I was *almost* a journalism major…

My sister-in-law is an expert bargain book hunter – it doesn’t matter if she is at Barnes & Noble or the local library book sale; Joan ALWAYS roots out the good stuff. She’s also really good at remembering what kinds of things people like and finding books for them…which is how I ended up with an excellent cocktail book for Christmas: The Cocktail Hour by Ben Reed.

cocktail hour

At first I thought I’d keep the book on the coffee table and just look at the pictures – the photography is lovely – but then as I got more and more interested in craft cocktails and mixing my own cocktails at home, I realized that this little book was an amazing resource.

I’ve noticed a similarity between cocktail-mixing and cooking: you start to compile a stash of “stock” ingredients that last a fairly long time and can be used across a variety of recipes. Think about the container of vanilla extract you purchase for cookies and use in almost every baked good…the curry powder you use in multiple soups and side dishes…the fish sauce in every vaguely-Asian recipe…these are your vermouths and bitters and good maraschino cherries and liqueurs. You’ll use them in many recipes, but you’ll use a small amount. You buy them for one particular drink but then find they have wide appeal. Indeed, it makes cocktail mixing affordable even when you’re buying good-quality booze: they last awhile and you don’t have to purchase every ingredient for every drink because you begin to build up a store.

My stockpile and my cocktail book are what inspired a recent discovery – the Journalist. I had been gifted a bottle of gin and was flipping through my texts for a new treatment. I stumbled upon a lovely little cocktail and realized that even though it called for five additional ingredients, I had ALL of them from other experiments.

The Journalist - from The Cocktail Hour by Ben Reed

The Journalist – from The Cocktail Hour by Ben Reed

The Journalist is a refreshing concoction of gin, dry vermouth, sweet vermouth, fresh lemon juice, angostura bitters and triple sec. Citrus-y but not sweet; acidic but not overly tart; balanced by the small bit of sweet vermouth and bitters – I thought it was divine. And as a writer, I was partial to the name.

I’ll be keeping the Journalist in the rotation throughout the summer and will continue to attempt to perfect and balance the mix of ingredients – I think it is a delightful and refreshing palate-pleaser.

My middle-west: Gatsby Day in Ann Arbor

The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite books of all time. I can’t even remember the first time I read it, but I think it was in eighth or ninth grade. I know I never had to read it in school. I *think* Uncle Tom told me to read it (this would be around the same time he told me to read On the Road – Uncle T. has pretty great taste in books). I’m pretty sure my first copy which has long since went missing came from Gran’s basement.

gatsby

I hadn’t read the book for a few years when we moved to Connecticut in 2007. A late-night conversation in Hanafin’s Pub with several literary-minded friends (Kevin Doyle or Amanda Lester or Scott Rottinghaus) inspired me to re-read it then. To a midwesterner living on the Long Island Sound, Nick Carraway and his musings on the east coast being a different place suddenly became a little more relatable.

Gatsby infatuation reached a frenzy in our crowd that year when Kevin started throwing his annual Gatsby parties. Held on/around the solstice (“the longest day of the year”), the Gatsby party was the opportunity we all wanted to wear (in some cases extravagant) costumes, experiment with mixing prohibition-era cocktails, and play yard games such as bocce ball and croquet – Kevin’s yard was a bit small for Tom Buchanan’s beloved polo ponies; also, we weren’t actually rich enough for polo.

Gatsby 2009. New London, CT

Gatsby 2009. New London, CT

(By the end of these nights, the boys would be wearing the sequined headbands, we’d be drinking rum and cokes or vodka tonics, and the croquet contingent would have moved on to beer pong – still, we were classy up to that point.)

When we moved back to Michigan, I made two attempts to re-imagine the Gatsby party here, but it never quite translated – simply put, a Gatsby party is an East Coast garden party, not a Midwestern bar party. Not that they weren’t fun in their own ways; they just weren’t quite right.

Gatsby 2011, Ypsilanti, MI

Gatsby 2011, Ypsilanti, MI

Despite reading the book multiple times and attending/throwing multiple themed parties, I had never watched Gatsby on film. Part of this is because Mia Farrow kind of creeps me out (I can’t explain it) and partly because Robert Redford just seemed a little bland. The movie itself seemed like it would be a little bland. I just never had any desire to watch it (though when in Newport, I did visit Rosecliff, the house where several scenes were filmed). 

Rosecliff, Newport, RI

Rosecliff, Newport, RI

Then, a year or two ago, people started talking about a new Gatsby, this time helmed by Baz “Mouling Rouge” Luhrmann. Baz + Gatsby sounded anything BUT bland.

I kept tabs on the movie for the next year and a half or so. The main cast was announced. Leo as Gatsby! (That could work, I thought.) Tobey as Nick! (That seemed weirdly perfect, actually.) Carey Mulligan for Daisy! (This one sold me; I loved her in An Education.) I got hyped up for a Christmas 2012 release date…only to have it pushed back to May. (This was ultimately a good thing; otherwise I would have spent Christmas day holed up in a movie theater watching Leo wear the heck out of his pastel suits in two movies – Django Unchained was released the same day and I’m a huge Tarantino fan – instead of with my family.) 

