Have you ever tasted Absinthe? It’s strange, beautiful stuff and something of an acquired taste. Straight from the bottle it’s an earthy golden-green similar in hue to high quality olive oil. When mixed with water it becomes an enchanted, cloudy shade of pale opalescent jade. The mysterious green transformation is where the legend of La Fée Verte, the green fairy begins. In cafés of the 19th century a patron would be served a fluted, parfait style glass, a small pitcher of water, a filigree spade-shaped spoon that often was a work of art in itself, and a tiny dish of chunky oblong sugar cubes.
The patron would balance the spoon across the top of the glass, place the sugar cubes atop the spoon and very slowly drizzle the absinthe over the sugar cubes, saturating them. Then a small amount of water would be trickled over the sugar cubes and allowed to dissolve them. The final step after the last bits of green sugar had slipped through the spoon is to stir the mixture until it becomes opaque. At that moment it’s time to ask La Fée Verte to be kind with you and grant you a beautiful vision.
The first impression that might leap to mind while tasting modern commercial absinthe might be “Dear god that’s strong”, or it might be, “Wow this is just weird black licorice and a lot of booze.”
Taste it again and the other subtle flavors begin to come forward. Taste it again and you’ll notice there are a lot of layers to this stuff, multiple ingredients that are familiar yet very hard to name. Anise is right at the top, screaming licorice!, but there are other quietly seductive flavors as well as the possibly of a few sinister properties. Absinthe as it was made in the 19th century contained wormwood as one of the principle ingredients, which is said to induce hallucinations and eventually madness.
Madness? Wormwood? You might think that sounds a little unsetting but it didn’t stop the French from guzzling the stuff. Until World War I Absinthe was the most popular alcoholic beverage in France. French veterans returning from the Crimean War came home with a taste for exotic herbed alcoholic beverages. Absinthe’s astonishingly high alcohol content and notorious ability to intoxicate added to its popularity among the poor and serious café drinkers alike. Absinthe’s allure crossed all social boundaries in 19th century France. Intellectuals, artists and well-to-do middle class matrons all enjoyed and often overindulged in La Fée Verte’s warming and yet numbing embrace.
For professional purposes only I drank a little absinthe while editing Fairy In The Flesh. I called on La Fée Verte to bring me a beautiful vision as I asked the question, “What if your soul mate was born a century before you?” Fairy In The Flesh explores that question big time.
In this excerpt at the end of a long, luckless day of wandering through Avignon France searching for André Bosco’s art studio, Maya stubbles into a Bohemian bistro run by a strange lady who claims to be a “time-twisting” enchantress.
…Maya’s gaze wandered toward the far wall and fixated on a framed pencil sketch of a handsome man with a proud, compelling face. The sketch was framed beneath glass and the paper had yellowed at the corners and crumbled with age. She studied the man’s face and guessed he was in his mid-thirties. He had a thick head of wavy dark hair and a rugged face with square, noble features, chevron brows and luminous eyes that glanced sideways from the portrait and seemed to follow the viewer around the room.
Maya found herself unable to look away. The man had a magnetic quality she seldom saw in contemporary faces. It was a look that could only belong to someone who possessed the self-confidence and perhaps a touch of arrogance not to care what the world thought. The generous arch of the man’s lips was so sensuous her thoughts wandered toward what it must have felt like to be kissed by him.
“You like Bosco, don’t you?” Miss Ruby leaned close. “He has a interesting face, doesn’t he? He can appear both compassionate and feral in turn. I’ve heard many differing opinions about the portrait over the years.”
Maya started. “Is that a portrait of André Bosco, the Fauvist painter?” she gasped. “I’m a great admirer of Bosco! I had no idea a portrait existed.” Her heart fluttered. “Did he really look like that?”
“You know of Bosco?” Miss Ruby looked elated. “So few do. History has all but overlooked him, which is a shame because those familiar with his small body of work have hailed him as one of the most innovative painters of his time. Some say Bosco inspired his more famous peers and set the example for the Fauvist moment by showing the world how to paint like a wild beast. Of course, a few of his nastiest critics called him a ‘paint waster’, but it’s clear Bosco had vision.”
Miss Ruby waved her hands through the air in an expansive gesture. “A few art historians have credited Bosco with being the original wild beast, in part because of his physical intensity and unruly head of hair, but also because he had a habit of tossing his paintbrushes aside and smearing the brightest colors across the canvas with his fingertips, with passion. It was said by those who watched him work that he ravished his canvases like a ferocious lover.” She giggled.
