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.


Monday, May 30, 2016

Baskets and Caskets


       I generally do not spend too much time watching television, for despite nearly 400 channels from which to make a selection, I seldom find an engaging program. However, not too long ago, I started watching Basketsa television show of the dark comedy genre starring Zack Galifianakis as a hopelessly misguided clown by the name Chip Baskets. He incidentally also plays his twin brother, Dale, and I'm not sure if that is supposed to be an allusion to the Disney cartoon chipmunks or perhaps more ironically the male dancers.  In any event, the program is at once hilarious and tragic.  Chip's lifelong ambition is to become a classically trained clown and he heads to France to attend a prestigious clown school (only in France would one find such a thing.)  He falls hopelessly in love with a French girl who is only mildly amused by his adoration.  He proposes to marry her, and she agrees but only to gain entry into the United States.  When their "relationship" falls apart as most seem to do, she tells him, "Chip, bad beginnings make for bad endings."   I thought to myself how truly that statement exemplifies some relationships and in my research discovered that this was actually a quote from Euripides, one of the great ancient Greek tragedians.  Then it occurred me that this was the whole basis of the show.  I cannot say with any degree of certainty whether the creators of the show had this in mind, but the coincidence would be too uncanny.  And so the ancient tradition of Greek tragedy and comedy lives on in the form of Baskets the clown. 


       There is something about the combination of humor and tragedy that piques my interest...perhaps it is the irony.  The seminal novel by William Faulkner which epitomizes this best is As I Lay Dying.  I consider this to be his greatest work for several reasons.  For instance, while others such as Joyce developed the stream of consciousness style of writing, it was Faulkner who produced this tour de force in writing by producing this novel written in 59 chapters, each one written from the perspective of one of the 15 characters in the book.  But it is mostly for the sheer indulgence of the dark comedy genre that I truly enjoy this novel.  I suppose the most graphic example of this is what happens to Addie Bundren's corpse when she dies. She is placed in the casket upside down, and when they drill air holes in the bottom of the casket, they end up drilling holes in her face.  How funny is that?  Another term for this type of novel is an "ironic quest" in contrast to a typical literary quest such as in Homer's Odyssey.  Whereas the classic literary quest pits a heroic character against a series of obstacles needed to be overcome generally resulting in a "good ending", the ironic quest is a story of miscreant characters on an ill conceived journey which bears no fruit, and thus a "bad ending."  William Faulkner was a great admirer of the Odyssey and the title of As I Lay Dying was actually taken from one of his favorite speeches in it.  The character Odysseus, upon meeting Agamémnon in the Underworld, is told how he was murdered by his treacherous wife who would not even close his eyes as he was dying.  The line referred to is: "As I lay dying, the woman with the dog's eyes would not close my eyes as I descended into Hades." Faulkner turned it around a bit in his novel in terms of gender reversal, but the eyes still play a central role.  Like Chip Baskets, the saga of the Bundren family plays out as they embark on a journey from bad beginnings to bad endings.


      Euripides was born in Athens 480 BC (that's Before Christ- not Before Common Era as those authors of Newspeak would have us unremember).  He was one of the three great tragedians, the others being Aeschylus and Sophocles.  Unfortunately for Euripides and his colleagues, the Martini was not yet created, but if it was, I think they would have appreciated for what it is-a libation with both Apollonian and Dionysian elements, this having been previously described in Aristotle, Tragedy, and the Martini.  To think that all this tragic theory has its roots more than 2000 years ago in a once great empire, now a diminutive country which today is dawdling along with social unrest due largely to economic disaster from failed social policies.   What a difference a few millennia make.  

If I may borrow from Euripides, 
Remember to begin your Martini well 
So as to make a good ending.  

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Pink Jerseys and Elephants

Pink Jerseys

      That time of the year has come when the vibrant country of Italy is blanketed in the color pink for three weeks as the madness that is the Giro d'Italia courses through her ever varying and alluring terrain. The clothes are pink, the fountains turn pink, and even a few sheep in the lea are dyed pink in honor of the Giro.  Aside from the beauty of the landscape and the podium girls, that which fascinates me most about this race is the passion of the fans and the unpredictability of the racing.  For as sure as the sun will rise in the east, something improbable will occur in the 3 weeks of the Giro that will never occur at the Tour de France or Vuelta e Espana.  I have watched this, my favorite race, for a number of years before my curiosity was piqued enough to stir me to an investigation of the reason for the unique color choice of the Giro.  Most of the great cycling races were staged (pardon the pun) as an attempt to sell newspapers back in the day, and the Giro was no exception.  Promoted by the La Gazzetta dello Sport, the premier sporting newspaper of the country, the inaugural race was held in 1909.  La Gazzetta was printed on, you guessed it, pink paper, and thus we have our rationale for la maglia rosa, or pink leader's jersey of the Giro d'Italia.  


      As has been the recent trend of starting grand tours in foreign lands, the grand partenza for this year's edition of the Giro is none other than the Netherlands, which if you read this blog with any frequency, you'll recognize as the birthplace of gin.  It would seem that there is a pleasing commingling with gin to nearly everything which I enjoy musing about-perhaps that is just me.  I think the Dutch were just as pleased when local Tom Dumoulin took the opening time trial to don la maglia rosa.  It would appear that Dumoulin and I are somewhat opposites, as he actually wanted to go to medical school, but was not accepted and ended up becoming a professional cyclist.  I, on the other hand, like to fantasize about becoming a professional cyclist, but not having sufficient talent, settled on a career in medicine.    A professional cyclist on the Pro Tour seems like an odd second choice of professions for Dumoulin, but he'll certainly make a lot more money on la bicicletta.  A truly amazing individual is Eric Heiden of US speed skating fame who accomplished both feats.  Following a spectacularly successful speed skating career, which is also a Dutch national pastime, he entered the realm of pro cycling, riding for the 7 Eleven team and racing the Giro in 1985.  After his sporting career, he actually went to medical school and became an orthopedic surgeon.  

