I Have Tulips On My Legs

(And as a committed lover of the obscure I can’t resist interrupting myself before I even start, to brag on the epigraph. Hey, how many fiber bloggers do you know who have occasion to cite Ernest Dowson TWICE within the space of a year?

OK, done with that boast. We now return you to our regularly-scheduled Tsock Reveal.

Oh wait, no we don’t either. First we’re curious to know whether anyone can point to the previous Dowson reference.

OK. Now back to the Tsock. This time fer realz.)

If I tell you that the new Tsock – #4 in the 2010 Tsock Flock Club – is called “The Green Fairy,” where does that send your mind? If your first thought is this…

… then think again. Our Green Fairy may cast spells of her own, but not the kind that might transform maidens into nightingales or vice versa. Nope, get your mind into the gutter. Try something more like this…

… or this…

… or this…

… because our Green Fairy is that Belle Epoque marketing figure that flits about among the dissipated naughty boys of art and literature: mad, bad, and dangerous to know. She is, in fact, the personification of Absinthe.

Speaking of mad, bad, and dangerous to know… this Green Fairy was indeed beloved by Lord Byron (who gilded the lily by combining her with laudanum); by Oscar Wilde (who famously claimed to feel tulips on his shins in the “third stage” of absinthe-drinking); by Ernest Hemingway (who invented a champagne-and-absinthe cocktail he called Death in the Afternoon); by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Vincent Van Gogh, and a whole host of their contemporaries and would-be successors.

Memories and terrors beset him. The past tore after him like a panther and through the blackness of the present he saw the luminous tiger eyes of the things to be.

L’absinthe rend fou, reads the old government health warning – absinthe makes you mad. But does it really? Probably not, as it turns out. Absinthe originated as a sort of home-brew digestif, not unlike Jägermeister or Fernet Branca – like them distilled from bitter herbs and containing a high proportion of alcohol; also like them tasting rather nasty on its own. Of the several herbs used in making absinthe, it is Grand Wormwood (artemisia absinthium) that gave rise to its wicked reputation; wormwood contains small amounts of thujone, which in the 19th century was thought to be a powerful psychoactive substance causing seizures and hallucinations. More recent research has debunked that belief, but the romance persists – and there’s nothing like a couple of good government bans to add sizzle to a myth that already carries a spice of danger.

And that obscure night of the soul, and the valley of humiliation, through which he stumbled were forgotten. He saw blue vistas of undiscovered countries, high prospects and a quiet, caressing sea. The past shed its perfume over him, to-day held his hand as it were a little child, and to-morrow shone like a white star: nothing was changed.

So what did make all those absinthe drinkers crazy? Frankly, it’s a pretty safe bet that some of them were probably fairly crazy to begin with. You’d have to be a more than a little mentally unbalanced to mix absinthe with laudanum, as Byron did, or to cut off your ear like another well-known absinthe-drinker. Questions of sanity aside, though, it doesn’t take much to build up a death-defying mystique: alcohol and imagination are a potent combination, especially when both are present in high concentrations.

The man let the water trickle gently into his glass, and as the green clouded, a mist fell from his mind.

Then he drank opaline.

It’s a funny thing how an idea can start off in one direction and then get derailed in another. I was planning something more figurative, but the tsock knew what it wanted to be. In the event it is based more literally on the drink itself than on the legend around it.

It begins with a stylized… wait, actually it begins with a colorway. I knew that before I knew exactly how I was going to use it. I sent Jennifer a link to this image:

– and after a couple of go-rounds establishing the variegation repeat, she sent me something that knits up like this:

By that time I was deep in stylized variations on a theme of wormwood.

The Artemisia Plant takes root on the toe:

– and it grows upward on the top and front of the sock, branching ever wider as it goes.

Romance and mystique call for ritual and paraphernalia; absinthe-drinking is no exception. You pour the green liquor into the measured reservoir at the bottom of the absinthe glass. You balance an intricately-slotted absinthe spoon across the rim of the glass and place a sugar cube on its flat bowl. Then you slowly drip ice water (often from the spigot of an elaborately-wrought “absinthe fountain”) onto the cube. The sugar gradually dissolves and the sugar-water drips into the glass, sweetening and diluting the absinthe, changing it from a clear bright green to a pale opalescent cloud, and releasing the essence and flavors of the herbal oils. The drink is now “louche” – which you can translate as either disreputable or decadent – and ready to work the magic of the Green Fairy.

The man had known the obscure night of the soul, and lay even now in the valley of humiliation; and the tiger menace of the things to be was red in the skies. But for a little while he had forgotten.

Now that Absinthe is legal again there is an impressive, indeed dizzying, selection of paraphernalia available for the googling and the ordering. There was, however, no question as to which absinthe spoon belonged on this tsock. It was this one, the one designed for his own use by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec:

It runs up the back of the ankle – the handle starts as faggotting on the back of the heel…

… and is crowned by the slotted bowl…

… with a few droplets of louched absinthe clinging to its interstices.

Perched on the cuff – worked perpendicular to it as a lace edging – is a series of garter-stitch sugar cubes, each decorated with another drop of the louched liquor just waiting to fall into the glass below.

Green changed to white, emerald to an opal: nothing was changed.

“The Green Fairy” shipped last week; first sightings were reported today. Cast on, Flockers!