Having a Drink with Hemingway

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Last night I went to Shaker’s Cigar Bar in Milwaukee. The bar, once a speakeasy and brothel, built over the site of a cemetery, is said to be haunted. They have discovered quite a few spirits. There is eleven year old Elizabeth, thought to be pictured below, who broke her neck in a fall from a tree when it was a cemetery in the 1800’s  (ladies, be careful – she’s known to haunt the woman’s restroom).

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There are two ghosts of unnamed women who worked the brothel and committed suicide on the property, and one of Molly Brennan, a woman of the night who was murdered by her lover. With two murder victims buried in the basement, and an unknown number of bodies that were not moved when the building was constructed over the cemetery, there are plenty of restless spirits roaming the property.

The building was also once owned by Al Capone. He even left behind a safe. The current owner has elected not to break into said safe. Probably a good idea, just ask Geraldo Rivera.

 

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Any of you who know me, know this is right up my alley. Just check out my other blog posts “Spiritual Journey” and “Life Imitates Art, Art Imitates Life, Life After Death“. I am not a skeptic when it comes to ghosts and the spirit world. Despite my desire to meet someone from the other side, we did not have any supernatural experiences while on the tour. As the tour guide will tell you, ghosts don’t perform on command. The history and architecture alone were interesting and worth the ticket price.

Another attraction of the bar are their cocktails featuring, the once illegal, absinthe.  For those of you who don’t know what absinthe is, it’s a liquor made from anise, fennel, and wormwood. Once called the “Green Fairy,” it was first produced in Switzerland in the late 18th century.  It became very popular in Switzerland, France and the United States, especially in the early 1900’s. Unfortunately for absinthe, it got a bad rap. There is a chemical in wormwood called thujone, that is not only poisonous, but thought (at the time) to be a hallucinogen. It’s no wonder that J.K. Rowling made one of the main ingredients in her Draught of the Living Death potion.

Of course, serving hallucinogenic alcohol to the customers, has nothing to do with anyone possibly seeing ghosts on the tour!

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During it’s heyday, absinthe became the drink of the creative crowd; the writers and the artists. French poets Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, and Arthur Rimbaud were absinthe drinkers. So were artists  Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Amedeo Modigliani, and Vincent Van Gogh. The authors that favored the licorice flavored beverage included Oscar Wilde, Alfred Jarry, and Ernest Hemingway. These are just a few of the artistic minded that preferred to partake in absinthe.

Hemingway loved absinthe and even created his own cocktail. He mixed absinthe with champagne and called it “Death in the Afternoon” after his book of the same name.

I have to admit, I have yet to  read Hemingway. I know…  his books are Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winning classics, but I was initially turned off by the idea of over 100 pages of an old man sitting in a boat. That being said, his books are on my list of books to read, but I have a lot on that list, and I’m still in the midst of the entire works of Charles Dickens. Sometimes I feel like Henry Bemis in the Twilight Episode Time Enough at Last.”

“Witness Mr. Henry Bemis, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers. A bookish little man whose passion is the printed page, but who is conspired against by a bank president and a wife and a world full of tongue-cluckers and the unrelenting hands of a clock”

I can understand Mr. Bemis – so many books, so little time! So Hemingway, along with many other greats, are on the ever increasing, impossible to complete, “to read” list.

Regardless of the fact that I cannot call myself a fan of Hemingway, as an author, the man is an icon. So I raised a silent toast to his creativity and success (and secretly hoped his spirit would bestow just a bit of it on me) as I sipped on a glass of the cocktail he created. I do hope I enjoy his books more than I did his cocktail.  Just a note, I did try a sip of absinthe served the more traditional way, with water and a sugar cube. I found that to be much more palatable than Hemingway’s drink.

Unfortunately Hemingway, along with absinthe, met a tragic demise. Hemingway committed suicide, and absinthe was made illegal. It was blamed for crimes, immoral behavior, and murder.

Here is a quote from Oscar Wilde on the effects of absinthe.

“After the first glass of absinthe you see things as you wish they were. After the second you see them as they are not. Finally you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world. I mean disassociated. Take a top hat. You think you see it as it really is. But you don’t because you associate it with other things and ideas.If you had never heard of one before, and suddenly saw it alone, you’d be frightened, or you’d laugh. That is the effect absinthe has, and that is why it drives men mad. Three nights I sat up all night drinking absinthe, and thinking that I was singularly clear-headed and sane. The waiter came in and began watering the sawdust.The most wonderful flowers, tulips, lilies and roses, sprang up, and made a garden in the cafe. “Don’t you see them?” I said to him. “Mais non, monsieur, il n’y a rien.”

Now absinthe is back. Yes, thujone is poisonous, but you cannot consume enough absinthe to reach toxic levels without first dying of alcohol poisoning and the new liquor contains less thujone than the early versions. As to it’s hallucinogenic properties –  despite Van Gogh and Hemingway’s known mental instability, and regardless of Oscar Wilde’s tulips, it is not proven that it has any hallucinogenic effects at all.  I certainly didn’t see any ghosts after imbibing  my “Death in the Afternoon” cocktail.

