ERIE, Day 4

We had plans to do several things before leaving Toronto but we got a late start and had to pick only one.  We opted to head to the Art Gallery of Toronto, which was designed by Frank Gehry—who grew up in the neighborhood.

It is in the shape of an overturned canoe.  Make of that what you will.

Around the corner is the Design Museum:

The top part is classrooms.  (The CN Tower is in the distance.)

Huge courtyard inside, very traditional national gallery space, but with Gehry:

We were there to see the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit, which was of course wonderful.  We had been to the O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe back during our Great Cross Country Trip, which was nice but not comprehensive: most of her work is in major collections elsewhere.  This exhibit pulled together an overview of her career and was phenomenal.

Here’s a great quote from one of the walls: “Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant, there is no such thing.  Making your unknown known is the important thing—and keeping the unknown behind you.”

Whenever we go to a museum, especially to exhibits like this one, we will pick out the piece that we would welcome as a gift.  “You can buy me that one for my birthday.”

Here’s mine, a graphite/chalk sketch from 1943, Untitled (Abstraction):

Encountering it up close, as one does as one walks around the exhibit, it was just a nice abstract sketch.  Later, as I wandered back through, I looked over at it from a distance and was smitten.  You can buy this for me.  (Contact the O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe.)

On the fourth floor was an exhibit of contemporary art which consisted of pieces by either aboriginal or immigrant Canadians responding to the 150th birthday of their nation.  There were some very interesting pieces, some of them more political than others, of course.

This is not a drum.  It’s wooden.

The pertinent details on this one are hard to see:

The artist has made beaded bacteria and put them into acrylic “water.”  The installation represents the contamination found in the water of the reservations of the First Peoples across Canada.

The title of this coloured pencil on paper is Lemming Buttocks are Dirty (2013).  I liked it.  (Yes, I giggled.)

Then it was time to rush back to the hotel, dig the car out of the subterranean parking lot, and DRIVE TO NIAGARA, KENNETH.

But first, as we blundered our way around Toronto looking for a recommended Thai restaurant that does not seem to exist (what is it with Canadians giving directions to non-existent restaurants??) we came across this:

Oh, Canada.

Your daily inner twelve-year-old alert: The Queen & Beaver Pub, Mr. Softy & Delight, and “hand-pulled noodles.”

Since this is Day 4, travel dialogue was not as jolly as you might have come to expect.  There was an extended discussion of oral hygiene involving little brush thingies for flossing that may or may not have involved the phrase “ridged for her pleasure” and devolved from there.  Otherwise, we just slogged it to Niagara with the one lunch break.  (Harvey’s is a great burger/salad place to stop at.)

Pro tip: going to the Falls on the 4th of July is possibly a bad idea.

And it was a bizarre shock to arrive at the main intersection and see this:

Completely Gatlinburged.  Oy.

I jokingly posted this photo to Instagram to wish people a Happy 4th:

The LFW’s original plans were to go on to Medina, NY, then come back to the Falls, but we convinced her it made more sense to stop on the Canadian side while we were there.  We were wrong: we arrived so late that there were no tickets to all the things we really wanted to do.  However, the views are spectacular:

Then we made the error of deciding that we would go ahead and at least see the movie.

You should understand that at the Grand Canyon, there is a National Geographic IMAX movie about the Canyon and how humans have interacted with it that is first rate and astounding.  It would be great, we thought, to be able to sit in a cool, dark theatre and learn something about the Falls in a similar fashion.

Our first clue that this was not going to be the same was being handed a poncho as we entered the theatre.  And then there were no seats.  We all stood and watched an amazingly lame animation of a young beaver who was being assigned a 200-word essay on the Falls as punishment for some misbehavior on a field trip.  A book falls on his head and he’s whisked back in time, etc., etc.

The storyline was choppy, historical/geological context was minimal, and the target audience must be the 8-year-old school crowd.

And the ponchos?  After the short cartoon, the doors opened into the next room, where we all went in and stood on a round grated platform, where we were subjected to a 360° film experience that involved water.  Oy.

When it was finally over and we were making our way to the exit, I pulled off my poncho and with it the new earring I had bought at the Art Gallery just that morning.  I felt it go, and of course it fell straight through the grate into the waters below.  We looked for it briefly, but at that point I was over it.  Feh.

