Nov 182018
 

Today is the birthday (701 CE) of the Mayan “king” (ajaw), Itzam K’an Ahk II, also known as Ruler 4, which, among other things, gives me the opportunity to present his date of birth in the Mayan Long Count: 9.13.9.14.15 7 Men 18 K’ank’in. Of the three extant references to Itzam K’an Ahk’s birth, none mentions his line of descent, suggesting that Itzam K’an Ahk was not his predecessor’s (K’inich Yo’nal Ahk II’s) son, and that he may have been the founder of a new dynasty. In one carving, the ajaw in his name is shown with a turtle ornament on his belt, suggesting that one of his ancestors had the word auk (“turtle”) in his name and was thus of royal blood. Additionally, Stela 40 shows what could be Itzam K’an Ahk’s mother in Teotihuacano dress, suggesting that Itzam K’an Ahk was emphasizing maternal connections to Teotihuacan. This stela was erected exactly 83 Tzolk’in, (about 59 years), following the death of Itzam K’an Ahk I (a former ajaw of Piedras Negras whose name Itzam K’an Ahk II adopted), vaguely suggesting some kind of link between the two.

Itzam K’an Ahk II ascended to power on November 9th, 729 (9.14.18.3.13 7 Ben 16 K’ank’in). In 749, he celebrated his one K’atun as ruler, an event that was attended by many dignitaries, including a b’aah sajal (“first ruler”) named K’an Mo’ Te’ who had served K’inich Yo’nal Ahk II. The events of this banquet were later recorded by the final ajaw of Piedras Negras, K’inich Yat Ahk II on Panel 3. This carving shows Itzam K’an Ahk II lecturing the interim ruler of Yaxchilan, Yopaat Bahlam II, about Piedras Negras’ local dominance. (This panel has lent support to the belief that during Itzam K’an Ahk II’s rule, Piedras Negras had eclipsed Yaxchilan in power.) The K’atun celebration was followed by another event a few days later, at which Itzam K’an Ahk II performed a ‘descending macaw’ dance and then had a drink made from fermented cacao beans passed around to his guests.

Itzam K’an Ahk II probably engaged in war, since a pyrite disc found in his tomb depicts the severed head of a leader from Hix Witz. It seems likely that Hix Witz was under Piedras Negras’ control, largely based on the disk and because the Maya center is identified on Panel 7, erected earlier by Itzam K’an Ahk I, as a “tributary bearing plumes and textiles” to Piedras Negras.

Itzam K’an Ahk II’s reign was clearly marked by hegemony over neighboring kingdoms. He died on November 26th, 757 (9.16.6.11.17 7 Kaban 0 Pax) and was buried three days later. According to Panel 3, the burial took place at the “‘mountain’ of ho janaab witz”, which in this context refers to Pyramid O-13. Itzam K’an Ahk II was succeeded by Yo’nal Ahk III on March 10th, 758. Itzam K’an Ahk II’s burial site was venerated by the succeeding kings of Piedras Negras, which has led some scholars to hypothesize that Itzam K’an Ahk II produced a new ruling dynasty, and that the following three kings—Yo’nal Ahk III, Ha’ K’in Xook, and K’inich Yat Ahk II—were his sons.

Itzam K’an Ahk II erected at least five stelae: 9, 10, 11, 22, and 40, of which Stelae 9, 10, and 11 were raised in front of or near Structure J-3. Stela 11, constructed in August of 731, is of the niche variety (meaning it depicts the ruler seated in a small hollow, or niche) and commemorates Itzam K’an Ahk II’s ascent to power. This monument depicts him flanked by witnesses to the ceremonies explored on the stela itself. The expanse in front of the stone slab was a space for offering and supplication, the monument’s bottom depicts human sacrifice. The monument was discovered by Teoberto Maler in two pieces on the ground; the front was well-preserved (even retaining some of its pigment), although the glyphs on the upper right were weathered.

Stela 9 had long been broken into thirds when it was discovered in 1899 by Maler. While these fragments had eroded slightly, the base was later found in situ by the University of Pennsylvania’s University Museum. In the 1960s, looters carted off parts of the monument, namely a portion depicting a captive. Stela 10 is highly eroded, resulting in a loss of detail. In addition to this decay, the head ornament has presumably been lost. Stela 40 contains the depiction of the aforementioned woman dressed in Teotihuacano garb; it shows Itzam K’an Ahk II dispersing something—hypothesized to be either blood or incense—into a “psychoduct” (that is, a vent leading into a subplaza tomb). The female on the stela, denoted only by an “upside down vase” glyph, is likely Itzam K’an Ahk II’s mother.

Given that Itzam K’an Ahk served fermented cacao beans in a drink for his anniversary, the following video on fermenting cacao may be instructive to you. Chocolate served as a drink was reserved for Mayan nobility and the fermentation process is necessary to bring out the chocolate flavor:

Here also is a video on supposedly ancient Mayan cooking styles. It’s a bit touristy, and not in any sense academically rigorous, but it has some interesting moments nonetheless.

 

Nov 172018
 

Today is International Students’ Day, an international observance of the student community, held annually on November 17th commemorating the anniversary of the 1939 Nazi storming of the University of Prague after demonstrations against the German occupation of Czechoslovakia and the killings of Jan Opletal and worker Václav Sedláček.

In late 1939 the Nazi authorities in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia suppressed a demonstration in Prague held by students of the Medical Faculty of Charles University. The demonstration was held on 28th October to commemorate the anniversary of the independence of the Czechoslovak Republic (1918). During this demonstration the student Jan Opletal was shot, and later died from his injuries on 11th November. On 15th November his body was supposed to be transported from Prague to his home in Moravia. His funeral procession consisted of thousands of students, who turned the event into an anti-Nazi demonstration. However, the Nazi authorities took drastic measures in response, closing all Czech higher education institutions, arresting more than 1,200 students, who were then sent to concentration camps, executing nine students and professors without trial on 17th November. Historians speculate that the Nazis granted permission for the funeral procession already expecting a violent outcome, in order to use that as a pretext for closing down universities and purging anti-fascist dissidents.

Jan Opletal

The nine students and professors executed on 17th November in Prague were:

Josef Matoušek (historian and associate professor; participated in the organization of Opletal’s funeral)

Jaroslav Klíma (student of law; Chairman of the National Association of Czech Students in Bohemia and Moravia, requested the release of students arrested by the Gestapo during Opletal’s funeral)

Jan Weinert (student of Bohemian and German culture; requested the release of students arrested by the Gestapo during Opletal’s funeral)

Josef Adamec (student of law; secretary of the National Association of Czech Students in Bohemia and Moravia)

Jan Černý (student of medicine; requested the release of students arrested by the Gestapo during Opletal’s funeral)

Marek Frauwirth (student of economics; as an employee of the Slovak embassy in Prague, he was issuing false passports to Jews trying to flee from the Nazis)

Bedřich Koula (student of law; secretary of the Association of Czech students in Bohemia)

Václav Šafránek (student of architecture; record-keeper of the National Association of Czech Students in Bohemia and Moravia)

František Skorkovský (student of law; Director of a Committee of the Confédération Internationale des Étudiants, Chairman of the Foreign Department of the National Association of Czech Students in Bohemia and Moravia)

An initial idea to commemorate the atrocities inflicted on students in German-occupied Czechoslovakia was discussed among Czechoslovak Army troops in England in 1940. A small group of soldiers, former elected student officials, decided to renew the Central Association of Czechoslovak Students (USCS) which had been disbanded by the German Protectorate in Czechoslovakia. The idea of commemorating the November 17th tragedy was discussed with the British National Union of Students of England and Wales and other foreign students fighting the Nazis from England. With the support of Edvard Benes, President-in-Exile of Czechoslovakia, the USCS was reestablished in London on 17th November 1940, one year after the events at the Czech universities.

Throughout 1941 efforts were made to convince students of other nations to acknowledge November 17th as a day of commemoration, celebrating and encouraging resistance against the Nazis and the fight for freedom and democracy in all nations. These negotiating efforts were mostly carried out by Zink, Palecek, Kavan and Lena Chivers, Vice President of the NUS. Fourteen countries eventually agreed and signed the following proclamation:

We, students of Great Britain and its territories and India, North and South America, the USSR, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Greece, China, Holland, Norway, Poland, Yugoslavia and all free nations, to honour and commemorate the tortured and executed students who were the first to raise their voices to reject Nazi oppression and condemn the occupation of 1939, proclaim November 17 as International Students’ Day.

