Saturday, September 27, 2014

A Twentieth Year of China

Three hundred and sixty five days ago I sat down in a Starbucks in San Li Tun’s Taikooli Plaza, Beijing, where I’d written much of a manuscript the year before and began writing something new.  I wanted to write about the music, the reading, the international relations, the humor, and the challenges of raising a family in Beijing that were everyday on my mind.  I told myself I wanted to do it daily for a while perhaps for a year and I wanted to force myself to do it publically.  The format of one new song by an artist, two photos, one cheng yu, and some contextual reflections on China or the region, presented itself to me as reasonable parameters as I sat there and composed with my coffee and my headphones that afternoon.

Early I think it felt like a tremendous indulgence.  Early postings would take many hours to prepare and each one felt so important and consequential.  What was the proper etiquette around sharing these things?  How did one cultivate discretion so that you wrote something interesting but that didn’t compromise yourself or anyone else?  A few things colluded to make this effort possible, beyond the support of family and the inspiration of a friend’s visit:  First, a position I’d held but long since ceased to enjoy was, along with the entire region I was running, mothballed.  I knew I wanted, and more importantly needed to create a different way of working for myself.  Inspired by this visiting friend, I decided to try to meditate for an hour ever day, first thing in the morning.  Further indulgence certainly, but unexpectedly this reinforced the writing project wonderfully.  This same friend had insisted I try a music-sharing software, Rdio, that also, suddenly meant I could thoughtfully explore limitless new music, reasonably well archived, with impunity.

That day a year ago, sitting on a stool, I’d been listening to tenor sax giant Dexter Gordon’s "Soul Sister" from his 1961 release “Dexter’s Calling.”  I was listening to it randomly as I recall on my iPod.  And I wondered what it would mean to introduce music daily; music I’d long since known, music I’d just discovered, systematically find out a bit about who played on the session I was listening to, and learn what became of these people.  What I “discovered” for myself is that writing improves memory.  The architecture of musical knowledge is buttressed, pieces fall into place and details are more readily accessible.  Writing about themes of international relations, as I had the previous year similarly begins to anchor belief and opinion.  We can all be overwhelmed by “news” so that everything but your core instincts becomes relative, and diluted.  Writing regularly sharpens and tests beliefs.   And as I said to my father at one point in this exercise if the writing is amateurish, the photography is something yet again more rudimentary.  But here too, capturing, posting, reviewing imagery every day, as part of a narrative, helps to cultivate some form of photographic voice, and a sense of photography’s utility to shape a narrative, as well.

Today in Dexter’s honor I done what I’ve done for three-hundred-and-sixty-four other musicians and looked up a bit of the history of the man, whom I knew in general, but never really knew at all. I wasn’t aware that he stared in the 1986 movie “Round Midnight” and which I was only vaguely cognizant of and which I could certainly watch with the family. I hadn’t known he’d been awarded The French Order of Arts and Letters by the Ministry of Culture in France in the same year as the film.  I knew of the “homecoming” concert in 1977 when he returned from life overseas and played sets at the Village Vanguard which brought people to tears and which I have on now, with the Woody Shaw number, “In Case You Haven’t Heard.” And though I know and have written about Woody Shaw in this blog as well as the drummer on this set, Louis Hayes, I was not familiar with the pianist Ronnie Mathews, nor the bass player Stafford James, both of whom have albums I can presently explore.  A year’s worth of daily discovery doesn’t even begin to exhaust the tradition.  Born in Los Angeles in 1923, Dexter Gordon lived to the age of 67 and died of kidney failure in Philadelphia, in 1990.   He sounds so clear, full and majestically confident on this session I have on now.   One note and it must be Dexter Gordon.

And as often happens I only just realized what I wanted to write about today.  It is Sunday and my older daughter wanted to visit her old school.  The National Holiday is coming up and all those students must attend classes on Sunday to enjoy the holiday period the next week.  She is attending a different school this year, a western program and, as it is Sunday, she has the day off. 

Driving over, we commented on how reminiscent this was of our old routine.  Because she was not boarding at the school like many of her classmates, she had to get to the school at 6:30AM and was then picked up at night around 9:20PM.  Usually she was tired, and terse on the ride over.  Not particularly inclined to talk on the way back.   We discussed this and we noted how odd it was to turn left now, once again, for the first time in months, as we’d done for five years day after day, down the long access road, billboards to the right with students giant sized, and quickly faded photographs walling off the construction to the adjacent rows of fifty thousand newly built apartments. 

