Dec 092019
 

Today is the feast of St Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, also known as Juan Diego (1474–1548), a native of Mexico, and the first Roman Catholic indigenous saint from the Americas. He is said to have been granted an apparition of the Virgin Mary (the Virgin of Guadalupe) on four separate occasions in December 1531 at the hill of Tepeyac, then a rural area but now within the borders of Mexico City. Juan Diego’s historicity and that of the alleged apparitions have been repeatedly questioned, but the Catholic church considers the matter settled in favor of Juan Diego.

The basilica of Guadalupe, located at the foot of the hill of Tepeyac, claims to possess Juan Diego’s mantle or cloak (known as a tilma) on which an image of the Virgin is said to have been impressed by a miracle as a pledge of the authenticity of the apparitions. These apparitions and the imparting of the miraculous image (together known as the Guadalupe event, “el acontecimiento Guadalupano”) are the basis of the veneration of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which is ubiquitous in Mexico, prevalent throughout the Spanish-speaking Americas, and increasingly widespread beyond. As a result, the basilica of Guadalupe is now the world’s most visited pilgrimage site for Roman Catholics, receiving 22 million visitors in 2010.

According to some sources, Juan Diego was an Aztec born in 1474 in Cuauhtitlan, and at the time of the apparitions he lived there or in Tolpetlac. He was supposedly respectful and gracious towards the Virgin Mary when first converted. He and his wife, María Lucía, were among the first to be baptized after the arrival of the main group of twelve Franciscan missionaries in Mexico in 1524. His wife died two years before the apparitions, although one source (Luis Becerra Tanco) claims she died two years after them. There is no firm tradition as to their marital relations. It is variously reported that (a) after their baptism he and his wife were inspired by a sermon on chastity to live celibately; alternatively (b) that they lived celibately throughout their marriage; and in further alternative (c) that both of them lived and died as virgins. Alternatives (a) and (b) may not necessarily conflict with other reports that Juan Diego (possibly by another wife) had a son. Intrinsic to the narrative is Juan Diego’s uncle, Juan Bernardino; but beyond him, María Lucía, and Juan Diego’s putative son, no other family members are mentioned in the tradition. At least two 18th-century nuns claimed to be descended from Juan Diego. After the apparitions, Juan Diego was permitted to live next to the hermitage erected at the foot of the hill of Tepeyac, and he dedicated the rest of his life to serving the Virgin Mary at the shrine erected in accordance with her wishes. The date of death (in his 74th year) is given as 1548.

The earliest notices of an apparition of the Virgin Mary at Tepeyac to an Indian are to be found in various annals which are regarded by Miguel León-Portilla, one of the leading Mexican scholars in this field, as demonstrating “that effectively many people were already flocking to the chapel of Tepeyac long before 1556, and that the tradition of Juan Diego and the apparitions of Tonantzin (Guadalupe) had already spread.” Others (including leading Nahuatl and Guadalupe scholars in the USA) go only as far as saying that such notices “are few, brief, ambiguous and themselves posterior by many years”. If correctly dated to the 16th century, the Codex Escalada – which portrays one of the apparitions and states that Juan Diego (identified by his indigenous name) died “worthily” in 1548 – must be accounted among the earliest and clearest of such notices.

Sánchez (1648) has a few scattered sentences noting Juan Diego’s uneventful life at the hermitage in the sixteen years from the apparitions to his death. The Huei tlamahuiçoltica (1649), at the start of the Nican Mopohua and at the end of the section known as the Nican Mopectana, there is some information concerning Juan Diego’s life before and after the apparitions, giving many instances of his sanctity of life. Becerra Tanco (1666 and 1675) gives Juan Diego’s town of origin, place of residence at the date of the apparitions, and the name of his wife as well as a listing of his heroic virtues, plus other biographical information. Chapter 18 of Francisco de la Florencia’s Estrella de el norte de México (1688) contains the first systematic account of Juan Diego’s life, with attention given to some divergent strands in the tradition.

The following account is based on that given in the Nican Mopohua which was first published in Nahuatl in 1649. No part of that work was available in Spanish until 1895 when, as part of the celebrations for the coronation of the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe in that year, there was published a translation of the Nican Mopohua dating from the 18th century. This translation, however, was made from an incomplete copy of the original. Nor was any part of the Huei tlamahuiçoltica republished until 1929, when a facsimile of the original was published by Primo Feliciano Velásquez together with a full translation into Spanish (including the first full translation of the Nican Mopohua), since then the Nican Mopohua, in its various translations and redactions, has supplanted all other versions as the narrative of preference. The precise dates in December 1531 (as given below) were not recorded in the Nican Mopohua, but are taken from the chronology first established by Mateo de la Cruz in 1660.

Juan Diego, as a devout neophyte, was in the habit of regularly walking from his home to the Franciscan mission station at Tlatelolco for religious instruction and to perform his religious duties. His route passed by the hill at Tepeyac.

First apparition: at dawn on Saturday December 9, 1531 while on his usual journey, he encountered the Virgin Mary who revealed herself as the ever-virgin Mother of God and instructed him to request the bishop to erect a chapel in her honor so that she might relieve the distress of all those who call on her in their need. He delivered the request, but was told by the bishop (Fray Juan Zumárraga) to come back another day after he had had time to reflect upon what Juan Diego had told him.

Second apparition, later the same day: returning to Tepeyac, Juan Diego encountered the Virgin again and announced the failure of his mission, suggesting that because he was “a back-frame, a tail, a wing, a man of no importance” she would do better to recruit someone of greater standing, but she insisted that he was whom she wanted for the task. Juan Diego agreed to return to the bishop to repeat his request. This he did on the morning of Sunday, December 10th when he found the bishop more compliant. The bishop, however, asked for a sign to prove that the apparition was truly of heaven.

Third apparition: Juan Diego returned immediately to Tepeyac and, encountering the Virgin Mary reported the bishop’s request for a sign; she condescended to provide one on the following day (December 11). By Monday, December 11, however, Juan Diego’s uncle Juan Bernardino had fallen sick and Juan Diego was obliged to attend to him. In the very early hours of Tuesday, December 12th Juan Bernardino’s condition having deteriorated overnight, Juan Diego set out to Tlatelolco to get a priest to hear Juan Bernardino’s confession and minister to him on his death-bed.

