A Scribe Overimbibes
Written by Joe Longo
Friday, 08 August 2008 10:50
There are far worse things an unemployed New Orleanian can do in the dead of summer than snag a media credential for Ann Tuennerman’s annual Tales of the Cocktail gathering in the French Quarter. To float up to the 17th floor of the Monteleone Hotel at 10:30 of a weekday morning to sample 5 full-blooded drinks is to put all worry aside and lose oneself in the joyful frivolity of upper-middle class connoisseurship.
I can’t say that I attended all of the seminars at this year’s Tales of the Cocktail, but I’m still willing to bet that Phil Greene, trademark lawyer, sailboat owner, founding member of the newly opened Mueseum of the American Cocktail, and featured mixologist for this morning’s lecture, “To Have and Have More: A Hemingway Bartender Companion,” embodies the spirit of this robust summer gathering as much as anyone. A descendant of the Peychaud family, the New Orleans clan responsible for the Sazerac, Greene has lived around the world. No small wonder, then, that he would esteem Ernest Hemingway’s life and prose enough to honor him with a sipping tour of his writing.
As I said, 5 distinct cocktails were served to the patrons during Greene’s discussion, a PowerPoint-driven talk that established a link between Hemingway and the Monteleone Hotel. I have to wonder whether Hemingway’s tenuous connection to New Orleans will someday be exploited into a full-blown festival, since the city has a penchant for insinuating itself as a source of inspiration in the lives of artists who were just passing through. A selected excerpt from Hemingway’s writing contains, inevitably, a small child singing for quarters. Sounds like a perfect contest to rival the Stella/Stanley Shouting competition, and much more in keeping with what it is we actually do here. To survive a New Orleans summer, you’ve got to sing for coins one way or the other.
Unless, as I mentioned before, you’ve insinuated yourself into the Tales Of The Cocktail Festival. And there I was, sampling Greene’s first Hemingway favorite, the Jack Rose. This brandy-based drink was featured in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and was thoroughly abused by Bill Gorton upon his arrival in Paris after an ill-fated trip to Budapest. Greene used his Power Point to highlight a passage from the novel. What he did not highlight was that in the scene where Bill gives a shout-out to the Jack Rose he also uses the word “nigger” 14 times, making it the most uncomfortable scene in the novel to teach to credulous University of New Orleans sophomores.
This kind of contemplation makes me grateful to be unemployed and on my way to drunk before noon, as opposed to preparing a college-level syllabus. This is how Tales Of The Cocktail can elevate a man’s spirit. I am buoyant as we move on to the gin drinks.
It doesn’t require deep Hemingway scholarship to conclude that the man grew increasingly pompous as the years rolled on, and staccato declarations of certainty about how a drink should be made permeate his writing. For instance, a Hemingway-penned scene features a claim that a Martini should have a 15-to-1 gin-to-vermouth ratio, the same ratio General Montgomery preferred his troops to have over the enemy when going into battle. Anyone who has worked a bar in New Orleans or anywhere is familiar with this kind of boozy bluster. I recall pouring drinks during the National Association of Television Production Executives and serving a man immensely pleased with himself for having successfully pitched a remake of the “Name That Tune” game show. You can tell when someone is on his way to a beat down, and a man who boasts of a high-six figure deal to a mid-two-figure-a-night bartender is not long for Bourbon Street.
As I finish the Montgomery Martini graciously provided for me by Tales Of The Cocktail and Bombay Gin, I wonder how quickly Hemingway would have gotten into a bar fight had he spent more time in the Quarter. Let’s face it, the man was a bit of a death seeker, and here in New Orleans there are many folks willing to oblige.
As we move on to a delicious concoction called a Green Isaac's Special, I am struck with the kind of epiphany that can strike an unemployed man who is pounding cocktails at 11am. In the passage that Phil Greene quotes regarding the gin and coconut water-based drink , the protagonist insists on Gordon’s Gin. Even though Greene is obligated to tell us to use Bombay, it becomes clear that Hemingway’s writing, with its tour guide vistas and bold claims of expertise, is the perfect vehicle in which to infuse product placement. Is this the real reason why he is America’s most enduring 20th Century writer?
I become so consumed with this question that I can no longer concentrate on Phil Greene’s seminar. What are our obligations, as contemporary writers, to give future generations something tasty to drink? On the occasions when I clink glasses with Joseph and Amanda Boyden, a local writing couple who are currently flush with book-publishing success, they drink, respectively, Miller Lite with Rose’s lime juice and whatever the House Pinot Grigio happens to be. This is troubling. Eventually, one or another of our acquaintances will pen his or her own A Moveable Feast, Hemingway’s revisionist Paris memoir where he shits on all his old friends, and what the by-now-legendary writers drank will surely be noted. This will prove problematic. When the history of NOLAFugees is written, the youth of future generations will note that editor/publisher Jarret Lofstead drank Redneck Mimosas with his oyster po’ boys. (A Redneck Mimosa is a shot of orange juice added to a bottle of Miller High Life.)
Some local writers seem to be aware of alcohol-soaked posterity. The hideous drinks highlighted in Heart Like Water, Joshua Clark’s Katrina memoir, all have sticky names like Elle In August, and he even capitalizes them in the book for easy reference.
If these drinks rise to such prominence by virtue of the writers who championed them, enormous pressure will be placed on the newly opened Museum of the American Cocktail, located in the Riverwalk, to induct these drinks into the New Orleans Literary Hall of Fame. We are placing future generations of literary-minded tourists in peril.
(Postscript: The author also attended a lovely seminar hosted by charming British mixologist Charlotte Voisey. He learned that mixing tea and gin is complete genius. Beyond that, the author’s notes ceased to make sense.)
|< Prev||Next >|