Dreaming of an absinthe Christmas:Part 1
During the Summer of the year of our Boggon High 1991 or ’92 Lord Tupelo closed down his brewing and banking operations in order to spend a while with me in Spain. This was the year before, or maybe after, the Moroccan misadventure previously related. On this visit we ventured no further abroad than the fair city of Barcelona and the Priory of Sant Ponç – which is another story to be savoured in a later Hegblog.
So, there we were, walking the steamy, and in Summer in those days a bit smelly, streets of our favourite zones; the Old City; la Ciutat Vell or Barri Gòtic ( The Gothic quarter) which extends to the left of the Ramblas as you head down towards the port; and El Raval, commonly referred to by locals as the Barrio Chino. The Raval is a human-style warren of tightly packed streets many of which are mere alleys. You enter the Raval by taking any street on the right as you go down the Ramblas. Not for us the gaudy Gaudí and the hordes of goggling tourists vying to obtain the best version of the most-often-snapped pic of Casa Battle or the Sagrada Familia. Not.
The Gothic Quarter is really nice. It has retained much of its architecture – lots of lovely old buildings and imposing churches. That said, it’s a bit of a tourist trap-zone. The Raval, on the other hand, was and still is a bit naughty/risky. The once upon a time zone dedicated to sating the appetites of sailors on shore leave or well-to-do locals who fancied a bit of ick on their gristle was still patrolled by all manner of dubious types. Neither Tupelo nor I were old salts, of course, but if there was a hint of ick to be had, there we were sure to be.
Exploring the Raval we came across a wonderful place: The Bar Marsella. Sagging and dusty on a street corner that absolutely heaved with unsavoury characters plying their downright dubious if not totally illegal trades. Undaunted, we entered within and were delighted to find that the place not only had a pool table and Guinness on tap but you could also enjoy a glass of absinthe if the care took you, which it did. Technically, it was illegal to supply absinthe to the public at that time, so we were extra thrilled to spy the bottle on a shelf behind the bar. Once the barman had instructed us in the method and was satisfied that we’d got the gist of it we became obsessed with the ritual of the absinthe: The wine glass near brimming with a vaguely wickedly green liquid, sitting on it a sort of funnel and on top of that, balanced on toothpicks, a sugar cube. We dripped drops of water onto it, slowly dissolving the cube. The sugary water fell into the funnel and so found its way into the glass of absinthe, which gradually changed colour from vaguely green to a creamy, cloudy ivory. This we then sipped, chasing the aniseed flavour down with hearty swigs of Guinness. Needless to say, this was strong stuff. Needless to say, we were infrequent winners at the pool table.
Strange but true, we also continued writing sections of The Reeking Hegs during those long afternoon to evening sessions in the Bar Marsella, and it was upon a begrimed and stained wall of the bar that we encountered Farmer Massana, depicted upon one of those illustrated sheets of metal that served as advertisements in days of yore. There he was in his farmer’s cap, smoking his pipe from which indeed two lines of smoke arose. With no further ado we adopted him and Farmer Massana figures mightily in one of Atiqtalik’s 39 Steps.
Part 2 following soon. Stay tuned!
In the meantime, check the link and you too could become a proud owner of an actual copy of The Reeking Hegs!