“He sounds exciting.” Maya drew a sharp breath. “Years ago, I saw an original Bosco in a traveling museum show of modernist work. Bosco’s painting was the most expressive piece of art in the entire show. I kept wandering back to look at it again and again. The painting was of a white stallion but the colors were vivid—every hue of the rainbow was hidden in the lines and shadows. Before I left the museum I bought a postcard of the painting and carried it around in a battered sketchbook for years. Bosco was my greatest inspiration. I heard a rumor he had a studio somewhere in Avignon?”
“He did.” Miss Ruby pointed upward. “His studio is a corner room on the third floor. The landlord of the building has preserved it.”
“Bosco’s studio is here?” Maya tensed. “Can I see it?”
“No.” Miss Ruby shook her head. “I don’t have permission to open the room, but the landlord will return on Sunday. You can ask him then.”
“I won’t be here on Sunday.” A note of desolation crept into her voice. “This is my last full day in France. I have to start making my way back to Paris tomorrow for my flight home. I’ll miss my only chance to see Bosco’s studio.” Maya leaned across the bar, feeling absolutely desperate to get a look at Bosco actual living space. “Please reconsider—I promise not to touch a thing.”
“I’m sorry.” Miss Ruby nodded toward the top of the bar, where an ornate brass skeleton key dangled from a green satin ribbon. “The landlord is the only one allowed to use that key to open the studio.”
“Damn.” Maya swallowed the last of her iced coffee and set the empty glass on the counter. She now felt torn about getting up and leaving when something as interesting as André Bosco’s studio was so near. “What’s inside the studio?”
“Everything.” Miss Ruby sounded glib. “The room is exactly as Bosco left it in 1903. He abandoned his paints, brushes, unfinished canvases, clothing—even a small amount of money. It’s a real mystery—no one knows what happened to him.”
A chill shivered up Maya’s spine. “No one knows?”
“There are romantic tales that claim Bosco fell in love with a model. She left him and he simply walked away one day never to be heard from again. What happened after that is an unknown. No doubt that is the reason he hasn’t enjoyed the same success as of some of his peers. Bosco abandoned his art, or perhaps changed his name and drifted. Even his legal name is in dispute, but no one really knows who he was or what became of him.
“The only thing that’s certain is Bosco disappeared from this hotel on the eve of having his work shown at an influential art salon. Wealth and success were headed his way and he chose to chase after a woman instead. Beyond that, history never heard from him again. Even the paintings destined for the salon showing in Paris disappeared and no surviving Bosco paintings have been authenticated after 1903, so you see, his career as an early Fauvist was fleeting but intense.”
Maya’s gaze fixated on the portrait. “It’s sad. He showed such promise.” She studied André Bosco’s commanding face. The depth of his eyes in contrast to his dark brows fascinated her. As she carefully examined the sweeping graphite lines of the sketch an odd thing happened—Bosco’s gaze seemed to sharpen and for the briefest moment she felt as if a living man confronted her.
“That portrait is uncanny.” Maya swayed from side to side, changing her angle of view. “When I move, Bosco’s gaze shifts too.”
“He’s watching you as intensely as you’re watching him.” Miss Ruby chuckled. “I think he likes you.” She turned and opened a locked cabinet built into the wall, opened the cabinet and removed an emerald green, liter-tall apothecary bottle stopped with a wax-dipped cork.
The sides of the bottle were smeared with colorful paint-stained handprints. A yellowed label that had begun to separate from the glass featured a voluptuous winged fairy cloaked in a wisp of green silk. The dreamy-eyed fairy basked beneath ornate golden lettering identifying her as La Fée Verte, the fabled and sometimes fickle green fairy who lurked within absinthe’s golden-green depths, waiting to inspire or destroy those who partook of her.
Miss Ruby proudly presented the bottle to Maya. “This bottle of absinthe belonged to Bosco.” She pointed to the flecks of dried paint on the label and bottle. “This was the paint palette Bosco was using when he disappeared. Look at the vibrancy of the lime greens, sorbet orange and warm pinks. The colors are gorgeous. This is just one of the many personal items he left behind. Being a high-level enchantress from New Orleans, the landlord entrusted me to take possession of the absinthe. I put my own protective mojo on it.”
