Green Fairy Tale

Author: Kirsten K., Cocktails, Drinks, Entertainment, Food & Drink, History, Movies, Recipes, Spirits

Twenty-five years ago today, Bram Stoker’s Dracula was released in theaters. Being a fangirl (emphasis on “fang”), I flew out to see it, but amidst the gore and gothic romance, one scene sank its teeth into me:

Count Dracula fills a glass with green liquid, then pours water from a carafe over a sugar cube, which rests on an intricate silver spoon suspended atop the glass. He tells Mina, “Absinthe is the aphrodisiac of the self. The green fairy who lives in the absinthe wants your soul, but you are safe with me.” Mina takes the sugar cube and sucks on it with a look of ecstasy on her face.

Needless to say, I swooned.

For the past decade, absinthe has been enjoying a revival, but back in 1992, I hadn’t heard of it. The public Internet was in its infancy, so I had to do some old-fashioned library research in order to learn more about this mysterious drink. I discovered that it was a popular libation in Gilded Age Paris that was purported to have psychedelic properties and had been credited with inspiring great works of impressionist art, literature, and music. It had also been illegal in the United States since 1915.

Absinthe is a potent alcoholic drink featuring a mixture of botanicals, including sweet anise, fennel, lemon balm, star anise, and peppermint. One primary ingredient is grande wormwood, an herb containing high levels of thujone, long thought to be responsible for absinthe’s mind-altering effects. Due to its transformational nature and the vivid green color of the liquid, drinking absinthe became known as “romancing the green fairy.” It was believed to be highly addictive and, in the lead-up to Prohibition, took the blame for many of the social problems of the day.

The forbidden always seems more exotic, so I plotted to get my hands on a bottle, but years passed without success. I traveled to New Orleans in the spring of 2000 and visited the site of the Old Absinthe Bar where, ironically, there was not a drop of absinthe to be had due to the continued ban on its importation, but I was not the only one who’d caught absinthe fever. That same year, a product called Absente was released in America. Marketed as the first legal absinthe in the U.S. since the ban, it was made using a process similar to the original 19th-century versions, replacing the wormwood with southernwood and adding sugar.

I immediately purchased a bottle, along with their matching absinthe-style glasses and spoons. Still infatuated with the ritual that I’d seen at the cinema and read about in my research, I reverently set up my glass and spoon, placing the sugar cube just so, then carefully poured ice-cold water over the sugar and into the glass of Absente. I watched, captivated, as they combined to create la louche—the magical alchemy that transforms clear, emerald-hued absinthe into the opaline shade of green milk glass. This was finally happening! I brought the glass to my lips and took a sip.

In the build-up to this moment, I’d never entertained the thought that anticipation of a thing is often greater than the thing itself. I had also failed to consider that absinthe contains two types of anise—a flavor I don’t favor. Further, I’d never been a fan of hard liquor. Even watered down and sweetened up, this brew was robust, to say the least. I could only choke down about half of the liquid.

Disappointed, but unbowed, I wasn’t quite ready to abandon my quest for true absinthe. Despite discovering that I didn’t dig the drink, I still yearned to experience the heady effects that had inspired artists like Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec and authors such as Oscar Wilde and Ernest Hemingway, so the search carried on and I continued to accrue absinthe accoutrements.

Helping to keep the dream alive, absinthe was featured in two movies released in 2001. The first was Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge!, in which several characters savor the spirit and subsequently hallucinate a green fairy in the form of Kylie Minogue. A few months later, I found myself once again in the theater staring up at a stunning bottle of absinthe in From Hell, where Johnny Depp’s character is at once chasing the dragon and romancing the green fairy.

Eventually, Kirsti—who’d caught the absinthe bug from me—convinced a friend who was traveling to the Czech Republic to smuggle a bottle of genuine absinthe back to the U.S. for us. Bottle finally in hand, we set out our paraphernalia and prepared to imbibe. This was it.

Antique silver absinthe spoons are highly collectible, but these stainless steel versions are beautiful and affordable.

I didn’t feel the same thrill I’d experienced when preparing to drink Absente for the first time, but we performed the revered ritual and drank up. I finished my entire glass and even had another, but as the evening progressed, I never felt more than a slight buzz from the alcohol—no symphonies heard, stanzas conceived, or scenes envisioned, and not a single flash of fairy wings.

The romance was officially over.

My absinthe-related supplies and books were relegated to a dusty shelf, while the bottle of contraband liquor languished in a cabinet. This would have been the end of the story if not for our friend Mika, who, in addition to being a trained opera singer and pastry chef, is a talented mixologist with a knack for dreaming up delicious drinks. She likes to rinse a glass with absinthe before constructing a cocktail, or incorporate a small measure in the mixture itself, imparting an almost floral note that I find enchanting. Like many a skilled composer, she doesn’t always transcribe her technique, but BuzzFeed compiled a convenient list of absinthe cocktails for those who don’t take their liquor neat—or too seriously.

