Snow White

Here’s Persephone’s directorial debut.

Xy — Snow White
Persephone — Nice Fairy
Michael — Grumpy
Therese — Dopey
Nicole — Flower
David — Prince

Cinematography by yours truly.

Obviously this was mostly improvised, but Persephone engineered the basic situation. She assigned roles and costumes. She didn’t want a Wicked Queen in her movie, for example, and she inserted the fairy and flower characters. She said she wanted to make a version of Snow White no one had ever seen before. Of course, with no Wicked Queen, she insisted that there would be no poisoned apple. I’m not sure how the story would have developed. But when the players started improvising, they couldn’t resist taking the story in that direction. Also, any student of folklore could tell you that the prince didn’t revive Snow White with a kiss. That was Sleeping Beauty. But who could argue with this prince’s roguish charm?

One Full Revolution

Lammas is rapidly approaching. It was last year at Lammas that I began making an effort to observe each holiday in the Wheel of the Year with my family. Now that we’ve seen one full revolution of the wheel, I’m taking stock and reflecting on what it means.

It’s my understanding that the Wheel of the Year is a mashup of sorts, combining Germanic and Celtic traditions. The result is eight holidays more or less equally spaced throughout the year. These consist of the solstices and equinoxes plus the four cross-quarter days, which fall approximately halfway between the solstices and equinoxes. As far as I know, putting these two sets of observances together is a modern invention, originating in Wicca. Practitioners of Wicca generally call the festivals sabbats.

The Wheel of the Year is so beautiful and compelling that it’s been embraced and adapted outside of Wicca, which is what I’m doing. It lends itself to endless variation and interpretation. Even though I’m not Wiccan, I admire many aspects of the religion, the wheel most especially. I like how the cycle of holidays connects to the changing seasons and the cycles of nature. This should come as no surprise; after all, the very first sentence I wrote here when I started this online journal was, “I’m fascinated by cycles, including the cycle of seasons.” That was over seven years ago, long before I ever heard of the Wheel of the Year. I also like how these holidays connect to the past, as they are all rooted in antiquity. Each one resonates with its own meaning and traditions, the accretions of centuries. I’ve been trying to understand how to celebrate each one in a way that is relevant and meaningful to me personally and to my family as well.

So that brings us back around to Lammas. It’s a cross-quarter day, partway between the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox. Another name for the day is Loaf Mass.

there is some evidence of the Christian Anglo Saxon harvest festival of Loaf Mass, which is likely to have been built on a pre-existing pagan ritual of the same time, as the festival is one of the harvest…. July was commonly the hardest month of the year for a pre-industrial farming economy, and many of the poor, who could not afford to buy bread and had run through their own stocks, died during July. So the bringing in of the harvest was the first time in months that most people would have a good meal and drink.

So it’s a day for bread. My daughter loves bread.

Bread Mask

It’s our good fortune as a family not to worry about running out of bread in July. The supermarkets around here are fully stocked, year-round. In fact, in our society obesity is a bigger problem than starvation. We also consume vast amounts of fossil fuels to ship food around the world. I certainly don’t romanticize the past, but I don’t believe our current divorce from seasonal cycles is entirely healthy.

A discussion of such matters on the naturalistic paganism group got me curious about what is really being harvested at this time in this area. I did a net search for “Louisiana harvest season.” Isn’t that a sad comment on how disconnected I am from the cycles of nature and agriculture? I have to search the net to figure out what’s in season around here! Anyhow, I found a “Louisiana Harvest Calendar” from the Louisiana Department of Agriculture & Forestry.

And so I learned that fruits and vegetables currently in season here include acorn squash, butternut squash, cushaw, pumpkins, yellow squash and zucchini, apples, figs, muscadines, peaches, pears and plums, banana peppers and hot peppers, butter beans and southern peas, cantaloupes, melons and watermelons, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, okra and sweet potatoes. (Interestingly enough, my spellchecker doesn’t recognize cushaw or muscadines.) Of course, it seems something is always in season here in the subtropics. But this gives me some ideas for a seasonally appropriate Lammas feast.

I am planning to take a day off work for Lammas, bake a loaf of bread in the shape of a person, and make some corn dollies with my daughter. We’ll save them for burning at Candlemas.

Demeter is associated with the harvest, and I associate Demeter with Xy, and she’s a teacher, and this is the time of year teachers are gearing up to go back to school. My daughter will also be beginning her first year of school. So I’d like this to also be a time to honor them (the women in my life) and mark the end of summer and the beginning of the school year. Maybe we’ll make two loaves for mother and daughter.

Lammas is probably the least well-known of the eight holidays. As such, it seems like a fine starting point for learning about all this — a happy accident, but it will always have a special place in my heart. So, for me, it’s not just a celebration of the agricultural harvest but also a time to think about how we stepped into the spiral and where we’ve come since and where we’re headed. Right now I feel pretty happy that Xy has played along so far, as the interest in these holidays is primarily mine. Rituals and traditions gain power over time, as associations and resonances build. Simply doing the same thing at the same time of year can be richly rewarding. I’m looking forward to deepening our experience as we continue to move around the wheel again.

Forty-One Months


Dear Persephone,

You are forty-one months old today. You are developing into an amazing person. Here are some indications.

