Sep 132018
 

Today is the feast of Wulfthryth of Wilton, also known as Wilfrida, a 10th-century abbess in Wiltshire. Wulfthryth is known to history through several sources, including the hagiography of the Secgan Manuscript, John of Worcester’s Chronicle, William of Malmesbury, Osburn’s life of Dunstan, the Life of St Wulfthryth found in The Wilton Chronicle, a royal charter of King Edgar to Wulfthryth, and the Vita Edithae by Goscelin. The medieval sources record her as living an exemplary life of sanctity and virtue and her virtues were often contrasted with the machinations of Edgar’s second (or third) wife, Ælfthryth.

Wulfthryth was an English noblewoman, a cousin of Wulfhild, born about 937, whom king Edgar of England —  http://www.bookofdaystales.com/edgar-the-peaceful/ — carried off from the nunnery at Wilton Abbey and took to his residence at Kemsing, near Sevenoaks. While in Kent, Wulfthryth gave birth to a daughter, Edith. After at least a year, Wulfthryth returned to Wilton Abbey, taking Edith with her. She later became head of the abbey and outlived her daughter.

According to early monastic texts, under Saint Dunstan’s direction Edgar did penance for this crime by not wearing his crown for seven years. As part of his penance, Edgar gave Wilfrida/ Wulfthryth six estates in Wiltshire and the Isle of Wight which she passed on to Wilton Abbey in 965. Some form of bride abduction, often more simulated force than actual, by this time, may have existed as a vestige of earlier Anglo-Saxon tradition, and historians have alternatively referred to Wilfrida as Edgar’s concubine or his second wife, although never as a captive. Given the religious customs of the time, his penance was probably related to his violation of the sanctity of her religious vocation, rather than to any personal affront to Wilfrida. It is clear that the two had a continuing friendship long after her return to Wilton. In any event, Edgar seems to have acknowledged Edith as his daughter; the relationship may have been considered a marriage, despite the formal church sanction, as was the custom of the time, and if so Edith was a legitimate daughter.

Edgar

Wulfthryth continued to have considerable influence upon Edgar after her return to Wilton. She was able to stop bailiffs from arresting a thief who had taken sanctuary in the Abbey and was able to secure the release of two Wilton priests who had been imprisoned by the reeve of Wilton. As abbess of Wilton, she built a stone wall around the abbey and also used her wealth to build up the abbey’s collection of relics. Goscelin calls her the “hidden treasure and light” of the abbey, and she was held in high esteem during her life. She is credited with the usual cascade of miracles during her lifetime, and was well known for her alms giving.

Both Wulfthryth and her daughter Edith were regarded as saints soon after their lifetimes. Wulfthryth died at Wilton abbey on 21st September, probably in the year 1000, and was buried before the main altar of the Wilton Abbey church. I am not sure why her feast is today, since it is conventional to celebrate saints on the day of their deaths.

As I have mentioned numerous times before, Anglo-Saxon recipes are hard to find, and I have done my best in the past to give what is known. Instead I will give a more modern (19th century) Wiltshire recipe, which is suitable authentic although I have not tested it. I do like steamed puddings, however. The proportions are a bit inexact, but not impossible to follow. I’ve tidied things up a bit. The recipe calls for “fruit” but the more modern interpretation uses gooseberries or cut rhubarb. You can also use peeled and chopped apples.

Edgar

Wiltshire Stir-In Pudding

Ingredients

12 oz self-raising flour
6 oz lard
3 oz sugar
milk and water mix
salt
3 cups fruit

Instructions

Mix the flour, sugar, and a pinch of salt in a bowl. Rub in the lard so that the mix resembles coarse sand. Stir in your fruit of choice.  Mix with a sufficient quantity of milk and water to make a stiff mixture.  Grease a pudding basin and line it with greaseproof paper. Put the pudding mix in the basin, cover with greaseproof paper (tied down to cover the top), and steam for about 3 hours. Turn out on to a serving dish, and serve with egg custard.

Aug 312018
 

Today is Independence Day in Kyrgyzstan, and, as it happens, I am currently in Bishkek on my way to the World Nomad Games in Cholpon Ata. It now makes sense why there was so much activity yesterday and the day before, cleaning and painting in all the public squares and parks, plus erecting a huge concert stage at Ala Too Square.

The Kyrgyz state reached its greatest expansion after defeating the Uyghur Khaganate in 840 CE. From the 10th century the Kyrgyz migrated as far as the Tian Shan range and maintained their dominance over this territory for about 200 years. In the 12th century the Kyrgyz dominion had shrunk to the Altay Range and Sayan Mountains as a result of the Mongol expansion. With the rise of the Mongol Empire in the 13th century, the Kyrgyz migrated south. The Kyrgyz peacefully became a part of the Mongol Empire in 1207.

The descent of the Kyrgyz from the autochthonous Siberian population is confirmed by recent genetic studies. Because of the processes of migration, conquest, intermarriage, and assimilation, many of the Kyrgyz peoples who now inhabit Central and Southwest Asia are of mixed origins, often stemming from fragments of many different ethnicities, though they now speak closely related languages. Issyk Kul Lake was a stopover on the Silk Road, a land route for traders, merchants and other travelers from the Far East to Europe. Kyrgyz tribes were overrun in the 17th century by the Mongols, in the mid-18th century by the Manchurian Qing Dynasty, and in the early 19th century by the Uzbek Khanate of Kokand.

In the late 19th century, the eastern part of what is today Kyrgyzstan, mainly Issyk-Kul Region, was ceded to the Russian Empire through the Treaty of Tarbagatai between China (then ruled by the Qing Dynasty) and Russia. The territory, then known in Russian as “Kirghizia”, was formally incorporated into the Russian Empire in 1876. The Russian takeover was met with numerous revolts against Tsarist authority, and many of the Kyrgyz opted to move to the Pamir Mountains and Afghanistan.

In addition, the suppression of the 1916 rebellion against Russian rule in Central Asia caused many Kyrgyz later to migrate to China. Since many ethnic groups in the region were (and still are) split between neighboring states at a time when borders were more porous and less regulated, it was common to move back and forth over the mountains, depending on where life was perceived as better. This might mean better rains for pasture or better government during oppression.

Soviet power was initially established in the region in 1919, and the Kara-Kyrgyz Autonomous Oblast was created within the Russian SFSR (the phrase Kara-Kirghiz was used until the mid-1920s by the Russians to distinguish them from the Kazakhs, who were also referred to as Kirghiz). On 5th December 1936, the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic was established as a full republic of the Soviet Union. During the 1920s, Kyrgyzstan developed economically and modernized considerably. Literacy was greatly improved, and a standard literary language was introduced by imposing Russian on the population. Many aspects of Kyrgyz national culture were retained despite the suppression of nationalist activity under Joseph Stalin.

The early years of glasnost had little effect on the political climate in Kyrgyzstan. However, the Republic’s press was permitted to adopt a more liberal stance and to establish a new publication, Literaturny Kirghizstan, by the Union of Writers. Unofficial political groups were forbidden, but several groups that emerged in 1989 to deal with an acute housing crisis were permitted to function. According to the last Soviet census in 1989, ethnic Kyrgyz made up only 22% of the residents of the northern city of Frunze (now Bishkek), while more than 60% were Russians, Ukrainians, and people from other Slavic nations. Nearly 10% of the capital’s population were Jewish (a rather unusual fact for almost any place in the Soviet Union except the Jewish Autonomous Republic).

In June 1990, ethnic tensions between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz surfaced in the Osh Oblast (southern Kyrgyzstan), where Uzbeks form a minority of the population. Attempts to appropriate Uzbek collective farms for housing development triggered the Osh Riots. A state of emergency and a curfew were introduced and Askar Akayev, the youngest of five sons born into a family of collective farm workers (in northern Kyrgyzstan), was elected president in October of that same year.

By then, the Kyrgyzstan Democratic Movement (KDM) had developed into a significant political force with support in Parliament. On 15th December 1990, the Supreme Soviet voted to change the republic’s name to the Republic of Kyrgyzstan. (In 1993, it became the Kyrgyz Republic.) The following January, Akayev introduced new government structures and appointed a new government composed mainly of younger, reform-oriented politicians. In February 1991, the name of the capital, Frunze, was changed back to its pre-revolutionary name of Bishkek.

Despite these political moves toward independence, economic realities seemed to work against secession from the Soviet Union. In a referendum on the preservation of the Soviet Union in March 1991, 88.7% of the voters approved the proposal to retain the Soviet Union as a “renewed federation”. Nevertheless, secessionist forces pushed Kyrgyzstan’s independence through in August of that same year.

On 19th August 1991, when the State Emergency Committee assumed power in Moscow, there was an attempt to depose Akayev in Kyrgyzstan. After the coup collapsed the following week, Akayev and Vice President German Kuznetsov announced their resignations from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), and the entire bureau and secretariat resigned. This was followed by the Supreme Soviet vote declaring independence from the Soviet Union on 31st August 1991 as the Republic of Kyrgyzstan.

In October 1991, Akayev ran unopposed and was elected president of the newly independent Republic by direct ballot, receiving 95 percent of the votes cast. Together with the representatives of seven other Republics that same month, he signed the Treaty of the New Economic Community. Finally, on 21st December 1991, Kyrgyzstan joined with the other four Central Asian Republics to formally enter the new Commonwealth of Independent States. Kyrgyzstan gained full independence a few days later, on 25th December 1991. The following day, on 26th December 1991, the Soviet Union ceased to exist. In 1992, Kyrgyzstan joined the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). On 5th May 1993, the official name changed from the Republic of Kyrgyzstan to the Kyrgyz Republic.

Kyrgyz cuisine reflects the country’s nomadic past and the many influences of various cultures. Beshbarmak (бешбармак), a dish of homemade noodles and boiled meat (horse, beef, or mutton), is the national dish, although it is found across neighboring countries as well. If you want authentic Kyrgyz cuisine, remember my mantra: save your pennies and come here.

The term Beshbarmak means “five fingers”, because nomads used to eat this dish with their hands. The boiled meat is finely chopped with knives, mixed with boiled noodles, and spiced with onion sauce. It is usually served in a big round dish. Beshbarmak is usually served with shorpo – mutton broth in bowls called kese. Typically, shorpo is served as a first course that is followed by courses of beshbarmak and a drink called ak-serke (shorpo spiced with kymyz or ayran).

The serving of beshbarmak has traditional ritual associated with it at home, with different sections of the meat given to people depending on their gender, age and rank in the social structure. On special occasions, a lamb’s head may be served on the table. It is served to the most respected person, and he cuts off pieces from it and treats others with various parts. Festive beshbarmak can be cooked with Kazy (sausages) and other meats.

Beshbarmak is easy enough to prepare (if you are familiar with pasta making), but takes time. First the meat is boiled. In the traditional version of Beshbarmak, the hind quarters (rump) of a horse, plus kazy and sujuk (horse meat products), and rack of lamb were most common, but this changed with the seasons. In warm seasons, beshbarmak is usually cooked using lamb. A noodle dough is made using flour, water and eggs. It is rolled out very thin, and cut into noodles. The noodles are boiled in the meat-broth for 5–10 minutes. The boiled noodles and finely chopped meat are placed on a tray (“tabak”) and sauce (called “chyk” or “tuzdyk”, made of onion, ground black pepper and hot meat-broth) is poured over. Then everything is thoroughly mixed. Finely chopped meat in beshbarmak is a sign of respect for elders and guests. Presentation is also important. The dish is layered on a big communal tray. Ordinarily, being invited to a home for beshbarmak is an honor.

Here is a good instructional video. It is from a Kazakh kitchen, but the recipe is the same in Kyrgyzstan:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aug 302018
 

The 18th-century English landscape gardener, Lancelot “Capability” Brown was baptized on this date in 1716. His date of birth is unknown. He designed over 170 parks for estates, many of which still survive in mature form. He was nicknamed “Capability” because he would tell his clients that their property had “capability” for improvement.

Brown was the fifth child of a land agent and chambermaid, born in the village of Kirkharle Northumberland, and educated at a school in Cambo until he was 16. Brown’s father William Brown had been Sir William Loraine’s land agent and his mother Ursula (née Hall) had been in service at Kirkharle Hall. His eldest brother John became the estate surveyor and later married Sir William’s daughter. Elder brother George became a mason-architect. After school, Brown worked as the head gardener’s apprentice in Sir William Loraine’s kitchen garden at Kirkharle Hall until he was 23. In 1739 he moved south to the port of Boston in Lincolnshire, then to Kiddington Hall in Oxfordshire where he received his first landscape commission for a new lake in the park. He then moved to Wotton Underwood House in Buckinghamshire, seat of Sir Richard Grenville.

