Absinthe Makes The Heart Grow Fonder

I’m not sure how many people are familiar with absinthe. It’s not a very popular or common drink these days, especially since it was illegal to produce for most of the 20th century (the ban was lifted in recent years). For those of you who have never heard of it, I will explain.

Absinthe is a spirit made from the herbs anise, fennel and wormwood. It is usually green in color, altho there are clear versions. It has a bitter, black liquorice flavor due to the anise and fennel. It has a very high alcohol content, usually between 60% and 80%, and is diluted with water before drinking. The water is poured over a sugar cube to help combat the bitterness. It was originally created as a health elixir in Switzerland, but became very popular with the art and literary crowd in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It was nicknamed “The Green Fairy” and was considered an inspirational muse of sorts. Absinthe was thought to cause hallucinations and was blamed for many cases of insanity, death and violence.

Being the big fan that I am of 19th and early 20th century literature, I was fairly familiar with it. I’ve read about it in books, seen it in period films, found information about it on the internet. A few years ago we were on vacation in Provincetown, at the tip of Cape Cod, and I saw it for sale in a liquor store. I very much wanted to try it, but it was expensive and not knowing if I would even like it, I didn’t want to risk spending the money. But, last weekend, we were out there for a weekend getaway, and at one of the restaurants we went to they had absinthe listed on their drink menu. As you can imagine I was thrilled. Not only as a fan of the time period, but as a writer, this is something I’ve waited years, decades even, to get a chance to try.

So the owner of the restaurant, who is an absinthe connoisseur, came over to our table with the glass, the sugar cube, the absinthe spoon (a slotted spoon designed to sit on the rim of the glass) and a small pitcher of ice water. She puts the spoon on the glass and the sugar cube on the spoon and shows me how to dribble the water very slowly over the sugar to dissolve it without using too much water and diluting the absinthe too much. She warned me never to use regular sugar cubes from the grocery store. They’re too hard and take too much water to dissolve. She advised going to a gourmet food store and getting softer sugar cubes imported from Africa. You can also find special “absinthe” sugar cubes at a specialty bar supply or liquor store.

It’s a very aromatic drink. As the water is mixing with it, the scent of the herbs are released and are very pleasant. The flavor is quite unique in comparison to other forms of alcohol. It still does retain some of its bitterness even with the sugar, it’s not sweet at all, but you can definitely taste that black liquorice flavor. Like most spirits with a high alcohol content, you feel the burn as it goes down.

Needless to say, I went to the liquor store and bought the bottle before we went home.

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A Date With Monet

Today I’m going to stray away from my usual topic of books and writing to talk about art. This weekend my boyfriend and I went to the D’Amour Museum of Fine Art in downtown Springfield for their Old Masters to Monet exhibit, a special display of fifty French paintings on loan from the Wadsworth Atheneum. This is the last week before it closes and I’ve been dying to see it so we finally made plans to go.

First I just want to say, the paintings were incredible.

Second, there is no place to good for annoying people to be found.

We’ll start with the first point. The paintings. They dated from the mid 17th to the early 20th century. There were fifty of them but photographing was forbidden, so unfortunately I can’t recall every single one of them, as much as I would love to. Now, I know that to those of you who live in large cities, seeing art of this caliber is probly commonplace, but in my neck of the woods, it is somewhat of a rarity, and this is the first time in my life I have had the pleasure of seeing such a display. Let me also clarify that I am no art expert. I like art, there are certain artists I like more than others, but I don’t claim to know anything about style or technique or biographical information about the artists themselves. I do know that the two forms of art I tend to prefer are called Impressionist and Surrealist.

I was very excited about seeing the Impressionist art that I knew was part of the exhibit. I absolutely love Monet, and one of my favorites, The Beach at Trouville, was part of the exhibit. It was just such an experience, to be able to get right up close, and see each individual brush stroke, and to know that Monet applied the paint to that canvas with his own hand. The way he painted it captures the atmosphere so perfectly, you can practically feel the sea breeze blowing off the canvas. I was completely mesmerized. My boyfriend had to physically drag me away from it when it was time to leave.

The Beach at Trouville by Claude Monet. This is only a photo of the print I bought at the gift shop. My cell phone camera sucks and has no flash so I aplogize for the poor quality.

They had many more beautiful works of art as well. Renoir’s painting of Monet at work in their garden, one of Degas’ ballerinas, one of Monet’s waterlilies, as well as works by Manet, Sisley, Pissarro and Cezanne. And of course no collection of masterpieces would be complete without Van Gogh’s Self Portrait.

There was alot of paintings by earlier artists whose names were vaguely familiar, who I don’t know that much about, but who truly were masters of their art. The workmanship was so exquisite that some of them almost looked like photographs. And the details were insane, every inch of canvas had something to draw the eye, whether it was the texture of a set of drapes in the back ground, or the tassels on the edge of a tablecloth, nothing was too small or unimportant to have anything less than the most minute attention to detail.

Being in the presence of such beauty was an experience I can only describe as spiritual.

So lets move on to my second point. Annoying people.

YOU DONT LET YOUR KIDS RUN WILD IN A ROOM FULL OF PRICELESS ARTWORK!!!!!! Who brings little kids to an art exhibit anyways?? I mean, unless your child is some sort of genius art prodigy, they aren’t going to give a flying rats ass about seeing a bunch of old paintings. Get a babysitter or stay home. That’s the way it works when you’re a parent. One of the kids was sliding along the wall around the room, and his head was actually bumping against the bottoms of the frames. I was waiting for one of the paintings to go crashing to the floor. Not to mention that if you were standing close to the wall, examining a painting up close, he would squeeze in between you and the wall, forcing you to step back to avoid being knocked off balance and possibly fall against the painting. And I wont even go into the loud echoing voices. Their parents were ignoring them so skillfully that I wasnt even sure who, of all the people in the room, they were.

But all in all it was an excellent day.