The inaugural meeting was held in London’s Caxton Hall on 16th November 1941, with support from President Benes. The proclamation was read and accepted by all attendees, among them representatives of all governments who were in exile in London. The meeting was presided over by USCS Chairman Palecek; the key speakers were Sergej Ingr, Czechoslovak Secretary of Defence; Lena Chivers and Elizabeth Shields-Collins of the UK; Olav Rytter of Norway; Claude Guy of France, A. Vlajcic representing Yugoslavia.

On 17th November 1941, members of the USCS Executive Committee had a long audience with President Benes, and similar meetings with the President took place annually on November 17th throughout World War II. The BBC’s Czechoslovakian department prepared a special report for November 17th which was broadcast to occupied Czechoslovakia. Many British universities interrupted their schedule to commemorate the events in Prague two years earlier, by reading the proclamation of November 17th. Among them were Manchester, Reading, Exeter, Bristol, Aberystwyth, Leicester, London, Holloway College, Bournemouth, Sheffield, King’s College London, Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Bangor, Cardiff, Glasgow, and Edinburgh. During the war Oxford University extended assistance to the closed Charles University, allowing dozens of Czechoslovak students in exile to graduate.

In 1989 independent student leaders together with the Socialist Union of Youth (SSM/SZM) organized a mass demonstration to commemorate International Students’ Day. The students used this 50th-anniversary event to express their dissatisfaction with the ruling Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. By nightfall, what had begun as a peaceful commemorative event turned violent, with many participants brutally beaten by riot police, red berets, and other members of law enforcement agencies. About 15,000 people took part in this demonstration. The only person left lying where the beatings took place was thought to be the body of a student, but in fact turned out to be an undercover agent. The rumor that a student had died due to the police brutality triggered further actions; the same night, students and theater actors agreed to go on strike. The events linked to the International Students’ Day of 17th November 1989 helped spark the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia. Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day is today observed as an official holiday in both the Czech Republic (since 2000, following a campaign by the Czech Student Chamber of the Council of Higher Education Institutions) and Slovakia.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the resulting crisis within the International Union of Students, celebrations for 17th November were held in only a few countries without any international coordination. During the World Social Forum held in Mumbai, India, in 2004, some international student unions such as the Organization of Caribbean and Latin American Students (OCLAE) and some national unions such as the Italian Unione degli Studenti decided to re-launch the date and to call for a global demonstration on 17th November 2004. Student movements in many countries mobilized again that year and continued observing International Students’ Day in following years with the support of the Organising Bureau of European School Student Unions (OBESSU) and the European Students’ Union (ESU).

In 2009, on the 70th anniversary of 17th November 1939, OBESSU and ESU promoted a number of initiatives throughout Europe to commemorate the date. An event was held from 16th to 18th November at the University of Brussels, focusing on the history of the students’ movement and its role in promoting active citizenship against authoritarian regimes, and followed by an assembly discussing the role of student unions today and the need for the recognition of a European Student Rights Charter. The conference gathered around 100 students representing national students and student unions from over 30 European countries, as well as some international delegations.

I am always impressed by the activism and heroism of students in totalitarian regimes, and, in contrast, decidedly unimpressed for what passed for activism in my student days in England and at my university in New York. It was limp wristed at best, and mostly concerned issues such as increased tuition costs and similar self-interested projects. Once or twice I was able to stir my students to social action, but it was fleeting, and inconsequential in the long run. Certainly I am grateful that I was not involved in Nazi or Stalinist regimes, but there were more than enough social issues to be engaged with if they had wanted to be. For the most part, they could not be bothered. So, today I salute those students who could be bothered, and put their lives on the line for social justice.

Bryndzové Halušky (potato dumplings with sheep cheese) is one of the national dishes in Slovakia, and also popular in the Czech Republic. It is a hearty meal consisting of halušky (boiled pieces of potato dough similar to gnocchi) and bryndza (a soft sheep cheese), optionally sprinkled with cooked bits of smoked pork fat or bacon.

Bryndzové Halušky

Ingredients

2 medium potatoes, peeled and grated

1 cup flour

1 tsp salt

150 gm smoked or regular bacon, cubed from a block

½ tbsp vegetable oil

125 gm bryndza

50 ml cream (optional)

Instructions

Mix the flour and salt with the grated potatoes until you get a thick, sticky dough.

Heat the oil over low heat in a large skillet and fry the bacon until crisp and brown.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add salt to taste.

Test a small spoonful of the halusky mix in the boiling water. If the mix does not hold together when cooking, add more flour.

Put the dough on a cutting board and cut small dumplings (about 1 x 2 cm) directly into the boiling water. Drop several halusky dumplings in at a time. They will sink to the bottom so give them a quick stir. Cook the halusky until they float to the top and have changed color. Remove them with a slotted spoon and place them in a colander to drain. Repeat the boiling process until all the batter is cooked.

When all the halusky are cooked make sure they are properly drained, then put them in a large bowl and mix in the cheese until evenly coated. If you like you can mix in some whipping or heavy cream.

Divide the halusky between plates and top with the fried bacon.

Nov 162018
 

Today is the feast of Saint Edmund of Abingdon (circa 1174 – 1240), a 13th-century archbishop of Canterbury. He became a respected lecturer in mathematics, dialectics and theology at the Universities of Paris and Oxford. Edmund was born around 1174, possibly on 20th November (the feast of St Edmund the Martyr), in Abingdon in Berkshire (now Oxfordshire). “Rich” was an epithet sometimes given to his wealthy merchant father. It was never applied to Edmund or his siblings in their lifetimes. Edmund may have been educated at the monastic school in Abingdon. His early studies were in England, but he completed his higher learning in France at the University of Paris. About 1195, in company with his brother Richard, he was sent to the schools of Paris. He studied at the universities of Oxford and Paris and became a teacher about 1200, or a little earlier. For six years he lectured on mathematics and dialectics, apparently dividing his time between Oxford and Paris, and helped introduce the study of Aristotle.

Edmund became one of Oxford’s first lecturers with a Master of Arts, but was not Oxford’s first Doctor of Divinity. Long hours at night spent in prayer had the result that he often nodded off during his lectures. There is a long-established tradition that he used his lecture fees to build the Lady Chapel of St Peter’s in the East at Oxford. The site where he lived and taught was formed into a medieval academic hall in his name and later incorporated as the college of St Edmund Hall. His mother influenced him towards self-denial and austerity, and this led to his taking up the study of theology.

Though for some time Edmund resisted the change, he finally entered upon his new career between 1205 and 1210. He was ordained, took a doctorate in divinity and soon became known as a lecturer on theology and as an extemporaneous preacher. Some time between 1219 and 1222 he was appointed vicar of the parish of Calne in Wiltshire, and treasurer of Salisbury Cathedral. He held this position for eleven years, during which time he also engaged in preaching. In 1227 he preached the sixth crusade through a large part of England. In 1233 he was appointed archbishop of Canterbury by Gregory IX. The chapter had already made three selections which the pope had declined to confirm. Edmund’s name had been proposed as a compromise by Gregory, perhaps on account of his work for the crusade. He was consecrated on 2nd April 1234.

Before his consecration Edmund became known for supporting ecclesiastical independence from Rome, maintenance of the Magna Carta and the exclusion of foreigners from civil and ecclesiastical office. He was reluctant to accept appointment as archbishop but was persuaded to accept when it was pointed out that if he refused, the pope might very well appoint a foreigner. He chose as his chancellor Richard of Wich, known to later ages as St Richard of Chichester.

In the name of his fellow bishops Edmund admonished Henry III of England at Westminster, on 2nd February 1234, to heed the example of his father, king John. A week after his consecration he again appeared before the king with the barons and bishops, this time threatening Henry with excommunication if he refused to dismiss his councilors, particularly Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester. Henry yielded, and the favorites were dismissed, Hubert de Burgh (whom they had imprisoned) was released and reconciled to the king and soon the archbishop was sent to Wales to negotiate peace with Llywelyn the Great. Edmund’s success, however, turned the king against him.

