Sunday, December 30, 2012

Couscous and Tajine

So Madeleina is getting old enough to try some different tastes. The other day I served my quick Moroccan lunch feast, and then yesterday I went further with couscous and tajine. That was a dish I loved to make in the restaurants; then I went to Morocco and learned how they did it, and after that I had a hard time making it in the restaurants. People would tell me that they were in Morocco or Algeria or Tunisia when they got married and would my tajine be as good as what they had there. No, I'd say. And I cannot bring the magic back to your marriage with a meal, no matter how good I am. It was the same with people who wanted to know if my tomato sauce was a good as their grandma's. My sauce might have been 100 times better than grandmas--and generally was--but I still knew I could not compete with childhood memories.
   Now Madeleina is a clean slate. So I went and bought good lamb. I floured it and seared it in olive oil, then added lots of garlic and diced onions. While they cooked I had a pot on another burner with 1 inch pieces of organic carrots and 1/2 inch slices of a large organic potato. When they were done, at about the same time the garlic and onion was done, I drained them and added them to the heavy pot. Then I cut a yellow squash and a  zuccini, par boiled them, cut them into half-rounds and added them to the pot. To that I added 1/2 inch pieces of 4 large celery stalks. Then a diced tomato.
    While those veggies and the meat were cooking, I added two cans of good organic chicken broth, reduced the heat, and let it simmer under a cover.
   In another pot I put a couple of tablespoons of olive oil infused with fresh garlic, added a tablespoon of butter. When that was done I seasoned that with sea salt and cracked black pepper, then added a cup of water. When the water was close to boil, I added a cup of excellent couscous, stirred, tossed in a big three finger pinch of chopped fresh cilantro and turned off the heat.
   While that was turning into something wonderful, I peeled and sliced, very thinly, a cucumber and put it into 1 pint of organic Greek yogurt. I added some fresh minced cilantro, salt, pepper, juice of a lime and let that sit.
   Back to the stew: With everything marrying every other thing, I added two teaspoons of fantastic Peruvian paprika, a teaspoon of Peruvian tumeric, a teaspoon and a half of Peruvian cumin, then hot red pepper, cardoman, a bit of cinnamon, juice of three limes and a drained/washed one pound can of garbanzo beans (cheating, I know, but I didn't think of making the dish in time to make fresh beans). As the stew cooked down under medium heat, I added half a bunch of really really good fresh cilantro, minced, a tablespoon of fresh diced ginger, then sea salt and black pepper to taste.
   Then we called Italo and by the time he came over, the tajine, the stew, was done. So was the couscous, light and fluffy and flavorful. And so was the raita, the cucumber/yogurt/lime side dish.
   Then I served the tajine over the couscous with the raita on the side. Total time: About 2 hours. The meat could have been eaten by a toothless person. So tender you could have gummed it. No fooling.
   Do we eat like pigs or what? Cause that was very very good. And I'm very very glad that both Italo and Madeleina are old enough to allow me to begin to open up my recipe cabinet to include some different flavors.
   Glad I'm alive, is what I'm thinking. Glad I got to eat that last night. Cause it was very very delicious. And if you're in town, I've got left overs. So come on by.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Sometimes I'm Just A Scared Little Kid

Well, no doubt about it: Sometimes I'm just a scared little kid. Heights are one of the things that bring out the fraidycat in me. Even little heights. Just don't do them well. So today, in trying to gather up the DISH television equipment I'm sending back to them, I had to go onto my house roof. Now this is a one story house, with the roof, where I was getting on, being maybe 10 feet off the ground. I climbed up the aluminum ladder no sweat, leaned over onto my freaking fat belly and got up. But then I stood and suddenly my eyes, after I climbed to the roof's high point, were about 18 feet off the ground. Not a problem. But when I'd detached the electrical element that DISH wants back from the satellite, and it was time to come down, well, not good. I walked back to where the ladder was below the roof. I called Madeleina to hold the ladder and sort of direct my feet on where to go. I rolled over on my belly and let my first leg down. I didn't touch anything and had to pull back up. I was having a freaking panic attack! I mean, I could have jumped off the freaking roof onto the dirt below and not gotten too badly hurt, probably not hurt at all, but here I was, just scared to death.
   I waited a few minutes, decided I couldn't just stay on the roof in the cold forever, so I made a second try. This time my foot hit a step. I moved my torso closer to the edge and found another step with my other foot. And then it was a piece of cake and I was laughing at my own fear.
   I got to tell you, I'm not happy when I realize what a ninny I am. And I often am. Damnit!
   I mean, as Madeleina pointed out, I'm fine in the jungle with snakes and spiders and electric eels--not that I get too close to the eels because they will kill you--but a 10 foot roof and I'm all about thinking I may never have the courage to get down.
   I'm glad I did. And I hope that if any of you ever run into irrational fears that you take some deep breaths and move through them. Doesn't mean I won't be just as idiotically frightened next time I'm on the roof trying to get down, but at least this time I made it.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Nice Lunch

