Latest Drink Scandal Now Agitates Paris

Ernest Hemingway

Toronto Star Weekly/August 12, 1922

Paris.-The great “aperitif” scandal that is agitating Paris has struck at the roots of one of the best-loved institutions of France.

Aperitifs, or appetizers, are those tall, bright red or yellow drinks that are poured from two or three bottles by hurried waiters during the hour before lunch and the hour before dinner, when all Paris gathers at the cafes to poison themselves to a cheerful pre-eating glow. The aperitifs are all patented mixtures, contain a high percentage of alcohol and bitters, have a basic taste like a brass doorknob, and go by such names as Amourette, Anis Delloso, Amer Picon, Byrrh, Tomyysette and twenty others. Now aperitifs blossom in Paris as new cigarettes do in Toronto. It is simply a matter of the number of persons anxious to try anything new.

The first scandal came when police discovered that absinthe, which was abolished six years ago, was being sold in great quantities under the name of Anis Delloso. Instead of producing a beautiful green color that minor poets have celebrated to the driest corners of the world, the absinthe manu­facturers were turning it out in quantity production as a pale yellow syrup. It had the familiar licorice taste, however, and turned milky when water was added-and it had the slow, culminating wallop that made the boulevardier want to get up and jump on his new straw hat in ecstasy after the third Delloso.

One loud, glad cry was uttered on the boulevards and in a few days word-of-mouth advertising made Anis Delloso the most popular beverage in the city. It continued until the police suppressed the manufacture of absinthe.

Anis Delloso is still being manufactured. It still has the licorice flavor, ­but the boulevardier waits in vain for the feeling that makes him want to shinny rapidly up the side of the Eiffel Tower. For it is not absinthe any more.

Now the big scandal is concerned with the Fourteenth of July. Bastille Day is the great French holiday. This year it started on Wednesday night, the thirteenth of July, and continued unabated all Wednesday night, all day Thursday, all night Thursday, all day Friday, all night Friday, all day Saturday, all night Saturday, all day Sunday, and all night Sunday. All big places of business, all department stores and banks were closed from Wednesday afternoon till noon on Monday. It would take about eight columns of closely set type to do justice in any way to that holiday.

Every two blocks there was a street ball where the people of that quarter danced. The street was decorated with colored lanterns and flags and music furnished by the municipality. That all sounds very tame and quiet, but it was not. Orders were given that neither buses nor taxicabs could go down a street where a ball was in progress. As a result there was no traffic.

The music for the ball in the street below our apartment consisted of an accordion, two drummers, a bagpiper and a cornettist. These four courageous and tireless men sat in a wagon box that was placed on four huge wine casks in the street and bowered with branches broken, I believe, from trees in the park. In this sylvan bower they sat, drank, ate, relayed one another on the instruments and played from 9 o’clock at night until 8 o’clock the next morning, while the crowd polkaed round and round!

This happened on four consecutive nights, while the inhabitants of the quarter had a little sleep in the daytime and the rest of the time jammed the street to dance. It was a wonderful thing to watch between twenty and thirty couples dancing hilariously in the street at eleven o’clock in the morning after having danced all night. These were not students or artists or such crazy people, mind you, but shop girls, butchers, bakers, laborers, tram conductors and laundresses, and bookmakers. It was a very great party-but it couldn’t have occurred on water.

Enter the “aperitif” scandal. The government spent some millions of francs on the party. It was all considered wisely spent money in the cause of encouraging patriotism. French flags were everywhere, fireworks went off at all times, there was a great military review at Longchamps at eight o’clock in the morning, attended by thousands of people who had danced all night, and went to sleep on the grass. An unbalanced young Communist took a shot at a prefect of police by mistake for M. Poincare and the patriotic crowd mobbed him. Every one agreed that M. Poincare’s life was undoubtedly saved by the Fourteenth of July because who could be ex­pected to hit anyone they shot at after such a night as all Paris had just spent. It was a fine celebration.

The scandal consisted in the fact that above all the dancing places, over the heads of the musicians, where the government had placed the French flags and spent money for the music and decorations, were enormous banners advertising the different brands of aperitifs. Over the ball, flanked by the tricolor, would be a great sign “Drink Amourette.” At another place the people of the quartier would be dancing in an ecstasy of patri­otism under the legend “Vive Anis Delloso-the Finest Aperitif in the World.”

No one seemed to notice the signs to any great extent during the eve­nings, but once the dancing was over a big inquiry was ordered to investi­gate why the government spent over a million francs to give the aperitif manufacturers about a million dollars worth of publicity. Several Paris newspapers have come out against there ever being such a July fourteenth again. There is a fearful scandal on and the inquiry about the aperitif signs still continues.

(Source: William White, ed. Ernest Hemingway: Dateline: Toronto. Simon and Schuster, 2002.)

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