In 1741, Brown joined Lord Cobham’s gardening staff as undergardener at Stowe in Buckinghamshire, where he worked under William Kent, one of the founders of the new English style of landscape gardening. At the age of 26 he was officially appointed as the head gardener in 1742. Brown was the head gardener at Stowe from 1742 to 1750. He made the Grecian Valley at Stowe, which is an abstract composition of landform and woodland (with a fake Greek temple on a hill. Lord Cobham let Brown take freelance commission work from his aristocratic friends, thus making him well known as a landscape gardener. As a proponent of the new English style, Brown became immensely sought after by the landed families. By 1751, when Brown was beginning to be widely known, Horace Walpole wrote of Brown’s work at Warwick Castle:

The castle is enchanting; the view pleased me more than I can express, the River Avon tumbles down a cascade at the foot of it. It is well laid out by one Brown who has set up on a few ideas of Kent and Mr. Southcote.

By the 1760s, he was earning on average £6,000 (equivalent to £753,000 in 2016) a year, usually £500 (equivalent to £62,700 in 2016) for one commission. As an accomplished rider he was able to work fast, taking only an hour or so on horseback to survey an estate and rough out an entire design. In 1764, Brown was appointed king George III’s master gardener at Hampton Court Palace, succeeding John Greening and residing at the Wilderness House. In 1767 he bought an estate for himself at Fenstanton in Huntingdonshire from the Earl of Northampton and was appointed High Sheriff of Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire for 1770, although his son Lance carried out most of the duties.

It is estimated that Brown was responsible for over 170 gardens surrounding the finest country houses and estates in Britain. His work still endures at Croome Court (where he also designed the house), Blenheim Palace, Warwick Castle, Harewood House, Appuldurcombe House, Milton Abbey (and nearby Milton Abbas village), in traces at Kew Gardens and many other locations. His style of smooth undulating grass, which would run straight to the house, clumps, belts and scattering of trees and his serpentine lakes formed by invisibly damming small rivers, were a new style within the English landscape, a “gardenless” form of landscape gardening, which swept away almost all the remnants of previous formally patterned styles.

His landscapes were at the forefront of fashion in his day. They were fundamentally different from what they replaced, the well-known formal gardens of England which were criticized by Alexander Pope and others from the beginning of the 18th century. Starting in 1719, William Kent replaced these with more naturalistic compositions, which reached their greatest refinement in Brown’s landscapes.

Perhaps Brown’s sternest critic was his contemporary Uvedale Price, who likened Brown’s clumps of trees to “so many puddings turned out of one common mould.” Russell Page, who began his career in the Brownian landscape of Longleat but whose own designs have formal structure, accused Brown of “encouraging his wealthy clients to tear out their splendid formal gardens and replace them with his facile compositions of grass, tree clumps and rather shapeless pools and lakes.” Richard Owen Cambridge, the English poet and satirical author, declared that he hoped to die before Brown so that he could “see heaven before it was ‘improved’.” This was a typical statement reflecting the controversy about Brown’s work, which has continued over the last 200 years. By contrast, a recent historian and author, Richard Bisgrove, described Brown’s process as perfecting nature by

judicious manipulation of its components, adding a tree here or a concealed head of water there. His art attended to the formal potential of ground, water, trees and so gave to English landscape its ideal forms. The difficulty was that less capable imitators and less sophisticated spectators did not see nature perfected… they saw simply what they took to be nature.

This deftness of touch was recognized in his own day; one anonymous obituary writer opined: “Such, however, was the effect of his genius that when he was the happiest man, he will be least remembered; so closely did he copy nature that his works will be mistaken.” In 1772, Sir William Chambers (though he did not mention Brown by name) complained that the “new manner” of gardens “differ very little from common fields, so closely is vulgar nature copied in most of them.”

Brown’s essays in the field of architecture were a natural outgrowth of his unified picture of the English country house in its setting. Brown’s work as an architect is overshadowed by his great reputation as a designer of landscapes. Brown’s first country house project was the remodeling of Croome Court in Worcestershire, (1751–52) for the 6th earl of Coventry, in which he most likely followed sketches by the gentleman amateur Sanderson Miller. Fisherwick in Staffordshire, Redgrave Hall in Suffolk, and Claremont, Surrey, were classical, while at Corsham his outbuildings are in a Gothic vein. Gothic stable blocks and decorative outbuildings, arches and garden features constituted many of his designs. From 1771 he was assisted in the technical aspects by the master builder Henry Holland, and by Henry’s son Henry Holland the architect, whose initial career Brown supported; the younger Holland was increasingly Brown’s full collaborator and became Brown’s son-in-law in 1773.

Brown’s reputation declined rapidly after his death, because the English landscape style did not convey the dramatic conflict and awesome power of wild nature. The landscapes lacked the “sublime” thrill which members of the Romantic generation (such as Richard Payne Knight and Uvedale Price) looked for in their ideal landscape. During the 19th century he was widely criticized, but during the 20th century his reputation rose again.

In 1768 he purchased the manor of Fenstanton in Huntingdonshire in East Anglia for ₤13,000 from Lord Northampton. This came with two manor houses, two villages and 2,668 acres of land. The property stayed in the family until it was sold in lots in 1870s and 1880s. Ownership of the property allowed Brown to stand for and serve as High Sheriff of Huntingdonshire from 1770 to 1771. He continued to work and travel until his sudden collapse and death on 6 February 1783, on the doorstep of his daughter Bridget Holland’s house, at 6 Hertford Street, London while returning after a night out at Lord Coventry’s.

Horace Walpole wrote to Lady Ossory: “Your dryads must go into black gloves, Madam, their father-in-law, Lady Nature’s second husband, is dead!” Brown was buried in the churchyard of St. Peter and St. Paul, the parish church of Brown’s small estate at Fenstanton Manor. He left an estate of approximately ₤40,000, which included property in Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire and Lincolnshire. Brown sent two of his sons to Eton. One of them, Lancelot Brown the younger, became the MP for Huntingdon. His son John joined the Royal Navy and rose to become an admiral.

On Brown’s tricentennial Doddington Dairy in Northumberland – Brown’s birthplace – created a special cheese in his honor, as well as a rhubarb ice cream made from heirloom variety rhubarb. If you fancy a quick trip to Northumbria you can nab some cheese to celebrate. Otherwise here is an 18th century recipe, taken from A Collection of above Three Hundred Receipts in Cookery, Physick and Surgery by Mary Kettilby and others (2nd ed. 1719)

The best Orange-Pudding that ever was tasted

PARE the Yellow Rind of two fair Sevil- Oranges, so very thin that no part of the White comes with it; shred and beat it extremely small in a large Stone Mortar; add to it when very fine, half a pound of Butter, half a pound of Sugar, and the Yolks of sixteen Eggs; beat all together in the Mortar ‘till ‘tis all of a Colour; then pour it into your Dish in which you have laid a Sheet of Puff-paste. I think Grating the Peel saves Trouble, and does it finer and thinner than you can shred or beat it: But you must beat up the Butter and Sugar with it, and the Eggs with all, to mix them well.

 

Aug 232018
 

Today is the anniversary (1989) of the Baltic Way or Baltic Chain (also Chain of Freedom; Estonian: Balti kett, Latvian: Baltijas ceļš, Lithuanian: Baltijos kelias, Russian: Балтийский путь), a peaceful political demonstration protesting Soviet rule in the Baltic States and part of the Singing Revolution. Approximately two million people joined their hands to form a human chain spanning over 600 kilometres (370 mi) across the three Baltic states – Estonian SSR, Latvian SSR, and Lithuanian SSR — linking the capital cities of the three states. Organizers used banned radio broadcasts to co-ordinate timing. Singing banned songs and joining hands (and not guns) ended Soviet oppression.

The demonstration originated in “Black Ribbon Day” protests held in the western cities in the 1980s. It marked the 50th anniversary of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. The pact and its secret protocols divided Eastern Europe into spheres of influence and led to the occupation of the Baltic states in 1940 by the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union denied the existence of the secret protocols of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, even though they were widely published by western scholars after surfacing during the Nuremberg Trials. Soviet propaganda also maintained that there was no occupation and that all three Baltic states voluntarily joined the Union – supposedly the People’s Parliaments expressed the people’s will when they petitioned the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union to be admitted into the Union. The Baltic states claimed that they were forcefully and illegally incorporated into the Soviet Union. Popular opinion was that the secret protocols proved that the occupation was illegal. Such an interpretation of the Pact had major implications in Baltic public policy. If Baltic diplomats could link the Pact and the occupation, they could claim that the Soviet rule in the republics had no legal basis and therefore all Soviet laws were null and void since 1940. Such a position would automatically terminate the debate over reforming Baltic sovereignty or establishing autonomy within the Soviet Union – the states never de jure belonged to the union in the first place. This would open the possibility of restoring legal continuity of the independent states that existed in the interwar period. Claiming all Soviet laws had no legal power in the Baltics would also cancel the need to follow the Constitution of the Soviet Union and other formal secession procedures.

Ozolas

In anticipation of the 50th anniversary of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, tensions were rising between the Baltics and Moscow. Lithuanian Romualdas Ozolas initiated a collection of 2 million signatures demanding withdrawal of the Red Army from Lithuania. The Communist Party of Lithuania was deliberating the possibility of splitting off from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. On 8th August 1989, Estonians attempted to amend election laws to limit voting rights of new immigrants (mostly Russian workers). This provoked mass strikes and protests of Russian workers. Moscow gained an opportunity to present the events as an “inter-ethnic conflict” – it could then position itself as “peacemaker” restoring order in a troubled republic. The rising tensions in anticipation of the protest spurred hopes that Moscow would react by announcing constructive reforms to address the demands of the Baltic people. At the same time fears grew of violent clampdown. Erich Honecker from East Germany and Nicolae Ceauşescu from Romania offered the Soviet Union military assistance in case it decided to use force and break up the demonstration.

On 15th August, official daily Pravda, in response to worker strikes in Estonia, published sharp criticism of “hysteria” driven by “extremist elements” pursuing selfish “narrow nationalist positions” against the greater benefit of the entire Soviet Union. On 17th August, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union published a project of new policy regarding the union republics in Pravda. However, this project offered few new ideas: it preserved Moscow’s leadership not only in foreign policy and defense, but also in economy, science, and culture. The project made few cautious concessions: it proposed the republics the right to challenge national laws in a court (at the time all three Baltic states had amended their constitutions giving their Supreme Soviets the right to veto national laws) and the right to promote their national languages to the level of the official state language (at the same time the project emphasized the leading role of the Russian language). The project also included law banning “nationalist and chauvinist organizations,” which could be used to persecute pro-independence groups in the Baltics, and a proposal to replace the Treaty on the Creation of the USSR of 1922 with a new unifying agreement, which would be part of the Soviet constitution.

On 18th August, Pravda published an extensive interview with Alexander Nikolaevich Yakovlev, chairman of a 26-member commission set up by the Congress of People’s Deputies to investigate the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact and its secret protocols. During the interview, Yakovlev admitted that the secret protocols were genuine. He condemned the protocols, but maintained that they had no impact on the incorporation of the Baltic states. Thus Moscow reversed its long-standing position that the secret protocols did not exist or were forgeries, but did not concede that events of 1940 constituted an occupation. It was clearly not enough to satisfy the Baltics and on 22nd August, a commission of the Supreme Soviet of the Lithuanian SSR announced that the occupation in 1940 was a direct result of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact and therefore illegal. It was the first time that an official Soviet body challenged the legitimacy of the Soviet rule.

