Jul 072020
 

Today is the birthday (1860) of Gustav Mahler, an Austro-Bohemian Romantic composer, and one of the leading conductors of his generation. While in his lifetime his status as a conductor was established beyond question, his own music gained wide popularity only after periods of relative neglect, which included a ban on its performance in much of Europe during the Nazi era. After 1945 his compositions were rediscovered by a new generation of listeners. Mahler then became one of the most frequently performed and recorded of all composers, a position he has sustained into the 21st century.

Mahler displayed his musical gifts at an early age. After graduating from the Vienna Conservatory in 1878, he held a succession of conducting posts of rising importance in the opera houses of Europe, culminating in his appointment in 1897 as director of the Vienna Court Opera (Hofoper). During his ten years in Vienna, Mahler—who had converted to Catholicism to secure the post—experienced regular opposition and hostility from the anti-Semitic press. Nevertheless, his innovative productions and insistence on the highest performance standards ensured his reputation as one of the greatest of opera conductors of all time, particularly as an interpreter of the stage works of Wagner, Mozart, and Tchaikovsky. Late in his life he was briefly director of New York’s Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic.


Mahler’s œuvre is relatively limited; for much of his life composing was necessarily a part-time activity while he earned his living as a conductor. Aside from early works such as a movement from a piano quartet composed when he was a student in Vienna, Mahler’s works are generally designed for large orchestral forces, symphonic choruses and operatic soloists. These works were frequently controversial when first performed, and several were slow to receive critical and popular approval; exceptions included his Second Symphony, Third Symphony, and the triumphant premiere of his Eighth Symphony in 1910.


Mahler’s First Symphony has been a favorite of mine for a long time, and was probably also a favorite of Mahler himself, given that he conducted it more often than any other of his works. In fact, he conducted 10 premières in 10 different countries from 1889 (world première) to 1909 (U.S. première). Here is a passable version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4XbHLFkg_Mw The opening is virtually impossible to capture adequately because it is so quiet and yet so complex, but once it gets going the performance is not bad.


Mahler, in his younger days, was a vegetarian. There’s a story, recounted by one of his biographers, about how he was teased by fellow musicians in a restaurant when he refused meat, instead asking for spinach and apples. Mahler might have become vegetarian after reading an essay by Richard Wagner. In 1880 — the same year Wagner published an essay endorsing vegetarianism — Mahler wrote to a friend:

For the last month I have been a total vegetarian. The moral effect of this way of life, with its voluntary castigation of the body, is enormous. I expect nothing less than the regeneration of mankind. I advise you to eat suitable food (compost-grown, stone-ground, wholemeal bread) and you will soon see the fruit of your endeavors.

Eventually, Mahler gave up his vegetarian diet, but a string of health issues meant that he always watched what he ate. We do know, also, that his sister, Justine, baked a prize Marillenknoedel — traditional Viennese apricot dumplings. One of Mahler’s friends, Ludwig Karpath, recalled the composer’s shock at finding out that Karpath wasn’t a fan of Marillenknoedel. “What!” Mahler shouted, “is there a Viennese to whom Marillenknoedel means nothing? You will come with me right away to eat the heavenly dish. My sister Justi has her own recipe for it, and we will see if you remain indifferent.”
There are numerous ways to make Marillenknoedel dough. I have no idea about Mahler’s sister version, but this one is serviceable:

Jul 062020
 

Córdoba, a city in central Argentina, in the foothills of the Sierras Chicas on the Suquía River, about 700 km (435 mi) northwest of the Buenos Aires, was founded on this date in 1573 by Jerónimo Luis de Cabrera, who named it after Córdoba in Andalucia. It was one of the first Spanish colonial capitals of the region that is now Argentina (the oldest city is Santiago del Estero, founded in 1553). The National University of Córdoba is the oldest university of the country and the seventh to be inaugurated in Spanish America. It was founded in 1613 by the Jesuit Order. Because of this, Córdoba earned the nickname La Docta (“the learned”).


Córdoba has many historical monuments preserved from Spanish colonial rule, especially buildings of the Roman Catholic Church. The most recognizable is perhaps the Manzana Jesuítica, declared in 2000 as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, consisting of a group of buildings dating from the 17th century, including the Colegio Nacional de Monserrat and the colonial university buildings. Córdoba is also known for its historical movements, such as Cordobazo and La Reforma del ’18 (known as University Revolution in English).


In 1570, Viceroy Francisco de Toledo entrusted Jerónimo Luis de Cabrera, with the task of populating and founding a settlement in the Punilla Valley. Cabrera sent an expedition of 48 men to the territory of the Comechingones. He divided the principal column that entered through the north of the provincial territory at Villa María. The expedition set foot on what today is Córdoba on 24th June 1573. Cabrera called the nearby river San Juan (today Suquía). The settlement was officially founded on 6th July of the same year and named Córdoba de la Nueva Andalucía. The foundation of the city took place on the left bank of the river on Francisco de Torres’ advice.

The settlement was inhabited by Comechingones people, who lived in permanent communities called Ayllus. After being consistently attacked by indigenous warriors for four years, the settlement’s authorities moved the town to the opposite bank of the Suquía River in 1577. The lieutenant governor at the time, Don Lorenzo Suárez de Figueroa, planned the first layout of the city as a grid of seventy blocks. Once the city core had been moved to its current location, it acquired a stable population and its economy blossomed due to trade with the cities in the north.


