Moments in time to remember and reflect on. Drinking Scotch or Bourbon Whiskey for taste and effect. Shooting arrows in the backyard, waking-up without a hangover, cooking the perfect meal and eating it alone. Life can pass us by but we are responsible to slow it down and savor the joy, pain, or the emptiness that can be a moment in itself. Discover yourself how Jack Setevens stops the clock and turns the mind into its own app.
I enjoy cooking and eating foods with distinct and sometimes pungent flavors but when it comes to drinking, I usually stick with Absolute and Tonic or a Heineken. Drinking for the effects of alcohol is the point, right? Is is possible to have two separate “tastes” simultaneously to drive men to drink? It is time for my tastes to grow up and find out, so I am venturing off into an unexplored world of drinking Scotch Whiskey for taste.
Since I consider myself an amateur drinker I started research by visiting our local Liquor store. I met a WW II vet who was “just” looking. He overheard me ask one of the employees what whiskey I should ascertain. The old man’s ears perched up and he started to speak. I saw his eyes widen and a sense of calm/joy fill his persona. “After the war I was stationed at a communications center in Southern Italy,” he volunteered. “During one Christmas all my mates had gone home early. I was left with only a bottle of Scotch.” Understanding a lot of war documentaries and watching my share of movies, I am aware that war and alcohol mix as easily as Gin and Tonic. How would you cope with the constant fear of imminent death and annihilation? I am confident this man knows everything about booze.
“Where should I begin?” I inquired. He pointed to the second shelf. “Budget is not much of a concern,” I initiated as I pointed to The Macallan 12. “Oh the gold standard, try mixing with 1/3 water, bottled not tap. The water will allow it to open up.” He concluded, “just one glass, you will not get drunk on Scotch.”
I decided ¾ part water ¼ The Macallan. My first taste was quite different than I expected. Mixed with water, the alcohol taste was diluted and I started to experience a new flavor. As I let the liquid rest on my tongue and breathed slowly in and out I searched for what I was searching for. What is it that will compel men to spend $1,000 on a bottle of 25 year old, or write poems, travel to distant lands, broker unprecedented deals, wage war, survive war? What is the essence I am searching for?
The next night I mixed ½ part water with the Scotch. I can notice my taste start to change; there is something that I am starting to connect with. Breathe in breathe out. Repeat next day and day after. One glass each night. No need to rush after all it did take 12 years to make this bottle. As each night approaches I long for the moment, slowly reducing the amount of water. Target: that perfect mix 1/3 water, 2/3 Scotch.
As I sit in a hand tooled leather chair in my living room, I stair off into the fire and listen to crackling of the dried oak timber as the wood converts to smoke and flames. I smell the leather, the oak, the smoke. I can hear the empty early morning forest and imagine the dew resting on moss at the base of the tree. Is this why people camp? Men take their sons into to the woods and pitch a tent, make a fire, give up all the comforts of home. To get away, to escape from mom, our phones, these stressful lives that we can’t completely control?
And there, at bottom of my 32% lead crystal glass, I found the taste for slowing down and enjoying the moment.
Love to a Stranger
On a dark still night downtown Kiev across the alley from St. Andrews, a concert was about to begin. The performance was to be private, intimate just the four us, two band members and the two in the audience. After being escorted out of our hotel when the desk manager spotted the huge drum and assortment of handmade traditional Ukrainian musical instruments, we made our way to some deserted steps further up the hill. We were able to find seating on the broken uneven rubble that somehow stood the test of time and unmanageable trampling in a torrid history of this great place that the girl calls her homeland.
Music overwhelmed us as we lay still in anticipation, new sounds and words spoken in foreign tongue delighted my senses. I was still unable to digest all that I had experienced on this journey back in time, though not my time, not my journey. No, I was just an observer.
This was all for the girl to reconnect with a long lost loved one, a man who left the comforts of the United States and moved to a place where he had never been in order to understand his heritage, his family, himself. A journey that will be never ending but will keep his family back home connected to their past, to their roots, to their history. Will history die? Does the story end? Will our identity dissolve into everyone else’s back home? Is this America, the land of the free, the land of the brave, what is this land of?
“Please leave us alone; please go on with your day. These words halted the soothing sounds of lyrical pleasantries as the singer changed tone to thwart off a pesky street kid who wanted to touch the drum. Who is this boy, how dare he disturb us. Can’t he see that we are busy, we are making art we are making beauty out of a dry dusty old cobblestone road, in a dark town, a lonely street. Why is he bothering us, why won’t he leave us alone? I wished I spoke the local language so I could have scolded him. But no, I didn’t speak, I watched as the two leaders take their turn to explain what a distraction this boy has become. Telling him to leave, be gone, get away, shoe.
Why is it so easy for me to hate this boy, to hate him for the interruption, to hate that he’s not wearing a shirt or shoes or hasn’t bathed in weeks. He broke the still of the night and the peace that we tried so hard to create, it was now all gone.
The girl speaks, “what is your name.” I tell her to leave it alone, to not say anything. “Let your brother handle this, he is use to these situations. You don’t know how it is in this world.” She ignores me and shows interest in the boy. “What’s your name, where do you live,” she continues. They communicate with gestures and facial expressions. She then tells me he lives behind us in an old abandoned building. He leaves. What a relief. The men are pleased and the music continues.
A nicely dressed man and woman walk by, stop, then sit and join us. The song ends and out of the corner of my eye I see a figure tapping the girl on her shoulder, I am concerned about her safety. It’s the boy. He is holding a tray of bread with some kind of spread lightly covering each slice and a bottle of water. He gestures to offer the little what he has. He has nothing, no clothes, no home, no place to sleep, and no family; but because the girl shows love to a stranger, we are all nourished.
It was a gloomy overcast Friday morning in May of May of 1991 when my dad packed up the rental silver Volkswagen in front of the guesthouse at the convent. We had all planned on going to West Berlin for a few days during our trip through Germany but my brother Joe had come down with flu. My mother Beth stayed in Darmstadt to take care of him, Mary, Jake, and the baby Ruth. That was the only trip I had to take with my father alone.
I sat to his right as we slowly pulled away. Jake and Mary broke from their game of hopscotch to wave goodbye as we left the Evangelical sisterhood of Mary parking lot. My stomach had started turning ever since I was chosen out of the three eligible kids to be honored with the great responsibility, to accompany the Reverend on his trip.
In West Berlin we would stay with the pastor of a local German church, for whom my father was going to speak on Sunday. I would feel more comfortable when we arrived. His ministry would distract him. What worried me most was the long drive. How was I going to stay out of trouble for four hours? What would we talk about, what would we do, what would happen if I got bored and fidgeted?
Silence filled the tiny cabin as if there was a dense fog between us that impaired our ability to see or hear each other. We were both afraid to say anything but I wouldn’t be the first to speak. He broke the stillness when he asked me to get out the map and find out where we were going. I took the map from the glove box, unfolded it, and studied it for a while. I pointer to a spot on the map and then spoke, “here we are.” I slid my finder across the page, “and here is West Berlin.
“Good,” he replied, “now see if you can tell how far it is to the border.” I took my time to carefully measure the key with my index finder and then the lines on the map. “Four hundred and twenty-five miles, I mean kilometers to the border.”
He started to repeat me. “Four hundred and twenty-five kilometer at one hundred and fifty kilometer and hour that would be about three hours.”
I liked these questions. They were easy and safe. I wished we could just talk about this kind of stuff the whole trip.