To follow up on my column in today's new Weekly Surge, not all cask ales have been good.
I tried one at the Coach & Horses pub in London, not too far from Oxford Circus, at least as far as my long legs and fast walking are concerned.
Royal London Traditional Ale looked like a normal, copper-colored beer, but it tasted like some kind of fruit-and-vegetable health drink. I guess that's due to the yeasts. Maybe it was just the cask or the pour. Royal London Traditional Ale was the first cask pint I received that didn't involve a second pour to top-off.
The beer was so sour and tart, I wasn't sure I could finish it. But I did, and it felt nice in my stomach, and spiritually it was rather uplifting.
Well, tomorrow morning, at an ungodly hour, I'm flying back to Myrtle Beach. I'll miss this throne of beer, this land of ales, this ... England.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
To follow up on my column in today's new Weekly Surge, not all cask ales have been good.
Sunday, July 25, 2010
At the Swan pub, near one end of Kennington Garden and Hyde Park, two by Fuller's: one is Chiswick Bitter, and the empty glass was Discovery Blonde. Both were hand-pulled; both were understated and good.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
The Moviegoer by Walker Percy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I liked it, a lot. Binx and Kate were real characters for me. I love the idea of the "search," what a person would pursue if not stuck in the everydayness of his/her own life. There's a sense of "becoming" that is still very much in play in Binx's search, in play even for an established, working, responsible citizen like himself.
I had some sense of the undercurrent of this book that others might not have had: Percy starts with a quotation from Kierkegaard's "Sickness Unto Death." I have read that book, which is most succinctly (if not best) described as existentialist philosophy and intuitive psychology -- not easy reading, but for a certain cast of mind and quandary of heart, it can hardly be called boring. "Sickness Unto Death" is an anatomy of despair, it's different forms and impacts, and it is quite thorough.
After I (finally finally finally) finished this book today on a train from Bath to London, I started re-reading it.
While in London, I've been trying to understand the mash-up of classical paganism and Christianity that is England. I'm also curious about architecture and how classical mythology emerges and re-emerges as an influence and decorative element. So my mind perked up when Binx is with Kate in Chicago and he passes some attractive young women and realizes he is not distracted by them. It's a rare moment; I think some of us understand. So unusual it is, Binx wonders about it. From there, he goes off on a tangent on how old paganism would have heartily engaged in sexual relations and how Christianity would have a firm prohibition against fornication. But for Binx, as he says, his American experience has been neither one of hearty sex nor one of firm prohibition -- a kind of mushy, tempting-but-uncertain possibility, weakly held out and glanced at askance.
Along those lines, on the train ride to Chicago, Binx struggled to become "intimate" with Kate on the train, and seems to chastise himself for his weakness, and somewhere along the way it is noted, following another Kierkegaard text, that moderns can't even sin anymore. It echoes another Kierkegaard text. In "Either/Or," Kierkegaard writes that his contemporaries are too spiritually paltry to sin, so he prefers Shakespeare and Old Testament, because in those texts, people hate, murder their enemies, and curse their descendants -- while these days, no one can even be fully bad, never mind good.
Binx's analysis of not being distracted by the attractive young ladies is really an amazing rendering of the existentialist theory of modern despair and spiritual malaise: the West is no longer old pagan or Christian, and it doesn't know what to do with itself. In their best forms, paganism and Christianity both presented integrated world views and outlooks on life -- certainties and philosophies and rituals and stories that under-girded existence and the destinies of entire nations and even cultures. With paganism and Christianity dispatched (and today we could add other grand-narrative views like Marxism), there is no longer a common understanding of the world, even within individual cultures and nations, and so modern humans are adrift. Or, at best, tribal within the dying culture and nations -- tribal as in, this works for us, that works for you, which sounds good, but at the cost of greater social and cultural cohesion. Set aside for a moment whether "this works for us, that works for you" is desirable (most of us probably think it is, at least politically and legally); at issue is the loss of a broader, common, world view. (This why Alan Bloom, in "The Closing of the American Mind," can advocate classical literature, Shakespeare and Rousseau as non-religious guides to tutoring young passions via tutoring young imaginations -- while also holding contempt for the pop music-obsession of college students, because pop music has become the replacement for deep, imaginative understandings of the world offered in older literature.)
I bring this up with my re-reading of the book because, early on, Binx says he doesn't like the old part of New Orleans, which I think might be analogous to classical paganism. He prefers his non-descript suburb (anywhere) to the located-ness and historically rooted older parts of New Orleans (somewhere). Binx is a man who is adrift and prefers being adrift, prefers that to his culture's and family's old-pagan (analogous) roots. Movies, in any theater, with no religious tradition (like the other side of his family) and no classical pagan stories, are Binx's preference.
Later, at the end, when Aunt Emily questions Binx about his becoming-intimate with Kate on the train, she questions him from the standpoint of old paganism, not religion. A sense of order and virtue, but not in a Judeo-Christian religious sense, has been violated. Aunt Emily thought Binx was more part of that neo-classical Southern culture than he actually was. She is disappointed. Binx doesn't seem to care. From beginning to end, Binx is adrift, with Aunt Emily as the classical pagan and his half-brother Laurence as the devout Christian.