I parked and we made our way over to the front gate.  The guard remembered us and commented that he hadn’t seen us in a while.  She called her old teacher who was expecting her and after conferring with the guard on the phone, he let her in with a paper to sign for when she’d exit later on.  And like we always used to, but no longer do, because the structure of the drop-off is different, I stood and waved as she walked across the courtyard. 

Standing there, I considered the dozens of times this year I’d dropped her or her sister off at the school, and photographed the moon, or photographed a torn billboard and considered someone’s rude driving or a teacher’s earnest engagement, considered how strange and wonderful it was to raise my kids in a truly Chinese program in China, and turned up whatever music was on the car stereo and returned home to write about it.   It all seemed both physically tangible and irretrievably lost.

I had thought today, that I would go down and write another entry sitting there at the same spot that I wrote the first one, a year ago.  I’ve pondered this many times in the last few months as this final day approached.  I could take the same photograph and listen to the same music and consider the closing of the loop.  But that location really had more to do with the year that preceded the launch day.  My corporate office was across the street and I’d written much of a manuscript sitting where that Starbucks had previously been, looking north and west across the courtyard.  That summer before last they expanded into a different location and on that September, I had, for the first time a view south. 

This was a year of transition for everyone in our family.  I worked, mostly, from home when I was in Beijing, these last twelve months.  I wrote most of what I wrote sitting in the same room I’m sitting in now.  This twenty-first year of China involved considerable risk and reflection, and somehow posited all of us in a considerably different place than we had been.  I think we’d all agree too, it's a better place. 

I sat with my daughters, first thing this morning.  We talked about dreams and my older daughter raised the interesting line of inquiry around what precisely is it that babies dream?  We laughed that it probably had a lot to do with milk and poop, and how odd it would be to fit the equipment on as a baby first emerged to capture whatever it was they’d just been imagining.  And the conversation turned to their earliest memories and my earliest memories of them.  A pinky- sized bottle of baby formula handed to my wife and I by a nurse for my crying younger daughter’s first hours of life.  She inhaled the formula and immediately fell asleep.  I will never forget it.  And I never tire of telling her the story, either.  Her older sister asking, negotiating really, in Chinese, to be carried on our way to the breakfast place Diamond Heights. Memories of when her brother first came to the United States and played erhu in his room after the slamming of a door.

I wanted more.  I wanted to access more of those memories.  Surely there must be dozens of memories of your first weeks and your first words, and steps.  I just need to loosen them up.  Discussion and photographs and music and street names can all shake loose bits of the hoard but most of all we live, simply tends to evaporate, unless we actively curate. 

And so it is for you, Siena, Tulia, Dan Dan, whom I’ve never mentioned before by name in these postings, that I dedicate this effort, this twenty-first year of China.  I would have liked to read my father or mother’s daily rendering of life from when I was ten or thirteen, or twenty-five.  I presume many, many thorns and baubles, long forgotten might suddenly fall in to my hands were I to do so.  May this then serve as a map to some buried treasure in each of your memory mounds.  May your mother and my love for you all remain forever 记忆犹新[1].  This is part of how your father made sense of the world raising you, far, far away from the world he’d come up in.

[1] jìyìyóuxīn: to remain fresh in one's memory (idiom)

Summary 364

Up late finishing this summary.  These always take more time than you think and I am much better at the ‘up early’ than the ‘up late.’ Having done fifteen of them or so, the thing I enjoy the most is rediscovering some music you’d focused on a few days prior.  This, and reexamining the photos I’ve posted, which delight or demand improvement, day after day.  I don’t have time to look up the articles or really do more than take mental notes on some of what I’m engaging, reconsidering.

Saw some live jazz finally in Shanghai last night at a place that is supposedly the place, JJ's.  It was all a whirl, but the setting drove towards a Village Vangard like point on stage. I didn’t catch the young band’s name but there was a woman on erhu and a shorter guy with two day old growth who was rhyming in a way that made me want to step up and take the mic for myself.  This morning, a cold asserted itself strongly.  I finally got my coffee, went straight when I should have turned left back home.  Now I'd begun a short, exploratory walk around my little neighborhood in Shanghai, over to Suzhou Creek, not far from where it meets the Huang Pu River.  The waterfront there was tastefully built up, but the water itself has yet to recover from industrialization.  I've seen this neighborhood from eight stories up and from forty eight stories up and its nice to just spontaneously walk through it.

