Slice of Prague: The Voyeur I met Ben tonight at Karlovo náměstí and we took the metro to Anděl. Ben had met a girl and she told him to meet her and a girlfriend at a hospoda in Smíchov.  ...

The Absinthe Drinkers by Josef Čapek
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"Ban this drink... and make mine a large one!" - a Scottish saying

One of the most pleasing aspects of drinking Absinthe is the ritual. It has been compared to heroin, as it involves a lighter, a spoon, and a white powder. 

Similar to smack, the powder is placed in the spoon. Like smack, it is then made wet and burned. The spoon is then dipped back into the glass and the absinthe lit aflame. 

Water is used to douse the flames and the absinthe is consumed. 

But you know this.

You know this because every packer who comes through Prague heads to the Absintherie and tries Absinthe on their first night here. With 70% percent alcohol content and a whole luggage car of myth attached, this methylated spirit is probably the most notorious drink in the prohibition west. 

While Czech Absinthe packs a punch, it does not actually fit the bill for the authentic Absinthe of lore. The more famous recipe called for wormwood, which held a residue of natural turpentine from certain worms, which was dipped into ethanol.

The Czech version is not the same stuff Rimbaud drank, but it has a similar effect. The fire ritual is also peculiar to the Czech version. The Czechs are not selling a knock off, but rather the 'version' of absinthe they have been drinking for two hundred years. 

The original non-Czech Absinthe held a similar molecular structure to cannabis, thus its reputation for causing hallucinations. The Greeks and Romans had a version of it, but it was only when a Swiss doctor named Pierre Ordinaire began to market it in 1792 that it really took off in Europe.

Ordinaire later sold the recipe to a Frenchmen whose daughter married Henri Louis Pernod. Absinthe was, in fact, the original Pernod, andthe current Pernod is merely Absinthe without the wormwood kicker. 

It was banned in the heated political environment of turn of the century France.

Both the Right and the Left claimed it was destroying the country; they wanted their nice and harmless wine back. Absinthe was linked to killings and anti-social behavior, just as opium was in 19th century China. 

While wormwood Absinthe remains banned throughout Europe, the Czech version, together with some of the best poetry of the last 200 years, offer the taste needed to understand what it was, and why it had to go.

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