Fourth apparition: in order to avoid being delayed by the Virgin and embarrassed at having failed to meet her on the Monday as agreed, Juan Diego chose another route around the hill, but the Virgin intercepted him and asked where he was going; Juan Diego explained what had happened and the Virgin gently chided him for not having had recourse to her. In the words which have become the most famous phrase of the Guadalupe event and are inscribed over the main entrance to the Basilica of Guadalupe, she asked: “¿No estoy yo aquí que soy tu madre?” (“Am I not here, I who am your mother?”). She assured him that Juan Bernardino had now recovered and she told him to climb the hill and collect flowers growing there. Obeying her, Juan Diego found an abundance of flowers unseasonably in bloom on the rocky outcrop where only cactus and scrub normally grew. Using his open mantle as a sack (with the ends still tied around his neck) he returned to the Virgin; she re-arranged the flowers and told him to take them to the bishop. On gaining admission to the bishop in Mexico City later that day, Juan Diego opened his mantle, the flowers poured to the floor, and the bishop saw they had left on the mantle an imprint of the Virgin’s image which he immediately venerated.

Fifth apparition: the next day Juan Diego found his uncle fully recovered, as the Virgin had assured him, and Juan Bernardino recounted that he too had seen her, at his bed-side; that she had instructed him to inform the bishop of this apparition and of his miraculous cure; and that she had told him she desired to be known under the title of Guadalupe. The bishop kept Juan Diego’s mantle first in his private chapel and then in the church on public display where it attracted great attention. On December 26, 1531 a procession formed for taking the miraculous image back to Tepeyac where it was installed in a small hastily erected chapel. In course of this procession, the first miracle was allegedly performed when a follower was mortally wounded in the neck by an arrow shot by accident during some stylized martial displays executed in honor of the Virgin. In great distress, his companions carried him before the Virgin’s image and pleaded for his life. Upon the arrow being withdrawn, the victim made a full and immediate recovery.

The modern movement for the canonization of Juan Diego (to be distinguished from the process for gaining official approval for the Guadalupe cult, which had begun in 1663 and was realized in 1754) can be said to have arisen in earnest in 1974 during celebrations marking the 500th anniversary of the traditional date of his birth,[u] but it was not until January 1984 that the then archbishop of Mexico, cardinal Ernesto Corripio Ahumada, named a Postulator to supervise and coordinate the inquiry, and initiated the formal process for canonization.

The process of beatification was completed in a ceremony presided over by Pope John Paul II at the Basilica of Guadalupe on May 6th 1990 when December 9 was declared as the feast day to be held annually in honor of the candidate for sainthood thereafter known as “Blessed Juan Diego Cuauthlatoatzin”. In accordance with the exceptional cases provided for by Urban VIII (1625, 1634) when regulating the procedures for beatification and canonization, the requirement for an authenticating miracle prior to beatification was dispensed with, on the grounds of the antiquity of the cult of Guadalupe.

An Aztec recipe is called for, and I give you a video concerning the antiquity of posole (white hominy) which I have mentioned several times already. Posole is a great favorite of mine – related to Argentine locro, which is also a fav.  This video is mostly in English, and the Spanish sections on Aztec cooking have English subtitles.  The speaker makes some claims about Aztec cannibalism, which are not completely confirmed, but have some confirmation in the early sources.  Aztecs practiced massive festivals of human sacrifice, and reputedly they ate the people who they sacrificed. Some anthropologists, including Marvin Harris and Michael Harner, argue that they ate human flesh because they lacked large domesticated animals as a staple protein source.  Much like the narrative of Juan Diego, this speculation is not thoroughly accepted by academics.

Dec 082019
 

The Fête des lumières (Festival of Lights) takes place on this date in Lyon in France annually. It expresses gratitude toward the Virgin Mary for saving the city from the plague. This unique Lyonnaise tradition dictates that every house place candles along the outsides of all the windows to produce a spectacular effect throughout the streets. The festival includes other activities based on light and usually lasts four days, with the peak of activity occurring on the 8th. The two main focal points of activity are typically the Basilica of Fourvière which is lit up in different colors, and the Place des Terreaux, which hosts a different light show each year.

The festival ultimately dates to 1643 when Lyon was struck by plague. On September 8th, 1643, the municipal councilors (échevins) promised to pay tribute to Mary if the town was spared. Ever since, a solemn procession makes its way to the Basilica of Fourvière on 8th December (the feast of the Immaculate Conception http://www.bookofdaystales.com/immaculate-conception/ ) to light candles and give offerings in the name of Mary. In part, the event also commemorates the day Lyon was consecrated to the Virgin Mary.

In 1852, it became a popular festival when a statue of the Virgin Mary was erected next to the Basilica, overlooking the city, Now a focal point of the festival, the statue was created by the renowned sculptor Joseph-Hugues Fabisch and was sponsored by several notable Lyonnais Catholics. The inauguration of the statue was due to take place on September 8th, 1852, the day of celebration of the Nativity of the Virgin. However, the flooding of the Saône prevented the statue from being ready. The archbishop, with the agreement of a committee of lay people, therefore chose to move the date back to the 8th December.

By 1852 in Lyon, December 8th had already been a celebration for the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin. Leading up to the inauguration, everything was in place for the festivities. The statue was lit up with flares, fireworks were readied for launching from the top of Fourvière Hill and marching bands were set to play in the streets. The prominent Catholics of the time suggested lighting up the façades of their homes as was traditionally done for major events such as royal processions and military victories.

However, on the morning of the big day, a storm struck Lyon. The master of ceremonies hastily decided to cancel everything and to push back the celebrations once more to the following Sunday. In the end the skies cleared and the people of Lyon, who had been eagerly anticipating the event, spontaneously lit up their windows, descended into the streets and lit flares to illuminate the new statue and the Chapel of Notre-Dame-de-Fourvière, later superseded by the Basilica. The people sang songs and cried “Vive Marie!” until late in the night. This celebration was then repeated from year to year.

Tradition now mandates that many families in Lyon keep, often along with their Christmas decorations, a collection of stained or clear glass in which candles are burnt on windowsills on 8th December. These stout, fluted candles can be found in shops towards the end of November. The city council puts on professionally-run performances. Lyon residents continue to participate as evidenced by numerous façades lit up in the traditional way and by the throngs of people wandering the streets on 8th December.

Lyon’s culinary heritage includes coq au vin, quenelles, gras double, salade lyonnaise (lettuce with bacon, croûtons and a poached egg), and the sausage-based rosette lyonnaise and andouillette. Popular local confections include marron glacé and coussin de Lyon. Cervelle de canut (literally, “silk worker’s brains”) is a cheese spread/dip made of a base of fromage blanc, seasoned with chopped herbs, shallots, salt, pepper, olive oil and vinegar. Any of these dishes would work as a celebration as long as you also light your house with candles on this date – I do.  I am rather conventional and make Lyonnaise potatoes, a dish of sliced pan-fried potatoes and thinly sliced onions, sautéed in butter with parsley. The potatoes are often parboiled before sautéeing, but can be raw cooked in the pan. Here’s a convenient video (in English for you monoglots):

Dec 052019
 

Today is the birthday (1935) of Calvin Trillin who is one of my favorite food writers. He is noted for other writing including memoirs and general journalism, but I have always been amused by his tales of food exploits.  He has such a shrewd eye.  I have chosen to focus on Trillin even though he is still alive – which goes against my normal rule – because I want to post something today, and his mode of writing appeals to me.  This will mostly be a string of favorite quotes plus a recipe.  For fun, if you do not know Trillin’s food writing, take a look at his collections: American Fried; Alice, Let’s Eat; and Third Helpings.

