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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

fine art & the green fairy

Edgar Degas, 1876
Musee d'Orsay, Paris

What's old is new again.  Absinthe, affectionately known as "the green fairy," is the latest bar trend... but what exactly is it?

the green mystique

I was introduced to absinthe as a freshman in college by the two flower children who lived across the hall and ritually smoked hookahs on the lawn while strumming guitars and singing renditions of "Karma Police" and "The Bends."  They performed unknown rituals with "the green fairy" on Friday nights while I bopped from frat house to frat house in my newest, cutest mini skirt.  I never really believed the bottles they smuggled in from the Czech Republic were real nor did I believe the mysterious beverage had the hallucinogenic properties of legend. Their fun was short-lived.  Halfway through their first bottle, they were busted by our R.A.

Fast forward five years.  On my way home from Paris I decided to make a stop-over in the Middle East.  I love Islamic textiles and Eastern trinkets so why not? I had a lovely plan to bring my gracious host something fabulous and French - an Hermes tie, some French cologne, a delicious box of macaroons - so I was somewhat dismayed when he requested absinthe, the illegal non-hallucinogenic, of all things.

I had no idea how potent the liquid truly was.  The second I spotted the bottle in the duty-free shop, my heart started pounding.  My brain was flooded with every potentially disastrous and highly unlikely situation possible.  I imagined myself being detained overseas as a "drug smuggler" and held in a foreign prison without fresh clothes or that cheeseburger I was really craving.  I considered telling him they were sold out, but realized the implausibility of that situation and knew I would be caught.  After pacing around the store, I finally shoved the bottle on the counter and handed the salesman my euros.  I was starting to feel like the eerie portrait of Van Gogh on the bottle... I think I'll stick to the Grey Goose.

Inspector Frederick Abberline (Johnny Depp)

Absinthe is a distilled and highly-alcoholic liquor (60-80%) derived from wormwood, anise, and fennel with a bitter, liquorice taste invented in Switzerland during the 18th century and first used as a medical elixir.  Absinthe reached peak consumption during the late 19th century, particularly in bohemian Paris, drawing the attention of many prestigious artists and writers --Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet, Vincent Van Gogh, and Ernest Hemingway to name a few-- inspiring works of art and suspicious rumors... Interested? Find the latest encounters with the green fairy in your area by clicking the link below.  Cheers!

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