Dec 212015
 

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Today is the birthday (c.1119) of Thomas Becket (also known as Thomas à Becket), Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 until his murder in 1170. He is venerated as a saint and martyr by both the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. He engaged in conflict with Henry II of England over the rights and privileges of the Church and was murdered by followers of the king in Canterbury Cathedral. Soon after his death, he was canonized by Pope Alexander III.

Becket was born in Cheapside, London, on 21 December, which was at the time the feast day of St Thomas the Apostle. He was the son of Gilbert Beket and Gilbert’s wife Matilda. Gilbert’s father was from Thierville in the lordship of Brionne in Normandy, and was either a small landowner or a petty knight. Matilda was also of Norman ancestry, and her family may have originated near Caen. Gilbert was perhaps related to Theobald of Bec, whose family also was from Thierville. Gilbert began his life as a merchant, perhaps as a textile merchant, but by the 1120s he was living in London and was a property owner, living on the rental income from his properties. He also served as the sheriff of the city at some point.

Portrait of St. Thomas Becket, reassembled from fragments by Samuel Caldwell Jr in 1919. Becket Window 1 (n. VII) in the north aisle of the Trinity Chapel, Canterbury Cathedral.

Beginning when he was 10, Becket was sent as a student to Merton Priory in Surrey and later attended a grammar school in London, perhaps the one at St Paul’s Cathedral. He did not study any subjects beyond the trivium and quadrivium at these schools. Later, he spent about a year in Paris around age 20. He did not, however, study canon or civil law at this time and his Latin skill always remained somewhat rudimentary. Some time after Becket began his schooling, Gilbert Beket suffered financial reverses, and the younger Becket was forced to earn a living as a clerk. Gilbert first secured a place for his son in the business of a relative – Osbert Huitdeniers – and then later Becket acquired a position in the household of Theobald of Bec, by now the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Theobald entrusted him with several important missions to Rome and also sent him to Bologna and Auxerre to study canon law. Theobald in 1154 named Becket Archdeacon of Canterbury, and other ecclesiastical offices included a number of benefices, prebends at Lincoln Cathedral and St Paul’s Cathedral, and the office of Provost of Beverley. His efficiency in those posts led to Theobald recommending him to King Henry II for the vacant post of Lord Chancellor, to which Becket was appointed in January 1155.

As Chancellor, Becket enforced the king’s traditional sources of revenue that were exacted from all landowners, including churches and bishoprics. King Henry even sent his son Henry to live in Becket’s household, it being the custom then for noble children to be fostered out to other noble houses. The younger Henry was reported to have said Becket showed him more fatherly love in a day than his father did for his entire life.

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Becket was nominated as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162, several months after the death of Theobald. His election was confirmed on 23 May 1162 by a royal council of bishops and noblemen. Henry may have hoped that Becket would continue to put the royal government first, rather than the church. The famous transformation of Becket into an ascetic occurred at this time. Becket was ordained a priest on 2 June 1162 at Canterbury, and on 3 June 1162 was consecrated as archbishop by Henry of Blois, the Bishop of Winchester and the other suffragan bishops of Canterbury.

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A rift grew between Henry and Becket as the new archbishop resigned his chancellorship and sought to recover and extend the rights of the archbishopric. This led to a series of conflicts with the King, including that over the jurisdiction of secular courts over English clergymen, which accelerated antipathy between Becket and the king. Attempts by Henry to influence the other bishops against Becket began in Westminster in October 1163, where the king sought approval of the traditional rights of the royal government in regard to the church. This led to assemblies at Clarendon, where Becket was officially asked to agree to the King’s rights or face political repercussions.

King Henry II presided over the assemblies of most of the higher English clergy at Clarendon Palace on 30 January 1164. In sixteen constitutions, he sought less clerical independence and a weaker connexion with Rome. He employed all his skills to induce their consent and was apparently successful with all but Becket. Finally, even Becket expressed his willingness to agree to the substance of the Constitutions of Clarendon, but he still refused to formally sign the documents. Henry summoned Becket to appear before a great council at Northampton Castle on 8 October 1164, to answer allegations of contempt of royal authority and malfeasance in the Chancellor’s office. Convicted on the charges, Becket stormed out of the trial and fled to the Continent.