In 1599, the religious order of the Jesuits arrived in the settlement. They established a Novitiate in 1608 and, in 1610, the Colegio Maximo, which became the University of Córdoba in 1613 (today National University of Córdoba), the fourth-oldest in the Americas. The local Jesuit Church remains one of the oldest buildings in South America and contains the Monserrat Secondary School, a church, and residential buildings. To maintain such a project, the Jesuits operated five Reducciones in the surrounding fertile valleys, including Caroya, Jesús María, Santa Catalina, Alta Gracia and Candelaria.
The farm and the complex, started in 1615, had to be vacated by the Jesuits following the 1767 decree by King Charles III of Spain that expelled them from the continent. They were then run by the Franciscans until 1853, when the Jesuits returned to the Americas. However, the university and the high-school were nationalized a year later. Each Estancia has its own church and set of buildings, around which towns grew, such as Alta Gracia.

Córdoba is well known in Argentina for its colaciones, a sweet butter cookie filled with dulce de leche and iced with a lemon glaze. Brush up your Argentine Spanish for this video.

Jul 052020
 

Spam was introduced by Hormel on this date in 1937. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America states that the product was intended to increase the sale of pork shoulder which was not a very popular cut. Ken Daigneau, brother of a company executive, won a $100 prize that year in a competition to name the new item. Hormel claims that the meaning of the name “is known by only a small circle of former Hormel Foods executives”, but it is a common belief that the name is an abbreviation of “spiced ham”. The difficulty of delivering fresh meat to the front during World War II saw Spam become a ubiquitous part of the U.S. soldier’s diet. It became variously referred to as “ham that didn’t pass its physical”, “meatloaf without basic training”, and “Special Army Meat”. Over 68,000 tonnes (150 million pounds) of Spam were purchased by the military before the war’s end.


During World War II and the occupations which followed, Spam was introduced into Guam, Hawaii, Okinawa, the Philippines, and other islands in the Pacific. Spam was Immediately absorbed into local recipes and has become an important part of the history and effects of U.S. influence in the Pacific islands.

As a consequence of World War II rationing and the Lend-Lease Act, Spam also gained prominence in the United Kingdom. In addition to increasing production for the U.K., Hormel expanded Spam output as part of Allied aid to the similarly beleaguered Soviet Union. In his memoir Khrushchev Remembers, Nikita Khrushchev declared: “Without Spam we wouldn’t have been able to feed our army.” Throughout the war, countries ravaged by the conflict and faced with strict food rations came to appreciate the contribution Spam made to survival. The billionth can of Spam was sold in 1959, and the eight billionth can was sold in 2012.


Beginning in 1940, Spam sponsored George Burns and Gracie Allen on their radio program. During WWII, Spam was not only eaten but was also incorporated into many other aspects of the war (grease for guns, cans for scrap metal, etc.); it was so prominent that Uncle Sam was nicknamed “Uncle Spam”. Other terms influenced by the product’s name include the European invasion fleet, or the “Spam Fleet”. Furthermore, the United Service Organizations (USO) toured the “Spam Circuit”. In the United States in the aftermath of World War II, a troupe of former servicewomen was assembled by Hormel Foods to promote Spam from coast to coast. The group was known as the Hormel Girls and associated the food with being patriotic. In 1948, two years after its formation, the troupe had grown to 60 women with 16 forming an orchestra. The show went on to become a radio program where the main selling point was Spam. The Hormel Girls were disbanded in 1953.


Spam has long had a somewhat dubious reputation in the United States and (to a lesser degree) United Kingdom as a poverty food. The image of Spam as a low cost meat product gave rise to the Scottish colloquial term “Spam valley” to describe certain affluent housing areas where residents appear to be wealthy but in reality may be living at poverty levels.

Spam was featured in an iconic 1970 Monty Python sketch called “Spam”. Set in a café which mostly served dishes containing Spam, including “egg and Spam, egg bacon and Spam, Spam egg sausage and Spam, Spam egg Spam Spam bacon and Spam “, the piece also featured a companion song. (I like the Portuguese subtitles in this version). Because of its use in a line of a song in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the title of the musical version of the film became Spamalot.

By the 1990s, Spam’s perceived ubiquity led to its name being adopted for unsolicited electronic messages, especially spam email.

Spam is the subject of the “Weird Al” Yankovic song “Spam”, which is a parody of the R.E.M. song “Stand”.

Other offshoots of Spam in popular culture include a book of haikus about Spam titled Spam-Ku: Tranquil Reflections on Luncheon Loaf. There is also a mock Church of Spam, and a Spam Cam which is a webcam trained on a can of decaying Spam.

This video gives 5 recipes for cooking Spam: 1. Spam and egg sandwich 2. Spam Musubi 3. Spam fried rice 4. Egg and Spam ramen noodles 5. Buddea jjigae (Korean hotpot). I’ll leave you to decide which ones work. The direction is obviously mostly Asian, as befits the popularity of Spam in Asian countries.

Jul 032020
 

On this date in 1608 Quebec City was founded by Samuel de Champlain, a French explorer and diplomat, at the site of a long abandoned St. Lawrence Iroquoian settlement called Stadacona. Champlain served as its administrator until he died in 1635. The name “Canada” originally referred to this settlement, although the Acadian (i.e. French) settlement at Port-Royal was established three years earlier. Quebec came to be the cradle of North America’s Francophone population (although some Acadians migrated south to Louisiana where “Acadian” morphed into “Cajun”). Supposedly the indigenous people had named the area Kébec, meaning “river narrows”, because the Saint Lawrence River narrows near to the promontory of Quebec and its Cape Diamant. Quebec City is one of the oldest European settlements in North America and the only fortified city north of Mexico whose walls still exist. While many of the major cities in Latin America date from the 16th century, among cities in Canada and the U.S., few were created earlier than Quebec City.

