A REMARKABLE TRUE STORY

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The year was 1899, as the old people told the story; the place a sweltering tobacco farm in Truevine, Virginia in the United States of America, the heart of the “Jim Crow” South where everybody the Muse brothers knew was either a former slave, or a child or grandchild of slaves.

George and Willie Muse were black albino brothers, just six and nine years old, but they worked in the fields from dawn to dark. Until a white man offered them candy and stole them away to become circus freaks. For the next twenty-eight years, their distraught mother struggled to get them back.

But were they really kidnapped? And how did their mother, a barely literate black woman in the segregated South, manage to bring them home? And why, after coming home, did they want to go back to the circus?

At the height of their fame, the Muse brothers performed for royalty at Buckingham Palace and headlined over a dozen sold-out shows at New York’s Madison Square Garden. They were global superstars in a pre-broadcast era. But the very root of their success was in the colour of their skin and in the outrageous caricatures they were forced to assume: supposed cannibals, sheep-headed freaks, even ‘Ambassadors from Mars.’

This story line might sound like a work of fiction, but is the subject matter of a truly remarkable work of non-fiction, Truevine by Beth Macy. Macy writes about outsiders and underdogs, and she is the author of the New York Times bestseller Factory Man. Her work has appeared in national magazines and newspapers and has won more than a dozen national awards.

The path to writing Truevine is an astonishing example of extensive research, commitment and dogged determination. The book is the result of hundreds of interviews and decades of research.

“Harriet Muse has already been robbed of dignified work, of monetary pay, of basic human rights, all because of the colour of her skin. Now someone had come along and taken the only thing she had left, her children.”

“For more than a century, that was the story Willie Muse and his relatives told. Their descendants had heard it, all of them, since the age of comprehension, then handed it down themselves, the way families do, stamping the memory with a kind of shared notarization. The story was practically seared into the Muse family DNA.”

“And although it wasn’t entirely accurate, not to the letter, the spirit of it certainly was. The truth was actually far more surprising and, as it usually is, far more tangled.”

There is much in Truevine that will resonate with its South African readers.

Those who saw the film, “The Greatest Showman”, will have a good background to the parts of the book that deal with PT Barnum collection of oddities, the side show era and the times in which the Muse story takes place.

Racism and assault on human dignity and rights permeate much of the early narrative. And even today here in South Africa, people living with Albinism often face discrimination and ridicule.

Beth Macy was forced to play detective with finding the “truth” as it came together, piece by piece. The task started when, thirty years ago, she learned about the Muses when she began worked at the Roanoke Times in Virginia. She was told that it was “the best story in town” but that no one had been able to get the complete story due to the protectiveness of the Muse family.  She wrote a series of news articles about the two brothers died in 2001 and many years later, revisited the story and developed it further until Truevine was the result.

Beth Mace reveals that driving into Truevine today, you will still see hints of the hopelessness that hung over the tiny enclave a century before. Chestnut Mountain stands sentinel to the west, and farm plots give way to sagging trailers and tidy brick ranch houses. Joe-pye and pokeweeds wave along the roadside and sagging tobacco-curing barns, most of the logs hand-chinked by Franklin County slaves and their descendants. They are a decaying nod to the cash crop that has long driven the economy of the region, most of it farmed on the backs of minority labour.

But year after year, the past grows fainter. From slavery to segregation, from integration to globalisation, the economic history of the American South intersects in these unincorporated crossroads. Truevine is a speck of land where slaves and their descendants became sharecroppers, then sewing machine operators, then unemployed workers, finally, those who could afford to, fled…

The process of writing the book is as engrossing a read as is the Muse narrative itself. After so many decades, the extraordinary story of what really happened to the brothers has been told for the first time.

The brothers never married and retired in 1961 and lived the rest of their lives in Roanoke, Virginia. George, the oldest of the Muse brothers died in 1971 and Willie lived until the remarkable age of 108, passing away in 2001.

Mace relates that: “More than a decade later, mourners are still talking about the burial of Willie Muse, and not just because of the wind or the snow but mainly because of what happened next. The nurse, Diane Rhodes said that it had been so warm that morning and then so cold. And then, just like that, a rainbow appeared and everyone just stood there stunned. ‘And we were all of one accord. Heaven was opening the gates to welcome Uncle Willie home.’”

As can be expected, there are holes in the narrative, unable to be filled, but Beth Macy’s achievement is an outstanding one.

Truevine is written with great style, compassion and sensitivity. Some remarkable old photographs provide a vivid visual reminder of the Muse Brothers themselves and an era long past. The book is rich in detail and works on so many levels and I for one, will certainly enjoy giving this quite remarkable book a second read.

 

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ENJOY SOUTH AFRICAN BLISS THIS WEEKEND – PINOTAGE AND BILTONG

Pinotage.

