Communion Of Dreams


Matter of perspective.

This will probably come across as a little brag-y. Sorry about that. Not my intention.

The other day I got a phone call. For Legacy Art. The gallery we closed May 31, 2004. Yeah, more than ten years ago.

And after I got through abusing the telemarketer over this point, I got to thinking about the many changes in the last decade.

First thing I should say up front: I’m at a low point in my bipolar cycle, as I’ve noted recently. That means that my self-image isn’t all that great. This isn’t a debilitating depressive episode or anything — I’ve managed to continue to work steadily, as well as enjoy the usual aspects of life. So not horrid. But it is sometimes difficult to not focus on the things which haven’t gone well, and my own failings which are often a component of that. And one of those failings is a sense of not accomplishing much, of being lazy, of wasting my time and the time of others.

Anyway. I got to thinking about the changes in the last decade. And surprisingly, more positive things came to mind than negative ones. That fed on itself, and I found myself making a mental list of the accomplishments.

In no particular order or ranking: wrote two books (one of them as co-author). Most of the way done with another. Visited Wales. And Argentina. And New Zealand. And Italy. Wrote several thousand blog posts. Became something of an authority on small caliber ballistics. Wrote several hundred articles and columns for publication. Was the full-time caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s. Have done conservation work on something more than a thousand (that’s just a guess … may be closer to two thousand) books and documents. Made some great hot sauces. Raised, loved, and then said farewell to a great dog. Tried to be a good friend, and husband. Tried to help others when I could.

We all fail. We all have things we’ve done that haunt us in one way or another. Sometimes, those fears and demons overwhelm. Me, at least.

I may or may not be at a turning point in my bipolar cycle. But I’m glad that at least I can think of things I have accomplished. That helps.

Back to work on St. Cybi’s Well.

 

Jim Downey



You can’t tell a book …

So, a week or so ago I linked to a new review of Communion of Dreams which was very positive overall. But the reviewer made a comment which echoes things some other people have said:

Another item that would likely help get this book moving is a different cover. I understand the imagery now that I’ve read the book, but definitely think it will keep hard-core sci-fi fans from buying a copy (and people do judge books by their covers).

Like I said, every so often a comment to this effect will pop up in a review. And I don’t spend much time thinking about it (and I’m not going to change the cover image at this point), but now and then I wonder just what kind of a cover would appeal to ‘hard-core sci-fi fans’ and still make any kind of sense in relation to the story. Maybe some nice images of Saturn or Titan from the Cassini mission? A depiction of some of the spacecraft (which aren’t described in much detail in the book), or perhaps the Titan Prime space station? Go with a charming post-apocalyptic montage of ruined cities and microphotographs of viruses? To me, none of these would fairly represent the story, and to a certain extent would unnecessarily limit the appeal to only ‘hard-core sci-fi fans’.

But I’m curious what others think. So feel free to post a comment here or over on FB. Over even on Amazon, as a comment on an extant review or in  new review of your own. In a week or so I’ll go through all the various comments I can find, and pick someone to get a jar of my latest hot sauce (or something else if they don’t want that).

Jim Downey

PS: there’s another new short review up on Amazon you might want to take a look at as well.



I wonder if I need to notify the authorities …

As I’ve mentioned previously, it was a good year for peppers. Well, in addition to making the big batch of sauce at the end of the season, I also dried approximately 5 gallons of seeded habaneros of various sorts. And this morning I got around to crushing them. Here’s the result:

Quart jars of powdered evil.

Quart jars of powdered evil.

That works out to something like 8 ounces (fluid volume) of crushed habs per gallon of fresh/frozen. Yeah, baby!

 

Jim Downey



“They are near-death experiences in a bowl of guacamole.”

Mmmmm:

In recent years, “superhots”—chilis that score above 500,000 on the Scoville scale—have consumed the attention of chiliheads, who debate grow lights on Facebook (“You can overwinter with a few well-placed T-8s”), swap seeds in flat-rate boxes (Australian customs is their nemesis), and show up in droves at fiery-foods events (wares range from Kiss My Bhut hot sauce to Vanilla Heat coffee creamer). Chilis, in general, are beautiful. There is a reason no one makes Christmas lights in the shape of rutabagas. Superhots come in the brightest colors and the craziest shapes. Their names, evoking travel and conquest—Armageddon, Borg 9, Naga Morich, Brain Strain—sound as though they were made up by the evil twins of the people who brand body lotions. Trinidad 7-Pots are so called because it’s said that one of them is enough to season seven pots of stew.