The population of the settlement remained small for decades. In 1629 it was captured by English privateers, led by David Kirke, during the Anglo-French War. Samuel de Champlain argued that the English seizing of the lands was illegal as the war had already ended, and worked to have the lands returned to France. As part of the ongoing negotiations of their exit from the Anglo-French War, in 1632 the English king, Charles I, agreed to return the lands in exchange for Louis XIII paying his wife’s dowry. These terms were signed into law with the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. The lands in Quebec and Acadia were returned to the French Company of One Hundred Associates.


In 1665, there were 550 people in 70 houses living in the city. One-quarter of the people were members of religious orders: secular priests, Jesuits, Ursulines nuns and the order running the local hospital, Hotel-Dieu. Quebec was the headquarters of many raids against New England during the four French and Indian Wars. In 1690 the city was attacked by the English, but was successfully defended. In the last of the conflicts, the French and Indian War (Seven Years’ War), Quebec was captured by the British in 1759 and held until the end of the war in 1763. In that time many battles and sieges took place: the Battle of Beauport, a French victory (31 July 1759); the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, in which British troops under general James Wolfe defeated the French General Louis-Joseph de Montcalm on 13 September 1759 and shortly thereafter took the city after a short siege. A French counter-attack saw a French victory at the Battle of Sainte-Foy (28 April 1760) but the subsequent second Siege of Quebec the following month however was the final British victory. France ceded New France, including Quebec City, to Britain in 1763.


At the end of French rule in 1763, forests, villages, fields and pastures surrounded the town of 8,000 inhabitants. The town distinguished itself by its monumental architecture, fortifications, and affluent homes of masonry and shacks in the suburbs of Saint-Jean and Saint-Roch. Despite its urbanity and its status as capital, Quebec City remained a small colonial city with close ties to its rural surroundings. Nearby inhabitants traded their farm surpluses and firewood for imported goods from France at the two city markets.

I have covered some aspects of Quebecois cuisine, including poutine, here: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/edwards-v-canada/

Here, then, is a wonderful video showing the recipe for a tourtière, a classic French Canadian meat pie, typically made with three meats, pork, veal, and beef, with the addition of potatoes and other vegetables and heavily spiced. The chef speaks Quebec French which adds its own flavor.

Jun 282020
 

Today is the birthday (1703) of John Wesley, an English cleric, theologian and evangelist who was a leader of a revival movement within the Church of England known as Methodism. The societies he founded became the dominant form of the independent Methodist movement that continues to this day. I have already celebrated his younger brother Charles here: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/charles-wesley/ .  Charles and John often disagreed theologically, but, in the end, John’s Methodism prevailed and Charles’s contribution to the church is now more in his hymnody than in his doctrinal views.

Wesley attended Charterhouse and Christ Church College, Oxford, and was elected a fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford in 1726. He was ordained as an Anglican priest two years later. He led the “Holy Club”, a society formed for the purpose of the study and the pursuit of a devout Christian life. It had been founded by his brother, Charles, and counted George Whitefield among its members. After an unsuccessful ministry of two years at Savannah, serving at Christ Church, in the Georgia Colony, Wesley returned to London and joined a religious society led by Moravian Christians. On 24th May 1738, he experienced what has come to be called his evangelical conversion. He describes the experience as follows:

In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.

A few weeks later, Wesley preached a sermon on the doctrine of personal salvation by faith, which was followed by another, on God’s grace “free in all, and free for all.” Considered a pivotal moment, Daniel L. Burnett writes: “The significance of Wesley’s Aldersgate Experience is monumental. Without it the names of Wesley and Methodism would likely be nothing more than obscure footnotes in the pages of church history.” Burnett describes this event Wesley’s “Evangelical Conversion.” It is commemorated in Methodist churches as Aldersgate Day.

A key step in the development of Wesley’s ministry was, like Whitefield, to travel and preach outdoors. In contrast to Whitefield’s Calvinism, Wesley embraced Arminian doctrines. Moving across Great Britain and Ireland, he helped form and organize small Christian groups that developed intensive and personal accountability, discipleship and religious instruction. He appointed itinerant, unordained evangelists to care for these groups of people. Under Wesley’s direction, Methodists became leaders in many social issues of the day, including prison reform and the abolition of slavery.

Although he was not a systematic theologian, Wesley argued for the notion of Christian perfection and against Calvinism—and, in particular, against its doctrine of predestination. His evangelicalism, firmly grounded in sacramental theology, maintained that means of grace sometimes had a role in sanctification of the believer. However, he taught that it was by faith a believer was transformed into the likeness of Christ. He held that, in this life, Christians could achieve a state where the love of God “reigned supreme in their hearts”, giving them not only outward but inward holiness. Wesley’s teachings, collectively known as Wesleyan theology, continue to inform the doctrine of Methodist churches.

Throughout his life, Wesley remained within the established Church of England, insisting that the Methodist movement lay well within its tradition. In his early ministry, Wesley was barred from preaching in many parish churches and the Methodists were persecuted. He later became widely respected and, by the end of his life, had been described as “the best-loved man in England.”

When I wrote about Charles Wesley, I mentioned “Methodist food” based on my wife’s experiences, and then opted for an 18th century recipe.  But . . . there is a famous dish known as Methodist pie, which is celebrated in a well-known country song of the same name:

 

Well, the recipe is easily available also:

METHODIST PIE              

CRUST:

18 graham crackers

¼ lb. butter, melted

2 tbsp sugar

Roll and crush the crackers to crumbs. Mix the sugar and butter together and add the graham cracker crumbs. Mix well. Line a 10-inch pie pan with graham cracker mixture.