In the light of glasnost and perestroika, street demonstrations had been increasingly growing in popularity and support. On 23rd August, 1986, Black Ribbon Day demonstrations were held in 21 western cities including New York, Ottawa, London, Stockholm, Seattle, Los Angeles, Perth, and Washington, DC to bring worldwide attention to human rights violations by the Soviet Union. In 1987, Black Ribbon Day protests were held in 36 cities including Vilnius, Lithuania. Protests against the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact were also held in Tallinn and Riga in 1987. In 1988, for the first time, such protests were sanctioned by the Soviet authorities and did not end in arrests. The activists planned an especially large protest for the 50th anniversary of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact in 1989. It is unclear when and by whom the idea of a human chain was advanced. It appears that the idea was proposed during a trilateral meeting in Pärnu on 15th July. An official agreement between the Baltic activists was signed in Cēsis on 12th August. Local Communist Party authorities approved the protest. At the same time several different petitions, denouncing Soviet occupation, were gathering hundreds of thousands of signatures.

The organizers mapped out the chain, designating specific locations to specific cities, towns, and villages to make sure that the chain would be uninterrupted. Free bus rides were provided for those who did not have other transportation.[28] Preparations spread across the country, energizing the previously uninvolved rural population. Some employers did not allow workers to take the day off from work (23rd August fell on a Wednesday), while others sponsored the bus rides. On the day of the event, special radio broadcasts helped to coordinate the effort. Estonia declared a public holiday.

The Baltic pro-independence movements issued a joint declaration to the world and European community in the name of the protest. The declaration condemned the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, calling it a criminal act, and urged declaration that the pact was “null and void from the moment of signing.” The declaration said that the question of the Baltics was a “problem of inalienable human rights” and accused the European community of “double standards” and turning a blind eye to the “last colonies of Hitler–Stalin era.” On the day of the protest, Pravda published an editorial titled “Only the Facts.” It was a collection of quotes from pro-independence activists intended to show the unacceptable anti-Soviet nature of their work.

The chain connected the three Baltic capitals – Vilnius, Riga, and Tallinn. It ran from Vilnius along the A2 highway through Širvintos and Ukmergė to Panevėžys, then along the Via Baltica through Pasvalys to Bauska in Latvia and through Iecava and Ķekava to Riga (Bauska highway, Ziepniekkalna street, Mūkusalas street, Stone bridge, Kaļķu street, Brīvības’s street) and then along road A2, through Vangaži, Sigulda, Līgatne, Mūrnieki and Drabeši, to Cēsis, from there, through Lode, to Valmiera and then through Jēči, Lizdēni, Rencēni (et), Oleri, Rūjiena and Ķoņi to Estonian town Karksi-Nuia and from there through Viljandi, Türi and Rapla to Tallinn. The demonstrators peacefully linked hands for 15 minutes at 19:00 local time (16:00 GMT). Later, a number of local gatherings and protests took place. In Vilnius, about 5,000 people gathered in the Cathedral Square, holding candles and singing national songs, including Tautiška giesmė. Elsewhere, priests held masses or rang church bells. Leaders of the Estonian and Latvian Popular Fronts gathered on the border between their two republics for a symbolic funeral ceremony, in which a giant black cross was set alight. The protesters held candles and pre-war national flags decorated with black ribbons in memory of the victims of the Soviet terror: Forest Brothers, deportees to Siberia, political prisoners, and other “enemies of the people.”

In Moscow’s Pushkin Square, ranks of special riot police were employed when a few hundred people tried to stage a sympathy demonstration. TASS said 75 were detained for breaches of the peace, petty vandalism, and other offenses. About 13,000 demonstrated in the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic which was also affected by the secret protocol. A demonstration was held by the Baltic émigré and German sympathizers in front of the Soviet embassy in Bonn, then West Germany.

Most estimates of the number of participants vary between one and two million. Reuters News reported the following day that about 700,000 Estonians and 1,000,000 Lithuanians joined the protests. The Latvian Popular Front estimated an attendance of 400,000. Prior to the event, the organisers expected an attendance of 1,500,000 out of the about 8,000,000 inhabitants of the three states. Such expectations predicted 25–30% turnout among the native population. According to the official Soviet numbers, provided by TASS, there were 300,000 participants in Estonia and nearly 500,000 in Lithuania. To make the chain physically possible, an attendance of approximately 200,000 people was required in each state. Video footage taken from airplanes and helicopters showed an almost continuous line of people across the countryside.

There was an immediate push back from Soviet authorities, of course, both within the Baltic States and from Moscow. You can read the details elsewhere for yourself. The upshot is that by December 1989, the Congress of People’s Deputies accepted and Mikhail Gorbachev signed the report by Yakovlev’s commission condemning the secret protocols of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. In February 1990, the first free democratic elections to the Supreme Soviets took place in all three Baltic states and pro-independence candidates won majorities. On 11th March 1990, within seven months of the Baltic Way, Lithuania became the first Soviet state to declare independence. The independence of all three Baltic states was recognized by most western countries by the end of 1991.

The earliest mention of the food and agriculture of the Baltic people (Aestii) and related customs comes from Tacitus circa 98 CE: “they cultivate grain and other crops with a perseverance unusual among the indolent Germans.” Faint praise, to be sure. My experience of Baltic cuisine has run to dumplings, potatoes, sour cream, and tons of dill. The region has had many influences from Slavic and German to French, each being given their own twist from area to area. I’ve given a number of recipes here from Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, so you can do a search for something that appeals. Here is a video on how to make kugelis, a Lithuanian potato pie that is the national dish:

Aug 222018
 

Today is the birthday (1847) of John Forrest, 1st Baron Forrest of Bunbury GCMG, an Australian explorer, the first Premier of Western Australia, and a cabinet minister in Australia’s first federal parliament. John Forrest is the name I use in English-speaking countries and was my father’s and grandfather’s name as well. Hence, I had a small fascination with this Western Australian John Forrest when I lived in Australia as a boy. I have encountered multiple John Forrests in my lifetime – unsurprisingly, since Forrest is one of the most common family names in Scotland, and John for decades was the most popular given name. There are a few things that are slightly surprising, however. John Forrest had a brother called Alexander and so did my father, hence my full English name is John Alexander Forrest – also the full name of a current Australian politician. Needless to say, we are unrelated.

John Forrest was one of 10 children of William and Margaret Forrest, who emigrated to Australia as servants under Dr John Ferguson in 1842. He was born at Preston point near Bunbury in what was then the British colony of Western Australia. He was known as Jack to his family (as was my father). Among his seven brothers were Alexander Forrest (explorer, surveyor, and politician), and David Forrest (drover and politician). He attended the government school in Bunbury under John Hislop until the age of 12, when he was sent north to Perth to attend the Bishop’s Collegiate School, now Hale School, starting there in January 1860.

In November 1863, he was apprenticed to a government land surveyor named Thomas Carey. When his term of apprenticeship ended in November 1865, he became the first man born and educated in the colony to qualify as a land surveyor. He then commenced work as a surveyor with the government’s Lands and Surveys Department.

Between 1869 and 1874, Forrest led three expeditions into the uncharted land surrounding the colony of Western Australia. In 1869, he led a fruitless search for the explorer Ludwig Leichhardt who had gone missing in the desert west of the site of the present town of Leonora. They found no sign of Leichhardt, and the country over which they travelled was useless for farming. However, Forrest did report that his compass had been affected by the presence of minerals in the ground, and he suggested that the government send geologists to examine the area. Ultimately, the expedition achieved very little, but it was of great personal advantage to Forrest whose reputation with his superiors and in the community at large was greatly enhanced.

The following year, he surveyed Edward John Eyre’s land route, from Perth to Adelaide. Eyre had crossed the Great Australian Bight 30 years earlier, but his expedition had been poorly planned and equipped, and Eyre had nearly perished from lack of water. Forrest’s expedition was to follow Eyre’s route, but it would be thoroughly planned and properly resourced. Also, the recent discovery of safe anchorages at Israelite Bay and Eucla would permit Forrest’s team to be reprovisioned along the way by a chartered schooner Adur. Forrest’s brief was to provide a proper survey of the route, which might be used in future to establish a telegraph link between the colonies and also to assess the suitability of the land for pasture. Forrest’s team consisted of six men: his brother Alexander was second in charge, police constable Hector Neil McLarty, farrier William Osborn, trackers Windich and Billy Noongale, 16 horses and a number of dogs. The party left Perth on 30th March 1870, and arrived at Esperance on 24th April.

After resting and reprovisioning, the party left Esperance on 9th May and arrived at Israelite Bay nine days later. They had encountered very little feed for their horses and no permanent water, but they managed to obtain sufficient rain water from rock water-holes. After reprovisioning, the team left for Eucla on 30 May. Again, they encountered very little feed and no permanent water, and this time the water they obtained from rock water-holes was not sufficient. They were compelled to dash more than 240 kilometers (150 mi) to a spot where Eyre had found water in 1841. Having secured a water source, they rested and explored the area before moving on, eventually reaching Eucla on 2nd July. At Eucla, they rested and reprovisioned and explored inland, where they found good pasture land. On 14 July, the team started the final leg of their expedition through unsettled country: from Eucla to the nearest South Australian station. During the last leg, almost no water could be found, and the team was compelled to travel day and night for nearly five days. They saw their first signs of civilization on 18th July and eventually reached Adelaide on 27th August. A week later, they boarded ship for Western Australia, arriving in Perth on 27th September. They were honored at two receptions: one by the Perth City Council and a citizens’ banquet at the Horse and Groom Tavern. Speaking at the receptions, Forrest was modest about his own contributions but praised the efforts of the members of the expedition and divided a government gratuity between them.

Forrest’s bight crossing was one of the most organized and best managed expeditions of his time. As a result, his party successfully completed in five months a journey that had taken Eyre twelve and arrived in good health and without the loss of a single horse. However, the tangible results were not great. They had not travelled far from Eyre’s track, and although a large area was surveyed, only one small area of land suitable for pasture was found. A second expedition by the same team returned to the area between August and November 1871 and found further good pastures, north-north-east of Esperance.

In August 1872, Forrest was invited to lead a third expedition, from Geraldton to the source of the Murchison River and then east through the uncharted centre of Western Australia to the overland telegraph line from Darwin to Adelaide. The purpose was to discover the nature of the unknown centre of Western Australia, and to find new pastoral land. Forrest’s team again consisted of six men, including his brother Alexander and Windich. They also had 20 horses and food for eight months. The team left Geraldton on 1st April 1874, and a fortnight later, it passed through the colony’s outermost station. On 3rd May the team passed into unknown land. It found plenty of good pastoral land around the headwaters of the Murchison River, but by late May, it was travelling over arid land. On 2nd June, while dangerously short of water, it discovered Weld Springs, “one of the best springs in the colony” according to Forrest. At Weld Springs on 13th June, the party was attacked by a large group of Aborigines, and Forrest shot a number of them.

Beyond Weld Springs, water was extremely hard to obtain, and by 4th July the team relied on occasional thunderstorms for water. By 2nd August, the team was critically short of water; a number of horses had been abandoned, and Forrest’s journal indicates that the team had little confidence of survival. A few days later, it was rescued by a shower of rain. On 23rd August, it was again critically short of water and half of their horses were near death, when they were saved by the discovery of Elder Springs.

Then, the land became somewhat less arid, and the risk of dying from thirst started to abate. Other difficulties continued, however: the team had to abandon more of their horses, and one member of the team suffered from scurvy and could barely walk. The team finally sighted the telegraph line near Mount Alexander on 27th September and reached Peake Telegraph Station three days later. The remainder of the journey was a succession of triumphant public receptions by passing through each country town en route to Adelaide. The team reached Adelaide on 3rd November 1874, more than six months after they started from Geraldton.

From an exploration point of view, Forrest’s third expedition was of great importance. A large area of previously unknown land was explored, and the popular notion of an inland sea was shown to be unlikely. However, the practical results were not great. Plenty of good pastoral land was found up to the head of the Murchison, but beyond that, the land was useless for pastorage, and Forrest was convinced that it would never be settled. Forrest also made botanical collections during the expedition that were given to Ferdinand von Mueller, who, in turn, named Eremophila forrestii in his honor. Forrest published an account of his expeditions, Explorations in Australia, in 1875. In 1882, he was made a Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) by Queen Victoria for his services in exploring the interior.

Forrest was an outstanding surveyor, and his successful expeditions had made him a popular public figure as well. Consequently, he was promoted rapidly through the ranks of the Lands and Surveys Department, and in January 1883 he succeeded Malcolm Fraser in the positions of surveyor-general and commissioner of crown lands. This was one of the most powerful and responsible positions in the colony, and it accorded him a seat on the colony’s Executive Council. At the same time, Forrest was nominated to the colony’s Legislative Council. After Britain ceded to Western Australia the right to self-rule in 1890, Forrest was elected unopposed to the seat of Bunbury in the Legislative Assembly. On 22nd December 1890, Governor William Robinson appointed Forrest the first Premier of Western Australia. In May of the following year, he was knighted KCMG for his services to the colony.

