Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Poetics of Space - Objects of Significance

Chapter Two of the Poetic of Space concludes with some discussion about objects and how the objects of the home gain “significance” beyond their physical properties – this of course prompted contemplation on my part about objects, artifacts, and works of art.

I’ve always loved the notion of art as sympathetic magic, that somehow artworks became vessels of magical powers – and of course, in some ways they do. They can be time machines, taking us to a place in the past, capturing a moment, a feeling. They can inspire us or give us pause to reflect on ourselves and who we are. But, the discussion wasn’t about objects of art, but ordinary household objects that at first glance would seem to be nothing but the insignificance of their physical properties.

Still, these objects bear the consequences of our interactions with them, they become artifacts of our lives and evidence the ways we live. Perhaps this is part of what Duchamp and other artists were up to in making found objects art – an acknowledgement that these things possessed a magic of their own, independent of any artists reimagining or rendering.

Then there are the objects that possess special meaning for us, keys that unlock memories. I can look at my socks and remember I purchased them In Harrods and suddenly a day dream is launched of my trip to London, the shows we saw, the markets we wandered. I’m reminded of Orhan Pamuck’s The Museum of Innocence, in which the protagonist (sometime kleptomaniacaly) collects objects from his lover and family to ultimately place them in a museum to tell his love story. The books unfolds as a docent tour of the museum, picking each object and telling the chapter it represents

Going through my mom’s house after she died, was like walking through such a museum without the benefit of such a docent. There were objects that unlocked stories – the leather wallet my father made for her made of the scraps from the factory  where her father worked.  There were objects, like the Lakota children “dream catchers” sent to my mother to solicit yet another donation that evidenced my mother’s gullibility and sentimentality, for not only the Lakota children, but the Human Society, Veterans, and other mass-mailing charities. There were childhood artworks of mine that she saved which I ultimately tossed. They no longer held any magic for me despite the magic they may have held for my mother, or the memory of me as a child that must have been contained in them.

Lastly, there were the objects that had now become mysteries – things my mother kept, an old ash tray, a plastic clock, a collection of phones, metal cookie boxes, and other assorted knick knacks. Things that may have unlocked a day dream for her but to me remained mute and silent. Perhaps some of the objects I tossed from my mother’s house will reveal their mysteries to someone else? Or perhaps create new mysteries for its next owner?

Objects have power – as symbols, as stories, as connections to the past, or to our aspirations. I think that’s why as we acquire things, we sometimes have a hard time letting them go. Personally, I want to stop accumulating objects – I’m glad now in the digital age I feel less a need to own a book, or a movie, or an album. I tell myself I want to collect experiences not objects, and yet I look at my socks, or the naughty dice I got in Paris, and they bring those experiences back to me. Perhaps as we walk through our homes we should act as a docent and try to tell the stories of our objects, share them with each other if compelling enough – and toss the ones that aren’t. Seems like time for a little Show and Tell?


Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Poetics of Space - Reflections on Verticality

Bachelard states emphatically that houses, in their phenomenological essence are vertical, and perhaps he has something there. Such notions are certainly embedded in our language as we talk of someone with “lofty” ideas; there are certainly aspirations in those high minded thoughts that take place in attics and towers – or the “baser” thoughts that plumb the tunnels of subterranean depths. Bachelard seems to go on to criticize the single floor flats of Paris for lacking placement within this 3-4 story axis.

Yet, I wonder how much is a product of the house archetype of northern European culture? In my own experience I never lived in a place with attic and basement. Sometimes there were crawl spaces, but staircases steep or narrow never lead to any of them. Rather, in my phenomenology , staircases mostly separated the shared spaces of the family, the kitchen, dining room, living room, from the private spaces, the bedrooms and full bathrooms. Downstairs served as the transition from the public to the family – the first line of defense to one’s potential solitude. Whereas an invitation upstairs, was an invitation to intimacy – think Mae West’s “Come up and see me sometime.” As such, stairs were things snuck up late at night, climbed lightly avoiding the creaking step, and done in secrecy – though secrets much different than the secrets of the basement, erotic secrets, secrets of love or conspiracy.

