Closing the Book on 2013

Each year, every year, December comes and goes too quickly to be fully appreciated.  This year, it felt especially blurry: finding the time for all the holiday cheer, travel, and glad tidings, before the 25th arrives and before plunging into the cornucopia quivering with desire and ecstasy of unbridled avarice (thanks Jean Shepherd).  Not to mention the soft glow of electric sex gleaming in our front window (yes, we have a nearly four-foot tall replica).

Christmas flashes by, then it’s New Year’s, which for me has never caused much of a to-do.  Sure, I used to go out and drink and actually care about doing something.  Yet it was never as much fun as hoped and always absurdly expensive.  Even the most epic eventualities cannot reduce the annoyance of waiting 10 minutes for a cocktail,  delivered weak and in a plastic cup while skinny girls step on your toes to get faster service.  Such is hell.

But I won’t get ahead of myself.  December, even with its hurry and bustle, still remains and was indeed enjoyable.  I spent time off from work, with family near and far, and poured a fine drink or two.  So before the clock strikes midnight and 2013 concludes, here are a few late year discoveries and favorites.  To you and yours, Happy New Year.

– Samuel Smith’s Taddy Porter.  Difficult to find a bad brew from this old, traditional English brewery.  Much like their Oatmeal Stout, the porter is another fantastic cold weather beer – perfect for sipping in front of a fire.

– Devils Backbone Kilt Flasher Scottish Ale.  This wee heavy ale is another hit from this new-ish craft brewery located near Shenandoah National Park, a few hours southwest of Washington, D.C.  (Read my take on their Vienna Lager here.)

– Barrel Trolley Amber Ale.  Brewed by the Genesee Brewing Company, in Rochester, N.Y., this amber is fairly sweet and light bodied, especially considering the range of amber ales these days.  Decent overall, but finishes too weakly.

As per usual, here are a few additional selections, for the interested reader and drinker.  Not all booze related, but mostly.

– PUNCH.  This new online wine and spirits magazine (punchdrink.com) seeks to “bring the worlds of wine and cocktails together,” as stated in a Wall Street Journal feature earlier this month.  The site is a creation of Brooklyn-based writers Talia Baiocchi and Leslie Pariseau and is backed by a small division of Random House Publishing.  I particularly enjoy the site’s long-form writing, a format similar to my own.

Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary, by Tim Federle.  2013 saw much writing published on the intersection of literature and drinking.  Here it continues, but with a more lighthearted touch (a Christmas gift from the wife).  Mr. Federle’s short text proffers literary-inspired cocktail recipes: impress your friends the next time you host book club.

Endgame, 1945: The Missing Final Chapter of World War II, by David Stafford.  Professor Stafford shines a bright light on several often overlooked months following the Allied victory in Europe.  Although formal hostilities with Nazi Germany ended, chaos, uncertainty, and death did not.

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A Visit from St. Nicholas, Part 2

The Night Before Christmas, the beloved holiday poem penned by Clement Clarke Moore, provides what many argue is the first description of Santa Claus, a description still in wide use today.  The lighthearted poem not only describes jolly old St. Nick, but names his eight flying reindeer as well.

Given this story’s popularity throughout the English speaking world, what would it be like if written by another author – an author’s whose writing style and tone were more than a little different than Moore’s?

James Thurber – writer, cartoonist, and satirist – had precisely this thought.  So he wrote an article for The New Yorker that was published on December 24th, 1927, entitled, A Visit from Saint Nicholas (In the Ernest Hemingway Manner).  His description of Santa – one I argued yesterday describes him like a heavy drinker – reads hilariously, as follows:

I stood still and listened.

“What do you hear?”

“Reindeer,” I said. I shut the window and walked about. It was cold. Mamma sat up in the bed and looked at me.

“How would they get on the roof?” mamma asked.

“They fly.”

“Get into bed. You’ll catch cold.”

Mamma lay down in bed. I didn’t get into bed. I kept walking around.

“What do you mean, they fly?” asked mamma.

“Just fly is all.”

