Oude Genever

Now we’re getting somewhere. The beaten track just slipped out of sight. Oude Genever.DSC_9854It’s totally obscure to me, but gets a couple of runs in Pynchon, making a grand debut in Gravity’s Rainbow then popping its head up again in Mason & Dixon. In GR, it’s episode fourteen and we’re flashing back in Katje’s memory/imagining to Holland, to the V-2 battery where “nearly every day a rocket misfires,” to poor Gottfried (“eyes a seldom-encountered blue”) and to repulsive Blicero (“his teeth long, terrible, veined with bright brown rot”). The genever appears when Blicero discovers that Katje’s escaped his creepy Nazi sadomasochism party, possibly to “call down English fighter-bombers” on the house:

Blicero curses her. He flings a boot-tree at a precious TerBorch. Bombs fall to the west in the Haagsche Bosch. The wind blows, ruffling the ornamental ponds outside. Staff cars snarl away, down the long drive lined with beeches. The half-moon shines among hazy clouds, its dark half the color of aged meat. Blicero orders everyone down into the shelter, a cellarful of gin in brown crocks, open-slat crates of anemone bulbs. The slut has put his battery in the British crosshairs, the raid can come at any moment! Everybody sits around drinking oude genever and peeling cheeses. Telling stories, mostly funny ones, from before the War. By dawn, they’re all drunk and sleeping. Scraps of wax litter the floor like leaves. No Spitfires come.

Spaces littered with matching bottles show up a bit in Pynchon. One of the Slow Learner stories has champagne splits scattered everywhere, there’s that bargeful of Chianti in V., countless more I’m sure… And now all these brown crocks of gin–except they’re all getting drunk on oude genever, so it must actually be that in the crocks and not gin. Genever being almost but not quite gin; actually, more like gin’s grandfather. And brown crocks being the spirit’s traditional home.

DSC_9848

Thanks to Drunk Pynchonette, I now have a brown crock of my own! (Make sure not to skim that last sentence too quickly). It’s actually ceramic, which is pretty wonderful. And man, this genever is lovely stuff. It smells first and most of all like a big fresh loaf of bread. Then there’s some sweet floral junipery stuff going on underneath. Which all gives a pretty solid preview for the taste: malty, sweet, some ginish juniper. Delicate and interesting. The typical description of genever is like a light scotch blended with gin, and that does it pretty well, but maybe undersells it some. Nice stuff. “Oude” is Dutch for old, but that means using the old recipe. It’s totally unaged. 35% alcohol. There’s some interesting info on the stuff here if you want it.

Genever is Dutch, so it makes sense that all Blicero’s Nazi buddies wind up drinking the stuff sheltering in their cellar in Holland. But I’m not the first person outside of Europe to get my hands on some. In Mason & Dixon, when the pair first arrive in America, “Geneva gin” is part of the great cornucopia of goods sitting on the docks. I won’t quote it, but go look it up, it’s a beautiful passage. If you get the chance to settle into it with a glass of genever, you will be a lucky individual indeed.

Absinthe with water

From Hemingway’s Papa Doble, on to another drink with a great literary/artistic pedigree: absinthe. We’re all familiar with its green fairy aura of inspired madness and creative self-annihilation. The stuff’s been put away by Baudelaire, Emile Zola, Oscar Wilde, Picasso, Modigliani, etc etc etc. Even more impressively, it gets mentioned in both V. and Gravity’s Rainbow. In V., a not exactly gallant sounding bloke called Ferrante is described as “a drinker of absinthe and destroyer of virginity,” and Signor Mantissa remembers a “blond seamstress in Lyons” who “would drink absinthe at night and torture herself for it in the afternoons.” 

Absinthe Pynchon Gravity's Rainbow

Well and then in GR absinthe gets some even better peripheral press, aboard the fun-filled Anubis

Slothrop looks around and finds Miklos Thanatz, full beard, eyebrows feathering out like trailing edges of hawks’ wings, drinking absinthe out of a souvenir stein on which, in colors made ghastly by the carnivals lights on deck, bony and giggling Death is about the surprise the two lovers in bed. 

And what a Gravity’s Rainbow sentence is that. Crazy looking dude with a whole stein of absinthe, reflecting the wider scene in the lights of the boat while also telling a (highly relevant) inset narrative of Death gleefully interrupting love. Plus then one stein of 70% alcohol isn’t enough:

Thanatz is holding out his stein for a refill. The waiter, deadpan, dribbles water down a spoon to turn the absinthe milky green while Thanatz caresses his buttocks, then moves away.

I went hunting for some milky green of my own at Canvas in Brisbane (highly recommended, if not quite such a temple of hedonism as the Anubis). They had an absinthe/pastis tasting flight on offer (pastis being an anise liqueur with a similar flavour to absinthe). Thanks to another generous benefactor, I sampled a bit (not quite a stein-full) of each of:

  • Ricard Pastis 45%
  • Henri Bardonuin Pastis 45%
  • Koruna Bohemian Absinth 73%
  • Mansinthe 66.6%

This is admittedly a bit of a weird list for an “absinthe” tasting, not actually including any French absinthe. The pastis are French but wormwoodless. The Koruna is Czech–hence the lack of an “e” on “absinth.” Only the Mansinthe is actually absinthe with an “e”, and it’s made by Marilyn Manson. Which explains the inauspicious 66.6% alcohol concentration. Manson’s stuff does seem to be pretty legit though, distilled from the proper herbs in Switzerland with no added sugar. Anyway, those other three are close enough to count too. The waiter warned me that the last two contained wormwood, but “not the crazy cut-your-ear-off van Gogh kind.”

Gravity's Rainbow Absinthe Pynchon

All four of them were very aniseedy, of course. The Ricard Pastis tasted like sweet liquoriche. All the flavours seemed to be arranged really differently in your mouth compared to other spirits I’m more used to. Watery on the front, then getting all syrupy and rich. The Henri Boudin was less sweet, with stronger herbal notes. The Bohemian absinth really upped the ante, in taste as well as alcohol—a sharp rich spike of peppermint up front, plenty of burn filling it out. Complex and kind of invigorating. The Mansinthe was a bit of a mellower take on the same, with some fruity nutty notes too I thought. But less interesting than the Koruna. 

That’s all before the water. After dripping some water from a pretty little jug into each, their flavours changed pretty dramatically. Most acquired smokier notes; the Czech one even had a dark chocolate thing going on. Mansinthe seemed to get more vegetabley. And of course, just as Pynchon writes, their appearance changes too. Each drop of water sends a little smoky mist spiralling through the liquid, and they do turn totally milky with enough water. I forgot to take a photo–which forgetfulness is by the way about the strongest absinthe symptom I experienced. No hallucinations here. 

That milky mist shows up again late in GR, in the Counterforce, when Roger Mexico (one of my favourite GR characters) makes his glorious statistician’s reappearance, raging into Mossmoon’s office trying to rescue Slothrop from Their machine:  

He’s looking into a room of incandescent lemon-lime subdued drastically, almost to the milky point of absinthe-and-water, a room warmer than this tableful of faces really deserves, but perhaps it’s Roger’s entrance that deepens the color a bit now as he runs and jumps up on the polished table, over the polished head of a director of a steel company, skidding 20 feet down the waxed surface to confront the man at the end, who sits with a debonair (well, snotty) smile on his face. “Mossmoon, I’m on to you.” 

Then he relieves himself, of both urine and rage, all over everything. A good note to end on. 

Papa Doble (and a giveaway!)

Bleeding Edge paperback PynchonThe paperback of Bleeding Edge comes out tomorrow in the US. That’s the updated cover passing on our right. The press release from Penguin Press reminds me (as I’m sure I don’t have to remind you) that the book is “dazzling and ludicrous,” “full or verbal sass and pizzazz … totally gonzo, totally wonderful,” “a necessary novel and one that literary history has been waiting for.” Which all sounds pretty dead on. 

In celebration of the first appearance of this great novel in lighter floppier form, I have here (thanks to Penguin Press) five copies of the book to give you. Hopefully not all five of them to just one of you, but something more like maybe one each to five of you. If you want one, just leave a comment at the bottom here. 