I wonder if the Car Culture of America transforms some of the phenomenology in the garage. The garage has replaced our basement as a place to tinker unseen. Often windowless cluttered with objects banned from the house proper, here is where we American’s dream of entrepreneurial pursuits, or the next road trip. How many men have “shops” in their garage? It is a masculine creative space, where an old fridge keeps a few beers cold and a pin-up calendar displaying femininity through a filter of testosterone.  The garage is a place of men, and of boys coming to age – a place where things are fixed or built before they are ready to be revealed.

My houses have been mostly horizontal; perhaps they were all tall, but decided to lay down and rest a bit, the parts all still there, but recumbent and a little more at ease than their East Coast and European cousins.

The Poetics of Space - Chapter 1 (I-IV)

I’m participating with some friends in a reading of Bachelard’s Poetics of Space. The intent is to both discuss the work and share the fruits of its inspiration on Google + and a Pintrest board. While we haven’t formally begun, I’m finding I can’t keep myself from reacting to what I read. Consequently I've already assembled a couple long-winded posts and related images, but I hate how disconnected they are on those sites so I plan on reposting some of that content here. Perhaps tangential to hedonism, it is none-the-less an activity at present that’s bringing me pleasure and satisfying my hedonic needs. Apologies for the cross posting.


Childhood Memories of Space

While Bachelard begins his phenomenological inquiry with the home, I realize that most of my earliest memories take place outside the home. My earliest memory (age 2) is of a bent post in a chain link fence. Home movies reveal this fence surrounded a pool, and while my father’s camera tends to drift toward the bikini clad neighbors, I’m unmistakably there despite my having no memories of this pool. Rather its exploring the curious bend in a post that haunts my memories. The other posts are all straight and proper, but this one – no doubt struck by someone paying more attention to the bikini clad bathers than their car – is bent in such a way that I cannot resist the temptation to curl my body into its form. Perhaps this is my container?

In our next home (age 3), a modern ranch style house in Cowan heights, I do remember the living room and it’s black and white checkered floor. It was like some giant game board. Still my strongest memories of this house are of its exterior. The unfinished backyard was up against a cliff face that dared to be climbed - or slowly dismantled with my Tonka toy dump truck and bulldozer. My first memorable dream is of this same backyard; a nightmare really in which our family was trapped in a circle of fire by Bedouins on horseback. I was afraid of fire for much of my childhood and could never bring myself to light a match without anxiety until well into adulthood.

When we moved again (age 5) to a garden apartment in Tustin, I can recall the kitchen and being served hot tea with milk and cinnamon toast for breakfast. The Kitchen could be entered from two different rooms. I loved that I was able to walk a continuous loop through all the rooms on the first floor, never having to retreat or turn around. Here is where I discovered looking at a mirror on the bridge of my nose, where I could travel this loop walking on an imaginary ceiling, stepping over reversed transoms as I entered each room.

We had a Sparklettes water cooler in the kitchen. My mother would remember this for a wild night of dreams when a friend of my sister’s added something to the five gallon bottle. I, however, would remember it for the mysterious way bubbles would gurgle forth randomly and seemingly unprovoked. It was certainly a place of childhood meditation. 

My only memory of the upstairs of this apartment was my parents’ bathroom. I could crawl into the cabinet under the sink and hide undetected for hours. Here I discovered the mechanics of my father’s razors, how to make them release their deceptively sharp blades that would stealthily slice my fingers as I traced back the origins of the increasing abundance of blood.

Perhaps this is an American phenomenology of space, but during this time (age 3-5) I have distinct recollections of riding in my parents cars. I used to stand on the transmission hump of the back seat of my mother’s Lincoln Continental because I couldn’t see past the back of my mom’s head if I were seated. My father’s car, a Chrysler New Yorker, had these wonderful interior door pulls. They were like levers some mad scientist would pull to animate his Frankenstein monster or initiate the human – primate brain transfer. I loved to ride in this car if for nothing else to pull that lever and open the door – something I got in trouble at least once for doing while the car was in motion.

