In ancient times Dionysus and Bacchus preferred the fruit of the vine, which is understandable: they were, after all, the gods of wine. But I like to imagine that the favorite tipple of their fellow deities up there on Mount Olympus was something more akin to that other great drink of the Mediterranean basin—the anise-flavored spirit that has reached its modern apotheosis in the drink the French call pastis.

Other countries boast their own versions of this ancient drink. The Greeks call theirs ouzo, the Turks have their raki and when they’re not at loggerheads with each other the Lebanese and Syrians uncork the arak. Carrying on a tradition that allegedly began in ancient Rome, the Italians sip sweet sambuca, one of those drinks you carry home with you from vacation and subsequently wonder why. But it’s in France, and particularly the sun-drenched southern parts of the country, that this drink comes into its own.

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