Saturday, August 31, 2013

Wormwood Returns and Poison is Popular Again

In July I was in Paris for vacation and took a walking tour of Montmartre led by a guide from the company Paris Walks. We saw Van Gogh's home, where he lived, painted, and suffered. We saw the places that Hemingway and Toulouse-Lautrec lived, worked and especially where they drank. One of the most fascinating parts of the tour happened when Chris, our guide, pulled a beautiful silver object from his bag and invited us to guess what it was. No one knew. Then he proceeded to demonstrate its use and he showed us how absinthe was created, served and drunk.

Drunk is the key word here. You may recall from Art History 101 that one of the theories of Van Gogh's madness was "too much absinthe" or wormwood poisoning. Wormwood is the herbal/chemical ingredient that creates the glowing green look and it has been suggested that the toxin caused brain damage.

What we know now that the trace elements of poison in wormwood were not really the issue it was actually  the quantity consumed. Van Gogh, Hemingway and others were addicted to absinthe and suffered those consequences along with other mental health issues. 

But still, a fascinating and romantic story, no?

So I was surprised to search on absinthe use and find it is again quite popular for its taste, unusual color, intoxicating effect and because of the charmingly complicated ritual used to serve and consume it.

Just look at these lovely modern absinthe spoons.

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