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Podcast Summary:

“Anyway, I’ll Drink to That” is a Boozn Sam’s production, exploring the fun, quirky, and fascinating tales of drinks that define culture, history and the world. Every drink has a story to tell, and I’m going to tell it…as true as I can. Hosted by Sam, from Boozn Sam’s. Saddle up with a good cocktail and give me a few minutes of your time for a mystery surrounding a drink that changed the world.

Episode 21 Notes:

The story of two worlds merging. One of death and disease. The other of progress. While the two worlds existing at the same time, seems unlikely, it’s true. And makes for one heck of a tale. Follow the story of Fran, as he cuts and slices his way into history, alongside his arch nemesis Richard.

Transcript for Podcast Episode

*This is the entire podcast episode in written form. Do not read if you want the audio version to be spoiled.

They came in a stream, dying and begging to be saved. Yet, he could save none of them. Still, he tried. The slicing and cutting seemed like it would never end. Fran looked at the damage done both by him and the plague. It looked ugly. All hope seemed lost. If they didn’t find a cure, everything would be over. 

Fran left his patient on the table and exited into the waiting room, where the expectant gazes of those looking on immediately saw the failure in his face. He shook his head, confirming this. 

“There was…nothing to be done.”

Then he pushed past them and headed outside for some fresh air. Fran had studied medicine most of his adult life, but even this seemed too much. The plague that was sweeping through Europe right now had devastating effects. 

They’d tried all the usual things. Burning the lifeless, diseased, remnants. Isolation. There was simply nothing to be done. 

How could this be happening at a time when so much good also seemed to be occurring? As if to echo this point, his eyes went to the metal skeleton rising out of the ground in a cautious point that jabbed the sky. Men climbed the growing structure and large hunks of steels were rising little by little like metal fingers. Scaffolding rose like tooth picks from the ground below. 

“Still no luck?” 

The familiar voice of Richard caught Fran by surprise. He hadn’t expected him, but Richard always had a way of showing up at the worst time. 

“Not yet.” He grunted, never taking his eyes off the rising structure.

“They say it’ll be the most incredible World’s Fair yet.” Richard pointed. “And why shouldn’t it be with a tower like that serving as the entrance way. 

“But, will they finish it in time?” Fran’ voice came out rough. Much rougher than he wanted it to, but the continued spreading of the plague concerned him. And his continued failure to contain it, was unnerving. 

Richard huffed. “Gustave Eiffel has guaranteed it.”

Neither man spoke for a long time. Then Richard broke the silence. “Well, I must get getting. Good luck and all that. There is to be an art show today featuring an artist Vincent something or other that’s supposed to be quite good. Although his art looks like splotches on a page and I’ve never been quite fond of it. But, it’s the dancing I’m looking forward to after. Liane will be performing tonight at The Moulin Rouge.”

Fran inhaled sharply and caught himself. Liane de Pougy was a beautiful woman. He’d seen her dance at a cabaret once and it was almost other worldly the way she moved her body and told a story. 

Francies smiled and grunted again. “La Belle Epoque.” He said and trailed off.

“La Belle Epoque.” Richard’s voice was no more than a whisper and he inclined his head slightly as he spoke. 

Richard and Fran were nothing like each other. Sure, they were both in their twenties, young and strapping men with the world before them. But, one had studied medicine and was determined to make the world a better place. The other, was the son of a rich merchant and cared more for business than people.

And Fran, well he was no businessman. He had noble ambitions. And his heart broke at the current climate, the plague ravaging through Europe, even as the other areas of culture and technology exploded. 

Why, just the other day he’d heard about another French man who was creating a black, spongy substance that was soft enough to hold some malleability, but stiff enough to hold its shape. There was talk of, get this, using the substance to replace the wooden wheels of the traditional bicycle. 

“It is an exciting time to be alive, despite…” Fran couldn’t finish the sentence.

Richard put a hand on his shoulder. “I know, my friend. This plague…when will it end. It’s causing so many problems.”

But, there was an odd glint in Richard’s eye, an emotion that Fran couldn’t name. He wasn’t entirely sure that Richard wanted the plague to end. After all, he was benefiting marvelously from it. Yet, only a cruel, uncultured human could wish for such tragedy for the sake of profits.  

Richard donned his hat once more and took his leave, and Fran went back to his work. He had to find a solution. Many lives were counting on him. He frowned and his immaculate mustache dipped in chorus. Richard had looked so smug too. He wondered how he could even think about profiting off such a disaster. It was so beneath a Frenchman to do something like that. 

If the Franco-Prussian War from a decade ago had taught them anything, it was that showing pride and dominance wasn’t always the right course of action. For the French, a people that were steeped in the little man syndrome of Napolean, this was a lesson most didn’t heed. 

At the time of the War of 1870, Fran had been a teenager and his parents had scurried him away from the conflict that spilled over to a four month siege of Paris, before the city fell. He’d left the country to study medicine elsewhere and returned only when those two fools, curse them both, had returned from America bringing the plague with them. 

Try as he might, he couldn’t get the destruction out of his mind. The withered, dying limbs. Life slowly suffocated out of them until there was no turning back. The smell of all the burnings. The looks of devastation and loss on the faces of so many innocent people from the utter, unavoidable ruin.   

