Prohibition drove many of the good bartenders out of America towards Europe, New Yorker Harry McElhone among them. He introduced us to the Boulevardier, my current wintertime favorite.
Most people just refer to it as a Negroni with bourbon instead of gin, but maybe that’s doing quite some injustice to this little known cocktail, as depending on what source you go by, it might predate the creation of the Negroni. Regardless of its origins, a Boulevardier for me combines all the right flavours for the cold winter, just as a Negroni is one of the perfect summer drinks.
The original recipe is quite straightforward, calling for equal measures of bourbon, Campari and sweet red vermouth, stirred in a glass over ice and served with an orange twist. I however prefer it with these ingredients, which may not be obvious to find I admit:
- Fill a whiskey tumbler with ice cubes
- Add 40ml rye whiskey (I use Willett Family Estate Bottled 4 Year Single Barrel Rye)
- Add 40ml Gran Classico Bitter
- Add 40ml Antica Formula
- Purely optional, but for an even stronger winter flavor you can add about 3/4ths of a bar spoon of Allspice or Pimento bitters (that’s 2 names for the same), giving hints of clove, nutmeg, cinnamon and anis to the Boulevardier. I personally use the Dale DeGroff’s Pimento Aromatic Bitters, but other brands exist.
- Stir for 20 seconds
- Cut an orange peel, making sure to get the oils onto the cocktail, and add the twist in the glass
Now it’s time to sit back, enjoy your Bouelvardier and watch the fire crackle…
Need something to read for those approaching winter evenings? Here’s my 2nd list of (mostly) Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books I read during 2013
It’s that time of the year again, winter hour is upon us, darkness comes early, the holidays are approaching fast, and the weather is turning cold, so like me, lots of people look for something to read in the evening by a crackling fire. So as is my habit by now, I thought I’d share with you my 2nd part of the list of books I’ve read in 2013, as you will see, it’s been a bit of a hit and miss batch for me. The first half of my book list you can read here.
- Making Money – Terry Pratchett (3/5) – The second outing of Moist von Lipwig, and for me rather unneeded. From the start it gives a strong “been there, done that” feeling, and is rather predictable all the way. It still gets 3/5 because of the writing, the characters and the jokes, but the story is a tired rehash of Going Postal, which in the end then, is the better of the 2 books.
- NOS-4R2 – Joe Hill (4/5) – Where as I still said “He manages to pack the same character development and mood his father is so known for in less pages” about his previous novel Horns, I guess he’s already turned over to the dark side with this one, clocking in around 700 pages, and not all needed in my opinion. The MacGuffin is a fun idea and the big bad is interesting, but the story could have been packed tighter, especially towards the 2nd half of the book. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but regularly kept thinking “get on with it” as it has a tendency to linger.
- The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman (5/5) – In my opinion his best book since American Gods, and you could easily imagine it taking place in that same universe & mythology. The best description I can give it is an autobiographical fairytale based on a small part of Neil Gaiman’s childhood if it, like I said, would have happened in the world of the Gods from American Gods.
- The Rapture of the Nerds – Cory Doctorow & Charles Stross (5/5) – It’s the end of the 21st century and most of humanity has abandoned their meaty confines and uploaded to a gigantic computer network floating in space, while the rest has stayed behind and now have to endure technology gone out of control. Between the humor the picture they paint of this post-singularity future is eerily grim and not altogether unrealistic. Must read if you’re at all interested in high-concept sci-fi while able to enjoy it being prodded fun at in the same time.
- The Fourth Wall – Walter Jon Williams (2/5) – The third novel in the Dagmar Shaw series, where awkwardly enough Dagmar has been made into a supporting character. That aside the novel is an amalgam of genres, a bit techno thriller, a bit noir, a bit of a whodunit, some social commentary and a bit of an action thriller. For me it didn’t really work, plus I just couldn’t get into the main character.
