Interview with Marcia DeSanctis, Journalist and Writer

by Caren on April 4, 2012

Each week, we post short interviews with interesting people about their thoughts and feelings on women and drinking. There is such a wide array of perspectives about this topic, and we are excited to gain insight into as many as possible and to share them with you.

Marcia DeSanctis is a journalist and writer whose work has appeared in many publications, including Vogue, Departures, The New York Times Magazine, Recce, Best Women’s Travel Writing 2011, Best Travel Writing 2011 and Town & Country. She is currently working on a memoir about marriage. Formerly, she was a network news producer for ABC, NBC, CBS and Dow Jones.

Drinking Diaries: How old were you when you had your first drink and what was it? 

Marcia DeSanctis: I’m from the outskirts of Boston, and we started young. It’s a particular part of the culture, and people I know who grew up in the area understand what I mean. Junior high–fourteen, maybe–is when I had my first drink. It was probably a cocktail one of my older sisters introduced me to called a Tidal Wave. Here’s the recipe: Go over to someone’s house whose parents are out. Open every bottle in the liquor cabinet (Chivas Regal, Stoli, Southern Comfort, Bacardi, Beefeaters) and fill the glass up half way. Add orange juice. Drink. Throw up. Repeat the following weekend.

How did/does your family treat drinking?  

My father is a doctor and received cases of great wine from patients. And yet, he never drank and still doesn’t. He’s one of those people who doesn’t like the taste. But my mother is more festive by disposition. When I was growing up, alcohol wasn’t an every day thing, but rather a way of punctuating a moment. Gin and tonic on the patio at the end of a summer day, kind of thing. I still adhere to that mentality, actually.

How do you approach alcohol in your every day life?

I like the idea of drinking more than I like to drink, because the truth is, I can’t hold much alcohol and never could. I really look forward to a beer with my husband when we’re out for Indian food, or a glass of red wine before dinner with a dear friend. I just can’t drink much more than one. And as I live in a rural area and have to drive everywhere, drinking is actually and physically more risky than it was when I lived in New York.

If you have kids, how is the subject of drinking handled? Do you drink in front of them? With them?

In spite of my own early idiocy with booze, I’m pretty careful with them. I was told that if there is any history of addiction disease, the longer you keep alcohol away from your children’s lips, the less likely they will be to abuse it (or any other drug) in the future. Somehow I escaped the addiction gene, but we do have it, somewhere in the recesses of our DNA code. I wish I could be French about it, and give them a little wine, but I don’t really see the point. But they’re teenagers, and I imagine they’ll experiment.  I’m confident they’ll be smarter than I was.

Have you ever had a phase in your life when you drank more or less?

Never more than when I was in high school. It wasn’t frequency so much as quantity – we just pounded down the beers, for which the cops who kicked us off various fields and parking lots had a hundred nicknames (“frosties,” “biffers,” and my favorite, “chowders.”) Hard to believe we were the good kids! I have absolutely no idea how I tolerated it, let alone survived. Once I got to college, I was already more temperate. I suppose I got uneasy with the idea of losing control and embarrassing myself, and I remain that way today. Basically, I’m not that much fun.

What’s your drink of choice? Why?

I like a little bit of everything, actually, but my idea of heaven is a good Bordeaux with a rare steak. I don’t even eat meat, really, but this is sublime and it wouldn’t be the same with sparkling water.

Can you tell us about the best time you ever had drinking?

It’s never been the wild night of carousing that’s given me pleasure, but rather the gesture, like lifting the flute of champagne to toast someone’s happiness or the first rum punch in the tropics. Once, I flew from Japan into San Antonio to visit my goddaughter. Her mother, one of my college roommates, met me at the Menger Bar. We got gin and tonics, which we carried outside and drank on a bench in front of the Alamo in the late afternoon. It was unforgettable.

Do you have a favorite book, song, or movie about drinking? 

I find drunkenness really unappealing and almost repulsive in real life, but for some reason I’m attracted to dissolute souses in fiction, and usually they are men. For the sheer drunken haze, I’d have to go with something by Fitzgerald–maybe  “The Beautiful and Damned. For movie, I’d say “Crazy Heart” because of Jeff Bridges–his performance is just shattering. Along a similar vein, for me nothing comes close, song-wise, to “Sunday Morning Coming Down” by Kris Kristofferson.

How has alcoholism affected your life?

Someone very close to me is an alcoholic in recovery, and all I can say is that anyone whose life has not been touched by alcoholism has no idea how lucky they are.

What do you like most about drinking?

I like a drink to signify something, whether it’s the end of a long workday or the beginning of a longed-for night out with my husband. I don’t actually appreciate the buzz so much anymore and I’m afraid a hangover might actually kill me.

If you could be any drink, what would it be? Why?

Something cool, in a tall glass. I’ve mentioned gin and tonics twice so far, so I think that’s my answer!