Mamma turned away toward the wall. She didn’t say anything.

I went out into the room where the chimney was. The little man came down the chimney and stepped into the room. He was dressed all in fur. His clothes were covered with ashes and soot from the chimney. On his back was a pack like a peddler’s pack. There were toys in it. His cheeks and nose were red and he had dimples. His eyes twinkled. His mouth was little, like a bow, and his beard was very white. Between his teeth was a stumpy pipe. The smoke from the pipe encircled his head in a wreath. He laughed and his belly shook. It shook like a bowl of red jelly. I laughed. He winked his eye, then he gave a twist to his head. He didn’t say anything.

He turned to the chimney and filled the stockings and turned away from the chimney. Laying his finger aside his nose, he gave a nod. Then he went up the chimney. I went to the chimney and looked up. I saw him get into his sleigh. He whistled at his team and the team flew away. The team flew as lightly as thistledown. The driver called out, “Merry Christmas and good night.” I went back to bed.

After reading Thurber’s hilarious Hemingwayesque description of Santa’s Christmas Eve visit, we might now understand what the holiday season was like in say, Soviet Russia.  Regardless, Thurber’s words provide a unique re-telling of a historical and beloved tale known to children everywhere.

As a great admirer of Hemingway’s work, I particularly enjoyed Thurber’s parody.  For those who share my sentiment, you can read the entire piece at The New Yorker,  available via their archives for $5.99.  Or Google it, whichever.

This terse and hard-nosed version of a cheerful childhood classic is best enjoyed alongside a long pour of ice cold vodka.  And a punch in the face.  Because in Hemingway’s world, that’s how you celebrate Christmas.

~~~~~~~~~~

As an afterthought, I want to note my wife’s amusing observation about this post: later in life, Hemingway himself bore an uncanny resemblance to Ol’ Saint Nick (see below).  That, in addition to their mutual love of the drink.

A Visit from St. Nicholas, Part 1

Coca Cola? Perhaps not...

Over the last week or so, my wife and I have been busy preparing our home for Christmas.  A few days after Thanksgiving, we found a wonderfully large fir that was nearly too large for the living room (and was in fact too large for our trusty old tree stand, necessitating an emergency trip to our neighborhood hardware store).

In that spirit, we’ve been reading our toddler Christmas-themed books each night before bed –  classics such as Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Frosty the Snowman, and The Night Before Christmas.

As my wife was reading The Night Before Christmas aloud to our child the other night, a few lines of the story – written by Clement Clarke Moore and originally published in the early 1800s – I got to thinking: perhaps ol’ Saint Nick, as originally described by Moore, was secretly a serious boozer.

From the original:

His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself…

Consider the description more plainly: a broad face with glassy eyes, rosy cheeks, a bulbous red nose, and a joking smile.  He has a chubby, plump stature and laughs for no apparent reason.  You have to admit, if someone were described to you this way, you’d probably assume they had a habit of hitting the bottle pretty hard.

And why wouldn’t he?  He lives at the North Pole, a frigid climate to be sure.  His only human contact is his wife (alone, reason enough to drink); otherwise, he’s surrounded by green-felt clad little people, who work year-round manufacturing jobs.  He’s also the sole manager of this colossal production.  And one day a year, he’s forced to traverse the Earth like some international mailman. The jet lag alone would be killer.

Objectively speaking then, it’s no wonder Santa would appear as described by Moore.  What else is there to do while hopping (in the open air, sans cabin pressure no less) from continent to continent?

So help Santa out.  After the kids put out the milk and cookies on Christmas Eve, add a little something extra for Old St. Nick – perhaps such generosity will encourage him to take your name off the Naughty List.  Well, that might be a little ambitious.

Published in: on December 22, 2011 at 6:01 pm  Comments (4)  
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Merry Christmas

A variety of Glenmorangie, The Peat Monster, and a dusting of snow.  Truly a Merry Christmas.  To you and yours, the very best season’s greetings and happy holidays.

Published in: on December 25, 2010 at 1:31 pm  Comments Off on Merry Christmas  
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