an ode to martinelli's sparkling apple cider

here we are again inventing a reason to celebrate

just a reminder that Griefbacon is on sale right now! Until next week, get 40% off ($30/yr or $3/month) of one year’s subscription. also, a content warning: this post talks about drinking, and my decision to stop drinking, although not in depth. I wrote more directly about this in this essay from early last year. this post also talks about christian religion, although it does not necessarily believe in or endorse it.

The Easter myth seemed like a cruel joke last year, when the nights and empty days here were full of long sirens, one catching the other like unsteady voices trying to sing along to the songs on the radio. Jesus is no more than a story, but the story is a robust one, and it is easy to see why it stands as a sales pitch for the whole religion: Death can be overcome, what has been lost can be regained. The end is not the end. What has been buried rises from the ground again; the cold world re-emerges into warmth, and hopelessness thaws again into hope.

Here we are again, nearly at the big day for it. Here we are again at the resurrection, whether you like it or not. Here is the story again: someone died and death did not last, on the third day, he rose again, and your friends are getting vaccinated and everything is re-opening even if it’s too soon, and everyone begins to make plans. Hot girl summer is again possible; the green world is rushing back, and you get a second chance at everything. The world is reawakening, green shots out of frozen ground.

The world is coming back whether or not it is a good idea for it do so. The numbers do not say that all these things should be reopening yet, despite all the vaccinations, which are a miracle no matter how poorly the miracle has been handled. But here we all are anyway, every day another heraldic proclamation, making the way and waving the palms over the donkeys through the middle of the city, getting ready for every tree to blossom, for beauty to overtake the landscape. Get ready to celebrate, says the tree below my window, says the old man’s gospel, says the turn in the calendar year, says the government opening venues and making promises about summer.

I no longer drink, but that doesn’t mean I have managed to uncouple the idea of alcohol from the idea of celebration. Spring rushes in and I still think of it in terms of getting drunk. The thing about alcohol is that it’s almost always something other than itself, not just a drink but a concept, or an identity, or a wish. “Let’s get drinks” is a shorthand for social interaction and one that I still find myself saying to casual acquaintances (or did before the pandemic). “I need a drink,” is a way of expressing exhaustion; “you need a drink,” is a way of relating to the exhaustion of others. Booze stands in for flirtation, and adulthood, and rebellion, a bad day or a good one, the permissive shimmer of a house party and the purring engine of a wild night. It stands in for comfort, and kindness, and good taste, and sex, and sympathy, and snobbery, and friendship, and celebration. 

Champagne in particular is a specific big mood. Champagne is weddings, and New Year’s Eves. It is engagements and promotions and successes, good news and congratulations and the first day of a new thing. Champagne is always celebratory; celebration is what it means. Champagne with no occasion is a defiant hedonism, it says we are celebrating anyway, it says this meaningless day is no longer meaningless; it insists an evening like any other into a holiday, into a party. Consequently, I rejoice, having to construct something upon which to rejoice, writes TS Eliot, who wrote a lot of very Catholic poems about Holy Week, the week at which we have now arrived, moving through the days of suffering and hard lessons onward to the miracle waiting at the end, whether or not I feel particularly inclined to believe, or to celebrate. Champagne constructs something upon which to rejoice. 

Giving up booze is one thing; giving up celebration is another. I don’t drink champagne anymore, but I do drink a lot of Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider, because I still want to celebrate things. Martinelli’s is the default substitute for champagne, a drink for fancy, sticky-fingered children staying up past their bedtime with the adults on New Year’s Eve. Or at least that was how I thought of it, which I didn’t, when I still drank alcohol. It was probably a New Year’s Eve when Thomas first brought home a bottle of Martinelli’s for me; I was amazed that it was a thing one could just buy at the grocery store, despite the fact that it had been staring at me out of the aisles at Fairway and Zabar’s for years. I was amazed it still existed at all, certain that Martinelli’s had vanished like every other softness of childhood that I never realized was soft until after it was gone. But here was this bottle in our house and it was astoundingly, surprisingly good, and in a champagne flute it looked almost like the real thing.