- Neptune’s Brood – Charles Stross (3/5) – A novel set in the same continuum as Saturn’s Children, so not a sequel by any means. This time the master of futurology tackles the implications of intergalactic travel on economy and the financial services needed to support such endeavors – and the possible scams that go with it. Even though I could still appreciate the thought that went into developing the concept it just didn’t do anything for me.
Anything you would recommend to me?
I wrote this short story a few weeks ago, and found out this week that H.P. Lovecraft, whose work was a great source of inspiration for it, had his birthday on the 20th of August. So in honor of a man whose work has brought me countless hours of entertainment, I’m publishing the story here on my blog.
* * *
It had taken him almost 15 years and the loss of 3 fingers, an eye and cost him the love of his wife and only child. No, scratch that, he hadn’t lost disjointed things or people, it had taken him the totality of his life to get hold of it. It had cost him everything he once had put great value to.
No, be careful, better not carelessly invoke any greater beings.
Inside the wilderness cabin he sat in darkness, except for the occasional luminescence from the dirty yellow moon when the clouds parted. The book, worn, crude and fist-thick, lay in front of him now, closed.
The full recollection of how he had started looking for the book was almost lost in time, above all, seemed irrelevant to him now.
Almost 15 years ago it had started with a bet, or something like it anyway. 15 years later and he couldn’t remember, but also couldn’t really care. To him it just seemed like a chance meeting with a stranger in a bar, resulting in an even stranger conversation lasting the better part of the night. He couldn’t even remember the face of the stranger. From then everything was blurred, or better, blotted out by the brightness of the one thought burning in his frontal lobe – the book. So in the morning he called in sick and started making plans. By the evening he had quit his job, and by the end of the week he had cashed out all his accounts and left an extremely short goodbye note for his wife and son – “I must go look for it, I can’t not…”
They never saw or heard from him again.
He had always soldiered on, living by the smallest of comforts to his soul, namely that if life held no regrets, it would be a worthless life.
And now his biggest regret lay on a rough wooden table in front of him.
It was about the thickness of a telephone directory and about half the width. A black stained and scratched leather cover, with an almost alien texture as if of a diseased lizard, gave the book an uneven look. In fact, the leather looked as if it was the result of some failed sewing experiment by Frankenstein, unpleasant to the eye, and equally sickening to the touch. For the rest nothing, no gilded title, no author, nothing.
He just couldn’t shake this feeling of regret.
Or was it anger?
And aren’t those often the same? Anger about being tricked. Anger about being unable to change what is happening to you. Anger about something that is irreversible but which you brought about yourself. Yeah, that’s regret. His regret.
The book had been the most elusive thing known to man. It had been the illustration in the dictionary next to the word ephemeral, here today, gone the same day. People had spent fortunes, even their sanity on trying to find it.
To look for it was meth to the addict. To find a clue, no matter how obscure, was oxygen for the drowning man. A word on a wall human eyes hadn’t seen in centuries had made him weep with pure joy. Finally deciphering the meaning of that word, and reading a name not spoken in ten centuries had been enough to make him forget a year of hardship. Using the name as coin with a gang of spoiled juvenile Satanists in St. Tropez to pay for the kidnapping of another spoiled brat had made him feel like a god.
It was exhilarating, the game to end all games. Daring, taxing, challenging.
Like in Southern France, where he had ceremonially dismembered a young child – the last in the bloodline of the real Savior – and cut out his small heart to find the mark engraved on the inside of his left ventricle. Or, in the swamps of Southern Louisiana, where he had voluntarily offered up his body to be ridden by the darkest of the Petro Loa. As a small mercy, the day after he didn’t remember anything he had done as vessel for these forces. Washing off the blood and avoiding reading any newspapers before he subsequently travelled to Peru were the easiest things he ever had to do to avoid dealing with the consequences of his acts.
So, regrets? Yeah, he had a few.
