Hitchens on the Drinking Life
Christopher Hitchens, Drinking, Scotch, Wine
On the occasion of this particularly convivial time of year, The Dish shared the late Christopher Hitchens’ account of his own tippling habits, straight out of his memoir, Hitch-22.
Hitchens had even more to say about drink here:
Iâ€™ll be 54 in April, and everyone keeps asking how I do it. How do I do what? Iâ€™m never completely sure what the questioner means. I *hope* they mean how do I manage to keep producing books, writing essays, making radio and television appearances at all hours, traveling all over the place with no sign of exhaustion, teaching classes, and giving lectures, while still retaining my own hair and teeth and a near-godlike physique which is the envy of many of my juniors. Sometimes, though, I suppose they mean how do I do all this and still drink enough every day to kill or stun the average mule? My doctor confesses himself amazed at my haleness (and I never lie to a medical man), but then, in my time Iâ€™ve met more old drunks than old doctors.
What with the garlic, the full strength cigarettes, the raw espresso, and the array of winking and shimmering glasses and bottles, I can face the world pretty heartily (despite a slight heftiness around the central portions which i keep meaning to â€œaddress,â€ as the saying goes, and despite a long-standing preference for nocturnal activity over encounters with â€œmorning persons.â€ I will admit that I am a standout in Washington for non-attendance at power breakfasts). In Europe, I donâ€™t seem to attract as much attention, or as many questions. Indeed, it was the so-called French paradox that started the inquiry into the medicinal effects of alcohol in the first place. American physicians, taking their cautious tours of Paris and Strasbourg in the spring or perhaps having arranged to have their tax-deductible proctologistsâ€™ conventions in Provence, went to restaurants where they predicted from observation that all the diners would be dead or dying within a year. Then they went back â€” perhaps after attending a few boring funerals for their own miserable colleagues â€” and saw the selfsame French still browsing and sluicing away and looking more joyously fit than ever.
Well, that surely couldnâ€™t be right. But an unsmiling look at the statistics confirmed that there was less heart disease in France, and meticulous scientific investigation then isolated red-wine consumption as the key variable. So let me tell you something that I could have told you long ago, and that your doctor already knew but hadnâ€™t been telling you. Red wine will elevate your â€œgood -cholesterol numbers (H.D.L.) as against your â€œbadâ€ (L.D.L.) ones, and it will then and inspire your blood so that it is much less likely to go all clotted on you. A few drinks also assist you in warding off diabetes. And not just red wine, either. pretty much any grape or grain product will do. In Woody Allenâ€™s 1973 movie, Sleeper, he plays an owner of a health-food restaurant in Greenwich village who is cryogenically frozen, and then thawed out in the year 2173. Among the many breakthroughs made by science in the intervening two centuries is the liberating discovery that steak, cream pies, and hot fudge are positively good for the system. The New England Journal of Medicine for January 2003 contains news much more encouraging than that. After all, nobody wants cream pie and hot fudge every day (do they?). And even if they did turn out to be beneficial for the health, they wouldnâ€™t make you wittier, sexier, more vivacious, and less tolerant of boring and censorious people. Which the the daily intake of the fruit of the vine â€” to say nothing of the slowly distilled and matured grain â€” will also do, if you know how to make it your servant and not your master.
A few swift tips here, to show that I am perfectly serious. On the whole, observe the same rule about gin martinis â€” and all gin drinks â€” that you would in judging female breasts: one is far too few, and three is one two many. Do try to eat the olives: they can be nutritious. Try to eat something, indeed, at every meal. Take lots of fresh or distilled water. Donâ€™t mix from different bottles of red wine: Dance with the one that brung ya. Avoid most white wine for its appalling acidity and banality. (Few things make me laugh louder than the ostentatious non-drinkers who get plastered when they condescend to imbibe a glass of toxic Chardonnay, and who have been fooling themselves for so long.) Avoid Pernod and absinthe and ouzo. Even if it makes you look like a brand snob, do specify a label when ordering spirits in particular. I once researched this for a solemn article and found that if you just ask for, say, vodka-and-tonic the barman is entitled to give you whatever he has on hand, which is often a two-handled jug labeled â€œVodkaâ€ under the bar. It can be even worse with scotch, where imitation blends are rife. Pick a decent product and stay with it. Upgrade yourself, for Chrissake. Do you think you are going to live forever?