Trillin was born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1935 to Edythe and Abe Trillin. In his book, Messages from My Father, he notes that his parents called him “Buddy.” He attended public schools in Kansas City and went on to Yale University, where he was the roommate and friend of Peter M. Wolf, (for whose 2013 memoir, My New Orleans, Gone Away, he wrote a humorous foreword) and where he served as chairman of the Yale Daily News and was a member of the Pundits and Scroll and Key before graduating in 1957. He later served as a Fellow of the University.

After a stint in the U.S. Army, he worked as a reporter for Time magazine before joining the staff of The New Yorker in 1963. His reporting for The New Yorker on the racial integration of the University of Georgia was published in his first book, An Education in Georgia. He wrote the magazine’s U.S. Journal series from 1967 to 1982, covering local events both serious and quirky throughout the United States. From 1975 to 1987, Trillin contributed articles to Moment Magazine, an independent magazine which focuses on the life of the American Jewish community. He has also written for The Nation magazine. He began in 1978 with a column called “Variations,” which was eventually renamed “Uncivil Liberties” and ran through 1985.

Here is a sampling of quotes:

The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found.

Health food makes me sick

“Daddy, how come in Kansas City the bagels taste like just round bread?”

I never did very well in math – I could never seem to persuade the teacher that I hadn’t meant my answers literally.

Although I grew up in Kansas City I have always kept more or less au courant of Texas barbecue, like a sports fan who is almost monomaniacally obsessed with basketball but glances over at the N.H.L. standings now and then.

It happens to be a matter of record that I was first in print with the discovery that the tastelessness of the food offered in American clubs varies in direct proportion to the exclusiveness of the club.

I like chili, but not enough to discuss it with someone from Texas.

We’ll segue to the recipe of the day here:

Last summer, I was in Tuscany, near Siena, with my family, and I don’t think I failed at any meal to order ribollita or pappa al pomodoro—Tuscan bread soups that I don’t find often enough on the menus of Italian restaurants in my neighborhood. A bowl of either of those soups is pretty much a meal in itself, so I left it to others in our party to test my rule of thumb in ordering pasta: a pasta dish is likely to be satisfying in inverse proportion to the number of ingredients that the menu lists as being in it.

This video shows how to make papa al pomodoro (which translates as “mush with tomatoes”) but it is in Italian. It seems easy enough Italian once you actually get into the recipe, but I’m not a great judge because I speak some Italian.

 

Nov 092019
 

Independence Day ( បុណ្យឯករាជ្យជាតិ) is a national holiday observed annually in Cambodia on this date. The date celebrates Cambodia’s Declaration of Independence from France on 9th November 1953. I think of it as Be Careful What You Wish For Day.  The country could not have foreseen the horrors of the Khmer Rouge and the Pol Pot regime, whose legacy is still with us, that independence from France unleashed.  Independence from colonial power is certainly to be striven for, but the path must be trodden carefully and thoughtfully.  I will celebrate today as I have done for the past 2 years, but mindful of the dangers inherent in unthinking “freedom.” (All the photos here are mine).

France started controlling Cambodia in 1863. After being colonized for around 80 years, king/prince Norodom Sihanouk began claiming independence from France in 1949. In 1953, he was successful in gaining full independence, and France agreed to decolonize the whole country. Due to this accomplishment, Cambodian citizens view him as “the father of independence (ព្រះមហាវីរបុរសជាតិ – ព្រះបិតាឯករាជ្យជាតិ).”

Every year, Independence Day is a very special and happy day for the whole nation celebrated around the country, but the absolutely crucial one takes place at Independence Monument (វិមានឯករាជ្យ) in Phnom Penh. On that day, all the leaders and representatives of state organizations and public departments must participate and celebrate at the formal ceremony in the morning.

Usually the roads around the Independence Monument are closed to provide the space for the ceremony (and people like me (i.e.foreigners) are prohibited from getting close).  The whole ceremony is broadcast on national television and radio.

Every state palace is decorated with slogans related to the independence of Cambodia and with lights.

At night, there is a firework display in the Chatomuk River (ទន្លេចតុមុខ) located in front of the Royal Palace.

Here is a video for making pork belly and egg soup which is very popular in Cambodia – rather different from dishes you might find in a Cambodian restaurant.  Very much home cooking.

Oct 172019
 

Today is the birthday (1760) of Claude Henri de Rouvroy, comte de Saint-Simon, often referred to as Henri de Saint-Simon, a French political and economic theorist whose writing played a substantial role in the development of political theory, economics, sociology, and the philosophy of science. He created a political and economic ideology known as Saint-Simonianism that argued that the needs of an “industrial class,” which he also referred to as the working class, needed to be recognized and fulfilled to have an effective society and an efficient economy. Unlike  other theorists analyzing industrializing societies who conceived of the working class as manual laborers alone, Saint-Simon included all people in the class who were engaged in productive work that contributed to society, so that he included businesspeople, managers, scientists, bankers, etc. along with manual laborers and others. Saint-Simon argued that the primary threat to the needs of the industrial class was another class he referred to as the idling class, which included able people who preferred to be parasitic and benefit from the work of others while seeking to avoid doing work themselves. Saint-Simon stressed the need for recognition of the merit of the individual and the need for a hierarchy of merit in society and in the economy, such that society had hierarchical merit-based organizations of managers and scientists who were the decision-makers in government. He strongly criticized any expansion of government intervention into the economy beyond ensuring that there were no hindrances to productive work nor to reducing idleness in society, regarding intervention beyond these as too intrusive.

Saint-Simon is sometimes classed as a utopian socialist, which is unjust, but he did influence many who became such.  He also inspired the likes of John Stuart Mill, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, and Karl Marx.  It may be legitimately claimed that Saint-Simon founded a science of society (i.e. sociology) by being the first philosopher to recognize society as an entity in its own right, separate and separable from the individuals that make it up, and subject to its own laws and principles.