Biltong.

On their own, the one an iconic South African wine and the other an iconic South African foodstuff, but together a match made in pleasure heaven.

I recently thoroughly enjoyed a preview of this year’s Pinotage and Biltong Festival which takes place this weekend on Saturday 14 April and Sunday 15 April, 2018 at Perdeberg Cellar.

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This year, eighteen wineries will offer nearly 50 Pinotages for tasting and for sale, some of which are paired with specific biltong flavours, each chosen to highlight the best qualities of both. The wines range from traditional red Pinotage right up to Rosés, sparkling wine, MCC, blends and even a white Pinotage.

Also at the Festival, there will be food trucks, an Oyster & MCC bar, Perdeberg’s own craft beer range, a kiddies play area and music by the popular Guy Feldman and his band.

And the Perdeberg Tapas Picnic, which we enjoyed at the preview, is enough for 2 people and includes a bottle of their Dryland Collection Pioneer Pinot Noir/Chardonnay 2017.  Another very worthwhile and fun Perdeberg experience at the Festival is the opportunity to bottle your own Cape Blend of wines, mine was delicious.

Participating wineries at this year’s Pinotage & Biltong Festival are: Badsberg Winery, Beyerskloof, Boland Cellar, Bonnievale Wines, Delheim Wines,  Flagstone Winery, Grande Provence Heritage Wine Estate, Idiom Collection, Knorhoek  Wines, Lanzerac Wines, Mellasat Vineyards, Overhex Wines International,  Perdeberg Cellar , Rhebokskloof  Wine Estate,  Simonsvlei Winery,  Stellenbosch Hills Wines,  Van Loveren Vineyards and Wellington Wines.

My first experience of pairing a variety of biltongs with a variety of pinotage styles was a wonderfully pleasant surprise. With each combination, I sipped the pinotage, then nibbled the biltong, then sipped again and if I hadn’t had to drive home afterwards, I would happily have overindulged on both…..

Pinotage and Biltong Festival promises to be lots of fun. Tickets are R200 pp at www.plankton.mobi or www.computicket.com or R230 at the gate. This includes access to the venue, a branded wine glass, a curated selection of 18 Pinotage and Biltong pairings and free tastings of the other Pinotages on show.  Perdeberg Winery is between Paarl and Durbanville and easily accessible from the N1.

WHEN YOU’RE FEELING LOW, VERDELHO: V-E-R-D-E-L-H-O

My first tastes of Org De Rac wines, were their splendid Die Waghuis Red 2016 and Die Waghuis White 2016.

Verdelho was one of the components of the Waghuis White and, as I write, I sit with a glass of their Org de Rac Verdelho 2017 at my side.

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Immediately drinkable, the wine has a fruity aroma with a hint of that nostalgic sherbet of my youth. It offers a gorgeous complexity of flavours and demands at least a second sip. The day in Cape Town is a warm one and the bottle of Verdelho seems to empty before my eyes……

The Org de Rac Verdelho sells for only R80 a bottle, a fridge-pleasing price indeed….

Three Org de Rac wines tasted, three palpable hits. What next, I wonder?

Org de Rac is an organic wine estate situated across the Berg River on the N7 near Piketberg in the Western Cape, about 160 Kms from Cape Town.

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THANK YOU QVEVRI MUCH

Not the sort of thing I usually write about, but an innovation at Avondale is something to keep one’s eye on.

Paarl estate Avondale has become the first winery in South Africa to introduce clay qvevri into the cellar.

These egg-shaped earthenware vessels, used for fermenting and ageing wine, hail from Georgia in Eastern Europe., Georgia is widely regarded as the cradle of modern viticulture, with a tradition of winemaking dating back more than 8000 years.

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Qvevri – pronounced kwe-vree – have long been a crucial aspect of that winemaking heritage. And while these vessels may have ancient roots they are set to bring a brand new dimension to the terroir-driven wines of Avondale.

Avondale’s 24 qvevri arrived just in time for the 2018 harvest, and the cellar team has been hard at work experimenting with these ancient vessels.

The qvevri at Avondale each hold between 800 and 1000 litres, and because these are handmade vessels each one is unique, and slightly different in shape and size

“For now we’re really enjoying experimenting to see what characters the qvevri brings to the wine ” says Avondale winemaker Corné Marais.

 

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A REFRESHINGLY DIFFERENT WHITE BLEND

Although best known for its fine Pinot Noirs, the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley produces many other wines of distinction.

Bouchard Finlayson Vineyard, holds its Pinot Noir flag proudly aloft, and I have long been a fan of it and their other wines.

One of them, for no particular reason, seems to have slipped by my palate – the Bouchard Finlayson Blanc de Mer, a Riesling driven blend. Recently I had the pleasure of remedying this omission.