Phantom Pachyderms

       Pink jerseys are one thing, but pink elephants are an entirely different thing indeed.  Both short and long term sequelae of alcohol consumption have both been associated with the euphemism  "seeing pink elephants."  The modern adage "everything in moderation" has it's roots in ancient times.  The saying mhden agan (meden agan) was inscribed on the temple of Apollo at Delphi. It means "nothing in excess".  In Aristotle's Rhetoric it is attributed to Chilo, one of the Seven Sages of ancient Greece.  Pertaining to alcohol, the implications are far too obvious.  Short term is the dreaded hangover, due in large part to the accumulation of byproducts of alcohol detoxification by the body.  Long term is the withdrawal from the state of alcohol dependence and the onset of Delerium Tremens.  And so enjoy your Martini responsibly for it is a potent libation to be savored, and not overdone.  

And so I sit back each night and watch my recorded Giro episode, sipping a martini, preferring the fight for the pink jersey over the appearance of pink elephants.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Divine Justice Italian Style

 Roman Crime

      I am guessing that the scene portrayed in the accompanying photograph will not be playing itself out in Italy any time in the near future.  Recently, the Supreme Court of Cassation (which I presume is the Italian equivalent of the US Supreme Court) overturned a theft conviction against Roman Ostriakov, a homeless Ukranian man, who pilfered some cheese and sausage from a supermarket in order to assuage his hunger. The sentence imposed by the lower court included 6 months in prison and a 100 Euro fine.  Now if he couldn't pay the $5 for the sausage and cheese, I fail to understand the reasoning of the court in levying a fine 20 times what he couldn't pay in the first place. That being said, at least the six months in jail would provide him with three square meals a day.  In overturning the decision, the judges wrote: 

"The condition of the defendant and the circumstances in which the merchandise theft took place prove that he took possession of that small amount of food in the face of the immediate and essential need for nourishment, acting therefore in a state of need."

“For the judges, the right to survival has prevailed over the right to property,” Massimo Gramellini, an editor at La Stampa newspaper, wrote in an opinion column, adding the court’s judgment “reminds everyone that in a civilized country, not even the worst of men should starve”.

But, perhaps it was the ghost of Victor Hugo sitting in on the Supreme Court of Cassation which turned the tide of this case in favor of this hungry homeless man.   

The Wretched

      I'm sure that there are many Roman Ostriakovs out there in the world, and yet there was the singular fictional character Jean Valjean, who in pilfering that loaf of pane to save his sister and her family from hunger, set off a chain of events which tested the mettle of this heroic character.  But, unlike Roman, Jean Valjean suffered mightily, granted in a fictional sense, against both his conscience and his nemesis. Endlessly pursued by the fanatically lawful Inspector Javert, Jean Valjean was tormented by his unlawful choices and conversely, Javert was ultimately unable to reconcile his belief and duty to the law in the face of the goodness and mercy exhibited by Valjean, leading him to take his own life by drowning in the Seine.  The problem which Hugo sets forth in the preface, he solves with the heroic character Jean Valjean. Hugo viewed the laws of man as a construct of civilization which may fail to acknowledge the divine in man:

"So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation, which, in the face of civilization, artificially creates hells on earth, and complicates a destiny that is divine with human fatality;..." 

And so, Hugo takes us on a 1500 page odyssey as his main character transcends the law of man with his ultimately divine moral "goodness."

As Victor Hugo wrote,

"The book which the reader has before him at this moment is, from one end to the other, in its entirety and details ... a progress from evil to good, from injustice to justice, from falsehood to truth, from night to day, from appetite to conscience, from corruption to life; from bestiality to duty, from hell to heaven, from nothingness to God. The starting point: matter, destination: the soul. The hydra at the beginning, the angel at the end."


      It is sad to say that in a world that has up to offer something so refined, elegant and sexy as the Martini, there continues to exist the dregs within society, whether of their own accord or not,who are unable to find the simple comfort of basic needs. The breadth of man's troubles lead some individuals down the wrong paths in life and civilization has imposed such laws, a framework if you will, in order to maintain that which is best for the common good.  And so the crime of stealing, for whatever reason, is punishable under the Common Law of man, which is derived in large part from Natural Law, which is, in philosophy, a system of right or justice held to be common to all humans and derived from nature rather than from the rules of society.   It is discoverable through reason and at least according to Aquinas, evidence of God as the ultimate source of good-which leads us back to the question of the divine justice.  It is all there in Les Miserables, it just requires a little thought and insight.  So did the Italian courts get it right? Did Hugo mete out divine justice to Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert accordingly?  

As we struggle to impose a common law of man which in reality is natural and divine, let us consider a Martini to ponder this.

                                     Uncle Val's Restorative Gin - Need I say more?
                                     Cheese stuffed olive- for poor Roman
                                     Thyme- Sweet Savory Time to consider our choices 

Judge for Yourself!