Edmund was valued by the local people for his teaching, preaching, study, and his prayer; but his uncompromising stand in favor of good discipline in both civil and ecclesial government, of strict observance in monastic life, and of justice in high quarters brought him into conflict with Henry III, with several monasteries, and with the priests of Canterbury cathedral. He claimed and exercised metropolitan rights of visitation, this was often challenged and he had to resort to litigation to maintain his authority, not the least with his own monastic chapter at Canterbury.

Although he was known for his gentleness and courtesy, Edmund firmly defended the rights of Church and State against the exactions and usurpations of Henry III. In December 1237 Edmund set out for Rome to plead his cause in person. From this futile mission he returned to England in August 1238 where his efforts to foster reform were frustrated. Edmund submitted to papal demands and, early in 1240 paid to the pope’s agents one fifth of his revenue, which had been levied for the pope’s war against Emperor Frederick II. Other English prelates followed his example.

The papacy then ordered that 300 English benefices should be assigned to Romans. In 1240 Edmund set out for Rome. At the Cistercian Pontigny Abbey in France he became sick, began traveling back to England, but died only 50 miles further north, on 16th November 1240, at the house of Augustinian Canons at Soisy-Bouy and was taken back to Pontigny.

In less than a year after Edmund’s death miracles were alleged to be wrought at his grave. He was canonized only 6 years after his death, in December 1246. A few years later the first chapel dedicated to him, St Edmund’s Chapel, was consecrated in Dover by his friend Richard of Chichester (making it the only chapel dedicated to one English saint by another). At Salisbury a collegiate church and an altar in the cathedral were dedicated to Saint Edmund. Today he is remembered in the name of St Edmund Hall, Oxford and St Edmund’s College, Cambridge.

Edmund’s body was never translated to Canterbury, because the Benedictine community there resented what they regarded as Edmund’s attacks on their independence. After his death he was taken back to Pontigny Abbey, where his main relics are now found in a baroque reliquary tomb dating to the 17th century. An arm is enshrined in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Assumption at St. Edmund’s Retreat on Enders Island off the coast of Mystic, Connecticut. The retreat is operated by the Society of the Fathers and Brothers of St. Edmund. In 1853, the fibula of the Edmund’s left leg was presented to St Edmund’s College, Ware, by Cardinal Wiseman. Many local cures of serious illnesses were attributed to the intercession of St Edmund; one of the earliest of these was of a student who nearly died after a fall in 1871. His complete healing led to the accomplishment of a vow to extend the beautiful Pugin chapel with a side chapel to honour the saint. The Islamic silk chasuble, with the main fabric probably made in Al-Andaluz, that Edmund had with him at his death remains in a local church, with a stole and maniple.

Here is a recipe from Libellus De Arte Coquinaria (The Little Book of Culinary Arts), a culinary manuscript containing thirty-five early Northern European recipes. The manuscript consists of recipes in Danish, Icelandic, and Low German with bits of Latin thrown in, dating from the early 13th century. I imagine this style of cooking was well known in England. The recipe looks like a cross between a quiche and a pot pie. Worth a shot. I’ve made a stab at a free translation from Old Danish, but you will have to fill in the gaps.

De cibo qui dicitur koken wan honer.

Man skal gøræ en grytæ af degh, oc skær et høns thær I alt I styki, oc latæ thær I spæk wæl skoren sum ærtær,pipær oc komiæn oc æggi blomæ, wæl slaghæn mæth safran; oc takæ thæn grytæ oc latæ bakæ I en ofn. Thæt hetær kokæn wan honer.

The dish that is called Chicken Pie.

Make a shell of dough, and put into it a hen, cut into pieces. Add bacon, diced the size of peas, pepper, cumin, and egg yolks well beaten with saffron. Then take the pastry shell and bake it in an oven. It is called Chicken Pie.

 

Nov 152018
 

Today is the birthday (1316) of John I, surnamed the Posthumous (Jean Ier le Posthume), king of France and Navarre, as the posthumous son and successor of Louis X, for the five days he lived in 1316. John was the 13th French king from the House of Capet. He is the youngest person to be king of France, the only one to have borne that title from birth, and the only one to hold the title for his entire life. His reign is the shortest of any French king. Although considered a king today, his status was not recognized until chroniclers and historians in later centuries began numbering John II, thereby acknowledging John I’s brief reign.

John reigned for five days under the regency of his uncle Philip the Tall, until his death on 20th November 1316. His death ended the three centuries of father-to-son succession to the French throne. The infant King was buried in Saint Denis Basilica. He was succeeded by Philip, whose contested legitimacy led to the re-affirmation of the Salic law, which excluded women from the line of succession to the French throne.

The child mortality rate was very high in medieval Europe and John may have died from any number of causes, but rumors of poisoning spread immediately after his death (including one which said that he had been murdered with a pin by his aunt), as many people benefited from it and as John’s father also died in strange circumstances. The cause of his death is still not known today.

The premature death of John brought the first issue of succession of the Capetian dynasty. When Louis X, his father, died without a son to succeed him, it was the first time since Hugh Capet that the succession from father to son of the kings of France was interrupted. It was then decided to wait until his pregnant widow, Clementia of Hungary, delivered the child. The king’s brother, Philip the Tall, was in charge of the regency of the kingdom against his uncle Charles of Valois. The birth of a male child was expected to give France its king. The problem of succession returned when John died five days after birth. Philip ascended the throne at the expense of John’s four-year-old half-sister, Joan, daughter of Louis X and Margaret of Burgundy.

Various legends circulated about John. First, it was claimed that his uncle Philip the Tall had him poisoned. Then a strange story a few decades later came to start the rumor that the little king John was not dead. During the captivity of John the Good (1356-1360), a man named Giannino Baglioni claimed to be John I and thus the heir to the throne. He tried to assert his rights, but was captured in Provence and died in captivity in 1363.

In The Man Who Believed He Was King of France, Tommaso di Carpegna Falconieri suggests that Cola di Rienzo manufactured false evidence that Baglioni was John the Posthumous in order to strengthen his own power in Rome by placing Baglioni on the French throne. Shortly after they met in 1354, di Rienzo was assassinated, and Baglioni waited two years to report his claims. He went to the Hungarian court where Louis I of Hungary, nephew of Clemence of Hungary, recognized him as the son of Louis and Clemence. In 1360, Baglioni went to Avignon, but Pope Innocent VI refused to receive him. After several attempts to gain recognition, he was arrested and imprisoned in Naples, where he died in 1363.

By a splendid coincidence, today is Beaujolais Nouveau Day. Beaujolais nouveau is a red wine made from Gamay grapes produced in the Beaujolais region of France. It is the most popular vin de primeur, fermented for just a few weeks before being released for sale on the third Thursday of November.

Beaujolais had always made a vin de l’année to celebrate the end of the harvest, but until World War II it was for local consumption only. In fact, once the Beaujolais Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) was established in 1937, AOC rules meant that Beaujolais wine could be officially sold only after 15th December in the year of harvest. These rules were relaxed on 13th November 1951, and the Union Interprofessionnelle des Vins du Beaujolais (UIVB) formally set 15th November as the release date for what would henceforth be known as Beaujolais nouveau.

A few members of the UIVB saw the potential for marketing Beaujolais nouveau. Not only was it a way to clear lots of vin ordinaire at a good profit, but selling wine within weeks of the harvest was great for cash flow. Hence the idea was born of a race to Paris carrying the first bottles of the new vintage. This attracted a lot of media coverage, and by the 1970s had become a national event. The races spread to neighboring countries in Europe in the 1980s, followed by North America, and in the 1990s to Asia. In 1985, the date was changed to the third Thursday in November to take best advantage of marketing in the following weekend. Well, today is the third Thursday and happens to be the 15th anyway.

Here’s a simple recipe for a red wine reduction sauce. It can be used with steak, chicken, or vegetables. It’s not going to transform meats into boeuf bourguignonne, or coq au vin, but it works as a quick solution, as befits a young wine rushed to market.

Red Wine Reduction

Ingredients

¾ cup red wine
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1 shallot, peeled and diced
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp flour
fresh rosemary sprig
salt and pepper

Instructions

Sauté shallots, butter, and flour for 3 minutes over medium heat.

Stir in the red wine, vinegar and rosemary.

Bring to a simmer and reduce by ½ volume.

Add salt and pepper to taste, serve immediately.

