27 December 2009

"Adopted" - A Sermon for the First Sunday after Christmas

The First Sunday after Christmas
27 December 2009

Trinity Episcopal Church
San Francisco, CA

Isaiah 61:10 – 62:3
Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7

St. John 1:1-8


I.  A Theological Conversation

We had just come home from a friend’s on Christmas Day when I decided to quickly check my email.  In looking through the various FaceBook messages, and other oddities I noticed a message from a Trinity member, and opened it up.  There was a message which asked if we were “changing our theology at Trinity Church” due to a petition in the prayers of the people on Christmas Eve.  She had brought friends that weren’t Christian and was worried that they might have been offended by the prayer.  The offending petition read: “For the conversion of the whole human race to our blessed Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” 

So, first of all, as I responded to this individual so I respond to you.  My apologies are offered if our prayers on Christmas Eve offended you, or anyone, for that matter.   What ever we pray about or preach about is open to discussion and mutual edification, and sometimes we just get things wrong.  What did excite me, however, was the opportunity to talk some theology at Trinity – so I’ll be unapologetic about that.  It’s time we did some “God-Talk”, some theology, here.  In the years that I have been with you I have encountered more than once a great deal about what we aren’t.  I’ve heard, “Oh, we don’t do that”, or “we are well beyond that”, or “we really don’t believe that.”  There is precious little talk about what we do believe.  That, perhaps, will need to change, but right now, let’s wrestle with that petition, and the notion of what Jesus means to us.  I’m going to do that in two steps, based on the readings for this morning – so step one.

II: Step One: The Adoption

St. Paul gives us some direction when he writes in the Second Lesson for this morning: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.”  Paul is wrestling with an “us” – “them” problem, as he writes to the people of Galatia.  The question he addresses with them and indeed with the whole emerging church is about what role the Mosaic Law will play in the life of gentile Christians.  Paul’s strategy of basing his emerging churches on a core of Jewish believers was brilliant.  However, when gentiles began to hear the Good News, and began to be attracted by its message, a new question arose.  Did these people need to follow the dietary laws of Judaism, or the laws regarding circumcision, or work on the Sabbath?  When the early Christian authorities in Jerusalem said, “Yes, new Christians must follow these laws,” Paul replied with a resounding “No.”  It will do us well to understand Paul’s stance over against the Jews and Christianity.  If we read Romans and Galatians deeply, we will come to understand that Paul sees the Jews as having not been abrogated from their role as God’s chosen people.  They continue to enjoy that status and that righteousness. 

However, to underscore the argument about keeping the Jewish ritual law, Paul uses a very interesting word in his letter to the Galatians.  He says it quite succinctly in the reading for today: in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.”  Adoption!  We are the adopted ones, the “others” who are taken from the outside and brought in and included.  There is immense room in Paul’s theology for the other.  Third Isaiah has a similar notion in the first reading for this morning, when he uses these phrases in describing an Israel that returns to a devastated Jerusalem with its temple destroyed, and its people disenfranchised: “clothed with salvation,” “robed with righteousness,” “you shall be called by a new name.”  We might ask ourselves, “Who is the recipient of this grace, this ‘redemption of those under the law’”?  The answer is all of us – all who are welcomed in, or who want to come in, all who seek God, regardless of status or religion.

III.  The Pantocrator

Both Matthew and Luke have elaborate Birth Narratives, replete with angels, shepherds, wise men, evil kings, and gentle animals.  It is Matthew who bases his Birth Narrative, in part, on the story of Moses, but it is John who basis his “birth story” on something entirely different.  John’s prologue, which was just read as the Gospel, is a retelling of the Creation Story from the first chapter of Genesis. 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.  What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

In this retelling of the creation story, John reminds us of the strong word that comes from the mouth of God - breathing over the tohu vobohu, the formless void.  John sees Jesus, present at the moment of creation, participating as the very Word and breath of God, bringing light and life, separating dark from light.

Some years ago, Arthur and I took the subway in Istanbul out as far as it would go to the ancient walls of Constantinople, and from there walked back into the city, visiting churches and ruins along the way.  The first church, Saint Savior in Chora (Saint Savior in the country) is in a marvelous state of preservation, with frescoes, mosaics, and sculpture fairly untouched from the cleansings done to other holy places by their Muslim captors.  As you walk through the first and second Narthex into the Nave and look up high into the central dome,  (much like the space here at Trinity) you see a powerful image of Jesus as Pantocrator.  It is this image:

In this image we see Jesus as John saw Jesus – the pantocrator, the creator of all.  It is this image of Jesus that might be most useful to us as we explore the quandary of our prayer and petition.  It is this Jesus who is in all, and who made all, who embraces all, that gives us a clue about our role as Christians among other believers. 

We live in a world without boundaries, and so did the Romans, and Greeks, and other peoples living at the time John and Paul wrote their words.  A thousand religions, and mysteries clamored for the hearts of those who would hear, and so it is today.  We do also live in a time of exclusive claims.  One only has to listen to fundamental Islam, Christianity, Judaism, or Hinduism to understand that.  “We’re right, and you are not!”  The response to such exclusive claims cannot be constructed of our own unbending exclusivism.  We must remember the Jesus who creates all and who embraces all. 

At the 9:00 mass, I spoke about this problem with an old friend who showed up here this morning, and he offered me a wonderful insight.  Remember the words of the petition?  “For the conversion of the whole human race to our blessed Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”  My friend Michael offered this interpretation, which I thought, was particularly fine, and I offer it to you.  The conversion we pray for, he said, is the conversion of ourselves so that in seeing the other (those not like us) we may see Christ instead.  That is profoundly at the core of what we need to be as a people following Christ.  We need to be ready to see him in anyone we encounter.  We also need to be ready to talk about our relationship with Jesus – the Jesus who makes sense of it all for us.  As we talk to others about faith, Jesus is our touchstone, our wellspring, our metaphor, our deep understanding of the world and its questions.  It is this that we commend to others.  It is this conversation that we of faith, need to have one with the other.  It is this dialogue that we need to have with others who have no faith.

The goal is to live in the world where the image and body of Christ (remember who that is) embraces all.  So thank you, member of Trinity, who brought this to my attention, and thank you to Ormande Platter, Deacon of the Diocese of Louisiana, who wrote the petition and engaged us all in God Talk – Theology.


