Stirred not Shaken

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The perfect Martini

I do confess to having a taste for the good stuff. Montrachet was recognised as AOC Grand Cru in 1937 and a bottle of 2001 Hannibal sells for a whisker under $7800 or, about $110 per millilitre or five hundred bucks a swallow. Heroin is cheaper. Perhaps I need to lower my sights a little bit.

Both tequila and absinthe are made from the most unlikely of ingredients; agave, which looks like a cactus, but isn’t and wormwood, a herb. Absinthe was banned in France until comparatively recently because it caused blindness, hence ‘blind drunk’. These, together with Jamaican rum and Jägermeister are the four most unpalatable drinks on the planet and even I have only ever tried them once.

Ernest Hemingway once drank, improbably, fifty-one, or perhaps fifty- three straight Martinis in the Ritz Hotel in Paris; losing count was almost inevitable. Whether or not this is true is a matter of conjecture but he was sufficiently well-known there that they named a bar after him. Cole Porter would spend up to nine hours a day in the Hemingway Bar; legend has it that he composed “Begin the Beguine” there. F. Scott Fitzgerald had his favourite seat; Hemingway and Gary Cooper made it their go-to watering hole, talking for hours and, in all probability, sliding gently off their bar stools.

Making a good Martini isn’t easy and the Ritz is coy about its prices. Just imagine eye-popping, then double it. A simple enough recipe, really. James Bond had it all wrong – vodka is far too harsh; good gin, redolent with juniper, is much preferred. In a metal cocktail shaker, Lillet or Noilly Prat first, then high proof Tanqueray gin (or Bombay Sapphire if you must) in a 4 to 1 ratio, stirred briskly for no more than ten seconds over cracked ice – never shaken, it dilutes it too much – poured into a chilled cocktail glass with either an olive, or better, a twist of Provençal lemon.

Let’s just say that mixing with the well-heeled and often famous comes at a premium. It’s on a lot of people’s bucket lists. Having visited both, my preference is for the Crillon,  overlooking Place de la Concorde where I was once charged 20€ for a rather small portion of päté en croute. The wine list had nothing for under three figures and sometimes four, so I declined a drink there. Two of the high end suites were designed by the recently deceased Karl Lagerfeld.

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Crillon courtyard

Beer. American beer is appalling, bland and watery-looking and tasting like yesterday’s urine, chilled beyond endurance. Belgian Trappist beer is ridiculously strong, and since the abbot allowed them to drink eight pints of homebrew a day, the monks made the most of them, drinking as they did in silent contemplation. There are, of course all manner of brews in the middle in various states of alcoholic content and taste. If Foster’s is Australian for beer, then Crown Ambassador Reserve must be Australian for expensive beer, although not the most expensive in the world – that is reserved for a brew copied from an ancient Egyptian recipe and named Nefertiti. The Aussies are close behind, however. Aged in French oak barrels for a year and packaged in what looks like a champagne bottle, Crown pitches Ambassador as an alternative to wine, which speaks volumes for the Australian palate. The brewer has produced four iterations since 2008, each batch limited to 8,000 bottles with an ABV of 10.2 (this is high, people – be advised) and a price tag of close to $75 a bottle. Even this is modest compared to beers so rare that only eight bottles exist. You can buy one of them for $800 but it comes in a bottle made from a stuffed animal. There really is no accounting for taste. The Schorschbock 57, can claim to be the strongest beer in the world, with an insane ABV of 57, about the same as schnapps. The stuff probably tastes like cough medicine.

Why all this discussion about rare and exotic beverages which get you a tad squiffy and sometimes just a wee bit dysfunctional? The reason is, I have decided to treat my long-suffering liver to a well-earned vacation.  Poor old girl, she was beginning to show signs of the metabolic equivalent of metal fatigue. For too long she has had to put in a lot of overtime on a zero-hours contract and she will not be troubled to have to process indecently large quantities of Uncle Johnnie Walker or Cousin Jack Daniels for some time. Instead I shall be squeezing fat blood grapefruit with Devin mineral water, very slightly pétillant, unlike Perrier which gives people indecently rapid flatulence. Stirred, not shaken.

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About Eve

 

Screenshot 2019-02-21 at 13.03.04.jpgIn recent times, there’s been a lot of chatter about women. Women who have been taken advantage of, abused, groped and otherwise interfered with by powerful men. Harvey Weinstein is discredited as a blackmailer and serial abuser and even POTUS has been accused. The tip of a very ugly black iceberg. But, women are standing up for themselves, dragging their accusers out of the shadows. 