* * *

Eating, more than breathing or sleeping, lends itself to competition. There are bake-offs, wing wars, contests to see who can eat the most hot dogs, bratwurst, Twinkies, tamales, cannoli, apple pies, buffalo wings, ribs, oysters, pastrami, sweet corn, deep-fried asparagus, ice cream, pancakes, pepperoni rolls, and boiled eggs. Superhots are the most accessible of thrills—fugu straight from the garden. For the culinary extremist, or exhibitionist, they provide an outlet for impulses that might have compelled his adolescent self to drink a concoction or try to swallow a teaspoonful of cinnamon. (A recent study found a positive correlation between chili-eating and “sensation-seeking” behavior.) As a leisure activity, superhots offer some of the pleasures of mild drugs and extreme sports without requiring one to break the law or work out. They are near-death experiences in a bowl of guacamole.

* * *

Barrus consumes whatever people send him, from raspberry-chipotle fudge to ranch-dressing soda. Armed with a jar of peanut butter and gallons of milk (casein, a protein in dairy products, can alleviate the effects of capsaicin), he regularly sets himself such stunts as eating twenty-one of the world’s hottest peppers: seven bhut jolokia, five Trinidad Scorpion Butch Ts, four Douglah 7-Pots, three Trinidad Moruga Scorpions, two Jonah 7-Pots. (He made it through eleven of them.)

 

Hmm. Sound familiar?

Superhots!

Superhots!

 

Yay, baby!

 

Jim Downey

 



Oh. Yeah.

Remember this?

Hab harvest, 2013

Hab harvest, 2013

 

Well, this morning I got started turning those into this:

Simmer, simmer

Simmer, simmer

 

Which resulted in this, after other ingredients were added and it was allowed to simmer for a while:

Mmm.

Mmm.

 

Which was then run through a blender for a bit, then cranked through a Foley food mill to remove seeds and skins, resulting in this:

Oh. Yeah.

Oh. Yeah.

 

Which became 30 half-pint jars of just incredible sauce. So, there’s about two full habs per ounce of this stuff. I just had about 1/8th a teaspoon on a burger, and my oh my.

I think I’ll call it Scorpion Blood, since it includes (among other varietals) two different ‘Scorpion’ peppers: the Moruga Scorpion, and the Trinidad Scorpion.

Mmmm.

 

Jim Downey

Recipe, for those interested:

  • Approximately 500 peppers, crown removed and cut in half
  • Half a gallon of natural apple cider vinegar
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 8 tablespoons of Kosher salt
  • Quart of homemade tomato sauce
  • 20 ounce of chopped garlic
  • 2 yellow onions, rough chopped

Prepare all ingredients. Put peppers, onion and vinegar in 5 gallon stock pot, simmer until peppers & onion all soft.  Add other ingredients, simmer about an hour, stirring often.

Scoop into blender, do a rough blend for 15 – 20 seconds. Then pour into Foley food mill, and crank until just seeds and skins are left.  Transfer to jar, can.



A good year for peppers.
October 18, 2013, 1:40 pm
Filed under: Gardening, Habanero, Weather | Tags: , , , , ,

My sister dropped me a note. It included this:

Also, now that it has been a bit, how are you doing without Alwyn there?  I’m sure that you miss him terribly!!

 

* * * * * * *

Typical for this time of year, weather forecasts are now starting to include the possibility of frost. I decided that this afternoon I’d go out and harvest the rest of my Habanero crop in advance of some rain we’ll probably get tonight. This is what I brought in:

Hab harvest, 2013

Hab harvest, 2013

 

Compare that to three years ago:

 

Or three years before that:

Habenero Harvest

 

Notice the difference? Yeah, a *lot* more fully or partially ripe ones in this year’s crop. Even though both of those other picks were taken about two weeks later in the season. Interesting.

There’s about 700 – 800 in this year’s pic, based on the totals listed in those earlier posts. Should make for a nice big batch of insanely hot sauce.

 

* * * * * * *

My sister dropped me a note. It included this:

Also, now that it has been a bit, how are you doing without Alwyn there?  I’m sure that you miss him terribly!!