13 December 2009

In the midst of earthly life...

Sometime in the early sixteenth century, Martin Luther wrote these lines in hymn:

"In the midst of earthly life
the snares of death surround us..."

I could not get these lines out of my head as we watched Tom Ford's remarkable film, A Single Man.  Aside from the plot which tracks an individual's grief over a lost love, and through whose gaze we are enabled to see so much other grief and sorrow, there are other layers of insight and vision.  Placing it in the early sixties accentuates the "not yet" quality of gay life.  Freedoms beckon and are lived, but there is the usual cruelty and disregard.  Learning of his partner's death, the main character, George (Colin Firth) must abide the condescension of a family member, who informs him that the funeral is "for family," effectively denying him the ability to grieve finally and publicly.  The politics of this, however, is incidental.  The problems that Tom Ford pictures and that Colin Firth so effectively portrays, belong to more than just one class of people - they are universal.  That is the appeal of this film.

I found the visuals to be truly amazing, perhaps because they mirrored my own way of perceiving things.  I will be bold and say that I don't think that I am unusual in this regard, but live in a long tradition of gay men seeing things in a certain way.  Ford has us see with the main character's eye, and we track from eye (lot's of eyes) to mouth, to chin.  Some may link this to Ford's career in fashion, but I think that it is more than that.  It is the way some of us see - focusing totally on what is beautiful to behold, often so much that we stop listening.  In one remarkable scene we watch as the character played by Julianne Moore makes up her eye in full early sixties Cleopatra mode.  The mirror, however, that reflects the eye is distorted, and the attempts to beautify are actually ugly.  Through such images Ford signals directions in the story, and the character of those who encounter George.

The story is a debate about death and life.  It is about all the arguments, either for the one or the other, and the choices that we are allowed to make or not to make.  Temptations come, and Ford chronicles each of them carefully - making them as attractive as possible.  But again, he allow's the camera to be come George's eye, as it tracks from the stubble on Jon Kortajarena's chin, to the smoke that gently drifts from his open lips.  We don't need to be told what the characters are thinking or intending - the visuals say it all. In effect the grief, on the part of each of the characters, is a search - a search for some kind of normalcy and new life.  Each of the invitations/temptations stand on their own, and are only seen in clarity when they have been rejected.

This film also studies memory.  As George remembers his dead lover, and memories are stirred by place, sound, or smell we see the memory.  It is all utter happiness - no bad moments, fights, or difficulties invade this space hallowed by George's grief. There will be time for reality to creep back in.  The business at hand is fully taking in the loss.  Perhaps that is why each of the temptations are held at arm's length - there not being any psychological time to actually evaluate them and engage them.  They are kept in abayence.

Perhaps it is my Mad Men frame of mind lately, but I especially enjoyed the sixties aspect of this film.  Were the sixties really that elegant.  Julianne Moore's dress in the dinner scene is wonderful, as are the stationary, cuff links, suits, and house that George lives in.  Below the visuals, Ford captures sounds that we simply don't hear any more.  There is the sound of an old telephone being put into its cradle, or the sound that the dial of a "Princess Phone" makes.  I especially like the sound of a needle being placed on a LP recording - that soft, fuzzy, "pop" that began the recording.  All of this works to place us in a world that could have easily just been a fashion advertisement, but has been made a world we all lived in to some extent.

A final note of praise.  I like all of Ford's symbolism, especially in one of the final scenes where the flight of an owl signals wisdom, death, flight, and clarity.  This is a film that can be mined for so much more.  Should I read the Isherwood?

04 December 2009

New Books!

If you've been to our house, you know how evident our love of books is.  Recently, three new volumes have come into my library - let me introduce them to you.

The first is Per Pettersen's "Out Stealing Horses", a charming tale of growing up in a Norway complicated by Nazi's, personal tragedies, and incipiant love.  This is one of the most calming books that I have ever read.  My immediate reaction was, "I want to live here - I want to be satisfied in this way."  Fiction has never interested me, although lately through the good graces of the Trinity Book Club, I have learned to see beyond what I thought was contrived, and to see the art.  A recent reading of Faulkner's "Absolom, Absolom!" convinced me of that.  This book, however, simply touches those things that we all know, and with which we are familiar.  I saw myself, and my own experiences in the commentary of the main character.  Pettersen has an uncanny knack for writing a convincing geography into which his characters are placed and move.  Rather than focusing on a single moral, or verity, he explores several.  Childhood is like that, as we taken in more and more of the world.  I recommend this one highly.

I have been wanting to purchase this one ever since it was first published a couple of months ago, but it has been difficult to find - selling out at several stores.  I am not a fan of Crumb's, and by that I don't mean that I don't like him, rather that I have not followed him, particularly.  Familiar with his work, I wanted to see what he would do in his "The Book of Genesis Illustrated".  As an armchair biblical scholar and theologian, and as a priest I have more than a glancing interest in this book.  Of special note is the translation by Robert Alter, who has, in addition to his translation of "The Five Books of Moses" also completed a translation of the "Psalms."  This professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at UC Berkeley has provided Crumb with a readable and lively text, absent the implied images of the King James Version.  Crumb's work is to supply the reader with an alternate visual as the text is read.  In glancing through the copy I recently obtained, I realized that I had simply not read a great deal of the book - Crumb's drawings grabbing my attention and interest.  I'm going to have to do something with this at Trinity.

Finally, I saw a copy of Orhan Pamuk's new book, "The Museum of Innocence", in a bookstore in Austin, and had to have it.  I have been a fan of this author for several years now, "Istanbul", "Snow", and "My Name is Red" being among my favorites.  The structure of this book is for savoring, as you enter his world in Istanbul, and as you meet family, and involve yourself in the events that structure the world that is his Istanbul.  When I read Pamuk, I am reminded of Umberto Eco, but as an arbiter of a non-western cultural reference.  Pamuk either sends me off to the dictionary, Wikipedia, or a history book.  Reading his work is never a solitary experience.  I've only just begun this book and will have to report more later - but as of now, I'm finding it addictive.

