THERE is an old joke about two Irishmen waking up in a backstreet of Rome covered in green vomit. One says: “Pauric, what the f*** were we drinking last night?”
“Why, Caoimhin, we were drinking crème de menthe,” says Pauric. “Didn’t that friendly Italian feller tell us it was what the Pope drinks.”
Caoimhin makes a face like a bulldog licking piss off a nettle, looks down at the green stain on his shirt front, and growls: “Well, no wonder they carry the fucker everywhere.”
Leaving aside the burning question of what the Irish have against consonants, it’s a good example of how one nation’s tipple can be another nation’s downfall. Because, let’s be honest, if Caoimhin and Pauric were at home in Dublin they could have put away enough Guinness to fill St Mark’s Square and still have had curry and chips on the way home.
It’s a joke so we’ll just have to sidestep the fact that crème de menthe isn’t the national drink of Italy. In fact, it used to be mostly made from Corsican mint, which makes it French. Even though Corsica is closer to Italy than France and was once owned by the Republic of Genoa, which sold it secretly to the French in 1764. If they’d waited five years Napoleon would have been Italian and would probably never have joined the army – not if it meant leaving mum.
And how do you ‘secretly’ sell an island? Did the Genoans sidle up to the French at a wig party? “Psssst, wanna buy a used island? Been occupied since the Mesolithic era but only been independent for 15 years. Only 162 careful owners. Got mint up the wazoo. You’re bound to find a use for it. Capice?”
In Radclyffe Hall’s book The Well of Loneliness, Jamie, a lesbian musician, becomes an alcoholic who puts crème de menthe away like a drunken sailor. This strikes me as perverse because, you know, creme de menthe is crap. I know, I’ve tried it. Last night. Perhaps you’re not supposed to drink it out of a schooner.
I also emulated the bartender in Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle who creates a cocktail on the day of the bombing of Hiroshima. Called the End Of The World Delight it is made up of half pint of crème de menthe poured into a hollow pineapple with whipped cream and a cherry on top. He hands it over with the words “There you pitiful son of a bitch, don’t ever say I never did anything for you”.
This might seem harsh but after a night drinking most of a 500ml bottle of the stuff in various incarnations I, too, felt like a pitiful (and slightly queasy) son of a bitch. Drinking the End Of The World Delight was like squirting a tube of mint toothpaste into your mouth and trying to swallow it all at once. Though the cream did take off some of the medicinal edge.
According to the bottle’s label, the contents can be enjoyed neat, as a frappe or over ice-cream. Please, only drink this stuff neat if you like drinking Listerine or want people to think you are the Pope.
Major disappointment: it does NOT turn your morning poo green.