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In the absence of a poet, what the martini needs above all is a philosopher. This study, however, forthrightly settles for less, declaring itself as belonging to “the field of bacchanology.” Now science surely has its uses and some of my best friends are scientists, but a work owing even a tiny bit, as this one does, to Roland Barthes errs on the side of being too chic in its scientific bent. The author realizes as much by sounding suitably embarrassed when mentioning matters like “the semantics of material culture.” The science yearns to be more than science but Professor Edrounds tends to shy away from what is above science by virtue of being its queen. He avoids philosophy.
Now for most of us the avoidance of philosophy is a matter of self-understanding and suitable modesty; philosophers are hard to find and we simply realize that we do not belong to the world’s most exclusive club. But Professor Edmunds does not strike me as a humble man. I have no intention to give umbrage and I suspect Professor Edmunds will not take it, being familiar with Aristotle, who thinks of humility as a vice. I do not think he feels he is below philosophy, because I fear he thinks himself above it. He writes like a genuine member of a genuine nobility, for whom philosophy is a mere game. He is, in short, a perfect gentleman. I have nothing at all against gentlemen, and if so few of my best friends can be called that it is because gentlemen shun me and not because I avoid them. But the author’s nobility does at rare times tinge his excellent book with a bit of dubiousness, and since I must love truth more than I love Edmunds I must also force myself to mention two shortcomings.
The first of these is what might be called false purism. Believing as I have already confessed that there is no such thing as a bad martini, I also would not hesitate—in fact I don’t—to use tap water for making ice cubes, to pour in the vermouth in a cavalier if sparing way, scorning measurement, and in madcap moments to experiment recklessly. What is more, I would drink warm martinis out of dixie-cups without blinking or blushing. Rather than continue with this catalogue of what some would call crimes—I have more, much more, to confess—I will add a base truth about drinking martinis, one which the author is too noble to accentuate: Martini drinkers drink to get drunk, or at least to get high. One does not denigrate martinis in the least, I insist, by emphasizing the efficiency with which they do the job we assign them. Let no one sneer at the power of our national cocktail. We vote as many, but we drink as one. And let nobody deny that martini drinkers show great interest in what alcohol does to us. I have met many martini drinkers and loved not a few, but I have yet to encounter one who drinks only martinis.
Probity, always exacting, also demands that I take issue with Professor Edmunds over a second and closely related matter. One does him no injustice to call him a martini elitist. Now let me make one thing perfectly clear. In general, I admire elitists. In democracies they are absolutely essential to combat leveling tendencies and to return to the word “discrimination” its pristine sense. But it is no less true that for the health of democracy we elitists share as many of the fine things of life with the many as possible. That ennobles democracy and safeguards us elitists at one and the same time. Some things must always remain beyond the ken of the many, alas, but not martinis. Making them can be taught to the meanest capacities and enjoying them to the coarsest palates. We who are true conservatives should prize magnanimity very highly, and that virtue demands of us that we reach out to bring the uncommon martini to the common man.
BUT I HAVE NO WISH to engage in unseemly disputations with Professor Edmunds. His book brought me great pleasure and I am grateful to him. In a small way it even resembles Aristotle’s Ethics. Reading it one is bound to think of happy times in one’s life. Even as I write this my mind becomes warm with tender recollections.
I remember many a communal rite of a pre-dinner martini or two. The occasions have varied from reunions with dear friends to ceremonies before dinner parties. I love the preparation, the toast, the first cool, bracing sip. In some ways I am especially partial to the toast. My favorite is l’chayyim—to life—which I proffer to all friends who are Jewish or would like to be. But I am graced with courtesy of the heart when it comes to toasts. As a good host I suit the words to the situation. For example, when I drink with my students I love to salute their triumphs, for I am made happy by their happiness. It ought to go without saying, but it doesn’t, that I enjoy drinking with my students. On those joyous occasions I may even have taught some of them something more valuable than drinking martinis —a tall order. In any event, my students and I constantly expose as foolish prattle the ideas one sometimes hears bandied about concerning teaching as a power relationship.
I remember also the martini of the relationship. I think of sitting in peace with my beloved. Call her Jenny. We sit together, talk of common plans, let speech suffuse itself in love, feel blessed in our closeness, safe in trust; the very air grows intimate.
I remember, finally, the solitary martini. I put away my work, the daily drudgeries. Relaxing, I prepare my drink with loving care. Then I sit back and think of once and future deeds and speeches, but mostly of the past. I summon up the living and the dead, rehearse old scenes of tenderness and wit. Then time melts slowly as betrayals lose their sting. My friends and I are young again, alive with hope. Grace smiles on me as Mr. Death assumes a modest stance, and all the while martinis make the music for my memories.
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