Your favorite phrase over the last month is, “I changed my mind.” For example, after much deliberation, you changed your mind about your favorite colors. For at least a year, you’ve maintained that your favorite colors are purple and black. But about a month ago, you announced that you changed your mind. Your favorites are now purple, black and blue.

You often wish that your hair was purple.

For a couple weeks you reported having dreams of a dragon. A nice dragon. The dragon was, of course, purple, black and blue. This phase seems to have ended a couple weeks ago.

Speaking of phases, you went through a period of wanting your sandwich crusts removed. I think you learned this when you were in Fishville in June. Personally I found this very annoying, and I didn’t want to indulge you, but your mother didn’t see any harm in it. I’m not sure, but I think this phase may be over now.

One day you said, “I want to move to another planet.” I’m still not sure why.

One of your most endearing traits, to me anyhow, has been that you’ve started to sing nonsense songs. Funny, you used to babble nothing but nonsense, but it was because you didn’t know any different. Then slowly you learned to speak and all your efforts were focused on communicating. But now you’ve reached the point where you can babble nonsense for the sheer joy of the sound. I love that.

Once after dinner your mother remarked that some food could be saved for later. You asked, “Is that a leftover?” And when Mama confirmed, you were beside yourself — overjoyed — ecstatic. “I was right! It is a leftover. I was right!” I guess you take after me in some ways.

Another day you complimented my shirt. “I like your shirt, Dada.” Then you schooled me about how one should say “thanks” upon receiving a compliment.

On yet another day, our departure to the park was delayed slightly because you wanted to say goodbye to all the furniture first.

Your latest fixation is being first. You’re into racing to an extent, but your main concern is the order of procession. You are constantly asking, “Why did you get ahead of me?”

You went through a phase of wanting bedtime stories about rocketships.

What if our friend Daisy had a sister named Whoopsy? You thought that joke was just about the funniest thing you’d ever heard.

One evening you said, “Dada, I like the smell of your drink. What is it?”

Whiskey, I said.

You asked for a taste, and after that you decided you did not like it so much, not at all.

And then there was the day when you asked me, “Dada, do you still love me even when I do something wrooooong?” You’ll stretch the last word of a sentence out like that, sometimes.

Yes, I said, we all make mistakes. I make mistakes too.

You followed my logic. “But even when someone has dood a mistake, we still love each other.”

That’s right. Even Crybaby.

Last night, as I was putting you to bed, you asked, “Why can’t people be something they’re not?” Huh? That’s not the case, baby. You live in New Orleans. People can be something they’re not at least once a year. That’s why we have Mardi Gras.

Tonight I offered to tell you the story of how Barack Obama got to the White House. Turned out to be a tough story to tell, as I had to explain things like nation-states and voting. I explained the White House is where the president lives. “Is that you Dada?” No, that’s not me. “But you are the president of something aren’t you?” I was amazed to realize you know about FOLC.

Midway through you asked me to work you into the story, as you now do every night. (“I don’t want to be in any plain stories, Dada. I want to be in the special stories. Only tell me special stories.”) So I told how you ran for president. “But,” you protested, “I don’t want to be president!” Can’t say as I blame you. I started to rig the election so that you would lose. But then you changed your mind. You decided you could govern if you had help from your friends Lily and Lala and Malaysia, and of course your parents.

Bloggers Reception

Last night Arnaud’s French 75 Bar hosted a blogger’s reception to kickoff Tales of the Cocktail, sponsored by the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac.

Naturally I was there.

Arnaud's French 75 Bar

It’s fascinating to me that blogging still seems to be on the ascendant. I met a number of local bloggers, including people I hadn’t met before such as Alan and Shercole, as well as old comrades like M Styborski.

The Cocktail Summit cocktail and the hors d’oeuvres were fantastic, and I learned that cognac flavors can be organized by season in an aroma wheel.

Posting may be a little thin here over the next few days as the program ramps up, but I’ll have a full debriefing when the conference is over.

Afternoon Nap

This mix might put you to sleep. This is what we listen to here when trying to get our three-year-old daughter to lie down and take a nap.

It could also serve as a basic primer on the history of ambient music. Nine tracks including music by Basic Channel, Ginnungagap, and LAShTAL. About ninety minutes in all.

Tales of the Negroni

Aperitivo - Negroni

If you pinned me to the wall and demanded to know my favorite cocktail, the first word I’d blurt out would be probably “Negroni.”

(In the event that you, Dear Reader, are not familiar with this wonderful aperitivo, I urge you to have one before your next meal. Equal parts Campari, sweet vermouth, and gin; garnish with orange.)

So, when I saw that the prolific Paul Clarke was moderating a seminar at Tales of the Cocktail devoted solely to the consideration of the Negroni, I jumped on it. Paul graciously answered a few of my silly questions, which I now share with you.

I’ve noticed an uptick of interest in bitters and bitter liqueurs such as Italian amari. Is the American palate shifting, and what does that mean for cocktails like the Negroni?

