Musset didn't write the way he did because he drank absinthe, instead he drank for the same reason for which he wrote just like that: namely out of despair.
During the first weekend of October the annual Absinthiades takes place in the little, otherwise sleepy, town of Pontarlier in the Doubs region of France. Located just about 70km or so from Geneva and just a short drive from Val de Travers in Switzerland this is the heart of Absinthe history. Early morning on Friday September 30th me and my friend Bork (on Fee Verte, in real life - Anders) headed for Copenhagen airport to meet up with Gertz and fly down to Geneva.
Landing at Geneva airport around 9 in the morning we headed straight to the car rental to pick up our brand spanking new means for transportation. I don't know if I would call it a car really... Despite the fact that the little Mazda 2 barely could handle the weight of just us three plus our luggage we did find our way to Pontarlier intact and well.
The first thing you have to do when you get to Pontarlier is of course to find a decent place to sit down, calm down and have a drink - where else would you be served an absinthe with the waiter bringing you a fountain to the table? We parked ourselves in the café of Hotel S:t Pierre in the heart of town where Bork and Gertz enjoyed a nice glass of absinthe each, whereas I simply had to go for a small beer since I was driving.
Leaving the café we were afraid we had entered the Twilight Zone since there was no one to be seen or heard anywhere. It was just us and dead silence. Figures that the french closes everything at lunch hour. Lazy people, or smart people - you pick.
So, time to get a hold of the others. Calling Oxygenee and Zman to get directions to the chalet where we'd be staying proved slightly frightening as well since they didn't quite find their way there either. Somehow they finally made it and gave pretty good directions and we drove the 10 miles from Pontarlier to Le Crêt de l'Agneau to be greeted by this beautiful place.
Meeting Zman and Oxygenee for the first time in person and not only over the internet was really nice. Very good people with whom I knew I'd have a great weekend. We got our designated rooms and could settle in for a second and then it was time to head back down to Pontarlier and get started on the Absinthiades.
The Museum of Pontarlier showed some amazing pieces of absinthe history, bottles, paintings, posters, glasses and fountains - pretty much anything. You will find plenty of great photos in the galleries...
Oxygenee took us on a little tour around the outside of the old Pernod Distillery. Sadly it's now in the hands of Nestlé who produces Strawberry Nesquik there these days. Standing there, looking at the old buildings of the distillery and seeing the Doubs river run just outside looking just the way it does on old postcards from around 1900 all thoughts wandered off and landed somewhere 100 years back in time.
Standing by the Pernod distillery looking up a high hill you see the Chapelle de l'Esperance. A place we went to visit on Saturday.
Back at the chalet and craving for food, our ever so hospitable hosts had a magnificent dinner prepared. (Photo courtesy of Oxygenee) I had one of the best wines I have ever had that evening and the meal was excellent. Very few things beat an excellent Vin Jaune...
Of course after eating a good dinner there's nothing like sitting down in the company of good people and good drinks. We had a relaxed and very nice evening drinking some of the finest absinthe and eventually ended up drunk-dialling some people in the U.S.
Eventually even the last few of us had to head for bed. A packed schedule for Saturday awaits.
After a refreshing breakfast with a ton of home-made cheese, jam, ham and all thing imaginable (such as fresh, still warm, newly milked milk for your coffee) we headed into Pontarlier for the start of the Absinthiades antiques sales at Theatre Bernard Blier.
Here you could find most anything in the way of absinthiana as well as new books on absinthe and a lot of other stuff. This is also where people could sample some of the absinthes in a little bar and this was also where the annual Concours de Degustation, absinthe tasting and competition, would be held on Sunday the 2nd.
After spending a lot of time around the antiques tables and sampling some rather shitty absinthes we headed out on "town" to do some shopping. I must say I was actually surprised by the huge amount of stores in that little town. A couple of hours and a few hot dogs later we set course for the distilleries.
A visit to the Francois Guy distillery was first and we learned a few things there that we never expected to come from an absinthe distiller. Or, we didn't actually learn anything since the guy there obviously didn't know what he was talking about but he thought he taught us some things... Apart from that fellow it was a nice place and the shelves were packed with various size bottles of Francois Guy absinthe. Stashed away high up on a shelf was also a little 5 liter copper alembic along with two pre-ban bottles of Pernod Fils. Hmmm...
After having a sample of their Pontarlier Anis straight out of the still we headed for the distillery of Les Fils d'Emile Pernot - home of the Un Emile absinthes and other liqueurs. Just outside the distillery we met Helfrich, Dutch absinthe manufacturer and well known member of most forums. We had a long good look at the Egrot still and analyzed it to pieces. Peter Schaf was there and he would later join us at the chalet together with Frank, the owner of the Combier distillery in Saumur.
Packing four people into the little tin can Mazda 2 we tried to find our way up to the Chapelle de l'Esperance. We could see it all the time but no roads took us there! Even though it took a while to get there we got to see other things on our lost ways around town. A huge castle/prison-thing up on a hill side was one of the spectacular views. We finally found the right way and now the car could barely take us up the hill! People could've walked passed us going up the hill to the chapel. The view from the chapel was amazing though, looking out over town and down on the old Pernod Fils plant.