“Good Things Come to Those They Wait”[1] is a phrase that could be one our Western “Chung Yu’s” if we did such things, and kept our turn of phrase to four ideographs.  My daughters and I somehow got into a “name that tune” game of Beatles songs.  I think they surprised themselves with how many they knew.  And then, when I asked if they’d like to watch a bit of the Beatles Anthology, they somehow jumped on it this time and said "yes" in unison.  We hadn’t done that in a while and suddenly, cyclically it was time and they were avidly interested to learn and compare and remember.

Tomorrow’s a big day for this effort.  I have a few ideas of what I might do. I’ve been thinking about it for many, many days now and different things pop into my mind as possibilities both for the closing of one cycle and the beginning of another. Though there are many contenders, I know whom I’ll feature musically and he is already being synced up on the iPhone so I’ll have access tomorrow.  I know the view I want as well and perhaps a photo I might snap and a beverage I may order.  Then again, I may decide on something different when I’ve had some sleep.

                                                                                                                                                                    Cheng Yu
1. 孝思不匮 xiàosībùkuì:  to be forever filial (idiom)
2. 鸡飞蛋打jīfēidàndǎ: the chicken has flown the coop and the eggs are broken / a dead loss (idiom)
3. 空洞无物kōngdòngwúwù: empty cave, nothing there (idiom); devoid of substance / nothing new to show
4. 天雨路滑tiānyùlùhuá: roads are slippery due to rain (idiom)
5. 如法炮制rúfǎpáozhì:  lit. to follow the recipe (idiom) / fig. to follow a set pattern
6. 行云流水xíngyúnliúshuǐlit. moving clouds and flowing water (idiom) / fig. very natural and flowing style of calligraphy, writing, etc / natural and unforced
7. 文过饰非wénguòshìfēi:  to cover up one's faults (idiom) / to whitewash
8. 天雨路滑tiānyùlùhuá:  roads are slippery due to rain (idiom)
9. 千钧一发qiānjūnyīfà:  a thousand pounds hangs by a thread (idiom) / imminent peril / a matter of life or death
10. 喝西北风hēxīběifēng:  lit. drink the northwest wind (idiom); cold and hungry
11. 沉默寡言:chénmòguǎyán: habitually silent (idiom) / reticent / uncommunicative
12. 乱臣贼子:luànchénzéizǐ rebels and traitors (idiom) / general term for scoundrel
13: 天兵天降tiānbīngtiānjiàng:  celestial troops and generals (idiom) / fig. superior forces
14. 潇潇细雨xiāoxiāoxìyǔ the sound of light rain or drizzle (idiom)
15: 轻口薄舌qīngkǒubóshé: lit. light mouth, thin tongue (idiom); hasty and rude / caustic and sharp-tongued
16: 迷离徜恍mílíchǎnghuǎng:  indistinct / blurred / bewildering / confusing to the eye (idiom)
17. 黑天半夜 hēitiānbànyè:  lit. the black sky of midnight / very late at night (idiom)
18. 狗血喷头gǒuxiěpēntóu:  torrent of abuse (idiom)
19. 高高在上gāogāozàishàng:  set up on high (idiom); not in touch with reality / aloof and remote
20. 酒池肉林jiǔchíròulín: lakes of wine and forests of meat (idiom); debauchery / sumptuous entertainment
21. 奔走相告bēnzǒuxiānggào: to spread the news (idiom)

