CORRECTION: On my recent rereading of Gravity’s Rainbow I discovered that this post from back in 2014 is gravely in error. There I am down below rattling on about Slothrop drinking Pilsner when he is in fact barely involved in the scene in question at all. The character in Bad Karma drinking the beer is actually Ensign Morituri. Morituri was in Bad Karma before the war, on holiday from a Japanese embassy where he had nothing to do. Morituri relates the story to Slothrop in telling how he met Margherita. I can only blame my error on a malign cocktail of laziness and intoxication, and be happy no one pointed it out before I spotted it myself…
Now here’s a topic close to my heart: getting casually drunk on Pilsner Urquell. An experience I have shared with Lt. Tyrone Slothrop!
Maybe two thirds of the way through Gravity’s Rainbow, Slothrop’s holed up on an embassy-suggested holiday in a German spa town called, very Pynchonianly, Bad Karma. The place “had a reputation that summer for its mud, hot and greasy mud with traces of radium, jet black, softly bubbling.”
Wise man that he is, Slothrop spends his days in Bad Karma “drinking Pilsener Urquelle in the cafe by the lake in the Pavilion Park. He was a stranger, half the time drunk, silly beer-drunk, and he hardly spoke their language.”
I can vouch from personal experience for the loveliness of days spend drinking Pilsner in cafes. I did it in Prague for four or five months a few years ago (which explains the difference between my spelling and Pynchon’s–Pilsner’s the Czech, Pilsener the German) and I wouldn’t say I was half the time drunk, but I was all the time drinking Pilsner. I didn’t realise I was reenacting a Slothrop moment, though I had read Gravity’s Rainbow. I even went to the brewery in Plzeň where the stuff is made, had a photo in front of those gates on the bottle, sampled some unfiltered product from a barrel. So it fills me with delight now to know that Slothrop was a Pilsner drinker!
This sparkling Czech gold also seems like the ideal drink for the town of Bad Karma. The beer’s crisp acid tang would make the ideal antidote to all that hot greasy mud. The perfect softly bubbling amber fluid to replace softly bubbling mud. Bad Karma certainly has a big advantage for Pilsner drinking over where I am now. Fictional or not, it’s a lot closer to the source than me, and Pilsner tends to go a big meh when you have to ship it around the world. This one I’m sampling is nice, but the flavoured just gets a bit dulled. So I envy Slothrop his European spa town cafe beers.
Anyway, na zdravie!