Ruminations on Pirates & Rum

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Aside from the obvious pillaging, trinket burying, and severe lack of lemons–nothing apart from a flag adorned with skull and crossbones could fill the popular mythos of pirates as effectively as a passionate love of Rum. But where did the idea come from and how many daiquiris could they possibly have been guzzling while terrorizing the high seas?

Before we set our coordinates and dive in on the history of rum and pirates thing, I want to briefly touch on what, specifically, rum is. Don’t laugh, I’m sure most of us chug whatever giggle juice we can find without much thought to where it came from. And, in this case, the distillation of rum is insanely relevant to what I’m about to get into in this post. So, for those who don’t really know what’s in their piña colada, rum is distilled from sugarcane by-products, specifically in this case, molasses. And, historically, where could you find an over abundance of molasses from 1650-1730 AD along with pirates? The Caribbean, baby.

As a colonial territory, the Caribbean was rampant with European special interests, sugar plantations, and, er, despite what Kanye West thinks–slavery.

planting sugar cane

The Triangular Trade is certainly a post for another day, but the bare essentials of it was the creation of a trade highway in the middle of the Atlantic. Slaves were taken from Africa and shipped off to the Caribbean and then were worked on plantations where “a total environment in which the lives of the captive workforce could be bent unremittingly to maximize output” [1]. From there, sugar & molasses were imported back to Britain and (with sometimes slaves) to North American colonies, with an exchange of needed goods sent back. Rum was at the heart of this exchange. In the process of crystallizing cane sugar, one of the by-products of this process produced a considerable amount of molasses, which no one really knew what to do with. When life gives you molasses, one of the cheapest and easiest things to do was make rum out of it, and thus in turn created an abundant and bountiful return for the West Indies. [2] Unlike the French, who refused to distill rum and preferred to remain loyal to the classic French brandy and wine, they were simply throwing away around half a million gallons of molasses a year in the 1680’s on their Caribbean colonies. To get an idea on how crazy the export game was, in 1702 Barbados exported more than 200,000 gallons of rum. 30 years later, that number rose to 4 million. [3]

Rum-men traded rum for slaves in Africa, and then slaves for molasses in the West Indies. Frequently, molasses served as a partial payment for the slaves, thereby making the circle of Caribbean involvement complete. [2]

And so it was that rum became exceedingly popular in the 18th century. In England, where brandy and wine became less readily available while warring with the French, an average of 1,317,062 gallons of spirits had been made from molasses between 1728 and 1736. By 1740, the annual consumption in London was estimated at 14 gallons per person. The Royal Navy even instituted a rum ration, guaranteeing a sailor a half pint of it a day. The Scottish had their own run at it, trading and smuggling around British tariffs. [1] North American colonies like Rhode Island and South Carolina got into the rum production game too. In fact, it seemed like everyone was guzzling rum down like water except for Georgia, those Southern Gents tryin’ their darnedest to ban the evil nectar. [4]

Found the people were grown very mutinous and impatient of labour and discipline. …this petulancy was owing chiefly to several of them having got into drinking of rum.Oglethorpe on why Georgians can’t handle their drink. [4]

So where do pirates come in to play? Clearly, an inclination to drinking copious amounts of rum wasn’t mutually exclusive to pillaging and plunder. For pirates, it’s probably nothing more than happenstance.

With The Triangular Trade, not only were there avenues of trade across the Atlantic, but also prime targets for a little self-serving economic prosperity to anyone willing to take it. Piracy increased around the same time, at first with privateers and marauders with official licenses from their respective governments to attack and plunder enemy ships, blurring the lines between agent and villain like with Sir Francis Drake and Captain Henry Morgan. But during the early centuries, it was not unusual to feel a sense of loyalty to a homeland. Pirates during the Golden Age, however, were loyal to their crew alone. These pirates were unique in that they were made up of a band of misfits, characterized as castaways, escaped slaves, and ex-sailors disenchanted with the employment opportunities and financial prospects available to them. [5] They were a counter culture in explicit retaliation of nationalist enterprises in trade and resented political and religious authority. These were rebels operating within the bounds of their own ideology and lifestyles–with the recourse to spend lavishly on all kinds of pleasurable indulgences from fancy clothes and prostitution to, yes, rum. And yet, despite their supposed anarchy, they still “developed a distinctive work culture with its own language, songs, rituals, and sense of brotherhood as well as shared institutions and agreed-upon rules for their social order.” [6] This is where the Pirate’s Code comes from, and one such example from Captain Black Bart’s Pirate Law shows how even the respective indulgence of rum was worked into the deal:

