Saturday, July 14, 2012

For the rain it raineth every day

"Well," I said, "if you are going to surprise me, first let me get used to the idea. You've known me over thirty years, you know how that goes..." One night recently, just as I settled in bed to read my latest m/m e-mystery/romance, the Celt, not usually given to causing me a sleepless night, remarked "I know you don't like surprises, but..."

He waited two days – almost long enough for me to get used to the idea – before handing me a green wrapped book over dinner, and saying "I'm dying to tell you and I can't wait any longer. Open this." And a surprise it was – a guide book for Vancouver, a city I've long been curious about, a city thronged with cousins whose family name I no longer remember, and where the Celt had decided we would spend five days to celebrate my birthday.

I wouldn't go as far as to quote Wordsworth – "Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven..." and I'm not sure how many of you would understand if I stated it made me very happy to have five days of unrelievedly grey skies, low temperatures and almost constant, gentle rain – but blissful it was.

It's easy to miss the simple pleasures of life in a maritime climate – the buttoning of a raincoat, the unfurling of an umbrella from which descends a patter of rain, soft as a child's heartbeat, bestowing a sense of well-being unmatched even by the slow seep through the stitches of a boat shoe, the lap of water against moored boats, or the grey veils wrapping the hills and valleys of the horizon.

There's water everywhere in Vancouver; the first city other than Rome where I've said I'd like to live when I retire (– oh, wait...) Water, not just in the form of eight months of "liquid sunshine" as our driver gloomily called it, but also in the form of fountains, cascades, rills and pools. Everywhere we looked there were references, realized in stone and tile, to waterfalls, torrents, cataracts, trickles and spates. Set amongst modern buildings – vertiginous cliffs of concrete and glass inundated by outbursts of green – water sounded its melodies.

One of the pleasures of Vancouver is that it is such a walkable city; and walk we did – miles each day, along the waterfront, the harbor, through the streets and the parks. An essential, especially with all that walking, is an afternoon nap – or, if not a nap then a rest flat out with a book. It was during one of those stops that it occurred to me that if where one lived were well-designed, that space need not be large. "I could live here," I said to an unheeding Celt already deep into his nap.

Could we, I wonder, live in the equivalent of a reasonably-sized hotel room – in what essentially is one room with attendant bathroom and storage? It's not that I'm in any rush to find out, but none of us, it seems to me, needs much space. We might aspire to more space than we inhabit but, it occurred to me as I lay there that afternoon, it's the things we own and display that inhabit more square footage than we ourselves do. No epiphany this, just a simple realization in personal terms that if we were less burdened by things we could live in a more efficiently planned space dedicated to physical need rather than to the display of possessions that, essentially, we allow to own us.

Eventually my musings drove us both to the bar for cocktails before we set out for dinner. It is clear to me that a good Manhattan is rare. A Manhattan is my drink, as the Negroni is the Celt's. They are what we order regularly and I can tell you it's a pretty hit-and-miss affair. In a world of "signature" cocktails and droll experimentation with distillates and tinctures, it is a pleasure to get what you ask for.  

My "Perfect" Perfect Manhattan
Two ounces Bulleit Rye
1/2 ounce Carpano Antica Formula vermouth
1/2 ounce Dolin dry vermouth
A dash of bitters 

The Celt's Negroni 
Equal parts Campari and Antica Formula vermouth and Hendrick's gin.
Stirred and served with a single large ice cube

The Globe Trotter, a curiosity I had in the hotel bar
1 1/2 ounces Jim Beam bourbon
3/4 ounce Cynar
1/2 ounce Campari
Dash Demarara syrup
Two dashes black walnut bitters 

Seemingly in Canada no more than three ounces of liquor may grace a glass at any one time. This makes for very small cocktails! 


  1. Your words do indeed resonate...

    "it's the things we own and display that inhabit more square footage than we ourselves do..."

    But I do find I like the space that accommodation (literally) requires. My other half always lamented the huge amount of space I said we "required". But I think he now enjoys it, having been trained by me to overcome his Japanese sense of small interior spaces for individuals.

    Glad you like Vancouver. I've always enjoyed it too, filled as it is with those who chose to get away from Hong Kong pre-1997, and the great skiing at Whistler. But I'm not sure my old bones are up to those cooler climes anymore.

    1. columnist, thank you. Space I like but increasingly I don't want to see it filled with stuff. I was looking at an article the other day in the Wall Street Journal's Design and Decorating section and, to me, it seemed all about accessorizing - as if a room is an outfit.

