Hemingway: Birth of a Booze Lover

“Don’t bother with churches, government buildings or city squares. If you want to know about a culture, spend a night in its bars.” – Ernest Hemingway (informal travel advice)  

When he wasn’t on safari, catching a marlin, or leaving one wife to marry another one, that’s just where Ernest Hemingway was. Perhaps the only stories more famous than the ones Ernest Hemingway wrote are the ones about his drinking exploits. Hemingway drinking lore has him running up a tab of 51 martinis during the liberation of Paris, inventing the Bloody Mary, and measuring F. Scott’s Fitzgerald’s evidently undersized…pen. But whether Hemingway drinking stories are apocryphal or not, he is synonymous with the drinking writer.

He was born into it. Over half of the American writers renowned for their drinking were born in the last fifteen years of the nineteenth century. One theory for why they were such drinkers is that they fought World War I, which pitted new weaponry, such as mortars, artillery, and Gatling guns against the slightly less effective method of walking slowly towards trenches with bayonets. In reaction to these horrors and inconceivable loss and waste, they felt lost and disillusioned and were so dubbed the Lost Generation. And in 1919, the Lost Generation needed a drink.

Hemingway among them, for a few reasons. While serving in the Red Cross Ambulance Corps on the Italian front, he was wounded by mortar fire. He recovered in a hospital where he fell in love with a nurse who tore out his heart, leaving an empty gap which Hemingway promptly filled with wine. Brokenhearted and most likely suffering from PTSD, he returned to America, where he drank and he fished and he drank. Then he moved to Paris, where he drank and he wrote and he drank. For Hemingway, moving to Paris and drinking there were acts of freedom and rebellion towards the mores of the U.S., a country which had sent him off to war and then would not let them have a drink to help him deal with it.

In Paris, Hemingway continued engaging in the two things he had a special talent for: drinking and writing. His tolerance was unmatched and he consumed large quantities of booze with little physical effect. He attributed this to a rigorous physical regimen of boxing, wilderness sports, and writing really mean things about his friends. By sheer physicality he remained healthy and by determination he was also productive. He drank constantly but refused to have a drink before he had reached his daily writing quota of 500 words, zero adverbs, and at least 3 friendships irreversibly damaged. If he was ever tempted to drink while writing he needed only visit his friend, the walking cautionary tale named F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald tried to inspire creativity and writing with alcohol, only to kill his creativity and writing with alcohol.  

Drinking, among other issues, caught up to Hemingway’s in the 1930s. For the first time, his drinking caused his work to suffer and his mental health to deteriorate. He was depressed, so he drank, which made him more depressed, so he drank more. Stabs at his manhood came in the memoir of a former ally (paybacks = a bitch) and what followed was the Hemingway many now think of – cartoonishly macho, drunken fights and wrestling matches, and spewing proclamations of his manly abilities to “outdrink, outwrite, and outfuck” anyone who isn’t Gertrude Stein.              

But more important than his own drinking is the deep reverence to alcohol and its rituals that permeate the fictional worlds that Hemingway created. Each book depicted a culture’s alcohol traditions and ceremonies surrounding it. In The Sun Also Rises, two men in Basque country are taught to drink wine from leather flagons like the locals. In Paris cafes they drink wine, champagne, and absinthe. In the Hotel Montoya in Pamplona, they drink rioja alta and fundador. In Islands in the Stream his characters in Cuba drink doble daiquiris. His characters drink what Hemingway drank, their livers become secondary characters, and they all follow the lesson Hemingway himself followed: “travel globally and drink locally.”           

Just as culturally significant to the cultural rituals in Hemingway’s fiction are the bars, which are treated as sacred places. The actions within a bar are purposeful, meaningful, and result in deep consequences. Confrontations are made, allegiances forged, critical decisions taken. Hemingway created a language for those who inhabited his bars. Unlike other writers who made the dialogue in bars raucous, vulgar, or chaotic, Hemingway’s characters spoke in a laconic and controlled way and thus existed in a secret community of drinkers who knew how to handle their alcohol. This was of utmost importance to Hemingway’s characters and clearly to Hemingway himself.

“I like to see a man drink. A man does not exist until he is drunk.” – Hem

Or, to paraphrase Descartes: “I drink, therefore I am.”