But first! The Papa Doble. In Chapter Six of BE, the appearance of political activist from way back March Kelleher gets Maxine reminiscing about their first meeting, “ten or fifteen years ago… when landlords were reverting to type and using Gestapo techniques to get sitting tenants to move.” They meet at a protest against their landlord, and head for a drink when it starts to get dark. 

The nearest bar was the Old Sod, technically Irish, though an aging gay Brit or two may have wandered infrequently in. The drink March had in mind was a Papa Doble, which Hector the bartender, previously only seen drawing beers and pouring shots, assembled for March as if he’d been doing it all week. Maxine had one too, just to keep her company. 

The Papa Doble is a drink with serious literary history, centred on that most famously boozed-up man of letters, Ernest Hemingway. In 1932, Hemingway was escaping prohibition living in Cuba, and frequenting a bar called La Floridita–the home of the Daiquiri. Hemingway, being Papa Doble Pynchon Bleeding EdgeHemingway, ordered his with double the rum and none of the sugar. Papa was Hemingway’s nickname in Cuba; doble is Spanish for double: the Papa Doble was born. Double white rum, lime juice, grapefruit juice, and maraschino liqueur. The WSJ has a great history here. As the BE Wiki points out, it’s an appropriate drink for civil activist March Kelleher, given Hemingway’s own fight against facism in the Spanish Civil War.

To get mine, I wandered last night into New Gold Mountain, a pretty well-hidden bar in Melbourne that I’d previously found by accident trying to go somewhere else. (This is a snazzy cocktail bar and not an unlikely Irish pub, but I figured March and Maxine’s experience was unrepeatable.) I resisted their beautiful drink menu, had a chat to the bartender about Papa Doble history, and whipped out Bleeding Edge for some sneaky photos. When he brought over our drinks he told me he “made it with sugar because if you drink it the way Hemingway had it it’s pretty unpalatable–he was a degenerate alcoholic after all.” Which, well, I’m not complaining. It was a mighty enjoyable drink. Sour and sweet and very nicely balanced. It’s not hard to see how old Hemo could have knocked back a dozen or so of the unsweetened version. 

Oh but and I have books to give away! If you want to get your hands on the newly-portable paperback Bleeding Edge, comment below and include your email address so I can get in touch with you. Bonus points for photos with books and/or alcohol. Five people with US addresses will win. (If you can’t see a comments box, you might have to make sure you’re only viewing this post, and not my whole front page.) If you don’t need another copy, send your friends my way! Cheers!

Canadian Ale

GRAVITY'S RAINBOWThe Kenosha Kid episode is something of an early milestone in Gravity’s Rainbow, I’d say. Sixtyish pages in, playful and bizzare, it might well mark the dividing fork at which a new Pynchon reader either hurls the book at the wall or really starts to settle in for a good time. Slothrop’s doped up on sodium amytal, dreaming variations on the phrase “you never did the Kenosha Kid.” They start brief, e.g.: “Superior (incredulously): You? Never! Did the Kenosha Kid think for one instant that you…?” and then suddenly Slothrop’s upstairs in Boston’s Roseland Ballroom watching his harmonica disappear down a toilet’s maw. If you’ve ever seen Trainspotting, you’ll be familiar with Danny Boyle’s ripoff of what happens next: he chases that Harmonica right down the toilet and finds a murky world submerged below:

The light down here is dark gray and rather faint. For some time he has been aware of shit, elaborately crusted along the sides of this ceramic (or by now, iron) tunnel he’s in; shit nothing can flush away, mixed with hard-water minerals into a deliberate brown barnacling of his route, patterns thick with meaning… icky and sticky, cryptic and glyptic…” 

Pynchon Canadian Ale…which whole episode eventually and unexpectedly circles all the way back to “you never did the Kenosha Kid.” Anyway, while he’s down in the gunge, Slothrop “finds he can identify certain traces of shit as belonging definitely to this or that Harvard fellow of his acquaintances.” Useful talent to have. One “Dumpster Villard” features prominently among these acquaintances. 

