30 April 2008

The Great Bike Ride In The Sky

Setting Orange, Discord 47, Year of Our Lady of Discord 3174

It was announced earlier today that Albert Hofmann, who first synthesized LSD-25 in 1943, has passed away at his home in Switzerland. It seems fitting that he left the planet fairly close to the celebration of "Bike Day" (named for April 19, 1943--the first recorded acid trip in history. Hofmann ingested 250 mg of LSD and when the drug began to affect him, he left the Sandoz laboratory where he worked and pedalled his bike home, experiencing the peak effects on the way).

I posted in January, on Hofmann's 102nd birthday. It seemed amazing then and still seems incredible. He out-lived a lot of the politicians who helped to outlaw his discovery...and even a lot of it's early advocates. His impact on "the 60s" remains undeniable, though he was dismayed with a lot of the rampant experimentalism with LSD. I suspect he was just as woeful, if not horrified, by governement "intelligence" agencies--especially the C.I.A., trying to use the drug as a truth serum, or worse yet, as a mind-control device. Luckily, acid seems to affect individuals in a different way with every dose--so those programs were cancelled eventually. The biggest side effect was a lot of 'psychedelic spooks' running around Langley, dreaming up wacky schemes for the spy game--most of which were (hopefully) never funded. Unfortunately, on the other end of the cultural spectrum, but with a chillingly similar aim--Charles Manson reportedly used LSD and other psychedelics to cement his "family" bond together with the runaways who stayed with him, leading to the 1969 "Helter Skelter" murders.

The man himself recounts his own encounters with psychedelics (he also synthesized psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient in hallucinogenic mushrooms) in his book, LSD, My Problem Child. It should be required reading for anyone interested in the study of conciousness and brain-change. He was a thoughtful, remarkable and enthusiastic supporter of research into the use of these compounds for therapeutic aims.

Hofmann was never able to see his discovery being scientifically researched as much as it had been in the 1950s and early 60s and that seems to be one of the great failings of the counter-culture. The mass panics of the late 60s and early 70s shut down any chance of legitimate research and as supplies of the pure ingredients needed to manufacture the compounds dwindled, underground chemists substituted less 'clean' substances in the street acid they made. This may have led to a lot more bad trips as time went on. Research has picked up in the past few years, but with MDMA and 'softer' psychedelics, LSD still seems to be taboo. Someday, scientists may pick up where Uncle Albert left off--'till then, we can still celebrate his contribution to The Tale Of The Tribe.

Rest in Peace, Dr. Hofmann!

A painting of Dr. Albert Hofmann by Alex Grey. Grey explains the painting:

'In my portrait of Dr. Hofmann, the eye of transcendental spirit in the upper left hand corner of the painting releases spiralic streams of primordial rainbow spheres of potential, one of which becomes a compassionate alchemical angel, whose tears drip down to anoint or 'create' the LSD molecule that the doctor holds in his hands, and a demon, here identified with Nazi power tugs or pushes at it. LSD opens a visionary gateway to the heart, as shown by the spiral of fractally infinitizing eyes resembling the stripey eye-spheres of the molecule, swirling into the center of the chest. On St. Albert's shoulder blade is a portrait of Paracelsus, the Alchemist of Basel, 500 years ago, who is credited with founding modern Chemistry, yet his alchemical goal was to discover the Philosopher's Stone. Alchemy was the art and science of the transmutation of the elements, like turning lead into gold and the identification of the soul of the alchemist with the chemical transformations as a metaphor of their journey ti enlightenment. Modern Chemistry took the psyche and mystery out of the material weighed and measured world, reducing the world to a heap of atoms. LSD brought psyche back, front and center to the chemical material world. That is partly why I believe that LSD is the Philosopher's Stone, the discovery of which, also in the town of Basel, is the result of an alchemical process put in motion by the great Paracelsus. In the portrait, I painted a lot of LSD personalities and symbolism in the aura of Dr. Hofmann. Some of these people were Dr Hofmann's friends, like Aldous Huxley, Gordon Wasson, Maria Sabina and Richard Evans Schultes. Each of these people had a special connection to psychedelics. Huxley wrote fearlessly about the psychedelic experience in The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell, which also talks about Visionary states and works of art.'

