Louis Paul lifts a little glass slipper filled with his potent concoction to the opulent wench in the pumpkin coach.
2 PARTS LIQUEUR CESORIAC
1 PART VERMOUTH (Italian Cinzano)
1 PART CHERRY JUICE
3 LIMES (to each pint)
SLATHERS OF ICE (or you will go home in a basket).
–from So Red the Nose
Oh cesoriac. This forgotten midcentury liqueur may be less popular today, but that makes it no less delicious.
J/K. I have no freaking clue what cesoriac is, and neither does my best pal Google. I searched through all corners of the internet, and, not only did I find no alcoholic beverage called cesoriac, the word itself doesn’t seem to exist in any language.
But far be it from me to let an 80-year-old typo get in the way of my quest for thematic imbibing. I turned to the wonderfully over-educated Ask Metafilter, and they came up with some very thoughtful suggestions (if no clear consensus) as to what cesoriac is/was, the most popular being it was a creative spelling of sazerac. An appealing possibility, but one I decided not to go with it for a couple of reasons.
First, although — believe it or not — pre-made sazerac cocktails were being sold by the bottle as early as 1933, I kind of doubt Paul included another cocktail within his cocktail, especially since SRTN says he wasn’t a fan of cocktails to begin with.
A more likely option is he was referring to the brandy for which the mixed drink was named, Sazerac de Forge et Fils Cognac, which, unfortunately, no longer exists. The Sazerac Company — named for the drink and in business since 1850 — also markets a plethora of liqueurs, most of which, however, seem to be of more modern origin.
Instead, I went with the one suggestion of an actual liqueur: Sambuca dei Cesari. This Italian anise-based concoction tastes exactly like absinthe, times two.
The other alcoholic part of The Pumpkin Coach was much easier to find, even if it’s not really my favorite. Cinzano Rosso (Italian = sweet, red vermouth) is one of the cheaper vermouths out there, and, boy, it sure tastes like it. Cinzano is sort of sickly sweet and artificial. I’m not sure how much it has changed since Paul’s day, but I’m grateful most of his cohort preferred Noilly Prat.
However, Cinzano gets the job done when it’s mixed with other strong flavors. And, whether it was what Paul originally intended or not, my version of The Pumpkin Coach was excellent. Flavor-wise, it’s similar to the last one actually, with cherry replacing pomegranate as the sweetener. The relatively large amount of juice both tones down and plays off the absinthe in interesting ways. It’s kind of like an absinthe-cherry-limeade, and I mean that in the best possible sense.
In fact, this just might be my favorite drink so far, and not just because I had to invest so much brain energy into it. And Pumpkin Coach the drink is a pretty good consolation prize from Paul since the book, well…
In the indefinite moment before the referee could grasp for his wrist the events of these two tremendous years seemed unhurriedly to pass through his brain.
–From The Pumpkin Coach (emphasis on “unhurriedly”)
Ah, another blind read: no Amazon book description, next to no information on the author’s Wikipedia page. This one didn’t even have a measly dust jacket description. I assumed from the title it would be some sort of rags to riches story, but I certainly didn’t expect it to be a polemic on racism against immigrants from American Samoa.*
Actually, I can’t really say this book is about racism. It’s certainly a topic that comes up, and the author seems to be against it and all, but it’s not the point of the story. I’m still not exactly sure what the point of the story is, as it moves all over the place, and not quickly either.
The Pumpkin Coach starts with our hero, Uan Koé — anglicized to John –, beating another man to a pulp in the boxing ring, which I guess is the 1930’s version of marrying into royalty. After his mighty victory, John has a flashback to how it all started, with that flashback taking up the next 400 pages. Boxing is barely mentioned again.
So if this story isn’t John’s road to boxing, what kind of journey is it? Well, it’s a literal one, I guess. John’s boat from the islands arrives in San Francisco in the first chapter and by the last, he’s in New York City. In the pages in between, he befriends a wide group of the most insufferable bloviators this fine country has to offer. Paul neglects a plot in favor of long pages of dialogue he believes to represent philosophical enlightenment and charming banter (spoiler alert: It doesn’t.).
And our main character is hardly any better. The one review I could find of the novel calls him “naïve,” which is apparently a nice way of saying “dull,” “aimless,” “way too easily impressed,” or, more generously, “inconsistently written.” Paul might have been on the right side of history in regards to racial prejudice, but he certainly didn’t create any depth in his POC main character, cultural or otherwise.
Forgotten Classic or Better Left in the Past?
This book…guys, this book broke me. When I look back on this project, I’ll think of this as the one that nearly did the whole thing in.
I don’t even know if I can say it was badly written (although Paul sometimes has an…odd…way of using adjectives that suggests English wasn’t his first language). A lot of the narrative is written in (very abrupt) stream of consciousness, which is not exactly my favorite style anyway. And it is definitely part of that leisurely-paced, old school literary tradition which lets descriptions go on for pages or dialogue exist for its own sake, kind of like Anthony Adverse. Only, you know. Not good.
And, yes, several of these books so far have been a little on the slow side for my 21st-century, three-screens-at-a-time brain, but The Pumpkin Coach was just painful: painfully tedious, painfully rambling, and painfully uninteresting.
*I never expect a polemic on racism against immigrants from American Samoa.
The Pumpkin Coach is mercifully out of print, but available in used form on Amazon if you want to satisfy your morbid curiosity.
Next time: Hot toddy season is upon us!