Let’s have a cocktail that would do old Hemingway proud. He drank everything put in front of him (or in front of the people to his left or right). But he especially liked to modify cocktails to his own specifications. He drank gin and tonics with a few drops of Angostura bitters (try this!) and on fishing excursions he modified a Tom Collins by omitting sugar and replacing the soda water with coconut water (dubbed the Maestro Collins). He loved Campari and the Americano, but with gin instead of sweet vermouth. We at Hammered History recommend his favorite drink from El Floridita Bar in Havana – The Doble Daiquiri (link is to the 1934 menu of El Floridita and apparently Hemingway usually went for daiquiri #3 and modified it as follows)   

The Doble daiquiri (ingredients)

–          4 ounces white rum (this is the double part, start your engines)

–          ¾ ounce fresh lime juice (half a lime)

–          ½ ounce fresh grapefruit juice

–          6 drops maraschino liqueur

–          Ice (shaved if possible, broken or small cubes if not)

–          Metal shaker  

–          A liver the size of Toronto

–          A designated driver, preferably a combat hardened ambulance driver

Instructions from Hemingway *

Chill a martini glass before you go to work making the drink. Next, reach into a bag of shaved ice or ice cubes and bring out a handful. It will be cool and your hand will be cold, but you will feel good because of the cold. Put the ice in a metal shaker. The ice will frost it. Measure two full jiggers full of good white rum and add it to the shaker. Squeeze one half of a lime into a jigger. When it is full and there and good, add the lime juice to the shaker. Fresh lime juice is best, but Rose’s is fair if you are in a combat zone or in a cave. Squeeze a quarter of a grapefruit into a jigger. When it is full and there and good, add the grapefruit juice. Taste it. If it lacks authority, add more rum. If it is too strong, add more rum. Like a man. The cool liquid will jewel the sweat on the shaker. Don’t add any damned sugar. Add 6 drops of maraschino liqueur into the shaker with an eye dropper or a spoon. Enclose the shaker with a rocks glass or a pint glass. Shake well. Pour it into the chilled martini glass. Drink 5 of these until you are true and real. If you don’t, add more run.              

* outright lie, instructions from me

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The Humbling

Friday afternoon. I was in the living room when the cat walked to her box with a newspaper, this means it’s a # 2. I hang back for a few minutes but I had been planning on going to the bathroom to comb my hair. I peek around the corner and the cat is in “the stance.” I wait. The cat leaves her box with a leap. She then runs back and forth through the hallway. I know there’s a problem.

I have found that at times the universe decides to humble me. Usually when I get a little arrogant, things are going well, I’m on my A Game, the universe sends me a little reminder that I am but a speck of dust on the hindquarters of all there is. I step in a deep puddle, get a pimple on my nose, put of my boxers backwards. I get humbled. This was that.

When the cat runs around after pooping, it means one of two, equally-enjoyable, reasons. The first is that she has gotten poop on herself and is therefore freaked out that the poop is on her. She then celebrates by running around my house and wiping it on everything she can find. The second reason is that the cat has eaten some of Burke’s long hair, which exists in my house more ubiquitously than does oxygen. The hair then must leave her body the way everything else does. It’s during this process that poop attaches itself to my cat’s butt by a long hair. The cat, disheartened by this scenario, is then possessed by the soul of a demonic horse and run around the house trying to buck the poop. Which – and I can’t stress this enough – doesn’t work.

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These Woods Are Haunted

Warning: Old Man Complaint Ahead

I understand that TV has changed. When I was young, MTV (Music Television) played music videos and TLC (The Learning Channel) showed surgery. Even later in my life, the programming on The History Channel was largely about, you know, history, or at the very least Adolf Hitler.

Based on the information scoured from a remote control peruse during my last trip home, these things are no longer true. TLC and The History Channel is rife with reality TV mostly hitting niche audience markets that somehow become crack cocaine to the larger viewing audience. Had someone told me a decade ago that I would be thoroughly involved in a show about trash pickers or about the daily happenings of a family that owns a Las Vegas pawn shop, I’d have thought you looney. But, alas, here we are.

In the land of target audiences, The Discovery Channel has cast a net so wide as to capture every audience that exists, has ever existed, or will ever exist on earth or any planet discovered or undiscovered in our universe or any universe. Just by going to Discovery Plus, one can find a number of shows about morbidly obese people trying to lose weight, a variety of different societal groups looking for love – immediately, those who want to be married and engaged, thousands of ghost hunters, and a huge group of people looking for Bigfoot and his cryptid buddies.

