A Recalibrated Zero

I taste bone.

My mouth and hands are coated with meat grease.

And I am cold. We are very very cold.

Wool scratches my neck, but the warmth should make up for it. I can feel the heat from a dog at our feet. As for the grease, it is oddly comforting. The alcohol cuts right through the cold with a different heat, a vibrating, clean heat. On this December night I can see our breath in the soft casts of moonlight coming through the fogged windows, the primary source of illumination.

The city is solid dark from hill to hill, the only lights those of passing cars. PG&E is struggling and our battery backups are exhausted. For the first time ever, we see our building completely cast in tungsten-colored light from candles. There are strong marks of blueish white from the gas stove and our LED flashlights. It all looks like we are visiting history, another place and time.

I am reminded of a few magical times when the power went out while I was working in restaurants. We cooked by flashlight. The waitstaff rushed candles everywhere and struggled with carbon credit-card slips. The best part was the profound silence. Restaurants are by nature noisy. The compressors, hoods, and dishwashers serve up a constant background soundtrack, something I personally find comforting. It’s quite eerie when those sounds go missing. In the silent dark, everyone spoke more softly. We realized that we were all there, in it together. There was an implicit bond amid the suddenly front-and-center sounds of searing food and the clinking of glass and metal.

It’s late now, and I am sitting here in the cold dark with layers of fur, laptop nearly dying, surrounded by silent construction-paper silhouettes, very old ghosts, and sleeping family.

Fire. Unconditional love. Light. Protection. Heat. Sustenance. My neanderthal brain has kicked in.

First thing tomorrow, I plan to install a huge generator — with a full shotgun rack attached, and night-vision goggles. OK, maybe that’s overreacting.

Losing power has been the best gift of the season, a Charles Dickens Christmas Carol reset. It’s so easy to get caught up in the moment, to forget where zero is, to lose sight of priorities like good family, good friendships, good neighbors — all the things that provide the truest gifts, those of conversation, civility, wonder, support, delight, making, and meaning. A properly calibrated zero may be achieved in numerous ways, and tonight it’s all thanks to the winter dark with the smell of pine and chicken stock.

Suddenly the old engine house comes alive, slowly lumbering, lights and refrigerators struggling, electronics beeping and chirping, heater spinning up, Christmas tree illuminated.

This holiday season, Carmen and I send you love and fond wishes of food, libation, and celebration. And after the holidays, drop by and check out our new generator.

Postscript: The power outage affected 6,500 PG&E customers of San Francisco, Daly City and Brisbane.

The Omnipotence of Dreams

This post is the first of six for La Alquimia de los Sueños (The Alchemy of Dreams), a multi-sensory dinner performance by Julio César Morales and Max La Rivière-Hedrick, in collaboration with Frey Norris Contemporary & Modern.

“One night, a strange being entered through the window and threw itself on top of me; it was like the devil. I resisted, but his heat was immense. The following day and without [my] having said anything, at the table my grandmother said to me, ‘Remedios, what has happened to you? Your hair is burned.’”

This account is from Spanish-Mexican artist Remedios Varo (1908-1963), known for her surrealist drawings, paintings, sculpture, and ideas. She experienced life as if it were a lucid dream, yet she had a firm grasp on reality. For Varo, there was no need for sleep, let alone drugs, to induce an extraordinary alternate world.

Science tells us that dreams serve an evolutionary function, replaying and processing the day’s events, filtering out the unnecessary, cataloging and then hard-wiring the valuable. Also, it’s generally understood that the subconscious mind practices being in danger: safely rehearsing threats to prepare to manage anxiety, terror, and other responses (fight or flight) that might lead to death.

Processing the previous day often results in problem solving. "Sleeping on it" allows for the mind to think beyond the confines of earthbound reality. Provided with enough freedom from the distractions of consciousness, the mind cycles healthfully over night. The result is reordered priorities, recovered ideas, and solutions that present themselves to pressing concerns. This behavior isn’t restricted to sleep — it bleeds over into reality when we’re in the shower, or waiting at a red light, or washing dishes.

Maybe it’s possible, when the constraints of consciousness are removed, that the mind becomes open to alternate universes or alternate dimensions — a situation that triggers déjà vu, in turn forecasting and even guiding our daylight activities. It’s certainly been our own personal experience. When Julio, age 11 in Mexico, was visiting a town with his grandmother for the first time, he got lost and then made his way home thanks to visions, as if he had already wandered the town’s streets. Until recently, I used to have dreams of the future, sometimes several years in advance; out of nowhere, I would realize I was in that known future. The realization was always as jarring as a splash of chilled water on my back.

