“It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength,
and whosoever loves much performs much,
and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.”
Vincent Van Gogh
(a box of absente or absinthe / Julie Cook / 2020)
Let’s talk about art and food and drinks…
let’s talk about torment and gifts…
And so I must share a small revelation.
One that I have discovered during this time of lockdown****.
(**** a lockdown being a state of never-ending sheltering in place—
A state of being, of which, we have all been living now for nearly two solid months…
a state that started back on St. Patrick’s Day…but I digress)
I have learned that throughout this virus imposed social exile…
well, probably there are multiple things that I have learned but for today,
we shall leave it at one thing…
I have learned that we each possess a seemingly innate desire for some sort of
The desire to find creativity within the mundane has oddly become a most
dire consequence of being ‘confined”.
The choice is either we go bonkers from madness—
or instead, we release the pent up weariness and channel it into something grand.
Yet perhaps that is simply my delirium talking.
Cooking, cleaning and caring for family who are now all living together
under one roof, while some are working from home, leaves one drained
both physically and mentally.
Throw in a 1 and a 2-year-old who are in constant motion, plus who are in constant need,
from sunrise to sunset…thus, the desire for some sort of diversion, any diversion,
becomes critical…critical for all who reside under the same said roof.
For if one blows, they all blow!
Enter the colorful picture of the box shown above.
The portrait should be familiar.
It is a picture of Vincent van Gogh but not exactly a portrait we are familiar seeing.
It is on the packaging for a bottle of absinthe.
A bottle I recently purchased.
Now before you say anything, let me explain.
During this lockdown, I have been cooking three big meals a day.
Those who know me, know that I have always loved to cook.
It was oddly this art teacher’s outlet into the creative.
I was always happier cooking than I was painting.
It was a joy, as well as a foray, into the world of taste, texture, and visual imagination.
But now let’s throw in a pandemic…
of which means cooking has suddenly become both a necessity and a chore.
Gone are the days of excitement and the desire of what might be—gone is the frill and flair…
as that is now replaced by the need for speed, fulfillment, and satiation.
Only to wash the dishes and get ready to do it again.
Enter the l’heure de l’apéritif or the aperitif hour…
aka— the happy hour.
There is an American ex-pat who lives in Paris—he is a cook, author,
as well as food/travel blogger.
His name is David Lebovitz and just before the pandemic hit, he had just released
his latest recipe book for classic Belle Époque French cocktails.
Drinks that harken back to a time of sophistication and elegance
So guess what…
L’heure de l’apéritif has become my new creative outlet.
The moment of the day, other than the bed, that I look most forward to.
For each afternoon, I am offering the adults in this lockdown of mine,
a sample of days gone by…as I concoct libations found in David’s book.
Libations that have me pulling out and dusting off my grandmother’s finest crystal glasses.
Coupes, flutes, sherries, and highballs.
Libations that have sent me to the curbside liquor store in search of liquors and liqueurs
some of which, I can hardly pronounce.
According to Wikipedia:
Absinthe (/ˈæbsɪnθ, -sæ̃θ/, French: [apsɛ̃t] is historically described as a distilled,
highly alcoholic beverage (45–74% ABV / 90–148 U.S. proof).
It is an anise-flavoured spirit derived from botanicals, including the flowers
and leaves of Artemisia absinthium (“grand wormwood”), together with green anise,
sweet fennel, and other medicinal and culinary herbs.
Absinthe traditionally has a natural green color but may also be colorless.
It is commonly referred to in historical literature as la fée verte (“the green fairy”).
It is sometimes mistakenly referred to as a liqueur,
but it is not traditionally bottled with added sugar and is,
therefore, classified as a spirit. Absinthe is traditionally bottled at a
high level of alcohol by volume, but it is normally diluted with water before being consumed.
Absinthe originated in the canton of Neuchâtel in Switzerland in the late 18th century.
It rose to great popularity as an alcoholic drink in late 19th-
and early 20th-century France, particularly among Parisian artists and writers.
The consumption of absinthe was opposed by social conservatives and prohibitionists,
partly due to its association with bohemian culture.
From Europe and the Americas, notable absinthe drinkers included Ernest Hemingway,
James Joyce, Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec,
Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust,
Aleister Crowley, Erik Satie, Edgar Allan Poe, Lord Byron, and Alfred Jarry.