  2. Although I had an even larger home in my mind for years in addition to my second home, I have recently begun to think in much smaller terms. I have thought about a hotel-sized room, then about just one great room.

    1. The Devoted Classicist, thank you. I like the idea of one great room, though not an enormous one. However attractive a small room might be if one wishes to entertain then there is a problem. Yes, a large room, zoned, would be ideal.

  3. Reading the text and then seeing the mirrored wall behind the bed (like that) makes me think of the latter as a wall of water- sleeping in the rain - as it were. Of course, I have rain on the brain after seeing Singin' in the Rain of the big screen this past week.

    Oh...I'll take (a) Manhattan! (the Bronx and Staten Isand too...)

    1. Daniel James Shigo, thank you. I thought many tines about that movie as we walked in the rain but not given to either singing or dancing I left it as a thought. Didn't even mention it to the Celt as he would have been singing the damned song all the week - once he gets a tune in his head it's difficult to get it back out again.

  4. So glad you and the Celt had such a lovely time. And that you were so much more sanguine about rain than any of us feels in effing Blighty right now.

    I agree too about space and possessions. I lay in bed after my afternoon snooze and wondered how that extra chest of drawers appeared and whether.. oh it's all too boring for publication.

    I choked on your cocktail ingredients. Sorry, that's laughed. No idea what half of it meant.

    1. Rose, thank you. We are just having closets rebuilt and, I hope improved - from the clearing of them came so much that has to be got rid of. Unbelievable how much two men can own and never see from one year's end to the next.

      The Antica Formula is the best vermouth going - discovered it in Rome two years ago and its the only vermouth we use. Dolin is a good, if fashionable, dry vermouth.

  5. A belated happy birthday. Vancouver has interested me, too. The walkability of a city in retirement may sound like an oxymoron, but it makes so much sense. How lovely of the Celt to surprise you with this wonderful getaway. Any more exciting news to share?

    ps three ounces per cocktail makes for a very long night and a large bar tab1

    1. home before dark, thank you. The more walkable a city the more interesting I find it - and that's without necessarily visiting any museums or such like. I just like walking and walk we did in Vancouver.

      I have not been forewarned of any surprises but we are discussing our winter trip to England and Italy.

      When first presented with a 3 ounce cocktail I wondered if the barman was being mean and on enquiring was told about the law in place since Prohibition. It reminded me of a restaurant in Atlanta, very chic at the time and long gone, where I ordered a glass of wine and subsequently complained at what must have been only about a tablespoon of liquid in the glass. The snippy waitress brought me another tablespoon in a rocks glass with a very bad grace informing me that I had received their normal pour. I never went back.

  6. Well, a happy birthday to you (we're both geminis,it seems)....and thanks for the evocatively-written post.

    Like you, I've often/regularly wondered "Wouldn't it be nice if we lived in just one, well-ordered, minimally decorated room?". My partner and I travel a lot, mostly in France and Spain, and we're in hotels about half of that time. Invariably, the morning comes when I say "Wouldn't it be nice to just LIVE here?". My partner (who actually is French and, therefore, markedly less inclined than I am to romanticize the country)usually reminds me that, even with laundry service, I'd eventually get tired of wearing the same five shirts and three pairs of pants....and that I've got three rowsty terriers waiting for me back home...and that my decorative horror-vacuii will eventually resurface, and that he doesn't want to live in a hotel room filled with the thousand&one geegaws I'll eventually be bringing into the joint.

    All in all, he's predictably right. We bought this enormous, 220 year old house last month. This past weekend, a longtime friend (she's a furniture designer and has a steely,discerning eye) came to visit for the first time. I walked her through all the rooms and, noticing that she hadn't burbled anything like "Oh, how wonderful!" or "How beautiful!", I asked her WHAT SHE THOUGHT!?!?!?

    She (the daughter of two physicists) folded her arms and simply said "Well...this just confirms my theory that objects expand and multiply to fill the existing space. How did you manage to do this in just two weeks?"

    Still, I suppose I can fantasize. Oddly enough, the only houses I covet in magazines or newspaper articles are those tiny, ultra-modernist, little cubes...usually made of glass and situated in a wooded glade. I always think "Oh, wouldn't that be clean and distractions....I could just do my work and meditate on the view...It'd be so zen...".

    My partner claims, when I mention how nice it would be to live in a modern hotel or one of those cubes, that I'm merely expressing a repressed desire to avoid the extreme familiarity with broke-ass plumbing that comes with living in very old houses (which I've done for my entire life).

