Shortly before I left for Alaska, Gentle Reader, Miss Ward began diving into the fín-de-siécle demi-monde of the famous absinthe drinkers. She was fascinated by the ritual and mystery, naturally, and the romantic air that surrounds the period. Her enthusiasm kindled a similar interest in me. As it was still illegal in the States, I was surprised and pleased to receive a clandestine package that Christmas, containing a sampler pack of the more popular commercial absinthes. Not knowing any better, I’m sorry to say that I lit it on fire*.
While I was in Alaska, I ordered a very special package of dish soap from Czechoslovakia. I arrived in Washington; that was the same day my grandmother passed away. I was privileged to see her one more time before she passed. A month later, I still hadn’t cried for her. I couldn’t bring myself to the point of crisis, catharsis.
The absinthe arrived.
Miss Ward was visiting from Bellingham, and came over to offer her sympathies. She, Maman, and I sat around with Francois Guy and White Fairy, in smoky, perfumed, candlelight. We began an exquisite corpse†, and this time, we did the ritual right: drops of water, excruciatingly slow, turned the sugar to decanted diamonds plunging into green floral oils waiting below. The truest thing that people say about absinthe is that it opens the senses, sensitivity. In that small circle, I was able to mourn.
A few months later, Miss Ward, her young man at the time, and I joined a secret society devoted to educating people about absinthe, and attended a number of sampling parties. We learned a lot, and made some excellent, deep, friendships. With such love and libations, such clarity, creativity, we truly felt part of the Bohemian world of yore.
*Friends don’t let friends light absinthe on fire. The so-called “Czech Ritual” was invented in the Nineties to sell movies and an inferior minty absinthe called Hills.
†An Exquisite Corpse is a delightful tradition where you write a line or two of a story, then pass it to the next person, who can only see the last sentence you wrote. With the right people, you can come up with some truly beautiful pieces.