Martini Quotes

"I'm not talking a cup of cheap gin splashed over an ice cube.

I'm talking satin, fire and ice; Fred Astaire in a glass; surgical cleanliness, insight.. comfort; redemption and absolution. I'm talking MARTINI.


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Dichotomies and Choices


      Politics is a difficult topic to write about in the present time as there is so much acrimonious debate in the political arena. Most people in the US align themselves with a political party, either Republican or Democrat, and entrench themselves in their respective positions. Yes, there are a few green party and libertarians out there, but the majority are bent on identifying with the conservative or liberal ideology associated with their party.  While there is no perfect fit, we are more than willing to shoehorn ourselves into a category.  So, what is really at the nature of the rift between republicans and democrats?  And is it real, or maintained and promulgated by the political leaders to establish their respective constituency?  Some can't believe that any intelligent person could be anything but a conservative.  After all, one of the great leaders of the past century, Winston Churchill, famously remarked,"Show me a young Conservative and I'll show you someone with no heart. Show me an old Liberal and I'll show you someone with no brains." There is actually some debate as to whether Churchill  actually stated this, which is unfortunate because it is such a good line.  In any event, I have long since given up the idea that intelligence factors into the equation.  One's political affiliation seems to be a much more guttural inclination. 

Good vs. Evil

       I think perhaps that what is really at the heart of the matter is whether you believe in man's capacity for good or his predilection toward evil.  Here we delve into faith a bit, but even atheists attend the political process. Therefore, to clarify, the belief I speak of may be attributed more to the inner workings of man's thoughts rather than an absolute good/evil embodied as an extrinsic force, or God. In deference to the liberal crowd then, this should provide for an all inclusive discussion.  Is man basically good and capable of establishing a social contract to maintain and interact with society yet open to sin as espoused by John Locke, or alternatively is man basically born to wretchedness and sin, needful of active regulation to maintain his status within a society and political system as proposed by Thomas Hobbes.  I think that it is important to remember that the tenet of a representative democracy is not the right of everyone to vote, but the engagement of an informed voter who has the capacity and thoughtfulness to understand the issues affecting the society and government's role in said issues.  Some of the forefathers of this great nation initially had in place certain rules controlling the right to vote.  Among these were that only landowners possessed the right to vote.  Considered today, perhaps that may not be practical, but the concept behind that rule is, I believe, that it is the stakeholders of this nation which should determine the direction which we are to take.  While the provision of land ownership may be overly burdensome, surely we must consider who has the vested interests of the country in mind when we consider the political process.  And while the irony of Hobbes and Locke as it relates to our modern definitions of conservative and liberal thought may be lost on more than a few, I think that maybe the understanding of this statement should be in itself a prerequisite to the ability to vote, for the dichotomies of seventeenth century political theory persist to this day.


      Let me introduce this to the debate, the bell shaped curve.  Many characteristics and/or traits in biologic systems naturally distribute along this curve when plotted out. Applied to human social ethics, we could place on one end of the spectrum the truly evil people of the world such as Hitler while the other end of the spectrum would be occupied by the saints like Mother Theresa. Most of us lie somewhere in between-not yet teetering on the edge of entering the ninth circle of the Dante's Inferno, and not quite arrived in the heavenly realm of Paradiso, but perhaps wandering the mountains of Purgaturio for a time.  So, maybe it is not whether we are more good or evil leaning, but the choices we make which define our character.  All of us are  tempted toward what we know to be wrong, but what response do we project toward that temptation.  Do we recognize the seven deadly sins and rise above them or give in to them?  Therein lies the struggle between good and evil.  It seems easy enough, but it is a truly difficult thing for some. Without inflecting too much of my personal beliefs, I would like to introduce the Examen, a daily practice of prayer from Saint Ignatius.  

1. Become aware of God’s presence. 
2. Review the day with gratitude. 
3. Pay attention to your emotions. 
4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it. 
5. Look toward tomorrow.