Nov 142018
 

On this date in 1940, Coventry cathedral was bombed almost to destruction by the German Luftwaffe during the Coventry Blitz. The bombed-out shell of the 14th century cathedral was preserved as hallowed ground, and a new ultra-modern cathedral was raised beside it. The new cathedral raised eyebrows at first, but is now generally admired, and certainly loved by many locals.

The first cathedral in Coventry was St Mary’s Priory and Cathedral, 1095 to 1102, when Robert de Limesey moved the bishop’s see from Lichfield to Coventry, until 1539 when it fell victim to Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries. Prior to 1095, it had been a small Benedictine monastery (endowed by Leofric, Earl of Mercia and Lady Godiva in 1043). Shortly after 1095 rebuilding began and by the middle of the 13th century it was a cathedral of 142 yards in length and included many large outbuildings. Leofric was probably buried within the original Saxon church in Coventry. However, records suggest that Godiva was buried at Evesham Abbey, alongside her father confessor, Aefic.

St Michael’s Church was largely constructed between the late 14th century and early 15th century. It was one of the largest parish churches in England when, in 1918, it was elevated to cathedral status on the creation of Coventry Diocese. This St Michael’s cathedral now stands ruined. Only the tower, spire, the outer wall, and the bronze effigy and tomb of its first bishop, Huyshe Yeatman-Biggs, survive. Following the bombing, provost Richard Howard had the words “Father Forgive” inscribed on the wall behind the altar of the ruined building. The spire rises to 90 m (295 ft) and is the tallest structure in the city. It is also the third tallest cathedral spire in England, with only Salisbury and Norwich cathedrals rising higher.

The current St Michael’s Cathedral, built next to the remains of the old, was designed by Basil Spence and Arup, built by John Laing and is a Grade I listed building. The selection of Spence for the work was a result of a competition held in 1950 to find an architect for the new Coventry Cathedral; his design was chosen from over two hundred submitted. Spence (later knighted for this work) insisted that instead of re-building the old cathedral it should be kept in ruins as a garden of remembrance and that the new cathedral should be built alongside, the two buildings together effectively forming one church. The use of Hollington sandstone for the new Coventry Cathedral provides an element of unity between the buildings.

The foundation stone of the new cathedral was laid by Elizabeth II on 23rd March 1956. The unconventional spire (known as a flèche) is 80 feet (24 m) tall and was lowered on to the flat roof by a helicopter. The cathedral was consecrated on 25th May 1962, and Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, composed for the occasion, was premiered in the new cathedral on 30th May to mark its consecration. When I first visited in 1968, the cathedral was still considered “controversial” but I loved it.

Coventry’s modernist design caused much discussion when it was first opened, but it rapidly became a hugely popular symbol of reconciliation in post-war Britain. The interior is notable for its huge tapestry (once thought to be the world’s largest) of Christ, designed by Graham Sutherland, the emotive sculpture of the Mater Dolorosa by John Bridgeman in the East end, and the Baptistry window designed by John Piper (made by Patrick Reyntiens), of abstract design that occupies the full height of the bowed baptistery, which comprises 195 panes, ranging from white to deep colors. The stained glass windows in the nave, by Lawrence Lee, Keith New and Geoffrey Clarke, face away from the congregation. Spence’s concept for these nave windows was that the opposite pairs would represent a pattern of growth from birth to old age, culminating in heavenly glory nearest the altar — one side representing Human, the other side, the Divine. Also worthy of note is the Great West Window known as the Screen of Saints and Angels, engraved directly on to the screen in expressionist style by John Hutton. (Although referred to as the West Window, this is the ‘liturgical west’ opposite the altar which is traditionally at the east end. In this cathedral the altar is actually at the north end.) The foundation stone, the ten stone panels inset into the walls of the cathedral called the Tablets of the Word, and the baptismal font were designed and carved by the émigré German letter carver Ralph Beyer.

The Charred Cross and the Cross of Nails were created after the cathedral was bombed during the Coventry Blitz of the Second World War. The cathedral stonemason, Jock Forbes, saw two wooden beams lying in the shape of a cross and tied them together. A replica of the Charred Cross built in 1964 has replaced the original in the ruins of the old cathedral on an altar of rubble. The original is now kept on the stairs linking the cathedral with St Michael’s Hall below.

The Cross of Nails was made of three nails from the roof truss of the old cathedral by Provost Richard Howard of Coventry Cathedral at the suggestion of a young friend, The Rev. A.P. Wales. It was later transferred to the new cathedral, where it sits in the center of the altar cross. It has become a symbol of peace and reconciliation across the world. There are over 330 Cross of Nails Centers all over the world, all of them bearing a cross made of three nails from the ruins, similar to the original one. When there were no more of these nails, a continuing supply has come from a prison in Germany. They are co-ordinated by the International Centre for Reconciliation.

One of the crosses made of nails from the old cathedral was donated to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin, which was destroyed by Allied bombing and is also kept as a ruin alongside a newer building. A replica of the cross of nails was also donated to the Chapel of Reconciliation (Kapelle der Versöhnung) which forms part of the Berlin Wall Memorial. A copy of the Stalingrad Madonna by Kurt Reuber that was drawn in 1942 in Stalingrad (now Volgograd) is shown in the cathedrals of all three cities (Berlin, Coventry and Volgograd) as a sign of the reconciliation of the three countries that were once enemies.

A medieval cross of nails has also been carried on board all British warships who subsequently bear the name HMS Coventry. The cross of nails was on board the Type 42 destroyer Coventry when she was sunk by enemy action in the Malvinas War. The cross was salvaged by Royal Navy divers, and presented to Coventry Cathedral by the ship’s Captain and colleagues. The cross was subsequently presented first to the next Coventry in 1988 until she was decommissioned in 2002, and then to HMS Diamond, which is affiliated to Coventry, during her commissioning ceremony on 6 May 2011 by Captain David Hart-Dyke, the commanding officer of Coventry when she was sunk.

In five plus years I have never repeated a recipe, but today I have no choice. I cannot let today pass without a tip of the hat to Coventry godcakes. I mean GODcakes and Coventry cathedral. Seriously – I have no choice. Besides, Coventry godcakes are great. When I lived near Coventry I ate them ALL THE TIME. My original recipe is here — http://www.bookofdaystales.com/jets/  Here is a video that is fun and also contains the recipe.

 Posted by at 11:23 am
Nov 132018
 

Edward III of England was born on this date in 1312. He was king of England and Lord of Ireland from January 1327 until his death. He is noted for his military success and for restoring royal authority after the disastrous and unorthodox reign of his father, Edward II. Edward III transformed the kingdom of England into one of the most formidable military powers in Europe. His long reign of 50 years was the second longest in medieval England (after that of his great-grandfather Henry III) and saw vital developments in legislation and government, in particular the evolution of the English parliament, as well as the ravages of the Black Death.

Rather than dribble on endlessly concerning his reign, I want to emphasize two aspects of it: (1) The constant squabble over whether the king of England was also the king of France, and (2) Edward’s conscious effort to evoke king Arthur as the spirit pervading his monarchy.  The first point is generally glossed over these days, particularly with Brexit looming and nationalists marching around singing “Rule Britannia” and “There’ll Always Be An England” as if since the dawn of time, England/Britain has been a gloriously separate island nation, untouched by wogs across the channel. The inconvenient historical truth is that England was a part of Denmark for many years, and when Normans conquered England under William the Bastard, it became an adjunct of Normandy for at least a century. It was not in any sense an isolated kingdom and cannot legitimately be said to have been for centuries before. Celts were conquered by Romans who made Britain part of their empire for centuries. When they left, Angles and Saxons moved in, and, according to legend, Arthur rose to take back land for the Celts that had been stolen first by Romans, then by Anglo-Saxons. Edward embraced the legend of Arthur for complicated reasons.

Edward was born at Windsor Castle and was often referred to as Edward of Windsor in his early years. The reign of his father, Edward II, was a particularly problematic period of English history. One source of contention was the king’s inactivity, and repeated failure, in the ongoing war with Scotland. Another controversial issue was the king’s exclusive patronage of a small group of royal favorites. The birth of a male heir in 1312 temporarily improved Edward II’s position in relation to baronial opposition. To bolster further the independent prestige of the young prince, the king had him created earl of Chester at only 12 days of age.