Martinelli’s is actually very little like the real thing. It resembles champagne mostly in the shape of the bottle and the fact that the bottle overflows frantically if you open it wrong; the resemblance ends there. A sparkling apple cider whose manufacturers have been around and making apple beverages for well over a century (the company is still owned by the same family who founded it). Martinelli’s is, properly, a juice company, and their best-known drink tastes like nothing so much as the fanciest apple juice in the world. It is carbonated but doesn’t really taste carbonated; it has none of the sharpness or spikiness that carbonated beverages usually have, and unlike booze where some sort of punishing quality is always part of the allure, nothing about Martinelli’s is difficult. It is perhaps the single most unchallenging beverage that exists; water, after all, is good for you, which makes it in some minor way fraught. Martinelli’s is easy, and it tastes like ease, like doing something without thinking about it, like being good at something without trying. It tastes round and slightly creamy, like an apple without any tartness; it is fluffy in the manner of sinking into a piled-high bed at the end of a long day. Even the color is wrong; Martinelli’s is gold in a way that no champagne has ever been gold, round and yellow and shiny rather than sparkly. It is childish in every way that champagne is adult; enthusiastic in every way that champagne is withholding. People keep telling me about more interesting and more elegant versions of substitute booze, making astute and well-tested recommendations. I mean to try all of them, I really do, and then I buy Martinelli’s from the grocery store again. Drinking it in no way resembles the experience of drinking champagne, except in the only way that matters: Martinelli’s is a celebration. 

There has been so much more celebration than usual this year. This would seem strange for a year when there would be, you would think, much less to celebrate. But times of crisis are also times of celebration. In crisis, and in fear, mundanities turn into holidays, and survival turns into a grand achievement. Thomas and I have celebrated releases from the hospital, sick friends getting well, the end of a bad week, the smallest piece of good news. We celebrated when the vaccine first arrived and when people we knew started getting it, we celebrated every time a friend got an appointment. People talk about the tiniest things— a bar, a house-party, a dish at a restaurant, a hug— in terms of grand plans for how they will celebrate when it comes back, full of hyperbolic emotion and plans to cry in public. I have celebrated seeing friends in person even on the street at distance, shrieking over the fact of them standing there in all their ordinariness like some grand miracle, like they had rolled away the stone and risen from the tomb, walking out into the light.  

On many of these occasions, I have been drinking Martinelli’s. Martinelli’s means there is something to be celebrated. I have had Martinelli’s for birthdays and Thanksgiving and Christmas, for the ends of old things and beginnings of new ones, on the day the election results were called and on the day our friends got their second vaccine shots and then walked halfway across the city to meet me and Thomas in the park on a picnic blanket, a day that felt, in its grudging splendor, like the first real day of spring. We brought four champagne flutes; mine was a little bit yellower, and a little bit less fizzy, and I buzzed with sugar on the way home. 

My relationship to alcohol often had a great deal to do with flinging myself at the ugliness and unkindness of the world, certain that that was where the only authenticities resided. Martinelli’s is the opposite of that. Sometimes its softness is embarrassing; sometimes drinking it makes me feel like a fancy little spoiled child, clean-handed and indulged. But much of what I have discovered since I stopped drinking is that it might be possible to rediscover the things I thought were too soft and too childish, the selves I believed had to be discarded in the pursuit of an cruel and ugly persona that would form a brittle protective shell. Not drinking is a different kind of vulnerability. Everything happens as it happens; nothing blurs together, and everything counts. Martinelli’s is, sometimes, on celebratory days, the sticky-fingered sunlit world of imaginary childhood, softness without armor, drinking fancy apple juice out of the bottle, overjoyed about the smallest and least consequential things. 

Martinelli’s tastes like the celebrations this year has thrown up in the face of much greater losses. Martinelli’s is all the little invented holidays, constructing something upon which to rejoice. The fancy apple juice and the bright tiny occasions have become the same thing. This is how rituals are created: they form in our lives before we believe in them, and take hold even if we never do. Easter is the same thing; the story about rebirth is going to be told, the gospel about the impermanence of death is going to be preached, and spring is going to push its little green hands out of the ground and paint all over the picture. The tree below my window nudges yellow-green buds out of bare branches again, even if I do not agree to it, even if I am not ready for it, even if I would like to tell and be told a different story. Celebrations stands at the door, demanding to be let in, demanding that I believe in miracles. It has brought a bottle of Martinelli’s.

thanks so much for reading. this is griefbacon’s weekly public for-everyone essay. if you enjoyed this, maybe consider subscribing, especially because griefbacon is still on sale for 40% off until next week (all subscribe links will take you right to the sale). subscribers get the weekly monday discussion threads, which are always a joy, and another subscriber-only essay or post on the weekends. you can also check out the archives to see what this is all about. if you’d like to subscribe but you can’t afford it right now, you can always just email me. see you next week. xo