By Judy Woodward

Every month, the reference librarians at the Roseville Library receive questions from the public. Here are a few interesting queries we received recently:

Q. I see that it’s possible to buy the alcoholic drink absinthe now. But I always heard growing up that absinthe was a poison that could drive you insane or even kill you. What happened?

A. Like any alcoholic beverage, absinthe, the pale-green, anise and wormwood flavored liquor, is dangerous in excess or when consumed by those for whom alcohol is medically inadvisable.

But, beyond that, the spirit seems to have suffered from a 19th century bad rap, based not so much on the characteristics of the drink as the character of those who consumed it.

Absinthe was the drink-of-choice among culturally bohemian social circles of 19th and early 20th century Paris and other artistically-inclined European communities. Then as now, the socially conservative looked askance at the raffish ways of the bohemian world, and absinthe-imbibers like Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Charles Baudelaire, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust and Lord Byron didn’t exactly lend the beverage an air of respectability. 

In fact, French Impressionist paintings like Manet’s “The Absinthe Drinker” and Degas’ “L’Absinthe” only served to reinforce the notion of absinthe as the fatal ingredient in the downfall of many a drink-besotted enthusiast of the liquor. 

Rumors of absinthe-fueled cases of violence and madness abounded — spurred on, in some cases, by unscrupulous manufacturers who actually DID poison the drink by using copper salts as a cheap short-cut to produce its characteristic green tint.  By World War I, the drink was banned in most Western nations. 

It took almost a century for absinthe to be rehabilitated, but eventually it was understood by experts that absinthe was no more innately dangerous than any other hard liquor. The U.S. ban on the drink was lifted in 2007.

Q. Do you offer notary service at the Roseville Library?

A. Yes! For the first time in many years, we again offer free notary service at select times and days. Please call ahead whenever possible to make an appointment and/or confirm availability at the time of your choice.

Judy Woodward, who lives in St. Anthony Park, is a reference librarian at the Roseville Library, 2180 N. Hamline Ave. The library’s general phone number is 651-724-6001.

Leave a Reply