One of the best parts of doing these Movie Bar posts is that I get the opportunity to watch some of my favorite films again and see them in a totally new light. The subject of this week’s post, Midnight in Paris, is certainly no exception. Released to much critical acclaim in 2011, the movie was written and directed by Woody Allen, and actually won the Oscar that year for Best Original Screenplay. I watched it the first time around with my daughter Wendy in anticipation of our unforgettable trip to Paris in 2016. Although the movie is a celebration of everything that is glorious about the greatest city in the world, what Wendy and I loved about it the most was the way Allen skillfully used the idea of time travel to bring some of the greatest minds of the 1920s into the film. Not only did he accurately depict the personalities of the characters themselves, but he also managed to capture the subtle nuances that existed in their relationships with one another. When I watched it this past Friday night, it was with someone who was seeing it for the first time, and who happens to share this same passion for the writers and artists of that particular era. It was such fun to talk about places in the film I’d actually visited, to dream of returning one day, and to experience the moment again when Gil Pander (Owen Wilson) realizes he is actually conversing with the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Salvatore Dali. It is truly astonishing to see them brought to life so perfectly by Corey Stoll, Tom Hiddleston, and Adrian Brody. And those are only a few; the list actually goes on to include Gertrude Stein, T.S. Eliot, Cole Porter, and so many more.
The basic plot of the movie focuses on Gil’s desire to leave his successful career as a Hollywood screenwriter to pursue his dream of seeing his first novel published. His fiancée, Inez, played by Rachel McAdams, dismisses this notion as romantic daydreaming, and wishes that Gil would come to his senses. Gil discovers, quite unexpectedly, that he is able to time travel back to the 1920s when the clock strikes midnight, and he is entranced to find himself in a world that seems to be a perfect fit for his nostalgic heart. One of the most memorable moments in the movie takes place in a bar and restaurant called Le Polidor, located in the 6th Arrondissement. Gil has an opportunity to have a remarkable conversation with Hemingway about writing in which the great author tells him, “No subject is terrible if the story is true, if the prose is clean and honest, and if it affirms courage and grace under pressure.” The use of those three words “grace under pressure” is a direct quote from the real Ernest Hemingway taken from a 1929 interview with Dorothy Parker and referencing a question about “having guts.” I don’t think for one minute that Woody Allen would use this particular phrase without intention and without implication for the movie as a whole. This led me to wonder what is meant by the idea of grace under pressure. I could not find any one definition for the phrase, but I can tell you that both TIME and Forbes magazines have written articles about it, and there are numerous management courses you can take to learn how to have it. The best definition I can offer after reading through some of the material that’s available, is that it means “maintaining composure, dignity, and maturity in the most difficult of situations.” Is it possible that Hemingway’s advice extends beyond just writing and can be applied to life as well? I think so. Not only does Gil’s prose have to be clean and honest, but so does his thinking in terms of what will bring him the most happiness in life. Sometimes it requires a great deal of courage to make the decision to pursue a goal or dream that will take us in a whole new direction, and once it’s made we’ll need grace under pressure to take the first steps that will actually get us there. Gil’s decision to end his engagement with Inez, and the way in which he handles it, is a direct reflection of this very idea.
For today’s cocktail, I did some research into what was truly Hemingway’s favorite drink, and the one he reached for most often. It seems to be universally agreed that it was Scotch and soda. To make it more French, and to capture just a bit of grace in the sense of “elegance in beauty or form,” I decided to add Suze as an ingredient. It is, after all, a French apertif, and one that I find to be absolutely beautiful in terms of both appearance and taste. I also topped the drink with an elderflower lemon club to bring it into this era, and achieve even more of a French feel. The bright bitterness of the Suze married well with the peatiness of the Scotch, with the soda adding effervescence, flavor, and just enough water to open the whisky up and soften it. Would Hemingway think this was a damn fine cocktail? He might not, but I could only tell him that my thought process was clean and honest and I was truly trying to affirm grace under pressure. Cheers everyone. Happy Monday!
Grace Under Pressure
Place the Scotch and the Suze in a mixing glass with ice and stir until well chilled. Strain into a Collins glass over fresh ice and top with the Elderflower Pressé. Be careful of the ratios and the size of your glass. You don’t want too much soda on top. Feel free to adjust to your liking. Garnish with a lemon peel. Enjoy!
*available at MOM’s or Whole Foods Markets or online