I think the American palate is certainly expanding. Sure, there’s still a lot of work to do, and we may never overcome the preponderance of Big Macs and vodkapops, but the growth of interest in bitter liqueurs is absolutely happening. I think the Negroni is both aiding that, and benefiting from it — aiding it in that it’s a classic cocktail that can be made in almost any bar, so people who are discovering the pleasure of bitter can order one without much difficulty; and it’s benefiting from the growing interest in bitter flavors in that it’s a core drink like the Manhattan or the Martini: even after a person has explored the different options out there, it’s a simple yet always engaging drink that drinkers will always come back to.

The Negroni is infinitely variable. Do you have a favorite variation, and if so what is it?

I’ll always come back to a classic Negroni (equal parts, rocks, orange wheel or twist). But you’re right that there are many relatives; one I often mix for myself is an Agavoni, which is simply a Negroni made with reposado tequila, served with a grapefruit twist. Tequila and Campari are made for each other. And of course, as a dyed-in-the-wool fan of American whiskey, I think a bourbon-based Boulevardier is never a bad thing.

The last (and only) time I was in Italy, I was woefully unaware of the Negroni (not to mention underage). Is it a truly popular drink there? What are your chances of walking into a random bar and successfully ordering a Negroni in Italy versus America? (I’ve had to instruct bartenders here on how to make one, alas.)

The Negroni has a longer history (obviously) and a bigger following in Italy than in the U.S. While it’s growing in popularity here at home, in Italy (particularly in Florence), it’s a home-grown cocktail, and I think a Negroni novice will have much better luck.

The vodka Negroni (as seen in *Thank You for Not Smoking*) — pure abomination or does it have a role to play?

My vodka partisan days are (mostly) behind me; if someone really enjoys a Vodka Negroni, then more power to ’em (though please, give the drink its own name). Campari is the ingredient in a Negroni that’s usually the hard thing for a newcomer to come to terms with; if someone wants to embrace that flavor without the moderating factor of gin, then who am I to judge?

This year I’ve found myself drawn to seminars that concentrate on exploring particular cocktails. If there is a story behind how your seminar “came to be,” I would love to hear it.

The Negroni seminar came to be for one simple reason: I like Negronis, and I know I’m not alone. The Negroni is an evergreen drink, and among bartenders there’s never a wrong time to have one (well, maybe 8:30 am, but I’m sure you could come up with a good enough reason if you tried). Since Tales of the Cocktail attracts bartenders and cocktail fans from around the country (and beyond), I knew we’d have a substantial fan base for the drink that would likely be interested in hearing what I and the other panelists have dug up about this iconic drink.

Finally, I know you did a session on aperitif wines. Sadly I missed it. I love them too. However I’ve only had the most basic and readily available ones. So I’ve got to ask if you have any hot tips on this front, any must-try recommendations?

It’s been a good couple of years for aperitif wines: after Cocchi Aperitivo Americano and Bonal came into the US last year, this year we’ve seen the arrival of Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, which is absolutely lovely, along with other aperitif drinks like Cardamaro. I’m curious to see what’s on the aperitif front for the coming year, but you’re also seeing bars and bartenders taking a greater interest in these kinds of drinks, so I think we’re just getting started on the aperitif angle.

So there you have it. If anyone was wondering what to buy me for a special present, how about some Cocchi Vermouth di Torino?

I’ll report back after the seminar itself.

Photo: Aperitivo – Negroni / Dario / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Rain Punk

So yesterday I was over at Dr. Tim T’s office in the music building, helping the good doctor sort through some video issues. Midway through our session it started to rain, and Dr. T and I both agreed that it was nice to be back in the pattern of afternoon showers here in the summer. Last summer these never materialized and the southeastern states have been in a drought ever since, or so it seems to me.

But soon the rain was really coming down hard and heavy, with thunder and lightning. Then a guy from the film crew shooting upstairs popped in the office and said water was gushing into the recital hall. We ran upstairs and saw indeed that rainwater was pouring down in two places. The way the place is configured it was hard to see exactly how the water was getting in, but we surmised there was roof damage. I called Physical Plant to report the issue.

The rain continued. I made my way back to my own office by dodging from building to building but I still got pretty wet. A couple hours later it was still raining when I rode my bike home. I got wet again, but of course it stopped raining as soon as I got home.

That night, Xy and I watched the third disk in the second season of Treme. We were done at midnight. I stepped outside in my robe and noted some activity at Banks Street Bar, and then I remembered: Creepy Fest! It was kicking off at Banks Street Bar, and I was missing it. I ran back inside, pulled on some shorts and an undershirt, and made my way to the bar just in time to see Nick Name & The Valmonts take the stage with a blistering cover of “C’mon Everybody.” I was drawn right up to the stage and was soon surrounded by a small crowd. Here’s a video of them doing a Sonics cover at another local bar last month.

They played that last night too, and a bunch of others like “Louie Louie” and “Surfin Bird” and “Maybeline” and “Let’s Get Fucked Up,” all in the same intense and incredibly loud amped-up punk rock style. The singer (Nick Name) was wearing a shirt that said “Rock ‘n Fucking Roll” which would seem to sum up their philosophy pretty well. The audience broke into slam dancing at one point, and I hauled my 44-year-old bones out of harm’s way right quick. There was a time when I would have been an avid participant in such shenanigans but I guess those days are gone. Besides which I was still wearing my damn Birks which I use as house slippers. Not exactly prime gear for the mosh pit.