Saint-Simon’s personal life was strange and convoluted.  He was born in Paris as a French aristocrat. His grandfather’s cousin had been the Duke de Saint-Simon. From his youth he was highly ambitious. He ordered his valet to wake him every morning with, “Remember, monsieur le comte, that you have great things to do.” Among his early schemes was one to connect the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans by a canal, and another to construct a canal from Madrid to the sea. During the American Revolution, Saint-Simon fought for a period for the revolutionaries believing that their revolution signaled the beginning of a new era. At the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789, he quickly endorsed the revolutionary ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity. In the early years of the revolution, he devoted himself to organizing a large industrial structure in order to found a scientific school of improvement. He needed to raise some funds to achieve his objectives, which he did by land speculation. This was only possible in the first few years of the revolution because of the growing instability of the political situation in France, which prevented him from continuing his financial activities and indeed put his life at risk.

Saint-Simon and Talleyrand planned to profiteer during The Terror by buying the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, stripping its roof of metal, and selling the metal for scrap. He was imprisoned on suspicion of engaging in counter-revolution activities. He was released in 1794 at the end of the Reign of Terror. After he recovered his freedom, he discovered he was immensely rich due to currency depreciation, but his fortune was subsequently stolen by his business partner, and he spent most of the rest of his life in dire poverty, being supported sporadically by friends and relatives, and spending some time institutionalized.

In 1823, disappointed by the lack of results of his writing (he had hoped they would guide society towards social improvement), he attempted suicide in despair. Remarkably, he shot himself in the head six times without succeeding in killing himself – only in losing his sight in one eye. Very late in his career, he did link up with a few ardent disciples, but died in 1825. He was buried in Le Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

Marie Antoine (Antonin) Carême was a younger contemporary of Saint-Simon’s and can be claimed to be as much of an innovator in French cuisine as Saint-Simon was in social science. Carême was abandoned by his parents in Paris in 1794 (aged 10) at the height of the French Revolution, and so worked as a kitchen boy at a cheap Parisian chophouse in exchange for room and board. In 1798, he was formally apprenticed to Sylvain Bailly, a famous pâtissier with a shop near the Palais-Royal. From there he went from height to height, being celebrated throughout Paris as the greatest pâtissier of all time.  Engravings of his confections are legendary.  Later in life he established culinary rules that eventually became entrenched in French haute cuisine.  Here’s a gallery for you:

Oct 162019
 

The Palace of Westminster, the medieval royal palace used as the home of the British parliament, was largely destroyed by fire on this date in 1834. The blaze was caused by the burning of small wooden tally sticks which had been used as part of the accounting procedures of the Exchequer until 1826. The sticks were disposed of carelessly in the two furnaces under the House of Lords, which caused a chimney fire in the two flues that ran under the floor of the Lords’ chamber and up through the walls.

The Palace of Westminster originally dates from the early 11th century when Canute the Great built his royal residence on the north side of the River Thames. Successive kings added to the complex: Edward the Confessor built Westminster Abbey; William the Conqueror began building a new palace; his son, William Rufus, continued the process, which included Westminster Hall, started in 1097; Henry III built new buildings for the Exchequer—the taxation and revenue gathering department of the country—in 1270 and the Court of Common Pleas, along with the Court of King’s Bench and Court of Chancery. By 1245 there was a King’s throne  in the palace, which signified that the building was at the center of English royal administration. In 1295 Westminster was the venue for the Model Parliament, the first English representative assembly, summoned by Edward I; during his reign he called sixteen parliaments, which sat either in the Painted Chamber or the White Chamber. By 1332 the barons (representing the titled classes) and burgesses and citizens (representing the commons) began to meet separately, and by 1377 the two bodies were entirely detached. In 1512 a fire destroyed part of the royal palace complex and Henry VIII moved the royal residence to the nearby Palace of Whitehall, although Westminster still retained its status as a royal palace. In 1547 Henry’s son, Edward VI, provided St Stephen’s Chapel for the Commons to use as their debating chamber. The House of Lords met in the medieval hall of the Queen’s Chamber, before moving to the Lesser Hall in 1801. Over the three centuries from 1547 the palace was enlarged and altered, becoming a warren of wooden passages and stairways.

By 1834 the palace complex had been further developed. The potential dangers of the building were apparent to some, as no fire stops or party walls were present in the building to slow the progress of a fire. In the late 18th century a committee of MPs predicted that there would be a disaster if the palace caught fire. This was followed by a 1789 report from fourteen architects warning against the possibility of fire in the palace. Architect Sir John Soane again warned of the dangers in 1828, when he wrote that “the want of security from fire, the narrow, gloomy and unhealthy passages, and the insufficiency of the accommodations in this building are important objections which call loudly for revision and speedy amendment.” His report was again ignored.

Since medieval times the Exchequer had used tally sticks, pieces of carved, notched wood, normally willow, as part of their accounting procedures. The parliamentary historian Caroline Shenton has described the tally sticks as “roughly as long as the span of an index finger and thumb”. These sticks were split in two so that the two sides to an agreement had a record of the situation. Once the purpose of each tally had come to an end, they were routinely destroyed. By the end of the 18th century the usefulness of the tally system had likewise come to an end, and a 1782 Act of Parliament stated that all records should be on paper, not tallies. The Act also abolished sinecure positions in the Exchequer, but a clause in the act ensured it could only take effect once the remaining sinecure-holders had died or retired. The final sinecure-holder died in 1826 and the act came into force, although it took until 1834 for the antiquated procedures to be replaced. Charles Dickens, in a speech to the Administrative Reform Association, described the retention of the tallies for so long as an “obstinate adherence to an obsolete custom”; he also mocked the bureaucratic steps needed to implement change from wood to paper. He said that “all the red tape in the country grew redder at the bare mention of this bold and original conception.” By the time the replacement process had finished there were two cartloads of old tally sticks awaiting disposal.

In October 1834 Richard Weobley, the Clerk of Works, received instructions from Treasury officials to clear the old tally sticks while parliament was adjourned. He decided against giving the sticks away to parliamentary staff to use as firewood, and instead opted to burn them in the two heating furnaces of the House of Lords, directly below the peers’ chambers. Dickens later mocked the decision, commenting that “the sticks were housed in Westminster, and it would naturally occur to any intelligent person that nothing could be easier than to allow them to be carried away for fire-wood by the miserable people who lived in that neighbourhood. However, they never had been useful, and official routine required that they should never be, and so the order went out that they were to be privately and confidentially burnt.” The furnaces had been designed to burn coal—which gives off a high heat with little flame—and not wood, which burns with a high flame. The flues of the furnaces ran up the walls of the basement in which they were housed, under the floors of the Lords’ chamber, then up through the walls and out through the chimneys.

