Love in the Shadows of Pera

Just after the 900 page mark in Against the Day, Kit and Dally are reunited in a serendipitous kidnap-foiling encounter at a train station in Szeged, Hungary. We then flash back to learn how Kit came to be aboard that train, picking up the thread in Istanbul. He’s working at a bar called the Deux Continents in Pera, a district of Istanbul right at the intersection of Europe and Asia. One night, on instinct, he helps a man on the street escape some others intent on doing him harm. This loses Kit the job, and occasions one of a few moments dotted through Against the Day that feel like personal gifts to me:

One night Jusuf the manager took him aside.

“The man whose life you thought you saved the other night,” he said, and made an eloquent gesture of finality. “He was an enemy of the C.U.P. Now you are, too. He handed Kit a wad of Turkish pounds and a train ticket as far as Buda-Pesth. “Best I can do. Would you mind leaving your recipe for the cocktail you invented?”

“‘Love in the Shadows of Pera,’” Kit said. “It’s just Creme de Menthe and beer.”

Against the Day, p. 912.

Kit provides us with more or less the first original cocktail recipe we’ve had here (unless maybe you count vodka with vegetable soup or the cloudberry flip). So how does Kit rate as a mixologist? Today at last we will answer this key unsolved question in Pynchon criticism.

The ingredients for my investigation were as follows:

  • Half a shot of Tempus Fugit Crème De Menthe Glaciale (distilled to an AtD-appropriate 19th century recipe)
  • Enough Soproni Klasszikus to fill up the rest of a martini glass (Soproni being a Hungarian lager I went out of my way to obtain having misread the passage thinking Kit was in Hungary still)

The results, you will be astonished to hear, were not good. The drink does have a cocktailish coherence—it tastes like something other than just the sum of its parts. I can see how Jusuf might have been mystified as to the components. But just because it hangs together doesn’t mean drinking it is a pleasant experience. It tastes like a sticky sweet minty soup. Even diluted right back with way more beer, the drink retains an unsettling creamy mint quality. I did not like it.

Is Kit messing with Jusuf? Or just a terrible bartender? Maybe my Hungarian lager was the problem? I guess I accidentally made a Love in the Shadows of Szeged instead. If someone else would like to retry this with something Turkish please be my guest!

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