Varo believed strongly in this realm of magic. Her imagination blurred such boundaries, not just in the worlds that emerged from her work, but in reality as well. In collaboration with Leonora Carrington, Varo built surrealist “recipes and advice for scaring away inopportune dreams, insomnia, and deserts of quicksand under the bed.” Some examples of these recipes stimulate a dream of being the King of England, or stimulate erotic dreams with an ingredient list that includes “a kilo of horseradish, three white hens, a head of garlic, four kilos of honey, a mirror, two calf livers, a brick, two clothespins, a corset with stays, two false mustaches, and hats to taste.”

Julio and I are moved to investigate these ideas in a multi-sensory dinner performance, which we have titled La Alquimia de los Sueños.

Leading this experience is Sensory Conductor Norma Listman, with perfumer Mirjana Blankenship, printer Rocket Caleshu, food anthropologist Joe Evans, sound designer Guillermo Galindo, photographer Andria Lo, artist and engineer Paolo Salvagione, graphic designer Brian Scott, and writer Marc Weidenbaum.

Together, we will soon travel Varo’s world of dreams, reality, and myth — an organized and beautiful collision. And by multiplying mysticism, alchemy, science, and magic, we will attempt to discover the neglected associations of reality and the omnipotence of dreams.

The Ornament of the World

This is the second year of Moorish Thanksgiving, which is a descendant of Persian Thanksgiving. This marks the sixth year of the tradition of celebrating the medieval Islamic East or West.

The flag of the Nasrid Dynasty of Granada, the last Moorish and Muslim dynasty in Spain.

For over 700 years, Jews, Muslims, and Christians lived together in medieval Spain in relative peace. This rare period of a pluralistic society is called La Convivencia (“the Coexistence”) by Spanish historians. It started with the Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula in 711 and ended with the surrender of the last Moorish King of Granada in 1492.

A “Golden Age” was created with the injection of advanced knowledge from the Moors and an interchange of Moorish, Christian, and Jewish cultures. The key to this interchange was a nuanced tolerance: the ruling Muslims considered Jews and Christians second-class citizens but also dhimmīs, protected minorities. According to Benjamin R. Grampel, Jews and Christians “were allowed freedom of settlement and movement; and significantly were permitted freedom of religion that included the license to manage affairs of their own faith-community.”

The impact of this exchange and intermingling is enduring–for example, one quarter of all Spanish words are of Arab origin. Art, poetry, and architecture from La Convivencia demonstrates borrowing and blending between cultures and religions. Spanish synagogues use mosque-style plasterwork. Christian King Peter, after conquering Seville, built a structure that is Islamic in architecture, with inscriptions of quotes from the Qur’an, and that referred to Peter as a caliph. The Great Mosque of Córdoba is a mosque with a Christian cathedral right inside the heart of the complex. On the tomb of Ferdinand III, the Christian warrior king who took Seville from the Moors in 1248, inscriptions are in Latin, Spanish, Arabic, and Hebrew.

Relative to Thanksgiving, the escalation of knowledge and culture by the Moors–math, engineering, law, architecture, astronomy, navigational sciences–ignited the Renaissance and set the groundwork for Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the New World.

We celebrate this “Golden Age” by cooking the food of the Islamic West and honoring values from this period: exchange of ideas, conversation, seeking knowledge, and tolerance.

Thank you David Albertson, Stephen Bronstein, Rocket Caleshu, Lindsay Keach, Norma Listman and Marc Weidenbaum.

Courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

¡Gran Taquiza 2011!

Art courtesy of Jenifer K Wofford, custom lettering by Brian Scott

It was very late at night in Mexico City, and we were blazing right through red lights and stop signs.

Our driver, who had been with us all week, had decided to join us on a mission: tacos. We were racing to find a puesto de tacos (tacos stand) still open.

Julio and I were exhausted, intoxicated, hungry — but our minds were alert. It’s a state in which many cooks leave their shifts after a huge evening. The hunger is the kind that hits you immediately when you breathe the fresh night air, and it can be overwhelming. I have heard theories that the smell of food tricks a cook’s body into thinking it is nourished, and the moment the cook exits the building, the hunger strikes. Tonight, it was a food-based performance for 90 that had tricked us and our bellies.

