Aug 232016
 

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Today is Internaut Day celebrating the anniversary of the launch of the World Wide Web on this day in 1991. Sorry, I’m going to get a bit geeky for a while. I celebrated the birth of the Internet in April http://www.bookofdaystales.com/happy-birthday-internet/ but today is a different birthday. If you’re into metaphors you can think of these two – Internet and World Wide Web – as father and son. Colloquially people use terms like “Internet” and “Web” interchangeably, but they are not the same. The Web sits on top of the Internet and was a later development. The geeks among you can ignore what follows and go straight to the whisky bottle for a cheery celebration.

In April I spoke a little about how, starting in the 1960s, the Internet was built to link up computers – eventually internationally. All well and good. Using the Internet originally was not for the faint of heart. Via my (then) brother-in-law, I had access to the Internet back in the late 1980s. He controlled a university mainframe which he let me dial into, and, by a painful process, I exchanged my research data with a few colleagues. It was arduous, but a lot more efficient than mailing floppy disks back and forth, and allowed a very fruitful collaboration. Then the World Wide Web came along, and my life improved immensely.

Let me try to put things in simple terms. The Internet allowed people to transfer data globally, but sender and receiver had to actively do something to make the system work. There were no browsers and no websites as such. In March 1989 Tim Berners-Lee, working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland, wrote a proposal for “a large hypertext database with typed links.” Although the proposal attracted little interest, Berners-Lee was encouraged by his boss, Mike Sendall, to begin implementing his system on a newly acquired NeXT workstation. He considered several names, including Information Mesh, The Information Mine or Mine of Information, but settled on World Wide Web.

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Berners-Lee’s breakthrough was to marry hypertext to the Internet. In his book Weaving The Web, he explains that he had repeatedly suggested that a union of the two technologies was possible to members technical communities of the time, but when no one took up his invitation, he finally assumed the project himself. In the process, he developed three essential technologies:

  1. a system of globally unique identifiers for resources on the Web and elsewhere, the universal document identifier (UDI), later known as uniform resource locator (URL) and uniform resource identifier (URI);
  2. the publishing language HyperText Markup Language (HTML);
  3. the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP).

Let me break this down into simple terms. The Internet had been like an electronic postal system. One person (the sender) encapsulated data electronically in a package and gave it to an electronic mailman who delivered it to another person (the receiver). The receiver picked up the package and read it. These data were mostly text based, and, just like regular mail, we’re talking about mail that goes from just one person to another (or possibly to a group of people). Then the Web came along. Now instead of just sending packages, people could build websites – let’s say this was like opening up parts of their houses for other people to enter and look around. They could look at pictures on the wall, read books there, play games, or whatever. In turn, other people, instead of just sending packages, could get in their cars and visit any house that was open to them. This is the Web that we know now. All you need is a browser (a car) and you can go anywhere in the world and you can stop off anywhere. You don’t need senders and receivers any more. You don’t have to be home when someone stops by to visit. You just have to have enough security in the house so that they don’t touch anything (or leave muddy footprints) – just look.

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The first effective browser was Mosaic. I remember it well. It was clunky and very slow. But it was a step forward. It might take 20 minutes to load a site that was text only, and an hour or more to load an image. Like many people, I used Netscape Navigator for browsing initially but moved up the food chain a long time ago (“long” in cybertime).

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“Internaut” is a portmanteau word combining “Internet” and astronaut and refers to a designer, operator, or technically capable user of the Internet. Beginning with participants in the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), it gradually expanded to members of the Internet Society (ISoc) and the larger community. Now an internaut is often used in English to describe someone who is online savvy, typically through years of online experience, with a thorough knowledge of how to use search engines, Internet resources, forums, newsgroups and chat rooms to find information. So the more someone knows about the Internet, its history and politics, the more likely the term internaut fits. The less he or she knows the more likely a different term would be more fitting. Other terms roughly analogous with internaut are cybernaut and netizen (Internet + citizen), though each has its own connotation. In other languages “internaut” just means anyone who surfs the Web, and that’s the connotation most apt for today, the Web’s official birthday – 25 today. Happy Birthday !!!

IT specialists use a conceptualization of the movement of data around the Internet known as the OSI (Open System Interconnection) 7 Layer Model. The actual physical structure of the Internet — wires, hubs, etc. – along which data is transmitted in the form of electrical pulses is layer 1. The top layer, layer 7, is the software in your computer, such as your browser.  Altogether there are 7 layers as follows:

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You surf the Web using layer 7 and the information you input goes all the way down to layer 1, travels along the Internet, then pops up to layer 7 at the other end. This way the hardware and software does all the work for you, and it is these layers that marry the World Wide Web to the Internet. Since it is the Web’s 25th birthday today, a 7-layer birthday cake seems in order. The best I know of is the Dobos torte or Dobosh, a Hungarian sponge cake layered with chocolate buttercream and topped with caramel. It is named after its inventor, Hungarian confectioner József C. Dobos, who aimed to create a cake that would last longer than other pastries in an age when cooling techniques were limited. The round sides of the cake are coated with ground hazelnuts, chestnuts, walnuts, or almonds, and the caramel topping helps to prevent drying out.

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Since we are celebrating the Web I will leave it to you to find a recipe of your choice on the Web. Or go here:

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/7650/dobos-torte/

 

 

Aug 222016
 

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Today is Madras Day, an annual festival that commemorates the founding of the city of Madras (now Chennai) in Tamil Nadu. 22nd August 1639 is the widely agreed upon date for the purchase of the village of Madraspatnam or Chennapatnam by East India Company factors Andrew Cogan and Francis Day from Damerla Venkatapathy, the viceroy of the Vijayanagar Empire. There has been some debate as to whether the deed of purchase was dated 22nd July or 22nd August, the latter being widely accepted. The motives of the celebrations have sometimes been criticized by academicians and state government organizations who feel that it gives undue importance to the city’s colonial heritage. Nonetheless the celebrations are popular and growing.

The first recorded celebration of the founding of Madras was its tercentenary commemoration in 1939. Unlike later anniversaries, the celebrations were officially sponsored by the British government and a special tercentenary commemoration volume was issued with essays on the different aspects of Madras city written by leading experts of the time. An exhibition of pictures, portraits, maps, records and coins was inaugurated by Diwan Bahadur S. E. Runganadhan, the Vice-Chancellor of Madras University, and there was a short-play writing competition as well. The 350th anniversary in 1989 was celebrated with the opening of a commemorative monument titled “Madras 350” built in the Classical Style by Frankpet Fernandez at the junction of the Poonamallee High Road and the New Avadi Road. Other major events included the commissioning of a book by S. Muthiah titled Madras — The Gracious City by the Murugappa Group which also organized the first Madras Quiz which has continued to the present day.

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Modern Chennai had its origins as a colonial city and its initial growth was closely tied to its importance as an artificial harbor and trading center. When the Portuguese arrived in 1522, they built a port and named it São Tomé, after the Christian apostle St. Thomas, who by legend is said to have preached there between the years 52 and 70. The region then passed into the hands of the Dutch, who established themselves near Pulicat just north of the city in 1612. Both groups strived to grow their colonial populations and although their joint populations had reached about 10,000 when the British arrived, they remained substantially outnumbered by the local Indian population.

By 1612, the Dutch established themselves in Pulicat to the north. In the 17th century when the English East India Company decided to build a factory on the east coast and in 1626 selected as its site Armagon (Dugarazpatnam), a village around 35 miles (56 km) north of Pulicat. The calico cloth from the local area, which was in high demand locally, was of poor quality and not suitable for export to Europe. The English also soon realized that, as a port, Armagon was unsuitable for trade purposes. Francis Day, one of the officers of the company, who was then a Member of the Masulipatam Council and the Chief of the Armagon Factory, made a voyage of exploration in 1637 down the coast as far as Pondicherry with a view to choosing a site for a new settlement.

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At that time the Coromandel Coast was ruled by Peda Venkata Raya, from the Aravidu Dynasty of Vijayanagara Empire based in Chandragiri-Vellore. Damarla Venkatadri Nayaka, local governor of the Vijayanagar Empire and Nayaka of Wandiwash (Vandavasi), ruled the coastal part of the region, from Pulicat to the Portuguese settlement of San Thome. He had his headquarters at Wandiwash, and his brother Ayyappa Nayakudu resided at Poonamallee, a few miles to the west of Madras, where he looked after the affairs of the coast. Ayyappa Nayakudu persuaded his brother to lease the sandy strip to Francis Day and promised him trade benefits, army protection, and Persian horses in return. Francis Day wrote to his headquarters at Masulipatam for permission to inspect the proposed site at Madraspatnam and to examine the possibilities of trade there. Madraspatnam seemed favorable during the inspection, and the calicoes woven there were much cheaper than those at Armagon (Durgarazpatam).

On 22 August 1639, Francis Day secured the Grant by the Damarla Venkatadri Nayaka, Nayaka of Wandiwash, giving over to the East India Company a three-mile (4.8 km) long strip of land, a fishing village called Madraspatnam, copies of which were endorsed by Andrew Cogan, the Chief of the Masulipatam Factory. The Grant was for a period of two years and empowered the Company to build a fort and castle on about 2 sq miles (5 km2) of its strip of land.