28 April 2008

Anniversary Weekend

9 Palotin - 135 De L'Ere Pataphysique

Pixie and I celebrated 4 years of marriage this past weekend. We usually have a day out, so we booked Friday off. This year, we decided to visit Coughton Court, a manor house located in Warwickshire. The family who owned the house, the Throckmortons, had links to the infamous Gunpowder Plot in 1605. The sky was a bit overcast, but the drive was pleasant enough. Coughton Court is maintained by the National Trust now, but we had borrowed Pixie's parents' membership cards and avoided the entrance fee.

The house has all the features of many stately English homes: the myriad oil portraits, ornate woodwork, antique furnishings and amazing views of the surrounding countryside. As mentioned, the most interesting feature of Coughton is it's part in the Gunpowder Plot. I didn't know much about the plot, other than the name of Guy Fawkes and that there was an attempt to destroy Parliament. I somehow had pictured the plotters as an anarchist bunch, almost proto-Weathermen. Erm..nope, turns out they were a group of Catholics plotting to destroy Parliament and restore a Catholic monarch to the throne. The plan was discovered and the participants were chased over the countryside and after a stand-off (and an unfortunate accident, where some gunpowder exploded, while being dried near a fire and seriously wounded three of the group), ended in a gun battle and some of the plotters killed and others captured and executed. I suppose it shows that sombunall of the radicals of the 1960s failed to learn the lessons of earlier attempts at subversive violence.

After lunch in the car park, we had a quick walk around the grounds. Most of the gardens were closed, due to the flooding of last summer, but we checked out what we could. We were entertained by a couple of ducklings in a small pond--veering away from their parents, then 'motor-boating' it through the water back to them. We checked out the gift shop and the plant nursery--then left the Court.

Pixie suggested we stop in Stratford-upon-Avon on the way home. I hadn't there in nearly ten years, so I thought it was a good idea. We found a car park on the edge of the town centre and had a walk around. It looks pretty much the same as it had when I had been there last--especially the bit around Shakespeare's birthplace. They may have spruced up the museum entrance, I can't remember what it looked like. That part of Stratford is very tourist-y, with gift shops lining the streets and everything with a Bard-derived name. In another part of the town centre, market stalls were set up--with flowers, fruit & veg, picture frames and other wares. I was hoping for a CD or vinyl stall, but no luck. There was a musical instrument shop just off the square and I got to have a look round in there. The guitars were nice, but pricey. I noodled a bit on a digital keyboard that had an 'electric piano' setting. It didn't quite have that classic Fender Rhodes tone, but it seemed alright to me. We explored a few more shops (including a head shop and a rock T-shirt place) and then decided to leave before the rush-hour traffic formed.

Saturday (the 26th) was our actual anniversary day - so the family gathered at the local Indian restaurant in the evening for a meal. The food is delicious there and the service is excellent--the waiters seem attentive and friendly. It was sort-of a dual anniversary/birthday happening, as Pixie's mother's birthday was a couple of weeks ago and we didn't really do anything on the day. I also had a pint of Cobra beer with my food, which I do enjoy a lot. The evening wound down, we all split the bill and found our way back home. Pixie and I certainly enjoyed our long weekend--thanks to all who helped us celebrate!

17 April 2008

We Done Got Tagged! - 9 Muluk - 12 Pohp (G8)

Singing Bear tagged Pixie and I with one of those blog-meme games. You know, the kind where you answer questions about yourself. The rules on this one seem pretty simple--answer the questions, then pass the meme along (or "tag" bloggers that you know or associate with). Bear appears to have removed his meme post--that's O.K., though, I'll still play along...

Here's mine (Pixie can do her own, if she wants)...

Q. What were you doing 10 years ago?

A. Working in an architecture firm in Hartford, Conn.--I was essentially an office lackey/courier. It was the best paying job I'd ever had, up to that point, and I was still being paid peanuts. I lived in a pretty sweet, spacious apartment in Manchester, Conn, that I shared with two of my sisters and a friend/colleague that I knew from my part-time job (Borders Books & Music in Manchester). I worked about 60 hours a week and would listen to music, read or watch the toob in my spare time (which I still do, especially the music bit). I would also occasionally smoke marijuana and listen to my favorite psychedelic records. I was nearly 28 and ten years out of high school--this seemed to have some significance at the time. Noodling on my Fender Strat (the white 'Jimi-Hendrix-at-Woodstock' model--though I added some Celtic designs to the body and sprayed polyurethane on them, so now the front has more of an amber colour) and practising the one scale on the sitar I was learning were pastimes, too. Sometimes, I'd venture out to a bar on weekend nights and have a couple of beers while people-watching (this was especially fun at some of the white-trash bars around Conn.)