Absinthe is not all innocent though. It has a very high alcohol content (110 to 144 proof) which may have enhanced  the genius and creativity of those who used it , but also, most certainly, aided in their eventual deaths.  Besides Hemingway and Van Gogh’s suicides; Wilde, Lautrec, and the other artists I listed, (with the exception of  Rimbaud who died fairly young of bone cancer) all suffered from poor health that was attributed at least in part, if not completely, on drug and alcohol addiction. So although absinthe is  not the creator of visions that drove men to kill, it still had the ability to kill. To be honest it still does, but only as much as any other alcoholic beverage. One only needs to practice moderation, as with anything else to avoid it’s curse. At Shaker’s there is a three absinthe drink limit for any customer on any given evening.

As for me, I’m glad I tried it, but I think I’ll just have to find my creativity on my own. I may not win a Pulitzer, or recreate the magic of a starry night, but I may live long enough to enjoy the things I do create.

Besides, I want to remember, in vivid detail, any ghost sightings I may have, and not wonder if it was just a hallucination! And if the ghost of Hemingway himself ever visits me? I will thank him for a pleasant evening, sharing his drink, even if it wasn’t to my taste.

 

 

 

 

 

Road Trip Day 4 and 5

IMG_2006These two days are the days we spent in the San Francisco area. On Sunday morning we got up early, picked up our daughter Emily, and took off for downtown San Francisco. After some confusion, (if you take the bus sightseeing tour – the bus stops are NOT clearly marked) we got onto a double-decker tour bus. The bus took us around a loop that included Fisherman’s Wharf, China town, Little Italy, The Ferry Building, etc. Leo, our tour guide was great fun. Mr. Dickens seemed most impressed.

After getting an overview of the city, we got off and walked down Fisherman’s Wharf.  Our first order of business was lunch. We stopped at Lou’s Cafe and sat street-side.  The fare for the day was crab bisque and clam chowder in a San Francisco sourdough bowl. YUM! We found out that even if you take sourdough starter home from here, the yeast that gives it that distinctive flavor, will not survive. It can only live in San Francisco.DSC00076a

After our lunch, we wandered amongst a plethora of shops, artisans, and street performers. Not to mention a pier full of sea lions!

The day was ended with a pizza dinner with Emily and her friends.

The next morning we got up bright and early to catch a boat out to Alcatraz.  It was a windy crossing. Luckily Mr. Dickens is not prone to seasickness.

The buildings, stories, and history are amazing. Some of the buildings are mere ruins, but the prison cell block stands as strong as ever. A guide was kind enough to close us into a solitary cell,alcatraz which was effectively creepy. We were able to see the cells where prisoners had carved away at an air vent with spoons to escape. We also saw bullet holes and grenade damage from where other prisoners attempted escape, but were caught. In the history of Alcatraz only three prisoners were unaccounted for, but it is assumed that they drowned in the rough, icy waters of San Francisco Bay.DSC00116b

The other fascinating story behind Alcatraz is of the 70 workers and their families that lived on the small island. Besides the warden’s house, there were apartments where the families raised their children. The children played in the shadow of the imposing high security prison. There were even extensive gardens planted there.  Alcatraz means “Pelican” and it was named that because of the vast amounts of birds on the island when it was first discovered. Today Alcatraz has again become a sanctuary for birds. It was good that we took Mr. Dickens along as he has always had a fascination with visiting prisons as well as wildlife. We even met some fellow Dickens fans along the way. Charles didn’t even mind being locked in a cell for a short time.Dickens in jail2

After returning on the ferry, we had lunch in one of the many restaurants along Fisherman’s Wharf. Did you know that there are so many restaurants in San Francisco that you can eat breakfast, lunch. and dinner at a different restaurant for three years, and never have to eat at the same place twice?Dickens Maritime

Our next stop was the Maritime Museum where we learned that during the Gold Rush, over 700 sailing vessels came into the harbor. The crews abandoned the ships to find gold. Now those hundreds of ships and their cargo, are the fill under the financial district.  Where else could you dig a hole, and almost certainly find buried treasure?

From there we went to Ghiradelli Square, where of course we had to buy chocolate and eat chocolate sundaes. DOUBLE YUM!IMG_2045

From downtown San Francisco we drove down scenic Route 1. The cliffs, the trees, and the beaches, were beautiful. We stopped a few times to get out and walk a bit. Our final destination was Moss Beach, which was lovely. The area is dotted with cottages. There are tons of imposing cypress trees, draped in bright green moss. Rocky cliffs lead down to the beach.DSC00147bmossbeach

We ate at the Moss Beach Distillery which was the best dining experience so far. The Moss Beach Distillery gets it’s name from the days in which it was a speakeasy during Prohibition. It is also, reportedly haunted by the Blue Lady.  There is a patio that overlooks the ocean where many come to view the sunset. The restaurant provides blankets and chairs huddled around large fire pits, where you can take food or a hot chocolate on cool nights. Unfortunately it was raining, and the fog obscured any chance of seeing the sunset, but it gives us something to look forward to the next time we visit.

