The absinthe was born during the French Reign of Terror (1792) and started to be famous only the following century when it became part of the maudit equipment, just like Hendrix's Fender Stratocaster
The invention of the French doctor Ordinaire ended up to represent an entire movement, the bohemian one, nowadays it’s the picture of the talented and tormented artist who drowns his brightness into alcohol and drugs.
Like Hemingway, these artists seem “unable to coexist with their genius” and this message (negative and even reductive towards art) got to us, and our classmate only need to buy a bottle of absinthe and a perforated spoon to feel like the new Rimbaud.
It is inevitable that in a society that loves antihero, the handsome and damned artist (even beautiful, otherwise who wants to bear with a rhetoric like this?), ends up to represent an icon for sale and it happened, for sure.
It is also thanks to this that in the ’90s the absinthe had a commercial rebirth, after being banned for almost one century.
To ban it, though, some legends were needed and most of them were reassessed by wine merchants who saw in the “Green Fairy” a dangerous competitor.
The first two myths are connected:
The first one makes the absinthe an hallucinogenic substance. In fact, the liquor contains thujone, that in large doses can bring epilepsy, delirium tremens and, in some extreme cases, even death. Luckily these doses are reachable just eating absinthe.
The second tells the ban of the absinthe as cause of its hallucinogenic ability. It wasn’t like this and the story is even more brutal:
“1905, Vaud, Switzerland. Jean Lanfray, a 31-year-old farmer spent the night drinking: cognac, peppermint cream, wine, brandy and…2(!) glasses of absinthe. He gets home reeling in the night. Moaning and growling while he is walking. Once he got home he had some troubles opening the door; his wife hears him and got up. She sees him completely drunk and a violent fight begins. The calm is reestablished very late. After shooting his wife, Lanfray does the same with his sons”.
After that 82.000 signatures were collected for the absinthe ban that arrived in 1915 (it was a moment where the alcoholism was a huge plague, and the United States,four years later, tried to fight it with Prohibition).
There are many other legends about the absinthe:
– It was born in Czech Republic: False! As we saw, it came up in Switzerland thanks to the French doctor. In Czech Republic there is only a tradition linked to the Green Fairy and after the ban it continued to be produced till the Soviet arrival
– Burning the sugar cube: it’s fine for films and somebody really does it. But you should know that you are ruining the liquor
– The coloured absinthe. The distilled absinthe is white and it becomes “green” when the necessary herbs are added. In the past, in the poorest liquors even the copper sulfate was added (very toxic), while the colored modern absinthe (you can even find the black one!) are made with colourings .
Absinthe, Green Fairy, contributed with growth of myths (the “maudit” artist) and became myth itself. This happens usually to people like Jim Morrison or Charles Bukowski, for sure not to liquors born just like cure-all thanks to a doctor on the run from revolutionaries.
This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)