Thursday, September 22, 2005

Chartreuse

Most recent comment received: "ZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzz Too political. How about more stories about drunken debauchery in Stone Harbor?"

I am afraid I led with my best story of drunken debauchery in Stone Harbor, leaving it difficult to provide an encore. Besides which, there are many more instances of sober debauchery in Stone Harbor, but alas none of those involved me directly and this is, after all, a family website.

But in trying to recall some story along this requested line, I was taken back to August of 1991, the month prior to my getting in way over my head in graduate school. I had spent the first part of the summer in Seattle - maybe to find myself, I don't know - but I was on a very tight budget, so mostly I found myself sober. So I was itching for a drink once back in Stone Harbor. It was then, on one of my first nights back in town, in Fred's Tavern, where Paul Carson bought me my first shot of Chartreuse.

My lips were slightly sunburned from the first few days of guarding. For the uninitiated, one might think that pouring liquor over sunburnt lips would significantly reduce the pleasure of the drink, perhaps even making it displeasurable. But with Chartruese, the story is more complex - with unburnt lips, the drink is pure hell - so it is hard to say that burnt lips made it any worse. No matter your physical state, there is no potential for pleasure from drinking Chartruese. Imagine, for example, that you are in the firey pit of hell; does the stink of burning flesh really add to your displeasure in a manner that can be measured? Would you say that, but for the stink, hell isn't all that bad?

So there I am in this den of iniquity, imbibing perhaps the nastiest concoction ever conceived, thinking to myself - who came up with this nasty drink, and for what purpose? Is the drink intended as a feat of stupid courage, as a passage into manhood? What kind of sick mind sets out to make a drink so pure in its nastiness? The bottle itself answers this question - Carthusian monks - a small sect of Catholic monks living in France. Here is the Wikipedia entry for Chartreuse:

Chartreuse is a French liqueur composed of distilled wine alcohol flavored with 130 herbal extracts. The liquor is named after the monastery where it is produced, which in turn is named after the mountainous region where it is located. The color chartreuse is a green and slightly yellow color resembling that of the Green Chartreuse beverage.

According to tradition, in 1605 a marshal of artillery to French king Henri IV, François Hannibal d'Estrées, presented the Carthusian monks at Vauvert, near Paris, with a manuscript that contained a complicated recipe for an "elixir of long life". The recipe eventually reached the religious order's headquarters at the Grande Chartreuse monastery, in Voiron, near Grenoble. Since the document was decoded in 1737, it has been used to produce the "Elixir Végétal de la Grande Chartreuse". The formula is said to call for 130 herbs, flowers, and secret ingredients combined in a wine alcohol base. The monks intended their liqueur to be used as medicine. It has 71% (vol.) alcohol (142° proof) and is colored with chlorophyll.

Today the liquors are produced in Voiron using the herbal mixture prepared by three monks at the Grande Chartreuse. Other related alcoholic beverages are manufactured in the same distillery (e.g. Génépi). The exact recipes for all forms of Chartreuse remain trade secrets and are known at any given time only to the three monks who prepare the herbal mixture.

In the short story "Reginald on Christmas Presents" (contained in the 1904 collection Reginald by Edwardian English author Saki), the title character declares that "people may say what they like about the decay of Christianity; the religious system that produced green Chartreuse can never really die."


Now Catholics, arguably moreso than other Christians, have focused in on the Wedding Feast at Cana, where Jesus performed his first miracle, turning water into wine, as a rationale for enjoying a drink every now and again; and, not taking the bible literally, we have not constrained ourselves merely to wine, instead interpreting the miracle as permitting all alcoholic beverages. (It could be argued that the water to wine was a miracle specific to the cultural mileu of Jeruselam, and that the miracle could be even more broadly construed as permitting recreational drugs beyond alcohol. But there is a line, and any stoner who would suggest that, had the Isrealites fled to Jamaica, with Jesus later being born to Mary, the mircale would have involved turning lawn grass into maryjane, would clearly be crossing it. This is why Catholics can drink but not get stoned). So the idea of a set of cloistered monks concocting some new home brew is not so out of sorts with the biblical endorsement of enjoying a drink or two. But the problem here is that cloistered monks are not likely to be obsessed with other people's enjoyment, let alone their own.