FILLING:

1 ¼ lbs cream cheese

3 eggs, beaten

1 pinch salt

¾  cup sugar

1 tsp. lemon juice

Beat the cream cheese thoroughly until fluffy. Add the eggs, sugar and other ingredients. Pour into the crust and bake 20 minutes in a preheated oven at 375°F.

TOPPING:

1 pt. sour cream

2 tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

Mix the topping ingredients well. Remove the pie from oven and spoon the topping mixture over it. Glaze the topping in an oven at 475°F for 5 minutes, watching carefully for burning. Chill well before serving.

Jun 272020
 

Today is Independence Day in Djibouti, officially the Republic of Djibouti, marking its formal severance of colonial rule by France in 1977. The country is located in the Horn of Africa. It is bordered by Somalia in the south, Ethiopia in the south and west, Eritrea in the north, and the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden in the east. Across the Gulf of Aden lies Yemen. The country has a total area of 23,200 sq km (8,958 sq mi). The Republic of Djibouti is predominantly inhabited by two ethnic groups, the majority Somali and the Afar.

I have chosen to celebrate Djibouti today because it is one of a handful of countries I have been interested in visiting for some time.  I was due to make a trip to England this June for a school reunion and spent many months at the beginning of the year figuring out an itinerary that would include a stop in Djibouti (Cambodia to India to Dubai to Djibouti to Turkey to England) but COVID-19 cut that plan off.  I’ll make it there some day, but not any time soon.

In antiquity, the territory together with Somalia was part of the Land of Punt. Nearby Zeila, now in Somalia, was the seat of the medieval Adal and Ifat sultanates. In the late 19th century, the colony of French Somaliland was established following treaties signed by the ruling Somali and Afar sultans with the French and its railroad to Dire Dawa (and later Addis Ababa) allowed it to quickly supersede Zeila as the port for southern Ethiopia and the Ogaden. It was subsequently renamed the French Territory of the Afars and the Issas in 1967, and then, via overwhelming referendum in favor, declared independence 10 years later, although there is still a substantial French Foreign Legion presence in the country.

Here’s a small gallery:

The food is a big attraction for me – a blend of Somali, Middle Eastern, French, Indian, and other tastes.  The national dish is Fah Fah, which is a goat soup/stew.  I could give a recipe but it is essentially goat meat simmered for hours with onions, garlic, vegetables, and coriander.

Here is a better option: a Somali dish of rice and goat.  Sorry that the video is in Arabic.  You’ll get the gist (there is a bit of English mixed in):

Jun 262020
 

Today is the birthday (1817) of Patrick Branwell Brontë, better known as simply Branwell Brontë, an English painter and writer. He was the only son of the Brontë family, and brother of the writers Charlotte, Emily and Anne. Branwell Brontë was the fourth of six children and the only son of Patrick Brontë (1777–1861) and his wife, Maria Branwell Brontë (1783–1821). He was born in Thornton, near Bradford, West Riding of Yorkshire, and moved with his family to Haworth when his father was appointed to the perpetual curacy in 1821.

While four of his five sisters were sent to Cowan Bridge boarding school, Branwell was educated at home by his father, who gave him a classical education. Elizabeth Gaskell, biographer of his sister, Charlotte Brontë, says of Branwell’s schooling “Mr. Brontë’s friends advised him to send his son to school; but, remembering both the strength of will of his own youth and his mode of employing it, he believed that Branwell was better at home, and that he himself could teach him well, as he had told others before.” His two elder sisters died just before his eighth birthday in 1825, and their loss affected him deeply.

Branwell’s map of Angria

Even as a young boy Brontë read extensively, and was especially fond of the “Noctes Ambrosianae”, literary dialogues published in Blackwood’s Magazine. He took leadership role with Charlotte in a series of fantasy role-playing games which they jointly wrote and performed about the “Young Men” — characters based on a set of wooden soldiers. The plays evolved into an intricate saga based in West Africa about the fictitious Glasstown confederacy. From 1834, he both collaborated and competed with his sister Charlotte to describe another imaginary world, Angria. Branwell’s particular interest in these invented worlds were their politics and wars, including the destructive rivalry between their heroes, Charlotte’s Arthur Wellesley, duke of Zamorna, and his Alexander Percy, earl of Northangerland. At age 11 in January 1829 he began producing a magazine, later named Branwell’s Blackwood’s Magazine which included his poems, plays, criticisms, histories and dialogues.

Unlike his sisters, Branwell was not prepared for a specific career. In his only real attempt to find work, on the death of James Hogg, a Blackwood’s writer, the 18-year-old Branwell wrote to the magazine suggesting himself as a replacement. Between 1835 and 1842, Brontë wrote a total of six times to the magazine, sending poems and  offering his services. His letters were left unanswered.

In 1829–30, Patrick Brontë engaged John Bradley, an artist from neighboring Keighley, as drawing-master for the children. Bradley was an artist of some local repute, rather than a professional instructor, but he may well have fostered Branwell’s enthusiasm for art and architecture. Bradley emigrated to America in 1831, and Branwell continued his studies under the portrait painter William Robinson. In 1834 he painted a portrait of his three sisters. He included his own image but became dissatisfied with it and painted it out. This portrait is now one of the best-known images of the sisters and hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.

