Of Whisky, Pastis, Wagers, and Age

If you’ve not yet heard of it, let me be the first to inform you on September 23 the world’s “official” oldest living twins, according to the 2011 Guinness Book of World Records, attained the age of ninety-eight. Welsh twins Ena Pugh and Lily Millward, born 4 January 1910, contradict this Guinness designation, but never mind that. The Guinness twins recommend drink as an aid to longevity. That rather seals it, for me.

Journalist Hunter S. Thompson is famously recalled for having said, “I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.” On the pivotal word “worked,” he doubtless poised something other than longevity. Thompson’s suicide made the point in the unequivocal manner by which he came to be known. He was not interested in living long under a mean dispensation, which may well strike you as silly or wicked, and so be it. As the ill, and perhaps terminally so, Christopher Hitchens has had recent occasion to observe, life is a wager. His own consort with drink and tobacco, the character of which he glosses by citing Pope’s “feast of reason and flow of soul,” may have been at his loss, in measure of years. But once again he has defied the convention, placing his bet on principle and with the minority.

I say this because we live in an age fearful of the canker in the sweetest bud, both large and small, real and imagined. Everything in our world has become dangerous or endangered. The same may be said of things beyond our world, the Sun for instance. Enter Raymonde and Lucienne Wattelade, our present subject, who are quite what we have come to expect of the French, those famous and habitual eaters of sausage and drinkers of spirits. (They reside in Saint-Georges-de-Didonne, in the southwestern Poitou-Charentes region of France from whence Canada’s Acadian population is extracted.) That brave herd is however thinning, as bottled water and public hand sanitizer dispensers proliferate, and as cities and provinces and states inch us forward toward a future of obligatory risk-free living. Absolute smoking bans in cars and parks have already arrived to Canadian cities, and I realized the game was over when Greece took to the cause. Wherever one looks, Government is determined to protect us from ourselves, as well as from others, and in ever larger measure. Perhaps this is why I find it satisfying that, prodded to spill the secret of their longevity as the superannuated always are, out has come pastis and whisky. And yes, some exercise and laughter also, but then the whisky and pastis.

Although the choice of pastis is transparent enough, being a commonplace hot weather thirst-quencher and a drink with historical association to the region, it brings to mind the spirit it replaced, absinthe. Among the family of drinks flavoured with anise, absinthe was considered dangerous and was outlawed (Kingsley Amis claimed the name absinthe is derived from the Greek term “undrinkable”), but has recently been revived. Thus, not only in the drinking itself but even in the choice of drink there is evocation of the French “devil-may-care” approach to living. In the case of these twins, the attitude has paid off. How fortunate for them, and how good for us, too.

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