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5 O’Clock Somewhere

Drinking the World Every Afternoon

Always Go on the Mid-Traffic Jam Wine Run

Jun.29.17

Always Go on the Mid-Traffic Jam Wine Run

by Susan Ekpoh

Palm wine in Nigeria

Under normal circumstances, alcohol on a wellness getaway would be a no-no, or counterproductive—the odd glass of wine with dinner is perhaps the exception. However, palm wine, or palmy, as locals affectionately call it, is a staple and a healthy part of life at Agbokim—Nigeria’s renowned seven-cascade waterfalls.

We landed in Margaret Ekpo Airport, Calabar, a little later than scheduled, but nevertheless in high spirits. While waiting for luggage, clusters of passengers in yoga poses adorned the carousel area as they attempted to rid their bodies of plane fatigue. Bags in hand, we finally set off for Agbokim waterfalls for a few days to relax in the People’s Paradise, as they call Nigeria’s Cross River State.

But the road to paradise, they say, is rarely smooth: a gravel truck had fallen ahead, spilling its all its contents and creating a gridlock. Humidity-induced restlessness soon spread throughout our bus. Layers of sweat-soaked clothing were peeled off bodies seeking respite.

The driver, Mr. G, suggested some palmy. “Not the adulterated version full of saccharine, bottled and sold in the big cites,” he scoffed. I opted to go with him—anything to get blood flowing through my legs again. Our search led us through muddy paths to a beer joint, housed in a thatched open hut with bamboo tables, where the palm wine sat proudly in a calabash. Mr. G and I were served the palm wine in a wooden gourd. He took the first sip, because he is older, then passed it on to me, eagerly watching, awaiting my approval. It had a sweet taste, accompanied by a sour one, replacing my nerves with a buzz. Smiling at Mr. G in approval, I eyed the cloudy whitish liquid settled at the bottom of the gourd.

“This one is freshly tapped,” the matron boasted in Efik, the local language. Tapping is done by skilled men who climb up palm trees, sometimes 50 feet high, multiple times a day. They use a machete to cut divots up the trunk, which serve as slots for both feet. The wine is extracted in sap form from a hole drilled into the trunk of the tree. No two batches are the same; the tapped liquid continually changes over the course of the day.

The group on the hot bus was more excited about the palm wine than about my safe return. Shortly after the bottles were passed around, the restless sighs faded. I slowly dozed off myself, dreaming of the weekend to come as the palm wine settled in my stomach.

We heard the waterfalls before we saw them. The thunderous voice of each cascade tumbling off the cliff began to wake us from our peaceful slumber. Even the air was different—fresh and clean, draped by mist rising from the torrent below. We were here at last, barely realizing six hours had gone by.

It Took a Catastrophe to Remind the Mainland U.S. That We Are Also Americans, FFS

Sep.15.17

It Took a Catastrophe to Remind the Mainland U.S. That We Are Also Americans, FFS

by Peter Bailey

Shots of rum in St. Thomas

The night before Hurricane Irma arrived here on St. Thomas, I exchanged texts with a friend in Anguilla, asking her if I should be worried. I was expecting just a bit of wind and rain, nothing life-altering.

My phone’s signal faded before she could share the full scope of the madness I was about to encounter.

In a few hours I found myself dodging flying debris alongside my brother as we carried my wheelchair-bound, 80-year-old father to safety in an experience I’ll describe as nothing short of hell. The wind sucked a lady out of her window, hurling her to her death, while shattered glass slit the throat of a man who bled to death in front of his wife. An electrician was electrocuted while working on a downed power line. With our hospital decimated, patients have been airlifted to Puerto Rico and beyond.

In Irma’s aftermath, one American transplant, sitting comfortably on her boat over on St. John, lamented in People magazine about “the overwhelming smell of death in the air” instead of offering aid to those who now need so much of it.

It’s not the first time people here have felt alienated from our mainland counterparts. I’m heartbroken it took this devastation for the world, and, most importantly, our neighbors to the north, to take notice: to finally realize we in the U.S. Virgin Islands are Americans, too.

Living on the U.S. mainland, I explained time and time again that I’m a U.S. citizen. My first year at the University of Delaware, a state trooper called for back up when he saw my U.S. Virgin Islands license after a routine traffic stop, asking where St. Thomas was and accusing Caribbean immigrants of bringing drugs to his beloved country.

I emphatically repeated: “I’m a U.S. citizen.”

Well, not quite.

