Saturday, June 02, 2007

Fatal Glass of Beer

On March 3, 1933, just three weeks before the US Congress repealed the 18th Amendment, which had prohibited the manufacture, transport, and sale of alcohol, Mack Sennett and W.C. Fields released "The Fatal Glass of Beer," a 20-minute sendup of the moralizing melodramas that were popular at the time. There are two aspects of that film that surely resonate in Baghdad today.

First of all, Fields' famous sardonic refrain about the weather in Alaska -- "Ain't fit for man nor beast" -- unfortunately could describe the general lethality of the dusty, riverine capital of Iraq. And second, the very title -- "Fatal Glass of Beer" -- has a literal interpretation in Iraq that Sennett and Fields never intended.

Many countries have experimented with prohibition (see link for a good overview), and in Iraq today the issue is both lively and, as Great Baghdad discusses (Drinking Beer in Baghdad), very deadly. If you want to grab a glass of beer in Baghdad, Great Baghdad offers a quick and dirty guide. With an ironic edge that Fields himself would have approved of, Great Baghdad writes:
Right after the war there was [so] much freedom that street vender's would have a scotch with rocks ready for you that you can pick it up while driving down the Aa'adhmyia Cornish. But now since there is a Government dominated by Islamists extremists ( Sonnies and Shia) and parliament which more dominated by Islamists groups ( also Sonnies and Shiat) we will never have a legislation nor an executive power which will guarantee the Iraqi thirsty man have a cold beer in a hot summer day without Having to build a concrete Blast Barrier around him.
My translation of this image has an Iraqi man taking of sip of his cold brew on a blast-furnace-hot day in Baghdad, sitting on a beach chair and surrounded by ten-foot-high concrete blast barriers.

Can't you picture it?


If you'd like to watch "The Fatal Glass of Beer," go here.

While not my favorite short of his, "The Fatal Glass of Beer," placed in the context of the early thirties, stands out for its odd humor. My two favorite Fields movies are "It's a Gift" (1934) and "The Bank Dick" (1940).


Of the handful of Iraqi bloggers that are now studying in the United States, I think Morbid Smile is the only one pursuing a Master's degree in English Literature. Until yesterday's entry, we hadn't heard from Morbido in a couple months. It turns out that she's been deep into researching and writing papers, doing some traveling (to Miami and NYC), visiting an American high school, and even attending an American-Syrian wedding. Here Morbido talks about Miami:
I met more than one hunderd Fulbrighters from all around the world, people that I never thought of meeting one day. It was cool, and I enjoyed my time alot even though we had to stay inside the hotel for most of the time due to the heavy seminar schedule! But there was enough time to walk on the beach since the hotel itself was in South Beach facing the wonderful view of the ocean and the open sky. It was one of my little dreams that came true :) The hotel is called Miami Beach Resort and Spa, it wasn't the biggest hotel for sure but we envaded the whole place wearing our blue Fulbright T-Shirts with tages that have our names, U.S. university and country. One of the rooms that we had most of the seminar sessions at was called the Stars Room, or something like that ( I don't quite remember) and it was located on the 82nd floor. Later we were told that Frank Sinatra used to sing and have his concerts in this room!
Stop by and see how she's doing and say hi.


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