Ninkasi: “The Lady who fills the Mouth”

Ninkasi: “The Lady who fills the Mouth”

nin (lady)                                         kag (mouth)

I was really looking forward to be part of  “Tasting and Exploration of Yeast Culture,” an event part of the Umami Festival at the Astor Center on Friday March 12, but it just got canceled by the organizers. C’est la vie! — and it gave me the great opportunity to explore yeast, and more specifically beer & bread in Sumerian culture. As I will not be able to perform for you this time I will share my collectages on the topic.

As recorded today it looks like it is Sumer and not Egypt that would be the oldest beer producing country and the oldest beer goddess thus would be Ninkasi. She is the ancient Sumerian Goddess of intoxicating beverages, her name meaning: “ the Lady who fills the mouth”

Her father is Enki the lord Nudimmud and her mother is Ninti —or Ninursag —Queen of the Abzu. Ninkasi was one of the eight children created to heal the eight wounds of her father Enki; wounds received by eating eight forbidden plants.

Beer/Kaš Gar/Bread

So what came first: the kaš/beer (left) or the gar/bread (right)? Hard to say, but what we can read in the text below is that the bappir, that is the twice baked barley bread was stored for the purpose of beer brewing, and there are indications that it could have been eaten. It has also been suggested that the bappir could be an early form of biscotti (twice baked).

The 2800 BC hymn to Ninkasi is a fairly linear description of brewing techniques. You can  read the scholarly translation here and if you are a Sumerian scholar the transliteration here. And voilà the arrangement I made for performance purpose:

Borne of flowing water ……, tenderly cared for by Ninḫursaĝa!
Ninkasi, borne of flowing water ……, tenderly cared for by Ninḫursaĝa!

Your father is Enki, Lord Nudimmud, your mother is Ninti, the queen of the abzu.
Ninkasi, your father is Enki, Lord Nudimmud, and your mother is Ninti, the queen of the abzu.

It is you who handle the dough with a big shovel, mix the bappir in a pit, with sweet aromatics.
Ninkasi, it is you who handle the dough with a big shovel, mix the bappir in a pit, with sweet aromatics.

It is you who bake the bappir in the big oven, and put in order the piles of hulled grain. Ninkasi, it is you who bake the bappir in the big oven, and put in order the piles of hulled grain.

It is you who water the earth-covered malt; the noble dogs guard it even from the potentates.
Ninkasi, it is you who water the earth-covered malt; the noble dogs guard it even from the potentates.

It is you who soak the malt in a jar; the waves rise, the waves fall.
Ninkasi, it is you who soak the malt in a jar; the waves rise, the waves fall.

It is you who spread the cooked mash on large reed mats; coolness overcomes …….
Ninkasi, it is you who spread the cooked mash on large reed mats; coolness overcomes …….

It is you who hold with both hands the great sweet wort, brewing it with honey and wine.
Ninkasi, it is you who hold with both hands the great sweet wort, brewing it with honey and wine.

It is you who place the gakkul vat, which makes a pleasant sound, on top of a large lamsare vat.
Ninkasi, It is you who place the
gakkul vat, which makes a pleasant sound, on top of a large lamsare vat.

It is you who pour out the filtered beer of the lamsare vat; it is like the onrush of the Tigris and the Euphrates.
Ninkasi, it is you who pour out the filtered beer of the
lamsare vat; it is like the onrush of the Tigris and the Euphrates.

There was also Sumerian proverbs related to drinking  :

“Ce qui est bon, c’est la bière! Ce qui est mauvais, c’est la route!”
What’s good is the beer! What’s bad is the road!

Beer drinking in Mesopotamia- Always with straws which could mean that the beverage was not  clear and needed to be sifted.

Another great song I came across is  the oldest recorded drinking song!  The found tablet is believed to have been written at the turn of the III to II millennium BC and was first studied in 1964 by Miguel Civil. (right: illustration is the Ninkasi seal)

Ninkasi Seal

translation: here
transliteration:  here

Performance version:

The gakkul vat, the gakkul vat!
The gakkul vat, the lamsare vat!
The gakkul vat,  puts us in a happy mood!
The lamsare vat,  makes our heart rejoice!
The ugurbal jar, glory of the house!
The šaggub jar, filled with beer!
The amam jar, carries the beer from the lamsare vat!
The troughs made with bur grass and the pails for kneading the dough!

