A girl walks into an eagerly lit bar in a small gaucho town – that feels a lot like Brenham, Texas – and asks for 4 ounces or so of *Fernet Branca, neat, chilled. Just a few miles from the bar lay hundreds of talkative sheep, plump cattle, bodacious stallions, miles of fertile land, and loads of ripe crop, all ready for their sacrificial barbeque. The only difference here are the gauchos and housewives who have traded in their household whiskeys for a healthy supply of Fernet Branca, which is kept in plain view on the kitchen shelving, along with a lifetime supply of *yerba maté tucked away on the countertop.
The transition feels smooth, so far. Natural even. We can do this. Becoming one of *them can’t be that trying. Madonna did it. Sort of…
A few days have passed since she cleared customs with a mind chock-full of forbidden fruits, and a carry-on bag twisted into the dehydrated figure of her best squire, you, disguised and eagerly waiting to sip from the bottle. She feels at home in this bar in the middle of nowhere as Daft Punk’s latest hit serenades the handful of early drinkers, and even bobs her head in-time with confidence, humming in tune, and smiling indulgently. She politely declines the Coke the barman suggests to add to her selected poison of the night, and is quickly labeled monster.
…Because you see, no one here drinks Fernet Branca without Coca Cola unless you’re of the same cloth as a new found friend of ours, a modern clergy man of the Catholic church, who recently shared with me over coffee that the only time he drinks Fernet straight is when he needs a digestif after a few tender rare cattle unsettle his stomach. Or if you´re of the same blossoming fields as the 16 year old girls who grow up enjoying *Fernet Menta, with juice.
The girl, now some sort of grotesque being trying desperately to blend in says to the barman, “Don’t worry, we do this all the time where I come from. We like our spirits pure, clean, unadulterated with.” She says, proudly revealing the refinement and grit of her homeland while hinting toward familiarity with his people. As the drink is poured in silence, Daft Punk continues to drown out the barman’s confused stare. And the warmth from the Fernet helps disguise his insensitive humor as he whispers to his patrons and points. She begins to sound more and more like a lost cowboy in the farmlands of Mercedes, Argentina. The sounds that come out of her mouth ring foreign, strange, and the barman’s reply even more displaced. His eyes say, “Are you insane? You fascinating and strange sounding creature.” His mouth moves in slow time and in broken English to say, “Fernet is not meant to be had this way.” She sensed a challenge. Leaving the stout bottle of ice cold Coke beside her glass, untouched. Left to turn from cold, to warm, to spiritless…never letting her head hang down in defeat.
He thought me, the girl, odd. But I call that a faulty translation. Mistranslations are for the weak, searching for the human in you. We won´t let them take us. Besides, we know how to drink, damn it.
However, in an effort to avoid being ostracized for declining a sugary soft drink diluting our libation and good vibes at the start of the night, we must remember to tone it down, at least for the first few impressions – to keep ’em on their toes. As it goes, we don´t look like we belong here in the first place.
And so, I asked for a second. Neat, chilled. Same dirty glass. Because I knew that’s what you’d want. You’re a thirsty rascal, and a great influence.
With a bit of audacity and recklessness plastered on the ends of your grin, wading in a pool of the finest libation up to our chins… we had no doubt managed to spark a sense of inspiration and confusion all at once to the voyeurs of this little bar in the sticks of Mercedes. Job well done. However, let us not forget how the unlikely hero, Don Quixote injected inspiring, problematic prose into the history of restoring chivalry to the world. His spirited and lionhearted ideas were misunderstood because he clumsily moved about the land, concocting his plan of action shortly after passionately reading on the trials and frustrations of the world. He was an outcast. As are we, presently. Thought of as disturbed, temperamental, hot-blooded and strange. As we are, at the moment. But we are not to be made fun of!
We will learn from the Don´s humiliations and shake off the possibility of being asked to return to our homeland, scarlet letter and jars full of untainted marbles in tow. We will nod our heads and take turns making note of what makes them tick. Soon enough, we won´t need to silence that little voice that whispers so loudly to give in to our indulgences. We will be overindulgent and unreasonable with no one to call us weak, bird-brained, or passionless.
If this is as good as it gets, consider us one of the privileged.
*Fernet Branca is a bitter, aromatic spirit from Italy. Typically containing 45% alcohol by volume. Its smell has been described as ” black licorice-flavored Listerine.” Fernet Branca has a closely guarded secret recipe that has been passed down from father to son in the Branca family since its creation. While the exact ingredients and ratios are unknown, only some are revealed by the Fratelli Branca company.
*Fernet Menta (60 Proof / 30% ABV) is based on the same recipe as Fernet Branca including an assortment of 40 herbs, roots, and spices. While the exact recipe is a secret, Menta was inspired by a famous opera singer Maria Callas. The singer was known to drink Fernet Branca along with a touch of mint syrup before each performance.
*Fernet Yerba Mate is a species of the holly traditionally consumed in subtropical South America, particularly Argentina. The flavor of brewed mate resembles an infusion of vegetables, herbs, and grass, and is reminiscent of some varieties of green tea. Mate was first consumed by the indigenous Guaraní and also spread in the Tupí people that lived in southern Brazil and Paraguay, and became widespread with the European colonization.
*Them refers to one of the most interesting, beautiful, exciting, and culturally rich peoples I´ve come to know. The people of Argentina.