Sources of Our Power: Coming Out (Again)

Cross-posting to the blog.

Subject: That was then — this is now — they’re connected

Dear Colleagues

I am sending this by email with my permission to propagate.

People ask me how I am coping. I learnt a lot from a set of peers that I miss dearly.

And sometimes, very rarely, I mention having traversed a dark time.

It you are a gay man who came of age in the 1980s. AIDS

All of us were affected. Note I said affected not infected.

This was brought home recently by a tweet from Cleve James, the founder of the AIDS Quilt project.

cleve james AIDS quilt - screen shot of Twitter post

I invite you in a quiet moment to read some of the reactions and reflect.

Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” was an anthem of our dance floors.

I leave you with this koan: survival is not not-dying.

Imagine a world where people yearly mark a Festival of Social Distancing. Walk a Quilt. Together Apart.

In some parts of that world, they shut the power off. In the Dark, gaze at the stars. Contemplate Space. Know that they are a part.


Francois Lachance

to think is often to sort, to store and to shuffle: humble, embodied tasks

And so for day 2725

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Spice of the Day

To distract my co-workers while WFH, I produced little pieces of spice lore: one a day for what was then a five day work week. Though they appeared in serialized fashion, they are here united for a slightly longer read.

Day Five

Today’s spice (err, herb): mint

We investigate more than the usual suspects: peas and mint; mint sauce for lamb.

First the question of dried or fresh. I turn to Elizabeth David’s Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen. She comes to surprising conclusion, for me, about the substitutability of basil and mint. (Surprise until I was reminded of Thai basil). She writes:

With fresh mint we are on more familiar ground. Any self-respecting English cook knows that if she wants mint sauce then the fresh herb is essential. Dried, the crumbled leaves of common garden spearmint make a typical and equally essential Middle Eastern flavouring for curd-cheese fillings for pastry, yogurt dressings and sauces, stuffed or stewed aubergines, tomatoes and peppers, pilaffs, carrots, fish stewed in oil, soups. Quite often, in this type of cookery, mint can be substituted for dried basil, which is a member of the mint family and when dried takes on something of the same flavour.

I do not suggest the substitution in the opposite direction (basil for mint). How would Moroccan mint tea taste? And on the topic of this famous beverage opinions are varied as are the approaches to brewing a cup of the elixir. Jill Norman in Teas and Tisanes opts for green tea. While Arabella Boxer and Philippa Back, for China tea (i.e. black — they specify a preference for Lapsang Souchong). Both use fresh mint. I leave it to you devise a taste test and which suits your palate

Back to the question of substitutions. Niki Segnit in The Flavour Thesaurus complements David’s observations and supplies a recipe calling for the alliance of mint and garlic.

Mortal enemies in the breath wars. French chefs keep them apart, whereas their Turkish counterparts stir dried mint and garlic into thick, salted yogurt to serve with roast vegetables. Mint and garlic also feature in this unusual red lentil dhal from Madhur Jaffrey. Cook 2 crushed garlic cloves in 2 tbsp vegetable oil or ghee with 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper. When the garlic starts to sizzle, add 185g red lentils, 1/2 tsp turmeric and 750ml water. Stir, bring to the boil, then simmer until the lentils are tender. Add 3-4 tbsp chopped mint, 3-4 sliced green chillies and 1 tsp salt. Simmer gently while you fry 2 more sliced garlic cloves in 2 tsp vegetable oil until golden. Add these to the lentils, stir and cook, covered for a minute or two more.

This ends this week’s run of Spice of the Day. Remember when you reach for those herbs or spices you are touching history and making stories.

Day Four

Today’s spice: nutmeg / mace

Niki Segnit explains the similarities and differences in the head note to the “nutmeg” entry in The Flavour Thesaurus

Mace, nutmeg’s outer coating, is composed of the same flavour compounds but in different proportions, and contains slighter greater quantities of essential oil. They can be used interchangeably, but always opt for fresh rather than the pre-ground forms of either. Nutmeg is easier to grate than lacy pieces of mace, and is a little cheaper to buy.

I part ways with Segnit on the taboo against ground — perfectly fine bought in small quantities and used within a reasonable space of time. I do like however her suggestion for butternut squash and nutmeg: “try some freshly ground on butternut squash that’s been roasted with a mixture of 2 parts olive oil to 1 part balsamic vinegar.”

