Vin Mariani

“never has anything been so highly or justly praised.”

A good 20 years before the original cocaine-infused Coca-Cola taught the world to grind its teeth and give ineffectual bathroom-stall handjobs in per•fect har•mo•ny, there was another drink of choice among those wishing to feel invigorated and overconfident for no good reason. It was called “coca wine” and it was loved not only by self-important blowhards wearing too much jewelry but by Kings and Popes and… oh, right. Anyhow, it was called Vin Tonique Mariani (or simply Vin Mariani) was sold as a curative, and in the latter half of the 19th century it was a medicinal, recreational, and marketing powerhouse. To paraphrase J.J. Cale “Czars don’t lie, Popes don’t lie, Queens don’t lie…”

08.09. filed under: design. history. people. 4

Occult Chemistry

In 6th century BCE the concept that matter is composed of discrete and not infinitely reducible units developed in India. Around 460 B.C. the Greek Democritus named these fundamental and irreducible bits of matter átomos, meaning “uncuttable.” Notions of this kind were at this point in history, more than anything, matters of pure Philosophy. As such, when the big daddy Aristotle weighed in and rejected the idea as worthless, “the atom” was pretty much stopped in its tracks. It would be a couple thousand years before Science picked up where Philosophy had left off. But before Science made its first excited indirect observations of electrons and protons and managed to put forward a widely acceptable model for the structure of the atom, another group stepped forward to ply their trade in the service of atomic knowledge. They were theosophists, known collectively as the Occult Chemists, and their goal was nothing less than “direct observation of atoms through clairvoyance.”


On The Magic Island

By W.B. Seabrook with illustrations by Alexander King.

In 1929 a travelogue was released that would, through the chain reaction it set off, have a profound effect on American popular culture and by extension the American collective consciousness. It was written by a fellow with a questionable resume of personal traits said to include alcoholism, occultism, sensory deprivation, and sadism, who would ultimately commit suicide by pill-overdose. His is not a household name, and is rarely spoken, yet it is through the continued fascinated invocation of another name altogether that we unknowingly evoke his legacy: Zombie! Zombie!! Zombie!!!


Hsueh Shao-Tang, Stamp Connector.

Quote: “Several years ago, at a sumptuous Chinese dinner in Geneva, my hosts asked whether I would do them a favor, or, rather, a favor for their cook, who had prepared the banquet. I intended driving through the Alps later that night, to arrive at dawn on the French Riviera for celebrations honoring the ninetieth birthday of Pablo Picasso; who would surely remain behind his locked gate working, as on any other day. He once had sighed, “If people could only give me their wasted hours! Instead, they bring me things.” So, when my friends explained that their cook wanted me to take a gift to Picasso “from an admirer who never met him,” I tactfully declined. My friends actfully persisted. ‘This one is different! It’s a good-luck picture, the Chinese god of Happiness and Long Life—made from tiny fragments of postage stamps.” Next morning I arrived on the Riviera as the gift-bearing envoy of Hsueh Shao-Tang . . . master artist and master chef.” –David Douglas Duncan.

06.20. filed under: art. history. people. 7

Are you familiar with the Federal Writer’s Folklore and Life Histories project? It was a subsection of the larger FWP (itself a New Deal arts program) undertaken to support writers during the great depression. The Folklore Project, in particular, has fascinated me for years because at bottom it is simply a collection of the musings of ordinary people walking the 1930’s streets; and largely anonymous ordinary people at that. For example, the typewritten text above is all we are given by way of biographical information on the man who dictated a piece I came across today, and wanted to share. See below for I’m a Might-Have-Been, recorded in New York circa 1938.

06.15. filed under: history. humanity. people. 2

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