I have for some time been searching for a line by one of the French decadent poets. Baudelaire? Rimbaud? Verlaine? One of them guys. The gist of the citation is, be drunk. On wine. On life. On love. On poetry. But be drunk.
I’ve interpreted “drunk” in this context to mean loose, uninhibited, delighted by, infatuated with. I do not interpret it as yoimashita, Japanese slang for drinking to the point of paralysis. This is how the Japanese drink — single-mindedly, with a real purpose. . . and the purpose is oblivion. You’ve got to see it in action to appreciate it.
My husband and were at our favorite Tokyo sushi bar and the woman beside us was so red-faced and unstable (which, as I say, is the point), she knocked a whole flask of sake onto my husband. Sober, she would have been proper and Japanese and mortified. Yoimashita, she just laughed.
I’m not a yoimashita drunk, but a cheap and happy drunk. A glass of wine and I’m cheery, then sleepy, then out.
Of course there was the first time I drank sake.
I was college freshman in the company of a friend and a guy on who I had a brain-bending crush. We sat in at a banquette which seemed to me rather grand. They were seniors, madly sophisticated. To wit — they were eating sushi and drinking sake. I, who had no money and no interest in fish, was drunk and dazzled just being off campus and in their company. I just cheered them on and drank tea. I really like tea. But at some point, they insisted I try sake.
The crush proferred his cup. This seemed far more erotically charged than it needed to. I brought my lips to where his lips had been and took a sip. The sake was warm and viscous and tasted like cotton. Then came the afterburn. I spluttered.
“You don’t sip it,” the friend said. “You knock it back.” He demonstrated.
I tried, but the fumes alone made my eyes tear. This made me appear girlie, and not adorably so.
“It’s just wine,” the crush said.
I tried to man up. I could drink wine.
A waitress was summoned, another little cup produced.
Strictly speaking, sake is not wine. It is not fermented in the same way and has an alcohol content that starts where wine’s ends. I didn’t know that at the time but I enjoyed the toasty sensation it produced when I drank it.
They ordered more sake. I did my best to keep up with them and became fascinated by the banquette’s dark, scratchy upholstery. I caressed it. At one point, I began singing. This signalled to crush and friend I was plastered.
“I’m fine,” I slurred. My teeth were soft. This seemed like it might be a problem, but not now, sometime in the distant future. I was floaty and happy and launched into “I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down.”
This turned out to be oddly prescient. Though friend and crush fed me to soak up the booze, crush ultimately had to carry me out to the car, flinging me over his shoulder like a sack of spuds.
I did not get disgustingly ill or even hung over. I was young, my body could probably metabolize sheet metal. The crush did not take advantage of me — I’d remember that part. What I don’t remember is the source of the being drunk quote. Makes me wonder if I might have been yoimashita when I saw — or imagined — it.
Whether it was Baudelaire who said it or an inebriated me, being lightly, giddly drunk on is a philosophy I embrace, even though being drunk on life doesn’t always work for me as it should. I worry about the war in Afghanistan, the fizzle of talks in Copenhagen and assorted traumas closer to home. Being drunk, loose, giddy, in love, is something to shoot for, though. Or drink to. Cheers.