“Muscat of Alexandria,” “La Porte d’Enfer,” “Omar Khyamm’s Restaurant in the Sequoia Hotel”

Photo by David Köhler on Unsplash

Muscat of Alexandria

On Temperance Avenue,

Southeast of the city of Fowler,

Is a ten-acre vineyard

Planted to Muscat of Alexandria vines,

In the true sense of the old world.

Near the railroad tracks and old highway,

Raisin packing, and packaging plants,

And their chain-link fences.

Hundreds of solitary vines

Over one-hundred years old,

Judging by the size of the trunks.

Severely spur-pruned canes,

Fingers on arms grasping for the sky.

No stakes, no trellis’, no wires;

Only dark, ragged growth

Standing unaided on sandy loam.

A farmer’s dream, attaining

The largest crop of Muscat grapes

Of the best fruit; large-size obovoid,

With aromatic, scraggly berries,

Grayish-brown, and very meaty

With a strong flavor,

A tough skin and two big seeds.

Juicy, but not watery.

A contrast to the carpet

Of Thompson Seedless vineyards

Across the road, and spread out

Halfway to the Sierras’.

Muscat grapes first appeared

In California in 1856, imported

By a seed company in Sacramento

From North Africa by way of Spain,

For the missions and commerce.

Vines are pruned by late February,

Workers put away their tools,

The Malaga-Maid pruning-shears,

Their blades dipped in machine oil.

Next year, the ten-acres

Of ancient vines could be pulled out.

The land surveyed for streets,

Sidewalks, fire-hydrants,

And building lots of a subdivision

With houses that look the same,

Or a local shopping center

And associated strip-mall.

La Porte d’Enfer

Abandon every hope, who enter here.”

Canto III, Dante’s Inferno.

Auguste Rodin Museum,

At the Hotel Biron,

The flowers in the Jardin d’Orphée

And the Jardin des Sources,

Are washed in sunlight

On a Friday in Central Paris,

After the snowfall on New Year’s Day.

Northeast of the estate

Near Rue de Varenne,

In shadows of the Hôtel de Broglie,

The Galerie des Marbres,

Housing two massive bronze doors

Overwhelming in size.

Commissioned in 1880

By the Directorate Of Fine Arts,

As the main entrance

For the Decorative Arts Museum

That was never built.

The defining work of A. Rodin,

Inspired by L. Ghiberti’s

Gates of Paradise, in Florence,

Depicting the Old Testament.

The theme for the doors

Was left to Rodin, and became

Depictions from Dante’s Inferno.

The Nine Circles of Hell:

Limbo, Lust, Gluttony,

Greed, Wrath, Heresy,

Violence, Fraud and Treachery.

Suffering from above, Three Shades,

The souls of the damned,

Like figures gathered together

With their heads hung low.

From the Seventh Circle of Hell,

The Three Sinners, (Violence,

against others, self, and nature.)

Above the colossal doors, the Poet

(modeled after The Thinker)

Looking down on the Inferno,

Pondering Adam’s ruin of man.

One-hundred-eighty tormented figures,

A chaotic population in agony,

Trapped in ever-lasting struggle

To free themselves from damnation.

The Fortune Tellers

Have their heads on backwards.

Adam and Eve, from Paradiso,

Are rescued from eternal damnation

By Christ on Holy Saturday

In the Harrowing Hell.

Ugolino’s poor offspring

Are dead from starvation.

Contorted figures and fragments

Swirling in chaos, eaten by passions.

A woman rests on her knees,

Back arched, left arm covers

Her eyes, gushing endless tears.

Wailing and blasphemy of the damned,

Punished for an eternity

In a fashion fitting their crime.

Twisted postures of caryatids

Convey a greater sense of tragedy,

There is no hope even in death.

Anguished screams of the uncommitted,

And the opportunists

Concerned only with themselves.

The Rebellion of the Angels

In heaven, led by Archangel Michael,

Against the demonic dragon

And his fellow fallen angels

Who led the world astray.

A portal to the underworld

From the earth’s surface.

Omar Khyamm’s Restaurant in the Sequoia Hotel

“The Food of Good Quality” circa 1935.

Summer nights you were out for a walk

Near the courthouse and surrounding park,

In a condition of late-night heat.

Arriving at the double door

From the sidewalk on Van Ness Avenue

Located in the Sequoia Hotel,

Is Omar Khayyam’s Restaurant,

A popular eating place with Fresno diners

And open this time of night.

Atmosphere, at the restaurant

–a favorite in the valley–

Is that of the thoughts

Of the great thinker, artist,

Connoisseur of food and wine,

Persian poet, Omar Khayyam.

Verse from The Rubaiyat, by the poet,

Is a mural on the wall over the bar

In a decorative motif of the artistry

Of ancient Persia and Armenia.

A book of verse

underneath the bough/a jug of wine,

a loaf of bread and thou.”

The restaurant advertised

As being of distinctive character

With an enviable reputation,

Far beyond the confines

Of the San Joaquin Valley.

Toward the rear of the restaurant

Are booths with curtains,

For private and secret rendezvous,

Fourteen swivel chairs at the counter.

The Persian poet would find delight

In the cocktail lounge,

An inlaid portrait of himself

Placed at the entrance floor,

Adjoining part of the restaurant.

And the renovated hotel lounge,

A reception-room with a hostess

For waiting patrons of the restaurant.

Downstairs from the hotel lobby

Is the elaborate Persian Room night club

And cocktail lounge, with middle-eastern décor,

Formerly Anoush’s Turkish Bath.

A stairway from the front sidewalk

Was the not-so-secret special entry

To the downstairs banquet room,

With dining, dancing, and special events.

Playing on the stage tonight:

Selections by The Four Rhumba Kings,

Of San Francisco, and John Menan’s

Orchestra of Fresno.

In Omar Khayyam’s Restaurant

Tables are set with elaborate plates

For dining on extravagant meals,

Abalone steak to Shish Kebab

De Luxe, with pilaf.

In the kitchen, on the special broiler,

Charcoal glows with brilliance

Over which the meat is cooked,

Lamb Chops, Veal, and Squab.

An automatic fryer for fresh Halibut,

Sweetbreads a la Omar, on the electric grill.

Air conditioning,

To insure proper temperatures

No matter what the outside conditions.

About the Author

Stephen Barile

Stephen Barile, a Fresno, California native, educated in the public schools, attended Fresno City College, Fresno Pacific University, and California State University, Fresno. His poems have appeared in numerous publications, in both print and on-line. Stephen Barile taught writing at Madera College, and CSU Fresno. He lives in Fresno, CA.

Read more work by Stephen Barile.