The process of destroying the tally sticks began at dawn on 16th October and continued throughout the day; two Irish laborers, Joshua Cross and Patrick Furlong, were assigned the task. Weobley checked in on the men throughout the day, claiming subsequently that, on his visits, both furnace doors were open, which allowed the two laborers to watch the flames, while the piles of sticks in both furnaces were only ever four inches (ten cm) high. Another witness to the events, Richard Reynolds, the firelighter in the Lords, later reported that he had seen Cross and Furlong throwing handfuls of tallies onto the fire—an accusation they both denied.

Those tending the furnaces were unaware that the heat from the fires had melted the copper lining of the flues and started a chimney fire. With the doors of the furnaces open, more oxygen was drawn into the furnaces, which ensured the fire burned more fiercely, and the flames driven farther up the flues than they should have been. The flues had been weakened over time by having footholds cut in them by the child chimney sweeps. Although these footholds would have been repaired as the child exited on finishing the cleaning, the fabric of the chimney was still weakened by the action. In October 1834 the chimneys had not yet had their annual sweep, and a considerable amount of clinker had built up inside the flues.

A strong smell of burning was present in the Lords’ chambers during the afternoon of 16th October, and at 4:00 pm two gentlemen tourists visiting to see the Armada tapestries that hung there were unable to view them properly because of the thick smoke. As they approached Black Rod’s box in the corner of the room, they felt heat from the floor coming through their boots. Shortly after 4:00 pm Cross and Furlong finished work, put the last few sticks into the furnaces—closing the doors as they did so—and left to go to the nearby Star and Garter public house.

Shortly after 5:00 pm, heat and sparks from a flue ignited the woodwork above. The first flames were spotted at 6:00 pm, under the door of the House of Lords, by the wife of one of the doorkeepers; she entered the chamber to see Black Rod’s box alight, and flames burning the curtains and wood panels, and raised the alarm. For 25 minutes the staff inside the palace initially panicked and then tried to deal with the blaze, but they did not call for assistance, or alert staff at the House of Commons, at the other end of the palace complex.

At 6:30 pm there was a flashover, a giant ball of flame that The Manchester Guardian reported “burst forth in the centre of the House of Lords, … and burnt with such fury that in less than half an hour, the whole interior … presented … one entire mass of fire.” The explosion, and the resultant burning roof, lit up the skyline, and could be seen by the royal family in Windsor Castle, 20 miles (32 km) away. Alerted by the flames, help arrived from nearby parish fire engines; as there were only two hand-pump engines on the scene, they were of limited use. They were joined at 6:45 pm by 100 soldiers from the Grenadier Guards, some of whom helped the police in forming a large square in front of the palace to keep the growing crowd back from the firefighters; some of the soldiers assisted the firemen in pumping the water supply from the engines.

The London Fire Engine Establishment (LFEE)—an organization run by several insurance companies in the absence of a publicly run brigade—was alerted at about 7:00 pm, by which time the fire had spread from the House of Lords. The head of the LFEE, James Braidwood, brought with him 12 engines and 64 firemen, even though the Palace of Westminster was a collection of uninsured government buildings, and therefore fell outside the protection of the LFEE. Some of the firefighters ran their hoses down to the Thames. The river was at low tide and it meant a poor supply of water for the engines on the river side of the building.

By the time Braidwood and his men had arrived on the scene, the House of Lords had been destroyed. A strong south-westerly breeze had fanned the flames along the wood-paneled and narrow corridors into St Stephen’s Chapel. Shortly after his arrival the roof of the chapel collapsed; the resultant noise was so loud that the watching crowds thought there had been a Gunpowder Plot-style explosion. According to The Manchester Guardian, “By half-past seven o’clock the engines were brought to play upon the building both from the river and the land side, but the flames had by this time acquired such a predominance that the quantity of water thrown upon them produced no visible effect.” Braidwood saw it was too late to save most of the palace, so elected to focus his efforts on saving Westminster Hall, and he had his firemen cut away the part of the roof that connected the hall to the already burning Speaker’s House, and then soak the hall’s roof to prevent it catching fire. In doing so he saved the medieval structure at the expense of those parts of the complex already ablaze.

The glow from the burning, and the news spreading quickly round London, ensured that crowds continued to turn up in increasing numbers to watch the spectacle. Among them was a reporter for The Times, who noticed that there were “vast gangs of the light-fingered gentry in attendance, who doubtless reaped a rich harvest, and [who] did not fail to commit several desperate outrages”. The crowds were so thick that they blocked Westminster Bridge in their attempts to get a good view, and many took to the river in whatever craft they could find or hire in order to watch better. A crowd of thousands congregated in Parliament Square to witness the spectacle, including the Prime Minister—Lord Melbourne—and many of his cabinet. Thomas Carlyle, the Scottish philosopher, was one of those present that night, and he later recalled that:

The crowd was quiet, rather pleased than otherwise; whew’d and whistled when the breeze came as if to encourage it: “there’s a flare-up (what we call shine) for the House o’ Lords.”—”A judgment for the Poor-Law Bill!”—”There go their hacts” (acts)! Such exclamations seemed to be the prevailing ones. A man sorry I did not anywhere see.

This view was doubted by Sir John Hobhouse, the First Commissioner of Woods and Forests, who oversaw the upkeep of royal buildings, including the Palace of Westminster. He wrote that “the crowd behaved very well; only one man was taken up for huzzaing when the flames increased. … on the whole, it was impossible for any large assemblage of people to behave better.”

Many of the MPs and peers present, including Lord Palmerston, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, helped break down doors to rescue books and other treasures, aided by passers-by; the Deputy Serjeant-at-Arms had to break into a burning room to save the parliamentary mace. At 9:00 pm three Guards regiments arrived on the scene. Although the troops assisted in crowd control, their arrival was also a reaction of the authorities to fears of a possible insurrection, for which the destruction of parliament could have signaled the first step. The three European revolutions of 1830— French, Belgian and Polish —were still of concern, as were the unrest from the Captain Swing riots, and the recent passing of the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834, which altered the relief provided by the workhouse system.

At around 1:30 am the tide had risen enough to allow the LFEE’s floating fire engine to arrive on the scene. Braidwood had called for the engine five hours previously, but the low tide had hampered its progress from its downriver mooring at Rotherhithe. Once it arrived it was effective in bringing under control the fire that had taken hold in the Speaker’s House. Braidwood regarded Westminster Hall as safe from destruction by 1:45 am, partly because of the actions of the floating fire engine, but also because a change in the direction of the wind kept the flames away from the Hall. Once the crowd realized that the hall was safe they began to disperse, and had left by around 3:00 am, by which time the fire near the Hall was nearly out, although it continued to burn towards the south of the complex. The firemen remained in place until about 5:00 am, when they had extinguished the last remaining flames and the police and soldiers had been replaced by new shifts.