A-and here’s Dumpster Villard , he was constipated that night, wasn’t he–it’s black shit mean as resin that will someday clarify forever to dark amber. In its blunt, reluctant touches along the wall … he can, uncannily shit-sensitized now, read old agonies inside poor Dumpster, who’d tried suicide last semester: the differential equations that would not weave for him into any elegance, the mother with the low-slung hat and silk knees leaning across Slothrop’s table in Sidney’s Great Yellow Grille to finish for him his bottle of Canadian Ale, the Radcliffe girls who evaded him…

The list goes on. All the cumulative sufferings of Dumpster’s life (and being named thus must factor in there somewhere too) are recorded there for shit-sensitised Slothrop to read. Including that episode with the Canadian Ale! 

St Ambroise PynchonI realise none of this has made the loveliest introduction for a drink. But nevertheless, allow me to present my Canadian ale selection: the St. Ambroise Pale Ale. It’s from a brewery in Montreal. I’ve gotta say, I was pretty excited to have a chance to drink some crafty beer for this blog. But this one isn’t my favourite. It’s very bitter, but without all that much hop aroma. Much more like a British style Pale Ale than the American I was expecting (and hoping for). Actually tastes weirdly like Pilsner Urquell. So much so that I would have bet they’d used Saaz hops. But no, it’s Cascade, Williamette, Golding, and Hallertau. Who knows. It seems to be a pretty well-liked beer. Maybe it didn’t survive the trip across the world so well. If I were Slothrop, I might leave this one for Dumpster’s mother too. 

Madeira

I stepped off my bus this afternoon halfway through Mason & Dixon‘s last chapter. No way could I have gone home and socialised with people at that point. I sat down on the first available bench and finished it. The thing is though, finishing M&D in public isn’t exactly like finishing Lot 49 or Gravity’s Rainbow or any of the other books. The final few chapters of M&D must be the tenderest, saddest pages in Pynchon. So I was a bit of a blubbery public spectacle. But whatever man, it’s a brilliant book.

Pynchon Madeira

The drinks list for Mason & Dixon is of course all ready to go now, and it sure does features some stunners. The “Cock Ale” will be one to look forward to especially (I’ll leave you to look up the recipe, which Pynchon does give in moderate and disturbing detail). But two drinks really dominate the action: corn whiskey and Madeira. Dixon proposes early on that the world divides into grain people and grape people. Dixon’s the grain man, Mason the grape. The book itself seems to start out on the side of the grape, with a glass of Madeira in every character’s hand. It’s the first drink show up, right on the second page (labelled page six):

…smoke ascends from Chimney-Pots, Sledging-Parties adjourn indoors, Taverns bustle,— freshly infus’d Coffee flows ev’ryplace, born about thro’ rooms front and back, whilst Madeira, which has ever fuel’d Association in these Parts, is deploy’d nowadays like an ancient Elixir upon the seething Pot of Politics,— for the Times are as impossible to calculate, this Advent, as the Distance to a Star.

And it keeps coming up through the first episodes of the book, showing up five times before page 300. After that, it starts to fade out of the adventure. By the time we reach its final appearance on page 566, it’s being literally shifted out of the way:

They make their way to a Corner with a Clavier, from whose top Dixon must remove a Madeira bottle, two cold Chops, and a severely tatter’d Periwig in order even to lounge against it.

Grain pushes Grape more and more to the sidelines as the line-drawing expedition progresses “as, the further West they go, the more distill’d Grains, and the fewer wines, are to be found.”

Like the book, I’m starting out with Madeira on the side of the grape. The one I have here is a five year aged Malmsey, which is the sweetest of the four possible varieties. Sweet it is, with an acid finish. Tastes overwhelmingly of raisins. If you’re seeking sugar, it is very enjoyable. Would be great, I’m sure, with ice cream. Pynchon describes Cape Madeira at one point as “a thick violet Liquid one must get thro’ six or seven Bottles of even to begin to feel at ease,” which just sounds to me like a huge sugar headache. I’ll seek out one of the dryer varieties next time.