Q. Name 5 snacks you enjoy:

A. Cheese & Onion Pringles, Dark chocolate Kit-Kats, Monkey nuts (peanuts, for the Yanks), Pistachios, Jaffa Cakes

Q. Things I would do if I were a billionaire:

A. Give some money away to people & causes that I choose, buy every record/CD & book that I want, live in a home large enough for my book and music collections, travel (I've always wanted to visit India, Spain, Italy & Morrocco), build a home recording studio, take time in the day to meditate properly.

Q. Five jobs that I have had:

A. Record store clerk (in a few different shops), Courier/Draftsman/Lackey at an architecture firm, Warehouse worker (temporary), Porter at a university (temporary), Heating/Plumbing sales associate at a famous department store (and no, I never asked any female customers if I could 'lay any pipe')

Q. Three bad habits:

A. Chewing my fingernails, 'Spacing out' while people are talking to me, Pessimistic thinking

Q. Five places I have lived:

A. East Hartford, CT., Manchester, CT., Boston, Mass., Hartford, CT. (very briefly), Oxford, England.

Q. Five people I want to know more about:

A. R. Buckminster Fuller, Giordano Bruno, Vivian Stanshall, J.G. Ballard, Boudicca

The 5 people I tagged: Working on this bit

16 April 2008

Daytrip to 'Lunnon'

9 Rabi'ath-Thani - Year 1429

I was asked a couple of months ago by the publishers I work for if I wanted to visit the London Book Fair for a day. I accepted, as I've never been to a large-scale book fair and I hadn't been to 'The Big Smoke' in nearly ten years. My scheduled day was yesterday, so off I went.

The fair is being held at Earl's Court, where it's been for a number of years now. Six colleagues of mine were attending as well and we all met up at the train station in Oxford. Our train was on-time (wa-hey!) and we boarded around 9 a.m. Tickets and a tube pass were provided by the company. The journey was fairly quick, with only a few stops (Didcot, Reading & Slough) and I barely had time to listen to a few tracks on the iPod when we arrived at Paddington Station.

I admit I was a little creeped out by the thought that it had only been a few days since the announcement about that hapless BBC kids' TV presenter. We made our way to the tube platform and headed for the Earl's Court stop. I had never been to the Court and so didn't know how massive it is--it just dominates the street it's located on. It took us a little while to find the Gate B entrance and we were let in through a side door. The small corridor leading to the main floor reminded me of countless back-stage concert documentaries and for a split-second, I fantasized that I was in a band ready to take the stage. The floor area is as big as you'd expect it to be and was chock-a-block with publisher's stands. I felt quite a bit under-dressed, showing up in a T-shirt and jeans, as the place was basically a sea of business skirts and suits--with a Blackberry seeming to be the other ubiquitous fashion accessory.

We found "our" stand, after a cursory search, and hung around for a bit. There wasn't much for us to do, as these things mostly seem to be for the reps, who meet with their customers and arrange deals on books. A couple of people from my office were there and were helping out, but I guess they got the memo about the dress code, 'cos they were wearing suits as well. Us new arrivals stashed our coats (it's still quite chilly in England, despite nearly a month having passed since the equinox) in a cloak room/storage space at the back of the stand. After that, our boss bought us coffees (mine was a peppermint herbal tea) and we met back at the stand. The stand was pretty large--the company had obviously splashed out a bit on it, with nice tables and chairs for the wheeling and dealing.

A group of us decided to have a look around and set off into the labyrinth of stands. We didn't have much time to really stop anywhere and investigate the titles, so the fair became a bit of a blur of books and people sitting at tables. One company had some ace holographic postcards and bookmarks on display, but weren't selling them, otherwise I would've bought a bookmark. A lot of publishers had freebies at their stands, and some were pretty nice. I didn't take that much-- a couple of pens, a coaster with a photo of London Bridge embossed on it and a mouse mat. One of my colleagues got a 'cordless mouse' at another stand. I went back later and asked for one, but the one I was given has a cable that connects into the USB port of the PC. It's also not very sturdy-looking either, but it was free. I haven't tried it out yet.