Honestly though, despite having my own room from at least the age of three, the memories of my own room, my own space, don’t come till much later in life and seem mostly associated with my sexuality. The Playboy found dumpster diving stashed between my mattress and box springs (age 12?), or my father opening my door catching me masturbating. I have memories of an empty room that would become my bedroom as we moved to a new apartment, and the empty bedroom where I lost my virginity on the last night before we moved out. Perhaps these memories of this space only come because these are the moments when I desired my privacy? I remember friend’s bedrooms, Brian’s faux stone walls, David’s Major Matt Mason Moon Base, Reagan’s bunk beds – but my own bedrooms are still mostly a mystery to my memories.

I suppose if I take Bachelard’s premise, the home as a safe haven for daydreams, then perhaps the memories of the physical space is irrelevant, and really what matters is the memories I have of my play: constructing a Middle Earth of Lego fortresses and clay temples, or a bookshelf that served as the underground home to dragons and giants. But then again if these are the images I should place under phenomenological scrutiny, physical space becomes irrelevant as my imagination seldom contained itself to my room, or house, or other physical structure.

But I just started this chapter, so further reflection may come…

The Poetics of Space - Preface

I’m participating with some friends in a reading of Bachelard’s Poetics of Space. The intent is to both discuss the work and share the fruits of its inspiration on Google + and a Pintrest board. While we haven’t formally begun, I’m finding I can’t keep myself from reacting to what I read. Consequently I've already assembled a couple long-winded posts and related images, but I hate how disconnected they are on those sites so I plan on reposting some of that content here. Perhaps tangential to hedonism, it is none-the-less an activity at present that’s bringing me pleasure and satisfying my hedonic needs. Apologies for the cross posting.


I got through the introductions and was transported to a time when I was smoking cigarettes to mask the acidic burn of twice heated coffee, the clock at 3 AM and Kant’s critique of pure reason staring back at me. 

I ingested what I could, but I had to pull myself away to see where Bachelard fell in the philosophic pantheon. No one can hide on the internet and I quickly placed him somewhere between Sartre’s existential musings and the obtuse post structuralism of Derrida, who (and here begins the wiki-tangent) apparently was teaching at UCI in the 80’s – a time when we joked that there were no bookstores in Irvine not knowing then that they would soon vanish from most communities. Where did Derrida buy his books at that time?

Perhaps he stood in a cafeteria line behind Chris Burden (also a UC veteran) before he went out to shoot at airplanes. Meanwhile at another UC campus (Berkeley), fellow French philosopher Michel Foucault was lecturing by day and cruising the S&M bars of San Francisco by night – soon to be one the few acknowledged victims of a strange new disease. AIDS was a long slow lingering death often wrought with suffering and dementia. We lost friends and feared for other’s lives. 

So much happening in my own backyard and me, married and content in a Long Beach 4-plex, a most comfortable space, oblivious to all but my own slice of the culture wars – Dana Rohrabacher and the NEA 4.

I want to post images of that time, that space, but wonder if really these are just memories and not the poetic images that Bachelard wants to subject to his phenomenology. Yet these images possess a certain sonority with me that perhaps bespeak their poetry at least in my own subjective apprehension - so I will post them on my board as a sort of abstract starting point in this exploratory duel.

I'm ready for Chapter One

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Simple Pleasures

Halloween is a season of many indulgences full of hedons. It has become quite a bacchanal full of sexy costumes, stiff drinks, raucous parties, and offices and homes stashed full of treats. But amidst all this, one of my secret pleasures has been in the late night and early morning walks I take with my dogs.

Night comes earlier and the sun rises later this time of year, so now these walks take place mostly in the dark. This morning’s walk revealed a clear crisp sky. Stars shining brightly, I could see Jupiter getting ready to set, and with the help of my planetarium app I was quickly able to see Mars on the rise. I can’t help but think of the first primitive star gazers, as they watched each morning picking out the patterns in the sky and tracing the movement of the planets. Alone in the dark quiet with the dogs I can’t help but be connected to these astronomical ancestors.