Absinthe has often been portrayed as a dangerously addictive psychoactive drug
The chemical compound thujone, which is present in the spirit in trace amounts,
was blamed for its alleged harmful effects.
By 1915, absinthe had been banned in the United States and in much of Europe,
including France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, and Austria–Hungary,
yet it has not been demonstrated to be any more dangerous than ordinary spirits.
Recent studies have shown that absinthe’s psychoactive properties
have been exaggerated, apart from that of the alcohol.
A revival of absinthe began in the 1990s,
following the adoption of modern European Union food and beverage laws that removed
long-standing barriers to its production and sale. By the early 21st century,
nearly 200 brands of absinthe were being produced in a dozen countries,
most notably in France, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Netherlands, Spain,
and the Czech Republic.
In fact, the 1875 painting below, by Edgar Degas, of a lonely stupified woman is rather reflective
of the effects of what imbibing too much in absinthe could lead to.
(L’Absinthe by Edgar Degas 1875 / Musée d’Orsay)
And thus I have always been leary of absinthe.
It was cloaked in intrigue as well as the forbidden.
That is until I needed a bottle of it for one of my new recipes.
So off I trotted…driving myself to the local curbside liquor store where
I handed the masked and gloved young man, on the curb, my list of needs–
I asked for a mid-range priced bottle of absinthe…
and he returned with the same box you see above in the picture.
Complete with an absinthe spoon.
I felt a slight thrill and rush as I placed a single toe into the world of the forbidden
as I marched my new bottle into the house.
And so this is the spot where the gist of my post comes into play…
that of both torment and gift.
As an art /art history teacher, I have always had a soft tender spot in my heart for
Vincent van Gogh…the ever tormented, isolated Dutch Impressionism painter…
Vincent never sold a single painting during his short lifetime—except to his loving
It is true he cut off his ear.
It is true he loved a prostitute.
It is true he originally wanted to enter the priesthood.
It is true that he was sickly much of his life and in turn, ate very poorly.
It is true he lived with and fought physically and vehemently with his friend and fellow
artist Paul Gauguin.
It is true he was mentally troubled…most likely what we today might call bi-polar
or even schizophrenic.
And thus, he spent time in and out of mental hospitals.
It is true he was broke and financially destitute throughout his life.
His brother Theo provided financial assistance throughout most of Van Gogh’s life.
It is also true that he drank—and drank heavily.
Depression has a way of leading the depressed to that which might dull the unending ache.
And for van Gogh, much of the drinking was of absinthe.
Was it the wormwood?
Was it the hallucinations that lead to his vision of beauty, of colors, of texture?
At the age of 37, Van Gogh committed suicide by shooting himself in a cornfield.
It is debated as to what exactly lead to van Gogh’s mental instability.
Was it genetics?
Or was it the effects of a poor diet, artistic frustration, romantic rejection, or
was it just the alcohol?
Or perhaps…it was merely a combination of it all.
There is no doubt that Van Gogh was both troubled and tormented—this much we know.
But we must also know that it was in his death that we, the world, was actually given the
true gift of his talents..that being his art.
His brother Theo made certain, after van Gogh’s death, that the world would
finally, see his brother’s art.
In 1990, one of Van Gogh’s paintings, the portrait of Dr.Paul Gachet,
was sold at auction for $75 million dollars— making it, at the time,
the most expensive painting to have ever been sold.
A tormented soul who would be loved by a different time and a different generation of people—
He would finally be embraced by a world that would fall in love with him and his art.
Yet it is a relationship sadly too late for Van Gogh to have ever known and enjoyed.
And thus, in this vein of thought, I was struck by the notion of both torment and gifts.
A ying and yang of life.
My thoughts turned to a different man.
A different time.
A man who was not haunted by personal demons but rather a man who came to quell the demons.
To quell the demons in man.
A man who was loved by some yet hated by others.
A man who is still deeply loved as well as deeply hated.
A man whose gifts healed the souls of those he touched.
A man who was willingly tormented and was, in turn, killed by his tormentors…
killed in order to give others the gift of life.
So yes—it seems that there can be beauty found in torment.
As therein can lie the gift of life.
For by grace you have been saved through faith.
And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
not a result of works, so that no one may boast.