Volpane In Love

Decade Archive of my personal blog from 1999 to 2009.

Thursday, March 25, 1999

Absinthe & La Belle Epoch

In 1997 when I was working at Pistil Books on Capital Hill, Seattle, Wa, my friend Purple would come into the store every Saturday morning and visit with me. In one of these conversation he mentioned his experiences with brewing liqueurs. The subject of Absinthe came up, which I'd read about once and imagined a very exotic and taboo sort of drink. Later I did a few searches on the Internet and was surprised with the wealth of information on the subject. Apparently, this emerald green, bitter drink has, despite being outlawed in most countries for having a reputation for inducing insanity, become very popular, especially in underground and artist communities.

I ordered Absinthe: History in a Bottle for Purple and also gave him the information from the Internet I'd printed. Additionally I made up some labels from images I'd downloaded off the Internet of old original Absinthe labels. Soon, after a few months of procuring the ingredients, Purple invited a selection of friends to partake of his labors.

Purple knows how to put on a party and the preparation he did was meticulous. The absinthe cocktail is made by dissolving sugar cubes into the liquid with mineral water. Traditionally a special slotted spoon is set on the glass to hold the sugar cube as the water is pored slowly over. The resulting drink is magical because the water causes the liqueur to cloud into opalescence. Purple had designed and created his own slotted spoons from lapidary silver. He based the design on a maple leaf, which made a very elegant base to dissolve sugar cubes.

People started arriving an hour after he'd asked people to arrive, but everyone had dressed up in appropriate dress. Purple was dressed in a deep fuchsia Sari with lots of face makeup and a fancy bendi dot. Other people also wore saris, black beaded "flapper" dresses, cloaks, vests, etc. For my costume I began with pointy old-fashioned black lace up shoes with a high, heavy heel. I wore wool slacks (it was still winter) with tight pinstripes. Then a white silk shirt with flounce sleeves under a tight, yellow-brocade, scoop-collared vest with pearl buttons that Purple had given me for Yule. I wore a turquoise cravat secured with a resin brooch in the shape of an elephant's head that was colored like ivory. For outerwear, I slung over my shoulder a white satin lined, black velvet cape that was once my mother's. One person basically came uninvited. He was someone I hadn't met before (and I haven't seen him since), but I found his presence enlightening as an example of the powerful effects of absinthe. This person had been out attending an early film on Capital Hill and happened to meet up with some of the guests who were arriving, getting him invited by association. He turned out to have been drinking as well and was talking very loudly and boorishly. He was skeptical and wary of the liqueur.

Purple showed us all how to set up the sugar cube on a spoon and pour the sparkling water over and into the Absinthe. And one by one (there wasn't much room in the tiny apartment), we made our drinks and then toasted the host and the evening. As is the case with these friends we began reading aloud from Absinthe: History in a Bottle, Oscar Wilde and other readings we'd all brought along for the occasion. Le Fee Vert blessed our company and tempered the mood. I was standing next to the window and I noted how wonderful the evening was progressing. The light in room seemed suffused and softened. Even while standing I was very comfortable and didn't feel tipsy in the way I was accustomed with other spirits. Even the gentleman who'd crashed the party, having commandeered one of the only chairs in the entire apartment, had quieted down and was noticeably succumbing to the Sandman's call. Soon he was asleep.

The mood of the evening was light and high. Unfortunately, when I woke the next morning feeling like I'd been run over by a Mogul Steam Engine sleep avoided me the rest of the morning and was obliged to rise from my bed. Purple had made enough liqueurs to hold more parties and serve drinks at friend's parties. He even gave me a bottle, although I don't drink that much and I've been wary of drinking this bittersweet liquid by itself. It has been some time since Purple has held another absinthe party. Soon I hope I can look forward to his next gathering, because now I know it will be interesting and wonderful.