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The Column: An ode to sangria, drink of choice during coronavirus

These are crazy times, can we agree?

Things are getting a little better with the virus, maybe, but life around here still is stuck in neutral.

Traffic? What’s that? Southern State, Northern State, even the LIE often has no more cars than a cow path.

The Belt Parkway has been jammed since I was a kid taking Sunday rides from Brooklyn to “the Island” in Dad’s 1939 Pontiac. Now? A breeze.

Mike, our tax guy, said he drove from Bellmore to the Verrazano in 22 minutes, a run that might interest editors at Guinness World Records and maybe the police.

Bars are closed, delivery people look like they’ve suited up for outer space, the great American toilet paper crisis shows no signs of easing.

Even walking is weird.

We are avoiding each other as if it’s not the neighbor approaching but Count Dracula.

“Thank you,” a woman called out as I darted across the street for fear of passing closer than the required 6 feet of separation.

“My pleasure,” I replied through two layers of the old gray scarf I had tied over mouth and nose. “Have a nice day.”

“You, too,” she answered, looking ahead.

Our daughter comes from Northport to drop off groceries — not inside, of course, only by the front door.    

No one is allowed inside now. Risk assessment is a form of civic duty, and we are following the rules.

“Never seen anything like it,” says a friend.

“And at our age.”

“Been through a lot, but nothing like this.”

“Incredible, no question.”

To get my mind off Armageddon, I have been baking.

Oatmeal-raisin cookies, garlic focaccia, cinnamon streusel, sticky buns, pizza, whole-wheat sandwich bread, lemon pound cake, crusty loaves from a cast iron Dutch oven.

I give most of it to my daughter and our son in Queens. Even so, there is a serious chance my wife, Wink, and I will look like Teletubbies before this is over.

Also important to mention is sangria.

Like all prescriptions, this one should be used only if medically appropriate and strictly according to the dictates of moderation.

Here ends the disclaimer.

Even in the experimental ’60s, Wink and I were conservative when it came to mood-altering substances, but lately I have been mixing up small batches of sangria as we settle in for another evening of state-mandated togetherness and TV streaming.

We’ve solved so many British, French and Nordic mysteries on Britbox, Netflix, Prime and Hulu that I am thinking about sending an application to Interpol. Imagine how quickly we would have nabbed the psychos and sex maniacs if not drinking on the job.

Ah, sangria.

Cheap red wine, splashes of Triple Sec and brandy, squeeze of orange and a lime, a shot of simple syrup, all poured over ice, maybe some chopped fruit — the stuff is like its own celebration, a circus of happy tastes, flavors shouting, “Olé!”

The drink has a history going back to the 15th century in Spain and maybe before. In the 1700s, the English and French were sipping a version, according to the beverage publication, VinePair, and sooner or later, sangria settled in the New World, mainly in cities big enough to support Spanish restaurants.

That’s where I got acquainted — at a few old-line Spanish dives in New York.

Wink and I were still in college when a beloved journalism professor took us to a place on Bank Street called Jai-Alai. For the first time, we ate paella — loaded with seafood, perfumed with saffron. A waiter filled our glasses.

“Sangria,” said the professor. “Salud.”

There was tiny, dark El Faro on Greenwich Street where bartenders filled icy pitchers for a happy crowd sampling shrimp ajillo while waiting for tables.

Once I saw the writer James Baldwin in a booth. I told him how much his work meant to me. Baldwin smiled so broadly it seemed someone had turned up the lights.

Rio Mar was a few blocks away on Ninth Avenue. Café Espanol on Carmine Street, El Charro Espanol on Charles Street and, over in Brooklyn, La Mancha on Atlantic Avenue.

Those beloved places are gone now, every one.

When I stir a jar of sangria on these uneasy, melancholy nights, I remember them all — the drink, the food, that saffron world. I consider a sigh but hold back. We are lucky people.

Say olé! Pass it on.

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