Zigzagging up Cleopatra Hill in the able Rubicon, we are afforded a spectacular view of the valley floor as we pass ramshackle buildings, museums, and rusted mining-era paraphernalia perched on a cliff alongside upscale art galleries, saloons, and trendy (though haunted) burger eateries. Once known as “the wickedest town in the west” with its brothels and opium dens, the former copper mining camp of Jerome is now an artist Mecca and picturesque tourist magnet, evident by the rainbow spectrum of SUVs parked along the steep, narrow boutique-lined streets. Within minutes of all this ghostly quaintness, we arrive at the futuristic gate of Maynard’s impregnable Tabula smaragdina.

It had been many years since I had last visited the place, back in the summer of 2002 to be precise, while the Rodeo, Chedeski, and Show Low wildfires were wreaking havoc on the state, and you could still buy a loaded handgun with your twelve-pack of Coors Light at the local Circle-K. At that time, we had arranged for a geologist to perform a baseline soil analysis at various horizons on the site for potential vineyard development. While I don’t exactly remember what was in the final report, evidently, with or without the addition of diffuse shade trees, there was now plenty of evidence of vinticultrural activities, and here was Maynard, one of the pioneers of the local movement, taking pre-orders for a 2006 “Primer Paso”, and a new blend called “Shinola.” I also remember thinking back then how he was taking himself off the grid. Now, as we pulled into the driveway and parked next to the “Merkin Mobile”, a funky customized red Subaru Brat, itself parked next to an ominously dark Police Interceptor, it was apparent that there had been lots of new construction, with at least some of the additions designed to keep one comfortable in the event of a global catastrophe. In a “Bart’s Comet” scenario, this wouldn’t be a bad place to be, although to remain in your leather recliner swirling a glass of Penfolds you’d probably have to know the treatment for “Pierce’s Disease” or something else useful. (I know, because I asked.)

With the energy of someone who didn’t stay up all night watching meteors, and who was drinking water during the wine-tasting, there’s no rest for the weary as Maynard takes us on yet another tour of terraced grapevines. Passing a mammoth excavator that shows only a slight layer of patina. I wonder if our host ever unearthed a skeleton with a gold Elgin octagonal pocket-watch? Climbing a somewhat treacherous hillside in the high altitude, some of us pause to catch our breath. Noticing several fairly realistic-looking fake birds flying kite-like over the netted grapevines, and realizing that they are meant to be a deterrent to natural predators, I ask their owner if any of these scaring devices are the more expensive high-tech models that actually take fake craps from time to time so as to fool any crop pests that might be suspicious. “Only one”, someone replies. When I tell him that I guess that answers Omar Khayyam’s question in “The Rubaiyat” when he asks: “I wonder often what the Vinters buy One half so precious as the stuff they sell.” someone says that he has a couple of tarantula scaring devices on the property as well, although I can’t for the life of me understand their purpose. Oh well… In that we haven’t eaten all day and it’s nearly sundown, perhaps we should think about rustling up some grub. I’m so hungry that I could eat the colors off a glassy-winged sharpshooter. Not to worry. I’m told that we’ve reservations for some gourmet fare at 8:30, which, I suppose, rules out biscuits, a can of beans, and yarns by the campfire.

Oh, Thou who Man of baser Earth didst make,
And ev’n with Paradise devise the Snake:
For all the Sin wherewith the Face of Man
Is blacken’d - - Man’s forgiveness give - - and take!

“Fuckin’ Garden of Eden”, Maynard utters as he picks some ripe figs and then snags an apple from his little desert garden, offering the four of us a taste. But what about a fig leaf? The twilight sky baths us in an odd diffused orange and delicate cool pink glow – the perfect time to revisit ‘Eschol’ in Arizona – that mysterious place that “eateth the people up”, although when it comes to any discussion of al-Khemical vinticulture (or esoteric oenology in ‘general’), the prima material must be kept a secret, especially with all your average poke of salt and slab of bacon treasure hunters about. With that caveat, we can now enter the “Black Spot” (not unlike the one near France’s La Valdieu) – a tract of land reserved for more exotic pursuits such as the potable gold in the amphora of Cleopatra, who “would drink the value of a province in one cup of wine.”

Now, with regards to celestial impact sites, when emission spectroscopy for deposits of rare earth metals fails… and metal salts and black alkali just doesn’t cut it alone (ala Arizona farmer David Hudson, that champion of “ghost gold” and high-spin phenomena), what is one to do? Do you take a page from Bram Stoker, recalling that the cargo of the “Demeter” consisted only of silver sand (used to polish stones!) and earth? In order to collect the Perspiration of Re-Osiris (ah, symbolic euphemisims!), on recent trips to Egypt, do you bring back some soil of Khem? Mmmm, perhaps. Why, the occult cognoscenti asks? When seeking to extract “The Jewel of Divine Anthrpophagy” (see IJYNX) used for transcending human limitations, if the cupboards of the necropolis are bare, consider the Priests of Heliopolis with their legend of the bennu-PHOENIX, that mythical creature with a brilliant plumage who, when NOT bearing its predecessor embalmed in a ball of myrrh, RISES from the ASHES. If that’s just a trifle ambiguous, then pour yourself a sweet Cypriot Commandaria substitute. As it is, I’m bound to keep my fig leaf firmly in place (in the parlance of the trade). Otherwise, like some of those gold-crazed wanderers before me, I might just find myself committed to an asylum…

“Waste not your Hour, nor in the vain pursuit
Of This and That endeavor and dispute;
Better be jocund with the fruitful Grape
Than sadden after none, or bitter, fruit.”

