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New cocktail: El Pino Margarita

I have probably mentioned what a rabbit hole the study of cocktails is, what with all the odd liquids and liqueurs that one accumulates.  I have the additional problem of people giving me stuff they come across that looks interesting, tasty, or just plain weird.  (Pro tip: avoid the liqueur called Hog Master.)

The latest is my “father-of-the-groom” gift from my son: Zirbenz, Stone Pine Liqueur of the Alps.  It’s a product of Austria, and it tastes like a pine tree.  Not unpleasant, but certainly not an easy taste to get used to.

I happen to be awash in some fine tequilas at the moment, and so I wondered if one could use the Zirbenz in a margarita.

Spoiler alert: yes, you can, and it’s yummy.

El Pino Margarita

  • 1.5 oz tequila, in this case a very nice one indeed
  • 1.5 oz lime juice (I usually use Rose’s Sweetened Lime Juice)
  • .5 – 1.0 oz Zirbenz Stone Pine Liqueur
  • splash orange juice

Pour it all in, give it a stir.  Salt, of course, and on the rocks.

The pine gives a nice tang to the mustiness of the tequila, a complex layering of flavors.  The splash of orange juice mellows the whole thing out.

I’m back—now with extra whinging!

I’m in the mountains, on our annual Lichtenbergian Retreat, wherein we are each to bring some creative work on which we’ve been slacking.  Since my recent work on Seven Dreams is the very definition of “slacking,” i.e., “no work at all,” I’ve brought it with me to jumpstart the process again.

(To be fair: 1) I ran out of text; 2) I was getting ready for and attending Alchemy; 3) my son got married.  Still, I bet Wagner didn’t let things like that slow down his ego work.)

At any rate, I’m in the Blue Ridge in a great cabin with four other Lichtenbergians—none of whom, I’ve noticed, seem to have brought any work at all, but let that pass.  I’ve brought the snippets of text which I have demanded respectfully requested begin and end Dream Three.  Hey, they’re Scott’s actual text from the original play, so I figure it’s not a problem.

Even if it is a problem, even if he ends up sending me a completely different text, I figure I can play around with scene setting and thematic/harmonic bits that I can then use with the new text.  As I said last night, measures full of sixteenth notes can be very flexible.  Bring on the words!

Here’s the part you’ve been reading for: whining.

In Dream  Three, Theseus and the Minotaur have had enough chitchat about their respective ritual fates and are getting it on.  The four lines of the Minotaur’s opening aria return, this time with a partner.  So, ecstatic duet, right?

Since I haven’t written any real music since August, I’m just aiming to produce crap the entire weekend, just getting my crapping muscles back in shape.  I don’t expect to use anything that comes out of my head in the next 48 hours—though one never knows.

My problem is that many of the halfway decent bits I’ve scribbled down are more Broadway than La Scala.  Don’t ask me what the difference is, there is one and I know it when I hear it.  So do audiences, and so do critics.  So I keep scribbling, breaking up some of the Broadway tunes with odd harmonies or melodic intervals, and it sounds more La Scala, but then it’s not very soaring or ecstatic.

Yes, I am modifying my music to please unknown critics.  On a personal level I have no desire be known as the opera world’s Frank Wildhorn or Andrew Lloyd Webber: singable tunes, loved by unsophisticated audiences but scorned by all right-thinking persons.  As Noel Coward said, “It’s extraordinary how potent cheap music is.”

On an artistic level, opera voices are not show voices, and the same melodies that fit comfortably on Neil Patrick Harris’s voice or Patti LuPone’s sound weak under Erwin Schrott’s or Anna Netrebko’s.  You want to please the audience and please the singers, and so you have to move them through the notes differently, if that makes sense, and  there’s more than a little element of athletic showing-off in the opera world.  If you make it too easy, they’ll disdain it.

I’ll get it done.  I just have to get back in the groove of pushing it all out—instead of blogging about it—because if I can produce a big enough pile of crap, there should be a pony in there somewhere, right?

3 Old Men

Last week, all the philosophizing, planning, designing, building came to fruition as I packed my car to the max and headed to LaFayette for my first ever Regional Burn, known as Alchemy.

I’m not going to give you a lot of details, because above all Alchemy is a safe space for those who go there and I am not going to breach that implicit agreement we all have that, for a lack of a better phrase, what happens at Alchemy stays at Alchemy.

