Monday, August 30, 2010

The Fraudulent Arabian Hit Parade

There's a little palindromey phrase of music that has come to be synonymous with "exotic" and "Middle Eastern" in the last century, and you'd have to be living under a rock in Nebraska to not know what I'm talking about. Most of us learn it in kindergarten as one of a million variants on "There's a place in France where the naked ladies dance", "There's a place in France where they don't wear underpants", etc.

Jimmy Kennedy's "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" was a top ten hit for the Four Lads in 1953, and has since been covered by Bing Crosby, Caterina Valente, Santo & Johnny, and perhaps most notably, They Might Be Giants in 1990. The song employs the mystery melody at the part you hear them say, "Even old New York was once New Amsterdam".

The melody also turns up in the country song "Bonaparte's Retreat", written by Pee Wee King and Redd Stewart and recorded by many including Kay Starr, Hank Williams, Billy Grammer. The eerie faux-Arabian sound is especially accentuated on this home movie of Archie Campbell. Another country song to prominently use the melody is Roy Hogsed's "Snake Dance Boogie" in 1951.

Even earlier, the phrase appears prominently in Raymond Scott's "Twilight in Turkey" for the film "Ali Baba Goes to Town" in 1937 (which is where the images in this post come from.)

The Persian scale has a dark and peculiar sound that lends itself well to such arpeggios that conjure up images of snake charmers. In fact, many people know the melody as simply the "Snake Charmer Song".

Still others know it as the intro to Steve Martin's "King Tut".

So what is this passage of music, and where did it come from? Tricorder readings are indeterminate, Captain. Some say it's from a song called Streets of Cairo, written in 1893 for the famous bellydancer/stripper Farida "Little Egypt" Spyropoulos, who was herself immortalized in song by the Coasters and Elvis.

But others say - and they're probably right - that it goes back much further, to a French song from 1719 called "Colin Prend Sa Hotte". And according to some sources, this French song is in turn referencing an Arabic song titled "Kradoutja".

We suspect it goes back even further than that, perhaps to antediluvian times. Perhaps, like the worm of Ouroboros, the song has no beginning and no end.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Airship Victoria

Now this is what I like to see - while many Steampunk enthusiasts are content to simply sit around at home wearing some brass goggles while listening to Vernian Process and drinking Old Fashioneds, here's a gang of glorious geeks who are building their own airship.

It's called the Airship Victoria, and though it isn't a zeppelin, it's a very impressive congregation of helium balloons with what appears to be a plasma lightning generator and a dangerous-looking platform suspended from cables. You can see the original prototype they tested out here, at San Francisco's Burning Man Decompression 2009.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Wide Open Field Awaits the Wide Awake Man

In the 11th century, a heretical religious movement began that espoused very different views from the common man of the time. A movement that opposed everything about the entire material world we live in; a movement who held as doctrine that the God of the Old Testament was not the true God but rather, an evil demon impersonating God. The real God, they held, would never have tricked Adam & Eve with a sting operation, would never have asked Abraham to kill his own son, would never have destroyed the entire world in a flood.

If they had a name for themselves, they kept it a secret and history does not record it. Publicly, they mainly referred to themselves as simply "the good people."

(I'm reminded of a scene in the TV show Lost: Michael, utterly floored and confused by the mysterious doings of Ben Linus and "The Others", asks "who are you people??" Ben's reply: "We're the good guys.")

They also had a term for certain members of their faith who had sufficiently developed their spiritual nature: Perfecti, or "perfect ones". Members who had not yet achieved the state of Perfecti looked up to those who had, and furthering their goal toward it was an important part of their spiritual journey.

The Catholic Church referred to these people as "the Cathars", which was a derogatory slang term, but it stuck and it's the term which we of today tend to know this ancient gnostic sect by.

The Cathars were universally misunderstood by their peers in the 11th and 12th centuries. They thought of humans as spiritual beings inhabiting temporary bodies and, as such, trapped in this stifling world of physical reality and matter. They opposed the physical world to such an extreme extent that the Catholic Church decided they were too radical to live. In 1209, Pope Innocent III launched the Albigensian Crusade which sought to exterminate the Cathars completely. At least 1 million Cathars were murdered by the Catholic Church in this travesty.

Though opposed to this physical realm of matter, the Cathars had a keen interest in harnessing it for their own ends - they especially had a fascination for textiles and fibers, and were expert weavers and spinners. Legend has it that they communicated secret messages via a Morse Code-like cypher embedded in the very weave of the cloth they manufactured.

