By The Absinthe Route – From an anthology of travel stories
Here are excerpts from By the Absinthe Route, Chapter 10 of the entertaining and true account of Lewis R. Freeman’s yachting expedition of the South Pacific, entitled In the Track of the Trades. These passages are interesting for their portrayal of absinthe drinking and the style of preparation in the far-flung French outpost of Tahiti in the post-ban days.
IN THE TRACKS OF THE TRADES
THE ACCOUNT OF A FOURTEEN THOUSAND
MILE YACHTING CRUISE TO THE HAWAIIS,
MARQUESAS, SOCIETIES, SAMOAS AND FIJIS
LEWIS R. FREEMAN
BY THE ABSINTHE ROUTE
THE French islands of the South Pacific perform satisfactorily the regulation duty of all the other of that republic’s tropical colonies-that of furnishing a retreat for a governor, secretary, judge and three or four other high officials during such time as they may require to accumulate fortunes sufficient to permit them to return to Paris and ease for a good portion, if not all the rest, of their lives; also for a small army of minor officials who have no chance to accumulate enough to take them to Paris. These latter young gentlemen work—or rather sit at desks—six hours a day, drink absinthe six hours, and dream absinthe dreams the remainder of the twenty-four.
The Cercle is a low, rambling structure of aching white, cooled by green trees, green blinds and green drinks. You have seen in the great republic’s tropical outposts these little clubs which have not been shaded by green trees; one or two may even be recalled
which have not had the green blinds; but a Cercle Colonial or Militaire without the green drinks—never.
“Where flaps the tri-colour, there flows the absinthe.”
You are not certain who first enunciated this great truth, nor where you first heard it; sufficient that it has become a law as inflexible as that of gravity. Haul down the one, and the other will cease to flow. Stop the flow of the other, and the one will cease to flap.
Certain French patriots who are strangers to the French tropics may indignantly question the truth of the latter statement; these you may respectfully request to cite you a single instance where those respective symbols of their republic are flapping and flowing independently.
He slipped through the door but a moment ago and the garçon had his glass of ice and bottle ready on the window ledge almost before he was seated. He spilled the absinthe over the sides of the glass in his eagerness to fill it, and in spite of the cracked ice it still must have been far from the delectable frappé of the connoisseur when he gulped it down. A second pouring of the warm liqueur took up the remaining ice and he has called for more.
Turn your attention again to the youth by the darkened window. A fresh glass of cracked ice is before him and he is pouring himself another drink. Ah! there is your real absinthe artist now. See with how steady a hand he pours that unvarying thread of a trickle; not faster than that must it go, not slower. See him turn the glass to the light to mark the progress of the green stain in the white body of the cracked ice. As it touches the bottom the pouring stops, the glass is twirled once or twice and then lifted to the lips and drained. Just as much water as a thread-sized trickle of warm absinthe will melt from the ice in finding its way to the bottom of the glass and back to the rim; offer it to him any other way, after those first mad gulps, and he would probably refuse it. Thus absinthe á la Cercle Colonial de Papeete.
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