Saturday, February 23, 2008

Return of the Green Fairy

In a few weeks, absinthe will be legal here in Florida, available for purchase in restaurants and liquor stores. It's already available in other parts of the US; apparently stores and restaurants in California have been regularly running out since it became legal there in January. In Florida the brand "Lucid" will be the first to appear and will sell for about $60 a bottle. There's been a lot of buzz about the re-legalization of absinthe in the US since it happened on paper in May 2007, the mystique of the drink and its association with 19th-century artistic bohemia being a huge part of that. The absinthe available now, however, is not the same as the version known in 19th-century Paris; it has a lower percentage of thujone (wormwood). At 50-70% alcohol, though, "Lucid" and the other brands will still have you singing the soundtrack to "Moulin Rouge" in no time. I've not tried absinthe myself, although it was available in France the last time I was there, but I hear if you like ouzo or pastis, you might like it. Absinthe has an anise-licorice type of flavor. You mix the modern version with water like in the old days--artists loved the transformation of color in the drink, what's called the "louche"--and for pete's sake, don't set it on fire like they do on "Moulin Rouge," because that's not 19th-century at all!

Poor Vincent, he's been mentioned in most articles I've read about the reintroduction of absinthe, sometimes with the kind of cracks about his ear that really tick me off. (Mental illness is never funny--you will never catch me making jokes about his ear on this blog or anywhere.) He may well have been under the influence of absinthe on 23 December 1888, and he certainly struggled with addiction to the drink, especially during his time in Paris. He admits in a letter after coming to Arles that he had become "nearly an alcoholic" in Paris, and presumably the cheap and easily accessible absinthe was the problem. He painted glasses of absinthe while there, and in the pastel drawing of Vincent done by his pal Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (shown), Vincent sketches in front of an absinthe glass. In Arles he seems to have tried to limit his consumption of absinthe, although Paul Gauguin mentions Vincent's drinking it in his autobiography--and throwing glasses of it at him. (Perhaps living with Gauguin drove him back to the green fairy.)

I can't see myself partaking of absinthe when it comes to Florida; it costs too much and I'm not a fan of licorice flavors or hard liquor. I do like the shape of the traditional absinthe glasses, though, and the old-fashioned slotted absinthe spoons are neat-looking objects. I wouldn't mind having one for the heck of it. Incidentally, the Van Gogh Museum giftshop had absinthe glass/spoon sets for sale last year, and I have to say, I debated the tackiness of that in my head at the time. Even if Vincent did paint them.

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