Regardless of your personal beliefs, this is basically a reflection on the day's events, a way of looking at them in a spiritual light and projecting a positive outlook.


      Now when it comes to the choice of gin vs vodka martini,  nothing could be less ambiguous. The Martini is made with gin and vermouth-period.  If you place vodka in a glass and mix it with vermouth, I'm not sure what it is you've made, but it is most definitely not a Martini!  I would be happy to debate the issue with anyone willing to expose their lack of knowledge in this area.

When it comes to politics, exercise your right to choose by casting your vote in a conscientious and thoughtful manner, but when it comes to the Martini, it is Gin and Gin only.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Green Fairy

The Spirit

      While surveying the shelves at the liquor store in anticipation of my New Year's Eve celebration, my eye was drawn to a rather distinctive green bottle which turned out to be Absinthe.  I had known of it's ban in the past and was unaware that it was currently available.  Absinthe has always had a mystique about it, drawn perhaps from it's purported hallucinogenic effects, it's Bohemian artist ties, and the aura of it's felonious past. The allure of what is referred to as "la fée verte" (the green fairy) is strong, rife with a storied past which to me is the sine qua non of a good "spiritual" experience.   And so, I decided to give it a try in the spirit (pardon the pun) of the New Year.
      Despite the licorice taste, it has little else in common with the liqueurs such as anisette, ouzo, etc. In fact, Absinthe is not traditionally bottled with added sugar and as such is truly a spirit and not a liqueur.  In fact, the production of Absinthe most resembles Gin in that it is an alcohol base with botanical flavorings.  However, Absinthe is distilled to very high levels of alcohol varying from 45% to 74%, the latter being the one I chose to sample.  And so I sip the past as I toast to the New Year.

The History

      Absinthe's past draws many parallels to the history of Gin, my favorite spirit.  Both are essentially herbal in nature, both spirits were given in the military and both were banned for their alleged ill effects on the populace.  Absinthe was given to French troops back in the 1800's as a malaria preventive just as gin was used in the British Navy, mixed with lime to prevent scurvy and tonic(quinine) to prevent malaria.  And, just as the British troops brought back Genever from the Lowland wars, the French troops returned home with their taste for Absinthe.  By the mid 1800's, Absinthe was becoming increasingly popular, so much so, that the hour of 5 p.m. was called l'heure verte ("the green hour") as cafes and restaurants filled with people anxious for a taste of the green fairy.  A conservative backlash, probably with more than a little assistance from the wine industry, vilified Absinthe attributing all sorts of criminal activity to it. In a vitriol against it, a vocal opponent stated:

"Absinthe makes you crazy and criminal, provokes epilepsy and tuberculosis, and has killed thousands of French people. It makes a ferocious beast of man, a martyr of woman, and a degenerate of the infant, it disorganizes and ruins the family and menaces the future of the country."

It was banned throughout much of Europe, Spain a glaring exception, around 1905 and here in the US in 1912.  And so, England had her Mother's Ruin and France had her Green Fairy

Death in the Afternoon

     Published in 1932,  this book provides Hemingway's explanation and description of the bullfight as seen through the eyes of an aficionado of the sport.  The title was subsequently given to an Absinthe cocktail recipe which he created:

"Pour one jigger absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly."

Hemingway saw the bullfight as a metaphor of the struggle between life and death and the artistry and tragedy embodied in it.  Facing death is somewhat life fulfilling for the matador, not so much for the bull.  I surmise that is what attracted Hemingway to the bullfights in the first place, and perhaps Absinthe as well.   The defining essence of Gin is juniper, while that of Absinthe is the botanical Wormweed.  The oil of the wormwood plant, Artemisia absinthium, is indeed toxic to us humans.  One of the main compounds contained in it is Thujone, once widely believed to be an active chemical in Absinthe responsible for it's professed hallucinogenic properties.  But Thujone concentration in Absinthe is strictly controlled by the various authorities, and recent research suggests however, that the effects of Thujone in Absinthe are exaggerated and in reality have no significant effect.  The sense of danger which led to its outlawing, and contributed to it's mystique has been largely eluted thanks to modern chemistry and distillation.   The thought of drinking yourself to death I suppose was hauntingly beguiling to some, but it would be the 138 proof alcohol that did you in, not the mysterious ingredients of Absinthe. 

