March 14, 2006 at 2:21 am #1885LaynaParticipant
[div align=”center”]After the first glass, 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.
– Oscar Wilde [/div]
Apsithion meaning undrinkable in Greek.
Apsithium coined by Pliny the Elder.
Girdle of Saint John in Europe.
Chernobyl in Russian.
Absinthe in French.
They all mean the same thing: wormwood.
Modern absinthe has its thanks, supposedly, to one Dr. Pierre Ordinarie who fled the French Revolution to Couvet in Western Switzerland. His recipe was meant as a cure-all, invented in 1792 and later passed into the hands of the Henriod sisters (though more than likely they already possessed a recipe and made such a brew themselves previous). While many believe this is the start of absinthe, its use as a medicine had been around since ancient times.
In 1797, Major Henri Dubied bought the absinthe recipe from the Henriod sisters. Later that same year his daughter married Henri-Louis Pernod and the rest, as they say, is history.
He formed the House of Pernod and created what is perhaps the best known of the absinthe distilleries: Pernod-Fils. Pernod opened his factory in 1805 across the border in Pontarlier, France. He was incredibly progressive in his treatment of workers offering a great many benefits.
Absinthe also came with a supposedly dark side. Many believed it caused problems with fetuses, created illness in digestive organs and central nerves, encouraged tuberculosis, abetted criminality, and led to insanity. There is no actual proof to any of this–one must keep in mind that absinthe could be 160 proof (or more) and came in varying grades, like a wine might from the cheapest rotgut to the best bought.
Dr. Valentin Magnan, best known for his work at the asylum of St. Anne in Paris, conducted studies on absinthe and was a recognized authority on alcoholic insanity. He spent his life investigating the damage absinthe was supposed to bring about which led to its eventual prohibition. In 1864, he began experiments of alcohol and absinthe on birds, pigs, cats, dogs, guinea pigs, and rabbits where he noted the animals with absinthe fell into convulsions while those with alcohol merely became drunk. He continued his study and in 1874, observing 250 cases where the alcoholics suffered from delirium tremens, absinthists were prone to epileptic convulsions. He concentrated his study to wormwood. Dr. Magnan was advanced in the field drug and alcohol abuses and one of the very first to treat alcoholism as a mental illness. In this, he predates Freud by years.
Other herbs went into the making of absinthe which may or may not have played a part in the myth or reality of its dangers. Hyssop could cause dangerous convulsions. Anise drowsiness. Melissa a soporific. Oregano might have lead to vertigo and trembling.
Absinthe recipes vary along with the way a person might drink it. Some drank it straight, like a shot. Others mixed it with wine, either white or red. Other alcohols could be used as well. And, of course, water. It is, though, a highly ritualized drink to partake in. It's been pretty well popularized in film and literature so there's no need to comment upon that here.
Save for one thing: people who drank absinthe in the era when it was popular (1880-1915) never set a match to it. Consider the amount of alcohol, even diluted by water, or the idea of drinking something burned with sooty sugar. And as another note, absinthe never caught on in England the way it did in France.
Here's a list of some well known absinthe drinkers:
Edgar Allan Poe (poet)
Vincent VanGogh (artist)
Adolphe Montecilli (artist)
Henri Toulouse-Lautrec (artist)
Marie Corelli (novelist – Wormwood: A Drama of Paris; 1890)
Edgar Degas (artist – L'Absinthe; 1876)
Edouard Manet (artist – The Absinthe Drinker; 1859)
Ernest Dowson (poet)
Oscar Wilde (poet, playwright, novelist)
Arthur Rimbuad (poet)
Paul Marie Verlaine (poet)
Charles Baudelaire (poet)
There are others, of course like Hemmingway and Fitzgerald, but the list above concerns those relative to the era. And no doubt there are others beyond those in the list. Absinthe is not for sale in the United States though its cousin, Absente, is. This is mainly due to the wormwood factor. Absente uses a more acceptable (to the U.S., at least) version called Southern Wormwood which is a less potent form. What that might taste like, one can only assume as being close to the original (though I've never had it, only absinthe which is an odd taste all by itself). The above is only a very, very short history of absinthe. A bit of fact outside of the myth, though the myth is extremely interesting. After all, it's akin to seduction in a bottle, offers madness, the insight of poets and artists, has been banned for nearly one hundred years from sale in some places–that's enough to make anything intriguing. Especially when there's a beautiful glass of pale green that shifts color when mixed with water. Little wonder the green faery found herself ousted in so many ways and worshipped in others.
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