Feb 202019
 

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti published Manifeste du futurisme (Manifesto of Futurism) in the newspaper Le Figaro on this date in 1909. Futurism was an avant-garde movement founded in Milan in 1909 by Marinetti, a poet, and he first launched the movement in an Italian version of the Manifesto, which he published for the first time on 5th February 1909 in La gazzetta dell’Emilia. The French edition, published today, was an expansion of the strictly Italian movement to a wider audience, so I have chosen it as the anniversary. Laying my cards on the table before proceeding, I find most of the stated aims of the movement absolutely repugnant, but it does have redeeming features. Futurism’s glorification of violence, I find especially appalling, as well as its naked nationalism. This is the crucible of Mussolini and fascism. Its intoxication with modernity, speed, and energy, I find more laughable than repellant, and its rejection of the past has good and bad qualities. I’m all for rejecting habit and custom if they simply act as comfortable cocoons, but the wholesale rejection of history is counterproductive. Futurism’s unapologetic misogyny is beneath contempt. As we shall also see when it comes to cooking – which futurists had a great deal to say about – newness simply for the sake of newness has its pitfalls.

Marinetti was soon joined by the painters Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carrà, Giacomo Balla, Gino Severini and the composer Luigi Russolo. Marinetti expressed a passionate loathing of everything old, especially political and artistic tradition. “We want no part of it, the past”, he wrote, “we the young and strong Futurists!” The Futurists admired speed, technology, youth and violence, the car, the airplane and the industrial city, all that represented the technological triumph of humanity over nature, and they were passionate nationalists. They repudiated the cult of the past and all imitation. Originality, however daring, however violent, bore “the smear of madness.” They dismissed art critics as useless, rebelled against harmony and good taste, swept away all the themes and subjects of all previous art, and gloried in science. Publishing manifestos was a feature of Futurism, and the Futurists (usually led or prompted by Marinetti) wrote them on many topics, including painting, architecture, religion, clothing and cooking.

The founding manifesto did not contain a positive artistic program, which the Futurists attempted to create in their subsequent Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting (1914). This committed them to a “universal dynamism”, which was to be directly represented in painting. Objects in reality were not separate from one another or from their surroundings: “The sixteen people around you in a rolling motor bus are in turn and at the same time one, ten four three; they are motionless and they change places. … The motor bus rushes into the houses which it passes, and in their turn the houses throw themselves upon the motor bus and are blended with it.”

The Futurist painters were slow to develop a distinctive style and subject matter. In 1910 and 1911 they used the techniques of Divisionism, breaking light and color down into a field of stippled dots and stripes, which had been originally created by Giovanni Segantini and others. Later, Severini, who lived in Paris, attributed their backwardness in style and method at this time to their distance from Paris, the center of avant-garde art. Severini was the first to come into contact with Cubism and following a visit to Paris in 1911 the Futurist painters adopted the methods of the Cubists. Cubism offered them a means of analysing energy in paintings and expressing dynamism.

They often painted modern urban scenes. Carrà’s (1910–11) is a large canvas representing events that the artist had himself been involved in, in 1904. The action of a police attack and riot is rendered energetically with diagonals and broken planes. His Leaving the Theatre (1910–11) uses a Divisionist technique to render isolated and faceless figures trudging home at night under street lights. Boccioni’s The City Rises (1910) represents scenes of construction and manual labor with a huge, rearing red horse in the center foreground, which workmen struggle to control. His States of Mind, in three large panels, The Farewell, Those who Go, and Those Who Stay, is considered a masterpiece of Futurism. The work attempts to convey feelings and sensations experienced in time, using new means of expression, including “lines of force”, which were intended to convey the directional tendencies of objects through space, “simultaneity”, which combined memories, present impressions and anticipation of future events, and “emotional ambience” in which the artist seeks by intuition to link sympathies between the exterior scene and interior emotion.

The Futurists aimed through their art thus to enable the viewer to apprehend the inner being of what they depicted. Boccioni developed these ideas at length in his book, Pittura scultura Futuriste: Dinamismo plastico (Futurist Painting Sculpture: Plastic Dynamism) (1914). Balla’s Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash (1912) exemplifies the Futurists’ insistence that the perceived world is in constant movement. The painting depicts a dog whose legs, tail and leash —and the feet of the woman walking it —have been multiplied to a blur of movement. It illustrates the precepts of the Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting that, “On account of the persistence of an image upon the retina, moving objects constantly multiply themselves; their form changes like rapid vibrations, in their mad career. Thus a running horse has not four legs, but twenty, and their movements are triangular.” His Rhythm of the Bow (1912) similarly depicts the movements of a violinist’s hand and instrument, rendered in rapid strokes within a triangular frame.

The adoption of Cubism determined the style of much subsequent Futurist painting, which Boccioni and Severini in particular continued to render in the broken colors and short brush-strokes of Divisionism. But Futurist painting differed in both subject matter and treatment from the quiet and static Cubism of Picasso, Braque and Gris. Although there were Futurist portraits (e.g. Carrà’s Woman with Absinthe (1911), Severini’s Self-Portrait (1912), and Boccioni’s Matter (1912)), it was the urban scene and vehicles in motion that typified Futurist painting—e.g. Boccioni’s The Street Enters the House (1911), Severini’s Dynamic Hieroglyph of the Bal Tabarin (1912), and Russolo’s Automobile at Speed (1913).

In 1912 and 1913, Boccioni turned to sculpture to translate into three dimensions his Futurist ideas. In Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913) he attempted to realize the relationship between the object and its environment, which was central to his theory of “dynamism”. The sculpture represents a striding figure, cast in bronze posthumously and exhibited in the Tate Modern. (It now appears on the national side of Italian 20 eurocent coins). He explored the theme further in Synthesis of Human Dynamism (1912), Speeding Muscles (1913) and Spiral Expansion of Speeding Muscles (1913). His ideas on sculpture were published in the Technical Manifesto of Futurist Sculpture. In 1915 Balla also turned to sculpture making abstract “reconstructions”, which were created out of various materials, were apparently moveable and even made noises. He said that, after making twenty pictures in which he had studied the velocity of automobiles, he understood that “the single plane of the canvas did not permit the suggestion of the dynamic volume of speed in depth … I felt the need to construct the first dynamic plastic complex with iron wires, cardboard planes, cloth and tissue paper, etc.”

In 1914, personal quarrels and artistic differences between the Milan group, around Marinetti, Boccioni, and Balla, and the Florence group, around Carrà, Ardengo Soffici (1879–1964) and Giovanni Papini (1881–1956), created a rift in Italian Futurism. The Florence group resented the dominance of Marinetti and Boccioni, whom they accused of trying to establish “an immobile church with an infallible creed”, and each group dismissed the other as passéiste (backward-looking).

Futurism had from the outset admired violence and was intensely patriotic. The Futurist Manifesto had declared, “We will glorify war —the world’s only hygiene —militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn for woman.” Although it owed much of its character and some of its ideas to radical political movements, it was not much involved in politics until the autumn of 1913. Then, fearing the re-election of Giolitti, Marinetti published a political manifesto. In 1914 the Futurists began to campaign actively against the Austro-Hungarian empire, which still controlled some Italian territories, and Italian neutrality between the major powers. In September, Boccioni, seated in the balcony of the Teatro dal Verme in Milan, tore up an Austrian flag and threw it into the audience, while Marinetti waved an Italian flag. When Italy entered the First World War in 1915, many Futurists enlisted. The experience of the war affected several Futurists, particularly Marinetti, who fought in the mountains of Trentino at the border of Italy and Austria-Hungary, actively engaging in propaganda. The combat experience also influenced Futurist music.

The outbreak of war disguised the fact that Italian Futurism had come to an end. The Florence group had formally acknowledged their withdrawal from the movement by the end of 1914. Boccioni produced only one war picture and was killed in 1916. Severini painted some significant war pictures in 1915 (e.g. War, Armored Train, and Red Cross Train), but in Paris turned towards Cubism and post-war was associated with the Return to Order.

