and, ironically, an abhorrence for Merlot (ironic, in that the wine he covets in the film is a Cheval-Blanc, which is a Bordeaux blend of – you’ve guessed it – Merlot).

In Sideways, Miles takes his best friend, Jack, portrayed in the film by Thomas Haden Church, on a two-man “bachelor party” road trip through California’s wine country in search of great Pinot Noir (well, at least for Miles), debauchery (especially for Jack), and a little golf and good food along the way.  All kinds of crazy happens.

The gruesome twosome are back in Rex Pickett’s much-anticipated follow-up novel, Vertical, taking Miles and Jack on another road trip adventure, this time with Miles’s mother on board, as well as her Filipina caretaker.  The novel opens at the World of Pinot Noir event in California’s Central Coast, and follows the foursome, as they visit one wine region after another, between the Central Coast and the Willamette Valley, culminating at the celebrated International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC) in McMinnville, Oregon.

“In Vertical – as I did in Sideways – as Miles, I wrote my heart on my sleeve and hung it all out for the world to see,” said Pickett.  “I think it’s deeper than the first book, though just as funny.  It is based on my life experience which has been anything but predictable.  Readers may experience that same unpredictability in Vertical.”

The burning question that’s undoubtedly on the minds of those in the Oregon wine industry is if Vertical will do for Willamette Valley wine country what Sideways did for California Pinot Noir country.  Certainly, all Pinot Noir producers benefitted from the success of the movie.  

Following Sideways‘ U.S. release in October 2004, according to various news outlets (including the Monterey County Herald), Merlot sales dropped 2% while Pinot noir sales increased 16% in the Western United States.   A similar trend occurred in British wine outlets.  Sales of Merlot dropped after the film’s release, possibly due to Miles’ disparaging remarks about the varietal in the film.  However, sales of Merlot in the United States remain more than double those of Pinot noir, the country’s second most popular wine.

As for how the success of the film related to Santa Barbara County, the backdrop of the novel and film, there was a Sideways wine map covering Miles and Jack’s tour.  The movie obviously boosted tourism in that wine region.

I just started reading my copy of Vertical.  In addition to being a freelance writer, a blogger, and a wine industry marketing-communications consultant, I am also a winemaking student, which means my reading time has been limited to Chemistry and Wine Clarification and Stabilization text books.  I plan to read the novel in segments and blog about it as I go along.  I’m not about to do a traditional review of the book.  I’m not that kind of writer.  I’ll try to come up with some clever way to relate the story – certainly with some Willamette Valley Pinot Noir in my glass.

Stay tuned!

View video interview with author Rex Pickett.

Stuffed Eggplant: A Winter Wonderful with Some Seasonal Wisdom

Any great recipe comes down to the quality of the ingredients – the fresher, the better.   I am always recreating my favorite dishes as gluten-free interpretations.  It doesn’t work as well to just substitute gluten-free options when cooking up a dish or following a recipe.  I go back to the flavors and textures – what’s going to work best.  And, knowing a little bit about flavors and textures, I substitute with choice ingredients. 

This evening, I was in the mood for some Italian comfort food.  It has been a stressful week.  I indulged a little too much on New Year’s Eve, which took a few days to fully recover.   By Monday, I was busily engaged in some major consulting projects.   Tuesday, I began the winter term for the enology (winemaking) degree I’m working on.  In fact, today, Thursday, was my longest day of class, a piggy back ride of chemistry – the lecture followed by the lab.  By the time I got home, I felt like I was going to hit the floor.  I am still adjusting to the post wine cellar work – the kind that has me sitting down all day, mostly in lectures or in front of a computer.  Just writing that sentence jolted an electrical urge to stretch.

I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions, but, I do try to maintain a healthy, happy, balanced life – year-round.  January isn’t so much about forcing myself to fix what might have gone wrong the previous year; rather, it’s the turning away from winter.  While it’s still bitter-cold out, and the days are still inching into a new season of extended light, there’s this palpable feeling of renewal in the air that is more hopeful than regimen-oriented.  People need to stop trying to make January about resolving shit.

