Alibi V.23 No.52 • Dec 25-31, 2014 

A Drinkable Feast

Henry Miller’s Birthday

A day-after-Christmas celebration of a filthy provocateur

Henry Miller
Henry Miller
Raconteur, rabble-rouser and provocateur, Henry Miller turned 20th century fiction on its ear with 1934’s Tropic of Cancer—unless you lived in the UK or the US—both of which banned his seminal masterpiece as “obscene.” His body of work is ferociously, unapologetically sexual—smutty even—and deeply indulgent of both the basest joys and the most wanton depravity of the human condition.

But don’t let that fool you. It’s also a cornerstone to the lifelong moral code his work built, one that verges on being nihilistic while remaining deeply human. Miller’s work is the perfect facade of provocation that disguises its deeply empathetic, almost Buddha-esque ethos within. Miller’s thesis—that we are all human, and simply grist for the mill and as temporary as our ideas, our politics and our nationalistic narratives—made him the bane of governments and self-appointed ministers of so-called culture and decency. In the globally indecent post-WWI, pre-WWII era, Miller detailed the absurdity of increasingly rigid ideologies with a spate of books about wanton sex and drunkenness.

Beer: Marble’s Reserve Ale

Miller was praised by George Orwell as “a sort of Whitman among the corpses.” He excavated 20th-century America, pushing boundaries and destroying the 19th-century approach to the novel. Like him or hate him, his work stood in sharp relief to almost everything that had come before it, and that includes some of his own. So too is the case with Marble’s tremendous seasonal reserve ale. An American ale weighing in with the shock and awe ABV of 9.0 percent, Marble ages this ruby-hued, brown-sugary, mead-like beast in old bourbon barrels. The result is an oaky and complex brew that’s heady and as earthy as the moist soil atop a Kentucky Confederate’s grave. It’s sweet, smoky and bourbon-tastic, with a silky, syrupy mouthfeel. So get that medicine up in you, and leave those old boundaries behind.

Book: Miller’s Stand Still Like the Hummingbird

In the preface Miller says, “When you are convinced that all exits are blocked, either you take to believing in miracles or you stand still like the hummingbird. The miracle is that the honey is always right there, under your nose, only you were too busy searching elsewhere to realize it.” It’s stark, almost terrifying evidence of Miller’s beautifully whorish mind—one lousy with every indulgence and degradation available. If it’s self help, then it’s of a nihilistic kind. The loosely strung essays in Hummingbird all speak to his voracious mental appetites—art and politics in America and Europe and, above all, true freedom. He extols both the virtues of being “first of all human beings, different from one another, and obliged to live together,” alongside the passionate need for the true individualism of a Whitman, Thoreau or Kenneth Patchen. Nonfiction probably isn’t everyone’s bag of doughnuts, but Miller’s reads like a decadent, five-course meal sitting across from what you fear will be some pedantic bore, only to discover a ferociously bright and truly exciting companion. Miller never threatens to become pedantic, as none of the marrow gnawed from these bones is minor. It’s a kind of structural brick and mortar detailing Miller’s spiritual and astral plane—one that enriches the reading of his fiction.

Food: Europa Roaming Kitchen

As an expatriate living in Europe, Miller surely had occasion to be nostalgic for American fare. So too then is Europa a similar beast—all the comfort foods of home, only with continental flair. What the US calls a ham and cheese, Europa calls a croque-monsieur, or maybe a panini. Europa serves up a mean, build-your-own, panini-style sandwich, hot pressed on a crispy baguette. We took ham, swiss and caramelized onions and can recommend the combination without hesitation. Or maybe you prefer a hot dog? Europa serves up a German bratwurst sandwich instead. Slathered with sauerkraut and the horseradish bite of a sturdy mustard on a ciabatta bun. Order one and you’ll soon forget about 25-cent hot dog night at the ballpark. Throw in an order of their salt-and-peppery fries, and mon Dieu, you’ve got déjuener or dîner handled.

So sit to a few pints with Miller’s delightful and insightful essays, and trade in an evening of pub grub for Europa’s bistro-on-wheels. Do that, and you’ve got all you need to celebrate in that Left Bank, Bohemian style. The only things likely missing are an angst-filled cat named Henri, a man on a stolen bicycle, a woman under an umbrella with a single tear on her cheek ... maybe a dirty-faced boy with a red balloon, the echoes of a sad accordion and subtitled voice-over. Oh, and culture ... centuries and centuries of culture!