Category: Curiosities

French Onion Ramen

French Onion Ramen Experiment!

I woke up abruptly one morning out of a forgotten dream, the words “French onion ramen” lingering on my lips. Sounded like a great idea, so I went for it!

My goal was to make not just “French onion soup with ramen noodles” but something that was more balanced between French and Japanese flavors.

Elements of French onion soup: browned beef bone broth, caramelized onions, toasted bread of some sort, melted cheese (generally browned).

Elements of tonkatsu ramen: long-simmered pork broth, tare (booze/sweet/salt/umami paste), noodles, pork belly, medium-boiled eggs, veggies.

Let us set aside the pork belly and the eggs. I cured the pork belly as in the recipe below (which I made last time), put it in the oven, and fucking forgot about it. It was charcoal by the time I remembered.

And I just completely forgot about the eggs.



  • 6 pounds of meaty pork neck bones
  • trimmings from a 5-pound bag of yellow onions, including skins
  • various other veggies going bad in the fridge

Bake at 400F for about 45 minutes, then add to a stock pot, cover with cold water, boil at a rolling boil until the tendons are completely melted. This was about 12 hours total, with overnight refrigeration in the middle. I had to add water about every hour or so. I covered the pot. The broth ends up about the consistency of jello jigglers in the fridge, the kind that kids throw at the floor just to see it bounce.

I think the long boil time was worth it, not least of which because OMG THE SMELL is worth bottling and selling as a food-desiac.

I’m gonna go out on a limb and say I would NOT use beef bones instead, given the opportunity, and I WOULD roast the bones beforehand the next time I make tonkatsu ramen. Browned pork broth seems like the appropriate choice for both French onion and tonkatsu ramen. It smells like spirit of caramelization; plus, neck bones have a ton of tendon and made a great gelatin. Go for it.

Once the the tendons were melted, I strained out all the material, tossed it, and reheated the broth with some thyme and bay leaf. (I didn’t want the bay leaf to be too freaking strong.) Next time, I would salt the broth to a barely-noticeable level of saltiness. That tare was difficult to adjust all on its own.


Caramelized the heck out of five pounds of onions. I wish I had doubled or tripled the amount. I did a very slow caramelization; I was already stuck in the kitchen for a while to babysit the broth. Onions halved, cut in thin rings, cooked over a medium-low heat with butter, salt, and a little brandy.


  • 1/4c shiro miso paste
  • 1/2c or so brandy

Cook over low heat and stir until you have a smooth paste about like honey or a little thinner. I added another bit of brandy toward the end and didn’t cook it down enough; the raw alcohol taste was a bit much.


I got two packages of “Japanese noodles” from the Korean grocery store. They were a little gummy; I think I’ll look for another brand next time. Advice on this point would be welcome.


  • 1 package Enoki mushrooms, bottom trimmed and trimmings used with broth.
  • 8-10 baby bok choi, bottoms trimmed and tossed, washed.
  • butter
  • brandy
  • salt

I sauteed the mushrooms in brandy and butter and salt, set them aside, then sauteed the (rinsed wet) bok choi with butter, with a lid over the pan. These both turned out great.


  • Swiss gruyere from Aldi’s.

I don’t have good bowls to use under a broiler anymore, so I decided to cut up matchstick sized pieces of cheese to hide in the bowl, plus grated some on top.


Two teaspoonfuls of tare at the bottom of the bowl or to taste; ladle in a scoop of broth and stir, adjust for flavor. Add noodles, then cheese matchsticks, then veggies. Add more broth to cover the noodles. Grate a bunch of cheese on top. Serve.

I also put taijin seasoning on the table, because that’s what I used last time instead of furikake (for Ray’s birthday). Is good. Can recommend.

I am still regretful about the pork belly turning to char. AIYYYY.

Here was the starting recipe:

The Woman King Amazons and the Kingdom of Dahomey

The Woman King, Amazons, & the Kingdom of Dahomey

Waiting for the new action movie The Woman King? Starring Viola Davis, the movie is inspired by true events that I just had to check out!