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William III Wins the Battle of the Boyne and Gives the Protestants a Drink

The armies of James II and William III were squaring off across the River Boyne near Drogheda, Ireland. Roman Catholic James II was making a push to regain the throne, from which William had deposed him the year before. James’s 23,000-strong army was mostly made up of Irish Catholics, but he had several regiments of French soldiers, as well as Scottish and English Jacobites. His soldiers were armed with outdated muskets and his Irish soldiers were mostly pressed into service and poorly trained; some were armed with scythes.   

But there was brandy. According to John Stevens, a soldier at the Boyne, there was perhaps too much brandy. It was meant to calm the nerves of the untested men, but was so effective that more than 1,000 of them passed out drunk in the fields.    

On the other side, Protestant William III (William of Orange) had 36,000 troops, half of which were British, the rest were made up of soldiers from Denmark, the Netherlands, and France. They were better trained and equipped with more modern weapons. We don’t know if William’s soldiers were drinking, but they won. (Irish Catholics never win.) In the aftermath, James II ran off to France, where he would spend the rest of his life presumably eating cheese and bitching about French employment laws. His flight earned him the nickname within Ireland of Séamus a’ chaca (James the Shit), so we probably wasn’t in a rush to put that on a customs card anyway.   

Though not a decisive win, William’s victory had important implications. William was fighting to keep Protestant control over Ireland and to forestall future Jacobite (et al) attempts to restore James to the throne. James II had put forth the Declaration of Indulgence, granting freedom of religion for all of Ireland – which just about everyone saw as a sneaky way to reestablish Catholic rule. Victory at the Boyne helped William establish Protestantism in Ireland because his supporters were both Protestants and zealots. They were victorious, they needed a drink, and that drink need to be “Protestant.” But what?

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TV for Hypochondriacs

“Watching” British television is an interesting experience for an American. I usually don’t get what’s happening and I have to pay close attention to the subtitles the whole time. I spend a lot of time deciphering the smoldering, pregnant glares the characters give each other instead of words. When you grew up watching American good guys lay out the bad guys’ entire plans and bad guys who explicitly explain their motivations, British TV is tough.

Then there’s the humors. There is one level of humor meant as a bone for the global audience (most of Love, Actually) and then there is the level of humor meant only for British people. If you aren’t British, the only way to discover these is to watch a show with a Brit, when they laugh and you don’t, that’s a British humor. Mark it down and watch it time and time again, you will never figure it out. Trust me.

It is with these things in mind that I turn on a British television show. It’s an investment in time and effort and in the end I might be starting at a wall saying “Wait, was it the guy who lived on the boat?” It was with that tentative unease that last Saturday I put on Doc Martin. Doc Martin is about a doctor (Martin), a brilliant surgeon who develops a sudden fear of blood. He moves to Cornwall where he becomes a small-town GP. And he is a total dick.    

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The Explorer Drinker’s Club

One of the downsides of a global pandemic is what it did to my pub intake. Say what you will, but there’s nothing like a good pub. Even if you’re one of those sociopaths who drinks tea at one, a good pub is warm, inviting, and makes you relax. And COVID took that away.

Because of this I was forced to drink at home, which is just not as fun as drinking in a place where you get to pay people to bring you alcohol while you judge others for getting drunk so early in the day. I made it a habit of swinging by our local pubs once a week to get beer from the tap. But it’s not the same.

Good news was heralded with the vaccination numbers, the low numbers of infections, and the reawakening of the city’s pubs. But as I am not yet fully vaccinated, I didn’t want to go inside and I didn’t want to sit within big groups of drinkers. I yearned for a pub, but one in which I could sit outside and not near anyone else. I now consider everyone diseased and riddled with the pox. And I don’t think this makes me a bad person at all.

I enlisted Burke in my quest for such a pub. As she is also interested in getting tipsy in the waited-on great outdoors, she was in.

The first place we found was in the shadow the Ferdinand I’s summer palace. Its foundations were laid in 1555 by his son (the predictably-named Ferdinand II). The park which I walk in almost every day was a game reserve also established by Ferdinand I.

