Balancing Intentions

Equinox Symbol


It’s a precise moment that happens twice a year, when the equatorial plane of the earth intersects the center of the sun. That’s the equinox. This year it came at 4:04 AM (local time) on the morning of Friday, September 23rd. For this moment only, the earth’s axis was not tilted one way or the other with regard to the sun. Sounds complicated, but it’s easy to illustrate with a flashlight and a globe, and I’m happy to demonstrate to anyone who cares to listen.

My understanding of the solar holidays continues to evolve. I used to have a vague idea that the solstices were a time to celebrate nature, while the equinoxes were a time to celebrate our humanity. The solstices represent the extremes of the sun’s wandering path across our skies. (See the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn and the arctic circles for more details.) The equinoxes represent the halfway point between these extremes. And who cares about halfway points? We humans do.

That’s what I used to think based on sheer intuition. That was before I knew about the cross-quarter days, which are even more deeply human and culturally constructed. Now I see the equinoxes as somewhere in-between, a time to celebrate and reflect on the balance between nature and culture. Equinox means “equal night,” i.e., the time of year when day and night are the same length, or nearly so. Dark and light in equal measure.


Living in the subtropics, I don’t feel the same sense of bittersweet melancholy I associate with autumn in the temperate zones, but there’s no doubt the squash harvest is coming in with a vengeance. There are a lot of harvest festivals around the world that occur around this time of year. Some, like Harvest Home and סוכות (Sukkot) don’t fall precisely on the equinox, but others like 추석 (Chuseok) and Mabon do.

Here in the United States our big harvest festival is Thanksgiving. I have some issues with the holiday. Leaving aside the usual political grousing, it’s too late in the year. It’s too close to the winter solstice and Christmas and all that. It’s too nationalistic. It’s annoying when people call it “Turkey Day.” Above all it’s too gluttonous. But then most of our major national holidays seem out of balance.

We invited some friends over for an equinoctial feast. I took the day off to prepare the meal: jicama, curried tomato bisque, cornbread, stuffed squash, Haver cookies. I kept Persephone home for the day too. Our friends are vegan; cooking without eggs or butter was an interesting exercise for me. They brought sweet potato muffins and some roasted squash as well. We had plenty to eat.

But I’ll say this about a vegan banquet. It just didn’t feel as heavy as meat and animal by-products. It felt entirely moderate, not excessive. At the end of the meal I felt full and satisfied but not overstuffed.

So I think it is possible to celebrate balance and celebrate the harvest at the same time. I think that’s more conducive to a spirit of thanksgiving than eating a bunch of turkey and collapsing in a food coma.

I had a short grace prepared, but I forgot to say it.


I’ve had the equinox in mind as a new starting point for a couple weeks now.

Maybe I should have started at Lammas; the completion of one revolution would seem to be a propitious time for starting another. Maybe the solstice would have been the best time; I made a case for that a few years ago.

Time slips away. Now I’m thinking the equinox might be the very best occasion. This is a symbol of balance, which is central to my aspirations.

Gus diZerega makes a convincing argument that balance is a key spiritual value in certain traditions, on par with salvation and enlightenment in others. Gus is writing from an explicitly Neopagan perspective, but note that balance is also one of the main principles of Taoism.

One of my favorite films of all time is Koyaanisqatsi. It shows that as a society, we are living a “life out of balance,” which is what the title means in the language of the Hopi.

It’s a powerful statement, made without words or any conventional narrative structure. It manages to be intensely beautiful at the same time. Highly recommended. I just wanted to touch on the fact that balance is not merely an inner experience. When our lives are out of balance, the consequences are manifest in the material world.

But how to find that elusive sense of balance? Patrick McCleary recommends a number of simple practices: breathing exercises, meditation, prayer and prioritization.

To me setting priorities is the best way to start. Although it can be the toughest to accomplish.

This advice caught my attention because I’ve been doing a number of those things already. In particular I’ve been prioritizing.


So here I am, at a point of resolution and determination, of self-authorship and self-transformation. I’ve been sifting through what it is that I feel I need to do now, and over the year to come.

Three things keep coming out on top:

  • to deepen
  • to strengthen
  • to integrate

Naturally, one might be inclined to ask, “What the hell are you talking about? Deepen what?”

Everything. My actions. My relations. My daily habits and practices. My inner and outer life.

And most of all, I want to be full of intention.