In 1835, he wrote a letter to the Royal Academy of Arts seeking to be admitted. Earlier biographers reported a move to London to study painting, which quickly ended following Brontë’s dissolute spending on drink. Other biographers speculated that he was too intimidated to present himself at the Academy. More recent scholarship suggests that Brontë did not send the letter or even make the trip to London. According to Francis Leyland, Brontë’s friend and a future biographer of the family, his first job was as an usher at a Halifax school. More certainly, Brontë worked as a portrait painter in Bradford in 1838 and 1839. Though certain of his paintings, for example that of his landlady Mrs. Kirby and a portrait of Emily show talent for comedic and serious styles, other portraits lack life. He returned to Haworth in debt in 1839.

With his father, Branwell reviewed the classics with a view to future employment as a tutor. At the beginning of January 1840, he started employment with the family of Robert Postlethwaite in Broughton-in-Furness. During this time he wrote letters to his pub friends in Haworth which give “a vivid picture of Branwell’s scabrous humour, his boastfulness, and his need to be accepted in a man’s world”. In his own words he started the job off with a riotous drinking session in Kendal.

During this employment he continued his literary work, including sending poems and translations to Thomas De Quincey and Hartley Coleridge who both lived in the Lake District. At Coleridge’s invitation, he visited him at his cottage and encouraged him to pursue his translations of Horace’s Odes. In June 1840 he sent the translations to Coleridge, despite having been sacked by the Postlethwaites. According to Juliet Barker’s biography of the Brontës, he may have fathered an illegitimate child during time in the town, but others suspect that it may be more of his boasting.

Branwell portrait of Anne or Emily

Coleridge began an encouraging letter about the quality of the translations in November–December 1840 but never finished it. In October 1840, Branwell moved near to Halifax, where he had many good friends including the sculptor Joseph Bentley Leyland and Francis Grundy. He obtained employment with the Manchester and Leeds Railway, initially as ‘assistant clerk in charge’ at Sowerby Bridge railway station. Later, on 1 April 1841, he was promoted to ‘clerk in charge’ at Luddendenfoot railway station in West Yorkshire. In 1842 he was dismissed due to a deficit in the accounts of £11–1s–7d. This had probably been stolen by Watson, the porter, who was left in charge when Branwell went drinking, but was attributed to incompetence rather than theft and the missing sum was deducted from his salary. A description by Francis Leyland of Branwell at this time described him as “rather below middle height, but of a refined and gentleman-like appearance, and of graceful manners. His complexion was fair and his features handsome; his mouth and chin were well-shaped; his nose was prominent and of the Roman type; his eyes sparkled and danced with delight, and his forehead made up of a face of oval form which gave an irresistible charm to its possessor, and attracted the admiration of those who knew him.” Another described him less flatteringly as “almost insignificantly small” and with “a mass of red hair which he wore brushed off his forehead – to help his height I fancy… small ferrety eyes, deep sunk and still further hidden by the never removed spectacles.”

In January 1843, after nine months at Haworth, Branwell took up another tutoring position in Thorp Green, where he was to tutor the Reverend Edmund Robinson’s young son. His sister Anne had been the governess there since May 1840. As usual, at first things went well, with Charlotte reporting in January 1843 that her siblings were “both wonderously valued in their situations.” During his 30 months service Branwell corresponded with several old friends about his increasing infatuation with Robinson’s wife Lydia. He wrote, perhaps unreliably, to one of his friends that “my mistress is DAMNABLY TOO FOND OF ME” and sent him a “lock of her hair, wch has lain at night on his breast – wd to God it could do so legally !” In July 1845, he was dismissed from his position. According to Gaskell, he received a letter “sternly dismissing him, intimating that his proceedings were discovered, characterizing them as bad beyond expression and charging him, on pain of exposure, to break off immediately, and for ever, all communication with every member of the family.” For several months after his dismissal, he regularly received small amounts of money from Thorp Green, sent by Lydia Robinson herself, probably to dissuade him from blackmailing her husband (or herself).

Branwell returned home to his family at the Haworth parsonage, where he looked for another job, wrote poetry and attempted to adapt Angrian material into a book called And the Weary are at Rest. During the 1840s, several of his poems were published in local newspapers under the name of Northangerland, making him the first of the Brontës to be a published poet. Soon however, after Rev. Robinson’s death, Lydia Robinson made clear that she was not going to marry Branwell, who then “declined into chronic alcoholism, opiates and debt”. Charlotte’s letters from this time demonstrate that she was angered by his behavior. In January 1847, he wrote to his friend Leyland about the easy existence he hoped for: “to try and make myself a name in the world of posterity, without being pestered by the small but countless botherments.” His behavior became increasingly impossible and embarrassing to the family. He managed to set fire to his bed, after which his father had to sleep with him for the safety of the family. Towards the end of his life he was sending notes to a friend asking of “Five pence worth of Gin”. It is not known whether he was even informed of the 1847 debut novels of his three sisters.

Branwell’s caricature of his own death.

On 24 September 1848, Branwell Brontë died at Haworth parsonage, most likely due to tuberculosis aggravated by delirium tremens, alcoholism, and laudanum and opium addiction, despite the fact that his death certificate notes “chronic bronchitis-marasmus” as the cause. Elizabeth Gaskell’s biography of Charlotte reports an eye-witness account that Brontë, wanting to show the power of the human will, decided to die standing up, “and when the last agony began, he insisted on assuming the position just mentioned.” On 28 September 1848, he was interred in the family vault.

Some of Branwell’s art is reproduced in this post, and if you care to you can examine his poetry here https://allpoetry.com/Patrick-Branwell-Bronte   I am not going to excerpt any of it here because it is mediocre – at best.  That may well sum up his life.  His sisters showed much more imagination, creativity, and sheer effort in their literary productions.  I do not believe that Branwell had less potential, but he certainly lacked dedication and application.  A cautionary tale.