Every Man has a Vote in Affairs of Moment; Has equal Title to the fresh provisions, or strong Liquors, at any Time Seized. [6]

Therefore, it’s safe to say that pirates themselves, as diverse a band of miscreants as can be, have some form of a shared culture. And at least in pop culture, happen to be associated with rum. Whereas their consumption of rum during the 18th century was little out of the ordinary, more contemporary authors seem to shed particular light on the coupling in no dissimilar a way as any other popular outlaw characterization would a Wild West gunman with a cowboy hat or Prohibition-era mobster with a Tommy gun. [6] One of the earliest literary examples comes from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island written more than a hundred years after the more famous high sea shenanigans took place. In it, we not only get the image of peg legs and shoulder-warming parrots, but the classic ‘Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest, Yo Ho Ho and a bottle of rum.” [1] And obviously, the romanticizing hasn’t stopped there.

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Edward Teach, aka ‘Blackbeard’. Supposedly enjoyed his rum with gunpowder, probably how he managed the smokey hair tendril look.

Now, pirates are distinctly part of the Disney narrative, which in and of itself, is nearly a monopoly as a juggernaut of cultural output with the vacuum of Star Wars, Marvel, and now Fox Searchlight tangled in its web. The irony of Pirates of the Caribbean then being a narrative text within the Disney world and thus commoditized for gain in its own image is not lost on me.

“Although piracy, mutiny, and rogue sailors may have certainly existed, the manner in which they are displayed in the ride–as swashbuckling caricatures, bungling and gluttonous–is more a function of exposure to other media, not to factual pirate accounts.” –  [7]

And though I absolutely adore the Pirates of the Caribbean films, it’s important to point out how Disney manufactures and contextualizes their stories. It’s no secret that their films aren’t exactly congruent with the origin stories of which they’re based, and Pirates is no different a fairy tale than Cinderella is. With base material like Treasure Island, add in all those Errol Flynn movies, and Disney’s own Peter Pan and The Swiss Family Robinson, and you’ve already got a known place of reference. And with the first Pirates of the Caribbean (2003) film in particular, the screenwriters who were responsible for Aladdin (1992) and Shrek (2001), were already established as priding themselves on exceedingly self-aware and referential fans of fairy tales. “Slyly poking fun at the very essentialized pirate narratives and Disneyfication they were enlisted to produce” [7], they created a film both riddled with Easter eggs in synergy with the park ride and the opportunity to sell memetic jokes as merchandise. The ongoing one, in particular, should be fairly obvious…

Image result for why is the rum always gone gif

Image result for why is the rum always gone gif

Image result for why is the rum always gone gif

That’s not to say it’s all Disney’s fault by any means. Just look at all of these various rum brands that are capitalizing on pirate imagery to sell their product. But even this is completely fair, as pirates were known for making their own version of grog called ‘bumbo’ because who doesn’t like a little extra spice in their life? You could say they’ve probably earned their labels.

And, if we get right down to it, associating rum with pirates is just more fun. Because rum’s tangled history is a bit of a messy one, and it’s not one people usually like to call for shots of at a Miami dance club. With rum, there is a direct link with the slave trade, a drink synonymous with colonialism and sometimes used to barter with for slaves (or to subdue them with). [2] Then there’s traders in North America who would ply Native Americans with rum and cheat them out of their wares, getting them hooked on the drink much the same way as the British did with Opium in China. [8] And then of course, the pervasive image of rum became an evil one during the Temperance movement, especially with the associations above. [9]

But all that aside, rum is good as Jack Sparrow would say. So why not just let the pirates steal all the love?

 

Fact Check it, yo!

[1Grabiner, J. (1998). ‘Some Disputes of Consequence‘: Maclaurin among the Molasses Barrels. Social Studies of Science, 28(1), 139-168. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/285753

[2Nesbitt, Jennifer P. “Rum Histories: Decolonizing the Narratives of Jean Rhys’s ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ and Sylvia Townsend Warner’s ‘The Flint Anchor.’” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, vol. 26, no. 2, 2007, pp. 309–330. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/20455331.

