Life after death?

The French left goes back to school

In the Guardian this past weekend, John Dugdale wrote about the rentrée littéraire, the "collective insanity" that grips the French publishing industry in late summer and early autumn each year. In the course of just a few weeks, more than 600 novels will be published in France. (Dugdale suggests there's a similar phenomenon here in the UK. Certainly, the NS Books desk is groaning under the weight of more novels than we'd ever be able, or willing, to review. But I don't imagine for a minute the volume of new titles here comes anywhere close to the deluge en outre-Manche.)

Another fixture of the late-summer season in France are the universités d'été, or summer schools, held by the major political parties (not to mention the less populous groupuscules on both left and right), which announce the rentrée politique. The Parti Socialiste (PS) holds its summer school this weekend in La Rochelle, and it promises to be rather lively.

The PS has spent most of the summer in an agony of recrimination and self-examination following its mediocre showing in the European elections in June (sound familiar?). And some of its erstwhile supporters, notably Bernard-Henri Lévy, have gone as far as to pronounce a death sentence on the party. (Though for a magisterial dismissal of this view see this interview with the political philosopher Marcel Gauchet.) But there are signs of life: in Marseilles this past weekend, the Socialist MEP Vincent Peillon, himself a philosopher in a previous life, gathered an impressive array of figures from across the centre left, including the veteran of the barricades and Green MEP Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the former leader of the French Communist Party Robert Hue, and a representative of the new centrist agglomeration, MoDem. They were all there attempting to answer the question: "A new progressive majority for France -- how and with whom?"

Predictably enough, the PS leadership was sceptical. And, further left, the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (the subject of this NS report by Andrew Hussey) showed that the sectarian habits of the ultra-gauche die hard, declaring that an alliance between the PS, the Greens and MoDem would mark the end of the "workers' movement" as we know it.

To keep up with developments on the French left, bookmark Arthur Goldhammer's invaluable English-language blog, French Politics.

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

Show Hide image

The Bloody Mary is dead: all hail the Bloody Caesar

This Canadian version of an old standard is a good substitute for dinner.

It is not anti-Catholic bias that makes me dislike the Bloody Mary, that lumpish combination of tomato juice and vodka named after a 16th-century English queen who, despite the immense reach of her royal powers, found burning Protestants alive the most effective display of majesty.

My prejudice is against its contents: the pulverised tomatoes that look like run-off from a Tudor torture chamber. A whole tomato is a source of joy and, occasionally, wonder (I remember learning that the Farsi for tomato is gojeh farangi, which translates literally as “foreign plum”) – and I am as fond of pizza as anyone. Most accessories to the Bloody Mary are fine with me: Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, celery, black pepper, even sherry or oysters. But generally I share the curmudgeon Bernard DeVoto’s mistrust of fruit juice in my spirits: “all pestilential, all gangrenous, all vile” was the great man’s verdict. His main objection was sweetness but I will include the admittedly savoury tomato in my ban. At the cocktail hour, I have been known to crave all kinds of odd concoctions but none has included pulp.

To many, the whole point of a Bloody Mary is that you don’t wait until the cocktail hour. This seems to entail a certain shying away from unpleasant realities. I know perfectly well the reaction I would get if I were to ask for a grilled tomato and a chilled Martini at brunch: my friends would start likening me to F Scott Fitzgerald and they wouldn’t be referring to my writing talent. Despite its remarkably similar contents, a Bloody Mary is a perfectly acceptable midday, middle-class beverage. If the original Mary were here to witness such hypocrisy, she would surely tut and reach for her firelighters.

Yet, like the good Catholic I certainly am not, I must confess, for I have seen the error of my ways. In July, on Vancouver Island, I tried a Bloody Caesar – Canada’s spirited response to England’s favourite breakfast tipple (“I’ll see your Tudor queen, you bunch of retrograde royalists, and raise you a Roman emperor”). The main difference is a weird yet oddly palatable concoction called Clamato: tomato juice thinned and refined by clam juice. Replace your standard slop with this stuff, which has all the tang of tomato yet flows like a veritable Niagara, and you will have a drink far stranger yet more delicious than the traditional version.

Apparently, the Caesar was invented by an Italian restaurateur in Calgary, Alberta, who wanted a liquid version of his favourite dish from the old country: spaghetti alle vongole in rosso (clam and tomato spaghetti). He got it – and, more importantly, the rest of us got something we can drink not at breakfast but instead of dinner. Find a really interesting garnish – pickled bull kelp or spicy pickled celery, say – and you can even claim to have eaten your greens.

I’m sure that dedicated fans of the Bloody Mary will consider this entire column heretical, which seems appropriate: that’s the side I was born on, being Jewish, and I like to hope I wouldn’t switch even under extreme forms of persuasion. But this cocktail is in any case a broad church: few cocktails come in so many different incarnations.

The original was invented, according to him, by Fernand Petiot, who was a French barman in New York during Prohibition (and so must have known a thing or two about hypocrisy). It includes lemon juice and a “layer” of Worcestershire sauce and the tomato juice is strained; it may also actually have been named after a barmaid.

All of which proves only that dogma has no place at the bar. Variety is the spice of life, which makes it ironic that the world’s spiciest cocktail bestows a frivolous immortality on a woman who believed all choice to be the work of the devil.

Next week John Burnside on nature

Nina Caplan is the 2014 Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year and 2014 Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year for her columns on drink in the New Statesman. She tweets as @NinaCaplan.

This article first appeared in the 08 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin vs Isis