The English merchants at Masulipatam were satisfied with Francis Day’s work. They requested Day and the Damarla Venkatadri Nayaka to wait until the sanction of the superior English Presidency of Bantam in Java could be obtained for their action. The main difficulty, among the English those days, was lack of money. In February 1640, Day and Cogan, accompanied by a few merchants and writers, a garrison of about twenty-five European soldiers and a few other European artificers, besides a Hindu powder-maker named Naga Battan, proceeded to the land which had been granted and started a new English factory there. They reached Madraspatnam on 20 February 1640.

Fort St George on the Coromandel Coast.  Belonging to the East India Company of England

Day and Cogan can be considered as the founders of Madras/Chennai. They began construction of Fort St George on 23 April 1640 and houses for their residence. Their small fortified settlement quickly attracted other East Indian traders and as the Dutch position collapsed under hostile Indian power they also slowly joined the settlement. By the 1646, the settlement had reached 19,000 people and with the Portuguese and Dutch populations at their forts substantially more. To further consolidate their position, the Company combined the various settlements around an expanded Fort St. George, which, including its citadel, also embraced a larger outside area surrounded by an additional wall. This area became the Fort St. George settlement. As stipulated by the Treaty signed with the Nayak (local administrator), the British and other Europeans were not allowed to decorate the outside of their buildings in any other color but white. As a result, over time, the area came to be known as ‘White Town’.

According to the treaty, only Europeans, principally Protestant British settlers were allowed to live in this area as outside of this confine, non-Indians were not allowed to own property. However, other national groups, chiefly French, Portuguese, and other Catholic merchants had separate agreements with the Nayak which allowed them in turn to establish trading posts, factories, and warehouses. As the East India Company controlled the trade in the area, these non-British merchants established agreements with the Company for settling on Company land near “White Town” per agreements with the Nayak. Over time, Indians also arrived in ever greater numbers and soon, the Portuguese and other non-Protestant Christian Europeans were outnumbered. Following several outbreaks of violence by various Hindu and Muslim Indian communities against the Christian Europeans, White Town’s defenses and its territorial charter was expanded to incorporate most of the area which had grown up around its walls thereby incorporating most of its Catholic European settlements. In turn they resettled the non-European merchants and their families and workers, almost entirely Muslim or of various Hindu nationalities outside of the newly expanded “White Town”. This was also surrounded by a wall. To differentiate these non-European and non-Christian area from “White Town,” the new settlement was called “Black Town.” Collectively, the original Fort St. George settlement, “White Town” and “Black Town,” were called Madras.

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During the course of the late 17th century, both plague and genocidal warfare reduced the population of the colony dramatically. Each time, the survivors fell back upon the safety of the Fort St George. As a result, owing to the frequency of outbursts of racial and national violence against the Europeans and especially the English, Fort St George with its impressive fortifications became the nucleus around which the city grew and rebuilt itself. Several times throughout the life of the colony, the Fort became the last refuge of Europeans and their allied Indian communities from various savage pogroms initiated by several Indian rulers and powers, which resulted in the almost complete destruction of the town. Each time the town (and later city) was rebuilt and repopulated with new English and European settlers. The Fort still stands today, and a part of it is used to house the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly and the Office of the Chief Minister. Elihu Yale, after whom Yale University is named, was British governor of Madras for five years. Part of the fortune that he amassed in Madras as part of the colonial administration became the financial foundation for Yale University.

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The city has changed its boundaries as well as the geographic limits of its quarters several times, principally as a result of destructions of the town by surrounding Hindu and Muslim powers. For instance, Golkonda forces under General Mir Jumla conquered Madras in 1646, massacred or sold into slavery much of the Christian European inhabitants and their allied Indian communities, and brought Madras and its immediate surroundings under his control. Nonetheless, the Fort and its surrounding walls remained under British control who slowly rebuilt their colony with additional colonists despite another mass murder of Europeans in Black Town by anti-colonialists agitated by Golkonda and plague in the 1670s. In 1674, the expanded colony had nearly 50,000 mostly British and European colonists and was granted its own corporate charter, thereby officially establishing the modern day city. Eventually, after additional provocations from Golkonda, the British pushed back until they defeated him.

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After the fall of Golkonda in 1687, the region came under the rule of the Mughal Emperors of Delhi who in turn granted new Charters and territorial borders for the area. Subsequently, charters were issued by the Mughal Emperor granting the rights of English East India company in Madras and formerly ending the official capacity of local rulers to attack the British. In the later part of the 17th century, Madras steadily progressed during the period of the East India Company and under many Governors. Although most of the original Portuguese, Dutch, and British population had been killed during the genocides of the Golkonda period, under the Mughul protection, large numbers of British and Anglo-American settlers arrived to replenish these losses. As a result, during the Governorship of Elihu Yale (1687–92), the large number of British and European settlers led to the most important political event which was the formation of the institution of a Mayor and Corporation for the city of Madras. Under this Charter, the British and Protestant inhabitants were granted the rights of self-government and independence from company law. In 1693, a parwana (warrant) was received from the local Nawab granting the towns Tondiarpet, Purasawalkam and Egmore to the company which continued to rule from Fort St. George. The present parts of Chennai like Poonamalee (ancient Tamil name – Poo Iruntha alli), Triplicane (ancient Tamil name – Thiru alli keni) are mentioned in Tamil bhakti literature of the 6th – 9th centuries. Thomas Pitt became the Governor of Madras in 1698 and governed for eleven years. This period witnessed remarkable development of trade and an increase in wealth resulting in the building of many fine houses, mansions, housing developments, an expanded port and city complete with new city walls, and various churches and schools for the British colonists and missionary schools for the local Indian population.

The idea to celebrate the birth of the city every year was crystallized when journalists Shashi Nair and Vincent D’Souza met S. Muthiah at his residence for coffee. It was based on the success of another event called Mylapore Festival which D’Souza had been organizing every year in January. It was decided by the trio to start celebrating Madras Day from 2004. According to them, “the primary motive of celebrating the new Madras Day was to focus on the city, its past and its present.” The idea initially started off with about five events in 2004 but grew gradually. The second in 2005 had events throughout the week. In 2008, there were 60 events. In 2007, a commemorative postal cover was released by Chief Postmaster-General of Tamil Nadu Circle at a function at Fort St George as a part of the Madras Day celebrations, thereby inaugurating a tradition that continued through later celebrations. The 2010 celebrations lasted over a week, and some extended into the following week as well. Since then they have continued to grow.

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Outside of south Asia, Indian restaurants frequently feature Madras curry, and supermarkets sell Madras curry powders and pastes. To a degree this is a misnomer, and the designation is for foreigners only. Madras curries are quite varied in their ingredients and spices. Still, modern Indian cooks do resort to such mixes when they are in a hurry. Chennai is locally better known for its street food.

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You’d do well to buy a plane ticket than to try to make it at home, although I have been moderately successful when I have been able to get the right ingredients. When I lived near Slough (then in Buckinghamshire) in the 1960s, there was a substantial south Asian immigrant population there with a large food market catering to their cooking needs. I was a constant visitor.

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Dosa, crepes made with a fermented urad dhal (black lentils) and rice batter, are common street food which you can make at home with reasonable success (and a lot of experience). This site does a better job than I can to explain the process with detailed descriptions and pictures.

http://indianhealthyrecipes.com/dosa-recipe-dosa-batter/

 

 

 

Aug 212016
 

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Today is the birthday (1872) of Aubrey Vincent Beardsley, an English illustrator and poet, best known for his drawings in black ink, influenced by the style of Japanese woodcuts, which emphasized the grotesque, the decadent, and the erotic. He was a leading figure in the Aesthetic Movement which also included Oscar Wilde and James A. McNeill Whistler. Beardsley’s life was short (25 years) but his contribution to the development of Art Nouveau was immense.

During his lifetime, and ever since, Beardsley’s life and work have been the subject of intense discussion ranging from passionate endorsement to furious condemnation, with not much room in between. I know from experience that undergraduate rooms in the late 1960s and early 1970s were wallpapered with his posters, mostly, I think, in a trite way. His work no longer shocks as it did on Victorian England, so it had become a rather mild nod in the direction of decadence.  The seemingly enduring mystery among scholars is the question of what he was attempting to achieve by his work. I’m not an art historian but it all seems rather simple to me. He lived in Victorian England in the “gay 90s” and knew the Paris of la belle époque. This heady world fascinated him and he wanted to make a mark. He did. What more is there to know?

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Beardsley was born in Brighton on the south coast of England. Beardsley’s mother, Ellen Agnus Pitt (1846–1932), was the daughter of Surgeon-Major William Pitt of the Indian Army. The Pitts were a well-established and respected family in Brighton, and Beardsley’s mother married a man of lower social status than might have been expected. In 1883 his family settled in London, and in the following year he appeared in public as an “infant musical phenomenon”, playing at several concerts with his sister. In January 1885 he began to attend Brighton, Hove and Sussex Grammar School, where he spent the next four years. His first poems, drawings and cartoons appeared in print in “Past and Present”, the school’s magazine. In 1888 he obtained a post in an architect’s office, and afterwards one in the Guardian Life and Fire Insurance Company. In 1891, under the advice of Sir Edward Burne-Jones and Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, he took up art as a profession. In 1892 he attended the classes at the Westminster School of Art under Professor Fred Brown.