I have mentioned some of the dining habits of the Brontë household at Haworth here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/emily-bronte/ which includes a recipe for a pie that Emily enjoyed making.  On 24th November 1834, Emily writes, “we are going to have for Dinner Boiled Beef Turnips, potato’s and applepudding the kitchin is in a very untidy state.” Boiled beef with turnips and potatoes would seem to me to be a hearty but basic recipe which you could make in celebration.  Or you might try this richer version from Mrs Beeton. The “ketchup” she is referring to is mushroom ketchup, not the tomato version that is common these days.  You can find it in some supermarkets, or order it online.

STEWED BEEF or RUMP STEAK (an Entree).

INGREDIENTS.—About 2 lbs. of beef or rump steak, 3 onions, 2 turnips, 3 carrots, 2 or 3 oz. of butter, 1/2 pint of water, 1 teaspoonful of salt, 1/2 do. of pepper, 1 tablespoonful of ketchup, 1 tablespoonful of flour.

Mode.—Have the steaks cut tolerably thick and rather lean; divide them into convenient-sized pieces, and fry them in the butter a nice brown on both sides. Cleanse and pare the vegetables, cut the onions and carrots into thin slices, and the turnips into dice, and fry these in the same fat that the steaks were done in. Put all into a saucepan, add 1/2 pint of water, or rather more should it be necessary, and simmer very gently for 2-1/2 or 3 hours; when nearly done, skim well, add salt, pepper, and ketchup in the above proportions, and thicken with a tablespoonful of flour mixed with 2 of cold water. Let it boil up for a minute or two after the thickening is added, and serve. When a vegetable-scoop is at hand, use it to cut the vegetables in fanciful shapes, and tomato, Harvey’s sauce, or walnut-liquor may be used to flavour the gravy. It is less rich if stewed the previous day, so that the fat may be taken off when cold; when wanted for table, it will merely require warming through.

 Time.—3 hours. Average cost, 1s. per lb.

 Sufficient for 4 or 5 persons.

 Seasonable at any time.

 

Jun 252020
 

Today is the birthday (1903) of Eric Arthur Blair, usually known by his pen name George Orwell. I covered some aspects of his life 7 years ago when I celebrated the publication of Nineteen Eighty-Four (www.bookofdaystales.com/big-brother-is-watching/ ).  By all means go there first for my initial appraisal of Orwell whose writing I consider some of the finest in the English language, both in terms of style and content.  Between the ages of roughly 15 and 35 I read all of his books and a great many of his essays, and I still hunt down lesser-known works.  In my early years as a college professor in New York I also assigned a few of his works, the most important (by my lights) being “Politics and the English Language,” although my very first freshman group were the class of 1984, and petitioned for you-know-what. Nineteen Eighty-Four is, indeed, startlingly insightful and prescient, and I have read it cover to cover many times – including as a set book when I was studying English literature in the 6th form in England. No need to go on about it.  Read my old post.  Rather, I would like to extol some of his books that are less commonly read or discussed.

Keep the Aspidistra Flying was an early foray of mine into the cloudier recesses of Orwell’s writing.  All of his writing involves social commentary of some sort, but some is more biting than merely observational.  So it is with Aspidistra.  The main character, Gordon Comstock has ‘declared war’ on what he sees as an ‘overarching dependence’ on money by leaving a promising job as a copywriter for an advertising company called ‘New Albion’—at which he shows great dexterity—and taking a low-paying job instead, ostensibly so he can write poetry. Coming from a respectable family background in which the inherited wealth has now become dissipated, Gordon resents having to work for a living. The ‘war’ (and the poetry), however, aren’t going particularly well and, under the stress of his ‘self-imposed exile’ from affluence, Gordon has become absurd, petty and deeply neurotic.

Orwell’s attention to precise details, written in plain language, is compelling in this novel – from the beginning. But it was the structure of the book that most caught my attention.  In the opening chapter, Comstock plays with the first two lines of a new poem, and as the novel progresses he fleshes the poem out more and more as his life becomes more convoluted and desperate, until, finally, his life rights itself and the poem is finished.  Not a masterwork by any means, but a definite tapestry woven from fine threads.

Coming Up For Air has a similar bitterly mocking tone.  At the opening of the book, the first-person narrator, George Bowling has a day off work to go to London to collect a new set of false teeth. A news-poster about the contemporary King Zog of Albania sets off thoughts of a biblical character Og, King of Bashan that he recalls from Sunday church as a child. Along with ‘some sound in the traffic or the smell of horse dung or something’ these thoughts trigger Bowling’s memory of his childhood as the son of an unambitious seed merchant in “Lower Binfield” near the River Thames. Bowling relates his life history, dwelling on how a lucky break during the First World War landed him in a comfortable job away from any action and provided contacts that helped him become a successful salesman.

Bowling is wondering what to do with a modest sum of money that he has won on a horserace and which he has concealed from his wife and family. He decides to use the money on a trip down memory lane, to revisit the places of his childhood. He recalls a particular pond with huge fish in it which he had missed the chance to try and catch thirty years previously. He therefore plans to return to Lower Binfield but when he arrives, he finds the place unrecognizable. Eventually he locates the old pub where he is to stay, finding it much changed. His home has become a tea shop. Only the church and vicar appear the same, but he has a shock when he discovers an old girlfriend, who is completely changed and utterly devoid of the qualities he once adored. She fails to recognize him at all. Bowling remembers the slow and painful decline of his father’s seed business – resulting from the nearby establishment of corporate competition. This painful memory seems to have sensitized him to – and given him a repugnance for – what he sees as the marching ravages of “Progress”. The final disappointment is to find that the estate where he used to fish has been built over, and the secluded and once hidden pond that contained the huge carp he always intended to take on with his fishing rod, but never got around to, has become a rubbish dump.