The comedown after the ultimate high was in equal proportion, even though he had succeeded. After all, the book lay in front of him. He had read it, devoured it, expected to be transformed and ascended to some kind of godhood. Life, death, the universe, mankind, gods and atoms. Even though everything made sense to him now, he had not risen to any greatness. Quite the contrary, the weight of all this knowledge had compacted him to the smallest, or better yet, most pathetic creature in existence.
Truth had not set him free.
He only knew that now that he had played the game, he himself had been played in equal part. Forces beyond any control had played him. The world wasn’t some placid island in the midst of black seas of infinity, it was a sand castle on the shores of whatever holiday resort these Great Old Ones vacationed at. And he was a sand flea, set free in the twisting corridors of that castle, goaded towards some goal known only to the child’s hand that manipulated everything to make his journey as entertaining as possible. Until the inevitable tides rolled in and the castle was swept away together with all the bugs in it.
Tomorrow however the kid would return and do it all again. And if not the same kid, some other kid. After all, they’re all the same; capricious, destructive, quick to anger and most dangerous of all, easily bored.
Either way, he was played out. His body frayed, his mind unraveled and his life destroyed. He imagined somewhere in a dark womb-like dimension something smiled with a lipless mouth and joyless eyes, feeling pleased with the fun afternoon it had had.
Fuck me, he had thought. He wasn’t going to wait for the sea to rush in and wash him away. Like some last stand, a last act of defiance, no matter how futile, he was going to climb the highest tower in the crumbling castle of sand, and throw himself off it.
At least he still had that power, and the barrel of a .38 was his tower.
So much regret, erased with such a simple gesture.
The door to the remote wilderness cabin is kicked open and a woman enters the single room. She stands outlined against the light of the dawn slowly crawling over the tops of the mountains. Dirty blond hair frames a face disfigured by a large scar crossing from her forehead, over her left eye down to her cheek. She cradles an arm ending in a hand from which the stumps of 3 fingers are moist with dark blood.
The pain and anguish instantly disappear from her face as she looks to the table. She couldn’t care any less about the fresh corpse in the chair, no, she finally won her prize.
-Thomas Verschueren (30th July 2013)
Some weeks ago Radio 1 ran a fiction competition, asking for entries of very short stories, consisting out of exactly 55 words excluding the title.
As you probably know, I enjoy writing immensely, so I entered the competion and even though I didn’t win anything, I still wanted to share what I wrote with you.
De laatste klant
Iedereen is verdwenen. Plots. Zomaar.
Vanuit mijn raam zie ik de stille stad oplossen tot een grijze waas.
Een stem weerklinkt.
Neen, de Machine, met een laatste automatische boodschap voor mijn virtuele wereld ontbindt, “Alle cryonische systemen ervaren onomkeerbare terminale problemen. Als trouwe klant danken we u.”
Ik probeer het hoofd koel te houden.
Loyal customers expect a loyal business in return
Customer loyalty is a 2-way street, did you know that? Maybe you think customers return to you time after time because you assume you have the best product range, but actually customer loyalty is a strange animal that often has less to do with the latest normal purchase but more with the unwritten promise, or expectation of what you’ll do in the future when the next purchase comes around.
Obviously customers return because they do like your products or services, but being a returning customer also creates the, often unspoken, expectation that when something goes wrong, or when you as a company have to make some kind of Solomon judgment about customer A or customer B, you’ll come through for the loyal customer…
This assumption or expectation is far from illogical, after all, I have given you my business and trust time after time. This loyalty needs to be reciprocated, this is not a deliberate or economical thing, this is just an emotional feeling of what is right. This can be as simple as being among the select few to receive an invitation to a private sale in your favorite shop, but it also matters when your 50th online delivery doesn’t arrive, or your go-to hotel has only suites left when you arrive and it turns out they accidentally overbooked all the standard rooms of which you reserved one.
