The Spirits #87: "Pin"
~ Humbert's Ruin ~ Crying Is for Writers ~ Your Opinions Sought ~ The New Life ~
~ “PIN” ~
25ml lemon juice
15ml sugar syrup
50ml pineapple juice
<100ml fizzy water
Put the gin, lemon, sugar and pineapple juice in a shaker. Fill halfway with ice and agitate, good and hard. Now strain this mixture into a tall glass filled with ice cubes. Top with fizzy water. Heap more ice on top and drizzle with the Angostura. A posy of mint will not go amiss.
Some “Pin” notes:
1) This is an adaptation of a drink that Vladimir Nabokov invented for Humbert, the narrator of Lolita; I’ve repurposed the little essay I wrote for my book below, hope you don’t mind. For further alcoholic Nabokoviana, see my recipe for Pnin’s Punch, here.
2) All Nabokov specifies for the drink is gin and pineapple juice. I’ve gussied this up a little bit with extra sour, sweet, froth and spice. If you don’t mind sacrificing some of its allegorical force (see below), you’ll find this a useful formula for all manner of fruity long drinks. The Paloma, for example, has the same architecture, only with tequila, lime, agave, grapefruit and soda. A flavoured syrup - e.g. cinnamon - will work nicely in place of the plain old sugar too.
3) Do shake it, though. This is what gives you that fetching foam, which the Angostura will settle into like rust.
4) Yeah, I’ve read ‘em all. Except Ada (Or Ardor). I’m convinced he wrote that one purely to entrap post-doctoral students.
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In Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Lolita, the paedophile narrator Humbert Humbert proves himself to be very particular about his drink. We learn this in Chapter 17. "The sun made its usual round of the house as the afternoon ripened into evening,” he reminisces. “I had a drink. And another. And yet another. Gin and pineapple juice, my favourite mixture, always doubled my energy." (My emphasis).
At this point, Humbert (French) has been lodging with the divorcee, Charlotte Haze (American), for a few months. He moved in so as to be close to her 12-year-old daughter Dolores (alias Lolita); Charlotte, however, has fallen in love with him. When she takes Lolita away to summer camp, she leaves Humbert a letter, confessing her adoration and telling him to leave her home, and never to come back if he does not return her feelings. He does not return her feelings. And yet he stays. He resolves to marry the mother in order to be near the daughter, who will become his stepdaughter. So he buys “good liquor” and awaits Charlotte’s return. Before long, he is drunk and dreaming. "A reek of sap mingled with the pineapple… the gin and Lolita were dancing in me.” Finally, Charlotte comes home, to find a new hubby. He stayed!
Humbert calls his gin and pineapple mixture "Pin" and sometimes "My Pin". Since I cannot find any other reference to it, we must credit Nabokov with inventing the cocktail. I confess, the first couple of times I read Lolita this "Pin" did not leave much impression, but that only goes to prove Nabokov’s edict: "There is no reading, only rereading". Once you have detected it, the “Pin” soon becomes as unmistakeable as the scent of pineapple mingling with sap. It is not much of a stretch to see its peculiar admixture of gin (stern, European, "Mother's ruin") and pineapple (exotic, sweet, forbidden fruit) as one of the central motifs of Humbert’s infatuation with Lolita.
The most significant “Pin” appearance comes a little later, when Charlotte (by now Mrs Humbert) has just discovered Humbert’s diary, and is horrified to discover that he refers to her as: “The Haze woman, the big bitch, the old cat, the obnoxious mamma”. (She seems less concerned with his sexual obsession with her daughter). The game seems to be up for Humbert, and he tries to buy time by making her a Scotch (“She could never resist Scotch”). He goes to the kitchen, where the faucet whines and the ice box barks and bangs. “I poured in the whiskey and a dram of soda. She had tabooed my pin.” Charlotte has clearly developed her own ideas about the appropriateness of Humbert‘s tastes.
What does "Pin" taste like? Nabokov must have tried gin and pineapple in the course of his research. I certainly have and find it a surprisingly good combination, particularly in the slightly jazzed up form below, I hope. Pineapple is an underrated juice, one which does not deserve to have fallen so far behind cranberry and pomegranate in the pantheon. Both pick out unusual notes in one another, the gin ennobling the fruit, the fruit encouraging the gin to let its hair down.