In 1325, Edward II was faced with a demand from his brother-in-law, Charles IV of France, to perform homage for the English Duchy of Aquitaine. Edward was reluctant to leave the country, as discontent was once again brewing domestically, particularly over his relationship with the favorite Hugh Despenser the Younger. Instead, he had his son Edward created Duke of Aquitaine in his place and sent him to France to perform the homage. The young Edward was accompanied by his mother Isabella, who was the sister of King Charles, and was meant to negotiate a peace treaty with the French. While in France, Isabella conspired with the exiled Roger Mortimer to have Edward deposed. To build up diplomatic and military support for the venture, Isabella had her son engaged to the twelve-year-old Philippa of Hainault. An invasion of England was launched and Edward II’s forces deserted him completely. Isabella and Mortimer summoned a parliament, the king was forced to relinquish the throne to his son, who was proclaimed king in London on 25 January 1327. The new king was crowned as Edward III on 1st February at the age of 14.

It was not long before the new reign also met with other problems caused by the central position at court of Roger Mortimer, who was now the de facto ruler of England. Mortimer used his power to acquire noble estates and titles, and his unpopularity grew with the humiliating defeat by the Scots at the Battle of Stanhope Park and the ensuing Treaty of Edinburgh–Northampton, signed with the Scots in 1328. Also the young king came into conflict with his guardian. Mortimer knew his position in relation to the king was precarious and subjected Edward to disrespect. The tension increased after Edward and Philippa, who had married at York Minster on 24 January 1328, had a son on 15 June 1330. Eventually, Edward decided to take direct action against Mortimer. Aided by his close companion William Montagu and a small number of other trusted men, Edward took Mortimer by surprise at Nottingham Castle on 19th October 1330. Mortimer was executed and Edward III’s personal reign began.

To mark his claim to the French crown, Edward’s coat of arms showed the three lions of England quartered with the fleurs-de-lys of France. The French carried out raids on English coastal towns, leading to rumors in England of a full-scale French invasion. In 1337, Philip VI confiscated the Edward’s duchy of Aquitaine and the county of Ponthieu. Instead of seeking a peaceful resolution to the conflict by paying homage to the French king, as his father had done, Edward responded by laying claim to the French crown as the grandson of Philip IV. The French rejected this claim, of course, because the inheritance passed through a woman (his mother), and previous claims by others had settled the matter that the claimant must be descended from previous kings through the male line only (agnatic descent). Instead, they upheld the rights of Philip IV’s nephew, king Philip VI (an agnatic descendant of the House of Valois), thereby setting the stage for the Hundred Years’ War.

The Hundred Years’ War was not a single war, but a series of wars between England and France concerning who owned what and where. At the start of the wars it is not legitimate to say that there was a well-defined sense of either English national identity or French national identity. By the end of them, lines were more clearly drawn even though England still had claims to French territory.

Central to Edward III’s policy was reliance on the higher nobility for purposes of war and administration. While his father had regularly been in conflict with a great portion of his peerage, Edward III successfully created a spirit of camaraderie between himself and his greatest subjects. Both Edward I and Edward II had been limited in their policy towards the nobility, allowing the creation of few new peerages during the 60 years preceding Edward III’s reign. The young king reversed this trend when, in 1337, as a preparation for the imminent war, he created six new earls on the same day. At the same time, Edward expanded the ranks of the peerage upwards, by introducing the new title of duke for close relatives of the king (a policy which continues to this day). Furthermore, Edward bolstered the sense of community within this group by the creation of the Order of the Garter, probably in 1348. A plan from 1344 to revive the Round Table of king Arthur never came to fruition, but the new order carried connotations from this legend by the circular shape of the garter.

Edward’s wartime experiences during the Crécy campaign (1346–7) seem to have been a determining factor in his abandonment of the Round Table project. It has been argued that the total warfare tactics employed by the English at Crécy in 1346 were contrary to Arthurian ideals and made Arthur a problematic paradigm for Edward III, especially at the time of the institution of the Garter. There are no formal references to Arthur and the Round Table in the surviving early 15th-century copies of the Statutes of the Garter, but the Garter Feast of 1358 did involve a round table game. Thus there was some overlap between the projected Round Table fellowship and the actualized Order of the Garter. Polydore Vergil tells of how the young Joan of Kent, countess of Salisbury – allegedly the king’s favorite at the time – accidentally dropped her garter at a ball at Calais. Edward responded to the ensuing ridicule of the crowd by tying the garter around his own knee with the words “honi soit qui mal y pense” – shame on him who thinks ill of this – which became the motto of the Order. How much of this is true is difficult to determine now. You will note that a distinctly English Order of Chivalry had a French motto.

This reinforcement of the aristocracy must be seen in conjunction with the war in France, as must the emerging sense of national identity. Just as the war with Scotland had done, the fear of a French invasion helped strengthen a sense of national unity and nationalize the aristocracy that had been largely Anglo-Norman since the Norman conquest. Since the time of Edward I, popular legend suggested that the French planned to extinguish the English language, and as his grandfather had done, Edward III made the most of this scare. As a result, the English language experienced a strong revival. In 1362, a Statute of Pleading ordered the English language to be used in law courts, and the year after, Parliament was for the first time opened in English. At the same time, the vernacular saw a revival as a literary language, through the works of William Langland, John Gower and especially The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. Yet the extent of this Anglicization must not be exaggerated. The statute of 1362 was in fact written in the French language and had little immediate effect, and parliament was opened in French as late as 1377. The Order of the Garter, though a distinctly English institution, included also foreign members such as John IV, Duke of Brittany and Sir Robert of Namur. Edward III – himself bilingual – viewed himself as legitimate king of both England and France, and could not show preferential treatment for one part of his domains over another.

So . . . how do you see England now? Has it always stood out from “the continent” in splendid isolation, or was it once something else?

Here is a recipe for a bread and egg dish called iuschett from The Forme of Curye (c.1390). Several things to notice. First, it is in English – not French. That is the direct influence of Edward’s reforms, making England more English. Second, some of the words will be unusual to you but if you say the recipe out loud you should understand it well enough. The text may be a bit hard for you to read from the image, so here is a transcription:

Iuscheƚƚ

Tak brede y grated & ayron & swynge hem to gyder do þer to safron, sauge & salt and cast broth þer to, boyle & messe forth.

If you need help (my free translation into modern English).

Take grated bread and eggs and mix them together. Add saffron, sage, and salt, and moisten with broth. Boil the mix, and serve.

This is very much like the stuffing I use for chickens (sans eggs – yes, using “sans” is a bit coy). It sounds a tad too mushy for my tastes, so I am unlikely to try it any time soon.

 

Nov 122018
 

Today is the birthday (1915) of Roland Gérard Barthes, French literary theorist, philosopher, linguist, critic, and semiotician. Barthes’ ideas explored a diverse range of fields and he influenced the development of many schools of theory, including structuralism, semiotics, social theory, design theory, anthropology, and post-structuralism. His book, Mythologies (1957), originally a series of essays on the interpretation of popular culture published periodically, was an influential work in anthropology because it introduced anthropologists to semiotics – the analysis of signs and how they operate. Barthes’ work had its vogue in the 1960s and ‘70s, especially because he was a French intellectual whose writings were somewhat clearer and more readable than those of many of his contemporaries, and they appeared to be fertile ground. I always felt that his analyses were trivial, and most of the social scientific world now agrees with me – with the exception of holdouts in France. No worries: I despaired of French social scientists and philosophers a long time ago.

Barthes was born in Cherbourg in Normandy. His father, a naval officer, was killed in a battle during World War I in the North Sea before Barthes’ first birthday. His mother, Henriette Barthes, and his aunt and grandmother raised him in the village of Urt and the city of Bayonne. When Barthes was 11, his family moved to Paris. He claimed that his attachment to his provincial roots remained strong throughout his life – although he does a fair imitation of the bored, Parisian, left-bank intellectual that you could easily be fooled.