It's just sad to see that some morons with absolutely no respect for anything at all obviously, had done so much damage to the chapel. Either way, it was beautiful and well worth the drive up there.
Behind the chapel was a forest - but not just any forest. No - the DANGEROUS FOREST! A huge sign was up to warn anyone from going into "la forêt dangereux". We had to drive in there. We did, we didn't come very far until we had to turn around! We can't tell what was in there because you probably wouldn't believe us anyway but we had to turn around, quickly. We left the dangerous forest behind us an headed back down.
We had plans for dinner in the evening at a very nice restaurant called Coté Pont, located just by the Doubs river in the heart of Pontarlier. A nice cosy little place with just enough room for our company of 12 or so people. (Don't tell anyone that a few of us had a little appetizer at McDonald's first.)
After a good meal and some circa 1955 Berger Pastis we headed up to the chalet for a good evening of absinthe and wine. An evening that lasted long into the night but with less and less people at the table. At this time Markus Lion of Absinthe.de and his girlfriend were also staying at the chalet. It was really great to finally meet them as well. He had of course brought a bottle of his Absinthe Duplais for tasting. Something we all enjoyed.
Morning again and another wonderful breakfast. Being the last day of the absinthiades it was time for the tasting and competition first. At about 11 o'clock it all started and there was a lot of absinthes to be tasted and judged.
The whole thing was divided into two jury groups with 12 absinthes each to judge. Needless to say, many of the absinthes presented were extremely bad whilst others were good. The result of the competition was a bit odd since at first they presented the results they had at hand, and later on that result had suddenly changed. I will not go too deep into that but it was very strange.
The final results of the annual Concours de Degustation at the 2005 Absinthiades look like this:
Jury 1, distilled absinthes:
1. Kübler 45 (Distillerie Kübler/Blackmint)
2. Partisan 65 (Alandia)
3. Versinthe La Blanche (Liquoristeries de Provence) and Un Emile 45 (Emile Pernot)
Jury 2, distilled absinthes:
1. La Marianne 55 (Artemisia, Bugnon)
2. Blanche de l'Heure Verte (Maison du Pastis)
3. Libertine 72 (Paul Devoille)
1. Deniset 45
3. Montania 55
Leaving the tasting behind us - me, Bork and Peter headed to Couvet, Switzerland to meet with the rest of the gang. We ended up at Steve Rosat's place where we could see some very fine absinthiana. He was now our tour guide around the Val de Travers. He took us to see an asphalt mine where we went deep deep into the dark and magically turned into the Village People!
After taking a long, rather chilly tour in the mines we sat down in the café area and had a beer and some of their signature asphalt ham (photo courtesy of Oxygenee). A pretty weird thing but super tasty. The ham is floured, wrapped in six layers of wrapping paper, and submerged for 4 hours in a vat of boiling asphalt, which cooks it at a constant 170°C.
Later on in the afternoon we headed up-hill again. High up in the Swiss alps we should find a little cottage type restaurant which served the best cheese fondue I've ever had. The view was supposed to be spectacular from up there but the mist took that away in an instant. It was a night of much laughter and joy and not to mention the crazy amount of wine and Calvados that was consumed during our hours there. I was the driver though, so nothing for me.
Me and Zman were the ones still sane and sober when we left the place and headed back to the chalet outside Pontarlier. Me, Bork and Peter took our supercharged tin can and followed the rest who went with Steve in his Cayenne... Peter, constantly talking in the back seat made the trip feel shorter than it was. He was hilarious.
Back at the chalet we had more to drink before it was finally time to hit the sack. Me, Bork and Gertz had an early flight to catch the next morning so we couldn't do too much partying. That did of course not stop one well known individual from dancing around in a t-shirt and boxers in our room complaining about our faggy little sleigh-beds and us not wanting to share a bottle of mighty fine wine with him now, a few hours before I was to drive to the airport. I cannot, out of respect for this persons reputation, and my own well being, tell you who this was...
So, too early in the morning we got up, packed our gear and headed to the Geneva airport again. A couple of hours later we were back home in Sweden and all was normal. Or, close to normal. It's only twelve months till next time, and before that, there's the Fête d'Absinthe in Boveresse, Switzerland in June. See you there?
Many writers "of old" wrote poems or passages about absinthe. Some drank it, some didn't. Find some of them here as well as reviews and notes on modern books about absinthe.
The Absinthe Poetry section has seen several updates the past days. Poems and information about more authors; Antonin Artaud, Arthur Symons, Francis Saltus Saltus, Florence Folsom and Robert Loveman. Open your mind and have a drink while you enjoy their lyrics.
It's the new bistro, the new bar in town. A good place to meet when meeting in real life isn't always an option. Meet me on facebook for more updates from the absinthe world.