Also in 1892, Beardsley traveled to Paris, where he discovered the poster art of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and the Parisian fashion for Japanese prints, both of which would be major influences on his own style. Beardsley’s first commission was Le Morte d’Arthur by Thomas Malory (1893), which he illustrated for the publishing house J. M. Dent and Company.

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His six years of major creative output can be divided into several periods, identified by the form of his signature. In the early period his work is mostly unsigned. During 1891 and 1892 he progressed to using his initials, A.V.B. In mid-1892, the period of Le Morte d’Arthur and The Bon Mots he used a Japanese-influenced mark which became progressively more graceful, sometimes accompanied by A.B. in block capitals. He co-founded The Yellow Book with US writer Henry Harland, and for the first four editions he served as art editor and produced the cover designs and many illustrations for the magazine. He was also closely aligned with Aestheticism, the British counterpart of Decadence and Symbolism. Most of his images are done in ink, and feature large dark areas contrasted with large blank ones, and areas of fine detail contrasted with areas with none at all.

Beardsley was the most controversial artist of the Art Nouveau era, renowned for his dark and perverse images and grotesque erotica, which were the main themes of his later work. His illustrations were in black and white, against a white background. Some of his drawings, inspired by Japanese shunga artwork, featured enormous genitalia. His most famous erotic illustrations concerned themes of history and legend, including his illustrations for a privately printed edition of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, and his drawings for Oscar Wilde’s play Salome, which eventually premiered in Paris in 1896. Other major illustration projects included an 1896 edition of The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope, and the collection A Book of Fifty Drawings by Aubrey Beardsley (1897).

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He also produced extensive illustrations for books and magazines and worked for magazines such as The Studio and The Savoy, of which he was a co-founder. As a co-founder of The Savoy, Beardsley was able to pursue his writing as well as illustration, and a number of his writings, including “Under the Hill” (a story based on the Tannhäuser legend) and “The Ballad of a Barber” appeared in the magazine.

Beardsley’s work reflected the decadence of his era and his influence was enormous, clearly visible in the work of the French Symbolists, the Poster art Movement of the 1890s and the work of many later-period Art Nouveau artists such as Pape and Clarke. Beardsley was a public as well as a private eccentric. He said, “I have one aim—the grotesque. If I am not grotesque I am nothing.” Like Wilde and other aesthetes, Beardsley was meticulous about his attire: dove-grey suits, hats, and ties, and yellow gloves. He would appear at his publisher’s in a morning coat and patent leather pumps.

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Although Beardsley’s sexuality has been discussed numerous times no data outside of his art exist. Numerous fanciful tales exist – for example, that he got his sister pregnant and they she either miscarried or had an abortion – but this stuff all comes from the gossip mill. Apparently he was generally regarded as asexual. During his entire career, Beardsley had recurrent attacks of tuberculosis, which he was diagnosed with at age 7. He suffered frequent lung hemorrhages and was often unable to work or leave his home. It was either Beardsley himself or Wilde who quipped that both he and his lungs were affected.

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Beardsley converted to Roman Catholicism in March 1897, and subsequently begged his publisher, Leonard Smithers, to “destroy all copies of Lysistrata and bad drawings… by all that is holy all obscene drawings.” Smithers ignored Beardsley’s wishes, and actually continued to sell reproductions as well as forgeries of Beardsley’s work.

In 1897 deteriorating health prompted his move to the French Riviera, where he died a year later on 16 March 1898 at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Menton, attended by his mother and sister. Following a Requiem Mass in Menton Cathedral the following day, his remains were interred in the adjacent cemetery.

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I assume that Beardsley’s art is well known, so I’ll give a small gallery which I’ll intersperse with some quotes.

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All humanity inspires me. Every passer-by is my unconscious sitter; and as strange as it may seem, I really draw folk as I see them. Surely it is not my fault that they fall into certain lines and angles.

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I see everything in a grotesque way. When I go to the theatre, for example, things shape themselves before my eyes just as a I draw them — the people on the stage, the footlights, the queer faces and garb of the audience in the boxes and stalls. They all seem weird and strange to me. Things have always impressed me in this way.

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What is a portrait good for, unless it shows just how the subject was seen by the painter? In the old days before photography came in a sitter had a perfect right to say to the artist: “Paint me just as I am.” Now if he wishes absolute fidelity he can go to the photographer and get it.

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I think the title page I drew for Salomé was after all “impossible”. You see booksellers couldn’t stick it up in their windows.

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I have always done my sketches, as people would say, for the fun of it… I have worked to amuse myself, and if it has amused the public as well, so much the better for me.

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Beardsley’s era was dominated in English cuisine by Isabella Beeton and in French by Auguste Escoffier, both of whom I have mentioned many times already. Anything decadent would be suitable as a recipe. I found this picture online and thought it captured the spirit perfectly.

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It is an individual serving of beef, topped with foie gras (both of which have been seared), and encased in puff pastry – served with a little spinach and demi-glace.

Aug 202016
 

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Estonia has had to fight for its independence again and again throughout the 20th century. Today marks the latest (and one hopes, final) declaration of independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991.

Estonia gained independence in the aftermath of World War I and the Estonian War of Independence (1918–1920). In 1940 as a consequence of the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact and its Secret Additional Protocol of August 1939 Estonia was occupied and annexed by the Soviet Union. The majority of Western nations refused to recognize the incorporation of Estonia, de jure, by the Soviet Union and only recognized the government of the Estonian SSR de facto or not at all. Instead, such countries recognized Estonian/Latvian/Lithuanian diplomats and consuls who functioned for their former governments, but in name only, and these aging diplomats persisted in this anomalous situation until the ultimate restoration of Baltic independence.

In the 1980s new policies of Perestroika and Glasnost were introduced in the Soviet Union, and political repression softened. From 1987, a cycle of mass demonstrations featuring spontaneous singing eventually collected 300,000 Estonians in Tallinn to sing national songs and hymns that were strictly forbidden during the years of the Soviet occupation, as Estonian rock musicians played. On 14 May 1988, the first expression of national feeling occurred during the Tartu Pop Music Festival. Five patriotic songs were first performed during this festival. People linked their hands together and a tradition had begun.

In June 1988 the Old Town Festival was held in Tallinn, and after the official part of the festival, the participants moved to the Song Festival Grounds and similarly started to sing patriotic songs together spontaneously. On 26–28 August 1988, the Rock Summer Festival was held, and patriotic songs, composed by Alo Mattiisen, were played.

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On 11 September 1988, a massive song festival, called “Song of Estonia”, was held at the Tallinn Song Festival Arena. This time nearly 300,000 people came together, more than a quarter of all Estonians. On that day citizens and political leaders expressed, through the voice of Trivimi Velliste (Chairman of the Estonian Heritage Society at the time), of their ambition to regain independence.

On 16 November 1988, the legislative body of Estonia issued the Estonian Sovereignty Declaration. In 1990 Estonia was the first Soviet republic to defy the Soviet army by offering alternative service to Estonian residents scheduled to be drafted. Most Estonians, however, simply began avoiding the draft.

The Singing Revolution lasted over four years, with various protests and acts of defiance. In 1991, as Soviet tanks attempted to stop the progress towards independence, the Estonian Supreme Soviet together with the Congress of Estonia proclaimed the restoration of the independent state of Estonia and repudiated Soviet legislation. People acted as human shields to protect radio and TV stations from the Soviet tanks. Through these actions Estonia regained its independence without any bloodshed.

Independence was declared on the late evening of August 20, 1991, after an agreement between different political parties was reached. The next morning Soviet troops, according to Estonian TV, attempted to storm Tallinn TV Tower but were unsuccessful. The Communist hardliners’ coup attempt failed amidst mass pro-democracy demonstrations in Moscow led by Boris Yeltsin.

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On 22 August 1991, Iceland became the first nation to recognize the newly restored independence of Estonia. Today, a plaque commemorating this event is situated on the outside wall of the Foreign Ministry, situated in Islandi väljak 1, (Iceland Square 1). The plaque reads; “The Republic of Iceland was the first to recognize, on 22 August 1991, the restoration of the independence of the Republic of Estonia”, in Estonian, Icelandic and English. On September 6, 1991, the Soviet Union recognized the independence of Estonia and the country was admitted to the UN on September 17.

I’ve given a couple of Estonian recipes before and you can search for them if you are interested. Today is also World Mosquito Day http://www.bookofdaystales.com/world-mosquito-day/ where I mentioned recipes using blood. In an ironic way, blood is also a suitable ingredient today, in that the coup was bloodless. Estonians actually use blood a lot in their cooking and blood sausages with lingonberries are a favorite.