The five of us arrive for what promises to be some fine dining at “Asylum”, a restaurant “on the fringe” in Jerome’s Grand Hotel that used to be an insane asylum during the mining boom, and is thus believed by locals to be haunted. I don’t know about any spooks, but it seems possible that at least one former patient was never released, seeing that there is a pastrami salad on the menu. With Jeromites, I might have expected a pipe organ cactus salad, but pastrami, that is on the fringe, if not the opalescent mist of the endomatrix!

After we are seated, it doesn’t take long for the wine to flow. Not just wine. Not just boutique wine… but wine ordered by a winemaker. As they are decanted by the resident sommelier, I order some “Hippie Humus” and a bottle of flat water, knowing that it’s going to be a long night. As more wines are swirled and sipped, Maynard’s lady friend finally arrives, a lovely thing from Sedona who toys with the idea of ordering the roasted butternut squash soup. With some eclectic appetizers, the bottles keep coming. At one point, along with a bewildering mass of food, I count 29 wine glasses on the table. Maynard even orders a mesquite bacon-wrapped Filet Mignon dinner (besides his other dinner) just so that each of us can have a bite to go with a particular vintage (for comparison purposes). Looking for any evidence that the place is indeed haunted, such as someone drinking a fruity Bartles & James cooler in one of the framed Wine Spectator Magazine photos hanging on the walls, as the waiter deftly cuts the Filet into the required number of pieces, a slice of meat mysteriously falls onto the floor. Seeing this, the head of the table quickly reaches down and picks it up, popping it into his mouth, afterwards claiming that it was well within the range of the 5-second rule. Could we actually be seated with the decoy MJK, I wonder? Or is the cabernet demi-glaze just that good? Either way, the cuddly dillo is duly impressed, as are we all.

At Maynard’s request, the waiter brings a photograph that was recently taken by a customer. To some this would clearly seem to show a ghostly apparition - perhaps a misty white-uniformed nurse from when the place was a laughing academy. After examining it, I’m a bit skeptical, although I must admit that the clock in the background, with its hands frozen on the stroke of midnight, makes for a nice added touch. Sorry, but I’m not one of those alfalfa sprouts who buys into the whole ghost town thing. I am, however, enjoying the salty texture and conversation of colorful locals who have stopped by to meet us Californians with “all our orange trees,” even though at times it’s hard to hear them over all the coughing of miners…

With our bellies filled with king crab, lobster, and Sonoran spicy chicken, and our tongues stained a hideous purple, Maynard discreetly gestures for the check. Somehow noticing this, Danny insists on paying the National Debt, claiming that his band mate always gets it. After going back and forth for several minutes, with my spectator’s heart pounding in anticipation, Maynard finally allows Danny to ‘win’, but only this one time.

“The Grape that can with Logic absolute
The Two-and-Seventy jarring Sects confute:
The sovereign Alchemist that in a trice
Life’s leaden metal into Gold transmute:”

Seated comfortably in a lawn chair on Maynard’s deck, I’m handed a bottle of water as I gaze up at patches of the sparkling night sky, hoping to catch the tail end of the Perseids. The water is to cleanse one’s palate, I’m warned, glancing over to see some wine breathing in a decanter only a few feet away. I tell LaraLee that she might as well hang up her saddle and stay a spell. It appears that this tasting flight is far from over. As coyotes howl off in the distance (finally), and we attempt to put a dent in the fabled wine cellar (hardly!), before each pour of the liquid that flames and dances within its crystal bounds (to almost quote Milton), there is a brief introduction, if you will, relating to our host’s personal appreciation of the particular vintage. This is, at times, analytical, at others philosophical, especially when it comes to a commentary of the diverse characteristics and range of perceived flavors.

As the night unfolds, some of these descriptions become quite baffling to me. For example, while I get “smoky”, “chocolate”, “tobacco”, “figs”, “plums” and “blueberry”, or even “well-worn velvet” and a freakin’ “Daicon radish”, it’s another thing to identify among the rich palate flavors such as “rubber feet”, “Jimmy Dean pork sausage”, “cartoon vitamins”, and “the reverse side of a 1938 Mercury Head dime.”

When not discussing the primordial DNA of wine-grapes, mapped genes, or the complexity of that stuff in a swirled glass, the singer begins to talk about the band, both Puscifer and Tool, using Danny as a sounding board for some ideas that he has, including a rather unique approach to touring in the future. Of course any privileged information relating to this can’t be divulged – one could say that it is protected by a fiery-eyed chupacabra (in this case, one that affects one’s memory).