All the beautiful vessels are ready on their pot stands!
May the heart of your god be well disposed towards you!
Let the eye of the gakkul vat be our eye, and let the heart of the gakkul vat be our heart!
What makes your heart feel wonderful in itself also makes our hearts feel wonderful in themselves!
We are in a happy mood, our hearts are joyful!
You have poured a libation over the fated brick, and you have laid the foundations in peace and prosperity — now may Ninkasi dwell with you!
She should pour beer and wine for you!
Let the pouring of the sweet liquor resound pleasantly for you!

In the troughs made with bur grass, there is sweet beer.
I will have the cup-bearers, the boys and the brewers stand by.
As I spin around the lake of beer, while feeling wonderful, feeling wonderful, while drinking beer, in a blissful mood, while drinking alcohol and feeling exhilarated, with joy in the heart and a contented liver — my heart is a heart filled with joy!
I clothe my contented liver in a garment fit for a queen!
The heart of Inana is happy once again; the heart of Inana is happy once again!

A …… to Ninkasi.

The code of Hammurabi, inscribed on a basalt tablet, lays down some strict rules for the administration of beer parlors. Owners who overcharged customers were liable to death by drowning!

These pieces will be a great addition to my Sumerian repertoire, they will complement the Incantation of Innana that I have been performing for years (on my cd La Garbure Transcontinentale-The Bi-Continental Chowder). Below is a live performance of that piece for the celebration of Jerry Rothenberg’s anthology Technicians of the Sacred.  This is how I got introduced to Sumerian poetry. Merci Jerry!

The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature

Sumerian Mythology
by  Samuel Noah Kramer
La Plus Vieille Cuisine du Monde
by Jean Bottéro
Lorsque les dieux faisaient l’homme
Jean Bottéro & Noah Kramer
Food in History
by Reay Tannahill
A history of beer and brewing by Ian Spencer Hornsey

Thanks to Ame Gilbert & Yael Raviv

Au revoir Paris, but no Regrets!

Au revoir Paris, but no Regrets!

coquilles d'huitres

My last night in Paris was a good transition to return home. I first met up with a friend from my teenage years that I had not seen in 30 years! Bélinda and I reconnected via Facebook a few months ago. What I find totally fascinating in these reconnection stories —and that happened more than once this year— is the re-collection of my own forgotten memories. Bélinda de-fragmented my hard drive revealing a few events that I am sure glad to have recovered.
The first one was a luncheon at the famous Paris restaurant Chez Coconnas on Place des Vosges with Roland Dhordain.  Roland is a radioman —now long retired— who had been general manager of Radio France in 1965. He became a close friend of the family in the 1970’s. Bélinda also remembered us having Lunch at the Eiffel Tower with my parents the day  Jimmy Carter won the presidential election, so that was November 2nd 1976, I was 16 & Bélinda 18! Bélinda always wanted to be an English teacher and she became one! She loved purple and still does, though I didn’t notice her wearing purple mascara anymore! It was lovely to see her.

Around 7 PM we took off to rue de Rivoli to meet up with New York poet friends Yuko Otomo & Steve Dalachinsky. They had been on a European tour and they were reading at 59 rue de Rivoli for the  “Grand reopening of the Squat / Art Music Poesie”. Steve & Yuko kindly invited me to perform a few pieces. The set up was not an ideal situation for a poetry reading. Lots of people where going in and out to watch the multilevel art shows and there was no microphone. Despite the conditions, Yuko’s beautifully crafted bilingual (Japanese –English) haikus soared through the noise and fall gently into attentive ears.


Steve mesmerized the crowd with his rhythmical & entrancing poems; an improvising accordion player called Claude Parlé accompanied him. Claude improvised on my pieces too. Once again my Gascon Southern French accent drew more attention in Paris than in NYC. So I took the opportunity to declare my allegiance to the Southwest — be it Southwest Brooklyn or Southwest Occitania — and proclaimed my self-declared nationality to be Gasco-Ricain! I performed “Things fall where they lie,”  “Cranes” and “Outer outer edges”.


