Thursday, October 12, 2017

Gin Craze

Every day, before lunch, which could be 11 am or 1 pm depending on her schedule, the Queen drinks gin.  This seems to be a genetic choice as her (Queen) Mum drank many a gin and tonic; morning, noon and night.  The next King.  Gin martini.  His second wife.  G+T.  And the Royals before them?  Gin. Gin. Gin. Serving and drinking this gros gin 'depuis 1695'.  In fact, it was overheard that William of Orange did several shots when he found out his longtime mistress, whom he left, due to his wife's death bed wish,  married someone else.  I think it's time we reveal to this family that genievre (Geneva) was not a British invention. It was Dutch.

Let's not just pick on the crown wearers.  Their royal subjects, according to 1740 statistics, exact and without error - unless of course the record man was drinking 'jenever' as he calculated and tallied up the results - drank 6 gallons of gin per person each year.  Back then, breast fed babies slept 76% longer than those who weren't.  This kooky era was known as the 'Gin Craze'. 

What makes a craze?  Is it because of the most alluring color of green glass bottle?  Everyone 'has to have it'?  Or the heart shaped label stamped with anchors and flourishes?  Surely they sipped it straight up.  No fizzy limoncello, expensive rose water or organic raspberry puree. Negronis, Gimlets or Tom Collins? Not in the 1700's. 

At this point I know you are secretly begging me to embellish upon the famous cocktail, The Pink Lady.  It seems this creamy concoction was first served at the Southern Yacht Club in New Orleans.  The exact origin is milky but the one I like is that this gin drink, made with egg whites and grenadine, was named after a 1911 Broadway musical.  The horrid taste of the prohibition brands called for sweetness and flavors to make it drinkable.  Pom syrupy and frosted. The Pink Lady, a girly choice, was also known as a Shimmy. This was my Grandmother's favorite request. 

My Grandfather worked in the theatre.  Behind the scenes he built scenes.  A Carpenter by trade and a bull-legged man of rolled cigarettes, he smelled like sawdust and always kept a bottle of De Kuyper Geneva (Gin) on his workbench.  I imagine him taking a gulp before sneaking kisses from Actresses backstage.  As President of the local Stagehands' union,  he probably took liberties with the ladies.  

'Pop' was German.  He left school at twelve to work in the logging camps in Algonquin Park.  Surely he had to earn money to send back home, contributing, so his Father could afford to buy food, ice and beer.   The winters were hard in Upper Canada.  Fur trappers would lodge with the army of young boys and men who labored log after log.  Dry timber topped up the massive stone fireplaces inside the crowded camboose, but it was the Geneva that kept them warm in the unforgiving, frigid wilderness.  Wood and fur for the King.  Across the wavy ocean.  Dutch Gin shipped back to those brawny lumberman and trapper gangs.  Chopping and hunting and drinking.  A typical 'Gin Craze', yet more out of necessity rather than widespread mania. Those men would go insane or freeze to death without gin. Poor Paul.  Died by freezing, clinging to a tree, tongue stuck on his saw.  Poor Cornelis. Died by freezing, wrapped in beaver pelts, foot caught in trap. 

I guess that prominently displayed green bottle on the workbench was a sentimental keepsake and reminder of those harsh years spent in the dense, black fly forest. 

A Chemist in Italy originally invented gin as a treatment for kidney disorders.  Italian Monks with various pains in their sides blended a batch with unusual botanicals;  had the monastery calligrapher jot down the recipe and centuries later a science obsessed Dutch teen found it and used it to make a better barrel-full. A chronological notation from the 11th century.  A Gregorian chant 'Gin Craze'!  Who knew Monks got tipsy? Those black habits were the perfect hiding spot for bottles of gin.  So wait.  Did the Italians discover gin or the Dutch?

I am in the thick of Swedish Death Cleaning.  Listen.  It's an absolute, joyless, stressful, necessary project that quite frankly nobody gets respect or appreciation for doing.  If you look it up in the thesaurus you get words like:  push-back, crying, kicking, screaming, blame, anger, hoarding, organizing, donating, tossing and my favorite alternative phrase, 'morbid de-cluttering'.

The bottle in the photograph belongs to my Father.  It has sat on his disorganized workbench for almost six decades.  He bought it one afternoon and that evening he took a sip.  He tells me it tasted 'God Awful'.  That must be really bad I thought.  He still kept it and placed it in the same sentimental position of honor like his own Father did.

My Dad has always been a Salesman.  Working in the pulp and paper industry.  Selling paper. printing and newspapers.  I never gave him a greeting card he didn't turn over to see who printed it. He is also a Master Mason, a member of that secret society brotherhood that I really don't know much about, except I recall him attending weekly meeting wearing an apron (do they bake?) and participating in Masonic funerals; symbolic conifer sprigs carried around a coffin then pointed up to heaven.  Immortality of the soul.

Currently, I'm attempting to rid myself and my parents of unneeded objects and stuffed-in, stored, soggy cardboard boxes (Did I mention he sold these too - and take-out boxes. He even sold Tim Horton his first carton of donut boxes!)  Let's just confess. We have too much stuff.  We need a Swedish Death Cleaning intervention.  I declare "Everything MUST go!" But then I come upon this gorgeous, green bottle of gin.  I love the color so much I want to marry it.  I undo the cap and the gin wreaks. It's been 60 years after all. But that gloriously designed label. And the typography.  I ask my Father about it and he tells me the story behind it. I shine it up and take it down to the lake.  It needed a portrait taken.

There is a story behind this and a long, fine thread of themes too.  Gin for starters. Oh I could lounge for hours in 'Gin Palaces' and soak in 'Bathtub Gin'.  Give me fresh limes and loads of ice.  Pour me a cool long drink in a country club short glass.  Wood comes next.  My Grandfather logged it, built things with it.  My Dad sold it's byproducts and I lived in a cedar log house. Last, Juniper berries from those trees that give us wood, are important to Freemasonry and become long-desired liquid granted in fabulous green bottles of Geneva (Gin).

It's a multi-national swig of ideas:  Canada, Sweden, Germany, Italy, Britain and The Netherlands.   I must be unearthing a present-day 'Gin Craze'.  Let's gather soon at some lavish bar; somewhere perfectly dazzling and discuss further.  We'll toast to the Queen and debate who should become the next King. And the tab?  (We all know who should get the credit.) We'll go Dutch.

-  Patti Friday © 2017 

Patti Friday: Artist | Illustrator | Author | Wellness Community Member | Reporting from inside 'The Art Dept.' at the international 'Embassy of Ideas'

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