The Process

There is nothing like having a drink that requires a process leading up to it's consumption.  The process is nearly as fulfilling as the spirit is delectable.   One could drink it neat, but at the rather high ABV, your night would be over rather quickly. Also, the mixing process is said to bring out the flavors better, so why cheat yourself of some extra flavor.  The more traditional or "French" method is to place a sugar cube in a slotted spoon over the glass.  Iced water is then slowly poured over the sugar cube allowing it to dissolve.  The mixing of the oils in the absinthe with the water turns the liquid to a pale green opaque color.  The sugar serves to balance the bitterness of the herbs while the water draws out the herbal notes while at the same time diluting the alcohol to a more bourgeois level.    

         Numerous artists and writers living in France in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were noted absinthe drinkers.  Painters Vincent van Gogh and Pablo Picasso, poets Verlaine and Rhimbaud, and more recent writers Oscar Wilde and Ernest Hemingway all partook of the green fairy.  Perhaps they were seeking the "lucid drunkeness" or the ability to drink oneself sober attributed to Absinthe.  Whatever the case, Absinthe has been the nectar of the muses for over a hundred years and it's legendary hallucinogenic and mind-altering effects remain entrenched in people's memory but perhaps are more nostalgic than real. 

Here is my Martini for tonight, minus the naked fairy in the glass.
The Absinthe Martini
                         1. one ounce Absinthe placed in the Martini glass
                         2. slowly pour in three to four ounces of ice cold gin
                         3. garnish as desired, green fairy optional

It seems so ironic to use Gin as a diluent.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Soul Mates


      While pondering thoughts on the soul the other day, my musings turned toward that which brings happiness and some semblance of meaning to life.  One comes across personal and particular things in life's sojourns that speak to the soul and bring about a certain calm and inner peace. For me, the days of my youth spent thigh deep in a cool, clear, smooth running stream, water pushing hard against my legs, have forged strong memories that remain a soothing balm for my soul.  Waters running inexorably downstream bounding over and around boulders, pausing temporarily at swirling eddies before continuing onward, journeying to their ultimate destination, seem a mirror of life itself.   The joys and tragedies are all there in the water, indeed, A River Runs Through It as penned so aptly by Norman Maclean.


     Cold and dry Martinis, too, are a source of enjoyment and indulgence for me. The very process of making a Martini well, is in a sense, therapeutic.  Just as the stream demands a particular approach, so it is with the Martini. One needs to carefully consider the choice of ingredients in the Martini, just as you must make the precise fly selection on the stream. Then that first frigid sip of your carefully crafted Martini brings forth a warmth that spreads over you and envelopes you in a blanket of contentment. Neither activity is to be overdone, mind you.  Too many Martinis is like over fishing the stream, which displays an immaturity and lack of appreciation for the finer things in life.


      Then there is the soulmate, this other person who entered into your life and became a part of you, becoming something that can never be removed without losing a part of yourself never to be completely replaced.  And while fishing and Martinis can be enjoyed as a solitary endeavor, the ability to share something special with that someone special is unique to human experience. Fishing and Martinis may speak to me, in a sense, but I cannot speak to them and have them listen and understand.  And although a Martini will never disagree with you, and trout waters will never burden you with a list of onerous chores, they can never really be a part of you in the same way that your soulmate can. To find another with whom you want to share your true self, your soul, exposing not just your strengths, but weaknesses as well, represents I think, an act of bravery of sorts, but the ability to put yourself aside, wanting only to think of your partner's interests, I think, is what essentially defines what it means to have found your soulmate.  

I carry these things with me or is it they that carry me?  Maybe what these things provide are just a respite from the sometimes all too turbulent modern world.  Maybe we all simply need to find a little "shelter from the storm." - Bob Dylan