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the green muse

27 March 2008 no comment

I’ve been wanting to for quite some time – ever since I found out it was illegal (or at least the distribution of it was, which is no longer true), that some of the most notable writers of the Victorian and Romantic periods were fans, and that the culture that surrounded it was worth experiencing, even if it were based around a myth. I am talking about Absinthe. After its demonization in Europe in the late 19th Century, as well as one case of faulty inductive reasoning by the authorities, it went underground, and though it continued to be produced, it quickly gained the reputation of being more dangerous than moonshine during Prohibition (whether cut with Methyl alcohol or distilled through lead-soldered car radiators). An event that both furthered this perception and caused an awakening of interest was an article in Nature magazine in 1975 stating the similarity of the thujone (a chemical in Wormwood, the ingredient of “interest” in Absinthe) molecule to the THC (active ingredient in marijuana and hashish) molecule. No studies were actually done, however, and the similarity has proven to be just structural. Nevertheless, the mystique grew – which was for the better, since the increased attention was what ultimately relegated the purported baleful effects of thujone to the mythology heap.

My own experience with it, however, was much like what Hemingway described as “brain-warming, idea-changing liquid alchemy.” After even one glass of Scotch – my favorite spirit – I tend to mellow out, slow down, and relax. This glass of Absinthe, however, seemed to put my mind into overdrive – thoughts were coming at a mile a minute. It is worth noting at this juncture two points: one, I had looked forward to this moment for some time, both for the cultural experience, plus the notion that Absinthe would indeed cause a more “lucid” intoxication. The second point is that I was watching a show on “Brain Fitness” at the time, which is a topic that already causes my mind to race (indeed, my mind generally races on its own, with no need for chemical help – most of the time, the chemicals are to slow it down). It may have thus been a self-caused lucidity; the realization of a long-awaited goal mixed with the alcohol providing a rush of endorphins to the system. As far as the taste goes, although I generally quite enjoy other Anise-flavored drinks (Anisette, Ouzo), this was not particularly tasty. It is a very herbal drink, but pales in comparison with the herb flavor of J├Ągermeister, of which I am a big fan (which, ironically, has an associated rumor – false, of course – that it has opiates in it). The louche is the most interesting thing – the transition of greenish-clear liquid to milky opalescence from the dissolution of a suspended sugar cube by cold spring water.

It was an interesting moment – once you’ve done it, you realize that the hype is far greater than the experience, but the fact that you’ve done it still rests comfortably. Kind of like traveling abroad, reaching the top of a mountain, or getting your degree – you look back and it was no big deal, but the anticipation makes the experience that much more enjoyable – and you can say “yeah, I’ve done that.”

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