We were having no luck — we pulled up, saw hoses spraying down mats and cement, a whirl of the window, a failed negotiation and another whirl, and we were off. After a string of denials, a last resort in the form of a distant location was proposed, and we were off.

The night was dark, hot, and humid, the kind of warmth that strangely allows you to hear further and with greater resolution, but I was having difficulty focusing my eyes. I tasted savory-sweet-salty-stickiness in the corners of my mouth, my fingers and clothes perfumed with meat fat and sweat. Julio made fun of the moment earlier in the evening when I first attempted to slow down the entree pick-up, but no one understood my English.

We arrived to our far and final destination, and they were open. Through the steam and smoke, a white stand revealed itself under a couple of bright yellowish-white lights that flooded the area. Our driver was excited. He took the lead and ordered for us.

Being ordered for is an honor, and we were treated to it often on this particular trip. It guarantees excellent food and creates a real bond through trust, passion, and pride. In this host/guest relationship, there is no concept of eating preferences, issues, or allergies.

Tacos al pastor and beers were starting to come out, and we were eating them as fast as they arrived. The meat was a mix of crunchy and tender, with a background of sweet heat. The bright red al pastor oil was burning my mouth, so good we didn’t want to stop.

On that trip, Julio and I ate tacos al pastor every day, often in the form of gringas. It’s hard not to order them when you see the spit-grill up front, hot wood coals radiating, layers of seasoned pork caramelizing and simmering, juices running, with a cook freshly carving right into a warm tortilla.

Al pastor, meaning “Shepherd style,” is thought to have originated from spit-grilled meat brought by Lebanese immigrants to Mexico, with pork having substituted for lamb. The giant gyros are called trompos (“spinning top”), like the toy, and are marinated with chilies and pineapple, which has an enzyme that makes the meat tender. Our favorite tacos al pastor is the gringa: toasted flour tortilla with melted cheese, al pastor carvings, onion, and cilantro. The toasted tortilla, its brown blisters resembling freckles on a white person, provide the name.

Between 1880 and 1960, Mexico experienced a steady, and sometimes large, stream of Lebanese, many escaping the Islamic Ottoman regime and World Wars I and II. Mexico was a place of tolerance and familiar ingredients. Many of the ingredients the Lebanese use had arrived with the Spanish 400 years prior, thanks to the massive impact of the Moors on Islamic Spain.

This hybrid cuisine is what makes Mexican food fantastic. Another example is Tacos Árabes: al pastor, but in place of a taco, pan arabe, a hybrid pita bread. Kibbeh was transformed using beef, deer, fish, or potatoes, instead of lamb, and its integration is considered a true naturalized Yucatecan dish, served with pico de gallo or x’nipek instead of yogurt or hummus.

As we were eating, Julio and I just noticed a biker with his helmet on, sleeping horizontally on his Enduro motorcycle straight ahead, against the nearby building. How had we not seen him earlier? Then we noticed another motorcyclist, also with his full-face helmet on, sitting there in silence. This one was looking directly at us. Had we walked right past him and not noticed?

“That’s weird.”

“Are we going to get caught in a narco-turf war?”

“Don’t know, but these guys are like ninjas.”

Another motorcyclist showed up, killed the engine, put the bike on its kickstand, and just … sat there. We could get a better look at him: same full-face helmet, plus a red leather outfit — a motocross Mad Max.

I looked over and saw our driver had wandered back near our SUV. I looked across to Julio, and he motioned with a nod over my shoulder: yet another motorcyclist, right behind us. Full-face helmet again. I hadn’t even heard this one arrive.

We were surrounded. Surrounded by wolves. You could hear nothing but the distant compressor purring. My fight-or-flight brain started to cycle through half-remembered narco-cartel horror stories.

Julio gave me that look, it was time to go. As we started gathering ourselves, the motorcyclist in red got off his bike and walked toward us. I looked over toward our driver. He was already inside the SUV. I felt my right leg take a step back. My legs always give me away.

Red Max continued to approach. Jennifer will kill me and Julio if this turns bad.

The motorcyclist approached us. His helmet remained closed, and he remained silent. He reached forward with one arm and placed something in front of us. Then he returned to his bike, and the whole pack started their engines and took off.

It was a toy owl, wooden and colorful.

Postscript: It turns out that this motorcycle pack in Mexico City is known to move money and packages, no questions asked. Since this trip, we have been craving those al pastor tacos, and made our own trompo. Thank you, Norma Listman, for amazing pickles, salsas and for working la plancha, and Richard Tarlov for expertly working el trompo.