Back to the topic of grinding mace, I turn to the authority of Elizabeth David (Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen)

How mace came to be the hundred per cent traditional invariable and indispensable spice of all English potted meats and fish compounds is not at all clear. One explanation could be that the owing to the brittle, horny quality of that net-like arils, mace is next to impossible to grind or pound in a household mortar.


Ground mace is a spice which should be bought in small quantity and used while fresh. And if it happens to be missing at the moment it is needed to spice potted tongue or some other delicacy of the kind, then I would use nutmeg without further ado.

Suit yourself: grind or not.

Tomorrow’s Spice: mint (an herb actually)

Day Three

Today’s spice: star anise

1) a description of a spice used in many a Chinese dish
2) a description of a Chinese cooking technique
3) a description of a part of the Chinese batterie de cuisine

Irene Kuo in The Key to Chinese Cooking describes it thus

A hard, star-shaped spice, made up of the dried seeds plus pod of the anise shrub. It is used in simmering meats and poultry and in make flavour-pot brine. Sold by weight, often in small plastic bags, star anise should be stored as you would any dry spice in a tightly covered jar.

On red cooking (Kuo again)…

Red-cooking is Chinese stewing. The seasonings that give a red-cooked dish its special character are dark soy sauced for a deep reddish color; light soy sauce and a pinch of salt for added saltiness; star anise or five-fragrance powder for the distinctive aroma; and sherry and rock sugar for an overall mellowness.

On sand pots…

Anderson in his classic 1988, The Food of China, says that only a seasoned cook will attempt such a subtle, gentle, slow art. Not all would agree. Lilah Kan who is now re-issuing her long-missed 1978 volume, Chinese Casserole Cookery, asserts that this hearty and robust cooking is traditional to all Chinese cuisines. She believe that the Chinese attempt this gentle art almost on a daily basis. They are and you can easily become an expert. I certainly became one years ago using her book. Many dishes from it are part of my repertoire, make them part of yours.

from Flavour and Fortune – the magazine of the Institute for the Advancement of the Science and art of Chinese Cuisine [based in New York]

Tomorrow’s spice: nutmeg/mace

Day Two

Today’s spice is saffron.

Saffron is very evocative and also very expensive. But accept no substitutes. (I once gathered some saffron threads from autumn blooming croci grown in my own garden in Canada — it is indeed painstaking work but satisfying work).

Niki Segnit in The Flavour Thesaurus says it well:

Saffron is inimitable. Turmeric, safflower and annatto are often used in its stead but can only ever hope to impart an approximation of its colour, and maybe a little saffron-is bitterness. Saffron combines the flavours of sea air, sweet dried grass and a hint of rusting metal — it’s the spice equivalent of Derek Jarman’s garden on the bleak shingle beach at Dungeness, defiantly strange and beautiful.

On Derek Jarman’s garden see…

Niki Segnit has an entry on combining white chocolate and saffron

Artisan du Chocolat makes an elegant pink-gold bar of saffron-flavoured white chocolate. It says the white chocolate brings out the hay flavour of saffron. I’d add that the honeyed vanilla flavour of white chocolate shines a light on saffron’s floral complexity.

Unfortunately Artisan du Chocolat no longer makes that particular confection. But a Canadian to the rescue!

Chocolate Saffron Tart with Apples recipe by Lucy Waverman care of the LCBO

I had this in Spain at a special-event dinner in Madrid and it was wonderful. This recipe is my take on it. The combination of sliced apples baked with saffron custard then covered with a chocolate mousse is both unusual and divine. There are several steps to this but all the elements can be made a day or two in advance and the tart can be baked and kept refrigerated for up to 24 hours before you need it. The darker the chocolate the better. I used 70%. You can buy a pastry shell if you prefer.

Tomorrow’s spice: star anise

Day One

Today’s spice is cumin.

Grated carrot moistened with lemon juice and tossed in a sprinkle of ground cumin makes a lovely side dish. Niki Segnit in The Flavour Thesaurus reminds us of roasting carrot with cumin. She’s a bit particular about the provenance of her carrots:

It’s rare to sit down at a Moroccan feast without being offered a plate of sweet carrots in a robust, cumin-flavoured dressing. Cut into crinkly discs, like the metal from which Ingersoll keys are cut, they remind me, cumin’s efforts notwithstanding, of the sorry rounds of orange matter you get in tins. Home-grown carrots, on the other hand, tugged from the ground when they’re long, thin and pointed, are perfect for this combination. Toss them, washed but unpeeled, in olive oil and sprinkle with cumin before roasting. This will intensify both their earthiness and their sweetness, coaxing the sugars to the surface, where they caramelize and mingle deliciously with the spice.

