My erstwhile physician shared with me this morning an article from The (London) TImes about martinis. When it comes to booze, nothing says it so powerfully as a martini. It is not for the pusillanimous. Nor – until now – would I have said it was especially popular with the younger set. Apparently though there is of late a growing trend among young people towards the martini. It is a dangerous road to follow. My caution is directed not only to the product but equally to the environment which surrounds the martini. The two invite trouble.
The Times is a British daily national newspaper based in London. It began in 1785 under the title The Daily Universal Register, adopting its current name on 1 January 1788. The Times and its sister paper The Sunday Times (founded in 1821) are published by Times Newspapers, since 1981 a subsidiary of News UK, in turn wholly owned by News Corp. The Times and The Sunday Times, which do not share editorial staff, were founded independently, and have only had common ownership since 1966. In general, the political position of The Times is considered to be centre-right.
The martini involves ceremony. The first and most critical act is the preparation of the martini. My late mother counseled a recipe I suspect was acquired as far back as 1957 during my late father’s diplomatic mission to Washington DC. She did a great deal of entertaining then; and she and my father circulated with others who did the same. It was a time of celebrated posture and pretence. An element of intrigue filtered through many of the cocktail parties. Richard Nixon, Vice-President of the United States of America and his family lived mere blocks from where we were; I was in the same classroom as his daughter Julie Nixon at Horace Mann School; we lived next door to a physician Dr. Cox whose son-in-law was among those of Nixon’s legal team who were indicted. Matrimonial difficulties brewed among others close by. The recipe: martini glasses in the freezer; open a 40-ounce bottle of vodka, pour off a capful of vodka, refill the vodka bottle with a capful of vermouth and put it in the freezer. Done! The olives were cosmetic only.
Surprisingly when I was young – though I had experimented with cheap wine in bulbous bottles encircled with straw (in prep school) and slowly graduated through Planter’s Punch (in undergraduate) to beer (in law school) and finally to Scotch whiskey (in private practice) – it wasn’t except by accident that I had my first martini. As I recall it was a wintry but sunny day on Sussex Drive in Ottawa nearby the By Ward Market, the Château Laurier Hotel and the Parliament Buildings. There was a skiff of snow on the sidewalks and remnants of icy glare. I was by chance with an business acquaintance whom I knew only casually through others; our intent was to kill some time. The choice of watering hole was a quiet bar of some sophistication and merit suitable to the overall locale. We sat at a small table instead of the wooden bar. We ordered martinis for some reason. I believe it was a Sunday; and, that the bar had just opened moments earlier at noon. I have no idea why we ordered martinis.
The sequel to that experience was precisely what one might expect. After the first several sips – and after adjusting to the violence of the taste – the air became smooth, the conversation was languid, the sunshine outside was dazzling, and, yes, we will have another! What happened after that I cannot completely recall. But I do remember that the afternoon came to a speedy end. Suddenly a snooze was not a bad idea. The remainder of the day was essentially obliterated from memory.
It was years before I had another martini. My initial reacquaintance with them began as a fireside drink while reading (and re-reading) Jane Austen with my French bulldog curled on the drawing room couch. My suspicion is that that habit unfolded after a luncheon we had had at our condo in the By Ward Market – sea bass and martinis on a wintry day. Years afterwards followed an unforgettable dinner at la Société on Bloor St W in Toronto with old friends (one of whom is no longer whinnying among us).
The point is this: martinis are frequently associated with memorable settings. The martini glass alone approaches regal. And their atmospheric effect is assured.
The skill is the avoidance of more than two. After two the calculable result is brain damage. Martinis can also be relied upon to eliminate much of what trails. The day draws to a close like a bomb. One must have sustainability – or the assurance that what follows will grip you.
I cannot overlook the appearance of martinis. The frozen stemware can be made more glamorous by the addition of an exotic olive or a fanciful lemon twist. I disapprove of any other additives or flavours. The look of the vodka swirling with vermouth is its own delight. At its initial stage the martini is an exciting weapon of substance! A small square paper serviette beneath the stemware is a settling complement to the whole. As is mahogany and low light.
As for gin versus vodka I have no preference. The gin martini understandably castes a more traditional, British sheen to the drama. The vodka martini captures the purity of Iceland and visceral Russian overtones, both indicative of a robust enterprise.
My dearest sister has drawn my attention to an historic event of which I have no reminiscence when I was 14 years old:
Correction. Your first martini was aboard the SS Arcadia, a Greek ocean liner going from Montreal to England July 1963 during the Captain’s cocktail party.
Mine had an olive in it, yours I can’t remember because you finished it in one gulp!
I never finished mine because Mom showed up; however, she let me eat the olive.
Truth be told you may have been on your second martini when Mom showed up because you still had a glass in your hand!!!!
I thought it tasted like fuel.