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Blood pancakes (veripannkoogid) are probably a novelty for some, so I’ll give a recipe for completeness even though you’ll probably have a hard job finding either blood or barley flour. Blood (pig’s blood) is usually sold frozen and needs to be thawed before using. It should contain an anti-coagulant to stop it clotting. Some recipes call for a mix of half barley flour and half rye flour. Some also add an egg to the wet ingredients.

Veripannkoogid

Ingredients

2 cups/5 dl culinary blood, thawed
½cup/1.5 dl stock
1lb/500 g barley flour
1 tbsp marjoram
salt and black pepper
1 egg, beaten (optional)
butter

Instructions

Place the flour, marjoram, and salt and pepper to taste in a mixing bowl. Mix the stock with the blood and egg (if using), and add to the flour to form a batter. It does not have to be beaten to death, just combined well. Let sit for about 20 minutes.

Heat a small amount of butter in a medium sauté pan. Add in a ladleful of the batter, swirl it around to evenly coat the bottom, and let cook for a few minutes over medium-low heat. At this point you can eith flip the pancake to cook on the other side, or slide it under the broiler. I tend to do the latter because these pancakes can easily break, especially if you omit the egg.

When cooked, slide on to a plate and serve with butter melted on top, sour cream, or lingonberry preserves. It is also customary to serve these pancakes with an apple salad.

Aug 192016
 

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World Humanitarian Day is a day dedicated to the recognition of people carrying out humanitarian work and those who have lost their lives working for humanitarian causes. It was designated by the United Nations General Assembly as part of a Swedish-sponsored GA Resolution A/63/L.49 on the Strengthening of the Coordination of Emergency Assistance of the United Nations, and set as 19 August. It marks the day on which the then Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Iraq, Sérgio Vieira de Mello and 21 of his colleagues were killed in the bombing of the UN Headquarters in Baghdad.

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A national of Brazil, Sérgio Vieira de Mello dedicated a lifetime spanning over thirty years in the United Nations, serving in some of the most challenging humanitarian situations in the world to reach the voiceless victims of armed conflict, to alleviate their suffering and to draw attention to their plight. His death together with 21 colleagues on 19 August 2003 in Baghdad, deprived the victims of armed conflict worldwide of a humanitarian leader of unmatched courage, drive and empathy who championed their cause fearlessly and etched their plight on the world map. The tragic event also robbed the humanitarian community of an outstanding humanitarian leader and intellectual whose thinking, philosophy, dynamism, and courage inspired all, and whose timeless efforts should be a model for coming generations to emulate.

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Mindful of this legacy, in 2006 the Vieira de Mello family and a group of close friends founded the Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation dedicated to continuing his unfinished mission of encouraging dialogue between communities and relieving the plight of victims of humanitarian crises. The Foundation is dedicated to supporting initiatives and efforts to promote dialogue for peaceful reconciliation and co-existence between peoples and communities divided by conflict through an annual Sergio Vieira Mello Award, an Annual Sergio Vieira Mello Memorial Lecture, a Sergio Vieira de Mello Fellowship and advocating for the security and independence of humanitarian workers, wherever they may be operating and whomever they may be operating for. The Foundation views World Humanitarian Day as a befitting tribute to all humanitarian personnel who have made the ultimate sacrifices to make the world a better place for all victims of humanitarian crises and an encouragement to all their colleagues to aspire to even greater heights in accomplishing that laudable goal.

The Sérgio Vieira de Mello Foundation is committed to working closely with all Governments, the United Nations, International Organizations and Non-Governmental Organizations to make Word Humanitarian Day a meaningful observance every year. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is leading efforts to plan and guide the observance of the Day that will be commemorated annually world wide by Governments, the United Nations and International Humanitarian Organizations and NGOs.

World Humanitarian Day was commemorated for the first time on 19 August 2009. Subsequent years have focused on a particular theme. In 2010, the focus was on the actual work and achievements of humanitarian workers in the field, with the theme, “We are Humanitarian Workers.” The 2011 campaign, “People Helping People” was about inspiring the spirit of aid work in everyone. The 2012 campaign, “I Was Here” was about making your mark by doing something good, somewhere, for someone else. The campaign has had a social reach of more than 1 billion people around the world. It was supported by the singer Beyoncé, whose music video for the song “I Was Here” has been viewed more than 50 million times.

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In 2013, the UN and its partners launched a project called “The World Needs More…”. In collaboration with global advertising firm Leo Burnett, the campaign aims to turn words into aid for people affected by humanitarian crises. Private sector companies and philanthropists are being encouraged to sponsor a word that they believe the world could use more of, e.g. “action.” People can then ‘unlock’ money pledged by sponsors by ‘sharing’ these words through social media, SMS and through the campaign website at www.worldhumanitarianday.org  Events to mark World Humanitarian Day and launch the campaign were held in more than 50 countries around the world.

World Humanitarian Day also aims to bring attention to the fact that there is a humanitarian crisis in the world today. The UN’s Agenda for Humanity has five areas of focus.

1 End & Prevent Conflict

2 Respect Rules of War

3 Leave No One Behind

4 Work Differently To End Need

5 Invest In Humanity

If #1 were in effect there would be no need for #2 of course.

The Syrian refugee crisis is of major importance right now, but the UN estimates that at least 130 million people in the world today are in crisis because of war. It’s quite easy to discern counterproductive imperatives in developed countries: they cause conflict around the world and then refuse to help the refugees who are displaced by their actions. Monstrous. We ALL must speak out. Spread the word.

It would not be right to celebrate conflict and the refuge crisis, but I the day is really about honoring the life of Sérgio Vieira de Mello (as well as all humanitarian aid workers). So, a Brazilian recipe is in order. What could be more Brazilian than feijoada?  At root feijoada is a stew of black beans and meat, and, of course, you can cook it a million different ways. Here is a serviceable recipe. You can alter the meats, but it must have black beans.

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Feijoada

Ingredients

1 lb/480 g dry black beans
4 tbsp olive oil
1 lb 480 g pork shoulder, cut into chunks
2 large onions, peeled and sliced
1 head of garlic, peeled and chopped
1 lb/450 g carne seca or corned beef, cut into chunks
½ lb/225 g fresh Brazilian pork sausage
1 lb/480 g  lingüiça  (smoked sausage)
1 smoked ham hock or shank
3-4 bay leaves
1 14.5 oz/411 g crushed tomatoes
salt
meat stock

Instructions

Soak the black beans overnight in cold water.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed large pot over medium-high heat and add the onions and pork shoulder and brown them well all over. Add the garlic and sauté 2 more minutes.

Add the other meats and bay leaves, and cover with rich stock. Bring to a gentle simmer, cover, and cook for 1 hour.

Drain the black beans from their soaking liquid and add them to the meat. Continue simmering gently, covered, until the beans are tender – about 1½ hours.

Add the tomatoes, stir well, and taste for seasoning. Add salt if needed.

Simmer the stew, uncovered, for a further 2-3 hours.

Serve with white rice and hot sauce.

As side dishes you can serve collard greens and fried plantains.

Aug 182016
 

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Today is the birthday (1587) of Virginia Dare the first person of English descent born in the British Colonies in the New World. She was born to English parents Ananias Dare and Eleanor White (also spelled Eleanora, Ellinor or Elyonor) and named after the Virginia Colony. What became of Virginia and the other colonists remains a mystery. The fact of her birth is known because John White, Virginia’s grandfather and the governor of the colony, returned to England in 1587 to seek fresh supplies. When White eventually returned three years later, the colonists were gone.

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During the past 400 years, Virginia Dare has become a figure in U.S. folklore, symbolizing different things to different groups of people. She has been featured as a main character in books, poems, songs, comic books, television programs, and films. Her name has been used to sell different types of goods, from vanilla products to wine and spirits. Many places in North Carolina and elsewhere in the Southern United States have been named in her honor. All of this is idle nonsense, of course. Virginia more than likely died as an infant.

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Virginia Dare was born in the Roanoke Colony in what is now North Carolina: “Elenora, daughter to the governor of the city and wife to Ananias Dare, one of the assistants, was delivered of a daughter in Roanoke.” Little is known of the lives of either of her parents. Her mother Eleanor was born in London around 1563, and was married to Ananias Dare (born c. 1560), a London tiler and bricklayer, at St Bride’s Church in Fleet Street in the City of London. Virginia Dare was one of two infants born to the colonists in 1587 and the only female child born to the settlers.

Nothing else is known of Virginia Dare’s presumably short life, as the Roanoke Colony did not endure. Virginia’s grandfather John White sailed for England for fresh supplies at the end of 1587, having established his colony. He was unable to return to Roanoke until August 18, 1590 due to England’s war with Spain and the pressing need for ships to defend against the Spanish Armada—by which time he found that the settlement had been long deserted. The buildings had collapsed and “the houses [were] taken down”.White was unable to find any trace of his daughter or granddaughter, or indeed any of the 80 men, 17 women, and 11 children who made up the Lost Colony.

