Saturday, August 16, 2008

Reading The Walrus

One of my struggles as a reader is trying to keep up with the great writing in The Walrus magazine. I always seem to be at least one issue behind. Right now, I've still got some of the stories from the Summer Reading issue to finish, but the September issue was in the mailbox when I got back from Toronto last week. I cheated and started on the new mag, altho' I'll eventually finish the treasures from the summer. It's one magazine that I do carefully archive, with articles I'll go back and dig out from time to time -- last year, I had my 1st-year Composition students each buy copies to use rather than an essay reader because the articles are generally thoughtful, provocative, well-written, and Canadian! They're always looking for new readers and/or subscribers -- check out their website where you can browse current and archived articles, but better yet, buy a copy at a newsstand near you -- you'll be supporting Canadian writers, and you know that's a good cause.

In this month's issue, there's a solid case set out by Alex Hutchinson for universal legal care, a guide to understanding "Turkey's Ethnic Drive" by Christopher Frey, a cartoon panel by Seth, accompanied by his short but illuminating written reflection on the art (Seth's work currently on view at the Vancouver Art Gallery show, Krazy!). There are also pieces on the latest science around cellphones and brain tumours, life with an Asperger's Child, gay families, and the development of Olympic swimmers in Canada. But what had me chortling on the ferry was the comic piece "Whisky Nosing" by Pasha Malla. The piece begins with this response to "Dewar's 18-year-old Founders Reserve, Blended": "All right, guys, keep in mind that I'm new to this. I taste . . . fruit. Berries, maybe -- or grapes. Oh, and it's also sort of peppery, but then there's this sweet and sour taste underneath. And -- whoa -- now my throat is burning. God, it really hurts. How's this: a Dr-Pepper-and-Chinese-takeout smoothie, and also I'm a sword swallower who just swallowed a sword but screwed it up somehow."
and here's the response to the Talisker 18-year-old, Island Single Malt:
"Do you guys have any buddies whose burps are, like, super intense? The kind that come at you and it's like you're eating death -- but they're also alive in a weird way? My buddy Matt's burps are those kind. Fanning the air just circulates them -- excites the molecules or something. I'm not sure -- and then they're just everywhere. It's like you're living inside the burp. And maybe you get home hours later and the smell is still on your clothes, and you can still taste it, and your girlfriend makes you sleep on the couch. Yeah, this whisky reminds me of that"

I know, this probably just seems puerile -- frat-boy humour -- taken out of context. Even in context, it's some of that. But the attempt at scientific precision in describing the smell really amuses me (it's absolutely tongue-in-cheek, of course) -- and that it reminds me of my son's response to our Laphroaig that it tastes like campfire (and not in a good way!). And that endearing reach for metaphors makes me think of my 1st-year students and cracks me up.

By the Brora 1982, the response is "No, you're being an asshole"
and to the Signatory Vintage 1975, East Ayrshire, simply "Pass"

Read the whole piece and let me know if you find it as funny as I do. Maybe you have to be a whisky lover.


  1. I'm sorry to say that I had never heard of 'The Walrus', but I put the link in my 'must read' folder and will definitely read it soon. From a brief look I can see that it's something I will enjoy. Unfortunately though, the article on whisky tasting will surely go over my head, as I can't stand the stuff (although I quite like Drambuie). Anyhoo, thanks again for another great link! Patricia

  2. Patricia: I think the article's appeal is that so many people can't stand whisky, especially the more peaty/smoky ones -- certainly, the narrator/speaking persona can't stand it -- he's making fun of all the pretentiousness those of us who sit around comparing and discussing the merits of something that many people do dislike, at least until they "acquire" the taste. But even if the article does go over your head, you'll find lots to like at The Walrus.