My relationship with alcohol is an intimate one, for it has known the wide expanses and boundaries of both my elation and sorrow, my rage and contentment, my moments of utter spiritual peace and my paradoxical comfort with chaos. And while there is no question that I could live out the rest of my days without alcohol if I had to, it certainly would never be a self-imposed denial—after all, despite all the lunacy I spew on this blog, I am far saner than I appear. That quiet sanity is a quality recognized only by 1) those who really know me and 2) alcohol. It knows that a dry, dirty martini will drastically improve an hour spent in my library on a Friday, listening to Nina Simone on the turntable. It knows that a bottle of Champagne will make the hunk of truffle-speckled pecorino taste infinitely better. It knows that mastering the art of a perfectly roasted Christmas Eve pig requires the assistance of aged Cuban rum, served neat with a wedge of lime. And it definitely knows that a well-crafted Belgian Trappist ale is medicine for a damaged soul, wounds helped to heal by monks, leaving scars that only serve to make us more beautiful.
Lawrence Osborne is no stranger to this intimacy—an intimacy that is controversial by nature, particularly to those who do not drink. To the dry, alcohol is the addiction…alcohol is the heathen…alcohol is the incivility…alcohol is the portal that leads away from what is righteous. To the dry, those who are wet are to be either pitied, loathed or condemned…usually. But if you pull the veil back, as Osborne has, you also see that oftentimes, those that are dry quietly envy the wet, secretly are the wet, or (as it should be) just don’t give a shit as long as it doesn’t affect them. The Wet and The Dry – A Drinker’s Journey is a visceral removal of veils for those who sit on both sides of the wine glass, and its brutal sincerity, while leaving bruises no doubt, is utterly necessary in exposing the soft underbellies of those who drink and those who don’t.
Drinking your way through the Islamic world is a psychological recalibration of sorts, not only for Osborne, but for the Muslims he encounters along the way. Lest anyone think that drinking has disappeared from the Middle East, it has not…not even in Saudi Arabia, with its reports of deaths due to perfume bingeing for lack of a decent gin and tonic. Osborne’s journey begins in Lebanon, a country where religions find themselves on shifting grounds. Vineyards planted by Christians lay perched against mountains whose valleys serve as Hezbollah territory, where sermons are delivered over loudspeakers that can be heard at the ruins of the Temple of Bacchus, where Dionysianism once served as the popular religion. Beirut, a city half Muslim, bustles with bars. A winery run by a member of the Druze (a sect of Shiites who are permitted to drink) exists in constant threat of shutdown. All this, the beauty and sadness of a land where the future’s uncertainty serves as inspiration for both the elixirs and the hatred of them.
From there, his travels take him into the depths of Dubai (a city Osborne described as soulless and hypocritical, created solely to please the west with its concession to alcohol, and yet somehow still looking at drinking westerners with disdain), Oman (where a voracious hunt for a bottle of Champagne on New Year’s Eve left him celebrating with a glass of fruit juice), Pakistan (a country of irony where distillers are making vodka and whisky that is mostly consumed by Muslims who buy it on the black market from non-Muslims), Thailand (dangerously close to the Malaysian border, where the freedoms celebrated in a Buddhist country are served up in excess to those that dare taste those freedoms while a Muslim insurgency keeps watch) and finally Turkey (the only Muslim country that is secular…and that is wet…which he now calls home). At times he is met with hostility, at other times he is met with sermons, and may times he is met with a quiet, subtle indication as to where he might find the watering hole he is intent on patronizing. But what he is repeatedly met with throughout the book, regardless of the soil beneath his feet, is his own humility…his own addictions…his own ghosts. He flips through the pages of a life spent drinking, dog-earing moments both beloved and reviled, with an honesty so raw it burned me to read it. But as most of us know, wherever you go, there you are:
“There is is something life-affirming about peeling back the foil cap of a champagne bottle and prying open the wires…I had come to love my 6:10 drink more than anything in the inanimate world. I enjoyed it more here than I did elsewhere precisely because here its enigma was more fragile, more lucidly despised and feared…For in the end alcohol is merely us, a materialization of our own nature. To repress it is to repress something that we know about ourselves but cannot celebrate or even accept.”