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The Crimson Hour: Margarita Xenophilia

Wherein we discover the essence of hospitality by adulterating fermented agave juice.

Chooch-erida demonstrating the possibility of the impossibility of hospitality.
Chooch-erida demonstrating the possibility of the impossibility of hospitality.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

When fans' feet on the pavement quicken toward the gates, we cease to measure the length of the day with clocks, whose ticks and tocks now distend ever more noiselessly until we count beats and rhythms in pitches and swings. We frame periods in innings and recover a more intimate acquaintance with beginnings and endings, with the origin of finitude. This is the hour for hushed vitality, for precise attention, for active sensation—sight, sound, touch, but most of all smell and taste. This is the crimson hour.

The Phillies welcome the Arizona Diamondbacks for a three-game weekend series between two teams who will not make the playoffs. When little is at stake in the outcome of the games, it is best to focus on other virtues of competition. Allow me to offer a worthy candidate: xenophilia, by which I mean guest-friendship or, more familiarly but less precisely, hospitality.* (I certainly do not mean the desire to have sex with strangers or Xena, Warrior Princess. Shame on you for your dirty thoughts.)

Guest-friendship was a central value in Ancient Greek life. When a foreigner would visit a city, the citizens of that city would be obligated to provide the foreigner a place to stay, food, and entertainment. In an age when travel was arduous and rare and inns would have been useless at best and dangerous at worst, xenophillia provided an elegant, albeit aristocratic solution to a problem caused by the desire to support cultural syncretism and competition. How could Athens know, outside of an Olympic year, whether its greatest pankratiast was better than Corinth's greatest pankratiast unless one visited the other?

Of course, xenophilia risks bad guests. Helen's face might have launched a thousand ships, but Paris had the opportunity to steal her away only because Menelaus was constrained by the obligations of guest-friendship to host the Trojans. Menelaus, in all his gruff, jealous machismo, would have summarily ejected the young, wiry Paris had he no duty upon him.

Let's hope the Phillies are not Menelaus to the Diamondbacks' Paris; that the Diamondbacks do not come to Philadelphia and abscond with Aaron Nola while the Phillies are distracted by inconsequential games. Instead, let's hope that the Phillies are the Menelaus to the Diamondbacks' Telemachus, son of Odysseus, when Telemachus ventured from Ithaca seeking news of his long lost father. As told in Homer's Odyssey, Menelaus regales Telemachus with triumphs from Troy, much as I imagine Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Carlos Ruiz could regale Paul Goldschmidt, Archie Bradley, and Robbie Ray with the saga of the WFC. And if in the telling of the tale the Phillies trio recall their former virtue in matter and not only form, then perhaps we'll see new glorious feats on the field this weekend.

In order to rectify a foreigner's disorientation—say, if Yasmany Tomas suddenly felt the urge to break for third after driving a ball into the right-centerfield gap—it can help to serve victuals and libations from the foreigner's home. And I propose to do just this with this week's cocktail: the Margarita, nee the Tequila Daisy.* (‘Margarita' means daisy in Spanish.)

The margarita is a wonderful symbol of American soulless consumerism. Most of the margaritas served in this country arrive from the bar in vat-sized rounded martini glasses. The drink is some neon color distantly related to whatever flavor the guest ordered, and the drink tastes mostly of sugar and salt. In its size, color, and palette, this version of the margarita demonstrates what comes from America's capitalist-imperialist ambitions. After pushing our borders into Mexican territory, we lifted their modest mixture of tequila, orange liqueur, and lime from its roots and transformed it into another fungible specializable consumable.

That narrative, while fun in its critical-lefty way, is false. In fact, although the most reliable origin story places the drink's invention in Tijuana, the drink hardly has authentically Mexican roots. The inventor was an Irishman who ran a bar in Tijuana where he did not have access to the usual spirits (bourbon, gin, cognac, etc.), thanks to prohibition. So, when he had to make a daisy—spirit, citrus, and flavored sweetener—he substituted Tequila into his usual recipe and gave birth to what he then called the Tequila Daisy and we now call the Margarita. Rest assured, all of this happened well after the expansionist war in the early-to-mid 1800s.

(Now, if I were a deep lefty critic of cocktailia I would contend that this official history is a typical case of imperialists appropriating something and effacing its native history. But, well, I'm not doing that.)

Whatever the true history of the margarita, its mixture of sweet citrus and wan agave certainly sets one in the flat arid land of cactuses and retirees. I must admit that I generally despise tequila. Even the best sipping tequilas make me want to wretch when I try to drink them straight. But, despite my physiological block, I find margaritas a superb counter-point to the oppressive heat of the Southwest. Sour, sweet, and mezcal together accommodate the desert's inhospitality

Tools: Shaker, Strainer, Martini Glass, Juicer, Paring Knife

Ingredients: Tequila, Orange Liqueur, Lime, Coarse Salt

  1. Place Martini Glass in freezer.
  2. Halve Lime, slice one thin slice, juice rest. Measure ¾ oz.
  3. Fill Shaker with ice.
  4. Pour 1.5 oz Tequila, 1 oz Orange Liqueur,  ¾ oz. strained Lime juice into Shaker.
  5. Shake hard until frigid.
  6. Remove Glass from freezer.
  7. Strain Shaker contents into Glass.
  8. Sprinkle generous pinch of Coarse Salt into Glass and garnish with Lime slice. Enjoy!

Tequila aficionados who also like margaritas will probably tell you that only a certain type of tequila is good for a margarita, e.g., blanco or reposado. But talk to enough of these aficionados and you will hear mentioned every type. My conclusion: it doesn't matter. What does matter is the quality of the tequila and orange liqueur. The margarita can be a blue collar treat when using Cuervo and Triple Sec or an elite drink of choice when using Partida and Cointreau.  Whatever quality of ingredient you use, the drink will, of course, still be satisfying but the better the spirits, the better the cocktail.

If you want to keep your margarita ice cold, then you can serve it in a rocks glass and pack the glass with ice. I often enjoy margaritas this way; however, the purists will demur.

You'll notice I did not create a salt rim on the glass because that's a pain and to my mind an unpleasant way to incorporate the salt into the cocktail.

And now a toast:

Whether strangers from afar be angels or snakes, let us welcome them into our park and send them home wishing they had gotten the better breaks.

* The concept is originally a Greek one or perhaps one that arose in the even deeper ancient eastern Mediterranean. But the Greeks used the word ‘xenia' to denote the concept. I figured that word would not evoke the concept for us anymore. ‘Guest-friendship' is a good but potentially misleading translation because we tend to use ‘guest' to refer to any visitor in another home, but the guest in this case refers only to those who live outside of a given city.

**Caveat: serving someone margaritas might induce them to run to third after putting a ball in play anyway.