But I loved the show these guys put on, and I was digging the crowd. I saw a young African-American man wearing an Eyehategod cap. I saw passionate and playful public displays of affection amongst beautiful people of the same sex. I saw a mohawk spiked up a good twelve inches. There was a full moon shining outside. I felt that my life was complete.

And I had a brief moment of revelation. I felt there was some deep connection between the scene unfolding around me and the thunderstorm earlier in the day. It was so clear and so interesting I resolved to write it all down.

Now, of course, I can’t remember what I was thinking.

Then The Unnaturals started to play. I guess they wiped my mind clean. From what I can tell they’ve been around for years but I’d never seen them before.

The Unnaturals

Amazing. Mostly instrumental, surfy, amazingly huge sound for a three-piece. I especially liked a grungy bluesy number wherein the barefoot bass player put down her instrument and sang. I liked her bass playing too, but appreciated the change-up. And the sounds coming out of that silver guitar refreshed my soul.

They got done about 2:00 AM.

My ears are still ringing. My soul was not feeling so fresh this morning, but that’s another story.

Later: Now that I’ve had some time to mull it over, I’m prepared to take a guess at the parallel between the rain and the rock, which I glimpsed briefly and then forgot. Perhaps it was this. I felt a comfort at returning to an old familiar pattern. The summer afternoon rainstorm, the late night punk rock show, both are old familiar patterns which I have missed. The rain reminded me of summers past here in New Orleans. The show took me back further in time, and to another place, to Second Story or Uncle Sparky’s basement in Bloomington. I remember one night counting no fewer than sixty people in the crowd whom I knew on a first-name basis. At Banks Street Thursday night, I knew no one — not a soul. Yet the vibe was much the same.

Old School with Wayne Curtis

TOTC10 161

I recently got in touch with Wayne Curtis, author of And a Bottle of Rum. I was astonished to learn that he 1) lives in New Orleans and 2) reads this blog. Blow me down. He was even aware of my work with FOLC. I was momentarily disconcerted, embarrassed and abashed. Upon regaining my composure, I asked Wayne a few questions relating, more or less, to his upcoming seminar at Tales of the Cocktail. He’ll be doing a session called “Beyond Punch: Colonial American Drinks,” delving all the way back to the 18th century. That’s what I call “old school.”

If there is a story behind how your seminar “came to be,” I would love to hear it.

Not much of a story. I gathered a fair amount of information on colonial drinks when researching my rum book, but never really had time to process it and make more sense of it. Nobody seemed much interested in drink pre-Jerry Thomas. But once David Wondrich came out with his book on punch last year, the cocktail crowd seemed a lot more curious about what else folks were drinking, so I decided to dig back in and see what I could find. I’ll be curious to see if anyone thinks there’s much merit in drinks flavored with spruce sap.

Is the American palate shifting? Is there any quick and dirty way to characterize shifting tastes over the years, going back to the 18th century? Does the notion of a national palate even make sense in that context?

I’ve made the argument that late 19th century America once had a big taste for bitter — much as Italy still does — but lost it during the Prohibition when sweet was ascendent and has never regained it, at least until now. It always astounded me how many different bitters were available prior to Prohibition, and how many recipes there were in bar guides for crafting different styles of bitters. One of my favorite soft drinks is Moxie, which was a New England favorite (and is still available up north). It’s basically a gentian root soda, and sort of tastes like an Angostura soda. For years, until the 1910s, it outsold Coca Cola. And I’m willing to wager that Coke was once more bitter and less sweet than it is today. I’m glad to see that bitter is coming back, in everything ranging from cocktail bitters to Jagermeister to Starbucks Coffee to those frizzy, bitter greens now available in many supermarkets. It seems like an overdue re-discovery.

Vodka: for or against? (I tried to figure a way to relate this question to the subject of your seminar but failed.)

I used to be anti-vodka, but now I’m neutral. I realized I was reacting to the glitzy over-advertising of the big distillers, and the fact that people who argue about vodkas tend to be people I don’t want to hang out with. (BTW, have you seen the website I agree that there is a difference in vodkas, but those differences are relatively minute and are of interest only to people who drink vodka straight, which I don’t. On the other hand, I think the I Hate Vodka meme had gotten out of hand, and threatened to alienate topers who could be allies in Better Drink if brought along to other spirit pastures more gently. And I’ve found that a little vodka added to a drink with another base spirit (like a rum) actually can work to highlight other flavors by bringing up the spiky alcohol sense without adding much flavor. So I’ll never be a vodka person, but I’ve stopped being a vodka basher.

Do you have a favorite old-time cocktail, and if so what is it?

I like lots of old, bitters-forward cocktails, far more than the sweet ones. A Sazerac is still one of the most sublime drinks ever — I usually make it Dale DeGroff style, with half/half rye and brandy, and both Peychaud’s and Angostura bitters. This summer I’ve been favoring a lapsang souchang Manhattan. I use a simple syrup made with the smoky tea, and Bitter Truth’s Xocolatl Mole bitters. Very tasty.

Hm, I’ve got some lapsang souchang at home. Great stuff, but I never thought of making syrup with it. I will have to give that a try.