This may seem vague at first glance, but it’s really just abstract. There’s a difference. What’s missing is the next piece, which I’ll get to eventually, the concrete practices that put these into action.

But hold on just a minute. Isn’t that religion? A set of practices designed to develop our natural faculties for meaning, purpose and values? But I have no religion. I’m an atheist, an anarchist, a spiritual rogue.

So I’m setting for myself a one-year project. When I was younger, a year seemed like a long time. Now I feel like I could do anything for a year. I could stand on my head for a year. Instead of standing on my head, I’ll dedicate myself to this, make a project of it, give my best sustained effort to realizing these intentions. And at the next equinox, we’ll see where things stand.

I’m no longer scared of the R word. If religion is the wrong word for what I’m about, I’m perfectly happy to discard it. Words are important, but it’s the intentions behind our words that matter most. I’m using the term broadly, as I’ve come to realize the variety of religious experiences is beyond all my preconceived notions. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” This will be a year of discovering my religion. Or inventing it.

No Handles

In coming to this pass, I’m inspired by Project Conversion, so I’ve got to give props to Andrew Bowen. For the current calendar year, he’s converting to a different religion each month. Right now he’s a Sikh. He calls it “twelve months of spiritual promiscuity.” I’ve been following his story for the better part of the year so far, and it’s truly an amazing journey. I wouldn’t miss a day.

While I can’t hope to compare, I kind of wish I had a handy handle, a catchy catchphrase, something fun that other people could wrap their minds around. “My Year of DIY Religion” or “The 49 Stupidities of Editor B” or something like that.

But I don’t. And that’s fine too. If it’s meant to have a name, that can come in time. Maybe I’ll know what to call it when we come back to the autumnal equinox again.

Of course, I’m open to suggestions.

Eighteen Years

Xy and I celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary on Sunday. As a gift I gave her a necklace.

Seeds of Demeter

It’s called Seeds of Demeter, a beautiful piece of work by Rhonda King. (Buy her jewelery.) Demeter is, of course, the mother of Persephone and the goddess of the harvest, so I feel this piece resonates with both the time and the person. I gave it to Xy with wishes that she will reap a beneficial “harvest” as she labors to teach her students.

I also took that occasion to talk briefly about the many ideas that have been swirling around me lately, of which I have written here. One might think the person closest to me would know all about this, but it’s not so. We’ve always given each other plenty of mental space.

I appreciate the freedom in our relationship, but I do worry. I worry for Xy’s general welfare. I worry about potential fractures and fissures. In this as in all things I will seek a tighter integration, to strengthen and deepen the bond between us. My soul has been on fire with joy, and I yearn to share that. It’s tempting to draw on another equinox metaphor of light and darkness, but I will forebear.

As I fumbled my way through my intentions, with far less eloquence than even this tortured prose may suggest, I realized just how far we are from a Married Master Mind. But I also see the promise and the possibility. We have a lot of work to do.

I’d also hoped for a little loving tenderness, but the time wasn’t right. We ended up with something a little more torrid and wild, a passion almost violent in its intensity. Not what I’d had in mind, not at all. But oh well. I’ll take it.

Certainly marriage is a balancing act.


Earlier, I alluded to an odd factoid: The day of the equinox doesn’t necessarily have exactly twelve hours between sunrise and sunset. It might, or it might not, depending on where you live on the planet. In New Orleans, that day was yesterday, September 27th. Sunrise was at 6:51 AM. Sunset will be at 6:51 PM.

Some people, astronomy buffs I suppose, have started bandying about a new word to describe this day: the equilux. I like the idea. The equinox is a fuzzy concept in most minds. Why not make it fuzzier? Even better, I like the idea of extending the celebration from equinox to equilux, with our anniversary right in the middle. Now more than ever, we need more time to find balance in our lives.

Tangents & Footnotes: This is where I’ll add afterthoughts and anything else that may come up.

The neologism “equilux” is hardly well-established, which may cause confusion. Case in point: The Ehoah philosophy proposes Equilux as a new name for the vernal equinox, as well as the beginning of the year, as part of the beautiful Pandion calendar.

Listen to my Autumnal Equinox 2011 mix on 8Tracks.

What’s Been Going On

Perfect Toy

A Good Juicy Paradox

Since the birth of my daughter Persephone, life has been very interesting to say the least. That comes as no surprise, and yet it’s a huge surprise at the same time. Contradict myself much? I do love a good juicy paradox.

