Friday, December 19, 2014

Drinking by the book: Advil Calendar 2014 BLACK VODKA HELICOPTERS Edition with SPECIAL GUEST Blythe Woolston

This is my autograph book. Yes I know nobody has an autograph book anymore, but just call me Anne Shirley, and shut up. Or don't. Don't call me Anne Shirley. In fact, I'll kill anyone who calls me Anne Shirley. I've never even read Anne of Green Gables and I would never wear my hair like that.

But as atavistic as it is, it's mine, and I love it, and it is packed with stories. The first story being of course, "Why do you use a 1904 drinks manual as an autograph book?"

This little book was a gift from my friend Paula, who knows that How We Used to Drink is almost as interesting to me as When Am I Going to Get My Next Drink. She gave it to me as we were on our way to a book festival. I admired the book and thanked her for the thoughtful gift and slipped it in my blazer pocket, on its way to a place of honor on my shelf of bartending books.

Next evening, wearing the same jacket, I traveled to Washington D.C.'s Politics and Prose to see a bunch of picture book authors talk about their work. There was a signing line, but since this was a bookstore event, you were supposed to buy the books you wanted signed,'m kind of a brat and I'm cheap and besides I already owned copies of most of those books at home.

So I pulled "How to Mix Drinks" out of my pocket and asked the authors to sign that. It was fun! Children's book authors are cheeky:

"Drink more." Mac Barnett
"Drink often!" Laura Vaccaro Seeger
At the NCTE convention this year, Jory John (All My Friends Are Dead) added "Drink hard!"

Anyway, when I realized that Blythe Woolston and I were going to be in the same place at the same time at this year's YA Literature Symposium, I made sure to pack my autograph book. Blythe! 

I first met Blythe when we were both early for an award ceremony at an ALA conference. Cooling our heels outside the room in one of those empty wide convention center hallways, she got to talking to my kids about the books they liked. She didn't TELL ME she was a nominee, or else I might have actually asked about her book. That book was Freak Observer and I read it because I met her, and that book - I mean I kid around a lot but I do actually like reading, you know - that book was extraordinary.

In Austin, we talked about our now-giant teenage boys, and about TV, and schools, and how inexplicable it is for a bar to RUN OUT of Wild Turkey during a librarian convention.

And I forgot to get her to sign my book.

But I remembered to ask her who of her own made-up people she'd like to drink with - and she was right on it, blending unexpected details with balls-ass characters. As is her wont:

Blythe Woolston
"I'd drink with Loa Lindgren--and our drink together would not be the first time she's availed herself of alcohol. She's almost 21 by now, anyhow. We would crack a bottle of absinthe and get completely giddy.

Loa's taking another semester's worth of credits of art history and ceramics. She is not an art major. She worked with Jack King-Fisher on a stream restoration project last summer. Next summer she hopes to do field research in the interest of the endangered Western Glacier Stonefly. She isn't a biology major either.
Bonus (a.k.a. I'm going to cheat): I'd also like to spend time drinking with Velma Blixen, a character in a book called 1910, which might never make it out of the publishing chute. Velma is fairly judgmental about drinking, although she never refuses it if someone is giving it away for free. She is also a big fan of laudanum. We'd drink salmiakkikossu, which is vodka full of pepper licorice. The stuff is black and ropy as cough medicine.
Velma's dead, but never exhibited any prejudice against ghosts while she was alive; I assume she is just as broad-minded about drinking with the living now she's dead."

Loa Lindgren, the main character of Blythe's Morris-nominated debut novel The Freak Observer, is - as if you couldn't tell from Blythe's description of her recent activities - one of the most insatiable intellects you are likely to come across in YA fiction.

Loa is for you, if you, as a teen, read the word "polymath" and thought it was a terrible word. "Many maths." Please. You could definitely have come up with a better word for being interested in and good at a number of disciplines. Who are these people, anyway, and what business do they have coining words? They're certainly not polymaths, that's for sure.