Of course, the drinks we’ll be considering (and hopefully tasting) in Wayne’s seminar will be even older than Sazeracs and Manhattans. They have funny names like bombo, syllabub, switchel, and flips. No, not the more familiar flip made with an egg — that came later. The earlier flip involved a red hot poker. We actually featured one of these years ago on ROX, though I had no idea then of its antique provenance. (An individual video is not available but you can get the full episode; the flip clip begins at 16 minutes and 40 seconds.)

Photo: TOTC10 161 / Rocky Yeh / BY-NC-SA 2.0

Tales of Artemesia Absinthium


Tales of the Cocktail is just over a week away. One seminar I’m very much looking forward to is The Journey of Artemesia Absinthium, which aims to explore the bitter and mysterious herb more commonly known as wormwood. This will be most familiar to people as the (formerly) forbidden flavoring in absinthe, but there’s more to it than that. I recently had the opportunity to catch up with panelists Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller, the “inseparable cocktail couple,” and ask a few pointed questions in advance of the actual event.

I’ve noticed an uptick of interest in bitters and bitter liqueurs such as Italian amari. Is the American palate shifting, and what does that mean for cocktails and spirits flavored with Artemesia absinthium?

The American palate is shifting as wonderful traditional ingredients are re-discovered. Both consumers and bartenders are reaching a level of sophistication not seen in a century, ever since two world wars and Prohibition — not just in the US, but in Canada, parts of the Caribbean and eastern Europe — broke the master/apprentice bond between generations of bartenders.

For consumers, this means a whole new range of remarkably balanced flavours, and a step away from the cirtus inundation of the past decade (it should be noted that too much citrus damages tooth enamel — thus bartenders who taste every drink and mix a lot of citrusy drinks find themselves buying a lot of toothpaste for sensitive teeth).

Despite the current broad fascination with wormwood, we were surprised when we hosted a cocktails evening at Portobello Star in London recently, that no one we encountered had ever seen fresh wormwood before.

Do you have a favorite cocktail that incorporates Artemisia absinthium in some way, shape or form? If so please do tell.

Gin and Wormwood! Jerry Thomas included it in the 1862 edition of his book. There was an intimation that it was a rather colloquial drink, not really something you’d find in posh establishments. After all, you simply pick a few choice sprigs of wormwood, stuff them into the gin bottle, and let it rest for about thirty minutes. This reveals surprisingly sweet flavours in the wormwood, along with a subtle bitter undertone. If allowed to infuse too long, the mixture will turn into wormwood bitters, so it is best to make just enough for the evening. We stir it over ice, then strain it into chilled cocktail glasses. We have also served it in chilled shot glasses, but that diminishes the nose.

Was the ban on wormwood in absinthe an example of “reefer madness,” that is, unwarranted hysteria and moral panic, in your opinion?

Actually, we’re conspiracy theorists on this one. It might have been dressed up as hysteria and moral panic, but we suspect the French wine industry might have had a hand in promoting it. They had been beaten down by phylloxera for years. Now, they were recovering and the government had given them substantial funds and other incentives to help them get back on their feet. Large chunks of this were spent on anti spirits propaganda. They also attacked cocktails and even mineral water.

Absinthe was not a contributing factor any more than wine, beer, etc. in either of the infamous “absinthe murders”. If you look at the epic quantity one of the perpetrators consumed throughout the day before the murder, absinthe accounted for a small portion of his alcohol intake. As far as thujone tipping the scales, it is found elsewhere in our diets in greater concentration than in absinthe. (The active compound in absinthe was and always will be the alcohol.)

Inspired by the “I Hate Vodka, I Love Vodka” panel last year, I’m asking everyone for some sort of opinion on vodka. Since I already know your [Anistatia’s] position on this delicate matter, perhaps I can ask you if there is any significant intersection between the subject of your seminar and vodka. Any Artemesia absinthium flavored vodkas, or any decent cocktails involving such a spirit and vodka, or — well — anything?

First, a point that didn’t really come up in last year’s Love/Hate session. Vodka? That’s a pretty broad generalization. Imagine a similar session on whiskey. The first comment would be, there’s great whiskies and crap whiskies. There are great vodkas and miserable ones. But that’s a rant for another day.

We just tried Babicka Wormwood Vodka. It is surprisingly good. We expected something wrenchingly bitter. It was actually like sipping a good Gin and Wormwood: sweet and bitter notes in an herbaceous balance. It has a place next to (or a shelf above) bison grass vodka.

I have long been fascinated by Artemesia absinthium and grew it for years before absinthe became re-legalized. (I wasn’t flavoring anything with it; I just thought it was a cool herb.) If there is a story behind how your seminar “came to be,” I would love to hear it.

We came to wormwood from the other side, the one less traveled. We are huge fans of vermouth. Yes, it’s not so many years since a bartender in one of New York’s top new cocktail bars said to me with sneer of disdain when I asked for a Carpano on the rocks, “I could never respect anyone who drinks straight vermouth!” Those days have past, but people still find fascination with wormwood primarily for its association with absinthe. We, on the other hand, have traveled through France, Italy, and Spain seeking out vermouths. The name vermouth, of course, comes from the German word Wermut meaning wormwood.