Barthes spent from 1935 to 1939 at the Sorbonne, where he earned a degree in classical literature. He was plagued by ill health throughout this period, suffering from tuberculosis, which often had to be treated in isolation in sanatoria. His repeated physical breakdowns disrupted his academic career, affecting his studies and his ability to take qualifying examinations. They also exempted him from military service during World War II. His life from 1939 to 1948 was largely spent obtaining a degee in grammar and philology, publishing his first papers, taking part in a medical study, and continuing to struggle with his health. He received a diplôme d’études supérieures from the University of Paris in 1941 for his work in Greek tragedy. In 1948, he returned to purely academic work, gaining numerous short-term positions at institutes in France, Romania, and Egypt. During this time, he contributed to the leftist Parisian paper Combat, out of which grew his first full-length work, Writing Degree Zero (1953).

In 1952, Barthes settled at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, where he studied lexicology and sociology. During his seven-year period there, he began to write a popular series of bi-monthly essays for the magazine Les Lettres Nouvelles, in which he examined “myths” of popular culture (gathered in Mythologies). The essays in Mythologies were reflections on French popular culture ranging from an analysis of soap detergent advertisements to a dissection of popular wrestling. Though knowing little English, Barthes taught at Middlebury College in 1957 and befriended the future English translator of much of his work, Richard Howard.

Barthes spent the early 1960s exploring the fields of semiology and structuralism, chairing various faculty positions around France, and continuing to produce more full-length studies. Many of his works challenged traditional academic views of literary criticism and of renowned figures of literature. His unorthodox thinking led to a conflict with a well-known Sorbonne professor of literature, Raymond Picard, who attacked the French New Criticism (a label that he inaccurately applied to Barthes) for its obscurity and lack of respect towards France’s literary roots. Barthes’ rebuttal in Criticism and Truth (1966) accused the old, bourgeois criticism of a lack of concern with the finer points of language and of selective ignorance towards challenging theories, such as Marxism.

By the late 1960s, Barthes had established a reputation for himself and traveled to the US and Japan. During this time, he wrote the 1967 essay “The Death of the Author,” which, in light of the growing influence of Jacques Derrida’s concept of deconstruction, would prove to be a transitional piece in its investigation of the logical ends of structuralist thought. Trust me. If you don’t know what I am talking about, you don’t want to know. Derrida, Bourdieu, Foucault . . . are all names that have me running for the exit.

Barthes continued to contribute with Philippe Sollers to the avant-garde literary magazine Tel Quel, which was developing similar kinds of theoretical inquiry to that pursued in Barthes’ writings. In 1970, Barthes produced what many consider to be his most prodigious work, the dense, critical reading of Balzac’s Sarrasine entitled S/Z. Throughout the 1970s, Barthes continued to develop his literary criticism; he developed new ideals of textuality and novelistic neutrality. In 1971, he served as visiting professor at the University of Geneva.

In 1975 he wrote an autobiography, and in 1977 he was elected to the chair of Sémiologie Littéraire at the Collège de France. In the same year, his mother, Henriette Barthes, to whom he had been devoted, died, aged 85. They had lived together for 60 years. The loss of the woman who had raised and cared for him was a serious blow to Barthes. His last major work, Camera Lucida, is partly an essay about the nature of photography and partly a meditation on photographs of his mother. The book contains many reproductions of photographs, though none of them are of Henriette. On 25th February 1980, Roland Barthes was knocked down by a laundry van while walking home through the streets of Paris. One month later, on March 26th, he died from the chest injuries he sustained in that accident.

I was going to gather together a series of pithy quotes from Barthes as a small homage, but as I re-read his work I realized that I detest his writing so much that I could not find a single one I like. Here’s a small sample:

Language is a skin: I rub my language against the other. It is as if I had words instead of fingers, or fingers at the tip of my words. My language trembles with desire. The emotion derives from a double contact: on the one hand, a whole activity of discourse discreetly, indirectly focuses upon a single signified, which is “I desire you,” and releases, nourishes, ramifies it to the point of explosion (language experiences orgasm upon touching itself); on the other hand, I enwrap the other in my words, I caress, brush against, talk up this contact, I extend myself to make the commentary to which I submit the relation endure.

Some anthropologists find this kind of thing useful in interpretive analysis. I find it a complete waste of time. He rails against bourgeois culture, yet this sort of writing could not be more elitist. How many coal miners or steel workers are going to be intrigued by his words? How are these sentiments going to help them in their daily struggles? I have no time for this kind of self-centered, self-congratulatory twaddle, and I am glad to say that a great many intellectuals now agree with me. Einstein once said that if you cannot explain something simply, you do not understand it. Roland Barthes and his kin want to turn that sentiment on its head: “If you cannot make a simple idea impenetrable to the masses, you are not trying hard enough.” “Confusing” is not a synonym for “nuanced” or “profound.” Ask yourself, in the cracks, why every one of my photos of Barthes here shows him smoking.

This video, Semiotics in the Kitchen by Martha Rosler, is a perfect parody of semiotics and Barthes. Also perfect as my recipe du jour. That is, at the end of the video you will not have learned anything new, you will not have help in creating a dish, and you will still be hungry.

 

 

Nov 112018
 

Today is Singles’ Day or Guanggun Jie ( 光棍节) literally: “Single Sticks’ Holiday, in China, a holiday popular among young people that celebrates their pride in being single. The date, 11/11, was chosen because the number “1” resembles an individual who is alone, so 11.11 represents many singles together. The holiday has also become a popular date to celebrate relationships, with over 4,000 couples being married in Beijing on this date in 2011.

Singles’ Day, or Bachelors’ Day, originated at Nanjing University in 1993. Singles’ Day celebrations spread to several other universities in Nanjing during the 1990s. There are several speculations explaining the creation of the Singles’ Day festival.The most widely accepted is that the holiday grew out of Nanjing University’s dormitory culture. One origin story is that in 1993, four male students of Nanjing University’s Mingcaowuzhu (“All single men”) dorm discussed how they could break away from the monotony of being single and agreed that November 11 would be a day of events and celebrations in honor of being single. These activities spread through the university and eventually made their way into wider society. The spread increased with social media use, and the event has become increasingly popular within contemporary Chinese culture and society.

Another speculation is based on the apocryphal love story of a Nanjing University student called Mu Guang Kun, known as Guang Gun. The story goes that his girlfriend was diagnosed with cancer during his second year at the university and eventually died. The distraught Guang Gun took to placing candles on nearby rooftops in memory of his lover, and on his birthday in the subsequent year, his roommates joined him to keep him company. After this, the day became a holiday at the university and grew to become the national, commercialized festival that is celebrated today.

Singles’ Day serves as an occasion for single people to meet and for parties to be organized. The holiday was initially only celebrated by young men, hence the initial name “Bachelors’ Day.” However, it is now widely celebrated by both sexes. Blind date parties are popular on this day, in an attempt to alter the single status of the participants. Some universities organize special programs to gather singles together for the celebration. Singles may take on an annoyed or self-deprecating attitude in response to remaining single as a university student, but university initiatives have helped curb that negativity. Although this date is meant to celebrate singleness, the desire to find a spouse or partner is often expressed by young Chinese people on this date, while other love-related issues are discussed by the Chinese media.

The event is not an officially recognized public holiday in China, although it has become the largest offline and online shopping day in the world. Sales in Alibaba’s sites, Tmall and Taobao, had reached US$5.8 billion in 2013, US$9.3 billion in 2014, US$14.3 billion in 2015, US$17.8 billion in 2016, and over US$25.4 billion in 2017. JD.com also achieved a sales record of US$19.1 billion in 2017. As more people join in the celebration of this holiday many companies have taken the opportunity to target younger consumers; including businesses such as restaurants, karaoke parlors, and online shopping malls. For example, the Chinese online shopping mall Taobao sold goods worth 19 billion CNY (about US$3 billion) on November 11, 2012. On Singles’ Day 2017, Alibaba set a world record for most payment transactions during the festival. Its mobile wallet app Alipay processed 256,000 payment transactions per second. A total of 1.48 billion transactions were processed by Alipay in the entire 24 hours, with delivery orders through Cainiao (Alibaba’s logistics affiliate) reaching close to 700 million, breaking the previous record set in 2016. The event is now nearly four times the size of the US’s biggest shopping days, Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

2011 marked the “Singles Day of the Century” (Shiji Guanggun Jie) as this date had six “ones” rather than four (11.11.11), increasing the significance of the occasion. In 2011, an above-average number of marital celebrations occurred in Hong Kong and Beijing on November 11.

