Saturday, 2 March 2013

Sunday Sample - The Optics View

Behold! Up behind the bar. No, the stacks. Just look at the myriad of bottles ranged there. The manifold curvatures and distinct colours of the glass. Smooth, frosted or stippled. The diversity of the labels too. Stencilled, intaglio’d, embossed, don’t you think some of them resemble miniature illuminated manuscripts?
Proceed up, ever upwards, to take in the arc of a legion of necks, fluted or otherwise. Coronal bungs, corks, bulbs, twist caps, and screw threads. A fair sprinkling which echo clunky perfume atomisers. Several like delicate pillboxes, while others sinuous petals. Bee hives and mother of pearl. Russian Orthodox onion domes and shotgun cartridges. Some require waxy seals to be broken, in order to light the red touch paper. Diadems, bowler hats, pith helmets, one even simulates a pint-sized sombrero, cresting a bottle of faux tequila. All such surmountings, less akin to chivalrous doffing of their hats, more like removing the pin from a hand grenade in what they unleash.
Yet when I’m in here, I’m not remotely interested in loading up on their contents. In fact, I find the house stipulation, that I must indeed temporarily desecrate the arrangement by ordering from their rank, actually sullies my pleasure. But I nurse it exclusively all evening, for I don't want to spoil my view. This is not the gaudy trompe l’oeil wrought in that dive two doors down. Where the bottles are deployed in front of mirrors to suggest a never-ending supply. For no matter what the inundation, these bottles remain singularly arrayed. If one of their rank does indeed get drained, then it is seamlessly replaced without any warp in the whole.
For perched here, it's as if I'm on a hilltop, looking down at a Medieval City. With all the cathedral spires of the tall-necked bottles. The dependable stoutness of the civic bottles. The squat prosperity of the gilded bottles. The soothing blue of the main brands and so on endlessly. See how their chromatic vibrancy lifts the restraint of the bar’s dark shroud? Stained glass intensification. Saturating the light with spectral colour. This here, is my art gallery of appreciation and awe. My quiet moment of contemplative stillness. My last gasp temenos, after I profaned those of the library, the island of Corfu and the athenaeum of Greece itself. If I manage to secure a bar stool, then I get a close-up of the detailed brushwork. But I am happy to settle for a view of the whole from afar. Even with the heads of less devout pilgrims genuflecting across the panorama.
I sit and I try and fathom it out. For do they not do exactly what they say on the label? 20% proof. 15% by volume. If what you see is what you get, why do they pour so much creative energy into probably what the eye normally doesn’t get to see, as the cocktail is prepared out of the line of sight? I might understand if you were in a group of friends, having a quiet night out based around conversation, then the taste of your chosen tipple might warm the cockles of your heart like a nice internal log fire. The setting of your convivial convocation might be mounted in your memory by the shape of the glass in your hand and indeed the associations of the coloured liquid it contains. Unconsciously referenced back to the bottle from which it emerged. But this is Kavos for flip sakes! Volume by volume. Proof only of insensibility. Also keeping your feet off the floor so as to avoid the runnels of piss and puke. The retrospective anecdotes will solely be about the physiological havoc wrought by the liquid propellant. The associations of rank bad behaviour attributed to the glass borne antagonist. Vapid drinking stories, long after the bubbles have gone flat. I guess you just had to be there yourself...
So you see I have to ask myself. For all those gin and whisky bottles maintaining a stately and regal bearing, with classical elegance pointing to the soundness of their heritage, what then of the brash and the gaucheness of the johnny come lately brands? The bourbons and the vodkas and tequilas with sombrero lids? Why proceed to vulgarise the whole, by mixing them with all sorts of other adulterations in the form of the cocktail, in misguided pursuit of sophistication? There, it’s on the menu. Order by number and stupid compound name to conjure up what personal intimation? A Harvey Wallbanger yes, does just what it says, but Between The Sheets? A Black Russian? Ooh er Missus, saucy postcards from foreign resorts. What need for escapist figments, when you already have it all on tap here in the most trite and unvarnished manner. Alcohol, the paint stripper of civilisation’s veneer. Bottled up rage, uncorked and decanted from something so beautiful to look at. A siren luring you to a monstrous fate.

from "A,B&E" available on Amazon Kindle

1 comment:

Denise said...

This is one of my favourite passages in the book.
The last paragraph nails reality of the drink mentality: the drunken reality such a dire contrast to our own self image! "Alcohol, the paint stripper of civilisation’s veneer. Bottled up rage, uncorked and decanted..."