Similarly on a walk a couple days ago, when the fog poured in thick and damp, I delighted in the waning visibility as the air turned translucent. The shapes and shadows of trees transformed into sinister figures surrounding me, slowly revealing themselves at my measured approach. I hoped the fog would stay for Halloween night to make this familiar neighborhood something strange and new to explore.

I love these quiet moments, when the world seems mine alone, and yet also ancient, powerful, and omniscient – ready to yield mysteries to those of us ready to see them. Some pleasures come just by stepping back, savoring what is revealed, and appreciating what lies before you.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Girl Scouts & Hedonism

Listening to NPR today I caught this delightful tidbit, it appears the Girl Scouts updated their badges for the 21st Century. Among the new merit-worthy activities: 'The Science of Happiness." Above is the new badge design. I wonder what delightful cocktails will be made in that beaker? Something with mint, I suspect.

In any case I'd love to see what projects are undertaken to achieve this one. In the meantime, I'll continue working on my own.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Garden to Table - Adventures in Mixology

My Packing Crate Persona - Courtesy of Heidi from Finishing the Hat

We had another “craft day” at the house so I got to conduct a few more cocktail experiments. I was actually asked to come up with a cocktail for an upcoming ‘Garden to Table” edition of Supper Club 600 an invention of my friend Heidi who has been exploring her own enlightened hedonism in her blog Finishing the Hat.  She has been hosting a series of delicious dinners that clock in at 600 calories. Check out her blog for some great recipes and personal inspiration. The particular dinner was also co-sponsored by The Urb Garden Girls who have been growing fresh herbs and vegetables in the urban spaces of Long Beach.

The concept was a 600 calorie meal prepared from the harvest of our local gardens, I would be adding some optional extra calories with a cocktail or two. With that in mind, I wanted to do something fresh, using some of the ingredients of our own urban garden.

Recently I had a friend serve a Basil, Ginger Martini that she had crafted by making her own cucumber infused gin. I was quite impressed by the blend of flavors and knew I wanted to try my hand at working with that cucumber and gin combination. I figured the herbal qualities of gin would work great as a garden themed cocktail, especially mixed with fresh herbs from the garden. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to make my own cucumber infused gin though, so I had to experiment with muddling.

Whenever possible start with fresh ingrediants

I picked up some Persian cucumbers at Trader Joes – small sweat & crunchy, to be my base. Five to Six quarter inch slices into the shaker with a few fresh herbs and a splash of simple syrup was the starting point for all my drink experiments. The cucumber slices gave off a satisfying crunch when I crushed them, and added an extraordinary color to the overall drink, seeing that, I knew I couldn’t really mess with anything but clear liquors.

I loved the color of the crushed cucumber

My first attempt was just a simple press of cucumbers and basil; it mixed subtly with the gin, but seemed to be missing some punch. My first instinct was to reach for the familiar citrus and I juiced half a lime into the cocktail, but the effect was overpowering to the cucumber, I tried to “sweeten” it down a bit with some Cointreau but now the cucumber was lost completely. The cucumber called for a sweeter drink, which is certainly a challenge for me, as I prefer my cocktails dry.

Prepping the next cocktail at the outdoor bar - courtesy of Christy & Ted

I moved back and forth between basil and mint. One of my initial tasters mistook the sweetened cucumber for melon, which planted the idea that perhaps some Midori would be a good addition. I even joined a crafting contingent on a quick trip to the local Costco but that turned up none. As such, my mint variation became a sort of cucumber gin Mint Julep. It was okay, and my tasters seemed to like it, but I struggled with this one a bit more.

The Basil Ginger seemed far more appealing to me, more spicy than sweet. I grated fresh ginger into the mix, cut back on the simple syrup – just enough to moisten the muddle – and added a half ounce of Canton Ginger to 2 and a half ounces of gin. Once I garnished it with some crystallized ginger, I knew this would be one of the cocktails I’d serve.

The Final Basil Ginger Variation as served at the Supper Club  600 dinner
For the mint variation, I kept thinking about adding some Midori, so during the week I picked up a bottle to do some last minute experimentation. The Midori while sweet, still had its own kick without taking anything away from the cucumber. I successfully tested it again with Amy, one of the Urb Garden Girls and that gave me the green light to go with this variation for the Garden to Table.