Then we drove to Medina, NY.  It was completely adventureless.  Or at least my brain was so dead that I didn’t register anything.

Our view of Lake Ontario as we arrived:




Erie, Day 3

It dawned on me that I never explained why we were driving to Toronto.  Our good neighbor Sue, having discovered after living for 20 years in the South that she couldn’t take the heat, bought a cabin in upstate NY, to which she decamps every May.  We promised to come visit last year, but didn’t because things, so this summer we swore we would make it.

I will confess that since part of our plans involved going to see the Erie Canal, I never tumbled to the fact that her cabin is actually on Lake Ontario, but I’m not changing the names of these blog posts now.

None of this explains why we[1] chose to DRIVE TO TORONTO, KENNETH, especially when we passed a perfectly good airport on the way in.

Anyway, we awoke on our first full day in Toronto and set out to check off some things out of our[2] Top 10 book. Everyone humors me if there are labyrinths or world class cocktail bars involved, and so the first thing we did was to go seek the labyrinth at the Eaton Centre, near which our hotel is conveniently located.  The Top 10 book was very excited about the Eaton Centre, assuring us that Toronto practically centered (centred?) on it.

It’s a mall.

It’s a large and lovely mall, but it is a mall.  None of the mall workers seemed to know where the labyrinth might be or even what it might be.

This is not it, despite our cruel Canadian jokes.

The Eaton Centre was mimics the famous Italian shopping district, which had the distinct advantage of roofing over venerable 19th-century architecture.

Eventually we found a customer service person who gave us directions. It’s outside next to the Holy Trinity Church, whose mission has become serving the homeless, of which there are many.

It is a Chartres-style labyrinth.

I liked this: it’s an explanation and a diagram for the blind.

The Chartres-style pattern is not my favorite because it is so long, and it’s difficult to concentrate on the walk when you know everyone else is standing around waiting for you to do your hippie thing and get on with it.

It’s really well made:

I presume it’s built on packed sand, because the paths themselves have sunk ever so slightly inward after being walked on.

There were some pretty chill pigeons:

From there it was on to THE BUS TOUR, KENNETH.  We got on top of a double-decker bus and rode around the city.

Now Toronto is a perfectly cromulent city, vibrant with lots o’ culture and stuff, but riding around being told very brief snippets about this or that is truly not my thing.  Our tour guide was pleasant and entertaining, but short on substance. For example, when was the city founded?  What does Toronto mean?  What was its main function?

I will say that Toronto has some really neat architecture:

There were many examples of funky post-modern everywhere you looked.  Some discussion of styles would have been appreciated.

The Royal Museum, aka The Rock, aka the Crystal:

It’s the natural history museum, and the outrageous addition looks like a giant crystal crashed into the 19th-century original.

There is also a shoe museum.

We eventually got off the bus at the Distillery District, which used to be a major distillery back in the day but is now a pleasant pedestrian shopping area.  After endless waverings, we had a good lunch at a cheese shop.  (Thank goodness the converted building with the 120 food stalls was closed for the holiday—we would have collapsed from indecision and starvation.  Well, some of us would have.)

Then we visited an actual distillery, where we sat for a tasting with a cute young man who walked us through their philosophy and process.  (I call him “cute” because he and his cousin were working the place, and they had his aunt in for the day—a holiday—to assist by washing dishes and being fairly entertaining herself.  Also he was cute.) The space was lovely, all dark woods and educational displays and a leather travel case I should have bought.  Their vodka and gin are single-distilled.  The vodka has rather more flavor than usual; the gin rather less juniper than usual.  I bought one of each.  (We also sampled an aquavit they were working on, and if you like drinking pure caraway seed, you would have liked it.)

At this point I should mention that as we began our day, my lovely first wife [LFW] stepped wrong on a broken pavement tile and injured her ankle.  By the time we got to the distillery, she was in a lot of discomfort, so we made the decision to explore the Canadian healthcare system.  We got back on the bus to head back to the hotel, which was only a couple of stops—and we passed St. Michael’s Hospital right before our stop.

We hobbled back to the hospital, were flummoxed for a while because of the construction around the emergency entrance, then went on in.

