crazy in chiado

No matter what time of day you pass Cafe á Brasileira, it’s packed. The infamous coffee shop in Chiado is one of Lisbon’s oldest cafes, having gained recognition as the favorite hang out of the famous – yet crazy – poet, Fernando Pessoa. A man who drank copious amounts of absinthe, Pessoa spent countless hours getting blitzed here, letting go with his creative flow, so to speak. In dedication, there is a bronze statue of him sitting outside the cafe and that’s where you want to be. Always full, it’s the perfect place to people watch. So stand at the bar, order a pingado, a pastry and check out the turn of the century interiors while waiting for a table to clear. Then plant yourself.  You won’t hear anyone spouting poetry at the top of their lungs, but the parade of people going by makes for its own fun distraction.


visions of sugarplums

Certainly one of the best things to come from discovering other countries and cultures is finding out how the locals like to get loaded.  I’ll never forget my first hot whiskey on a cold winter’s night in Derry, the cloudy arak which arrived with a tray of bacon wrapped dates, ice-cold horchata spiked with tequila in the dry Jalisco agave fields, my first vintage cru – improperly stored and tasting like vinegar, or that sake which needed to be decanted before breakfast.  And then there was that first taste of madness in a gaslit Paris cafe….

With holiday hysteria now upon us, it puts me in the mind for a little madness.  Plus, nothing spreads the cheer faster than an anise-flavored psychoactive cocktail. And it’s festively green to boot.  You can have your absinthe the old-fashioned way by pouring ice water over a sugar cube and letting it liaise with the alcohol waiting below.  Or go Bohemian by soaking the sugar cube in alcohol before setting it alight and shouting “fire in the hole.”  But if you’re not in Paris – or Bohemia – it all seems a bit affected.

I prefer this merry recipe from Ernest Hemingway, which comes from a 1935 book of celebrity cocktails to which he contributed.  Naturally enough he named it Death In The Afternoon and gave the following instructions:  “Pour one jigger absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly.”

And be well on your way to Nutcracker dreams.


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