At the event itself I had a great time, to be sure I spent a fair amount of time at the bar, muddling the fresh ingredients for each cocktail but for me that was just another hedonistic indulgence. I love a good cocktail, but I love sharing a good cocktail even more. Perhaps this is my way of doing service for others. Exhausting, fun, satisfying – yeah this was a great event and I was happy to be invited to contribute.

The Full Supper Club 600 meal, along with the final version of  myCucumber Mint Midori Gin Julep
I do invite you to check out the blogs of my collaborators and see what they are doing to live happier, more fulfilling lives – and maybe explore how you might do the same.

Till next time, Cheers!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Why Hedonism?

Recently, in articles about hedonism (yeah they exist, and yes I do read them), the term “eudemonia” keeps coming up. Usually it goes something like this:

“The Greek term eudemonia is often mistranslated to mean ‘happiness,’ when in reality it encompassed much more than happiness; more accurately the term refers to state of fulfillment…”

Inevitably, it is contrasted with “hedonism” already presumed to be “wrong” and consequently “lesser than” eudemonia:

“The pursuit of pleasure is merely hedonism, whereas true fulfillment and ‘eudemonia’ can only be obtained by…”

And here is where you fill in the blank with the author’s particular belief as to what truly provides happiness and fulfillment e.g. God, service to others, kindness, etc. But whatever the conclusion, hedonism is consistently regarded an inadequate pursuit to any right minded individual.

Epicurus - The Original Hedonist
Returning to the Greeks though, you’ll find the likes of Epicurus arguing that the path to eudemonia is through the pursuit of pleasure. So while the Greeks may have had these distinct terms, they didn't consider them mutually exclusive.

I know I can be loose with my terms of hedonism, pleasure, and the pursuit of happiness, but I guess my objective with this hedonism project it’s to achieve eudemonia – fulfillment – and yes, even enlightenment.
So why Hedonism, why use that term for my pursuit? Well, first off who wants to have to explain the term eudemonia every time you use it? Second, I think it actually better describes what I am doing in my approach – That is, once you get past the simplistic definitions of hedonism.

I think part of my hedonism is a reaction against asceticism – the notion that enlightenment comes to those who deny and overcome their desires. Whether through oaths of chastity or poverty, it seems widely accepted that eliminating these “distractions” of desire somehow enables a “purer” sense of being. I believe the Buddhists view desire as the source of suffering, and that to eliminate suffering one must naturally eliminate desire.
Buddha ultimately gave up the ascetic life,
but was he also a hedonist?

Now, the Buddhists may be right. This may well be the way to enlightenment (or Nirvana if you're a Buddhist).  Still I wonder if there might also be another path. This ascetic way of thinking seems like a byproduct of a culture of scarcity; the notion that most desires remain unsatisfied, or when fulfilled for one, necessitates their being denied to someone else. If I eat that slice of pie no one else gets that slice.

Hedonism, or enlightened hedonism as I’ve come to term it, instead comes from a culture of abundance. I’ve been clear that don’t think it’s a possible pursuit before one’s basic needs are met. But those are taken care of desires and pleasures fulfilled do not necessarily take away from the desires or pleasures of others. Actually they can be grown, shared, and increased with others through social interactions. Perhaps one can become enlightened by leading an ascetic life, but I think the same might be true for someone pursuing life as a connoisseur.

When people ordinarily use the term “hedonism,” I think “pleasure” is defined too simplistically -  that they all ultimately reduce down to getting wealthy, famous, or laid. Those desires have their place, but I think our desires are far more complex than that. More importantly they often are at odds with each other. To me, this is where their value lies. Confronting the contradictions in our desire force us to make those existential decisions that define who we are.

A quick example from last weeks’ cocktail quest – Champagne cocktail #3, a attempt to make a lemon based champagne cocktail. On the surface this doesn’t sound all that significant, but take a look at some of the desires that drove this quest:

Could a Failed Cocktail
Lead to Enlightenment?
  • A desire to improve my skills in mixology and the use of champagne
  • A desire Learn about Limoncello, a liquor I’ve never worked with
  •  A desire serve others by being a good host, providing good drink and entertainment
  • A desire to feed my own ego for receiving praise for what I thought would be a sure winner of a cocktail
  • A desire to be seen as an expert mixologist
  • A desire to simply enjoy the pleasurable buzz of a cocktail.