Henry pursued the fugitive archbishop with a series of edicts, aimed at all his friends and supporters as well as Becket himself. But King Louis VII of France offered Becket protection. He spent nearly two years in the Cistercian abbey of Pontigny, until Henry’s threats against the order obliged him to return to Sens. Becket fought back by threatening excommunication and interdict against the king and bishops and the kingdom, but Pope Alexander III, though sympathizing with him in theory, favored a more diplomatic approach. Papal legates were sent in 1167 with authority to act as arbitrators.

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In 1170, Alexander sent delegates to impose a solution to the dispute. At that point, Henry offered a compromise that would allow Thomas to return to England from exile.

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In June 1170, Roger de Pont L’Évêque, the archbishop of York, along with Gilbert Foliot, the bishop of London, and Josceline de Bohon, the bishop of Salisbury, crowned the heir apparent, Henry the Young King, at York. This was a breach of Canterbury’s privilege of coronation, and in November 1170 Becket excommunicated all three. While the three clergymen fled to the king in Normandy, Becket continued to excommunicate his opponents in the church, the news of which also reached Henry.

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Upon hearing reports of Becket’s actions, Henry is said to have uttered words that were interpreted by his men as wishing Becket killed. The king’s exact words are in doubt and several versions have been reported. The most commonly quoted, as handed down by oral tradition, is “Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?”, but according to historian Simon Schama this is incorrect: he accepts the account of the contemporary biographer Edward Grim, writing in Latin, who gives us “What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?” Many variations have found their way into popular culture.

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Whatever Henry said, it was interpreted as a royal command, and four knights, Reginald fitzUrse, Hugh de Morville, William de Tracy, and Richard le Breton, set out to confront Becket. On 29 December 1170 they arrived in Canterbury. According to accounts left by the monk Gervase of Canterbury and eyewitness Edward Grim, they placed their weapons under a tree outside the cathedral and hid their mail armor under cloaks before entering to challenge Becket. The knights informed Becket he was to go to Winchester to give an account of his actions, but Becket refused. It was not until Becket refused their demands to submit to the king’s will that they retrieved their weapons and rushed back inside for the killing. Becket, meanwhile, proceeded to the main hall for vespers. The four knights, wielding drawn swords, caught up with him in a spot near a door to the monastic cloister, the stairs into the crypt, and the stairs leading up into the quire of the cathedral, where the monks were chanting vespers.

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Several contemporary accounts of what happened next exist; of particular note is that of Edward Grim, who was himself wounded in the attack. This is part of the account from Edward Grim:

The wicked knight leapt suddenly upon him, cutting off the top of the crown which the unction of sacred chrism had dedicated to God. Next he received a second blow on the head, but still he stood firm and immovable. At the third blow he fell on his knees and elbows, offering himself a living sacrifice, and saying in a low voice, ‘For the name of Jesus and the protection of the Church, I am ready to embrace death.’ But the third knight inflicted a terrible wound as he lay prostrate. By this stroke, the crown of his head was separated from the head in such a way that the blood white with the brain, and the brain no less red from the blood, dyed the floor of the cathedral. The same clerk who had entered with the knights placed his foot on the neck of the holy priest and precious martyr, and, horrible to relate, scattered the brains and blood about the pavements, crying to the others, ‘Let us away, knights; this fellow will arise no more.

Following Becket’s death, the monks prepared his body for burial. According to some accounts, it was discovered that Becket had worn a hairshirt under his archbishop’s garments—a sign of penance. Soon after, the faithful throughout Europe began venerating Becket as a martyr, and on 21 February 1173—little more than two years after his death—he was canonized by Pope Alexander III in St Peter’s Church in Segni. In 1173, Becket’s sister Mary was appointed as abbess of Barking Abbey as reparation for the murder of her brother. On 12 July 1174, in the midst of the Revolt of 1173–1174, Henry humbled himself with public penance at Becket’s tomb as well as at the church of St. Dunstan’s, which became one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in England.

Becket’s assassins fled north to Knaresborough Castle, which was held by Hugh de Morville, where they remained for about a year. De Morville held property in Cumbria and this may also have provided a convenient bolt-hole, as the men prepared for a longer stay in the separate kingdom of Scotland. They were not arrested and neither did Henry confiscate their lands, but he failed to help them when they sought his advice in August 1171. Pope Alexander excommunicated all four. Seeking forgiveness, the assassins travelled to Rome and were ordered by the Pope to serve as knights in the Holy Lands for a period of fourteen years.

