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From Picasso to Diesels to wine


Yesterday, for my birthday, Marilyn and I went into the City to go to the Stein exhibit at SF MOMA. That’s the collection of Leo and Gertrude Stein and their family of Picassos, Matisses and lots of other radical painters from the early 20th century. It’s an impressive exhibition: the portrait of Gertrude Stein was worth the admission price, right next to Picasso’s Boy with a Horse. Those are two paintings I knew well as a young art student in New York City.

The museum was pretty crowded, and we couldn’t help but notice everybody seemed to be of a certain age. I remarked it was because people under 35 or 40 don’t care about Picasso and Matisse, but Marilyn corrected me by pointing out that, as it was a Tuesday afternoon, people were at work, and the only ones in the museum were retired (as she is). Afterward, we walked up to San Francisco Center and had lunch at Out the Door, and a fine lunch it was too.

Then it was across Market Street to the Diesel Store to buy myself a birthday present. Some years ago, when I met Tyler Florence for the first time, I liked his jeans and asked what brand they were. Diesels, he said. I always wanted a pair, but balked at the price. But hey, a birthday calls for something special. I personally hate clothes shopping. Loathe it, detest it. I’m hard to fit, and fussy, and from experience I know that I will frequently buy something just to get it over with, then hate the damn thing and never wear it again. I have two pairs of skinny jeans that were the result of a bad shopping experience; you will never, ever see me in skinny jeans, although I occasionally wear them in Oakland, where you can dress up in anything you want and nobody cares.

Anyway, I did finally buy my Diesels. I won’t say how much they were but they were a lot. Now, since this is a wine blog, it behooves me to find some way to segue into that topic, and here’s how I propose to do it. We talk about price tiers in wine, and how most of us drink inexpensive wine on an everyday basis, but then comes the weekend, or a special occasion, and we’re willing to pay more. That’s the way I felt about the Diesels. I don’t really know if they’re better than a pair of Levi’s. I don’t know if they look better to someone who sees me in them. I don’t know if Diesels are a total ripoff and we’re just paying extra for the delusion of quality, or sex appeal, or wearing the same pants that grace Tyler Florence’s ass, or what. It’s a very strange thing, how certain products appeal to us on an emotional level, in some primal instinctive manner. All I know is that I feel special when I wear those Diesels. They make me feel good. And that’s what buying nice things, including nice wine, is all about: feeling good.

Another segue: this ties into how the enjoyment of wine is about more than the wine’s basic hedonistic parameters. I’m soon to taste through a bunch of wines from the eastern part of Oakville, and most of the proprietors never submit their wines to blind tastings for critics like me, because they believe the wines can’t be properly appreciated under such circumstances, in a beauty contest flight against their peers. Instead, they believe their wines should be tasted openly, with knowledge and information about them, so they can be appreciated in the fullness of their existence. Now, we can argue back and forth about the best way to taste critically (and we have, many times), but certainly there’s a strong case to be made that a person’s feeling about a wine is better when he tastes it in that fullness of knowledge. In that case, the experience of drinking the wine touches on the same kind of intuitive, esthetic, emotional level as my experience of wearing those Diesel jeans. If I didn’t know they were Diesels–if you handed them to me, “blind,” and told me to put them on–I think I’d like them well enough, but maybe not so much as I do knowing they’re Diesels, that Tyler Florence wears Diesels, that the experience of shopping at the Diesel Store was fun, and knowing also that I paid an arm and a leg for them, so they must be worth it. In short, I feel good about the Diesels because there’s a narrative arc all around them, and traveling that arc makes me high.

So that’s how I get from Picasso to Diesels all the way around to wine!

  1. Sort of like how a wine always seems to taste better at a fantastic restaurant, or especially in the tasting room, surrounded by vineyards and the mystique of wine country. I’ve certainly opened those same wines (that were probably priced on-par with those Diesels) at home, and thought, “what the hell was the big deal with this mess?!” Emotional connection and sensory appeal is a bitch to us foolish retailers. Why else does Muzak actually sell scents to stores that they can pump into the retail space and heighten the buying experience… which likely leads to more sales?

    As for the jeans, I’m sticking with my $20 Levis, despite what they’re not doing for my underwhelming ass.

    Also, happy belated birthday!

  2. This post reminds me of that great documentary: Connections with James Burke, where he makes “connections” between seemingly unrelated things through historical events.

    But the last paragraph also touches upon a subject that I frequently bring up when discussing guitars on my blog,, and that is you can never truly appreciate the performance of an instrument until you’ve used it in a variety of settings.

  3. kelkeagy says:

    Steve: My husband never seems to appreciate this logic, but…. If you love those jeans and you wear them over the course of the next 5 years. They amortize out to maybe $1 for each wear (based on wearing them once every two weeks). And if they make you feel good while you’re wearing them and get your butt checked out in the process, then that is totally worth the price… no?

  4. Re the wine segue: Your comments recall(for me)Terry Theise’s coments in his book regarding connectedness and other mystical aspects of wine appreciation.

  5. I was in the Los Angeles Diesel Store over the weekend, and the largest size they had was 36 Waist.

    Not Gonna Happen.

    Like the Jeans tho.

  6. Kelly: Yes. But once every 2 weeks? I don’t think so. I usually wear my jeans every day for 2 weeks!

  7. kelkeagy says:

    Steve: Then they’re practically paying you to wear them!!

  8. Steve,

    Touche my friend (how do I add an accent on the “e” here?), and of course – Happy belated birthday! Excellent analogy to our little world of wine. Shouldn’t we be glad that at least we have a zillion choices that are produced locally rather than a few that are all made in Taiwan?

    P.S. Way to mention the Diesel’s on your blog, I think now that purchase qualifies as “research” and is fully tax deductible!

  9. Hi Steve, there’s a more immediate connection to be made. Diesel founder Renzo Rosso is a wine producer. His Cabernet-Merlot blend is appropriately called “Rosso di Rosso.”

  10. I’m not huge into Diesels like some, but I’ve noticed when I’m wearing them or drinking my favorite expensive wine, everything is a bit better around me. I think we associate the higher price, with higher value and trick ourselves into thinking everything is better, I love how our brains work!

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