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Their first Blanc de Mer was bottled in 1991 and has evolved to where its current vintage has 60% Riesling, 20% Viognier, 13% Chardonnay, 5% Sauvignon Blanc and 2% Semillon.

The 2017 certainly delivers a glorious mouthful – floral on the nose, and stone fruit on the palate. I particularly enjoyed its delicate smoothness.

Personally I think I am leaning towards preferring white blends to their single variety colleagues and the Bouchard Finlayson 2017 Blanc de Mer at a little over R100 a bottle, will certainly be a frequent visitor to my table.

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A giant among journalists

 

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Adrian Anthony (A.A.) Gill was born in Edinburgh and was a writer and a critic. He passed away in 2016.

He was maybe best known for food and travel writing, was The Sunday Times’ restaurant reviewer as well as a television critic. He also wrote for Vanity Fair, GQ and Esquire, and published numerous books.

Gill’s writing style was often acerbic and his views and opinions controversial and he wrote on an amazingly diverse range of topics. His peers referred to him as: The Londoner everyone wanted at their table; A golden writer; A giant among journalists. Interestingly enough, he was a chronic dyslexic and had to dictate all his writing.

The Best of A.A. Gill encapsulates some of the very best of his work: the peerlessly astute criticism, the extraordinarily knowledgeable food writing, historic assignments throughout the world and his reflections on life, love and death.

His long-time book editor, Celia Hayley, who compiled this selection, says: “Adrian is gone and we are all the poorer for it: we need that fearless, dazzling, opinionated, provoking and hilarious voice more than ever. But it lives on in the writing he left behind, of which this book is just the tip of the iceberg. I hope it makes you laugh, I hope it makes you gasp, and I hope it makes you miss him.”

There are many highlights in the hugely readable book, and with the breadth of topics covered not all inclusions will have appeal.

Vegetarians will likely be umbraged by his piece about a visit to a vegetarian restaurant: “The first thing you notice is the smell, the round, mushy, slightly acidic odour of sanctimonious worthiness. We queued with a tray and surveyed the repast set out to tempt us. Vegetarians aren’t big on presentation; everything looks as if they’ve got a bulimic hippo as a food taster. The thing a diligent critic must have.to be fair to vegetarian lunch, is a gnawing hunger. Peckish won’t do, you’ve got to be famished to pass this on to trusting peristalsis.” Hopefully things have changed for the better in the thirteen since this was penned….

For me, and I suspect for most all of the book’s South African readership, the stand out piece was the one entitled: Nelson Mandela, written in July 2008. It is a magnificently written and observed, sensitive example of AA Gill’s writing. Its setting – a photoshoot in London for Madiba to have his 90th Birthday picture taken “with a hundred folk he didn’t know”. And it contains these superb lines: ”He looks up and around and smiles this brilliant, beatific smile, a smile that could break your heart. It is the most conscience-tugging, soul-moving facial expression in the world, and he got it in jail. He came out twenty seven years later with this miraculous face, moulded and creased by injustice into a transcendent African mask, this expression that speaks every language…..”

Whether or not one shares Gill’s opinions, The Best of A.A. Gill is a beautifully compiled tribute to a man’s whose pen wrote words at a level of excellence admired by many.

EUREKA, I HAVE FOUND ‘THE DRINK OF THE GODS’

Memories of a stop-over in Jerez in the early 70s came flooding through my being recently when I attended a tasting of sherries from classic Spanish bodega, Gonzalez Byass.

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Established in 1835, today Gonzalez Byass produces a variety of sherries, ranging from the classic of yore to those reflecting the tastes of the more modern palate.

We started by tasting the globally iconic, Tio Pepe Fino NV followed by: Croft Original NV; Alfonso Oloroso NV; Solera 1847 Oloroso Dulce NV; Matusalem Cream NV; Nectar Pedro Ximenez NV and finally the Beronia Reserva 2012 and the Beronia. Each variation offered something deliciously different without foregoing the taste expected from a really good sherry.

I have never before given thought what wine I would like as a last sip before departing for that cellar in the sky, until now… Eureka, I have found the ‘drinkf the gods!’

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It is the Gonzalez Byass Nectar Pedro Ximenez NV, quite a mouthful to say, but what a mouthful to savour and sip.

The dictionary says of nectar: Delicious, sweet, and special, nectar is the best juice you can imagine. When the ancient Greeks visualized the gods having a party on their Olympian lawns, they saw nectar in their cups.

The Nectar coated my palate in sweet velvet, and that sublime sensation stayed with me as I smiled and sighed with delight. Viva Gonzalez Byass, Viva Nectar, muchas gracias – the gods are certainly not crazy!

My pleasure can be enjoyed by all, the sherries I tasted are all available here in South Africa through Reciprocal Wine Company, call them on +27 11 482 9178 or per email on: orders@reciprocal.co.za.