This last also inspired Knights of Saint Thomas, incorporated in 1191 at Acre, and which was to be modeled on the Teutonic Knights. It is the only military order native to England (with chapters in not only Acre, but also London, Kilkenny, and Nicosia), like the Gilbertine Order being the only monastic order native to England as well. Nevertheless, Henry VIII dissolved both of these English institutions upon passing the Reformation, rather than merging foreign orders with them and nationalizing them as elements of the Protestant Church of England.

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Until recently there were no 12th century recipes from England available. However, a MS cookery book from 1140 recently showed up in archives in Durham cathedral and promises to shed new light on the cooking of the era. Prior to that, the earliest source was from 1190. However, descriptions are not, as yet, available except for snippets. I’ll go with “hen in winter” which calls for poaching a chicken with garlic, pepper, and sage.

People working with the MS suggest that this is a recipe for an old fowl, as would be typical of winter months. This gives me the opportunity to expound on poaching a boiling fowl. They are not so commonly found any more because the meat is tough, and modern cooks prefer younger birds which are much more easily managed. But old hens can be very tasty if cooked properly. The secret is very slooooow cooking. Put the hen in a big stock pot and cover it with cold water. Then bring it very slowly to a gentle simmer. Do NOT be tempted to speed this part up as you will toughen the meat permanently. Put the pot, covered, on the lowest flame for as long as need be. It may take an hour or longer just to get the surface of the liquid murmuring. Skim off any scum as it rises, and maintain a very gentle simmer. It will take 3-4 hours to cook the bird. For “hen in winter” you should add generous quantities of chopped garlic, whole peppercorns, and chopped fresh sage leaves.

When the hen is cooked, let the pot cool and then refrigerate overnight. In the morning remove the fat from the top of the pot, and reheat – again, very slowly. Remove a few cups of the broth to a fresh pan. Heat over medium-high heat and thicken with white breadcrumbs. Brighten the flavors by adding some fresh garlic, ground black pepper, and chopped sage. Let simmer gently for about 20 minutes. Serve the hen sliced, with the sauce, over thick trenchers of crusty bread.

Dec 202015
 

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On this date in 1955 Cardiff was proclaimed the capital city of Wales. Surprised that it is so recent? Wales was subsumed under English hegemony from the 13th to 19th centuries, when its distinctive culture (which was always there) was finally acknowledged politically. Until 1955 London was the de facto capital. Cardiff was a small town of little importance until the early 19th century when its prominence as a major port for the transport of coal and manufactured goods developed following the arrival of mining and attendant industries in the region.

King Edward VII granted Cardiff city status on 28 October 1905, and the city acquired a Roman Catholic Cathedral in 1916. In subsequent years an increasing number of national institutions were located in the city, including the National Museum of Wales, Welsh National War Memorial, and the University of Wales Registry Building—however, it was denied the National Library of Wales, partly because the library’s founder, Sir John Williams, considered Cardiff to have “a non-Welsh population.”

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After a brief post-war boom, Cardiff docks entered a prolonged decline in the interwar period. By 1936, their trade was less than half its value in 1913, reflecting the slump in demand for Welsh coal. Bomb damage during the Cardiff Blitz in World War II included the devastation of Llandaff Cathedral, and in the immediate postwar years the city’s link with the Bute family (of major importance in the development of modern Cardiff in the 19th century) came to an end.

The city was proclaimed capital city of Wales on 20 December 1955, through a written statement by the Home Secretary Gwilym Lloyd George. Caernarfon (rather more Welsh in culture than Cardiff), had also vied for this title. The Encyclopedia of Wales notes that the decision to recognize the city as the capital of Wales “had more to do with the fact that it contained marginal Conservative constituencies than any reasoned view of what functions a Welsh capital should have”. Although the city hosted the Commonwealth Games in 1958, Cardiff only became a center of national administration with the establishment of the Welsh Office in 1964, which later prompted the creation of various other public bodies such as the Arts Council of Wales and the Welsh Development Agency, most of which were based in Cardiff.