Bélinda returned home after the reading. Steve, Yuko and I had a lovely walk back to my place in the 6th. When we passed the inviting outdoors oyster stand of Bistro de La Grille I couldn’t resist getting some to take back to the studio. On the video below you can see Steve skillfully carrying the mayonnaise and the shallot vinegar through Rue Guisarde. The oysters highly recommended by the écailler were Fine de Claire Nº2, I didn’t get to ask the  exact provenance; the transaction to take the oysters home was a little out of the ordinary but once I called onto the wonderful Thierry —manager for as long as I remember the place! — things eased up and we walked home with all the trimming I mention above, plus an overload of bulots, rye bread and beurre salé de Bretagne (j’ai pensé à Claire!). The oysters were delicious, very meaty and firm, not as green as the one we had in Angoulême but that was the specificity of that type of oysters. As for wine, I had bought a red Alsace wine. It had been recommended by the sommelier of the wine shop at the marché St-Germain. I asked for a light red that would go well with seafood or a light meal. He highly recommended a €10 biodynamic Alsace Pinot noir called “Lunatic”. With a name like this how could I pass. The Estate Barmès Buecher is located in Wettolsheim and totally dedicated to biodynamic  growing; this is what they say about it:


” Wine is made on the vine and not in the winery”
…We work the vineyards bio-dynamically, that’s to say with activated preparations, according to the influence of the planets and the apogee and perigee of the moon. No synthesized chemical product is used, neither in the vineyards nor in the winery.
The aim of this is to keep the initial balance of the grapes undisturbed, and not to mask the effect of the vintages, so that the wine can show its “terroir” to the maximum and to preserve the energy it has acquired (from the bio-dynamic culture of the vines).
The soils are ploughed and hoed between November and July and then we mow the grass from August to the harvest.
The vines are planted
closely at a density of 6000 to 8000 plants per hectare to create maximum competition for the roots. This forces them to delve as deeply as possible.
No weedkillers or chemical fertilizers are used. If needed, we just use compost we make ourselves…more click here.

Many would argue about pairing red wine and oysters, but what can I say other than: this simple, clean, straight and dry red wine with a subtle tinge of red berries enchanted me! I loved it and so did my guests! Au diable les conventions!

Voilà! we ate, drank, talked into the late night — voir early morning— and when time came to separate I did something that is very Parisian among intimate friends: I gave them the trash to deposit downstairs! Now I am back home and as the song on the video says, I had a great time but  no regrets to leave Paris!

Piano: Yuko Kishimoto
Voice: Nicole Peyrafitte
recorded at Bender Studio by Sten Isachsen
May 2004

Sax, Soup, Poetry & Voice

Sax, Soup, Poetry & Voice


On November 7, 2007, Joe Girardullo, Pierre Joris & myself had molto fun presenting Sax, Soup, Poetry & Voice a multimedia performance at the The Sanctuary for Independent Media in Troy N.Y. The original description of the show was:

A Harvest Celebration with multimedia artist Nicole Peyrafitte, saxophonist Joe Giardullo & poet Pierre Joris. The trio will celebrate, harvest, and gather together non linear momentum through their music, poetry, voice, visuals and yes, a soup! Nicole, who recently moved to Brooklyn, will cook an “Inner-State” soup that will be shared with the audience.

The quality of this recording is stunning. They made us look and sound really good! & you ou can almost taste the “Inner State Soup!”

This DVD series is not a commercial venture and The Sanctuary for Independent Media is eager to have it distributed widely. For that reason we offer it through Ta’wil Productions store for a modest $5 to cover shipping and handling. Spread the word & the DVD!

Please view video sample here

This DVD is part of a prestigious series (see below), however at this point we are only able to offer our DVD.
Our deepest thanks to the producers, crew & volunteers of the Sanctuary.

A Message from The Sanctuary of Independent Media:

Free Jazz from the Sanctuary Launched!
A 13-part series of jazz performance videos featuring some of the world’s most talented improvisers, recorded live in concert at The Sanctuary for Independent Media, is now available online–just click the links below! Each show is (or soon will be) available on DVD; details are available under each band entry.

The Free Jazz from the Sanctuary series will soon be available for non-commercial broadcast distribution.
Contact us
for more information!