The Forrest Ministry immediately embarked on a programme of large-scale public works funded by loans raised in London. Public works were greatly in demand at the time, because of the British government’s reluctance to approve public spending in the colony. Under the direction of the brilliant engineer C. Y. O’Connor, many thousands of miles of railway were laid, and many bridges, jetties, lighthouses and town halls were constructed. The two most ambitious projects were the Fremantle Harbour Works, one of the few public works of the 1890s which is still in use today; and the Goldfields Water Supply Scheme, one of the greatest engineering feats of its time, in which the Helena River was dammed and the water piped over 550 kilometres (340 mi) to Kalgoorlie. Forrest’s public works programme was generally well received, although on the Eastern Goldfields where the rate of population growth and geographical expansion far outstripped the government’s ability to provide works, Forrest was criticised for not doing enough. He invited further criticism in 1893 with his infamous “spoils to the victors” speech, in which he appeared to assert that members who opposed the government were putting at risk their constituents’ access to their fair share of public works.

Forrest’s government also implemented a number of social reforms, including measures to improve the status of women, young girls and wage-earners. However, although Forrest did not always oppose proposals for social reform, he never instigated or championed them. Critics have therefore argued that Forrest deserves little credit for the social reforms achieved under his premiership. On political reform, however, Forrest’s influence was unquestionable. In 1893, Forrest guided through parliament a number of significant amendments to the Constitution of Western Australia, including an extension of the franchise to all men regardless of property ownership. He also had a significant role in repealing section 70 of that constitution, which had provided that 1% of public revenue should be paid to a Board (not under local political control) for the welfare of Indigenous people, and was “widely hated” by the colonists.

The major political question of the time, though, was federation. Forrest was in favor of federation, and felt that it was inevitable, but he also felt that Western Australia should not join until it obtained fair terms. He was heavily involved in the framing of the Australian Constitution, representing Western Australia at a number of meetings on federation, including the National Australasian Conventions in Sydney in 1891 and in Adelaide in 1897, and the Australasian Federal Conventions in Sydney in 1897 and in Melbourne in 1898. He fought hard to protect the rights of the less populous states, arguing for a strong upper house organized along state lines. He also argued for a number of concessions to Western Australia, and for the building of a trans-Australian railway. Although he was largely unsuccessful in his endeavors, by 1900 he was convinced that better terms were not to be obtained, so called the referendum in which Western Australians voted to join the federation, and Western Australia became a part of the nation of Australia in 1901.

On 30th December 1900, Forrest accepted the position of Postmaster-General in Edmund Barton’s federal caretaker government. Two days later, he received news that he had been made a GCMG “in recognition of services in connection with the Federation of Australian Colonies and the establishment of the Commonwealth of Australia”. Forrest was postmaster-general for only 17 days: he resigned to take up the defense portfolio, which had been made vacant by the death of Sir James Robert Dickson. On 13th February 1901, he resigned as premier of Western Australia and as member for Bunbury. In the March 1901 federal election, the first one ever, Forrest was elected, unopposed, on a moderate Protectionist platform to the federal House of Representatives seat of Swan. He held the defense portfolio for over two years. After a cabinet reshuffle on 7th August 1903, he became Minister for Home Affairs. The December 1903 federal election greatly weakened the governing party. Shortly afterwards, it was defeated and replaced by a Labour government under Chris Watson. Forrest moved to the crossbenches, where he was a scathing critic of the Labour government’s policies and legislation. After George Reid’s Free Trade Party took office in August 1904, he remained on the crossbenches but largely supported the government.

I won’t go into the ins and outs of Forrest’s time in the federal government. The early days of Australian federation were fraught with complexities that I would rather not get into. It’s all part of the historical record. On 6th February 1918, Forrest was informed that he was to be raised to the British peerage as “Baron Forrest of Bunbury in the Commonwealth of Australia and of Forrest in Fife in the United Kingdom.” Despite the announcement, however, no letters patent were issued before his death, so there in uncertainty whether or not his peerage was officially created. Forrest had been suffering from a cancer on his temple since early in 1917, and by 1918, he was very ill. He resigned as treasurer on 21st March 1918, and shortly afterwards boarded ship for London, where he hoped to obtain specialist medical attention. He also hoped to be able to take his seat in the House of Lords. However, on 2 September 1918, with his ship off the coast of Sierra Leone, he died. He was buried there, but his remains were later brought back to Western Australia and interred in Karrakatta Cemetery.

Lord John Forrest was a big man. He was 260 lbs when he died. This tells me that he did not spend his evenings dining on short commons and bush tucker, although he would have been no stranger to the latter on his explorations. My posts have given plenty of Australian recipes, bush tucker recipes, and Scottish recipes as well (the land of his roots). His family came from Fife, which is reflected in the full title of his peerage. Fife is a region in Scotland that at one time was a kingdom with a venerable history, and birthplace of numerous luminaries in science, exploration, engineering, politics, and history. Fife is also well known for its beef, lamb, and fish, along with oats, peas, raspberries, and other mainstays of Scottish cuisine. As Scots immigrants to Australia I expect Forrest’s childhood, much like mine, was dominated by traditional British cooking. My father, John Forrest, loved his breakfast porridge and his Sunday roast lamb every bit as much as any Scots immigrant to Australia. In that sense, you can take any Scots recipe as a celebratory dish for the day. Because Forrest was also a notable Victorian, I am going to take a slight left turn and give you this recipe from Mrs Beeton for snow cake. She claims it is a “genuine Scotch recipe” but it definitely has a colonial feel because one of the chief ingredients is Bermuda arrowroot, rather than regular flour.

Arrowroot (Maranta arundinacea) is one of the oldest cultigens from the New World. There is evidence that it was cultivated as early as 8200 BCE (around the same time that plants were first being domesticated in Mesopotamia). The root is dried and pounded into a flour, which these days is more often used a thickener than as a chief ingredient. I used to use it all the time for sauces because I find it superior to both regular flour and cornstarch. I have not tried this recipe, which seems to be rather like angel cake – light and airy. In Beeton’s time this was an expensive endeavor.

SNOW-CAKE.

(A genuine Scotch Recipe.)

  1. INGREDIENTS.—1 lb. of arrowroot, 1/2 lb. of pounded white sugar, 1/2 lb. of butter, the whites of 6 eggs; flavouring to taste, of essence of almonds, or vanilla, or lemon.

Mode.—Beat the butter to a cream; stir in the sugar and arrowroot gradually, at the same time beating the mixture. Whisk the whites of the eggs to a stiff froth, add them to the other ingredients, and beat well for 20 minutes. Put in whichever of the above flavourings may be preferred; pour the cake into a buttered mould or tin and bake it in a moderate oven from 1 to 1-1/2 hour.

Time.—1 to 1-1/2 hour.

Average cost, with the best Bermuda arrowroot, 4s. 6d.; with St. Vincent ditto, 2s. 9d.

Sufficient to make a moderate-sized cake. Seasonable at any time.

Aug 212018
 

Today is the birthday (1904) of William James “Count” Basie, legendary jazz pianist, organist, bandleader, and composer. Basie was born to Harvey Lee and Lillian Basie in Red Bank, New Jersey. Both of his parents had some type of musical background. His father played the mellophone, and his mother played the piano. She gave Basie his first piano lessons. She took in laundry and baked cakes for sale for a living. She paid 25 cents a lesson for piano instruction for him. He finished junior high school, but spent much of his time at the Palace Theater in Red Bank, where doing occasional chores gained him free admission to performances. He quickly learned to improvise music appropriate to the acts and the silent movies.

Basie preferred drums even though he was a good piano player, but he was discouraged by the obvious talents of Sonny Greer, who also lived in Red Bank and who became Duke Ellington’s drummer in 1919. At age 15 Basie switched to piano exclusively. Greer and Basie played together in venues until Greer set out on his professional career. By then, Basie was playing with pick-up groups for dances, resorts, and amateur shows, including Harry Richardson’s “Kings of Syncopation.”

Around 1920, Basie went to Harlem, which was one of the centers of jazz in the US. Basie began touring with several acts, and before he was 20 years old, he had toured extensively on the Keith and TOBA vaudeville circuits as a solo pianist, accompanist, and music director for blues singers, dancers, and comedians. Back in Harlem in 1925, Basie gained his first steady job at Leroy’s, a place known for its piano players and its “cutting contests.” The place catered to “uptown celebrities,” and typically the band winged every number without sheet music using “head arrangements.” He met Fats Waller, who was playing organ at the Lincoln Theater accompanying silent movies, and Waller taught him how to play. (Basie later played organ at the Eblon Theater in Kansas City). In 1928, Basie was in Tulsa and heard Walter Page and his Famous Blue Devils, one of the first big bands, which featured Jimmy Rushing on vocals. A few months later, he was invited to join the band, which played mostly in Texas and Oklahoma. The following year, in 1929, Basie became the pianist with the Bennie Moten band based in Kansas City, inspired by Moten’s ambition to raise his band to the level of Duke Ellington’s or Fletcher Henderson’s. In addition to playing piano, Basie was co-arranger with Eddie Durham, who notated the music. Their “Moten Swing”, which Basie claimed credit for, was widely acclaimed and was an invaluable contribution to the development of swing music. During a stay in Chicago, Basie recorded with the band. He occasionally played four-hand piano and dual pianos with Moten, who also conducted. The band improved with several personnel changes, including the addition of tenor saxophonist Ben Webster.

When the band voted Moten out, Basie took over for several months, calling the group “Count Basie and his Cherry Blossoms.” A year later, Basie joined Bennie Moten’s band, and played with them until Moten’s death in 1935 from a failed tonsillectomy. When Moten died, the band tried to stay together but couldn’t make a go of it. Basie then formed his own nine-piece band, Barons of Rhythm, with many former Moten members including Walter Page (bass), Freddie Green (guitar), Jo Jones (drums), Lester Young (tenor saxophone) and Jimmy Rushing (vocals). The Barons of Rhythm were regulars at the Reno Club and often performed for a live radio broadcast. During a broadcast the announcer wanted to give Basie’s name some style, so he called him “Count.” The “noble” name aligned him with the likes of Duke Ellington and Earl Hines.

Basie’s new band included many Moten alumni, with the important addition of tenor player Lester Young. They played at the Reno Club and sometimes were broadcast on local radio. Late one night with time to fill, the band started improvising. Basie liked the results and named the piece “One O’Clock Jump.” According to Basie, “we hit it with the rhythm section and went into the riffs, and the riffs just stuck. We set the thing up front in D-flat, and then we just went on playing in F.” It became his signature tune.

At the end of 1936, Basie and his band, now billed as “Count Basie and His Barons of Rhythm,” moved from Kansas City to Chicago, where they honed their repertoire at a long engagement at the Grand Terrace Ballroom.[29] Right from the start, Basie’s band was noted for its rhythm section. Another Basie innovation was the use of two tenor saxophone players; at the time, most bands had just one. When Young complained of Herschel Evans’ vibrato, Basie placed them on either side of the alto players, and soon had the tenor players engaged in “duels”. Many other bands later adapted the split tenor arrangement. In October 1936, the band had a recording session in Chicago which the producer John Hammond later described as “the only perfect, completely perfect recording session I’ve ever had anything to do with.”

By 1937, Basie’s sound was characterized by a “jumping” beat and the contrapuntal accents of his own piano. His personnel around 1937 included: Lester Young and Herschel Evans (tenor sax), Freddie Green (guitar), Jo Jones (drums), Walter Page (bass), Earle Warren (alto sax), Buck Clayton and Harry Edison (trumpet), Benny Morton and Dickie Wells (trombone). Lester Young, known as “Prez” by the band, came up with nicknames for all the other band members. He called Basie “Holy Man”, “Holy Main”, and plain “Holy.”

Basie favored blues, and he showcased some of the most notable blues singers of the era after he went to New York: Billie Holiday, Jimmy Rushing, Big Joe Turner, Helen Humes, and Joe Williams. He also hired arrangers who knew how to maximize the band’s abilities, such as Eddie Durham and Jimmy Mundy.