After the war, Marinetti revived the movement. This revival was called il secondo Futurismo (Second Futurism) by writers in the 1960s. The art historian Giovanni Lista has classified Futurism by decades: “Plastic Dynamism” for the first decade, “Mechanical Art” for the 1920s, “Aeroaesthetics” for the 1930s.

The Futurists had a great to say about cooking and dining. The Futurist movement recognized that people “think, dream and act according to what they eat and drink” so cooking and eating needed to become subservient to the proper aesthetic experience that Futurism favored. Revolutionary in its expectations of overturning set patterns, some of its more interesting ideas for the realm of cuisine were:

  • No more pasta, as it causes lassitude, pessimism and lack of passion
  • Perfect meals requiring originality and harmony in table setting, including all implements, food aesthetics and tastes, and absolute originality in the food
  • Sculpted foods, including meats whose main appeal is to the eye and imagination
  • Abolition of the knife and fork
  • Use of perfumes to enhance the tasting experience

The Manifesto of Futurist Cooking also proposed that the way in which meals were served be fundamentally changed. For example:

  • Some food on the table would not be eaten, but only experienced by the eyes and nose
  • Food would arrive rapidly and contain many flavors, but only a few mouthfuls in size
  • All political discussion and speeches would be forbidden
  • Music and poetry would be forbidden except during certain intervals

A multi-course meal featured in Marinetti’s The Futurist Cookbook he called a tactile dinner. Pajamas have been prepared for the dinner, each one covered with a different material such as sponge, cork, sandpaper, or felt. As the guests arrive, each puts on a pair of the pajamas. Once all have arrived and are dressed in pajamas, they are taken to an unlit, empty room. Without being able to see, each guest chooses a dinner partner according to their tactile impression. The guests then enter the dining room, which consists of tables for two, and discover the partner they have selected.

The meal begins. The first course is a ‘polyrhythmic salad,’ which consists of a box containing a bowl of undressed lettuce leaves, dates and grapes. The box has a crank on the left side. Without using cutlery, the guests eat with their right hand while turning the crank with their left. This produces music to which the waiters dance until the course is finished.

The second course is ‘magic food’, which is served in small bowls covered with tactile materials. The bowl is held in the left hand while the right picks out balls made of caramel and filled with different ingredients such as dried fruits, raw meat, garlic, mashed banana, chocolate, or pepper. The guests cannot guess what flavor they will encounter next.

The third course is ‘tactile vegetable garden,’ which is a plate of cooked and raw green vegetables without dressing. The guest eats the vegetables without the use of their hands, instead burying their face in the plate of vegetables, feeling the sensation of the greens on their face and lips. Each time a guest raises their head to chew, the waiters spray their face with perfume.

Here is a video to give you some idea:

 

Feb 192019
 

Today is the birthday (1594) of Henry Frederick Stuart, prince of Wales KG, the elder son of James VI of Scotland and I of England. Henry was in line to be the king of England and Scotland, but he died at age 18, probably of typhoid fever, so his younger brother, Charles, ascended the throne when James died. We all know that Charles went on to challenge Parliament, initiate a civil war, and had his head chopped off as a prelude to the first and only English republic. Henry might have ascended as Henry IX had he lived, and history might have taken a radically different course. Henry was not the stubborn hothead that his brother was. Hence my title – What Might Have Been?

The prince’s name derives from his grandfathers: Henry Stuart (Lord Darnley), and Frederick II of Denmark. Prince Henry was born at Stirling Castle, Scotland and became duke of Rothesay, earl of Carrick, baron of Renfrew, Lord of the Isles and prince and great steward of Scotland automatically on his birth. Henry’s baptism on 30th August 1594 was celebrated with complex theatrical entertainments written by poet William Fowler and a ceremony in a new Chapel Royal at Stirling purpose-built by William Schaw. His father placed him in the care of John Erskine, earl of Mar at Stirling Castle, out of the care of the boy’s mother, because James worried that the queen’s Catholicism might affect the son. Although the child’s removal caused enormous tension between Anne and James, Henry remained under the care of Mar family until 1603, when James became king of England and his family moved south.

One of his tutors until he went to England was Sir George Lauder of the Bass, a Privy Counsellor and he was also tutored in music by Alfonso Ferrabosco the younger. Henry’s tutor Adam Newton continued to serve him in England, and some Scottish servants from Stirling were retained, including poet David Murray. The king greatly preferred the role of schoolmaster to that of father, and he wrote texts for the schooling of his children. James directed that Henry’s household “should rather imitate a College than a Court.” Henry passionately engaged in such physical pursuits as hawking, hunting, jousting and fencing, and from a young age studied naval and military affairs and national issues, about which he often disagreed with his father. He also disapproved of the way his father conducted the royal court, disliked Robert Carr, a favorite of his father, and esteemed Sir Walter Raleigh, wishing him to be released from the Tower of London.

The prince’s popularity rose so high that it threatened his father. Relations between the two could be tense, and on occasion surfaced in public. At one point, the two were hunting near Royston when James criticized his son for lacking enthusiasm for the chase, and Henry initially moved to strike his father with a cane, but rode off. Most of the hunting party then followed the son.

Henry is said to have disliked his younger brother, Charles, and to have teased him, although this derives from only one anecdote: when Charles was nine years of age, Henry snatched the hat off a bishop and put it on the younger child’s head, then told his younger brother that when he became king he would make Charles archbishop of Canterbury, and then Charles would have a long robe to hide his ugly rickety legs. Charles stamped on the cap and had to be dragged off in tears.

With his father’s accession to the throne of England in 1603, Henry at once became duke of Cornwall. In 1610 he was further invested as prince of Wales and earl of Chester, thus for the first time uniting the six automatic and two traditional Scottish and English titles held by heirs-apparent to the two thrones. As a young man, Henry showed great promise and was beginning to be active in leadership matters. Among his activities, he was responsible for the reassignment of Sir Thomas Dale to the Virginia Company of London’s struggling colony in North America.

Henry died from typhoid fever at the age of 18, during the celebrations that led up to his sister Elizabeth’s wedding. (The diagnosis can be made with reasonable certainty from written records of the post-mortem examination, although at the time there were rumors of poisoning.) He was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Prince Henry’s death was widely regarded as a tragedy for the nation. His body lay in state at St. James’s Palace for four weeks. On 7th December, over a thousand people walked in the mile-long cortège to Westminster Abbey to hear a two-hour sermon delivered by George Abbot, the archbishop of Canterbury. As Henry’s body was lowered into the ground, his chief servants broke their staves of office at the grave. An insane man ran naked through the mourners, yelling that he was the boy’s ghost. Immediately after Henry’s death, his brother Charles fell ill, but he was the chief mourner at the funeral, which his father, king James (who detested funerals) refused to attend.

Henry’s titles of duke of Cornwall and duke of Rothesay passed to Charles, who until then had lived in Henry’s shadow. Four years later Charles, by then 16 years old, was created prince of Wales and earl of Chester. How different might have British history been had Henry lived, and, especially, if he had produced legitimate heirs? In more ways than I care to count, the Stuarts after James VI and I were a fiasco. Charles led the country into civil war, his son Charles was a profligate, and his second son, James, had to flee the country in disgrace. His replacement, William III, created immense problems in Ireland, and childless Anne barely held on to be replaced by the German Hanoverians whose passionless sterility is still with us. Could Henry have breathed new life into the monarchy? Maybe I should write a fictional historical novel.

Meanwhile, the Stuart age saw the rise in popularity in chocolate from the New World. The first chocolate houses in London opened in the seventeenth century, and rivalled the new fangled coffee houses (and tea drinking) – all three becoming fads in Stuart England. Chocolate was primarily a drink until the 19th century, but this 17th century recipe more closely resembles a dessert than a drink.

To make chocolate cream;
Take a quart of cream, 3 ounces of chocolate grated, boyle it well together and let it stand till tis cold, &yn put in ye whites of 6 eggs beaten to a froth & sweeten it to your taste & then mill it up.

