Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Goodbye, Gosling's

So much has happened since we last spoke, old friend. Namely, on Sunday we went to Mother's day brunch in the Ocean Grill room at Amelia Island Plantation. And then yesterday, Josh was home for a few hours unexpectedly, but once again called away. But it was a big weekend for more than just those events: It was my birthday and my first Mother's Day, as a Mom, that is.

It was a small milestone birthday, not a remarkable one. But it does make me aware of how very much is not as we knew it one year ago: I was pregnant then, and while I did not love pregnancy, I was excited for our child's arrival. Josh had been deployed for four months and was due home shortly. My Dad was very ill with pancreatic cancer. My then sister-in-law to be, Amy, and my brother, Chris, gave me my first Mother's Day gift which surprised me at first because I was not yet used to the idea of being a Mother. Then I realized: Right, in a month or so, the word Mom will join all the words I have ever been known by. That was an odd sensation. I felt something, barely perceptible and not at all tangible, slip away. It would be late June before the low spot it left was filled by my little girl who is the most precious thing I will ever know. I am proud to celebrate Mother's Day with her and my Mother. I have landed in the cat-bird seat of Motherly pride: Perfect Mother ahead of me, perfect Daughter after me.

And Amelia was a glorious place to see one's first Mother's Day and birthday into being. The bank of windows across the Grill room look down the sweeping lawns of golf course below, whose tips reach to the dunes before the ocean. Just beyond was a crystal clear coastline in every direction. We sat right there, in front of the huge windows in the dining room, with the vista of an old Southern ocean before us. It was almost difficult to notice the food over the view but for Mother's Day, Amelia had taken a million patient moments to place together tiny bites of celebratory majesty: A tapa's table with a lobster and quinoa salad, a smoked breast of duck with tiny potatoes and aged, syrupy balsamic, beet carpaccio, smoked shrimp. And there was this high table of seafood I had in no way earned any claim to but was encouraged to eat nonetheless: Alaskan and stone crabs, huge pink shrimp, tangy, snappy fresh seafood salad, more crab. There was table after table of hot buffet items of such grand food measure that it surpassed all the other fine brunches I have known (sorry, Four Seasons Singapore, your goose is cooked).

I felt so very lucky to be there and sorry, deeply sorry, that Josh missed this birthday too, and Mother's Day. We know this to be the nature of his business, but you can be sure that knowledge does not help one during the very big celebrations they miss. On the upside however, there is a chance Josh could be here for his first Father's Day and our tiny girl's first birthday. Make a wish for us, won't you?

Anyway, enough waxing on about Josh missing the last three consecutive birthdays, my first Mother's Day, and our daughter's first Christmas (as you can tell, I am not sensitive). The thing I must tell you is that on these very pages we have suggested to you that it might be a fine idea to take yourself aside (and someone else, but that is not necessary) and make a Dark and Stormy cocktail for yourself. I can tell you from personal experience now that The Host is entirely right, this is a deep and tangy drink worthy of any great occasion.

Well, almost any occasion. Maybe not an occasion when you will have a guest see the bar in your home. Maybe not when your guests are not familiar with Gosling Black Seal Rum (which may not be substituted) because they will not be even remotely bowled over by your generosity in serving them this rum. Gosling's has no intention of helping you to put your best foot forward in that respect: Gosling's is only available in (unbelievably cheap) and aesthetically unforgivable plastic bottles until further notice.

Here is where yours truly, the Blushing Hostess, had a bit of a moment with the ABC Liquor people in Ponte Vedra Beach (head's up here, avoid these people at any cost). My idea was that it would be lovely to serve Dark and Stormy's for Josh's homecoming (as it had been both dark and stormy during his absence. Logical, I like to think). All I had to do was come up with the Gosling's Black Seal Rum and a bit of ginger beer. I turned to ABC for Gosling's as they have a reputation for being a very fine bunch and knowing everything about everything boozy.

"Can I ask you about this?" I said holding up a plastic bottle of Gosling's Black Seal, the only sort of bottle I could find on their shelves.

Without waiting for my question, Woman 1 behind the counter says, "It is supposed to be very good rum."

"Yes, good." I said. "But I am wondering about this bottle. Plastic is not an appealing thing to put on a bar. Is there a glass bottle?"

"We cannot get them anymore, they will not send them to us." she replied.

Woman 2 behind the counter interjected and as she did, her face was clearly forming a judgement of me as a particular nuisance sort of a beach-wife customer, "Where is your bar?" she demanded.

"In my home." I answered.

"You care what a bottle looks like on your bar?" she stammered. And somewhere in my mind, I could hear squealing Volvo breaks. I could see every head at the Palm Beach Club swinging around. I could hear a thousand Bedford doyennes before me spinning wildly in their graves.

I froze there for a moment because it was one of the defining ones where you can fall into her expectations or you can fall back on your manners. I went the latter road though there was a flash through me of venom which would have meant the former had it been given the opportunity to rise to my voice. "Yes." I said. "I care very much about what a bottle looks like. And a label." I hesitated for a moment, looking over my shoulder at the thousands of beautiful bottles which surrounded this woman at work each day and clearly had not marked her soul in any way. I wondered if I was wasting my breath, concluded I was, and plowed onward heedlessly, "I won't put plastic on my bar, it looks as if I did not care enough to give my guests something well selected and worthy of them. It looks cheap, like liquor did in college. I expected more from these people."

Now, the problem is two-fold as I see it. Firstly, people who create and put their name on a thing are generally a discerning sort: They give careful thought to the way they present themselves and their product. They gain a following by being choosy about the impression they make and by producing something incomparable and of noteworthy quality. They take pride in their work and the things they have worked for, as I do, in the bar from which you will be served in my home. I can speak from a position of security on this subject because The Blushing Hostess is meant to be just those things for you: Incomparable. Quality. Choosy.

Secondly, I take issue with the Gosling people because the (rather surly) staff at ABC Ponte Vedra helped me to understand that Gosling refuses to ship anymore glass bottles to their customers until they go through their stock of plastic bottles. And while I understand their margins and inventory are balanced on this decision, speaking from the position of having managed both for businesses far larger than theirs, it is an insanely stupid one. It is the work of impossible and unstoppable branding buffoons who will learn that it is far better to eat one's own mistake in the budget than pass it on to the customer and debase the brand's image.

I will think twice before buying Gosling's again, though I will miss the Dark and Stormy. Not only because their failures are not my problem, but because as one looks around a liquor store, there are so many other brands which had so obviously agonized over presenting something aesthetically phenomenal to me as a consumer, both in their bottles and on their labels: I should give them my business. I am a discerning sort and I expect Gosling's to understand that at the end of the line, it is my aesthetic sense that matters, not theirs. I expect them to value me enough to give me a bottle which looks great on the bar and sings out, "Drink me, I am a very special rum, and I have come such a long way to prove it to you."

So, Woman 2 at ABC in Ponte Vedra and Gosling's please consider yourself advised: It always matters how you present a thing, but it matters so much more how you present yourself.

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