26 November 2009

T Day Menu

We're in Austin, Texas, visiting with Arthur's family, and decided not to have the traditional menu (for the most part).  So here's the offering from Anna, Linda, Patty, Michael, Arthur, Danny, and God-knows who else:

Butterflied leg of lamb marinated in ginger, citrus, rosemary, olive oil, and garlic.
Small Red Potatoes roasted in olive oil and rosemary
Japanese sweet potato with black sesame
Mahogany Rice Pilaf
Traditional Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallow
Asperagus Polanaise
Grated Brussel Sprouts sauteed with bacon, pine nuts, and garlic.
Mrs. Stanberg's Cranberry Sauce with Horseradish and Sour Cream
Spinach Salad
Cranberry Sauce
Cherry Pie
Apple Pie with Streusel top
Apple Pie with Caramel Walnut top
Pumpkin Pie
Chocolate Cake
Fruit Mold

now football.

22 November 2009


As with many of my pet peeves, there comes a time when you understand what the peevishness is really all about.  It becomes clear and transparent, and you can either give up on your attitude, or become clear about why you object to a behavior or situation.  Such moments of clarity are few and far between, because the reaction to certain things is so immediate that there is no time for introspection and wondering why.  This morning, however, the clarity was immediate and convincing.

We went to the 11:00 Mass at Saint David's Episcopal Church in Austin, Texas.  This is a large church that early on resisted the temptation to build a larger worship facility, and instead kept its historic building and offers multiple services that make the space usuable to a much larger congregation.  It is a carpenter gothic building, with 19th century American glass, and all the naivite that comes with that.  It is a perfectly comfortable space inspite of all the "living room" types of spaces that greet you as you make your way to the church.  The liturgy was Rite II, sung for the most part, with choir, bell choir, and organ.  Perfectly fine.

The usual places where a choir might perform, such as the psalm or gradual, were avoided, and when the choir did sing, at the offertory, they filed out of the choir stalls and lined up at the front chancel steps.  This is always a bad sign - for to me it signals "performance".  When they sing at compline (see photo above) they do it in their stalls.  Now they were all linged up in front of us, a wall between the worshiping congregation and the altar.  They did "Worthy is the Lamb" from "The Messiah"; and it was a good reading, although they could have used a stronger tenor.  Following the lengthy "amen" that ends the piece is when it happened.

There was a brief silence, and then someone up near the pulpit burst into applause.  Some others joined in, but it was not the whole congregation that did so.  Applause in the middle of a service (when we are not offering an acclamation to a newly ordained priest, bishop, or deacon) makes me uncomfortable.  So I sat there, not applauding, and wondering why I have this reaction.  Suddenly, as the priest continued to set the table for the Eucharist, visible behind the choir basking in the congregation's scattered applause, I got it.

This is really all about sacrifice.  The music is offered up, and I think that those offering the music are doing so with the attitude that it is being offered up.  The applause turns the offering, the sacrifice, into a performance, that is suddenly centered on the individuals singing and offering. The relationship of choir and God was set aside, and the focus was only on their singing.  At best the choir was enabling us in our worship rather than entertaining us.  The silence that should have accompanied their gift might have been uncomfortable (our culture abhors silence) but was necessary. 

I must admit I have been greeted with applause, once following a difficult sermon at Trinity Church in San Francisco.  My feelings at the applause were mixed: pleasure, dis-ease, embarassment, and a certain amount of pride.  It was the pleasure and pride that made me feel uncomfortable, and even guilty.  Offering up for others is a difficult thing.  My preference is to greet the sacrifice of others, and my own sacrifices with silence. 

I keep thinking of how God greeted Elijah on Mt. Horeb.  God was not in the mighty wind or the loud noise, but in the still small voice.  As the hymn says, "Let all mortal flesh keep silence..."

09 November 2009

A Serious (Righteous) Man

Ok, maybe this wasn't a good movie to see on a Sunday - thereby overloading it with too much religious symbolism.  That, however, seems totally unavoidable.  This movie is inherently religious, that is its humor and delight, and that is the ground from which it grows.  The people who seemed to be enjoying it most were sitting behind us to our right - howling mightily - and later comparing all the religious allusions.  So what's it all about?  And is it as hilarious as a friend described it?  Does it help to be Jewish?

I think that it does help to be Jewish - I'm certain that we missed most of the cultural refrences.  I can't wait to talk about it with my friend who was raised in a Jewish household.  In my conversation with her, I will begin, I think, to understand whether the film was a knee-slapper or merely intellectually and perhaps theologically amusing. 

I so want to slap the template of Job over the script of this film.  It would work,  There are the misfortunes which seem to mount on the principal character, and even though he doesn't lose his children, they are never really there for him.  His wife leaves him for an insufferable widower, and he is left to the dubious advice of three rabbis who do no more for him than did Job's friends.  And then there is that opening scene, the one with the simple farmer and his wife and the (was it really?) dybbuk.  As a twisted form of the court of heaven scene in which Satan asks for a chance to strike at Job, the dybbuk released back out into the world seems to work.  Perhaps it is all about Job.  Or is it David and Bathsheba, or could it be Joseph (or Daniel) the dreamer?  Or is it about a seduced Joseph, or a Solomon trying to decide what grade to give to his Korean student?  All of them work, and there are more to be sure.

Or is it too much to wrest meaning from a Coen film?  Should we let the black humor and absurdity stand on its own, and just enjoy it for what it is?  I think that's the easy way out.  There is just too much material here to decode.  "Serious" in Hebrew is not the same as the word for "righteousness", but it should be.  This film left me wrestling with the main character over the ethics of changing grades, and taking the easy way out.  Was G-d really talking about karma in the commandments, when talking about the sins of the parents visiting the children to the third and fourth generation?  Perhaps the Coens know.

03 November 2009


I love the challenge of left-overs.  Well, not everything was a left-over, just the pork roast.  I didn't want, however, just to heat it up - it never resembles its former glory.  Something new had to be done.  Hanging around in the kitchen were some fresh green beans (from our farm subscription) and some not-ripe Anjou pears.  What to do?  One inspiration came from the old Garibaldi's that used to exist on 17th below Potrero Hill.  They used to serve a wonderful green bean dish served with oyster sauce and pork and a little hot oil.  We went back time after time to enjoy that dish.  Now they don't exist any longer and the surviving sibling on Presidio doesn't serve this any longer.

So here's the menu:

Green Beans tossed in a sauce made of minced garlic, a dice of roast pork, a dash of cumin and chili, and about three tablespoons of hoisin sauce.  I forgot the hot oil, but not next time.  The beans were cooked in boiling water for about five minutes and then tossed in the sauce.