It’s no surprise because, after all, it’s blindingly obvious that having a child will change one’s life. On top of that, and despite it, I was warned repeatedly that this would happen, as apparently every parent-to-be is, as part of the hazing ritual. Welcome to the club. Thanks a lot.

Yet even though I knew I should expect some fairly massive changes, I couldn’t know what changes to expect. Nor could anyone else tell me what to expect. All I could expect was the unexpected. And, yes indeed, that’s what I got. For me, it was so subtle and so gradual and so (gosh darn it) unexpected that it crept up on me without notice. As recently as a year ago, I still claimed to feel more continuity than change.

I was in denial, stubbornly refusing to put two and two together. I could tell some fairly wonderful things were happening in my life, but I didn’t recognize them for what they were. I didn’t want to admit it. Change can be frightening after all. Even good changes can be scary if they run deep enough.

Even now, it is difficult to describe.

It’s been a process of unfolding, of opening, of becoming receptive, of waking to subtle realities. I have found myself more interested and excited about meaning, purpose, values. My interest in religion and spirituality has burgeoned, because that is the domain where meaning and purpose and values are most directly engaged. This has had direct impact on my personal and professional life, on my relationships with others and my experience of day-to-day life.

My life has changed forever.

And yes, I am surprised.


Maybe I should also take pains to explain what I am not experiencing.

Pictographic Bike, Backpedalling

I am not seeing visions or hearing voices. I am not walking around in a state of perpetual bliss. I am not ready to declare myself as an adherent to any particular path. Not yet, anyway.

Also, I don’t want to instrumentalize the procreation aspect. Having a child does not automatically propel everyone on the same journey; not every parent will experience what I have. Conversely, it is not necessary to have a child to have such an experience. I suspect that what I’m trying so ineptly to describe is universal and available to us all.

Clearly I had certain predispositions and proclivities, and my life was at such a point, that the birth of my daughter acted as a trigger or catalyst. After all, we decided to name her after an ancient Greek goddess, a symbol and archetype of transformation, before she was even born. That’s indicative of being primed and ready for something, I think.

Furthermore, other events might have triggered the same reaction. In fact, they kinda sorta have, in the past. Twenty-two years ago I had what I can only describe as an ecstatic experience. Such experiences can’t really be described, so I’m not going to bother trying, nor am I going to dwell on how it happened or what it meant to me at the time or even what it means to me now. Suffice it to say, it rocked my world. That was a soul-shattering experience, an almost complete disjuncture of the personality. What’s happening now is much gentler and slower. Yet it seems to me they are the same experience at the core.

And what is that core? It’s hard to say. I hope to return to this question later.

The Sleepening

After much dithering, I labeled the experience of these last few years as an awakening of sorts, though the trigger wasn’t entirely clear to me. I was still in denial. I still didn’t want to admit that all the people who had trotted out that tired annoying cliché were so very right. It’s not easy being a know-it-all.

Know It All Curve

The person who really nailed it for me was my boss. At the end of the last school year, she made a comment that I’d been on something of a spiritual quest since the birth of my daughter. Suddenly I reframed everything I’d been feeling. It made sense. Seeing the world through the eyes of a child can impart a sense of wonder. Nurturing a life more important than your own can foster humility, which is a prerequisite to reverence.

(To expand briefly on that last, I learned about the “gateway of humility” and the “path of reverence” from Arthur Zajonc in Meditation as Contemplative Inquiry. Obviously procreation is not the only way to humility. I’m reminded of my friend’s divorce, which forced him to “accept the smallness” of his existence.)

My boss went on to theorize that my quest might be something of a survival mechanism. Since the world can be a scary and threatening place, perhaps a shift in perspective is necessary to countenance bringing a child into it.

That made some sense to me as well. And yet something of the magic went out in that moment. I don’t blame my boss for that. I’d been coasting on a free ride for a good while. It had to end eventually. Suddenly I had an explanation, and it seemed vaguely disappointing. Is that all there is to this?

The natural momentum of my “awakening” had diminished. I was tempted to call this “the sleepening.” Some of the liveliness I’d been fortunate to enjoy was draining away. Life was becoming a bit more mundane. Maybe it’s only right and necessary and natural.

But maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s possible to keep living in this same mode, to keep the magic alive. And this is the realization that is currently buoying me along: If I want to keep this going, if I want to keep this development developing, I will have to do so intentionally.