When Basie took his orchestra to New York in 1937, they made the Woodside Hotel in Harlem their base. Soon, they were booked at the Roseland Ballroom for the Christmas show. Basie recalled a review, which said something like, “We caught the great Count Basie band which is supposed to be so hot he was going to come in here and set the Roseland on fire. Well, the Roseland is still standing.” Compared to the reigning band of Fletcher Henderson, Basie’s band lacked polish and presentation. The producer John Hammond continued to advise and encourage the band, and they soon came up with some adjustments, including softer playing, more solos, and more standards. They paced themselves to save their hottest numbers for later in the show, to give the audience a chance to warm up. His first official recordings for Decca followed, under contract to agent MCA, including “Pennies from Heaven” and “Honeysuckle Rose”.

Hammond introduced Basie to Billie Holiday, whom he invited to sing with the band. (Holiday did not record with Basie, as she had her own record contract and preferred working with small combos). The band’s first appearance at the Apollo Theater followed, with the vocalists Holiday and Jimmy Rushing getting the most attention. Durham returned to help with arranging and composing, but for the most part, the orchestra worked out its numbers in rehearsal, with Basie guiding the proceedings. There were often no musical notations made. Once the musicians found what they liked, they usually were able to repeat it using their “head arrangements” and collective memory.

Next, Basie played at the Savoy, which was noted more for lindy-hopping, while the Roseland was a place for fox-trots and congas. In early 1938, the Savoy was the meeting ground for a “battle of the bands” with Chick Webb’s group. Basie had Holiday, and Webb countered with the singer Ella Fitzgerald. As Metronome magazine proclaimed, “Basie’s Brilliant Band Conquers Chick’s”; the article described the evening:

Throughout the fight, which never let down in its intensity during the whole fray, Chick took the aggressive, with the Count playing along easily and, on the whole, more musically scientifically. Undismayed by Chick’s forceful drum beating, which sent the audience into shouts of encouragement and appreciation and casual beads of perspiration to drop from Chick’s brow onto the brass cymbals, the Count maintained an attitude of poise and self-assurance. He constantly parried Chick’s thundering haymakers with tantalizing runs and arpeggios which teased more and more force from his adversary.

The publicity over the big band battle, before and after, gave the Basie band a boost and wider recognition. Soon after, Benny Goodman recorded their signature “One O’Clock Jump” with his band. A few months later, Holiday left for Artie Shaw’s band. Hammond introduced Helen Humes, whom Basie hired; she stayed with Basie for four years. When Eddie Durham left for Glenn Miller’s orchestra, he was replaced by Dicky Wells. Basie’s 14-man band began playing at the Famous Door, a mid-town nightspot with a CBS network feed and air conditioning, which Hammond was said to have bought the club in return for their booking Basie steadily throughout the summer of 1938. Their fame took a huge leap. Adding to their play book, Basie received arrangements from Jimmy Mundy (who had also worked with Benny Goodman and Earl Hines), particularly for “Cherokee”, “Easy Does It”, and “Super Chief”.

On February 19th, 1940, Count Basie and his Orchestra opened a four-week engagement at Southland in Boston, and they broadcast over the radio on 20th February. On the West Coast, in 1942, the band did a spot in Reveille With Beverly, a musical film starring Ann Miller, and a “Command Performance” for Armed Forces Radio, with Hollywood stars Clark Gable, Bette Davis, Carmen Miranda, Jerry Colonna, and the singer Dinah Shore. Other minor movie spots followed, including Choo Choo Swing, Crazy House, Top Man, Stage Door Canteen, and Hit Parade. They also continued to record for OKeh Records and Columbia Records. The war years caused a lot of turn over in musicians, and the band worked many play dates with lower pay. Dance hall bookings were down sharply as swing began to fade, the effects of the musicians’ strikes of 1942–44 and 1948 began to be felt, and the public’s taste grew more for singers than for bands.

The big band era appeared to have ended after the war, and Basie disbanded the group. For a while, he performed in combos, sometimes stretched to an orchestra. In 1950, he headlined the Universal-International short film “Sugar Chile” Robinson, Billie Holiday, Count Basie and His Sextet. He reformed his group as a 16-piece orchestra in 1952. Basie credits Billy Eckstine, a top male vocalist of the time, for prompting his return to Big Band. He said that Norman Granz got them into the Birdland club and promoted the new band through recordings on the Mercury, Clef, and Verve labels. The jukebox era had begun, and Basie shared the exposure along with early rock’n’roll and rhythm and blues artists. Basie’s new band was more of an ensemble group, with fewer solo turns, and relying less on improvisation and more on written arrangements.

Basie added touches of bebop “so long as it made sense”, and he required that “it all had to have feeling”. Basie’s band was sharing Birdland with such bebop greats as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Miles Davis. Behind the occasional bebop solos, he always kept his strict rhythmic pulse, “so it doesn’t matter what they do up front; the audience gets the beat”. Basie also added flute to some numbers, a novelty at the time that became widely copied. Soon, his band was touring and recording again.

In 1958, the band made its first European tour. Jazz was especially appreciated in France, The Netherlands, and Germany in the 1950s; these countries were the stomping grounds for many expatriate American jazz stars who were either resurrecting their careers or sitting out the years of racial divide in the United States. Neal Hefti began to provide arrangements, notably “Lil Darlin'”. By the mid-1950s, Basie’s band had become one of the preeminent backing big bands for some of the most prominent jazz vocalists of the time. They also toured with the “Birdland Stars of 1955”, whose lineup included Sarah Vaughan, Erroll Garner, Lester Young, George Shearing, and Stan Getz.

Basie continued to perform with his band in the US and on world tours almost up until his death. He died of pancreatic cancer in Hollywood, Florida on April 26th, 1984 at the age of 79.

I’ve chosen a classic of Southern cooking and Harlem soul food for Basie, since he spent so many formative years in clubs in Harlem: chicken fried steak with country gravy. Chicken fried steak is one of the myriad versions of breaded, fried beef such as milanesa and Wiener schnitzel. For me it is the country gravy that makes it special, which means it should be served with freshly baked country biscuits. You’ll need cube steak, a cut of top round or top sirloin that has been pounded flat with a meat tenderized (leaving characteristic “cube” marks).

Chicken Fried Steak and Country Gravy

Ingredients

Steaks:

2 tbsp olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp onion powder
½ tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp cayenne pepper
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large egg
¼ cup water
2 lb cube steaks

Country Gravy:

3 tbsp butter
4 tbsp all purpose flour
1 ½ cups chicken or beef broth
1 cup milk
salt and pepper

Instructions

For the steaks:

Mix 1 cup flour, onion powder, paprika, cayenne, salt and pepper together in a medium bowl. Pour on to a large platter.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg and water.   Pour into a separate large platter.

Heat olive oil and butter in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat until ripples begin to form.

Season the steaks with salt and pepper. Using the wet hand/dry hand technique (using one hand to dip the steaks in the flour, the other for the egg mix), dredge one steak in the flour mixture, then the egg and then back in the flour mixture to coat. Add the steak to the skillet.

Repeat with the remaining steaks adding more oil as needed. Work in batches if necessary so as not to overcrowd the pan. Cook the steaks for 3 to 4 minutes or until crisp and golden brown. Flip the steaks and continue cooking for an additional 4 minutes until golden. Transfer the steaks to a platter or baking sheet and cover with foil to keep warm.

For the gravy:

Add the butter to the skillet the steaks were cooked in and sprinkle over the flour. Whisk together in the pan and cook until golden. Slowly whisk in the chicken stock and continue cooking until thickened. Stir in the milk until smooth and beginning to thicken. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve the steaks immediately with the gravy poured over. Serve with mashed potatoes, green beans, and biscuits.

Aug 202018
 

This post is about Protestant theology. Even if you object to religion, bear with me. My thoughts on Christian theology are probably not what you think (unless you know me). Today is another coincidence day. Two important Protestant theologians of the 20th century were born today, Rudolf Bultmann in 1884, and Paul Tillich in 1886. I am not going to wear you out with a complicated theological discussion, but I will give you a few gleanings that may surprise you about these two and their ideas, especially if you have rejected Christianity, but also if you are a regular church member. If you are Catholic or Orthodox, you will probably hate their ideas. I’ll get on to a recipe for them in short order. THIS IS A RECIPE BLOG !!!

Theologians such as Bultmann and Tillich came as a great shock to me when I was studying theology at Oxford, because I began my studies as a naïve teenager thinking that what I heard from the pulpit each Sunday was what I would be studying in more depth – on my way to being ordained. Instead I was bombarded with what is often called “liberal” theology, although in the 1960s and 70s at Oxford it was just coming of age, and I had plenty of rigid Anglican tutors who had not caught up yet. I was (and still am) more of an historian than a theologian. One of the examiners at my viva voce for the BA made note of that fact. It was a huge shock to me to discover that contemporary Biblical studies thought that most of the history in both the Hebrew and Greek Bibles was made up.

I had no problem with accepting that large parts of Genesis were fiction, but I thought Moses and Joshua, the Exodus, the United Monarchy, David and Solomon etc. were all rock solid. Nope. They were all made up too. There is zero evidence for any of them, and archeology shows a very different picture from the Bible narrative. I was gobsmacked, and, in fact, for the rest of my time at Oxford, and 20 years thereafter, I believed none of it. How I eventually became a Presbyterian minister is a long story – but the short version is that I became a “liberal” theologian also.

Rudolf Bultmann was a German Lutheran theologian, born in Wiefelstede near Oldenburg in Lower Saxony. He spent his academic career as professor of New Testament at the university of Marburg. He was one of the major figures of early 20th century Biblical studies and a prominent voice in liberal Christianity. Bultmann is known for his belief that the historical analysis of the New Testament is both futile and unnecessary, given that the earliest Christian literature showed little interest in specifics that could be nailed down historically in a modern sense. Bultmann argued that all that matters is that Jesus existed, preached, and died by crucifixion, not what happened throughout his life. The “historical” details expounded in the gospels are not important because the gospel writers were not interested in history in a modern sense. Absolute chronology and specific details were unimportant to them. They were pushing a theological point, not an historical one.

Bultmann called his approach “demythologizing,” which involved removing all the parts of gospel that reflected a 1st century worldview and paying attention to the preaching (kerygma in Greek), and that it was faith in the preaching that mattered not belief in the mythical stuff, such as miracles. Bultmann called on interpreters of the gospels to replace traditional supernaturalism with the temporal and existential categories of his philosopher colleague, Martin Heidegger, and to reject doctrines such as the pre-existence of Christ. Bultmann believed this endeavor would make accessible to modern audiences—already immersed in science and technology—the reality of Jesus’ teachings. Bultmann thus understood the project of “demythologizing the New Testament proclamation” as an evangelical task, clarifying the kerygma, or gospel proclamation, by stripping it of elements of the 1st-century “mythical world picture” that had the potential to alienate modern people from Christian faith. That project has yet to be accomplished. Some of us are trying our best.

Paul Tillich was born in the small village of Starzeddel (Starosiedle), province of Brandenburg, which was then part of Germany, now part of Poland. He too was a Lutheran pastor, engaged in the existentialist philosophical tradition as it pertains to Biblical scholarship. He taught at a number of universities in Germany, including Marburg (for 1 year) when Bultmann was there, but in 1933 he was refused employment because of his vocal criticism of Hitler and Nazism, and left Germany to teach at Union Theological Seminary in New York, and ultimately became a naturalized U.S. citizen. His magnum opus, Systematic Theology, was written and published in English. Both he and Bultmann address the basic question of what it means to be human, and, though their answers were informed by existentialist philosophy, their thinking was driven by the Christian tradition and not secular humanism.

It is impossible for me to characterize Tillich’s theology, even simplistically (because it can’t be simplified). Like all existentialists, his primary concern is the nature of being (and non-being). Does it make any sense to call God a being – even the ultimate being, or the source of being? What is a being? What is being? You can see how quickly you can get tied in knots reading his work. I certainly did – and still do. Tillich argues that God is not a supernatural entity among other entities. Instead, God is the ground upon which all beings exist. We cannot perceive God as an object which is related to a subject because God precedes the subject–object dichotomy. God is not a being (an entity); God is what makes being/existence possible.