In reading these two, and others, it’s hard not to see Orwell as a cynical observer of everyday middle-class life in pre-war England.  His protagonists seem pathetic in their dreams and ambitions, and completely unimaginative when it comes to making changes in their lives.  Is this how he saw the world around him in general?  Did any of these accounts reflect doubts about himself?  There is no doubt that he saw the English class system as pernicious and cruel, but was he a victim of it, or a revolutionary?

Orwell championed many social causes, but none is dearer to my heart than his loud defense of English cooking, which may be found here — https://www.orwellfoundation.com/the-orwell-foundation/orwell/essays-and-other-works/in-defence-of-english-cooking/  His point is twofold.  First, visitors to England usually have to eat in restaurants and so miss the great array of dishes that home cooking has to offer (Yorkshire pudding being his prime example).  Second, visitors are usually unaware of the huge number of regional specialties available.  You could write a whole book on English regional sausages (and these days, most certainly on cheeses).  I have made this point countless times before in this blog.  Orwell was especially fond of English puddings and he claimed that a list of them would be interminable if he gave it in full.  Look in Mrs Beeton if you doubt him.  Here is a favorite of mine:

EXETER PUDDING.

 (Very rich.)

  1. INGREDIENTS.—10 oz. of bread crumbs, 4 oz. of sago, 7 oz. of finely-chopped suet, 6 oz. of moist sugar, the rind of 1/2 lemon, 1/4 pint of rum, 7 eggs, 4 tablespoonfuls of cream, 4 small sponge cakes, 2 oz. of ratafias, 1/2 lb. of jam.

Mode.—Put the bread crumbs into a basin with the sago, suet, sugar, minced lemon-peel, rum, and 4 eggs; stir these ingredients well together, then add 3 more eggs and the cream, and let the mixture be well beaten. Then butter a mould, strew in a few bread crumbs, and cover the bottom with a layer of ratafias; then put in a layer of the mixture, then a layer of sliced sponge cake spread thickly with any kind of jam; then add some ratafias, then some of the mixture and sponge cake, and so on until the mould is full, taking care that a layer of the mixture is on the top of the pudding. Bake in a good oven from 3/4 to 1 hour, and serve with the following sauce:—Put 3 tablespoonfuls of black-currant jelly into a stewpan, add 2 glasses of sherry, and, when warm, turn the pudding out of the mould, pour the sauce over it, and serve hot.

Time.—From 1 to 1-1/4 hour. Average cost, 2s. 6d.

Sufficient for 7 or 8 persons. Seasonable at any time.

 

Jun 242020
 

Today is the feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist (or Birth of John the Baptist, or Nativity of the Forerunner, or colloquially Johnmas or (in German) Johannistag). Ordinarily, the day of a saint’s death is usually celebrated as his or her feast day, because it marks his or her dies natalis, or birth into eternal life. To this rule there are two notable exceptions: the birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary and that of John the Baptist. According to Catholic tradition and teaching, Mary was free from original sin from the first moment of her existence (her conception itself is commemorated by a separate feast), while John was cleansed of original sin in the womb of his mother.

The sole biblical account of the birth of John the Baptist comes from the Gospel of Luke. John’s parents, Zechariah, or Zachary, a Jewish priest and Elizabeth, were without children and both were beyond the age of child-bearing. During Zechariah’s rotation to serve in the Temple in Jerusalem, he was chosen by lot to offer incense at the Golden Altar in the Holy Place. The archangel Gabriel appeared to him and announced that he and his wife would give birth to a child, and that they should name him John. However, because Zechariah did not believe the message of Gabriel, he was rendered speechless until the time of John’s birth. At that time, his relatives wanted to name the child after his father, and Zechariah wrote, “His name is John”, whereupon he recovered his ability to speak (Luke 1:5-25; 1:57-66).

If you follow my thoughts in this blog concerning the reliability of Luke’s testimony, you will know that I consider all of his writing prior to the ministry of Jesus (e.g. http://www.bookofdaystales.com/visitation-mary/ ) to be a convenient fabrication to explain why the disciples of John the Baptist should combine with the disciples of Jesus, rather than being rival factions.  I am also less than happy with endless church dogma that developed in the 2nd century onwards — Immaculate Conception, Virgin Birth, Ascension of Mary, Original Sin, etc. etc. — that attempted to make logical sense out of the many conundrums that the gospels left unanswered.

At the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary to inform her that she would conceive of the Holy Ghost, he also informed her that Elizabeth, her cousin, was already six months pregnant (Luke 1:36). Mary then journeyed to visit Elizabeth. Luke’s Gospel recounts that the baby “leapt” in Elizabeth’s womb at the greeting of Mary (Luke 1:44).

The Nativity of John the Baptist on June 24 comes three months after the celebration on March 25 of the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel told Mary that her cousin Elizabeth was in her sixth month of pregnancy, and six months before the Christmas celebration of the birth of Jesus. The purpose of these festivals is not to celebrate the exact dates of these events, but simply to commemorate them in an interlinking way. The Nativity of John the Baptist thus anticipates the feast of Christmas.

So, why does the celebration fall on June 24th rather than June 25th if the date is to be precisely six months before Christmas? It has often been claimed that the Church authorities wanted to Christianize the pagan solstice celebrations and for this reason advanced John’s feast as a substitute. This explanation is questionable because in the Middle Ages the solstice took place around the middle of June due to the inaccuracy of the Julian calendar. It was only in 1582, through the Gregorian calendar reform, that the solstice returned to June 21 as it had been in the 4th century.

