Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The green fairy

The Absinthe Drinker, by Victor Oliva.

Absinthe, or la fée vert (the green fairy), is a distilled, highly alcoholic, anise-flavored spirt that up until recently was banned in the United States and several European countries. It is made from Artemisia absinthium (wormwood) and other herbs. Originally formulated in the 18th century by French-born Dr. Pierre Ordinaire in Switzerland as a digestive tonic, this spirit gained popularity in late 19th and early 20th century France. The drink was consumed by famous artists and writers such as Vincent van Gogh and Ernest Hemingway. The Lanfray murders in 1905 led to the prohibition of absinthe in Switzerland and subsequently other countries, including the United States. The compound, thujone, in absinthe was blamed as a dangerously addictive and psychoactive drug.

And now it's back. You can purchase the green drink of Parisian poets at your local liquor store.

One can drink absinthe in a few different ways. My favorite is the one used by Susan Sarandon in the movie, Alfie:

1. Pour a dose of absinthe into a glass, then place a sugar cube on an absinthe spoon or teaspoon.

2. Soak the sugar in absinthe by dipping it into the absinthe with the spoon or pouring a little absinthe over it.

3. Light the absinthe-soaked sugar on fire for about one minute, allowing the sugar caramelize and melt. If an absinthe spoon is used, the burning, melted sugar should drip into the absinthe.

4. Dunk the still flaming spoon into the absinthe, which may then ignite.

5. Add ice cold water to the absinthe to quench the flames and produce the louche effect.

Image from Wikipedia.

Not being a huge fan of licorice flavor or green drinks, I will probably not be running out to try this potential fire-hazard. Then again, perhaps there is something to being drugged up. I leave you with this piece by Coleridge (and tell me he wasn't drinking absinthe when he wrote it!):

Kubla Khan

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher's flail:
And 'mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean:
And 'mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!

The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!

A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight 'twould win me
That with music loud and long
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

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