By game reserve, we are referring to a fenced-in hunting ground stocked with various exotic animals. These included antelopes, gazelles, camels, a plethora of exotic birds, some cheetahs and a great ape. These animals were locked in with slate fencing, unlike the large walls that are there these days and which frankly seem a hell of a lot better suited to keeping in cheetahs and orangutans. These animals apparently thought so too, as they occasionally escaped and caused what must have been considerable ruckus in Prague 6 environs. Though one has immense joy imagining a 16th century Prague 6 farmer try to scare a cheetah away from his radishes while wondering just what in the hell the neighbors were feeding their house cats.   

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June 11 323 B.C., Alexander the Great Dies from (Possible) Overconsumption of Alcohol

Cleitus the White Loses his Epithet

The omens were not kind that year to Alexander of Macedon (aka: “the Great”). They bespoke of death and decline, and warned him not to enter Babylon. Under the pressure from the looming threats of supernatural comeuppance, he naturally embarked upon a month-long drinking binge.

That binge was capped off with a two-day bender. He threw a party for one of his admirals, Nearchus. While he was running off to bed, his friend Medius invited him to keep drinking at his place. After what was probably very little arm twisting, Alexander rehoisted his wine bowl and drank the next day away with Medius. Later he felt sick, at which time he downed a jug of wine to ward off a fever, which you’ll be shocked to know didn’t work. He was stricken ill for 10 days and died.

The world reacted the way it always does when a celebrity does. People wept and shaved their heads; the more disturbingly devoted starved themselves to death. (It’s also possible they just couldn’t find any food.) Alexander was a brilliant general, an astute leader and politician, and (sometimes) magnanimous towards his people and enemies. But more, he was larger-than-life, a superstar of the Ancient World. And like many superstars before and since, his fast and furious life was shadowed by self-destruction. And so, the world said goodbye to Alexander the Great: Ancient World Wild Child.  

Alexander was from the drinking part of Greece. While wine held a big place in Greek culture at the time, drunkenness was viewed as vulgar. Someone who committed a crime or a faux pas while inebriated was punished more harshly than someone committing the same crimes sober. The opposite policy seemed to apply in Macedon, where Alexander was born. Macedonian nobles drank their wine akratos (undiluted by water) a practice considered barbaric by Greek standards. Drunken fights and murder seemed less a crime as much as a way to pass the time before getting drunk again. To boot, in Macedonian military culture, drinking to excess was not only accepted, but admired and considered a far better way to gauge manhood than say walking into combat with a sword. Alexander was beloved by his men for his abilities in both.  

Moreover, Alexander’s model for drunken behavior was his father. King Phillip was also a great general and a noted philopotes (a lover of drinking sessions). He was hot-tempered, paranoid, and rash, dangerous faults when you have an army and a drinking problem. At a feast, he once tried to run Alexander through with a sword, but was too drunk and tripped up by a couch. Similarly, Alexander often drank to incapacity, acted rashly while drunk, and then deeply regretted his actions when sober, like the time he woke up to find that he had burned down Persepolis. Unfortunately, he also took after his father in the realm of stabbing people at banquets. At a feast years later, he ran through Cleitus the Black in a drunken rage. Not having the good fortune to trip over a couch, he profoundly regretted murdering Cleitus, who had served in his father’s army and who had saved Alexander during the battle of Granicus. A minor bright side was that Cleitus the White could finally drop the epithet from his name. 

Alexander’s life is glamorous in the overview. By the age of 20 he had become king of Macedon and by 30 he had conquered most of the (known) world. He had picked up the epithet “The Great” somewhere along the way. He lived in palaces and had a hareem. But though he was young, he had crammed a lot into those days. He had taken part in countless battles, witnessed thousands of deaths, dealt with almost constant political strife and rebelling territories. It took its toll. Alexander became unhinged and paranoid.  

The straw that broke the philopotes’ back was the death of his best friend Hephaestion, who had tried to medicate a painful intestinal issue with the lesser-known remedy of boiled chicken and a gallon of wine. Perhaps mercifully, this combo killed him. The death of a friend often forces us to consider our lives and our choices. And so when Alexander heard of his friend’s death, he understandably retreated to his tent for a period of grieving and personal reflection. When he came out, he hadn’t so much decided to take up yoga or put a tributary decal on his Ford Bronco, but rather had Hephaestion’s physician crucified and had the temples to local gods razed. He then massacred a small local tribe called the Cosseans and dedicated their deaths to his friend. In another event of peculiar tribute, Alexander put on a drinking game to mark the death of a philosopher friend. During the games, 42 people died of alcohol poisoning and Alexander’s friend, Promachus, died three days later, having downed 13 liters of unmixed wine. But Promachus had won the contest, which was hopefully some solace for being dead.   

