Saturday, July 27, 2013
When white people came to Arizona back in the 19th Century, they saw plants in the desert regions that seemed absolutely useless to them. The Indians who farmed and gathered in the riparian areas near the rivers tried to tell them otherwise. But white people know everything, and they figured they could just enlarge the ancient Hohokam canals and irrigate fields full of non-native crops. So they bull-dozed huge chunks of desert land and started farming. Being greedy cusses, they also appropriated river water that Indian farmers had been using, and now the Gila and Salt rivers are just dry, eroded beds in Central and Western Arizona.
In the years since, it has become apparent that there is a good reason why those Hohokam canals were abandoned. River water is full of salts that eventually saturate the soil it irrigates. Ground water, which is really fossil water that has been underground for thousands and even millions of years, has been drastically depleted in most parts of our country, thanks to persistent drought conditions. Our crops need tons of fertilizer to produce food, and more tons of insecticide to keep the bugs from eating them first. And the big agribusinesses are relying on narrower and narrower genetic strains for our food, engineered to resist the pests that feed on them, but even more reliant on fertilizer and water.
In the mean time, the humble desert still plugs on. It's seriously under siege by invasive species (including us), but parts of it still thrive. A few people eventually listened to the Indians, and now people in the Southwest are beginning to become aware that we have native plants that have been growing right here all along that are better food crops than the alien stuff we imported. In fact, one of those plants can be found in the barbecue section of any grocery store: the mesquite. But they're using the wrong part of that plant.
The mesquite was called the “Tree of Life” by Indians for good reason. It grows fast, requires little water, needs no fertilizer – and the bugs that attack it eat some of the seeds inside the pods that are produced every summer. And that's just fine, because the edible part is the pod.
Yes, those pods that people think are such a nuisance to rake up every year can be ground into a flour that is gluten free, higher in protein than most other flours (1g of protein per 2 TBS), low in carbs, and naturally sweet. They are gathered when they're dry, then ground into flour. The seeds are discarded. I had an Arizona Geography teacher who liked to mix the mesquite flour with buckwheat flour and make pancakes. There are many recipes online, as well as sources to purchase mesquite flour or even to get your own pods ground if you don't feel like doing it yourself.
Like the palo verde (which has an edible seed), the mesquite is from the pea and bean family, so people with a peanut allergy should avoid it. It's an excellent food source for the rest of us, along with prickly pear (the pads and fruit are edible), agave (edible hearts, like the artichoke), as well as tepary beans and other heirloom food seeds that are native to the southwest and our arid growing conditions. (Check out Native Seed Search for more information about them.)
Does that mean you shouldn't buy the mesquite wood for your barbecue? If you've got seed pods, you actually don't need the wood. You can put the pods in a foil pouch, make some holes for the smoke to escape, and set them on your barbecue coals. They'll give your BBQ the same mesquite flavor as the wood chips.
So you see, we've been using the wrong part of the mesquite all these years, and ignoring an important food crop. Does that mean we shouldn't grow other, non-native crops? I don't think so. We just shouldn't grow them on such a large scale. And we should be using southwestern heirloom seeds first, adapting our farms to fit our climate, instead of trying to force our climate to fit the crops. Maybe we'll figure that out before it's too late.
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Check out Michael Levy's albums on the up-and-comer, Spotify. See the link below!
A quick bulletin to let you all know that now absolutely ALL of my albums are now also available from Spotify! This relatively new digital store is fast catching up with iTunes & Amazon digital music stores.
The main advantage streaming audio digital stores like Spotify has to the strugging independent artist like myself, is exposure...it only takes the right person to hear one track to make all the difference!
This happened last year, when the author Naomi Alderman happened to buy an imported CD of one of my sadly poorest selling albums, "Lyre of the Levites" - despite the poor sales I have had of this particular album, clips of 2 of the tracks ended up being used in a BBC Radio 4 "Book At Bedtime" series, featuring her book "The Liars Gospel", on Roman occupied 1st century Judea!
Here is the link to all my albums now up on Spotify:
Thanks for all your support in "spreading the word"!
Friday, July 19, 2013
In the last quarter of the 20th Century, a gal used to be able to find wonderful little shops in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Taos. These shops carried handmade jewelry, unique clothing and shoes, art and folk art, perfume and lotions, books and nick-nacks, pots, plates, wind chimes, fossils – you name it. The cost of the items started at $2 and went up to a few hundred dollars, but you could get quite a lot in the $15 to $45 range. My mother and sister and I looked forward to visiting these shops every time we visited New Mexico.
But many years have passed since those days, and recently a woman came into the Heard Museum Book Store during my regular shift and asked me if there was a shopping district like that in Phoenix. She told me that visiting those quirky little shops used to be one of the highlights of her trips in the Southwest. Lots of cities had them; locally we had the Mill Avenue shops in Tempe, and Tucson had its own shopping district near 4th Avenue. Flagstaff still has something resembling a cheap-and-fabulous shopping district, but not to the extent you would have found back in the 1970s and '80s. “What happened?” the traveling lady asked me. “Was it the economy?”