Tomorrow: Saffron

And so for day 2727

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For Paloma

Lullaby for the Girl Who Falls Asleep with Stones in Her Pockets

I worry your mother
with stories
of the damage
and defences

I send you a rock
for your collection

telling stories of smashing windows
and skipping stones on the water

I ask your mother
to tell
in Spanish
the word for rock, the word for world, the word for word

I ask your mother
to tell
in a language yet to be invented
that the word for excellence is perfection

Painted Rock Spotted on Follis Street, Toronto

Painted Rock Spotted on Follis Street, Toronto — Documented and left in situ

And so for day 2726

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The Spent and the Extended

A good place to begin thinking about social infrastructure and the impact of epidemics is to trace with Sontag the economics of psychic investments and divestments…

Susan Sontag
Illness as Metaphor

Early capitalism assumes the necessity of regulated spending, saving, accounting, discipline — an economy that depends on the rational limitation of desire. TB is described in images that sum up the negative behavior of nineteenth-century homo economicus: consumption; wasting; squandering of vitality. Advanced capitalism requires expansion, speculation, the creation of new needs (the problem of satisfaction and dissatisfaction); buying on credit; mobility — an economy that depends on the irrational indulgence of desire. Cancer is described in images that sum up the negative behavior of twentieth-century homo economicus: abnormal growth; repression of energy, that is, refusal to consume or spend.

I was wondering how she would raise this in AIDS and Its Metaphors

The culture of consumption may actually be stimulated by the warnings to consumers of all kinds of goods and services to be more cautious, more selfish. For these anxieties will require the further replication of goods and services.

What would she have made of the economic reading of 21st century epidemics?

These epidemics bring attention to the social infrastructure (undermined by years of neoliberalism). No economic health without public health and no public health without accessible infrastructure which includes a population’s physical and mental health – we are all disabled at some point or other (ill or not we are subject to stress and its hinderances of maximal functioning). Self-care depends on a network of care. Infrastructure’s true test is accessibility.

Fiesta Farms - Toronto - Sign Announcing Xpress Hours for elderly, disabled and pregnant women

The rewards from collectively learning how to achieve appropriate social distancing without debilitating isolation depend upon a libidinal economy of temporal mindedness, a being constantly attuned to both immediate and delayed gratification — being knowledgeable about when and how one takes one’s pleasure.

Take for instance, in the microcosm of one’s online interaction: there is an intrinsic reward in hitting the send button (knowing you could repurpose what you have written) that is distinct from the reward of receiving a reply. Dépense in a sense becomes accumulation.

You bet I will repurpose this post! And exercise some temporal distancing.

And so for day 2724

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Off-scene Etymology Pushed Off-stage

Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor

In my reading I stumbled across an item of interest to lexicographers…

Sontag notes

Cancer patients are lied to, not just because the disease is (or is thought to be) a death sentence, but because it is felt to be obscene — in the original meaning of that word: ill-omened, abominable, repugnant to the senses.

I was wondering why Sontag didn’t push this to the off-scene meaning — a death in the wings. I took out the magnifying glass and checked the Compact Edition of the OED (I don’t yet have a subscription to the online OED). Not finding that particular etymology I took my scouting online. Various discussions online quote the OED Third Edition to the effect that the off-scene is a folk etymology derived by a suggestion by Varro.

Michael Newcity in The Invention of Obscenity provides a handy compendium of various other etymologies …

There are many theories concerning the origins of the Latin word obscēnus. They include theories that obscēnus is based on:

• a combination of ob- (meaning “on account of”) + cēnum/caenum/coenum, which means filth, dirt, uncleanness;

• canendo, meaning singing, making sound, utterance, thus making an impure or vile utterance or sound obscēnus; and

• the word obscurus, meaning “concealed.”

Ah what a rabbit hole… I am intrigued at what point Varro may have been chased off the stage and his proposed etymology relegated to folk status.