I was just going to geek out over this trailer (I love Viola Davis in things and here she’s kicking ass), but of course I went, “Dahomey…where do I know that from?” and had to look it up. (I’m posting this so I have some kind of fruit to my labors.) There are LOTS of people who know more about this than I do, though, so don’t take my word on it. I’ll be adding links below as I find them.

The Kingdom of Dahomey was an African kingdom that lasted from 1600 to 1904. If you click the image below, you will see a larger version that shows where Dahomey is (it’s relatively small and on the southern coast of Western Africa).

Somebody500, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Because this debate is already coming up online, I’m going to mention here that Dahomey did participate in the slave trade; Dahomey was part of the “Bight of Benin” area listed below.

From Wikipedia’s article on the Atlantic Slave Trade:

Europeans would buy and ship slaves to the Western Hemisphere from markets across West Africa. The number of enslaved people sold to the New World varied throughout the slave trade. As for the distribution of slaves from regions of activity, certain areas produced far more enslaved people than others. Between 1650 and 1900, 10.2 million enslaved Africans arrived in the Americas from the following regions in the following proportions:[101]

Dahomey seems to have been singularly picked out as profiting from the slave trade, rather than one country amidst others who did so.

I’m not an expert, but the narrative that “Africans sold themselves into slavery!” sounds like nothing more than a handy excuse to justify having entire countries taken over and millions of people murdered, starved to death, or denied medical care.

If someone brings up a point about Dahomey being a nation of slavers and why would we have a movie about terrible people like that, my only response is: So was America. Please boycott the bajillion pro-slavery movies set in America before worrying about boycotting one movie about Dahomey.


The Kingdom of Dahomey had an all-female regiment, the Agoji, that Westerners nicknamed Amazons after (earlier) legends of the Amazons in Anatolia, or present-day Turkey. While other kingdoms had female guards or ceremonial troops, the Agoji were regularly used as combat troops.

Traditionally, the troops were said to be founded when teams of female hunters, or gbeto, were drafted by King Ghezo around 1850. However, a French slaver reported seeing female troops armed with spears in 1725, so maybe not.

Another contributing factor might have been Queen Hangbe, who briefly ruled from 1716-1718 after the death of her twin brother and was largely erased from the historical record after supporting her nephew for the throne instead of her (victorious, power-hungry, and sexist) younger brother.

Men still ruled in Dahomey. Women who trained as Agoji were thought to no longer be women and become men, generally at the time they disemboweled an enemy.

The titular character of The Woman King appears to be Nanisca, who was recorded in 1889 as not yet having killed anyone; however, the story is more likely to focus on earlier events, that is, during the reign of King Ghezo, who ruled Dahomey from 1818-1859.

While there was no “woman queen,” strictly speaking, of Dahomey, each position in the royal court had a female counterpart or advisor, just as their religion had male and female gods.

Alas, Dahomey was taken down during the rabid colonial expansion after 1880 by the French, with the Agoji mowed down by superior French weaponry. The last known surviving Agoji is said to be a woman named Nawi, coincidentally one of the characters from The Woman King, and who died in 1979.

The Woman King is not the first time fictionalized Agoji have appeared in recent popular culture. Agoji were used as an inspiration for the Dora Milaje in the Black Panther movie and comic book series (you can read more about the inspirations for Wakanda and the rest of the Black Panther movie elements here.)

The Woman King is scheduled for release on September 16, 2022, and I’m looking forward to it!

Here’s where I’d heard of Dahomey before: Sir Richard Francis Burton, noted explorer and intelligence gatherer, traveled to Dahomey in the 1860s, supposedly to persuade the nation to end its slave trade. He wrote a book, A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahomey, about the area. Caution: the book appears to be more than usually racist, even for Burton. (I like Burton as a character, but wow was he an industrial-strength egotist and asshole.)

More articles!

James Reese & the Harlem Hellfighters

James Reese Europe & the Hellfighters

(Alas, I’m having trouble sourcing this video! The narrator is a famed Black actor and I cannot remember his name. My apologies.)

During WWI, the United States had no idea what to do with an entire National Guard Regiment of Black soldiers from Harlem, so they loaned them to the French. The Harlem Hellfighters were born.