But what an experience!  As you produce your ticket at the gate, the hippies greeting you welcome you “home”—and while I can’t go that far, I will say that I felt an enormous sense of belonging as soon as I pulled onto the farm.  Our assigned campsite was the first one inside the farm on the left, and as I pulled up and started to unload I knew that it was going to be an amazing event.

I put my tent up quickly just so I wouldn’t be doing that in the dark, then set about working with the others to get the labyrinth set up.  As in our dress rehearsal, the method for laying it out worked flawlessly, although one of the long ropes was inexplicably six feet short.  We never did figure out why.

Here’s a shot of our camp:

And here’s a shot of our canopy with the banners I whipped up last week and didn’t even share with you:

By 6:30, we were ready for our first ritual—we had decided to do sunrise, sunset, an hour later, and midnight, but that almost immediately got changed.  Dawn was going to be too cold or too wet, and as for sunset, well, I misread the sunrise/sunset charts, not factoring in daylight savings time.  Not a problem.  We moved the sunrise session to noon, and just went for sunset and an hour before instead.  (By the time temperatures had dropped into the 30s on Saturday night, we also ditched the final midnight session, instituting the policy that the Old Men don’t perform their ritual when the ambient temperature is lower than 55°.)

Here’s a lovely panorama shot of the labyrinth, looking across the road to our neighbors, Incendia:

Click for larger version.

In the center, we placed a small altar for people to leave and to take whatever they wished, and the bell from my labyrinth.  I will share one experience that made me happy: a group of young people entered the labyrinth while the Old Men were in session.  They were happy and giggled their way to the center, mock-racing each other to enlightenment.  Once in the center, they found the mallet and one of them rang the bell, which uttered its usual nondescript clang.

But then one of the young men, in a cowboy hat that lit up, stopped and said, “Hey, listen you guys… ” and he struck the bell again and said, “No listen… it shouldn’t be doing this… listen…” and he listened—because he had heard the bell continue with its incredibly long reverberation, on and on and  on.  He left in a more contemplative mood than the one he entered with.  (We saw that a lot, actually.)

Incendia.  My oh my.  We watched a team of tawny youths clamber up and up and up building that structure all day on Thursday, and then as night fell, we were stunned and delighted to see:

Incendia was the hit of the entire Burn: the large dome was a lounge, with seating, bar, DJ, projections, and fire.  This is what the ceiling looked like:

That’s spurts of propane billowing out into never-ending clouds of flame, and it’s as fascinating in real time as you might imagine.  Each of the smaller domes housed its own fire sculpture, and those ceilings were the same.  It was amazing, and the place was packed until 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning.  (Earplugs were a must on our side of the road.)

So for three days, we did our ritual, answered questions and discussed the impetus behind the project, and sucked up the positive energy all around us.  I will say that I was just a wee bit proud when people were surprised to find that we were all Burn virgins; apparently 3 Old Men gave off the vibe of being old pros at this.  (It also dawned on me that we were freaking selected as a theme camp by Burning Man itself.  Sometimes ignorance of the odds is a great way to develop a project.)

The camp is large: 3200 Burners, two-thirds of them in registered theme camps like us, and the variety therein was impressive.  Art, food, drink, interactive things, games, just a wild smorgasbord of creativity and openness.  Again, details would be over-sharing, but the energy was palpable.

Everything culminates in the Burn itself on Saturday night, in which a two-story structure known as the Effigy is set on fire in the most spectacular way imaginable. I have never been witness to as much controlled pyromania as that Burn, and I found that watching those enormous pillars of flame erupt from tubes surrounding the Effigy, followed by the Effigy itself vanishing in the largest fireball I have ever seen, produces only one possible response: ecstatic, joyous laughter.

It’s a very powerful feeling to watch a structure burn that you were just inside and on top of, and on which you’ve written your own thoughts about life/loss/change.

The next morning, Sunday at dawn, the Temple, another smaller structure, was burned.  Part of my labyrinth was in there: the artist put out a call for frames; I had some in my kindling pile and although I was out of town at the time I sent her directions on where to find them in my back yard.  I ran into her at the Temple and she excitedly told her boyfriend that I was the one with the amazing back yard.

Click for large version

Afterwards, we went back down the hill to the camp, had one final meal together, then broke camp.  By early morning, before most of the rest of the hippies were up and about, we were all gone.

Here’s what I learned.  The Burn’s 10 Principles are a great way to run an event, and their impact has remained with me. I learned to be more Radically Inclusive of other people, which is sometimes a problem for me.  I learned a lot about Radical Self-Reliance, never having camped before—I like it, at least for Burns!  And Leave No Trace has become a mantra for me; next time I will volunteer as a MOOP* Fairy, part of the onsite volunteer staff.

