Arak

Somewhere deep in the vast and mapless territories of Against the Day, Lindsay Noseworth of the Chums of Chance finds himself riding atop a camel through a “nook” of New York City that is also “in some not strictly metaphorical way” a Turkish desert. The geography of AtD is certainly intriguing. Lindsay rides through this Middle East Manhattan (MeMa = the new SoHo?) desert terrain for hours. Page 433:

At dawn, a brief wind arrived, from somewhere up ahead. Lindsay recognised the smell of wild “Euphrates” poplars coming into blossom. An oasis, a real one, had been waiting out there all night just past his reach, where now, among the redispositions of the morning, he rode in to find the rest of the crew, lying around experiencing the effects of the water here, which, somewhat odd-tasting but far from actually poisonous, was in fact much preferred, by a large population of travellers out here who knew of it, to either aryq or hasheesh, as a facilitator of passage between the words. 

Against the Day, p 433. 

“Somewhat odd tasting but far from actually poisonous” describes much of what goes on around here. I guess I should be putting that water on the list, but Mason & Dixon is already giving me enough trouble with magical fictional alcohols, what with the powerful porter made by angels and the wine grown inside the hollow earth. The arak will have to do. The Chums do get to drinking some themselves a few pages later, with two “wildcatters” buying them a round of “the local aryq” in the Sandman Saloon (page 441). 

Pynchon renders the name “aryq,” a spelling I can find no one else using. This isn’t the only place where Pynchon anglicises words his own way. In Gravity’s Rainbow, he refers to a fermented mare’s milk drink as “qumys” where westerners would more typically write “kumis,” “koumiss,” “kumiss,” or “kumys.” I feel like there are other examples of Pynchon making up his own or picking the less used anglicisation, although none of them are coming to me now post-arak. Perhaps gently estranging the anglicisation of arabic words provides Pynchon a subtle opportunity to rustle leaves around the ambiguities of the signifier-signified relationship. Perhaps he just do what he want and don’t let no one tell him how to spell words. 

Arak is a very popular spirit throughout Western Asia, generally made from a grape spirit flavoured with aniseed. I’ve had this bottle of Arak hanging around waiting in the wings here long enough for it to have involved itself with at least one hangover and gathered some general patina of regret. The liquid itself doesn’t exactly shrug off such associations — it’s a spiky, assertive concoction that insists of embedding itself in sense memory. But returning to it here has actually been very enjoyable. When drank with water, as it’s apparently supposed to be, arak transforms into a milky liquorice cordial, dry and herbal but with a pleasant suggestion of sweetness accentuated by the louchey body. This bottle might disappear faster than, say, the apricot brandy. It is a hot, dry, desert wind kind of night here in Melbourne, and a cool-watered arak is working just fine. I can almost make out Linday’s oasis hovering at the edges of my vision. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s