The mere sound of the word, like a breath stroking your lips, conjures up images of decadence, revelry, hallucinations, insanity, and a mystical, mythical quality that no other drink, alcoholic or otherwise, can come near.
It is associated with murder, suicide, madness, the Moulin Rouge, Ernest Hemingway. Oscar Wilde, Picasso, and the Parisian world made famous on posters by Toulouse Lautrec. Even the way it is served - or should be served - is unique. You don't merely slop a healthy (or should that be unhealthy?) measure into any old glass add ice and water, raise it to your lips and slurp it down. No, that may suffice for its sister-born-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-blanket-drink Pernod but to savour absinthe, you must have the right equipment and engage in the proper ceremony.
You need a water fountain, the correct glasses, proper spoons, lump sugar of the highest quality. You need to watch as the iced water pours over the sugar balanced on the slotted spoon that nestles comfortably across the top of the glass. Regulate the flow of water to ensure the cube is thoroughly dissolved before you turn it off, remove your drink and taste it. Before you do, let all your senses indulge in the magical transformation that has taken the clear green liquid and transformed it, as if by magic, into a cloudy, aromatic ambrosia. Inhale the wondrous blend of aniseed and herbs. Close your eyes and allow yourself to concentrate fully as you take your first sip. Let the liquid flow over your tongue, caressing your taste buds before swallowing. Don't rush. The Absinthe Fairy doesn't like to be rushed. Besides, that way leads to madness...
OK, we've avoided the controversy long enough. Absinthe was banned in many places throughout the world as it became linked to acts of sheer lunacy. One such urban myth had it that Van Gogh sliced off his ear following a marathon absinthe session. Not true though apparently. Yes, he lost his ear, but absinthe was not the cause.
The drink was first distilled in Switzerland as a medicinal herbal tonic in the 1700s and, by the mid 19th century had become hugely popular as a potent and much cheaper alternative to wine. Needless to say, the French wine industry wasn't altogether happy about droves of people deserting their national drink in favour of this young upstart and began to create a cult of 'anti-absinthism'. They spread rumours of an association with anything from epilepsy to murder and madness.
This increasingly widespread belief of the negative properties of the drink was fostered by a certain Dr. Valentin Magnan who exposed laboratory animals to pure wormwood essence which does indeed cause madness when delivered in the kind of quantities he was experimenting with. But in absinthe, the quantity of wormwood was, and is, tiny. Not enough to cause any sort of damage when drunk by a human, even an over-indulgent one. Sadly, though, the reputation of the drink was wrecked.
Then, in August 1905, a widely publicised murder case stuck one of the final nails into the Green Fairy's coffin where they remained for most of the 20th century. It involved a Swiss man called Jean Lanfray who, following two glasses of absinthe, took his rifle and shot his pregnant wife, killing her. His four-year-old daughter, Rose, witnessed what had happened so he shot her too, swiftly followed by his two-year-old daughter, Blanche, who was asleep in her cot.
What wasn't taken into account was that Lanfray was a known alcoholic who had also consumed creme de menthe, cognac, and seven glasses of wine at lunchtime, a litre of wine after dinner and a couple of coffees laced with brandy.
à votre santé.
I'm not sure I could swallow a drink with such high alcohol. I think I'd choke (seriously). But kudos to the more adventurous and those with stronger constitutions! I love your husband's tee shirt!ReplyDelete
Thanks, Priscilla. I shall let him know!Delete
'That'a pity,' I thought after reading the bit about the supermarkets. Wonderful post. Epic in fact. Fascinating about the early example of a concentrated effort to ban something because it was annoying to a more powerful industry.ReplyDelete
It ever was thus though. The 'big boys' don't like anyone muscling in on their territory. Thanks, Shey!Delete