A Frenchwoman discovers cocktails

7 Sep

Comtesse Madeleine de Bryas (left), with Forough Heknat and Mildred Couper

As soon as the last guest arrived the butler came in with glasses on a tray, which he presented to each one of us.

“What is this, Monsieur Tardieu?”

“Why, Madame, don’t you know this American custom which assures the success of any dinner-party?”

I tasted it and understood that I had just made the acquaintance of the cocktail.

“Do you mean to say that this is considered a good drink? Frankly, I cannot understand its world-wide reputation.” Then looking at my sister, I saw her face betrayed no enthusiasm, either.

“Wait, Madame, and you will tell me later what you really think about it,” said Monsieur Tardieu, with a knowing look.

We then passed to the dining-room, and an intense feeling of happiness, mingled with an indifference to what I said or did, gradually grew upon me, and all the other guests were evidently equally well disposed toward the world. The conversation was animated, in fact, very brilliant, and when Monsieur Tardieu, next to whom I was seated, asked: “Now what do you think about the cocktail?” I felt more inclined to get up and dance than to give him a serious answer.

“The taste is certainly not nice, although I shall soon become accustomed to it, I am sure, but the effect is unmistakeable! Life has never seemed to me more engaging and enjoyable.”

My neighbor on the other side then asked:

“Do you know that Washington is a dry city and that for many months now we haven’t been able to get any wine or liquor? We are living on old stock, and when that gives out, we’ll have no more cocktails to offer our guests.”

“Is there any way of getting over that?” asked my sister, with mischievous intent.

One can always break any law, you know, and if you want a suggestion, I can give you a fairly good one.”

“Then we are listening with both our ears!” exclaimed my sister and I together.

“You have perhaps already been told that alcohol is particularly recommended for snake bite. You can therefore easily imagine how popular snakes have become in the dry states, where liquor is forbidden except on a medical prescription. Many people are now in search of the snake, which has become a fashionable pet. I was told the other day that here in Washington an indignant teetotaller went to the director of the zoo and asked him if he had a serpent for hire.

“‘I can’t oblige you, sir, I’m sorry to say, as the serpent we let out on hire is still engaged for ten days!’”

— Comtesse Madeleine de Bryas and Jacqueline de Bryas, A Frenchwoman’s Impressions of America (New York: Century, 1920), pp. 42-3.

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