So my car battery died  yesterday in the cold here in bucolic Joshua, Texas. Just sent smoke flying and burned to a crisp. So I had no car. Then my friend Mike said he was coming in for a visit with his dad and so I started to vacuum. But the vacuum was dead. Oy vey! I had no car to go buy a new vacuum! Or food. Or food to feed Boots the blind wonderdog! Or coffee. Or whiskey. Or wine--except for a beautiful bottle of 2008 white Mouton Cadet that I'd bought for a friend. I'll replace it.
   Plus no smokes!!!! Talk about verklempt! This was bordering on Gorman being hysterical. At least till I took a deep breath or seven and remembered how many people have so little they couldn't even relate to my picayune problems. Then I relaxed. Hell. Even broke, I'm relatively rich. I got a house. I got running water. I got a computer. I got a car or two. Broken, but fixable.
   So Chepa finally came by last night and took me to get smokes. I fed Boots the left over Christmas duck bones plus the last of the hot dogs we had. The cat ate dried food. Madeleina and I feasted on a duck leg each, with good stuffing, gravy and lots of broccoli and garlic.
   Today, Marco came by and took me to the store to buy a new battery for my old (1998 Ford Ranger) truck. Once I had that, I returned to the store with my now wonderful and working truck and bought some food and a vacuum with Christmas present money. My older sister had sent me $300. She doesn't really get that I'm 61-years-old and that she doesn't have to take care of me anymore, but still, it was a great present and I bought the battery and vacuum with it and then sang to the heavens and her a big thank you.
   And while I was there I bought a new Norton antivirus for Madeleina, new ink for the printer, a new shower curtain that Madeleina insisted we needed and other things. But my friend Mike and his dad were due any minute!!! What the hell was I going to serve?
   So I raced through the store, bought good black Greek Olives, a piece of smoked Gouda cheese, good corn chips--gluten free--and a family sized portion of a good brand of hummus.
    Home, I put the stuff on the table. It lacked something. So I took out the hummus I made a few days ago from scratch, took out a red pear and sliced it, took out a Chinese organic apple, took out 10 organic Egyptian dates ($18,65 a pound and 10 is about half a pound, a once in a life time treat) that I had, added a nice piece of cheddar and a couple of pieces of fresh mozzarella cheese in olive oil and basil and then cooked 2 pounds of fresh mussels in olive oil, garlic, diced onion, diced Roma tomatoes and cilantro with salt and pepper and a bit of white wine.
   And suddenly there was a lovely semi-Mediterranean feast: Organic dates, two types of hummus, chips, smoked cheese, sharp cheddar, black olives, organic red pear and Chinese apple, and fresh mussels steamed in garlic, olive oil, diced onion, diced Roma tomatoes, spices, white wine.
   And Mike loved it. His dad questioned why I had dates instead of figs. I said, "Well, I saw those dates and they were the most beautiful dates I'd ever seen--including dates I've eaten in north Africa. These are beauties."
   He tried them. One or two or four and declared them fantastic. But still, he wondered why I didn't have figs. I told him I just didn't happen to have any. I mean, he's a dad. He's 72 and strong as an ox and I ain't gonna lie to him.
   He told me to try some figs.
   So when I went to the store after they left,  I bought a small package of organic figs.
   We ate like pigs, without eating anything. Just a taste of this and that. And the whole time we were eating, Van Morrison's Born To Sing: No Plan B was playing in the background.
    Now my car works, I have a vacuum. I have two dates, some cheese, a bit of hummus, and a package of organic figs in the fridge for breakfast.
    We ain't got nothing but we got way more than most. Thanks for that, Universe, White Light, God, whatever your name is. I appreciate it. And thanks, Mom and Tom, for teaching me how to work with food to make a feast when there is almost nothing in the fridge.
    I hope you all eat well and more than that, deliciously today, tomorrow and every day forever. And when you have more than you need, I hope you will remember that some people have not been able to afford a good Egyptian organic date in some time, or ever, and then share one or two with them.
    Thanks for listening. Happy New Year!