I still haven’t gotten around to specifying those intentions. I guess that will have to wait until after the equinox.

Image credits: Pictographic Bike, Backpedalling by CarbonNYC and Know It All Curve by Geoff S., licensed under Creative Commons

Forty-Three Months


Dear Persephone,

You are forty-three months old today.

You’ve just completed your first full month of school. Every day you are coming home full of songs and dances, art and ideas. You learned a new favorite phrase there too: “Everyone makes mistakes; that’s how they learn.” I had to point out that your mother learns a lot.

The only real sticking point has been lunch time. One day you wouldn’t eat the pasta that was served in the cafeteria. “It’s not Tuesday, and I only eat pasta on Tuesdays.” Since then the situation has deteriorated. You rarely eat much of your cafeteria lunch. It seems most of the three-year-olds are in the same boat. I’ve been offering you stickers as a reward — stickers are like gold to you — but so far no dice. If you don’t start chowing down soon we’ll have to start packing a lunch for you.

Speaking of mealtime, one evening at dinner I stretched to pick something off your plate, and you were amazed. “I didn’t know you could reach all the way across the table!” Out of sheer curiosity we got out the measuring tape. My arms are still more than twice as long as yours: 17″ vs 36″. That bears out the general principle that armspan is roughly equal to height. I’m 6’4″ while you are just half an inch shy of three feet.

Also on the topic of eating, one evening at bedtime you told me that “I don’t want to eat and drink anymore because I’m tired of going potty.” Fortunately you forgot about that resolution by the time breakfast rolled around.

One morning you ended up sleeping in our bed. I noted at one moment you were sound asleep, and then the next thing you were smiling and giggling. But your eyes were still closed. You were having a dream. You were laughing so loud I had to wake you up and ask what the dream was about before your forgot. You told me you were dreaming of a chipmunk. The funny part? Her name was Pencil.

You still love singing nonsense songs. You also like speaking in your own special language. You tried to pass this off as Spanish at first, but you’re actually learning Spanish at school, and this is distinct from that.

Special Language by Editor B

You’ve also started inventing your own exclamations. The first one I heard you say was “Oh, suckers!” But you’re happy to incorporate anything in your line of sight. “Oh, bicycles!”

Your favorite game right now is, without question, pretending to be lost. This follows a pretty strict formula. You’ll hide somewhere, under the table or in the bathtub usually, and start calling, “Help! Help! I’m lost.” When your mother or I come to your rescue, you’ll explain that you left your old home because your mother was mean. That’s standard fairy tale stuff — lots of mean mothers in those old stories. We offer to take you in and let you live with us. In your scenario, I’m a fisherman and Xy is the fisherman’s wife. I think you got that from the myth of Perseus.

You had a day off school recently, but Xy did not, so I took the day off work. We made a picnic lunch and took it to City Park. That was great fun. While we were eating, I saw an animal climbing in one of the huge live oak trees. I thought it was an anteater at first, but I didn’t say anything. I just pointed to it. When you saw it you exclaimed, “It’s an anteater!” Of course, it wasn’t. But it sure looked like an anteater, or else we have a shared congenital propensity to misrecognize raccoons.

Later, you asked me to tell everyone that you’re brave. “I’m not afraid of coyotes or werewolves or African wild dogs.” You are aware that I use my phone to send messages “to everyone,” i.e. the public internet, i.e. Twitter. So I posted that on your behalf. My network was very impressed.

After lunch, we went to the playground and you frolicked with some other children. You seemed to have a great time, but on the bike ride home you told me one of the girls shushed you. Apparently you’d made a loud noise that scared away the pigeons. “She said shhh!” You kept repeating this story. I asked how it made you feel. “Rotten,” you replied. It’s the first instance of social anxiety I’ve seen from you. There will probably be a lot more of that in your future if I know girls.

One day I got home from work, walked in the door and announced, “I’m home!” Your immediate reply: “Thanks for the warning.” I laughed pretty hard at that one. This could well be your first expression of sarcasm, though I’m not sure you really understood what you were saying. You might have just been repeating something you’d heard at school. Nonetheless it’s heartening. We have a friend who calls you “sassy,” and though she means it in a good way, it reminds me of how often I got called out for “sassy backtalk” as a kid. I honestly never understood why I was getting in trouble. I don’t think “talking back” will ever bother me. In fact I encourage it. The challenge for you will be to understand that not everyone feels the way I do.