In addition to meaning “single”, the Chinese pronunciation of 11/11 sounds similar to the pronunciation of the expression “one life, one lifetime” ( 一生一世, yi sheng yi shi), a basis for the date’s popularity for celebrating relationships among couples as well.

Singles’ Day has since been popularized through the internet and is now observed at several places outside of China as well. The holiday has particularly grown in Southeast Asia, with customers in the Lazada’s Southeast Asian marketplaces ordering 6.5 million items in 2017. This is in part thanks to heavy promotions by the Lazada group in this region.

Mediamarkt, a German company, promotes Singles’ Day in their stores. Belgian Mediamarkt also participates, but reactions have been negative because the 11th of November is the anniversary of the Armistice that ended World War I, and the day is especially associated with somber commemoration of the war dead in Belgium, because Flanders was a major battleground.

I am classified in Asia as “single” even though I am a widower, and I am not in a relationship. You won’t find me celebrating or morning on this day, however. Every day is Singles’ Day for me. I revel in my ability to live alone without commitment to anyone else. For singles on 11.11 here is 1,1,1,1 cake – a reference to the equal proportions of 4 ingredients. It is very easy – even singles with no cooking skills can make it.

1,1,1,1 Cake

Ingredients

1 cup self-raising flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup coconut
1 cup milk

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C.

Grease a loaf pan and/or line with baking paper.

Spoon the cake mix into the loaf pan.

Bake for 40 min and test for doneness with a toothpick inserted in the center.

Cool in the pan on a wire rack, then turn out on to a plate.

Nov 102018
 

Today is the birthday (1668) of François Couperin, a French Baroque composer, organist and harpsichordist. who was known as Couperin le Grand to distinguish him from other members of the musically able Couperin family.

Couperin was born into one of the best-known musical families of Europe. His father Charles was organist at Church Saint-Gervais in Paris, a position previously occupied by Charles’s brother Louis Couperin, a highly regarded keyboard virtuoso and composer whose career was cut short by an early death. As a boy, François must have received his first music lessons from his father. Unfortunately, Charles died in 1679. The church council at Saint-Gervais hired Michel Richard Delalande to serve as new organist, on the condition that François would replace him at age 18. Meanwhile, the boy was taken care of and taught by organist Jacques-Denis Thomelin, who served both at the court and at the famous church of St Jacques-de-la-Boucherie.

In 1689 Couperin married Marie-Anne Ansault,  and the next year he published  Pieces d’orgue, a collection of organ masses that was praised by Delalande (who may have assisted with both composition and publication). In three more years Couperin succeeded his former teacher Thomelin at the court. The new appointment was extremely prestigious and brought Couperin in contact with some of the finest composers of his time, as well as numerous members of the aristocracy. His earliest chamber music dates from around that time. The numerous duties Couperin carried out at the court were accompanied by duties as organist at Saint Gervais, and also by the composition and publication of new music. He obtained a 20-year royal privilege to publish in 1713 and used it immediately to issue the first volume (out of four) of his harpsichord works, Pieces de clavecin. A harpsichord playing manual followed in 1716, as well as other collections of keyboard and chamber music. In 1717 Couperin succeeded one of his most eminent colleagues, Jean-Baptiste-Henry d’Anglebert, as ordinaire de la musique de la chambre du roi pour le clavecin, one of the highest possible appointments for a court musician. However, his involvement in the musical activities at the court may have diminished after Louis XIV’s death in 1715.

Couperin’s health declined steadily throughout the 1720s. The services of a cousin were required by 1723 at Saint Gervais, and in 1730 Couperin’s position as court harpsichordist was taken up by his daughter Marguerite-Antoinette. Couperin’s final publications were Pièces de violes (1728) and the fourth volume of harpsichord pieces (1730). He died in 1733. The building where Couperin and his family lived from 1724 still stands and is located at the corner of the rue Radziwill and the rue des Petits Champs. The composer was survived by at least three of his children: Marguerite-Antoinette, who continued working as court harpsichordist until 1741, Marie-Madeleine (Marie-Cécile), who became a nun and may have worked as organist at the Maubuisson Abbey, and François-Laurent, who according to contemporary sources left the family after François died.

Couperin acknowledged his debt to the Italian composer Corelli. He introduced Corelli’s trio sonata form to France, for example. Couperin’s grand trio sonata was subtitled Le Parnasse, ou L’apothéose de Corelli (“Parnassus, or the Apotheosis of Corelli”). In it he blended the Italian and French styles of music in a set of pieces which he called Les goûts réunis (“Styles Reunited”).

His most famous book, L’art de toucher le clavecin (“The Art of Harpsichord Playing”, published in 1716), contains suggestions for fingerings, touch, ornamentation and other features of keyboard technique. This link has dozens of Couperin’s pieces on it:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gm3Ep0_-cpc

Couperin’s four volumes of harpsichord music, published in Paris in 1713, 1717, 1722, and 1730, contain over 230 individual pieces, and he also published a book of Concerts Royaux which can be played as solo harpsichord pieces or as small chamber works. The four collections for harpsichord alone are grouped into ordres, a synonym of suites, containing traditional dances as well as pieces with descriptive titles. They are notable for Couperin’s detailed indication of ornaments, which in most harpsichord music of the period was left to the discretion of the player. The first and last pieces in an ordre were of the same tonality, but the middle pieces could be in other closely related tonalities. These volumes were admired by Johann Sebastian Bach, who exchanged letters with Couperin, and later by Brahms and by Ravel, who memorialized their composer in Le tombeau de Couperin (Couperin’s Memorial).

Many of Couperin’s keyboard pieces have evocative, picturesque titles (such as “The little windmills” and “The mysterious barricades”) and express a mood through key choices, adventurous harmonies and (resolved) discords. They have been likened to miniature tone poems. These features attracted Richard Strauss, who orchestrated some of them.

I have taken a recipe for a venison stew with beetroots from the 1674 classic, The English and French Cook, to commemorate Couperin. In the 17th and 18th centuries, there were a great many recipes shared by English and French cooks before the cordon bleu school put its stamp on French cooking. The recipe is straightforward except noting that “sweet spices” could be thyme, sage, parsley, rosemary, etc., and Saunders is red sandalwood (Pterocarpus santalinus) that was used in Medieval cooking to give a red color to dishes.

Potage of Venison

Take a Haunch of Venison, and cut it into six pieces, and place them in the bottom of a Pan or Pot, then put in no more Water than will cover it, let it boil, then scum it, after that add to it a good quantity of whole Pepper; when it is half boiled, put in four whole Onions, Cloves, and large Mace, some sliced Ginger, Nutmeg, three or four faggots of sweet Herbs, let it boil till the Venison be very tender, and a good part of the broth be wasted; after this pour out the broth from the meat into a Pipkin, keep your Venison hot in the same Pot by adding other hot broth unto it; then take a couple of red-Beet roots, having very well parboil’d them before, cut them into square pieces as big as a shilling, and put them into the broth which is in your Pipkin, and let them boil till they are very tender, add unto the boiling four Anchovies minced, then dish up your Venison on Sippets of French-bread, then pour on your broth, so much as will near-upon fill the Dish, then take your roots by themselves, and toss them in a little drawn Butter, and lay them all over the Venison; if the Beets be good, it will make the broth red enough, which you must have visible round about the Dish sides, but if it prove pale, put to it some Saunders: This is a very savory Potage.

Nov 092018
 

Today is the birthday (1914) of actress Hedy Lamarr, born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler. Many people my age remember his from films such as Algiers (1938), Boom Town (1940), I Take This Woman (1940), Comrade X (1940), Come Live With Me (1941), H.M. Pulham, Esq. (1941), and Samson and Delilah (1949), that were stock-in-trade TV movies back in the 1960s when a film had to be over 10 years old to be shown on television. Fewer people know that at the beginning of World War II, she and composer George Antheil developed a radio guidance system for Allied torpedoes that used spread spectrum and frequency hopping technology to defeat the threat of jamming by the Axis powers. Although the US Navy did not adopt the technology until the 1960s, the principles of their work are incorporated into Bluetooth technology and are similar to methods used in legacy versions of CDMA and Wi-Fi.

