Dragon’s Blood and Baez

A voice. An image. A face. A song from long ago. There is no telling what will turn a distant recollection into a torrent of memories. For me it was a smell. Rather, the smell – of New York City’s Greenwich Village in the Spring of 1968.

What turned the Mind Spigot on was – soap. Recently I’ve been trying various hand-made natural soaps from soap maker, Emily Seaver. It was one of these soaps, Dragon’s Blood, with its incense scent, that sent me back decades into a world that fascinated, but would only be observed.

New York was just a bit over an hour away by train, but what had started out as a shopping trip became the catalyst for a life-long love of folk music and an admiration for one of the eras most honest artists and voices.

Washington Square

Walking along Bleeker, Thompson and MacDougal Streets and through Washington Square Park ones senses were constantly bombarded with the sounds of bongos, saxophones, guitars, flutes and voices both sweet and ferocious singing of protest or love. The smell of subway steam rising through street vents mingled with the scents of every food imaginable. The sweet, earthy smell of roasting coffee permeated the street in front of Porto Rico Coffee and from the countless coffee cafes that lined the streets of The Village. And, through it all rose the stench of unwashed bodies, garbage and omnipresent drugs. New York in the 60’s. Nothing quite like it and never to be forgotten.

Venturing into a small, colorful shop along Thompson Street I soon realized that I had entered another world altogether. What would later be learned was a Head Shop, this little store was jam-packed with pipes, bongs, clips, etc., etc. Not only were these things of no interest, I really had no idea what they were for. Such an innocent! But, what did interest me was the dizzying (truly) display of incense. Now, this was something I was familiar with. Incense sticks and cubes of various fruits and scents filled shelves from top to bottom. What really caught my eye were small bags of loose incense – including jasmine, patchouli and every Catholic schoolboy’s favorite, frankincense. A whiff of that and for sure you would feel on your way to heaven! After buying a small packet, it was time to further explore the neighborhood.

Ritchie Havens

Cafe Wha?, The Bitter End, Bottom Line, Cafe Au Go Go, The Gaslight Cafe, The Village Vanguard. Handbills plastered on the sides of buildings and construction fencing advertised both coming and just past appearances of The Stone Poneys, Ritchie Havens, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell -live nyc Little Green, Jimi Hendrix, Odetta, Peter, Paul and Mary, Tom Paxton, Judy Collins (click on hyperlinks) and – Joan Baez. What were these places and who were these people? Coming from a very parochial background (in every sense of the word) I was not in my element. But, the Genie of Curiosity was out of the bottle and while, somewhat sadly, I never got to go to any of the above music venues I did embark on a journey to discover who those musicians were and what they were saying. One in particular has kept my admiration all these years – Joan Baez.

Joni Mitchell
Joan Baez

Now, Ms Baez probably has a few views that are, shall we say, not simpatico with mine. But, her steadfast aversion to war, her respect and empathy for the common man and the downtrodden far outweigh those possible differences and have allowed me to appreciate her artistry without the distraction of politics. Her voice and songs remain both beautiful and meaningful. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvDyq66_lWY , Diamonds and Rust, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ptxxq5PUHEk and There But for Fortune, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKq-nVdiQ8U are just a few of Baez’ songs that endure.

There’s no going back of course. But, I wonder, what happened … to the promise and optimism of those days and that generation? I just wonder.

Sometimes in Winter

This morning we woke to our first winter in five years. Snow was covering everything, at least everything up to two inches! But, snow it is and what a welcome sight.

Before clearing our driveway and sidewalk I grabbed my camera – just to record the scene before me: snow covered fields, pine trees with snow draped branches and snow fog – the sort of fog arising when warmer air mixes with cold snow below. It may seem funny, but to this former New Englander, the sight of this snowy morning meant one thing – I am home. Yes, in this Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, I am home.

We are Home

Memories can creep up on you from almost anything and at the most unexpected times. This past week or so, I have been plagued by my annual December Creepies that always seem to wait until nightfall to make their appearance. It’s been a bit of a battle keeping them at bay. But, this morning, shovel in hand, other, very welcome memories popped up: Music and Coffee.

Sometimes in Winter. It has been many years since I’ve heard or thought of that Blood, Sweat and Tears song. Part Jazz, part Rock, part Poem, it is the type of song that can stay with you forever. And, there it was, playing in my head as I stood in front of our home early this morning. Click: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_D0HVYiMyq8 Yes, sometimes in Winter, everything seems right.

Another melody that popped up, altogether unrelated tonally to the first, was Tchaikovsky’s, Winter Dreams. Perhaps, it was the sight of the snow and frost covered trees that reminded me of an old DG album cover of this recording: Click:   https://youtu.be/tFAvb-Kga30  This symphony, or at least as much as I could recall, would, long ago, accompany me as I drove for hours through wintry, city streets. Yet, here it was again, in full daylight.

Now, some may think that coffee is coffee. But, no, there are differences, just as there are with any food or beverage. There is what is called Commodity coffee. That’s pretty much what you get in most restaurants, diners and even many “coffee shops”. Some of it is downright awful, some, not so bad. One of the most well-known coffee sellers charges a small fortune for a cup of coffee by adding flavorings and fancy names to otherwise unremarkable brew. There are now a lot of local or regional coffee shops / kiosks offering really good coffee. But, it comes at a price, which I understand: quality costs.

The real issue for us, The Redhead and I, is how to have a really good cup of coffee at home. This is especially true with all of the lockdowns and restrictions we are enduring. So, I began my quest for really good coffee that I could brew at home. I first tried some old favorite brands found in the grocery stores. Eh. Then, some experimentation with generic, “organic” coffees found at the local alternative grocery store. One wasn’t too bad at all. The other tasted like, well, old dirt. Since we don’t add sugar to our coffee, there was no way to fix this bad boy! Some mail order coffees cost a fortune and quality wasn’t a sure thing if the on-line reviews can be believed. Then, a light bulb went on in my noggin’.

A while back we had gotten some really good coffee beans (we grind our own…it’s a nice way to start the morning) from Costco. But, with all the restrictions, we haven’t been to Costco in about a year. So, I looked up the company and yes, they sell directly to customers. Mayorga Organics https://www.mayorgaorganics.com/. Their prices are very fair, the coffee is great and their customer service is outstanding. They roast the coffee at two locations: Florida and Maryland. A quick phone call later and I was speaking with one of their Team members, Natasha. We spoke of the different coffees and, since I am partial to Mocha Java, Natasha also recommended the Mayorga Mayan blend. I’ll report back to you on this blend very soon! The Mocha Java is very good, though.

No, Enjoyment is not necessarily an addiction!

Now, here’s the really nice thing about Mayorga. They deal directly with the coffee farmers in Latin America, thus ensuring top quality coffee and a truly decent way to deal with the people that actually grow the beans. All farmers should be so lucky! If you are interested in trying one of the Mayorga coffees, just give them a call or go on-line. It’s very easy. If you order before the end of December, ALL on-line sales will be donated to relief efforts in Latin America due to hurricanes Iota and Eta. What a nice Christmas present for those folks!

Oh, BTW, I am not affiliated in any way with Mayorga. I just really like their coffee and the way they do business. Period.

So, how do Winter and Music and Coffee tie together? Well, we are now entering winter, both literally and figuratively. We need to stay healthy and happy and connected to one another. We cannot let fear separate us. If you can, invite someone – a family member, a friend, a neighbor over to enjoy some good coffee and good music. Not sure if it’s the “right time”? Well, maybe, it’s Sometimes in Winter.

Baby Jesus is coming. Don’t be afraid. Pray. Be nice.