I have to admit, if it wasn’t for Tales of the Cocktail, I too would remain a benighted vermouth skeptic. I got a taste of Carpano Antica Formula last year and it rocked my world. Took me ten months to find it on the local shelves. But I digress.

Alas, The Journey of Artemesia Absinthium is sold out, and even my media credential has not been sufficient to guarantee access; nevertheless I hope to wangle my way in at the last moment. If so, you’ll read more about it here.

Photo: Wormwood / Rebecca-Lee / CC BY-ND 2.0

Knee Surgery

Get Well Soon

Over a year ago Xy hurt her knee while practicing with the Big Easy Roller Girls. It’s bothered her ever since, and so yesterday morning we rose early and dropped her off for a little surgery. Persephone and I went home and made a “Get Well Soon” poster for her mother. The surgeon called me at about 8:30 AM and said:

She did great and we finished the surgery, everything went fine. She was found to have a torn cartilage, a pretty good tear, or torn meniscus, same thing, pretty good torn meniscus in her knee, and a little roughening or wear, underneath the kneecap. So I trimmed the roughening and removed the unstable portion of the meniscus, and she did well. I left her some instructions regarding her recovery, exercises, specifically moving her leg, and particularly moving her ankle up and down to lessen the likelihood of a blood clot, crutches, left a prescription for some pain medicine, and then I think she has an appointment to see me in about six days. She should be in the recovery room for about an hour and then go up to the fourth floor and stay there for about an hour or so before she goes home. Thank you.

But when I went in to pick her up things didn’t go so smoothly. After visiting with the patient for a few minutes, I was instructed to bring the car around and pick her up. After waiting in the car for a few minutes, a nurse came out and told me Xy wasn’t quite ready to go after all. When we got back up to her room, she seemed substantially worse than we left her.

Post Surgical

The anesthesiologist said she wasn’t quite ready to go home after all. Her blood pressure and heart rate had dropped. They just wanted to pump another bag of fluids into her, and then she’d be fine. I almost asked “How long will that take?” But I didn’t. Xy was pissed cuz they’d ripped her old IV out, prematurely as it developed, and had to re-stick her. She doesn’t stick well.

Thirty minutes later I noticed the IV bag had hardly depleted at all. Meanwhile her monitor kept sounding an alarm for low blood pressure, prompting repeated questions from Persephone. After making several inquiries, and getting several nurses in to look at the situation, it was finally determined that she hadn’t been properly stuck the second time, and the fluid was not entering her system at all. Meanwhile we were fielding repeated questions from Persephone about why we were yelling at each other.

Short of the long, we got her home and for the last two days my convalescing wife and inquisitive toddler have kept me hopping.

Except when they nod off of course.


Return Home

I got Persephone up at dawn to see the sunrise on our last morning at Vero. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite as dramatic as on the morning of the solstice. But it was still beautiful.


Unfortunately I neglected to tell Xy I was getting our daughter up so early. I also neglected to inform her that we were out of coffee. As a result, she was not pleasant company that morning, or really any of the next 740 miles.


We headed out at a decent hour, with a tank full of gas, but I think we made our first pit stop about ten minutes down the road.

Later, at another pit stop, a certain someone had a bowel movement of a disconcerting fluorescent turquoise color. For a moment we thought she had some strange space alien disease, then we remembered the Superman cone she’d had the night before. Judging by Robyn’s comment yesterday, we are not the only parents to encounter the bizarre after-effects of the Superman.

Despite such distractions we made good time, and soon it was clear that we would be making the return trip in one day, not two. Just as I suspected. The return trip is always shorter.

Back Home

I felt sort of dizzy after driving thirteen hours, but I was glad to be back home.

Things I forgot to note:

  • This was my father-in-law’s first visit to our new house.
  • Somewhere in the vicinity of Madison County, where we bunked down on our first night, Mike and I were discussing where Ray Charles was born, but neither of us could remember. Turns out it was, coincidentally, Madison County.
  • Monday night we had dinner at a place called Mr. Manatee’s. Among other things they had excellent fried oysters — possibly the best I’ve ever had.
  • While making the ceviche I listened to the world premiere of the new album from The Machine in the Garden via A Darker Shade of Pagan. Must have liked it because I bought the album upon getting back home.
  • Maybe next time I should try making escabeche instead. Just a thought.
  • We also saw Bon Iver on the Colbert Report and I bought their new album too, so a good week for new music.
  • We saw Ray Nagin hawking his new book on the Daily Show, and I felt sorry for the man — not because Jon Stewart skewered him, but because he didn’t.

And finally I should note that I don’t think I vacation well. The very idea of a vacation seems antithetical to my nature. Perhaps I’m more suited to quests — something more purpose-driven.

This concludes my travel recap. Tomorrow, it’s back to the present.

Final Friday

And so it’s come to this, at last, inexorably and inevitably.

The final day of our vacation.

Persephone started her morning as she usually did, with some painting.


I spent some time reading Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente, but I didn’t make much progress.


I’d been picking away at it all week. This book reads like a fever dream, gorgeous and strange, but perhaps not the best choice for the beach. It was already so hot that everything seemed kind of surreal.