Therefore, a more likely reason why the festival falls on June 24 lies in the Roman way of counting, which proceeded backward from the Kalends (first day) of the succeeding month. Christmas was “the eighth day before the Kalends of January” (Octavo Kalendas Januarii). Consequently, Saint John’s Nativity was put on the “eighth day before the Kalends of July.” However, since June has only thirty days, in our present way of counting, the feast falls on June 24

The Nativity of John the Baptist is one of the oldest festivals of the Christian church, being listed by the Council of Agde in 506 as one of that region’s principal festivals, where it was a day of rest and, like Christmas, was celebrated with three Masses: a vigil, at dawn, and at midday. It is also one of the patronal feasts of the Order of Malta.[8]

Like the Birth of the Virgin, the subject is often shown in art, especially from Florence, whose patron saint John is. It was often given a prosperous contemporary setting, and often only the presence of a halo or two distinguishes it on a desco da parto or birth tray from a secular depiction of a mother receiving visitors while lying-in. The scene in the fresco cycle of the life of John in the Tornabuoni Chapel in the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence is probably the most famous, created by Domenico Ghirlandaio and his workshop between 1485 and 1490.

Martin Luther wrote a hymn about baptism, “Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam”, which became associated with the Baptist’s day. The feast was celebrated in Lutheran Leipzig, Johann Sebastian Bach composed three church cantatas for the occasion, especially a chorale cantata on Luther’s hymn:

Ihr Menschen, rühmet Gottes Liebe, BWV 167, 24 June 1723

Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam, BWV 7, 24 June 1724

Freue dich, erlöste Schar, BWV 30, 24 June 1738 or a later year

Because today is a patronal feast in Malta I have chosen a Maltese recipe, kusksu, which is a broad bean and pasta soup, named for the pasta in it (i.e. kusksu) which sounds like couscous, and may be related historically.  On many YouTube videos cooks talk about this soup as an autumn dish,  perhaps because they equate soup with cool weather, but broad beans are seasonal in spring in Malta (where they grow like weeds).  Here is a video in Maltese which is foreign to me, but captures the idea: a base soup of onions, garlic, vegetables, and tomato paste into which you add the broad beans and pasta, and then top off with local goat cheese.

 

 

Jun 122020
 

Today is a curious coincidence day called Loving Day in the US and Dia dos Namorados (Lovers’ Day) in Brazil.  The coincidence is an odd one because the “Loving” in Loving Day refers not to the act of loving, but to a married couple called Mildred and Richard Loving who were convicted and sentenced to prison for violating Virginia’s miscegenation laws.  On this date in 1967 the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967), which struck down laws banning interracial marriage as violations of the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The decision was followed by an increase in interracial marriages in the U.S. and is remembered annually on Loving Day. It has been the subject of several songs and three movies, including the 2016 film Loving. Beginning in 2013, it was cited as precedent in U.S. federal court decisions holding restrictions on same-sex marriage in the United States unconstitutional, including in the 2015 Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges.

The case involved Mildred Loving, who was defined by Virginia state law as a woman of color, and her white husband Richard Loving. In 1958 they were sentenced to a year in prison for marrying each other. Their marriage violated Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which criminalized marriage between people classified as “white” and people classified as “colored”. The Lovings appealed their conviction to the Supreme Court of Virginia, which upheld it. They then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed to hear their case.

On June 12, 1967, the Court issued a unanimous decision in the Lovings’ favor and overturned their convictions. The Court struck down Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law, ending all race-based legal restrictions on marriage in the United States. Virginia had argued that its law was not a violation of the Equal Protection Clause because the punishment was the same regardless of the offender’s race, and thus it “equally burdened” both whites and non-whites. The Court found that the law nonetheless violated the Equal Protection Clause because it was based solely on “distinctions drawn according to race” and outlawed conduct namely, getting married that was otherwise generally accepted and which citizens were free to do.

Dia dos Namorados (Lovers’ Day) is celebrated on June 12 in Brazil, due to the date’s proximity to Saint Anthony’s Day on June 13. The date is celebrated in a manner similar to the way that Valentine’s Day is celebrated on February 14 in many other parts of the world, with gifts, romantic activities, decorations and festivities. The term “Dia dos Namorados” is also used in other Portuguese-speaking countries to refer to the Valentine’s Day.

Anthony of Padua, died on June 13, 1231, in Padua in Italy and, therefore, that date is the day on which he is especially venerated. In addition to having been canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church, Anthony of Padua is recognized as a general in the Brazilian Army. In Brazil, the Dia dos Namorados is celebrated on June 12, that is, Saint Anthony’s Eve. Saint Anthony is recognized for blessing young couples with happy and prosperous marriages. Celebrations for Dia dos Namorados in Brazil and those for Valentine’s Day in most other countries are similar. Typically, couples exchange romantic gifts, such as chocolates or flowers, and they may also share a date night. Additionally, beautifying home decorations are common as a part of the celebration. The day is festive, with colorful street decorations, parades and carnivals. Single women perform popular rituals, called simpatias, in order to find a good husband or boyfriend. In addition to prayer on the Eve, one might conceal a love letter in a pot of basil to pass to a prospective suitor.

Chocolate is, of course, called for on Lover’s Day, and the great Brazilian treat is the brigadeiro.  It is a ball of special chocolate ganache rolled in something delectable, and is a staple sweet throughout Brazil.  There are numerous videos on YouTube, so take your pick.

 Posted by at 7:21 am