The Wet and the Dry: A Drinker’s Journey

September 10, 2013 | Reviews

Wet_and_the_DryThe Wet and Dry: A Drinker’s Journey

By Lawrence Osborne

I’m feeling “magnificently insolent”– to quote The Wet and the Dry – beer in hand and becoming increasingly “illuminated” as Wodehouse would have it.

Lawrence Osborne’s book is illuminating as well, rare as the finest scotch and also in that it celebrates, rather than bemoans a life lived enjoying the drink.

As someone who co-authored a book exalting booze, who was dubbed a “festive boozing consultant” by a publicist, this is much appreciated.

According to Osborne, drinkers are “Dionysian dancers who sit still mocking”, but he is quick to stray from the barstool in this engaging read, voyaging into regions where a cold one is as likely as a stocked bar at an AA social.

These cocktail hour locales include Beirut, where Christian minorities spur Lebanese wine culture and “drink becomes the wedge of freedom in a land otherwise haunted by the religious men in black”, as well as mostly dry Oman, Pakistan, increasingly dry Indonesia, Turkey and dangerous Malaysia.

But The Wet and the Dry isn’t a glass of imperialism served straight up even if Osborne equates prohibition with sexual suppression and that Islamic radicals are “right to hate and fear it [alcohol]. In bars, people leave their inhibitions behind.”

In Indonesia, he speaks to a couple of students who advocate closing bars, because booze falsified a relationship with god. In Islam, a student Hakim tells a sympathetic at times self-loathing Osborne, the effect of alcohol is that “we are not true to ourselves or our relationships.”

On a cruel sober afternoon in Oman, Osborne admits that he and an Italian girlfriend who’d fretted about the horrors of a dry New Year’s drinking fruit juice, are “more mindful, more aware of our responsibilities”.

Those concessions aside, Osborne happily comes down on the side of dopamine – the neurotransmitter that unites the drinker “for a short spell, with drunken fruit flies and happy dogs”.

While alcohol can no doubt lower inhibitions and pose risks in the free world – the author recounts his passage through a Red Hook housing complex to get to his favorite dumpy Brooklyn watering hole – try sidling up to a bar say, along the Thai / Malaysian border.

However even South Thailand, a violent hotbed of Islamic insurgency, draws Muslim boozehounds from across the Malaysian border. We find out that there people will risk “bombings of coffee shops, bars and ATM machines” for a cold one, something to think about next time you take a pass on an invite for some after-work libations.

A brief travel note: If you’re bar-hopping in Islamabad, there aren’t many stops.  It’s Pakistan’s capital, a country with 160 million people, but the number of (legal) drinking establishments outside of hotels, can be counted on one hand, a drinking companion tells Osborne. One needs to apply for a permit to buy and Muslims caught violating these laws can face months in prison.

The author quotes Der Spiegel: “the front line in the struggle against fundamentalism in Pakistan isn’t in the mountainous border regions, it’s in the country’s permit rooms.”

As the fascinating Osborne hunts for the perfect cocktail, wringing up hefty bar tabs across Asia and the Middle East, we learn that in Egypt, attitudes toward beer are relatively lax (because they basically invented the stuff) and that the first use of the term “bar” was in Robert Greene’s Elizabethan era play, A Notable Discovery of Coosnage. For all you job seekers out there, there is also an account of perils of pulling pints as a Muslim in Bin Laden country.

Osborne’s claim that “one needs a bar almost as much as one needs oxygen, or shirts” seems about right.  If he’s ever in Toronto, I’d buy him a round.

Christopher Lombardo is co-author of The Man Who Scared a Shark to Death and Other True Tales of Drunken Debauchery (Penguin).


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Top 10 Ways to Improve Canada

July 1, 2013 | Lists

funny-pictures-cat-is-canadian1Many consider Canada the best country on Earth and we’re talking about outside authorities not the jingoistic reflex of someone who has never stepped foot anywhere else.