(I'm reminded of Lost again: at one point, Sawyer makes a very odd remark about how he could tell that whoever the kidnappers were, they weren't Ben's "Others". When someone asks him how he knows that, he says he noticed the kind of weave used on the fabric bags they placed over his head was different from that of the "Others".)

To the Cathars, the Holy Grail was not a cup - it wasn't even a physical object at all. It was a process, a sequence of gradual steps one took toward enlightement and awakening. This process, they believed, came from Christ himself and was also something they encoded covertly into the weave of the fabrics they made. Yet they also are said to have sought after a luminous stone that fell to Earth, called "the Grail Stone" (not by the Cathars but by later writers).

Cathars have become unfortunately trendy in all the wrong ways. Some entrepreneurs in Europe have turned "Cathar Country" into a tourist-trap cottage industry that depends on the general public's ignorance of the subject. Many books and websites have been churned out in recent years trying to spin (no pun intended) their story into some sort of adventure-myth akin to The Da Vinci Code.

The truth is even more interesting than those fictions, however.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Egyptian Cigarettes

For many Americans of the 19th century, their first introduction to the Middle East came by way of the worldwide fad of Egyptian cigarettes.

Similar to the subsequent "Exotica" and "Tiki" fads of the 1950s and 1960s, denizens of the Victorian age had a keen but ignorant fascination with what they perceived as the exotic lands and all their wonders. Egyptian cigarettes, with their mysterious graphics portraying mystical faraway lands, personified that muddled fascination for the Western world.

Oddly, many say the cigarettes weren't even very good - Middle Eastern tobacco prior to the craze had a reputation for being harsh-tasting and poorly cultivated. And yet, something drove millions of people towards these smokes, catapulting Egypt to an unexpected global industry. There seemed to have been a feeling, whether mythical or not, that Egyptian and Turkish tobacco held more consciousness-altering qualities than their Western counterparts. (If true, it was probably more likely caused by mold that was allowed into the cigarettes due to the poor conditions of the industry of the times, and the lack of an FDA to oversee such imports.)

Just as Edgar Rice Burroughs loved his Cubebs, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had a fondness for these fetid foreign coffin nails from the land of the pyramids. He even wrote them into the plot of his 1904 Sherlock Holmes story, The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez.

Many American and British companies, eager to capitalize on the booming success of the Egyptian cigarettes, hastily entered their own fakes on the market. Soon, shelves of tobacconists everywhere were glutted not only with the Egyptian smokes but with caucasian counterfeits. Of all these knock-offs, one brand survived into the present era: Camel cigarettes.

After World War I, the public grew weary of the Egyptian cigarettes and the concept fell back into obscurity in every place except, of course, Egypt. Nowadays, Egypt is cracking down on smoking and is instituting the first-ever tobacco bans in cities like Alexandria.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Paris When It Sizzles

"A Bastard's work is never done. Especially in Germany."

"I'm aware what tremendous feats human beings are capable of once they abandon dignity."

"There's a special rung in hell reserved for people who waste good scotch."

"...and like the snows of yesteryear, gone from this earth".

"I love rumors! Facts can be so misleading, where rumors, true or false, are often revealing."

"You'll be shot for this." "I don't think so, more like I'll be chewed out. I've been chewed out before."

"When you join my command, you take on debit. A debit you owe me, personally."

"There are no crimes behind enemy lines."

"What else are we gonna do - go home?"

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Seventh Son of a Seventh Son

There's a superstition, stemming from ancient folklore, about "seventh sons" being especially magickally powerful and lucky, and about the "seventh son of a seventh son" being even more gifted with supernatural abilities.

These abilities, depending on the culture, are sometimes alternately described as Christ-like or Satanic. Some attribute the concept of the seventh son to Ireland, but the meme turns up in many parts of the world. In Latin America, for instance, it's widely believed that the seventh son of a seventh son will be a werewolf. In Romania, it was once believed that vampires were often seventh sons of seventh sons.

Bluesman Willie Dixon wrote "The Seventh Son", a brilliant song based on the idea. Said Dixon in an interview late in his life, "The seventh son is part of the scriptures of the Bible. 'The seventh son of the seventh son born on the seventh hour of the seventh day of the seventh month.' I was born in the seventh month and I was the seventh child of my family."

