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In praise of the silver bullet

By Robert S. Sargent, Jr.
web posted June 27, 2005

There was no silver bullet that could have prevented the 9/11 attacks. -- Condoleezza Rice

And when President Nixon said, "How about a silver bullet?" he was offering you a very cold, dry martini. -- William Safire

MartiniWhen Mark Felt revealed himself to be "Deep Throat," I thought about my old Washington Posts I had saved, most of them from the Watergate era. I dragged them out from their foot locker, and one of the first ones I saw was from July 17, 1973. The headline read: "President Taped Talks, Phone Calls," and underneath: "Principal Offices Secretly Bugged Since Spring, 1971." Alexander Butterfield, then administrator of the FAA, reported directly to President Nixon's chief of staff H.R. Haldeman when Butterfield was in the White House.

Under questioning by the minority counsel of the Senate Watergate Committee, Fred Thompson, Butterfield revealed the presence of the tapes. I have no new information on Watergate for my millions of readers, but on page A 18 of that issue, was an article about Butterfield, and the article quoted a friend of Butterfield's, Louis Churchville: "He takes a drink but doesn't smoke. He drinks vodka martinis with a pinch of salt." How many of you know about drinking a martini with a pinch of salt? I had never heard of it. My point? MarkFelt> Watergate> Butterfield> martinis.

A martini is one thing: gin, dry vermouth, and garnished with a lemon peel or an olive. Period. (If you like a drink that's made the same way with vodka, it's OK to call it a "vodka" martini. If you put anything else in it, do not call it any kind of martini. Call it a cocktail.) Martinis taste different when served differently. A martini on the rocks in a short glass is a different drink than one served straight up. And one served in the classic wide-mouthed martini glass, has the same salutary effect on the drink as does a proper wine glass on the juice from the grape. And, of course, they taste differently when prepared differently.

Even though 4 parts gin to 1 part vermouth is a fairly classic proportion, a "dry" martini takes less vermouth. Winston Churchill, a drinker of the dry variety, merely nodded towards France to acknowledge the presence of vermouth. James Bond liked it "shaken not stirred." But everyone agrees that the colder it's served the better. From a 1.75 liter bottle of my favorite gin, I keep a pint bottle full in the door of my freezer along with a couple of martini glasses. I first put the olives on a toothpick, put a half cap of vermouth into the frozen glass, then eyeball about 3 oz. of the syrupy liquid, pop in the olives and then experience that warm-on-the-throat, ice cold-on-the-tongue, first eye-popping sip. (This recipe was passionately criticized by a guy on the internet named Joseph Dobrian who signs his emails, "your Lord and Sovereign." Dobrian claims he's the "leading expert on the production and consumption of dry martinis," and took me to task for not going through the ritual of taking cubes of ice and bashing them with the back of a tablespoon, dropping them in a shaker with the gin and vermouth, and shaking it for exactly 10 seconds. I was missing, not only the taste the ice gives, but the "foreplay" of the ritual. While I like the texture of the tiny slivers of ice in the nectar, I don't agree that the slightly altered taste the ice gives [yes, I used filtered ice] is better.)

How many should you drink? In a fine article in the Cigar Afficionado, by Barnaby Conrad III, he wrote: "Watch your consumption, because for some people, as James Thurber noted, 'One is alright, two is too many, and three is not enough.' The purpose of the martini is to enhance the evening, not to obliterate it. This poem by Dorothy Parker, who sailed frequently to Blottoland, described an out-of-control scenario: 'I like to have a Martini, But only two at the most, After three I'm under the table, After four I'm under the host.'" And then there's the "a martini is like women's breasts: one is not enough and three is too many." It seems that you're on your own after two, and I'll buy that.

When does one drink a martini? Any time, of course, but I think the best time is when you're around other people. I can sit alone and sip on a glass of Scotch, or a glass of wine, but with a martini, I look for conversation. And if I'm black-tie, all the better. Even though I don't smoke any more, I secretly long for the days when everyone lit up, drank martinis, yapped about this or that, and danced to big bands. A martini in hand can send you there.

So, the next time you want to get away from the reality of modern day world events, be taken back to the days of Cole Porter, and are with your favorite conversational buddies, have a silver bullet, not the kind Condi was referring to, but the kind of silver bullet offered by the man who was destroyed by the testimony of Alexander Butterfield. Have two. And if you use the "shaken" method as ordered by the "Lord and Sovereign," remember the Thin Man's advice: "A dry martini you always shake to waltz time."

Robert S. Sargent, Jr. is a senior writer for Enter Stage Right and can be reached at rssjr@citcom.net.

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