She'll Drink to That
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
BLUEMONT, Va. Outside Barbara Holland's little house in the Blue Ridge Mountains, a cold drizzle falls through a thick fog. Inside the house, it's warmer and drier and the fog isn't water vapor; it's cigarette smoke.
Smiling, she offers her visitor a choice: "You want to go outside and get pneumonia or stay in here and get lung cancer?"
She's a wisp of a woman with short white hair and a face that's weather-beaten enough to be called craggy. She has just published her 15th book. It's called "The Joy of Drinking" and, as the title suggests, it's a lighthearted history of humanity's long romance with strong liquids.
"Holland has a light, winsome touch and is always funny," the New York Times raved, and the Los Angeles Times agreed: "Barbara Holland is a person you'd want to sit in front of a cozy fire and drink with."
When a little old lady writes an ode to booze, it behooves a local reporter to drop by for a visit, bearing a bottle of wine. She breaks out a corkscrew and two wineglasses, which are quickly filled.
"Cheers!" she says. Glasses clink and she takes a sip. Then she lights up a Tareyton 100.
"Stuck up here on this mountain, I have only two hobbies," she says. She raises the cigarette: "This is one." She raises the wineglass: "This is the other."
She already wrote her ode to smoking in an earlier book, "Endangered Pleasures," which praised cigarettes, naps, bacon, swearing, loafing and other precious joys. That book, still in print after a dozen years, turned her into a quirky spokeswoman for an older, slower, less driven, more gregarious way of life.
"I'm in favor of a little more sociability, a little more merriment, maybe even a little more singing and dancing," she says. "Jeepers, I'm so old that I remember when we all used to sing all the time."
Really? How old are you?
"None of your [bleep] business," she says. She bursts out laughing and then her happy cackle turns into a nasty cough. She fights it with another sip of wine, then talks about her book.
"It came out the week before Mother's Day, and I was kind of hoping people would buy it for their mothers," she says.