Despite Dixon's claim, there are no clear-cut references in the Bible to a seventh son being a superman, although 1 Chronicles 2:15 does mention in passing that David was Jesse's seventh son: "And Jesse became the father of Eliab his first-born, then Abinadab the second, Shimea the third, Nethanel the fourth, Raddai the fifth, Ozem the sixth, David the seventh." It could be argued that David was something of a superman, defeating Goliath and becoming a King against all odds. David is a very important figure in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.

Willie Mabon recorded "The Seventh Son" for Chess Records in 1955. Jazz hipster Mose Allison did a great version. According to some sources, Bill Haley has also recorded it, and I'd love to hear it.

Johnny Rivers built a reputation in the 1960s for recording swinging and swaggering Americana numbers such as "Love Me While You Can", "It Wouldn't Happen With Me", "Maybelline", "Whisky a Go-Go", "One Man Woman", "Memphis", "A Man Can Cry", "High Heel Sneakers", "Walking the Dog" and "Cupid". Dixon's peculiar piece of paranormal machismo was right up Johnny's alley, and many (like me) believe the Johnny Rivers version to be the crowning glory of his career.

Country-folk weirdo Roger Miller recorded his hit song "Dang Me" in 1964, with the couplet "I'm the seventh out of seven sons/My pappy was a pistol, I'm a son of a gun".

(Interestingly, Johnny Rivers covered that too.)

1940s/1950s pop crooner Perry Como was a seventh son of a seventh son. While Mr. Como was very suave in his own way and recorded some awesome tunes (like "Glendora", "Don't Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes", "For the Good Times", "Hot Diggity", "Magic Moments" and "Papa Loves Mambo"), we know of no reports of him possessing messianic qualities.

He did, however, set a world's record for the first-ever live concert radio broadcast from a moving plane. In the photo at top, Como and the Lloyd Shaffer Orchestra are broadcasting live from an airborne TWA Constellation on April 5, 1946.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Japanese Knotweed

So I've been a busy bee lately and haven't been weeding my organic garden. And when I went out in the back yard this morning, what to my wondering eyes should appear but an army of enormous trees that resembled sugar cane or bamboo. Trees that had been tiny sprouty weeds just two or three weeks ago.

When I tried to take the clippers to them, I was amazed at the resistance. The bigger specimens - which were at least seven feet tall - had turned hard as a rock and I had to put some real strength and sawing motion into my use of the shears. You can't quite tell it in the photo below, but this stump is thick as a broomhandle:

Intrigued by its bamboo-like qualities and astonishing rapid growth, I did a little research online and soon determined that what I have here is an infestation of Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica), also known as Polygonum cuspidatum, Crimson Beauty, Donkey Rhubarb, German Sausage Plant, Hu Zhang, Itadori, Hancock's Curse, Japanese Bamboo, Himalayan Fleece Flower, Japanese Polygonum, Kontiki Bamboo, Mexican Bamboo, Peashooter Plant, Renouée du Japon, Reynoutria Fleece, and Sally Rhubarb.

It was brought from Japan to the UK in 1825 as an ornamental plant for gardens and was imported to the USA at some point soon after. In these new habitats the plants grew rapidly out of control, lacking the natural insect enemies that it has in Japan.

As it turns out, F. japonica is on the Worst Invasive Species List and is considered a major world problem. So much so that in the UK, it is illegal to deliberately cultivate it. According to Wikipedia, the U.S. Government will actually assist in eradication of the plants on your property via pesticide. Obviously, since I'm opposed to pesticides - especially in my organic garden - that's not an option for me.

In fact, the more I learn about this plant, the more I'm liking it. Like Bamboo, it has an indomitable will to survive and perpetuate itself via a complex grid of deep underground rhizomes that are nearly impossibly to fully eradicate. Figures vary from source to source, but reportedly the root structure of just one plant can survive temperatures of −35 °C (−31 °F) and can extend at least 10 feet deep and 23 feet wide. Therefore, considering I have an entire battalion of them in my back yard, it's safe to say that there must be an immense and amazing web of intertangled roots beneath my feet and probably beneath my entire house as well. I shudder to think what it's doing to the foundation.

But as with all things in nature, Japanese Knotweed does have useful purposes. According to Wikipedia again:

Japanese Knotweed flowers are valued by some beekeepers as an important source of nectar for honeybees, at a time of year when little else is flowering. Japanese Knotweed yields a monofloral honey, usually called bamboo honey by northeastern U.S. beekeepers, like a mild-flavored version of buckwheat honey (a related plant also in the Polygonaceae).