Lamarr was born in Vienna, the only child of Gertrud “Trude” Kiesler (née Lichtwitz; 1894–1977) and Emil Kiesler (1880–1935). Her father was born to a Jewish family in Lemberg (now Lviv in Ukraine) and was a successful bank director. Trude, her mother, a pianist and Budapest native, had come from an upper-class Jewish family. She had converted to Catholicism and was described as a “practicing Christian” who raised her daughter as a Christian. Lamarr helped get her mother out of Austria after it had been absorbed by the Third Reich and to the United States, where Gertrude later became a US citizen. She put “Hebrew” as her race on her petition for naturalization, which was a term often used in Europe.

Lamarr was taking acting classes in Vienna when one day, she forged a note from her mother and went to Sascha-Film and was able to get herself hired as a script girl. While there, she was able to get a role as an extra in Money on the Street (1930), and then a small speaking part in Storm in a Water Glass (1931). Producer Max Reinhardt then cast her in a play entitled The Weaker Sex, which was performed at the Theater in der Josefstadt. Reinhardt was so impressed with her that he brought her with him back to Berlin.

However, she never actually trained with Reinhardt or appeared in any of his Berlin productions. Instead, she met the Russian theatre producer Alexis Granowsky, who cast her in his film directorial debut, The Trunks of Mr. O.F. (1931), starring Walter Abel and Peter Lorre. Granowsky soon moved to Paris, but Lamarr stayed in Berlin and was given the lead role in No Money Needed (1932), a comedy directed by Carl Boese. Lamarr then starred in the film which made her internationally famous.

In early 1933, at age 18, Lamarr was given the lead in Gustav Machatý’s film, Ecstasy (Ekstase in German, Extase in Czech). She played the neglected young wife of an indifferent older man. The film became both celebrated and notorious for showing Lamarr’s face in the throes of orgasm as well as close-up and brief nude scenes, a result of her being deceived by the director and producer, who used high-power telephoto lenses. Although she was dismayed, and disillusioned about taking other roles, the film gained world recognition after winning an award in Rome. Throughout Europe, it was regarded as an artistic work. In the US it was considered overly sexual and received negative publicity, especially among women’s groups. It was banned there and in Germany.

Lamarr played a number of stage roles, including a starring one in Sissy, a play about Empress Elisabeth of Austria produced in Vienna. It won accolades from critics. Admirers sent roses to her dressing room and tried to get backstage to meet her. She sent most of them away, including a man who was more insistent, Friedrich Mandl. He became obsessed with getting to know her. Mandl was an Austrian military arms merchant and munitions manufacturer who was reputedly the third-richest man in Austria. Lamarr fell for him, but her parents, both of Jewish descent, did not approve, due to Mandl’s ties to Mussolini, and later, Hitler.

On August 10, 1933, Lamarr married Mandl. She was 18 years old and he was 33. In her autobiography Ecstasy and Me, she described Mandl as an extremely controlling husband who strongly objected to her simulated orgasm scene in Ecstasy and prevented her from pursuing her acting career. She claimed she was kept a virtual prisoner in their castle home, Schloss Schwarzenau. Mandl had close social and business ties to the Italian government, selling munitions to the country, and although like Hedy, his own father was Jewish, had ties to the Nazi regime of Germany, as well. Lamarr wrote that the dictators of both countries attended lavish parties at the Mandl home. Lamarr accompanied Mandl to business meetings, where he conferred with scientists and other professionals involved in military technology. These conferences were her introduction to the field of applied science and nurtured her latent talent in science.

Lamarr’s marriage to Mandl eventually became unbearable, and she decided to separate herself from both her husband and country. In her autobiography, she wrote that she disguised herself as her maid and fled to Paris, but by other accounts, she persuaded Mandl to let her wear all of her jewelry for a dinner party, then disappeared afterward. She writes about her marriage:

I knew very soon that I could never be an actress while I was his wife. He was the absolute monarch in his marriage.  I was like a doll. I was like a thing, some object of art which had to be guarded—and imprisoned—having no mind, no life of its own.

After arriving in London in 1937, she met Louis B. Mayer, head of MGM, who was scouting for talent in Europe. She initially turned down the offer he made her ($125 a week), but then booked herself on to the same New York bound liner as him, and managed to impress him enough to secure a $500 a week contract. Mayer persuaded her to change her name to Hedy Lamarr (to distance herself from her real identity, and “the Ecstasy lady” reputation associated with it), choosing the surname in homage to the beautiful silent film star, Barbara La Marr, on the suggestion of his wife, who admired La Marr. He brought her to Hollywood in 1938 and began promoting her as the “world’s most beautiful woman”.

Mayer loaned Lamarr to producer Walter Wanger, who was making Algiers (1938), an American version of the French film, Pépé le Moko (1937). Lamarr was cast in the lead opposite Charles Boyer. The film created a “national sensation”, says Shearer. She was billed as an unknown but well-publicized Austrian actress, which created anticipation in audiences. Mayer hoped she would become another Greta Garbo or Marlene Dietrich. According to one viewer, when her face first appeared on the screen, “everyone gasped … Lamarr’s beauty literally took one’s breath away.”

In future Hollywood films, she was invariably typecast as the archetypal glamorous seductress of exotic origin. You can follow her Hollywood career from here for yourself. Now I’ll turn to her scientific investigations, as this is a lesser known side of her. Lamarr wanted to join the National Inventors Council, but was reportedly told by NIC member Charles F. Kettering and others that she could better help the war effort by using her celebrity status to sell war bonds. She participated in a war bond-selling campaign with a sailor named Eddie Rhodes. Rhodes was in the crowd at each Lamarr appearance, and she would call him up on stage. She would briefly flirt with him before asking the audience if she should give him a kiss. The crowd would say yes, to which Hedy would reply that she would if enough people bought war bonds. After enough bonds were purchased, she would kiss Rhodes and he would head back into the audience. Then they would head off to the next war bond rally.

Although Lamarr had no formal training and was primarily self-taught, she worked in her spare time on various hobbies and inventions, which included an improved traffic stoplight and a tablet that would dissolve in water to create a carbonated drink. The beverage was unsuccessful; Lamarr herself said it tasted like Alka-Seltzer.

Among the few who knew of Lamarr’s inventiveness was aviation tycoon Howard Hughes. She suggested he change the rather square design of his aeroplanes (which she thought looked too slow) to a more streamlined shape, based on pictures of the fastest birds and fish she could find. Lamarr discussed her relationship with Hughes during an interview, saying that while they dated, he actively supported her “tinkering” hobbies. He put his team of science engineers at her disposal, saying they would do or make anything she asked for.

During World War II, Lamarr learned that radio-controlled torpedoes, an emerging technology in naval war, could easily be jammed and set off course. She thought of creating a frequency-hopping signal that could not be tracked or jammed. She contacted her friend, composer and pianist George Antheil, to help her develop a device for doing that, and he succeeded by synchronizing a miniaturized player-piano mechanism with radio signals. They drafted designs for the frequency-hopping system, which they patented. Antheil recalled:

We began talking about the war, which, in the late summer of 1940, was looking most extremely black. Hedy said that she did not feel very comfortable, sitting there in Hollywood and making lots of money when things were in such a state. She said that she knew a good deal about munitions and various secret weapons … and that she was thinking seriously of quitting MGM and going to Washington, DC, to offer her services to the newly established Inventors’ Council.

Their invention was granted a patent under US Patent 2,292,387 on August 11th, 1942 (filed using her married name Hedy Kiesler Markey). However, it was technologically difficult to implement, and at that time the U.S. Navy was not receptive to considering inventions coming from outside the military. In 1962, (at the time of the Cuban missile crisis), an updated version of their design at last appeared on Navy ships. In 1997, Lamarr and Antheil received the Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award and the Bulbie Gnass Spirit of Achievement Bronze Award, given to individuals whose creative lifetime achievements in the arts, sciences, business, or invention fields have significantly contributed to society. Lamarr was featured on the Science Channel and the Discovery Channel. In 2014, Lamarr and Antheil were posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Lamarr died in Casselberry, Florida, on January 19th, 2000, of heart disease, aged 85. Her son Anthony Loder spread her ashes in Austria’s Vienna Woods in accordance with her last wishes. Lamarr was given an honorary grave in Vienna’s Central Cemetery in 2014.

Here’s a video for making Eiernockerln, egg dumplings from Vienna that are not as well known outside Austria as Weiner Schnitzel or Sachertorte or any of a dozen Viennese recipes I have already given you, but they are quite splendid if made right.