Why is Loa drinking absinthe? Why does anybody drink absinthe - because they're a little bit pretentious, that's why. Occupational hazard for polymaths (see the last 8 years of this blog). Blythe's an indexer in addition to writing YA. She ends up knowing a lot about a lot of things, too. She's the most polymathematical axe-wielding peasant you know.

There are a whoooole lotta "official" ways to drink absinthe, most involving a special spoon and a special glass: the Pontarlier glass, with a pinched-off little reservoir at the bottom for observing the reaction that occurs when water, sugar, and liquor mix; or the Brouille glass, which has a separate... you know what? both Loa and Blythe live in the middle of fucking nowhere. Nobody owns any special-purpose French glassware out there unless they found it on eBay, and Loa's absinthe phase hasn't lasted long enough for her to start accumulating special accoutrement.

Velma, now... Velma I do not know. Please note that our esteemed Special Guest picked a character from a book that even she doesn't know will ever get published - a dead character at that! Send me the damn manuscript, Blythe - I totally want to read it now.

Salmiakkikossu is likewise unknown to me. I know it's made from salmiak, strong and salty licorice from Scandihoovia. I like salmiak. Whenever I put in an order with All Things Dutch, my source for licorice that people generally put in their mouth and then take back out again, asking, "are you sure this is supposed to be candy?" I always order some salmiak. Sometimes you can get it in little cat shapes! And little pipes!

But I had to google this liqueur. It turns out not to be liqueur! It is generally not available outside of Finland, so you have to make it at home. I love making things at home! How do you do it?

Well, first you get some salmiak candy. One website recommends Tyrkisk Peber, which translates to "Turkish pepper" and if you think that is kind of a weird name for a candy, you are beginning to get the thing about salmiak. Once you've procured this awful Finnish shit, you just drop it in a pot and pour a bottle of vodka over it. When the "candy" has melted, you drink the vodka. Oh. Ew.

The website Metroactive says:
The treacherous concoction actually killed a few people back in the early '90s, so the Finnish parliament decided to ban the stuff. Never ones for the alcohol-regulated life, the Finns responded by simply making their own version on a mass scale, so the government eventually gave up and lifted the ban. Koskenkorva is actually a small town in Finland that translates as "dead water in the rapids," and the label on the back of the bottle is intentionally upside down, so you can read it while you drink."
THAT'S what Blythe wants to drink with her dead unpublished girl character. Pohjanmaan kautta ("bottoms up"), girls!

Another cute story about this stuff can be found on Salmiyuck! Adventures in Salmiak (Don't try this at home). The kid who writes that website is a boy after our own hearts. Let's see how he scores:
  • he made his own Salmiakkikossu (ding! one point), 
  • sampled it sober (point to the boy)
  • and sampled it drunk (five points for doing it and another five for knowing that people will drink all kinds of weird shit once they're already wasted)
  • and lastly, he advises that when you pass out on the office conference room floor, do it under the conference table, so the cleaning staff has less trouble vacuuming around you. FIFTY POINTS TO GRYFFINDOR!!

But Salmiakkikossu is probably something I won't try. While I am nuts for strong licorice (I'm going to a former Dutch colony for Christmas week - guess who's going to check out every candy store on the island??) (oh I am going to make myself sick), I don't like licorice-flavored things. Anise cookies, Pastis, ecch. My husband mixed eggnog and Pastis one time and I nearly divorced him.

Gotta be a candy store or two on that street, right?

Wait, no. I can't say anything negative about my husband right now. Turns out, because he is in good physical condition, the orthopedic surgeon says we can delay his Achilles tendon surgery until after Christmas, which means he can come with us to Curacao after all! No more weeping! Appreciably less profanity! I love THE WHOLE WORLD TODAY.

Except eggnog and Pastis. I hate eggnog and Pastis. And Anne Shirley.

But I love you, and I love Blythe, and I want to get the two of you together. Read The Freak Observer and for goodness sake read Black Helicopters

Tomorrow! Oh you are going to LOOOVE THIS. Should I tell? No, nope I'm not gonna. Suffer!