Bravo and more power to them all.

Let’s suspend disbelief for just a moment and imagine that the Biblical story in Genesis chapter 1 was rooted in fact. Let’s review the scenario. Adam is lonely, so God takes pity on his isolation and makes a help – meet – or suitable for him. Anaesthetised, a rib is taken from him; the result is Eve – they are co-equal in Eden. Then in slithers the snake, breathing out his lies and Eve takes a bite from the apple, subsequently offering it to Adam as a rather roundabout way of suggesting they have sex. Oh, dear. God realises that something has gone wrong, so he goes and finds Adam who, totally missing the irony, instantly points the finger and without a shred of remorse throws his new-found companion under a bus. You can almost hear him saying “it wasn’t me, it was her.” He treated her as subservient (who gave him permission to do that?),  less than himself, omitting to take the opportunity to stand up for her, signally failing to recognise their equality as ‘one flesh’ thus losing the ability to grasp the inherent unity – the original idea – putting her down to raise himself up.  God knew it was a risk, since He had given His creation the authority to determine and influence the fate of the world. The punishment meted out was in consequence severe and thus men gave themselves permission to objectify women, to treat them howsoever they wished and make them subservient, absolving themselves of all responsibility and duty of care. And so it has been. Glass ceilings, underrepresentation in positions of power, domestic violence, discrimination; the list goes on. More obviously, inequality under the medieval nonsense that is Islamic law,  female testimony being worth half that of a man. To add insult to injury, men force their women to wear absurd coverings. The burqa is a massive statement of male supremacy and nothing else.

But, autres temps, autres mœurs. More men are speaking out, as well as more women with indignation, even rage, also with support and compassion for millennia of neglect and domination, all the way back to Eve as the original sin, slowly but surely, is brought into full daylight where it can be seen and dealt with.

Finally, eleven people so far have resigned their respective whips in the British Parliament over causes ranging from leftist domination to right wing power, Brexit and Labour’s rotten antisemitism.  Seven of them are women.

The Independents

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Tombstones in the Herrlisheim Jewish cemetery, north of Strasbourg CNN

Since I have a pathological aversion to joining anything, I have never belonged to a political party, never expressed publicly views which might be open to either rage, ridicule or challenge and I think that people’s politics, much like their religion, is often best kept in the shadows. However, I do admire people who put themselves out there, stand on platforms and argue with passion and conviction for what they believe, presumably in the hope that others will be swayed by persuasive rhetoric and be coaxed round to their way of thinking.

I admire the Independents.

Jeremy Corbyn no longer leads a political party, he is the magister imperator of a cult. Clever and devious manipulation by those around him have hoisted this obscure little man on mightier petards than his, with a view to persuading the young specifically, and the less well-educated perhaps, into a cheering raggletag army, waving a red, red flag, swept on by its own careless momentum, fuelled by online ridicule, intimidation and threats and thirsting for battle at the ballot box.

But, there is something rotten and festering at its heart.

In the same way as Karl Marx was accused of antisemitism, the more the onion layers are peeled back, the clearer the accusations become. At the heart of the cronyism that is the hallmark of the Opposition leadership, there is Jew-hating, variously defined as a rather vague, poorly informed antisemitism – in its extreme form, the belief that Jews are the financial and media Illuminati – thus to be brought low at any cost, or, the real flamethrower of anti-Zionism, the opposition to the right of the Jewish people to exist.

Hitler had similar views and it didn’t turn out well for the Jews.

Place de la République, Tuesday

France has a broad thread of antisemitic thought, to the extent that many Jews I know dare not wear a kippa in public. Antisemitic attacks in recent weeks culminated last Tuesday with vandals daubing swastikas and anti-Jewish slogans on dozens of graves in a Jewish cemetery near Strasbourg.  Marine le Pen on the right and a collection of smaller fry on the left have been conspicuously silent as the outrage has accelerated and debate has raged. Yesterday, however, fourteen political parties called for an end to antisemitism and protests were loud and vociferous, in particular in the Place de la République, which is entirely consistent with the way the French do politics, but without action, such flag-waving is no more than froth and bubble, thus incapable of addressing the real problem of eradication, for which, I have to confess, I think there is no simple answer. More French made aliya last year than at any other time; Jews don’t feel safe there any more.

