tiki, teardrops and true confessions

tiki noIt must be a rite of passage to get your ass kicked by tiki drinks while visiting Los Angeles. The task was not hard to accomplish, what with a happy hour cocktail at the Roosevelt Hotel, huge beers with dinner, and a stop at the Rainbow for a whiskey soda and some jukebox glam beforehand. More reasonable humans might have called it a night at that point, but it was only 8:30! And this particular tiki bar was in walking (er, stumbling) distance from my friend T’s apartment.

But if you’ll permit me, let’s backtrack to Thanksgiving. In the dinner afterglow, perhaps three glasses of wine in the rear view mirror and tryptophan coursing through my veins, I found myself on facebook chatting with an old college pal who was visiting home from LA. We briefly toyed with the idea of trying to get together, but the timing wasn’t going to work. He suggested that I should just visit him in California, and in my warm and fuzzy and expansive postprandial state, I found myself thinking that was a great idea. A few keystrokes on my phone, and I had a ticket.

Mind you, I hadn’t seen T in about ten years, not since his wedding reception when he still lived in Chicago. Back when I was in school at Michigan State, I used to visit him there fairly regularly, taking the EL to the resale shops in Boystown or poking around Andersonville’s coffee houses and junk stores while he was at work. In the evenings, we’d go to dive bars, drink shitty beer and see bands play. Occasionally, his band would have a show, and I’d sing along in the front row.

Ten years later though, did we still have anything in common? I pondered this somewhat nervously as the trip approached. We were both unattached and had recently gone through divorces, so there was that. But we hadn’t really kept in touch since he’d moved (and even for a decent period before that), and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Girlfriends inquired excitedly whether there were any “romantic possibilities” for my trip; I answered quite honestly that I had no idea.

detroit streetMy first afternoon in town, as we wandered the streets of Hollywood at sunset, I kept seeing bits of home everywhere I looked… Berry Gordy’s star on the Walk of Fame; a sign for Detroit Street; a guy in a Tigers t-shirt. As it turned out, by this time there was someone back home who was tugging at my heartstrings like a cheap ukelele, and as much as I was enjoying the California sunshine, I couldn’t help but have him (and by extension, the city I associated with him) in my thoughts. Naturally I thought the best way to deal with this was with a cocktail.

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time place taste memory

Taste and memory are tricky, shape-shifting things. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a bottle of wine that I thought was stunningly good, only to drink the same wine at a later point in time and be completely underwhelmed. Of course, wine is a living, natural product that changes and morphs and develops, but there is a reasonable expectation that with any given vintage (assuming proper storage), variations won’t be too drastic from one bottle to the next.

I often wonder how much of a factor external circumstances are to how much food or wine is enjoyed. I believe the experiences tied up with consuming a bottle of wine at a given point in time- company, atmosphere, mood, etc.- can clearly skew one’s perceptions for better or worse. My friend J just got back from a two-week trip to France which he spent touring vineyards and meeting winemakers; I can’t help but think that those wines will taste better to him than someone who didn’t have that experience, because of the positive associations they’ll call to mind.

mas p'alla

Recently I decided to open up two bottles of wine that I brought back from a trip to Spain, where I was lucky enough to meet the winemaker and tour his winery and vineyards. I remember being really taken with these wines at the time, and the whole story of how we met Antonio made the three bottles we were able to fit in our luggage seem precious. The trip to Spain wasn’t just any old trip though; it was our honeymoon. We had been saving the bottles to open on occasions like anniversaries, which we did for bottle #1. It tasted every bit as good that night as it did in the bar in Granada where we first sipped it, if not better, and we marveled over how great it was and how lucky we were as we enjoyed a beautiful dinner at home.

Sadly, by the time our second anniversary rolled around, things were not so rosy and we weren’t in such a celebratory frame of mind. By the following summer, M and I were separated. What to do with these two remaining bottles, symbols of our failed happiness? I feared they would taste acrid in my mouth. In the first months after our separation part of me wanted to open them at home alone, drinking to get drunk and wallowing in regret and self-pity, but fortunately I suppressed that urge and just kept them in a pantry out of sight. Continue reading