CHASING THE GREEN FAIRY
Monday, January 28, 2008.
By Elizabeth Yemisi Adegoke
It is fair to say that I am a pretty adventurous person.
My parents have told me countless stories about my childhood that started with me having this amazing plan to do something or other, which usually ended with antiseptic, tears and a plaster.
Take the scar under my right eye for example, I was two and was determined to climb to the top of the 3-foot glass cabinet in my house (God only knows why). Fortunately for me, the inevitable collision only ended with a permanent scar above my eye, but according to my parents, it could have been much worse.
Right now, I am probably on the biggest adventure of my life so far. I’m studying to be a journalist in New York City. I decided to uproot my life in London to travel across an ocean, away from my family, friends and the only life I have ever known.
So when my teacher gave me an assignment to find an adventure and write a story on it, I was more than up for it. New York is the city that never sleeps; where everything and anything is going on, all day, everyday. It has so much to offer and that’s why it’s the perfect place to try something that has intrigued me for years.
I can’t quite remember when my interest in Absinthe started, but I do remember becoming more fascinated by it after watching Kylie Minogue become the embodiment of the Swiss borne spirit also known as the “green fairy” in Moulin Rouge.
The history of Absinthe is a checkered one, made from a combination of herbs, flowers and the controversial Grande wormwood, it is often associated with 18th century Paris but Absinthe was actually created in Switzerland as a medical elixir, and became popular in the France in the mid-1800’s.
However, accusations soon began to fly about the mind-altering effects of the drink, it became demonized and was eventually banned throughout Europe in the early 1900’s and in the U.S in 1915.
Like many, I became fascinated with the rumors and legends surrounding the drink. Did it really make people hallucinate? Did it really inspire the likes of Hemingway and Picasso? Could it really help the creative process? Was it really mind-altering?
I just had to find out. And luckily for me Absinthe had recently become legally available in the U.S.
So the first stop-- the Liquor store. Sure enough, after a searching for a few minutes, there it was, a scary looking black bottle, with menacing cat eyes drawn on the sides. Absinthe. I was about to pick it up, but then I saw when I saw $60 the price tag. I decided to find another way.
So I went home and decided to try old faithful (Google) to point me in the direction of a few bars. I settled on the Dove Parlor in Manhattan, I had found the place. But I wasn’t going alone. This could be my last night of total sanity I thought. I managed to cajole a friend into coming with me, and we set off into the harsh New York winds to meet with the green fairy.
The Dove Parlor on Thomson Street stuck out like a sore thumb among the rows of quirky shops. The exterior resembled a flat in central London, brilliantly white with large windows and a sturdy looking black gate. My friend and I looked at each other quizzically, but cautiously walked in.
We were greeted with what resembled an 18th century Victorian drawing room, blood red walls, white pillars, low lighting, and smartly dressed business couples. Even though the décor seemed to fit the time period, it seemed a stretch from my perception of the absinthe selling bohemian pubs of yesteryear.
We sat down and an eager bartender came to take our order.
“Two glasses of traditionally prepared absinthe please,” I hesitantly asked.
Without blinking, she walked over to a crystal carafe that sat in the middle of the bar containing a green liquid. There it was--The green fairy.
The bartender poured the liquid into two-miniature wine glasses, filled them about half way, and expertly filled the rest with sugar and water, I was relieved to see that contrary to popular belief, absinthe is not set on fire. At $15 a glass it wasn’t exactly cheap, but I’d come this far and I wasn’t about to chicken out now.
The bartender sat the glass down in front of me. The first thing I noticed was that rather than Absinthe being a sharp emerald green, as it is often depicted, it was a very pale green with a hint of yellow and it had a very strong citrus smell.
“Cheers?” I said to my friend, our glasses clinked and I lifted the glass to my mouth, and had my first sip.
Licorice, I thought. It tasted just like Licorice, except more medicinal, bitterer and generally not nice at all, and unlike other kinds of alcohol it went down slowly. It was as if I could feel it burning every vessel in my throat.
By the third gulp, I still wasn’t halfway done. I couldn’t get over the taste or the overwhelming smell. I began to brace myself. “Any second now the roof will cave in,” I thought. “Or maybe I’ll see some plaid spots on the bar, or have a major epiphany and finally understand the meaning of life””
By the time the glass was half empty, the bar was still the same shade of chocolate brown, the roof was intact and I was still freaking out about deadlines. I just felt sleepy, and my face felt unusually hot.
A bartender, who had been watching us struggling to drink the tiny glasses in front of us, came over.
“What’s that you’re drinking,” he asked.
“Absinthe,” my friend and I replied in unison.
“Wow, really,” he said “That’s the only drink here I haven’t tried yet.”
Smart guy, I thought.
“It’s interesting that you’re drinking it like that though,” he said.
“Like what?” I asked
“Sipping it, most people come in and just shot it, like its tequila”
My friend and I exchanged glasses of disbelief, as the bartender left to deal with another customer.
“Shot it?” I exclaimed.
“Shall we?” my friend asked.
I looked at the near empty glass, I shrugged, and we quickly drank what was left and started talking. In my mind I was thinking any minute now, her face will morph into something else. But after half an hour, the only change was a wave of intense sleepiness. I wasn’t about to spend another $15 so I decided to head home.
Maybe if I’d drunk it like a shot the results would have been different? Or if I’d have had more, but I wasn’t disappointed. Maybe, just maybe a little sad that I didn’t discover my untapped genius or figure out the meaning of life. But then again, I wouldn’t want to sacrifice a segment of my brain for that, how else could I dream up my next adventure?
Elizabeth Yemisi Adegoke is our columnist and a New York-based freelance journalist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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