I’m not much of a drinker. In fact, it’s so low on my radar that I’ve missed out on many a cultural tradition because I haven’t ordered a drink.
I visited Singapore with my parents months before my first marriage. We rambled up to the Raffles Hotel, joining hundreds of tourists in the lobby area. Were we in Disneyland, I wondered? It was that touristy. But the veranda was pretty desolate, so my parents suggested sitting down there and ordering a drink. Singapore Slings, of course. Except that I ordered a Diet Coke.
Several years earlier I took a train from Beijing to Moscow. The dining car ran on Moscow time, even when we were still in China or in Mongolia. So many of the travelers went to the dining car–at all hours of the night–to drink vodka. I never once joined them. (I did have a flute of champagne the night we arrived in Moscow after trying for three hours to find a restaurant that would serve us–this was a month before the Soviet Union collapsed.)
And in all those years in China, I probably had a couple sips of baijiu, the Chinese white distilled alcohol, and maybe a bottle of beer–in total.
So fast forward a decade or so. I was dating a guy I was pretty sure I’d marry (we hadn’t even talked about the M word at the time, but I knew) and felt I had to go to Cuba soon or else I’d probably never see it before it inevitably joined the 21st century. (My future husband was working two jobs, sleeping at various hospitals, and barely saw his own apartment.)
I decided in Cuba to partake in their national drinks. So I went to Hemingway’s former haunts, La Bodeguita del Medio for a mojito and La Floridita for a daiquiri. Sure it was the touristy thing to do, but at least mojitos and daiquiris wouldn’t join the Singapore Sling as what might have been.