The young stems are edible as a spring vegetable, with a flavor similar to mild rhubarb. In some locations, semi-cultivating Japanese Knotweed for food has been used as a means of controlling knotweed populations that invade sensitive wetland areas and drive out the native vegetation.

Although I certainly can't allow these things to take over my garden (surprisingly, though, my basil is thriving amongst it), I think I may allow a few examples of it to remain intact for further study. There's something about it that intrigues me - something more than I've stated here - but I can't seem to put my finger on it. Will report more later.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Raiders of the Lost Booze

Discovering antique hooch seems to be the meme of the month.

A few weeks ago, divers investigating a Baltic shipwreck discovered thirty bottles of 230-year-old Veuve Clicquot Champagne perfectly preserved and perfectly drinkable. The champagne, believed to have been sent by France’s King Louis XVI to Russia's Peter the Great, are now the oldest surviving Champagne on the planet (a distinction previously held by a bottle of Perrier-Joulet from 1825.)

And just today, there's a story in the news about five crates of 100-year-old Scotch Whiskey that was found buried in antarctic ice. The crates were rescued from the frozen hut left behind by renowned explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton earlier this year, but they've just now gotten around to opening one. What the scientists found were 11 bottles of Mackinlay's Scotch Whiskey, carefully wrapped in paper and straw.

Although they say none of the bottles will be actually tasted (yeah, right), they do intend to analyze samples to try to recreate the formula for Mackinlay's, whose recipe has been lost.

Shackleton, who was exploring the Antactic in the Nimrod Expedition in 1907-1909, clearly knew the importance of liquor in scientific investigation. In addition to the crates of Scotch, two cases of Brandy were also discovered suspended in the ice.

Now if only someone could just find a crate of Spud Cigarettes kept frozen and fresh in a deep Kentucky cave and share a pack with me.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

ساعة مكة المكرمة

As of today, Greenwich Mean Time may no longer be the sole standard universal time around the globe - after over a century, Big Ben and GMT are being challenged by a new superclock in Saudi Arabia.

The Royal Mecca Clock sits atop an enormous skyscraper complex called the Abraj Al-Bait Towers. The complex is so huge that it will contain many hotels within it, as well as residential condos, offices, and a four-story shopping mall.

The four faces of the Mecca Clock are illuminated by 2 million LED lights. "In the name of Allah". The Mecca Clock will display, of course, Arabia Standard Time (three hours ahead of GMT). The clock faces are 151 feet in diameter, which dwarfs the face of Big Ben (23 feet in diameter) considerably. The Big Ben clock was installed in 1859 to replace the Palace of Westminster's which had been destroyed by fire in 1834.

According to an article in the Telegraph:

Islamic scholars hope the clock’s influence will stretch far further than the sands of Saudi Arabia, as part of a plan for Mecca to eclipse the Greenwich Observatory as the “true centre of the earth”.

For the past 125 years, the international community has accepted that the start of each day should be measured from the prime meridian, representing 0 degrees longitude, which passes through the Greenwich Observatory. A standard time by which other clocks were set was needed to organise global travel and communications, but in the Islamic world the idea that it should be centred on a part of London is seen as a colonial anachronism.

As Mohammed al-Arkubi, manager of one of the hotels in the complex, put it: "Putting Mecca time in the face of Greenwich Mean Time. This is the goal."

Further underscoring that sentiment is this promotional video for the Mecca Tower, which belabors the point about the contrasts in size and grandeur between the two buildings.

Interestingly, the Islamic move towards their own global time standard is based not just in cultural upmanship or provincial pride, but has a scientific origin - or so they say. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who is as well-known and well-respected in the Muslim world as, say, Stephen Hawking is to us, has stated that Mecca has a superior claim to being the Earth's prime meridian. He, and many other leading Arab scientists, claim that Mecca is a "zero magnetism zone" that is in "perfect alignment with the magnetic north." This electromagnetic void at Mecca actually enhances health and well-being for those in its presence, according to the Egyptian National Research Center.

Upon its completion, the Abraj Al Bait's main tower will be the tallest building in Saudi Arabia, the tallest and largest hotel building on Earth, and the structure with the largest floor area on Earth (16,150,000 square feet). The tallest building on Earth - the Burj Khalifa building - is also in the Middle East; Dubai to be precise.

The clock itself now holds the distinction of being the largest on Earth.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Carlotta Valdes

Fabled in legend, story and song, Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo is the squarest peg ever to be forced into a round hole in the history of Hollywood.