Monday, December 24, 2012

'Twas the Night Before Christmas

Dear All: Given that Christmas is the worst holiday in the world, and that my blood pressure is about to kill me, and Madeleina's blood pressure is about to kill her--she's had to put up with me, the family, wrapping of the family presents (and at this moment is yelling "Christmas sucks! Let's celebrate stupidity!", though I think it's mostly because she's exhausted and feeling like her brothers have not visited a proper number of times this last week or two)--we're still wishing that when all is said and done, when all the money is gone, all the presents unwrapped and discarded, when the festival falls far short of what you put into it, well, we're still doing our best to hope that you have a moment, each of you have one or two moments that are special. We're hoping for one second that everything is right enough that you find yourselves crying for no reason and are not embarrassed by doing that. And we hope, somehow, that you find yourselves in the middle of a fantastic new year, one full of wonderful surprises that delight and amaze you.
   We're going through the ebb this minute: exhaustion, not feeling needed or wanted, not feeling like we're doing anything but making more trash for the landfill. That will pass. Deep in our hearts, both Madeleina and I are generous souls and we want you all to know only the very very best of this life, despite its stressful moments. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy New Year, Everybody! Let's make it a good one!

Friday, December 14, 2012

I Hesitate

I hesitate to wash the paint from the kitchen table. I hesitate to wash the colored water from the cups or wash the brushes. The babies were over with lots of paper and a fresh set of good watercolors. Thirty, forty, fifty watercolors grace the kitchen, the floor, the table, the porch. What was left on the table, what they didn't need, is a sign that beautiful art was made here. So I hesitate to clean. Who wants a clean table when the table covered with misplaced paint is a reminder of their joy?

Monday, December 10, 2012

So I Didn't Feel Like Cooking, But....

