getting drunk on absinthe in Bar Marsella
Also called the Green Fairy, from the French- La Fee Verte. Others called it the Green Goddess or the Green Muse.
But the Green Fairy isn't just another name for absinthe; it is a methaphor for artistic transformation and enlightenment. It opens up the mind to a freer state, a place where exploration of poetical pathways and new inspirational ideas can grow wildly. To the Parisian bohemians of late the 1800's, the Green Fairy was a guide into their artistic world, where new, groundbreaking art was created. Absinthe was to the artists of the time what smoking weed was for the hippies in the 60's; their "revolutionairy guide" and what they believed was the substance that "opened their minds".
Artists, poets and writers reached for a glass of the Green Fairy for inspiration to their creative works and during "the green hour", in the late afternoon, many glasses were consumed in Parisian bars and cafes- but not just that, apparently, some artists even began their days with a glass of absinthe. By 1910, the French were consuming 36 million litres of the drink annually.
The active ingredient in absinthe, thujone, is said to have hallucinogenic effects, and taken in such small quantities as in a glass of absinthe, it is not considered very dangerous. (!)
Most people actually believe that the drink is prohibited- well, it was, until the end of the 20th century, when it again became legal after 100 years of being forbidden.
Absinthe in Barcelona
Dalí, Picasso, Oscar Wilde, Ernest Hemingway and Gaudí are all said to have been drinking absinthe in Barcelonas barrio Raval, at that time known as the Barrio Chino.
Bar Marsella opened in 1820, and is said to be Barcelona's oldest bar- which is certainly highly believable, when you enter the place, and look around. Chandeliers in the ceilings (filled with dust and cobwebs) give a golden, dim light to the place, and all along the walls old bottles are decorating shelves- also covered in cobwebs and dust, with titles so old and worn, that some of them are just a blurred colour sea-green.
There are two toilets in the place, curiously facing one of the table-areas, with glass-doors so that every person who chooses to look, will see almost a clear silhouette of the person inside. Dirty and blurred mirrors decorate the walls and on each of them an instruction/prohibition is written, such as "do not stand on tables", "no singing" etc.
The bar is as authentic as it is touristy; more than half of its clientele seems to be hip backpacker or TEFL students from the US. However on the outside of the bar works girls in leopard-print leggings and stiletto-heels, along with men selling various types of drugs.
Authentic, messy, touristy- all with an egdy feel to it, as the night moves on, and people start to "open their minds" with the help of the Green Fairy.
I brought friends here a few times, friends passing through Barcelona, or visiting me. I always got great entertainment out of observing the reactions of people whilst drinking their glass of absinthe. Always a bit nervous or excited before, they were asking if it is really OK to drink this stuff, and they went through the ritual of burning the lump of sugar and splashing the water onto it with a bit of hesitation and suspicion. Once they tasted it, they mostly thought it was OK, and then it wouldn't talk long before some sort of reaction would surface.
Depending on how much has been drunk before, the effects vary. In general, after about half a glass or less, I see a significant elevation of mood and feeling. Voices get louder, faces get softer, and it is as if we are all suddenly on a boat. A big, old ship, moving softly. Everyone gets a softer, more friendly and open vibe.
One of my best friends, Kristin, had the best reaction I witnessed so far. She was extremely verbal and expressive about the feeling, and it really made me want to investigate the effects of absinthe more. She said almost immediately after having only a few sips that "her face feels like when she was a child" and that she hasn't felt this relaxed since she was in kindergarden. The feeling in the face made her understand how much she, as an adult, focuses her stress directly in her face (around the jaws, eyebrows, etc.)
She continued drinking and exclaimed "I need to tell my boss that I need to drink absinth, every day, before work! I will my job so MUCH BETTER! He will surely understand!!"
