“The sober ants seemed much puzzled at finding their friends in this helpless and discreditable condition”
In which gentleman scholar and committed insect-botherer Sir John Lubbock observes what happens when ants are forcibly plied with alcohol. Sober ants who encountered inebriated counterparts from the same nest were more likely to move their hive-mate to safety to sleep off the effects of their imposed bender. Ants from other nests were more likely to be moved ‘to water’. (Or in other, less euphemistic words: drowned.)
In an 1877 Popular Science article describing the experiment, Lubbock complained about the difficulty of getting his myrmecological specimens suitably liquored up. It was not easy in all cases to hit off the requisite degree of this compulsory intoxication, he wrote. (Lubbock would spend the following year experimenting with the effects of slipping roofies to woodlice.)
“Fernet’s defining bitterness is layered with complications, like a well-lived life”
At one point during the tour, Branca, an impeccably polite gentleman with enviable hair, opened the door to a dim, cavernous room and beckoned me in.
Here were acres of burlap sacks piled atop pallets and containing the 40 or so barks, roots, fungi, herbs, and spices that go into Fernet Branca. These include myrrh, gentian root, cinchona bark, orris root, zedoary, and saffron. To walk through the room is to reconnoiter a peculiar olfactory geography, crossing from the republic of one aroma into another, with the borderlands between the two sometimes under détente, but often not.
I ordered a Fernet Branca the other night. I ordered it because I liked the idea of drinking something that sounds like a Swiss mathematician. But it turns out that among the things I don’t particularly like are drinks that taste like iodine. In fact, drinking Fernet is a bit like tongue-kissing a First World War infirmary.