Eventually becoming the 369th Regiment, the Hellfighters not only served as the most decorated U.S. regiment in WWI, but introduced early jazz to the French. The regiment band, led by seminal jazz influence James Reese Europe, played a swinging version of the French anthem, the “Marseillaise,” that set Paris on fire.

James Reese Europe of the Harlem Hellfighters
James Reese Europe

James Reese Europe was a classically trained violinist but played brothels and saloons when white people refused to accept him. In 1910, he started an exclusive club for Black musicians called the Clef Club, which boasted of being able to get together an orchestra of up to 30 men at any time of day or night, and which played at Carnegie Hall.

Europe joined the regiment as a machine gun regiment lieutenant but later became a sergeant in the regiment band. French officials asked for the musical arrangement of “Marseillaise” but French groups were unable to reproduce the swinging sound. The Hellfighter musicians were accused of doctoring their instruments!

Europe later left the regiment band to return to his post with the machine gun regiment, and became the first Black officer to lead Black troops into combat, as part of the 1918 Meuse-Argonne Offensive. The Harlem Hellfighters suffered some of the worst casualties of an American regiment during the war. James Reese Europe was gassed; he wrote his most famous song, “On Patrol in No Man’s Land” while recuperating.

Overall, the Harlem Hellfighters spent 191 days at the front, more than any other American troops.

On their return to America in 1919, the Hellfighters and their band were recognized with huge parades, and Europe had plans to start a symphony orchestra. Unfortunately, he was knifed to death by his own jealous drummer during the intermission of a performance at Mechanic’s Hall in Boston, and died before his time. He was granted the first ever public funeral of a Black man in New York.

I’m supposed to be researching spies in WWII for an upcoming class…but instead I ran into a documentary about Black Americans in Paris in the 1920s, “Paris Noire,” and have been running down associated rabbit holes ever since. I still haven’t finished the documentary because I keep getting sidetracked. The 1920s period fascinates me; I suppose I will always find periods that were shiny and glittery but rife with corruption/chaos/change attractive. (I’m also obsessed with the Napoleonic period and the Victorians, too; I highly recommend The Invention of Murder for a “light” read on Victorian attitudes about sensational death.)

James Reese Europe struck me as a talented guy who got the job done no matter what he was doing, and, not to be disrespectful but I have to say this, was hot as hell.

I don’t have any fiction in mind featuring or inspired by James Reese Europe yet! But please check out my collection of 1920s short stories about con artists and other deceivers, A Shrewdness of Swindlers: Ten Tales of the Fantastic and Falsehood in the Fabulous Roaring Twenties.
Gothic Doorway to Graveyard

What makes a story gothic?

FrankensteinDraculaThe Phantom of the Opera. If you like stories full of atmosphere, horror, and bittersweet emotions, then you may enjoy a good Gothic story. That story may go back a few centuries or it may be completely modern. The characters will be dramatic, the language will be flowery, and the atmosphere will hang in the air, often quite literally as fog. Or snow. Madness abounds.

But what makes a story gothic? What drives people (like me!) to write gothic stories?

As far as I can tell, what makes a story gothic is something that’s often known as “making the setting a character.”

(I don’t like calling setting a character, though, because the setting itself rarely takes actions as a character would.)

In order for a gothic to feel properly atmospheric, horrific, and bittersweet, then the setting has to seem to come alive as the negative behaviors and emotions of one or more of the human characters are projected on the setting. (Projection here means unconsciously taking unwanted emotions or traits you don’t like about yourself and putting them onto someone or something else, such as saying that your car is “cranky” if it “acts up” at the same time you just happen to be having a stressful day.)

In other words, in a gothic story, some element of the setting has to personify the moods or personality of one or more of the characters.

All of which means that it was a dark and rainy night…when the gothic was born!

Frankenstein’s experiments happen in a coldly rational laboratory at a university in Switzerland; the frame story is told in the Arctic. The female monster is created on the Orkney Islands off the northern coast of Scotland. Dracula has his castle and Transylvania, but becomes his most suave and urbane in London. Jane Eyre features a house with a madwoman in the attic. The Stange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde takes us back to the laboratory, and contrasts the upper and lower classes—and neighborhoods—around London. Rebecca’s heroine dreams of Manderlay (although I dream more of that evil sailboat), and Cathy haunts Wuthering Heights, even before her death.