Atlantic Bells

The Breezeway

Well Carved


Florida Keys

One thing I love about the Driftwood is the fact that there are all sorts of unique little details everywhere. So much of our modern world is prefab and generic. Four year ago, for example, I was taken by the fact that tiles had been set into the concrete stairs. It’s a simple thing, and easy to overlook, which is why I was delighted when Persephone noticed it too.


Each time we climbed these stairs she remarked on the tiles.

As we contemplated our imminent departure, we saw others who were just arriving.

Load In

To celebrate our final evening in Vero, Xy took us all to Kilwin’s.


I know it’s silly but I felt a little burst of civic pride upon seeing a reference to home in the ice cream selection.

New Orleans Praline Cream

I enjoyed my ice cream, but the real treat was seeing Persephone devour a cone of some multicolored monstrosity called “Superman.”



More about Superman tomorrow.

Town Thursday

Technically, the city of Vero includes plenty of beachfront. In fact the city officially changed its name to Vero Beach back in 1925 but old-timers like me still prefer to call it Vero. Anyway, my point is that I don’t feel like I’m in “town” when I’m standing in the surf staring out at the greenish-blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Truth to tell, I don’t really feel like I’m in town until I’ve crossed over the Indian River Lagoon and left Orchid Island entirely. That’s not really fair because a lot of people live on the island, but as a a vacationer I can’t help feeling I’m still on vacation when I’m in such close proximity to the beach.

So Thursday was the day we went “into town.” We started with a visit to Royal Palm Pointe Park.

Royal Palm Pointe Park

It’s not huge but it’s certainly gorgeous, nicely landscaped and lavished with original artwork, and featuring at its center a fun splash fountain, inscribed with a spiral pattern. A great place for kids to play on a hot day.

Persephone at Royal Pointe

Every time I see one of these I wonder why we don’t have one in New Orleans. They couldn’t be too expensive to build and maintain, and certainly we have a climate that’s conducive. I’ve heard City Park has plans, but right now the nearest one is in Mandeville. I’ve never actually been, though Xy has taken Persephone there a couple times. I think it’s more basic than the one in Vero.

Compass Rose

After a good drenching, we headed to the Humane Society Thrift Shop. We love to visit thrift stores wherever we go. It’s kind of a compulsion with us. Vero has a good one. Persephone found a straw hat.


She wore it around the store as we shopped and got numerous compliments from fellow shoppers, who didn’t realize she was only trying it on for size. In the end, I shelled out the $1.50 and purchased it for her.

Soon we were back at the Driftwood.


OK, so not much of a trip into town, but it was hot, and we were on vacation.

Being slightly sunburnt about the torso, I took the laptop outside and sat in the shade, posting a meditation on Rogue Spirituality to my blog and catching up with e-mail.

Shutting Down

Then I decided it was time to shut it down and head to Waldo’s for a beer.


Soon I was sitting at the bar while my family joined me in the pool. Continuing the “town” theme, I met a local guy, a freelance nurse, who gave me the rundown on his life story. Mike also made a new friend, a local character named Bibble, I think.

Bibble & Mike

He was playing a miniature steel guitar while wearing a hat of his own creation. He made a little bird for Persephone which is now hanging from our rear-view mirror.


After a few rounds, we adjourned (with our drinks) for another al fresco dinner, burgers on the grill if memory serves.


We’d reached that inevitable point in the vacation when thoughts of our impending departure were beginning to loom. So Xy and her father and I took a good long walk along the beach as the last rays of light slipped away.


Vero Beach at Twilight

Wednesday Night at the Ocean Grill

The theme for Wednesday was love.

Look at the love in this picture.

On the Beach

Mother and daughter on the beach, wading into the surf? You can’t beat it. They are loving each other and the ocean, loving the place and moment they are in.

Another person who loved this place was Waldo Sexton.

Like us, he escaped from that benighted Hoosier-infested area to the north known as Indiana, and found a better life in the subtropics. Like us, he was a little crazy, driven by a mad passion for life. Like us, he enjoyed dressing up in outrageous costumes.

Time has threatened to wash some of his accomplishments away, like the designs we’d made on the beach the day before, but three living monuments remain: The Driftwood, McKee Botanical Garden, and the Ocean Grill.

For those keeping score at home, we lodged at the Driftwood all week, and we visited the McKee gardens for Solstice.

On Wednesday evening, we strolled on down to the Ocean Grill.

Ocean Grill

The place ain’t cheap. In fact, dinner here cost as much as the week’s worth of groceries we bought on our first night. But my family’s worth it. Of course you don’t have to buy a fancy dinner to show your family you love them, but it’s nice if you can swing it from time to time. I’ll forgo a full review of the restaurant, except to say most everything was perfect — especially the cocktails.


According to one journalist:

Sexton was a man who was not afraid to render an opinion and who never hesitated to embroider a story. He loved martinis and women, bells and things from the sea, and he possessed a compelling urge to create. Some people called him an irresponsible screwball, an untruth he shrewdly did not deny, knowing that the world loves an eccentric.


I took that photo at McKee four years ago, but I had to sneak it in here. I’m fascinated with Waldo’s fascination with bells. They say he gave many bells to local churches but never joined one.


Waldo Sexton — truly a model for us all. For what is a screwball but someone who loves the world too much? If you’re a hater, they call you a curmudgeon. Screwballs are lovers, and that’s what I aim to be.