New Beginnings Require Old Endings


I have a desire to make a new beginning. (Pardon the vagueness. I’ll expand on that later.) Paradoxically that has me thinking about endings as well. New beginnings require old endings.

Plant a sunflower seed and, with some water and sunlight, you start a new life. But there is no new life without death. Life implies death, requires it. Old dead plants make fertile soil for new fresh shoots. There’s no new beginning without an old ending.

Another example might be the Lafitte Corridor project I’ve been involved with for so long, which just completed the first phase of planning. The greenway will be a new public space amenity. It will be beautiful and a great asset to the community. But in order for this new use to blossom, the old uses had to die. If the railroad line hadn’t been pulled up, we wouldn’t be talking about a greenway now.

Looking at it from the other side, so to speak, divorce is yet another example, much on my mind lately. It seems a lot of couples I know have gotten divorced in the past year, or are in the process right now, or wrestling with the possibility. Divorce is an ending, the end of a story, the end of a particular chapter in at least two lives. It can be painful and messy. It’s certainly awkward in cases where I’m friends with both parties, but I know my discomfort is a fraction of the mental anguish for those directly involved.

(And why this seeming rash of divorces over the past year? Perhaps it’s an illusion. Perhaps I’ve simply reached a certain age. And yet, ridiculous as it may sound, I can’t help but wonder if Al and Tipper Gore have something to do with it. They announced their divorce just over a year ago, and since then I’ve seen so many marriages on the rocks that I have lost count.)

But divorce is also a beginning, the beginning of a new story, a new chapter. Hopefully there’s some improvement. If the marriage was happy and healthy it would not have ended, or so I presume. New beginnings require old endings.

And yet truly new things are very rare indeed. According to one writer a couple millennia ago, there’s “nothing new under the sun.” The sunflower isn’t truly new, because the seed came from a previous generation of plants. The greenway will merely be the latest re-imagining of a transportation corridor that’s been in place for centuries. After divorce, the same people still exist; only their circumstances and relations have changed.

It might be better, then, to speak of transformations, rather than beginnings and endings. If one thinks of divorce as a transformation, rather than an ending, does that make it any less scary, less difficult? I honestly don’t know.

A friend of mine shared a story of transformation recently. He lives far from here; we communicate mostly via an electronic forum. We have wrangled often about the future of New Orleans, and it’s gotten downright ugly sometimes. That’s why I was pleasantly surprised when he sent the following, which I’ve edited to remove identifying information. This may seem digressive at first, but I promise to tie it all together.

I’d like to jump on this thread again and talk about how my attitude towards New Orleans has changed given the time I’ve spent there over the past year.

After Katrina hit, it was hard for me to understand why so many people were so passionate about rebuilding a city that may very well suffer the same calamity and results in the future. After all, over the years, the city had sunk below sea level, and we would have to invest in fixing infrastructure that didn’t work when Katrina hit. Was the cost of not only replacing failed infrastructure, but engineering better infrastructure, worth it? Why would we take the risk? Would, or even “could,” it be done right?

If all you know of New Orleans is Bourbon Street, then you’d think as I did. Bourbon Street is a circus that, really, could happen anywhere. You could reproduce it ala Hollywood movie set, and as long as there were three-for-one drinks, cover bands, and girls showing their tits, you’d find ample people to visit.

But I’ve spent time wandering around, walking around, and finding places I didn’t think could exist. My last trip, I was alone, and I spent a few evenings walking an estimated four miles a night finding places that aren’t geared towards the tourists. I’ve watched Travel Channel, Food Channel, etc, and have even done online research on places of interested. The more I look, the more I want to see (and the more I want to eat).

I’ve watched the locals interact. And, I can honestly say that New Orleans is original. The locals move differently. I travel all over the country, and there aren’t locals like those in New Orleans anywhere else.

So, I’m glad New Orleans is recovering. I can’t wait to return.

When I read this, it brought a tear to my eye, not merely because I feel the same way, though of course I do, but because of the transformative aspect. It’s really so rare for adult people to “come around,” to change our minds on anything. But my friend has done it. He sees the power of actually coming to this place and being here awhile. (Incidentally, that’s why some very prominent activists made a concerted effort to get every member of Congress down here for a visit, though I doubt they get to ramble around like my friend.) Yet again, I have to stress, however cool or magical or real or soulful or unexpected or whatever this place is, how much cooler (et cetera) is the space where my friend is now. He seems to be in a transformational phase. He is opening up, coming alive to possibilities that were closed before.

