A Drink and a Poem (The Mudslide and The Emperor of Ice Cream)

NOTE: This was first published on my old blog July 15th, 2016.

NOTE: This was first published on my old blog July 15th, 2016.
The Emperor of Ice Cream
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Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month’s newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.
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Take from the dresser of deal,
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.
–Wallace Stevens, 1922
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I read somewhere that the true use of literature is to help us understand why we do what we do, to uncover our true motives.
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And here are the motivations uncovered — ice cream.
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It’s hardly a surprise that lofty ideas sometimes lead to disappointment, and, in truth, our appetites can lead us to strange situations, not necessarily bad ones. They may lead us to do the right thing. They probably won’t, but they might. Even a small act of kindness — attending a funeral one doesn’t want to attend — can have good results.
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Stevens and I are both New Englanders and we all have an extravagant taste for ice cream. We eat a lot of it. One might think that Hawai’i would eat more but that isn’t really the case. Where we come from, ice cream is for all occasions — dolorous ones included.
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This poem is likely set in some place where people roll cigars, since there is a cigar roller (also Stevens used to vacation in a place with palm trees)  but I understand his impulse, because the impulse to ice cream belongs to the north.
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It is in this fine ice cream eating tradition that we drink the mudslide. In other places mudslides are a kind of gross cocktail with a cool name, because most people don’t know how to make them. The proper Mudslide (or Frozen Mudslide as it is sometimes called) is made in a blender with ice cream.
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Stevens — although he likely never had a mudslide in the prohibition-era stage in his  writing career  — would surly understand the overabundance and decadence of the mixed ice cream and booze.  It isn’t a way to stave off death, or forget one’s sorrows,  but a way to get all of one’s desires in a single glass, and to take it all in at once  — to be buried, perhaps smothered, by desire.
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Repent. Repent. Repent.
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Notes:
* People who roll cigars are not called ‘rollists’ although they should be.
* Some simple drinks — like the first two discussed in the series — had been around since Victorian times.
* This is when complex mixed drinks were first coming into vogue so I guess the possibility that he had a mudslide is still there, but it seems unlikely.
* As far as lofty ideas go, I assume that for most of you ice cream in this case is a disappointment but what do I know?
* I really don’t like the word ‘decadence’ the way contemporary people use it. I may give into my appetites, but those appetites don’t involve anything decaying.
* The notes in this series don’t follow any particular order but nobody seems to have noticed.
* So you are wondering how it is made? a blender full of  vanilla ice cream, and a couple shots each of coffee liquor and vodka. I suggest some home made whipped cream for the top.
* This blog does not endorse doing the right thing for the wrong reasons on moral grounds.

A Drink and a Song (Bloody Caesar & Barrett’s Privateers)

NOTE: this was first posted on my old blog July 1st 2016.

NOTE: this was first posted on my old blog July 1st 2016.

Ten or so years ago I lent my copies of The Beautiful Losers and The Selected Poems of Leonard Cohen to a friend. When last I saw them a few years later they were on her bookshelf, which is as a good a place as any for them. I have so many books now that my living quarters are cramped and, no matter how hard I try, I really can’t stop new books from finding their way to me.

Still I would like to consult the Beautiful Losers every now and again. When I read it it seemed like all of Canada in a single book, and not in anyway that encouraged me to go there. If you have read the book you understand.

A few years after that I found myself at a New Year’s Eve party in Montreal with a Québécois Nationalist named Pierre, both of us literally moved to tears over the beauty and independent spirit of the province shackled to the brute and philistine Anglo-phonic world, while my much more sensible (and Canadian) friend calmly explained how independence would lead to social and economic ruin, not that we were listening — we were tipsily crying and calling out for freedom. That was, and will be, my last foray into foreign politics.  

Whether the book is definitive or not, Cohen, more than anyone else, represents Montreal but we didn’t sing Cohen’s songs going up (we had to sing naturally it being a road trip and all)if for no other reason than his songs are too personal and there is something a little skeevy about other people singing many of them. For instance “Famous Blue Rain Coat” not only is the only song written as a heart-felt thank you note to the man that who seduced and lead away his wife but is signed “Sincerely L. Cohen.”  For the most part his songs are his and we should be happy to keep them that way.  Whenever I have heard other people sing them it sounds tactless and intrusive.