Personally, I try to approach January with meditative reflection (about being present) and with unbridled joy.  I become exuberant and child-like, in some ways.  If it snowed here in Portland, you bet your bottom dollar I’d be playfully tossing a snowball in your direction.  Watch out!  Life’s too short.  So you might as well be in the moment, be happy, and be well.  It’s pretty simple.

This week, I have been eating super healthy, flavorful foods.  I’m cutting back on the alcohol intake, post New Year’s Eve, and will return to enjoying wine and spirits in moderation.  And, I’m getting in some really challenging and invigorating yoga sessions.  I’m not changing anything, really, just maintaining.

Back to the eggplant.  This is what I cooked up for supper.  It’s gluten-free and offers a fine balance of nutrition and hedonism.  All of the ingredients I used were fresh and organic.

  • 1 eggplant, halved lengthwise
  • sea salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup olive oil, divided
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 4 small cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage and tarragon
  • couple pinches of red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup crushed flaxseed/multi-grain (gluten-free) snack chips (I like La Rosa’s)
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • Directions

    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Scoop out the flesh of the eggplant, chop, and reserve.  Season shells with salt and pepper, and coat with some olive oil; set aside.
    2. Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium high heat. Saute ground pork (breaking it up) and garlic until pork is evenly brown. Stir in the reserved chopped eggplant. Season with herbs, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Cook 5 minutes. Mix in the flax or multi-grain snack chips, and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. If mixture is dry, stir in more olive oil. Stuff mixture into eggplant shells, and sprinkle top with remaining Parmesan cheese.
    3. Bake in preheated oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until eggplant is tender.

    I served this with a small side of gluten-free brown rice pasta and tomato sauce, and topped the stuffed eggplant with a thin layer of tomato sauce.

    Want to pair a vino with this?   Since there’s savory pork, rich eggplant, and tomato sauce in this meal, consider a hearty Southern Italian red wine.  My mother’s family is from Caserta (Campania), and, I think the wines from that region would be dead-on matches.   For example, a red Taurasi would be nice; it’s grown outside of Napoli and made up of mostly Aglianico grapes.  Or, a wine from Puglia would also make for a luscious match – try a Primitivo.  For suggested brands, visit

    Buon appetito!

    The Write Way

    I picked up this whimsical version of the writers’ classic handbook “The Elements of Style” by Strunk & White.  This version includes the artwork of Maira Kalman.  I acquired my first copy of The Elements as a college freshman and had used it as a tool for perfecting my prose.  Every writer needs a copy of the old, new or illustration edition.

    Incidentally, I had misplaced my original copy a few years ago.   I had forgotten all about it until I was browsing through a book shop and came across Kalman’s reproduction.  I would say it was serendipitous, as far as the timing is concerned, because I have just commenced a new writing project.  A second novel.  Not that the first one ever got out.  It’s on the back burner.  This one is different.  It will be my breakthrough work.

    Writing has been a love-hate relationship for me.  Tumultuous.  Like most writers, I am my own worst critic.  I go through monstrous editing phases which derail the stream of consciousness process that defines how I shape a story.  I write my prose in notebooks.  By hand.  Then, I go back and type a transcription.  That’s when the lunatic editor, my Doctor Jeckyl alter-ego, takes over.  It prevents me from finishing a work.  I am working to tame that down.  

    The process of writing prose is an intimate, consuming experience.  I marvel at the different ways writers work.  Some writers are incredibly superstitious about the mood, noise control, time of day and other external conditions, and, if something is off, they cannot produce.  Other writers are rigid with formal regimens bordering OCD.  And, there are some writers who are so fluid that they don’t call to action when they are meant to write, the writing calls them to action – if the voice is there, if they feel the words coming to them, then they will abandon sleep, their families, their day jobs – everything – to obey the call to write.

    I think of myself as a hybrid of sorts.  But, my process always includes a notebook and a Sharpie fine point pen.  And, hopefully a blend of luck and persistence.

    There is no right or wrong way to write.  But, with a little luck and persistence, the muse may arrive and give you what you’ve been longing for – the end to writer’s block and the beginning of a great story. 

    That’s where I’m at.   And, while I’m at it, I’m referring to “The Illustrated Elements of Style” for inspiration and perfection.  Without my Doctor Jeckyl alter ego.