Sunday, 22 February 2015

A taste of the green fairy

Is it the green hour yet?   I have a deep and ardent affection for a soothing glass of absinthe.  What is absinthe, I hear you softly murmur?


Absinthe is a wonderful little 'pick-me-up' containing sweet fennel, green anise, and the curiously-named wormwood, itself a plant grown in the Caucasus hills, better known to botanists as Artemisia absinthium.   It is the fennel and anise which gives absinthe its characteristic licorice flavour.   The crushed flowers and leaves of wormwood impart a bitter flavour, quite unique; these small, innocent-looking fronds are the source of absinthe’s famed jade-green hue.  Generally, one pours the absinthe into a glass over a white sugar-cube held by a special perforated or slotted spoon, but here I am using brown sugar-cubes and slices of lime, and of course, an ordinary teaspoon.   Sugar is dissolved to counteract the bitterness.
A timeless, vintage poster for absinthe
 
Here at Raffles, I've been known to down a bottle or two of absinthe in one sitting - usually before a public appearance, or a speech on World Peace at the local grammar school, or cutting the ribbon to officially open a shopping mall - to help loosen my tongue and lubricate my larynx, only for medicinal purposes, you understand, and on the advice of my doctor and fitness instructor. 

Absinthe is also good for exercising.  I drink it the same way athletes drink Lucozade (and in the same unstinting quantity).  Here I am, working up a sweat on the treadmill at the gym, after having quaffed a heavy shot of absinthe.

 
Fanny loves to go jogging on the treadmill after a shot of absinthe.  It's part of the my daily exercise regimen.

 Absinthe rose to great popularity as an alcoholic drink in late 19th- and early 20th-century France, particularly among Parisian artists and writers. Owing in part to its association with bohemian culture, the consumption of absinthe was opposed by social conservatives and prohibitionists.   Consequently, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Baudelaire, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh and Oscar Wilde were all known absinthe drinkers.

 
One of my favourite paintings: The Absinthe Drinker by Viktor Oliva (April 24, 1861 – April 5, 1928).  Viktor Oliva was a Czech painter who was drawn to the Montmarte area of Paris in 1888.  He socialised in Bohemian circles and, in some sources, it is claimed his love of drinking absinthe greatly improved his artistic ability.   Fanny attempted to buy this painting from the Czechs, but they snubbed her offer of £250,000, describing her in a leaked memorandum as "an avid art-collector who also happens to be as mad as a hatter".  Yes, well, the same could be said of Brian Sewell.
 

 Absinthe is commonly referred to in historical literature as la fée verte or the green fairy.  In France in the 1860s, the drink became so popular in bars and bistros that the hour of 5pm became known as l'heure verte or the green hour.


Absinthe has always had its critics, though: namely bookish, teetotaler lesbians who have never touched a drop, yet stolidly claim that "absinthe makes you crazy and criminal, provokes epilepsy and tuberculosis, and has killed thousands of French people. It makes a ferocious beast of man, a martyr of woman, and a degenerate of the infant".  

Warnings that too much of the stuff can cause hallucinations are rife, but likely to be exaggerated poppycock, methinks; conversely, many notable artists and poets claim to have found artistic enlightenment, poetic inspiration and a freer state of mind through the practice of frequently imbibing the green fairy. 

Darlings... it's 7.26am on a cold Sunday morning in February, I'm still in my eiderdown goose-feather dressing gown, the dogs are slumbering, Juan is fast asleep no doubt dreaming of our torrid lovemaking last night, so now must be the celebrated green hour.  Go on, pour me a glass of the green stuff.  That's a pint glass, if you please.
 

7 comments:

  1. I unfortunately never drink Absinthe unless my one friend in coming for a visit. But I have always found it rather potent as I'm not a huge licorice flavor fan. I can at time be known to have mu arm twisted and down a bottle, but then end up in some strange man's chamber. I did however enjoy that painting.

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  2. Absinthe and crème de cassis together is delicious, my favourite tipple when wearing a beret on a jaunty angle.

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  3. Darling Fanny,

    We are not Absinthe drinkers, alas!

    However, we have loved this account of fairies, fantasies and fanatics. For us, the drink, whilst never having the allure of something to actually imbibe, has always held a mystique, a whiff of the bohemian and exotic, a dangerous liaison of a kind. And, for that, we love it. What a heady cocktail Fanny and the Fee Verte at any hour of the day or night would make!

    Brian Sewell attended the rather grand funeral of a friend of ours some years ago. Just saying.....

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  4. Sadly, I am only familiar with the other green fairy. I like liquorice though and get my kicks from a sherbet fountain.
    Sx

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