After a tear filled good-bye it was time to call it a day, and the end of our time in San Francisco.

Fiction of Fright…or not…fiction that is.

I’m thrilled to have my story “Spirits of the Corn” featured in the October Issue of eFiction Magazine. If you like a good fright, I highly recommend you read this issue, It’s chock-full of Halloween horror. I enjoy scary stories, and LOVE Halloween. I admit, I have a bit of a dark side.

As much as a fictional tale of terror can inspire nightmares, I have a ghost story to share that is absolutely non-fiction.
When my husband and I bought our first home, there was no history of horrible crime, death, or unexplained noises. Other than us being the tenth occupants in its forty years, there was nothing special about the house.
At the time Duffy, our border collie mix, was in his later years and quite sedate. Sometimes, our neighbors had to step over his sleeping body on the porch to get to the door; not much of a watch dog. So I was quite surprised one afternoon, when he refused to come in the house. Not as in, I’m-napping-in-the-warm-sun-bug-off, don’t want to come in; but tail-tucked-hackles-raised-feet-firmly-planted-not-a-chance-in-heck-I’m-coming-in-there, don’t want to come in.

When I finally dragged the struggling animal in the door, he took one look down the basement stairs, snarled, then turned tail and ran. I finally found the terrified pooch hiding under a table, and when I bent down to talk to him, my normally lethargic dog snapped at me. This was the worst episode, but there were others when our dog seemed nervous, and had a problem with the basement in particular.

A side note, purely for effect, but absolutely factual: our house was a Dutch colonial – the Amityville Horror house, was a Dutch colonial. And in our basement there was a funky little storage room tucked under the concrete front porch. To enter it, you had to climb through a small opening in the basement wall. The opening was covered with a thick wooden door complete with wrought iron latch. The room’s craggy walls and ceiling were covered in cobwebs, and floor was nothing more than dirt. Other than peeking in when we bought the house, we never went in there or used it for anything. It was just too creepy. Only in the movies would someone ACTUALLY go in there, despite the audience screaming not to.
There was also the sound of running footsteps, always late in the evening. It’s a two-story house and the footsteps were always heard from the living room on the first floor, so we knew it wasn’t just a squirrel on the roof. Our son was a year and a half old, so when we heard the foot steps racing above our heads, we naturally assumed that he had climbed out of his crib and was sprinting around his room. Every time we’d hear the thump, thump, thump, of running feet, we’d race upstairs to find our son sound asleep. We found this occurrence curious and intriguing, but not frightening.
The event that hammered home that something other-worldly might be going on happened many months later. I’d laid down next to our son, who was now in a big bed and had trouble settling for the night. My back was starting to ache from lying so still. He had been quiet for a while, but I wasn’t brave enough to move yet.
I was longing to go back down to the living room, so I turned my gaze from the darkened room out into the brightly lit hallway. There, in the doorway, stood the silhouette of a man. I assumed my husband had come up to check on us. I held a finger to my lips to warn him not to say anything, lest our son wake up. I turned my head, for just a moment, to check if our son was truly asleep. When I turned back, the man was gone.
Although my original assumption had been that the figure had been that of my husband, the way he seemed to appear and disappear without so much as a creak of the stairs bothered me. The whole episode was so brief, I questioned whether or not it had been real. Had I imagined it? Maybe, I had unknowingly dozed off and dreamt it. But it felt real.
When I was sure it was safe for me to leave, I went downstairs to find my husband sitting on the sofa reading the newspaper. I sat down next to him. “Did you come up to check on us?”
My husband lowered the paper, his eyebrows drawn together. “Why do you ask?”
“I thought I saw you outside the door,” I answered.
Dropping the paper into his lap, my husband shook his head. “Wow, that’s weird.”
“What’s weird?” I questioned.
He paused. “Have you ever had one of those times, when you see something moving out of the corner of your eye, but when you look, there’s nothing there, so you just write it off as your imagination?”
I nodded.
“Well,” he said, “I was sitting down here reading the paper while you were upstairs and I could have sworn someone went up the stairs.”
My flesh tightened into goosebumps so hard it was almost painful.
Now I can hear some of you screaming in your head, “Run away! Get out of the house!” It’s never that easy. Maybe we really just had a senile dog, funky thumping floorboards, and overactive imaginations. We also considered the fact that if there really was a ghost involved, he certainly didn’t seem mean-spirited, rather he seemed friendly, checking in on us, keeping an eye on our child.
Was it a ghost, or did my husband and I have some kind of simultaneous imaginary event, each of us on a different floor of the house? I leave that up to you. But I have to admit, I really like the ghost theory better.
Did I mention how much I love Halloween?