Hidden within this vintage-inspired artwork by Robert Rodriguez are the names of Tempus Fugit’s absinthes.

If you have the heart of a true absintheur, you’re in luck! Absinthe was officially legalized in the United States in 2007, leading to a flood of options for enthusiasts. Absente was reformulated to contain actual wormwood, and even Marilyn Manson got in on the game with his acclaimed version, Mansinthe. Many are of high quality, but beware of imitations. I tried one that looked more like mouthwash than absinthe and did not form a louche when water and sugar were added. We at The Swoon Society are partial to Vieux Pontarlier, a pre-ban absinthe from Tempus Fugit Spirits, purveyors of luscious liqueurs in beautiful bottles.

Despite some conflict along the way, this green fairy tale has a happy ending, so raise a glass in cheers to a journey of 25 years, but opt for emerald and skip the silver…unless there are vampires about.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Absinthe

 

Have you caught the bug? For detailed information about the history, ingredients, and ritual of absinthe, visit Absinthe Fever.

 

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Idol Away an Evening

Author: Kirsten K., Entertainment, Movies, Nostalgia

The Idolmaker 1The weekend is almost here, which for many of you means heading home to Netflix and ch…ow, so whip up some pasta marinara, break out the Chianti, and beg, borrow, or buy the DVD* of this little-known gem to idle away an evening. The Idolmaker is the story of an Italian-American from Brooklyn named Vincent Vacarri who has the musical chops and songwriting talent to be a rock ‘n’ roll star, but lacks “the look,” so he mines a couple of diamonds in the rough and sets about polishing them into teen idols. In a kind of 1950s version of Cyrano de Bergerac, they perform his songs and speak, dress, and act as he dictates so that he can live vicariously (Vacarri-ously?) through them.

The film is loosely based on the life of Bob Marcucci, a rock promoter who discovered Frankie Avalon and Fabian, managing their careers and guiding them to stardom. Directed by Taylor Hackford (Mr. Helen Mirren) and starring Ray Sharkey in a Golden Globe-winning performance, the movie also features a young Peter Gallagher in his film debut and boasts a soundtrack of catchy original songs that will have you humming along with the musical numbers.

The Idolmaker 2

This poster from the film hung on my sister’s door throughout the ’80s.

This movie holds a special place in my heart. Growing up, my middle sister and I were friends with a girl who lived across the street, and when she and my sister were in their early teens, the girl’s brother-in-law recruited the two of them to be extras in a movie he was working on called…you guessed it…The Idolmaker. They spent a day acting(?) the part of screaming audience members in a concert scene for the film, which I heard about for weeks afterwards. Forlorn at having been too young to join them, I hung on every little detail.

When the film was released in November of 1980, my sister and I saw it multiple times over the months that followed, excited about the fact that our friend could be seen during the performance of “However Dark the Night” wearing my mother’s red sweater. At home, we acted out the musical numbers and must have made our parents crazy with the constant repetition of the soundtrack LP on our turntable. I was already friends with Kirsti at the time and dragged her with me to see the movie on more than one occasion. She still has my handwritten lyrics to some of the songs, which I gave her to memorize.

The Idolmaker 3Nowadays, Kirsti and I have a group of friends who trade off meeting at each other’s homes for dinner and a movie. Whoever hosts gets to choose the film. Last month it was Kirsti’s turn and, with my encouragement, she chose The Idolmaker. Despite receiving two Golden Globe nominations (Best Picture and Best Actor – Musical or Comedy) and one win, we rarely encounter anyone who has seen the film, so we weren’t surprised that most of the group hadn’t heard of it, but one person had not only seen the movie, he’d loved it enough to purchase TWO copies of the DVD. Even Kirsti’s husband, a camera assistant and film buff, hadn’t known about the movie until he’d met her, but he became a fan after finally viewing it with the group.

Much like the St. Francis Dam disaster, The Idolmaker was an important part of my childhood that seems to have been lost to history, but it’s worth reviving. Kirsti and I agree that, after the passage of more than three decades, the film holds up. It’s still as thoroughly entertaining to us as adults as it was when we were tweens, so if you’re stuck indoors this weekend with some idle time, make time for The Idolmaker and you’ll be seeing the stars.

S.W.O.O.N. Stamp
Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

The Idolmaker

 

The DVD of The Idolmaker can be purchased from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and stores like Best Buy, Fry’s, and Wal-Mart.

 

*The Idolmaker is not available for streaming, so unless you can find it for sale at a brick-and-mortar store, you’ll have to purchase it online or order it from Netflix on DVD and idle away a few days until it’s delivered. Until then, watch the trailer.