I have written posts about the old parliament here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/house-of-commons/ and the new building here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/big-ben/ with suitable recipes. They would work for today also but in addition I have chosen a recipe for a dessert known as Westminster Fool, which seems like a suitable name for a dish celebrating the destruction of a great Westminster monument through multiple acts of sheer folly.  If you are familiar with historic English cooking, you will know that a fool is a precursor of trifle, made mostly of custard and fruit with a bread filler.  Here’s Hannah Glasse’s recipe from her 1747 compendium, The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy.

A Westminster Fool

Take a penny-loaf, cut it in thin slices, wet them with sack, lay them in the bottom of a dish, take a quart of cream, beat up six eggs, two spoonfuls of rose-water, a blade of mace, some grated nutmeg, sweeten to your taste. Put all into a sauce-pan, and keep stirring all the time over a slow fire for fear of curdling. When it begins to be thick, pour it into a dish over the bread, stand it till it is cold, and serve it up.

Sep 292019
 

Today is the birthday (1758) of Horatio Nelson, aka 1st Viscount Nelson, aka 1st Duke of Bronté, KB,  a Royal Navy officer still well known for his inspirational leadership, grasp of strategy, and unconventional tactics, which together resulted in a number of decisive British naval victories, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars. He was wounded several times in combat, losing the sight in one eye in Corsica at the age of 36, as well as most of his right arm in the unsuccessful attempt to conquer Santa Cruz de Tenerife when he was 40 years of age. He was shot and killed at the age of 47 during his final victory at the Battle of Trafalgar near the Spanish port city of Cádiz in 1805.

Nelson was born into a moderately prosperous Norfolk family and joined the navy through the influence of his uncle, Maurice Suckling, a high-ranking naval officer himself. Nelson rose rapidly through the ranks and served with leading naval commanders of the period before obtaining his own command at the age of 20 in 1778. He developed a reputation in the service through his personal valor and firm grasp of tactics but suffered periods of illness and unemployment after the end of the American War of Independence. The outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars allowed Nelson to return to service, where he was particularly active in the Mediterranean. He fought in several minor engagements off Toulon and was noteworthy in the capture of Corsica and subsequent diplomatic duties with the Italian states. In 1797, he distinguished himself while in command of HMS Captain at the Battle of Cape St Vincent.

Shortly after the battle, Nelson took part in the Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, where the attack was defeated and the loss of his right arm forced him to return to England to recuperate. The following year he won a decisive victory over the French at the Battle of the Nile and remained in the Mediterranean to support the Kingdom of Naples against a French invasion. In 1801 he was dispatched to the Baltic and won another victory, this time over the Danes at the Battle of Copenhagen (where he legendarily put his telescope to his blind eye and refused to take account of the admiral’s signal to discontinue action – “turning a blind eye”).  He subsequently commanded the blockade of the French and Spanish fleets at Toulon and, after their escape, chased them to the West Indies and back but failed to bring them to battle. After a brief return to England he took over the Cádiz blockade in 1805. On 21st October 1805, the Franco-Spanish fleet came out of port, and Nelson’s fleet engaged them at the Battle of Trafalgar. The battle was Britain’s greatest naval victory but during the action Nelson, aboard HMS Victory, was fatally wounded by a French sharpshooter. His body was brought back to England where he was accorded a state funeral.

Nelson’s death at Trafalgar secured his position as one of Britain’s most heroic figures. The significance of the victory and his death during the battle led to his signal, “England expects that every man will do his duty”, being regularly quoted, paraphrased and referenced up to the modern day. Numerous monuments, including Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, London, and the Nelson Monument in Edinburgh, have been created in his memory and his legacy remains highly influential.

Trafalgar was a major turning point in the Napoleonic Wars because without a fleet, Napoleon could not defend his flotilla of boats packed with soldiers and ready to cross the English Channel to invade England. Britain, by contrast, with its complete control of the seas, could easily dispatch troops and materiel to the continent at will. After Trafalgar, Napoleon had to shift his goals substantially, and, in hindsight, his ultimate doom was cast.

As a teen I was a huge naval buff, with no end of interest in Nelson. It’s rather sad that I could have written full essays on all the naval battles of the Napoleonic Wars, yet not one came up on my O-level or A-level history papers which covered the period.  Fictional captains such as Horatio Hornblower and Jack Aubrey who are thinly disguised versions of Nelson in some ways, while they replicate his naval skills, are not at all like him temperamentally. His narcissism was well known to all, and may well have caused his demise in battle.  He had several prominent stars on the  breast of his uniform, and going into battle he refused to cover them up – making him a clear target on the quarterdeck. Early 19th century muskets were not terribly accurate, but it was only a matter of time before a marksman aloft in an enemy ship picked him off.  If he had worn a plain blue coat, he might well have been spared.

His publicly conducted affair with Lady Hamilton while both he and she were married was a notorious scandal which he made no effort to hide.  My take on the matter is that his marriage to Fanny, which was childless, was an expedience, and his affair with Lady Hamilton, which produced a daughter, was genuine love.  His lack of tact or discretion in regards to the affair were almost certainly an outcome of his self-assured vanity.

Before Trafalgar, Nelson put in a special order for raisins and suet, strongly suggesting that the sailors had spotted dick for dinner before heading into battle.  You’ll find the recipe here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/trafalgar-day/  where I celebrate Trafalgar itself.  I have also made mention many times of the rum ration in the Royal Navy, so here’s a classic West Indies rum cake.

Sep 272019
 

Today is Pchum Ben ( បុណ្យភ្ជុំបិណ្ឌ) in Cambodia, a major religious festival and public holiday, culminating in celebrations on the 15th day of the tenth month in the Khmer calendar, at the end of the Buddhist lent, Vassa.

The day is a time when many Cambodians pay their respects to deceased relatives of up to 7 generations. Monks chant the suttas in Pali language overnight (continuously, without sleeping) in prelude to the gates of hell opening, an event that is presumed to occur once a year, and is linked to the cosmology of King Yama originating in the Pali Canon. During this period, the gates of hell are opened and ghosts of the dead (preta) are presumed to be especially active. In order to combat this, food-offerings are made to benefit them, some of these ghosts having the opportunity to end their period of purgation, whereas others are imagined to leave hell temporarily, to then return to endure more suffering; without much explanation, relatives who are not in hell (who are in heaven or otherwise reincarnated) are also generally imagined to benefit from the ceremonies.