When I voted for President Barack Obama in 2008, I had been waiting for years to vote for an American president. Although we are U.S. citizens, Virgin Islanders have to become a resident of the state we live in to be able to vote for president. Since I reside in Miami, my vote counted as a Floridian and not as a Virgin Islander.

On the other hand, our status as a territory has led to an uneasy and awkward relationship with our Caribbean neighbors, who see us as having no true identity, but also grudgingly envy our U.S. citizenship, however second-class.

We’re basically a glorified colony of the United States, a country that celebrates its crusade against tyranny far and wide.

Purchased from Denmark in 1917 to protect the U.S. mainland from European incursions, our second-class status and the ignorance that reinforces it isn’t exclusive to that unruly cop who pulled me over many years ago. It also permeates mainstream media.

Like the media coverage preceding Hurricane Marilyn in 1995, most media outlets all but ignored the islands before Irma wreaked historic havoc upon us. My family and I sat their dumbfounded switching between network news channels in the lead-up to the storm. It was as if we didn’t exist.

In the fleeting moments when the U.S. Virgin Islands were mentioned, reporters painted a scene taken from an episode of Gilligan’s Island:

“American tourists on the U.S. territory are being cautioned to hunker down.”

Hmmmm. No mention of the estimated 100,000 Virgin Islanders who reside between St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. John, and Water Island. “Locals,” as we’re called, with a tinge of condescension.

Now seeing those same tourists and U.S. mainland transplants depending on us “locals” for their survival during this catastrophe is a sight to see. Our paradise now resembles the backdrop of an apocalyptic film: crumbled houses, never-ending food lines, and a procession of military trucks blaring admonishments at residents to get back home. With trees uprooted and stripped of their leaves, our once lush, green forest looks skeletal.

With no electricity, running water, or internet access, life after the storm is taxing indeed. I’ve even stared at a few of the stray chickens perusing the island and wondered just what they might taste like roasting over the coal pot I’m using to heat up my canned meals. Those roosters, crowing all hours of the day, are a nuisance anyhow. Before my daydream turns deadly, the animal lover in me snaps back to reality. Another meal of beans over rice it is, followed by a shot of Cruzan raspberry flavored rum right before bed.

As a community facing a catastrophe that threatened to completely wipe us out, I’m inspired by our resolve as we band together to restore what Irma stole.

There’s been some benefit in being disconnected from our American counterparts to the north. The sense of entitlement and bigotry that rips at the fabric of the mainland isn’t found here. We see human first and color a distant last. Now that we Virgin Islanders have been forced into the national psyche, the rest of America stands to gain from the lessons our tiny island has to offer.

Photo by: Sam Howzit

The Familiar Shame of Ordering a Foster’s in a Real Ale Pub

Sep.12.17

The Familiar Shame of Ordering a Foster’s in a Real Ale Pub

by Steele Rudd

Ale in Oxford

The heart of scholarship in the Anglophone world, Oxford is host to the oldest and probably most renowned English-speaking university. For a thousand years, philosophers, scientists, literary types, and politicians have spent their formative years here, learning and researching and crafting ideas that have helped define the progress of the human species.

Inevitably, that involves drinking. And along with a millennium of scholarship comes a millennium of misbehavior. At the Turf Tavern—a hideaway watering hole that dates back to the 14th century—a blackboard hung up on the ancient stonework in the beer garden celebrates the spot where Bill Clinton did not inhale. Another commemorates the 1963 achievement of a Rhodes Scholar named Robert Hawke, who set a world record for downing a yard-glass of ale in 11 seconds. Impressive enough in itself, Bob would later cap this with the secondary feat of becoming prime minister of Australia.

In other ways the Turf is commonplace enough; a fairly typical English pub given its age and pedigree. The menu is unsurprising; sausage rolls and Scotch eggs and burgers and pulled-pork nachos. And on the day I visit, the clientele is representative of Oxford in the late summer: plenty of German families, American backpackers, Chinese retirees, English road-trippers, and a smattering of town-and-gown (locals and academics).

But if the nature of a pub is home away from home, that’s doubly true for an English pub. Whether it’s your local down the road, a Wetherspoons on the Orkney Islands, or an ancient tavern in Oxford, a good pub is familiar. On tap at the Turf you’ll find a drink common across the country—real ale.

Real ale, or cask ale, as it used to be known, differs in a couple of important ways from the beer that most of us drink today. Primarily, it’s brewed in the cask in which it’s served. That means it continues to ferment even while it’s sitting in the pub. Secondly, it’s made using traditional ingredients and without added carbonation. For someone used to a beer that crackles like cola, real ale feels very flat on the tongue and sits heavily on the stomach.

