Saturday, March 31, 2018

Before they recycle

From Christopher L-H:  What his theories finally boil down to is that the Dead Sea Scrolls; far from confirming the Church of Rome’s version of Christianity, actually reveal a “bitter conflict between rival factions and the warning of a coming schism that would rend the religion in two.” In an alternative view revealed by the Scrolls, Mr. Roberts explains, J esus was born the prophet of a religion involving the individual’s inner“ knowledge, not faith in an earthly institution. This religion was heavily influenced by Zoroastrianism, the svstem founded 

in Persia by Zoroaster teaching the worship of Ormaz in the context of a universal struggle between the forces of light and darkness. 

As Mr. Roberts says he learned, the wise men from the East were Zoroastrian Magi, or, citing the Oxford English Dictionary definition of Magi, members “of the ancient Persian priestly caste, said by ancient historians to have been originally a Median tribe.” 

The purpose of their journey, Mr. Roberts concludes somewhat elliptically, was essentially to avert a situation in which “good works or spiritual improvement” would become irrelevant and in which faith alone would get you to Heaven. But the crisis was never resolved. East and West divided, and Rome prevailed in the West. As Mr. Roberts recalls an authority on Eastern mysticism’s telling him when he was an undergraduate at Oxford: “Without Zoroaster there would be no Christ. He was the bridge, and the Romans burnt it.” ‘ 

Nutty as all this may sound to anyone reared on the West’s version 0f the Nativity story, Mr. Roberts found abundant evidence for his theories on his strange journey. Repeatedly he encountered living relics of the ancient sects he was investigating who would invite him into their homes and share their sometimes fractured understanding of their cultures. His experiences often veer from the profound to the ridiculous. 

and also by C L-H

“Cocktails have all the disagreeability without the utility of a disinfectant.” 

So the “influence of spirits on the American psyche,” as Mr. Lanza’s subtitle describes his book, is bound to be tantamount to sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And sure enough, one of his keener observations is that during the most trying times of Hollywood censorship, “the cocktail evolved from a universal symbol of licentiousness into one of class and civility.” 

Part way through that evolution, in 1934, the film version of Dashiell Hammett’s novel “The Thin Man” was housebroken for the Hayes Office. Nick (William Powell) and Nora (Myrna Loy) had to sleep in separate beds and were forbidden to refer overtly to sex. But they still drank martinis before breakfast and continued, as Mr. Lanza puts it, “to fuel on them throughout the day to sharpen their sleuthing skills.” Martinis before breakfast! Imagine what that would convey these days. 

In fact, Mr. Lanza even says that cocktails became appealing in 20th century America precisely when drinking them was made a crime. “The dawn of Prohibition witnessed the miraculous obfuscation of sacred and profane,” he writes. “The legal censure turned cocktails into a ritual of indulgence and absolution combined. Substances once considered Vile were soon gussied up in fancy glasses with ornate combinations of ingredients and titles.” He concludes somewhat confusedly, “They got more mystifying and appealing as their legal standing grew more illicit and their manufacture and sale' more tawdry.” 

As the image of drink softened after Prohibition, the author argues, the cocktail grew steadily more acceptable. By 1948, in John Farrow’s film “The Big Clock,” Ray Milland was able to establish that he was not guilty of a homicide by proving that he was, as Mr. Lanza puts it, “at a bar getting grogged on Stingers when the crime occurred.” His drinking proved that he was innocent. 

At times in his analysis, Mr. Lanza seems overcome by fumes emanating from his subject. 

Of President John F. Kennedy’s connection to Hollywood through Peter Lawford and Frank Sinatra he writes: “The Rat Pack era is renowned not only for bolstering Kennedy’s election but for binding American politics to the‘entertainment industry. These were the new gentlemen of leisure, whose cavalier antics had sparked existential hunger in a world-weary middle class finally convinced that the 'good life’ had nothing to do with the afterlife. All the Depression babies who had won the Big War could get at least some kind of door prize with a trip to Vegas, a stab at a slot machine and highballs to keep them fueled.” 

His clarity of expression is not helped by his tendency to treat metaphorical words as if they had no literal meaning, as when he writes ‘ that “antics had sparked existential anger”; that a “legal standing grew more illicit,” and that “a liquor ad’s ice cubes couched hieroglyphics of sex and death.” 

Still, even when he is murkiest, you can understand what he is driving at. That in a chapter called “Being Had (The Sociology of ‘Girl Drinks’),” he is arguing that the hidden purpose of many of the more confectionary cocktails was “to represent a kind of psychosexual labyrinth for those brave and nobly neurotic enough to enter.’_’ And that over the post-Prohibition decades, cocktail culture has exerted a surprisingly powerful influence on everything from interior decoration to film, music and dress. 

How powerfully the cocktail can subvert common sense may be seen in Mr. Lanza’s caption to a Bombay gin ad, where he states that “throug modern marketing, gin can become : molten crystal monitor revealing in ages of an inner peace to replace t ~ daily grind.” The caption conclud " “Refracted through the stain glass window of a clean Martini, t world can assume a prismatic pur’ that is bigger than life and at le equal to God.” 

Limpid though such prose meant to be, it’s a little too purple for comfort. M. F.K. Fisher may once have written that “a well-made Martini or Gibson, correctly chilled and nicely served, has been more often my true friend than any two-legged creature.” 

Yet as Mr. Lanza states elsewhere: “Of all drinks, the Martini (with its pure, undiluted alcohol) is the most pristine high any drink can offer. It has a different impact on the body’s blood sugar with a longerlasting stimulus than most other com coctions sullied by juices, sugars and creams.” 

And, let’s face it, what it will do in the long run to your liver may unexaggeratedly be compared to rape. 

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