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The Quest for Chlebíčky

I love routine. It’s a family thing, too. One of those things you get from your parents that you don’t realize you got from them until it’s just too late and it’s an ingrained part of your personality.

The only thing more fun that working one’s way through a routine (and the euphoric joy of ticking off a segment of a routine) is writing it out the night before and talking about it to anyone who happens to be nearby after you’ve created your schedule and before you’ve put it into action. In most cases, this is Burke. She sighs a lot nowadays.

By far the best routine that my household enjoys is our Friday morning routine. After living like a monk for 5 days, we get up early and go shopping at the grocery store up the road. When we have everything, Burke pays and I walk across the street to the deli and get a box of chlebiky. If you have never been to the Czech Republic, chlebíčky is like heaven on a slice of bread. There are several varieties – ham, egg, diced ham. Otherwise they have potato salad and butter and cream and sorts of other things you need in your life that your doctor advises against.

The chlebíčky lady knows me. When I come in she says “Eight?” and I say “Yes.” And she reaches for the box with no judgment, or at least she hides the judgment behind her mask. I really don’t care if she’s judging me. I have taken it upon myself to confuse local shop people as to the healthiness of my lifestyle and habits. The nice man in the little shop across the street never knows what I’m going to buy when I go in there as my last five visits have procured the followings items:

  1. A bottle of Tullemore Dew, two bottles of wine (white and pink), and a bag of kitty litter
  2. Four boxes of cookies and a grapefruit
  3. Cheese (4 varieties)  
  4. Socks, a pack of gum, and four beers
  5. Six lemons and a shoehorn
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Eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor wherewith to make the water of life

…and scotch whisky is introduced to history

The order from King James IV is right there in the exchequer. Eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor wherewith to make the water of life. Though archaeological evidence does show that spirits were distilled at Lindores Abbey, we don’t know if Friar Cor was the monk doing the actual distilling. He may have been the quartermaster or the apothecary. We only know he was in charge of the malt.

In any event, I’d like to imagine there was excitement. That Friar Cor goggled his eyes and shuffled his sandalled feet along the grassy walkways of Lindores Abbey with a little excitement in his step. The man had just been involved in what would be the first written evidence of the production of scotch, after all, someone was probably going to talk about that in the future. But the exchequer records don’t let on anything to that effect, no denotation “Friar Cor amped AF” or some other indication.  

In fact, reality destroys any romantic notions we (aka: I) might have had about monks distilling a nice, warm, brown Scotch whisky. Instead, the alcohol that Friar Cor and his celibate associates would have distilled was flavored with spices and herbs and maybe honey. Lindores Abbey was known for its pear and plum orchards, so it was probably using these in its distilling process. And before the 18th century, scotch was not aged after distillation. The final product might have been more like brandy wine, a fruit spirit, or gin than what we know as whisky.  

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One for the Road

We knew it was going to be big. For at least two weeks before, there had been commercials and teasers. It was the same sort of disruption in the TV world that tipped us off to very special episodes and presidential addresses. The network was devoting three half-hour slots to one episode. It was going to be big. But unlike very special episodes and presidential addresses, we actually cared about seeing this one. Cheers was ending after an eleven-year run. We buckled our seatbelts and we waited until Thursday night.

It’s hard to explain the all-encompassing phenomenon of network TV to someone who didn’t live through it. If you were born before 1990, doing just that will be your World War II or your Great Depression. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, in the days before a trillion shows existed on one website, we TV-watchers were forced to watch something called “a television.” Television networks organized their TV programming into schedules, and if we wanted to watch one of those programs, we had to be in front of our TV at the allotted time. Once in front of that TV, there were more agonies yet to navigate. These TV programs were riddled with commercials which viewers had no ability to pause or fast forward. Instead, they were forced to time their bladder evacuations and snack creations into those 2.2-minute slots. This is why people over 40 have very good bladder control and can make a ham and cheddar sandwich on rye (with two condiments) in under 50 seconds.

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