I suspect it was the opposite. Those shops were enormously popular. I think the landlords who owned that property decided they should raise the rents. They raised them so high, the owners of those little shops couldn't pay. In New Mexico, expensive jewelry, rug, furniture, clothing stores, and art galleries moved into those spaces. The top 5% of the population can afford to shop there now. The rest of us seem to be out of luck.
It's sad to see our paradise lost, but there are some alternatives for those who are willing to hunt a little harder. My search always starts with thrift stores. Prices there usually run from $1 to $15 for clothing, and quite reasonable for a gamut of other stuff. Places that advertise themselves as consignment stores or vintage clothing shops often charge more, but their items still cost considerably less than what you'll find in the expensive stores in the shopping districts. Second hand shops also run the gamut, price-wise, but are always worth investigating. And some of them carry new work by local artists and artisans.
Antique stores are also a mixed bag. We have a lot of them in Arizona, and almost all of them are low-priced. I walked into an antique shop in Taos on my recent trip to New Mexico, and I had to conclude that the place was too close to the pricey downtown district. The item I looked at (a gorgeous buddha) was $550. But you don't know until you look – that's part of the adventure. What sort of treasure you find depends on how much you're willing to dig, and whether or not you're bothered by dust. My tolerance for weirdness and unexpected adventure is high, and I've waded through worse things than dust to find the fabulous – on a recent journey in the Cave Creek foothills for garden rocks I fended off swarms of thirsty yellow jackets. Fortunately, bug swarms are rare on the thrift store circuit, and most shoppers can find a few places they like.
Here are some of the places my mom and I have discovered in New Mexico:
BOOMERANG THRIFT BOUTIQUE in Española carries a wonderful variety of hip clothing, including smaller and larger sizes. While we were there, they were running a sale, so we got our items for even less. The price range was $2.50 to $9.50. They carry an eclectic selection of other second-hand items as well. They're on the southbound side of HWY 84-285, near the southern end of town.
ENCHANTING BARGAINS THRIFT STORE in Española is also on the southbound side of HWY 84-285, a bit farther north than BOOMERANGS. Just drive until you see DANDY'S BURGERS and then pull into that little plaza. Their price range is $1 to $10. On this last trip I found 2 pairs of pants and 3 blouses I liked, and my mom found 5 fabulous blouses. Our tastes are quite different, yet we both found things we liked. (My husband bought 4 books.)
THE WATER STORE in Española is under new management and hasn't re-opened as of this publication, but they used to have an upstairs thrift section stuffed full of clothing priced from $1 to $4. They were my mom's favorite place, and she's hoping they'll be open again when we visit next year. If you're in the area, it's worth checking to see what's going on with them – they're on the northbound side of HWY 84-285 that leads through the town to Taos.
In Taos we always check out the COMMUNITY AGAINST VIOLENCE store on 1046 Paseo Del Pueblo Sur. From the road, you simply see a sign that says CAV. This year they only had half as much clothing as they did last year, but my mother and I both found a few things we liked, and they're worth checking out. On the other side of the street at 1024 is a consignment store called PIECES that is pricier than my mom likes, but that still has a lot of interesting stuff in it. My mom doesn't like to spend more than $5 for anything, so don't let that discourage you from looking at them.
TREASURES, located much farther North on Paseo Del Pueblo, is always worth a visit, though we have only bought a few items of clothing there. They also carry antiques and folk art from local artists, and they have a lovely little garden out front. Just up the road from them (going north) are a couple of affordable import stores, like the CAMINO REAL IMPORTS AND GIFT SHOP. They must have sold out of all their Jesuses by the time we got there (see photo), but I got a lovely urn-style garden pot and my husband Ernie bought a faux-alligator-skin wallet and a nifty t-shirt. (That was the only time I saw him get excited about an article of clothing on the whole trip.)
As you're headed out of town toward the High Road To Taos Scenic Highway, you'll see THUNDER LIZARD DIRECT CORAL IMPORTERS. They specialize in beads, so if you're a bead junky in recovery, don't go in there.
In Santa Fe, there are a lot of thrift stores on the southern end of town on Cerrillos Road, and you don't have to drive near the complicated tangle of the main plaza to visit them. These shops include GOODWILL, one of my favorite thrift store chains. I love the way they organize their stuff by color. GOODWILL discount days vary from place to place, so expect blouses to cost about $4.99 to $5.99 when they're not on sale.
The HOSPICE CENTER THIFT STORE AT 1303 Cerrillos Road offers clothing and antique/collectible items, and their clothing is always 2nd-hand fancy stuff. They were having a 50% off sale the day we visited, so we got several gorgeous items for a steal. Call them at 505-473-0972.
If you want a break from clothing shopping try A BIT OF EVERYTHING at 1836 Cerrillos Road. They don't have anything you can wear, but they're a 2nd hand/antique /collectible emporium that offers – you guessed it, a little bit of everything. You can call them at 505-983-0665.
