Cider Quest

I have never liked beer. To me it always seemed like a giant bait and switch scam. When I was a kid, I saw all these TV commercials that told me how awesome and delicious beer was. When I was 12 some of my cousins sneaked some from the keg at my Uncle Mel’s place and we found a corner away from the adults to try it. It tasted like boiled socks. What the hell? Where was the refreshment? Why did adults drink so much of this swill? Since then I’ve tried dozens of different beers of all sorts in countries around the world. I’ve found a few I can abide but Belgian lambics are the only ones I can say I actually like and that’s because they don’t taste much like beer. No, beer isn’t for me. I later discovered hard cider, however, and that became my brew of choice.

About 11 years ago I was home in Massachusetts for Xmas. I think it was the first time I brought Nicole east to see my old stomping grounds. We were out getting some libations for the holiday and I saw something I’d never encountered before: a mulled hard cider. It was a seasonal special, I think by Cider Jack. I got a six pack and drank it all in a couple of days. It was delicious, and the mulling spices added a lovely flavor to the cider. I said to Nik, “We’ll have to get some of that when we’re back in Seattle.”

The problem was it never made it Seattle. I don’t know if that was a regional test that didn’t sell well or what, but in fact I never found that mulled cider again. And oh, I have looked. For over a decade I have haunted liquor stores and specialty shops, scanning the ciders from brewers big and small. I never found anything close. The only things I searched for that long were the Witch Hunt RPG and the “Kill by Remote Control” album by Toxic Reasons, both of which I eventually tracked down.

The other night Nicole and I went to a cider tasting at Full Throttle Bottles in Georgetown. We tasted six ciders. Five of them were made here in Washington. The sixth was Scrumpy Jack, which I’ve had in England but isn’t sold in the US. The woman running the tasting wanted to contrast a mainstream English cider with the local varieties. The tasting was fun and we got to try some different ciders. As we were browsing the store, it occurred to me to ask her about mulled cider. She seemed to know her business after all. So I told her my story and she said without missing a beat, “Try J.K.’s Solstice Hard Cider.” I found it in the case (it’s made by J.K. Scrumpy) and picked up a bottle to take home.

I am drinking said cider right now and it’s delicious. It’s the closest thing I’ve had to that mythical mulled cider of over a decade ago. It’s spiced with cinnamon, vanilla, and maple syrup that enhance the apple taste and give it a very full flavor. The label has snow flakes which makes me wonder if it’s also a seasonal variety. I think the only safe thing to do is go back to Full Throttle Bottles and stock up for the winter!

Pramas and the Olympians

In my “free” time I’ve been boning up on my ancient Greek mythology. I had an idea for a skirmish miniatures game set in the Age of Heroes. The idea is that the captain of your warband is a hero like Achilles or Perseus. You play a series of battles with other heroes and monsters and try to win enough glory to become a demigod like Heracles. Not sure I’ll do anything with the idea, but it’s simmering on the back burner.

In my research I ran across a reference to some novels by Gene Wolfe set an ancient Greece. I’m reading the first one, Soldier of the Mist, right now. It’s about a Roman mercenary named Latro who fought for the Persians during their invasion of Greece. He receives a head wound which causes the loss of his short term memory. By the morning he forgets the events of the previous day. He thus keeps a journal and that supposedly provides the text of the novel. The premise is reminiscent of the movie Memento, but the book came out long before the film (1986).

I’m about halfway through and enjoying the book quite a bit. Due to his head wound, Latro can see the spiritual world that lies hidden from most mortals, so he has many encounters with gods and spirits. Wolfe evokes the beliefs and superstitions of the ancient Greeks vividly and I’d recommend it to gamers looking for a good portrayal of day to day polytheism. He stresses the idea that gods are strange beings and hard to understand. Their actions may help you, but showing mercy to mortals is an alien idea to them.

My only complaint is that Wolfe chose to use the literal translations of all the place names in ancient Greece. This is certainly evocative and reads well, and it would not bother someone who doesn’t know much about the history of the period. I have read a fair bit about the Persian invasion of Greece, however, and the naming conventions are throwing me. I had to figure out that the “Rope Makers” are Spartans and “Thought” is Athens, for example. I was overjoyed to discover a glossary in the back, but it was no help in that regard. It would have been nice if at least the glossary clued you in on the more common names. Overall though, this is good stuff and I look forward to finishing it and moving on to the sequel, Soldier of Arete. You can get both in one trade paperback called Latro in the Mist.

A Story for Veterans Day

My middle name is William, which is my father’s name. He was named after his uncle, a Greek immigrant who fought in the American army in World War 1. When I was home a couple of years ago, my dad showed me a folder of paperwork regarding my great uncle. There was very little family lore about him because he died young on the Western Front. My father said he always wanted to know more, particularly how he died. In the folder I found his unit information and his date of death. I said I’d take to the internet and see what I could find out. My dad scoffed (to say he’s not Mr. Computer is an understatement). “What are you going to find there?” he asked.

My great uncle William had been a private first class in the 3rd Infantry Division. He died on July 15, 1918. Finding out what happened to him was not too difficult as it turned out. July 15 was the first day the Second Battle of the Marne, which was Germany’s last major offensive of the war. The 3rd Division, including William’s 38th Regiment, was posted on the Marne River and here the Germans tried to break through to finally capture Paris. The units on either side of the 3rd Division fell back under the assault of German stormtroopers. The 3rd’s commander, Major General Joseph Dickman, said to his French allies, “Nous resterons la.” “We shall remain here.” The 3rd held the line and earned a name they still bear to this day: the Rock of the Marne Division.

That was the action and the day my great uncle was killed. I also discovered where he’s buried: the Oise-Marne American Cemetery, Plot B, Row 25, Grave 33. No one from my family has ever visited his grave. Included in that folder were letters from the government offering his mother a free trip to France to do so. Apparently in the 1920s this offer was made to the mothers of soldiers who died in the war. She was too grief stricken to take the trip and the letters went unanswered.

So I printed out what I had found online and brought it down to show my dad. He was impressed with what I had been able to dig up in just an hour. “See,” I said, “the internet is good for something.” I was glad my dad could finally find something out about his uncle and how he died. He had been wondering his whole life, but the family didn’t like to talk about PFC Pramas. Too much pain I guess and I can understand that. I’ve since tracked down a history of the 3rd Division in WW1, published by the unit in Germany in 1919. I’m trying to learn more about where William’s company was on that fateful day. Some day I’d also like to visit his grave. I feel that someone from my family should, since over 90 years have passed since his death.

I think of my great uncle when I see the anti-immigration bigots wrapping themselves in the American flag. William was a recent immigrant to the United States. He likely spoke little English and army life couldn’t have been easy for him. But he joined up and he gave his life, as did many immigrants before him and as have many since. His willingness to do so did not diminish America, it enhanced it because we are fundamentally a nation of immigrants. Lets remember that this Veterans Day.