Entry April 28

Because hate is legislated, written into the primer and the testament shot into our blood and brain like vaccine or vitamins because our day is of time, of hours and the clock-hand turns, closes the circle upon us and black timeless night sucks us in like quicksand, receives us totally without a raincheck or a parachute, a key to heaven or the last long look.

I need love more than ever now…I need your love.

I need love more than hope or money, wisdom or a drink.

Because slow negative death withers the world – and only yes can turn the tide, because love has your face and body…and your hands are tender and your mouth is sweet – and God has made no other eyes like yours.

This Is My Beloved
by Walter Benton

My beloved wife, Laurel, is not only beautiful but also very smart. There are approximately 22 hours of flying time between Las Vegas and Cape Town.  Laurel had a one-day stopover in Amsterdam in October 2017 during a trip to Zambia, which proved refreshing.  Thus, she wisely decided that we should break up our trip by having a two-day stopover in Amsterdam on our flights to and from South Africa.  I had never spent time any meaningful time in Amsterdam, having only once been there on an overnight layover in the 1980s following a trip to Moscow.  This was going to prove interesting.   

Amsterdam
Amsterdam

We stepped out of Amsterdam Airport Schiphol and walked to the taxi stand.  A Tesla Model S arrived, and the driver helped us place our bags inside.  Tesla taxis are standard in Amsterdam.  Amsterdam is a beautiful city, dating back to the 13th century, and is known as the Venice of the North due to the many canals connecting the city’s various districts and neighborhoods.  Our hotel was located in the Museum Quarter.

The Dutch love traveling by bicycle.  Most people have at least two.  There are even multi-story parking garages that are devoted exclusively to bicycles.  It is common to see young people on dates with bicycles, or entire families on bicycles with little children being pushed in front or towed behind.  Laurel and I had braved being next to a pride of feeding lions, we were charged by a rhino, and were surrounded by a herd of approximately 100-150 Cape buffalo whilst on safari, yet we managed to survive.  However, there was a serious question as to whether we were going to survive after being repeatedly nearly run over by bicyclists!

The Museumplein, or Museum Square, contains Amsterdam’s most important museums, including the magnificent Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, the Moco, and Stedelijk Museum.   Museum Square also serves as the city’s culture hub where people gather to play sports, listen to concerts on the grass, have lunch or drinks, or simply met up with friends.

Amersterdam
Amersterdam

I am a talentless hack who cannot draw a straight line with a T-square.  However, I love art.  Art always decorated my family’s homes whilst growing up, and my parents would take my brother and me to museums in whatever country we visited.  I frequented Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts weekly when I was in law school, and I eventually became a docent.  I can spend hours at a museum staring at a single work of art.  My beloved Laurel, however … not so much. She approaches a museum as if on a speed date.  She could finish a museum in an hour, whereas it would take me all day.

One of the many reasons I love Laurel is that she indulges me.  We spent the entire day at the magnificent Rijksmuseum.  The museum completed a 10-year renovation and re-opened in 2013.  It is a Dutch national treasure, focusing on history and art from the Dutch Golden Age.  Its collection, housed in 80 galleries, has more than one million objects, featuring over 8,000 exhibitions of works of art, including many masterpieces, such as Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch,” Johannes Vermeer’s “The Milkmaid,” Frans Hals’s “The Merry Drinker,” and “The Threatened Swan” by Jan Asselijn.  The museum focuses on history and art from the Middle Ages to the present day, and its impressive collection serves as a testament to the great Dutch masters.  

Our meal
Our meal

There is another great gallery at the Rijksmuseum.  RIJKS is the museum’s Michelin-starred restaurant.  Executive chef Joris Bijdendijk presents a fare that is locally sourced and inspired by Dutch cuisine throughout history.  Just as museums will invite guest curators to curate an exhibition at a museum, Chef Joris invites guest chefs to perform culinary artistry in his kitchen.

Laurel and I began with Fine de Claire, oysters in a lemon-shallot vinegar, which we paired with a Domaine de Marotte Cuvée Luc White (2016), a varietal blend of 50.00% Grenache Blanc, 30.00% Viognier, and 20.00% Roussanne, from Provence, France (13.00% alcohol).  This wine is pale, straw-colored, with a nose of limes, lemons, and apricots, and an under fragrance of flowers.  The mouthfeel is white fruit and balanced.  The oysters’ briny, salty, steely flavor was greatly enhanced by the wine’s citric acidity.  