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Nothing is known for certain of the fate of Virginia Dare or her fellow colonists. Governor White found no sign of a struggle or battle. The only clue to the colonists’ fate was the word “Croatoan” carved into a post of the fort, and the letters “Cro” carved into a nearby tree. All the houses and fortifications had been dismantled, suggesting that their departure had not been hurried. Before he had left the colony, White had instructed them that, if anything happened to them, they should carve a Maltese cross on a tree nearby, indicating that their disappearance had been forced. There was no cross, and White took this to mean that they had moved to Croatoan Island (now known as Hatteras Island), but he was unable to conduct a search.

There are a number of speculations regarding the fate of the colonists, the most widely accepted one being that they sought shelter with local Indians, and either intermarried with the natives or were killed. In 1607, John Smith and other members of the successful Jamestown Colony sought information about the fate of the Roanoke colonists. One report indicated that the survivors had taken refuge with friendly Chesapeake Indians, but Chief Powhatan claimed that his group had attacked and killed most of the colonists. Powhatan showed Smith certain artifacts that he said had belonged to the colonists, including a musket barrel and a brass mortar and pestle. However, no physical evidence exists to support this claim. The Jamestown Colony received reports of some survivors of the Lost Colony and sent out search parties, but none was successful. Eventually they concluded that they were all dead.

William Strachey, a secretary of the Jamestown Colony, wrote in The History of Travel into Virginia Britannia in 1612 that there were reportedly two-storey houses with stone walls at the native settlements of Peccarecanick and Ochanahoen which would suggest that Indians learned how to build them from the Roanoke settlers, since this type of building was not known to Indians of the region. There were also reported sightings of European captives at various Indian settlements during the same time period. Strachey also wrote that four English men, two boys, and one maid had been sighted at the Eno settlement of Ritanoc, under the protection of a chief called Eyanoco. The captives were being forced to beat copper. The captives, he reported, had escaped the attack on the other colonists and fled up the Chaonoke river, the present-day Chowan River in Bertie County, North Carolina.

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It’s purely conjecture on my part but I would assume that lack of food was a critical issue for the colonists. It was in Massachusetts. It’s hard now to put ourselves in the shoes of 16th century English colonists, but we have to remember that for them colonization in new territory was a completely new endeavor in all kinds of ways – not least being the production of crops in a strange land. They obviously brought cultigens such as wheat and barley with them, but lacked the skills to grow them successfully in the New World, and it would have taken them time to adapt to local ways. Besides, most of the local Indian groups were foragers and not farmers. Good Christian (i.e. “civilized”)men and women from England were not likely to take kindly to having to adapt to hunting and gathering to stay alive – and wouldn’t be any good at it anyway. To be successful at foraging you have to have a vast store of knowledge of local plants and animals. Fishing would be all right, though. Some of them must have done that in England.

Coastal North Carolina is teaming with fishing opportunities in the ocean, in the brackish sounds, and in rivers.   I lived on the coast of North Carolina, quite near where the Lost Colony was, for a year and eventually published a book about the people. I did go fishing a great deal both with commercial boats and also for fun with the locals. Catching mullet and roasting it over a driftwood fire deep in the swamps is a fond memory.

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Fish muddle is the generic name in North Carolina for a stew made from catch of the day with vegetables served over grits (or rice). You can think of this recipe as a suggestion rather than dogma. People throw in what they want and the fish or shellfish used vary with the seasons. The point is that it must be very fresh. What makes the stew unusual is the use of eggs, which can be cracked into the soup as it boils and poached, swirled in like an egg-drop soup, or boiled separately, peeled, and then chopped and added at the end.

Fish Muddle

Ingredients

1½ lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1½ lb firm fish fillets, cut into chunks
6 cups fish stock
8 oz bacon, chopped (or salt pork)
1 cup chopped celery
1½ cups chopped carrots
3 cups chopped onions
3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
4 bay leaves
4 thyme sprigs
2 (28-oz) cans crushed tomatoes
1 lb new potatoes, peeled and quartered
salt and pepper
hot pepper sauce
6 cups freshly cooked grits (or rice)
4 hard-boiled eggs, coarsely chopped
fresh parsley, chopped

saltines

Instructions

Cook the bacon in a skillet over medium heat until it is crisp and rendered. If you are using salt pork, render it and brown it thoroughly. Drain the bacon or pork pieces and set aside leaving the fat in the skillet.

Stir in the celery, carrots, onions. Sauté until the vegetables are softened but not browned.

Transfer to a stock pot and add the garlic, bay leaves, thyme and tomatoes and bring to a simmer. You can break up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon if you want during the cooking process. Cook for about 15 minutes.

Add the stock, potatoes, and salt to taste. Stir and simmer until the potatoes are soft but not fully cooked.

Discard the bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Season with freshly ground black pepper and hot sauce to taste.

Gently stir the fish and shrimp into the stew. Cover the pot, and simmer gently until the fish and shrimp are just cooked. This is where experience comes in. I find that 5 minutes is usually enough. The shrimp can easily get tough.

Spoon the grits (or rice) into serving bowls. Ladle the stew over the grits and garnish with the eggs, bacon, and parsley.

Serve hot with saltines. Southerners like to crumble them on top.

Serves 6

This is a main meal, but you can omit the grits and increase the amount of stock to serve it as a soup.

Aug 172016
 

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Today is the birthday of Pierre de Fermat, a French lawyer at the Parlement of Toulouse and a mathematician who is given credit for early developments that led to the development of calculus. His year of birth is given variously as 1601 and 1607. He is best known, publicly and in the world of mathematics, for Fermat’s Last Theorem, which he described in a note in the margin of a copy of Diophantus’ Arithmetica. I’ll try not to wear you out with mathematics, but I do want to celebrate the life of a person who tends to be forgotten these days.

Fermat was born in Beaumont-de-Lomagne in southern France. The late 15th-century mansion where Fermat was born is now a museum. His father, Dominique Fermat, was a wealthy leather merchant, and served three one-year terms as one of the four consuls of Beaumont-de-Lomagne. His mother was either Françoise Cazeneuve or Claire de Long. Pierre had one brother and two sisters and was almost certainly brought up in the town of his birth. There is little evidence concerning his school education, but it was probably at the Collège de Navarre in Montauban.

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He began studies at the University of Orléans in1623 and received a bachelor in civil law in 1626, before moving to Bordeaux. In Bordeaux he began his first serious mathematical researches, and he produced important work on maxima and minima which he gave to Étienne d’Espagnet who clearly shared mathematical interests with Fermat. There he became much influenced by the work of François Viète.

In 1630, he bought the office of a councilor at the Parlement de Toulouse, one of the High Courts of Judicature in France, and was sworn in by the Grand Chambre in May 1631. He held this office for the rest of his life. Fermat thereby became entitled to change his name from Pierre Fermat to Pierre de Fermat. Fermat was fluent in six languages, French, Latin, Occitan, classical Greek, Italian, and Spanish, and was praised for his written verse in several languages, as well as his advice regarding the emendation of Greek texts.

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He communicated most of his work in letters to friends, often with little or no proof of his theorems. Secrecy was common in European mathematical circles at the time. This naturally led to priority disputes with contemporaries such as Descartes and Wallis. Fermat’s mathematics derived mainly from  classical Greek treatises combined with new algebraic methods he learned from colleagues.

Fermat’s pioneering work in analytic geometry was circulated in manuscript form in 1636, predating the publication of Descartes’ famous La géométrie. This manuscript was published posthumously in 1679 in Varia opera mathematica, as Ad Locos Planos et Solidos Isagoge, (“Introduction to Plane and Solid Loci”). In Methodus ad disquirendam maximam et minimam and in De tangentibus linearum curvarum, Fermat developed a method (adequality) for determining maxima, minima, and tangents to various curves that was equivalent to differential calculus. Fermat was the first person known to have evaluated the integral of general power functions. With his method, he was able to reduce this evaluation to the sum of geometric series. The resulting formula was helpful to Newton, and then Leibniz, when they independently developed the fundamental theorem of calculus.

OK, I’ll spare you too much more. Briefly, Fermat was fascinated by number theory, and, in particular with whole numbers. As such you could say that he was a true disciple of Pythagoras whose philosophical school saw whole numbers as mystical as well as being the bedrock of the laws of the cosmos. Although Fermat claimed to have proven all of his arithmetic theorems, few records of his proofs have survived. Many mathematicians, including Gauss, doubted several of his claims, especially given the difficulty of some of the problems and the limited mathematical methods available to Fermat. His famous Last Theorem was first discovered by his son in the margin in his father’s copy of an edition of Diophantus, and included the statement that the margin was too small to include the proof. It seems that he had not written to anyone about it. It was finally proven in 1994 by Sir Andrew Wiles, using techniques unavailable to Fermat.

Through their correspondence in 1654, Fermat and Blaise Pascal helped lay the fundamental groundwork for the theory of probability. From this brief but productive collaboration on the problem of points, they are now regarded as joint founders of probability theory. Fermat is credited with carrying out the first ever rigorous probability calculation. In it, he was asked by a professional gambler why if he bet on rolling at least one six in four throws of a die he won in the long term, whereas betting on throwing at least one double-six in 24 throws of two dice resulted in his losing. Fermat proved why this was the case mathematically.