Photo courtesy of Brian Scott

Photo courtesy of Brian Scott

Photo courtesy of Brian Scott

Photo courtesy of Brian Scott

Photo courtesy of Brian Scott

Leap of Faith

This is the last of four posts about A Sors, a project by Julio César Morales and Max La Rivière-Hedrick, with Norma Listman for the Warhol Initiative. Read post one, post two and post three here.

Photo courtesy of Jesse Nichols

Last night, during the A Sors performance, our Master of Ceremonies, Norma, told us all about the “trust fall” that was performed, many years ago, by the Freemasons—right there in the very same room in the north alcove of the Lodge at the Regency on Sutter Street here in San Francisco.

Norma described how, at the hour of initiation, the Freemason candidate would be blindfolded, and how a noose would be placed around his neck. Of his own volition, the candidate would then jump into an opening in the floor … and his cloaked brethren would catch him, saving his life.

Norma described this exercise in trust because we were asking the same of our guests. While not as dramatically, and certainly not as literally, we were nonetheless asking them to entrust, participate, and engage. We were asking them to make a leap.

A Sors is a meal-as-art-project that employs food, libation, live music, and scent to tell a lost story of Emperor Maximilian I of México. A Sors investigates Maximilian’s brief, tragic rule of México, from 1864 to 1867, through the vantage of his most intimate and trusting relationship: the one with his imperial chef and confidant, a Hungarian known as Tudos.

A Sors translates from Hungarian as “destiny.” The bloody end of Maximilian’s reign yielded numerous conspiratorial recountings: he was ushered out of the country after his Freemasons brethren faked his death; he bribed the firing squad with gold to aim at his heart; he wore the 41.94-carat diamond that bears his name to tempt, or mock, his executioners. Maximilian today exists in the popular imagination primarily as a victim of Napoleon’s rule, and as the subject (mid-execution) of Manet’s famed painting.

In the operatic version that informs the A Sors meal, Maximilian dies, but at the hands of his friend Tudos, who accompanies him by carriage to the execution site and, at Maximilian’s request, kills him before they reach their destination.

A Sors is a performance with four courses. The first three sum up the constituent parts of modern Mexican cooking: Spanish, French, and Mexican. The fourth and final course, a Hungarian dessert, acknowledges the bond between Maximilian and Tudos.

Course 0
Córdoba
Moorish

Scent: Burning cinnamon, orange oil ignited into a flame, orange water
Sound: North African influence, tone-based, fantasy, voyage, optimism

This introductory course set the foundation for Course 1, Spain, by referencing flavors, spices and ingredients that originated in Africa and the Middle East, and that were transferred by the Moors. Each course in the meal involved hybrid ingredients, something that resulted from cultures clashing. The Spanish brought the process of distillation to México and the result of this merging of technology and culture was mezcal, highlighted this evening in Course 0 in a cocktail built by Jennifer Frederiksen, served with traditional Spanish tortillas, chorizo and oranges.

Course 1
Spanyol
Spanish

Scent: Cannon fire, roses, toasted almonds
Sound: Dry percussion, blood, loss, risk

After everyone moved to the main Lodge, the evening opened with the pop of distant and nearby cannons, the whiz and whistle of cannon balls over our heads, and powerful sulfured smoke. Great Willow, a sonic collaboration between Jonathan Wong (Mbryo) and Erik Wilson (Softserve), began their live performance with dynamic looping systems to create an organic blend of electro-acoustic soundscapes. Served was ajoblanco, an ancient almond and bread soup that originated during Islamic Spain, and which is said to be enjoyed by Spanish country laborers in Andalusia during the harvest months due to its high caloric value. Transforming this drinkable allioli into a hybrid, we added fava beans, chili and lime as illustrated in El Cocinero Mexicano, México’s first printed cookbook, published in 1831 by Mariano Galván Rivera.

Course 2
Francia
French

Scent: Salt air, yerba buena
Sound: Repetitive patterns, movement, hope, trust

The empire of Maximilian was influential in promoting French-style cooking (“la comida afrancescada”) in Mexican cuisine, and native Mexican ingredients like squash blossoms and avocados fit perfectly with French mousses, crepes and soups. For the second course, a traditional and familiar lardon-style salad with avocado—the hybrid addition—was served, and a bowl of eggs was placed in the center of the table. Norma asked for the guests’ trust, instructing them to each take an egg, strike it on their plate and crack it over the salad. What might have been a raw egg was revealed to be poached: our rendition of the Freemason “trust fall.”

