The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
petals on a wet, black bough.
When I was younger (and now too, at times) I dreamed of inhabiting the lives of my favorite authors. To live in Mallorca with Chopin like George Sand did, to walk the paths to Emerson’s house much like Thoreau. I think it’s true that obsessive readers can sometimes lose something of themselves—at least for a bit—while spending time living in other people’s worlds. While we gain so very much from literature, sometimes the true euphoria of reading only comes with the suspension of the natural, active pressure that we’d normally exert on our world. In short, we must submit.
In Valeria Luiselli’s beautiful debut novel, we’re treated to an extreme example of this phenomenon. Released by the always-lovely Coffee House Press, Faces in the Crowd is the story of a young mother in Mexico recalling her somewhat unanchored past in New York, where she worked as a translator for a small press, made friends and sleeping partners with a motley assortment of men and women, and, eventually, found and became obsessed with the work of the late poet, Gilberto Owen.
She desperately wants to publish a book of his translated poems, and when she finds she can’t, create then, a novel of his life, of his ghost. As she works, first in New York and then in Mexico, in a house that nearly suffocates the reader with the demands of small, precocious children, invading insects and a crumbling marriage, we delve further and further into the psyche of Owen. He gets his own story, his own life within the book. As the narratives continue the lines separating them blur, until eventually it’s unclear whose ghost is haunting who.
For this month’s Small Press Cocktail, I wanted to create a drink that mirrored this diffusing of parts, a drink that—while made up of many components—had no leading actor. I decided to use scotch as a base, the liquor preferred by both the young mother and Owen—or at least I’ve surmised as much by the ‘e’ lacking from their ‘whisky’—and add a kick with some Licor 43. To balance the sweetness, some Green Chartreuse, and finally, as an homage to Mexico (and because it tastes great) some Aztec Chocolate Bitters. You end up with a really fabulous drink, very smooth, a little sweet, a little herbal. I named the little stunner The Gilberto Owen, to offer something concrete to the man who dreaded disappearing. Certainly this drink, much like this beautiful book, is not something you’ll forget.
The Gilberto Owen
Makes one drink
2 ounces scotch – I’d recommend a nice smooth blend like Johnnie Walker
1/2 ounce Licor 43
1/4 ounce Green Chartreuse
hard dash Aztec Chocolate Bitters
Add all ingredients to an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Stir. Pause to allow for some ice melt, then stir again. Strain into a chilled rocks glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.