This was served with brown rice that had been cooked in beef broth with herbes de Provence.  On top of this I served slices of the Anjou pear that had been grilled on both sides.  The pears were a wonderful complement to the herbed rice.

Arthur said it was a success, and I'm happy! 

02 November 2009

Dia de los muertos

I came home on Halloween, after a long meeting, and found that Arthur had set up something that has become a custom in our home - a table for el dia de los muertos, the Day of the Dead.  I was happy to see it - a seemingly more interesting way to observe the days around the 31st of October than bad candy and even worse costumes.  So I sat and looked at it for a while - it would be a good way to focus thoughts as the Christian Year moved from All Saints' Day (1 November) to All Souls' Day (2 November).

What is really delightful is to remember by means of the objects that Arthur has placed there.  Track with me, if you will:

1.  A biography of Gertrude Stein, originally in the library of Arthur's good friend Pat, who died as the result of a heart operation.  We both miss her.  This book and a photograph of a cathedral side aisle keep us always in mind of her.

2.  Behind the book is a photograph of Kevin - a mutual friend, long before Arthur and I knew one another.  Kevin was the chair of Dignity, and had one of the longest funeral services that I have ever attended.  As the speakers dragged on and on, we finally decided to leave.  That funeral may still be going on over on Seventh Avenue.  But that was Kevin, and those were the stories that had accrued to his memory.  One humorous note, the photograph shows Kevin in a motorcycle jacket looking modestly butch.  Up close you can see that he is wearing suit pants.  He had come in to have a formal portrait done, and the photographer thought it would be fun to photograph him with the jacket.  Somehow it captured some of the spectrum that Kevin enjoyed.

3.  Behind the photograph, you can see a candleholder shaped to look like a palm tree.  It is my legacy from my good friend Gerry, who had more china and crystal than most people.  He was Italian, but born in Boston, and his home in the Castro made you think that you had just stepped into a house in the Back Bay.

4.  Leading up the table is a "stream" of black stones.  After a delightful dinner one evening, with my good friend Salvador, I discovered a fine box in front of my door that had been left by him.  Inside was a message from him, thanking me for the evening, and enclosing the black polished stones.  I open the box from time to time and just remember.

5.  Behind the stones is a small, old photograph of Arthur's father's (Arthur II) parents, Arthur I, and Mary Ethel Culbertson.  Arthur knew his grandfather, but his grandmother died in 1946, and so he never knew her.  She was buried in Saint Louis, Missouri, until they decided to put a freeway through - and now we don't know where she is.

6.  Behind the photograph is a painted vase, painted by my father's aunt, Ida.  I apparently met her one time when I was two or so - I've got the picture to prove it.  I don't remember her, however.  I do think of her - my parents both loved her dearly - and remember what a joy she was to them.

7.  Hovering behind the vase with a rose in it, is a series of Japanese dolls, that my Aunt Lola purchased when she was living in occupied Japan.  They were among many treasures that she gave to us, the value of which totally escaped us at the time - we thought they were just toys.  Now, as I look around our house, I find many evidences of her generosity, and of her taste.  Oddly enough, her birthday was on 13 May - the day that was originally celebrated as All Saints' Day.

8.  Behind the dolls is a portrait of my father.  I love this photograph of him in clerics - he is handsome, present, and smiling.  I miss him, and have so many things that I would like to have shared with him.  I remember Dad at the symphony - an appreciation that was given to me when he took my to my first performance at the age of 6, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

9.  Down from Dad is a wonderful photograph of my friend Tucker.  Tucker and his partner Casey lived across the hall from me on Divisadero, and became wonderful friends.  Tucker was an artist, and a party-giver.  He designed furniture, and decorated a million Christmas trees for businesses in San Francisco.  When he became ill and went into a coma at San Francisco General, Casey and the doctors came to the realization that it was time to discontinue the assisted breathing.  Casey called me and said that they were going to do this at 5:00, and wondered if I could come and offer last rites and prayers.  I said that I would be there.  Gently, Casey explained the situation to the comatose Tucker, saying that he and I would return later.  Casey left the room.  Tucker died fifteen minutes later - always in control.

10.  Down from the picture is a small cup and saucer - highly colored and glazed.  It was given to my mother by her brother Milford, whom we called Jiggs.  Jiggs was a walking comedian - always knowing how to make one smile and laugh.

11.  Up at the top of the table is a glam photograph of Arthur's mother, Pat.  I miss her terribly.  Once when she and Big Art were out here to visit, we went to a restaurant over-looking the Bay in Tiburon.  It was hot, and I slipped off my shoes, under the table.  Later I had to leave to go to the restroom, and couldn't locate my shoes - my feet were surreptitiously flying everywhere under the table trying to find my shoes.  I looked across the table at Pat, who was smiling angelically - she had taken and hidden my shoes.  I remember her when I eat onions (she hated them) or see an image of Our Lady (she loved her).

12.  In front of Pat is a photograph of Betty and O.P.  O.P. was the president of Valparaiso University in Indiana, and I did an intern year with his brother, A.R., in Chicago.  Betty, however, O.P.'s second wife, was our friend.  When I moved back to California, and showed up at St. Francis Lutheran Church in 1982, she saw me, came running over and said, "Michael Hiller, what are you doing in my church?!" When she turned 80, the family all came to San Francisco, and we hosted them all for a festive birthday cocktail party.  Betty loved it.  Later on, Arthur would become her friend, companion, and care-giver.  On her death bed, as she was being treated for circulation problems in her legs with a rather painful apparatus, she looked over to me with disgust and resignation and said, "Michael, this dying is a hard business."

Ah, but Betty - and all of you - this living was great "business" with all of you.  Sometimes Arthur and I will pack lunch, drive down to Colma, and to Olivette Cemetary, and have a picnic with Betty.  As we walk through the graves, having had our lunch with Betty, and encounter so many other saints, I think of Arthur's table and el dia de los muertos.  Resquiescat in pace amici mea.

