Wine and some other drinks of Tour de France 2017: Stage 20. Marseille — Marseille (individual time trial)

At last! An impressive and very well deserved win by Edvald Boasson Hagen!

Stage 20, the penultimate stage. Today, everything will be decided. It is a 22,5 km individual time trial. It has a climb up to a little more than 100 meters, and a descent afterwards. I have not found many details, neither about the climb or the descent. But i should favour time tiralers who are also good climbers, like Chris Froome.

For most of the riders, an indiviual time trial as the penultimate stage, is what Jens Voigt some years ago called a “semi rest day”. Most of the riders have done their job, and it is mission completed. The GC-contenders are on their own. The other riders on the team cannot help them. The domestics have no ambitions on their own, at least not on a time trial. They will complete the stage in a decent way, within the time limit and get jeg job done, so they can be part of the party in Paris.

Some riders, like Tony Martin, are time trial specialists, and may try to win the stage. They go all in. For the sprinters, the final in Paris is the most prestigious stage to win. They will save energy for tomorrow.

AG2R is 3 min 8 sec behind Sky in the team classification. Maybe AG2R will order at least three of their riders to go all in, and try to win this. And maybe Sky will defend their lead.

The riders are going up to the cathedral Notre-Dame de la Garde, on a hill 116 meters above sea level. I do not know the details on the way up, and do not know the gradients of the climb. I have walked from the Old Harbour up to Notre-Dame de la Garde. It is steep. And the descent is probably difficult.

Foto: Tobi 87, Wikimedia common, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

It is a nice view over Marseille from up here. But I do not think the riders will have time to appreciate it.

But we must find something to drink. When the French want a glass of something, for instance as an aperitif, they often drink pastis. Pastis is very French, and very Marseille. Today, one should sit at a table at a café in the Old Harbour in Marseille, with a pastis while we are looking at the riders fighting for their positions in the Tour.

The word ‘pastis’ comes from occitan. Some sources say the original word is ‘pastis’, other says ‘pastisson’. I do not know. But it means ‘mixture’.

I have been told that Richard is a bit finer and more expensive than the pastis the French get when they order a pastis. Nevertheless, it was Paul Richard who was the first to commersialise Pastis in 1932. If you want a Richard, you order a Richard, not a pastis, I have been told. But I had a bottle of Richard, and did not see a reason to buy another one.

The primary flavor in pastis for most comes either from star anise, the fruit of the evergreen Chinese star anise tree, or from the seeds of the Mediterranean anise plant, a member of the parsley family. It also include licorice and other herbes. As it comes out of the bottle, it is clear, with a yellowbrown or green colour. It is served with water, and ice if you want. Usually, the water is served in a caraffe, so you can mix yourself. It is usual to mix one part of pastis with four parts of water. When the water is added, it becomes cloudy and opaque, alomst as milk. Anis contains oils that are soluble in alcohol, but not in water. If the alcohol level gets below 30%, the oils will no longer be dissolved, and it turns opaque. There are many anis liquers, like Pernod and Ouzo, and the same happens to all of them when water is added.

When drinking pastis, water should be added first. It you want ice, it should be added after you have added after the water. The French usually drink it with just water, not ice. If you add ice before water, the oil in anis that is not soluble in water, may crystalise. When I poured pastis in the glass for the photo in this posting, I did the mistake and added ice first and water afterwards. I am sure I am not the first and will not be the last to apply the principle “Drink first, learn later”.

We can go to pastis’ older and, when it comes to the effect, more potent relative, Absinth. The origin of Absinth is a bit unclear. It is wormwood, with the latin namen artemisia absinthium, that has given absinth its name and shall give the special effect. The French Henri-Louis Pernod made it popular. He got a recipe from his fater in law in 1805, and etablished a distillery in Pontarlier, near the Swiss border. Everything is connected with everything in some way. We have some times mentioned the insect Phylloxera, that destroyed the majority of European vines in the late 19th and early 20th century. It was devastating for European wine production, and had severe economic consequences for wine producers. Vines were not allways replanted, and it took a long time to reestablish European wine production, with European vines grafted on american roots (which are resistant to Phylloxera). The French could no longer get their daily wine, at least it was harder to get. Then absinth became a popular alternative, particularly among artists. They said that absinth was hallucinogenic and made them more creative. They couldn’t drink enough of it. Oscar Wilde descirbed the effect like this:

“The first stage, is like ordinary drinking, the second when you begin to see monstrous and cruel things, but if you can persevere you will enter in upon the third stage where you see things that you want to see, wonderful, curious things.”

It was called la féme verte, the green fairy, because of the colour, as illustrated by the Check artist Viktor Oliva in his painting “Absinthdrikkeren” from 1901. The bars had “l’heure verte“, the green hour, these day’s happy hour.

It was said that absinth could make you turn mad. The poet Paul Verlaine ended up in prison in Brussels, after he, under influence by absinth, tried to shoot his lover, the poet Arthur Rimbaud.

The anti-alcohol lobby was pressing for a ban, and in 1915 absinth was banned in France. In 1920, the government gave a green light to an absinth-style drink, given it did not contain wormwood, and was not too alcoholic. Here we meet Paul Richard. He marketed an anis drink that he called pastis. It was strong, and Paul Richard got in trouble with the authorities. But the drink became popular, and he called it “the true pastis from Marseille”. In 1932 Paul Richard and others had managed to get the law changed to allow a higher alcohol content and a market was born. Pastis has 40%, Pastis de Marseille 45%. (I do not know how this limitation of alcoholic content affected cognac and armagnac). Pernod launched its own anise drink, which they refuse to call a pastis. Pastis became as much a symbol of France as the beret, the baguette and boules.

Richard and Pernod merged in 1974.

Some said the problem with absinth was not the wormwood in the drink, but the alcoholic strength and the quantity in which is was drunk. The active ingredient in wormwood, thujone, is a neurotoxin in extremely high doses. Modern analysis suggests that the amount of thujone present in the typical fin-de-siècle absinthe was not enough to have the hallsinogenic effect. Today, it is again legal to produce and sell absinth in France.

When we were young, we made absinth. We could not just google how to make it. But there is much interesting to be found in old fashioned books. We found some recipes in a book in the public library in mye home town. I do not remember how we came across this book. We bought the herbs, including the wormwood, at the pharmacy. I do not remember any special effect, different from other alcoholic drinks. But we did probably not drink enough to get beyond what Oscar Wilde called “the first stage”. We did not get mad, at least we could not recognise that we had turned mad.

To be honest, pastis and other forms of anis drinks are not among my favourits. I will rather have a glass of wine or a beer. But as I said: Pastis is very French and very Marseille. So I had to find my bottle of Richard pastis, to refresh my memory of the drink. But if I had been in Marseille today, I would have been drinking at least one glass of pastis.

Tour de France 2017

Tour de France
Giro d'Italia


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