Often, and particularly near to the end of the cask, a muddy sediment will rest at the bottom of the glass; a result of the absence of filtering and pasteurization that most beers go through.

At one stage in the 1970s, cask ale was so rare that a group of enthusiasts banded together to form a consumer campaign for its preservation. The successful relabeling of cask ale by the “Campaign for Real Ale” (CAMRA), alongside a more recent hipster-led interest in craft brewing, has led to a more than 250 percent growth in the number of cask ale breweries in the last 10 years.

I take my pint—a Cornish amber ale called Doom Bar—out the back; settle in, and take a sip. It’s turbid. It tastes familiar, but with more flavors, and also more muted, like a drink from a rainwater tank. If I’d grown up with it, I decide, real ale would certainly be my drop. But too accustomed now to the acrid flatus of a mass-produced lager, my next drink’s a shameful Foster’s.

A Successful Introduction to Indonesian Wine

Sep.11.17

A Successful Introduction to Indonesian Wine

by Iain Shaw

Wine in Ubud

In Ubud, we drank when the clouds came in. Every afternoon of my stay in the hub of traditional Balinese arts and crafts, the skies became overcast around 4 p.m. Like cigarette smoke weaving a singular sheet of haze across a crowded room, the clouds steadily drew in, blotting out the sun. The threat of an imminent downpour wasn’t always real, but often persuaded me to postpone more cultural pursuits. There was always tomorrow.

Most days, that first afternoon drink was an ice-cold Bintang, the Indonesian beer that seems to feature on every drink list in Bali. On one particular day, though, we drank Indonesian wine. Specifically, a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, created in Bali by local producers Plaga Wines. I had spotted it on the way out of a restaurant at lunch, and made a snap decision: this would be the bottle by which we would get to know—and judge—Indonesian wine.

I hadn’t expected to find locally produced wine in Indonesia, but there are good reasons a robust, if small, wine culture has grown up here in recent decades. First, many tourists—and there are many tourists in Bali alone—want to drink wine. However, high import duties on alcohol mean bloated retail prices on even the most ordinary imported wines. Since the early 90s, local entrepreneurs have been gradually plugging the gap in the market for affordable wines, and a number of wineries now produce their own vintages with locally grown grapes.

I was excited about trying the wine, and growing in confidence on its behalf. Of course, there was a chance—a chance one takes with all wine—that it would be irredeemable plonk. As the clouds thickened the sky into a uniform white, we retreated to our hotel, near Ubud’s Monkey Forest. We set up with our wine and glasses by the hotel pool. The poolside seemed a good place to drink the wine, in the shade of palm trees and bordered on two sides by the hotel’s bamboo exteriors.

We poured the wine, clinked glasses, and sipped. It was all over with the first taste. This was a good, solid wine, with deep, dark berry flavors that hung around through subsequent sips. It wasn’t the kind of wine to gulp, but soon enough I was on my second glass. I definitely wouldn’t be going for a swim.

Goddammit, Democracy is Dying in Darkness in Cambodia

Sep.08.17

Goddammit, Democracy is Dying in Darkness in Cambodia

by Sho Spaeth

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Warm beer in New York

The Cambodia Daily has been shut down, and I can’t think of a better way to mourn its passing than drinking several (ok, four) watery and warm beers.

I interned one summer at the Cambodia Daily 13 years ago, and it took me a couple weeks to understand how truly out of place I was. As a journalist’s kid, and as an expat who had grown up in India, I thought I understood journalism and its relationship to the small horrors of the developing world, but Phnom Penh and the Daily surprised me.

Phnom Pen was shocking: the decades-old bomb craters in the streets, getting propositioned at bars by little kids, the hollowed out, methed-up looks of the guys who taxied me around on mopeds. That doesn’t even cover the aura that emanates from the Tuol Sleng genocide memorial, as if the air itself doesn’t want to exist for what it’s witnessed. It’s the most depressing place I’ve ever been.

But everybody at the Daily seemed to find pleasure in their work, the hourly grind of putting out a daily paper. I’d only ever seen a magazine working from the inside at the time, and the pace of a daily paper was as exhilarating as it was bewildering. It almost seemed like a game, and while I could see the appeal, something didn’t click, because I thought about the job in purely transactional terms: they got paid to produce a paper. It didn’t even occur to me that there could be something more than the most mercenary motivation fueling their interest.