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I should at least give a special nod to Fermat’s Last Theorem, sometimes called Fermat’s Conjecture, especially in older texts, because it was not proven. This shouldn’t baffle too many readers, I hope. It states that no three positive integers (whole numbers) a, b, and c satisfy the equation an + bn = cn for any integer value of n greater than two. The cases n = 1 and n = 2 have been known to have infinitely many solutions since antiquity. The case of n =1 is trivial because any number raised to the first power is itself. So you can do this in your head – for example, 11 + 21 = 31 and so forth. If you remember geometry and Pythagoras you’ll also remember classic cases such as 32 + 42 = 52 (9 + 16 = 25). It’s one thing to go through countless examples of numbers raised to the 3rd, 4th, 5th, millionth power etc and show that they don’t work. It’s quite another to prove that none work.

The unsolved problem stimulated the development of algebraic number theory in the 19th century and the proof of the modularity theorem in the 20th century. It is among the most notable theorems in the history of mathematics and prior to its proof, it was in the Guinness Book of Records as the “most difficult mathematical problem,” one of the reasons being that it has the largest number of unsuccessful proofs.

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Fermat died at Castres, in the department of Tarn. Isaac Newton once said when someone praised him that he saw so far because he stood on the shoulders of giants. Fermat was one of those giants.

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Toulouse was Fermat’s home most of his life, so let’s talk about Toulouse sausage to begin with. Toulouse sausages are legendary and nowadays can be found over most of France and parts of western Europe. I don’t know if they have protected status, but obviously they are best in and around Toulouse. They are made from coarsely chopped fatty pork, smoked bacon, garlic, pepper and red wine. They are sold raw and must be cooked before eating. They are commonly used in cassoulet, which is also native to Toulouse. Cassoulet is a rich, slow-cooked casserole originating in Languedoc, which contains meat (typically pork sausages, goose, duck and sometimes mutton), pork skin (couennes) and white beans (haricots blancs). In Toulouse, sausage, pork, and mutton are the most common meats. The dish is named after its traditional cooking vessel, the cassole, a deep, round, earthenware pot with slanting sides.

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Modern cooks usually use pre-cooked beans, or beans simmered in a broth with vegetables, and pre-cooked meats for simplicity. But this practice is not traditional. According to common folklore, home peasant cooks had one cassole that they used exclusively for cassoulet which they never washed. They simply deglazed it and started again, so that it was imbued with the flavors of cassoulets past. In theory, therefore, today’s cassoulet could be the end product of years, or decades, of continuous use. I’m perfectly in tune with this impulse. My cast-iron skillets and wooden salad bowl went unwashed for years in my old kitchen. No doubt germophobes will protest, and I am not recommending the habit. However, I will note that I am still alive, and my cooking did not make anyone sick. I will also note that I took reasonable precautions to make sure that harmful stuff was not lurking about despite not washing my pots.

Cassoulet

Ingredients

1 lb/½kg dried haricot beans
salt and pepper
4 cups chicken stock
3 packets unflavored gelatin
2 tbsp duck fat (or vegetable oil)
8 oz/250g  salt pork, cut into small cubes
1 lb/½ kg Toulouse sausage (about 2 to 4 links)
1 large onion, finely diced
1 carrot, unpeeled, cut into large sections
2 stalks celery, cut into large sections
1 whole head garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
4 sprigs parsley
2 bay leaves
6 whole cloves

Instructions

Place the dried beans in salted water to cover in a large pot, and soak overnight.

Next day, preheat the oven to 300°F/150°C.

Warm the stock slightly and sprinkle the gelatin over the top. Stir and set aside.

Heat the duck fat  in a Dutch oven over high heat.  Add the salt pork and sauté until browned on all sides. Remove the salt pork with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add the sausages to the pot and sauté until well-browned on both sides. Add to the cooked salt pork and set aside. Remove all but about 2 tablespoons fat from pot.

Add the onions to the pot and sauté until they are translucent. Drain the beans and add them to the pot along with the carrot, celery, garlic, parsley, bay leaves, cloves, and stock/gelatin mixture. Bring to a simmer over high heat. Reduce to low, cover and cook until the beans are almost tender, about 45 minutes.

Pick out the carrots, celery, parsley, bay leaves, and cloves and discard. Add the sausage and salt pork to the pot and mix everything together.

Transfer the pot to the oven and cook, uncovered, until a thin crust forms on top, about 2 hours, adding more water by pouring it carefully down the side of the pot as necessary to keep beans mostly covered.

Break the crust with a spoon and shake the pot gently to redistribute the beans and meat. Return to the oven and continue cooking, stopping to break and shake the crust every 30 minutes until the 4 ½ hour mark.

Return to the oven and continue cooking undisturbed until the crust is deep brown and thick, about 5 to 6 hours total. Serve immediately.

Aug 162016
 

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On this date in 1328, 4 members of the Gonzaga family who had been state officials – the 60-year-old Luigi and his sons Guido, Filippino, and Feltrino – overthrew the last Bonacolsi, Rinaldo, to become rulers of Mantua and remained in power until 1708. I wouldn’t normally memorialize the sordid machinations of a power-hungry elite, but I live in Mantua and the historical footprints of the Gonzagas are everywhere. Furthermore my apartment is right behind the duomo which is on piazza sordello, site of the coup that installed the Gonzagas and of the ducal palace (palazzo ducale) where they lived and ruled for four centuries. So I figured I’d give them a tip of the hat and give myself a little history lesson on my current home.

Mantua was originally an island settlement that was first established about the year 2000 BCE on the banks of River Mincio, which flows from Lake Garda to the Adriatic. In the 6th century BCE, Mantua was an Etruscan village which. The name (Mantova in Italian) may derive from the Etruscan god Mantus, although this is disputed. Mantua was subsequently fought over in the first and second Punic wars between Carthage and Rome. Eventually, what became new Roman territory was populated by veteran soldiers of Augustus. Mantua won’t let you forget that its most famous citizen from antiquity is the poet Virgil who was born in the year 70 BCE in a village near the city which is now known as Virgilio.

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After the fall of the western Roman Empire in 476 CE, Mantua was invaded in turn by Goths, Byzantines, Longobards, and Franks. In the 11th century, Mantua became a possession of Boniface of Canossa, marquis of Tuscany. The last ruler of that family was the countess Matilda of Canossa (d. 1115), who, according to legend, ordered the construction of the Rotonda di San Lorenzo which can still be seen in the historic district, although it has had to be significantly restored both in the post-war years and also in the last few years.

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After the death of Matilda of Canossa, Mantua became a free commune and strenuously defended itself from the Holy Roman Empire during the 12th and 13th centuries. In 1198, Alberto Pitentino altered the course of River Mincio, creating what the Mantuans originally called “the four lakes” to reinforce the city’s natural protection. Three of these lakes still remain and the fourth one, which ran through the center of town, was drained in the 18th century.

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During the 13th century there were a number of power struggles between major families in northern Italy, and in 1273 Pinamonte Bonacolsi took advantage of the chaotic situation to seize control of Mantua and was declared the capitano del popolo (Captain General of the People). This office was created in the 13th century in Italy as a way of balancing the interests of the people with that of the nobility. The Bonacolsi family ruled Mantua for the next two generations and made it more prosperous. On August 16, 1328, Luigi Gonzaga, an official in Bonacolsi’s podesteria, and his family staged a public revolt in Mantua and forced a coup d’état on the last Bonacolsi ruler, Rinaldo. Over the next 4 centuries the House of Gonzaga ruled Mantua.

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The history of the Gonzagas is not pretty. Over the time of their rule the family included a saint, twelve cardinals and fourteen bishops. Two Gonzaga descendants became Empresses of the Holy Roman Empire (Eleonora Gonzaga and Eleonora Gonzaga-Nevers), and one became Queen of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (Marie Louise Gonzaga). Ludovico I, who had been podestà (chief magistrate) of the city in 1318, was elected capitano del popolo when the Gonzagas seized power. The Gonzagas built new walls and renovated the architecture of the city in the 14th century, but the political situation did not stabilize until the third ruler of Gonzaga, Ludovico III Gonzaga (1412 – 1478), killed his relatives and centralized power to himself. During the Italian Renaissance, the Gonzaga family softened their despotic rule and further raised the level of artistic refinement in Mantua, making it a significant center of Renaissance art and humanism, still reflected in art and architecture throughout the old part of the town.

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Isabella d’Este, Marchioness of Mantua, married Francesco II Gonzaga, Marquess of Mantua in 1490. When she moved to Mantua from Ferrara (she was the daughter of Duke Ercole the ruler of Ferrara) she created her famous studiolo first in Castello di San Giorgio for which she commissioned paintings from Mantegna, Perugino and Lorenzo Costa. She later moved her studiolo to the Corte Vecchia and commissioned two paintings from Correggio to join the five from Castello di San Giorgio. It was unusual for a woman to have a studiolo in 15th century Italy but she was a powerful force in northern Italy. Niccolò da Corregio called her ‘la prima donna del mondo’.

