Aleta Fimbres 03/02/2009

On drinking in Paris, by James Hinkle

After work and before dinner, it is still a French custom to relax at a sidewalk cafe and have an aperitif or two. Despite years of indoctrination by Americans, the French have not converted to American cocktails.

They prefer a drink that does not paralyze the taste, make them suddenly fond of strangers and hostile to their families and induce them to sleep with their clothes on.

The most popular aperitif in Paris today was almost unknown in the Twenties.

It is called Kir, a chilled mixture of white wine and crème de cassis. During Hemingway’s Paris years, the usual early evening drink was Pernod. Pernod is imitation absinthe, and for fifty years absinthe was the evening drink of choice.

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Apparently because it was made with wormwood, absinthe has an effect unlike any other alcoholic drink: It induced a dreamy, warming, golden glow – a feeling of well being about oneself and the world in general.

As Hemingway put it in For Whom the Bell Tolls “If you have anything wrong, absinthe will cure it.”

Unfortunately, however, absinthe had other effects: It directly attacked the nervous system, sometimes causing insanity and consistently and significantly reducing the fertility of male sperm.

This was not moralistic propaganda; it was medical fact. In the years just before World War 1, France experienced an alarming decline in its birth rate down from six hundred thousand per year to slightly over three hundred thousand.

So, in 1915, after violent public debate, the manufacture and sale of absinthe were prohibited for the sake of the future greater glory of France. The chief producer of absinthe quickly introduced a substitute called Pernod.

Pernod looks like absinthe (a clear, greenish yellow which turns milky when water is added), it tastes like absinthe (licorice), and it does not damage the nervous system or cause sterility.

Unfortunately, though, Pernod does not produce absinthe’s celebrated glow. As Hemingway said, Pernod “has a good uplift, but it drops you just as far.” The French (and Americans in Paris) faithfully drank Pernod for nearly twenty years before they gave up trying to recapture the experience of absinthe. You can still order Pernod, but you are likely to find Kir more relaxing.



Reflections of Venice by David Mills

It’s the madness that threatens happiness and sends us careening off course. We counter with distractions, activities that divert our attention, overpower or numb the senses, and free us from the awareness of what presses in on us.

They aren’t solutions, or answers to the questions of what brings happiness and calm. They are temporary fixes that give us time away.

So much of what we do conforming to the lowly ideals of this age of modernity is the stuff of Thompson’s Generation of Swine: Tales of Shame and Degradation in the ’80’s.

This generation of swine appears doomed to wallow in its ugly disgrace, structurally restricted from what is good, kind and gentle.

Distractions soften this hard reality and create the illusion of happiness by pacifying the anger and frustration we have for this world of diminishing beauty.

In Venice there is a different reality, one that is isolated from much of what has desecrated the beauty in the world of the automobile. Here one is spared the full impact of the dehumanizing influences of technology, the intrusions of the macabre world that is beyond the canals.

This city afloat provides a fix in the grandest sense, an injection of beauty that can save us from decline. It is a place where the madness paws at you with soft gloves … where humanity has a chance to survive.



Talking to myself about Amsterdam, by Trevor Watson

Amsterdam, it’s like a smoky haven, a bit of a throwback to the Sixties where any indulgence is at your fingertips. Pimps, pushers, and prostitutes…. Definitely a good place to stash your brain for a while.

You tell a story like you’re narrating a Van Sant film. And I’ve heard all this before. This is about smoking too much hash, some prostitute in the Red Light District … escaping the clutches of a female supremacist, that’s not the whole of it. There’s the dirty mags.

All the way to Amsterdam to look at dirty mags. A true renaissance man, you are.

Mind you, they were fascinating. I spent a lot of time in that shop.

So what’s new? You do that at home.

But these are really unbelievable. It’s stuff you just couldn’t fucking believe….

So, then it was off to the coffee shops?

… The poodle with the sculpted hair and the Swedish bit, Shit …

Lovers Part One, Part Two …

This is not a turn on. Get on about the coffee shops.

Suit yourself. The coffee shops … the one I went to first was this tiny reggae place, The Goa or something like that. What a strange atmosphere it had: Black lights, pot smoke heavy in the air, people at small simple tables smoking some variety of pot or hash, looking very high.

And then you lit up and got stoned out of your mind, right?

I hadn’t smoked a thing yet. I was just having this cup of coffee and suddenly I had this massive contact high. I felt really paranoid, thought I was going mental.

So you lost it and caused a scene?

No, no. I went around the corner to a bar for a few drinks to calm down.

Of course. The part-time barfly goes international. So …

After beginning to feel a little pissed-drunk, you know – more relaxed, I was up for smoking a little hash. So I wobbled back to The Goa, had another coffee and ordered some Moroccan blonde from this menu that beautifully displayed the varieties of marijuana and hash available.

And it was all very cheap as well …

They were the biggest fascination, the coffee houses. They are these cozy places filled with people smoking, drinking, and having a positively fantastic time. I spent a lot of time in them, every day in fact.

Let me guess, and then you took in a live sex show? Found some Dutch nookie to complete this holiday?

That was definitely another fascinating part of Amsterdam. There are these busy narrow streets with red lights dotting the walls. Under each one is a prostitute, clad in lingerie . . . displaying herself to you, to anyone who walks by. It’s like Victorian England. There were some lovely birds.

This is a pathetic fantasy you have.

No, really, it’s like back in Dickens’ day. They wear the skimpiest little things teasing you to come in and give it a try.

This all sounds terribly interesting, but didn’t you view any art, go to any galleries – a museum maybe?

Well, I started hanging out Rick’s Café – where the bartender introduced me to apple-corn schnapps. “The elixir of the Gods” he said it was ….

You know, you’re hopeless.

This article was originally published in Revolt in Style.

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