Once Charlotte has died, and Humbert has eloped with Lolita as her sole legal guardian, he returns to his Pin only once. When he is summoned to Lolita’s school by a concerned teacher, he assumes his nightly assaults on her have been discovered. “I imagined all sorts of horrors, and had to fortify myself with a pint of my ‘pin’ before I could face the interview.” (A PINT!) Then as the affair reaches its melancholy, paranoid phase, he seems to drop the pineapple part. He shoots a squirrel for target practise, toasting it with “a dram of gin”. When Lolita runs away, he lies in a lounge chair, “swallowing pony upon pony of gin.” Finally, in that horrible fist fight with Clare Quilty - the other paedophile-wordsmith in Lolita’s short life - Nabokov brings his gin/pin/sin theme comes to its conclusion. “It was a silent, soft, formless tussle on the part of two literati, one of whom was utterly disorganized by a drug while the other was handicapped by a heart condition and too much gin.”
I'd like to conclude, however, by revisiting that heartbreaking moment shortly before that clumsy showdown, when Humbert visits the now semi-grown-up, pregnant Lolita at her home. She is trying to begin a respectable life with a blue-collar husband named Dick Schiller. They serve him beer. (“The exquisite courtesy of simple folks.”) Humbert begs Lolita to run away with him. She does not. He begins to cry. “Stop crying, please," she tells him. "You should understand. Let me get you some more beer. Oh, don't cry, I'm so sorry I cheated so much, but that's the way things are." Beer, incidentally, was Nabokov's favourite drink.
This week’s theme is books with a little Nabokov Suite in the middle: The Fall, Dinah Washington, Belle & Sebastian, Broadcast, Gene Harris, etc. I try to avoid the over-familiar in these lists (Lolita by Lana del Rey a bit ‘on-the-nose’) but I couldn’t resist a) Paperback Writer, as it’s the Beatles at their throwaway best and b) Wuthering Heights, as it’s inexhaustible. Honestly, I played it to my son Ted (8) in the car the other day and he immediately asked me to rewind it. And then again. And again. And again. Eight times we listened to that song. Twice is usually enough to wring the pleasure out of a song for me. But it sounded just as improbable on the eighth listen as it did on the first.
THIS PLAYLIST UPDATES AUTOMATICALLY EACH WEEK. The idea is, you download/’like’ it and return to it each week in your Spotify to find a suite of new songs. If there was an old song you’d like to hear again, you’ll find it RIGHT HERE in the massive ongoing archive of past playlists.
YOUR OPINIONS SOUGHT
I am pondering the future of this newsletter. Not that I’m thinking of stopping - no! I love it. Just that I’m now doing childcare on Fridays; I have not been drinking as much as before (partly as I’ve caught every single bug going, including, as of today Covid…); and I feel I am reaching the limits of our “12 Bottle” concept. So I am minded to move to a looser, more free-ranging format - and maybe start throwing in a few other spirits into those weekly recipes: Scotch, maraschino, Bénédictine, etc? I’d be happy to hear your comments. Scribble something below - or feel free to drop me a line.
CABINET POSTS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED:
WHAT I’VE BEEN READING
The New Life by Tom Crewe, whose feuilletons in the LRB I’ve long enjoyed. It’s a debut novel about progressives in the late-19th century dreaming of new relations between men and women (and men and men). It’s a bit like a Victorian Line of Beauty. Penguin paid a fortune for it. Out in January. (Penguin)
With the aforementioned eight-year-old, The First World War from Dominic Sandbrook’s Adventures in Time series. It’s perfectly pitched. Both of us are utterly gripped - and bedtimes are creeping ever later. (Penguin)
Some evenhanded background on the Qatar World Cup (LRB; a particularly good edition this week, incidentally)
I’ve long admired the music of the late underground rapper MF Doom without really knowing anything about him. This is a great essay about his life (and a lot more) by my fellow Bristolian and Substacker, Nikesh Shukla. (Uncle Shuks Recommends Stuff)
Not Twitter. I disabled my account for a bit. Not in any great political gesture or anything - just because I’m bored of that man and those idiots and those idiots too and also that man. Why do they all feel so entitled to our attention? No! I expect I’ll go back at some point if it’s still there. But look at all the books I’m reading.
Pecans, maple syrup, bourbon, Angostura bitters
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