St Patrick’s Day is canceled once again this year, so no parades, no green beer, no bars blaring The Pogues or Dropkick Murphys and no party-goers spilling into the streets wearing “Kiss Me I’m Irish” shirts (despite not being Irish in the slightest). Of course, St Paddy’s wasn’t always about over-imbibing. Traditionally, it’s the Catholic feast day of St Patrick, the patron saint of the Emerald Isle who is credited with both converting the Irish to Christianity and, famously, for driving the snakes out of Ireland. It wasn’t until Irish immigrants landed in populous North American cities that the day took on its current form of secular revelry (the first St Paddy’s parade was held in Boston in 1737—so it’s fitting that almost 300 years later, the unofficial festival anthem is now “I’m Shipping Up to Boston”!). So since we won’t be donning our sparkly green shamrock headbands this year (not in public, at least), this is a good time to go beyond the stereotypes and look into the long tradition of whisky, and see the cool ways this spirit has endured.
Whisky’s history is cloudy, due to spotty record-keeping back in the day, but general consensus is that it was invented in Ireland by monks around 1000 AD, who probably picked up some distilling tricks along their journeys in the Mediterranean and then applied them to the ingredients they had back home. The name itself comes from the Gaelic uisce beatha—which, from what I can tell, is pronounced something like “ish-ka ba-ha”—meaning “water of life” (so, basically the Irish version of aqua vitae). The first actual record of whisky is from 1405, and the first licensed distillery was Northern Ireland’s Old Bushmills Distillery in 1608. With such a long history of distilling this spirit, you’d think that Ireland would dominate the whisky market today. Unfortunately, the country’s liquor production hit some rough patches during the turbulent 20th century (see: the First World War, the Easter Rising of 1916, and Prohibition in the US that cut off its most lucrative market—not to mention World War II, and the British Empire cutting off trade with the Republic) which dwindled its distilleries down to only two. But not to worry, production of the native beverage has picked up since the latter half of the twentieth century, with new distilleries constantly opening up across the isle, and Jameson placing third in the top-selling whiskies in the world (behind the college-crowd pleasing Jack Daniel’s and Jim Beam).
©Andrew Cullen, The New York Times
When I first started working on this post in January, the spin was a bit different. My jumping off points were the wild gossip mill stories that wrapped up 2020 and then launched 2021: the journalist who ruined her life for the much-despised (and imprisoned) pharma bro Martin Shkreli, the truly bizarre (and unfounded) rumours of Kanye West’s affair with makeup guru Jeffree Star, Hilaria Baldwin faking a Spanish accent for years, and the still-developing Armie Hammer cannibal stuff (please exercise caution when reading this story!). Throw in the political circus of an actual attempted coup on the US Capitol, and the headlines of 2021 seemed to be Mad Libs generated. The world is a glitching simulator, and we’re just living in it.
The truth about me is that I live for gossip and scandal—like Marie Kondo says, I love mess. But there is a threshold for scandalous entertainment. For example, the Caroline Calloway or Fyre Fest stories from 2019 were compelling in the way they revealed the blithe incompetence of wealthy influencers. Or the Tiger King circus from last year, which single-handedly saved our collective sanity at the beginning of quarantine. In these kinds of scandals, the people involved are dopes or straight up criminals; the stories are schadenfreude–inducing in the distribution of karma to terrible people. But scandals become not so fun when they affect innocent people (or animals, in the darker side of Tiger King). Once the Armie Hammer allegations started to veer beyond kink into potentially dangerous abuse, the story lost its giggly water-cooler gossip status. Instead, what emerged was a story of generational depravity hidden behind the veneer of Old Money, the case for which was made stronger by the publication of Surviving My Birthright by Casey Hammer, Armie’s aunt.
I officially decided to rewrite this post after watching the New York Times–produced Britney Spears documentary Framing Britney Spears, which, as its title suggests, adjusts the picture of the popstar’s mental health struggles as we’ve come to understand them. There’s been a lot of handwringing over who exactly is to blame for her descent in the mid-late 2000s, which famously culminated with a bald-headed Spears attacking a paparazzo’s car with an umbrella. Anyone who remembers 2007 will recall the Wild West days of paparazzi culture, which was demonized even then as harassment but which was allowed to continue because, well, money. While we may all have been somewhat complicit in this culture, just by virtue of living in it, I’d say some are more culpable than others. Paparazzi are the scum of society, no doubt, but tabloids like Us Weekly were the ones forking over millions of dollars for a single photo of Lindsay Lohan getting out of a car.
I have a distinct childhood memory of being at some older cousin’s wedding, listening to the Maid of Honour give a speech. She was my cousin’s best friend, and I remember her saying something along the lines of “we can go months without seeing each other, and then pick right back up where we left off.” To little me, the idea of not seeing your friends for months was preposterous. How can you even call yourselves friends, if you’re not seeing each other every day? Of course, as an adult, that speech now makes a lot of sense to me. Even before COVID, it wasn’t unusual to not see good friends for months and months. Keeping in touch is easier now, of course: smartphones and social apps. But in-person hangouts are far less frequent than as kids. Reality isn’t like Friends or New Girl—you probably don’t live across the hall from or in one giant apartment with your adult friends.
Adult friendships are a lot harder to maintain than sitcoms would suggest, due to competing commitments. Jobs, significant others, children. We’re busy! If you’re an avid podcast listener, you might know Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman from Call Your Girlfriend, the hit podcast “for long distance besties everywhere.” The show’s manifesto is as follows, from the website: “We believe that friendship—particularly among women and femme-identified people—is a defining, important, and powerful relationship, and that conversations among friends can be the source of incredible social and political power.” A bold statement, and one that’s at the core of their new book Big Friendship, though in a down-to-earth, accessible (and fun!) way.
In Big Friendship, Aminatou and Ann (as they refer to themselves) work through their living example of a successful friendship that has survived all sorts of adult problems. The trick? They simply cared to maintain that friendship. And that meant putting in work, the kind of work we usually associate with romantic relationships (they have, for example, been to Friend Therapy). Big Friendship makes the argument that, though society doesn’t seem to value it as such, deep, lasting friendship is—and always was—a vital part of the human experience.