Through a payment of 120,000 golden florins in 1433, Gianfrancesco I was appointed Marquis of Mantua by the Emperor Sigismund, whose niece Barbara of Brandenburg married his son, Ludovico. In 1459, Pope Pius II held the Council of Mantua to proclaim a crusade against the Turks. Under Ludovico and his heirs, the famous Renaissance painter Andrea Mantegna worked in Mantua as court painter, producing some of his most outstanding works.

The first Duke of Mantua was Federico II Gonzaga, who acquired the title from the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in 1530. Federico commissioned Giulio Romano to build the famous Palazzo Te, on the periphery of the city, and profoundly improved the city. In the late 16th century, Claudio Monteverdi came to Mantua from his native Cremona. He worked for the court of Vincenzo I Gonzaga, first as a singer and violist, then as music director, marrying the court singer Claudia Cattaneo in 1599.

In 1627, the direct line of the Gonzaga family came to an end with the vicious and weak Vincenzo II, and Mantua slowly declined under the new rulers, the Gonzaga-Nevers, a cadet French branch of the family. The War of the Mantuan Succession broke out, and in 1630 an Imperial army of 36,000 Landsknecht mercenaries besieged Mantua, bringing the plague with them. Mantua has never recovered from this disaster, and is now pretty much a sleepy backwater. Ferdinand Carlo IV, an inept ruler, whose only interest was in holding parties and theatrical shows, allied with France in the War of the Spanish Succession. After the French defeat, he took refuge in Venice and at his death in 1708, he was declared deposed, and the Gonzaga family lost Mantua forever in favor of the Habsburgs of Austria.

Here’s a little gallery of my photos to show the influence of the Gonzagas and to make it clear that Mantua is fortunate to have retained so much historical art and architecture, largely because for centuries no one cared about the town. It is swarmed with Italian day trippers on Sundays, but foreign tourists are in the small minority. Fine by me. Sundays are as awful for me as they were when I lived in san Telmo in Buenos Aires, but the rest of the week is fine.

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I’m not going to give you a recipe today but instead repeat what I wrote when I posted about Mantua’s patron saint http://www.bookofdaystales.com/mantua-and-anselm/ :

Mantua is famous as a culinary center. Some of the local specialties include bigoli con le sardelle, pasta with sardines, stracotto d’asino, donkey stew, salame con l’aglio, garlic sausage, luccio in salsa, pike in sauce, tortelli di zucca, pumpkin tortelli, and torta sbrisolona, a crumbly cake. I’m going to reprise what I used to write when I was living in China. If you want authentic Mantuan food, come to Mantua.

I gave a recipe there for bigoli which you can look at. Here’s a small gallery to make you drool.

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Aug 152016
 

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Today is the Feast of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven in the Catholic Church, often shortened to the Assumption, or the Assumption of Mary. In the Orthodox Church it is called the Falling Asleep of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Both Western and Eastern rites assert that the Virgin Mary did not die (as such),  but was taken directly into Heaven at the end of her earthly life. For the most part, Protestant traditions do not accept this theology because it has no Biblical basis. In Italy, where I am now, this date is also Ferragosto, a major public holiday supposedly rooted in Roman Imperial times, although the historical links are a bit dodgy. August is a good time for an annual day off, so beaches and tourist spots are always mobbed. Because I live in a major tourist spot, I can expect the worst.

The Catholic Church now teaches as dogma that the Virgin Mary “having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” This doctrine was dogmatically defined by Pope Pius XII on 1st November 1 (All Souls), 1950 in the apostolic constitution Munificentissimus Deus by exercising papal infallibility. The Eastern Orthodox Church doctrine of the Dormition of the Theotokos (the falling asleep of Mary) is more or less the same as the Assumption, avoiding the idea of the physical death of Mary, but has not been dogmatically defined. In Munificentissimus Deus (item 39) Pope Pius XII pointed to the Book of Genesis (3:15) as scriptural support for the dogma of the Assumption in terms of Mary’s victory over sin and death as also reflected in 1 Corinthians 15:54: “then shall come to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.”

Although the Assumption (Latin: assumptio, “a taking”) was only relatively recently defined as infallible dogma by the Catholic Church, and in spite of a statement by Saint Epiphanius of Salamis in 377 that no one knew whether Mary had died or not, apocryphal accounts of the assumption of Mary into heaven have circulated since at least the 4th century. The Catholic Church itself interprets chapter 12 of the Book of Revelation as referring to it. The earliest known narrative is the so-called Liber Requiei Mariae (The Book of Mary’s Repose), which survives intact only in an Ethiopic translation. Probably composed by the 4th century, this narrative may be as early as the 3rd century. Also quite early are the very different traditions of the “Six Books” or Dormition narratives.

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Teaching of the Assumption of Mary became widespread across the Christian world, having been celebrated as early as the 5th century and having been established in the East by Emperor Maurice around 600. It was celebrated in the West under Pope Sergius I in the 8th century and Pope Leo IV then confirmed the feast as official. Theological debate about the Assumption continued, following the Reformation, peaking in 1950 when Pope Pius XII defined it as dogma for the Catholic Church.

If you’ve paid any attention to my previous posts on feast days and the like, you’ll know what I think about all of this already. The Church has an endless need to tie up loose ends logically. Jesus died and was resurrected. Then what? What became of the risen Lord? Obviously he did not just hang around. Luke clears this mystery up in Acts 1:9-11. Jesus ascended into heaven. As I have said many times before, Luke likes to clean up things – Why was Jesus from Nazareth when the Hebrew prophets indicated the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem of the House of David?  Are followers of John the Baptist Christians? Etc. etc. Luke provides the “answers” by making stuff up – maybe out of whole cloth or from previous sources. Unfortunately for the early church, Luke is silent on Mary’s fate.

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Let me be crystal clear. As an ordained Christian pastor and (erstwhile) theologian, I take a certain amount of Christian dogma on faith, but I don’t accept Biblical narratives as history without serious reservations. If you want my thoughts on belief and Christianity this is a good place to start: https://www.amazon.com/Thinking-Christian-Essays-Prod-Believer-ebook/dp/B01DGJ2OIM/ref=sr_1_5?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1471240630&sr=1-5  Luke, to my mind, is a horrible distraction. He was trained in the Greek philosophical tradition, and doesn’t like loose ends. For me, faith and logic do not have to be consistent. Logic and science are not always right. A certain amount of logical or scientific inconsistency is fine as far as I am concerned. Luke was more rigid. Unfortunately he had nothing to say about the end of Mary’s life, so the Church applied logic. Bad idea.

The veneration of Mary goes back a long way, and has led to some awfully dubious doctrines. The gospels tell us that Jesus had brothers. Did Mary have sex after Jesus was born? Horror !!! She must have been a perpetual virgin in order to be sinless. And . . . to be sinless, and give birth as a virgin to a sinless baby, she must have been born of a virgin (Immaculate Conception). Furthermore, she must have stayed a virgin to maintain her sinlessness, so these brothers must have been cousins (so twist the Greek a little to imply that when the gospels said “brother” this included biological cousins). That’s where logic gets you. Rather ironically, the Greek Orthodox church doesn’t like Aristotle much and the battles between East and West in the Middle Ages often pitted Catholics asserting theological points by using Aristotelian logic, and the Greeks laughing in their faces. The Greek answer to any question beginning, “How do you account for . . . ?” is “It’s a mystery.” End of story. I like it.

So . . . I think that the Assumption is one more case of the church tying up loose ends. But I’m all for holidays. Ferragosto in Italy falls on 15 August and is only by coincidence the same day as the Assumption of Mary. The Feriae Augusti (“Festivals of the Emperor Augustus”) were introduced by the emperor Augustus in 18 BCE. This was an addition to earlier ancient Roman festivals which fell in the same month, such as the Vinalia rustica or the Consualia, which celebrated the harvest and the end of a long period of intense agricultural labor. The Feriae Augusti, in addition to its propaganda function, linked the various August festivals to provide a longer period of rest, called Augustali, which was felt necessary after the hard labor of the previous weeks.

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During these celebrations, horse races were organized across the Empire, and beasts of burden (including oxen, donkeys and mules), were released from their work duties and decorated with flowers. Settling on 15th August as the main day is a modern tradition. During the Roman festival, workers formally greeted their masters who in return would give them a present. The custom became so strongly rooted that in the Renaissance it was made compulsory in the Papal States.

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The popular modern tradition of taking a trip during Ferragosto arose under the Fascist regime. In the second half of the 1920s, during the mid-August period, the regime mounted hundreds of popular trips through the Fascist leisure and recreational organizations of various corporations, including the establishment of the “People’s Trains of Ferragosto”, which were available at heavily discounted prices. The initiative gave the opportunity for people with little money to visit Italian cities or to reach seaside and mountain resorts. The offer was limited to 13, 14 and 15 August, and had two options: the “One-Day Trip”, within a radius of 50-100 km, and the “Three-Day Trip” within a radius of about 100–200 km.

Obviously Italian festival food has to be the fare of the day. I haven’t been out yet, but when I do I expect to see people scarfing down local specialties such as tortelli di zucca, torta Sbrisolona, and the like along with gallons of gelato and granita. Last night I made a festive dinner that was sort of Italian – all cold dishes because of the heat.

