Thank You, Goodbye, and Cheers
Here’s to what’s been a hell of a year, and though it will always have been a hell of the year toward the end of any year, in many respects—political, global, and personal—this has been a hell of a hell of a year.
“Where shall I begin?” and “Shall I talk about it?” one may sardonically ask. And those of us who have lived enough and suffered enough know enough precisely not to ask. It’s wiser to be silent, and to look instead at life’s brief saving graces, the roses under our noses that we often neglect to smell, the small moments and victories we often forget to celebrate.
One of those moments that have almost regrettably passed us by is a celebration in and of itself: 2019 marks the 100th anniversary of the Negroni, a cocktail that has not only outlived many other libations, but even enjoyed a robust resurgence in Manila’s bars and living rooms.
Perhaps because the Negroni is so easy to make. At its most basic rendition, it is made of three things exactly, and in equal quantities: Campari, sweet vermouth, and gin, each ingredient easily found today in any decently stocked grocery or liquor store.
Bartenders like to throw in one of a number of touches, from the basic citrus slice or peel to a cinnamon stick given a once- or twice-over with a blowtorch. More brazen and, sadly, well-intentioned ones will add a curveball in the form of a splash of sake, tequila, coffee or tea.
But at its most fundamental, the Negroni is something a clumsy five-year old child—or a very drunk fifty-year old man—can quickly put together.
As with most old and great things—religions, nations, and the light bulb come to mind—the Negroni is the result of an evolutionary process. In 1919, a certain Count Camillo Negroni was said to have asked for a variation on the Americano, a cocktail made of Campari, sweet vermouth and soda water, so named because American tourists liked to order it.
Like any normal count beset by the various problems of counthood (counting various things, one imagines), he requested his bartender to make the cocktail stronger by substituting gin for soda, and in the process established his name for posterity.
In short, that’s all said Count Negroni is remembered for. If he only knew how easy it still is, one hundred years later, for people to become famous for doing only one thing.
But if anything, that simply underscores the idea that the better things in life are fast and fleeting. If the year just quickly slipping by should have taught us something, let it be that bittersweet fact—things come and go, and we must choose what we wish to hold on to, if only briefly. We must teach ourselves to enjoy them while they last: small victories quickly superseded by doubt and defeat, good moments overtaken by grim daytime realities, and people we dearly loved taken, suddenly, or inevitably, by death or some other form of departure.
If it all sounds a bit too vague and abstract for your taste, then have something more sure and consistent, like a beer or an alcopop. But note that this space between Christmas and New Year is what the end of the year is for: for not needing to know what day it is, or even the time of day; for not having to dwell on specific causes and consequences of particular things that happened; for saying, vaguely, or even unsurely, goodbye, or good riddance.
Well of course there’s a Negroni at hand as I write this, presently and for the duration of this wordy article, the fat bright rocks glasses wordlessly lined up one after another by a waitress whose name I know and who knows mine. And though I’m far from being a hardcore regular in this venue, we follow each other’s Instagram accounts and give each other a tight hug and exchange reassuring small talk whenever I show up.
Right now, at the end of another year, that’s about all I can handle in the world of people and things, and the soft red cocktail within the radius of my reach is the only present and physical thing at the moment. This is what drinking is about for me—something that keeps one occupied while one’s mind is occupied, something that smoothens exactitudes into a homogenous-enough swirl of emotions and impressions.
This, too, is what a Negroni is, after all. Forget the old cocktail rule of just having one at the beginning and possibly another at the end of the night; forget what kind of garnish or embellishment they put in it, and forget which brand of gin or vermouth they used: at some point in the evening, there is no good Negroni or bad Negroni. There is just the Negroni. It is what it is, the one familiar thing to help you easily forget, and to allow you to wistfully remember.
So she comes around again, to deftly trade a spent glass for a full one, a brief glance thrown across the distance meant maybe to console me for the care of the day, or thank me personally for my patronage. But really, my thoughts are elsewhere, or maybe nowhere, thanks to this Negroni, and the ones that came and went before it, all of them tasting the same: reliable, beautiful, bittersweet, for a hundred years now—and for the year just past, that felt like an inescapable century.
I lift the glass, heavy again, and am thankful for the familiar things we can cling to, to which in the end we return. Not exactly to where everything began, one hopes, but to where we can begin again.