Friday, January 10, 2014

Let's have a chota peg ...

"Chota peg" is Hindustani, it seems, for little drink. When Georgie Pillson in Mapp and Lucia, acting as host at one of Lucia's dinner parties, offers Major Benjy a glass of port, Benjy twitches and replies "If it's all the same to you, I'd sooner have a chota peg." (He speaks Hindustani because he has served in India.) So here he means a cocktail -- certainly he can't be asking for a little drink of water or tea -- and he must mean, given his character development or lack of it, a whisky and soda.

I can tell you that for all my neophyte research into cocktails, I had never tried a simple whisky and soda until this week. I can also tell you that I highly recommend it. (A jigger of whisky over ice, topped with club soda and a garnish of some kind.) What nicer way to spend a July afternoon than with a chota peg and a book on the porch?
 There are always a thousand hopes 
For a thousand mortals, and some 
Hopes are crowned with success; 
Others run into sand. 
To me the one who is lucky 
Is he who day by day lives happy.
The book on the purple table today is a collection, Three Plays of Euripides (tr. Paul Roche, 1974). If that great tragedian did not invent zombies in his The Bacchae (pronounced "bocky"), he came very close to it. Frenzied women go out into the mountains and catch and tear apart animals with their bare hands, in worship of Bacchus, the god of wine. They happen also to tear apart a man who spies on their doings; the unspooling of his fate gives us the plot of the play. It is while he is being driven mad by the god offstage, in preparation for his own journey to the mountains, that the chorus sings the lovely lines above.

When it is all over and the man is dead, his mother who is one of the Bacchae must be brought back to reality by a few gentle questions, from her own father, mind you -- first, about the sky ...
CADMUS: Turn your eyes first, please, to the skies up there. 
AGAVE: I am looking. And what am I supposed to see? 
CADMUS: Is it still the same -- or do you see some change? 
AGAVE: [Dreamily] It is lighter than before ... more luminous ....

Why this violence for the god of wine? Why, when the playwright also has the blind seer Tiresias say,
 ... mankind has two blessings: 
Demeter is the one, the goddess,
(Earth, that is -- call her what you will),
who keeps men alive with solid food;
the other is Semele's son,
who came afterward and matched her food with wine ....
As Mr. Wyse, another of the constant guests at Lucia's constant dinner parties, might sigh, "Answer comes there none."

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