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How to Drink Absinthe

How to Drink Absinthe“When I drink absinthe I go crazy,” spoke the Magician.I took this as an invitation to drink absinthe.“The last time I drank absinthe,” the Magician continued, “I woke up with in the morning with blood running down my arm and had a broken fist.”He then showed me his still mangled knuckles. “What [...]

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How to Drink Absinthe

“When I drink absinthe I go crazy,” spoke the Magician.

I took this as an invitation to drink absinthe.

“The last time I drank absinthe,” the Magician continued, “I woke up with in the morning with blood running down my arm and had a broken fist.”

He then showed me his still mangled knuckles. “What the hell happened?” I asked.

“I beat up a couple of geeks in the middle of the night at a bus stop,” his story continued. “I asked them if they wanted to see a magic trick and they said no. So I beat the f’ck out of them.” And then he momentarily paused before adding, “F’cking geeks.”
Wade from Vagabond Journey.com
in Budapest, Hungary- August 10, 2008
Travelogue Travel Photos

I could tell that he felt bad about this exploit, so I tried to make him feel better by saying, “Don’t feel bad, all animals do such things.”

A smile then came to the Magician’s face. “You’re right man! I am the alpha-male and I beat the shit out of those geeks. F’cking geeks needed to be beat up.” He was laughing now and just about thumping his chest like our lower ape brethren. “Those geeks will never go out at night again!”

I was laughing too.

Beer in glass that looks like an over grown science beaker with wooden support.

We were at the rooftop bar, which is a huge drunkard joint on the roof of some warehouse in central Budapest. It was night, and the little circle of artists and expats that I had befriended were raging all around us. The Magician and I first began talking after a young Hungarian waiter let me know of his skills in the arts of illusion. So I watched the Magician amaze a young and squeally Hungarian girl in a short skirt. He would show her a trick, she would squeal and clap her hands like a fish fed sea-lion, I would watch curiously.

As the night wore on I eventually ended up at the side of the Magician. We became fast friends. He is from the countryside of Hungary but spoke English very well. He started doing his tricks on me. I became amazed.

His illusions were well performed.

The Magician showed me with a few of the hundreds of card tricks that he knows, and I laughed heartily. “I like it that you do magic,” I said, “It is a sign that you enjoy people laughing.”

When people become amazed over a magic trick a smile automatically comes to their faces, they forget everything else in the world, and become consumed in laughter and inquisition. I watched as the Magician lit up the faces of our entire circle of friends throughout the night.

It then became time for me to be going home. I previously had a real late night and did not get to bed until 8AM that morning. I had just come out to this bar to buy Viv a birthday drink and because I wanted to make good on Nilo buying me a few drinks the night before. I plan was to pay up, share a drink or two with friends, and get a good night of sleep back at the Bubble. Then I met Tomas and my puritan intentions vanished. I told him that I was leaving. He said no.

“I want you to name any card, any card you want,” he proposed, “and if that card is upside down in one of the decks of cards that are in my bag [which was under the table and far out of reach] you will have to stay.”

I took him up on the bet knowing that I was going to loose. I did.

I called out a nine of hearts and the Magician reached down and grabbed his backpack, took out a boxed deck of cards, opened it, and fanned them out. The nine of hearts was the only card that was face up. I had to stay.

So I bought the Magician a beer and we went back to talking about love, life, Gypsy girls, and the rolling waves of ‘time-pass.’ As we talked he would be making things appear from his ears, making things disappear, and doing a half dozen other tricks without loosing a beat. We were becoming friends.

Then a group of nerdy Spanish mariachis walked up to our group on the roof-top bar and I heard the Magician mutter “geeks” under his breathe with a sneer, and I thought that he was about to smash their guitars upon their funny mariachi hat heads. I stood in waiting for the scene to ensue, but he had not had any absinthe in him on this night, and was therefore somewhat in control of his geeks beating urges.

The Magician was a big man. He was not too tall but his shoulders were broad and he carried himself as if he were a giant. His face was hard, but his smile was broad. His eyes danced with all of the excitements and emotions of life. His voice was deep, loud, and slightly muffled. He sounded much like a mummy yelling from behind the shrouds of his wrapper. The Magician always made eye contact when he spoke, and he knew how to lead people into looking in the direction that he chose. He also reveled in the up and down extremes of living – he was either joyous, angry, unruly happy or sad and withdrawn. I had the impression that you were either Tomas’ friend or his enemy, a good guy or a bad guy, on one side or the other. His lines were cut bare.

When the Magician invited me out for drinks on the next Monday, I graciously accepted.

The rest of the weekend then passed with me getting a little much needed sleep and some work finished. Then I received an email from him telling me where to meet. I did, though was a little late due to unexpected work obligations. He was angry at me for not being on time, but we embraced none the less and went to a street side bar together smiling.

We sat down and ordered two beers. The Magician said that he would pay for them for me because I bought him some beer the night before. I was happy about this as the prices were far beyond my grasp. We were drinking at a nice place; the kind that I seldom frequent. The beer that arrived at our table was Belgian and came in a two foot tall thin glass that needed a wooden support to hold it up. The glass looked more like a Frankenstein science beaker than a beer mug. I had never seen a usable drinking glass like this before, and Tomas had to tell me how to drink from it.

“Just pick the whole thing up, wood and all.”