Before all of this was over, Fran, in his heart, knew that not a single living thing would remain. He didn’t see how they could. The plague spread too fast, feeding on the life of one to transmit through to another. It was… unstoppable. 

Still, he had to find a way to slow it down. He had to save Europe and its traditions that had endured for so many years. This desire to find a way, to save others, drove Fran back into his surgery room, where he picked up the lance once again and went to work again on a new subject, slicing and trimming. 

Working off the old and dead in a technique he’d learned in University years ago. He didn’t know if it would work, but he had to try. Fran carefully wrapped the incision point and moved the patient to the recovery ward. The next forty-eight hours were critical. If the patient didn’t start showing signs of healing, then death would be imminent. 

His work wasn’t cheap either. He worried about the mounting costs, that seemed as steep as all those lost and dead. Since the plague had come to Europe as an invasive species from North America, he had to import the cure from North America too.

This was an expensive endeavor that meant long travel times with precarious, living cargo that was sensitive to conditions like temperature, light, and moisture. If, by some miracle, he was able to find a cure that worked, there were also the long term effects to consider. 

But, he couldn’t think about those things now. Surely, life over death was of greater importance. Yet, the cost of the cure, had to be considered. What was survival worth? He’d seen a great presentation by a man named Louis, who was exploring such questions with bacteria and germs. They were moral questions never considered before. At a time in history when so much was changing they were essential to consider, but perhaps not so essential that they needed considering over finding the cure itself. 

Fran looked in at the recovery ward and the beds of patients healing. He knew the world would be a worse place, a sadder place, if they were only left with Richard and what he brought to the table. While, it was perfect for some, and represented the epitome of the height of culture in Europe, it was a far cry from the beauty and life that was being killed off right now. 

Richard had been lucky. That was all. His great grandfather had purchased a drink recipe that was created by a doctor. It was also luck, that elevated that dying drink to a spot of respect and appreciation once more. Fran thought about the taste and it made him gag. He’d never been a fan of that flavor.

But, the tastes of Earth and the effect of temperature that brought out the robust, complex flavors he appreciated so much, were just different. Sure, Richard used plants like Chamomile, spinach and coriander in his drink, but there was nothing that came to match the flavors in a good glass of wine. 

All that was in jeopardy now, even while Richard’s business was booming. In fact, his business had grown so much that nineteen competitors popped up within a twenty year span to also capitalize on the movement. 

They were profiteers. 

And he, well he was trying to do good. 

Fran Baco’s heart suddenly stopped and he rushed into the room. It couldn’t be… could it. Had he…had he done it. His hands trembled as he stretched out his fingers and took the delicate, tiny green bud of new growth into his fingers. 

“Yes!” He exclaimed in joy. He’d done it. He’d found a way to save all the old world grapes of Europe from the devastating Phylloxera Plague that had arrived on plants imported from North America by a few well meaning biologists. 

Phylloxera

All of the slicing, trimming and fitting had been for this. The graft, between a North American vine rootstock, with greater resiliency to that pesky Phylloxera bug which was decimating whole vineyards through Europe, and a European vine was successful. 

Fran Baco, a leading biologist in Europe, would end up creating at least six new grape plants that were a result of grafting a European grape to a North American rootstock. The result, when properly grafted, would be a little nodule, a knuckle, at the base of every vine from this point forward in Europe that signified the grafting process.

While Richard would continue his massive expansion of a drink that radiated luxury for the next twenty years, before leveling out in popularity, Wine would slowly start to emerge once again. 

The process would be slow, and the plants that had once lived for decades and had been wiped out by the plague, would need to be started again. 

And eventually, due to the curiosities and ambitions of humans, a pre-phylloxera wine would never be able to be drank again, for a true European grape could never exist without the grafting of a North American grape. 

Even as a new era was turning, complete with painters like Vincent Van Gogh, pasteurization and germ work from men like Louis Pasteur, and dancing and artistry from people like Liane de Pougy, the world had lost something it could never get back in the form of wine. 

Michelin might have invented rubber for bicycle tires, and eventually cars too. The Eiffel Tower would rise in time for the World Fair of 1900. But, wine would change forever.

It’s temporary demise would also give way to a new drink, a drink that had been around for decades before this point but had never garnered huge success or acclaim until this point. 

Pernod. 

The Gift of Phylloxera

Capitalizing on the unfortunate circumstances of the Phylloxera plague, Richard Pernod, who was the distillery owner of an absinthe company that produced a drink made from wormwood, spinach, fennel, coriander, chamomile, and a few other ingredients too. 

With the decreased supply of wine, people turned to Absinthe to quench their thirsts, and, as the great era of science, art, and technology between 1870 and 1914 rolled on, Pernod would become the drink of choice and a sign of sophistication. 

This was the La Belle Epoque. The Beautiful Era, the height of dominance by European through the world.  

Francois Baco would go on to plant thousands of phylloxera resistant grapes throughout Europe. 

Richard Pernod would die and pass along the family company to his offspring, who would built it generations later into an empire with the acquisitions of other brands.

And Pernod, a anise flavored absinthe, would be the first of its kind and usher in many similar drinks and many variations in the last one hundred years. While it would never fully replace wine, and the tides would swing back toward wine once more when new vineyards were established, it would carve out a place in history, during a time of history, that gave us so much of the modern progress and innovation we appreciate still today. 

Anyway… I’ll drink to that.