This spring commences the third year of my writing journey. I’m happy with the progress I’ve made so far, and I’m glad to have you all here as my readers. Thank you. It’s been a journey full of learning and unlearning, courage and anxiety, real and pseudonymous authorship, coming up with new Substack titles and then changing them again, making friends and rivals1, creating and deleting Twitter accounts, and eventually becoming, I hope, at least a slightly better person or a person who knows himself on a more profound level or a person whose ego has swollen to the cosmic frontiers so that the universe has become tight like the Tube in rush hours. All of that, of course, is apart from many other things it brought to me, good or bad, coincidentally or earned by hard work2, must be acknowledged.
To celebrate this small anniversary of mine, or rather because I’m too lazy to write new things (no, I’ll explain later), I decided to reissue some of the old essays I wrote when I was just starting out, which still fit this place in its current (I plead, “final”) metamorphosis3. Those essays, according to the Substack dashboard, were seen by only a few of you, even though sometimes they made it to HackerNews (thanks to Vita and his DegenLeadGen marketing agency), like this one today.
I want this place to look a wee bit more “professional” and consistent, I want each piece to be an integral part of my so-called body of work. So, I’m planning [and already performing] an overhaul, which, apart from streamlining aesthetics, involves revising my previously published works. However, I want to do this with the lowest effort possible, because I want to actually write and not just move things around.
But shan’t you worry, wanderer! I’m not going to republish everything, just about 4 posts that I still like and want to keep here in their best form. Originals will be gone.4
I think it’s a good opportunity for me to reflect on my [slightly] older self and the progress made. I won’t be just republishing those essays, but slightly editing and polishing them. This way, I can work [hard af] on longer works and stay focused, not worrying about metrics and deadlines and schedules and etm5, which I can’t fucking stop thinking about for some fucktoid reason. O metrics! Why dost thou make me miserable?
For you, wanderer, it’s a good opportunity to discover new aspects of my work and get some enticing things to read. For the other eight and a half billion people who are not my subscribers (yet), it’s also a chance to discover Nova Nevedoma6 and become imbued with the wonderful vibes we have here. I hope you’ll share it with them :wink: Currently, it’s the best way to support my work if you enjoy it.
So, please meet, “Liquids and Useless Knowledge” reborn into “On Liquidity Of Random Facts” because I’m good af at repurposing my work so it looks new as the content gurus’ psalms bequeathed to me. It was published on the 4th of May 2021, and was the first piece I wrote about alcohol. Since then, mind-altering “substances” have become one of the weaving themes in my work, so this essay was in a way the very first step in that direction.
Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy it, even if it’s reread for you. It’s been two years anyway, who’s the hell on the internet remembers what was two years ago? Tell me, who? You? Me? That person over there? I can’t see them. Can you?
P.S. Dear leader, if you read this, and if “Substances” end up being the STSC Symposium topic, consider this post my humble submission. If not, I’ll write something else! I’ll edit this page accordingly later.
“The bitters are excellent for your liver, the gin is bad for you. They balance each other."
— Orson Welles about Negroni
“Curious learning not only makes unpleasant things less unpleasant, but also makes pleasant things more pleasant.”
— Bertrand Russell, “Useless” knowledge
My hand clings to a low, heavy-bottomed, wide-brimmed glass as I peer through the luring liquid inside. Decaying ice cubes look up at me miserably from the maroon depths, chilling my palm and fingers and sending a slight shiver through my arm to the back of my neck. It's a special sensation that only sitting with a cold drink on a chilly terrace next to the heater early in the spring can grant you. To top it off, my lips touch a cool glass, and a lively bittersweet burst of botanicals and citrus flows, flames, and frolics through my tongue, palate, and throat, then settles in my stomach. No, I am not an alcoholic. I just relish the ritual.
I first tried alcohol when I was 24. I traversed the terrible terrain of toxic tinctures7 that my peers were indulging in and undoubtedly had a lot of fun doing things under their effect, including both things I would've regretted doing and things I wouldn't've regretted doing. Now, I can count memorable hangovers on one hand, I still don't understand beer8, and so on and so forth. I admit I've missed some irretrievable cultural parts of my teenage and youth years but starting late resulted in building up a special attitude towards alcohol, the path of solemn sobriety and sensible sipping.
