The Palace of Excess

Kage Baker was a naturally abstemious person. She rarely over-indulged, at least in physical pleasures; she had a disciplined and measured approach to most appetites, deliberately setting aside treats to be enjoyed later at a carefully pre-calculated pace.

I’m not sure why, unless it was a way to make goodies last longer. She could (and sometimes did) apply herself happily to excess, when it seemed appropriate. It just didn’t, most of the time. Thus a birthday pound of See’s chocolate would last through the summer, being enjoyed one piece at a time. A longed-for book might be read over two leisurely weeks – I, meanwhile, would have blazed through it in one or two unsleeping nights, greedy as a 4-year old.

Mind you, when Kage did overdo it, she overdid it amazingly. “All things in measure” was one of her mottos, but so was “Anything worth doing, is worth overdoing.”

Her usual alcoholic drink rule, in public, was 2 drinks. However, the size was not a consideration: which occasionally led to, say, the astonishing consumption of two half-yards of ale in the course of a meal. (A half-yard is 18 inches tall. It hold 32 ounces of fluid. Two of them is a half-gallon* …) She had a heroic capacity.

The only times this led to problems was when she got blind-sided by unfamiliar cocktails. The most memorable was two zombies at the old Trader Vic’s in Hollywood. Zombies are lovely amber concoctions of rums and fruit juices, customarily garnished with Carmen Miranda’s hat – perfect for Kage. At Trader Vic’s, they came in giant clam shells. By the time Kage got through 2 of them, various of her senses were switching on and off at random – she could speak, but not hear; walk but not control direction. That sort of thing. The evening culminated in the only sleep-walking episode of her life, which was thwarted by the fact that she forgot about the two downward steps at the front door – a lucky thing, as she’d also forgotten her clothes …

But Kage was always a pleasant and amiable person, relaxed and conversational and a marvelous raconteuse. She told wonderful stories when her inhibitions were gently dissolved, even wilder than usual, and many of the crazier scenes in her stories were initially conceived as she swayed gently under the influence of rum and orchids and fruit onna stick.

The binge scene in Ghiardelli Square, from Graveyard Game, was written from life … you should have been there …

I lack such control as Kage had. I usually simply refrain, content to warm my hands at the gentle flames of memory. Or, as it happens, the roaring out-of-control bonfire of memory. I’m not as good as Kage was, for instance, at stopping at two. I’ll forego sleep to read a new Pratchett or King or Baker all in a night; if I get a birthday box of See’s choccies, it’s gone within the week.

Today, the problem was licorice. It turns out that See’s also makes exemplary black licorise, with real anise oil and not cunning faux decoctions of wintergreen flavouring. It’s soft and fragrent and black as the Earl of Hell’s weskit, and it comes in elegant black and silver striped 12-ounce bags. One of which I have eaten, in its entirety, as I wrote this reflection on excess.

Man, Kage would be laughing at me. Time to go lie down, I think, and sleep off the licorice.


* Thanks to Laura – she pointed out that I had originally calculated 2 half-yards to be a full gallon, which of course, they are not. Thus the correction. I blame the liquorice.

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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7 Responses to The Palace of Excess

  1. Elizabeth Machado says:

    I must seek it out…fake licquorice is disgusting!

    • Kate says:

      Ah, yes, another devotee of the true anise flavour! Most people hate black licorise, he poor deluded souls. Kage used to order me bags of *just* black jelly beans from Vermont Country Store. And then Kimberly found this wonderful stuff at See’s. And since you, Elizabeth, are a California resident, you can actually find it!


  2. Tom says:

    Dang! That sounds good!

    There is no substitute for real anise.

  3. Kate says:

    Tom – it is fantastic, miles better than that pretentious stuff with the panda on the box. Though I must admit to still having a soft spot for the black licorice vines – they have a fascinating aftertaste of tobacco. God only knows what they’re made of, but I ate a lot of them when I was a kid. (Kage liked the sour green apple ones.) And! Callard and Bowser makes a licorice toffee that is simply divine! Hard to find here in the US, but worth it when you can. And in the meantime, there is good old See;s.

  4. I am reminded of a tin of Italian licorice pastilles from Italy, that I have, that are so severe, so proper and so plain one would assume that they were German, and assuredly you would not consume them for pleasure but only for digestive necessity (under the advice of a health care professional). Black and oily as anthracite, with a hardness that would surely match that mineral and the size of a homeopathic tablet. under no circumstance would you attempt to chew these in order speed consumption along. Only your dentist would profit. But lordy what profound essential licorice saltiness blooms in your mouth and perfumes the immediate space around you as I can only compare in range and effect/affect to a freshly poured and savored Islay. Let me see if I can discover where this tin is. Wish me luck. Much to my surprise it was where I last remember seeing it. The picture on the tin is not as I thought a 14th/early15th cen. rendition of the castration of Abalard but an equally antique painting of a mediaeval shop front from which licorice is presumably sold. These are produced by the Fabbrica di Liquirizia. They are I presume called Amarelli sas. Currently there still a few left inside, but the tin seems to be welded shut. I assume corroded by the powerful fumes of the contents. Or it could just be some small upholstery nails. The look of the packaging suggests the checkout kiosk at an upscale market, I’ll check for current distribution.

  5. Laura says:

    Erm, apologies for picking nits, but two half-yards would be a half-gallon (128 oz in 1 gallon). Does that mean the official conversion is 2 yards to the gallon?

    Also, I would pay money to see pictures from the Ghiradelli Square aftermath. That’s one of my favorite scenes out of the entire Company series.

  6. Kate says:

    Laura – you are right, I miscalculated. I’m used to measuring beer in pints and kegs – not half yards. Also, math is not my best thing … a half yard is two pints; 2 half yards is 4 quarts or a half gallon; two yards (which I have never seen but would like to) is indeed a gallon.

    As to pictures – oh, heck, there were no cameras that evening in Ghiardelli’s! We just sat there and got crazy while consuming hot chocolate, chocolate frappes, chocolate milk and bulk candy bars.Hot fudge sundaes. Flicks. I have no idea why we went so berserk, but we were in hysterics of laughter – especially when Kage said, “Oh, God, this is what would happen to the Operatives!” and started telling me the story of that scene …

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