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Absinthe is a drink made with green anise, a flowering plant whose taste is similar to licorice; it also has a high alcoholic content. Because so many writers and artists drank it, the aura of illicitness and mystery surrounding absinthe "has played into modern literature."
In Hemingway's story, Jig and the American may be drinking absinthe for the same reason that those living the Bohemian life in Paris, such as Hemingway himself, drank it: Supposedly, it greatly numbs the senses and even produces hallucinations. In her argument with the American, Jig may simply wish for a numbness to her fears and worries, even if it is temporary, for she intuitively sense the repercussions of having an abortion while the man perceives it only as a mechanical process and, therefore, something "perfectly natural" after which she will feel fine.
"We'll be fine afterward. Just like we were before." [man]
"What makes you think so?"
"That's the only thing that bothers us. It's the only thing that's made us unhappy."
Yet, the man cannot think of what is not yet, and he has another absinthe when he goes around the station to retrieve their bags. For, earlier when Jig asks him if after the operation he will
"...be nice again if I say things are like white elephants, and you'll like it?
like Scarlett O'Hara of Gone With the Wind, the American avoids thinking on troubling ideas,
"I'll love it. I love it now but I just can't think about it. You know how I get when I worry."
Jig has been waiting to experience the American's real love. But, she receives only non-commital and evasiveness on the man's part, a white elephant that is useless for her emotional need of feeling truly loved.
I have only been to Europe one time, and truthfully I found it to be a big disappointment. There were a great many "things" I expected to find interesting, exciting, edifying, or enjoyable, and I must have been expecting to discover a lot of other "things" to appreciate that I hadn't even expected to encounter.
Paris itself did not seem especially beautiful, and the food was mediocre at best. No doubt I could have gotten wonderful food if I had been willing to pay an exorbitant price, but you can get wonderful food almost anywhere if you pay a lot of money. The part of the Louvre I saw was a letdown. It seemed to be full of propaganda pictures, such as that famous one of the Napoleon crossing the Alps on a white horse. I hate to say this, but the "Mona Lisa" was a huge disappointment.
Italy seemed dirty and many of the Italians seemed loud and vulgar. I was happy to get out of Italy and back into France. Many of the French are cold and rude in a peculiarly French sort of way--but they are better than the Italians, who think they are doing you a favor to let you see their old ruins and stuffy artwork. I learned one thing I could use if I ever went back (except that I'm never going back). That is: Never eat a places that are situated close to famous tourist attractions. like the Louvre or the Leaning Tower of Pisa. They are usually "tourist traps," and the Italian ripoff artists aren't satisfied with merely overcharging you; they want to give you poor food and poor service as well.
Europe is old. A lot of it looks dirty and decrepit. I think Americans are especially sensitive to this. People live in buildings we would have torn down a hundred or two hundred years ago.
Hemingway probably liked Europe because the exchange rate made everything so incredibly cheap in those days and because he could buy any kind of liquor he wanted, whereas Prohibition was the law in America. Europe was a great place for a writer or an artist. When the woman in "Hills Like White Elephants" asks for "Four reales" for the two beers, I think she was charging the equivalent of about two American cents.
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