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The alcohol-free article

| Tuesday, November 7, 2023

In a niche cocktail bar in Venice, we fit right in — in our post-Flixbus outfits, still shivering from the chilly walk/run to our establishment of choice on Fondamenta Frari. Fife and I found Il Mercante by chance through a fateful Google search: “Cool speakeasy Venice.” We spent two hours there and too much money. And we loved it. 

Particularly, we loved the ambiance — the warm glow radiating from the tiny glass lamps scattered throughout (couched between bottles of liquor behind the bar, perched atop mid-century modern coffee tables). And of course, we loved the drinks — the steady, controlled flow of liquor and its counterparts (kombucha or seaweed or black tea or cocoa butter) into cups of all shapes and sizes, adorned with crackers or dried fruits or olives. 

I remember we received our drinks quickly, and we sipped slowly, savoring every sweet second of our fourteen-euro beverages.

And maybe we sipped slowly because we were in Venice or maybe because the ambiance was cool (with the warm glow radiating from tiny glass lamps). Or maybe because we were keenly aware of the fact that we were drinking fourteen-euro beverages. But I like to think we sipped slowly because we wanted to relish in the experience, the harmony of flavors in each cocktail glass — the colors, the shapes, the chatter and laughter floating from tables and chairs of couples and friends, people just like us.

If I had it my way, every drink would be just like that, taste like that in a place like that with company like that.

It usually isn’t though. 

I admit, throughout my career at Notre Dame, drinking often meant getting drunk (and getting drunk often meant making wild decisions and perhaps winding up with a casual hangover the next day to nurse with blue Powerade in the dining hall). But drinking also meant fun. It meant dancing like you’re on fire and saying things impulsively and leaning into situations that felt super romantic (but were mostly just sticky and gross). 

But for many of us, drinking is like that line from A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

I’ve had my best times while drinking, but I’ve also had my worst times. I’ve sipped fourteen-euro cocktails with Fife in Venice; I’ve also drank so much seltzer that I simply could not keep it all in. I’ve had enthralling conversations with (Morrissey) boys at house parties; I’ve also cried outside of those same house parties over (Morrissey) boys. I’ve said things I meant; I’ve said things I meant but probably shouldn’t have said. I’ve danced until my limbs were literally flying in people’s faces; I’ve also face-planted and taken tumbles that gave me bruises up and down my whole body. I’ve called hometown friends and left the most thoughtful voicemails; I’ve called loose acquaintances I hadn’t spoken to in months to “check-in” at 3 a.m. I’ve made friends in the bar bathroom; I’ve ended friendships (also in the bar bathroom). I’ve kissed kings; I’ve kissed frogs. I’ve ended my nights in Za Land; I’ve ended my nights crying in the BP communal showers with Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well (10-Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault)” playing on full blast. 

But thousands of miles from the BP Communal showers, at Il Mercante in Venice, I was reminded of something I always knew: That I can enjoy alcohol and the good it brings me in moderation, how it can keep me warm and fuzzy and invite intimate conversation, how it can bring people together and taste good when it’s done right. 

That’s Italian culture, though. Notre Dame culture doesn’t want us to enjoy our drinks, I’m afraid. 

Notre Dame culture wants us to grind Sunday through Wednesday and black out Thursday through Saturday. Notre Dame culture wants us to lose ourselves in a moment, instead of finding ourselves in a moment. Notre Dame culture celebrates the next morning when we discover a Snapchat video of something heinous we did but truly can’t remember. And, Notre Dame culture often neglects the all-important question: “Why?”

Why did I drink so much at that much-coveted South Bend establishment last weekend? Why did those casual High Noons over spring break taste better than the ones I (allegedly) chugged before the spring darty? Why were the best nights last year always the sober dance parties we threw in room 117 exclusively for the BP girls (and maybe Andrew or Aedan)?

I think there are a million reasons why we drink (or don’t drink), and while I can’t quite pinpoint the reason I drank in Venice, but I can safely say that it was intentional.

So perhaps, the answer isn’t to not drink at Notre Dame. Perhaps, the answer is to consider why and to maybe give yourself the space to say: “Perhaps I don’t need a drink tonight. Maybe I just need a walk. Maybe I just need a nap. Maybe I just need a hug.” 

And today (or tonight), I hope you can give yourself the space to choose to not drink or choose to spare fourteen euros on the best drink of your life (maybe save 4 euros and make it non-alcoholic, maybe adorned with a dried fruit slice).

Kate Casper (aka, Casper, Underdog or Jasmine) is from Northern Virginia, currently residing in Rome. She strives to be the best waste of your time. You can contact her at [email protected].

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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