Maya reached out to touch Bosco’s broad handprint on the bottle with reverence. His palm print dwarfed hers and she immediately saw that he must have been a man of large build. The intimate act of tracing her fingertips against the same spot where Bosco’s had once rested made her hand tingle. Touching Bosco’s handprint seemed to forge a galvanizing link to a past she would have loved to be part of.
Bosco had lived at a time when the world had just begun to awaken to its true potential. Queen Victoria had recently died, marking an official end to the Victorian era. Albert Einstein’s first important papers on thermodynamics had just been published and few outside his rarefied circle of peers knew his name. The Wright brothers were still perfecting their first fragile aircraft. The Eiffel Tower was a newly completed wonder and Europe and the rest of the world had yet to go to war.
Over a century ago, at the moment Bosco had picked up the bottle with paint- stained fingers and left his handprint on the glass, most people had seen a gleaming future on the rise but few had glimpsed its looming shadow.
“You’re touching that bottle as if you were stroking a lover’s thigh,” Miss Ruby said softly. “I can see by your faraway expression that you’re a bit enamored with Bosco. I understand. I’ve been smitten with the past too. It can be so enthralling.”
“I wouldn’t say I was smitten.”
“Is seduced a better word?” Miss Ruby reached behind the bar and retrieved a fluted parfait glass that stood on a delicate pedestal, a spade-shaped filigree spoon and a tiny silver dish filled with sugar cubes. “I can’t allow you to enter Bosco’s studio, but I can offer you a small taste of his absinthe.” Her hand poised above the cork, she said, “Would you like to try it?”
Maya stared at the tempting but slightly forbidding bottle. “Isn’t absinthe dangerous?” She squirmed on the barstool. “I‘ve heard it can cause madness.”
Miss Ruby’s posture stiffened. “I’m not going to let you consume that much. I’m only offering a taste so you can say you shared a drink with André Bosco. But if you’re not interested...” She started to put the bottle back into the cabinet.
“Wait!” Maya lurched forward. “I’d be honored to sample Bosco’s absinthe.” Her head spun from this crazy but thrilling offer.
“There’s a ritual that goes along with this.” Miss Ruby pointed toward the green fairy on the label. “If you want La Fée Verte to bring you a beautiful vision, you must offer her a gift.”
“What kind of a gift?”
Miss Ruby reached over the counter and, with a bold gesture, removed one of Maya’s tiny, gold hoop earrings from her lobe. Before Maya could protest the earring was plopped into the bottom of the fluted glass.
“Why did you do that?” Maya gasped in surprise.
“You can have it back later. La Fée Verte will bring you a lovelier vision if you offer her a personal item with your essence on it.” Miss Ruby lifted a pitcher of water and poured it into the glass until it was half full. She then balanced a lacy silver spoon across the top. “Pick up two sugar cubes,” she commanded. “Kiss each, make a wish and set them on the spoon.”
Maya picked up the sugar cubes and kissed both. The kisses left a sweet grainy texture embedded in her lipstick. She licked her lips and set the stained sugar cubes on the spoon. When set side-by-side the lipstick marks on the two sugar cubes formed a perfect pink heart. She almost pointed out the coincidence to Miss Ruby but decided to keep the thought to herself.
Miss Ruby uncorked the bottle of absinthe and poured a drizzle of golden-green liquid over the sugar cubes. A piquant and slightly bitter herbal scent filled the air. The cubes absorbed the soft-green color as they dissolved and washed through the tiny slots in the spoon. As the absinthe mixed with the cool water it formed delicate whorls that sank in the glass like exhausted dancers gracefully melting to the floor. A moment later the liquid turned a cloudy, opalescent shade of pale-jade.
Miss Ruby glanced at Maya. “Did you make a wish?”
Maya nodded. She’d wished she could meet a man as exciting as André Bosco but didn’t believe for a moment that it could actually happen.
“La Fée Verte can transport you for a brief time to another reality, but remember you belong in the present and no matter the temptation to remain in her realm, you will have to return. Your fate lies in the present.” Miss Ruby dipped the spoon into the glass and stirred. The golden earring twirled at the bottom of the glass, making soft tinkling sounds before settling. She withdrew the spoon and pushed the fluted glass toward Maya. “Your magic potion is ready. Enjoy.”(Maya drinks the absinthe and gets left alone in the building. Things get strange fast. La Fée Verte appears and tempts her to steal the key)
Fairy In The flesh is available now!
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