Martinis and the Middle East

While I have yet to answer the long-standing reader question on my thoughts on the Isreali-Palestinean issue, I feel ready to address Tony from Austrailia who wrties to ask, “What’s in a martini?”

Well, Tony, that’s a very complicated question. Traditionally a martini is made of gin, but I actually prefer vodka. We all have our alcohol superstitions, and one of mine is that vodka is pure and clear and good for you, whereas gin is vile and dangerous and will give you a hangover. Unless you mix it with tonic water. As you observe, the G & T is a fine drink, especially for hot summer nights. Or cold winter mornings. Refreshing, twinkly, garnished with lime–nearly a perfect incarnation of gin.

Leaving aside the debate of Gin vs. Vodka (which I do realize is like leaving aside the debate of Mets vs. Yankees, John vs. Paul, night vs. day, Paris vs. London, L.A. vs. New York, girls vs. boys, rock vs. rap, Roe vs. Wade, etc., etc.), here is what is in a martini:

Hard, clear liquor


Not much else.

Technically, there is vermouth in a martini, but a true lover of the martini prefers it “dry,” which means very little vermouth. The suggested ratio is 4:1 liquor to vermouth, but I prefer something more like 6:1 or even 8:1. There is a technique known as “dusting” in which vermouth is never added to the drink, but merely swirled around in the martini glass and then poured out, or swirled around in the cocktail shaker with ice and then poured out before the liquor is even added.

But if you’re going to drink it dry, you might also like it dirty. The dirtiness of martinis refers to the amount of olive juice in the mix. Because if you’re going to drink a glass of vodka, you might enjoy it more if its burn was cut with the briney tang of olives. So if you order (or make) it dirty, you throw some olive juice in there. And ask for three olives, because they look so cute jostling in the bottom of your glass as you sip. You can also garnish a martini with something called “pearl onions,” but I think these things are horrid and look like little eyeballs.

In every bar between here and Port Augusta, Austrailia one can find all manner of exotic “signature” martinis from Pomegranate to Espresso, costing upwards of USD$9, but the martini I like best is the one I’m drinking right now–an Absolut vodka martini, very dry and very dirty, with three olives. Three little green olives, soaking in alcohol, waiting to be plucked, sucked and chomped.

Our discussion of olives is as natural a segue as any to the land in which they grow. Michael J. Brandt, if you are still reading, my thoughts on the Israeli-Palestinean issue are these:

I know too little about this conflict. No amount of Googling or reading or querying friends in Peace and Conflict Resolution graduate studies programs has illuminated me on the issue. This is what I think, based on what little I know:

That to a practicing Jewish friend who once visited, the treatment of Palestineans by the state of Israel resembled “apartheid.” She used this word with dismay, describing how she expected to feel “a homecoming” and instead felt horrified, digusted, ashamed that she had expected to feel a homecoming in a land where anyone could be treated that way.

That in elementary school when I first found out that the Holocaust had precipitated the statehood of Israel, and then saw the pictures of Israel with its fences and barbed wires and walls, I didn’t understand why if the point was to ensure that such constructions happened “never again” the very same constructions had been built in what was supposed to be the new land.

That violence is ugliest when it replicates itself like a chronic disease, bounces back and forth in a cycle with in which cause becomes indistinguishable from effect.

That nothing is holy if people are killing one another over it.

That no one is home and no one is safe if someone else has to die to keep them that way.

That those who have been beaten, persecuted, trod upon, treated cruelly, cast out, brutalized or dehumanized often want nothing more than to turn around and do it to someone else. To a person who has been robbed of his humanity, taking someone else’s humanity appears to be the only way to reclaim his own.

That if everyone in the Middle East was an atheist things would not be as they are.

That hate breeds hate, and hate can become habit.

That wherever there is violence and suffering, when the people who suffer the most are brown and those who argue that they bring the suffering upon themselves are beige, I am always a little suspicious.

That to try to quantify who suffers “the most” is a pointless question, and a much better one is, what are the roots of everyone’s suffering?

That there are so many shades of gray in any dispute that everyone but the people who live it are tempted to reduce it to black and white.

That just as there are many, many people in America who are horrified at the violence done in our name, there are many, many Israelis and Palestineans equally horrified by the violence done in their name.

That like most wars in today’s world (and perhaps most of yesterday’s wars as well) this one is not about what it appears to be about, or even what most of its participants believe it to be about. It appears to be about homelands and and history and human rights and whose God really exists, about documents and delcarations and borders. But to me it is an abstraction. There is certainly nothing abstract about a bomb, or the images of a bomb’s aftermath. And yet while I’ve come to some understanding about the idea of terrorism and what that means in our material reality, or the idea of deomcracy or law or civilization, even, and how these ideas are related to our social, economic and political realities, how they are used and misused by politicians, the media, artists, workers, teachers and solidiers, how they are understood and misunderstood, for some reason when it comes to this issue, this idea, this conflict–somehow understanding eludes me completely. I sense that there is something about it I do not grasp and perhaps will never grasp unless I go there, unless I see for myself a tank in an olive grove, a checkpoint, the Wailing Wall. And perhaps I still won’t understand unless I go Auschwitz and Dachau, or maybe I won’t understand unless I go to Darfur.

That the Jews have a homeland, and I am living in it, and while it is an imperfect place there are Jews here, and Arabs, and we live in relative peace.

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