So I had a tough emotional day yesterday. I was dying for affection, dying for attention, dying for someone, anyone to say that I mattered. It wasn't happening. And the occasion for my indulgence was a change my son Marco made--a decision to become baptized, which I go along with wholeheartedly so long as he does not forget the vitality of ayahuasca, sapo and all we have learned in the jungle. But at the baptism was Chepa's boyfriend. So I said hello. But it irked me: He's not a bad guy at all from what I'm told, but at the same time, this could have been a time for me and my kid, not that guy. That guy, even if he's swell, was not there when Marco was sick for a year. He wasn't there to watch him play soccer, have his first girlfriend, pick him up as a young teen from a party after the police told me to get him out of there. And a million, zillion other things. So yeah, I was totally indulgent in feeling sorry for myself because it was obvious that guy and the family were going out for breakfast after Marco's thing and while I could have included myself, that guy's presence would have sort of ruined it for me.
   Okay, okay, so I'm a freaking baby sometimes. But I tried to be cool.
   Still, by the time I came home, famished, I was in no mood to cook. I had walked 2 1/2 fast miles--lots of coughing, okay?--just to clear myself out. So I was hungry. So I stopped at the store and bought bacon, maybe the first time in three years, and cooked six slices for myself. Then I made potato latkas--just grated a medium sized potato, squeezed the water out of it, added an egg, sea salt and butcher ground black pepper, then made little pancakes that I put in hot oil with a bit of garlic till very golden brown. Then I made three eggs over easy with salt and pep. Then I ate like a pig.
    Four hour later, with some last leaf raking under my belt and a New York Jets win in the bag, I was starving again--I told you I needed affection yesterday, didn't I? And if it wasn't coming to my door, I was going to provide it, even though I didn't feel like cooking and don't do much fast food. So for late lunch, I made hummus. I took two tablespoons of tahini--sesame seeds I'd ground to a paste with a bit of olive oil--added a can of drained garbanzo beans, two tablespoons of olive oil with lots of fresh garlic, the juice of three limes, three diced organic scallions, a bit of fresh hot Peruvian peppers and a touch of that sea salt and pepper. Took three spoonfuls for lunch and have enough for another week. Wow, that was good.
    But then, watching the New York Giants putting a can of whoopass on the Saints, I was hungry again--I did say I was indulging, didn't I?--and so bought a loaf of sesame seeded french bread (the French would be horrified, I know, but they are big enough to deal with it), and some paper thin rawest roast beef I could find. Home, I cut a four-inch piece of the bread, opened it, pulled out the insides till it was nearly just crust. While I did that I took half a red pepper and sauteed it slowly in a bit of olive oil and garlic till it was possible to pull the blackened skin off.
   I put good Hellman's mayo on the bread shell and put it in a glass pan in the oven (350 degrees) for a few minutes, till the mayo was melting/melted into the bread. Then I took that out, put on a light layer of the roast beef, capped that with the red pepper, and topped it all with two slices of very good sharp cheddar. In 10 more minutes, that was a beauty of a sandwich. I ate half--just two inches of it, which had maybe 3 ounces of roast beef, tops--and enjoyed the rest of the game with a glass or six of champagne.
    This morning I heated up the remainder of the sandwich for lunch.
     Now it's dinner and I'm alone again--Madeleina has been at mom's for a couple of days, and while Italo was over with my granddaughter Taylor Rain last night for a sandwich of his own that mirrored mine, I was and am essentially alone again. And it's been since 5:30 AM since I ate anything. And between here and there I've worked hard, walked a couple of miles, and am hungry. Still, I'm not really in the mood to cook.
    So what I'm having is a thick pork chop, very lean, stuffed with diced spinach, one strip of cooked bacon and very flavorful bleu cheese. I cooked the bacon slice, put it aside. I scalded the spinach in boiling water for about three seconds, then drained it and put it in the bit of bacon grease that was left in the pan. I added a touch of minced garlic. When done, I pulled and drained the spinach. Put it in a bowl. Waited 10 minutes then squeezed the water out of it. Then chopped it with the bacon slice and the pungent bleu cheese. That is so good I could have eaten it by itself. Instead, I put it in the butterflied pork chop, closed it up, floured/egged/breadcrumbed the chop, browned it in a bit of oil and put it in the oven.
   On the stove top I've got sliced red onions and a good good apple (also sliced) caramelizing. I've also got some good sauerkraut working with a bit of raw apple cider vinegar and pepper on the stove. When the chop is done, I'll put the apples and onion in that pan for a minute to suck up the juices. Then I will make a good gravy. No need for rice or potato or kasha or anything like that because I used breadcrumbs.
   So that's what I do when I don't feel like cooking but at the same time need some attention.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Madeleina Growing Up Again

Sometimes she's a nine-year-old. Sometimes she's 35. She's always herself. But then sometimes I can't help but notice that she's actually growing up. A couple of weeks ago she asked me for curlers. I bought her what I found, a box of heat curlers. She liked them, then had her mom buy her the kind you just roll into your hair. Along with volumizing shampoo and a fancy root awakening conditioner. And a tube of blazing brunette, whatever that does. And then, after the curlers and the shampoo and other girly things started cluttering up our bathroom windowsill, suddenly she's got this grown up woman's hair that she tucked into a pony tail that shimmered in the sun as it sashayed just behind her, swinging side to side, all wavy and lustrous and chic.
    Then this morning she came in and sat at the couch behind my desk. "Dad," she said, "you have to stop smoking."
    "I know. It's not good for me..."
    "I'm talking about the smell dad. We smell. We both smell like your cigarettes. I don't mind it because I'm used to it, but when I go to school, I know that some people probably notice it and I can't have that anymore. I don't want to be the one who stinks. And dad, face it, you smell like cigarettes."
    How could I respond to that? She's 100 percent right, and even though I limit my smoking to the office here in the house, some of it probably snakes around corners and gets on her and everything else.  So how could I answer? Best way I could. Sheepishly I said, "Some people like the musky smell of smoke on clothes..."
    "I am not going to marry a French guy, dad," she deadpanned.
    And that was that.
    My baby's growing up.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Forward to Shoemaker's Book on Ayahuasca

Well, my friend Alan Shoemaker asked me to write a forward to his new book, Grace and Madness, to be published probably next year by Bear and Company or one of their affiliates. I took a few weeks to do it because I knew it would be a pain in the ass. It was. But it got it done. Might be some changes when I look it over, but  here is what I wrote, for better or worse.