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Archaeological evidence from sites in and around Cardiff—the St Lythans burial chamber, near Wenvoe (about four miles (6.4 km) west, south west of Cardiff city centre), the Tinkinswood burial chamber, near St Nicholas (about six miles (10 km) west of Cardiff city centre), the Cae’rarfau Chambered Tomb, Creigiau (about six miles (10 km) north west of Cardiff city centre) and the Gwern y Cleppa Long Barrow, near Coedkernew, Newport (about eight and a quarter miles (13.5 km) north east of Cardiff city centre)—shows that people had settled in the area by at least around 6,000 BP during the early Neolithic; about 1,500 years before either Stonehenge or the Great Pyramid of Giza was completed. A group of five Bronze Age tumuli is at the summit of The Garth (Welsh: Mynydd y Garth), within the county’s northern boundary. Four Iron Age hill fort and enclosure sites have been identified within Cardiff’s present-day county boundaries, including Caerau Hillfort, an enclosed area of 5.1 hectares (51,000 m2)

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Until the Roman conquest of Britain, Cardiff was part of the territory of the Silures – a Celtic British people that flourished in the Iron Age – whose territory included the areas that would become known as Breconshire, Monmouthshire and Glamorgan. The 3.2-hectare (8-acre) fort established by the Romans near the mouth of the River Taff in 75 AD, in what would become the north western boundary of the centre of Cardiff, was built over an extensive settlement that had been established by the Silures in the 50s CE. The fort was one of a series of military outposts associated with Isca Augusta (Caerleon) that acted as border defenses. The fort may have been abandoned in the early 2nd century as the area had been subdued. However, by this time a civilian settlement, or vicus, was established. It was likely made up of traders who made a living from the fort, ex-soldiers and their families. A Roman villa has been discovered at Ely. Contemporary with the Saxon Shore Forts of the 3rd and 4th centuries, a stone fortress was established at Cardiff. Similar to the shore forts, the fortress was built to protect Britannia from raiders. Coins from the reign of Gratian indicate that Cardiff was inhabited until at least the 4th century; the fort was abandoned towards the end of the 4th century, as the last Roman legions left the province of Britannia with Magnus Maximus.

Little is known about the fort and civilian settlement in the period between the Roman departure from Britain and the Norman Conquest. The settlement probably shrank in size and may even have been abandoned. In the absence of Roman rule, Wales was divided into small kingdoms; early on, Meurig ap Tewdrig emerged as the local king in Glywysing (which later became Glamorgan). The area passed through his family until the advent of the Normans in the 11th century.

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In 1081 king William I of England, began work on the castle keep within the walls of the old Roman fort. Cardiff Castle has been at the heart of the city ever since. The castle was substantially altered and extended during the Victorian period by John Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute, and the architect William Burges. Original Roman work can, however, still be distinguished in the wall facings.

A small town grew up in the shadow of the castle, made up primarily of settlers from England. Cardiff had a population of between 1,500 and 2,000 in the Middle Ages, a relatively normal size for a Welsh town in this period. By the end of the 13th century, Cardiff was the only town in Wales with a population exceeding 2,000, but it was relatively small compared with most notable towns in England. In the early 12th century a wooden palisade was erected around the city to protect it. Cardiff was a busy port in the Middle Ages, and was declared a Staple port (look it up) in 1327. Henry II travelled through Cardiff on his journey to Ireland and forbade the holding of Sunday markets at St Piran’s Chapel, which stood in the middle of the road between the castle entrance and Westgate.

In 1404 Owain Glyndŵr burned Cardiff and took Cardiff Castle. As the town was still very small, most of the buildings were made of wood and the town was destroyed. However, the town was soon rebuilt and began to flourish once again.

In 1536, the Act of Union between England and Wales led to the creation of the shire of Glamorgan, and Cardiff was made the county town. It also became part of Kibbor hundred. Around this same time the Herbert family became the most powerful family in the area. In 1538, Henry VIII closed the Dominican and Franciscan friaries in Cardiff, the remains of which were used as building materials. A writer around this period described Cardiff: “The River Taff runs under the walls of his honours castle and from the north part of the town to the south part where there is a fair quay and a safe harbour for shipping.” Cardiff had become a Free Borough in 1542. In 1573, it was made a head port for collection of customs duties, and in 1581, Elizabeth I granted Cardiff its first royal charter. Pembrokeshire historian George Owen described Cardiff in 1602 as “the fayrest towne in Wales yett not the welthiest.”, and the town gained a second Royal Charter in 1608.