The guiding philosophy behind 3 Old Men turned out to be exactly correct, and I found—even as I watched beautiful, taut young bodies parade past—that I was proud of me, of where I am and  how I got here.  More amazingly, that was how the taut young bodies responded to me as well.  The ritual was simple and effective, and we had a decent amount of participation in those sessions, although we’re working on ways to make it easier for people to challenge themselves to enter the labyrinth.  (Again, no photos, but the 3 Old Men in full regalia—paint, skirt, staff—were imposing to the point of being totemic.)

And mostly I learned that I am made very happy being in a setting where everyone there is free to let their own little freak flags fly without fear of judgment.  I soaked up all that joy like a vampire, and I am committed to continuing this journey with my fellow Old Men.  We’re making plans to go to other Burns and to recruit more people to our roster as we go.  I’ll keep you posted.


*MOOP = Matter Out Of Place, i.e., whatever was not there when you got there.  I am still worried that our MOOP score will suffer because of the spills of kaolin body paint we left behind.

About half the photos in this post were taken by Roger Easley, photographer extraordinaire and a member of 3 Old Men.

Not an update

This is not an update.  It’s just that I haven’t blogged in a while and I wanted to assure my legions of readers that I’m still around.

The reasons are what you might expect: getting to Alchemy—Alchemy—returning from Alchemy—decompressing from Alchemy—starting final preparation for my son’s wedding next weekend.  All that kind of thing.

I promise I have a lot to share—just no time to do it right now.

3 Old Men: staff update

Remember how I kind of wanted jewels for the eyes of the lizard on the staff but never really went back to the idea?

I was in Michael’s picking up some white acrylic paint for one last 3 Old Men project—Alchemy is this week, YOU GUYS!—and there was this whole series of new paint substances.  This one looks like glass or clear sugar candy, and I snatched it up.  Ooohhh…

3 Old Men: the skirt (day whatever)

I have not been boring you with all the step-by-steps of getting the other four skirts made—you’re welcome—but I do want to show off.  Here are three of the four waistbands:

I’m missing enough material to have made the fourth one (although this morning it dawned on me that when I cut out two of the skirts, I should be able to find that).

Aren’t they beautiful?  You can’t really see the buttonholes through which the sashes will weave, but they’re beautiful.  The belt loops are beautiful.  The sashes are beautiful.

If I’m assiduous, I could have three of the four skirts entirely finished today and have time to go outside, do some planting, and in general enjoy the lovely fall weather.  I’ll keep you posted.

A quick foodie post

This is not really a recipe, just a concatenation of ingredients that turned out fabulously well:

It’s just kale chips sprinkled on grilled salmon.  It was suggested that perhaps I should put the salmon on a bed of kale chips, but sprinkling them on top lets them stay crisp/crunchy.  Also, the kale chips by themselves were oversalted; the salmon was lightly seasoned, and together they were quite a tasty balance.

Kale chips: olive oil, sea salt, white pepper; bake at 300° for 10 min, turn the baking sheet, bake for another 15 min.

Salmon: marinate face down in lemon juice, garlic, and olive oil; turn over, season with salt and black pepper.  Grill.

My center

I have been so focused on sewing skirts for 3 Old Men that I haven’t really had time to get out to the place that is my center: the Labyrinth.

Here’s what I’m seeing:

Click for full size photo.

Why is this the most beautiful spot on earth for me?  Let us count the ways.

  1. It’s a labyrinth.  Duh.
  2. I built it.  By myself, with my own two hands.
  3. I designed it.  It includes a couple of features that I have seen nowhere else in my research:
    1. The western path, i.e., a path of bricks that lead from the center to the west.  Sometimes, you need to take the high road home.
    2. The hidden path, i.e., there is a fully paved path leading from the entrance to the center.  I dug a trench, laid out the full walkway, allowed myself to walk the path to the center and back once, then covered it and laid out the labyrinth over it.  So there is a path straight to the center—but we can neither see it nor use it.
    3. The center is an omphalos: a navel, an axis.  The black granite circle rims a ceramic bowl that I made—and the cracks that happened as the clay dried are now golden hieroglyphs.
  4. It’s green.  Green and white are the only colors I’ve used down here, although the spider lilies that show up right about now are a lovely and welcome surprise.
  5. It has a firepit.  I cannot over-extol the virtues of a firepit.
  6. It has four points: the gate at the eastpoint; the Richard Hill “Sun” sculpture at the southpoint; the Brooks Barrow limestone bowl at the westpoint; my earth sculpture at the northpoint.  Each offers a post at which you can hook into their specific energies.
  7. It, further, has a sculpture of the Belvedere Apollo (near the southpoint); and a sculpture of the Dancing Fawn, stand-in for  Dionysus, at the northwest point. You get to choose.
  8. It has a sound system.  Yes, it does: two in-ground speakers, one up by the entrance, the other in the ferns by Dionysus.  At certain points in the evening, it’s nice to be able to walk the labyrinth and be able to hear even the quietest pieces no matter where you are.
  9. It has a great view of the full moon—but you have to get out of your seat by the fire and go stand in the labyrinth.  This is a feature, not a bug.
  10. It has an energy that you have to experience and cannot be described.  Arrive early, an hour before the sun sets.  Sit.  Watch.  Listen.  Then we’ll light the fire.

