Wednesday, June 20, 2012

On the hottest day of the year, a toast to ice!

Mark your calendars for November 2015. That’s when ice celebrates its 200th birthday.
The declaration will no doubt startle those who revere the literal word.
How could ice be only 200 years old when earth endured what is known as “The Ice Age” 20,000 years ago? 
Let me to explain.
Prior to 1815, ice was a substance that inspired one expression: profanity. It was slippery. It impeded motion. It made drinking water without a campfire difficult.
Sure, there may have been some Nordic types who reveled in ice, but that’s only because they had no choice. Guaranteed, go to Disney World this February and I’ll wager you dollars to lutefisk you’ll spend at least an hour standing in line with folks named Sven and Olga.
No one in their right mind chooses to live in landscapes dominated by ice. In fact, the only species that seems to do so is one the one famously ill-suited for any kind of mobility. That is the penguin.
It can’t fly, its webbed feet make migration impossible, and its lack of thumbs rule out the hitchhiking option. They seem like agile swimmers, but that can’t be or else they’d have long ago colonized places like Key West.
So we can all agree ice is a menace to hospitable living, right?
Wrong. And that’s why 1815 is a year to commemorate.
All hail Frederic Tudor!
He is to ice what Benjamin Franklin is to electricity. He didn’t invent it, but he realized its potential and harnessed it.
In fact, you could draw a line through history right at Tudor and 1815. On one side is barbarity, the other side civilization.
Tudor is the visionary who in 1806 gazed upon frozen New England ponds and saw gold.
Perhaps I’m drawn to celebrating him and his achievement because he seems like exactly the kind of guy with whom I could sit around and enjoy a cold beer.
And that was precisely the problem.
Cold drinks were an unheard of luxury back in the 19th century. No one ever dreamed ice had a utilitarian potential.
No one but Tudor. The third son of a wealthy Boston lawyer, he was a renown family layabout who’d skipped going to Harvard, as was his privilege, because he reasoned excessive study would bore him.
Sensing a kinship?
One day he and his rich brothers were enjoying an afternoon idyll with ice cream -- I like to imagine hammocks and really, really early Jimmy Buffett songs were involved -- when the oldest brother casually remarked what a pity it was that people in the sunbaked climes would never know what it was like to experience a chill.
The speculation immediately brain barnacled in the young Tudor’s head.
Why not, he wondered, take the chill to them?
It’s interesting to wonder if he considered mass moving equatorial people north in what would be a racially charged version of Make-A-Wish. Probably not. Taking ice in the other direction made more sense.
He’d spend the next six years and thousands of dollars of other people’s money trying to make that happen. 
With borrowed money he bought a freighter and set sail on a 1,500-mile journey with a cargo preposterous enough to earn ridicule from the Boston Gazette. This from the paper’s February 10, 1806:
“No joke. A vessel has cleared the Custom House for Martinique with a cargo of ice. We can only hope this doesn’t prove a slippery speculation.”
Who knew smart ass bloggers existed 200 years ago?
His early efforts were uniform failures that led him to long stretches in debtor’s prison. The ice kept obeying basic physics and melting from solid to slush to liquid then being too tuckered from the exertion to turn to steam.
My favorite part of the story is imaging him trying to explain to baffled islanders why he kept showing up on their shores with boats full of warm water.
A restless self-promoter, he’d carry a cooler of ice with him to restaurants to add to the glasses of fellow diners to create demand where none previously existed.
He never quit and history shows that on Nov. 1, 1815, Tudor succeeded in delivering 150 tons of ice to the Caribbean, a region that today is difficult to fathom without frozen daiquiris, pina coladas and other cocktails to slurp.
I suppose I’m drawn to his story because it so contrasts with mine. He never had access to cold liquor and changed the world.
I have access to plenty of cold liquor and rarely bother to change my profile picture.
I bare him no historical grudge. I can’t imagine enduring these forecasted scorchers without access to ice for my bourbon or to add refreshing chill to beer-filled coolers.
He’s a man who should be memorialized.
Anyone think a big ice sculpture is too obvious?
Sounds cool to me.

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