We all met up again at 12:30 p.m. and my boss announced it was time for lunch. We joined the queue at Pizza Express, but it was moving quite slowly. Of course, it was standard 'lunch-time' and a lot of other folks had the same idea we did. It was decided that we would leave the venue for lunch, so our group trooped off down Earl's Court Road. Zizzi's was picked as the spot for munching and I ordered a Quattro Formaggi pizza (yum-yum!). I hesitated to order a beer, since lunch was on the company--but I think it would've been alright. By the time we had returned to the Book Fair, there was only a short time before we had to head back to the tube station. I visited the Omnibus Press stand (they publish a lot of music/band-related titles) and tried to buy the display copy of The Saga Of Hawkwind, but again, no dice.

Back at Paddington, we found out that our train back to Oxford had been cancelled. Luckily, another one on the same route was about to leave and there were empty seats aboard. The train sped back toward Oxford and arrived at the station just past 3:30 p.m. I didn't have to be back at the office, so I walked into town for a spot of CD shopping. The new Van Der Graaf Generator record has been released, so I thought I would pick it up. Unfortunately, the only choice now is with one of the chain shops. The dreaded Borders had it for the lowest price (£10.99), so I bought the VdGG and Sigur Ros' newest EP, Hvarf-Heim, for Pixie (well, and me, too). Reviews of those to possibly appear soon--I've checked out most of the VdGG and it's O.K., though I think it would've been much better with David Jackson's involvement. Ah well, it's still good to have the boys around.

I've read a few articles decrying the Book Fair and the decline of British publishing. It may be true, for all I know about the ins and outs and shake-it-all-abouts of publishing. Sure, the Fair may be more about pomp and circumstance, marketing and back-slapping--but it made a pretty cool day out for me. I could just be easily amused, though.

06 April 2008

He Was A Friend Of Ours - Herbie The Black Labrador 1995-2008

Month 3, Day 1 - Year Of The Rat (Lunar Calendar)

I first met him in August 2003, when I flew over to England to meet Pixie, after months of e-mails and phone conversations. We arrived at the house, opened the door and immediately this black shape jumped up on me to greet me. It was Herbie, the Black Labrador, whom I had heard a lot about. We became fast friends, he was so full of energy and personality.

Pixie adopted him in '95, when he was nine months old. They stayed at her folks' place and he went along on their holidays. There's a funny story of him sniffing aound in a rock pool, on a beach in Cornwall, having his nose pinched by a crab and leaping up a foot in the air. When Pixie bought the house we live in now--she had the stairs carpeted, so Herb wouldn't slip on them.

I visited again in October 2003 and again, Herb leaped up to greet me as if I'd never left. We bonded some more and I missed him nearly as much as I missed Pixie when I had to go back to the States. I still had my cat Sorcha at the time and it was a tough decision to leave her behind to move to England. Luckily, my brother agreed to take her in, until we could have her brought over. I flew over in February 2004 and because I couldn't legally work until Pixie and I were married--Herb and I became the "Daytime Dynamic Duo", watching crap morning TV together and hanging out for a couple of months. He would crash out on the bed or in the spare room, then race downstairs as soon as he heard me opening the bread wrapper to make lunch. His hearing was preternatural when it came to food--like most Labradors. He would also race downstairs, every day, in the late afternoon, almost precisely 20 minutes before Pixie arrived home from work--stake out his place on the sofa where he could see out of the window and wait patiently for her to walk through the door. He would run over to his bed, grab a toy (usually a plastic postie-man, his favourite) and meet her with his tail wagging ferociously and his quick panting sounded similar to a 40-a-day smoker's wheeze. We would take him to some fields nearby for his walk, come home and Pixie would conjure up that magical moment, his supper-time. He'd gulp down his food, then try to beg some of our dinner from us, the cheeky sod! Afterward, he would squeeze himself onto the sofa with us and we would watch the toob.

