Monday, January 19, 2015


Sometimes, when you least expect, you encounter at the suggestion of a friend, more or less by accident, a token that makes you think, makes you rethink that token, its symbolic value in your life. In this case, that token is Żubrówka, the Polish vodka scented, enlivened with bison grass. Żubrówka, for me, is comic—and it is a family comedy—of being completely buffaloed on the bathroom floor, prostrate after a long day of shots and apple juice and love in Małe Śwornegacie; or, it is the memory of golden-tinted evenings in the pubs and dessert cafés of Kraków, with my friends, Monika and szarlotka.

In Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge, or rather, the movie by that name I’ve just watched at the recommendation of a friend and colleague, Żubrówka is described as “music by moonlight.” Chopin, perhaps, if you’re in that kind of mood, a melancholy, even a dangerous melancholy. In this story, a bottle of Żubrówka, scented like “newly mown lavender” returns the recently abstinent Sophie to her alcoholic depths, to her wayward life, and ultimately to her murder. Żubrówka, the vehicle to multipronged tragedy. I thought, at first, that this was just a movie, just a novel, and that what happens in such fictions doesn’t matter. The main character says as much, twice, about life even. But that’s not quite true. If it were a truly bad novel, or a bad movie, that would be true, but good books and good movies do matter. The problem is, they don’t matter much, they don’t matter enough. At least on their own. One needs a steady diet of them to affect one’s life for good—or bad.

And in this case, the disastrous role played by Żubrówka in The Razor’s Edge does not affect how I think about it, how I remember it, how I experience it, much. For that I am thankful.