So yes, the halcyon days of cheap and fabulous, quirky and hip shopping districts are gone. But it's possible to roll with the punches. And though people who have to shop for smaller and larger sizes sometimes don't have as much luck when shopping for second hand clothing, thrift shops usually offer more than just apparel. These are the places you might find pretty dishes, garden décor, books, etc. Second-hand book shops are always worth investigating, and they could use your patronage. Try BOOKS AND MORE BOOKS on 1341 Cerrillos Road in Santa Fe (505-983-5438), just down the road from HOSPICE CENTER THRIFT STORE. They're an honest-to-goodness, old-fashioned book store, and if Ernie and I had spent any significant time in there we would have bought way more than the 4 books we did.
By the way, we were there 10 minutes. Paradise Found.
Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Monday, July 15, 2013
Michael Levy has a new single available, based on the myth of Orpheus. See the links below . . .
Release of my new single, "Orpheus's Lyre: Lament For Solo Lyre in the Just Intonation of Antiquity"
I am pleased to announce the release of my new single, "Orpheus's Lyre: Lament For Solo Lyre in the Just Intonation of Antiquity". This composition for solo lyre, was inspired by the timeless ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice:
"Eurydice and Orpheus were young and in love. So deep was their love that they were practically inseparable. So dependent was their love that each felt they could not live without the other. These young lovers were very happy and spent their time frolicking through the meadows. One day Eurdice was gaily running through a meadow with Orpheus when she was bitten by a serpent. The poison of the sting killed her and she descended to Hades immediately.
Orpheus was son of the great Olympian god Apollo. In many ways Apollo was the god of music and Orpheus was blessed with musical talents. Orpheus was so sad about the loss of his love that he composed music to express the terrible emptiness which pervaded his every breath and movement. He was so desperate and found so little else meaningful, that he decided to address Hades. As the overseer of the underworld, Hades heart had to be hard as steel, and so it was. Many approached Hades to beg for loved ones back and as many times were refused. But Orpheus' music was so sweet and so moving that it softened the steel hearted heart of Hades himself. Hades gave permission to Orpheus to bring Eurydice back to the surface of the earth to enjoy the light of day. There was only one condition - Orpheus was not to look back as he ascended. He was to trust that Eurydice was immediately behind him. It was a long way back up and just as Orpheus had almost finished that last part of the trek, he looked behind him to make sure Eurydice was still with him. At that very moment, she was snatched back because he did not trust that she was there. When you hear music which mourns lost love, it is Orpheus' spirit who guides the hand of the musicians who play it" (Taken from Thomas Bulfinch and retold by Juliana Podd in Encyclopedia Mythica)
In this piece, I explore transposing between the incredibly poignant-sounding ancient Greek Phrygian mode (this was misnamed the "Dorian" mode in the Middle Ages) to evoke the yearning of Orpheus for his forever lost love, and the dreamy, sensual & feminine-sounding ancient Greek Hypolydian mode (misnamed the "Lydian" mode in the Middle Ages), to paint a picture of Eurydice - the lost love for which he forever yearns...
In this composition, I tune my lyre to the wonderfully pure just intonation of antiquity - unlike the horrible compromise of equal temperament, whereby each semitone is artificially made equal, in order to seamlessly transpose between different keys, in just intonation, the correct & exact ratio of pitches in a scale is precisely calculated, resulting in a wonderfully pure sound. In just intonation, the intervals have a unique density & music performed in just intonation is at the same time transformed into a sound that is both calming yet at the same time, inspiring. Just intonation was perhaps, one of the little-known wonders of the ancient world?
The PDF booklet of the detailed liner notes can be freely downloaded here
Here are some of the main purchase links for the single:
The physical CD of this single, all lovingy shrink-wrapped, with a 2 page booklet of detailed liner notes can also be ordered from here
I will probably be concentrating mostly on releasing extended length singles like this one and my previous single "Nero's Lyre", rather than yet more expensive and time consuming albums - it is also much easier to become inspired by a specific topic to compose music to, rather than yet another general time travel-themed album! Watch this space...
Monday, July 8, 2013
What is a garden without a buddha? Incomplete, that's what. So for the last few years, I have sought affordable buddhas for my dry desert sanctuary. Price is a big issue for us, so thus far we have only managed to obtain a happy buddha, a classic buddha head, and a lovely chinese goddess. There is still room for more buddhas in my garden.
At the WIRED? coffee place in Taos, they share my obsession. They are home to multiple buddhas. Their coffee drinks are wonderful too, but that's almost beside the point. Their buddhas, their garden, and their fountains and pools are the reason I keep seeking them out, year after year as we take our trip to Northern New Mexico. If I lived in Taos, they would be one of my regular haunts. I have photographed their fountains in the hope of creating something similar for my own garden.
Oh yeah – and they're an internet cafe too. If you care about that sort of thing. And you're not too preoccupied with buddhas.
If you see the Buddha by the side of the road – find out how much they want for him and let me know.