Now the cocktail was a failure. It was a drink whose parts were best enjoyed separately. So while I may have satisfied a few of the desires noted above, I also failed to satisfy some. Did I come out ahead in the decision to attempt this cocktail? I certainly learned something from the experiment, and what I learned will help me be a better mixologist in the future, and better satisfy those desires. Does that make me more enlightened? Or would I have been more enlightened to have not engaged in the experiment at all and just served my guests tap water or just ignored them altogether while I chanted in the next room? Yeah, enlightened or not I think the later would have just made me a pretentious prick.

It’s the decisions I make that define who I am, and I don’t think I can make authentic decisions without acknowledging my desires – all of them, the lazy ones, the self-conscious ones, the one’s that just want to get drunk, along with the one’s that want to share with others, and help satisfy their needs and desires. Heck, were I religious, I think the desire to serve God, would also have to be a hedonistic quest for it to be a sincere one.

Simply put, hedonism is my path to eudemonia – or at least the one I’ve chosen to follow.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Checking In - The Pursuit of Happiness

I’ve been engaging in a number of hedon inducing adventures lately, so I thought it time to check in and see the impact of these spikes of fun. Looking at my weekly mappiness, it seems that while still volatile, I hit an all time weekly high, crossing the 80% mark. Not bad. Now the question is, can I sustain it? Is there a hedon hangover in my future? What's a reasonable happiness level? All good questions - perhaps I'll even answer some as I continue this project.

Happiness on the rise, but can I sustain it?

In the meantime I came across this article in the Chicago Tribune (Study of happiness is great, but why am I still bummed out?) which gives me some additional hope for success in my endeavors. However it does start with an anecdote illustrating the maxim: The best way to be happy is not to think about whether you are happy. This, if true, destines my rational hedonism project here to failure. Fortunately, the article moves on to mention some interesting biological work going on in the study of happiness.

Buddha Brain or the Happiness Trap

There were a couple noteworthy references in the article that caught my eye: The first called out the work of Rick Hanson, author of “Buddha’s Brain.” He asserts that we can condition our brains to become “happiness traps,” by savoring our moments of pleasure and happiness. Perhaps this is a bit like positive affirmations. By repeating a statement you come to believe it, act on it, and ultimately become it. If that’s true, then perhaps my work here is actually a contributing factor to my increased happiness; I not only savor my happy moments, I also take time to relive hem a little in their retelling. Well, I certainly hope that is true.

The second reference was to  study that showed that people become happier after 50 – a milestone date that is fast approaching for me. The suggested reason for this, is that with age comes better managed expectations along with more moderate aspirations. I can certainly get behind better management of expectations as a contributing factor to ongoing happiness. However, that last part - moderate aspirations - seems to imply that perhaps we just grow content with our dullness. I hope I can avoid that fate, and keep doing fun and interesting things.

So is the pursuit of happiness a fools quest? Well, this fool plans to carry on a while longer,


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Adventures in Hedonism – Photo Shoot

On thing that tend to generate a lot of hedons for me, is to engage in creative projects. Recently, a friend proposed participating in a 30-day photo challenge – a photo a day on list of daily topics.

The Challenge that started it all - 8 days later

We started late but with a growing bunch of creative participants, the submissions have been fun and clever.

Day 1 - Self Portrait in Car Wash

While I started out just taking quick snaps from my cell phone, I’ve been having more and more fun, thinking of different ways to approach the topics, setting up shots, and playing with all those camera settings I usually ignore. Then there are those topics that inspire an adventure…

30 Day Photo Challenge – Day 4: Favorite color

Yeah, that has all the makings of a rather dull photo – find an object or two in your favorite color and take a pic. However, I have a certain specific  favorite color –it's blue, electric blue - specifically the electric blue of airport taxi lights. Now, I suppose I could have found a substitute. Blue reflectors are typically used to mark fire hydrant locations, squad cars sometimes have an electric blue in their flasher ensemble, and somewhere I think I still have my pair of electric blue spandex…

Many Years Ago in a Far Away Place - My Pants were Electric Blue

But I live in Long Beach; we have an airport here, and more importantly the vantage point of Signal Hill that should afford a nice view of the airport at night, so I should be able see all those electric blue taxi-ways.