Oh, and why is it Madeira our crew are always drinking? According to Wikipedia (my favourite phrase), the 18th century was the “golden age of Madeira.” It’s a very robust style, happily surviving exposure to oxygen and extreme temperatures, which must have helped it get to everyone in those wilder times.

Nero d’Avola

Nero d'Avola

Early in Bleeding Edge, Maxine pays a visit to the VC (which I’m assuming is venture capitalist) who’d supported hwgaahwgh.com (which address now conveniently directs one to the book’s wiki). The VC is Rockwell “Rocky” Slagiatt, who’s dropped his surname’s terminal vowel in order “to sound more anglo,” despite then “becoming disingenuously ethnic again” in Maxine’s presence. Slagiatt takes Maxine to Enrico’s Italian Kitchen, which she recalls “getting rave reviews in Zagat.” (Enrico’s unfortunately doesn’t seem to be a real place. Brings up a grand total of two Google results, both for the BE wiki. But I’m about as distant as can be from NYC anyway, so what’s it matter.) After some faux-Sopranos banter between Slagiatt and the waiter, they order:

Maxine ends up having the homemade strozzapreti with chicken livers, and Rocky goes for the ossu buco. “Hey, what kinda wine?”

“How about a ’71 Tiganello?—but then again with all the wiseguy dialogue, maybe just, uh, li’l Nero d’Avola? small glass?”

“Readin my mind.” Not exactly doing a double take at the pricey supertuscan, but a certain gleam has entered his eye, which is what she may have been looking to provoke. And why would that be, again?

DSC_9514Stozzapreti with chicken livers? Someone can start an every-meal-in-Pynchon blog. Not too bad being stuck with the drinks though–even if (like Rocky) I haven’t shelled out for the ’71 Tiganello, this Nero d’Avola is nice stuff. The bottle I have (from Feudo Principi di Butera) here claims on its reverse to be “a supreme expression of the indigenous Sicilian grape variety par excellence.” The winemaker’s website says they wrote the book on Nero d’Avola. Guess I’ve got no way to confirm or deny these assertions, but I can say I like the stuff. Maxine does too, even if her lunch investigation doesn’t go so well:

She can hear from inside her purse the as-yet-undeposited check laughing at her, as if she had been the butt of a great practical joke.

The Nero d’Avola on the other hand is not bad at all.

Mine is big, rich, and tanniney. Dry, but with an interesting tannin sweetness. A bit spicy, maybe some cherries. Not one to guzzle, but very drinkable. It’s making me wish I were sitting in an Italian place with a plate of livers to go with it. Or maybe not livers. Maybe I’ll take the ossu buco.

Rolling Rock

Anheuser-Busch brew houseA week or so ago, I had the unexpectedly excellent experience of visiting the Anheuser-Busch brewery in St Louis. The brewery complex was opened in 1852, and it has some terrific architecture to show for its long history, even if the beer itself is perhaps less exceptional.

I was of course curious as to what Pynchonian alcoholic connections I could make DSC_9185at Annheuser-Busch. The “case of warm Bud Light” from Vineland would have been the obvious option, but you’ll forgive me for just not having been quite in the mood. I did discover, however, that Ann-Bu are also responsible for brewing Rolling Rock (despite Rolling Rock’s website claiming they’ve been “celebrating independent spirits since 1939.”), which makes an appearance in Bleeding Edge.

In the book, Maxine has popped back into her apartment around lunch-time after some back-to-school shopping when her friend Driscoll shows up with a Rachel haircut and an invitation to the Geeks’ Cotillion ball. Maxine’s run out of Zima, but she finds them beer: “Rolling Rock, two bottles Horst has somehow overlooked, way in the back of the fridge.”

According to Wikipedia, they don’t actually brew Rolling Rock in St Louis. But they do stock Rolling Rock merchandise.

Rolling rock shirt

So yes, I bought the glasses, I bought the T-shirt. And then today (thanks to a generous benefactor), got around to sampling the beer. It’s a very pleasant lager, reminiscent of a smoother Budweiser. Not much flavour (I can see how Horst could find them easily forgotten), but definitely a workable option for a summer’s afternoon.

Rolling rock bottle