August 26, 2011


On my most recent endless drive, I stopped off to buy a bottle of wine for the couple that would home-host me that night. While up at the register, I saw a little basket of bottles of absinthe (or rather, "Absente"..."now with wormwood"). I thought "Hell, why not?"

Impulse buys under $10 are probably a bad idea when at a liquor store in Tennessee, but there you have it. 

So here I am, back at home in DC and readying for Hurricane Irene with bags to unpack, books to read, peaches to eat, and absinthe to drink. Here is my Vincent-Van-Gogh-inspired still life.

The taste? 110-proof licorice. Plus two varieties of food coloring, Yellow #5 and Blue #1. Can't say I love it, much as I love fennel. I'm probably doing it a disservice by trying it straight. I've had enough Sazeracs in my day to know it can be an excellent sweet grace note to an otherwise merciless rye drink. 

Hemingway had one of the great absinthe recipes: "Pour one jigger absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly." He called it "Death in the Afternoon." 

And this is what Oscar Wilde said of the drink: “After the first glass of absinthe you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.”

Of course, absinthe is primarily known as a poets' vice: Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Marie Verlaine, two of the major Symbolists, drank it like water. Extremely corrosive water. The love story of Verlaine (young at 27, with a pregnant wife from a well-to-do family) and Rimbaud (younger still--still shy of 17) is an untamed tale that culminates in a gun going off--but not before one of the two had first been slapped in the face with a fish. If you're curious about the whys & hows I recommend the biography Rimbaud, which Graham Robb published with W. W. Norton in 2000.

Here is a video of the poet Christian Bok presenting and then translating Arthur Rimbaud's poem, "Vowels," which many believe to be a poem inspired by absinthe:

...Okay, okay. I confess: I may not be inspired to write a poem by this little bottle. I'd settle for being inspired to empty my suitcase. 


Maureen said...

Very enjoyable post!

Jerry said...

Hi! I was wondering if you'd mind if we read this blog entry out loud in a podcast episode? "Slow Death in the Afternoon Podcast" (coincidentally enough) is what it's called: