If dreams are truly a looking glass into one’s subconscious as some have suggested, then I suppose this post about one of mine will provide an eyeful for everyone. For those few readers who know me outside of this electronic ether we call the internet, neither the broad strokes nor the fine details of this narrative will come as a surprise, although I certainly hope everyone finds them to at least be entertaining.
As we all know, dream worlds are not bound by the same sense of logic and flow of chronological time as our waking world, so when I tell you that my sleeping vision began in the 1880s, or in the 1930s, or perhaps neither and both, I have to trust that you’ll understand my meaning.
On this night in the dream world, I found myself in the company of a very rich man, not unlike a certain Jay Gatsby in some respects. We were in his penthouse apartment, and he was showing me a sandstone Zapata figurine resting in a tabletop glass display case. Bear in mind that in my waking moments I have no more idea of what a “Zapata figurine” is than you do, but when he said that it had been fashioned in the 1920s by a Cuban resistance fighter who was famous for carving these figurines (although he himself had bought it while in New Zealand), I understood him perfectly. Oddly, the figurine (in the shape of a lion or chupacabra at rest) had the enactment and repeal dates of the U.S. Prohibition of alcohol carved into its base in very tiny characters. I made this observation to my wealthy friend, pointing out that the presence of these dates placed the date of creation to 1933 or after, and not in the 1920s as he had suggested. He seemed haughtily annoyed with me.
After this brief discussion of figural art there was a small gap of time, and then I became aware that there were four of us laying in a very large bed four-poster bed decked out with a gaudy red bedspread. The decor of the room suggested “turn-of-the-century” whorehouse, give or take a couple of decades, with dark wood paneling, splashes of red and an overabundance of lace present throughout.
The foursome included myself, my wealthy acquaintance, and two women who were completely naked. One of the women was the Rita Sue “stripper-mom” character from the HBO series Carnivale (a show which, incidentally, featured an absinthe-swilling character named Professor Lodz). She was performing oral sex on the other woman, whose face I couldn’t place. My rich friend and I were both casually laying next to them and watching. The woman who was on the receiving end experienced an orgasm, and both women were quite contented with the ultimate conclusion.
Sometime after this escapade and another small gap of time, a pauper friend of the wealthy gentleman’s showed up. “Oh, he’s drinking that cheap stuff again,” whispered my companion. I looked in the corner of the room, and there was a glass jug with a capacity of at least 4 liters and featuring dark orange advertising letters which read The Olde Absinthe House. Apparently, this was a container full of their house brand of absinthe.
The glass jug was housed in a copper carrier not unlike a shallow basket or a baking pan with chain handles. The bottom of this carrier was about two inches high, and five or six thin copper chains connected to it and met at the top of the jug to form a handle for carrying. The low banded bottom had upside-down writing on it which read simply as: “copper.” Don’t blame me if dreams aren’t always laden with inscrutable metaphor.
The liquid inside was almost forest green in color. When I asked the pauper if I could have a taste of it before I went back to the future (suddenly becoming aware, at least to a small degree, of the fact that this was not my reality), he said yes. So I found a pint glass to pour a dose of the absinthe into, and a rocks glass of water to drip into the pint glass. As soon as I began pouring the into the pint glass, smoky fog like that from very cold condensation, or what you would see in a B-movie about a mad scientist, began roiling from the glass but soon dissipated.
When I began to louche the absinthe with the water, it started out as a thick, almost milky louche, with stormy clouds and thick tendrils swirling in the drink. The dose was able to take a lot of water, and the pint glass was 3/4 full before the louche was finished. I finally took a sip, and found the drink to be lemony, with very little anise and a heavy taste of medium-quality wormwood. At that moment, I understood why my rich companion said it was cheap stuff, and yet I was happy simply to have sampled it before having to return to my own world.
The taste of the absinthe lingered for some time in my mouth, but when I woke up, I realized that I hadn’t detected any aroma from it in my dream; I don’t know if that’s because there wasn’t much of a scent, or if my sense of smell is not active when I dream. I’ve been told that the fact that I dream in color (or at least that I remember the color) is somewhat rare, so I’ll be content simply with that.
[On a side note, Emiliano Zapata died in April of 1919, some six months before Prohibition took effect in the United States. As such, it would have been difficult for him to have accomplished many carvings in the 1920s, even if he had had an artistic bent. Also, in the waking world he was Mexican, not Cuban.]
While you consider possible interpretations of my dream and silently judge me, please enjoy an illustrated version of a poem by Paul Verlaine (a notorious absinthe drinker) called “Pensionnaires” (which translates to “Boarders” or “Residents”). Originally published in 1867 under a pseudonym, it is one of series of six poems in a cycle about Sapphic love called Les Amies, or The Girlfriends, and seems somewhat fitting for this post with regard to its ties to the world of absinthe and sexuality. Here is a (rough) translation of the text itself:
One was fifteen, the other sixteen;
Both slept in the same room.
It was an oppressive September night:
Frail, blue eyes, redness of strawberry.
Each one has left, to get comfortable,
Her fine shirt in fresh scent of amber.
The youngest extends her arms and arches,
And her sister, her hands on her breasts, kissed,
Then falls to her knees, then became fierce
And tumultuous and crazy, and her mouth
Dives under the golden blonde in the gray shades;
And the child during that time, identifies
Cute on her fingers waltzes promised
And pink, smiles with innocence.
Bonnard’s visual interpretation of Verlaine’s poem Pensionnaires, circa 1900