Siblings Bond Through Various Writing Assignments
Have Brother, Will Travel
Through 10 years of journalism, siblings learn to appreciate each other (almost) as much as their subjects
Photos by Justin Nurin
You wouldn’t call the relationship between my brother Justin and me “sibling rivalry,” exactly. With almost six years between us and no other kids at home, we never fought for clothes, attention or time in the bathroom. Still, as adults, we can find it uncomfortable to spend more than a few hours together, owing to the fact that I consider his loud, incessant talking intolerable and he has no problem calling me selfish and demanding in front of strangers and friends.
But something changes when I bring him on my writing assignments. Though our bossy older sister/compliant little brother dynamics don’t get entirely erased, our age difference seems to flatten as he demonstrates what an ideal travel buddy and reporting assistant he can be.
This picture first came into focus in the northwestern Argentine province of Salta, when we broke off from a family trip to visit a bunch of wineries high in the Andes for a magazine story I was planning to write about Torrontés, a white wine that was starting to show up on American tables and shelves. It would be the breakthrough story of my career. As a relatively green freelance drinking and dining journalist in 2006, I reveled in the opportunity to introduce readers of what I hoped would be a national publication to an alternative to Malbec, produced in the southern Argentine province of Mendoza.
Justin and I spent about 15 hours being chauffeured through the mountainous Cafayate vinicultural region by a driver I’d hastily hired in town that morning. I’m pretty sure I paid a hefty premium to take us to my appointments on what, unbeknownst to me, was some sort of holiday. Several hundred American dollars richer, our driver regaled us with history and culture as he drove us up, up, up through a wildly diverse landscape that resembled a forest, jungle, tundra and rock planet at each turn. Fortunately, my brother and I are passably fluent in Spanish; Justin—garrulous as he is—kept the conversation flowing while I stared out the window and listened.
Ten years on, three memories from our Salta trip stand out. First: Interviewing the wife of a highly regarded winemaker under a tree at his private home vineyard overlooking the Calchaquíes Valley, where we sipped his wine and nibbled on cheese and fresh tomatoes from the garden. Second: Marveling at empty cases of wine—some bright, cartoonish and carrying the name Quara, others cream-colored, sedate and marked as Lavaque—destined for shipping from the same Bodega Felix Lavaque winery but labeled as different brands for different destinations and price points. I still see Quara on occasion and think back to that tasting room in a 19th-century estate, where the head of sales explained the nuances as he guided me, the travel writer, and Justin, the assistant, through samples of every product made to fill those boxes.
We’ll get to the third memory in a minute.
Now it’s around 2013. Justin is driving me four hours from my grandmother’s house near the east coast of Florida to the Tampa area, where he’s booked a gig playing trumpet. After 20 minutes in the car, I’ve had enough of his lame stories. I turn on the radio. I pull out my laptop and tell him I have to work. Finally, I lie that I’m tired and fall asleep for the rest of the ride, opening my eyes only when he wakes me to admire an alligator on Alligator Alley. He still gets on my case about treating him like a hired set of wheels, but here’s something he doesn’t know … or didn’t, until now. Justin, my dear, I took a nap because I needed a break from your voice.
I know, I can be a jerk—and Justin can be a patient guide, driver and social lubricant. Not only does he take me to some locals-only Cuban coffee, cigar and sandwich shops in Miami and Tampa where they greet him by name and give me stories to brag about back home, but he also drives me an extra hour to Tarpon Springs, where we stop in to see brewing legend Bob Sylvester at St. Somewhere Brewing.
We find Bob in his cramped office and proceed—well, Justin does, anyway—to banter with him about music, local hideouts for rich people and some finer points of Belgian brewing that I don’t expect Justin to know. Even though Bob and I are acquaintances, I sit there curiously intimidated, unable to find intelligent words to compliment his beer. The next time I see him, I apologize for Justin’s babbling. Instead of saying, “It’s okay,” he answers, “Are you kidding? It was fun. Your brother knows a lot.”
Salta, memory number three: There’s one particularly moving image that stays in clear focus, of my 25-year-old brother snapping picture after picture after picture, as I’d asked him to do. Justin sacrificing bites of cheese to capture a certain light on the vines. Justin working every conceivable angle on a cluster of fat grapes in the field. (He’ll proudly tell you one of them has lasted as Wikipedia’s primary Torrontés illustration.) Justin perfectly posing a wine glass in a medieval- style archway so the sun pours through the liquid and illuminates a vineyard behind it.
Tampa Bay, February 2016. Justin is driving me again. We’re nearing the end of a 10-day marathon journey that has us spending a few days with Grandma Ida then traversing the Everglades in his rental car. He’s got some gigs to play and, now that I’m the beer and spirits contributor to Forbes.com, I’ve lined up a series of interviews at cult breweries like Cigar City.
Do I drag that kid around! From Funky Buddha Brewing on the east coast to 7venth Sun on the west, he tags along relentlessly, serving as hotel booker, chauffeur, photographer, drinking buddy, asker of shockingly profound beer questions. And friend. We don’t argue once. We rarely do when we travel.
My Salta story didn’t end up being my big break. It never even got published.
Back home, I’d sold the idea to an editor of a Philadelphia-based website about intellectual eating and drinking. After sweating for days over writing, rewriting, starting over, writing and rewriting again, I submitted my masterpiece just before deadline. The editor ignored me. When I finally got him on the phone weeks later, he informed me the site was shutting down. No publication, no payment, no kill fee.
I tried to sell it elsewhere with no luck for this newbie. A decade later, I still think of the story with regret. Who knows how much further along my career would be if I’d published an international travel story back then? Did the people who spent hours with me ever wonder what came of it? Did I waste everyone’s time and my money?
Through the years, I’ve frequently called my brother and asked him to send me pictures from our travels, invariably needing them right that second for some assignment or another. He puts his leisure hours aside to sort and send my requests.
He’s doing that now, as I type this, though this time it’s more personal. Instead of instantaneously zapping them into an email or Dropbox, he’s searching through some ancient hard drive for files he saved ten years ago, when he was studying trumpet performance and I was expectantly picturing my byline on an international wine story that never came to fruition—until this essay in Edible Jersey.
Finally, our hard work and indelible memories will—literally—see the light of day. My brother still thinks I’m bitchy, just as I think he’s annoying. But the bond we forged during that journey does seem to be aging, just like, well… just like fine wine.