When I first decided to come back to Dili I fixated on the idea of a particular cocktail I’d make once I arrived. It’d be the the house special: if you came over to mine and Felix’s, this is what you’d be served.
If you’ve met me in person, in Melbourne or Dili, you’ve likely heard me go on about it — it’s a very simple combination of whisky, sugar syrup, and lime juice, served in a short glass, with a large ice cube made from frozen local coconut water seeping gently into the liquor. I talked about it for a month straight, two weeks either side of my flight, and served it, triumphantly, to my first houseguests upon arrival.
It’s a straightforward drink, and it tastes pretty good. But most sweet was, of course, the new qualities it represented for me.
I’ve written about feeling nervous coming back to a place I’ve lived previously. Worried I’d return smug and strutting, showing off dates knowledge of language and routes and old bars and restaurants, too into my own smarts to truly grasp how clueless, how out-of-depth, I really am in the Dili of 2021.
Fortunately, it feels like my fears were unfounded and I’ve — mostly — avoided repeating the missteps of the know-it-all friend I described in that post. (The first and greatest thing I’ll take from my time living in this city is the ability it’s given me to feel comfortable in not knowing something.) But one thing I was sure of as I packed to come back: the red wine I love drinking in Melbourne won’t be on my menu in Dili.
Most red wine here is imported from Portugal or Australia, with a few bottles from New Zealand and Bali. The Portuguese wine is a complete mystery to me — you’ll always get something drinkable for $10, but choosing a bottle is me holding on for dear life as I sound out unfamiliar vowels and try to guess which word might be the varietal, the region, the best before date. Australian wine is easier for me to understand, but more disappointing — fewer choices, mustier bottles, and you find yourself paying triple what you would back home, which makes my budget Lindeman’s bin 50 or bust. And I’m not sure if it’s additional preservatives in wine destined for export, or my general dehydration levels in the tropics, but red wine in Dili gets me very hungover, very quickly.
No, we would not be drinking overpriced, headache-inducing, mystery red wine on return. No. Why would we; I mean, when we could chop open local coconuts, juice market limes, boil sugar on the camp stove, combine with very nice whisky bought duty-free, and sip elegantly on the verandah, gazing beatifically toward the streaky neon sunset? Our bibulous hero is imbibing so much more than a grog here, reader.
But then I kept forgetting to buy coconuts and it kept raining in the evenings and the second that first thunder cracked I only wanted a little red with my book out the front. The house cocktail is on temporary hiatus. Preparing to leave Melbourne, I thought I knew better than an evening in the tropics.