Spoiler alert: LFW sustained no real injury, no fractures or breaks, just “soft tissue damage.”  Compression bandage and pain relievers is all we ended up with.

Upon entrance, we realized immediately we were in a television series set in a hospital, and it wasn’t long before we realized that the main characters were the young and incredibly attractive EMTs.  The rest of us were supporting cast and, in our case, extras.  I impressed upon the LFW that she should try not to become one of the main plot lines by throwing a clot or something.

I know you’re dying to know, so let me tell you about the basics: overall, you wish your ER visit was like ours.  No, healthcare is not “free”; one of the two pieces of paper we saw (TWO PIECES OF PAPER, KENNETH) had a price list of charges, only two of which were circled for us.  However, all the Canadians just handed over their medical card, so they didn’t see that particular piece of paper.  For them the care was free.

The triage nurse came out and canvassed those who were there, asking them for their cards and what the deal was.  She then called people up in triage order.  After she finished with them, they went around to the intake staff, who got everything into the computer, issued the paperwork and barcodes and bracelets.

Then you went back to the Ambulatory waiting room, which because of the construction/renovation was cramped and hot, but everyone seemed to be in good spirits.

It is not a joke that every single staff member (and all the patients) were absolutely Canadian nice.  Out in triage we watched the handsome EMT coax a homeless guy he’d brought in to let him have his medical card, and when Matt (the homeless guy) didn’t want to comply, the EMT just patiently waited.  When Matt announced he was going outside for a smoke, the EMT let him, only making him promise he’d come back in.  Matt came back in.

Another homeless guy was wheeled in, and when he refused treatment for reasons unknown, unstrapped himself from the gurney, and left, the EMT’s only response was to shrug and say to his partner, “Another satisfied customer.”  Then when Homeless Guy #2 came crashing back in, holding his crotch like a four-year-old and yelling, “I gotta pee!  I gotta pee!”, the triage nurse simply said, “Well, stop standing there and go pee!”

Later, as we were leaving, Homeless Guy #2 was in clean clothes, still out of it, but holding a sandwich which the staff had gotten him.

Everyone apologized for the wait, even though we were there for about three hours from triage to discharge.   Discharge consisted of the doctor wrapping LFW’s ankle herself, advising LFW to ice it, then wishing us bon voyage.  We hung around another ten minutes trying to make sure there wasn’t more that was supposed to be happening.

We were on our way back the hotel (one block away) in time for dinner.  As we left, Matt was out in the middle of the street, helpfully helping a delivery truck that did not need his help back into the loading area.

Part of our bus tour ticket entitled us to a boat ride in the harbor, so off we went.  (LFW is unstoppable when on tour.)

Here we see a boat full of refugees from Buffalo arriving, full of hope.  (This is not our boat.)

I thought we were going to sail on out to the Lake itself, but it was just a quick tour of the islands, which are more extensive than you might think.  People live there; there are businesses and beaches.  There are 250 homes out there, and you have to submit your name to a lottery to be put on a 500-person waiting list for the opportunity to buy one.  Since the 1990s when the lottery was instituted, fewer than 50 homes have been sold.  This despite the fact that you can’t have a car and the house must be your principal residence: there are no summer cottages out there.

There is a school out there, and about half its students commute from the city.

Anyway, some brilliant views of Toronto:

We did not go up in the CN Tower yet.

The last plane to freedom.

After the boat ride, everyone humored me to go find a topnotch cocktail bar.  The #1 bar, BarChef, is closed on Mondays, so I had settled on Bar Naval.  We hopped a cab and headed over.

Super trendy, super small, and super loud.  We went to the patio; this view is looking back into the incredibly beautiful interior: all art nouveau wood and iron.

Another view:

The stairs to the restrooms:

Tinted plaster.

My first cocktail was the Absinthe Minded: vodka, lemon, some sherry, and absinthe.  It was bright and tasty.

For my second, I pulled out my phone and showed the server the recipe for the Smoky Quartz.  I explained its origin, that I was not asking them to make it for me, but to make a cocktail that would please someone who liked it.

