Thursday, 28 January 2016
The first Czech painting I ever saw in the Czech Republic was The Absinthe Drinker by Viktor Oliva. I had just arrived in a bitterly cold Prague and my friend took me to Cafe Slavia to warm up. The Cafe, which sits opposite the National Theatre on the bank of the Vltava, had always been a meeting place for artists, writers and intellectuals and it was still. As my friend debated the future of the post-Communist Czechoslovakia with her friends, my eyes were drawn to a large painting on the wall opposite. A man sits at a table, head in hands, conversing with the green fairy of absinthe.
Viktor Oliva was a Czech art nouveau painter and illustrator who discovered the green spirit when he lived in the Bohemian quarter of Paris. He died in Prague twenty seven years after painting the work and is buried in Olsany Cemetery.
I came across absinthe again this year. I was walking around Jindrichuv Hradec and came upon a distillery of liqueurs. In the shop window was this bottle of their own brand of absinthe. Jindrichuv Hradec is known for its liqueurs. Another local company, Fruko Schulz, is one of the largest producers of liqueurs and spirits in the Czech Republic. But Hills, the distillery I discovered on my walk, is more of a family affair and invites you in for a tour to learn about distilling and indeed a tasting. As I was driving, I took this photo and hurried on before being tempted in.
As a footnote to this post, I was in the Krumlov Tesco supermarket before Christmas and bought my son a pack of absinthe chocolate. There was also a bar of cannabis chocolate, but I didn't think I would get that through customs!