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The dessert was my own creation taking off from tiramisu. I began by baking a stracciatella cake – a moist vanilla sponge cake with chocolate chips. Whilst it was cooling I made a tiramisu custard. Some people use raw eggs, but I prefer to cook mine.

Put 4 egg yolks and half a cup of sugar in the top of a double boiler. Bring the water in the bottom to a steady simmer, and make sure that the water does not touch the top part of the boiler. Whisk the sugar and egg yolk mixture vigorously for around 8 minutes. It will expand to a froth and cook. (Hint: you are not making scrambled eggs). Remove from the heat and fold in 1 pound (½ kg) of mascarpone. In a separate bowl whisk 1 cup of heavy cream to stiff peaks. Fold the mascarpone-egg mix into the cream. Then fold in about a ½ pound (¼ kg) of mixed frozen berries (you can use raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, or what ever you want).  Set aside.

Slice the stracciatella reasonably thin – less than ½ inch (1.25 cm). Line the base of a loaf pan with the cake slices. Spread in half of the custard. Add another layer of stracciatella slices. Top with the remaining custard, and chill in the refrigerator overnight.

Before serving top with a layer of berries, then whipped cream, then shaved dark chocolate.

 

Aug 142016
 

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Today is Tisha B’Av  (lit. “the ninth of Av”) (תשעה באב‎‎ or ט׳ באב) according to the Jewish lunar calendar. As with all Jewish holy days it actually began yesterday at sundown and continues today until sundown. It is an annual fast day in Jewish religious and secular tradition which commemorates the anniversary of a number of disasters in Jewish history, primarily the destruction of both the First Temple by the Babylonians and the Second Temple by the Romans. Tisha B’Av is regarded as the saddest day in the Jewish calendar and is held to be a day which is destined for tragedy.

The observance of the day includes five prohibitions, most notable of which is a 25-hour fast. The Book of Lamentations, which mourns the destruction of Jerusalem is read in the synagogue, followed by the recitation of kinnot, liturgical dirges that lament the loss of the Temples and Jerusalem. As the day has become associated with remembrance of other major calamities which have befallen the Jewish people, some kinnot also recall events such as the murder of the Ten Martyrs by the Romans, massacres in numerous medieval Jewish communities during the Crusades and The Holocaust.

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According to Rabbinic tradition (Mishnah Taanit 4:6), the sin of the Ten Spies inaugurated the annual fast day of Tisha B’Av. When the Israelites, wandering in the desert after leaving Egypt, accepted the false report from the spies that the land of Canaan would be impossible to conquer, the people wept over the false belief that God was setting them up for defeat. The night that the people cried was the ninth of Av, which became a day of weeping and misfortune for all time. The fast subsequently commemorated the destruction of the First Temple and the Second Temple, both of which supposedly occurred on the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av, about 655 years apart.

Taanit 4:6 notes five specific events occurred on the ninth of Av that warrant fasting:

The Twelve Spies sent by Moses to observe the land of Canaan returned from their mission. Only two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, brought a positive report, while the others spoke disparagingly about the land. The majority report caused the Children of Israel to cry, panic and despair of ever entering the “Promised Land”. For this, they were punished by God that their generation would not enter the land. Because of the Israelites’ lack of faith, God decreed that for all generations this date would become a day of crying and misfortune for their descendants. (See Numbers 13; Numbers 14).

The First Temple built by King Solomon and the Kingdom of Judah destroyed by the Babylonians led by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BC (Anno Mundi [AM] 3175) after a two-year siege and the Judeans were sent into the Babylonian exile. According to the Talmud in tractate Ta’anit, the actual destruction of the First Temple began on the Ninth of Av and the Temple continued to burn throughout the Tenth of Av.

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The Second Temple built by Ezra and Nehemiah was destroyed by the Romans in August 70 AD (AM 3830), scattering the people of Judea and commencing the Jewish exile from the Holy Land that continues to this day.

The Romans subsequently crushed Bar Kokhba’s revolt and destroyed the city of Betar, killing over 500,000 Jewish civilians (approximately 580,000) on July 8, 132 CE (Av 9, AM 3892).

Following the Bar Kokhba revolt, Roman commander Turnus Rufus ploughed the site of the Temple in Jerusalem and the surrounding area, in 135 CE.

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Over time, Tisha B’Av has come to be a general day of mourning, not only for these events, but also for later tragedies. Regardless of the exact dates of these events, for many Jews, Tisha B’Av is the designated day of mourning for them, and these themes are reflected in liturgy composed for this day.

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Other calamities associated with Tisha B’Av:

The episode of the Golden calf (17th of Tammuz) in which the Hebrews, after their exodus from Egypt, reintroduced idolatry as a form of spirituality.

The First Crusade officially commenced on August 15, 1096 (Av 24, AM 4856), killing 10,000 Jews in its first month and destroying Jewish communities in France and the Rhineland.

The Jews were expelled from England on July 18, 1290 (Av 9, AM 5050).

The Jews were expelled from France on July 22, 1306 (Av 10, AM 5066).

The Jews were expelled from Spain on July 31, 1492 (Av 7, AM 5252).[7]

Germany entered World War I on August 1–2, 1914 (Av 9-10, AM 5674), which caused massive upheaval in European Jewry and whose aftermath led to the Holocaust.

On August 2, 1941 (Av 9, AM 5701), SS commander Heinrich Himmler formally received approval from the Nazi Party for “The Final Solution.” As a result, the Holocaust began during which almost one third of the world’s Jewish population perished.

On July 23, 1942 (Av 9, AM 5702) the mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto began, en route to Treblinka.

Most religious communities use Tisha B’Av to mourn the approximately 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust, including special kinnot composed for this purpose (see the main kinnot article) (in addition to, or instead of, the secular Holocaust Memorial Days.)

AMIA bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, killing 85 and injuring 300 on 18 July 1994; 10 Av, AM 5754.

Tisha B’Av falls in July or August in the Western calendar. When Tisha B’Av falls on the Shabbat (Friday/Saturday) it is known as a nidche (“delayed”) in Hebrew and the observance of Tisha B’Av then takes place on the following day that is Saturday/Sunday. No outward signs of mourning intrude upon the normal Sabbath, although normal Sabbath eating and drinking end at sunset Saturday evening, rather than nightfall. The fast lasts about 25 hours, beginning at sunset on the preceding evening lasting until nightfall the next day. In addition to fasting, other pleasurable activities are also forbidden.

Tisha B’Av bears a similar stringent nature to that of Yom Kippur. In addition to the length of the fast which lasts about 25 hours, beginning at sunset on the eve of Tisha B’Av and ends at nightfall the following day, Tisha B’Av also shares the following five prohibitions:

No eating or drinking;

No washing or bathing;

No application of creams or oils;

No wearing of leather shoes;

No sexual relations.

Torah study is forbidden on Tisha B’Av (as it is considered a spiritually enjoyable activity), except for the study of distressing texts such as the Book of Lamentations, the Book of Job, portions of Jeremiah and chapters of the Talmud that discuss the laws of mourning.

According to the Rema it is customary to sit on low stools or on the floor, as is done during shiva, from the meal immediately before the fast, the seudah hamafseket, until midday (chatztot hayom). It is customary to eat a hard boiled egg, and a piece of bread dipped into ashes during this meal. The Beit Yosef rules that the custom to sit low to the ground extends until one prays Mincha (the afternoon prayer).

Although the fast ends at nightfall, according to tradition, the First Temple continued burning throughout the night and for most of the following day, the tenth of Av. It is therefore customary to refrain from eating meat, drinking wine, bathing, cutting hair, doing laundry, listening to music, making a shehechiyanu blessing until midday (chatzos) of the following day.

When Tisha B’Av begins on Saturday night (as this year – 2016), the Havdalah ritual at the end of Shabbat is truncated (using a candle but no spices), without a blessing over wine. After Tisha B’Av ends on Sunday evening, another Havdalah ceremony is performed with wine (without candle or spices).

Matzo balls are common in the Ashkenazi tradition and are suitable for meals before and after fasts. They are usually cooked and eaten in chicken broth, but you can observe the prohibition against meat by having them in vegetable broth (although I’m not fully sure whether the prohibition against meat applies to the broth of animal meat). You can buy matzo balls, of course, but they are much better if home made. It’s best to buy the matzo meal, but you can also make it by crushing matzo with a rolling pin or (better) using a food processor.

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Matzo Balls

Ingredients

2 eggs
2 tbsp vegetable oil
½ cup matzo meal
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp club soda (or plain water)

Instructions

Whisk the eggs well with the oil and salt in a mixing bowl.

Add the matzo meal and water, then mix thoroughly. Chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or longer.

Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. Shape the matzo mixture into small balls, and place them into the boiling water. Boil uncovered for 20 minutes.

Lift the matzo balls out of the water with a slotted spoon. If you want, at this point you can freeze the. They keep well and are generally lighter after being frozen.

Heat the matzo balls through in simmering broth when ready to serve. Do not boil them vigorously or they will break up.