The Haunting of Hill House is one of the best examples of a place that takes on a well-nigh human mood:

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

The main character of the book, Eleanor, is a woman who is not allowed to have dreams of her own, living as the caretaker for her mother. She isn’t sane; she is isolated and holds her darkness within, appearing to be a perfectly ordinary, boring, very private woman. Whether or not the house is haunted is up for debate—but it is certain that it is Elenor’s sentiments that affect how the house was written.

If what makes a gothic a gothic is the setting, then it is the New York City apartment, elegant but sinister, that defines the events of Rosemary’s Baby; the decaying plantations and twisted, wrought-iron balconies of New Orleans that create Interview with the Vampire; even the tall pines and mist that created Twilight.

What makes a writer create a gothic, I think, is the desire to reveal some element of the truth of a situation to the reader, by making it external and obvious as part of the setting.

The virgins in white nightgowns flee from the castle because their so-called happy home is a place of entrapment and misery; Montressor can bury his enemy behind a wall in his endless wine cellar because of his wealth and privilege; Melmoth the Wanderer finds the other characters of the story all over the world, but mainly in monasteries and churches, as opposed to the paradisical island of his victim and lover, Isidora, written by a Protestant clergyman denouncing the evils of the Roman Catholic church.

Although, given that writers’ minds tend to wander, perhaps it is the reverse, with the author starting with a setting and trying to explain the creepy feeling they get there, and building characters that justify that feeling, as when Southern Gothic writers write about the South. (Or other regional gothic writers write about their homes!)

At any rate, whether the source of the atmosphere comes from the characters projecting onto the setting or the setting projecting characters to create the right atmosphere, the truth behind the setting will come out.

millennial tarot deck

The Millennial Tarot

Please note: this is not currently a serious project! I am actually working on a tarot deck to go along with a novel series, tentatively named The Clockwork Gothic. It turns out that trying to put together an actual tarot deck seriously changes how you see the tarot. I was journaling one day and came up with a smartass idea for a tarot deck—the Millennial Tarot Deck—and managed to get through the major arcana before I got stuck.

I should also note that I am not a Millennial but a younger Gen-Xer. I’m not here to mock, though. I could have done a Gen-Xer deck, but my initial thoughts on it were kind of depressing. When Paul Ryan showed up as the Devil in my deck…I just couldn’t do it.

So please enjoy this as a smartass mini-project I did to help solidify my thoughts on tarot 🙂

The Millennial Tarot

Tarot is meant to map and organize the great tales of our culture in a way that enlightens us to our common humanity without erasing our individuality, helping us move past ideas that hold us back from a sense of balance and peace.

Tarot points out that we keep doing the same damn things over and over again. It’s the mysterious voice that seems to call from nowhere, saying, “DON’T GO DOWN INTO THE BASEMENT.” Although the tarot is used as a fortune-telling tool, it is always trying to tell us that it isn’t fate that controls our destiny, but our own willful blindness, both as individuals and as a society.

When the cards are upright, read them as generally obvious and straightforward answers: the forces described by the card apply, and you usually not only recognize its existence, and you probably saw it coming—at least in retrospect, you should have.

When the cards are reversed, it’s an invitation to look deeper. Rather than simply reversing the meaning of the card, ask yourself what insecurities may apply to the matter at hand, whether yours or someone else’s. For example, a Fool reversed might mean someone is blaming money troubles on someone else, or telling everyone “it’s all part of the plan” when it isn’t. Or they may become judgy, seeing “fools” everywhere rather than accept their part of the problem.

All you have to do to live a good life, they say, is stop spending money on Starbucks and avocado toast.

At first it may be hard to see how a reversed card might be beneficial. But “good” and “bad” cards are all in how you take them. Nothing stays the same forever in tarot. There are only temporary upturns and downturns, giving us the opportunity to treat ourselves and others with more care, to honor our own choices, to draw healthy boundaries, and to resist the unfairness of the world with a core of inner strength.

