The other day when I took that picture back along Elwood Beach framed slight by anise, I reached out, crumbled some of the buds between my fingers, and—what do you know—but my finger tips smelled of anise, no less.
Anise is one of those non-indigenous species that came from the Old World, Greece probably, and spread weed-like in the New World. I call it anise weed and put it in the same category as eucalyptus, another non-indigenous import, this time from Australia. I feel about anise much as I do about eucalyptus, which I have previously excoriated in these pages as a lethal weed that kills all around it and which in its natural state is a complete fire hazard being dry as hell and filled with oily material. A eucalyptus goes up like a damn match.
I came to dislike anise and to call it a weed when we arrived in California and the folks bought that three quarters of an acre at 10194 Ramona Drive. The first third of that three quarters of an acre was more or less civilized, but the lower two thirds were another matter. When we first arrived the fields around us were mostly open and full of weeds. Occasionally a tumble weed would roll right on through. And anise weed would spring up.
Somehow I had the yearly chore of cutting back the anise weed. I did this with a hoe and I say cut back because that’s what I did. The stuff was damn tenacious; you could cut it back to the root easily enough with a hoe, during which I always got blisters because I wouldn’t wear glove or maybe we didn’t have any. But to really get the crap out, you had to get a shovel and pull up the root and it had, I may say, a very sturdy root system. So even if you dug a bit, and didn’t get it all, it was sure to come back up again.
I never did defeat it. But the environment changed. Houses were built all around us; the fields disappeared and over time so did the anise weed.
Come to think of it a friend who had gone to Greece came back and gave me a bottle of Ouzo. This is clear stuff; officially a product of the nation of Greece. It’s called a liquor and it is flavored with anise. I did not like the stuff much. But I would take a hit of it now and then. It was clear in the bottle, and sometimes I would just smell it to clear my nostrils. I don’t know how long I had that bottle—years and years—and I swear the stuff never went bad. If that bottle is still out there, you could probably take a hit and suffer no major damage aside from that produced by the Ouzo itself.
And finally anise is used as a flavoring in absinte, a notorious French liquor that was for a time outlawed in the 20th century for its destructive effects. But now is back in style. For a long time in my most depressed period, in the hole under WB and Joan’s house, I had on my wall this picture by Degas called the “Absinte Drinker”:
Also on my wall over my bed was Bosch’s Hell:
This may suggest my mood at the time.
That is the history of my association with anise, or more exactly, anise weed.