I’ve been racking my brains to try to pinpoint the first time the concept of the Bloody Mary came into my life. As much as I’d like to, I don’t think I can directly attribute this to my parents although they definitely played a role in making it a part of my life.
When I concentrate hard and try to cast my porous memory back through the years, the image that keeps on coming is that of an air hostess (nowadays called a flight attendant for politically correct reasons that are quite beyond me). Said air hostess is wearing blue but as much as I want to say she is a PanAm hostess, I really don’t think I was already drinking Bloody Maries at 9 (which is how old I was when the famous PanAm Lockerbie flight exploded over Scotland). I was almost on that flight by the way; I kid you not. I have vague recollections of transferring through Heathrow on my way from Rome to New York; we are at the X-ray machines and the long long lines of equally hapless passengers in the transfer purgatory are going sluggishly slow. My mother is in a panic, she goes to the head of the queue and begs people to let us pass in front. The X-ray official tells her to calm down and that she is not entitled to special treatment even though she is by herself, has two young children in tow and is about to miss her flight. My mother’s version of the story would have the official then say, “It’s ok, if you miss your American Airlines flight there is a half empty PanAm one that you can take”. Why on earth an X-ray official would be in possession of said knowledge is really beyond me. Maybe it was someone else. Anyway, the point is that someone at some point of this stressful transfer, tells my mother that we can board the PanAm flight if we miss ours. Somehow we don’t miss our flight. Well obviously, or I wouldn’t be here telling you this now.
Anyway I digress. This was supposed to be a post about Bloody Maries and not about near death experiences (although I’ve had quite a few of those mind you). So there’s this air hostess in blue bending over me and asking me what I want (shall we go with her being a British Airways hostess?). Maybe my dad is sitting next to me ordering a Bloody Mary, maybe it’s someone else. Whichever way, said mystery man orders a Bloody Mary and my eyes open wide as I realise that it comes with its own sachets of salt and pepper.
Now I should probably add that I had some crazy salt fetish as a kid. Seriously, I used to steal salt shakers from restaurants as often as I could get away with it. I think I had a whole stash in one of my drawers. I also used to lick the window panes on the Rome public buses, although I’m not sure if this is entirely connected. Somehow this fetish lasted through the years, because here I am, aged fourteen, sitting on a plane, salivating at the thought of a cocktail with salt in it.
So, I order a Bloody Mary for myself and eagerly shake out the entire contents of both salt and pepper sachets into it. Then I squeeze in a slice of lemon. Then I taste it and decide it’s actually quite gross. Tomato juice was really not a thing in Italy at the time, hence my unfamiliarity with it. But I decide that I am not ready to admit defeat, so I get the hostess to bring me more lemon, pepper and salt and repeat the process. Then I decide it’s actually quite nice.
I really wish there was more to this story. There isn’t though. I just felt it necessary to begin my Way of the Bloody Mary series somewhere, so this was as good a point as any. A good two decades passed between the time I mixed my first Bloody Mary on that fateful BA flight and the time I decided to become a full-blown enthusiast. Which isn’t to say many Bloody Maries didn’t pass under my bridge during the interim time, it’s just that they were just another good cocktail for me and not yet an art form through which to channel my personality.
But let me not jump ahead of myself. I’m sure I can string out this narrative a bit longer in the weeks to come…
This article was originally published on upnairobi.com in March 2015