“there Is Something About A Martini”

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The changed meaning of the martini as modernist ensign was part of the reason for its two-decade decline starting in the 1970s. Another was a new awareness of the toll alcohol could take. Like the car and the airplane, the flip side of the martini’s streamlined beauty was a seductive power that could turn destructive. Branded, justly or not, as a uniquely powerful drink, it was the first victim of Americans’ adopting a saner approach to drinking.

 

But even for an age that better understands the consequences of misuse, the martini remains a powerfully appealing icon: product and symbol of a time in America when “modern” meant something good —smart, sexy, and pulse-racing, technologically advanced, intelligently made, an example of Americans leading the world. Maybe that’s the reason for its recent comeback, now that the businessmen who gave it a bad name have switched to fizzy water and white wine. Detached after two decades from culturally embattled associations, it is ready to be seen as we see the best examples of literature and design of the period.

There’s also, in its elegance, sophistication, and sexiness, something appealingly adult . This resonates with the aspirations of a generation that seems to reject the sixties’ idealof youthful rebelliousness as a way of life, however campily expressed in the neococktail culture of the 1990s. (And in the new oversize martini glasses, which, like the ubiquitous neodiners, refract fifties American modernism through a pop/camp sensibility.) One imagines that after the exuberance of the cocktail’s rediscovery has moderated, blue-berry-hazelnut and chocolate martinis will go the way of the Pom Pom and Fluffy Ruffles, and the classic martini will reign once again in pristine perfection.

Because there’s something about the martini that invites return. Elegant, powerful, and beautiful, the martini is also pure . Its clear, glistening transparency seems to promise that transforming, renewing return to origins that we Americans are endlessly seeking.

The filmmaker Luis Bunuel, an eighth-degree martini master, understood this well: “Connoisseurs … suggest simply allowing a ray of sunlight to shine through a bottle of Noilly Prat before it hits the bottle of gin. At a certain period in America it was said that the making of a dry martini should resemble the Immaculate Conception, for, as Saint Thomas Aquinas once noted, the generative power of the Holy Ghost pierced the Virgin’s hymen ‘like a ray of sunlight through a window —leaving it unbroken.’”

Closer to home, Bernard DeVoto celebrated the same quality and probably best conveyed why it is that the martini, like all classics, will survive: “The goal is purification and that will begin after the first round has been poured, so I see no need for preliminary spiritual exercises. But it is best approached with a tranquil mind, lest the necessary speed become haste. Tranquillity ought normally to come with sight of the familiar bottles. If it doesn’t, feel free to hum some simple tune as you go about your preparations. … Do not whistle, for your companions are sinking into the quiet of expectation. And you need not sing, for presently there will be singing in your heart.”

A Martini Anthology