25 October 2009

Angels Unaware

From the Bodemuseum Basilica

I have a date every Sunday morning at 8:00 a.m., (soon to change to 9:00 a.m.) when I celebrate Mass in  Saint Mary's Chapel at Trinity Church.  It is always a small group of people, but it is satisfying.  There is always a sermon, that at times takes on the dimensionality of a discussion.  This morning it was Jeremiah talking about the messianic return of remnant Israel to Jerusalem, a remnant that included social misfits (the blind, the lame, those with child, and those in labor).  The Gospel, from Mark, is a healing story, with Jesus healing the blind Bartimaeus, thus literally ushering in the messianic age that Jeremiah comments on and dreams about.  So we discussed this, and the discussion centered on how difficult it is for some of us (mainly me) to deal with beggars and street people (this in spite of the excellent lesson given me by Fr. James Tramel in Berkeley).  The sermon ended, we confessed the Creed, and said the prayers - praying for ourselves to be more open to the suffering of our fellow human beings.  We shared the peace, and I went to the altar to prepare the gifts.

Ernst Barlach - Der schwebende Engel 

After preparing the gifts, I looked up, ready to intone: "The Lord be with you"...and there he was.  A black man, clothed all in black, with medallions from rosaries and other religious items arrayed on the blackness of his hat and his robe.  He sat in the back and was intense in his taking in the altar and the actions there.  "And also with you" came the reply, as we continued on with the eucharistic canon.  He was there through the whole action, sitting by himself, but not separate - a part - hovering - a bit like Barlach's angel.  It came time for the communion, and I invited him to come and share in the gifts.  He moved up to the altar and received the Body and the Blood, and then remained there for the final prayers.

After the dismissal, we all usually dissolve into banter and news sharing.  And so I introduced myself to this person from the street, who had graced us with his presence.  He smiled and shook my hand.  I asked him, "and what is your name?"  "Israel."  (I was dumstruck - was he the remnant?)  And then he thanked us and left.  As he floated through the door of the chapel, and back out onto the street, I turned to my friend, Michael, and said, "An angel!"  Michael agreed that we had both been given a gift.

William Blake - The Angel of Death

After my coffee at Peet's  (I'm grieving the loss of my Royal Grounds place, just down the street from Trinity), I walked back up the hill in my cassock with the New York Times under my arm, as I do every Sunday morning.  As I rounded the corner onto Gough Street, I caught sight of a great deal of activity in front of the gothic apartment building across the street.  A fire engine and ambulance both had lights flashing, and a small crowd was gathered around firemen kneeling on the ground.  It was then that I realized that they were hovering over a man who had fallen, and were administering CPR.  Five minutes went by, then ten, and then fifteen, and then the man was loaded onto a gurney, and taken away - with no sirens.

Part of me wanted to rush up and anoint - but life was more important, and the anointing of the fireman was more of a salvation at that point.  I stayed to the side, and prayed - for the unknown man, and for the team that was desperately trying to save him.  Soon they were picking up things, equipment, personal belongings, used items, and went away.  Two women remained behind, who did not know the man, but who happened to be there when another angel came to take him away.  Angels of presence, they stayed with him until the end.  I asked if I could help them in any way.  One said, "thank you" and got into her car and drove away, and the other and I looked at one another and began to cry.  

Another angel?  Yes, and more than one.  The firemen, the women, the ambulance staff - these were angels in deed.  I thanked God for them, that in his final moments, this man did not die alone.  And then the thought hit me, as I recalled the tears just recently shed with the blonde woman who had stayed to the end - I was an angel too.

Extraordinary gifts on a Sunday morning

10 October 2009

Thursday, 8 October 2009 - The Last Day

Today is a bit somber - for several reasons, not the least of which is that it is raining, and that today is our last day in Berlin.  The mood and the weather all make the choice of seeing the Memorial to the 6 Million Murdered Jews of Europe not only appropriate, but necessary.  The entrance is obvious, but not when you're approaching the memorial from Ehrman Straße, having just come from Unter dem Linden (now called Brandenburg Gate) SBahn Station.  It's interesting, Pariser Platz is all cleaned up from the celebrations of last weekend.  The anchor is gone, and all signs of celebration - clean - swept - leer.  So we have to wait in the rain to enter the museum, a large group waiting in front of us.  The line takes so long due to security below - sad.  We learn nothing, as evidenced by the dolt who serves as the president of Iran.

It takes time for these things, and if we are to learn from the middle east - it takes centuries, millenia, and still we don't get it.  We descend down through the cenotaphs on the surface to see them as indentations in the ceiling above our heads.  This place, along with the program at Judisches Museum, have chosen to educate us one by one.  The Jewish Museum by giving the whole context of the diaspora (although it doesn't explore that completely enough to speak about the whys of the diaspora) and Christian persecution of Jews; and this museum by looking at individuals, their stories, their context, and their fates.  It is engaging and it is sobering.  As I leave the exhibition, I encounter a young German girl, collapsed in the arms of a friend, sobbing.  How much I wanted to sob at that point - I wanted to do something - to react in some kind of public way.  The sorrows of the heart are not all that convincing, the deeds of a life are a little more so.

We emerge from the Museum into a day that has gotten a bit of sun.  We walk over toward Friedrich Straße, exploring some places for lunch (Galeries Lafayette, 260, and Refugium) and finally decide on a place at the Concert Hall in Gendarmenmarkt.  There we talk about our experience at the museum, and the role the Church has played, and the predicament that Christians are in, given this experience.  It is clear that Germany shares this guilt with others France, Poland, Romania, the Netherlands, and others, and it shares its guilt with our own country, that turned its head at times.  A shame on all of us...

After lunch we walk toward St. Hedwig's, walking by the Nolde Museum, the Mendelsohn Haus, and other sights, and suddenly realize that we are at Schinkle's Friderichswerderkirche (Michaelkirche), now a museum to the architect.  It is a wonderful room, completely restored, with wonderful light oak woodwork, and a collection of statuary related to the architect.  I like the altar, a black marble slab with a golden cross - stunning.  I buy a couple of medals, and Arthur a book, and we walk on, past the Bibliotek, and then over the remains of the Palast der Republic. now a green lawn.  Next door they are conducting archaeological studies on the zerstört Schloß.  We walk up to Mariakirche, which is having extensive restorations done, and then over to the Nikolaivierteil which is not very convincing.  The church is closed, undergoing extensive renovations as well.

It's time for coffee and something else, so we walk over to Hackesshermarkt and into the Successonist courts.  We find an interesting company, Golem, who deals in tiles, and talk with them about Bauakademie tiles.  Not to be had apparently - but now something for us to solve.  Finally we have hot chocolate at the Amperman Restaurant, and then go on to look at the Neue Synagogue, somewhat reminiscent of the one in Budapest.