My Laurel loves seafood.  However, she determined that we would share a dry-aged ribeye, because we had discovered a delightful seafood restaurant earlier, and we had dinner reservations the next night.  We paired the ribeye with Domaine d’Ardhuy Aloxe Corton Les Chaillots (2015), a Burgundian Pinot Noir.  Aged in French oak barrels, 20.00% of which is new, for 14 to 18 months, the wine has a penetrating garnet color, with a nose of red and black fruits and spices.  The palate is the nose’s equal with silky, unctuous tannins and 12.50% alcohol.  The wine has a full, rich, smoky finish that fully complemented the grilled steak.        

Laurel, Andras, and Van Gogh!
Laurel, Andras, and Van Gogh!

The next morning Laurel and I had breakfast at a charming restaurant, as Laurel was going to indulge me once again: We had snagged reservations for tickets to the Van Gogh Museum.  We had reservations when we went to Amsterdam the first time on our layover to Cape Town, but somehow they got lost.  Thus, we were determined to visit the museum this time.  

The Van Gogh Museum features the world’s largest collection of works by the post-impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh.  Some of the highlights include the masterpieces “Sunflowers, “Irises,” and “The Potato Eaters.”  Just do not ask a museum docent to direct you to Starry Nights, as the docents will readily, and dismissively, direct you to the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, where it has been since 1941. 

The Van Gogh Museum is located in a beautiful multi-storied contemporary building in Museumplein at the opposite end of the landscaped mall from the Rijksmuseum.  Vincent Van Gogh and his brother Theo also collected hundreds of Japanese woodcuts and printmaking, and the techniques served as inspiration for many of Vincent’s works.  Vincent’s works based on the Japanese techniques are housed separately in the Kurokawa wing.

The collection in the Van Gogh Museum is incomparable.  You are not allowed to take pictures of the artwork, except in certain designated areas, unlike the Rijksmuseum.  I am not sure how it happened, but pictures somehow appeared in my camera.  It was a miracle!

The Modern Contemporary Museum in Amsterdam is commonly known as Moco.  Moco is also located in Museumplein.  Moco is a former elegant home (that was also once a law office), and it houses the unauthorized and uncurated exhibition by the former graffiti artist Banksy, as well as works by the American pop artist, Roy Lichtenstein.  Moco is not the solemn mausoleum that some people associate with museums (not that the Van Gogh Museum or Rijksmuseum are either).  However, there is a certain insouciant quality to Moco that separates it from other museums.  

Laurel and Andras
Laurel and Andras

The Banksy exhibit is cheeky, funky, fun, and interactive.  Banksy is famously known as the anonymous street artist who is originally from Bristol, England, and he uses graffiti as his medium.  Banksy uses his art to make commentary on contemporary issues such as war, violence, capitalism, and pollution.  He uses rats, snakes, apes, policemen, and members of the royal family as his subjects.  The graffiti artist has officially become a bourgeois, as he is now an Academy Award nominee.  The outside Moco Garden is interactive, and it features Banksy’s take on Disney’s Mickey Mouse and giant Teddy bears.

Roy Lichtenstein was an American pop artist who came to prominence in the 1960s, who, along with Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, and Robert Rauschenberg, came to define the pop art movement.  Lichtenstein was inspired by comic strip art, and his work reflects the comic book style. The Lichtenstein exhibit features interactive 3D rooms where you become part of the artwork.  Moco is a whimsical, magical museum full of fun, and you fully expect to see something from Alice in Wonderland bounding through the gardens. 

The next night Laurel and I went to dinner at Mr. Crab Seafood Grill restaurant near the museum district.  A winding stairwell takes you down to the restaurant.  There is a mural on the wall that reads, “Fish, to taste right, must swim three times: in water, in butter, and in wine.”  Truer words were never spoken!

Laurel enjoying the wine!
Laurel enjoying the wine!

