It began with champagne, as good things and disasters often do. Laurent-Perrier rose’, to be precise, served in elegant flutes with some canapes. The champagne was followed by a glass - was it two? - of white Hermitage, among the fine but largely neglected white wines of the Rhone Valley. By then the guests were at table, eating oysters en croute and pursuing the philosophical vagaries of real estate and politics. Tomorrow did not exist.
Next came a glass of red Hermitage, full-bodied and quite elegant with the lamb. The gracious host produced an unusual red wine from Provence, with character and finesse, that carried them on an even keel through the salad course. The hostess then served an elegant gateau de pommes with a coulis of apple and calvados, the famous apple brandy of Normandy. “It’s nice to drink a little calvados with the dessert,” she added, and indeed it was. It seemed even nicer to drink a lot of it.
I lived nearby and so didn’t have to climb behind the wheel of a car. I simply toddled down the hill, assisted by gravity, glowing like a uranium rod. Sleep was instant and deep and lasted longer than it should have. I awoke, if that’s the right word, inside the belly of a rhinoceros.
The hangover lasted a full day, during which time I did absolutely nothing, receiving sympathy from some people but not from my wife. Only once did I glance in the mirror and told the thing I saw there: “Never again.”
Hangovers seldom get discussed, maybe because they were once considered a fact of life, or evidence of bravado, but are now no longer politically correct. The new moderation lays shame on over-indulgence, but despite this a hangover is still occasionally visited upon even the circumspect drinker.
The old saw is it’s cured with “the hair of the dog.” Guinness stout’s sometimes cited as the ideal combination of alcohol and nutrients to jump-start another day, but stout requires a strong stomach. Some get an instant hangover, usually from red wine, and consider themselves allergic to histamines. I knew two women, one a food writer and he other a movie producer, who were plagued by headaches after only a few sips of wine until they began taking half a Benadryl tablet beforehand. One of them no longer drinks alcohol in any form, and the other drinks sparingly. But the antihistamine was, in their words, near-miraculous.
I’m not recommending it with alcohol, just passing along some folk wisdom. On the surface, hangovers seem utterly non-productive, but they have their existential proponents. The novelist and poet Jim Harrison, has written of the sharpness of detail in a world observed by the hung-over and of its inspired paranoia that sometimes leads to creation of fabulous characters.
Hemingway must have learned early how to deal simultaneously with hangovers and writing, considering how much he drank (and wrote). And in his journals, which are full of over-drinking, James Boswell admitted, “My intemperance was severely punished… I lay till near two o’clock, when I grew easier, and comforted myself by resolving vigorously to be attentively sober for the future.”
Some things never change. Noah, the first vintner, made his first vintage and, according to the King James version of the Bible, “drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent." In other words, he passed out naked. Ham saw him - not a nice thing to do in those days, apparently - so Noah cursed Ham’s son and all his offspring.
Some people say many of the world’s insoluble problems can be traced to that first morning after.