Day 129: vespers

Vespers, Vespas.

Ester’s, Aestus.

In my accent, each member of this pair is pronounced identically; to my ear, the four words rhyme perfectly.

It’s a mystical correspondence, if ever there was one.

A beloved colleague bought me my first vesper at a bar in Santa Monica called Ester’s a couple of months ago. When she told me that it was a drink devised by Ian Fleming and named for the character of Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale, I was immediately intrigued and, also, surprised that I’d never heard of it.

I read a lot of Ian Fleming as a teenager; I also adored the David Niven / Peter Sellars / Woody Allen Casino Royale when I was a teenager; in that exuberantly silly Bond parody, Ursula Andress vamps it up as Vesper Lynd – but I don’t believe that there is any mention of the cocktail. In the 2006 version, Eva Green plays Vesper Lynd with stunning elegance. That version of Casino Royale features the cocktail prominently, but I’d forgotten all about it.

I always loved both the character and, especially, the name “Vesper,” which, with its echo of both viper and whisper, perfectly captures Ms. Lynd’s ability to so gently yet devastatingly get under 007’s skin.

Obviously, then, I was smitten with the vesper before I even had the chance to put the glass to my lips.

While I was nursing my first vesper at Ester’s, my colleague mentioned to me that there was one other bar in Santa Monica that had a vesper on the menu: Aestus.

I’d been to Aestus, but I’d never ordered their vesper. We decided there and then that we must make a pilgrimage to Aestus together to compare vespers.

Cut to today. I text my colleague, “we must plan a time for our vespas!” only realizing later when she sends out an email with the subject line: vespers, that I had confused the cocktail with the Italian motorcycle. My colleague ventured that it was the James Bond association that had triggered my confusion. That seemed right: there really ought to be a chase scene in a Bond film through Rome with 007 on a vespa, oughtn’t there? In my mind I have totally seen this sequence (I can just see the girl on the back of the vespa and the upset fruit cart that they surely crash into, leaving an irate Italian fruit seller in their wake). And yet, I’m not sure that there is such a chase scene in the Bond oeuvre. (Let me know if you can think of one …)

The plot to drink vespers at Aestus was hatched. And for some reason the very long thread of emails with the subject line: vespers, and the lengthy discussion of just which evening would suit, amused me because it brought to mind the idea that we might easily be nuns in The Sound of Music making plans to attend Vespers.

We are told in the novel of Casino Royale that Vesper Lynd is named for the Latin for evening – so the name of the cocktail and the religious service is, in fact, the same word.

That led me to think: the cocktail hour is, is it not, a kind of secular evening prayer? With that in mind, I hereby move that the “cocktail hour” be renamed, simply, “Vespers,” with “see you at Vespers” synonymous with, “see you at happy hour.”

After much to-ing and fro-ing, our plan for vespers at Aestus was finally made. But, alas! Perfidious fate intervened. Aestus, befitting its Latin name (passion, agitation, seething) had, doubtless in some fit of fury, elected to close this very Sunday, i.e. tomorrow, dear readers – close, that is, forever!

I very much regret to say that I shan’t be able to visit Aestus before Sunday. It feels grossly unfair that I will be denied the chance to compare Aestus’ vespers with Ester’s. More selflessly, it seems extremely thoughtless of Aestus to close its doors mere weeks before both KJ Rabbit and Dr. Lake are due to grace Santa Monica with their presence.

But: so be it. Aestus may close its doors forever this Sunday, but I will commemorate its vespers (undrunk as they are: tasted cocktails are sweet, but those untasted are sweeter, etc.) in my evensong chant that I think of as a blasphemous hybrid of One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish and Psalm 51, and which I shall l recite devotedly evermore:

Vespers, Vespas, Ester’s, Aestus;

Oh, Lord, open thou our lips;

And our mouths shall sing thy praises,

In between our grateful sips.