The Thirteenth Assembly
(Taylor Ho Bynum, Tomas Fujiwara, Mary Halvorson, Jessica Pavone)
Ethnic Heritage Ensemble
(Kahil El’Zabar, Ernest Dawkins, Corey Wilkes)
Fay Victor Ensemble
(Ken Filiano, Anders Nilsson, Michael TA Thompson, Fay Victor)
From Between Trio
(Michel Doneda, Tatsuya Nakatani, Jack Wright)
Michael Vlatkovich Quartet
(Christopher Garcia, Jonathan Golove, David Mott, Michael Vlatkovich)
Sax Soup Poetry and Voice
(Joe Giardullo, Pierre Joris, Nicole Peyrafitte)
Trio Tarana
(Sam Bardfeld, Ravish Momin, Brian Prunka)
The Ras Ensemble
(Clif Jackson, Dave Miller, Ras Moshe, Tor Yochai Snyder)
William Hooker
Empty Cage Quartet
(Ivan Johnson, Paul Kikuchi, Jason Mears, Kris Tiner)
Weasel Walter Trio
(Peter Evans, Mary Halvorson, Weasel Walter)
Splatto Festival Chorus
(Dave Barrett, Michael Bisio, Ed Mann, Todd Reynolds)
Amiri Baraka and Rob Brown

Free Jazz from the Sanctuary is a co-production of NY Media Alliance and the Arts Department at Rensselaer, made possible in part with support from the NYS Council on the Arts and the NYS Music Fund, established by the NYS Attorney General at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisers.

Photographs of the show: Sax, Soup, Poetry & Voice  by Jon Flanders (11/07/07)

Transit & Cranes

Transit & Cranes


After a long trip we arrived in my hometown, Luchon, in the Central Pyrenées.  There is very little time to process pictures and notes gathered daily. Since we got here, it has been an uninterrupted stream of aperitifs, meals, digestifs with family and friends.
For now I will report on our transit day in Paris on 14 July, Bastille Day. We landed from our transcontinental flight midday and directly headed to Gare d’Austerlitz to drop off our luggage until our night train to Luchon. It sounded convenient and pleasant to have lunch at the nearby Jardin des Plantes and then spend time in the gardens and menageries. As Bastille Day is also Pierre’s birthday, we were really looking forward to a nice meal on the outside terrace of the newly renovated restaurant “ La Baleine.” The sun, the bread & very decent house wine kept us content, though the meal was mediocre, overpriced and the service lousy.
The garden was originally planted in 1626 as a medicinal herb garden. Back then it was known as the Jardin du Roi
(Louis XIII). In 1640 it opened to the public. In 1792 the Royal Menagerie was moved to the gardens from Versailles. Among a wide variety of animals we had a great time watching the super entertaining orangutans, the 250 lb 120 years old Aldabra Giant tortoise (Geochelone gigantea) and I was particularly delighted spending time with the White Nape Cranes. Last fall I wrote a piece called crane/grue that is on my cd Whisk! Don’t Churn! Below you will find the recording as the sound track of the video I shot Monday.

So voilà for now! My son Miles and I are off tomorrow for a short trip to Aix-en-Provence for a mother and son adventure, while Pierre Joris will be in Lodève at the Poetry Festival “Les Voix de la Mediterranée.” We will join him towards the end of the week for a shared performance, and then back to the Pyrenées — and for now, as we say here, Adishatz!

Mongrel Vaudeville, Blue Moon in June!

Mongrel Vaudeville, Blue Moon in June!

More of Scott Clark great portraits

Only once in a blue moon do you get to have so much fun — and that was last night at the  Mongrel Vaudeville, Blue Moon in June! , an event masterminded and organized by the fabulous multitasking poet performer Julian of Nowherr (Julian Brolaski). I am thrilled to have been part of :
Brooklyn’s newest, queerest variety show, starring hot divas, sideshow freaks and musical sundries!

There will be more shows, so stay tuned and follow the: mongrelvaudeville blog

Last night’s performers were:
Jasper James: Host
Country music outfit The Low and the Lonesome
Pop-rap phenom Badboss
Magician Gary the Great
Kyle Peterson, El Juglar / the Brooklyn Juggler
Queer diva provocateur JZ Bich
Escape artist, sideshow performer and contortionist Jared the Conjuror
Performance artist Nicole Peyrafitte w/ Peter Knoll
Electro-drag cabaret singer / shamanist Yozmit

R&B sensation Colin Steele

I was accompanied on guitar by Peter Knoll and we performed two
deconstructed Edith Piaf songs, L’Accordéoniste & La Vie en Rose. Below, the video (by Miles Joris-Peyrafitte w/my small camera) of L’Accordéoniste and below the video more photographs courtesy of Stacy Szymaszek.