Alcohol, for me, is an indulgence most often enjoyed in the context of travel. In Mexico, siesta and margaritas go hand-in-hand. Bermuda introduced me to the gingery delights of a Dark n’ Stormy. And, in Scotland, I discovered the soul-soothing effects of a wee dram of whisky.
But overall, I’m a light drinker without much of a history with hooch. That’s not the case with the women writers behind a new anthology “Drinking Diaries: Women Serve Their Stories Straight Up ” a collection of essays written and edited by ladies who drink: Some merrily. Others, not so much.
I caught up with Caren Osten Gerszberg, co-editor of the book and co-founder of a blog by the same name, in Switzerland recently to talk to her about the book and the role that travel and drinking play in her life.
Of all the places you’ve traveled, who are the heaviest and the lightest drinkers?
The Brazilians love to party. I’m not sure if it has to do with the consumption of those potent, simultaneously sweet and tart Caipirinhas—touted everywhere as the Brazilian national cocktail—but after a couple, I had no trouble dancing the samba late into the night. The least heavy would probably be Israel. Israelis are not exactly known for their drinking prowess.
Was there a country where you didn’t like the alcohol choices?
Although I’m always intrigued by locally-made libations, I can’t say I was wild about the rakia I tried in Croatia. The homemade stuff—and it seems that everyone there makes it—can be as high in alcohol content as 60% and that’s a bit intense for me. But they make rakia with fruit—rose petals, sage, lemons, olives—basically anything that grows. I love the creative ingredients, but the drink as a whole, not so much.
What’s your favorite country to drink in?
While France first comes to mind, I’d have to say that Italy offers me a more diverse selection of drinks I like. An evening that begins with a glass of Prosecco, a Campari and soda, or a Negroni is bound to be a good one. I enjoy Italian wine, and then of course, what is better than a true Italian-made cappuccino?
If you’re a non-drinker, where’s the worst place to visit?
That’s a tough one. I can’t think of a place that I’ve been to where alcohol is not rooted in the culture—from Ouzo in Greece to Arak in Jordan. By the same token, many countries serve delicious, alcohol-free drinks with locally grown fruits. It’s easy to get hooked on passion-fruit smoothies in Thailand and on Chicha Morada (made with purple corn, fruit, cinnamon and cloves) in Peru.
Is there a travel story in your book, Drinking Diaries?
There is a wonderful essay in our book, “Veni, Vidi, Bibi (I Came, I Saw, I Drank”), which is essentially the writer’s quest to find information about an Italian peasant woman whose image adorns the bottle of a liquor called Amaro Lucano and who may be the author’s ancestor. The writer, Helene Stapinski, travels back to her family’s southern Italian town of Pisticci, to get answers. The way she describes her encounters with the locals—all of whom attempt to serve her Amaro Lucano—is very colorful.
How do traveling and drinking connect for you?
Because my mother and father, from France and Romania respectively, loved to travel and drink, they are both fairly connected for me since I traveled with them a lot while growing up and into adulthood. I rarely drink hard alcohol, but feel that like any local product, drinks, cocktails, moonshine—whatever it is—is often part of a country’s texture, and thus I’m game to try just about anything.
On a trip to Italy with my husband, a restaurant owner in Cortona placed a bottle of green booze on our and the surrounding tables and insisted that everyone guess the contents. We drank and guessed, and drank some more. It turned out to be a homemade basil concoction, but what remains memorable for me is how proud he was that his customers were enjoying the fruits, or herbs, of his labor. When I traveled to Romania after my father passed away and was offered a glass of slivovitz (plum brandy), which my dad drank often. I had to take a sip, and make a toast to him. I’d have to say that drinking and eating are both a big part of my travel adventures.
Caren Osten Gerszberg writes about travel, education and women’s issues for a variety of publications. She also posts regularly on her travel blog, Embark and blogs regularly for The Huffington Post and Psychology Today.