Plus, I love martinis and women too.

For more on Waldo Sexton, you really have one authoritative source: Tales of Waldo E. Sexton: 1885-1967 by George W. Gross. This includes a 1987 reprint of a priceless point-by-point comparison showing correspondences between Waldo and the biblical Jacob.


Tuesday was the Summer Solstice. I got up super early (4AM by my body clock, which was still in the Central Time Zone) and headed down to the beach.

It was still pretty dark, but even at that early hour the eastern sky held a faint glow which grew stronger slowly, slowly, as I watched and waited. There was also plenty of light from a gorgeous half-moon directly overhead.

After a while the horizon was positively rosy. There seemed to be a few clouds there. I figured they might obscure the solar disk, and this gentle rosy glow would be the full extent of the drama.

Pre Dawn Panorama

I was wrong about that. Soon I spotted a planet. I’m not set up for celestial photography, but you can see the planet in this shot if you look really close.


So I thought that was it. Not that I was disappointed. It was quite beautiful. I prepared to head back to our room, when a woman passed by walking her dog. There weren’t many people out on the beach at that time, and I suppose there’s a certain presumption of familiarity, if not fraternity, with other early risers. Anyway, she said to me, in a tone that suggested we were old friends, “Just fifteen more minutes.”

“Hm? Until what?”

“‘Til sunrise!”

Blow me down. I thought I’d been watching the sunrise. I knew the precise time of dawn, as I’d checked on the net, but I didn’t have a timepiece on me.

So I stuck around a little longer, and a good thing too. When the sun finally did pop up over the horizon, it was glorious. Majestic. Awe-inspiring.

Red Dawn

Definitely worth getting up for.

Every year I learn a little bit more about astronomy and other aspects of these celestial events. Most of us know (if we’re aware of it at all) that the summer solstice is the longest day of the year. I always assumed that meant the earliest dawn and the latest sunset of the year as well. Makes sense, right? Stands to reason. But in fact the earliest dawn came about a week before the solstice, and the latest sunset about a week after. Weird, huh? I also learned that idea I have had in my head of the earth tilting back and forth on its axis is not correct. The axis is indeed tilted with respect to the plane of earth’s orbit around the sun, but it stays tilted in the same direction all year round. It’s just that as it revolves around the sun, that tilt means that one hemisphere and then the other gets more direct solar rays. It’s easy to find illustrations of this concept all over the web.

I really wanted to do something special to celebrate the solstice. I got a book on the topic, The Summer Solstice by Ellen Jackson. This book provides a kid-friendly explication of the summer solstice from diverse world traditions and the scientific perspective as well. Includes a story from Hawaii and hands-on activities. If there’s another book like this I haven’t found it yet. (Actually this is one in a series of four books by Ellen Jackson on the solstices and equinoxes, but I don’t know of any other book or series for kids that addresses the topic from a global perspective.) I read this to Persephone a couple times, and my father-in-law did too. She understands the basic concept, I think, and certainly understood this was a special day. She was especially excited to make a wreath in the Bohemian style, which I thought would be especially appropriate given her heritage, but on the day before our departure from New Orleans I realized I should have been drying out weeds, reeds and grasses a week or two ahead of time. I felt bad about having screwed that up. Having a bonfire wasn’t really an option for us. Another cool ritual I came across somewhere was the idea of launching candles on paper boats, but I don’t think that would work too well on the Atlantic Ocean. Maybe next year, if we’re in New Orleans, we could do that on the bayou.

So our celebrations in Vero were less ambitious. Persephone and I spent the latter part of the morning building a big sand sculpture. It wasn’t particularly artistic — just a big circular trench surrounded by towers. It was a solar symbol, at least in my mind. I didn’t take my camera down to the beach while we played in the sand, so I don’t have a photo of that captures the full glory of it, but I did pass by later and take a picture after the water had washed most of it away.

Washing Away

I actually started work on this project before the sun came up.

Sun Circle

Later in the day we made the obligatory visit to McKee Botanical Garden. This place was established by the same eccentric Hoosier who created the Driftwood, the infamous Waldo Sexton. More about him later. Soon we were standing again in the Hall of Giants, marveling at the world’s largest mahogany table and other wonders.

Hall of Giants

Spanish Kitchen


Unfortunately it was blazing hot. In fact our whole trip seems to have been in the middle of a heat wave. When we visited this garden four years ago, the high was 86ºF. This day the high was 93ºF but we were melting like it was over a hundred. I’m sure with the heat index it was.

Fortunately things were much more pleasant by the time we got ready for our evening meal. We decided to dine al fresco on one of the tables by the ocean.

Picnic by the Sea

We used one of the gas grills to cook our food. This was also a nice place to meet some of our fellow guests. I discovered a lot of people were from inland Florida. Many of them had been coming to the Driftwood for years.


We’d stopped at a BBQ restaurant on the way home and picked up a couple pints of sauce.

Here’s a picture of grandma and granddaughter waiting for their dinner. I love their expressions in this photo. I also love this funky triangular table.


The chicken and roasted asparagus were delicious.

Afterward we went for a walk on the beach. A great end to the longest day of the year.