It wasn’t any one story that did it; it was a cumulative effect. One day, I tagged along with a reporter covering some horrific car crash, where a van carrying some absurd number of people—12, 15, 25—crashed headfirst into a bus made of wood, killing everyone in both vehicles. A day after the crash there was still a van’s length of blood smearing the road, a bloody diaper on the shoulder. Another day I helped translate a report on a landmark drug conviction, a drug smuggler sentenced to an unprecedented prison stay. It turned out the defendant didn’t speak Khmer and didn’t understand what he was being charged with, even as the sentence was being handed down and celebrated. One of the most memorable stories from that summer was when I accompanied two reporters looking into a triple murder. A guy and his three sons were gunned down in the middle of the night; it was claimed that they had been killed for practicing witchcraft. Turned out the guy had been in an open dispute with one of his neighbors, who almost certainly murdered him, and the local police were, for whatever reason—private grudge, laziness, disinterest—turning a blind eye.

All of which is to say the people at the Daily were doing good, necessary work: shining a spotlight on awful events, exposing deficiencies in the country’s moribund infrastructure, underlining injustices for anyone who was willing to see. It was an utterly humbling experience. I not only realized that I wasn’t cut out for reporting, I also understood I wasn’t worthy of serving these people coffee.

At a time when the president of the United States has taken to demonizing a news media that he only ever seems to watch on TV, the Cambodia Daily‘s shuttering due to some trumped up tax bill issued by Hun Sen’s dictatorial regime is a useful reminder that diligent journalists are working all across the world only so that important stories can be told. They write the stories that lead to the stories you ignore in the major papers; they work in countries you’d be hard pressed to find on a map; they cover events so far removed from your everyday life that they might as well be fiction. They do all this with no hope for fame or fortune; they labor on with little promise of making progress, shoveling shit up the steepest of hills; they work in the shadow of threats and reprisals; they work through the night even though they’ve been told their paper is no more. These people aren’t saints, they are merely good reporters, struggling to get to the heart of the matter, whatever the matter is.

I was lucky enough to watch some of these people work and see what that dedication looks like. I only wish I had half of their integrity, and that they could continue to do the work that Cambodia, and the world, so desperately needs.

The Endless Benefits of Living in French Wine Country

Sep.07.17

The Endless Benefits of Living in French Wine Country

by Anne E. McBride

Macvin in Rotalier

I stop cooking for a second and decide it’s time to open a bottle. My friends have just arrived from New York to spend a week in my dad’s house in Rotalier, in eastern France; the kitchen is loud and we are tired.

I’ve been here a few days already, and got a head-start on the wine tasting. The village has fewer than 200 inhabitants but six wine producers, including the world-renowned Jean-François Ganevat, whose vintages have become synonymous with Jura wines.

Bordering my home country, Switzerland, the Jura features green valleys where the milk of the cows that graze there will be turned into Comté, lakes favored by Dutch tourists in the summer, and alpine villages where not too long ago absinthe was still distilled secretly. And funky white wines, produced in both the ouillé (topped off) and sous voile (under a yeast cover, untopped) methods. The funkiest of all are oxidized and nutty, to the point of tasting deliciously musty.

My jet-lagged visitors need a jolt to make it through feeding their kids. This calls for Macvin, which they’ve never tasted before. Unique to the Jura, it’s a blend of must (the pressed grapes’ juice, skins, seeds, and stems) and aged marc from local grapes (chardonnay or savagnin for the white version, my favorite). Everything must come from the producer’s vineyards and be made on site before aging in wood barrels.

My old-school French dad once told me that opening a bottle of wine was a man’s job, but I’ve long made a feminist statement out of taking care of my thirsts. I plunge the cork screw through the wax seal.

“Let’s let it breathe a second,” I say, so we all stare out at the late July sky turning the vineyards around the house a mix of gold and pink, and try to think about something other than how good that first sip is going to feel. This vieux Macvin comes from the Ganevat tasting room just over the hill.

At long last, we drink: the syrupy liqueur tastes of dried fruits, pineapple, perhaps a little melon, too. Or is that apples? We don’t care much about descriptions; we’re happy to enjoy it in peace.

Macvin is most often served as an apéritif; at 17.5 percent ABV it’s strong enough that during family weekends, a bottle will reasonably last us for two apéros. But every night this week, Mihir and I will stay up drinking Macvin long after dinner is over. Thanks to some Jura magic, we’re never hungover.

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