We wander now - getting purposefully lost, and see courtyards and façades that charm us so, until we realize we are in the neighborhood of Friday night's incredible dinner.  We opt for a small Italian restaurant, and then take the SBahn home.  It has been a wonderful vacation, with Arthur.

08 October 2009

Wednesday, 7 October 2009 - Sans Souci

Today we go to Potsdam, catching at Regio at Zooligischergarten and proceeding to Potsdam Hbf, and from there on Bus 695 to the Park.  On the bus a Berlin teacher with a group of students gives us an introduction to the park.  Very nice.  We buy our tickets and are in the palace within 15 minutes.  There is no longer a guided tour, but an audio-guide, which makes it a lot nicer.  So we amble our way through the rooms, gaining a new respect for the Rococo.  The commentary doesn't take too much time with the "childless marriage" and the separate living arrangements of our favorite homosexual king (or wait, does Ahketaten count?)  The rooms are lovely, especially the 3D room with all of the fruit.

We also go view the kitchens and wine cellar.  All very interesting.

Next we wander down the terrace and over to Friedenkirche, which is looking quite nice.  The Marley Garden is beautiful as well.  In spite of the threat of rain - the day and the park is beautiful.  We have lunch at the little restaurant at the end of Green Gate, and then go back in proceeding to the Chinese Tea House - it's open this time, and on to the Roman Baths, and then to Charlottenhof.  We are the only two to tour the little palace, which is almost charming in an italo-teutonic kind of way.  The copper prints of Rafael are interesting, and the Schinkel furniture is very nice.  

Our goal at this point is to go over to the Neues Palais.  Our good intentions soon give way to our backs, and after a brief rest (nap?) on a park bench, we dismiss the palais (our hotel-keeper Peter dismisses it as bourgeois) so I guess we've made a good decision.  Instead we cut by the Temple of Friendship, and the "Antique Temple" (itself a ruin, waiting to be restored) and go past the model fort and up the hill to the Drachonhaus where we have cake and coffee.

We walk down the allee that runs from the Orangerie to the Belvedere.  With the trees beginning to change it is really a lovely site.  At the Orangerie, which they actually use as such, we view the private rooms with a tour guide doing only German - she's really quite good, and then the Rafael rooms.  Having just seen many of the originals in Florence, these copies look flat, but they pleased the IVth.

There's a quick stop by the store, but nothing to by so we catch the bus and then the train.  Going back in we have seats.  We stop at Augsburgerplatz, and have dinner at a Turkish restaurant, which was very good, and then back to the hotel.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009 - Nefertiti und anderer Freunden

The goal for today is to see something again that has fascinated me since my childhood and to share it with Arthur.  I first saw Nefertiti out in Charlottenburg when she was housed in the Aegiptisches Museum there.  Now she has been moved, and I'm under the impression that she is at the Altes here in Berlin.  So we have breakfast and take the SBahn to Friedrichstraße and then walk over to Museum Island and go to the Altes.  But she's not at home - moving to the Neues and it's not ready yet.  This is a severe disappointment for me.  We make lemonade, however, by going to the Bodemuseum where we see their wonderful Byzantine Collection, along with a few Romanesque artifacts in a beautiful basement, and a load of medieval altar pieces.  We're very happy.

We have lunch in the Bode, and then go over to the Altenationalmuseum where I want to show Arthur one of my most favorite paintings, Totinsel, by Arnold Böcklin.

Ever since I read a book on symbolist painters (Dreamers of Decadence), I've been fascinated with this painting and wanted to share it with Arthur.  We find a great number of other paintings by Böcklin, along with Feuerbach, and Beckmann.  It was quite stimulating.  One interesting facet was a room in the galleries that was left, showing it's war damage.

We go into the Berlinerdom but decide not to stay, and have a coffee there instead.  The next door bookstore is a mere shadow of itself - nothing interesting.  So we take the train back and go to KaDeWe, and wander aimlessly, buy nothing, and have dinner in their huge cafeteria on the 7th floor.  By then were dead.  Time for the hotel.

07 October 2009

Monday, 5 October 2009 - Unsettling

One quick note about Berlin - it is a city of graffiti - some very interesting, most not.  It is everywhere, buildings, roads, private homes, public homes, churches, you name it.  I find it unattractive.  There is an abandoned building near our hotel - not built pre-war, not destroyed in the war, but rather recent - say the '80s. metalic panels, perhaps 10 stories - just sitting there and covered with graffiti.  I wonder what the story is.

The first job today is to get a replacement battery charger for my camera, due to the thief who relieved my luggage of a couple of electronic things somewhere between SFO and Firenze.  So where to go? - Sony Center, which soon relieved me of €65.  Now I can take pictures again.  Our original intent was to go to the Altes Museum on Museum Insel.  However, since we are so close, we decide to go to the Judaisches Museum instead to see the exhibition and Liebeskind's building as well.

It is an extraordinary building - with somewhat of a liturgical bent, in that some aspects of it force you to experience certain feelings, losses, difficulties, and disorientation.  I'm glad that we got that out of the way right away, because the exhibits are far more engaging, and the stories told by the pieces gathered in the exhibition engage in a way that the building can only attempt to do.  From Palestine to Hackeshesmarkt, we walk along with the Jews on their way to Germany.  It is not painted in broad strokes, but in the fine detail of individual lives and things.  For that reason it is quite telling.  We interrupt the day for some coffee and cookies, but the story is too compelling to leave it for long.

The Egyptian Museum will have to wait, because now it is late in the afternoon, and we have agreed to meet Günter and Franziska on Albrechtstraße at 16:00, so we rush up there from the museum, and join them in a small Italian Restaurant, where we share an antipasto, gnocchi with sage and butter, and spaghetti with white truffle.  Not bad.  They have a plane to catch at Schöneberg, so we say our goodbyes and we walk to the Reichstag and decide to forego a 45 minute wait to get up into the dome.  Instead we walk the length of the Tiergarten to get back to our hotel.

06 October 2009

Sunday, 4 October - Stealing?

