The Potion of Oblivion

sangria orangesSangría,” said the Spaniard to a small woman with very big eyes, “It quenches the thirst of those who drink it. It quenches our secret thirsts, too. They call it the potion of oblivion.”

Once heard, it could never be unheard.

Thirteen and bored, I was flipping through the cable channels when I stumbled upon a sickly hermaphrodite mystic, fresh from her bath, telling the big-eyed woman the ways in which one should bite one’s lover: the blind bite, the breathy bite, the torn cloud, the wolf bite. Her beautiful priestess, decked out in an equally beautiful sari, made bizarre animal noises accompanied by even more bizarre hand gestures.

Once seen, it could never be unseen.

I had no idea what was happening, but it didn’t much matter– it was so strange and gorgeous and disturbing. I sat there, cross-legged with my eyes twelve inches from the television screen, trying to take everything in as the woman left the mystic’s hotel suite, got into a car with her companions, and told them in stunning flashback how her grandfather flew off with a voluptuous circus performer in a biplane as they drove away.

The film was Giulietta degli Spiriti— my first Fellini. Exposed to it less than five minutes, I was magnetized, hypnotized, and narcotized. I was left thoroughly open to suggestion, which is why the relative calm of the subsequent scene left such an indelible impression. My adolescent brain had been scrambled by bright colors and bizarre action, but it regrouped in the quiet, moonlit garden where the Spaniard made sangria for Giulietta.

sangria pour“Three slices of lemon, three of orange.” Giulietta’s housemaid dropped the slices with silver tongs in a pitcher of red wine. “Mineral water. Three teaspoons of sugar.”

“In Valencia they like to add clove. In Córdoba, a more delicate taste.”

The maid presented him with a champagne glass in which to pour the concoction, but he requested an ordinary one. He ladled the sangria into a large tumbler and handed it to Giulietta. She liked it.

Even at thirteen, it was clear to me that he was offering her more than simple refreshment. I had my own secret thirsts, but I was far too young to satisfy any of them. I’d have to wait several years before they could be quenched.

In the thirty-odd years since I sat in front of that television set, I count myself fortunate to report that my thirst for Spaniards has been thoroughly satisfied. My taste for Fellini and sangria, however, has not. I can’t say I’m disappointed that the Spaniard’s promise of the of the drink quenching my thirsts, both spoken and unspoken, is untrue. Quite the reverse, actually.

It means I can drink sangria and watch Il Maesto‘s films without tiring of either until death overtakes me. Or oblivion. Whichever one comes first.

And I’ve learned from experience that one should never believe a Spanish bartender.


Sangría de Olvido

With my particular version of sangria, I’m never quite certain which comes first, because I make a rather potent one, adding port wine and brandy. The film is called Juliet of the Spirits for a reason. At least, that’s my reason. And when offered the choice, I always opt for the fast track to oblivion.

I’ve seen so many “sangria” recipes lately, many of which do not include red wine. These beverages might be delightful and refreshing, but they are not sangria. They are fruit punch. Or worse: wine coolers. Sangria is a red wine-based drink. Its name derives from the Spanish word for bleeding and therefore should remind the drinker of blood. Whether it is the blood of bulls or toreros, Republicans or Nationalists, the suffering Christ or a niña who has fallen and badly scraped her rodilla is entirely up to you. But do yourself and Spanish people a favor: make your sangria with red wine. If you really must make it with white, try calling it el corpúsculo blanco or something similar like if only to keep in theme. Just hope no one who’s drinking it speaks Spanish.

Serves 4 to 5, depending upon what you consider and ordinary glass.


Picasso bottle• 1 bottle of inexpensive-but-decent Spanish red wine. Or, if you have more money than you know what to do with, you may use a bottle of 1973 Château Mouton-Rothschild since a Spaniard designed the label.
• 6 slices of Valencia orange (I have omitted the lemon and doubled up on the orange).
• 12 or more spikes of clove, because I am not from Córdoba.
• 3 teaspoons of sugar
• 3 ounces of Spanish brandy (other brandies may be substituted)
• 3 ounces of port (madeira may also be used if you prefer it less sweet)
• Cold sparkling water (optional)


1. Cut the orange into 6 ¼” slices and pierce the each rind with 2 cloves. Or three, if you prefer. Place them at the bottom of a glass pitcher or 1-litre mason jar (which I prefer because of the accompanying lid). Sprinkle sugar over the orange slices.

2. Pour in wine, then add the brandy and port. Give the whole thing a firm but gentle swirl to help dissolve the sugar. Leave covered for at least 4 hours to let the flavors mingle. If you are letting the concoction steep overnight, refrigerate. The Spaniard in the film served his sangria immediately, but I much prefer to let the flavors blend together. Then again, I am not a Spaniard.

3. To serve, remove the sangria from the refrigerator to shed the excess chill. Sangria should be drunk cool, but not cold. Pour into glass tumblers, making sure not to let the slices of orange splash into the glass and onto your clothing, filling the glass half way. Add the sparkling water, if you feel like it, until the glass is 3/4 full. Garnish with a slice of what now looks like blood orange.

To drink yourself into oblivion, you’d better make a double batch.


About Michael Procopio

I write about food and am very fond of Edward Gorey. And gin.
This entry was posted in Liquids, Rants and Stories, Stage, Film, and Television and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to The Potion of Oblivion

Comments are closed.