I thought that this could be a fun game, just going from world-class bar to world-class bar, and at each one challenging the bartenders to riff on the last bar’s creation.  Like a game of Telephone only with cocktails.  Great bartenders love that kind of thing.  (Jeff, this would be a good book, too.  I’ll need an expense account.)

Alas, the server apparently translated my intent incorrectly, because I think the bartender attempted to make the Smoky Quartz.  They didn’t have Angostura Amaro, so he/she just piled in regular Angostura bitters.  It was not a success.

However, when I get home I’m going to try it with yellow Chartreuse (which is sweeter than green) and see if I can balance it out.

We asked where we might dine and were directed to a restaurant that either does not exist or if it does is closed on Monday anyway.  What is it with Canadians not knowing their own neighborhood?  There was an Italian diner whose sign had clearly not changed since it opened in the 60s, so in we went and were thoroughly entertained by our charming waiter and by the food.

Fed and satisfied, we headed back to the hotel and were in bed by midnight.  That’s right, we’re cool.


[1] For differing values of we.

[2] For differing values of our

ERIE, day 2

Monday night we went to Enoteca, a lovely little wine bar/tapas place in Lexington.  The food was excellent, and the cocktails were solid. Except for this guy:

Isn’t it pretty?  Pro tip: before ordering an Aviation, no matter how interesting the gin sounds, ask what amount of creme de violette they use.  Anything more than the .25 oz. in the recipe linked here, and it will taste like perfume.

However, I do recommend pairing their Ancho Alexander (brandy, Ancho Reyes liqueur, honey syrup, lemon juice, molé bitters) with their cardamom flan for dessert.

Another pro tip: if you’re looking to break up a super-long drive, do not look at the route your computer has laid out for you and use the time the computer calculates (instead of distance) to divide the trip.  Especially, if you’re a Slytherin, do not let a Gryffindor do this calculation for you without checking it.  Especially do not let a Gryffindor decide that you’ll just wing it on deciding where to stop for the night.[1] That is all.

Oddly, on Tuesday morning we discovered that we had a LONGER WAY TO DRIVE TO TORONTO THAN WE THOUGHT, KENNETH.  Personally, I think that once you’ve decided to DRIVE TO TORONTO, KENNETH, you don’t get to complain about the distance/time involved, but then I am a notorious Pollyanna.

You will find this difficult to believe, but driving from Lexington, KY, to Toronto does not yield as much blog material as, say, a cruise up the Danube, so instead of castles and gorgeous riverscapes, you’re going to get what transpired in the car.

We passed the sign for the Ark Encounter, a boondoggle of the worst kind that has left Williamstown, KY, wondering where their commonsense was when they decided to shell out $92 million for a Xtianist con.  We thought briefly about going to see this thing just for the giggles—dinosaurs on the Ark, what’s not to like?—but $40/adult is a lot to spend on a complete time waste.    Why waste time on animatronic Noahs when you can DRIVE TO TORONTO?

Model Chrissie Teigen’s tweet on the president’s “infinity” babbleygook: “Why is my ass smarter than the president??”  (I’m thinking that the White House staff has a betting pool as to when the man is going to go off script.)

Passing Chester, KY,[2] led us into a discussion of Chester the Molester and Larry Flynt, who is by the way still alive and fighting for First Amendment Rights.

Inner 12-year-old Alert: There is a Big Bone Lick State Park.   There is also a Quaker Steak & Lube restaurant.

Outside Monroe, OH, there is this:

This is the Solid Rock Church’s north campus, not to be confused with their south campus:

We passed the Traders World Market, which for some reason had giraffes ALL OVER ITS ROOF, KENNETH.

I do wish we could have stopped.  I have a weird relationship with giraffes.  If you ask, I’ll explain why they’re a symbol of destructive criticism.

I will have to say that Ohio has the most impressive landscaping of their interchanges I have ever seen: they are beautifully designed and landscaped.  Wish I had pictures.

We stopped for gas.

There was art next to the gas station:

This one actually moves.

Yeah, I don’t know either.

Somewhere around here I found myself recalling that the Nazis invented the interstate highway.

When we started casting about for lunch options, we found much to amuse us: the Toot ‘n’ Tell drive-through hot dog hut; an establishment which offered chicken chunks and something called a Chunk Bowl; Kewpee Burgers, where it’s 10¢ extra for Miracle Whip on your burger; and in Findlay, OH, where we ended up stopping, The Butt Hut next to Dick’s, and the Servex Center across from Crunchy Nuts.