Alan Shoemaker first arrived in Iquitos, Peru, in 1993. And he arrived with a bang, coming down the Putumayo with several friends in an outsized canoe with a 15 Hp motor. He’d come from Washington State via Ecuador, where he studied with Dr. Valentin Hampejs, the noted medical doctor and curandero, who was as familiar around San Pedro cactus and ayahuasca as he was around antibiotics.
    I didn’t intend to spend a lot of time thinking about Alan Shoemaker when he first arrived in Iquitos. I’d been using the waterbound city for nine years as a staging point for work in the jungle before he’d ever set foot there, after all, and I’d met two dozen Shoemakers already who always showed up in town, thought it was an easy place to get by and then discovered, three months later, that they were calling family and friends for money to get home.
    But this gringo turned out to be different from most of the other dreamers I’d met: It turned out, as he explained to me, that while wondering where to go for a break from his teacher Valentin, he’d found a copy of Shaman’s Drum magazine—a wonderful magazine produced by Timothy White that dealt with all things Shamanistic—in which there was an article written by me on Ayahuasca. And that led the good Mr. Shoemaker to decide to visit Iquitos, my haunts.
   Now for better or worse, I’d written the first national article about ayahuasca for High Times magazine in 1986. Yes, Burroughs and Ginsberg had written about it previously in the San Francisco-based City Light’s Books as The Yage Letters, but that had not captured the national attention. But the High Times article resounded in pre-internet times, being passed around from person to person until probably more than a million had read it and from those, more than several thousand decided to seek out the medicine.
   The article Shoemaker read was written several years later but still had influence. And so he showed up in my second home. But that is an understatement. He showed up and within a month or two had begun to publish the first modern English language newspaper in Iquitos. Months later he was making large batches of ayahuasca in the street in front of his residence, to the delight of the locals.
   He worked with several curanderos, but seemed to focus on Juan Tangoa, whom we affectionately call Airport Juan, because his home is on a block in a barrio very close to the Iquitos airport.
   But Alan didn’t just work with Juan: he became the first gringo to publicly take a Peruvian curandero on a multi-continent tour to the U.S. and Europe. While others might have done that previously, Alan did it with flair, introducing the concept of traveling curanderos to the world.
   And just as with Airport Juan, everything Alan did was with flair, and everything you might know about Iquitos and Ayahuasca has been influenced—some say for better, others for worse, but still, the influence is not disputed—by Alan.
  Within a couple of years of landing in Iquitos, Alan had set up a small souvenir shop just off what is now the “boulevard”, and not long after that a young woman came to town looking to drink ayahuasca. She wound up going with Alan to drink the medicine with Francisco Montes, at a place his family had bought him out on the then-uncompleted road to Nauta at kilometer 18. The young woman had such a transformative experience that she tried to give Alan a $500 bonus for his work. Alan refused, suggesting instead that she give the money as seed funds to Don Francisco (Poncho to those who know him) to spend on identifying and marking all the plants on his property to create the first botanical garden in Iquitos. She did, and from that first $500, Sachamama, the first Ayahuasca center was born. Every other center there owes a debt of gratitude not only to Sachamama but Alan as well.
   For me, the first hint of something extraordinary occurred probably in 1995. During the late 1980s, whenever I flew into Iquitos from Miami on the now-defunct Faucett Airlines, there were always two, three or four wheelchair-bound end-stage AIDS patients aboard. And when we reached Iquitos they were whisked off the plane and into cars and quickly disappeared into the night.
   After the third time, perhaps, my curiosity was so peaked that I managed to slip off the plane with a group of them, got a taxi and drove after them. They wound up at river’s edge and were loaded onto a fairly small boat. They then took off and disappeared.
   Something was up. These were end-stage patients. There was no going home unless there was a miracle. So I began asking around town about them. I got a word here or there about some strange near-blind bear of a doctor who was doing experimental work on them. But I could never pin it down. I just could not find out what was what, though I knew that something was up.
   And by maybe 1995—give or take—when I came down to Iquitos for a few months, Alan had taken what I’d said and actually located the doctor doing the work. His name was Dr. Inchaustegui and he was treating those dying people with a mixture of una de gato—cat’s claw—essence, sacha jergon—a jungle tuber—and other things. And while most of those people still died, some had survived and a few had thrived. It was Alan who found the man I could not find.
