Friday, April 25, 2008

The Gin Strategem

As the sun caresses the Mediterranean, giving way to silky pastels and floral blossomings, all the while the mercury ascends its crystal lattice like a fundamentalist martyr off to a perceived heaven - the evidence of spring seems to be irrefutable. This has been greeted with progressively shorter skirts and descending blouses driving young man’s fancy towards piques of the amorous or alternatively towards retrograde rejectionism.

I am well fitted for the retrograde – especially in its liquid forms. My strategy to combat the heat has always involved gin and artificial temperature control. While strategy is suitable to me at the moment, it has become clear to me that it is one that may prove itself to be untenable during my Peace Corps assignment in Niger – a nominally Muslim (and thus largely non-drinking) country largely devoured by the gaping maw of the Sahara of which the majority of the population live in adobe huts sans electricity or running water. Temperatures there regularly exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit. As a result of these rather obvious limitations, my strategy to beat the heat as it were is in need of recalibration. One cannot reform a flanking strategy in the face of trench warfare after all.

But for now, I have gin. Wonderful stuff gin. Surely the cleverest use of juniper berries that humanity has yet conceived of (what else are you going to do with them? roast them with lamb?). It is a good multi-use alcohol, from the humble gin and tonic to the most elegant of martinis (and Christ, I miss “American” Martinis) to the slightly more post-modern - but nonetheless delicious - gin and ginger ale. (Important side note: the number of martinis that one should consume in a sitting corresponds to the rules governing women’s breasts: three is too many and one too few.) And what could be more refined than a well-made gin and tonic – ice, lime, gin, tonic, and in one especially rare case, lavender infusion– its difficult colonial legacy aside? Indeed, the gin and tonic was the brainchild of English colonial officers in India trying to find a way to make their anti-malarial quinine tablets more palatable. The discovery that the bitter things could be dissolved in mineral water made them slightly easier to choke down (and they were enormous circa 1820 or so), but the bitterness of the things – these being the days before artificial sweeteners – lingered on like a wronged divorcee. Finally, in typical English fashion, a decision was made somewhere along the line that the stuff could be mixed with gin (which was swilled in the officers mess, often in the form of pink gin – gin and bitters – which remains one of the least creative uses of gin. The result of combining the gin with the tonic brought about a chemical reaction sweetening the water and giving one quite a nice drink. So the gin and tonic, along with the Indian railway system may have been the only good thing to come out of colonialism. Debates may continue to rage on early Indian democratic institutions and their indebtedness to the British legal and parliamentary traditions; but the case for gin and tonic remains airtight.

My last post, which I failed to publicize, was about sanity, which seems to have taken me by surprise. Life seems to be moving quickly, almost more quickly than I would like. Sometimes, it is important – nay, crucial - to sit back, and sip the juniper.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


And then sanity crept its way in to my head. I’m not really sure when, it was that this happened. Sanity is a bastard, its obsequious, evanescent and intractable – forever absent but hinted at, like a character in a Beckett play, until one day it does arrive, quite unexpectedly.

There is something inexplicable about the Mediterranean. I think that I will always be happy here. Something about the soft blues and greens in the sky – the angle of the Earth’s rotation to the sun and the way it hits the water. The explosion of plant life, the plants swarmed with immigrants smelling of anis and spices.

And of course, there is the matter of sanity. My desire for self-immolation seems to be quenched for the time being. It is immeasurably easy to delight in the Faustian – to swill wine, nicotine and barbiturates from the cup of chaos and to weave an identity from this. Like a man in a cheap suit that he’s slept in, it is only a matter of time before things begin to fray – and the rumbles begins to show – even if he is wearing a suit.

I now have secured a Peace Corps placement. I am off to Niger come July. I will attempt to continue this blog for the next two years of my Peace Corps service.

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Scenic Route

The jury remains out as to the veracity of T.S. Elliot’s famous adage concerning the inherent cruelty of April. Admittedly, my history with the month has been a mixed back. I had the (good?) fortune to be born during said month, and have recently, and I would argue shockingly, managed to see the back of my 23rd year and the beginning of a 24th. “Twenty four hours in a day: hardly enough time to sleep, let alone repent” according to one of Brothers Karamazov – likely Ivan the libertine – but it really could be any of the three with some variation in context. Should this same logic be applied to years? Who has time to repent these days? 24, I believe, now makes me officially too old for this shit (what “this shit” actually is remaining unspecified) but still too young to become a Torie (which incidentally, originally meant ‘brigand’.) This has been the first time in a long while that I did not spend the actual day of my birthday itself dwelling on mortality - which was a nice change of affairs.

As for the month of April itself, last April was when the wreckage of my life was collected back together after a grim month and a half of stagnation with the year peaking in late May or early June, only to be deeply entrenched within the realm of Dante by the end of July. By this logic, this would make August the cruelest of months, but it is a hard month to fault, what with that strange tint to the light which Faulkner wrote so well about.

* I would like to note here that I am in full agreement that those first two paragraphs look like some sort of smarmy book report. This is not to say that I apologize for this, indeed I remain firmly unrepentant in my folly.

This April however may or may not confirm Elliot. While the start has been “interesting” – interesting being a fairly obvious euphemism for something far grimmer – I still think the month has potential. I have already succumbed to some sort of god-awful sinus infection which I believe is making its way to my lungs, resulting in me starting my mornings by hawking up horrible gobs of occasionally bloody lung foam (I wonder if the solid bits really are morsels of the actual lung itself?)

This month has also already seen a day at the beach go horribly awry when a weekend excursion turned into a reenactment of the Botan Death March, (although mercifully with beer and seafood at the end.) This turn of events came about as a result of the decision of the French authorities to retract the bridge linking the beach to the parking lot at 6:00 PM, despite the fact that this is very much prime beach properties. We had of course arrived at 6:03 only to find no bridge and the car that we had taken to the beach on the other side of a march. Of course, the next point of crossing is a highway overpasses some 15 km (about 8 miles) away - suffice it to say, it often pays to read large official looking signs posted in the middle of the bridge when you walk over warning of its eventual closure. As always, it is important to have a sense of humor about these things, and I have long since accepted that any trip taken with other international students will rapidly become a comedy of errors. The caws of the flamingos that inhabited the march resembled disconcertingly resembled laughter to the degree that one couldn’t help but thinking that even a bird that spends its day with its head under water can see the ridiculousness of our situation. It also helped that I kept good company on the trek, including two Italians, of whom one of which has an air of Inspector Clouceau about him, often with delightfully funny consequences. Eventually, two other friends who had taken bicycles reappeared and agreed to help us out, cutting the 30 plus kilometer roundtrip in half.

As for the rest of the month, I will just have to see how it goes. Here is hoping that no one decides to try to show me fear in a handful of dust.