Furthermore, I suspected this change of heart might have something to do with his recent divorce. Sure enough, he subsequently described the stresses and strains which led to a difficult but necessary revelation:

I had to let go. I had to throttle my ego. I had to accept the smallness of my existence and my influence. And, as a result, I’ve had to become an old dog willing to learn new tricks.

New beginning require old endings. We’re never the same person twice. We just resemble the person we were the day before, more or less. Usually more. But in periods of transformation we may seem to change radically, to become a new person. The old person, the person we were, has to die.

As a society, it seems to me, we desperately need a new beginning. We can’t get one because we’re chock-full. We’re too busy. Something’s gotta give. Something’s got to end, to die, to allow the transformation we require to live.

As for me, I want to make a new beginning too. No, Xy and I are not getting a divorce. But I’m feeling the need to make some changes. In fact I’m already making them.

Again, I apologize for the vagueness, but this has gotten far too lengthy already. I hope that next time I can write about my intentions, and so many other things. It may take a while. Be patient with me.

Tangents: There’s a soundtrack for this post. You may also want to take a look at my review of Last and First Men.


I’ve often thought there was some deep connection between what happened in NYC (and elsewhere) on Sept. 11th, 2001, and what happened in NOLA on August 29th, 2005. I’m sure the following idea is not original. But I still think it’s important.

After 9/11, Americans made a collective promise to ourselves: to take the safety and security of our citizens seriously. We would be prepared for the worst. The flooding of New Orleans four years later revealed that we had not kept that promise.

I wonder what the next big catastrophe will be, and will we do any better?

My sympathies to all those who lost friends, family, or peace of mind on 9/11.

If you’re looking for another connection, Alan Gerson will be signing the 9-11 Comic Book at Octavia Books this afternoon.

Update: Another connection, straight from New York City: We’re Not Forgetting.

Called the Cops

I called the popo on a neighbor last night. Hated to do it, but he was apparently intoxicated, enraged, and going after his brother with a damn shovel, yelling that he intended to kill him. Three cop cars showed up. Fortunately I don’t think anyone was hurt or arrested.

There is data indicating that “violence against women spikes after the home pro football team suffers an upset.” I don’t think the Packers victory was an upset, and the target here was not a woman, but still I have to wonder whether this would have happened if the Saints had won.

Tales Highlights, Part IV

Yes, a month after the fact I’m still recovering from Tales of the Cocktail. Here’s my fourth and final installment.

I learned some fascinating stuff from Jeff “Beachbum” Berry. For example, I didn’t know that the legendary founder of the Tiki Craze, Don the Beachcomber, came from New Orleans. (Wikipedia says otherwise but I have it on good authority.) It was also a treat to see Ian Burrell do his ninja shake.

I also learned the true origin of the Mai Tai cocktail. So that was all highly edifying. No complaints there.

But after this session I had to hurry over to another on the Gin & Tonic. Does the idea of Tiki drinks followed by G&Ts sound appetizing to you? I have no one but myself to blame, of course, as I made my own schedule.

As long as I’m bellyaching, look at this Powerpoint slide.


It’s so bad the presenter even made fun of it. I’m tactfully omitting her name to prevent further embarrassment. But at least I got to see a bunch of rare and unusual products which I most ardently desire to possess. If you want to get me a special gift (and why wouldn’t you?) anything pictured here will do.

Wish List

Next up (Saturday morning actually) I was shocked and awed by a seminar on vinegar. This paired nicely with Wayne Curtisseminar on colonial American drinks, because we kicked things off with a Haymaker’s Punch, also known as switchel, a beverage made with vinegar and sweetened water which “originated in the Caribbean, and had become a popular summer drink in the American Colonies in the late 17th century,” according to Wikipedia. I gather switchel was a non-alcoholic drink popular during the temperance movement, but I’m pretty sure they put some rum in this version. Presenter Kelley Slagle called it “the original sportsman’s drink.” All I could say was, “Wow.” I really liked it.