The first thing I tried was red wine. It was... alright, I guess, not as bad as I expected. The accompanying soiree was by far more significant to me, so the dull memory of the no-name red wine has completely faded over the years. My proper initiation into the world of adult imbibing started with cocktails, thanks to my former colleague and friend, for whom I harbor boundless gratitude. Drinking thereafter became a voyage of discovery, decadence, and hedonism (a drunkard's notorious last words) — new beverages with their unparalleled savour, and, above all, myths and origin stories entwined with them.
The Manhattan cocktail, a libation of legend and lore, was one of the first cocktails I sampled, and is still one of the most memorable and cherished. Many stories are spun about its origins, and the truth remains elusive. The first account I was told says the cocktail originated at the Manhattan Club in New York City in the 1870s. Iain Marshall concocted the original recipe for a grand banquet hosted at the behest of none other than Lady Randolph Churchill, the mother of Winston Churchill, well-known to you, I’m sure. The banquet proved to be successful and after its first triumph, the cocktail became popular. However, another story I read says that a man named 'Black' invented the drink earlier, a decade prior to the Manhattan banquet, at a bar on Broadway. That friend of mine mentioned yet another yarn about a politician whose wife could not abide the strength of whiskey alone and asked him to dilute whiskey with red vermouth. Nowadays, the Manhattan cocktail is even a traditional drink on the small island of Föhr in Germany. The story goes that many of its inhabitants were enamored by the drink so much that they brought the cocktail back home after living in immigration in New York City.
In the Manhattan cocktail, an amalgamation of singular simplicity reigns supreme: two parts rye whiskey, one part sweet red vermouth, and a dash of Angostura bitters mingle in perfect harmony. The cocktail is still quite strong and its taste and herbal undertones unmistakable. Served in a delicate cocktail glass, sans ice, and crowned with a single maraschino cherry, the Manhattan is the epitome of a perfect evening.
But there's another one. The Last Word, as it is known, is a libation of uncommon strength, a drink best savored slowly. Its taste is vivid, memorable9, and utterly unique. I recall a night spent in a bar in St. Petersburg together with my friends, whereupon I requested from the bartender an Aviation, another cocktail of my affection. Alas, the ingredients were not on hand. The bartender, however, wasn't shy to offer me to sample another mixture, one that would later become my favourite of them all. Last Word is refreshingly sharp and sweet, with a rich, bitter, herbal aftertaste, cherry flavours, and a zesty kick. The four ingredients, in equal parts, play in perfect harmony: gin, lime juice, maraschino liqueur, and the main performer, green Chartreuse. It's based on 130 plants, herbs, and flowers that only two Chartreuse monks can identify. They are also the only ones who know how to produce the liqueur, supervising its slow ageing in oak casks. It's a remarkable way of making a remarkable liqueur.
On the same occasion, when the bartender introduced me to Aviation, we requested Clouds, which at the time was a common evening finisher. I don’t recall the exact recipe but it includes tequila, sambuca, absinth, and a few dashes of Baileys and Blue Curaçao. But the bartender told us that unfortunately, the ingredients were not on hand again, because all Blue Curaçao is left in 2007.
True or false those stories? History’s full of tricks and traps, some are likely a result of successful marketing and were popularised by someone who wanted to make money. But do those stories make those substances better? Yes! I’d even say they are substantial, too, like useless lore that a sommelier spills about a fine old bottle: its past, its savours and sounds. They give sense to a drink and turn it from a tasty yet poisonous liquid to a nifty nugget of culture, a substantial grain of life.
Since we’re already speaking about “liquids”, it happened that another occasional hobby of mine is exploring the etymology of words. I love history in general10, and having at least some idea of the origin and story of something small is a special kind of pleasure that often reveals a bigger picture. By gradually expanding one’s understanding of a single word, one also transcends the understanding of the whole language, sometimes even multiple languages at once. Ah, sorry, we were talking about “liquids”, yes. Did you know that the verb “to liquidate” has the meaning “to kill someone, wipe out” in addition to its economic sense? For example, instead of “The Terminator”, you can also say “The Liquidator”11. You might know that fact but you are unlikely to know that this meaning migrated into English and other languages from Sovietesque in the 1920s or around it. The word was widely wielded by the Bolsheviks and became a cliché. Some notable examples are the campaigns of liquidation of illiteracy or liquidation of undesirable social strata. Later in the 80s, when the Chornobyl catastrophe occurred, the military men who managed the mission of mitigating the aftermath of the disaster were also called The Liquidators.