Side note, I did find a Buzzfeed article on making the tarot more Millennial-friendly, and it’s cute but not thorough.

The Major Arcana

Note, the text in italics is what’s on the card; the text in regular Roman font is the text that would be in the little book that goes with the deck!

0. The Entrepreneur (The Fool)

A laptop bag on one hip, a latte in the other, the Entrepreneur is surrounded by a halo of icons: lightbulbs, gears, clocks, email, bar graph, wrench. They reach out for a dollar sign, not watching as they step toward the edge of a steeply descending staircase.

Wisdom comes from making mistakes. Just make sure they don’t destroy you after you make them.

1. The Hipster (The Magus)

He stands behind the table, beard flowing, copper home distiller setup on the table before him. He wears a fedora and suspenders. One hand holds an upraised cell phone. His Everyday Carry is on the table: keys, wallet, pocket knife, flask. At his feet and growing up into an archway overhead, are a fecundity of hops vines.

Without the Hipster, there would be no craft beer. But be wary of building a tolerance for bitterness.

2. The Naturopath (The High Priestess)

A dark-haired, young white woman sits cross-legged on a yoga mat on a wooden platform. Two posts stand on either side of the platform. Between them stretch Tibetan prayer flags fluttering in the wind, half-concealing the symbols written on them. A white veil stretches behind her, around her, above her. She, too, holds a phone: is she offering it to you, or taking a selfie? Is she reading the screen as she imparts her wisdom, or recording her message to be passed on?

The doctors said the pain was all in your head. The Naturopath offers different truths—sometimes the wisdom to listen to your body and seek help, sometimes the idiocy of a healing crystal sex toy.

3. The Secretary (The Empress)

A Hispanic woman sits at a desk, phone jammed to her right ear, computer monitor and keyboard to the left. Behind her hand two flags: one of them shows the lands of the Earth, and the other shows a field of stars. She’s wearing a businesslike ivory blouse but is showing tattoo sleeves under them: spiderwebs, skulls, and other images of darkness and death. She has a lot of ear piercings.

She might not be the most traditional…but business is good. Let’s keep it that way.

4. The CEO (The Emperor)

He is white, bald, and has funny ears, and sits upon a messy jumble of books, in a cavernous warehouse that stretches backward to infinity. Distantly, robots move boxes. Beside him, what looks like a golden backpack: his parachute.

True power means not having to care whether you use it wisely or not.

5. The Tech Guru (The Hierophant)

He is Black, has a dimple in his chin like it was driven into him with a golf tee, and wears black plastic-framed glasses, plaid shirt, and overlarge striped tie. He is holding a fire extinguisher. The fire extinguisher is on fire. Behind him are a number of action figurines on shelves.

In the beginning, there was code. But soon there were help request tickets. Some of which may repeatedly and deliberately get lost. He controls your settings, he controls your passwords. Anger him at your own risk.

6. The Fanatics (The Lovers)

The crowd stands behind a row of crowd control stanchions. They look nothing alike, except that they are all—all!—wearing the same t-shirt, a man’s face on them. Above and behind them rises an enormous man with tousled brown hair, tinted glasses, and kohl-rimmed eyes, wearing a goatee and a blazer over the same t-shirt. It is the same man, and the bottom of his chest is indistinguishable, and inseparable, from his fans.

The love of something or someone can bring us together—or it can blind us and ultimately tear us apart.

7. The Feed (The Chariot)

There is always an old man with a goatee in a gray suit. There is always a platform in a room that stretches out of sight both above and below, filled with monitors. There is always a walkway leading to the man, and he is always waiting for you.

The feed is a never-ending stream of information. It can carry you forward; it can crush you; it can hide any lie underneath the flicker of its images.