After Pixie and I married, I was able to work and so couldn't hang out with Herb as much. I temped over the summer, then got a job at the Oxford Borders. As with many retail gigs, the shifts aren't exactly 9-to-5 and my schedule was a bit erratic. I had a particularly nasty late shift that started at 2:30 in the afternoon and finished at 11 p.m. One of the only good things about it was that I could hang out with Herb in the morning and then when I returned at night, he would be there at the door with one of his toys. I would give him some fuss and then head upstairs to sleep. I had to work on Sundays and so I missed a lot of his weekend walks, which was a drag. After I left Borders, I got another job with one of their competitors. The late shifts weren't too late, thankfully, but I still had to work weekends. He was still greeting me at the door whenever I arrived home and it always cheered me up to see him. I was able to get a 9-to-5 gig a couple of years ago and started joining Pixie and Herb on his nightly walk and most of his weekend ones--it was so good to be able to spend more time with both of them. Last autumn, I started going on his morning walks as well, as I hadn't really done so before--not much anyway.

Herbie was 8 (in 'people years') when I met him--which is just over middle-age for most dogs. We knew that he only had a certain amount of time left, but we were being optimistic about how long he would have. My brother kept asking what was happening, because he wanted to know how long he would have to care for Sorcha (they had what can best be described as a 'fraught relationship'). I kept putting him off, saying I would let him know when it was O.K. Eventually, her behaviour deteriorated and he couldn't keep her anymore. Since Herb was still with us--I couldn't have her brought over here. The decision was made to put her to sleep and it was sad, but I couldn't find a suitable home for her and she and Herb in the same house would've been a nightmare.

Last summer, Herb turned 12 and we noticed that he started to have trouble negotiating the stairs. He also wasn't able to walk all the way to the fields like he used to, so Pixie started to drive him over there. We knew that it was the symptoms of old age, but he was still so lively that it didn't seem to bother him much. In the past six months, he started to have "accidents" in the house and we noticed his legs starting to bother him a bit. We had to buy a child-protective stair gate to prevent him going upstairs. Pixie and I were concerned, but again, he still seemed relatively O.K. for a dog his age. A couple of weeks ago, though, there was a morning where he wasn't active at all. He barely moved and when he finally managed to get up for his morning walk, he was shaky and his legs seemed to be very brittle. We quickly made an appointment with the vets and brought him over. The vet told us it was arthritis and nothing to do with a lump we had found a couple of months previously (that was just a fatty deposit, we were told). He gave Herb a shot of a cortisone-like drug and we returned him home.

The shot improved him almost immediately and he seemed to be back to his regular self again. The vet also gave us some pills for Herb and told us to give him one a night. Everything was great--until last Friday. He was really slow-moving and could barely handle a ten-minute walk at night. We were worried, but unsure of what to do for him. I thought maybe we should wait and see how he got on. Saturday showed his condition worsen. He wouldn't move at all and his walk lasted about five minutes. When he returned home, he wouldn't move again and when he tried to move, he would yelp in pain. I'd never seen him like that and it was horrible. Pixie phoned the emergency vets and we took him there in the late afternoon. The vet did her best to comfort us, but she did let us know that any 'patching up' would be temporary, because of his age. We had to make a decision--and after some very agonizing moments, made it. After the injection, I stayed with him and wept over his peaceful body.

You often forget, when you share a home with canine, feline and other critters, that their life span is much shorter than humans' and they get old and fragile. They're such a joy to have around, but eventually--they leave the planet. Herbie was here when I arrived and he's been a constant companion in my life for the past five years. He was a beautiful dog and he lived a full life. He had such presence and the house seems much emptier without him here. He was suffering though, and it would've been selfish to keep him around just so we wouldn't be without his presence. It was my first time losing someone very close to me and it's been really tough to accept. My grandfather passed away in 1993 and my uncle in 2004, but to be honest, I wasn't that close with either of them and while I felt a sense of loss--it wasn't as visceral as what I've been feeling. I missed Sorcha, too, but since I wasn't with her when she left, it didn't hit me quite as hard as Herb's passing. Perhaps I'm only now greiving for all of them, as well as Herb. Pixie is devastated too, even more so, since she knew him longer. Eventually, the pain will subside and we'll get used to him not being here, but we'll have our memories and we'll miss him for quite some time.

I haven't felt like playing any music in the past couple of days, but this morning I wanted to spin The Grateful Dead's American Beauty, specifically the song Box Of Rain. I thought it would be appropriate as a little tribute for Herbie. Phil Lesh wrote it for his father, who was dying around the time the album was being recorded. Good-bye, Herbie--we miss you and love you, buddy!

"A box of rain will ease the pain/and love will see you through..." --The Grateful Dead, 1970