Tillich, thus, disapproved of any literal philosophical and religious statements that can be made about God. Such literal statements attempt to define God and lead not only to anthropomorphism but also to a philosophical mistake that Immanuel Kant warned against, that setting limits on the transcendent inevitably leads to contradictions. Any statements about God are simply symbolic, but these symbols are sacred in the sense that they function to participate or point to the Ground of Being. Tillich insists that anyone who participates in these symbols is empowered by the Power of Being, which overcomes and conquers nonbeing and meaninglessness.

You can see how this kind of thinking does not work in Sunday sermons. More liberally-minded Christians may be over images of God with a flowing beard sitting on some celestial throne, but they still want a personal, relatable entity, not a Ground of Being (that is completely unrelatable). They want “someone” they can talk to, “someone” who can address their problems. Relating to the Ground of Being is certainly possible, but it requires a major overhaul in thinking about the nature of “being” and “relating.” A good stint as a Buddhist monk can help here, but I doubt the majority of Christians are ready for that journey.

Let me stop and turn to cooking. If you have any experience with cooking at all you will know that two cooks can be given identical ingredients, identical equipment, and identical recipes. They can follow the recipes precisely and still end up with two obviously different products. Why is that? I used to make Argentine tortillas for breakfast all the time for my girlfriend of the time (Denise, who took my profile photo). She’s a reasonably good cook and wanted to replicate them, so she could make them when I wasn’t around. So, first I showed her what I did. Then I supervised her in making them. I also made videos for her to watch. You can see them here:

Part 1 (The batter)

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bx9zQ-sRgAkQMEpmZkVZLUJsR1U/edit?usp=sharing

Part 2 (The filling)

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bx9zQ-sRgAkQU3JZUzIyLUxrU3c/edit?usp=sharing

Part 3 (The tortilla)

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bx9zQ-sRgAkQMXFsTUJvMXNBaDQ/edit?usp=sharing

They are quite detailed and specific. It did not matter how many times I supervised Denise, she simply could not replicate my tortillas. Why? You can come up with a scientific explanation, but it will fall short. There is a transcendent quality to our actions that simply cannot be described in physical/scientific terms. There is something transcendently different about Denise and me as cooks. We did exactly the same thing physically, but got different results. Here is where faith comes in. You can reject my reasoning, because it does not accord with your belief system. Perhaps you are convinced that there is a scientific explanation for every phenomenon. Fine. That’s your faith system; it is not mine.

 

Aug 192018
 

Today is the birthday (1921) of Eugene “Gene” Wesley Roddenberry who is best remembered for creating the original Star Trek television series. I want to focus on that aspect of Roddenberry’s life because it is an absolutely classic exemplar of how you have to be persistent to achieve your goals. Roddenberry not only had to beat down numerous doors to get Star Trek aired in the first place, he also had to keep pushing to get it lodged in the popular consciousness. After all, it originally aired for only 3 seasons, and would have been forgotten if Roddenberry had not persisted in promoting it. I’ll start with a few personal details: a few – you can look up the rest.

Roddenberry was born in El Paso, Texas, and grew up in Los Angeles, where his father was a police officer. Roddenberry flew 89 combat missions in the Army Air Forces during World War II, and worked as a commercial pilot after the war. Later, he followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the Los Angeles Police Department, where he also began to write scripts for television. As a freelance writer, Roddenberry wrote scripts for Highway Patrol, Have Gun–Will Travel, and other series, before creating and producing his own television series The Lieutenant. In 1964, Roddenberry created Star Trek, which premiered in 1966 and ran for three seasons before being canceled. He then worked on other projects, including a string of failed television pilots. It was the syndication of Star Trek that led to its growing and enduring popularity, which then led to a movie franchise.

I remember watching Star Trek in England in the late 1960s (in b/w) but was never a huge fan. I got a little more interested in the late 1970s when I (briefly) owned a television in the US (from 1970 to 1978 I did not own one) and re-runs were frequent enough to hold my attention for a while. Even at the time, the sets and costumes seemed cheap and hokey, but I was used to Dr Who episodes that were no better in that regard. Having the camera shake and the actors throw themselves about when the Enterprise was hit by a photon bomb just made us all laugh. But the scripts were (mostly) engaging and worth the price of admission, even though the main characters were ridiculously one dimensional. There was always an ensign “Smith” (or whatever) in a landing party whom you knew was going to be the first to be killed, Scotty was always going to be worried about his engines, and Spock was always going to be absurdly “logical” while Kirk would (illogically) get entangled in some love interest. But the plots themselves could be engaging.  It is way too common these days for SciFi movies and TV series to rely on stunning effects to make up for weak story lines. With limited effects, the first series of Star trek had to have good writing.

When Roddenberry pitched Star Trek to MGM, it was warmly received, but no offer was made. He then went to Desilu Productions, but rather than being offered a one-script deal, he was hired as a producer and allowed to work on his own projects. His first was a half-hour pilot called Police Story (not to be confused with the anthology series created by Joseph Wambaugh), which was not picked up by the networks. Having not sold a pilot in five years, Desilu was having financial difficulties; its only success was I Love Lucy. Roddenberry took the Star Trek idea to Oscar Katz, head of programming, and as a team they started work on a plan to sell the series to the networks. They took it to CBS, which ultimately passed on it. They later learned that CBS had been eager to find out about Star Trek because it had a science fiction series in development—Lost in Space. Roddenberry and Katz next took the idea to Mort Werner at NBC, this time downplaying the science fiction elements and highlighting the links to Gunsmoke and Wagon Train. The network funded three story ideas, and selected “The Menagerie”, which was later known as “The Cage”, to be made into a pilot. (The other two later became episodes of the series.) While most of the money for the pilot came from NBC, the remaining costs were covered by Desilu. Roddenberry hired Dorothy Fontana, better known as D. C. Fontana, as his assistant. They had worked together previously on The Lieutenant, and she had eight script credits to her name.

Roddenberry and Majel Barrett had begun an affair by the early days of Star Trek, and he specifically wrote the part of the character Number One in the pilot with her in mind; no other actresses were considered for the role. Barrett suggested Nimoy for the part of Spock. He had worked with both Roddenberry and Barrett on The Lieutenant, and once Roddenberry remembered the thin features of the actor, he did not consider anyone else for the part. After choosing the remaining cast filming began on November 27th, 1964, and was completed on December 11th. After post-production, the episode was shown to NBC executives and it was rumored that Star Trek would be broadcast at 8:00 pm on Friday nights. The episode failed to impress test audiences, and after the executives became hesitant, Katz offered to make a second pilot. On March 26th, 1965, NBC ordered a new episode.

Roddenberry developed several possible scripts, including “Mudd’s Women”, “The Omega Glory”, and with the help of Samuel A. Peeples, “Where No Man Has Gone Before”. NBC selected the last one, leading to later rumors that Peeples created Star Trek, something he has always denied. Roddenberry was determined to make the crew racially diverse, which impressed actor George Takei when he came for his audition. The episode went into production on July 15th, 1965, and was completed at around half the cost of “The Cage”, since the sets were already built. Roddenberry worked on several projects for the rest of the year. In December, he decided to write lyrics to the Star Trek theme. This angered the theme’s composer, Alexander Courage, as it meant that royalties would be split between them. In February 1966, NBC informed Desilu that they were buying Star Trek and that it would be included in the fall 1966 television schedule.

On May 24th, the first episode of the Star Trek series went into production. Desilu was contracted to deliver 13 episodes. Five days before the first broadcast, Roddenberry appeared at the 24th World Science Fiction Convention and previewed “Where No Man Has Gone Before”. After the episode was shown, he received a standing ovation. The first episode to air on NBC was “The Man Trap”, on September 8th, 1966, at 8:00 pm. Roddenberry was immediately concerned about the series’ low ratings and wrote to Harlan Ellison to ask if he could use his name in letters to the network to save the show. Roddenberry also corresponded with Isaac Asimov about how to address the issue of Spock’s growing popularity and the possibility that his character would overshadow Kirk. Asimov suggested having Kirk and Spock work together as a team “to get people to think of Kirk when they think of Spock.” The series was renewed by NBC, first for a full season’s order, and then for a second season. An article in the Chicago Tribune quoted studio executives as stating that the letter-writing campaign had been wasted because they had already been planning to renew Star Trek.

Roddenberry often rewrote submitted scripts, although he did not always take credit for these. Roddenberry and Ellison fell out over “The City on the Edge of Forever” after Roddenberry rewrote Ellison’s script to make it both financially feasible to film and usable for the series context. Even his close friend Don Ingalls had his script for “A Private Little War” altered drastically, and as a result, Ingalls declared that he would only be credited under the pseudonym “Jud Crucis” (a play on “Jesus Christ”), claiming he had been crucified by the process. Roddenberry’s work rewriting “The Menagerie”, based on footage originally shot for “The Cage”, resulted in a Writers’ Guild arbitration board hearing. The Guild ruled in his favor over John D. F. Black, the complainant. The script won a Hugo Award, but the awards board neglected to inform Roddenberry, who found out through correspondence with Asimov.

As the second season was drawing to a close, Roddenberry once again faced the threat of cancellation. He enlisted the help of Asimov, and even encouraged a student-led protest march on NBC. On January 8th, 1968, 1,000 students from 20 different schools across the country marched on the studio. Roddenberry began to communicate with Star Trek fan Bjo Trimble, who led a fan writing campaign to save the series. Trimble later noted that this campaign of writing to fans who had written to Desilu about the show, urging them to write NBC, had created an organized Star Trek fandom. The network received around 6,000 letters a week from fans petitioning it to renew the series. This fan base became an important phenomenon in its own right over the years, producing fanzines, and creating back stories that eventually got woven into the movie franchise. On March 1st, 1968, NBC announced on air, at the end of “The Omega Glory”, that Star Trek would return for a third season.

The network had initially planned to place Star Trek in the 7:30 pm Monday-night time slot freed up by The Man from U.N.C.L.E. completing its run. Instead, an enraged George Schlatter forced the network to insert Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In into the slot, and Roddenberry’s series was moved to 10:00 pm on Fridays. Realizing the show could not survive in that time slot and burned out from arguments with the network, Roddenberry resigned from the day-to-day running of Star Trek, although he continued to be credited as executive producer. Roddenberry cooperated with Stephen Edward Poe, writing as Stephen Whitfield, on the 1968 book The Making of Star Trek for Ballantine Books, splitting the royalties evenly. Roddenberry explained to Whitfield: “I had to get some money somewhere. I’m sure not going to get it from the profits of Star Trek.” Herbert Solow and Robert H. Justman observed that Whitfield never regretted his 50-50 deal with Roddenberry, since it gave him “the opportunity to become the first chronicler of television’s successful unsuccessful series.” Whitfield had previously been the national advertising and promotion director for model makers Aluminum Model Toys, better known as “AMT”, which then held the Star Trek license, and moved to run Lincoln Enterprises, Roddenberry’s company set up to sell the series’ merchandise.

Having stepped aside from the majority of his Star Trek duties, Roddenberry sought instead to create a film based on Asimov’s I, Robot and also began work on a Tarzan script for National General Pictures. After initially requesting a budget of $2 million and being refused, Roddenberry made cuts to reduce costs to $1.2 million. When he learned they were being offered only $700,000 to shoot the film, which by now was being called a TV movie, he canceled the deal. Meanwhile, NBC announced Star Trek‘s cancellation in February 1969. A similar but much smaller letter-writing campaign followed news of the cancellation. Because of the manner in which the series was sold to NBC, it left the production company $4.7 million in debt. The last episode of Star Trek aired 47 days before Neil Armstrong stepped on to the moon as part of the Apollo 11 mission, and Roddenberry declared that he would never write for television again.

There was an animated Star Trek series produced in 1973 with some involvement by Rodenberry (his name was more important than his production skills). However, the groundswell of vociferous fan support (6,000 attended the second New York Star Trek convention in 1973 and 15,000 attended in 1974, eclipsing the 4,500 attendees at the 32nd World Science Fiction Convention in 1974) led Paramount to hire Roddenberry to create and produce a feature film based on the franchise in May 1975. At the time, several ideas were partly developed including Star Trek: The God Thing and Star Trek: Planet of the Titans. Following the commercial reception of Star Wars, in June 1977, Paramount instead approved a new series set in the franchise titled Star Trek: Phase II, with Roddenberry and with most of the original cast, except Nimoy, set to reprise their respective roles. It was to be the anchor show of a proposed Paramount-owned fourth network, but plans for the network were scrapped and the project was reworked into a feature film. The result, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, troubled the studio because of budgetary concerns, but was a box-office hit. Adjusted for inflation, it was the third-highest grossing Star Trek movie, with the 2009 film coming in first and the 2013 film second.