Another group of Swedish friends that I brought, had already had a significant amount of wine with their late tapas dinner, so the effect could not be distinguished as clearly from the already-consumed-alcohol. The noticeable factor in this case, was that the already-slightly-drunk Swedish vikings rapidly deteriorated into a rowdy singing bunch of seamen, singing loudly (despite my eager pointing at the signs saying "Forbidden to Sing" and believe it or not, at one point one of them tried to stand on the table, and suddenly all the prohibitions on the walls seemed made from many years of experience with a common effect from the absinthe.
As we walked out of the bar, this bunch of rowdy, singing Swedish vikings could not walk straight nor speak coherently - they were obviosuly still on the boat- maybe seasick- but obviosuly swimming in a sea of happiness and bliss.
This table is located to the left, just as you enter the bar. It always has a reserved-sign on it, and I always wondered why, until I heard the story of my German friend Chrsitine, who had come to the bar with a group of friends, where one guy is in a wheelchair. The staff of Bar Marsella attended to him immediately and swung the chairs down, invited the group to sit, and made a special all night table-service for the group (never heard of normally).
I was fortunate enough to be taken on a tour of Raval as I first moved to Barcelona by someone who has lived here many years. Bar Marsella was obviously included as one of the main stops, after being shown the street where the prostitutes from Eastern Europe work, and the street where prostitues from Africa and South America work. (Very important information!)
The bar is situated almost exactly between the two areas for the geographically separated working girls, which surely does add to the exciting feeling of entering a place where all sorts of people have been drinking, for many many years.
My first experience with absinthe ended in me saying repeatedly that "my legs are round and soft" (and then I don't mean litterally; I meant the feeling...do I make sense?)
I was intrigued, to say the least.
I love the place for its decadence, flair, old feeling, dirt and authenticity. The first time I went, I saw a live (huge) cockroach crawl across one of the mirrors. Another friend told me she saw a dead mouse on the floor the other week.
I find that as my glass gets emptier, everything around me softens. The brownish, seagreen colours, together with the golden light of the chandeliers, make it all feel like...a boat. I guess... that's what absinthe does to me.. I feel like I am on a boat, full of rowdy seamen, and it's all moving softly to the rhythm of the waves.
Outside of the bar is the seedy harbour with the working girls and the men selling drugs.
So last night I went with Emma, who was stressing about all the work she has to do (writing an article about the Spanish elections for one of the biggest newspapers in Sweden, wow!)
She NEEDED an absinthe to relax.
Emma's friend Lana arrived with her friends, and I got a chance to show off my skills regarding the proper rituals of absinth-preparation.
"You place the lump of sugar on the small fork, on top of the glass, after soaking it thoroughly in the liquor. You the set the sugar alight, and watch the blue flames caress the sugar."
I was already two-thirds down on my absinthe-glass, and was doing quite a good show as an experienced absinthe-drinker, and I was enjoying being on the boat so much, as it made me feel I was at the center of the sea of life.
"And then you take the bottle of water, and if you look closely, you will see that the barmen have already prepared the small hole for you in the plastic cap". "Now, spray the water onto the sugar, and watch it as it melts into the green liquid, and transforms into a milky, emerald-green, magic-looking drink!"
As we went out of the ship and onto the sea of prostitutes and pimps, drug-sellers and young American students, the first thing I saw was a young, African boy lying on the ground, face-up. I ran there, and a young Portugese boy was picking him up, and we tried to talk to the guy, to understand if he needed help, how badly drunk/high he was, etc. Suddenly a bottle smashed really loudly behind us, and everyone looked up to one of the balconies above. Angry neighbour, frustrated after months and months of sleeplessnes, in one of the busiest and seediest, and probably loudest, corners of Barcelona.
I decided to go home.
I realised, that I was more than 10 years older than most people around me. I was alone on my ship as I didn't want to continue drinking nor continue on to another bar.
So I took my ship to the nearest bicing-station, and together with Emma, who decided it was best to go home early to have enough energy to work on her articles, we cycled up, through the Barcelona-night, to our boring, dead, and dry land-Grácia.