During the English Civil War, St Fagans just to the west of the town, played host to the Battle of St Fagans. The battle, between a Royalist rebellion and a New Model Army detachment, was a decisive victory for the Parliamentarians and allowed Oliver Cromwell to conquer Wales. It was the last major battle to occur in Wales, with about 200 (mostly Royalist) soldiers killed.

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In the ensuing century Cardiff was at peace. In 1766, John Stuart, 1st Marquess of Bute married into the Herbert family and was later created Baron Cardiff, and in 1778 he began renovations on Cardiff Castle. In the 1790s a racecourse, printing press, bank and coffee house all opened, and Cardiff gained a stagecoach service to London. Despite these improvements, Cardiff’s position in the Welsh urban hierarchy had declined over the 18th century. Iolo Morgannwg called it “an obscure and inconsiderable place”, and the 1801 census found the population to be only 1,870, making Cardiff only the 25th largest town in Wales, well behind Merthyr and Swansea.

In 1793, John Crichton-Stuart, 2nd Marquess of Bute was born. He would spend his life building the Cardiff docks and would later be called “the creator of modern Cardiff”. A twice-weekly boat service between Cardiff and Bristol was established in 1815, and in 1821, the Cardiff Gas Works was established. After the Napoleonic Wars Cardiff entered a period of social and industrial unrest, starting with the trial and hanging of Dic Penderyn in 1831.

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The town grew rapidly from the 1830s onwards, when the Marquess of Bute built a dock, which eventually linked to the Taff Vale Railway. Cardiff became the main port for exports of coal from the Cynon, Rhondda, and Rhymney valleys, and grew at a rate of nearly 80% per decade between 1840 and 1870. Much of the growth was due to migration from within and outside Wales: in 1841, a quarter of Cardiff’s population were English-born and more than 10% had been born in Ireland. By the 1881 census, Cardiff had overtaken both Merthyr and Swansea to become the largest town in Wales. Cardiff’s new status as the premier town in South Wales was confirmed when it was chosen as the site of the University College South Wales and Monmouthshire in 1893.

Cardiff faced a challenge in the 1880s when David Davies of Llandinam and the Barry Railway Company promoted the development of rival docks at Barry. Barry docks had the advantage of being accessible in all tides, and David Davies claimed that his venture would cause “grass to grow in the streets of Cardiff”. From 1901 coal exports from Barry surpassed those from Cardiff, but the administration of the coal trade remained centered on Cardiff, in particular its Coal Exchange, where the price of coal on the British market was determined and the first million-pound deal was struck in 1907. The city also strengthened its industrial base with the decision of the owners of the Dowlais Ironworks in Merthyr (who would later form part of Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds) to build a new steelworks close to the docks at East Moors, which Lord Bute opened on 4 February 1891.

Cardiff’s fortunes in the 20th century followed those of South Wales in general – growth through the 2 world wars followed by decline in the 1970s up to the turn of the century. The stereotypical 20th century image of Wales as a land of coalminers and male voice choirs is reflected in this clip from John Ford’s 1941 movie “How Green was my Valley.”

But when the BBC Dr Who spinoff, Torchwood, was first filmed in Cardiff in 2006, the city was represented as a highly modern urban center. “There’s not a male voice choir … or a miner in sight.” said BBC Wales Controller Menna Richards. Conservative MP Michael Gove described the debut of Torchwood as the moment confirming “Wales’ move from overlooked Celtic cousin to underwired erotic coquette.”

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The national symbol of Wales is the leek, and I have covered this vegetable more than enough in posts here with cock-a-leekie, leek and potato soup, and buttered leeks, plus the myriad uses of leeks in soups and stews. Right now leeks are in season in Mantua, so, having lived without them (proper ones) in Argentina and China for close on 6 years, I now use them every chance I get, and always have a plenteous stock on hand. Instead, therefore, I will turn to another Welsh staple, laver.

Laver is an edible, littoral alga (seaweed). In Wales, laver is used commonly as a vegetable of for making laverbread. It is smooth in texture and forms delicate, sheet-like thalli, often clinging to rocks. The principal variety is purple laver (Porphyra umbilicalis). Purple laver is classified as a red alga, tends to be a brownish color, but boils down to a dark green pulp when prepared. It is unusual amongst seaweeds because the fronds are only one cell thick. Laver has a high content of dietary minerals, particularly iodine and iron. The high iodine content gives the seaweed a distinctive flavor in common with olives and oysters.