It's Sunday morning and I'm going to skip church.  I checked to see if there was a Anglican congregation in town, but it's way out near Olympiastadion, and then some blocks.  Too far!  So we take the UBahn to Hackesherplatz and walk over to Museuminsel via the bridge by the Berliner Dom and the Altes National Museum.  I had forgotten, we actually have to walk across the island and over the river on the other side and then come back onto the island at Pergamom.  Arthur and I visited Pergamom in Turkey in 1999, and now it is his chance to see what the Germans excavated there - a fine Hellenistic altar.

We make our museum agreement - we'll meet back at the altar at 14:00 - giving us three hours to "look around".  Arthur goes in the direction of an exhibition on Dionysius and upstairs one on a series of sculptures that were lost (taken to Russia) after the war, and recently returned and displayed again.  I go off to visit the gate at Miletus, the Ishtar gate (my favorite) and look at pre-Assyrian and Assyrian artifacts.  Then I go to look at the Dionysian things - and soon it is 2:00, and I go to meet Arthur.  He however, didn't have time to see Ishtar, et. al., so I quickly show him what he missed.

Time for lunch at the museum, nothing special, and we don't buy books at the store.  We are meeting Günter and Franziska at our hotel at 19:00 or 19:30 - we can't remember which.  So we go back to our hotel and get ready to meet them.  They arrive promptly, and as we walk to the SBahn, the heavens suddenly open up and we are drenched as we make it into Tiergarten Station.  We take the train to Nollendorferplatz, and then walk up the street to Luchner Restaurant on Lützowplatz.  The chef's brother is an associate of Günter's and Franziska's, and so he greets us warmly as we enter the room.  We are seated and menus are handed to us, but are quickly taken away by Andreas, and by his wife Gerlinde.  "I am going to surprise you," he says, and so a wonderful evening of gastronomy begins.

1.   A nice sekt with an amuse bouche of a creme puff filled with an olive foam filling and garnishes.
2.   A wild rabbit and venison terrine filet with orange-vanilla sauce and a salad of field lettuces.  (Bckenauer Riesling, 2007)
3.   A soup of pumpkin, carrots, and ginger with a scallop.
4.   A barley risoto with pumpkin, pork trotter and lobster.
5.  A piece of roasted Zander (Perch) served on a potato-apple gratin with a piece of Blutwurst.
5.  A house-made wild boar sausage, served with a wild boar ragout and speck, and three beans. (Cuvée Guillaume, 2006) 
6.  A saddle of venison, with cabbage and Johannes beeren with a balsamic reduction and dumplings (Spitz Buben) (Spätburgunder, 2007)
7.  White chocolate mousse with a papaya gelee, and raspberries, and a passion fruit ice cream. (Farmersheimer Hornberg Mario Muskat, 2008)
8.  Prunewein and Espresso.

We talk and eat and drink.  Günter thinks that we ought to meet in a different place each year to eat and drink and talk.  It sounds good.  But this evening is now late, and they grab a cab, and we the S und UBahn.

05 October 2009

Saturday, 3 October - Water

Today, we have decided to take a boat tour on the Spree River.  The dock is just a few meters away from our hotel, and so we walk over in the morning and get on board.  The first time I came to Berlin, I couldn't believe how much water there was here: rivers, canals, lakes, streams, ponds, harbors - you name it.  This, then, was a real treat.  We left from near Hansaplatz, and took the Spree in a clockwise fashion.  It was a bit cold out, so sitting in the underdeck and drinking Schoko was wonderful.

It was Unification Day - so crowds were out and rejoicing as we rounded the bend by the goverment buildings that surround the Reichstag.  It was wonderful to see and hear people rejoicing so much in their country.  Huge puppets were used, and one was emerging out the Spreewasser to the delight of the crowd.

We continued on past Museum Insel, and the Nikolai Vierteil, moving into the east where there were lots of commerical buildings being put to new use, or ones that had been abandoned.  You can see the revitalization of the east end from the river.  Turning the corner into the Landwertskanal we say example after example of Secessionist homes - utterly beautiful.  This was a great way to become acquainted with Berlin differently.

After our boat trip, we went to KuDam,  and had lunch in Wittenberger Platz - nothing unusual, but I was able to show Arthur the hotel I stayed at in 2004.  We walked to Nollendorferplatz and got on the UBahn to Potsdammerplatz where we emerged to look at Sony Center, and then wandered up toward the Brandenburg Gate only to bump into an exhibition of all things Nazi in this part of Berlin.  It was a very interesting discussion of the bunkers, the archeology of the Second World War, and the complicity of industry and the Berlin Municipal Government.  Fascinating.

We then wandered about and around Unter dem Linden, having a coffee and cake at the Westin, looking at the buildings in Gendarmenmarkt, and finally walking through the memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe on our way to Potsdammerplatz, where we have a very mediocre meal.  

The skies are dancing with searchlights celebrating German Unity.

02 October 2009

Friday, 2 October 2009 - Wandering

After breakfast Arthur and I walk down 17 June to the Brandenburg Gate.  All along the way, people are preparing for tomorrow's holiday - the reunification of Germany.  The air is full of buzz, and the lawns of the park are lined with Prussian soldaten.  We walk up Unter dem Linden and peer in at KPM and other stores, have a coffee at Einstein, and move up the street to Bebel Platz (where I remember all the books that were consigned to a Nazi fire, and meet a huge sleeping puppet soon to join another in a walk across Berlin in celebration of the holiday) and cross over to St. Hedwig's Cathedral.  Totally gutted in the war, the church is quite attractive, surrounding a crypt staircase which is presided over by the high altar, and below by the altar with Tablernacle.  There is an organ concert on Sunday night, and perhaps we'll go.  Oddly enough an organist is playing some variations of "Ein feste Burg".

We continue our walk up and over Museum Island, past the Dom and site of the Schloß, where we meet a boat and wind and wave being pulled down UdL, again a part of the holiday celebrations.  Then up to Alexanderplatz where we have lunch (unremarkable).  Then we get on the Sbahn and take the ring around the city, just to get a grip on the size and layout of things.  We get off at Tiergarten and walk over to Friederichs Gedechtnis Kirche in the Tiergarten, but they are filming there, so we can't go inside.  St. Ansgar Kirche across the street is open, however, where we see a very unsual stations of the cross.