After lunch, we went into a Walmart kind of place for supplies, where I found THIS YOU GUYS:

It is a chiffon poncho thing you guys!

What should I wear under this, I hear you asking?


However, I was dissuaded from expressing my patriotism, if you can believe that.  Bunch of commies.

I bet if I put up a GoFundMe for another Viking River Cruise, you’d chip in right about now, wouldn’t you?

Up through Michigan, where if you hang a right at Detroit, you’re in Canada.

No really: here’s the off-ramp to Canada:

There was a car from Texas in front of us who seemed to have a momentary panic about the No re-entry to USA thing, but our attitude was, “Justin Trudeau… Donald Trump… OK then.”

The border guard who quizzed us was markedly flat in affect, and one of our number expressed an urge (afterwards) to jolly him up, but my rule is that if the board guard isn’t already jolly, it is not in your best interest to work on that.

Obligatory photo of the border McDonalds:

Soon enough we were in the land of the polite (you literally drive straight into the residential neighborhoods of Windsor), and then we had to DRIVE ACROSS ONTARIO, KENNETH.  Oh. My. God.  I don’t know whether you’ve ever driven across Indiana or Iowa—neither have I, but I’ve seen pictures—but Ontario has them beat for sheer uninterestingness.  It’s all lovely green farmland, with some really impressive wind turbine farms (like for miles), but one finds oneself wishing for a cluster of Walmarts and Hooters’s every now and then.

Finally, much later than any Gryffindor could have predicted, we approached Ontario, where we began this asymptotic drive to our hotel.  It seemed as if I drove and drove and never got any closer.  And of course none of us had made preparations for not having cell/data service, so we tried to find the Bond Place Hotel the old-fashioned way: with maps.

Hahahahahaha.  Here’s a photo of a stunning photograph I was able to take while stuck in traffic down on Queen’s Quay:

That’s the moon to the upper right.

Finally the data service I had bitterly given into kicked in, and we were led to the hotel with no problems.

We decamped to the rooftop pub across the street, and two Manhattans later all was well.


[1] When asked about this before we left, I said we’d stop “when one of us started screaming.”  Probably just as solid as plan as any.

[2] I just like typing KY and giggling.

On the road again: ERIE, day 1

Yes, we’ve hit the road again, but this time we’re not sailing up the Danube through eastern Europe’s great cities.  We’re driving to Toronto.  Driving. To. Toronto.


So today we drove from Newnan to Lexington, KY, and the only thing to note is that if you’re listening to your phone giving you directions to the hotel you picked out on Hotel Tonight, your inner 12-year-old will giggle every time she tells you to turn left on “KY 125.”

The mountains are lovely in their mountainesque kind of way, but all I could think was, “You people elected Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul to the U.S. Senate.”


Did I mention how much we drove?


Labyrinth update


This past spring I replanted the grass in the labyrinth — again — so that it would look reasonably beautiful for the spring equinox.  That was a mixture called “contractor’s seed,” and it was a blend of winter rye grass and fescue.  Guaranteed, etc.

The winter rye sprouts quickly and is lovely, but it is a short-term seasonal solution.  After a few months, it dies.  No worries, because then the fescue sprouts and establishes itself, right?

Not so much.

Even worse, I was gifted a bag of seed from a grass specialist, which three weeks ago I planted in a test patch visible in the above photo.  This seed is zoysia, and I have misgivings.  Yes, it provides a lush, thick carpet of grass, but it will also devour anything in its path.  Our front yard is zoysia, and before we installed my parking place there was a brick walkway which I had to laboriously uncover at least once a year from the zoysia’s encroachment.

Still, this seed was professionally advised, so I thought what the hey?  Plant a test patch, see if it’s actually going to come up in the shade, and then I can decide from there.


The two paths on the left have been seeded with zoysia and watered every day.  The path on the right is untouched.  There is no difference, Kenneth.

Right now, of course, the entire labyrinth is essentially mud, between last week’s rain and the daily watering.  I’ve turned the daily watering off for a while to see if that will allow anything to come up for air.