Next thing I know I’m in the car with Lisa and the dogs headed for Signal Hill. We parked and headed down a service road to get a clear view of the airport through the tree line and I snapped my first pics.

View from Signal Hill - Tiny string of Blue Lights

Unfortunately, while I had a good view of the airport, those blues lights, even when concentrated in certain patches, comprised a small fraction of the total image. I tried several camera settings zooming in to where I could capture the most blue, but the results weren't that satisfactory. Even at the highest zoom, those lights but were dots on the horizon.

View from Signal Hill - better exposure but less Blue

I thought perhaps a time exposure would do, letting the blue bleed in intensity, but lacking a tripod, of any other good surface to keep my camera stationary I found I couldn’t keep a clear focus. Of course this was my first accidental discovery of how I might just capture that blue in the best light. The blur of my unsteady hand had an effect of painting with light, so now I started doing time exposures deliberately moving the camera in certain patterns to wash the blue over the image. I liked the effect, but now was wondering if somehow I could get closer to the runway.

View from Signal Hill - The less steady my hand, the more Blue

Back in the car and down the hill, we started a slow surveillance around the perimeter of the airport. The airport businesses obscured most of the sight lines, but we found a service entrance with just chain link and barbed wire, hardly a barrier for a camera. Out of the car and pressed against the fence I tried my luck again to capture a field of electric blue – all the while wondering how long before the Department of Homeland Security might come and shut me down for the night.

Best spot to take a picture - don't tell DHS
Planes so close you could almost touch them
Best not to linger...

We stopped at a few locations around the airport. I didn’t want to stay too long in one place, an while I got closer to the lights at the fence, I still liked the effect of painting with the time exposure. They were like a blend of electric Rothko and Pollock, with a little Kandinsky thrown in.

Looks a bit like a physics experiment

I see a shark in this one

I swear this one has electric blue monkeys line dancing

I was quite happy with my end product, happier still over the whole adventure or stalking the airport, and happy to play in this whole Photo Challenge. 

My Day 4 Submission

I hope there's more adventures to come, and hope if you haven't done so yet, that you take on this challenge and see what adventures it take you on.


Link to my 30-Day Album
Link to my out takes

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Champagne Cocktails

One of my favorite hedonistic indulgences lies in the art of mixology. In a former life I would have been an alchemist slaving away to make odd potions and distill interesting liquors. Today that translates into amassing a collection of odd liqueurs to mix, shake, stir, sip, and share. I love making a good cocktail as much as I love drinking one.

Death in Bohemia - Mata Hari Bohemian Absinthe and Brut Champagne

My recent adventure with Lucent Dossier and the classic Hemmingway “Death in the Afternoon” got me thinking about the possibilities of the champagne cocktail. I already quite fond of the “Bhura Peg, “ a champagne cocktail I stumbled upon in my favorite vintage cocktail book, the Gentleman’s Companion.

Here’s a copy I saw at the OC Fair, sadly my copy is a bit more worn from good use

The cocktail tail itself is simple, tasty, and quite beautiful. First dowse a sugar cube in bitters (I’ve come to prefer Peychaud for its color and brightness) and drop it into a champagne flute. Next add an ounce of cognac then top off with champagne. The cognac adds a delicious complexity to the champagne, and it’s a delight to watch the ruby tinted sugar cube slowly dissolve amidst the bubbles.

The only problem in experimenting with champagne as a medium is that once a bottle is open you pretty much have to use it up – and the sooner the better. Nobody wants flat champagne. That pretty much means, I won’t experiment much with champagne on my own. While I could probably drink a bottle, the addition of any other brandy or liqueur into the mix, quickly reduces my aesthetic sensibilities.

