A long time ago in what seems like an entirely different life, far far away, I used some of the blood money I was making while downrange to procure something different. Something special. Something timeless, and unique.
I bought an original, unopened and forgotten by time, vintage bottle of absinthe.
Ok… I tell a lie. I bought two, because why have one when you can have two at twice-the-price??
I had got into absinthe after living in Germany a bit, both via the rumors you’d hear about it when you visited the Czech Republic, as well as having seen in in a TV show that I was watching on DVD (it was a period piece, and a blind guy drank absinthe routinely to ‘see’ so to speak – he was a soothsayer; it was a macabre show…) I’d done a lot of research and learned the ins, outs, and truths behind absinthe. And after experimenting a little with brands available in Germany, I decided to make the investment when a reputable and renowned purveyor or vintage spirits was able to obtain a small cache of bottles found hidden behind a bricked-up wall, in the basement of a chateau in France. A home renovation project unearthed this false wall, revealing a hidden room where these bottles were found. They had been bricked-up sometime around 1915, before the Great War we assume, or in 1914 before absinthe was banned in many countries in Europe. The experts I bought my two bottles from say the bottles were circa 1910. And I tend to believe them, because they are experts and when you maintain a business that finds and sells vintage, antique liquors and spirits, you tend to know what the hell you are talking about.
I thought absinthe was really cool because it had this process about preparing it and drinking it; it also had a really long history associated with the drink that evoked old stories of French soldiers drinking absinthe as a cure-all for diseases like malaria (it was apparently an issued-drink for French forces in the mid-1800’s). Anyways, when you are deployed on long tours and don’t have much else to do with your downtime but daydream, you find something new to latch onto and ruminate about – and for me it was being able to get my hands on these original liquors.
I was on a list for a little while, but having emails the proprietor of the company that deals in these goods, when the cache was discovered, he emailed me back and said that there was a bottle secured for me (since I had inquired as to availability a few months earlier). I arranged for a wire transfer of funds to pay for it, and when I provided him with my parents shipping address back in Pittsburgh, he was happy to tell me that another customer had backed out, and there was one remaining bottle left; as I was a serviceman and deployed, he wanted to offer it to me first, since I displayed such great interest in wanting to sample an original, finest and rarest spirit such as absinthe. I said yes please, and by the end of the month he received his payments, and my parents received two securely wrapped packages.
In violation of probably a dozen federal, state, and local laws, God Bless my mother, whom I had instructed to send me a sample securely in Baghdad. By the time this was all said and done, my mail caught up with me and the Regiment was now in Dilaya province, just outside of Ba’Quba. I had tasted the currently produced and readily available absinthes in Germany before deployment, so I had a tastes palate somewhat. I was afraid the time in transport as well as the heat would have spoiled it – but the absinthe was the exact opposite – it was superb! And if you are going to violate General Order No. 1 and drink alcohol in theater, you might as well do it in style. So I threw a water bottle, a glass, and the sample in my cargo pocket, and on the way back from a patrol one fine summer day, stood in my hatch and enjoyed a nice glass of Pernod Fils absinthe, circa 1910.
Here is a photo – because you can’t not do something so on the fringe and noteworthy without taking a picture.
Like I had nothing else better to do at the time…so nonchalant. I think the vast stretches of deployment time get to you after a while. This photo was taken in 2008 when that absinthe was 98 years-young. I eventually drank the rest of that bottle – but I still have the second; good friends kept it for me secured snug away for many years. It’s now 106 years young.
It wasn’t the first time I drank a little in theater – And there were a few others, which, I will tell in time.