Newport Mansions Wine & Food: Part 1
(Newport, RI) — Over the past six years or so, I’ve had the pleasure of attending many special events in faraway cities and states, courtesy of tagging along with my beautiful wife on her job. All that great food and exotic wine takes its toll, however, and I found myself declining repeat visitations to culinary destinations. I mean, how many times can you eat a spoonful of uni in Pebble Beach? I’ve become somewhat jaded and, frankly, bored by the all too familiar carnival of chefs, sommeliers, and gorgeous scenery. However, when Juliet invites me to Newport Mansions Wine & Food, I’m surprisingly excited to explore a new place...
Many long time readers and friends already know that I’m a writer of fiction, primarily, although I write primarily non-fiction these days. I guess that would be the definition of irony. Anyway, my writing influences are varied, having grown up during the heyday of Stephen King and Clive Barker, but no one captured my imagination more than Howard Phillips Lovecraft. His purple prose and near-taboo examination of the human condition, using mostly short form “weird” tales, somehow spoke to me...as he has spoken to Barker and King, and countless others. Never mind all the goofy, yet wonderful, 80’s film adaptations of Lovecraft’s work—REANIMATOR, FROM BEYOND, and CASTLE FREAK—the source material is full of dread and imagination without much humor. It is a bleak outlook on the human race.
Lovecraft was born, lived, and died in Providence, Rhode Island. So, after a couple beers at Union Station Brewery, I manage to convince Juliet to visit his gravesite. It’s a symbolic gesture, since I don’t really believe in all the spiritual gobbledygook. It’s not as though ol’ H.P. himself will come rising out of the ground and ask me how my vacation is going. Still, I feel compelled to cross off this bucket list item.
We get lucky, with an absolutely gorgeous late-summer/early-fall day full of sunshine (maybe too much sunshine, as the photos of the headstone are nearly washed out) and poetic, fluffy clouds scudding overhead. Beneath the not-yet-turned tree boughs, emerald shadows obscure the grounds until your eyes dim. Although we had heard the cemetery watchmen don’t like seekers of Lovecraft’s grave (of which there are a frequent many), we encounter none to stop us. We experience a moment of impending doom, however, when a white cargo van pulls up alongside, but rather than an old codger brandishing a shovel at us, we’re treated to a gaggle of black leather clad heavy metalheads who have also come to take photos and pose graveside. Juliet and I wait patiently until they wander to other parts of the cemetery, and just about that time an older lady rides up on a bike. She inquires whether this is Lovecraft’s headstone, explaining that she always wondered where it was after her daughter gave her some of the author’s stories to read. I am allowed more than a few minutes of geek-speak, as she patiently listens to my reasoning why Lovecraft may be the most important American writer of the last 100 years.
After the other onlookers have left, we take a few photos and soak in the verdant landscape. Previous visitors have left coins and cards and other sundry objects on the grave marker, but I don’t see the point of paying physical tribute. Lovecraft lives on in his words, and in his disciples. I thank my wife for humoring me, then we head back to the hotel to prepare for Newport Mansions Wine & Food.
Usually during these events, there are many different seminars being presented by world-famous sommeliers and chefs, and I must attend them alone because Juliet is working. Today is a bit different. Not only is the seminar about cheese, it is presented by Lou Di Palo, a shop owner from New York. And my wife is available this afternoon, so she joins me!
The seminar is slow to set up, as per the usual at these shindigs, and there is a congregation of impatient attendees behind us. (One of the reasons I’m so disenchanted with these events is the sense of entitlement and general rudeness of the privileged attendees, who can well afford the tickets but act as though they are being robbed if they miss even a second of the proceedings.) After some dramatic shenanigans of pulling on locked doors and loudly sighing in exasperation, the room is opened.
We sit near the back. In front of each of us is a placemat upon which has been placed seven wine pours—three white, four red—and a small plate of four cheeses and three meats. A dollop of honey and a basket of crackers promises a palate cleansing between tastings.
Lou Di Palo is a natural-born speaker, proffering his wisdom with typical New York Italian “no bullshit” pragmatism colored with lengthy personal stories about the origination of that wine, the method by which this cheese was produced, and his visits to the suppliers. Vastly entertaining, Lou tends to let time get away from him, so we’re nearly rushing through the tastes. Some folks can’t keep up and there is some minor confusion about which wine should be sampled next. Still, it’s a lot of fun; the wines are top notch and the salumi (meat and cheese) is damn tasty.
The meats include prosciutto di Parma, thinly-sliced pork loin, and mortadella. Cheeses include asiago, piave, and Grana Padano (my favorite).