4.20.2011

A Word for Wednesday

Absinthiated - a, Impregnated with wormwood.

Lovely, no? Yes, well, fortunately for us, the word isn't used in reference to humans (which is good, because being impregnated with wormwood sounds like some sort of medieval torture). It's used to describe a particular type of wine, as in absinthiated wine. The history of absinthe (courtesy of Wikipedia, Absinthe Fever, and AbsintheOnline) is pretty interesting. 

Historically described as a distilled, highly alcoholic beverage, absinthe is an anise-flavoured spirit derived from herbs, including the flowers and leaves of the herb Artemisia absinthium, commonly referred to as "grande wormwood", together with green anise and sweet fennel. Traditionally, it has a natural green colour, but it can also be colourless. It is commonly referred to in historical literature as "la fée verte" (the "green fairy" in French).

The medical use of wormwood dates back to ancient Egypt and is mentioned in the Ebers Papyrus, c. 1550 BC. Wormwood extracts and wine-soaked wormwood leaves were used as remedies by the ancient Greeks. Moreover, there is evidence of the existence of a wormwood-flavoured wine, absinthites oinos, in ancient Greece. The first clear evidence of absinthe in the modern sense of a distilled spirit, however, dates to the 18th century. According to popular legend, absinthe began as an all-purpose patent remedy created by Dr. Pierre Ordinaire, a French doctor living in Couvet, Sweitzerland, around 1792.

Absinthe's popularity grew steadily through the 1840s, when it was given to French troops as a malaria treatment. When the troops returned home, they brought their taste for absinthe with them. It became so popular in bars, bistros, cafes, and cabarets that, by the 1860s, the hour of 5 p.m. was called l'heure verte ("the green hour"). By the late 19th- and early 20th-century, it had achieved great popularity among Parisian artists and writers. Vincent Van Gogh and Oscar Wilde were among the known drinkers.

Absinthe has been portrayed as being a dangerously addictive psychoactive drug and so, by 1915, it had been banned in the United States and in most European countries including France. Although absinthe was vilified, it has not been shown that it is any more dangerous than ordinary spirits. Apparently, its psychoactive properties have been greatly exaggerated. In the 1990, an absinthe revival began when countries in the European Union started to reauthorize its manufacture and sale. As of February 2008, nearly 200 brands of absinthe were being produced in a dozen countries, most notably in France.

So there you have it - a brief, borrowed history of absinthiated wine. And now for the story line. Actually, it's more like a scene description, because I'm sort of drawing a blank. I mean, I know the guy is a soldier who has just come home from a campaign in Northern Africa (where absinthe was used for malaria), but I have no idea what his problem is or where he goes from here. So, I'm afraid this is all I have to give you:

"The year is 1850. The place a dimly lit cabaret in Paris, France. Or, rather, a corner table in a dimly lit cabaret in Paris, France. A man is sitting there, his legs propped up on the table, the drips from his grimy boots now dried onto the rough wood. His eyes are covered with a mat of dark, unkempt hair that matches the rest of his dark, unkempt dress. The bare skin of his cheeks and jaw seem ghostly white in comparison. He could be a painting, so still he was, except for the long finger of his left hand. It kept going round and round the rim of his cup. It had only one sip of absinthe left it in. Then, with the quickest flick of his finger, he toppled it. The clatter was unheard beneath the sound of rain on the roof. He watched the green liquid trickle across the table and onto the floor. Then he stood, pulled a hat over his head, turned up the collars of his coat, and ducked out of the cabaret into the dark streets of Paris."

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