Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 12 seconds.
I have lived a charmed life. By anyone’s standards, but certainly for someone who grew up in the poverty and illiteracy of Appalachia. My childhood was beyond poor. I remember having cowpeas and stale bread (we would have to scratch the mold off) for weeks on end and taking my third-hand rickety red wagon to fetch water from the pump down the street.
My growing up world had outhouses, coal stoves and coal oil lamps, one bedroom for all five of us, and jeans patched until you could no longer see the denim. I remember getting my first job at age twelve and making $1.35 an hour and thinking I was the wealthiest man on earth.
And now looking back over sixty years of life I realize why my friend Bob from Chicago says I have a golden horseshoe stuffed up my ass. I can barely swim yet I have snorkeled the great barrier reef in Australia, swam with manatees in Crystal River, Florida, and was dropped into the Alaskan wilderness by a bush plane and fished for silver salmon in the wilds of Kodiak Island with only a tent and a raft. My tent has been torn to pieces by a marauding grizzly high up in the Tetons, and I’ve had numerous close encounters with Kodiak brown bears (one of the two largest bears in the world). I have completed solo summits of three of the highest and most rugged mountains in America. I have rock climbed, ran twenty-four full marathons, hiked over 300 miles of the Appalachian Trail, and wandered alone lost through streets filled with Al-Queda operatives north of Afghanistan.
I have dined overlooking the Seine and Notre Dame in Paris at the iconic Tour d’Argent serving food since 1582, and explored the deserted and dark back alleyways of Venice and happened onto the Cantina Do Mori, the oldest operating wine pub since 1462. I have savored Beluga caviar and Russian vodka at Twelve Chimneys high in the Tien Shan mountain range in Central Asia—an evening that could have come from the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I’ve had Moreton Bay Bugs, a seafood delicacy in Melbourne, Australia, and drank fermented mare’s milk (Kumis) in a yurt along the Silk Road in Kyrgyzstan.
I have explored stunning underwater caves in Bermuda, cavorted in my birthday suit on the nude party beaches of Mykonos, Greece; ogled the impossibly beautiful and topless women on Manly Beach in Sydney, Australia, and marveled at the extravagant wealth and beauty while strolling the beachfront La Croisette promenade on the French Riviera in Cannes.
In the Caribbean, I have consumed dorade grilée in Martinique, jerk chicken in Jamaica, kallaloo in the Virgin Islands, and hatch green chile empanadas on Cinco de Mayo in Cancun, Mexico. Not to mention presa ibérica in Barcelona, Spain; Guinness beef and onion Stew in Oxford, England; braised elk in Sooke, British Columbia; duck tongue in Aspen, Colorado; calf heart in Napa, California; lavender foie gras on Little Palm Island in the Florida Keys; ribollita in Rome, bistecca alla Fiorentina in Tuscany, Antipasto Toscano in Florence, and pasta with fresh black truffles in Asolo, Italy.
I have savored Nebbiolo and Barolo wines in Piemonte; Sangiovese, Chianti, and Super Tuscans in Montepulciano; Pinot Grigio in Cinque Terra; Amarone in Venice; and aperitifs at the Hotel Splendido terrace overlooking Portofino; all in Italy. VIP tastings of Cabernets in the caves of Napa; Shiraz in Australia; Mourvèdre and Rosé in the castles of Provence; and Pinot Noir in Washington. I have had Raki in Turkey, Ouzo in Greece, and Grappa in Italy. I have sipped a 1975 Château d’Yquem, arguably the second greatest vintage of the most exceptional wine in the world; a 1990 Massetto, Bolgheri’s priceless cru wine; and a very rare 1979 Yverdon Cabernet.
I could go on and on. Yes, I have lived a charmed life.
But there is more. You will not believe the five most enchanting places of my life. I’ll tell you about them tomorrow here.