I picked the awkward contraption up and hesitantly drank from it. It tried to do so coolly as I did not wanting to embarrass myself. To my surprise I found the odd beaker of beer manageable.

Tomas and I talked smoothly. He is a man who could sit across a table from another man, drink beer, and just talk the night away. I find that I often miss this sort of man to man interaction. Erik the Pilot and I would once sit at the kitchen table of his mother’s home every weekend just talking, playing cards, and drinking beer. I believe that such interaction is important for the purging of manly souls.

I was enjoying my time with the Magician. As we talked he would be pulling things out of his ears, making things disappear, and doing some amazing card tricks. His eyes would light up as I would laugh riotously at his illusions. He showed me a few of his easier tricks and called me his brother.

We soon moved over to another bar that was located in the depths of an old wine cellar that was far out of the tourist circuit of Budapest. This little tavern was run by a stout little old lady with white curly hair. She wore a loose flowing flowery old lady dress and probably had slippers on. She served us two beers and we drank them with relish. Tomas showed me some more tricks and we talked about graffiti and the writers of Budapest. He then launched into stories about the reasons why he cannot play poker:

“The last time I was the dealer in poker I dealt the last two guys in full houses but left the deciding card to chance. The guys did not like this too much.”

We laughed.

He then told me to wait for a minute as he walked away from the table. He then returned with w big smile on his face. Before I could ask him what he was so smiley about a platter of drinks was delivered by the old lady. Upon this platter was two shots, two sugar cubes, two teaspoons, and two beers.

“Absinthe,” the Magician whispered sharply with mystical reverence.

I nodded my head coolly. He then taught me how to drink absinthe properly.

“You take the spoon like this,” he said, “and you put the sugar cube on it and dip it in the absinthe. Then once the sugar has soaked up the liquid take it out.”

I did as I was instructed.

He then lit our teaspoons of absinthe sugar cubes on fire with a cigarette lighter. We then watched the sugar burst into flames and the cube soon began bubbling and turning black. The Magician was in the thorough of a sort of mystical reverie. His eyes could not stray from the bubbling sugar and the flames burning like a gel over the absinthe that he knew would take him out of his own mind.

I had drank absinthe before, but not like this. All of a sudden the Magician dropped the flaming sugar cube and teaspoon into the greater shot of absinthe. The flame extinguished and he removed the spoon, leaving the sugar to drop into the bottom of the glass. He was smiling manically as he picked up the cigarette lighter and lit the shot up in flames. He passed the lighter to me and I did the same. We then said some brotherly words, toasted, blew our the flame, and drank the hot absinthe down in a single gulp.

When hot absinthe goes down into the body it can be felt in almost every limb. You feel it go into your mouth, down your throat, into your belly, through your veins, being pumped out by your heart to your very fingers and toes. It feels good.

Tomas then let out a big “Ahhhh” of relief as the warm liquid move through his body and we clenched hands in arm wrestling fashion over the table. This shaking of fists was the bonding of brothers.

We then continued drinking and sharing secrets. I would tell him a few yarns of the Open Road and he would teach me more magic tricks. We opened up our hearts in a manly way as we drank in the far back of the dark wine cellar. Another beer was then finished. We kept talking, and I gave the Magician an idea for a tattoo. He nearly jumped up in the air as my suggestion sunk in. He excitedly told me that he was going get it etched into his body. Then he gave me that smile again.

The absinthe smile.

Before I knew it another platter was placed before us by the bustle evening gowned old lady and Tomas was again mesmerized. The prior even then reoccurred, and we sat there for a moment in the cluster-phobic cellar just breathing and feeling the strength of that drink. Fingers, toes, mind, and soul were now electrified.

“Man, I’m drunk!” the magician roared for all the tavern to hear. He was. To my credit I had a level head enough to remember this tale. Luckily for my chosen profession, I possess an incredibly high tolerance to alcohol.

The Magician then invited me over to his house to stay the night. I initially agreed to the arrangement. But as we finished our last drinks and got flushed out of the cellar it became apparent that the night was still a puppy – the clock in the church tower only rang eleven thirty. As we walked I told the Magician that I was just going to go back to my own room. He became enraged.

This only made me want to part company with him all the more.

He yelled and said that we would not be brothers anymore if I did not go home with him. I stood my ground and made a motion to leave him and return to the Pest side of the Danube. He called to me and I walked back to him. The Magician was my friend. When I got close enough to him he quickly clenched both of his hands around my neck. I was being choked.

On this absinthe night in Budapest, I had clearly become the f’cking geek.

(To the credit of the Magician, let it be known that he spent his working days braving the rounds of the IT call center. I understood his rage. All call center employees probably need to beat a geek every now and then.)

Links to previous travelogue entries:

  • Round Trip Plane Ticket from Budapest to New York
  • Artists, WIne, Cafes, Bars in Budapest
  • Global College LIU Graduation Requirements

How to Drink Absinthe
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Filed under: Eastern Europe, Europe, Hungary

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3691 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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  • Brian Smith October 29, 2009, 1:16 pm

    Where was the bar you got absinthe at? I know the Belgian bar in Buda where you likely got the beers at (I've had the science beakers of beer before). There's some cool graffiti in that area too. I'm in Budapset now, so please let me know if you remember the name or location of that bar. My email is s.brian.smith@gmail.com. I'm drinking absinthe right now 🙂

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