However, last weekend we had several people over for a “craft” day – sewing, knitting, writing, and in my case cocktailing. With such a group, I could easily conduct several champagne cocktail experiments and get some feedback as well.

First on the drawing board, I wanted to see if I could make a Champagne version of a rather potent aloha punch I made for a luau themed party earlier this year. My guests loved it, but it seemed a bit too potent and deceptively so. It relied heavily on rum and pineapple juice, so I started with that as a base thinking the champagne would lighten it up and just make it sparkle. Unfortunately the flavor seemed a bit muddy with just the rum, so I reach for a Heering Cherry to brighten it up.

Champagne Cocktail #2 - Cherry Heering, Pineapple Juice, Champagne & Peychaud Bitters

I’d never used this before, II searched rather unsuccessfully for it last year to make an authentic Singapore sling so when I recently came across a bottle I snatched it instantly. I was sort of expecting some sort of sweet bright cherry flavor, but this liqueur has a deep dark almost black color with a thick deep rich cherry flavor. Its addition dramatically improved the cocktail, providing a better depth and blending of flavor. Except now it became obvious that the problem with this drink was the rum. This lead immediately to my next experiment, Champagne Cocktail #2

This was a simple concoction of ½ oz Heering Cherry, 1 oz Pineapple Juice, Champagne and a dash of peychaud to dot the foam. The result, a perfect sweet summer cocktail, fruity and flavorful. This was definitely the favorite among the afternoon’s crafters. I poured everyone a round and kept refreshing this one throughout the day

My success with the cherry Liqueur lead me to try another fruit, some citrus perhaps? So I pulled out some limoncello. Now, I didn’t want to bury the lemon flavor in any other fruit juice, so I tried a ½ oz with just champagne, but the flavor was buried, so I bumped it to a full oz, but still the flavors were fighting. Perhaps if I had used a brighter, extra dry champagne it may have worked, but with the Brut I had it didn’t get better than mediocre. Frankly the combination did nothing for either the Champagne or the limoncello

Champagne Cocktail #3 - Even the color is mediocre

I decided to go back to tradition and go with a brandy variation and try some B&B. I figured the sweetness of the Bénédictine would alleviate the need for any sugar, so I tried just a straight oz of B&B followed with champagne. The result was rather good, the herbal flavors of the B&B added some depth to the champagne, complimenting it, playing off the champagne’s tartness. Champagne cocktail #2 was still the preferred drink our guests, but I had least one taker of this variation, and I added it to my book.

Champagne Cocktail #4 - B&B, Champagne & Bitters - One for the book

Now with plenty of open champagne and satisfied crafters around me, I decided to revisit my inspiration for this day and try a couple absinthe variations for a little death in the afternoon. 

I started with the Mata Hari for a bohemian death.  Mata Hari is a bohemian style absinthe – with less or no anis/fennel (the stuff that provides the licorice flavor) and more wormwood (the stuff that contains the once feared and maligned “psychoactive” thujone). Generally bohemian style absinthe is panned by most absinthe connoisseurs as a dumbed down variation, especially as it often lacks the “louche” (the milky transformation absinthe takes when water is added).  The Mata Hari produced a satisfying louche with the champagne and certainly was bitter, bitter yet refreshing.  I knew this would be a hard sell for many, but it set me contemplating that other bitter liqueur, Campari and the possibility of a sparkling negroni for future experimentation.

 la Mort Suisse - AKA "Death in the Afternoon"  Swiss Style
Sticking with absinthe though, I pulled out my more traditional Swiss absinthe, Kübler, for la Mort Suisse. I think this actually paired better – anis, fennel and all. The effervescence of the champagne perfumed the air around me with the scent of licorice, and the drink itself -  Like drinking sparkling Good & Plenty. Of course that conjured more thoughts of childhood than death, making the whole “death in the afternoon” appellation seem a bit overwrought. Still a treat to keep in mind for the non–licorice averse, but probably not the party beverage of choice.

All in all a successful afternoon with 2 new cocktails to add to my book, and some new ingredients to play with later.

So what cocktails have you been experimenting with? Have you had any luck working with Champagne? Do tell how your hedonistic pursuits are going.