8. Self-Care (Strength)

In the apartment is a lounge chair, on the lounge chair are fat pillows. Next to the lounge chair is an end table, and on the end table is a steaming teapot, and a large friendly mug showing a crack. Behind the end table is a fiddle-leaf fig tree. On the wall beside the fig tree is a painting, and the painting is of a woman wearing a green facial mask and drinking tea in the same room, with the same cup, only the crack is sealed with gold. On the table in front of the lounge chair is a plate, and that plate holds avocado toast. Beside the plate of avocado toast is a remote control. On the floor is a rug, and the rug is soft and fluffy. In the painting, the woman has already eaten the toast. The remote has been replaced with a set of keys.

Treating yourself as a precious object can make you strong. Treating yourself as a disposable one will only make you weak.

9. The Basement Dweller (The Hermit)

We cannot see his face, only a silhouette in front of a monitor screen, the rays dimly illuminating shelves, a desk, a washing machine, baskets of laundry. A mug sitting beside the monitor reads, if one peers at it, “World’s Greatest Dad.”

He moved out of his mom’s basement a long time ago, but he still sits alone in the dark, reborn with a different identity, one that feels more like himself.

10. The Hustle (The Wheel)

A fidget spinner with three lobes and an eye in the center, the eye of the Illuminati. On the lobes are the icon of a clock, a dollar sign, and a heart. All three icons are slightly cracked. A car, a bicycle, and a walking figure traverse the outside edge of the spinner. Behind the spinner are stairs.

When we’re on the way up, we say it’s talent. When we’re on the way down, we say it’s bad luck. But whose hand holds the spinner? And when will it come time to rise?

11. Cancel Culture (Justice)

A figure straight out of a Magritte painting has not an apple for a face, but a bullseye. It is a dartboard. In the foreground, a strong arm grasps the handle of a beer mug, with the other hand preparing to throw the dart.

They praised it when the majority was moral. But now they mock it as cancel culture. Generally the darts won’t kill you. But they are always a test.

12. The Scapegoat (The Hanged Man)

A door opens onto a dark room, casting light across a dark-haired woman in a blue dress bent backward over a desk, hair hanging loose, a silk scarf tying her hands together as they dangle toward the floor. She is caught in the light between pleasure and humiliation. The man on the other side of the desk is not revealed by the light.

Some truths are more easily revealed than others. Often the truth is that someone needs to be thrown under the bus…and it won’t be whoever is in power. But all is not lost. Often, it is only “normality” that is overturned.

13. Black Friday (Death)

The faces are grotesque, pressed on the other side of a locked glass door, zombielike. In reverse, letters on the glass read the magical incantation ELAS, ELAS, FFO FLAH ELAS, OGOB. The crowd has been summoned. A woman in a polo shirt with full-sleeve tattoos showing spiderwebs and skulls approaches the door from the inside, preparing to open it.

Working shit jobs changes you. It may seem like you have been changed for the worse—but think of the people who have never worked a shit job. It shows.

14. Store Bought Is Fine (Temperance)

A friendly, apple-cheeked woman with a dark bob cut, wearing a blue denim shirt and an orange scarf smiles at you with nothing but kindness. In one hand, she holds a slice of red velvet cake; in the other, a prescription bottle.

A chosen life is the best life. But be wary of constantly making choices using nothing but Google and your drug dealer’s advice.

15. The Alternative (The Devil)

The enormous figure of a clean-cut white man, his hair longer on top and shaved on the sides, wearing a black trench coat over a dark, three-piece suit. He stands over a mass of figures giving a Heil Hitler salute. Churches burn in the distance.

The best way to brainwash someone is to make them believe they’re the exception to the rule. To release yourself is to admit an ugly truth: in most ways, you’re just like everyone else.

16. The Leak (The Tower)

Lightning strikes an oil platform rises above a stormy ocean, dark oil spreading over the surface. Swimmers struggle in the water in the foreground, desperate for help. The platform is on fire. Honestly, the oil had already leaked, the fires started, and swimmers fallen before the lightning even struck.

Sometimes the best of all possible outcomes is when that which is “too big to fail” actually does.

17. Britney (The Star)

A gorgeous woman in a silver dress stands backstage, towel around her neck, holding out a coffee mug to be refilled from off the side of the card. A peep at the stage shows flashing lights. The coffee mug is marked with a hand flipping you off. The woman is bald. A techie watches the stage via a monitor, showing the crowd being addressed by a man in a gray suit.