The word “liquid” itself originated from the Latin “liquidus”, which means “fluid”, “clean”, “serene”. From Latin, it flowed into Italian and then French as “liquidation”. Until then, it had not taken on a tone of “to kill”. In the 18th century, it seeped into Russian also with the sense of “making liquid” and was used in situations such as melting wax or erasing chalk from the writing blackboard to make it clear and ready to use again. Then somehow after a few twists, it acquired its modern murderous meanings.
Remember the feeling when you learn something new and start spotting it everywhere? It always feels strange, doesn’t it? I read Andrei Platonov's "The Foundation Pit" recently12. It’s a novel set in the late 1920s in the Soviet Union and tells a highly symbolic story about a group of builders burrowing an enormous foundation pit for a future grand socialist building. At that time, the Bolshevik government was carrying out a countrywide carnage against kulaks; wealthy peasants or simply people who appeared too capitalistic and not needy enough in the new society. To portray this tragic event, Platonov uses the Bolsheviks’ brutal buzzword “to liquidate” in a literal sense. The order was “to liquidate the kulaks”. So in the story, peasant families were pushed onto rafts and sent down the river, doomed to die. Unwanted people were purged with water from the communist world like wax or chalk was erased from the board before.
A glimpse of what Platonov does in there gripped me greatly. Could you detect that without knowing the derivation of the verb? It may appear like a very niche case, but if you amass hundreds or thousands of such slight details, life lifts its veil from a new angle, a truer and more thrilling one. Random facts are the compound interest of learning, I would probably say if I were a popular Twitter influencer, but I’m not one, so I’m not saying that.
Another example can be found in Bertrand Russell’s essay “‘Useless’ Knowledge”:
“I have enjoyed peaches and apricots more since I have known that they were first cultivated in China in the early days of the Han dynasty; that Chinese hostages held by the great King Kaniska introduced them into India, whence they spread to Persia, reaching the Roman Empire in the first century of our era; that the word ‘apricot’ is derived from the same Latin source as the word ‘precocious’, because the apricot ripens early; and that the ‘A’ at the beginning was added by mistake, owing to a false etymology. All this makes the fruit taste much sweeter.”
Knowing random facts, magnificent myths behind drinks, the etymology of words and so forth, is conventionally useless. It won’t help you to become healthy, wealthy, and wise. It’s not well-marketed insight porn; nor is it utilitarian knowledge that is supposed to make economical sense and make it easier for you to contribute to social well-being. On contrary, it is pure curiosity, often radical, childish, and whimsical yet always delightful and deeply human. It is learning for the sake of intellectual pleasure: not for the sake of making more money, self-improvement, or acquiring conformist monocultural “wisdom”. It is something that you do because you genuinely appreciate it and care about the process, not the result that society makes you want. And it is something I will keep doing. Like a bee fills wax cells with a sweet and sticky substance created from the nectar of thousands of flowers, I will keep asking “why” to indulge my curiosity and fill my brain cells with random facts and ‘useless’ knowledge. And one day, it will help me to write another couple thousand words and share them with you.
Joking, no rivals! ¡Yay! ↩
It is hard. Waking up at 6am isn’t the best thing that happened to me. ↩
Did you know that this place used to be called “The Lifeboat” for quite a while, then also “The Bazaar of Bizarre” for a short period of time? ↩
Not forever, because the internet archive will preserve them. Oh, hi, Oke! ↩
This week, I learned what is “etm”. It’s fascinating. Now I can’t stop using it. Highly recommended, 10/10. ↩
Some of which could make one blind, btw. ↩
A hot take: it's just a boring bitter substance that makes you pee often. ↩
All of them are memorable, otherwise, they wouldn’t’ve made it to this hyperenumeration of my “spiritual” preferences. ↩
Not the events but the process of learning about them. The events are, frankly, fucking terrible and it’s not getting any better. I’m sorry. ↩
Hullo, T-1000! ↩
You should too. ↩