Music Shared
Art Pepper “I Cant Believe Your In Love With Me” from the 1960 release “Intensity.”
João Donato  “Tom Thumb” from the 1970 album “A Blue Donato”
Vanusa, “Hey Joe” from the 1969 album “Vanusa”
Paulinho da Viola, "Reclamacao"from the 1971 album “Paulinho da Viola 1971” 
Llyod Miller “A Lifetime in Oriental Jazz”
Uncle Funkenstein, “Together Again” from the 1983 album “Together Again”
Jeff Gilson “Chant Inca” from the 1969 on the album “The Archives.”
Mor Thiam, “Ayo Ayo Nene” recorded in 1973, from the album “Spiritual Ja zz”
James Spaulding, “Uhuru Sasa” on the album “Spiritual Jazz 45s, 1968-75”
Frank Foster, “Stampede” from the 1968 album “Manhattan Fever.” 
The Lyman Woodard Organization, “Kimba” from the 1974 album “Live at JJ’s Lounge.”
Phil Ranelin, “Forever Yours” from the 1996 album, “A Close Encounter of the Very Best Kind”
Gene Russell “Up and Away” from the 1967 album ““Too Close for Comfort”
John Tchicai “Mao” from the Storyville ablum collection “John Tchicai”
Milton Nascimento  “Para Lennon and McCartney” from the 1970 album “Milton”
Owen Marshall and the Naked Truth, “Peanut Butter Ice Cream Man,” from the 1975 album  “Captain Puff In The Naked Truth.”
Nathan Davis, “New Orleans” 1976, from the album, “The Best of Nathan David, 1965-1976.”
Marcus Belgrave, “Glue Fingers” from the 1974, album “Gemini II.”
 Ataulfo Alves, ““Vida de Minha” recorded in 1962, available on a retrospective.

Media Shared
Jose Saramago’s “The Gospels According to Jesus Christ”
Tang Dynasty cave hike on Beijing Hikers
Jovem Guarda (Young Guard) on Wiki,
The Zhang Shang Ying camp:
Patrick Leigh Fermor “Between the Woods and the Water” on the New York Review of Books.
Murex defined on Wiki:
An Oud on Wiki:
The Guzheng on Wiki
Luo Guanzhong’s “The Romance of the Three Kingdoms”
New York Times on Scotland independence vote
Frank Foster on Wiki
Phil Ranelin on line biography, on Allmusic, ttp://
General Zuo Zongtang on Wiki,
Buggs Bunny “The Old Grey Hare” on Wiki
Lyrics for Milton Nascimento’s “Para Lennon and McCartney”
Claude Levi Straus book, “Tristes Tropiques”
Nathan Davis “New Orleans” on Youtube
Patrick Leigh Fermor “Between the Woods and the Water” on Wiki,
Gemini 2 the space mission on Wiki,
Gemini the conscellation on Wiki,
Article on public reaction to content in Chinese TV programs and movies concerning the “China’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1937-45)” 
Virginia Lee Burton “The Little House” on Wiki

[1] 好事多磨: hǎoshìduōmó:  the road to happiness is strewn with setbacks (idiom)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

This Isn't News

Once again, writing from my office, here in seat 38D.  Once again forced to confront the Air China in-flight entertainment, projected before me on a large screen.  In this case it is the peculiar indignity of not just a third party company’s advertisement but, rather, an award ceremony for stewardesses of Air China itself.  They feel no shame to take up thirty minutes of our time, “entertaining" us by advertising themselves.  I must have seen, but never heard, this nonsense seventeen times by now.  The young ladies are all marching out in front of a military band.  This is cast, and coordinated oddly as news.  CCTV is presenting this epic “news” tale of the carrier’s exceptional service.  Sometimes my host country is simply odd.  Anyone else onboard this crack of dawn flight down to Shanghai from Beijing note how unbelievably facile and un-entertaining this is?  xingwenlianbo”, “News Broadcast”, how dare you?  How can Air China’s stewardess award ceremony be considered news or entertainment, something that needs to be 奔走相告[1]? 

The breakfast cart just trotted by.  “Chinese or Western breakfast?” “Neither please.”  The wisest thing I’ve said all day.  The beverage cart followed.  “A cup of tea, please.”  Like every lady on the screen this young lady smiled at me, though oddly, it was genuine.  The tea felt good on my sore throat. 

Driving out early, the city is already swelling with activity in the suburbs at 6:00AM.  My friend who accompanied me marveled all the changes he was ingesting, from the time he’d lived there ten years prior.  Give it another ten years and I presume this New Convention Center neighborhood will be completely urbanized into sprawl that is in no way distinguished from what’s inside the fifth ring road, and the fourth ring road, and the third, like Virginia Lee Burton's "Little House."

