Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"It was all those sailors"

A rather lovely piece by Steven L. Isenberg, at the American Scholar, concerning lunches on Olympus (with E. M. Forster, W. H. Auden, Philip Larkin and William Empson). The Empson description is hilariously and wonderfully gruesome:
In honor of “our American guest,” he would make bloody marys. He was a skinny man whose clothes hung on him, and as he walked about he continually hooked his thumbs in the front of his pants, and stretched them forward. Ricks and I had to avoid one another’s eyes.

Empson picked out of the kitchen sink three large glasses that may have been washed within the week. On the counter was a large open can of tomato juice with a rusted top. He poured juice into each glass and, after that, generous amounts of something that could have been either gin or vodka—I couldn’t see. Then he sprinkled on something that might have been Worcestershire sauce and from a bin dredged up browned celery stalks. And then he stood back to admire his work and repeatedly stretched and fanned his pants.

He bade us to keep our seats and served his magic drink, which I knew I was meant to praise as thoroughly authentic, if not hygienic. The real challenge was to drink some of this warm slop—no ice cube ever was evident—without spluttering. We toasted Empson and set to work. It had to be done in slow sips; every chance for him to offer a second one had to be eliminated.
(Link courtesy of Bookforum.)

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