Feb 182019
 

 

Today is the birthday (259 BCE) of Qin Shi Huang (秦始皇), founder of the Qin dynasty and the first emperor of a unified China. He was born Ying Zheng (嬴政) or Zhao Zheng (趙政), a prince of the state of Qin. He became Zheng, the king of Qin (秦王政) when he was 13. Because Zhao Zheng was so young, Lü Buwei acted as the regent prime minister of the state of Qin, which was still waging war against the other six states (the Warring States Period). Zhao Chengjiao, the lord Chang’an (长安君), was Zhao Zheng’s legitimate half-brother, by the same father but from a different mother. After Zhao Zheng inherited the throne, Chengjiao rebelled at Tunliu and surrendered to the state of Zhao. Chengjiao’s remaining retainers and families were executed by Zhao Zheng.

As king Zheng grew older, Lü Buwei became fearful that he would discover he was having an affair with his mother, the queen dowager, Zhao Ji. He decided to distance himself and find another lover for the queen dowager. He found a man named Lao Ai. According to The Record of Grand Historian, Lao Ai was disguised as a eunuch by plucking his beard. Later Lao Ai and queen Zhao secretly had two sons together. Lao Ai then became ennobled as marquis Lào Ǎi, and was showered with riches. Lao Ai hatched a plot to replace Zheng with one of the hidden sons. But during a dinner party drunken Lào Ǎi was heard bragging about being the young king’s stepfather. In 238 BCE the king was travelling to the ancient capital of Yōng (雍). Lao Ai seized the queen mother’s seal and mobilized an army in an attempt to start a coup and rebel. When king Zheng found out, he ordered Lü Buwei to dispatch lord Changping and lord Changwen to attack Lao Ai, and their army killed hundreds of the rebels at the capital, although Lao Ai succeeded in fleeing from this battle.

A price of 1 million copper coins was placed on Lao Ai’s head if he was taken alive or half a million if dead. He and his supporters were captured and executed, and his two hidden sons were also killed.  Zhao Ji was placed under house arrest until her death many years later. Lü Buwei drank a cup of poisoned wine and committed suicide in 235 BCE. Zheng then assumed full power as the king of the Qin state. Li Si became the new chancellor replacing Lü Buwei.

Zheng and his troops continued to take over different states. The state of Yan was small, weak and frequently harassed by soldiers. It was no match for the Qin state. Crown prince Dan of Yan plotted an assassination attempt to get rid of Zheng, asking his retainer, Jing Ke, to go on the mission in 227 BCE. Jing Ke was accompanied by Qin Wuyang in the plot. Each was supposed to present a gift to Zheng: a map of Dukang and the severed head of Fan Wuji, a disloyal Qin general who had escaped to Yan. Qin Wuyang first tried to present the map case gift, but trembled in fear and moved no further towards the king. Jing Ke continued to advance toward the king, while explaining that his partner “has never set eyes on the Son of Heaven, which is why he is trembling.” Jing Ke had to present both gifts by himself. While unrolling the map, his dagger was revealed. The king drew back, stood on his feet, but struggled to draw his sword to defend himself. At the time, other palace officials were not allowed to carry weapons. Jing Ke pursued the king, attempting to stab him, but missed. Zheng drew out his sword and cut Jing Ke’s thigh. Jing Ke then threw the dagger, but missed again. Suffering eight wounds from the king’s sword, Jing Ke realized his attempt had failed and knew he would be executed. The Yan state was conquered by the Qin state five years later.

Gao Jianli was a close friend of Jing Ke, who wanted to avenge his death. As a famous lute player, one day he was summoned by Zheng to play for him. Someone in the palace who had known him in the past exclaimed, “This is Gao Jianli”. Unable to bring himself to kill such a skilled musician, the emperor ordered his eyes put out. But the king allowed Gao Jianli to play in his presence. He praised the playing and even allowed Gao Jianli to get close to him. Gao Jianli continued to plot, and had his lute fastened with a heavy piece of lead. Once when he was playing, he raised the lute and struck at the king. He missed, and his assassination attempt failed. Gao Jianli was later executed.

In 230 BCE, Zheng unleashed the final campaigns of the Warring States period, setting out to conquer the remaining independent kingdoms, one by one. The first state to fall was Hán (韓; sometimes called Hann to distinguish it from the Hàn 漢 of Han dynasty), in 230 BCE. Then Qin took advantage of natural disasters in 229 BCE to invade Zhào. Qin armies conquered the state of Zhao in 228 BCE, the northern country of Yan in 226 BCE, the small state of Wei in 225 BCE, and the largest state and greatest challenge, Chu, in 223 BCE. In 222 BCE, the last remnants of Yan and the royal family were captured in Liaodong in the northeast. The only independent country left was now the state of Qi, in the far east, what is now the Shandong peninsula. The young king of Qi sent 200,000 people to defend his western borders, but in 221 BCE Qin armies invaded from the north, captured the king, and annexed Qi.

For the first time, all Chinese lands were unified under one powerful ruler. In that same year, Zheng proclaimed himself the “First Emperor” (始皇帝, Shǐ Huángdì), no longer a king in the old sense and now far surpassing the achievements of the old Zhou Dynasty rulers. The emperor made the He Shi Bi, a famous old jade disk of considerable historical value, into the Imperial Seal, known as the “Heirloom Seal of the Realm”. The words, “Having received the Mandate from Heaven, may (the emperor) lead a long and prosperous life.” (受命於天,既壽永昌) were written by prime minister Li Si, and carved on to the seal by Sun Shou. The seal was later passed from emperor to emperor for generations to come.

In an attempt to avoid a recurrence of the political chaos of the Warring States period, Qin Shi Huang and his prime minister Li Si completely abolished feudalism. The empire was then divided into 36 commanderies (郡, Jùn), later more than 40 commanderies. The whole of China was thus divided into administrative units: first commanderies, then counties (縣, Xiàn), townships (鄉, Xiāng) and hundred-family units (里, Li, which roughly corresponds to the modern-day subdistricts and communities).

During his reign, his generals greatly expanded the size of the Chinese state: campaigns south of Chu permanently added the Yue lands of Hunan and Guangdong to the Chinese cultural orbit; campaigns in Central Asia conquered the Ordos Loop from the nomad Xiongnu, although eventually it would also lead to their confederation under Modu Chanyu. Qin Shi Huang also worked with his minister Li Si to enact major economic and political reforms aimed at the standardization of the diverse practices of the earlier Chinese states. He is traditionally said to have banned and burned many books and executed scholars, though a closer examination renders the account doubtful. His public works projects included the unification of diverse state walls into a single Great Wall of China and a massive new national road system, as well as the city-sized mausoleum guarded by the life-sized Terracotta Army http://www.bookofdaystales.com/the-terracotta-army/ . He ruled until his death in 210 BC during his fourth tour of Eastern China.

For today’s recipe I am going to give you a video on the making of biang biang noodles, a hand-pulled wide noodle, very popular in Shaanxi province central homeland of the Qin dynasty. The Chinese character for biáng is one of the more complex Chinese characters in modern usage, although the character is not found in modern dictionaries or even in the Kangxi dictionary. The character is composed of 言 (speak; 7 strokes) in the middle flanked by 幺 (tiny; 2×3 strokes) on both sides. Below it, 馬 (horse; 10 strokes) is similarly flanked by 長 (grow; 2×8 strokes). This central block itself is surrounded by 月 (moon; 4 strokes) to the left, 心 (heart; 4 strokes) below, and刂 (knife; 2 strokes) to the right. These in turn are surrounded by a second layer of characters, namely 穴 (cave; 5 strokes) on the top and 辶 (walk; 4 strokes) curving around the left and bottom. According to legend the character biáng was invented by the Qin dynasty premier Li Si which is meant to suggest that biang biang noodles were around in his day – although this is mere hearsay. It’s a good dish, though, and still popular.

Feb 172019
 

Today is the birthday (1781) of René-Théophile-Hyacinthe Laennec, a French physician who invented the stethoscope in 1816, while working at the Hôpital Necker, and pioneered its use in diagnosing various chest conditions. Laennec was born in Quimper in Brittany. His mother died of tuberculosis when he was five years old, and he went to live with his great-uncle the Abbé Laennec. As a child, Laennec became ill with chronic fatigue, repeated fever, and possibly asthma. At the age of 12, he went to Nantes, where his uncle, Guillaime-François Laennec, worked in the faculty of medicine at the university. He learned English and German and began his medical studies under his uncle’s direction.