After resting at the hotel a bit, we take the Sbahn over to Auguststraße to meet up with Günter and Franziska, with whom we have a most delightful evening at Rutz, a winebar and restaurant.  http://www.info@weinbar-rutz.de.  The meal went something like this:

1.  A tray with a warm potato-mushroom soup, a potato canape topped with smoked fish, and a potato herb pasta (Sekt)
2.  An onion tart that is served with a white wine (Riesling)
3.  Lamb chop roasted, with lamb shoulder - slow roasted, with potato cubes cooked rösti-style, topped with a chevré dumpling, fennel purée, a mince of cucumber, and a pimento jus. (Italian Red from Alba)
4.  Cheese tray (8 slections) with drei-kornen and frucht brot. (aus lese white wine)
5.  Desert degustation (roasted pineapple with quark), wineshaum eis with pepper/sugar croquant, and a warm chocolate torte (espresso)
6.  Four spoons (kiwi candied with coconut and pistachio, white chocolate praline filled with sour cherry/pepper center, pastry shell with passion fruit mousse and raspberry, and a spice cake.  (A very dry riesling)

We had a wonderful conversation, and since it was so late, and the SBahn had stopped running we cabbed home.

01 October 2009

Thursday, 1 October 2009 - Transition

I forgot to mention something about last evening.  It can be summed up by a comment made by a woman  as she rounded the corner from Via de Martelli onto Via de Cerratani, where one is suddenly confronted by the bulk of the Duomo, "Oh, my God...Holy Shit!" was her comment.  And that pretty much sums it up.  Last evening I walked around the cathedral - it exudes such power.  I think that is in part do to its sheer size and the fact that it is so hemmed in by the density that surrounds it.

So this morning, I got up, showered, had some breakfast, packed my bags, checked out, and left my luggage at the desk, and when to the cathedral.  I had mightily resisted going back in because there was so much else that I wanted to do.  This morning I could no longer resist.  If there is a simplicity at Santa Maria Novella it is even more so at Santa Maria della Fiori.  It is stunning in its mass (no pun intended) and in the space that it creates.  I'm glad I took the time to walk around.  I also went downstairs to look at the remains of the ancient church St. Reparata.

Then it was back to the hotel, get in a cab and get to the airport.  Uneventful flight, right over Meiringen, Switzerland again - great memories.  No troubles at Frankfurt and into Berlin.  Cab to the hotel - and there's Arthur.  We have a drink and then go to Giraffe for schnitzle-like things.  Arthur's pooped, and so am I.

30 September 2009

30 September 2009 - Surprises!

I went to the Uffizi on Friday, and as my hotel had made a reservation for me for today, I returned.  I thought that I would go back to some things that I had not paid much attention to.  I did come to one conclusion, and that is that Boticelli is ok, but there are far more interesting and engaging painters.  Again I was amazed at how many people take a "hit and run" approach, spending a few minutes at the "hits" leaving other interesting works languishing in the corner.  Oh well, de gustibus...  I did spend some time with Boticelli, but also with the Pollaoila brothers, and Cranach.  I did skip around, but knew what I wanted to go back to.  One was a portrait bust of Antonio Magliabechi by Antonio Montaiuti.

What is arresting about this sculpture is that it so perfectly captures the character of this man - bibliophile par excellance.  It was so arresting that I had to find out who this was and what he was all about.  The other day I mentioned Passolini in the title of my blog entry, but then didn't really comment on it.  What has interested me here in Florence, is what seems to have interested Passolini.   One only has to watch any of his films, especially "The Gospel According to Saint Matthew" to see his fascination with the human face.

It is a fascination that is seen in the Chapel at the Palazzo Ricardi where the artist captures the faces of real people to serve as characters in his painting of the Visit of the Magi.  At the Uffizi, as you walk the galleries, and walk through time and experience, you begin to see the fascination of artists not only with the stories they wish to interpret, but with the human experience they with to record as well.  As I thought about this, I was pleased that we had a portrait done.  I don't know what will happen to it when Arthur and I are dust.  Hopefully someone will keep it as the record of two people.  So here's to Antonio Magliabechi - I like your soul.

Some Torta della Nonna on the Belvedere, and then onto other places.  I drop off a book I purchased at the Uffizi at my hotel and then go over to have lunch at Il Sostanza.  I have a beefsteak and the place is packed, everyone thinks its incredible.  I meet a couple from Norway, who think I'm Italian.  That has happened two other times this trip.  It must be the nascent beard.

I slowly make my way to the Academy.  The last time I was here (20 years ago) I only remember David, and the room full of 19th Century casts - so when I arrive, I am happy to see many rooms to visit of which I was unaware.  The collection is similar in scope, albeit not breadth, with the Uffizi, and there is a surprise.  Grouped in its own exhibition space, and around the various Michelangelo works, especially those intended for the tomb of Julius II, are photographs by Robert Mappletharpe.  It is a conversation about form, and two masters of form.

It is so refreshing to see, and to realize that two gay men have made such a commentary on human existence and corporeality.  It was sad to watch many of the tourists totally ignore the special exhibition, along with all the other works.  David! David! Then off to something else.

I go back to my room for a quick nap, and then go out for a last nostalgic evening.  I wander the streets slowly.  At piazza della signoria I have some crostini and a drink.  The sun is setting and the stone is incredible in its glow.  I walk over to the Arno, they are crewing up the river, and Santa Maria Carmine's dome is silhouetted in the golden light of the setting sun.  I wander some more...I don't want to eat too early.  At piazza republica a group is playing "The Girl from Ipanema" to great effect.  I wander on and hear organ music coming from "Dante's Church" (Santa Maria de la Ricci?).  Suddenly the Widor Tocatta bursts forth - and I cry, it is so beautiful.

I have a restaurant in mind, the one I ate at two nights ago - but it is closed.  I chuckle, for it is a day of surprises so I go to a place I noticed while walking around.  It is called GustaVino a restaurant and enoteca.  It is in an arched room with quarter circle aluminum and glass demonstration kitchen.  There is a glass and aluminum "cellar" in the next room, and all the furnishings are brushed aluminum.  The food was very good.  I started with a goat cheese souffle with aromatic herbs, olive oil and honey, then a rack of venison with garlic emulsion and red pepper coulis along with some grilled vegetables, and finally a butter pastry with apples and rosemary cream.  (What really amazed me is that the chef, a woman, noted which wine I was drinking with my meal and used it for the reduction with the venison.)  All of this was washed down with a chianti classico, and I was offered a vin santo and a grappa.  Nice waiter and some others from Canada.  Ich bin saat.