Canadians enjoy a good quality of life when the heating is working properly, the people are in the main easygoing and our banks even managed to withstand the financial crisis (imagine the financial savvy required to succeed in an enterprise where people give you money. Then again, there is the government…) And if you break your leg, you won’t get a fractured arm to match as the hospital throws your non-insurance carrying ass out the door.

However, the place is by no means perfect. In Ontario, for example, you have to buy beer from an arms-length government cartel called The Beer Store, the name of which reflects the pinnacle of government creativity. And a restaurateur daring to grace an Italian menu with say, Italian, is liable to be prosecuted by some linguo-fascist hired to preserve French culture, and in a place as unlikely as, say, an Italian restaurant.

So, while the country is great in many ways that distinguish us from the US other than the lack of Chinese food takeout seen in TV sitcoms, we concede that there are some areas that could stand improvement. Here we offer ways to improve things in Canada beyond the obvious such as allowing beer and liquor to be sold to people as if they were rational adults and not forcing language laws on a populace that couldn’t give a big bucket of merde. Here are our Top Ten Ways to Improve Canada:

1. Throw the French/English debate off balance by introducing Portuguese as a surprise third national language.

2. Snow days might become increasingly rare due to global warming. Keep the tradition of fun alive by introducing “Sure, we screwed up, but your children won’t even have it this good” days”.

3. Retire Margaret Atwood’s jersey in an emotional star-studded tribute at center ice.Centre_Ice_Atwood

4. Come to grips with the fact that even though they were born here, there is basically dick all Canadian about someone who made his fortune abroad at an early age never to return.

5. Find a way to speed up the sap coming out of a maple tree.

6. Seal clubbing in the maritime provinces gives our country a bad name. Resolve this by encouraging the impoverished people trying to scratch out a living in that economically ravaged part of the country, to sell foodies on the concept of seal sashimi. That way, when someone does the ol’ angry Fred Flintstone on such a cute creature, it’ll have a second life on a dinner plate and on the web via Yelp.

7. Rig cholesterol tests to give bacon eaters a false sense of security and convince them to continue on as they are.

8.  Canadian politics can be difficult for newcomers to follow as it’s often difficult to identify what, if anything individual politicians stand for and who they represent. It’s much easier with sports — the New York Yankees and Manchester United are globally recognized brands. We propose that politicians adopt uniforms according to party affiliation:

NDP: armbands and Red Guard uniforms make them easily identifiable them as anti-initiative, cultural Marxist wealth re-distributors that they are. No need for campaign literature!

Conservatives: Tennis sweaters, polo shirts, and similarly obnoxious garb worn to suggest nonchalance regarding both the big sell-off of the country’s natural resources and the actions of their mendacious, entitled, thieving senators.

Bloc Quebecois: Pantalons and berets.

Green Party: Birkenstocks, Saris – basically anything that wouldn’t need to be taken to the cleaners if a baby spat up on it.

Liberals: Since they have no distinct political identity to call their own, they switch back and forth between the four sartorial choices.

9. Introduce prime ministerial term limits. As it stands a  prime minister could, if he’s healthy and doesn’t mind those horrible Ottawa winters, be re-elected right up until he pulls that final poll both lever into the great beyond. This makes for stale politics. We propose for elections to be held every year, though if the governing party wins a challenge — for example, its leader beats a super computer in chess — that group wins immunity and can stay on until the next round of voting. 

beaver10. Eliminate the beaver as national icon. The beaver used to be on the heads of Canadian frontier folk and later was featured on the nickel due to its status as one of the country’s iconic creatures, right up there with Canadian geese and Howie Mandel. Beavers played an early role in luring in explorers keen to track them down and slaughter them for their pelts,  but they haven’t done much for us since. As a recent beaver mauling of a Belarussian man makes clear, they can be dangerous, but more than that beavers have become an unwelcome font for tawdry sexual innuendo. The connotation was so common that the historical magazine formerly known as The Beaver (perfectly acceptable when they named it) had to change its name because spam filters thought a rather crude lesson in anatomy rather than history was on offer.

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