Maybe I’ll just kill all the grass and go with plain dirt.


Cocktails: A new chapter

After the bittersweet nostalgia of my cocktail reminiscence, you will be heartened to hear that when one chapter ends, another begins.


This, class, is a smoker. A couple of months ago I went up to Ponce City Market to take a cocktail class at 18•21 Bitters, the topic of which was smoked cocktails, you guys!  It was fascinating, and as you can imagine added a whole new layer to the cocktails.  I came home and immediately added the smoker and the chips to my Amazon wish list, figuring I’d get it for either my upcoming birthday or Father’s Day.[1]

It was also super easy: you put like a teaspoon of wood chips in the little cavity in the top, light it with a regular lighter, flip the switch, and smoke emerges from the hose (not pictured) into whatever receptacle you’ve chosen.

Here are some photos from 18•21:

This one used a bell jar.  There was also a plain cedar board with shavings over which you placed your glass; a teapot; and a good old cocktail shaker.

You let the cocktail sit and smoke for about three minutes.

And then you serve it.

So remember, the next time you’re over for cocktails and I ask you what you would like, you really need to say I want something light and citrusy if that’s what you want, because otherwise you’re going to get a smoked cocktail.


[1] Alas, the model I had tagged was no longer available; I had to buy my own because no one wanted to risk getting the wrong thing.  This model is actually cooler than the one 18•21 used. The chips however were a present from the Charming Child.

Cocktails: a memoir

Late on Father’s Day, my lovely first wife remembered she had forgotten to give me one of my presents:

These are called “Nick & Nora” glasses, after the main characters in the Thin Man movie series from the 1930s.  Nick and Nora were wealthy socialites who solved crimes while they drank and quipped their way through Manhattan.  I had expressed a wish for a set of these glasses to round out my extensive glassware collection.

Of course, I’m out of room to store my glassware, and in trying to figure out a way to make room for my new acquisitions, I had some thoughts.

Most of my cocktail ware is stored in the bar in the living room.

As you can see, a lot of it is from the early days of the Great Cocktail Revival: big old 10 oz things meant for swilling Cosmopolitans and French Martinis.  I would be loath to part with most of those glasses because I collected them deliberately.  However, very few are anything but mass produced.  The one or two handblown or handcrafted ones I could keep on display while boxing up the rest of them to be discovered by my heirs and assigns at some point in the future.

Assessing my stemware was not the only stroll down memory lane, however.

Yesterday was National Martini Day, and by martini they mean an honest-to-Cthulhu mixture of gin and dry vermouth, not any of the abominations that were listed in menus under the heading MARTINIS back in the day.  Whenever I ordered a martini and the server asked, “With gin?” I would simply raise my eyebrows and say, “Yes.  A martini.”

(I will allow a vodka martini, but you have to call it that.)

The only real argument you can have over a martini is the ratio of gin to vermouth.  Garnishment—olive or lemon twist—is simply up to you.  You might hold forth for one gin over another (dry, Old Tom, Plymouth, etc.), but the serious question is how much vermouth are you going to sully the gin with?

Older recipes may call for a 2:1 ratio of gin to vermouth, and I have seen “original” recipes call for 1:1.  My personal preference is similar to Winston Churchill’s, which was to hold up the bottle of vermouth and allow the sun to pass through it before it kisses the gin; the drier the better.  I have a little atomizer with which I can either mist the inside of the glass or the surface of the gin once poured, and that is more than sufficient vermouth for me.

However, in the spirit of the holiday, I mixed a 3:1 martini.

I drank about half of it before deciding that I would go back to Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails and revisit some of my favorites from that book in the spirit of the Nick and Nora glass.

Here is a sad truth: many of the cocktails I’d marked Delicious! are simply no longer delicious to me.  I made a Doctor Cocktail (rum, Swedish Punsch, lime juice) and drank only half.

I made a Pegu Club, though using the original proportions instead of the one in VS&FG.

And it was not bad.  However, my taste these days is for darker, boozier drinks: the Smoky Topaz or Smoky Quartz, for example. Or bitter drinks like the Negroni or Best Friend.