Course 3
Mexikói
Mexican

Scent: Soil, burnt corn threads
Sound: Nationhood, vengeance, sadness

On Norma’s cue, all 198 guests rose from their seats and the Freemason pipe organ came to life. At first there were low chords you could feel in your chest. Then the organ started its journey as the guests climbed onto the wings of the Lodge. Mark Bruce, our organist, took us through Dies Irae (Plainsong, Mode 1), a sequence hymn from the Gregorian Requiem, the Mass of the Dead to Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser (the Kayser Lied, music by F.J. Haydn), to “La Marseillaise” (by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle), ending triumphantly on Himno Nacional Mexicano (National Anthem of México). As the music unfolded, we brought out platters of earth roast goat (“barbacoa”) with three salsas (drunken, raw and prickly pear) for each table. While barbacoa is itself a hybrid, originating from the Caribbean and Africa, it here represents the heart and soul of México at a time when foreign invaders were, with the execution of Maximilian, abolished from México for good.

Course 4
Magyar
Hungarian

Scent: Fire, coffee, cognac
Sound: Fear, chance, emptiness

Maximilian, before becoming Emperor of México, was an Austro-Hungarian Archduke. In México he immediately bonded with his Hungarian chef, Tudos, with whom he came to converse almost solely in Hungarian. Early on, Tudos struck an intimate chord with Maximilian by making a Hungarian dessert from his childhood, máglyarakás (“pyer”), a bread pudding with apples to which Tudos added local goat-milk caramel, our hybrid ingredient for this course. Mark Bruce played us out of dinner on the 1909 Austin pipe organ with a tenderhearted, and sometimes somber, improvisation.

Norma, Julio and I were honored to share this history with the 198 guests of A Sors. This project will now shift as we investigate the high-ranking Freemason and novelist, Justo Armas, who appeared in San Salvador during the late 19th century with a Mexican wife and “dozens of objects of Maximilian of Hapsburg which an invisible hand had managed to convey from Mexico”—and who, by all accounts, looked exactly like Emperor Maximilian.

Photo courtesy of Jesse Nichols

Photo courtesy of Jesse Nichols

Photo courtesy of Jesse Nichols

Photo courtesy of Jesse Nichols

Photo courtesy of Jesse Nichols

Photo courtesy of Jesse Nichols

Photo courtesy of Jesse Nichols

Photo courtesy of Jenifer K Wofford

Photo courtesy of Jesse Nichols

Photo courtesy of Jesse Nichols

Photo courtesy of Jesse Nichols

Photo courtesy of Jenifer K Wofford

Photo courtesy of Jesse Nichols

Photo courtesy of Jesse Nichols

Photo courtesy of Jesse Nichols

Design notes from Brian Scott.

The inspiration for the menu design came out of conversations with Max and Julio about the story of Maximilliano. His Hungarian roots created an opportunity to create a bespoke wordmark for A SORS that felt historically eastern European, yet contemporary. The choice to render the wordmark in silver foil reflects both the image of the person holding the menu and also the environmental tones of red in the Masonic Lodge, intensifying the drama that unfolds through the meal.

The menu was typeset in Dala Floda, a typeface designed by Paul Barnes, of Commercial Type. The letterforms feel as if they have been worn away by human touch, similar to gravestones or a cathedral floor. A Sors may be viewed as a contemporary interpretation of legends, and Dala Floda expressed this approach beautifully, especially when printed letterpress.

Thank you again for all your support, energy, collaboration and talent: The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Miles Ake, Rebecca Jean Alonzi, Carmen Benavides, Mark Bruce, Natalia Bushyager, Rocket Caleshu, Ella Crawford, Danielle Cronis, Tina Dang, Arpad Dobriban, Alexandra Franco, Jennifer Frederiksen, Norma Listman, Andria Lo, Jennifer McCabe, Conrad Meyers II, Bailey Nakano, Paolo Salvagione, Brian Scott, Kim Silva, Ian Treasure, Erik Wilson, Jenifer Wofford, Jonathan Wong, Marc Weidenbaum, and Kathryn Williamson.

Burying the Goat

This post is the third of four about A Sors, a project by Julio César Morales and Max La Rivière-Hedrick, with Norma Listman for the Warhol Initiative. Read post one and post two.