Gatsby day drew closer. I re-read the book (I actually hadn’t read it since 2008). I started to get nervous. Would it be TOO cartoony? Would Tom Buchanan be too much of a buffoon-y racist? Would the Gatsby/Daisy romance be treated as something much more innocent and romantic than it actually is? Reviews were not helping (they never do, though, do they?).

Ralph also re-read the book, though he fails to see what all the fuss is about.

Ralph also re-read the book, though he fails to see what all the fuss is about.

No matter how I ultimately ended up feeling about this movie, I was determined to see it. I gathered up some girls – girls, who I might add, have been very supportive of my obsession with Gatsby/Fitzgerald/cocktail-mixing/costume-wearing/theme parties/etc. – and we headed downtown to the Michigan Theater, Ann Arbor’s beautifully-restored 1920’s movie palace and the only place in town I could fathom seeing this film (sorry, Rave Motion Pictures and your stadium seating). 

The Michigan Theater marquee

The Michigan Theater marquee

While I didn’t go full costume (I would have had we gone on opening night, no doubt), I did deck myself out a feathered hair piece, several long, tasseled necklaces and an absurd amount of makeup for 4:00 p.m. (Actually, we all showed up in a lot of makeup and blingy headbands – lingering after-effects of the previous years’ parties, I guess.)

(This next portion contains plot spoilers – if you’re not familiar and want to be surprised, I’d suggest you stop here just to be safe.)

The good parts of The Great Gatsby were indeed great: it was visually stunning; I loved the stylized depictions of Long Island and New York City and the miserable valley of ashes. One of my favorite scenes from an aesthetic standpoint was when Nick walks in to the Buchanans’ house and into the room where Daisy and Jordan are languishing on the couch: the flowing white drapes, the breeze, the laziness of the women in white dresses, the bejeweled hands draped over the couch…that was Fitzgerald’s slightly magical description somehow brought perfectly to life.

The casting was spot-on. Gastby himself has always been a hard character for me to formulate visually in my mind; I thought Leo nailed it. Young-ish, handsome but not TOO perfect-looking, capable of the occasional crazy eyes, the ability to appear extremely vulnerable AND extremely confident…loved him. (Although having recently seen Django, I did sort of expect him to invite everyone into the parlor for WHite cake.) Jordan Baker looked exactly how I wanted her to look – she even looked a little sneaky, though the movie largely avoids those small mentions of her character. Carey Mulligan was a wonderful Daisy – she has such an interesting face and expressive eyes. However, my favorite from a casting perspective was far and away Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan. I think I gasped when he walked onscreen with that pervy little mustache and those fantastic riding boots. The looks were right and he nailed the character – he’s a bigot with a mixed-up moral code, but he doesn’t veer into cartoon territory.

Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan

Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan

The bad…well, the framing device (Nick in the nuthouse; Nick writing a novel) was totally lame. The typed words appearing on the screen were beyond cheesy. I get that we want – even need – Nick’s first-person narration; this just seemed like such a cop-out way to provide it…not that I have any better suggestions. Also, some things were a bit too literal…do we really have to show Gatsby physically reaching toward the green light?

I thought Daisy’s hard edge was softened a bit. A favorite scene of mine in the novel is when Nick describes seeing Tom and Daisy sitting at the table eating cold fried chicken and talking quietly together after the big hotel blowout. To me, that scene sums up Daisy: she loves attention and she loves drama and she probably does love Gatsby a little bit, but she can walk away from anything. The scene (sort of) appears in the movie, but it doesn’t translate the same way it does for me in the book. However, the Gatsby/Daisy romance is not simplified/overplayed the way I feared it would be, so overall I was pretty happy.

There’s been a lot of discussion over the movie’s use of modern music – it’s distracting at first, but once you settle in to the style of the film, it works. You just have to go with it. (If anyone remembers that Heath Ledger monstrosity A Knight’s Tale, this is wayyyyyy less jarring than when David Bowie starts playing at the ball.)

Overall impression? I liked it. A LOT. Maybe even loved it. I’ll probably (read: will) see it again and find more things to both swoon over and pick at. It’s over the top and a little melodramatic, but hey, so is the book.

Also, if you see this movie in Ann Arbor, go to the Raven’s Club after viewing – the lack of signage, dark room and bulbous light fixtures will make you feel like you’re in a speakeasy and the cocktail menu and glassware will only enhance that feeling. You can order the “Old Pal” (if you like whiskey, that is) and refer to it as the “Old Sport”… but just so you know, your companions/waitress will think that gets old fast.