I saw sheep yesterday in the woods near Wang Jing along the Jing Mi road and I recalled how there used to be flocks of sheep and goats everywhere out here fifteen years ago, and mule driven carts inside of Dongcheng, twenty years back.  My friend showed me a photo of a sign he’d snapped at Yihuyuan the day before announcing in bold letters that they would not serve Japanese.  I don’t remember that from twenty years ago either.   No Han Chinese brave enough, it seems to call this racism out publically, as beneath a great civilization, beneath a great metropolis. 

Unexpected it was when I arrived at the check in gate this morning.  “Yes sir, I have your name on the 7:20AM flight, but the passport number that is in here is completely different from this one here.”  “Huh? How could that be?”  I do this flight every week.  Just read my blog.  “Can you double check?”  My wife had booked the ticket.  I called home.  Everyone asleep.  I called the travel company: “this department is closed.”  Increasingly frantic I crossed the line of intimation and suggested that I’d get a new ticket if necessary.  I couldn’t miss this flight.  I reached my wife finally and she was flummoxed for a bit and then, said she must have given them my old passport number, (even though CTRIP has the proper number on file) and when the young lady heard the matching number read from the phone, suddenly, magically, I was cleared to fly.  Walking off I marveled, thankful for one of those many times where it is so wonderful to be in China, instead of the United States, where a mis-matched passport number would be a one-way trip to the ticket purchase line, no exceptions. 

Don’t know much about the Brazilian bandleader Ataulfo Alves.  I have his tune “Vida de Minha” (“My Life”) and it must be from the late forties or early fifties.  (remarkably, to me at least, it is from 1962, after the bosa nova craze had begun)  To my ears it all sounds rather influenced by, Afro Cuban jazz.  I hear Machito and Benny More.  Rhythmically there is something essential, perhaps Angolan, that is distinctly Brazilian, though much of the arrangement is certainly derivative.  The Middle Passage for Brazil began largely in modern day Angola, unlike the Ashanti, Yoruban origins that populated much of the British colonies in the Americas.  As I write I pause, having just been specific about British colonies, as I assume that French colonies were sourced with African slaves from Senegal and Benin, but I’m not sure.  Similarly, from what part of West Africa did Spain procure its human chattel for the cane fields of Cuba?  A quick look on line and it remains unclear. 

I presume that the musical influence flowed south from Cuba, south from New York to Brazil in those early years of jazz, before Antonio Carlos Jobim and Joao Gilberto reverse the tide in the other direction.  Did Brazilian music have much influence on the Caribbean or in the Jazz scene of the 40s? All this can be pursued when we land.  As, well as discerning what “minha” means in Portuguese.  ("my") The rest of the album has much more typically “Brazilian” sensibilities.  What is the name of that Joao Gilberto song where he ponders the happiness of the citizenry at Carnival, in spite of their poverty?  I dreamt of that song the other night and this reminds me of the trombone break in that song, as being some how quintessentially Carinval-esque.  (I just went through about 30 of his songs and came up short.  More on-line researching, some other time.)

[1] bēnzǒuxiānggào: to spread the news (idiom)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Entertainment Up Front

I needed the Mrs. to get me a ticket back up home and I could surmise from price on the receipt that it must have been a first class ticket.  That was sporting of her.  It’s not wildly more lucre for the two-hour flight concerned and it certainly is more civilized.  A window seat?  Sure, why not.  I won't be four knees away from the toilet.  Most importantly I can plug in.  Huge, this.  I had a charger crisis last night, which I only resolved shortly before my dash out to the airport.  I didn’t even think to ask if charging is a possibility.  Mid flight, mid China Daily, it struck me to raise the question with the Air China stewardess.  “Sure.  It’s right there.”   And, indeed, right beside my knee are two outlets.  This is an enormous convenience. 

Bayard Lancaster shares a last name with John of Gaunt and my stepdad.  A Philadelphia flautist and saxophonist born in 1942 I have his provocatively titled, 1968 album, “It’s Not Up to Us” sounding out here now at twenty-thousand feet.  On the cover, he’s looking down from a flight of stairs that he is mid-way up the ascent of.  His face is obscured.  I’ve probably heard him before as he plays with Sun Ra, and McCoy Tyner during years I am familiar with.  The title song sounds reassuring and that’s the way I feel, with unlimited electricity at my disposal, the little red battery light in my iPhone has now turned to green.  Mr. Lancaster died the year before last at the age of 72, in a hospice in Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania.