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Laver cultivation as food is thought to be very ancient, though the first mention was in Camden’s in the early 17th century. It is plucked from the rocks and given a preliminary rinse in clear water. The collected laver is repeatedly washed to remove sand, and then boiled for hours until it becomes a stiff, green mush. In this state, the laver can be preserved for about a week. Typically during the 18th century, the mush was packed into a crock and sold. Nowadays you can get frozen laver mush online quite easily.

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Laver can be eaten cold as a salad with lamb or mutton, or heated with butter and the juice of a lemon or Seville orange. Commonly now it is served heated with cockles and bacon as part of a Welsh breakfast. Or you can make laverbread. Simply coat a patty of laver mush in oats and fry it in lard or bacon fat. Richard Burton has been quoted as describing laverbread as “Welshman’s caviar”.

Dec 192015
 

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The BBC World Service began as the BBC Empire Service on this date in 1932 – a shortwave service aimed principally at English speakers in the outposts of the British Empire. In his first Christmas Message, King George V stated that the service was intended for “men and women, so cut off by the snow, the desert, or the sea, that only voices out of the air can reach them.” First hopes for the Empire Service were low. The Director General, Sir John Reith (later Lord Reith) said in the opening program: “Don’t expect too much in the early days; for some time we shall transmit comparatively simple programs, to give the best chance of intelligible reception and provide evidence as to the type of material most suitable for the service in each zone. The programmes will neither be very interesting nor very good.” This address was read out five times as it was broadcast live to different parts of the world.

The BBC World Service is the world’s largest international broadcaster, broadcasting radio and television news, speech and discussions in 29 languages to many parts of the world on analogue and digital shortwave platforms, internet streaming, podcasting, satellite, FM and MW relays. It was announced in November 2015 that The BBC World Service will start broadcasting in Nigerian Pidgin and Yoruba in Nigeria, when this service starts it will bring the total number of broadcast languages to 31. The World Service was reported to have reached 188 million people a week (TV, radio and online) on average in June 2009. The English language service broadcasts 24 hours a day.

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You can find it streaming online here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldserviceradio

On 3 January 1938, the first foreign-language service, Arabic, was launched. German programs commenced on 29 March 1938 and by the end of 1942 broadcasts were being made in all major European languages. As a result, the Empire Service was renamed the BBC Overseas Service in November 1939, and a dedicated BBC European Service was added in 1941. These broadcasting services, financed not from the domestic license fee but from government grant-in-aid (from the Foreign Office budget), were known administratively as the External Services of the BBC.

The External Services broadcast propaganda during the Second World War. Its French service Radio Londres also sent coded messages to the French Resistance. George Orwell broadcast many news bulletins on the Eastern Service during World War II.

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By the end of the 1940s the number of languages broadcast had expanded and reception had improved following the opening of a relay in modern day Malaysia and of the Limassol relay, Cyprus, in 1957. On 1 May 1965 the service took its current name of BBC World Service and the service itself expanded its reach with the opening of the Ascension Island relay in 1966, serving African audiences with greater signal and reception, and the later relay on the Island of Masirah.

In recent years, financial pressures have decreased the number and type of services offered by the BBC. Due to the launch of internet-based services, the need for a radio station is less frequent in countries where the population has easy access to the internet news sites of the BBC. The German broadcasts were stopped in March 1999 after research showed that the majority of German listeners tuned into the English version of the service. Broadcasts in Dutch, Finnish, French for Europe, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese and Malay were stopped for similar reasons.

Traditionally, the BBC World Service relied on shortwave broadcasts, because of its ability to overcome barriers of censorship, distance and spectrum scarcity. To this end, the BBC has maintained a worldwide network of shortwave relay stations since the 1940s, mainly in former British colonies. These cross border broadcasts have also been used in special circumstances to broadcast emergency messages to British subjects abroad, such as the advice to evacuate Jordan during the Black September incidents of September 1970.