   A year or so later, it was Alan who introduced me to the idea of ayahuasca healing in a way I’d never considered. Remember, there were few books on it, no internet existed to refer questions to; there was just experiential knowledge. He came to me one day and told me his mother was dying and asked me to drink ayahuasca with him at Airport Juan’s house to see of we might not see what was killing his mom and what might help her to stay alive.
   I reluctantly agreed, sure I could not help.
   But that night, during ceremony, I saw her issue, up close and personal, and “saw” that una de gato would help. I wrote a note when I saw that, and the next morning I showed my note to Alan, sure that I was crazy. Alan had a note as well, which also said “una de gato” but added “sacha jergon”.
   He sent or brought the medicines to his mom—I forget which—and some months later, the woman who was supposed to die within weeks, was told by her doctors that they could not find any cancer and that they might have misdiagnosed to begin with. Alan and I knew better.
   Several years later, Alan would come with me and my mother-in-law, Lydia Cahuaza, a Peruvian woman two generations out of jungle tribal life to Airport Juan's to help heal Lydia's cancer. They did. She got another several good years, just like Alan’s mom.
   At the same time, Alan’s drawback was that he loved being the tallest rose in the garden. And he often was. He was the first public gringo to set up an official plant export company from Iquitos. Large companies had done it earlier, but no one had done it on a personal level. To do it, he had to learn how to set up Peruvian corporations, what papers and permits were needed, how to satisfy both U.S. and United Nations’ bureaucracy. It took years of painstaking work. It was done in part with the help of my family’s “paper” man, Jorge “Flaco” Panduro Perea, the best man at moving papers in all of Iquitos. He never missed or misses a trick. And he set Alan and his then-wife Mariella up as a unique company, capable of moving plant material legally from Peru to anywhere in the world.
   Life, somehow, seems to intervene at the most ackward moments. I had a bar in Iquitos, The Cold Beer Blues Bar, across the street from the Puerto Mastranza on the toughest block in town. Tourists were terrified of going there, so my clients included ex-patriots, locals, U.S. Special Forces and every CIA/DEA/NSA personnel in Iquitos at a given time. Plus drug dealers, arms dealers and every other person the DEA/CIA/NSA had an interest in following.
   Well, as luck would have it, some of those young bucks from the U.S.A. would get drunk and cry into their beer to the bartender—who was often me. Now everybody knew I was a journalist, and I told everybody that whatever they told me at the bar was likely to be published if I thought it worthy, so we didn’t do any sneak attacks. Still, over the course of the couple of years I had the place at least two or three black-ops were stopped in their tracks when I published stories about them with Al Giordano’s seminal website.
    And, as luck would have it, a couple of former Navy Seals who were then Spooks working for the CIA as merceneries, were at my bar one night. They were there at a party we had for some guests I was taking to the jungle. Well, one of the guests took a photo of me behind the bar. One of the ex-Seals thought she might have captured his image via the mirrors behind the bar, walked over to her, ripped her camera from her neck and stepped on it, breaking it. His lieutenant called him on the infraction, and the drunk mercenary then ate a bar glass. Simply ate an entire 6 ounces of glass out of shame and anger.
    But before he’d done that, he had told me what he and the other former Seals were in town to do: They were in place to head to the Putumayo River to slaughter any and all people trying to escape a pincer movement planned by the U.S. and U.S. trained Colombian forces for the following month. There would be bonuses of $1,000 for every confirmed kill, whether combatant, civilian man, woman or child.
   I wrote the story and the op was cancelled.
   A couple of days later I was in my friend Jim’s Gringo Bar. At one table was the lieutenant with a local girl. I sat with them, while Alan stayed at the bar. The fellow told me I was in serious trouble for mucking up the operation. I told him I respected the military, but not the idea of trying to force civilians to flee a U.S. paid for onslaught to the Colombian rebels in a 30-year-old civil war that would result in either he or his fellows making money by killing fleeing children. Then, for some reason that seemed to make sense to me at the time, I decided to “sopla” the fellow. Sopla is a blessing where you take magic liquid into your mouth and spray a fine spray over someone’s head and body to cleanse their aura. I didn’t have any sacred liquid, so I used beer. The lieutenant didn’t see it as a blessing: He thought I spit at him and in an instant had his finger around my thorax and told me he might kill me. I told Alan to explain that I was blessing him to not kill non-combatants, not spitting at him. Alan, the tallest rose in the garden, seized the moment and hurled a hailstorm of shit on the fellow’s head, making it clear that not only was his position finished, but that he would likely wind up doing hard time for attacking a journalist such as Peter Gorman.