The film's name is apt, because it induced vertigo in any audience members who first saw it in 1958 and tried to follow its unconventional plot and pacing. The movie won't stop shifting around, wiggling, roiling, warping; it starts out as one kind of movie but then literally keeps morphing into another kind, then another.

A third of the way into the film, we realize that its hero is not such a sane and nice guy after all, as we realize he's a manipulative sexual obsessive. He sees a woman jump into the bay and almost drown, and after he pulls her unconscious body out of the water, does he call for help? Does he rush her to the hospital? No, he takes her to his house and takes all her clothes off.

The big secret to the whole story is revealed smack dab in the middle of the movie, rather than the end. Midge, who is practically the co-star of the film at first, abruptly vanishes halfway through it and is never seen or even mentioned again.

The plot contains deliberate holes and leaps of logic that challenge one's ability to suspend disbelief, but they also help to give the film a surreal, dreamlike quality. The film just didn't make sense in 1958, and it still doesn't always make sense now.

(The story can't even be summed up in a simple short paragraph: Scottie, a private detective suffering vertigo/anxiety attacks, gets called upon to work a case involving his old school chum Gavin Elster's wife. Gavin says Madeleine is obsessed by her dead relative Carlotta Valdes and wants her followed because of her increasingly bizarre behavior. Scottie trails her movements and begins to fall in love with her, especially after he has to rescue her from drowning. Madeleine's trance-channelling possessions by Carlotta start coming faster and stronger, and finally she commits suicide by jumping off a church tower. But in truth, a switch was pulled in the tower between the real and the fake Madeleine, and Elster actually threw the unconscious real Madeleine to her death. Scottie falls into a near-catatonic depression until he meets Judy, a woman who looks a lot like Madeleine - because she is the woman who impersonated Madeleine. Eventually Scottie figures out the ruse, but before he can take Judy to the police, she leaps from the same church tower, frightened by the abrupt appearance of a nun. See?)

Stanley Kubrick was no doubt influenced by this film, and his best work utilizes the same motifs. Most notably, the use of "twinning" - the pairing of Judy and her alter ego as Madeleine, the pairing of Madeleine with her alter ego Carlotta; even down to details like the double-torch wall sconce by Judy's mirror and the double-torch lingam/yoni motif on the front doors of Ernie's Restaurant. We see Madeleine/Judy in mirror images repeatedly - at Ernie's as she leaves with Elster; in the mirror as Scottie stalks her at the flower shop; and as she stands in front of her mirror at her hotel. And then there's the shot where Midge sits beside her own portrait of herself as Madeleine. And the fact that our protagonist goes by two names - his real name Johnny and his nickname Scottie.

As with Kubrick's The Shining, there's a subtle sense that there's a lot more going on here that we don't process even though it's right in front of our eyes. Although it's revealed that Elster and Judy (disguised as Madeleine) have been conspiring all along to set Scottie up to be the fall guy (a pun Hitchcock surely intended) for the real Madeleine's murder, and we're told that the whole "possession by Carlotta's ghost" routine was fake, I have to wonder: was it really fake?

We know the real Madeleine really did have an ancestor named Carlotta Valdez who was, in the world of the film, famous for being a tragic San Francisco madwoman. We see more artifacts of the real Carlotta than we do the real Madeleine, in fact: we see her gravestone, her necklace, and her portrait in a museum wearing said necklace. Judy, in her letter never sent to Scottie, says the backstory about Carlotta was "part real, part invented", but what part was invented? We hear her life story told by a historian in a bookstore, and it all coheres.

Other critics who have reappraised Vertigo from a more philosophical perspective have noted that the movie has a palpable feeling of inevitability; that everything that happens to everyone in it is fated to happen and we're just watching events play out that have already been decreed. Both Judy and Scottie think they have free will, but in actuality their lives seem controlled by an external third party. Elster? No, he's just a pawn too. I propose that it was not Elster himself pulling the strings in this film, but that the actual spirit of Carlotta Valdes really did supernaturally influence each of the characters.

Just as The Shining's Jack being let out of the hotel pantry ruins the theory that he's just hallucinating, Vertigo's scene at the McKendrick Hotel proves that something genuinely paranormal is taking place. Scottie watches Madeleine enter the front doors of the Hotel, then sees her in a window facing the street. But when he goes in after her, there's no trace of her having been there. The desk lady swears she never walked in those doors even though Scottie just saw her. The desk lady proves that the only key to the room is with her, and even opens the room up for Scottie's inspection. And then Madeleine's car vanishes.