Kelly came to vinegar as a bartender. One of the other panelists, Karl duHoffmann, came at it from a medicinal angle. I’m probably recalling incorrectly but I think his family had connections to homeopathy back in the day. (I found this doubly intriguing because I was reading The End of Mr. Y at time, a science fiction novel in which homeopathic medicine plays a central role. I cannot recommend the book, alas.) Karl cracked me up when he compared volatile acidity in wine to “a woman of great beauty with flaws but no faults.”

Acetic Acid

Truly, it was astonishing the level of passion these folks brought to the subject of vinegar. They even presented original research, trying to correlate acidity, pH levels and subjective taste. Their results were inconclusive, but I love that they tried.

Cardamom Club

Then, at last, it was time for “The Journey of Artemesia Absinthium.” Attentive readers may recall that, though I conducted a pre-interview with the presenters, I was not at all sure I’d be able to wangle my way into the seminar itself.

But wangle I did, and a good thing too. This session was my second favorite of the whole conference. We went all the way back to 1552 BC, which is the date of some written references to wormwood, on papyrus no less, and we worked our way forward from there. I’m probably dense, but I never realized why we call it wormwood: It’s a traditional cure for intestinal parasitical worms. We learned why vermouth has a Germanic name despite its Italian origin. We learned how absinthe was invented and why it was really banned. Fascinating stuff, brought to life by Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller.

Jared Brown

(By the way, I sure did notice a lot of seersucker at Tales.)

I couldn’t get a good photo of Anistatia. She was far too animated.

I was also suitably impressed by Giuseppe Gallo, who uttered the following quotable: “Our recommendation is to drink responsibly — but drink everything.”

We also learned:

  • Génépi is a liqueur similar to absinthe, made with artemesia. Chartreuse is derived from génépi. There are hundreds — perhaps thousands — of génépis made by families in the Alps and Pyrenees each year, which are not widely available on the market, and in most cases probably not available at all.
  • Does Campari contain Artemesia absinthium? The precise ingredients are top secret, but in a word: yes. Also gentian.
  • Speaking of the bitter mountain herb, gentian liqueur has been known sometimes as the Yellow Fairy.

And there you have it. There were no Sunday seminars this year, so I was effectively finished with Tales on Saturday. I’m sure they curtailed the Sunday activities for any variety of sensible reasons, but a part of me already misses the hangover jokes requisite to an early Sunday morning cocktail seminar.

On a more personal note, I found myself fielding one question from most of the people I met at Tales thus year: “What’s your blog about?” My typical reply was: “It’s all about me!” I’ve been a unabashed and unapologetic self-centered egotistical narcissist for so long that such an answer comes very naturally. But at the same time it’s got me thinking that it may be time to make some changes. More on that later.

What the hell, here’s a “parting shot.”

Samogon Cocktail

‘Til next year.

Tropical Storm Warning

Mix for Lee.

Update: Figured I might as well stick all my related Tropical Storm Lee observations here.

On Friday, as I prepared to ride home through a gentle sprinkle, I was approached by a pair of slightly nervous students. “Are you from around here?” They were not. They wanted to know what to expect from this tropical storm business. I told them it looked like street flooding would be the biggest problem, so prepare to hunker down. You might have some trouble getting from Point A to Point B.

Early Saturday morning we work to wind and rain coming in bands. Persephone was mildly peeved that cartoons were preempted, but I was impressed that the paper arrived. The garbage was collected. The mail was delivered. Our house sprung a couple of minor leaks. But we did not lose power.

By midday we were catching plenty of sunny breaks. I made a run to the grocery. They had wild caught salmon at a great price, but you had to buy the whole fish. I ended up with farm-raised filets. That evening I found myself grilling in a heavy downpour. It’s easy if you lack all common sense.

That night Persephone put on a necklace “because I have to be very pretty for Tropical Lee.” Here’s her forecast:

Today, Sunday, was more of the same. During a break in the weather Persephone and I went for a walk around the ‘hood. We saw lots of downed branches, but they were all very small.

Our street never flooded, and we never lost power, so this whole storm is looking like no big deal for us. (It’s been a very big deal for other people in other places.) That leak in the kitchen is the only real problem. Perhaps insurance will help.

Gin & tonics seem to go pretty well with tropical storms.

As I write this, shortly after sunset Sunday, we’re getting another lashing of rain, but I think the worst has passed.

Auto Pilot

Autopilot Engaged

When I got into work this morning, as I fumbled with the keys to my office, I noticed I was distinctly dry. Not sweaty at all.