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The BBC World Service on shortwave was a great boon to me in the 1970s through to the end of the 1990s. I used to listen to the news regularly as a counter to the national news services of the USA, which omitted so many international stories that I was interested in. I would also tune in to comedies, quiz shows, and dramas, for a change of pace, and, of course, on Christmas Eve I always put on Carols from Kings. Long distance shortwave can often be temperamental, and the BBC routinely switched frequencies throughout the day. So I had to keep a log of when the different frequencies were active, to be able to catch programs I liked. <sigh> . . .days long gone with the advent of high speed internet, live streaming, and podcasts.

Cooking shows are not very common on the BBC World Service because radio is far from ideal for conveying recipes; television gives much more scope. But I found two places where you can tune in. Go here for the latest episodes of Paula McIntyre’s show “Cooking with Paula McIntyre.” I don’t know how long this link will work, but you can always go to the BBC home page and search for cooking shows that are current.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03bxh92#play

Also of interest to me is a current series called “Marguerite Patten’s Century of British Cooking.” This is a 10-part series currently in progress, with some past episodes available for a brief period. I don’t know if they will be archived. For now here is the 1930s episode:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0075k4q#play

Patten, who was a BBC home economics broadcaster for many years, gives an excellent account of cooking salient British events, decade by decade. Well worth a listen. In this episode she has a certain amount to say about the proper way to make bread sauce to go with roast chicken. If all else fails, go here for the current BBC recipe for bread sauce:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/breadsauce_84755

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As Patten points out, bread sauce is delicious when cooked properly, or much like old-fashioned library paste if not. Bread sauce is basically a milk sauce thickened with breadcrumbs and seasoned with onion, cloves, and mace. The secret, Patten says (and as my mum made it), was to properly infuse the milk with the seasonings, which involves bring a pan of milk to the boil with an onion studded with cloves plus a blade of mace, and then letting it sit to cool for several hours before adding the breadcrumbs. When I was a boy bread sauce was an essential component of Christmas dinner.

Dec 182015
 

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The Nutcracker was given its première at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg on this date in 1892. It was a two-act ballet, originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov with a score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (op. 71). The libretto is adapted from E.T.A. Hoffmann’s story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. It was featured on a double-bill with Tchaikovsky’s opera, Iolanta. Although the original production was not a success, the 20-minute suite that Tchaikovsky extracted from the ballet was. The complete Nutcracker has enjoyed enormous popularity since the late 1960s and is now performed by countless ballet companies, primarily during the Christmas season, especially in North America. Major North American ballet companies generate around 40 percent of their annual ticket revenues from performances of The Nutcracker.

It took me a long time to find a way to write about The Nutcracker sensibly. Its annual presentation by the Conservatory where I taught for 15 years, killed it stone dead for me. Familiarity breeds contempt in this case. It was a money spinner, plain and simple, with recorded music and mostly student performers (of all ages). I was once asked to perform, but around the time I was asked, my phone and email mysteriously stopped working. Not a brilliant ruse, but it worked. The combination of being on the fringes of the production for years, Disney’s mangling of it in Fantasia, endless television ads at Christmas featuring snippets of the music, and so forth makes me want to throw things. So . . . I sat down calmly yesterday and watched this version of the ballet (from the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, December 2012) trying to bring fresh eyes and ears to it:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xtLoaMfinbU

I think I succeeded to a degree and can write about it without doing harm to myself and others. I still don’t like the ballet much – disjointed and overly sentimental. But I understand why I liked the music as a youngster. The music of the second act is certainly evocative in places, with interesting (for the time), harmonies and tone colors. My old affection for the Arabian Dance returned, but the rest is still too sugary and overly familiar.

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After the success of The Sleeping Beauty in 1890, Ivan Vsevolozhsky, the director of the Imperial Theatres, commissioned Tchaikovsky to compose a double-bill program featuring both an opera and a ballet. The opera would be Iolanta. For the ballet, Tchaikovsky again joined forces with Marius Petipa, with whom he had collaborated on The Sleeping Beauty. The material Petipa chose was an adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by Alexandre Dumas père called The Tale of the Nutcracker. The plot of Hoffmann’s story (and Dumas’ adaptation) was greatly simplified for the two-act ballet. Hoffmann’s tale contains a long flashback story within its main plot entitled The Tale of the Hard Nut, which explains how the Prince was turned into a nutcracker. This had to be excised for the ballet.

Petipa gave Tchaikovsky extremely detailed instructions for the composition of each number, down to the tempo and number of bars. The completion of the work was interrupted for a short time when Tchaikovsky visited the United States for twenty-five days to conduct concerts for the opening of Carnegie Hall and he composed parts of The Nutcracker in Rouen.