Chartreuse, unlike wine or other alcoholic beverages, is not about enjoyment - it is about corporal mortification - self-punishment as a method of atoning for sin. There is a place for this in the Catholic Church, although not a big place; lenten sacrifices, for example, are about taming our appetites so as not to be controlled by them. But the monks have clearly pulled a fast one here - you order up a drink expecting to commemorate the wedding miracle as a joyful celebration of your Redeemer's unfathomable compassion and mercy - and instead you get Chartreuse. Involuntary corporal mortification just isn't right. I suspect this probably a lot to do with Martin Luther and other Protestant's desire to separate from the Church.

Of course, involuntary or not, corporal mortification is corporal mortification. That shot of Chartreuse should be sufficient to wipe my slate clean for that entire summer. (St. Peter at the gates, going down a list of sins I must account for during that period, looking up for an explanation; I lean over and point out the small print on his list, which he missed, showing the shot of Chartreuse. St. Peter - well then, let's move on, all clear on that account). So perhaps it is no coincidence that Paul Carson, himself a Catholic, made it something of a mission to get as many people as possible to experience Chartreuse that summer. And he took his mission straight to the bars, where corporal mortification was perhaps most needed. I don't know what Paul is doing today, but if he's still single, he has a good claim to joining with the Carthusian monks and becoming one of the three entrusted with the formula.

I've had Chartreuse only a limited number of times since. Professor Vic brought a bottle to a Christmas party thrown by me, Vegas Heavy-T and Fruit Juicy back in Minneapolis. No matter our political disagreements, that small act of charity on his behalf went a long way to saving some souls there that night, and in the end that matters. Later, his gift to me for standing up in his wedding was a bottle of the dreaded elixir. Apparently he believes I have a lot to atone for. But since I am planning to live a long life, you can bet I am stretching the consumption of that bottle as long as I possibly can.

7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

There has to be a better Stone Harbor story, like hooking up with the one Ohio girl who had the cold sore?
No wonder you hate me!!!

10:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having had several wonderful evenings in N'Oleans prior to a friends wedding, that's right, we went to N'Oleans for three nights for an extended bachelor party, I can say that I rather enjoyed Chartreuse. At least I can say that, whether or not I actually did is a different story. Anyhow, having been to several Mardi Gras parties at various houses throught Southern NJ, and being bestowed with a set of beads having a shot glass attached, I can tell you that Chartreuse is not that bad. Just don't over indulge and definitely have a chaser ready. As to the sunburned lips and Chartreuse reaction, we must go with your revelation as most of us probably have never had that opportunity. Keep experimenting with the choices of alcohol and remember - BUDWEISER and COORS are not the only beers available. There are fine, bottle conditioned ales available nationwide and limiting yourself to the majors is just wrong. Enjoy

11:09 AM  
Blogger Professor Vic said...

First of all, can any of you even think of 130 herbs and flowers? I mean, my spice rack probably has about 30 different items, and if I threw in everything in my garden, plus the 10 or 12 different weeds in lawn, I still am only up to about 70.

Also, if there are only 3 of these guys who know the recipe, do you suppose they are allowed to travel together in the same car or airplane? Think if an accident were to occur and the recipe would be lost forever, Hatch would most certainly be doomed for eternity without an easy source of liquid redemption.

11:13 AM  
Anonymous Jim O said...

I have the same stories, only they are based in Chicago and involve tequila.

Except, of course, for the last time I had tequila, at Hatcher's brother's bachelor party.

I have since changed my corporal mortification regimen to lashes with a whip made of wet leather with metal and glass fragments embedded in it - it's less damaging than the tequila.

11:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Paul Carson is a gym teacher in Radnor PA. I heard he got in trouble for taking his class on a field trip to Smokey Joe's Bar. Something about seperation of church and state.

Carson went easy on you with a Chartreuse shot. He was always trying to get me to drink Buffalo Sweats (151 and Tobasco) and Prarie Fires (Tequila and Tobasco). The last time I drank a shot Carson gave me I booted underneath the pinball machine in Fred's.

As far as drunken debauchery stories go, I give this one a C. It reads somewhat like a story Spongebob might tell about a night on the town.

4:29 AM  
Blogger Clupbert said...

ZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzz, how about more posts on politics?

8:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

my first shot of chartreuse was as as an 18 year old jg when tim weirman and bobby cunius pulled me off the sidewalk as i was walking by fred's at 6 p.m. timmy was working the door and i think bobby was barbacking. they told me they had a great shot for me and i was all excited to be with the older guys, underage and doing a shot, only i was doing it by myself, which i thought was weird. it still is the most vile thing i have ever drunk.

12:52 PM  

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