Behind the spectacle and illusion, there is a pure light that must be nurtured and protected.

18. Beyoncé (The Moon)

The Black woman floats underwater, her hair a swirling halo around her head. Around her is an abandoned apartment, a lounge chair and a painting floating in the current. Below her are tendrils of shadow; above her is the full moon. In the distance, stairs lead upward to the surface, where a line of Black women are emerging, with strength and power.

When we are pulled down into the depths, past all sanity, we can never return unchanged. Some might call that madness or delusion—but we did what we had to do, in order to return at all.

19. Lady Gaga (The Sun)

A woman in a revealinng gold “women’s fantasy armor” bikini with molded shoulder plates and thigh-high boots sits astride a white horse, her white hair flying behind her, turning to a rainbow as it leaves the card. A pile of hospital robes lies beneath the horse’s rear hooves. The front hooves plunge upward, as the horse rises from the edge of a cliff.

Our bodies and minds might burn from the inside out, but our souls stay bright.

20. Activism (Judgment)

A crowd wearing white masks holds up hand-lettered cardboard posters. One shows an upraised fist with rays coming from it. Another reads, “Justice now.” Still another, “There is no Planet B.” In the background, one woman yawns.

Don’t let things to go back to normal. Don’t go back to sleep.

21. Universal Basic Income (The World)

A team of robots builds a staircase, which a crowd ascends. At the base of the staircase is a collection of abandoned spinners. At the top the crowd have begun to help build the staircase: they are wearing space suits. Beyond them, the stars.

There is no “winning” at life, only building a path ahead for others to take.

If you liked this post, please support me by signing up for my monthly newsletter. I’m going to be starting a “Clockwork Tarot” series soon (after the next book is done), and have already designed the deck for it! Also, please let me know what your favorite decks are. I’m always looking for new ones!

The Folly of Whitaker Wright

Statue of Neptune at Whitaker Wright's Witley Park
A view of the statue of Neptune above the underwater ballroom at Whitaker Wright’s Whitley Park

(I’m going to be developing some neat stuff about Whitaker Wright later! Research!!)

The tale of Whitaker Wright begins in Stafford, England, and ends in Surrey about a hundred and fifty miles away. But this is not a small tale. While Whitaker Wright was born the eldest child of a humble clergyman, he rose to fame and became a wealthy man in the Americas, then once again in the United Kingdom. He died a ruined man, sentenced to seven years’ penal servitude, but left behind a country house worth (at the time) over $50 million in today’s US dollars.

Wright started out in business running a printing press, and briefly served as a Methodist preacher before starting another printing business with his brother, John Joseph Wright, inventor of the reversible trolley pole—the pole that transfers electricity from the overhead live wires to trolley cars.

That business failed as well; following the death of their father, the entire family packed up and moved to Canada, which perhaps speaks of the financial straits they were in, or of a reputation that needed to be left behind. Wright also left behind his attempts at running a profitable printing press per se, and instead began hustling business for silver-mining companies for the Denver City mine in Leadville, Colorado, and then again in Lake Valley, New Mexico, where he picked up knowledge about mining and engineering.

The companies he promoted made him a lot of money, but suspiciously, none for the shareholders.

In 1878, he married Anna Edith Weightman, age seventeen, when he was thirty-two.

By the 1890s, he was back in England, promoting American and Canadian mines to English stock and bond purchasers, apparently supported by titled men like the Marquess of Dufferin, a man who had served as the Governor General of Canada and Viceroy of India. Some of these mining companies were not, and would never have been profitable; others tapped rich veins but were run more to drive up the value of the stock than to profit the shareholders.

Wright might not have been able to run an honest business, but he had no trouble extracting profits from the shareholders. In 1890, he purchased Lea Park (later known as Whitley Park) and began excavating an entire hillside to “improve the view” and establish three lakes, as well as expanding the exiting Tudor-style house to a 32-bedrom mansion.

The country house included a theater, ballroom, glass-roofed conservatory, velodrome, fifty-horse stable, several lodges and farms, and other modest amenities.

