Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Navan, or -- "you need to start being more shy"

Since in a few minutes we are going to try a Navan sour -- a cocktail made with Navan, a vanilla-infused liqueur that the Grand Marnier people no longer produce -- it seems appropriate to have a little discussion about retiring things.

My daughter and I were having this talk the other day. She happens to be the youngest and newest hire at her workplace, but is also tagged as "acting manager" when the manager is not around. The air quotes are put in for a reason, because her "title" causes problems. Surely no normal twenty-two-year-old enjoys telling fifty-year-olds what to do, just for a start. And it's not easy for the personality type uncomfortable with do this and go thither to say those words. The difficulties are compounded when everyone knows so much of the thither to be commanded is unworkable and silly.

I said to her that her situation reminds me of my years teaching Sunday school. Just as her co-workers know that going out "prospecting" -- accosting innocents at the spa, dunning them to sign up for more services -- causes clients to flee in impatience, so my students and their parents knew perfectly well that Sunday school was fake school. Yet, in both those situations, if you as the authority figure don't carry on smiling and enforcing the pursuit of fake work, pretty soon nail techs are lounging around your desk gossiping instead of prospecting, or nine-year-olds are ignoring you. Pretty soon you have people above you saying, "you need to be more assertive."

Upon hearing this the retiring person unsheathes, at least mentally, that sword he will likely never use. You'd like me to be more assertive? Really? As in, get away from my desk and go find clients, it will help you run off some of those extra pounds? As in, fake school or no, if your home life were different I don't think we would be seeing these behavioral problems? .

Oh, of course not. That would be going too far. People who ask the reticent to be more assertive always have rules about it, unspoken shape-shifting rules, which they don't dream of obeying because aggression comes so naturally to them anyway. They don't need guidelines. And it's very curious that no one ever seems to ask the bumptious to change their personalities, except perhaps in school, which is just exactly when everybody has one thing in common. We're all children then. After that the world seems to throw up its collective hands at the bumptious, and leave them to the coercion of law and other forces. Or the world politely marvels: "such a strong person." Anyway while a teacher may say "quiet down" she doesn't dream of telling some six-year-old, no one ever tells any adult either in that flat judgmental way, "You need to start being more shy."

There is no answer for it, I suppose. The quiet and the slaveringly pushy must simply reconcile themselves to sharing the same planet. The pushy rush about founding charitable non-profits and not taking no for an answer when someone does not care to attend an event -- say, the annual golf outing and shrimp boil. "It's so much fun! I'll call you again in a few days." The quiet remember Marcus Aurelius' injunction to live for the gods, and stealthily write everything down.

We mentioned the liqueur Navan at the outset. I unearthed a tiny sample bottle in the back room the other day, peered anxiously at the difficult-to-read label, identified it as a cognac and decided to take it home and try making a sour with it. It's all right to attempt cognac sours, our master Charles Schumann allows it in his American Bar.

Out came the mixing cup, the dab of sugar, the half lemon, the lemon juicer, the cocktail glass, the barspoon and the tray of ice cubes. The little sample bottle was of course the perfect jigger, as sample or "airplane" sized bottles tend to be. I measured, squeezed, mixed, dropped in the jingling ice and stirred and poured. And the sweet, sweet vanilla, wood-like and faintly smoky aftertaste of a Navan sour reminded me exactly of the smell of my local liquor store. This is not a slur, only a description. Every time I push open the door of this place, to toddle in and buy my inexpensive and delightful bottle of rum to make my real after-work sours, I sniff the same smothering aroma. The fresh air of the outside world rushes away behind me and I am enveloped in the scent perhaps of a few old cigarettes, but mostly of -- what? I am not sure still, but the smell calls to mind stacks and stacks of old wooden liquor crates, soaked in vanilla and sitting in the back room for years. And now, it calls to mind Navan.

Navan was once made by Grand Marnier. Flavored with Madagascar vanilla, it was produced for a few years in the early 2000s and then discontinued when its sales did not please. I gather the complaint about it was too sweet. (It must be frustrating to develop sweet liquor products for the sweet-loving American market and then find out you've, inexplicably, gone too far.) ...the retiring tend to be that, too.

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