My reply:

Yeah, definitely. Still keep expecting to see him when I turn a corner, still by reflex go to call him when I go out to take something to the compost pile, and so forth.

“And so forth.”

That would have included going out with me this afternoon to pick peppers. He just loved going outside with me, any chance he got.

Yeah, I miss him.

But it’s been a good year for peppers.

 

Jim Downey



Before and after.

Remember these?

20130912_154245

Well, yesterday afternoon I got around to prepping about half of them to dry:

20130915_211208

Overnight I dried the peppers.

* * * * * * *

An interesting take on incorporating an additional dimension into photography:

Photographer and historian Marc Hermann has done a beautiful job pulling historic crime scene photos from the New York Daily News archive to blend them with photographs of the same locations today. For those who live in New York now, it may be easy to forget just how rough the city was in the not-too-distant past.

Grisly violence is an undeniable part of New York’s DNA and the juxtaposition of the old, black and white images with the modern “Times Square” version of what most people expect today is incredibly fascinating – truly making ghosts walk amongst us.

* * * * * * *

Remember this?

What has also been my plan, but which I hadn’t quite been able to sort out how to accomplish, was that in St. Cybi’s Well much of the story will revolve around *how* this character came to have those dream-visions in the first place. This is further complicated by the fact that I don’t necessarily want the character to realize the full import of what he experiences within the context of the story – the reader should be able to draw out conclusions which the character wouldn’t, especially if the reader had already read Communion of Dreams.

OK, got all that? So, here’s what I experienced at Baia Castle: the revelation that the classical sculptures of Greek and Roman mythology could themselves be the conduit for the dream-visions. I got this by walking through the collection – not just walking through it, but by seeing the juxtaposition of different sculptures within the somewhat under-lit and under-stated layout of the museum.

See, like in most of the museums we had visited, the climate control there was non-existent. And whether in order to keep down temps a bit, or just to save money on electricity, the only lighting throughout the space was from windows along one side of the building. And the layout of the building was a series of almost cave-like ‘bunkers’ – rooms which were kinda long & narrow with a relatively low ceiling, and done up in neutral grey tones.

It was perfect. And in a moment my mind made the leap to imagery for St. Cybi’s Well. Because, like many of the different ‘holy wells’ in Wales, it dates back to the middle of the 6th century – not that long after the fall of Rome. And, in fact, the spread of Christianity to the Celtic lands was part of the cultural transference which took place. It’d be easy to tweak the history just a bit to include ‘lost’ sculpture & myth.

I felt in that moment the same way I feel now: like laughing maniacally.

And an appropriate (and somewhat telling) image from that same blog post:

Prometheus. Not Ridly Scott's version. The original.

Prometheus. Not Ridly Scott’s version. The original.

* * * * * * *

A passage from an excellent essay on the roots of Enlightenment thought about justice.

Rarely in the history of thought do I have a chance to say the outcome was so simply good, but it worked.  Within their lifetimes, Voltaire and Beccaria saw real reform, a sincere and solid transformation of the legal codes of most of Europe, the spread of deterrence-based justicial thought.  Within decades, judicial torture virtually vanished from European law.  The laws of America, and of the other new constitutions drafted in the latter 18th century, all show the touch of Beccaria’s call.  It worked.  The change was not absolute, of course.  Torture, the primary target, retreated, as did the notions of retributive justice, avenging dignity, and purging sin.  But prisons were still squalid, punishments severe, and other things Beccaria had campaigned against remained, capital punishment primary among them.  But even here there was what Beccaria would call progress.  The guillotine lives in infamy, but it too was a consequence of this call for enlightened justice: a quick, egalitarian execution, death with the least possible suffering, and equal for all, giving no advantage to the noble, who had long been able to hire an expert and humane headsman while the poor man suffered the clumsy hackings of an amateur who might take many blows to sever a writhing neck.  Most states judged death still necessary, but agreed that law and punishment should bind all men equally, and that unnecessary pain did not serve the public good.  It is strange to call the guillotine a happy ending, but it was in a small way, and even more victorious was the dialog it that birthed it.

* * * * * * *

Overnight I dried the peppers. Here they are this morning:

20130916_064646

Why, yes, all of these things are connected.   ;)

Jim Downey




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