If the land you are crossing is desolated yet captivating, then there is an excellent chance you are in what AAA calls the Indian Country. Misappropriation of the name aside the Indian country is where one comes to see incredible geological formations and to witness the progress of a 200 years experiment in civilizing natives. You may think that the concept of bringing the benefits of Western civilization to autochthons is a thing of the past, offensive to modern sensibilities. But consider the restrictions on alcohol on Navajo reservation. The federal government forbids sale of alcohol on Indian lands unless the tribe allows and the Secretary of Interior certifies it. For the rest of us the default option permits alcohol unless local community curbs it. Which is more common than you think: a waitress in Blanding, UT apologetically remarked it’s a dry town (and not because we were in the middle of the desert) when we tried to order beer with our dinner. The result, an utter lack of your favorite libation, is roughly the same but this is not a subtle distinction. Federal laws treat Indians like children. Just look at the extent of tribal jurisdiction over Indian country: the tribal court can only rule in case when both the victim and the perpetrator are Indians and only when the crime is a misdemeanor. Felonies and crimes affecting non-Indians are deemed to difficult to be left to native judges.
New Hampshire’s motto proudly displayed on its residents’ license plates is Live Free or Die. A little scary as a precondition to settle in the state. Imagine asking yourself every morning: am I living free or do I deserve to die? It is not surprising New Hampshire has an above average depression rate. Other states may have more benign slogans but the idea of freedom is never far from American minds. At the onset of the Iraq war we had a conversation with a friend. Our reservations were met with a charge that we had no freedom gene. Implying of course that Americans have a unique perspective on liberty. While that’s debatable, one has to admit that coming up with the name Iraqi Freedom was a stroke of genius.
In our unskilled attempt to lead a life of debauchery we’ve ended up in Breck’s Absinthe bar. Two things need to be said right away. First: we are now officially allowed to call Breckenridge: Breck. We’ve spent more than 3 weeks here and earned that privilege. And the second: we had absolutely no idea that Absinthe bar would be actually serving - you know - absinthe. That just shows how naive we are. I’ve always thought that absinthe is something that has been drunk only in 19th century France. And even then by a fraction of a society that would have nothing to do with a good old bourgeoisie, which - for better or worse - we are now a part of.
We almost missed it. When at 8pm on Saturday we decided to check it out it was already over for the day. Clearly beer drinking is not a way to spend an evening. We don’t really know what the rules are for an Oktoberfest held in September. They may as well color beer pink and serve with cookies for all we know. The next day we wait till 12pm in accord with the unwritten rule of no drinking before noon, unless to cure a hungover and venture into the crowd milling among the stands. In an attempt to move away from a yodeling band in lederhosen we spot Polish food. I go to secure it while Damian tries to buy beer. Not that simple. In order to exchange money for alcohol one needs to purchase a ticket. The booth is located at the end of the fest ground. We get carded and receive wrist bands and then we can buy tickets. And T-shirts. And pins. And commemorative beer mugs from 2008 at a discount in lieu of this year’s ones. The lady in charge of transactions seems to be slightly affected by the joyous atmosphere. Confused by an uncooperative terminal she takes Damian’s credit card hostage and then has problems procuring a receipt. We run away before she decides to take our hard won tickets away.
Note to self: don’t visit Oxford, Mississippi on Sunday. The city looks dead. Bars and restaurants are closed. No sign of the lauded nightlife. It is the direct result of the ban on alcohol sales on Sunday: one of the many dry laws in the state. It may be different during the week, but we have absolutely no desire to stay and check. We owe special thanks (and the fact we didn’t go to bed hungry) to Joel Miller, chef and proprietor of ravine and his staff, for keeping it open on Sundays. And for serving such excellent local food. Especially fresh ripe tomatoes from their own garden.
I thought that after the initial shock related to gigantic portions and mysterious lists of salad dressing nothing related to American gastronomy will surprise us. But strange customs related to serving (or, more often than one would like, not serving) alcohol will get you every time. We have to remember this is the nation that experimented with prohibition. An idea that briefly became a common cause of Ku Klux Klan and women’s suffrage movement. And also one of the few cases where Constitution limited rights of the individual. In nearly all other cases American constitution is a wonderful document that limits the rights of the state and guarantees the freedom of the individual. But I digress.