While, in Britain, paranormal phenomena were subject to rigorous scientific study by some of the greatest minds of the English turn of the 19th century, at the French “Fin de siècle” (there is only a time difference of a few minutes between the entry into the English turn of the 19th century and that of the French “Fin de siècle”), this kind of phenomena was left to people who not only lacked rigorous scientific studies but often had got rigorous anti-scientific studies. Naturally, I mean the bohemian artists: that which, as a whole, has been called “la bohème”.
“La bohème” wasn’t an institution endowed with a good provision of funds and a perfectly organized structure such as the London Society for Psychical Research. Its members wore no fock coat, suit, vest, bowtie and top hat, but were often practically naked or, if cold, dressed in garments that would have blushed the distinguished members of the SPR. The headquarters of the Parisian “bohème” were located in the hill of Montmartre and were itinerant: for a time it focused on the café-restaurant “Moulin de la Galette”, then on the Café “La Belle Gabrielle”, then returned to “la Galette”, then on the cabaret “Le Chat Noir”, then again on “la Galette”, then on the night-club “Au Lapin Agile”… In short, they were a bit everywhere, in any café or cabaret where they served absinthe and accepted as payment for the consumption a sketch of a charcoal-drawn portrait or an improvised poem or a ballad with accordion accompaniment, or a melon just stolen in one of the orchards that dotted the hill. Where the artists gathered, that’s where “la bohème” was. It was not an institution but a lifestyle that attracted artists but also all sorts of paranormal phenomena. In reality, the members of “la bohème” didn’t dedicate themselves to the study of such phenomena but rather it was such phenomena that were dedicated to the study of the members of “la bohème”. Paranormal phenomena served frequently as inspiration for the French bohemian artistic avant-gardes. And there was a catalyst for these phenomena: “la Fée Verte”, the Green Fairy.
The Green Fairy was, so to speak, the muse of these bohemian artists. Because that was what they consumed in the cafes and cabarets of Montmartre. Yes, the “Fée Verte” was how they called absinthte, a pale green beverage with a degree of alcohol that would have knocked down any honorable member of the SPR at the first sip. But the bohemian artists swallowed absinthe as if it were lemonade. Today we know that this drink has hallucinogenic properties and it’s advisable to avoid it because you can go crazy. In fact, this explains many things about the biographies of these artists. To avoid talking about Van Gogh’s ear, which is an overused story, I will mention a lesser-known painter: Marcel Rochechouart, landscaper or portraitist (depending on whether you look at his paintings upside down or right), who fell in love with the Green Fairy and, as is typical of lovers, did not want to separate from her. It is estimated that approximately thirty percent of all absinthe produced in France at that time went to the stomach of Rochechouart. No wonder then that the world for him was pale green, as his paintings attest, and that his paranormal idyll with the “Fée Verte” did not end quite well. Indeed, one day he woke up wanting to exercise and, as he was a great swimmer and it was summertime, he threw himself into the river Seine from a bridge with the intention of crossing the Atlantic and, after a brief stop in New York to regain strength, swimming back home to be there at dinner time. Needless to say, the dinner got cold.