His father (a lawyer) later discouraged him from continuing as a doctor and René then had a period of time where he took long walks in the country, danced, studied Greek and wrote poetry. However, in 1799 he returned to study. Laennec studied medicine at the University of Paris under several famous physicians, including Dupuytren and Jean-Nicolas Corvisart-Desmarets. There he was trained to use sound as a diagnostic aid. Corvisart advocated the re-introduction of diagnostic percussion during the French Revolution. At the time, doctors put their ears to a patient’s chest (direct auscultation) to listen for chest sounds.

In De l’Auscultation Médiate (1819) he wrote:

In 1816, I was consulted by a young woman laboring under general symptoms of diseased heart, and in whose case percussion and the application of the hand were of little avail on account of the great degree of fatness. The other method just mentioned [direct auscultation] being rendered inadmissible by the age and sex of the patient, I happened to recollect a simple and well-known fact in acoustics, the great distinctness with which we hear the scratch of a pin at one end of a piece of wood on applying our ear to the other. Immediately, on this suggestion, I rolled a quire of paper into a kind of cylinder and applied one end of it to the region of the heart and the other to my ear, and was not a little surprised and pleased to find that I could thereby perceive the action of the heart in a manner much more clear and distinct than I had ever been able to do by the immediate application of my ear.

Laennec is said to have seen schoolchildren playing with long, hollow sticks in the days leading up to his innovation. The children held their ear to one end of the stick while the opposite end was scratched with a pin, the stick transmitted and amplified the scratch. His skill as a flautist may also have inspired him. He built his first instrument as a 25 cm by 2.5 cm hollow wooden cylinder, which he later refined to comprise three detachable parts. The refined design featured a funnel-shaped cavity to augment the sound, separable from the body of the stethoscope.

His clinical work allowed him to follow chest patients from the first onset of illness to recovery or death. He was therefore able to correlate sounds captured by his new instruments with specific pathological changes in the chest, pioneering a new non-invasive diagnostic tool. Pulmonary phthisis, for example, was one ailment he could more clearly identify using his knowledge of typical and atypical chest sounds. Laennec was the first to classify and discuss the terms rales, rhonchi, crepitance, and egophony – terms that doctors now routinely use in physical exams and diagnoses. Laennec presented his findings and research on the stethoscope to the Academy of Sciences in Paris, and in 1819 he published his masterpiece, De l’auscultation médiate ou Traité du Diagnostic des Maladies des Poumon et du Coeur.

Laennec coined the phrase “mediate auscultation” (indirect listening), as opposed to the popular practice at the time of directly placing the ear on the chest (immediate auscultation). He named his instrument the stethoscope, from the Greek words στήθος [stethos] (chest), and σκοπός [skopos] (examination). The stethoscope quickly gained popularity as De l’Auscultation Médiate was translated and distributed across France, England, Italy and Germany in the early 1820s. However, not all doctors readily embraced the new stethoscope. Although the New England Journal of Medicine reported the invention of the stethoscope two years later in 1821, as late as 1885, a professor of medicine stated, “He that hath ears to hear, let him use his ears and not a stethoscope.” Even the founder of the American Heart Association, L. A. Connor (1866–1950) carried a silk handkerchief with him to place on the wall of the chest for ear auscultation.

Laennec often referred to the stethoscope as “the cylinder,” and as he neared death only a few years later, he bequeathed his own stethoscope to his nephew, referring to it as “the greatest legacy of my life.” He also worked on the understanding of peritonitis and cirrhosis. Although the disease of cirrhosis was known, Laennec gave cirrhosis its name, using the Greek word (kirrhos, tawny) that referred to the tawny, yellow nodules characteristic of the disease. He coined the term melanoma and described metastases of melanoma to the lungs. In 1804, while still a medical student, he was the first person to lecture on melanoma. This lecture was subsequently published in 1805. Laennec actually used the term ‘melanose,’ which he derived from the Greek (melan) for “black.” Over the years, there were bitter exchanges between Laennec and Dupuytren, the latter objecting that there was no mention of his work in this area and his role in its discovery.

He also studied tuberculosis. Coincidentally, his nephew, Mériadec Laennec, is said to have diagnosed tuberculosis in Laennec using Laennec’s stethoscope. Laennec wrote A Treatise on the Disease of the Chest, in which he focused on diseases of the chest such as Phthisis pulmonalis and diagnostics such as Pectoriloquy. He discussed the symptoms of Phthisis pulmonalis and what parts of the body it affects. Laennec ought to be a household name given the profound advances in medicine that the stethoscope afforded, yet I guarantee that not even medical students know it. The stethoscope is just taken for granted as a basic and essential tool.

Since Laennec was from Brittany, I can use that as an excuse to give one of my favorite Breton recipes – cotriade – a fish and potato soup. Use whole fish cut in large pieces and not fillets and use at least three different kinds of fish.

Cotriade

Ingredients

80 gm/ 3 oz butter
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 leek, chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
3 sprigs thyme
6  medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 liter cold water
salt and freshly ground pepper
1½ kg / 3 lb whole fish (monkfish, flathead, john dory, whiting), cleaned and cut into 3 cm/ 1 in pieces
12 mussels
chopped fresh parsley

Instructions

Heat the butter in a large saucepan. Add the onion and stir for 2 minutes. Add the leek and garlic and stir for a further 2 minutes. Add the thyme and potatoes and stir for another minute. Cover with 1 liter of cold water, season with salt and pepper, bring to the boil and cook for 5 minutes. Add the fish pieces, reduce the heat, and simmer for about 5 minutes.

Add the mussels, cover with a lid and cook for 2-3 minutes until the mussels have opened.

Serve the cotriade in large bowls with a sprinkle of chopped parsley and crusty bread.

Feb 162019
 

Today is a two-fer in Lithuania. In 1270 the grand duchy of Lithuania defeated the Livonian Order in the Battle of Karuse, and in 1918 the Council of Lithuania unanimously adopted the Act of Independence, declaring Lithuania an independent state. Let’s take them in order.

The Battle of Karuse, or Battle on the Ice(not to be confused with this Battle on the Ice http://www.bookofdaystales.com/battle-on-the-ice/ ), was fought on 16th February 1270 between the grand duchy of Lithuania and the Livonian Order on the frozen Baltic Sea between the island of Muhu and the mainland. The Lithuanians achieved a decisive victory. The battle, named after the village of Karuse, was the fifth-largest defeat of the Livonian or Teutonic Orders in the 13th century. Almost all that is known about the battle comes from the Livonian Rhymed Chronicle, which devoted 192 lines to the battle. The Livonian Brothers of the Sword, a crusading military order established in 1202, set out to conquer and convert to Christianity indigenous peoples of present-day Latvia and Estonia. They subjugated the Semigallians by 1250. However, after the Livonian defeats in the 1259 battle of Skuodas and the 1260 battle of Durbe, the Semigallians rebelled. Traidenis, who became Grand Duke of Lithuania in 1269 or 1270, supported the rebellion.

In winter 1270, the Livonian Order invaded Semigalia. However, after learning that a large Lithuanian army had also invaded the region, Master Otto von Lutterberg decided to retreat to Riga. The Lithuanians marched north, reaching as far as the island of Saaremaa, which they were able to reach because the Baltic Sea was frozen. The Lithuanian army plundered the area, taking much war loot. It is unclear whether Semigallians joined the Lithuanians and participated in this campaign – contemporary sources do not mention them, but later sources such as Jüngere Hochmeisterchronik and Dionysius Fabricius always mention their participation.

Master Lutterberg gathered a large army of Livonian knights, soldiers from the Bishopric of Dorpat, the Bishopric of Ösel–Wiek, Danish Estonia, as well as local tribes of Livs and Latgalians. The Order was well-prepared for the battle: for a year it had been recruiting soldiers for an expedition into Semigalia. The Livonian army marched north to meet the Lithuanians near Saaremaa Island. The armies met on the frozen Moon Sound (probably near Virtsu) on the feast day of Juliana of Nicomedia.