Gene Rodenberry died on October 24th, 1991 from the complications of multiple problems including diabetes, 2 strokes, and encephalopathy induced by persistent recreational drug use, amphetamines (used for long nights script writing), and alcohol. He was cremated, and various amounts of his ashes were flown into space on several missions, although details are murky at best, and there are more rumors floating around than his actual ashes. Rodenberry lived to see Star Trek: Next Generation inaugurated, and there were many more movies in the franchise after he died, including a set of prequels, and, no doubt, more to come. I can’t say that I am taken with anything that was produced beyond the first series. I did see the first movie for old-times’ sake, but never bothered after that, and was not at all interested in Next Generation. The prequels show up on television now and again on Cambodian cable television, but a few minutes is enough for me to go about other things. I’ve probably watched nearly all of the first series at least once, and several stick in memory. A Trekkie I am not.

Star Trek fans have cookbooks just as Douglas Adams and Dr Who fans do. You can find plenty of recipes here: https://www.buzzfeed.com/donnad/star-trek-recipes-you-can-replicate-at-home?utm_term=.qwP7PzX8O5#.afLW8x75jO The only first series themed recipe is this one for plomeek soup, a traditional morning meal on Spock’s home planet, Vulcan. The Vulcans were mostly, but not exclusively, vegetarian. I have edited the original recipe, but the idea is the same.

Plomeek Soup

Ingredients

1 onion, peeled and diced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
5 carrots, peeled and diced
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
3 medium beetroots, peeled and diced
3 sticks celery, chopped
1 liter vegetable stock
salt and pepper
vegetable oil

Instructions

Sauté the onion in vegetable oil in a large stock pot until soft. Then add the rest of the vegetables and cook for a few minutes. Add 750ml of the stock, reserving the rest. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until all the vegetables are soft, (about 45 minutes to 1 hour).

Using an immersion blender, blend the soup until smooth. You can also use a stand blender or food processor, blinding the soup in batches. Add salt and pepper to taste, and check the soup’s thickness – if it is too thick, add the remaining vegetable stock as needed.

Reheat the blended soup and serve hot.

Aug 182018
 

Today is the birthday (1911) of Klára (Klari) Dán, usually called Klára Dán von Neumann, but I want to correct that usage straightaway as part of the problem this post is largely about. Yes, she was married to John von Neumann, and, yes, her married name was Klára Dán von Neumann, but she was a major figure in mathematics and computing in her own right, and deserves to be recognized as such. She was married 4 times. Why should we recognize her by her married name when she was married to von Neumann? Why not use her birth name and recognize her as an individual and not as a woman who gained her identity and importance from the man she married (who also happens to be more famous)? I will call her simply Klára Dán or Dán in this post. Unfortunately, biographical material is in short supply, but I will do my best.

Klára Dán was born in Budapest to Károly Dán and Camila Dán (née Stadler), wealthy Hungarian Jews. Her father served in the Austro-Hungarian Army as an officer during the Great war, and the family moved to Vienna after the war to escape Béla Kun’s short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic. When the regime was overthrown in August 1919, the family moved back to Budapest.  At 14, Klára Dán became a national champion in figure skating. She attended Veres Pálné Gimnázium in Budapest and graduated in 1929. She married Ferenc Engel in 1931 and Andor Rapoch in 1936.

Klara had previously met John von Neumann (also a Hungarian Jew) http://www.bookofdaystales.com/john-von-neumann/  during one of his return trips to Budapest from the U.S. prior to the outbreak of World War II. When von Neumann’s first marriage ended in a divorce, Klára Dán divorced Rapoch, married von Neumann in 1938 and emigrated to the United States. She became head of the Statistical Computing Group at Princeton University in 1943, and moved to Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1946 to program the MANIAC I machine designed by von Neumann and Julian Bigelow.

The MANIAC I (Mathematical Analyzer, Numerical Integrator, and Computer, or, Mathematical Analyzer, Numerator, Integrator, and Computer) was built under the direction of Nicholas Metropolis at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory. It was based on the von Neumann architecture developed by John von Neumann. You can see (below) that the architecture is close to modern digital computers with input and output devices, a central processing unit (CPU) and a memory storage device. It did, however have a bottleneck in that input and processing could not be done simultaneously.

It was said that Metropolis (perhaps on the advice of von Neumann), chose the acronym to make fun of silly computer acronyms in the hope they would stop, but it stuck. Early digital computers were hard wired to perform their operations, much like a modern hand-held calculator, although a lot more complicated. To reprogram them took days or weeks to change the wiring and debug the programming. Even booting up was a major operation, so they were always left running. The von Neumann architecture allowed for reprogramming which was where Klára Dán came in. As with all computers of its era, MANIAC I was a one-of-a-kind machine that could not exchange programs with other computers (even other IAS machines). Programmers had to generate unique code for the specific architecture. Klára Dán was the principal programmer of MANIAC I. The first task assigned to MANIAC was to perform more exact and extensive calculations of the thermonuclear process. The MANIAC ran successfully in March 1952 and was shut down on July 15, 1958. It was succeeded by MANIAC II in 1957.

Klára Dán was also involved in the design of new controls for ENIAC (originally used to calculate artillery trajectories) and was one of its primary programmers. Even on the 50th anniversary of ENIAC in 1995, the role of women as programmers went largely unrecognized. All of the first 6 programmers of ENIAC were women: Kay McNulty, Betty Jennings, Betty Snyder, Marlyn Meltzer, Fran Bilas, and Ruth Lichterman. Klára Dán was involved in later modifications. She had a major role in reprogramming ENIAC to make weather predictions. Historians believed for decades that women posing by ENIAC were “refrigerator ladies,” that is, models who made the computer more attractive, but were not involved in its operation. They were not eye candy, they were the key programmers.

After his death in 1957, Klára Dán wrote the preface to John von Neumann’s posthumously published Silliman Lectures, later edited and published by Yale University Press as The Computer and the Brain. She married physicist Carl Eckart in 1958 and moved with him to La Jolla, California. She died in 1963 when she drove from her home in La Jolla to the beach and walked into the surf and drowned. The San Diego coroner’s office listed her death as a suicide.

Maybe some historian or Ph.D. candidate is assiduously researching Klára Dán’s life for a book or dissertation. I don’t know. Her story is largely untold. I don’t have any trouble asserting that John von Neumann was the love of her life, and I expect he valued her for her mathematical abilities, along with other qualities. Why, though, was she married 4 times (the first 2 in quick succession), and why did she remarry soon after von Neumann’s death? Furthermore, why did she commit suicide? If she suffered from clinical depression or was bipolar, her devotion to complex work and suicide would be explicable. But there is so little to go on. She was not necessarily a private person. It is known that she was gregarious in Budapest when her parents entertained, and she and von Neumann held celebrated parties at their house in Princeton. Of course, being overtly gregarious is no sign of anything concerning inner turmoil. If there is more research on her life, I’d like to know about it. Meanwhile spread the word about the undervalued work of women in the early days of computing.

A Hungarian recipe is called for today, and if you think about paprika when you think about Hungarian cuisine, you are not far wrong: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/st-stephen-of-hungary/ You have a hard job finding a Hungarian meat recipe without some paprika in it, and most of them are swimming in it. First task in cooking any Hungarian dish is to find proper Hungarian paprika, not the red powder that passes for paprika in many supermarkets. Then you have to decide on the grade and spiciness. Csípős Csemege, Pikáns (Pungent Exquisite Delicate) is my favorite, but it is hard to find outside of Hungary. You can probably find a hot or mild Szeged paprika if you hunt. You can find good Hungarian paprika online.

Here is Hungarian Pacal Pörkölt to feed my tripe fetish. It is a great favorite of mine. You can skin the tomatoes easily by scalding them briefly in boiling water. To skin the peppers, sear them over a gas burner briefly. Lard is the traditional fat for frying, but you can use olive oil if you wish.

Pacal Pörkölt

Ingredients

2 lb parboiled tripe, cut in thick strips, ½ inch wide, 2 inches long
5 oz smoked bacon, diced
5 oz diced onion
5 oz tomatoes skinned and diced
5 oz Hungarian peppers skinned and sliced in stripsM
3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thin
lard
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp Hungarian paprika
1 tsp marjoram
2 bay leaves

Instructions:

Mix the peppers, garlic, cumin and paprika with the tomatoes in a bowl.

Heat a small amount of lard in a deep skillet over medium-high heat and fry the bacon until it is lightly brown. Scoop out the bacon bits with a slotted spoon. The bacon can be set aside or a little cook’s treat. Add the onions and sauté until translucent. Add the tomato mix, ¼ cup of water and the bay leaves. Cover and simmer slowly for about 15 minutes.

Stir in the tripe, marjoram, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste, and ½ cup of water. Cover and simmer until the tripe is tender. Cooking tripe to the right consistency takes experience. It must be al dente – not chewy, not mushy.

Serve hot with csipetke or galuska (Hungarian noodles) on the side. Sour cream can also be served as a side.

Aug 172018
 

Today is the birthday (1893) of Mary Jane “Mae” West, a US actress, singer, playwright, screenwriter, and comedian whose entertainment career spanned seven decades. She was known for her lighthearted bawdy double entendres and breezy sexual independence. Mae West was born in Kings County, New York (either Greenpoint or Bushwick, before New York City was consolidated in 1898). She was the eldest surviving child of John Patrick West and Mathilde “Tillie” (later Matilda) Delker. During her childhood, West’s family moved to various parts of Woodhaven, as well as the Williamsburg and Greenpoint neighborhoods of Brooklyn. In Woodhaven, at Neir’s Social Hall (which opened in 1829 and is still standing), West supposedly first performed professionally. West was 5 when she first entertained a crowd at a church social, and she started appearing in amateur shows at the age of 7, often winning local talent contests. She began performing professionally in vaudeville in the Hal Clarendon Stock Company in 1907 at the age of 14. West first performed under the stage name “Baby Mae,” and tried various personas, including a male impersonator.

She used the alias “Jane Mast” early in her career. Her trademark walk was said to have been inspired or influenced by female impersonators Bert Savoy and Julian Eltinge, who were famous during the Pansy Craze. Her first appearance in a Broadway show was in a 1911 revue A La Broadway put on by her former dancing teacher, Ned Wayburn. The show folded after eight performances, but at age 18, West was singled out by The New York Times. The Times reviewer wrote that a “girl named Mae West, hitherto unknown, pleased by her grotesquerie and snappy way of singing and dancing.” West next appeared in a show called Vera Violetta, whose cast featured Al Jolson. In 1912, she appeared in the opening performance of A Winsome Widow as a “baby vamp” named La Petite Daffy.

In 1918, after several high-profile revues, West finally got her break in the Shubert Brothers revue Sometime, opposite Ed Wynn. Her character Mayme danced the shimmy and her photograph appeared on an edition of the sheet music for the popular number “Ev’rybody Shimmies Now.” Eventually, she began writing her own risqué plays using the pen name Jane Mast. Her first starring role on Broadway was in a 1926 play she entitled Sex, which she wrote, produced, and directed. Although conservative critics panned the show, ticket sales were strong. The production did not go over well with city officials, who had received complaints from some religious groups and the theater was raided, with West arrested along with the cast. She was taken to the Jefferson Market Court House, (now Jefferson Market Library), where she was prosecuted on morals charges and on April 19th, 1927, was sentenced to 10 days for “corrupting the morals of youth” (shades of Socrates). Though West could have paid a fine and been let off, she chose the jail sentence for the publicity it would garner. While incarcerated on Welfare Island (now known as Roosevelt Island), she dined with the warden and his wife; she told reporters that she had worn her silk panties while serving time, in lieu of the “burlap” the other girls had to wear. West got great mileage from this stint in jail. She served eight days with two days off for “good behavior”. Media attention surrounding the incident enhanced her career, by crowning her the darling “bad girl” who “had climbed the ladder of success wrong by wrong”.

 

Her next play, The Drag, dealt with homosexuality, and was what West called one of her “comedy-dramas of life”. After a series of try-outs in Connecticut and New Jersey, West announced she would open the play in New York. However, The Drag never opened on Broadway due to efforts by the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice to ban any attempt by West to stage it. West explained, “the city fathers begged me not to bring the show to New York because they were not equipped to handle the commotion it would cause.” West was an early supporter of the women’s liberation movement, but said she was not a “burn your bra” type feminist. From the 1920s, she was also an early supporter of gay rights.

