By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
But nature is putting up a good fight. The scent of wild anise mixes with the smell of crude. Vic has seen foxes, lizards, hawks, and once, at night, a pair of owls dive-bombed his head as he walked down this road toward his site.
Vic leads me around a broken, rusted piece of oil machinery the size of an Airstream trailer. On the other side, the landscape suddenly opens into three flat, sunny planes that Vic has carved out with a 5-pound pickax and named “The Thirsty Dinosaur Vineyard.” Another 60 vines stand in neat, blue rows. These vines are younger and just beginning to peek out from the tops of their grow tubes. They are all grown from cuttings he has either gotten over the Internet or snipped while on vineyard tours. “There’s some pinot noir from Burgundy. This is merlot from Chateau Petrus. All of this up here is cabernet. My goal is to make a really bitchen Bordeaux blend.” Vic sees no reason why he can’t make a first-class single-vineyard designate wine on this neglected piece of land.
What Vic will eventually make here seems almost secondary to what he has already created, a place of ordered beauty among the chaos of nature and the debris of man.
“Yeah, my biggest obstacles are going to be the glassy-winged sharpshooter, raccoons and kids on bikes.”
“Kids on bikes?” I ask, eyebrow raised, wondering what the 10-year-old Vic would have done if he had stumbled on a vineyard hidden in the chaparral.
“Yeah, kids fucking with my grapes.” He smiles at me, and the irony is clear to us both.
A delegation from Kirghizstan — otherwise known as the Kirghiz Republic and “the belly button of Central Asia” (it’s halfway down the Silk Road) — recently hosted a modest business outreach reception in the Roosevelt Hotel’s Academy Room, which isn’t very Kirghiz: It’s more ’20s-Hollywood ersatz-Mediterranean. But it has a pleasantly high ceiling whose big rafters are painted with faded Romanesque trim. The food wasn’t Kirghiz, either. There were bran muffins, mostly, and hotel coffee, hot water (served in tall, silvery ewers) and tea bags.
“Too bad. Because Kirghiz food is actually pretty good,’’ said the gentleman we’ll call Hal, who has pioneered relations with this faraway realm and can tell you all about it. “It’s a lot like what they serve at the Uzbekistan Restaurant down on Sunset. Uzbekistan is just next door, of course.’’ To Kirghizstan, that is. It’s what blessedly buffers Kirghizstan from what journalists now call “strife-torn” Afghanistan.
As one might judge from the event’s official title — “Kirghiz-Amerycan Business & Kultural Center” — reaching out to America is new to the 11-year-old (former Soviet) republic. The Kirghiz (who number about 5 million) want Americans to come visit, to invest and to buy their exports. They’d like us to help them build a new railroad. But the spoken pronouncements were in Russian (the nation’s second language), with an intermittent English translation, and Southland entrepreneurs were not conspicuous among the 40 or so people on hand. Most attendees were local Kirghiz (including some MBA students at local universities) and Russians, with a few Central Asia wonks like Hal. But L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputy Carlos Lopez, in plain clothes, was there, he said, to reassure the delegation of L.A.’s peacefulness, should it decide to do some business here.
There also was a huge video screen, filled with Kirghiz images. Deep-green valleys like Agoura in springtime, only with yurts and 20,000-foot mountain ranges. Plus soaring ancient towers in an utterly alien architecture. And herdspeople milking and riding horses. Mare’s milk is drunk fermented, by the way. It’s called kumis and “tastes like bile,” according to one knowledgeable toper. “But their brandy is terrific,” Hal said, “just about the tastiest I ever had. It stands up to Europe’s best.’’
Kirghiz government adviser Nurem Urorovitch, a very tall man in a very dark business suit, double-breasted in the post-Soviet style, explained that his country is rich in gold and uranium, food and fibers (including cotton and camel and yak hair), but poor in exportable manufactures (although someone mentioned that “the yak-meat charcuterie has potential”). “What we do have are fabulous tourist and outdoor sports resources,” he said. Make that extreme sports. The big screen was just then showing skiers disembarking from an ex-Soviet helicopter onto 24,000-foot Pobedy Peak (Victory). There are forests full of wildlife (“including the bearded vulture,” Urorovitch said) and vast unpolluted Alpine lakes. Issuk Kul is the local Lago Maggiore: Formerly a top-secret Soviet torpedo-testing range, it’s now a recreation haven, Hal said.
Pointing to a map, Kirghiz Senator Isa Shashenkul Omerklvov invited U.S. investment in a rail line crossing the Tien Shan Mountains into China. “Our trains are falling apart,” he said. What’s more, the Lonely Planet Guiderecently called them “grotty.”
What the Kirghiz should export are hats. A Kirghiz man’s hat is called a calpac. It’s sort of a fleecy, white-felt version of the Cat in the Hat topper, only with a Sinatra-style snap brim and no stripes. As they left their conference and walked out of the dark, empty hotel lobby onto sunny Hollywood Boulevard, the delegation’s dark-suited males donned their calpacs and caused dozens of strolling tourists to swivel their heads. It felt like a primal moment in fashion history.