Just remember that if you come for cocktails and I ask what you would like, and you say, “Oh whatever you’re mixing these days.”  If you want a citrusy/sweet/lower ABV cocktail, you should probably express that preference.  Otherwise, you’re going to be drinking pure booze from the dark side.  With bitters.

One last thing:

Nick Charles: The important thing is the rhythm. Always have rhythm in your shaking. Now a Manhattan you shake to fox-trot time, a Bronx to two-step time, a dry martini you always shake to waltz time.

Nick, of course, is wrong.  A Manhattan, a Bronx, and a martini, having no fruit juice, are always stirred, not shaken.

Not even an answer

A few weeks ago I faxed my representatives in the Congress (using the very good to do so) about the Current Occupant’s praise of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s “handling of the drug problem,” i.e., murdering drug users and drug dealers.  The question was very simple: Do you agree with the Current Occupant?

Here is U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson’s response, via email:

Thank you for contacting my office regarding the President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte. I appreciate your thoughts and the opportunity to respond.

As a member of the United States Senate, I am pleased to see constituents, such as you, taking the time to share your thoughts and concerns about the federal government and its policies. Your letter will be helpful to me as the Senate considers legislation dealing with the issues facing our great nation.

Thank you again for contacting me, and I hope you will not hesitate to call on me in the future if I can be of assistance to you.

I will address my comments to Senator Isakson:

Senator, you may not remember it, but you and I worked together a couple of times on the State STAR Student program, and we encountered each other once or twice through your chairmanship of the State Board of Education and my involvement with GHP.  You always struck me as intelligent and balanced.

But this unwillingness to speak out against the unconsidered comments and actions of the incompetent, venal, egomaniacal, and vindictive man you have in the White House is both craven and disappointing.  Is this how you want to be remembered, as an enabler of the disaster that the Executive Branch reveals itself to be every day?  Do you really want it said that you were willing to allow the worst excesses of this White House as long as your party’s social/economic agenda could be crammed through Congress, often flouting your own rules to do so?  Is this who you thought you were going to be when you ran for office?

Shame on you.

About that new cocktail…

You will recall that at AnonymouS Bar in Prague I asked the bartender to make me a drink that would delight me, based on my recipe for a Smoky Topaz.

For reference, here’s what’s in a Smoky Topaz:

Barrel-aged gin, Averna Amaro, yellow Chartreuse, and green Chartreuse—and AnonymouS had only the green Chartreuse.

What the bartender brought me was an amazing drink that captured the woodiness of the Smoky Topaz yet had its own distinct character.  He told me that it contained genever (an older version of gin), Grand Marnier, green Chartreuse, and amaro.  This delighted me because I had every single one of those:

…except… which amaro?  There are scores of these herbal liqueurs, as cataloged in Brad Thomas Parsons’ Amaro.

Experimentation was called for.

Here are the actual amaros that I currently have.  I eliminated the Nonino without even trying it: it’s too light, and the drink was rather dark.

The original, for reference

I also eliminated the Angostura, because that flavor profile didn’t match the drink.

That left the Montenegro, which I don’t yet have a handle on.  I made the drink, and it was not the cocktail served to me in Prague.  (It also was not one I want to come back to later.)

Next, even though I knew the missing amaro was not Averna, it was all I had left so I tried it.  It was of course not correct.

All this time I was futzing with the proportions, figuring the genever was at 1.5 oz and the other ingredients were probably in a 3:2:1 kind of stack.

I looked in Amaro to see what my other options might be.  There were two likely suspects: Becherovka and R. Jelínek Amaro Liqueur, both from the Czech Republic.  I figured it couldn’t be Becherovka because that’s kind of the Czech national liqueur and the bartender would have named it.  I figured I was doomed to begin my search for the R. Jelínek.


I could email the bar and see if they’d be willing to give me at least the name of the amaro if not the recipe.  (Bars are generally very jealous of their signature cocktail recipes.)

So I emailed AnonymouS and got a reply rather quickly.  Did I know the bartender’s name?  (I had called him a waiter, but all the waiters at AnonymouS are bartenders.) Or could I describe him?

Naturally I did not know his name, and as for description: “young, slender, dark-haired” was not very helpful.  But perhaps he would remember the quartet of older Americans who rather enjoyed themselves that evening?