    As for Negronis?....the thought still makes me shudder a bit. Long ago, when I was about 25, a friend introduced me to them while we were preparing for a large party at his house. I ended up having....oh,..8 or 9 of them? At that time, I weighed about 125 pounds, and I don't recall having ever gotten around to actually eating anything at the party; I was far too happy for anyone's good that night. you probably don't need me to tell you that I was sick as a dog for two days afterwards.

    I can't even think of Campari (or gin, for that matter), even now, without widening my eyes and, as I said, shuddering a bit.

    Fortunately, however, The Good Lord, in all his foresight, has provided us with many-many other choices when it comes to cocktails.

    Thanks again for this blog; I always enjoy reading it.

    Level Best as Ever,
    David Terry

  7. P.S. As for "it's unbelievable how much two men can own and never see from one year's end to the next"?.....

    I suppose I'm a negligent curator of my own goods, but Herve is W-O-R-S-E.

    Everything from my house in Durham, NC (where I lived for 25 years) arrived three Fridays ago. This was manageable. THEN....the tsunami of Herve's boxes from his much larger house(with which I thought I was familiar, but I didn't know about the storage rooms) arrived....all 100 or so large, unmarked boxes and crates.

    Turns out that he doesn't have the slightest idea of what is in most of them. Each time he's moved (3 times over the past ten years), the company's paid for the operation, and his ultra-bizzy, usually-absent self has simply said "Oh...just pack it ALL up".

    So, I'm going through boxes filled with, say,.. 2001's junk-mail from the Paris apartment... half-empty, six year old boxes of cereal bought in, apparently, Toronto...500 unmatched socks.....get the picture?

    Herve, honest and straightforward as ever (even in his third-language) is the first to admit that, whenever he's moved, he's simply gone out afterwards and bought whatever he needs, rather than search for it among his ever-increasing mountain of moving-boxes.

    And THAT is my current horror/dilemna.

    Wish me luck,

    david Terry

  8. I thoroughly enjoy the Dolin vermouths for cooking, dear Blue, and may I warmly recommend them to you in that way. For the Negroni (I'm fortunate not to have had 8 or 9 at such a delicate body weight as DT's, if that sobriquet is not untoward) I don't know that I could embrace such a characterful gin, but I like it very well enough to try, so thank you. My favourite Negroni - if I may contribute anything to this very delightful tale - is one which benefits by late afternoon daylight and a bay, such as one might find around Tiburon, California, possibly framed by a bridge of sympathetic colour. I completely respect a Negroni indoors in a country taproom, preferably tackroom white, but its herbality argues so movingly for the out of doors that I assume you both took cocktails under your umbrella that night, and much to your advantage at that. Well, you see the cause for celebration of another entry here, makes for spontaneous tangents in flavour and colour, a sure sign of a great place to be. Happy birthday indeed.

  9. Oh, Laurent....Ijust read your engaging comment, and then I went to your profile/blog. So, you live in Charlottesville? I've spent a lot (to say the least) of my time up there over the years, and I still go there often.

    I have to take an artificial fox (which I commissioned from an artistic friend) up there soon, having destroyed (in my bath-tub) an actual (if stuffed) fox. I'd brought it back from the house of an elderly friend, promising her that I would figure out how to "clean" it. Turns out I simply destroyed the damn, worm-ridden, tatty thing.

    Isn't that the consummate Albemarle county dilemna?

    I'll look forward to looking through your blog when done with this,

    David Terry

    1. My dear Mr Terry, no one has a thing to gain from the propensity for revel at red mug/blue linen, who can have destroyed a fox in his bath. I must say I defer speechlessly to such a talent, if not almost unmentionably enviously. What a superb memory this must be to this day. That said, you have probably already discovered the very taproom one has in mind for the sheltered Negroni; it's the small bar in tackroom white and monochrome photodecoration, just off the pool at Keswick Hall. I still do think, the beverage benefits from a migration to a stroll on the pool terrace, overlooking the golf course - if that does not sound like too athletic an abuse, of this contemplative apéritif - but providence does bring nightfall even to Albemarle, as you may have seen.

      Now, Blue, what shall we say of a blog where one can meet a man who bathes with foxes, and must, for all we know, have danced with a girl who danced with the master of hounds? I feel you must keep this page open, for all such refugees from probability.

  10. Hello dear Blue, I think your inner poet jogged beside you on those misty walks in Vancouver. Thank you for another beautiful post and sharing the Celt's lovely surprise.

    Your words, "...the display of possessions that, essentially, we allow to own us" struck a deep chord. Those possessions attract and repel and are the cause of so much joy and unhappiness. How difficult it is to be the curator of our life and the lives of loved ones before us.