[3Ostrander, G. (1956). The Colonial Molasses Trade. Agricultural History, 30(2), 77-84. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3739927

[4Sweet, J. (2010). “That Cursed Evil Rum”: The Trustees’ Prohibition Policy in Colonial Georgia. The Georgia Historical Quarterly, 94(1), 1-29. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/40585152

[5Dawdy, S., & Bonni, J. (2012). Towards a General Theory of Piracy. Anthropological Quarterly, 85(3), 673-699. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/41857267

[6Mackie, E. (2005). Welcome the Outlaw: Pirates, Maroons, and Caribbean Countercultures. Cultural Critique, (59), 24-62. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/4489197

[7] Petersen, A. (2007). “You Believe in Pirates, Of Course…”: Disney’s Commodification and “Closure” vs. Johnny Depp’s Aesthetic Piracy of “Pirates of the Caribbean”. Studies in Popular Culture, 29(2), 63-81. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/23416141

[8DiVirgilio, J. (2005). Rum Punch and Cultural Revolution: The Impact of the Seven Years’ War in Albany. New York History,86(4), 434-449. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/42677835

[9] McArthur, Judith N. “Demon Rum on the Boards: Temperance Melodrama and the Tradition of Antebellum Reform.” Journal of the Early Republic, vol. 9, no. 4, 1989, pp. 517–540. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3123754.

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Paris Day 5-6: Disneyland in Paris

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I’ve been to Disney World in Orlando more times than I can remember. I’m assuming it’s at least in the double digits, so to say I’m familiar with the park is probably an understatement. Disneyland Paris is something else, however, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the park was not a mirror image of its predecessors.

Opening in April of 1992, the park is still celebrating it’s 25th anniversary this year though it’s now officially crossed the 26 year mark. But we’re also celebrating other significant milestones with this park visit. The first time my mother ever got the chance to experience a Disney Park, it was with my grandmother, which was also her first visit too. It was on this trip that my mother became obsessed with Disney and Mickey Mouse, passing along her love to me as well. So, for the first time, we were both visiting a Disney park for the first time together, neither of us having been to Disneyland Paris before.

And the park is certainly unique! Not only does it have exclusive rides, but even the classic staples found at all Disney Parks are different–and we were even able to enjoy experiences that no longer exist at older parks. One of these was Captain Jack’s restaurant (though of different name back then), which is a sit-down restaurant inside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride which is seen from the boats going through. My mother explained that she went to this restaurant with my grandmother too, so we made sure to check it out as well. The food was amazing but I’m pretty sure I’ve never felt as full in my entire life.

We rode Pirates of the Caribbean 3 times in the course of our visit, it being one of our all time favorites from Disney Parks. Though the dialogue spoken in the ride was French, the Pirate’s Life song was sung in English so it was both familiar and fun. It also wasn’t a copy of the original, there were a few added features like a Barbossa who, under moonlight, dazzled in cursed skeletal glory. Different odds and ends like poor kitties floating on crates, a captain’s quarters, and of course the view of Captain Jack’s Restaurant made it a unique treat despite the many times I’ve been on the ride in Disney World. We also saw the new addition of a Pirate Red-Head, which has since changed over from the original wench auction.

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The park worlds are all different too! There is Frontierland (not set-up the same as Disney World at all), Adventureland which is broken up by an Adventure Isle which contains a pirate ship, Skull Rock, and a maze of dark tunnel caves which is a whole lot of fun put would have probably given my parents a heart-attack if my brother and I played in them as kids. Fantasyland which includes enough exclusive features to set it apart, and Discoveryland which replaces Tomorrowland as the sci-fi otherword but with more of a steampunk flair in aesthetic. There is also a second park called Walt Disney Studios which takes the place of Hollywood Studios at Disney World which includes Tower of Terror and one of my old favorites, Animation Studio which has since been turned into a Star Wars outpost in Disney World.