The Livonian army positioned for the battle: troops from Danish Estonia, commanded by the Danish king’s viceroy Siverith, formed the right flank; Livonian knights, commanded by Master Luttenberg, formed the center; soldiers from the Bishoprics formed the left flank. The Lithuanians arranged their sleighs as a barricade. A vanguard unit likely covered construction of the improvised barricade so that the knights could not see it. When the knights attacked, Lithuanians retreated behind their sleighs and the Livonian cavalry ran into the barricade. As the horses got stuck between the sleighs, Lithuanians speared the horses and their riders. A small number of Livonian knights managed to break through the barricade and the left and right flanks joined the fighting, but that was not enough to overcome the strong Lithuanian formation. The Lithuanians achieved a decisive victory: 52 knights, including the Master Lutterberg, and around 600 low-ranking soldiers were killed while bishop Hermann of Ösel-Wiek was gravely injured and barely managed to escape. According to the Livonian Rhymed Chronicle, 1600 Lithuanians were killed, but that information is very doubtful and most likely inflated by pro-Livonian bias.

As a result of the Great Retreat during World War I, Germany occupied the entire territory of Lithuania and Courland by the end of 1915. A new administrative entity, Ober Ost, was established. Lithuanians lost all political rights they had gained: personal freedom was restricted, and at the outset the Lithuanian press was banned. However, the Lithuanian intelligentsia tried to take advantage of the existing geopolitical situation and began to look for opportunities to restore Lithuania’s independence. On 18–22 September 1917, the Vilnius Conference elected the 20-member Council of Lithuania.

The Act of Reinstating Independence of Lithuania (Lithuanian: Lietuvos Valstybės atkūrimo aktas) or Act of 16th February was signed by the Council on 16th February 1918, proclaiming the restoration of an independent state of Lithuania, governed by democratic principles, with Vilnius as its capital. The Act was signed by all twenty representatives of the Council, which was chaired by Jonas Basanavičius. The Act of 16th February was the result of a series of resolutions on the issue, including one issued by the Vilnius Conference and the Act of 8th January. The path to the Act was long and complex because the German Empire exerted pressure on the Council to form an alliance. The Council had to carefully maneuver between the Germans, whose troops were stationed in Lithuania, and the demands of the Lithuanian people.

The immediate effects of the announcement of Lithuania’s re-establishment of independence were limited. Publication of the Act was prohibited by the German authorities, and the text was distributed and printed illegally. The work of the Council was hindered, and Germans remained in control over Lithuania. The situation changed only when Germany lost World War I in late 1918. In November 1918 the first Cabinet of Lithuania was formed, and the Council of Lithuania gained control over the territory of Lithuania. Independent Lithuania, although it would soon be battling Wars of Independence, became a reality.

The 1918 Act is the legal basis for the existence of modern Lithuania, both during the interwar period and since 1990, when it was freed from Soviet control. The Act formulated the basic constitutional principles that were and still are followed by all Constitutions of Lithuania. The Act itself was a key element in the foundation of Lithuania’s re-establishment of independence in 1990. Lithuania, breaking away from the Soviet Union, stressed that it was simply re-establishing the independent state that existed between the world wars and that the Act never lost its legal power. On 29 March 2017, the original document was found at the Diplomatic archive in Berlin, Germany.

Cepelinai (lit. ‘zeppelins’; singular: cepelinas) or didžkukuliai is a traditional Lithuanian dish of stuffed potato dumplings – sometimes called the national dish of Lithuania. The dumplings are made from grated and riced potatoes and stuffed with ground meat or dry curd cheese or mushrooms. You can use your favorite ground meat combination for the recipe. You can use all ground pork or a meatloaf-style mixture of pork, beef, and veal. This dish is best served and eaten as soon as it is made. The dumplings are hard to store and are best piping hot and covered with hot gravy.

Cepelinai

Ingredients

For the Meat Filling:

1 lb ground pork (or ⅓ lb pork, ⅓ lb beef, ⅓ lb veal)
1 medium onion (peeled and finely chopped)
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
1 large egg, beaten

For the Dumplings:

8 large Idaho potatoes (peeled and finely grated, not shredded)
2 large Idaho potatoes (peeled, boiled, and riced)
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 medium onion (peeled and finely grated)
salt
1 tbsp cornstarch

For the Gravy:

½ lb bacon (diced)
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 cup sour cream
black pepper
1 to 2 tbsp milk

Instructions

To make the meat filling

In a large bowl, mix together the ground meat, finely chopped onion, salt and peppero taste, and egg until well incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.

To make the dumplings

Add a drop or two of lemon juice to the grated potatoes so they don’t turn brown. Place them in a fine-mesh cheesecloth or cotton dish towel and twist over a large bowl to get rid of the excess water. Pour off the water, reserving the potato starch at the bottom of the bowl. Unwrap the cheesecloth and place the potatoes in the bowl with the reserved potato starch. Add the riced boiled potatoes, grated onion, and salt to taste. Mix well.

Put a large stockpot of water on to boil and add 1 tablespoon of cornstarch (and salt if desired). This will help prevent the dumplings falling apart.

To form the zeppelins, take about 1 cup of dumpling mixture and pat it flat in the palm of the hand. Place ¼ cup or more of the meat mixture in the center and, using slightly dampened hands, fold the potato mixture around the meat into a football shape, sealing well. Continue until both mixtures are used up.

Using a slotted spoon, carefully lower the dumplings into the boiling water and boil for 25 minutes. Remove the dumplings with a slotted spoon, drain briefly, and place on a heated platter.

To make the gravy

Make the gravy while the dumplings are boiling, so that they can be served immediately they are cooked. In a skillet over medium heat, fry the bacon until cooked and add the chopped onion in the last few minutes to soften. Drain off excess fat and add the sour cream and black pepper to taste. I necessary thin with 1 to 2 tablespoons milk. Pour some gravy over the dumplings and put the remainder in a gravy boat to pass at the table.

Feb 152019
 

Today is John Frum Day in Vanuatu, the day when he is supposed to return bringing cargo. The religion generally known as cargo cult centering on John Frum arose in the late 1930s, when Vanuatu was known as the New Hebrides, although there was a claim in 1949 that it had started in the 1910s. The movement was heavily influenced by existing religious practice in the Sulphur Bay area of Tanna, particularly the worship of Keraperamun, a god associated with Mount Tukosmera. In some versions of the story, a native man named Manehivi, using the alias “John Frum”, began appearing among the indigenous people of Tanna dressed in a Western-style coat and assuring the people he would bring them houses, clothes, food and transport.

Others contend that John Frum was a kava-induced spirit vision, said to be a manifestation of Keraperamun. This John Frum promised the dawn of a new age in which all white people, including missionaries, would depart the New Hebrides, leaving behind their goods and property for the indigenous Melanesians. For this to happen, however, the people of Tanna had to reject all aspects of European society including money, Western education, Christianity, and work on copra plantations, plus they had to return to traditional kastom (the Bislama language word for customs).

In 1941, followers of John Frum rid themselves of their money in a frenzy of spending, left the missionary churches, schools, villages and plantations, and moved inland to participate in traditional feasts, dances and rituals. European colonial authorities sought to suppress the movement, at one point arresting a Tannese man who was calling himself John Frum, humiliating him publicly, imprisoning and ultimately exiling him along with other leaders of the cult to another island in the archipelago.

Despite this effort, the movement gained popularity in the early 1940s, when 300,000 US troops were stationed in New Hebrides during World War II, bringing with them an enormous amount of supplies (“cargo”). After the war and the departure of the US troops, followers of John Frum built symbolic landing strips to encourage American airplanes to land and bring them “cargo”. Versions of the cult that emphasize the US connection interpret “John Frum” as a corruption of “John from (America)” (though it could mean John from anywhere), and credit the presence of African American soldiers for the idea that John Frum may be black.