More sensibly, we drove about singing “Barrett’s Privateers” by the great Stan Rogers. It is a boisterous mock sea chantey. It is perfect for people (at least one of whom needs a flawless memory for lyrics as there are many of them), to sing in groups, as it was written to be sung.

It should be dumb and kitschy, after all it is a 70s faux-folk tune about privateers and sea battles, but it is neither. There is something in the darkness of the lyrics and the rowdiness of the tune that has always agreed with me, ven touched me.  When I am listening to the album I sometimes have to skip the track because it can be too much, especially since it was written in the 70s and there is always the war in Viet Nam lurking behind it.

Our war for independence and freedom was just another imperial expedition for the boys on the other side, but we never really think about them.

We also never think of putting clams in our cocktails.  But that is also a very Canadian thing. The same friend who was trying to talk sense to me at that house party introduced me to the pride of Canadian cocktails: the Bloody Caesar. Clam Juice, Tomato(nonsensically you can get these two disparate liquids bottled together), Celery Salt, Worcestershire Sauce, and pepper, with a glug or so of vodka. The last time I made it an acquaintance from New Hampshire demanded hot sauce be added, and he added quite a bit.  I had half a glass and wasn’t sure that it improved the taste, but he had a pitcher-and-a-half and seemed quite pleased, so take it as an alternate recipe.

There is a bit more in common between “Barrett’s Privateers” and Bloody Caesars, than their pseudo-historical names. They are strong, bold, flavorful, and are the best remedies for those off-moments when the imagination strays north of the border and the body has to stay south for work the next day.

Notes:

* One may imagine from this article that I can speak French, and, while I was there, I imagined it too.

* The version of Famous Blue Rain Coat that I linked to is signed “Sincerely, A Friend.” But what does it matter,if one were to write the same letter over and over one would certainly make a few changes. I pretty sure the audience knew who he was anyway.

* I didn’t give the measurements because I don’t measure ingredients — it’s bourgeois.

*I may also add that the song was released in ‘76 — the year of our bicentennial. Maybe that is just a coincidence.

* There was also the war in the Falklands ahead of it. Things didn’t seem like they were getting better and they weren’t, but we are still hoping. 

 

A Drink and a Poem (Red Eye & Girls Bathing, Galway, 1965)

First Published on my old blog on June 23rd, 2016

Note: First Published on my old blog on June 23rd, 2016

Girls Bathing, Galway, 1965

The swell foams where they float and crawl,
A catherine-wheel of arm and hand;
Each head bobs curtly as a football.
The yelps are faint here on the strand.

No milk-limbed Venus ever rose
Miraculous on this western shore.
A pirate queen in battle clothes
Is our sterner myth. The breakers pour

Themselves into themselves, the years
Shuttle through space invisibly.
Where crests unfurl like creamy beer
The queen’s clothes melt into the sea

And generations sighing in
The salt suds where the wave has crashed
Labour in fear of flesh and sin
For the time has been accomplished

As through the shallows in swimsuits,
Bare-legged, smooth-shouldered and long-backed,
They wade ashore with skips and shouts.
So Venus comes, matter-of-fact.
–Seamus Heaney

I have never seen this poem reprinted or anthologized. After it appeared in one of Heaney’s collections, A Door in the Dark (1969), it sort of just disappeared. I don’t know if it is because the poem was deemed politically uncomfortable. One might — just because of the title — claim that the poem objectifies women even if that is exactly the impulse it is rejecting. Or it could be the totally unknowable reference to the Irish goddess. Or maybe people just didn’t know what to do with it.

Heaney came of age between the poetic eras of dense Modernism and authors’ embarrassing contemplations of their own genitals. The taste-makers of those days were infamously tasteless,  so it is hardly surprising that they missed good things when they saw them — this poem included.

Like all sensible people, I don’t enjoy going to the beach.  I do, however, enjoy the depictions of bathing in art. I suppose everyone does, because in life beach-going is always a disappointment, but one never gets sun-burned, coated with greasy sunblock, or abraded by sand when contemplating a painting in a museum. It is a pure ideal experience — well almost. The closeness to the ideal always depends on the artist’s skill and situation. It is a classical ideal after all, and Ireland doesn’t lend itself the ideal of the Greeks and Italians, at least not at first glance.