And, of course, the Disney castle is different–instead of Cinderella, the castle in the middle belongs to Sleeping Beauty and upstairs there is an entire stained glass gallery featuring her story. Also, underneath the castle in a dark cave lives the dragon…

As for the rides that can’t be found at Disney World? We tried them all! Ratatouille being the most well-known, we hit up that one first especially since the lines for it are ridiculously long. And though it was fun, I can’t suggest that an hour wait is worth it. It was certainly a pleasant ride, but we were good with one go. You ride on a mouse mobile chasing around in Gusteau’s restaurant but the ride relies mostly on motion with the action happening on screen and the mouse car moving in place along in response. There are some fun moments where you do move through the kitchen and pleasant smells like citrus are injected into the air. Another exclusive ride that left us a bit wanting was Indiana Jones and The Temple of Peril. It’s a short mine cart roller coaster that hooks and loops around a cool looking temple ruin, but it mostly jostles you around and both my mother and I repeatedly had our heads pinging back and forth against our headrest so we left the ride feeling a bit disoriented and woozy. The ride also lacks the magic of integrating you into the world of Indiana Jones which other Disney rides are pretty good about doing, nothing during the ride had anything to do with the whipped crusader aside from name alone which was a shame. It could have been a roller coaster from anywhere.

One of my favorites was Star Wars Hyperspace Mountain, which was a refurbishment of Space Mountain, a similar thing having happened to the ride at Disneyland California too. Space Mountain, in my experience at Disney World, isn’t a ride that had aged well. Half the time it’s broken down and the other half it’s rickety and rough, throwing you around in an un-enjoyable experience that’s hardly even dark enough anymore, the blackness of space impossible when the roller coaster tracks are visible. So I was excited to see how Hyperspace Mountain improved upon the formula and I was not disappointed. IT WAS COOL! First thing it does is launch you so fast it straps you back and you momentarily loose your breath as your body tries to adjust to the velocity, and once you’re finally able to breathe again, you’re being thrown around in the dark with flashing lasers and dogfights between X-Wings and Tie Fighters, it’s honestly a treat.

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Surprisingly, in a country that prides itself on food, Disneyland Paris didn’t have much variety in options. I remember when I was a kid, the food wasn’t that impressive at Disney World either, but over the years they’ve really strengthened their culinary prowess and now you can’t turn a corner without a stall having its own unique dish to salivate and throw down $20 for (I’m exaggerating but also it’s kinda on the mark) If you’re curious to see what Disney World has going on in the food world, I suggest following Disneyfoodblog but be prepared to pack your bags and book your tickets. At Disneyland Paris, every single stall either had popcorn and ice cream or sugared crepes and a hot dog. Don’t get me wrong, these hot dogs are something else. They’re giant doggies nestled in a baguette and I could probably eat one every day but you just want some options, you know?

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And maybe this is simply because of the culture in Europe. We saw signs telling people that picnicking within the park was not permitted and we were wondering, was that seriously a thing? Evidently. Most of the visitors at Disneyland Paris brought in school sized backpacks full of food that they’d consume in line for a ride. There was one guy chowing down a bowl of noodles before getting on Hyperspace mountain and I have to wonder if he had an iron gut.

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A few other stray observations…

Both parks are small, which is no surprise since the internet is pretty up front about warning visitors of this. Walt Disney Studios takes less than an hour to walk all around with no stops, so if you’re planning a visit, get the multi-pass.

France being France was eager to let us know what they were responsible for inventing which was pretty funny. Declarations were featured in a few of their rides like ‘the French invented animation!’, ‘the French invented special effects!’, ‘the French invented shooting films on location!’. It was honestly endearing.

It’s a Small World WAS sung in French!

There was a severe lack of adult beverages which is the opposite problem at Disney World. Do Europeans not need to be drowning in booze in order to get through a day spent with their kids?

Both days the Aladdin signing autographs was white as hell.

Do Europeans get the same sense of wonder and awe with our history and aesthetic as we do theirs? Frontierland is an ode to the American West, do their minds tick and whirl with imaginings of Cowboys and Native Americans?

Some guy accidentally sneezed on my mother and she reflexively said “Bless you!” to him which cued a fervently concerned discussion in German where the wife was pretty sure my mother meant something along the lines of gesundheit rather than the other probable two worded phrase she might have fired off instead.

Other treats, a pineapple dole whip float. It’s not the same as the swirl featured in Disney World but it did the job. And the beignets are delicious!

All in all, I’m super glad we checked out Disneyland Paris. As lifelong Disney fans, it was really cool to experience Disney in a different way and I’ll always remember it fondly as that crazy time we went to visit Mickey Mouse in Paris. Now I’ll need to visit Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Tokyo too!

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