The book: M Train by Patti Smith
If you feel drawn to cafes, Polaroid photos and off-track travel, then prepare to delve into the measured pace of Patti Smith – there will be moments of understated humour, unexpected adventures and meditative thought.
The drink: Del Maguey Vida
The first sip instantly warms, sending you straight into the heat of Mexico, but it does not burn. A surprisingly smooth sip with a complex earthy palate that hints of a fruity sweetness. It’s a pure mescal, hand-crafted in San Luis del Río, twice distilled in small wood-fired copper stills.
The setting: Find yourself an old armchair, ideally one with a past that lingers in its worn thread, and tells a story in a creak as you curl into its arms. Or wander the streets until you find yourself in a dim cafe with faded photos and quiet charm.
I felt a connection to this book, or at least a striving to connect, just as Patti Smith seems to strive to connect to the past. To me, it comes down to a longing to have the freedom, and the nerve, to spend days within one’s own head – to fade into obscure thought and come out clearer. The idea that these words brought – ‘No one knew where I was. No one was expecting me.’ – was intoxicating.
I had moments of looking out a window, contemplating words and life. Patti Smith seems to have lived a life of many dreams, some she
acts upon with passion, other’s she’s happy from them in exist in thoughts and words only. It reminded me that sometimes I can allow dreams to be dreams, without the pressure to start pulling them down into reality. As Smith reminisces on her husband’s words ‘Not all dreams need to be realised’. With these words I needed a sip of something strong. It was a difficult choice between these two: vodka, as Smith has in Berlin, with black coffee and caviar; or mescal, represented by empty bottles left behind by the cowpoke, and scattered with ‘neglect and love’ in her room.
I decided on mescal (also spelt mezcal) as I can see Smith appreciating the ‘artisan’ quality of the spirit. Made from agave, succulents native to Mexico and the southern United States, mescal is mainly distilled in family-owned back rooms, with traditional copper or earthen pots. Some more good news, agave is not a depressant.
I was a little nervous to try a mescal, I still get shivers thinking of past tequila shots. I passed that rite of passage in my teenage years and wasn’t tempted to re-live that burning experience. But, unlike the most-likely bulk exported cheap-arse tequila that made those memories, the mescals I tried are meant to be appreciated and sipped. If you like good tequila or whisky, you will enjoy mescal. If you’re not sure, I would recommend having a beer on hand that compliments the tastes, like Pacifico.
Del Maguey was started by artist, Ron Cooper, who has said “Many of us in the outer, modern world have lost our history and sense of tradition… it is a big hole in many people’s psyche…”. A sentiment that seems to be shared in ‘M Train’. Reading it brought about a nostalgia for history I haven’t felt before. As well as a longing for travel and culture, that doesn’t ever seem to go away. But reading ‘M Train’ and sipping some Del Maguey Vida helps.
Now all I need is some brown bread and olive oil.