Apologies for the long drought between blogs. Has the world produced less news of interest, or have I been delayed by my crippling donut addiction? Let’s pretend it’s the former. But for now, I offer some shiny information baubles that have caught my eye.
The Green Fairy Lives
I’ve always had a fascination with absinthe, the only alcoholic drink (that I know of) to come with its own supernatural mythology. And what a deliciously creepy mythology it is! The drink itself is supposed to be infused with “la fée verte,” or the green fairy, a tormentor of the mind and soul—one happily exploited by marketers to sell more product as early as the 19th century. Its legend only grew with a widespread banning of the drink due to fear of its hallucinogenic properties and health risks. Most of those bans have since been lifted, but the drink retains a special mystique.
During my brief time living in Switzerland, I remember once nervously drinking absinthe a friend had obtained (this was before the lifting of the ban—I am old). I don’t recall hallucinating, but I’m a writer, and it’s often hard to tell reality from fantasy, so who knows?
I was delighted to discover this recent Atlas Obscura article, which remarks on how in the birthplace of absinthe, the Val-de-Travers of Switzerland, local makers of the drink continue to produce and hide absinthe in difficult-to-find places. Bottles are tucked away in the knots of trees or in rocks beside streams for hikers to find as they pass through the remote forests. How fantastic it would be to hike through those ancient mountains and come upon a green bottle and sparkling glass, wondering if the maker ignored all modern regulations for distilling the drink, perhaps allowing too much wormwood to get in, and send you into green delusions?
Perhaps my favorite cultural reference to absinthe came in Coppola’s Dracula, in which the title character uses it as part of his seduction of Mina Harker, saying “Absinthe is the aphrodisiac of the soul. The green fairy who lives in the absinthe wants your soul, but you are safe with me.”
The Red Fairy Kills
How had I never heard of Elizabeth Bathory before now? Perhaps the first documented female serial killer, this “Blood Countess” was a Hungarian noble who—if the most extreme numbers are to be believed, killed (or ordered the killing of) over 650 innocents in her day.
The extreme numbers certainly should not be believed, but given that it took a state trial, many witnesses, and formal punishment to end her activities, we can trust she was a deeply disturbed and a somewhat prolific killer. Some accounts had her bathing in the blood of her victims to retain youth, though I doubt this detail—after the first few score or so, wouldn’t you notice your aging hadn’t abated?
This HowStuffWorks (history edition) article gives a very non-sensationalized account of Bathory, which I appreciate; it would be irresponsible to revel in the wilder claims about her (sigh). Whatever the actual number of victims, she committed some truly horrific crimes, and even 400 years later, I’m reluctant to treat this story with a “how cool!” flippancy.
Even if the worst stories about her tortures are true, they were nothing the governments of the era weren’t already conducting as a matter of daily business. I’m reminded of something Dan Harmon noted on a recent Hardcore History podcast—that our modern serial killer’s most sadistic crimes pale in comparison to the official tools of state from just a few hundred years ago.
In Happy Drone News…
I always do my best to acknowledge the joyful effects of technology disruption. My default response to our robotics and AI-saturated future is fear and worry, but some positives are undeniable.
Rescue and life-saving drones are showing some amazing successes. Earlier this year, a drone was able to save two boys stranded in ocean waters off the coast of Australia by delivering a flotation device to them right in the water. Even more impressive, the Zipline drone system is delivering medical supplies and blood—actual blood—to populations and hospitals across Rwanda and Tanzania that might not otherwise be deliverable. It’s life-saving work, and as much as I dread the day when my daily reality is littered with drones (the way it is with rental scooters now), this is a wonderful development.
Tangent—drones will soon reach a level of specialization that makes the broad term “drone” obsolete. We’ll have to name them based on function or industry, even if it’s just a prefix situation, ala “rescue drone” or “pizza drone” or “donut drone” or “mimosa drone” (I have my preferences).
The Red Poppy
On Sunday the 11th of this November, I spotted a man with a red poppy in the lapel of his coat, a reliable indication that he was British. Though I’ve known about the English tradition of displaying red poppies on Remembrance Day to commemorate the fallen in World War I, I realized I had no idea how the connection came to be.
The answer is botany. As detailed in this Smithsonian article, the seeds of the red poppy need direct sunlight to grow, and if buried, they can stay dormant for many decades. After the Second Battle of Ypres, a Canadian doctor noticed that the newly (and tragically) tilled earth had resulted in a massive bloom of red poppies, and similar phenomenon occurred on other battlefields disturbed by artillery and dug trenches. He wrote a poem about it, it gained some traction, and the poppy and World War I became forever linked.
What I’m Reading and Watching:
Do you love peat bogs, flaming arrows, and rolling “r”s? Me too! I drank up the gorgeously shot Outlaw King on Netflix this weekend. The degree of effort put into this production was astonishing. I think this film more than any other heralds the changing paradigm in film financing and exhibition.
And, you know, horses and castles are fun.
I’m finally reading Alex Garland’s The Beach—only two decades after it was published and some thirteen years after I lived in Thailand. From page one, it’s one of those novels that feels like a master class in writing, so I’m hooked for multiple reasons. I’m also struck by how different in tone (and protagonist) it is from Danny Boyle’s film adaptation—though Robert Carlyle as Daffy seems spot on perfect.
Also loving Alex White’s A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe, the first in a great new space adventure series that mixes magic and technology with a race to find a valuable ship that might either be the universe’s savior or destroyer. Check it out!
Have a magical week, and I will try to choose blogging more often than donuts (but no promises). On Sunday I ate three massive vanilla bean yeast donuts from Revolution Donuts in one sitting. Pure joy.