The Old Sport - I mean, Old Pal

The Old Sport – I mean, Old Pal

Identity crisis

I just read a fantastic article in the online edition of the New York Times (I wish I subscribed to the print edition, but that’s one of those things Noe drew the line on that I really couldn’t make a great case for). The article, part of their “Modern Love” series, is titled “Would Hemingway Cry?” and is a young man’s reflection on trying to reconnect with one of his first serious girlfriends, who he has – after years of no contact with her whatsoever – romanticized into a totally different person than she actually turned out to be.

Blah, blah, blah. I could care less about the girlfriend part. The piece of this article that got me was the beginning, when the writer describes how he and his girlfriend read The Sun Also Rises and forged a ridiculous sort of identification with the main characters, even though the writer and girlfriend were relatively affluent New Yorkers as opposed to globe-trotting, heavily-boozing bohemians.

I LOVED this. Because I think every single person who reads (or watches movies, or listens to music) does this very same thing. We convince ourselves that we are just like Jake Barnes or Nick Carraway or (in the case of almost every architect I’ve ever known) Howard Roark. Or if we are smart enough to realize that we may not be like them, we attempt to be like them.

This doesn’t stop with classic literature. I once read a completely trashy novel called Outer Banks and convinced myself that I wanted to be like the main character. I started wearing preppy button downs and reading Dorothy Parker. On the plus side, I really loved Dorothy Parker. On the con side, did I mention the main character of this book was a tall southern blonde with a completely forged identity? And also that this novel was set in the sixties? Still, she drank coffee at midnight and watched Italian movies and read T.S. Eliot poems and it all seemed very glamorous at the time, and I picked up several of these habits without even realizing it.

Reading Dorothy Parker probably didn’t help me out at all, either. I loved her sarcasm and her self-deprecation. Her poems were downright mean at times. I wanted to be mean and witty and drink martinis with literary geniuses. I was a writer, after all (sort of). I was pretty sure I had witty and slightly mean down. But I never quite made it to the multiple husbands/multiple suicide attempts, which I’m going to call a good thing. And I was never much of a poet – and by “much of” I mean “wasn’t at all.” Even “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses” would have been a real stretch for me on the poetry front.

And while we’re doing true confessions here, I’m super-guilty of my own Hemingway affectation: as a 19-year old Midwesterner with very limited food and travel experience, I read this quote in A  Moveable Feast and decided that I was just going to have to suck it up and try oysters – which I now adore:

“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”

I’m not sure what my point is with this post. I don’t think that misidentifying with or picking up the habits of authors, characters and the like is necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it probably adds some good things to one’s personality – and in my case, at least, a true love of a new food. I think really I was just delighted that the “Modern Love” article captured it so well – reading those telegram-style emails I thought about how I would have been positively swoon-y over them when I was younger, fancying myself Lady Brett.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I need to track down some oysters.

Great Gatsby Night 2011

One of the first friends Noe and I made in Connecticut was Kevin Doyle: history buff, book nerd, and possessor of a number of other fantastic qualities.

Kevin Doyle

In June of 2008, Doyle threw the first of his annual Great Gatsby parties to celebrate the summer solstice. In 2009, he threw an even bigger and better version.

The inspiration

I love parties, I love dressing up, and I LOVE F. Scott Fitzgerald. Doyle’s parties were a highlight of summer for me; in fact, they really were what sort of kicked off summer in New London. Last year when we moved back to Michigan shortly before solstice time, I missed the Gatsby party terribly.

Doyle indicated that there was actually a very simple solution to this problem: throw the Michigan version of the Gastby party. So…I did.

With the help of my friend Jen – who also enjoys dressing up – the plans were made. We decided to hold the party at Frenchie’s (the event space belonging to Sidetrack) and do a cash bar. There were several advantages to this, the first being that Sidetrack/Frenchie’s is an an old building with a great speakeasy look. They also had an ipod hookup for our streamed 1920’s music and a bartender that was willing to spend the evening mixing up fantastic vintage cocktails.

Christian mixes up Mary Pickfords

(We also had to hold the party the week prior to the solstice because Frenchie’s was already booked for the following weekend…we decided not too many people would notice.)

Put simply, the party was an overwhelming success. Everyone dressed up and the costumes were amazing. Thank you Doyle for the great idea. I can’t wait for next year’s Gatsby night!

Alison, me, Sophie

Jen and Brandy

Noe and Edmond

Mom, Kris, Brock, Noe

Kristen and Lindsay

Sarah and Bayne

Riki, Melissa, Diane

 

Tonight!

I’ll write up a post about this post-event, but on the off chance that my blog has readers in the Ann Arbor area that have totally missed seeing this on AnnArbor.com, Facebook, or in some other local publication, I had to put out a notice.

In honor of the 50th anniversary of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird – one of my favorite books of all time – the Michigan Theater is screening the 1962 film starring the perfectly cast Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch (insert swoon here) and a very young Robert Duvall as Boo Radley.

In addition, a panel of local book and movie experts (yes, we have local experts of this type in Ypsi/Ann Arbor) will be leading a discussion comparing and contrasting the book and movie.

You can read more about the event in the AnnArbor.com write up. I hope to see you there. THIS is why I love living in a college town!