I've been thinking about different types of fire with which I have direct experience. In our modern world, we have little opportunity for direct experience with open flame fires. We have forced air heating in our houses and offices: drying, dessicating, windy heat, vata fire. We have radient heat from the summer sun beating in the windows, radiant heat from hot car engines, radiant heat from electric stoves, and radiant heat from food-like substances warmed in microwaves. Also, there's the tame and well-behaved flame of a gas range or backyard grill. Cooking with gas is more sensual than cooking on an electric range, but it's still not the same as an open flame.


Open flame fire in an outdoor pit is sensual, primal, and mesmorizing. Flames lap the air. Cinders pop. Shifting winds blow smoke always in your direction. This is the fire dance. You continually move, shift position the to get out of the smoke. The fire changes and matures as the evening progresses. At first, the flames leap up, orange, and cool. Watch the fire closely or it might go out! As the evening progresses, the fire needs feeding. Add more wood. Make a wood teepee over the older flames. Old flames ignite the new wood. By the end of the evening, coals are white hot. White hot heat radiates from the pit. It's so hot, the coals look and feel like they would melt metal.


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  • Then there's Kiev.
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  • I've also been thinking about fire and alchemy and yesterday while cooking (never happened before) the olive oil caught fire and leaped at least five feet in the air. My body instinct took over and grabbed the pan and put it in the sink. It made me think about how last week we had a family emergency and the same kind of instinct reaction happened. There was a clear direct path to "save" the family.

    • Glad you're okay!
  • Any fans out there of Laura Esquivel's "Como Agua Para Chocolate (Like Water For Chocolate?" The entire book, particularly Chapter 6: A Recipe For Making Matches (which I WISH I could post or find a link to here in its entirety -- a pox on copyrights!), is alchemy porn:

    "As you see, within our bodies each of us has the elements needed to
    produce phosphorus. And let me tell you something I've never told a
    soul. My grandmother had a very interesting theory; she said that each
    of us is born with a box of matches inside us but we can't strike them
    all by ourselves; just as in the experiment, we need oxygen and a
    candle to help. In this case, the oxygen, for example, would come from
    the breath of the person you love; the candle could be any kind of
    food, music, caress, word, or sound that engenders the explosion that
    lights one of the matches. For a moment we are dazzled by an intense
    emotion. A pleasant warmth grows within us, fading slowly as time goes
    by, until a new explosion comes along to revive it. Each person has to
    discover what will set off those explosions in order to live, since the
    combustion that occurs when one of them is ignited is what nourishes
    the soul. That fire, in short, is its food.

    If one doesn't find out in time what will set off these explosions, the
    box of matches dampens, and not a single match will ever be lighted.

    "If that happens, the soul flees from the body and goes to wander among
    the deepest shades, trying in vain to find food to nourish itself,
    unaware that only the body it left behind, cold and defenseless, is
    capable of providing that food."
  • Always looking for an excuse to post something by Craig Arnold. This is the ending to his poem "Made Flesh," which I believe he finished on a Valentine's Day:

    FALL creeps like a slow flame
    over a maple limb by limb
    leaves that once fanned their hands
    open wanting to put themselves
    all over everything begin to glow
    brave vermillion and lively yellow
    let at last their fingers curl
    into the palm and let go

    The same fire is touching us
    around the edges licking wrinkles
    into the corners of our eyes
    making the skin inside our elbows
    silky as old coins
    And when we lie
    together and I feel your bones
    blaze and the rose of your face unfolds
    and the incandescence of your skin
    crackles like the paper at the tip
    of a drawn-on cigarette and dies
    in a final fluttering of ash

    Then then we feel death
    as the deepest coming then we ease unhurried
    into the bud of body then we learn
    little by little to relinquish
    gracefully and less afraid
    each time to let each other slip
    slowly out of our clasp made
    fire made flower made flesh.
    • One more thing to add to this mixture. So far we have Bachelard's poetic phenomenology and this lovely Craig Arnold poem. See also Michael Pollan's latest book Cooked: The Natural History of Transformation. The first chapter is "Fire - Creatures of the Flame," and subsequent chapters take up the other elements. Obviously Pollan had alchemy in mind when he wrote it. This ties back directly to Becky's first posting.

    • Roger,

      After reading this post, I checked out Cooked from the public library and have just finished reading the section on Fire. What a great recommendation! Thank you.

      Pollen talks about the complexity of taste that comes about through cooking. Transforming something simple into something complex. And that complexity references something else--something elusive and metaphorical--and this is essentially human. I love it. It makes me think about how we are cooking these images and ideas in this class--and in art or analysis. Turning a raw idea in to something complex and thus more attractive and palatable. What was it Pat Berry mentioned, "Events versus experience." Lovely.

      I can't wait to finish the book in the context of this course.

    • Yes! Pollan's book 'Cooked: The Natural History History of Transformation' is a great accompaniment to our alchemical reading. Last summer, I began reading 'Cooked' one transformation at a time and working with each transformation. I got stuck on fermentation from having way too much fun fermenting various fruits into wine. The experience of fermenting or roasting meat over open fire is substantially different than the imagination of doing it based on reading. You have the sensual experience of the smells, the sensual experience of handling the materials, and the experience of having it not turn out right.
  • I highly recommend Bachelard's short little book The Flame of a Candle. It is a lovely, poetic reflection on the phenomenology of a single flame.

    • Roger, thanks for the recommendation. I ordered the book. The Salt Lake Library doesn't have it.
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