Champagne Charlie

February 13, 2008

Evelyn Waugh’s travel writing as selected in When the Going was Good is exceptionally enjoyable. Rather than generally review its considerable merits however I wanted to look briefly at a single incident when he was on a Mediterranean cruise. In Athens after a late night out, Waugh visits a friend –

I told him that I had had a late night, drinking after the ball with some charming Norwegians, and felt a little shaken. He then made me this drink, which I commend to anyone in need of a wholesome and easily accessibly pick-me-up. he took a large tablet of beet sugar (an equivalent quantity of ordinary lump sugar does equally well) and soaked it in Angostura Bitters and then rolled it in Cayenne pepper. This he put into a large glass which he filled up with champagne. The excellences of this drink defy description. The sugar and Angostura enrich the wine and take away that slight acidity which renders even the best champagne slightly repugnant in the early morning. Each bubble as it rises to the surface carries with it a red grain of pepper, so that as one drinks one’s appetite is at once stimulated and gratified, heat and cold, fire and liquid, contending on one’s palate and alternating in the mastery of one’s sensations. I sipped this almost unendurably desirable drink and played with the artificial birds and musical boxes until Alastair was ready to come out.

When I read this I was very struck; Read the rest of this entry »

The Great Vortex

February 9, 2008

In theory lectures put on for the public are a great idea, in practice normal people like you and I are given cause to wonder what sort of person voluntarily attends a lecture that they don’t have to go to, or even in some cases pays to go to such an event, especially if the pubs are open. That’s not to say we should spend all our time catching the dew from the barmaid’s apron, it’s just by way of saying that you get a certain type at these things. (A type that would probably benefit from a drop of what does you good from time to time, truth be told.)

Still, as I went to one a week or so ago, the last laugh is on me. I did take the precaution of going to the pub first, feeling it was unwise to embark on such an undertaking without a Beatific Cushion of Alcohol to protect against any potential boredom. I also plead the excuse that the lecture was on Blast, that remarkable and explosive Vorticist periodical of two issues, whose creator Wyndham Lewis I have long been a fan of, while accepting that he is a ‘funny old stick’ as Mark E Smith once, with a considerable amount of cheek, called him. 

Some art critic called Richard Cork gave the lecture, held in a disconcertingly space age lecture theatre at the British Library (the windows seemed to reverse their polarity at one point, which had me briefly listening for the sound of bolts thudding shut across the doors and the hiss of escaping gas as an accompaniment).

As with most lectures on matters in which you’ve some sort of interest, this one seemed to consist of things I already knew, and things I didn’t really care about. CW Nevinson, for instance, produces nothing but indifference in me. His Vorticism and abstract stuff seems imaginatively lenten; conventional mutton dressed with radical mustard, the art end of what would become 20th century design. I see however that he’s credited with holding the first cocktail party in Britain, so props for that Charlie boy.

Corky also evidently has a bit of a pash for Bomberg, so he went on about him a bit, not entirely relevantly I felt.

Anything interesting?

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