Indeed Jaroslav Modlik did remember us, and he remembered the drink.  And since it was not one of their signature cocktails—”I make just especially for you,” he said—he was happy to share the recipe with me.

The amaro was the Angostura.  I felt like an idiot: that was the basic woody flavor (along with the chartreuse).

It is Jaroslav’s privilege to name this drink, but for the moment it’s going into my cocktail book as the Smoky Quartz (with full credit and back story of course).

The Smoky Quartz

(original recipe)

  • 4o ml Bols Genever
  • 20 ml green Chartreuse
  • 15 ml Amaro Angostura
  • 10 ml Grand Marnier


  • 1.5 oz Bols Genever
  • .75 oz green Chartreuse
  • .5 oz Amaro Angostura
  • .33 oz Grand Marnier

Stir with ice, serve with orange peel.

This was the drink from Prague, and it is every bit as luscious here at home as abroad.  I find that I need another bottle of Bols Genever, which frankly I didn’t think I would ever need to replenish.

It is a point of extreme pride for me that Jaroslav Modlik is head bartender at AnonymouS,  and he invented a cocktail for me.  Is that cool or what?

Up the Danube, The Swag edition

Part of the fun of any major trip is buying All The Things, right?  Even though we are in death nesting mode, I still found a few things I could not resist.

In Vienna, the Haus der Musik is open till 11:00 pm, but when we bought our tickets at 9:00 the young man cheerfully told us the gift shop closed in an hour, so of course we went there first.  And the first thing I saw were these wooden drums:

They have a great little tick-tock sound.  They come with little cards for die Kinder, but I plan to make great use of them to annoy the neighbors, if not here then at a burn.  (You hear that, Black Lodge?  You just keep that karaoke going until 2:00 in the morning.)

At Faber-Castell’s gift shop, you will recall that I had no choice but to buy new ink for my brand new replacement fountain pen.

I really wanted the grey ink, but I’ve had correspondents complain that it’s hard to read.  ::sigh::

In Nuremberg, I found this little charm, which I think is supposed to be a Christmas ornament, but it’s going on a little chain I have added to my Utilikilt for burn events.

Likewise in Nuremberg, this little lizard spoke to me at a street vendor’s stall and asked to be added to my collection of lizards.

I did a lot of shopping in Prague mainly because I had the time to do so.  At our first lunch at the cafe, there was a crafts market set up in Republic Square.  I was attracted to the weaver and his wares.  (His young helper who helped me find the right size of shirt and hat had spent last summer in Florida with his girlfriend who was working there; he liked Savannah, he said.)

Strolling back to the hotel one day, my lovely first wife was attracted by the window of a glass art company, and so we popped in.

She wanted just the white champagne flute—we really have no more room for glassware—but the owner was quite piteous with her “but the box is for two..” gambit, and so I picked out the blue one.  Since we have until recently given ourselves a pair of champagne flutes for our anniversary, we were happy with our choice.  (I stopped doing this last year because a) we have no more room; and b) death nesting.)

As we waited for the concert our last night in Prague, I was attracted to a store selling Czech garnets and amber.  After some deliberation, I ended up with another pendant for my kilt chain.

I can’t explain my attraction yet.

And finally, my booze haul.

In the center, the apricot liqueur from the Göttweig Abbey in Krems.  On the left, absinthe from Prague, which is going to the burn with me tomorrow.  (The deal is that Euphoria, the spring Georgia burn, had to be cancelled at the beginning of May; many of us are attending the Tennessee burn, so I’m offering this to the Euphoria refugees as a “shot of Regret.”)

And then there’s the Ayrer’s Malt Gin.

This is the gin that I made a mad dash back to the store in Nuremberg, arriving just as the shopkeeper locked the door.  Was it worth it?

Oh my.

This is a small batch, single malt gin that will never be mixed with anything.  I am going to sip it in thimblefuls.  You may be allowed to watch me, if you’ve been good.

Usually I am not a fan of heavily floral gins, but this one is Elixir.  Very strong citrus notes, both lemon and orange. Undergirdings of hops.

We will now begin searching for an American distributor.

I have one last Danube story, about the cocktail that AnonymouS Bar created for me, but it will have to wait until I get back from Camping with the Hippies™ on Sunday.