Masonic tile-work at the Regency, location of the A Sors dinner

Maximilian I reigned as Emperor of Mexico from 1864 through 1867, when he was executed. His death yielded countless conspiracy theories, making him something like a 19th-century John F. Kennedy. Some of these theories have Maximilian cheating death by bribery, while others have him ferreted across the border by supporters. Many of the theories focus on the supposed participation by Masons, also known as Freemasons: a centuries-old fraternal order that connects dignitaries and bankers, judges and landowners, politicians and clerics around the world. It is a semi-secret society that is famed for its self-mythologizing and for its richly coded iconography, and it remains to this day a lightning rod for paranoid political fantasists.

Part I (1865): The Masons love their games, their plots, their symbols, their puzzles. History is itself a kind of puzzle, though two years ago Esteban Herrera did not know this.

Two years ago it was 1865, and Herrera was simply a hard-working Mexican goat farmer with steadily expanding land holdings several miles south of Queretaro. Herrera’s healthy herds had brought him wealth, and wealth had brought him to the attention of Manuel Olivera. Olivera was the unofficial mayor of the region. Actual mayors had come and gone, yet all the while Olivera’s power had remained a consistent, even a growing, presence.

Herrera had on more than one occasion traveled by carriage to Queretaro, knocked on the door of Olivera’s office, and submitted a request for a loan: to dig a new well, to house additional Indians to watch over his goats, to transform an old dirt path into something more suitable to carriages. Herrera had never met Olivera, but he knew that whatever money he received had come with Olivera’s approval. And he knew that whatever money he repaid was returned, with interest, to Olivera’s pockets.

And then, one day, in the early spring of 1865, it was Olivera who knocked on Herrera’s door. Olivera introduced himself, though an introduction was not necessary. Olivera complimented Herrera on the quality of his goats, on his successes as an entrepreneur, and on the mercy he displayed toward the Indians who cared for his land, raised his children, and prepared his meals.

Later that afternoon Olivera and Herrera shared the meat of a young goat, cooked by Herrera’s staff in a manner that Olivera said he had not tasted since he was a very young boy. As dusk approached, Olivera finally informed Herrera of the reason for his visit. Olivera explained that he was a Mason, a member of a small society of businessmen, men who desired that Herrera join their group. Herrera was fascinated by the membership Olivera claimed for this society. Apparently Emperor Maximilian, still newly arrived from Europe, was himself a Mason, and though he never attended their meetings, he would on occasion send his chef and confidant: a formidable Hungarian who went by the name Tudos.

Part II (1867): Two years later, Esteban Herrera still felt very much the new member among the Masons of Queretaro. The Masonic meetings he attended every few months were mostly social affairs. But business was done, and clearly the doing of business meant not just what was good for the region around Queretaro, but what was good for the Masons, both here and abroad. The Masons’ influence seemed to touch everything, even if at times it seemed, to Herrera, that this influence was difficult to pinpoint. At first Herrera had tried to validate some of the more fanciful stories he heard during the meetings. He failed to confirm the Masonic installation of popes and kings, and he couldn’t locate the Masonic imprint on one or another piece of foreign currency, and he certainly couldn’t understand how the powers of ancient Egypt had given shape to modern affairs.

At the same time, the organization was not nearly as humble as Olivera had once suggested: it was comprised primarily of businessmen, yes, but that was just a piece of the puzzle. Often the “business” discussions at meetings sounded more like “politics.” Herrera did not despair. He simply shifted his attention from how the Masons’ reputed accomplishments were achieved, to how the stories of these accomplishments were constructed. Claims, he began to understand, were often more powerful than actions.

And then early in June, news of Maximilian’s impending execution reached Herrera’s home, and he was not surprised that shortly thereafter followed an announcement of another Masonic gathering. The one surprise was its location: It would be the first such meeting held at Herrera’s estate. Herrera informed his staff of the impending meeting. Guests would arrive in three days’ time, and he told his cooks that goat barbacoa was to be the main course. The men of the Masons loved Herrera’s goats, and this was the meal that showed those goats to their best effect. The timing was perfect. It would take three days for the goat to cook slowly, buried under thick leaves in a shallow pit beside Herrera’s guest house.

Three days later, carriage after carriage arrived at the Herrera estate, and through the carriage windows were seen some of the most accomplished businessmen of Queretaro. Along with them were familiar faces of local politicians. And along with them were unfamiliar faces. These, Herrera soon learned, belonged to visiting Masons from the around the world. He welcomed them like brothers, for they were brothers. The meeting began as the Indian cooks made the final preparations for dinner. The meeting room’s deep red carpet was dappled by light that came through newly installed stained glass windows.