In those cases, as a loyal customer you expect them to reciprocate your repeated trust by trusting you and doing the right thing by you and give you that last suite at the rate of your standard room, or by resending your order without fuss or extra costs, after all if the previous 49 deliveries went without trouble, you deserve that benefit of the doubt this time. When we consider ourselves to be loyal customers, nothing delivers a more negative experience than being treated as a liar, cheater, or just a walking, talking wallet good for nothing besides dispensing money. Nothing makes us drop brands or companies faster than coming to the realization that we don’t matter at all to them.
Do all your employees know who these loyal customers are?
The only question, if you care about going that extra mile for your loyal customers, do you know who they are? And in this case “you” means everybody in your business or company that has a customer facing job, from the shop attendants to the reception desk staff to the call center people…? And assuming and hoping you have more customers than everybody can memorize, do you have systems in place to make sure that everybody can easily find out or be warned that they are dealing with a loyal customer?
Trust as a business driver
As a business you can only establish trust by doing the right thing for, at the very least, your loyal customer. This in no way means that you need to be gullible or naïve, but just that all things being equal, cutting your loyal customer some slack or choosing him over a one-time customer makes a lot of economic sense. After all, in real life, we cannot simply assume the good intentions of all the people we deal with. We look for relationships we can trust, and so a preference for dealing repeatedly with people who have reputations to lose by ill-treating us seems far from irrational – in fact, it is the very basis on which almost all inter-personal dealings rest.
So there’s a moral lession in this to not only look at the economy of doing business but also to value the relationship aspect of doing business. And make sure that your internal Customer Engagement Management systems and processes allow the identification and acknowledgment of this relationship company or business wide.
Need something to read for the holidays? Here’s my list of (mostly) Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books I read during 2013
Summer is approaching, at least in theory, so maybe you’re thinking about what to pack to read besides the pool. And even if the weather remains this bad, then this can be a perfect help to decide what to read (or not) inside with a warm coco…
- Aloha From Hell – Richard Kadrey (3/5) – Don’t get me wrong, this is still great high-octane supernatural noir stuff, but maybe I’m not too keen on where the story has ended up. I won’t go into detail as this would spoil it for people who haven’t read it, or the previous book. It’s maybe a logical story progression, but I prefered the two-fisted supernatural crime stuff from the beginning of the series.
- The Dancers at the End of Time – Michael Moorcock (4/5) – Utterly weird, utterly charming. Older work of Mr. Moorcock I never got around to reading, and I’m glad I finally did. It’s still surprising how much more to the point writing from that era is compared to the tendency to draw out stuff nowadays. If you like Moorcock and, like me, never got around to reading this one, don’t hesitate. If you’re new to Moorcock, you still might want to start elsewhere.
- Dracula – Bram Stoker (3/5) – I guess after the previous book my appetite for older work was sharpened, and my eye fell on this book in my library. I’m not disappointed to have read it, after all it is one of the classics, but on the other hand, it aged poorly. Don’t get me wrong, and I’m not a macho, but every other page men standing around in small groups, bursting into tears, declaiming eternal friendship becomes a bit boring and above all hard to believe. I also doubt this was commonplace behavior in Victorian society. As for the character of Dracula, let’s just say that if you have seen a few vampire movies, you would have a hard time recognizing the romanticized bloodsucker in this book. He’s noticeable through his absence, which makes him more akin to a cardboard villain.
- 11.22.69 – Stephen Kind (5/5) – I thoroughly enjoyed this latest one of King. Believable characters, mood, progression, it’s all there. Of course, expect, as is almost usual for King, a relatively lame or slightly irrelevant explanation, but as usual, the ending isn’t the point, the trip is, and that trip is very enjoyable.
- The girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest – Stieg Larsson (4/5) – A satisfying end to the Millennium trilogy. I particularly enjoyed the change of pace, and that this is part a spy story, part court case story. Nothing amazing, just good pool entertainment.
Anything you would recommend to me?