Back in ‘07, and far from the shores of Galway, I briefly worked for the local Italian American Club as a daytime bartender, and took a liking to a group of elderly men who would come in early and hang out with each other. Every now and again one would order a Red Eye — a beer and a tomato juice. I think that they just wanted something to sip on without having to really drink. There would be no sense in asking them why they did it because they had this strange, almost aristocratic, attitude and assumed that people in-the-know knew and that everybody else was an idiot. They were not believers in any sort of explication, and never deigned to do so. As a person who explains things for a living I have come to admire this attitude.

Where Red Eyes came from, I have no idea. It certainly isn’t Italian and I doubt it is Irish. But it is the perfect thing when stranded on a beach, sitting in the shade, and waiting for a goddess to arise from the water.

Or not waiting for her to arise, although she might anyways.

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Notes:
* After writing this post I took the time to google the poem and found that it is commemorated on a plaque at the beach where it was written. I suppose that I should change the opening paragraph, but I doubt that I will.
* A rhyme is two different words phonetically alike from the last stressed vowel to the end of the word. Anyone care to guess which one bothers me?
* I do understand children liking the beach: I care nothing for swimming as an adult but what child doesn’t love digging giant holes in the sand? After the discovery of the periwinkle and the starfish the strand holds no wonder — and all that is left is the battering of each of the four elements in their least agreeable states.
* The old timers will hopefully get their own post later.
* The Internet thinks a Red Eye is something different, but the Internet is generally wrong.
* Let me preemptively not care that any of you self-righteous nudzhes object to my beginning sentences with the word ‘or.’
* Canadians add clam juice and call it “Clam-and-Beer.” The Canadians and their clammy tomato juice will return next week.

 

Saint Carannog’s Day

Today is Saint Carannog’s Day, as some of you know I am rather fond of this particular saint, and wrote about him once

There are a few extant stories about him, and my favorite never seemed particularly Christian, at least to me.  It is also unusually pro-dragon; even though it comes from as anti-dragon an age as ours.  But nobody seems to be celebrating. I take it as a sign of anti-dragon bias.

An Apology

Some of you may have noticed that my last entry wasn’t very good, but that isn’t quite true. The truth is it wasn’t even written.

Over the summer I sketched out a series of blog entries to get me through the fall and winter in an effort to force myself to keep writing.  That, however, isn’t quite how it worked. I just kept rescheduling the posts until one week they caught up to me and the piece on Auden was published and then the next week I forgot the Amy Winehouse article was next — even though they are numbered. I’m not sure exactly how I made the same mistake twice in a row, but I did. I also found that my view on the matter changed between the time I initially wrote it and the moment of its premature publication — so it needed more than polishing — it needed to be rewritten.

So there you have it.  if you have any faith in this blog left, tune in next week for Amy Winehouse reconsidered. If not feel free to use me as a warning to your children about the dangers of planning for the future.

WALPURGISNACHT

NOTE: This is a slightly revised version of an entry from my old blog from April 29th 2016.In celebration of Walpurgis Night, I have decided to post this old translation that I have done from the Old Wendallan. I couldn’t find a trot to work with so the translation might be a little inaccurate, but hopefully not an act of vandalism. I have done my best but I am no expert on the language. So feel free to post any corrections that you have.

 

On Walpurgis Night   none should leave,
Or walk alone,   on the Witches’ Sabbath
When the devilish and the wicked    walk the Earth —
The wicked who hide    all year in the heaths
And the wicked among us    who want to join them.                                                                            –Kreduleð of Gulmanshire

 

Of Kreduleð we know nothing except that he stayed in the abbey of Gulmanshire for much of his life and disappeared in April 535. This brief poem and a Latin treatise on gardening are the only works currently attributed to him.

Auden’s Music con’t

It seems the British Library has been thinking about Auden’s songs too, and produced a handy guide to them. 

The blog I posted last week didn’t include any introduction to them whatsoever and I had been planning on doing a little one in case anyone​ was curious about what I was talking about. 

I don’t suppose that many people are familiar with Auden or cabaret music these days, but it seems I did suppose so when I wrote that entry.