West continued to write plays, including The Wicked Age, Pleasure Man, and The Constant Sinner. Her productions aroused controversy, which ensured that she stayed in the news, which also often resulted in packed houses at her performances. Her 1928 play, Diamond Lil, about a racy, easygoing, and ultimately very smart lady of the 1890s, became a Broadway hit and cemented West’s image in the public’s eye. This show had an enduring popularity and West successfully revived it many times throughout the course of her career. With Diamond Lil being a hit show, Hollywood was next.

In 1932, West was offered a motion picture contract by Paramount Pictures despite being close to 40. This was an unusually late age to begin a movie career, especially for women, but she was not playing an ingénue, and her characterization of a freewheeling, sexually secure, and liberated woman was ageless. She nonetheless managed to keep her age ambiguous for some years. She made her film debut in 1932’s Night After Night starring George Raft, who suggested her for the role. At first, she did not like her small role in Night After Night, but was appeased when she was allowed to rewrite her scenes. In West’s first scene, a hat-check girl exclaims, “Goodness, what beautiful diamonds”, and West replies, “Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie.” Reflecting on the overall result of her rewritten scenes, Raft is said to have remarked, “She stole everything but the cameras.”

She brought her Diamond Lil character, now renamed “Lady Lou”, to the screen in She Done Him Wrong (1933). The film is also notable as one of Cary Grant’s first major roles, which boosted his career. West claimed she spotted Grant at the studio and insisted that he be cast as the male lead. She claimed to have told a Paramount director “If he can talk, I’ll take him!” The film was a box-office hit and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. The success of the film saved Paramount from bankruptcy, grossing over $2 million, the equivalent of $140 million in today’s dollars. Paramount recognizes that debt of gratitude today, with a building on the lot named after her.

Her next release, I’m No Angel (1933), paired her with Grant again. I’m No Angel was also a financial success, and was the most successful film of her entire movie career. In the months that followed the release of this film, reference to Mae West could be found from the song lyrics of Cole Porter, to a WPA mural of San Francisco’s newly built Art-Deco Coit Tower, to “She Done Him Right”, a Betty Boop cartoon, to “My Dress Hangs There”, a painting by renowned Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. Kahlo’s equally famed muralist painter husband, Diego Rivera, paid his own tribute: “West is the most wonderful machine for living I have ever known – unfortunately on the screen only.” F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “The only Hollywood actress with both an ironic edge and a comic spark.” As Variety put it, “Mae West’s films have made her the biggest conversation-provoker, free-space grabber, and all-around box-office bet in the country. She’s as hot an issue as Hitler.”

By 1933, West was one of the largest box office draws in the United States and, by 1935, West was also the highest paid woman and the second-highest paid person in the United States (after William Randolph Hearst). Hearst invited West to San Simeon, California. “I could’a married him,” West explained, “but I got no time for parties. I don’t like those big crowds.” On July 1, 1934, the censorship of the Production Code began to be seriously and meticulously enforced, and her screenplays were heavily edited. West would purposely place over-the-top lines in her scripts, knowing the censors would cut them out. She hoped they would then not object as much to her other lines. Her next film was Belle of the Nineties (1934). The original title, It Ain’t No Sin, was changed due to the censors’ objections. Despite Paramount’s early objections regarding costs, she insisted the studio hire Duke Ellington and his orchestra to accompany her in the film’s musical numbers. The classic “My Old Flame” (recorded by Duke Ellington) was introduced in this picture. Her next film, Goin’ to Town (1935), received mixed reviews, as censorship continued to take its toll in eroding West’s best lines.

Her following effort, Klondike Annie (1936) dealt, as best it could given the heavy censorship, with religion and hypocrisy. Some critics called the film her screen masterpiece, but not everyone felt the same way. Press baron and would-be film mogul William Randolph Hearst, ostensibly offended by an offhanded remark West made about his mistress, Marion Davies, sent a private memo to all his editors stating, “That Mae West picture ‘Klondike Annie’ is a filthy picture… We should have editorials roasting that picture, Mae West, and Paramount… DO NOT ACCEPT ANY ADVERTISING OF THIS PICTURE.” At one point, Hearst asked aloud, “Isn’t it time Congress did something about the Mae West menace?” Paramount executives felt they had to tone down the West characterization, or face further recrimination. By today’s standards West’s films are tame: they contained no nudity, no profanity and very little violence. Though raised in an era when women held second-place roles in society, West portrayed confident women who were not afraid to use their sexuality to get what they wanted. “I was the first liberated woman, you know. No guy was going to get the best of me. That’s what I wrote all my scripts about.” That same year, 1936, West played opposite Randolph Scott in Go West, Young Man. In this film, she adapted Lawrence Riley’s Broadway hit Personal Appearance into a screenplay. Go West, Young Man is considered one of West’s weaker films of the era, due to the censors’ cuts.

West next starred in Every Day’s a Holiday (1937) for Paramount before their association came to an end. Again, due to censor cuts, the film performed below its goal. Censorship had made West’s sexually suggestive brand of humor impossible for the studios to distribute. West, along with other stellar performers, was put on a list of actors called “Box Office Poison” by Harry Brandt on behalf of the Independent Theatre Owners Association. Others on the list were Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Marlene Dietrich, Fred Astaire, Dolores del Río, Katharine Hepburn, and Kay Francis. The attack was published as a paid advertisement in The Hollywood Reporter and was taken seriously by the fearful studio executives. The association argued that these stars’ high salaries and extreme public popularity did not affect their ticket sales, but hurt the studios. This did not stop producer David O. Selznick, who next offered West the role of the sage madam, Belle Watling, the only woman ever to truly understand Rhett Butler, in his film version of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind after Tallulah Bankhead turned him down. West also declined the part, claiming that as it was, it was too small for an established star, and that she would need to rewrite her lines to suit her own persona. The role eventually went to Ona Munson.

In 1939, Universal Pictures approached West to star in a film opposite W. C. Fields. The studio was eager to duplicate the success of Destry Rides Again starring Marlene Dietrich and James Stewart with a comic vehicle starring West and Fields. Having left Paramount 18 months earlier and looking for a new film, West accepted the role of Flower Belle Lee in the film My Little Chickadee (1940). Despite the stars’ intense mutual dislike, Fields’s very real drinking problems, and fights over the screenplay, My Little Chickadee was a box-office success, outgrossing Fields’s previous film, You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man (1939) and the later The Bank Dick (1940). Religious leaders condemned West as a negative role model, taking offense at lines such as “Between two evils, I like to pick the one I haven’t tried before” and “Is that a gun in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?”

West’s next film was The Heat’s On (1943) for Columbia Pictures. She initially did not want to do the film, but after actor/producer/director and personal friend Gregory Ratoff (producer Max Fabian in All About Eve) pleaded with her and claimed he would go bankrupt if she could not help, West relented as a personal favor. The Heat’s On opened to poor reviews and weak performance at the box office because of severe censorship. West was so distraught after the experience, and by her years of struggling with the strict Hays censorship office, that she did not attempt another film role for the next quarter-century. Instead, she pursued a successful and record-breaking career in top nightclubs, Las Vegas, nationally in theater and on Broadway, where she was allowed, to be her uncensored self.

On December 12, 1937, West appeared in two separate sketches on ventriloquist Edgar Bergen’s radio show The Chase and Sanborn Hour. By the second half of the 1930s, West’s popularity was affected by her dialogue being severely censored. She went on the show to promote her latest movie, Every Day’s a Holiday. Appearing as herself, West flirted with Charlie McCarthy, Bergen’s dummy, using her usual brand of wit and risqué sexual references. West referred to Charlie as “all wood and a yard long” and commented, “Charles, I remember our last date, and have the splinters to prove it!” West was on the verge of being banned from radio. She followed with a sketch written by Arch Oboler, starring Don Ameche and West as Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden on NBC. She told Ameche in the show to “get me a big one… I feel like doin’ a big apple!” This ostensible reference to the then-current dance craze was one of the many double entendres in the dialogue. Days after the broadcast, the studio received letters calling the show “immoral” and “obscene” by societies for the protection of morals. Several conservative women’s clubs and religious groups admonished the show’s sponsor, Chase & Sanborn Coffee Company, for “prostituting” their services for allowing “impurity [to] invade the air”. Under pressure, the Federal Communications Commission later deemed the broadcast “vulgar and indecent” and “far below even the minimum standard which should control in the selection and production of broadcast programs”. Some debate ensued regarding the reaction to the skit. Conservative religious groups took umbrage far more swiftly than the mainstream. These groups found it easy to make West their target. They took exception to her outspoken use of sexuality and sexual imagery, which she had employed in her career since at least the Pre-Code films of the early 1930s and for decades before on Broadway, but which was now being broadcast into American living rooms on a popular family-friendly radio program. The groups reportedly warned the sponsor of the program they would protest her appearance.

NBC Radio scapegoated West for the incident and banned her (and the mention of her name) from their stations. They claimed it was not the content of the skit, but West’s tonal inflections that gave it the controversial context, acting as though they had hired West knowing nothing of her previous work, nor had any idea of how she would deliver the lines written for her by Oboler. West did not perform on radio again until January 1950, in an episode of The Chesterfield Supper Club, which was hosted by Perry Como. Ameche’s career did not suffer any serious repercussions, however, as he was playing the straight guy. Nonetheless, Mae West went on to enjoy record-breaking success in Las Vegas, swank nightclubs such as Lou Walters’ The Latin Quarter, Broadway, and London.

In 1958, West appeared at the live televised Academy Awards and performed the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with Rock Hudson, which brought a standing ovation. In 1959, she released an autobiography, Goodness Had Nothing to Do With It, which became a best seller and was reprinted with a new chapter in 1970. West guest-starred on television, including The Dean Martin Show in 1959 and The Red Skelton Show in 1960, to promote her autobiography, and a lengthy interview on Person to Person with Charles Collingwood, which was censored by CBS in 1959, and never aired. CBS executives felt members of the television audience were not ready to see a nude marble statue of West, which rested on her piano. In 1964, she made a guest appearance on the sitcom Mister Ed. Much later, in 1976, she was interviewed by Dick Cavett and sang two songs on his “Back Lot U.S.A.” special on CBS.

In August 1980, West tripped while getting out of bed. After the fall, West was unable to speak and was taken to Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles, where tests revealed that she had suffered a stroke. She died on November 22, 1980, at the age of 87. A private service was held in the Old North Church replica, in Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills, on November 25, 1980. Bishop Andre Penachio, a friend, officiated at the entombment in the family mausoleum at Cypress Hills Abbey, Brooklyn.

I found this in an article about a tea with Mae West in the Observer:

Tea came in a silver service on a tray: English tea and shop-bought shortbread, which I hogged much more of than she did. Although West was known for her curves, I got the impression she wasn’t much interested in food, and certainly not in cooking it, although she talked at length about the benefits of putting coconut oil on her face.

Not much to go on. You can do better than store-bought shortbread, however. It’s easy to make. I have Mrs Beeton’s recipe here – http://www.bookofdaystales.com/september-equinox/ It’s perfectly serviceable, but I can also do a little chameleon cooking with the basic idea. A standard round shortbread should be made in a 9” round baking tin. Preheat your oven to 170°C/325°F. Mix together 200 grams of plain flour and 50 grams of caster sugar. Then cut in 125 grams of cold butter until the mix resembles wet sand. I do this step in a food processor. Pour the mix into the baking tin and press it down firmly. Then prick the top deeply with a fork to make the shortbread easy to break when it is cooked. Bake for between 20 to 30 minutes. Check assiduously after 20 minutes, and remove the shortbread as soon as it is light golden. Cool on a wire rack in the tin for about 20 minutes, then turn out. The shortbread will keep in an airtight tin for 2 to 3 days. Plain shortbread is just fine by me, but there are no end of flavorings you can add. The trick is not to add too much of any one flavoring, because homemade shortbread has a simple buttery flavor that can easily be overwhelmed. A little grated lemon zest works, and people often add caraway seeds. Slightly less conventional flavorings include orange flower water, lavender water, or rosewater. Just be sparing: a little goes a long way. Add the flavoring to the sugar and flour mix before adding the butter.