Granted, it’s cooler than it has been. It’s only 81ºF right now. Still it’s a wet morning, and the humidity is 84%.

But the key factor here is not climate but route. Now that I’m no longer taking my daughter to daycare in the morning, I have two potential routes to work. There’s a short way and a long way. The long way is more pleasant. I take it when I can. A little extra exercise won’t kill me.

I fully intended to take the long way this morning. But if I’d taken the long way, in this humidity, I’d definitely have broken a sweat.

Searching my mind, I discovered I had no recollection of coming by that longer route. In fact, the only images bouncing around in my head showed the grit and grime of the short ‘n’ ugly route.

I was perplexed. How could I have gone that way? I distinctly remember setting off to go the other way. I’d gotten my keys out of my pocket, but I was still fumbling in the fog of my mind.

After a minute or so it came back to me: I’d stopped to take a photo of a clogged storm drain. Tropical rains a-coming, y’know. Do you enjoy flood water in your home?

If you think the City of New Orleans is going to clean the catch basin in front of your home please rethink that plan. If you don’t clean the catch basin in front of your home it is you who will suffer the consequences.

But I digress.

After taking the photo, I was preoccupied with thoughts of tropical storm warnings and photography and street flooding and who knows what else. I was at the intersection of the two routes and headed off the other way.

The next thing I knew I was on campus.

So apparently I can turn off my brain and my body will still find its way to work. My old dorm buddy Andrew Pelloso describes this as “reverse-zen.”

That’s how it felt, anyhow. Of course, in reality, my brain still gets the credit. My boss, who is a psychologist, tells me I was running on memory. Not declarative memory, which we use for recalling facts and figures, but procedural memory.

When needed, procedural memories are automatically retrieved and utilized for the execution of the integrated procedures involved in both cognitive and motor skills; from tying shoes to flying an airplane to reading.

Riding a bike is another classic example of procedural memory. People often say you never forget how to do that. For my part, I was not only riding a bike, but navigating some fairly complex terrain with virtually no memory of having done so after the fact. Apparently I’ve reached the autonomous phase, the third and final phase of learning a task according to Fitts and Posner’s three stage model of learning. I can now execute this task with a high degree of automaticity.

And here I thought I just had my head stuck up my ass.

Photo credit: Autopilot Engaged by H. Micahel Miley, licensed under Creative Commons

Subject: New Orleans Streets to Avoid During a Storm

Hot on the heels of my “Streets of New Orleans” mix, I get this e-mail with the subject line, “New Orleans Streets to Avoid During a Storm.” Apparently this was released by the NOPD. I have to say in all my years of living here I’ve never seen such a list.

New Orleans Police Department Public Information Office
Streets in Greater New Orleans Area Prone to Flooding

(September 1, 2011)- The following is a list of streets where residents have reported significant flooding during past storms. Residents are advised to stay at home during the forecasted storm unless an emergency makes it absolutely necessary for them to get on the road.

Calliope @ Claiborne towards Tchoupitoulas St
Calliope & Tchoupitoulas St On-ramps
I-10 and Tulane Exit towards Claiborne
Airline & Tulane Ave intersection
4400 Block of Washington
Washington Ave. near Xavier
All surrounding streets to St. Charles flooded, Gravier/Tulane/S Dupre, S Claiborne/Washington.
Claiborne/Orleans Ave.
S Carrollton/Palmetto
Magazine/St Mary
Broad/Louisiana Ave./S.Claiborne
Earhart/Jeff Davis-Carrollton
500 blk of Lake Marina
Canal Blvd/I-10/Navarre
Erato/S Genois/City Park/Carrollton
Washington Ave. near Xavier, Washington
Gravier/Tulane/S Dupre
S Claiborne/Washington
Simon Bolivar & Calliope coming from Loyola Ave under the overpass
Poland Ave from St Claude to N. Claiborne
S. Claiborne at Joseph
Holiday to the Crescent City Connection
Shirley and DeGaulle
DeGaulle under the Westbank Expressway
General Meyer from Pace to Shirley
Richland and General Meyer
MacArthur and Holiday
Garden Oaks
Vespasian and Wall

Hmmm. We’re expecting Tropical Depression #13 (to be named a storm any moment now) to dump a bunch of rain on us over the Labor Day weekend, so this is timely information. However, I can think of a couple omissions just off the top of my head: Palmer near Claiborne, Banks near Jesuit.