    The fellow took it seriously. He let me go but told Alan that he would pay for the incident.
    And pay he did. A few months later, Alan, with all the proper paperwork in the world, sent a huge shipment of banisteriopsis caapi—ayahuasca vine, maybe 700 pounds of it—and chacruna and huambisa—the admixture plants used to make ayahuasca, along with black tobacco native to Peru and some other things to his ex-wife’s address in Atlanta.
   Now what Alan did was perfectly legal. And if the U.S. had not wanted to receive the shipment, Customs had the option to say the plant material was not wanted in the U.S. and they could offer either to destroy it or return it to sender on the sender’s dime. Of course, if the material had been mislabeled, it would have been smuggling. But as the material was all labeled properly in both English and Spanish, with local and Latin names, that was not the case.
   Nonetheless the U.S. permitted the shipment to go through Customs and then arrested Alan’s grown son for picking it up off the front lawn.
   Despite the outlandishly illegal move by the U.S. Attorney’s office—which was brought on by the former Seal’s complaint to “Get Shoemaker and Gorman”, and which was confirmed by the DEA on tape to me—when Alan tried to go through Atlanta to see his mom before she finally died, Alan was picked up, put on a bus for 30 days and then delivered to a prison. He was given house arrest, not able to leave the U.S. or even go further than a block or two from the home of his deceased mom. That lasted just under one year, the limit the U.S. Federal prosecutors had to either prosecute him for a crime or let him go. Well, they had no crime to prosecute him for: The only crime committed was done by U.S. Customs in allowing legal plants to go through and then arresting Alan’s son and finally Alan.
   So after 360 days, and I might be off by one or two, but just shy of the limit, the U.S. Attorney sent Alan’s passport to his Attorney and sent me a letter saying Alan was free to leave the country. Alan came to my home in Texas. He stayed here for a couple of weeks. Then I called the judge, U.S. attorney and everyone else and got it confirmed that he was free to travel where he wanted, so long as he’d be available should they ever decide to prosecute.
   Alan, who had not seen his wife or kids for a year, bought a ticket to Lima and on to Iquitos. I double-checked with the judge and prosecutor. And finally, knowing I had everyone on tape saying he could leave, I drove my friend to the DFW airport and sent him on his way.
    Less than a week later the prosecuting attorney in Atlanta charged Alan with Flight to Avoid Prosecution—a ridiculous lie considering she was on tape suggesting he should visit his wife in Peru. Unfortunately for Alan, if he ever returns to the U.S., he’ll have to answer to that charge before there are any “ayahuasca” charges, which means that unless he’s got a quarter of a million dollars in legal fees put away, he’s sunk.
    But none of that sunk him.
    He went back to Iquitos to discover that his family had had a hard time without him. He countered by coming up with the idea of a Shamanic Conference in 2003 or 2004. He brought in some inspiring people to talk, collected several good curanderos to offer medicine to the participants, and began what has become an annual staple for the last several years. And out of those conferences has blossomed the thriving business of ayahuasca tourism in Iquitos and Pucallpa. 
   So Alan's fingerprints have been on all things ayahuasca in Iquitos more than anyone else's. Even the beautiful mantas, weavings, done by the indigenous Shipibo that are sold Iquitos and Pulcallpa, bear his influence: At the very first Shaman Conference the weavers began to incorporate the conference logo, a stylized cross-section of an ayahuasca vine--designed by Johan Fremin--into their weavings, and now depictions of ayahuasca appear on nearly all of the mantas the Shipibo sell.
    Alan is loved by many. He’s also been called every name in the book by people of all stripes. But few of those people have ever walked a day in his shoes. Few of those people have had the courage he has shown. I am not always his biggest fan. I wish he had not set Sachamama and all of the subsequent Ayahuasca Retreats in motion. I wish it could all have been kept secret and slowly let out over the next 50 years, rather than just taking it to the streets. But that doesn’t mean I am right. History will let us know.
   What needs to be known is this: that he’s my brother, good, bad or in between. I fight for his right to be the tallest rose in the garden.
    Enjoy his story. Enjoy the book.
Peter Gorman, December 5, 2012