As the Masons planned, they could hear the Indian cooks singing from outside. One song in particular helped Herrera keep track of time. Every hour, on the hour, the cooks sang in low tones the same traditional dirge. Perhaps even some among Herrera’s guests might have understood its words: "The land gives us life. The land gives us life. The land gives us grain, and fruit, and meat. The land gives us life. And the land is our oven. It is where we cook our meals. And it is where we burn and bury our secrets."

Herrera, as was his habit, kept silent throughout the meeting, except when receiving thanks for his hospitality. He listened as his brothers developed their plan: a plan for Maximilian’s escape. There were, in fact, numerous plans, all with one thing in common: all ushered a disguised Maximilian to some land beyond Mexico’s borders. In one plan, Maximilian would take Tudos’ name and work as a chef in Manhattan. In another he would hide as a painter of landscapes in a coastal town in California. In another he would return to Europe and appear as his own long lost cousin. There were at least twice as many plans as there were courses to the meal. Herrera was entranced; he felt like a boy at story time as he waited for the best plan to be selected by his esteemed guests. Yet as dinner turned to dessert, a treat prepared graciously by Tudos himself, Herrera came to a realization: all the plans were being crafted with equal attention to detail because Maximilian’s fate was already sealed. He would die by firing squad. The best the Masons could do was to diminish the execution’s impact by instigating rumor of his escape. They would make their claim impossible to verify by letting a variety of alternate versions of the story follow quick upon the news that would, by month’s end, disperse from Queretaro to all around the world.

The goat barbacoa, like the meeting, was a success, at least gauging by Olivera’s disposition. He had had much to eat, and even more to drink. Toward the end of the meal, he rose to his feet, heaped praise upon their host, Herrera, and said with his customary bravado, "If our plan works, our secret should remain buried for at least a dozen dozen years."

A Sors is a project about the intersection of myth and food. The following photos show the preparation of the 5 whole goat barbacoa that is the central course of the A Sors meal. Julio and Max are excited to explore this idea in the legend of Emperor Maximilian I of México and his intimate relationship with his imperial chef, a Hungarian named Tudos.


Wednesday, June 22, 7:44PM

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo


Wednesday, June 22, 9:46PM

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo


Wednesday, June 22, 11:06PM

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo


Thursday, June 23, 11:06AM

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo

Continue reading the last post here.

A Change of Seasons

This post is the second of four about A Sors, a project by Julio César Morales and Max La Rivière-Hedrick, with Norma Listman for the Warhol Initiative. Read post one here.

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo; design by Brian Scott/Boon

It is June 19, 1867. Summer has begun. With the change of seasons, the days will begin to get shorter as well as warmer. There is work to be done. There are fields to be tended, but today is a holiday. To the Catholics of Querétaro, Mexico, it is a religious festival, the Fête-Dieu. In a few hours, the date will become associated with another, more sorrowful occasion. For today, Maximilian will die: Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph of Austria, or, to the people of Mexico these past three eventful years, Emperor Maximilian. Today is a holiday, and it will henceforth be a mournful one.

History tells us the sun was strong that day. It tells us the streets were lined with the faithful as a decrepit carriage slowly shuttled Maximilian from prison to El Cerro de las Campanas, the Hill of Bells, the execution site. History tells us the carriage was decrepit. History tells us many things. Sometimes those things contradict each other. And sometimes there are blank spaces, dark vacuums left for the imagination to illuminate and, perhaps, fill.

As day breaks, Maximilian wakes in his prison cell from a restful sleep, the air hot as it is thick. Sitting by his side on a small wooden stool is Tudos, his chef and close confidant, who had been permitted to share the cell with Maximilian on this final night. As the light begins to peek over the high window and color the far wall, a figure can be seen just on the other side of the cell gate: the recently arrived Father Soria. Soria should be at his church, preparing for the Fête-Dieu, but instead he’s here, to prepare Maximilian for death. Soria should be comforting Maximilian, but within minutes it is instead Maximilian who comforts Soria; it is Soria who sobs irreconcilably at the impending tragedy. Soria is meant to accompany Maximilian by carriage to the firing squad, but he can barely summon the strength to lift himself from the cell floor. Tudos dons Soria’s vestments, pulls the ceremonial hood close over his face, and bows his head in respect, as well as to hide his identity. Soria, now in Tudos’ clothes, sleeps on a threadbare cot. Maximilian and his disguised friend, Tudos, stand in silence. They wait for the guards.