Neither do British Jews feel safe, including their Jewish politicians. Luciana Berger MP has been subject to a tidal wave of online vilification, including death threats. I am surprised the poor lady gets to sleep at night.  Yesterday, she joined six more, resigning the Labour whip which I think was highly principled. Of the seven (now eight) MPs who quit the party yesterday and today, several said quite simply that the tipping point for their departure was the result of institutionalised antisemitism in the Labour party. If the opposition – such as it is – cannot be trusted to uphold the interests of a people group which has contributed so much to British life, they should hang their collective heads in shame, walk out of the chamber and hand in their swastikas on the way out. Or, if they have some backbone, walk away, join the Independents and take their chances.

Scylla and Charybdis

Detail Times Newspapers

Three teenage runaways. No big deal, happens every day. One of them stole her sister’s passport to evade apprehension, being only fifteen. But, she knew what she was doing. Clever, resourceful and enterprising, the three of them made it to Turkey unchallenged and unmolested.
Over the border into Syria. Married after three weeks to a Daesh fighter. Two dead babies. Two dead friends and a jailed Dutch husband. Squeezed tighter and tighter by invading forces, fleeing finally to a refugee camp in Syria along with tens of thousands of others. About to give birth again. Remorse? None. Regrets? The failure of the ‘caliphate’ and the self-blame that she was too weak to stay behind with the stricken rump of the once-mighty army that threatened the Mesopotamian region with its stranglehold of fear.

She wants to come ‘home’ to the UK, so that, with a breathtaking sense of entitlement, her newborn will receive NHS care. Not a scintilla of moral compass, the black tentacles of the propaganda from which she was recruited woven permanently into her soul. A psychological and spiritual basket case.

It is as if all she felt she had to do was pick up the phone and Daddy would come pick her up from the prom.

Which presents the UK with a series of near-insurmountable problems. Retribution teeters on a steep ridge where on the one hand, an underage teen was caught up in something for which she was emotionally ill-equipped and on the other, a hardened jihadist with a visceral hatred of the land of her birth, poisoned from the well of undiluted evil that was Daesh and at the very least, a passive accomplice to murder.

Online opinion and the Home Office is overwhelmingly in favour of refused entry, with possible loss of citizenship, in which case she will simply disappear into the abyss of lost souls and the UK will turn its back.

Some, however, favour tempering justice with mercy. Reintroducing her into society will cost millions, however. Bespoke deprogramming with scant expectation of success. A new identity to protect her from the vengeance of right-wing extremists and prevention of her becoming a standard-bearer for new recruits into whatever leviathan Daesh metamorphoses into, as it assuredly will. Extensive surveillance and stringent curtailment of her civil liberties, the list goes on and the bill goes up.

Do I want to offer an opinion? No, I don’t; the problem is way above my pay grade and the moral implications are a minefield in both directions. Either way, trapped between Scylla and Charybdis, the UK will be held responsible for creating the morality of which she is plainly incapable. Whatever the outcome, the country will be pilloried, criticised, scrutinised, weighed in the balance and, in all probability shall, like King Belshazzar, be found wanting.

Emergence

At the risk of sounding saccharine and poetic, this short post is a determinant of current status. It is as if I have been Gollum, a cave-dwelling creature of the dark, feeling its way with tarsier like paws, looking for…something I can’t even name. February here is normally snowy, which I usually find quite cheering, but this winter has been unusually mild and the metaphor of trees putting forth their buds is testament to how my thoughts have begun to clarify, and things once twilight-blurred are beginning, just beginning to come into sharper focus. I have begun to go places, to do things, perhaps even write a little bit again, self-indulgent as it may seem to anyone curious enough to stumble across this. The larva is starting to wriggle and spit, to escape from the darkness, the chrysalis is metamorphosing and on his way out. Apologies to Kafka.

And yet, I have no clear idea of how this came about. Perhaps it is a natural transformation in a reconfiguration process, we get sick and tired of being sick and tired and inner resources conspire to assemble the chaotic jigsaw of the mind in order to do something about it. This may be partly true, but, being a secret, heretical admirer of Jungian collective consciousness, there may be a little more to it. Friends have somehow seemed closer, the warmth and tenderness of some have been almost palpable. By this, I do not mean the jolly, beery bonhomie that drags one unwillingly into the conversation but a much more subtle enfolding by those who, for want of a better word, care. The cushioning against falling headlong into the abyssal has been remarkable. You know who you are, and you have my gratitude as well as my thanks. As someone wrote ‘chaque moment se construit sur le précédent.’