A fateful decision

I’m trying an experiment: I’m moving Bad Etchings over to its own space on Blogger.  This will allow me to post semi-anonymously and therefore craft captions more ribald than I am willing to do here.

Set your bookmarks to, and be sure to subscribe so you don’t have to remember to go check it.

3 Old Men: the skirt (day 5)

First of all, apologies for not really blogging.  Events have all conspired against me blah blah blah.  I hope the Bad Etchings have entertained you in the meantime.

Recently on Facebook I did one of those challenges where I listed ten books that have impacted me.  Today, as I was working on sashes for the four Old Men skirts, I was reminded of one that truly changed my life, one that didn’t occur to me while making the list because its lessons are so deeply embedded in me that it never surfaces for trivial things like the Facebook list.

That book is Cheaper by the Dozen, by siblings Frank B. Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey.  The movie is irrelevant, and in fact I don’t much remember the charming shenanigans of the Gilbreth family in the book.  What I do remember is what their parents did for a living: both mother and father were famous efficiency experts, and what they discovered through their motion studies in factories changed my life forever.

Put in its simplest form, it’s this: if you have a multistep task that you have to do repeatedly—as most factories have to do to assemble their products—then you perform each subtask of the final task all at the same time before moving to the next subtask.

So with my six sashes, I cut all the monks cloth panels first, then serged all six, then cut all six colored linings, then marked them, etc.

At the turn of the last century, as America geared up to become the industrial powerhouse it became, the Gilbreths played a key role.  We already knew about standardizing parts, but we were still in craftsman mode.  Even in the new automobile industry, we were apt to have crews who assembled the whole car from start to finish.

The Gilbreths changed that.  They showed to the way to Ford’s assembly line; as the great man says in Ragtime,

Even people who ain’t too clever
Can learn to tighten
A nut forever,
Attach one pedal
Or pull one lever

And so on we moved.

The main way it makes the individual craftsman more efficient is that you’re not always shifting mental gears for the next subtask.  Instead, you can settle into the rhythm of pinning the monks cloth to the lining, for example, and then once that’s done, set up the new rhythm of basting the two pieces together.  And so on I moved.

The other major strategy I got from the Gilbreths—and which I do remember played some part in the hilarity of the book—is arranging your parts and pieces so that they are 1) within easy reach; and 2) in the same order that you’re going to need them.  I can’t tell you how many times I have caught myself in some project or other reaching across myself or the product to pick up something I needed.  I almost always stop myself and rearrange my workspace.  I hope that the Gilbreths would approve.

Last Saturday, members of the 3 Old Men ritual troupe met to assemble the labyrinth for the first time and to run through the ritual.  I am drawing a discreet curtain over our experience—sometimes you, dear reader, need to encounter the sacred directly and not through my reportage—but I would like to show you the labyrinth.

You will recall that I had designed an octagonal labyrinth with four entrances, to be made of 144 tent stakes and about 1000 feet of rope.  You may also recall that I designed the method by which we would lay this out, by using a triangle of rope like the Egyptians.

And you know what?  It worked.

Here’s our Egyptian triangle:

Staked to the center, the ropes form a right triangle when pulled tight, creating a 22.5° arc at the center.  The two long ropes are marked, indicating where the stakes are to be driven (with a few variances).

Here’s that in action:

Give or take a couple of boneheaded mistakes—missing an outer stake, not taking the long ropes all the way to their last stake, that kind of thing—it worked beautifully.


It’s going to be a wonderful thing we’re doing at Alchemy and, next year, at Burning Man.  I’ll talk more later about the actual experience of walking this particular labyrinth.