In 1957, a leader of the John Frum movement, Nakomaha, created the “Tanna Army”, a non-violent, ritualistic society that organized military-style parades of men whose faces were painted ritual colors and who wore white T-shirts with the letters “T-A USA” (Tanna Army USA). This parade takes place every year on February 15th, the date on which followers believe John Frum will return, and which is observed as “John Frum Day” in Vanuatu.

In the late 1970s, John Frum followers opposed the imminent creation of an independent, united nation of Vanuatu. They objected to a centralized government they feared would favor Western modernity and Christianity that would be detrimental to local customs. However, the John Frum movement has its own political party, led by Song Keaspai. The party celebrated its 50th anniversary on February 15, 2007. Chief Isaak Wan Nikiau, its leader, was quoted by the BBC from years past as saying that John Frum was “our God, our Jesus,” and would eventually return.

I gave a recipe for lap lap, the national dish of Vanuatu, here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/independence-day-vanuatu/  Here’s another popular dish. You can cook it on the stovetop or in a casserole in the oven.

Vanuatu Banana Chicken

Ingredients:

4 bananas, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
1 small pumpkin, peeled and cut in long strips
1 chicken
2 green onions, chopped
1½ tsp salt
1 bell pepper, cut in strips
1 can coconut milk

Instructions:

Put the bananas in the bottom of a saucepan (for stovetop) or casserole (for oven). Put the chicken on top of the bananas. Layer the onion, bell pepper, and pumpkin on top of the chicken and season with salt. Pour the coconut milk on top. Cover and simmer 1 hour on the stove top, or cover and bake at 350°F in the oven. Serve with plain boiled rice.

Feb 142019
 

Today is the birthday (1799) of Walenty Wańkowicz (Lithuanian: Valentinas Vankavičius, Belarusian: Валенты Ваньковіч). Not one of those names that springs to your lips, but I chose him because his name is a cognate of Valentine. He was a Polish painter of Belarusian origin whose paintings are better known in Slavic countries than in Western Europe.

Wańkowicz was born on the family estate near Minsk. He was brought up with Polish culture and Catholic faith, however, also with his Belarusian (Ruthenian) noble ancestry in mind. From 1811 he attended a Jesuit academy in Polotsk, where he was trained in civil and military architecture and drawing. His teacher was Jakub Pesling. Wańkowicz graduated here in 1817 with honors. In 1818 he enrolled at the University of Vilnius and studied there under Jan Rustem and Jan Damel. From 1825 to 1829 he attended the Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg. In Petersburg he made many friends among the rich and famous. One of these was the young, but already celebrated, poet Adam Mickiewicz, he portrayed him at the turn of the year 1827/1828 (Portrait of Adam Mickiewicz on the Ayu-Dag Cliff).

Around this time, he also painted portraits of the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, the pianist Maria Szymanowska as well as of the poet and satirist Antoni Gorecki (an uncle of the artist).

In the following years Wańkowicz lived near Minsk in Ślepianka Mała and in Minsk itself, where he had a studio together with Jan Damel.  From here he frequently traveled to Vilnius, whose Malszene exerted a great influence on the painters in Minsk. He painted a number of portraits including the allegorical portrait of Napoleon “Napoleon before the fire.”

In recognition of his artistic achievements, the Senate appointed him in 1832 as a member of the Academy. By the end of 1839 he began traveling. In 1840 he lived for some time in Dresden, followed by short stays in Berlin, Munich, and Strasbourg. In 1841 he reached Paris, where he remained until his death in 1842. Wańkowicz was buried in the Cimetière de Montmartre.

Zhurek is a well-loved Polish soup of Belarusian origin, much like Wańkowicz – so it seems fitting. It has kvass at its base, a beverage made from fermented rye flour or rye bread, commonly drunk throughout Slavic territories. It gives a strong sour note to the soup. You will need to begin preparations 5 days in advance.

Zhurek

Ingredients

Kvass

¾ cup rye flour
2 cups water boiled and cooled to lukewarm

Soup

½ lb peeled and chopped soup vegetables (carrots, parsnips, celery root, leeks)
6 cups beef stock
½ lb fresh (white) Polish sausage biały kiełbasa
1 lb potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cups kvass
1 garlic clove crushed with ½ tsp salt to make a paste
3 large hard-cooked eggs, peeled and halved

Instructions

To make the kvass

In a medium bowl, mix together the rye flour and lukewarm water. Pour into a glass jar or ceramic bowl that is large enough for the mixture to expand. Cover with cheesecloth and let stand in a warm place for 4 to 5 days. This should make 2 cups or enough for the soup. Strain through muslin and store in the refrigerator after it has fermented.

To make the soup

In a large soup pot, bring the soup vegetables and the stock to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the sausage and cook another 30 minutes. Remove the sausage from soup, slice when cool enough to handle, and set aside. Strain the stock through a sieve, pressing on the vegetables to extract as much flavor as possible. Discard the vegetables, skim the fat off the stock and return the stock to a clean soup pot.

Add the potatoes and kvass to the stock, adding salt if necessary. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer and cook until the potatoes are al dente. Add the reserved sliced cooked sausage and garlic-salt paste. Bring the soup to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender.

Serve in heated bowls with half a hard-cooked egg in each serving, and rye bread on the side.

Feb 132019
 

On this date in 1867 work began on covering of the Senne river in Brussels (French: Voûtement de la Senne, Dutch: Overwelving van de Zenne), involving the covering, and later diverting, of the main river of Brussels, and the construction of public buildings and major boulevards in its place. It is one of the defining events in the history of Brussels. The Senne/Zenne (French/Dutch) was historically the main waterway of Brussels, but it became more polluted and less navigable as the city grew. By the second half of the 19th century, it had become a serious health hazard and was filled with pollution, garbage and decaying organic matter. It flooded frequently, inundating the lower town and the working class neighborhoods which surrounded it.

Numerous proposals were made to remedy this problem, and in 1865, the mayor of Brussels, Jules Anspach, selected a design by architect Léon Suys to cover the river and build a series of grand boulevards and public buildings. The project faced fierce opposition and controversy, mostly due to its cost and the need for expropriation and demolition of working-class neighborhoods. An embezzlement scandal by British contractors delayed the project, but it was still completed in 1871. Its completion allowed the construction of the modern buildings and boulevards which are central to Brussels today.

At the beginning of the 19th century, Brussels was still in many ways a medieval city. The royal quarter in the upper town, inhabited mainly by the nobility and the richer members of the bourgeoisie, was upscale and modern. The rest of the city, however, in particular the lower town, located in the western half of the Pentagon, was densely populated and industrial, characterized by a haphazard street layout, back alleys, narrow streets, and numerous dead ends. The Senne river split into two branches at Anderlecht, penetrating the Pentagon, the former site of the second city walls, in two places. The main and more southern arm entered through the Greater Sluice Gate, near today’s Brussels-South railway station. The smaller northerly arm entered through the Lesser Sluice Gate, near today’s Ninove Gate. The courses of the two traced a meandering path through the city center, forming several islands, the largest of which was known as Saint Gaugericus Island. The two branches met up on the north side of Saint Gaugericus Island, exiting the Pentagon one block east of Antwerp Gate. An artificial arm, called the “Lesser Senne” (French: Petite Senne, Dutch: Kleine Zenne) continued on the borders of the Pentagon in the former moat, outside the sluice gates. It followed the Charleroi Canal before rejoining the main part of the Senne north of the city. Many unsanitary and unsafe wooden add-ons projected over the river in the lower town.

The Senne had long since lost its usefulness as a navigable waterway, being replaced by canals, including the Charleroi Canal. The Senne had always been a river with an inconsistent flow, often overflowing its banks. In times of heavy rainfall, even the sluice gates were unable to regulate the flow of the river which was often swollen by numerous creeks flowing down from higher ground. Making matters worse, within the city the river’s bed was narrowed by encroaching construction due to demographic pressure. The supports of numerous unregulated bridges impeded water flow and caused water levels to rise even further, exacerbated by a riverbed of accumulated waste.

