Friday, January 10, 2014

Semi-navigable megalopolis -- or liberal hell-hole?

Don't worry. When I go off the [food and wine] reservation, you at least get a cocktail at the end.

Both "semi-navigable megalopolis" and "liberal hell-hole" are quotes from anonymous commenters on web-based articles about Chicago, articles more or less long lost in the ethernet. One commenter, years ago, explained that he had moved to some other, smaller city, because he could no longer stand coping with the semi-navigability; the other, not nearly so resourceful in his language, entertained a different set of grudges against the city -- taxes and violence topped the list -- and simply dismissed it all based on what political party he thought maintained the problems.

Perhaps hell-hole is a bit unfair. Michigan Avenue in daylight is very nice. Semi-navigable, I get. But both problems do add up, and one is struck by the occasional pithy wisdom of anonymous commenters. Not all are trolls.

To add up, for instance: if one knows that Music of the Baroque is presenting a concert of Handel's Water Music next week, at the Harris Theater which sits conveniently near the train station on Michigan Avenue, one is encouraged to hope (as Mr. Wise of the Mapp and Lucia books would say). Handel! The Baroque! Our theme for the year, along with lemons! Only an hour and a half commute, one way!

But no. The performance starts at 7:30 pm. They all start at 7:30 pm. Music of the Baroque further warns newbies that performances usually last about two hours. What a pity. No woman in her right mind is going to dodder about, even at the daylight-nice intersection of Michigan and Randolph, at 9:30 on a February night, and then go and wait for the train. Et cetera. Who on earth attends these concerts, and don't they rather worry? I hope at least the audience don't spend their entire time glancing furtively at watches and mentally rehearsing routes back. Through the liberal hel -- .

Anyway I had a blissful experience recently. My friend laughed in mock pity at the lack of adventurousness -- "you just stay inside and listen to the radio, dear" -- but it was delightful to keep safely under the covers at 9:30 on a weeknight, and hear La Bohème sung live from Lyric Opera (blocks and blocks away from the train station), and to think no matter how much they are enjoying themselves, all those people in all those plush seats must still struggle with the trip home. While I am home. And am hearing everything just as well as they are.

Or almost. Yes, yes, live shows are incomparable. But searching among my small collection of music CDs, I find I still own a disk of the Water Music done by Trevor Pinnock and The English Concert in 1983. Why can't I just listen to that? Trevor Pinnock is still alive too, so there's an added fillip. I'm only surprised and pleased because, the disk having been produced in the year I graduated high school, and this single disk specifically having been left behind by my ex-husband upon his decamping for true love and parts west, I naturally would have associated it utterly with a dead past had I not learned differently. (I think we used to play the music as newlyweds hosting dinner parties, to give the apartment tone.) Mr. P. even has a website. He is a CBE, Commander of the Order of the British Empire too, exactly as Mrs. Wise was. Imagine that.

So here is what I want you to do. I want you to admire this lovely bouquet of flowers,

and then navigate your way to YouTube, where you may listen to a bit of Handel whenever you like.

And I want you to have a cocktail. We'll pick one in keeping with our lemon theme for the year. What better than to try a "gin-and-French," again from Mapp and Lucia? I don't recall this drink mentioned in any of the novels -- we hear more of absinthe, vermouth, and Major Benjy's plain whisky-and-sodas -- but in the paradisial television films made from the books, Georgie (Nigel Hawthorne) requests one, so we will graciously assume the scriptwriter did some 1920s-era homework and accept its authenticity on that score. Besides, any time one finds a fellow blogger who actually also likes food, wine, retro things, and cocktails from Mapp and Lucia, one takes advantage. The Past on a Plate says that a gin and French is --

the juice of half a lemon (or about half a jigger of lemon juice)
a jigger of gin
a jigger of dry (French) vermouth
5 ounces tonic water 

-- all stirred over ice in a tall glass. She notes that other sources simply call the thing a martini, which it would be, -- at least those versions that replace the lemon juice with a mere twist of lemon peel and further omit the tonic. Talking of authenticity and authority, BBC Food says a gin and French is equal parts gin and Lillet stirred over ice. Lillet, in turn, is a French brand-name aperitif wine, made from white or red Bordeaux mixed with citrus liqueurs plus a little quinine, and aged in oak barrels before bottling. The presence of quinine hints -- apparently -- at Lillet's original name, Kina Lillet. We say apparently because the waters so to speak are muddy here. If you absolutely wish to delve into the history of Lillet, its formulations and names, and which one is correct in a James Bond-ish "Vesper" martini, you could hardly do better than to consult Savoy Stomp's article "Kina Lillet 2012." They drag in Kingsley Amis ....

However you choose to experiment with Georgie's treat, be aware that it is going to be potent. Equal parts gin and vermouth make for a bigger little drink-y than our master Charles Schumann, for one, would likely allow. Even Lillet is 17% alcohol. Qui-hi.


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