But is Whitaker Wright’s folly for which the house is known.

In architectural terms, a folly is an ornamental building or structure constructed primarily as a conversation piece or to add ambiance. Other follies include fake “ruined” castles, a pineapple-shaped roof in Scotland, and even the modern-day Bishop’s Castle in Custer County, Colorado.

Whitaker Wright’s folly was an underground smoking lounge or “ballroom,” so called because the underwater dome looked like the upper half of a ball! It was built at the bottom of the largest of the three lakes, with an underwater path leading from the house to the entrance of the folly.

To get to the folly, visitors take a spiral staircase from the surface downward to a sunken, curved metal doorway; below that, another forty feet of steps take visitors to a tunnel, then to the underwater conservatory itself, made of metal framework and thick panes of glass.

Outside, in daylight, the light that reaches the bottom of the small lake is somewhat green and murky; the lake was been stocked with carp that liked to goggle in through the windows at the guests whenever the inner lights were on. The floor was covered with mosaic tilework, held a potted palm tree in the center, and was lined with long, curved velvet benches along the walls—an elegant retreat.

To top the folly, a statue of Neptune was added, one that remains today, appearing to stand effortlessly atop the surface of the water.

Wright’s fame and fortune seemed impressive, but they didn’t last for long. In 1900, he tried to issue a bond to build a rail line in London, the Baker Street and Waterloo Railway (now called the Bakerloo Line). The project was plagued by construction issues, and no one wanted to buy the bond. (Once again, Wright struggled as he attempted to pull off a project that was intended to do more than look impressive on paper.)

When the bond flopped, Whitaker began moving money between his different companies in an attempt to prop up his fortune. However, the money he was moving around was the money intended to pay customer dividends.

When no dividends appeared in December of 1890s, shareholders began to become suspicious and eventually called for an investigation into his finances.

It is said that at the exact moment that Whitaker Wright’s finances failed, one of the stones of Stonehenge toppled. The collapse of his companies certainly caused a panic at the stock exchange, and many of his wealthy investors lost large sums of money.

The Government declined to pursue the matter, not believing they would be able to bring charges to bear on the man (the fact that a few high-ranking members of Parliament were caught up in the scheme might have had something to do with that). However, a civil suit was brought against Wright by his stockholders; he was found guilty and sentenced to seven years of penal servitude.

Having been sentenced, he stepped out of the court to an antechamber with his lawyer, asked for a glass of whiskey and a cigar, then excused himself to the restroom, where he took a cyanide capsule. He was not searched upon being brought into the courtroom, as he was in a civil court; he also had a silver revolver in his pocket, just in case the cyanide didn’t work.

He had a few sips of whiskey, took a few drags from the cigar—then fell down dead.

After Wright’s death, Lea Park was sold to Viscount William Pirrie, the man who helped build the RMS Titanic, and who famously said that the new Olympic-Class ships were unsinkable and the lifeboats were only there to save the survivors of other wrecks they might encounter. The viscount eventually sold Lea Park in 1950 to a butcher who had risen from a humble background to wealth; this new owner, Ronald Hugget, was always just about to move into his mansion, but never did; the construction necessary to make the building habitable still hadn’t been completed.

Hugget mainly lived with his wife in one of the lodge houses at the edge of the property, selling off furnishings and other materials from the house, until one day in 1952 a fire began (or was set) in the aboveground ballroom of the main house and burned it to the ground.

The larger property, originally thousands of acres, has been split up, part of it becoming an event center and other parts becoming farms and apartment houses. Still, the lodge houses, the folly, and several other original buildings remain.

Recently, a stately new country house has been built on the property by the new owners, who are very private, and don’t take kindly to “urban explorers” coming onto the property to explore it—or even flying drones over it. The grounds are overgrown, a wilderness of trees and rhododendrons. Construction is ongoing as, once again, the house is being expanded, the grounds landscaped, and the older lodge houses restored.

The folly remains locked, however, and not even a drone can get inside.

A collection of images of the original house exterior and interior.

Images of the new house, designed by architect Robert Adam.

Daily Mail article with lots of great photos of the folly.

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