During dry periods, however, much of the Senne’s water was diverted for the needs of the populace of the city, as well as to maintain the water level in the Charleroi Canal. This left a flow too feeble to evacuate the filthy water, leaving the sewage, garbage, detritus and industrial waste that had been dumped into the river to accumulate in the stagnant water. The Senne, which a witness in 1853 described as “the most nauseous little river in the world”, had become an open-air sewer spreading pestilential odors throughout the city. Early in the second half of the 19th century, Brussels saw numerous dry periods, floods and a cholera epidemic, caused as much by the river itself as by the poverty and the lack of hygiene and potable water in the lower city. This forced the governments of the province of Brabant and the city of Brussels to act.

The first studies and propositions to clean up the river date back to 1859, and during the following years, many different commissions of engineers were assigned to examine possible solutions. Dozens of different ideas were submitted, many of which were completely unfeasible. Several of them proposed diverting large amounts of cleaner water from other rivers upstream to dilute the Senne, while greatly improving the drainage system in the city. Other proposals involved diverting the main course of the Senne completely to the Lesser Senne, which would then be enlarged and thus more useful for boat traffic and mills. Others considered any sort of sanitizing impossible, and proposed covering the Senne without greatly changing its course. Among these was a proposal to double the size of the underground drainage tunnels, creating space for a subterranean railroad tunnel. The idea was ahead of its time, but would be implemented a century later.

The municipal council chose the proposal by architect Léon Suys, submitted in 1865, which had the backing of mayor Jules Anspach. The plan involved suppressing the secondary arm of the Senne by closing the Lesser Sluice Gate. The main branch would be channeled into underground tunnels, to be placed directly beneath a long, straight 30 m (100 ft) wide boulevard, stretching from the Greater Sluice Gate to the Augustinian church (now De Brouckère Square) before splitting into two. One branch was to head towards the Brussels North railway station and present day Rogier Square, the other towards Antwerp Gate, thus forming a long, narrow “Y” shape.

Anspach’s backing of Suys’ proposal was a calculated decision, as he had radical plans to transform the city. Anspach saw the proposal as an unexpected boon, as it allowed him to accomplish several of his goals at once. It had long been his ambition to transform the impoverished lower city into a center of business and commerce, suitable for a modern capital (Belgium had declared its independence in 1830, with Brussels as its capital). He wanted to attract the middle class, most of whom had left the squalid town center for the cleaner suburbs, including the Leopold Quarter (now often called the European quarter) and Avenue Louise, causing a huge loss in tax revenue for the city. The elimination of the numerous alleys and dead-ends in the lower town in favor of a large, straight, wide, open-air boulevard, linking the two rapidly growing train stations, seemed both a necessity and an opportunity to beautify the city and improve both traffic circulation and hygiene.

The contract to begin work was signed on 15th June 1866, and the expropriation of the first 1,100 houses was completed in a few months. The work began on 13th February 1867. There were several technical difficulties that delayed the covering, many of which were due to the geology of Brussels, though they were not as bad as some engineers had forecast. The project was completed in 1871, with the municipal council ceremonially opening the reconstructed sluice gates on 30th November. The series of boulevards created by the project – Hainaut Boulevard (now Maurice Lemonnier Boulevard), Central Boulevard (now Boulevard Anspach), North Boulevard (now Adolphe Max Boulevard), and Senne Boulevard (now Émile Jacqmain Boulevard) – were progressively opened to traffic from 1871 to 1873.

Today’s recipe has to be Brussels sprouts – treated in a Flemish manner (sorry Walloons), by being steamed then fried in butter with some onions and a little nutmeg. I was never a big fan of Brussels sprouts as a lad, but I came to like them as an adult.

Fried Brussels Sprouts

Ingredients

2 lbs Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed and outer leaves removed
3 tbsp butter
1 small onion, peeled and minced
1 pinch ground nutmeg
salt and pepper

Instructions

Steam the Brussels sprouts for about 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large skillet and add the onion. Cook over medium-high until soft. Add the Brussels sprouts and cook 3-5 minutes to brown lightly, stirring occasionally. Season with nutmeg, salt & pepper to taste.

Feb 122019
 

Today is the birthday (1824) of Dayananda Saraswati, an Indian social leader and founder of the Arya Samaj, a reform movement of the Vedic dharma. He was the first to give the call for an “India for Indians” in 1876. Subsequently, the philosopher and president of India, S. Radhakrishnan called him one of the “makers of Modern India”, as did Sri Aurobindo.

Dayananda was born on the 10th day of waning moon in the month of Purnimanta Falguna to a Hindu family in Jeevapar Tankara, Kathiawad region (now Morbi district of Gujarat). His original name was Mul Shankar. His father was Karshanji Lalji Kapadi, and his mother was Amrutbai. When he was eight years old, his Yajnopavita Sanskara ceremony was performed, marking his entry into formal education. His father was a follower of Shiva and taught him the ways to impress Shiva. He was also taught the importance of keeping fasts. On the occasion of Shivratri, Dayananda sat awake the whole night in obedience to Shiva. On one of these fasts, he saw a mouse eating the offerings and running over the idol’s body. After seeing this, he questioned that if Shiva could not defend himself against a mouse, then how could he be the savior of the massive world. The deaths of his younger sister and his uncle from cholera caused Dayananda to ponder the meaning of life and death. He began asking questions which worried his parents. He was engaged in his early teens, but he decided marriage was not for him and ran away from home in 1846.

Dayananda spent nearly 25 years, from 1845 to 1869, as a wandering ascetic, searching for religious truth. He gave up material goods and lived a life of self-denial, devoting himself to spiritual pursuits in forests, retreats in the Himalayan Mountains, and pilgrimage sites in northern India. During these years he practiced various forms of yoga and became a disciple of a religious teacher named Virajanand Dandeesha. Virajanand believed that Hinduism had strayed from its historical roots and that many of its practices had become impure. Dayananda Sarasvati promised Virajanand that he would devote his life to restoring the rightful place of the Vedas in the Hindu faith. He believed that Hinduism had been corrupted by divergence from the founding principles of the Vedas and that Hindus had been misled by the priesthood for the priests’ self-aggrandizement. For this mission, he founded the Arya Samaj, enunciating the Ten Universal Principles as a code for Universalism, called Krinvanto Vishwaryam. With these principles, he intended the whole world to be an abode for Nobles (Aryas).

His next step was to reform Hinduism with a new dedication to God. He traveled the country challenging religious scholars and priests to discussions, winning repeatedly through the strength of his arguments and knowledge of Sanskrit and Vedas. Hindu priests discouraged the laity from reading Vedic scriptures, and encouraged rituals, such as bathing in the Ganges River and feeding of priests on anniversaries, which Dayananda denounced as superstitions or self-serving practices. By exhorting India to reject such superstitious notions, his aim was to educate the nation to return to the teachings of the Vedas, and to follow the Vedic way of life. He also exhorted India to accept social reforms, as well as the adoption of Hindi as the national language for national integration. Through his daily life and practice of yoga and asanas, teachings, preaching, sermons and writings, he inspired India to aspire to Swarajya (self governance), nationalism, and spiritualism. He advocated the equal rights and respects to women and advocated for the education of all children, regardless of gender.

Dayananda also made logical, scientific and critical analyses of faiths including Christianity & Islam, as well as of other Indian faiths like Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism. Unlike many other reform movements of his times within Hinduism, the Arya Samaj’s appeal was addressed not only to the educated few in India, but to the world as a whole as evidenced in the sixth principle of the Arya Samaj. As a result, his teachings professed universalism for all living beings and not for any particular sect, faith, community or nation.

Dayananda’s Vedic message emphasized respect and reverence for other human beings, supported by the Vedic notion of the divine nature of the individual. In the ten principles of the Arya Samaj, he enshrined the idea that “All actions should be performed with the prime objective of benefiting mankind”, as opposed to following dogmatic rituals or revering idols and symbols. The first five principles speak of Truth, while the last five speak of a society with nobility, civics, co-living, and disciplined life.

Dayanand is recorded to have been active since he was 14, which time he was able to recite religious verses and teach about them. He was respected at the time for taking parts in religious debates. His debates were attended by relatively large crowd of the public. One of the most important debates took place on 22nd October 1869 in Varanasi, where he won a debate against 27 scholars and approximately 12 expert pandits. The debate is recorded to have been attended by over 50,000 people. The main topic was “Do the Vedas uphold deity worship?”