In temples adhering to canonical protocol, the offering of food itself is made from the laypeople to the (living) Buddhist monks, thus generating “merit” that indirectly benefits the dead; however, in many temples, this is either accompanied by or superseded by food offerings that are imagined to directly transfer from the living to the dead, such as rice-balls thrown through the air, or rice thrown into an empty field. Anthropologist Satoru Kobayashi observed that these two models of merit-offering to the dead are in competition in rural Cambodia, with some temples preferring the greater canonicity of the former model, and others embracing the popular (if unorthodox) assumption that mortals can “feed” ghosts with physical food.

Pchum Ben is considered unique to Cambodia, however, there are merit-transference ceremonies that can be closely compared to it in Sri Lanka (i.e., offering food to the ghosts of the dead) and in its broad outlines, it even resembles the Taiwanese Ghost Festival (especially in its links to the notion of a calendrical opening of the gates of hell, King Yama, and so on).

Num ansom – sticky rice cooked in bamboo leaves is a common dish served at this time in Cambodia. The following video is in Khmer but you may get the basic idea.  Also, I have included a link to a step-by-step recipe in English. Between the two, you should be able to figure it out.

https://www.atraveldiary.com/cambodian-dessert-recipe-num-ansom-chek/

Sep 232019
 

Today is Kyrgyz Language Day, a celebration initiated by the government of Kyrgyzstan to encourage use of the language in the aftermath of Soviet occupation when there was a concerted effort to replace local languages in nations within the Soviet Union with Russian. I gave an account of Kyrgyzstan in this post http://www.bookofdaystales.com/kyrgyzstan/ when I was there last year for the World Nomad Games – another government effort to promote Kyrgyz national and ethnic identity.

Kyrgyz is a Turkic language spoken by about four million people in Kyrgyzstan as well as China, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and Russia. Kyrgyz is a member of the Kyrgyz–Kipchak subgroup of the Kypchak languages and modern-day language convergence has resulted in an increasing degree of mutual intelligibility between Kazakh and Kyrgyz. Kyrgyz was originally written in Turkic runes, gradually replaced by a Perso-Arabic alphabet (in use until 1928 in USSR, still in use in China). Between 1928 and 1940 a Latin-script alphabet, the Uniform Turkic Alphabet, was used. In 1940 due to general Soviet policy, a Cyrillic alphabet eventually became common and has remained so to this day, though some Kyrgyz still use the Arabic alphabet. When Kyrgyzstan became independent following the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, there was a popular idea among some Kyrgyzstanis to switch to the Latin script, which is still common in some small pockets of the countryside, and to make the Latin script the country’s official national script (using a version closer to the Turkish alphabet rather than the original alphabet of 1928–40). Although the plan has not yet been implemented, it remains in occasional discussion.

The first people certainly known by the name Kyrgyz are mentioned in early medieval Chinese sources as northern neighbors and sometime subjects of the Turkic steppe empire based in the area of Mongolia. The Kyrgyz people were involved in the international trade route system popularly known as the Silk Road no later than the late 8th  century. By the time of the destruction of the Uighur Empire in 840 CE, they spoke a Turkic language little different from Old Turkic, and wrote it in the same runic script. After their victory over the Uyghurs, the Kyrgyz did not occupy the Mongolian steppe, and their history for several centuries after this period is little known, though they are mentioned in medieval geographical works as living not far from their present location. In the period of tsarist administration (1876–1917), the Kazakhs and the Kyrgyz both were called Kyrgyz, with what are now the Kyrgyz subdenominated when necessary as Kara-Kyrgyz “black Kyrgyz” (alternatively known as “The Great Kyrgyz”).

In the early 1990s, the Akayev government pursued an aggressive policy of introducing Kyrgyz as the official language, forcing the remaining European population to use Kyrgyz in most public situations. Public pressure to enforce this change was sufficiently strong that a Russian member of president Akayev’s staff created a public scandal in 1992 by threatening to resign to dramatize the pressure for “Kyrgyzification” of the non-native population. A 1992 law called for the conduct of all public business to be converted fully to Kyrgyz by 1997. However, in March 1996, Kyrgyzstan’s parliament adopted a resolution making Russian an official language alongside Kyrgyz, marking a reversal of the earlier sentiment. Substantial pressure from Russia was a strong factor in this change, which was part of a general rapprochement with Russia urged by Akayev. Nowadays, Russian remains the dominant language in the main cities, such as Bishkek, while Kyrgyz continues losing ground, especially among the younger generations.

I gave a recipe for Beshbarmak in the post I cited. Now I will turn to plov or paloo (палоо), a rice based dish, versions of which can be found all over Asia. The Kyrgyz version of plov has meat and carrots with dried fruits and nuts occasionally added, as in some other Central Asian countries such as Tajikistan. Carrots are not commonly used to make plov other than in Central Asia. Carrots and meat dominate in Kyrgyz plov. The Central Asian plov is almost always cooked with fatty chunks of meat and bones. Generally red meat is used (mutton or beef) but chicken plov is also found. Small warning: getting plov right takes decades of experience. Simpler to take a trip to Bishkek, where wonderful plov is plentiful.  I was instructed by a local cook.

For authentic Kyrgyz plov the variety of rice used is probably difficult to find in Europe. The rice is colored brick red, when you wash it the water turns red and streaks of red remain on the rice, even after cooking. The rice is thicker than long grain. Its thickness is comparable to calrose/arborio but longer and not as starchy. The rice remains firm even after cooking.

This recipe is more about proportions than absolute quantities.  That is, the ingredients are for ONE (generous portion, that is, 1 part meat, 1 part carrots, and two parts rice, by weight. Typically, plov is made in giant batches to feed an army.  The rice used is grown locally and has a special red tinge.  Good luck finding it outside of Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyz Plov

Ingredients

100-150 grams beef or mutton cut into 2cm cubes
1 large carrot, cut into strips
½ medium sized onion, peeled and diced
1 large clove garlic, peeled and chopped
50ml rice, thoroughly washed
75 ml water
2 tablespoons oil
salt

Instructions

Heat the oil over a medium flame in a large cooking pot. Add the meat, carrots, onion and salt to taste and cook until the meat has browned, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Add the water and garlic, cover, and gently simmer for 10-15 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium low, add the rice and cook covered until the rice is done, about 25-30 minutes. Writing the last instruction is simple; getting it right is not.