DURBANVILLE RISING

For no particular reason at all, it has been some time since I tasted a wine from Durbanville. So I was quite excited recently when a bottle of Diemersdal wine landed (gently) on my desk.

The estate enjoys a glorious Table Mountain backdrop and they practice dryland-vineyard farming.

Obtaining its grapes from old red vineyards, the Diemersdal Private Collection 2016, is a Bordeaux-blend dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, with Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.

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I poured a glass of it and I know not why, immediately took a large sip of it without hesitating to sniff the wine first. Young as it is, full of dark fruit on the palate, the wine drank beautifully and it also had a very pleasing long finish.

Not all of us are that patient with our wines, but I am sure the Private Collection will develop well in the bottle…..Its recommended retail price is R160.

This was certainly a “good ‘un”!

I must check that my Durbanville visa is up to date, so that I can pay a visit to Diemersdal and taste some of their other wines ….

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ENJOYING SHIRAZ THREE WAYS

Bonnievale Wines lie in the Robertson Wine Valley and they describe their wines as ‘unpretentious’…

My curiosity was piqued when I first heard of their Natural Sweet Shiraz on social media. Being a shiraz lover I couldn’t wait to try and did not know what to expect.

How sweet is sweet? Would the taste of shiraz come through?

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My first sip answered both these questions. The Bonnievale Natural Sweet Shiraz was shirazy enough for my taste and the sweet was moderate. I poured a full glass and its spicy nose was followed by a yummy fruitiness. This wine is seriously gluggable!

For dinner we had a mild curry and the Natural Sweet Shiraz paired beautifully with it. The next night we had spaghetti bolognaise, and it went perfectly with that too!

Good to drink, versatile to pair and at R45 a bottle, the Bonnievale Natural Sweet Shiraz is delicious and pocket-friendly to boot.

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THERE’S HOPE FOR ALZHEIMER’S

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The Alzheimer’s Society defines the disease this way: Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. The word dementia describes a set of symptoms that can include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language.

Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease. This means that gradually, over time, more parts of the brain are damaged. As this happens, more symptoms develop. They also become more severe.

“It is impossible to escape the drumbeat of grim news about Alzheimer’s disease: that it is incurable and largely untreatable, that there is no reliable way to prevent it and that the disease has for decades beaten the world’s best neuroscientists. No wonder we have come to fear Alzheimer’s as omnipotent. As hopeless. As impervious to any and all treatments.”…..

Until now.

Dr Dale Bredesen, Professor of Neurology at the University of California, is internationally recognised as an expert in the mechanisms of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

In his book, The End of Alzheimer’s, he offers real hope to anyone looking to prevent and even reverse Alzheimer’s Disease and the cognitive decline of dementia.

Dr Bredesen reveals the 36 affecting metabolic factors and outlines a proven programme to rebalance them, which patients can follow with the help of a healthcare professional. There are also general lifestyle and dietary changes all readers can adopt to improve cognitive health.

Although there is much scientific evidence in the book to support Dr Bredesen’s conclusions, it is in part a practical, easy-to-use, step-by-step manual for preventing and reversing the cognitive decline of early Alzheimer’s disease or its precursors, mild cognitive impairment and subjective cognitive impairment, and for sustaining that improvement.

It is also a guidebook by which the millions of people who carry the ApoE4 gene can escape the fate written in their DNA. The protocol behind this is called ReCODE, for reversal of cognitive decline.

Dr Bredesen opens the book’s concluding chapter with this: “Give how often we hear that Alzheimer’s disease is neither preventable nor reversible, I wouldn’t be surprised if the success stories I’ve shared and the scientific research that underlies ReCODE have left you sceptical…to make the end of Alzheimer’s reality for everyone, however, will require that we update our practices from 20th century medicine to 21st century medicine and that we are proactive about our own cognitive and general health.”

“Everyone knows a cancer survivor, but no one knows an Alzheimer’s survivor. As I hope I have succeeded in showing you in this book, that is yesterday’s news. The world has changed.”

According to www.alzheimers.org.za : “Already 62% of people with dementia live in developing countries, but by 2050 this will rise to 71%. According to South Africa’s 2011 census, there are approximately 2.2 million people in South Africa with some form of dementia.”

At the very least, read Dr Dale Bredesen’s The End of Alzheimer’s – the First Programme to Prevent and Reverse the Cognitive Decline of Dementia, make sure your medical practitioner does as well and get the conversation started.

The book and Dr Bredesen’s protocol have been called ‘phenomenal’, “a monumental work’, ‘a masterful, authoritative and, ultimately, hopeful patient guide’.

Not all that is in the book is that easy to follow, but its key elements are. I found it eye-opening, fascinating and uplifting and ultimately hopeful.