To explain it away, one might feebly try to suggest that perhaps Elster went to great trouble to hoax the entire hotel incident, and that the desk lady was paid off to lie about it, but why? It doesn't further Elster's plan at all, and in fact, Elster's plan was to convince Scottie that Madeleine really was self-destructively insane and obsessed with Carlotta, not to convince him that Madeleine was herself a ghost who could be invisible, vanish, walk through walls, etc.

Once you accept that the spirit of Carlotta really is manipulating these events, a lot of odd things in the film make a new kind of sense, like Scottie's apparent remote viewing of other times and places during his triumphant embrace with Judy after he's remade her into a even faker Madeleine than she was before. Without the paranormal angle, the scene becomes an oddly un-Hitchcock-like exercise in symbolic obviousness.

For Madeleine to drag Scottie all the way out to the giant redwood forest just to have a Carlotta-channeling attack seems unnecessarily Rube Goldberg if it was just another part of Elster's cover story, but it makes more sense if we suppose Carlotta herself wanted them to come here, where the oldest living things on the planet can be found. Pointing to an enormous cross-section of a felled giant redwood with important historical dates marked, Carlotta (speaking through Madeleine's mouth) wants Scottie to see how her birth date and death date are so close together on the time-map of outwardly spiralling concentric rings, that it's just a momentary blip in the big picture of the track of time. That's precisely the sort of message a real spirit would want to give.

Elster, if being possessed by Carlotta, could be driven against his will to do the things that he does; this would explain why he seems genuinely sad and sympathetic as Scottie is raked over the figurative coals in a grueling court hearing. Elster, in fact, comes off as the gentlest, nicest guy in the film, despite the fact that he's supposed to be our scheming murderous villain.

Even the nun at the end could be supposed to be under Carlotta's influence to silently show up at just the right time. "I heard voices," indeed.

The movie ends with the "hero" morally and mentally destroyed not once but twice. As Scottie looks off the precipice, it fades to black and I've always wondered if Hitch meant for us to infer that he also jumped seconds later. One thing's for sure - with Judy dead, no one's going to believe Scottie if he tries to explain what really happened (and just what did really happen, anyway?). And after the abuse heaped on him in court previously, you know they'll never believe his story when he's suddenly found at the scene of another woman's death in that same church tower.

The movie ends with the "villain" getting away with his convoluted crime and leaving the country. Strange as it may seem, the British government at the time forbade movies with such endings, and Hitch was forced to film an alternate ending. Despite this, he took great measures to let the world know in no uncertain terms that he considered the ending non-canonical. If you listen carefully to what the radio announcer says, Hitch still manages to sneakily leave it not 100% certain that Elster will be apprehended.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


The Cubeb plant (Piper Cubeba), also known as the "Tailed Pepper" or "Java Pepper", is unheard of today, but in previous civilizations, it was all the rage. The plant was well known for its medicinal and aphrodisiac uses in Arabic culture, from whence it its named is derived - they called it kabāba (كبابة‎). And in the Victorian years of the 19th century, Cubeb got one last hurrah with a renewed resurgence in popularity - via Cubeb cigarettes.

Edgar Rice Burroughs, a devout smoker of cubeb cigarettes, once stated that if he had not smoked it so much, there might never have been Tarzan. I don't think he was joking. But more importantly than Tarzan, perhaps there never would have been any of ERB's science fiction masterpieces, such as his Barsoom series or the Venus series. ERB's pulp-fiction masterpieces, ranging from cavemen to spacemen, are no doubt colored by those ancient magickal peppers of Cubeb.

Today, Cubeb still turns up as a minor ingredient in Bombay Sapphire Gin and even some brands of menthol cigarettes, but I want a full Cubeb smoke, the kind great-grandpappy drew on while readin' the Police Gazette and waitin' for the Robert E. Lee. Where does a man have to go to get that old-school uncut Cubeb flavor?

Nicholas Culpeper reported in the 1654 edition of the London Dispensatorie that Cubebs were "hot and dry in the third degree... they cleanse the head of phlegm and strengthen the brain, they heat the stomach and provoke lust". Hey, can I bum a smoke?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

In the Silence of my Lonely Room

"He was, like, some sort of secret agent or something."

"This is the guy." "I'm the guy!"

"He's been playing you. He's a spy, that's what he does."

"Sometimes things happen for a reason."

"Full-blown break with reality."