Serve a large ‘mountain’ of plov scattered with chunks of meaty bones and a whole bulb of steamed garlic sitting on top

Sep 152019
 

Today is the birthday (1890) of Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie (née Miller) who is generally known for her detective fiction, particularly those works revolving around her fictional detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. I have posted on the world’s longest-running play that she wrote, The Mousetrap, http://www.bookofdaystales.com/mousetrap/ and also on Murder on the Orient Express https://www.bookofdaystales.com/orient-express/ . Therefore, I am going to limit my remarks here to her mysterious disappearance in 1926, with bits of context to flesh out the post. I will note that Guinness World Records lists Christie as the best-selling novelist of all time. Her novels have sold roughly 2 billion copies, and her estate claims that her works come third in the rankings of the world’s most-widely published books, behind only Shakespeare’s works and the Bible. According to Index Translationum, she remains the most-translated individual author, having been translated into at least 103 languages. And Then There Were None is Christie’s best-selling novel, with 100 million sales to date, making it the world’s best-selling mystery ever, and one of the best-selling books of all time. I wonder who remembers the original title? It comes from the nursery rhyme that is the backbone of the murders in the story which was not called Ten Little Indians originally (the name the book and subsequent play had for a period).  I am old enough to remember.

Christie was born into a wealthy upper-middle-class family in Torquay, Devon. Before marrying and starting a family in London, she had served in a Devon hospital during the First World War, tending to troops coming back from the trenches. She was initially an unsuccessful writer with six consecutive rejections, but this changed when The Mysterious Affair at Styles, featuring Hercule Poirot, was published in 1920. During the Second World War, she worked as a pharmacy assistant at University College Hospital, London, acquiring a good knowledge of poisons which feature in many of her novels (and in the recipe at the end of this post).

She met Archibald Christie (1889–1962) at a dance given by Lord and Lady Clifford at Ugbrooke, about 12 miles (19 kilometres) from Torquay. Archie was born in India, the son of a barrister in the Indian Civil Service. He was an army officer who was seconded to the Royal Flying Corps in April 1913. The couple quickly fell in love. Upon learning that he would be stationed in Farnborough, Archie proposed marriage, and Agatha accepted. With the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, Archie was sent to France to fight. They married on the afternoon of Christmas Eve 1914 at Emmanuel Church, Clifton, Bristol, which was close to the home of his parents, while Archie was on home leave.

Rising through the ranks, he was eventually stationed back to Britain in September 1918 as a colonel in the Air Ministry. Agatha involved herself in the war effort. After joining the Voluntary Aid Detachment in 1914, she attended to wounded soldiers at a hospital in Torquay as an unpaid nurse. She performed 3,400 hours of unpaid work between October 1914 and December 1916. On qualifying as an “apothecaries’ assistant” in 1917 and working as a dispenser, she earned £16 a year until the end of her service in September 1918. After the war, Agatha and Archie Christie settled in a flat at 5 Northwick Terrace in St. John’s Wood, northwest London.

Christie had long been a fan of detective novels, having enjoyed Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White and The Moonstone, as well as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s early Sherlock Holmes stories. She wrote her own detective novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, featuring Hercule Poirot, a former Belgian police officer noted for his twirly large “magnificent moustaches” and egg-shaped head. Poirot had taken refuge in Britain after Germany invaded Belgium. Christie’s inspiration for the character stemmed from real Belgian refugees who were living in Torquay and the Belgian soldiers whom she helped to treat as a volunteer nurse in Torquay during the First World War. She began working on The Mysterious Affair at Styles in 1916, writing most of it on Dartmoor. Her original manuscript was rejected by such publishing companies as Hodder and Stoughton and Methuen. After keeping the submission for several months, John Lane at The Bodley Head offered to accept it, provided that Christie change the ending. She did so, and signed a contract which she later felt was exploitative. It was finally published in 1920.

Christie, meanwhile, settled into married life, giving birth to her only child, Rosalind Margaret Hicks, in August 1919 at Ashfield, where the couple spent much of their time, having few friends in London. Archie left the Air Force at the end of the war and started working in the City financial sector at a relatively low salary. Her second novel, The Secret Adversary (1922), featured a new detective couple Tommy and Tuppence, again published by The Bodley Head. It earned her £50. Her third novel, Murder on the Links (1923), again featured Poirot, as did short stories commissioned by Bruce Ingram, editor of The Sketch magazine. In order to tour the world promoting the British Empire Exhibition, the couple left their daughter Rosalind with Agatha’s mother and sister. They traveled to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Hawaii.

In late 1926, Archie asked Agatha for a divorce. He had fallen in love with Nancy Neele, who had been a friend of Major Belcher, director of the British Empire Mission, on the promotional tour a few years earlier. On 3rd December 1926, the Christies quarreled and Archie left their house, in Sunningdale, Berkshire, to spend the weekend with his mistress in Godalming, Surrey. At around 9:45 pm, Christie disappeared from her home, leaving behind a letter for her secretary saying that she was going to Yorkshire. Her car, a Morris Cowley, was found at Newlands Corner, perched above a chalk quarry, with an expired driving license and clothes.

The disappearance caused a public outcry. The home secretary, William Joynson-Hicks, pressured police, and a newspaper offered a £100 reward. Over a thousand police officers, 15,000 volunteers, and several aeroplanes scoured the rural landscape. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle gave a spirit medium one of Christie’s gloves to find her. Crime novelist Dorothy L. Sayers visited the house in Surrey and used the scenario in her book Unnatural Death. Christie’s disappearance was featured on the front page of The New York Times. Despite the extensive manhunt, she was not found for 10 days. On 14th December 1926, she was found at the Swan Hydropathic Hotel (now the Old Swan Hotel) in Harrogate, Yorkshire, registered as Mrs Teresa Neele (the surname of her husband’s lover) from Cape Town.

Christie’s autobiography makes no reference to her disappearance. Two doctors diagnosed her as suffering from amnesia, yet opinion remains divided as to why she disappeared.  She was known to be in a depressed state from literary overwork, her mother’s death earlier that year, and her husband’s infidelity. Public reaction at the time was largely negative, supposing a publicity stunt or an attempt to frame her husband for murder.

I was not aware of Christie’s disappearance episode until it was featured on Dr Who in “The Unicorn and the Wasp” (17 May 2008), with Fenella Woolgar, in which her disappearance is the result of her suffering a temporary breakdown owing to a brief psychic link being formed between her and an alien wasp called the Vespiform.  A strange way to be introduced to history, but it did make me look up historical references. I am not a big Christie fan, but I imagine that her disappearance is old news to those who are, and speculation around it is endless.  I’ll leave that to you.

French writer Anna Martinetti  wrote the cookbook Creams and Punishments based on the works of Agatha Christie. In the collection are recipes for dishes in which the protagonists of novels and stories of Agatha Christie added the same ingredient – poison. Here is a video for a version of fish in oil from the novel Sad Cypress, a  dish to which the murderer added strychnine. I’d be inclined to leave it off your ingredient list.