Beyond that, I'm not sure of what to make of the ending, except to guess that maybe Kate's insistence on Binx's thinking of her -- while she's on the bus to run an errand -- is sort of her new way of experiencing a deeper love. Binx's thoughts of her are enough to keep her from becoming lost, as she has become time and time again throughout the novel. Even when Binx is not physically with Kate, Kate can be sure that she is in Binx's thoughts, and that validates her existence. She is located in Binx's mind, and therefore not lost. To know that one is loved might be the best way to no longer be adrift, the best way to find oneself -- in world in which, as Binx often notes, "somewhere" can become just "anywhere." This understanding of love -- being in Binx's thoughts during her emotionally perilous journey -- calls Kate from her anxiety and despair and into full being. At least I can hope, because the novel ends rather lightly and almost anti-climatically, so I guess Percy was teasing our thoughts in a direction without spelling them out for us. Considering Percy's future, more-religious works, he might be hinting in his first novel at a kind of remedy for despair and malaise. Maybe it's enough to know that one is in God's thoughts; love calls the individual into being.
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Wednesday, July 21, 2010
From the top of Saint Paul's Cathedral. How far up? The Golden Gallery. Check out the diagram:
Look at the dome itself. Now look at the little ring immediately on top of the dome. That's where we were in the photos in the posts below. It's called the Golden Gallery.
From this vantage point, there appears to be a ring immediately beneath the dome, the same size as the dome, and then beneath that, there is a wider ring. The wider ring is call the Stone Gallery. We also stopped there.
See how this all works out at: http://www.stpauls.co.uk/Cathedral-History/Climb-the-Dome
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
I drank Young's London Gold in a pub behind Hard Rock Cafe London.
It was a hand-pumped cask ale, and had just a tiny hint of that bready flavor I notice in some beers, like Heineken -- but not strong.
Mostly, Young's London Gold was a lighter, yummy, summer-friendly beer.
Have you tried it? What did you think?
Monday, July 19, 2010
I'm still in London; more posts to come.
Specifically, the part of my column entitled "Dry Web" was trimmed, but the original was better, so here it is:
Sunday, July 18, 2010
Today, I was at the amazing Kew Gardens, about a 30-minute train ride from London, with my wife, known children, and in-laws.
Think Brookgreen Gardens with far more exotic plants, far fewer sculptures, and a long history of royal residents.
In a cafe/restaurant, I got in line to purchase a Budweiser Budvar -- the other Bud, the Czech Bud, the subject of a previous column.
Two open-air, refrigerated shelves held various bottles of water, wine, beer, etc., and I picked up a Budvar at the end of the line.
The bottle didn't seem quite cold enough, so I looked ahead, saw the second chilled shelf, and decided to wait.
At the second chilled shelf, the Budvar was barely colder than room temperature.
But there was no way I was losing my place in line -- it's one of those lines where the bottled-water purchaser has to wait behind the big-food-order-purchaser.
As a testament to Budweiser Budvar, it still tasted great, even barely chilled.
But I remember, way back in 1998, when I spent three months over here, seeing a news article on the front page of a tabloid about Brits trying to regulate the temperature of beer. Maybe that was more about pubs and tapped and hand-pulled beer. Either way, apparently, the idea of cold beer is still working against convention.
Saturday, July 17, 2010
"For emergency," he said with a laugh.
This was not the Peroni we usually see in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Peroni Gran Riserva is intended to be more upscale than the Peroni Nastro Azzurro we always see at Carrabba's.
I had Peronia Gran Riserva at Ask, an Italian restaurant (with great food!) next to the genius Design Museum.
It was even served in a snifter-style, labeled glass, and was 6.6 percent alcohol. That might be due to the double malting -- "birra doppio malto" -- claimed on the label. Either way, the malting certainly brought out a distinctive, sophisticated taste, smoother and heavier than the Peroni Nastro Azzurro.
For one 12-ounce bottle, Peroni Gran Riserva was about 3.70 pounds, compared to 3.30 pounds for Peroni Nastro Azzurro, if memory serves.
I don't think we have Gran Riserva in Myrtle Beach, but if we do, try it.
Friday, July 16, 2010
Today, between Henry IV Part One, and, incidentally, Henry IV Part Two, at The Globe Theatre, Kristi and I went to Founders Arms Riverside Pub.
I ordered a hand-pulled Wells Bombardier English Bitter.
Hand-pulled beers are not powered by carbon dioxide. Founders had those taps, too, but apparently the hand-pulled, or pumped, beers are unique to the U.K.
The guy pulled my beer, slowly filling the pint glass. He pulled the handle twice, and when the glass filled, with a bit of head on top, he set it aside and got Kristi's Strongbow cider from the regular taps.
Then he returned to my pint, and pulled the handle again, making sure the glass was filled.
That was awesome -- genuine respect and care for beer, even in a busy pub and restaurant.
The lamb kabobs were great, too.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
We've placed an online order with the grocery chain Tesco -- and guess what they will deliver to our place here in London?
Well, boring food, of course, but also 500-milliliter bottles of Fuller's ESB -- only one of the best beers, ever, and the original ESB (extra special bitter).
Meanwhile, my Pabst Blue Ribbon cover story for the Weekly Surge is now available online. See what Scott Smallin did to me with his camera! And PBR is not just a big cultural story right now -- it's also one of the biggest business stories of the year: click here.
As in January, so in July: Stella Artois ads everywhere.
The ads in the tube stations declare Stella is made with only four ingredients: malt, hops, maize, and water.
Maize = corn.
Should we thank them for leaving out the rice?
I never see 12-ounce cans on the beer shelves in the grocery stores here.
I haven't studied each can available, but they all appear to be 16-ounce or 24-ounce cans.
Yesterday morning, when we arrived at our place in Lambeth, my in-laws, Kristi and I celebrated by splitting a can of Strongbow cider.
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Saturday, July 10, 2010
I was lifting a sleeping Sadie, age almost-5, from our bed.
Me: "Trust involves more consciousness than what children have."
Kristi: "That's why they call it innocence."
Me: "It's more like assumption."
Or maybe presumption.