And so for day 2723

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Always Homeward Bound Familiar

Marge Piercy
in The Twelve-Spoked Wheel Flashing
from “Three months exile”

My familiar is the hearth-loving cat
who gallivants tail streaming over the hill,
slithers sneaky through the marsh
sniffing the newsy grasses, who flaunts
singing rich contralto arias
with ear-nicked bar toms rough
and whiskery and sleek slick young
gingery tenors in the bushes,
but comes home complaining always,
murmuring and sighing and rubbing, nobody
but you understands me, nobody
but you, stroke me down,
sweet, yes, home is what you do.

One remembers Doris Lessing on Feline Perception: “Her tail moved, in another dimension, as if its tip was catching messages her other organs could not.”

And so for day 2722

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To See by Not Seeing

Austen’s punctuation illustrated:

Scroll to bottom for Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice depiction

Chicago web designer Nicholas Rougeux strips literary classics of their words and turns them into spiral-shaped in Between the Words. He explores the ‘visual rhythm of punctuation’ by removing all letters, numbers, spaces and line breaks from the books

But that description is not quite accurate — a certain set of numbers remain in some instances. This to great effect (esp. in the case of Shakespeare’s Sonnets).

More Work by the very talented and generous Nicolas Rougeux

If you are looking specifically for

Between the Words: Exploring the punctuation in literary classics

At a glance one sees the abundance of parentheses in Joyce’s Ulysses, the organizing pulse of the roman numerals that number Shakespeare’s Sonnets, the swirl of ticking commas in H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine, the dash mad Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland — — —

And so for day 2721

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A Child Is Being Beaten

Greg Evason
The Red Blind
Toronto: The Pink Dog Press, 1991

Speak the spank of language of childhood in a whisper or a scream.

For more on this extraordinary book

And so for day 2720

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From the Gazebo to the Outhouse

Donald F. Theall “Transformations of the Book in Joyce’s Dream Vision of Digiculture”
HJS Vol. 4 Issue 2 (2003-04)

Simultaneously Joyce associates the very nature of the manuscript and book with a fluidity. At various moments in the Wake he affiliates it: with illustration and ornamentation (e.g., the Book of Kells); with electrification and codification (“morse-erse wordybook”); with popular visual and auditory presentation (“comicsongbook”); and finally as a “gazebocroticon.” His fascination with the mechanics of the book is complemented by his awareness of its potentiality for metamorphoses. The ultimate comedy of such metamorphoses is Belinda the Hen, pecking up the letter (i.e., manuscript) from a dung heap (111.5ff), which is later simultaneously transformed into a multiplicity of media–newsreels, nursery rhymes, dreams, a diary, a wireless transmission of music (“bostoons”):

__ This nonday diary, this allnights newseryreel.
__ My dear sir! In this wireless age any owl rooster can peck up bostoons. (489.35-490.1)

Elsewhere in The Medium is the Rear View Mirror: Understanding McLuhan, Theall parses the portmanteau word thus

… a tetradomational gazebocroticon,” emphasizing its four part structure borrowed … forth as a “gazebocroticon” (gaze / book / rote (memorization) / wrote / icon)

But what if we split it into gazebo-croticon

A multilingual gloss…

Crotte (Larouse Dictionnaire Français-Anglais)
Crotte f. Dung, dropping (excrément). || Mud, dirt (boue). || CULIN. Chocolate. || AVIAT., POP. Bomb.

I can’t help be hearing in Joyce’s gazebocroticon an echo of Basilikon Doron.

A true “royal gift”. All “boc rot” — book rot — crotte indeed. The Joyce I read is highly scatalogical. There is no missing the whiff.

And so for day 2719

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Linda Bierds
in Flight
from The Profile Makers (1997)
from “Shawl: Dorothy Wordsworth at Eighty”

[The concluding stanza in the voice of DW]

Once, I was told of a sharp-shinned hawk
who pursued the reflection of its fleeing prey
through three striations of greenhouse glass
the arrow of its body cracking first into anteroom,
then desert, then the thick mist
of the fuchsias. it lay in a bloodshawl
of ruby flowers, while the petals of glass
on the brick-work floor repeated its image.
Again and again and again.
As all we have passed through sustains us.


It is not just the arresting image that captivates. It is its protean dynamism that races through the scene: we are not sure upon where our gaze should land. There is no rest. Even death resists stasis.

We observers have passed through and continue passing. We are sustained only in passing.

And so for day 2718

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