Month: September 2016

In search of lost balance

Edited excerpt from Drinking with Proust (Leanpub) Image: Advert for Vin Mariani, a lithograph by Jules Chéret, 1894 We oscillate between stimulation and rest but seek a balanced life. Caffeine lifts us up, alcohol winds us down. Why not just mix the two? The eighteenth century Scottish physician John Brown argued that to be alive is not a natural state, but a forced state. We tend towards dissolution at every moment, he wrote, and are kept from it only by “foreign powers, and even by these with difficulty, and only for a time; and then, from the necessity of … fate” we “yield to death.”29 In order to stave off dissolution and stay balanced, Brown argued, you have to harness the “foreign powers” available to you. Brown’s substances of choice were seasoned food, alcohol and opium. Spirituous or vinous drink, in which the alcohol is always diluted, stimulates more quickly, and more readily, than seasoned food, and its stimulus is in proportion to the quantity of alcohol that it contains. But there are stimuli, which possess an operation as much quicker, and more …

Forever young, Osteria Veneta. Part I.

“It’s too quiet.” The keeper of the one-man bar next door has sauntered over for a neighbourly conversation. He is wearing a casual white t-shirt and has a dish towel slung over his shoulder like a bad-mannered necktie. He embodies his bar; he has no guests. There’s harmony between the neighbours: the young barman’s approach to the well-seasoned Osteria Veneta was respectful and the Osteria’s incaricato d’affari pauses and seems to choose her words carefully. I can’t make them out. The restaurant is too richly filled with furniture for the sound to pass. The Osteria’s proprietress had only just retaken her perch at a table outside her restaurant before being approached by the barman. This was where she was when we entered earlier. We had taken her for a guest. Then suddenly she was next to us. She floats across the restaurant in slow motion: measured but effective. Her face is fixed, preserving its friendliness just below the surface. She applies smiles in well-measured doses. We were free to choose our seats. A heavy blackboard with the evening’s menu was …