Monday, February 10, 2014

New coctail -- the "Commodora"

One needs a cocktail, you know, after all this everlasting snow. Let us dig the car out of its drift at 5:30 in the morning, shall we? -- and then drive off to work, only going back to retrieve the shovel that we think we left thrust in a snowbank, but then remembered putting into the trunk at the last minute after all. So we circle the block once more and then really head west, snow-filled winds sweeping across dimly lit streets and swirling through the beams of other cars' headlights; we're stopped by a train and then by the red and blue flashes atop a police car parked at an impossible angle beside an accident. Non-plussed, stymied, and thwarted, we decide to turn around in a random parking lot, where we say good morning to the nice man plowing who got down from his tractor to comment that our car looks just like the car belonging to a coworker, get half stuck trying to barrel out of his driveway, barrel on and, having traveled five blocks as the crow flies in thirty minutes, at length pull into work forty minutes late. The day begins.

So we work and when it's time to go home -- driving only on the side streets, since who knows what condition the expressways are in --  it's time also for our afternoon cocktail.

We rename it the Commodora because we can't seem to find the orange bitters that the original, the "Commodore" in our dog-eared Calvert Party Encyclopedia (1961), calls for. Otherwise it is the same recipe:
the juice of half a large lime
1 and 1/2 ounces (a jigger) whisky
a dash of sugar
a dash of (Angostura) bitters.
Shake with ice in a cocktail shaker, strain into a cocktail glass. I garnished it with a green grape, because I had some green grapes in a bowl handy, and used George Dickel No. 8 Tennessee sour mash whisky. It may be that aficionados of Dickel will stand horrified, but I can tell you the drink was rich and tasty. You could even omit the little bit of sugar, and count yourself more pure that way.



Talking of commodores reminds us of travel. Well, commodores sails ships, don't they? A friend of mine is what I suppose we should call an inveterate traveler -- inveterate from the Latin, "to make old," in other words "long or firmly established." He is that, although he only travels to one tropical paradise. He had a terribly exciting past there twenty years ago, black marketeering, fishing, raising pigs, and jungle-exploring, and he believes that anyone who once sees his heaven will want to live there and have adventures forever. Looking out at the everlasting snow does help that persuasion along.

Since I am not an inveterate traveler however, last night I took a sort of page from writer Lisa Medchill's five-year-old New York Observer article on the topic ("The Middle of Somewhere: Why I Hate to Travel," November 4, 2008) and looked up YouTube videos of this place I don't much intend to go to. "Really, it's staggering," Miss Medchill had reflected on hearing her friends' travel tales, "how much you can learn about the world by avoiding it. Without moving a muscle, I know St. Bart’s is 'so restful,' Machu Picchu 'so transcendent' and the Masai 'so cheerful.' " Quite true. I saw everything my friend faithfully describes, the sky, the flowers, the ocean, the sunsets, the crown-like bell tower of the church, the iguanas on the sidewalks and the acrobats on the beach, without the cost and harrying of having to go. Like Miss Medchill, I too "like to be available to my own life."

It's amazing what you will find on YouTube. The thing is a time-suck, yes, but somehow through these little glimpses into human lives one also gets little reassurances about poor bravely struggling human nature.  I found a video of two young sisters chronicling their first trip alone to my friend's tropic paradise. Everything was "a lot of fun" even though they both looked exhausted and the younger girl kept mouthing "scary" to the camera. At one point they whizzed along on a speedboat ride with a pack of other life-jacketed teens whose body language said they might all be being swept off to prison

Then there was a very different video made by a lanky, aging Baby Boomer Texan, who sat on a huge rock in a river deep in a twittering green forest somewhere. For twelve minutes he firmly warned anyone away from the life of the expatriate south of the Rio Grande. "You will never be accepted," was his theme. That matters to poor struggling human beings. He regaled us, un-self-pitying, with his worldly chops: his quarter-century of travel, his Spanish fluency, his land purchase- and house building-history in Peru. Still he had learned a hard, expensive, time-wasting lesson, and was getting ready to "go back to Texas with m' tail between m' legs." "Rent for at least a year first ... you will never be accepted."

I don't think he's just a failed sourpuss. He also briefly alluded to American expatriates in English villages being as isolated as he was. Perhaps he was in touch with disappointed old college friends. As I listened to his eloquent twang I remembered my local library has its share of let's-go-live-in-France-because-it's-all-so-sophisticated-and-calm-there memoirs, and one of them records the shock of an English expat upon learning that life in a French village for forty happy years does not entitle one to burial in the village cemetery. That man, too, was still a stranger.

Incidentally if you want to observe people on YouTube who are not travelers, and who will never have to worry about being refused burial in their adopted villages, look up the "music and nature sounds for relaxation and study" meme. You will find music of Tibetan bowls, and eight hour long video loops of babbling brooks with birdsong. One person filmed an oddly thundery snowstorm battering a stand of trees. For an hour. A human being on the other side of the world happily commented below this, "can't wait to snuggle with my quilt and my cat and imagine this outside. Heaven!" My tropical friend would roll his eyes, and and point to mandevillas and orange trees in January, to the breaching whales, to sunset over the ocean. And then to our own everlasting snow.

Yes, but. Lin Yutang in a chapter on travel (in The Importance of Living, 1937) quotes ancient Chinese philosophers who teach that no one has really "seen" faraway exotica, "stone caves and blessed spots," who cannot also see the mystery and grandeur of his own town and fields. All right, perhaps we don't mean the local Jiffy Lube or urgent care center, but there's a clue to the philosophers' wisdom in this: how many vacationers, on YouTube or elsewhere, come home saying "we love the people there"? Really? They're that different? The man on the rock says they only want your money, and he adds handsomely "you cannot blame them." No, that too is poor struggling human nature.

Now you may have your Commodora. Below, we revisit the "red sky at morn, sailors take warn" proverb. A bit of local grandeur before the snow. 


 


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