We began our meal with Camembert and fromage bleu with oysters paired with a JanotsBos Bourgogne (Bourgogne Blanc) Chardonnay (2014).  The JanotBos Chardonnay has a nose which is rife with green apples and white stone fruits.  The palate is accosted by pear and lemon, coupled with lush minerality and a hint of white pepper.  This Chardonnay is aged eight-nine months in two – four-year-old French oak barrels The winemaker did not use new barrels.  The acidity is well-balanced.  With 12.50% alcohol, this wine is refreshing and a change from the considerably higher alcohol South African wines we had been enjoying.  This Chardonnay is certainly not a California “butter-bomb.” The citrus flavor of the Chardonnay greatly enhanced the brininess of the oysters.  The Bourgogne Blanc is, as the winery’s website says, “typicité toute bourguignonne,” a typical Burgundian character.

Laurel had a whole grilled Gilt-head Sea Bream, or daurade, whilst I had a grilled King lobster.  Everything goes better with bubbly, and the lobster and fish were no exceptions.  We ordered a bottle of Deutz Brut Classic Champagne (NV) (38.00%, Pinot Noir, 32.00 % Pinot Meniere, and 30.00% Chardonnay.) This Champagne has an acacia, Granny Smith, and brioche nose.  On the palate is a typical Champagne mouthfeel of candied Meyer lemon peel, toasted almonds, and freshly baked bread.  This Champagne has light acidity and finely balanced with a lingering finish.  There are only a few hundred cases of Deutz Champagne imported into the United States, so it was a pleasure to enjoy such an uncommon wine.

My beautiful bride and I were fully satiated, but the evening was not over.  We found a bottle of something neither of us had before: A German Pinot Noir.  

Our one year anniversary would have been on April 8, 2019.  Being married to you was the most wonderful seven months of my life.

Germans call the Pinot Noir grape Spätburgunder.   Spät means late-ripening in German, and Burgunder means Pinot. I was surprised to learn that Pinot Noir is grown in almost all of Germany’s 13 winemaking regions. The varietal is most notably grown in the wine region of Ahr, and it accounts for more than 50.00% of plantings in that region.

Stepp Pinot Noir (2016) from Pfalz, Germany (13.50% alcohol) is ruby in color with a brilliant nose of intense, ripe red fruits, particularly, cherry and raspberry, followed by a hint of blackberry, cassis, and spice.  This wine has some of the classic Pinot aromas hallmarks, with notes of vegetal and musty leaves. There is the suggestion of green pepper and something floral as well.  Vanilla and wood also insinuated themselves into the nose.   

The palate was rich; it was rounded and balanced.  There was acidity, but not a lot of tannins.  The cherries bounded to the fore.  The 13.50% alcohol was unexpected and would lead you to believe that this Pinot might be from the New World.  The finish was quite long and lingering, stretching out the acidity, the alcohol, and the delightful fruit. This is a wine that you would want to revisit.

My bride and I toasted each other, savoring the wine, the moment, the memories, and our love for each other.  Thus ended an amazing honeymoon.  The next morning, we flew back home to our cats, Frankie and Molly, and reality.

PS. This is the most difficult article I have ever written.  Most of it was written months ago, but I could not bring myself to finish it.  My beautiful bride, Laurel Elizabeth Davis Babero, tragically died on November 19, 2018. 

Laurel was as accomplished as she was beautiful.  She was a brilliant attorney (I know, because we had opposed each other on several occasions) and a well-respected jurist.  Laurel and I met about 40 years ago when I was a young lawyer and she was a legal secretary (that is what they were called then).  We worked in the same building and would often ride the lift together.  

Laurel and I dated in the 1980s and again in the 1990s, but always remained friends.  I thought I could never be more proud of her than when I learned that she had gone back to university and then graduated law school, at the top of her class no less.

I thought that I could not be more proud of her when she became a federal bankruptcy judge, after having been a partner at two top-tier law firms. However, all of that paled in comparison to how proud I felt on the evening December 13, 2017, when she consented to be my wife.

I was going to re-write this article and change the tense and other parts, but my brother suggested that I finish it the way it was and dedicate the article to my beautiful Laurel’s memory.  So, Cheers!  Here is to my Laurel: my beloved, my rock, and my angel.  I dedicate this article to you.  Our one year anniversary would have been on April 8, 2019.  Being married to you was the most wonderful seven months of my life.  I wish it could have been longer, but as Theodore Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss once said, “Don’t cry because it is over, smile because it happened.”  Laurel, you have given me reason to smile, and I will always love you. 

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Andras is a successful Las Vegas attorney, a passionate wine aficionado, and an experienced and seasoned world traveler with a gourmet palate.

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