Tuesday, December 20

2005 Top Ten

'Tis the season for top ten lists, so I thought I would post some of my own: Top Ten Books/Movies/CDs/what-have-you. The rub was quickly apparent when I tried to tally ten books, movies, and CDs that I actually read, watched, or listened to this year. Either the lists would have to be somewhat less than discriminating, or another idea would have to be found. So, I humbly present, the first (and likely last) annual:

Ribstone Pippin Top Ten Books/movies/music/restaurants/drinks/art/parties List

1. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy. There are some books that you just can't appreciate until you have paid certain dues in this world, dues that take several decades to pay. Anna Karenina, which I found turgid twelve years ago, was captivating this time round. For my reread, I chose a modern revision of the classic Constance Garnett translation, which my untrained ear found quite satisfying, though it would take some skill to mangle Tolstoy's genius. Genius is not a word I toss about lightly (who was it who said that Canada has only produced one authentic genius, Glenn Gould? I don't recall, but that is about the right rationing of the word in my book), but Anna Karenina ranks with Pride & Prejudice and The Mill on the Floss as one of the three greatest novels I've ever read.

2. Will in the World, by Stephen Greenblatt. I'm a sucker for anything Shakespearian and for the history of London, so this speculative but well-defended "biography" of the man and his time was my favorite escapist read of the year. Pure candy. And it sneaks under the wire as a Christmas present from 2004, which I finished in early 2005. Between Greenblatt, Marjorie Garber, and Helen Vendler, Harvard is a veritable factory of interesting Shakespearian scholarship and popular writing these days, for which I am endlessly grateful.

3. Wine: Domaine Serene, Mark Bradford Vineyard 2000. Tasted at an informal Oregon/New Zealand Pinot Noir dinner in London organized by my good friend Linden Wilkie, whose wine-tasting company, the Fine Wine Experience, is probably the best in Britain or Europe. Not an especially expensive bottle, but very difficult to find these days, mine was a generous farewell present from a friend in Portland. We had the 2002 at the same time, which is likely to be equally special in a few years. Honorable mentions: 1975 Ch. Yquem at my friend Brian's 30th birthday dinner; 1962 Latour (always underrated) at the same dinner; 1990 Salon at Le Grand Vefour.

4. Restaurants: The Sooke Harbour House, Sooke, B.C. Joanne Kates of the Globe and Mail justly named this the top restaurant in Canada back in 1997 and it hasn't slipped an inch since then. That it is also a first class guesthouse makes it one of the places anywhere to spend a weekend. Honorable mentions: Annisa (still the most consistently enjoyable restaurant I know, and they get bonus points for finally recognizing me after all these years!); Taillevent; Paley's Place (one of the highlights of life in Portland was Friday night dinners at the bar with the rest of the regulars--great friends all, but the special menu for Jules and Engred's anniversary was the standout meal); and Olea (unfortunately, this place only opened as I was leaving Portland, or I would have been a regular. The lobster pot pie at one of my going away dinners (which Olea generously hosted) paired with the 1990 Krug, was one of my top three dishes of the year).

5. 30th birthday/goodbye party at Annabel's. Graciously hosted by Edwina Acheson, and attended by about 20 of my dearest friends in London, this black-tie dinner/dance at one of my favorite places in the city was an unbeatable going away party. I got up the next day, packed my toothbrush, and boarded a plane to Portland. What a send off!

6. The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I saw it for the first time on video this year, so it counts for my 2005 list. I know many respectable people who hated this movie, but I found it deeply moving. I didn't even mind Jim Carrey or Kate Winslet, both of whom I usually can't abide. I enjoyed it so much I watched it again a week later, which is something I haven't done since Lone Star.

7. The Ashes celebration in London. (One of my photos from the parade is above.) Five days spent in a London pub building up to Kevin Pietersen's heroic 158 on the final day. Even better than the 2003 World Cup of Rugby. This is why sport is the greatest theater.

8. Beer: Bridgeport IPA. The best everyday beer I've found. There are many, many reasons to love Portland, OR, but this beer is one of the top.

9. The National Gallery of Art's Mediaeval and Renaissance collection. My girlfriend may be a 20th Century scholar, but my heart is always with the mediaeval and early renaissance masters. For images of some of my favorites in the National Gallery (DC), see here, here and here.

10. The London Symphony Orchestra's recording of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 8. I attended the live performance at which this CD was recorded back in 2004 (or at least one of the two performances, one of which was recorded--I don't know which). While the CD does not quite capture the live experience (can it ever?), it is a terrifying and awesome rendition of a very personal symphony by Shostakovich's good friend Mstislav Rostropovich.


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