Now that it’s getting late and the girls are tired, once Danny is good to go (with a little help from a colossal espresso machine), we decide to head back to our resort in Sedona. Even though he has to get up at 5:30 in the morning to pick grapes (knowing that he will be “a wounded Vino soldier”, as he wrote in his on-line journal), Maynard urges us to wait a bit longer, and to drink some more… water. This is probably a good idea considering the sheriff with his breathalyzer, hand-cuffs, and fire ants… Wait a minute, wrong county. Even so, you wouldn’t want to have a Daicon radish on your breath…

“And those who husbanded the Golden grain,
And those who flung it to the winds like Rain,
Alike to no such aureate Earth are turn’d
As, buried once, Men want dug up again.”

The next day, Maynard’s not the only wounded Vino soldier. Squinting in the afternoon sun, Danny and I take our auras to the tourist trap section of Sedona, where Pink Jeeps, Kokopelli, and alien herbal therapy are easier to find than a pack of Macanudo cigars. Debating whether or not to seek the help of a psychic on this matter in one of a dozen or so pastel-colored crystal emporiums, we finally locate a shop that has them for three times the going rate. But with kaleidoscopic rock formations in the background, that only seems fair. After picking up some specialty salsas for tonight’s sauce-painted carne, and, strangely enough, a few local wines, somewhat more centered now, it’s back to the road construction, having escaped without so much as botanical soy candle.

With a fantastic view of the red rock sentinels, when not pondering the concept of ear coning, I spend the rest of the day looking over my notes… There’s Maynard and Eric’s upcoming wine signing hosted by Arizona Stronghold Vineyards at Whole Foods market locations in California, Nevada, and Arizona… Chupacabra and other Caduceus wines… “Now what was that that Maynard said about being inspired to write music… recording some stuff on Garage Band?” Having recognized the spot where he recently took a hammer to his laptop, I can’t help but wonder if anyone has even faintest clue as to what I was referring to when I told them to be patient… that good things are coming? “Obviously not, judging by all the e-mail that I’ve received.” Then there’s the whole Guitar Hero thing that’s still to come… “Is it time to dust off the Ouija Board and attempt to contact Bill Hicks?” “Yes, I think so…” Wait a minute, BMB, don’t forget your rule: it’s alright to ask yourself a question… even out loud… but you never answer yourself… out loud…

And then I come to those magic words: Veni vidi vici… Time for more neurological pondering of that man of mystery, the prospector James Kidd, who vanished in 1949, never to be seen or heard from again. With regards to the “Pandora’s Box” containing stock certificates and his strange will involving a considerable fortune for “research or some scientific proof of a soul of the human body which leaves at death”, recalling the catchy advertising slogan: “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen”, I turn my attention to the legendary lost Dutchman mine in Arizona’s foreboding Superstition Mountains, where many believe the loner Kidd found the source of his wealth (if not from a mining claim in the nearby Pinals).

While cynical lost mine buffs doubt there ever was a mother-lode, as is believed to be hidden near a hat-shaped peak called the “Sombrero” (now “Weaver’s Needle”), and that the Dutchman’s rich strike was, in fact, gold high-graded from another source, namely the “Vulture Mine”, over the years, if not going stark raving mad, many have met with death in search of it. Random beheadings and the occasional bullet hole through the temple only add to the mystique, but these violent deaths, aside from being a warning to any would-be claim jumpers, could also be seen as directional signals. The “strange disaster stalks this awesome place” is reminiscent of a place in another region where mysterious signs and cryptic references are said to indicate the location of a fabulous treasure… a place where there is both lust for gold and the soul… and whose unbelievable riches continue to taunt those seekers…

Here, where one can wipe up spilled Colloidal silver with astrological-chart paper towels, I won’t ask you to follow a crudely-drawn waybill or some treasure map divulged from a deathbed, but should you astral project yourself onto a lonely trail where granite outcroppings reflect the broiling sun, or around a crackling fire surrounded by ghostly saguaro under the cosmos, keeping in mind that some of Kidd’s companions were Harvard and Stanford graduates, is it the slightest bit conceivable that there is a connection involving one of life’s deepest puzzles between the quiet, solitary prospector, who, in a diner always ate the cheapest thing on the menu and never left a tip, and the bombastic priest of Rennes-le-Chateau who was known for his lavish lifestyle? And if so, could it have been through an intermediary from the Pyrenees named Eusbio Castelar, who, along with an esoteric society, provided the prospector with the proof he so eagerly desired? And with these astonishing revelations, did Kidd, in turn, leave clues in a Last Will and Testament that was scrawled on a sheet of ledger paper? Contemplating the idea of a photograph of the soul leaving a human at death, once again, I think about the photo of Kidd with “a quizzical, enigmatic half-smile” that was found in the unclaimed safe deposit box. Never left a tip… Nice one. I then make a mental note to stop at Stalz’s drug store in downtown Phoenix… but, upon further consideration, I decide that it’s probably no longer there…




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