Arya Samaj, condemns practices of several different religions and communities, including such practices as idol worship, animal sacrifice, pilgrimages, priest craft, offerings made in temples, the castes, child marriages, meat eating and discrimination against women. He argues that all of these practices run contrary to good sense and the wisdom of the Vedas. The Arya Samaj discourages dogma and symbolism and encourages skepticism in beliefs that run contrary to common sense and logic.

According to his supporters, he was poisoned on few occasions, but due to his regular practice of Hatha Yoga he survived all such attempts. One story tells that attackers once attacked attempted to drown him in a river, but Dayanand dragged the assailants into the river instead, though he released them before they drowned.[31] Another account tells that he was attacked by Muslims who were offended by his criticism of Islam while meditating on the Ganges river. They threw him into the water but he saved himself because his pranayama practice allowed him to stay under water until the attackers left.

In 1883, the Maharaja of Jodhpur Swami, Jaswant Singh II, invited Dayananda to stay at his palace. The Maharaja was eager to become Dayananda’s disciple, and to learn his teachings. During his stay, Dayananda went to the Maharaja’s room and saw him with a dancing girl named Nanhi Jaan. Dayananda asked the Maharaja to forsake the girl and all unethical acts, and to follow the dharma like a true Aryan. Dayananda’s suggestion offended Nanhi, who decided to take revenge. On 29th September 1883, she bribed Dayananda’s cook, Jagannath, to mix crushed glass in his nightly milk. Dayananda was served the milk before bed, which he promptly drank, becoming bedridden for several days, and suffering excruciating pain. The Maharaja quickly arranged doctor’s services for him. However, by the time doctors arrived, his condition had worsened, and he had developed large, bleeding sores. Upon seeing Dayananda’s suffering, Jagannath was overwhelmed with guilt and confessed his crime to Dayananda. On his deathbed, Dayananda forgave him, and gave him a bag of money, telling him to flee the kingdom before he was found and executed by the Maharaja’s men. He died on the morning of 30th October 1883 at 6:00 am, chanting mantras. The day coincided with Hindu festival of Diwali.

Dal dhokli (Gujarati: દાળ ઢોકળી), is a Rajasthani, Gujarati and Maharashtrian dish made by boiling thick wheat flour noodles (dhokli or phal) in a lentil stew  (dal or varan). It is considered a comfort food. It is widely believed that the Marwaris who had migrated to Gujarat invented the dish. While the dish remains popular in Marwar part of Rajasthan, it is Gujaratis who have made it a staple in their homes. Being meat free and relatively simple to make it seems like a good dish to celebrate a Gujarati Hindu holy man. Here is a video on how to make the dish. It is in Gujarati, but there are ingredients listed in English, and the instructions are easy to follow visually:

Feb 112019
 

On this date in 1858, 14-year old Bernadette Soubirous (Occitan: Bernadeta Sobirós) went with her sister Toinette and neighbor Jeanne Abadie to collect some firewood and bones in order to buy some bread. The Soubirous family’s financial and social status had declined to the point where they lived in a one-room basement, formerly used as a jail, called le cachot, “the dungeon”, where they were housed for free by her mother’s cousin, André Sajoux. While the other girls crossed the little stream in front of the grotto and walked on, Soubirous stayed behind, looking for a place to cross where she wouldn’t get her stockings wet. Later she said:

I came back towards the grotto and started taking off my stockings. I had hardly taken off the first stocking when I heard a sound like a gust of wind. Then I turned my head towards the meadow. I saw the trees quite still: I went on taking off my stockings. I heard the same sound again. As I raised my head to look at the grotto, I saw a lady dressed in white, wearing a white dress, a blue girdle and a yellow rose on each foot, the same color as the chain of her rosary; the beads of the rosary were white….From the niche, or rather the dark alcove behind it, came a dazzling light.

Soubirous tried to make the sign of the Cross but she could not, because her hands were trembling. The lady smiled, and invited Soubirous to pray the rosary with her. Soubirous tried to keep this a secret, but Toinette told her mother. After parental cross-examination, she and her sister were beaten for telling lies.

Three days later, 14th February, Soubirous returned to the Grotto. She had brought holy water as a test that the apparition was not of evil origin/provenance:

Then I started to throw holy water in her direction, and at the same time I said that if she came from God she was to stay, but if not, she must go. She started to smile, and bowed … This was the second time.

Soubirous’ companions are said to have become afraid when they saw her in ecstasy. She remained ecstatic even as they returned to the village. On 18th February, she spoke of being told by the Lady to return to the Grotto over a period of two weeks. She quoted her: “The Lady only spoke to me the third time. … She told me also that she did not promise to make me happy in this world, but in the next.” Soubirous was ordered by her parents never to go there again. She went anyway, and on 24th February, Soubirous related that the apparition asked for prayer and penitence for the conversion of sinners.

The next day, she said the apparition asked her to dig in the ground and drink from the spring she found there. The digging made her unkempt and some of her supporters were dismayed, but this act revealed the stream that soon became a focal point for pilgrimages. Although it was muddy at first, the stream became increasingly clean. As word spread, this water was given to medical patients of all kinds, and many reports of miraculous cures followed. Seven of these cures were confirmed as lacking any medical explanations by Professor Verges in 1860. The first person with a “certified miracle” was a woman whose right hand had been deformed as a consequence of an accident. Several miracles turned out to be short-term improvement or even hoaxes, and Church and government officials became increasingly concerned. The government fenced off the Grotto and issued stiff penalties for anybody trying to get near the off-limits area. In the process, Lourdes became a national issue in France, resulting in the intervention of Napoleon III with an order to reopen the grotto on 4th October 1858. The Church had decided to stay away from the controversy altogether.

Soubirous, knowing the local area well, managed to visit the barricaded grotto under cover of darkness. There, on 25th March, she said she was told: “I am the Immaculate Conception” (“que soy era immaculada concepciou”). On Easter Sunday, 7th April, her examining doctor stated that Soubirous, in ecstasy, was observed to have held her hands over a lit candle without sustaining harm. On 16th July, Soubirous went for the last time to the Grotto. “I have never seen her so beautiful before,” she reported.

The Church, faced with nationwide questions, decided to institute an investigative commission on 17th November 1858. On 18th January 1860, the local bishop finally declared that: “The Virgin Mary did appear indeed to Bernadette Soubirous.” These events established the Marian veneration in Lourdes, which together with Fátima, is one of the most frequented Marian shrines in the world, and to which between 4 and 6 million pilgrims travel annually. In 1863, Joseph-Hugues Fabisch was charged to create a statue of the Virgin according to Soubirous’ description. The work was placed in the grotto and solemnly dedicated on 4th April 1864 in presence of 20,000 pilgrims.

The veracity of the apparitions of Lourdes is not an article of faith for Catholics. Nevertheless, all recent popes have visited the Marian shrine at some time. Benedict XV, Pius XI, and John XXIII went there as bishops, Pius XII as papal delegate. He also issued an encyclical, Le pèlerinage de Lourdes, on the one-hundredth anniversary of the apparitions in 1958. John Paul II visited Lourdes three times during his pontificate, and twice before as a bishop.

Lourdes and the Occitan region are noted for many dishes, but for a poor peasant girl I have chosen the simplest: touradisse. It is similar to polenta, and can be made in different ways. For many families it was their sole dinner dish, and it was made in a pot over a fire – stirred for hours until thick. This recipe is quicker and more modern (and convenient) – more like cornbread.

Touradisse

Ingredients

125 gm cornmeal
125 gm wheat flour
¼ liter milk
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp salt
50 gm melted butter

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Grease a deep 8 x 8 inch pie pan.

Mix together the cornmeal and wheat flour in a large bowl. Stir in the milk, eggs, vanilla extract, salt and butter. Stir well until all the ingredients are completely mixed.

Pour the mix into the pie pan and bake for 40 minutes, or until the top is springy and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Serve warm in squares or slices.