On the screen the first class in-flight entertainment experience is, predictably, no better than what plebs like me, usually endure back in the holding pen. I can cut off the sound but not the ubiquitous screen views. A middle aged Chinese gent in a white collared short-sleeved shirt is leading people through the forest.  Next thing you know, he has a plucked a round green gourd.  Cut to a scene of him impaling it.  What’s going on? I am curious.  Of course, it is the traditional dance of a national minority tribe.  Now dozens of pre pubescent, seemingly national minority-esque young girls are dancing about on stage with uniform green gourds all stuck on ticks.  Who decided this is entertainment?

Now it is time for aspriational ads.  Wow, that car is potent.  Look how it turns and stops just the way the driver wants.  I believe it comes with the girl in the passenger seat, who is very excited to be there.  And now its time for a lengthy segment, shot close up, capturing a bulldog, on a skateboard. This is just remarkable.  I’m fascinated, as he’s gotten off, and then, seemingly of his own free will, the bulldog is back on the skateboard again. 

Pity that we can’t hear the discussion, the passion and the fatigue, in the Air China in-flight-entertainment cutting floor.  Who is the man, I can only imagine it is a “man” who says:  “Yes, we want to have that clip of the chimpanzee pushing a button to receive a peanut.  That is what the modern Chinese traveler needs to unwind.  I hereby decree this is the appropriate level of humor for the modern Chinese traveler.  When contemporary Chinese people take to the skies, on the nation’s flagship carrier, they will, on average, chuckle merrily if they can watch foreigners being tricked by predictable gags where people hide inside of mail boxes and throw the letters back out after they are deposited. 

But wait, it’s only a three-minute clip and now it is time for another ad.  Yes-siree.  The wealthy China man has tipped a boy hawking newspapers and is now in control of a vast business, making decisions for many people.  That’s why he is wearing this particular watch.  How many ads do you need, how many do you think you can get away with, broadcasting on what should be your in-flight “entertainment”?  Does anyone complain?   How long before the great Chinese nation asserts itself that ads are annoying and an ad free environment is a mark of distinction?  How long before people demand that this nonsense be taken from their eyes, in a setting where they have already paid for the so-called “entertainment?”

At least the great Chinese nation is rising up around the distortion of history.  My China Daily informs me in their section “From The Chinese Press” that “TV series on “China’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1937-45) that have flooded television channels are being criticized for their absurdity.”  This is fabulous to hear.  Apparently the shows, which I’ve complained of before, for their hate mongering, are easy to air as they always get a thumbs-up from censors and hence, provide a crowded field in which ever younger, sexier Chinese girls defeat ever larger squadrons of evil Japanese singlehandedly. The article also mentioned a brave Whitey-Ford-like Chinese solider who is seen to take out a Japanese plane with a grenade into the air.  Articles explaining ordinary people’s frustration about advertisements, or in-flight entertainment can’t be far off.  A self deprecating China’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1937-45) spoof however, may take time.

I ordered the chicken.  I was offered chicken or pork, the options seemingly no different from the folks in economy.  But this chicken was served with sea slugs, which hadn’t been pitched to me, during the initial inquiry.  I considered the curled up rolls of sea slugs.  I considered the cabbage and the chicken and dove in to those bits.  I avoided the slugs. I could imagine what they tasted like and I figured that Air China’s effort with the slugs would only be so remarkable.  If you’re going to have sea slugs, you presumably want them from some restaurant that specializes in things like deep-sea mollusks and where, minutes before they were sucking the wall of some aerated aquarium.  Right?   The pieces of fruit were fresh. 

Now the clouds are rising toward me as we descend.  Within twenty-five minutes or so I’ll be beneath them, on the ground in Beijing, considering where it is the sun has slumped off to.  I am heading straight out to the Starbucks in the arrival hall for as with the slugs, I avoided the Air China first class coffee.  It wasn’t 酒池肉林[1], but at least no one reclined his or her seat back into my face.  At least my computer is now at 52% charged.  I’ve some things accomplished on this flight and I must thank my wife, for this kindness. 

[1] Jiǔchíròulín: lakes of wine and forests of meat (idiom); debauchery / sumptuous entertainment