Having come so close to losing everything, I am freed now of all fear, hesitation, and timidity, and, once revived, intend to devoutly wander the earth, imbibing, smelling, sampling, loving whomever I please; touching, tasting, standing very still among the beautiful things of this world, such, for example: a sleeping dog dream-kicking in a tree-shade triangle; a sugar pyramid upon a blackwood tabletop being rearranged grain-by-grain by an indiscernible draft; a cloud passing ship-like above a rounded green hill, atop which a line of colored shirts energetically dance in the wind…
-George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo)
Typing out this passage, I again came to understand why, although it has been steadfastly sitting on my nightstand since late March, I have made only a small dent in Saunders’ novel, his first, which has been called the “first essential novel of the Donald Trump era
” (era? Please no!). As evocative as some of the prose is–can’t you just see the sugar pyramids and shirts dancing in the wind before your eyes?–it can be nothing short of exhausting to confront a cacophony of voices, all lamenting death and telling the tale of how they came to be in this bardo,
the state of intermediate existence between two lives. At the same time, it’s also fascinating to encounter these different characters and to read the collection of historical sources that Saunders has arranged, collage-style, on Willie Lincoln’s death and on the then-President’s grief. It simply asks a lot of a reader who is approaching it only in the 20-30 minutes before bed–that or perhaps I’m just hopelessly plebeian in my tastes; I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes I long for a little more plot, a little less poetry (or plain scatological weirdness: certain things happen in “sick-boxes”). The older you get, the easier it is to recognize these essential facts about yourself.
Lincoln in the Bardo recently popped back into my mind and not just because it woefully stares at me every night, wondering when I will again embark on the journey within its pages, but because, as my thirty-fourth birthday was approaching, I realized that birthdays had started to seem like a bardo of sorts to me, a very brief and timeless moment that hovers between an ending and a beginning. Each year, before the clock is reset, all of this potential energy lingers in the air; the actual birthday itself is like New Year’s, but better (so much better), since it’s unique to you, and any and all expectations are determined by what your idea of a birthday should be. Certainly, I have no “birthday resolutions,” but the day does offer an opportunity to reflect, to think about what is going well and to make a wish for something that might come next. Not that you have any control over it, but the illusion of self-determination does provide some comfort, especially to a Taurus like me who likes to think that she can, through sheer force of will, manifest change.
Although my birthdays have varied over the years (a different celebration for each self, I guess), this year it was an exercise in celebratory simplicity: dinner for two, including steak on the grill, roasted asparagus, salad, and alcoholic milkshakes that I promise I will tell you about someday. And thanks partly to the New Mexico post, there was also the surprise arrival of a cast-iron tortilla press, which was really all that I was secretly hoping for, yet not at all expecting. Consider this alone a testament to birthday magic.
Normally, the day after a birthday can be a letdown–largely because the clock is officially ticking again–but this year it felt somewhat different. May 17, May 16, beyond a change of clothes and Indian food rather than steak for dinner, there were few, if any, palpable differences. The sun continued to beat down for most of the day, which made it hot, fabulously hot, and a welcome change from the rather chilly and wet turn spring had taken a few weeks ago. I was still sneezy and stuffy, cursing the pollen that has left thick traces on all the glass. The beagle was running around the yard, hoping against hope that somebody would throw water from the porch, and the Greek, who had arrived home a sweaty mess from biking for four miles in the heat, felt that cocktails were in order. And not just any cocktails, but, thanks to the strawberries in the fridge and a fresh bag of limes, Strawberry-Lime Rickeys.
If you’re wondering what a rickey is, you are not alone; this, in fact, is not the only thing I learned yesterday (did you know that the phrase to dine “al fresco,” while acceptable in English, in Italian is actually used to indicate spending time in jail, or, more colloquially, “in the cooler?”), although it is perhaps the most interesting of the bunch. The rickey, named for Colonel Joe Rickey
, a famous and influential nineteenth-century Democrat, is supposed to be the most refreshing and simple of cocktails. Comprised of only gin (originally whiskey), lime juice and seltzer on the rocks (they are similar to gimlets, but remember that gimlets require only gin (or vodka), sweetened lime juice and ice), the rickey is said to be the ideal cocktail to sip during a heatwave. Like most cocktails, however, the rickey has evolved and, although you will always find naysaying purists, some rickeys will include a small amount of simple syrup, while others, like the recipe we found in Tipsy Texan
, one of our favorite cocktail books and one the Greek picked up for me on a trip to the Lonestar State several years ago, will even call for the addition of fresh fruit–for both flavor and color. It may not be the drink that Colonel Joe would have ordered in a DC bar in 1883, but that’s okay. This rickey is wonderfully light, tangy, and not at all cloying in its sweetness, the kind of drink that can help you to usher in not just summer, but a whole new year in which anything (but hopefully just the pressing of a whole lot of torillas) could happen.
From David Alan’s Tipsy Texan
Makes 2 drinks, to be served in highball glasses
6 large and ripe strawberries, halved
1 lime, cut into eighths
1/2 ounce to 1 ounce of simple syrup (ours was flavored with orange, but any simple syrup will do)
Ice cubes, for shaking
4 ounces gin
Ice, for serving
Two lime wedges, for serving
One strawberry, halved, for serving
In the bottom of a cocktail shaker, muddle the strawberries, lime wedges and simple syrup. Adjust for sweetness, based on both your preference and on the sweetness of your strawberries.
Add ice cubes and gin to the shaker and shake to chill.
Add ice to two highball glasses and then, using a strainer, pour in the cocktail, dividing it evenly between the glasses (the drink may be thick due to the pulp, so you may have to stop pouring and shake it again). Place a toothpick into each of the remaining lime wedges and then add the strawberry on top. Enjoy in either sunshine or shade, but heat, for maximum appreciation, is recommended.