The carriage holding Maximilian and Tudos is, indeed, ancient. Light enters through cracks in its plank walls and settles on a dense, motionless dust. Maximilian is still. Tudos, still but less peaceful, sits at his side. Tudos looks at his friend, if he may think of his emperor as such, and ponders the next twenty minutes. That is how long it will take for the carriage to transport them to the execution site. Tudos and Maximilian have doubts about the Masons’ reported plans to aid in his escape—not just about the plans, but about whether anyone actually intends to enact them. Maximilian is at peace because he knows, no matter what happens, his family’s safety has been assured. And then, with the expectation of someone who has just requested a favorite dessert, Maximilian brings his lips tight together and shuts his eyes. He moves his head backward, as if, through closed eyes and through the roof of the carriage, he were looking at the sky. Maximilian’s neck, below his thick beard and above his suit jacket, is a bright white space in the otherwise dark space. His slight movements have sent the dust swirling. Tudos pulls a blade from his boot and then deep across Maximilian’s throat.

History tells us that the carriage door stuck when the horses reached the execution site. Military guards need to usher the condemned, recognizable by his regal suit, through a side window. They then wait for Father Soria, and when he doesn’t appear at the carriage window, one of the guards peers in. What he sees is a body in a pool of blood. The guards then take Maximilian, or Father Soria, or Tudos, or whoever this is standing before them, and walk him to where two generals wait to die by his side.

The guards had prepared for many obstacles: Masonic forces would storm the proceedings, Maximilian would bribe the riflemen with his famed diamond, he would use a hidden weapon to gain escape, the carriage would be switched with a substitute. The guards had prepared for numerous many a variant situation, though not for this one. Still, they don’t feel any need to consult with their superior officers. There is work to be done. Even with the change of regimes, there are fields to be tended. The execution proceeds as planned.

A Sors is a project about the intersection of friendship and fate. Julio and Max are excited to explore this idea in the legend of Emperor Maximilian I of México and his intimate relationship with his imperial chef, a Hungarian named Tudos.

Thanks to Percy Falke Martin’s Maximilian in Mexico (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1914) for general scene-setting information.

Special thanks to all 30 who participated in the development dinner. Here are some images from Monday night:

Photo courtesy of Jesse Nichols

Photo courtesy of Jesse Nichols

Photo courtesy of Jesse Nichols

Continue reading post three here.

In Advance of Thought

This post is the first of four about A Sors, a project by Julio César Morales and Max La Rivière-Hedrick, with Norma Listman for the Warhol Initiative.

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo; design by Brian Scott/Boon

We could see a crowd gathered ahead on the road. Pickups and cars had pulled over in haste, partially blocking traffic. Something was wrong.

It’s a Saturday in Bodega, California, and my father and I are taking a lazy walk after lunch. There’s no wind. The air is clean, a touch of sea salt and eucalyptus. Based on the shadows, it must be around two in the afternoon.

As we make our approach, it remains unclear what is happening, but I can feel massive thumping coming from the earth. The odors shift. I sense fear. No one speaks. Someone hurries past in the opposite direction, weaving between vehicles. More thumps.

My father and I arrive at the center of the commotion. Laying there is a majestic stag, broken like a mechanical toy on its side: key turning, going through the motions, but not going anywhere. The enormous mass of animal is breathtaking. The fur around its neck is regal, its musculature arresting, its eyes alien, eerie. We are all entranced.

I don’t notice my father disappear. I just notice him return. He walks past me and right up to the stag. He kneels amid its antlers and hoofs. He draws a knife. And then the deer is dead.

Is this the same man who had never struck me as a child? Is this the same man who is vigilantly anti-war? Anti-gun? Anti-violence? He killed the deer as if he’d practiced for the event. In fact, though, he’d simply seen what needed to be done, and then done it.

Years later, I was caring for my father at his home in Bodega. His heart was failing, turning him blue, eyes flat grey. A thought — “I could simply stop giving him oxygen” — sent my mind spiraling: Is this the humane choice? Would I be a murderer? Why do I feel guilty just having considered this?

Consideration was itself the issue. My father’s lesson had not yet set in. The very act of thinking signaled that the time to act had passed. I proceeded to give him the oxygen.

A Sors is a project about knowing what needs to happen, and having the strength to do it. Julio and I are excited to explore this idea in the legend of Emperor Maximilian I of México and his intimate relationship with his imperial chef, a Hungarian named Tudos.

Continue reading post two here.