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Although the libretto was by Marius Petipa, who exactly choreographed the first production has been debated. Petipa began work on the choreography in August 1892; however, illness removed him from its completion and his assistant of seven years, Lev Ivanov, was brought in. Although Ivanov is often credited as the choreographer, some contemporary accounts credit Petipa. The performance was conducted by Riccardo Drigo, with Antonietta Dell’Era as the Sugar Plum Fairy, Pavel Gerdt as Prince Coqueluche, Stanislava Belinskaya as Clara, Sergei Legat as the Nutcracker-Prince, and Timofey Stukolkin as Drosselmeyer. The children’s roles, unlike many later productions, were performed by real children rather than adults (with Belinskaya as Clara, and Vassily Stukolkin as Fritz), students of the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg.

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The first performance of The Nutcracker was not deemed a success. The reaction to the dancers themselves was mixed. While some critics praised Dell’Era on her pointework as the Sugar Plum Fairy (she allegedly received five curtain-calls), one critic called her “corpulent” and “podgy.” Olga Preobrajenskaya as the Columbine doll was panned by one critic as “completely insipid” and praised as “charming” by another. Alexandre Benois described the choreography of the battle scene as confusing: “One can not understand anything. Disorderly pushing about from corner to corner and running backwards and forwards – quite amateurish.”

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The libretto was criticized for being “lopsided” and for not being faithful to the Hoffmann tale. Much of the criticism focused on the featuring of children so prominently in the ballet, and many bemoaned the fact that the ballerina did not dance until the Grand Pas de Deux near the end of the second act (which did not occur until nearly midnight during the program). Some found the transition between the mundane world of the first scene and the fantasy world of the second act too abrupt. Reception was better for Tchaikovsky’s score. Some critics called it “astonishingly rich in detailed inspiration” and “from beginning to end, beautiful, melodious, original, and characteristic.” But even this was not unanimous as some critics found the party scene “ponderous” and the Grand Pas de Deux “insipid.” My own response is much the same as these early critics, especially since I’ve suffered through too many performances using children dancers (to advertize my Conservatory’s money-making children’s dance school, and guarantee audiences of doting parents).

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In 1919, choreographer Alexander Gorsky staged a production which eliminated the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier and gave their dances to Clara and the Nutcracker Prince, who were played by adults instead of children. His was the first production to do so. An abridged version of the ballet was first performed outside Russia in Budapest (Royal Opera House) in 1927, with choreography by Ede Brada. In 1934, choreographer Vasili Vainonen staged a version of the work that addressed many of the criticisms of the original 1892 production by casting adult dancers in the roles of Clara and the Prince, as Gorsky had. The Vainonen version influenced several later productions.

Here is a synopsis based on the original 1892 libretto by Marius Petipa. The story varies from production to production, though most follow the basic outline. The names of the characters also vary. In the original E.T.A. Hoffmann story, the young heroine is called Marie Stahlbaum and Clara (Klärchen) is her doll’s name. In the adaptation by Dumas on which Petipa based his libretto, her name is Marie Silberhaus. In still other productions, such as Baryshnikov’s, Clara is Clara Stahlbaum rather than Clara Silberhaus.

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Act I

Scene 1: The Stahlbaum Home

It is Christmas Eve. Family and friends have gathered in the parlor to decorate the beautiful Christmas tree in preparation for the party. Once the tree is finished, the children are sent for. They stand in awe of the tree sparkling with candles and decorations.

The party begins. A march is played. Presents are given out to the children. Suddenly, as the owl-topped grandmother clock strikes eight, a mysterious figure enters the room. It is Drosselmeyer, a local councilman, magician, and Clara’s godfather. He is also a talented toymaker who has brought with him gifts for the children, including four lifelike dolls who dance to the delight of all. He then has them put away for safekeeping.

Clara and Fritz are sad to see the dolls being taken away, but Drosselmeyer has yet another toy for them: a wooden nutcracker carved in the shape of a little man, used for cracking nuts. The other children ignore it, but Clara immediately takes a liking to it. Fritz, however, purposely breaks it. Clara is heartbroken.

During the night, after everyone else has gone to bed, Clara returns to the parlor to check on her beloved nutcracker. As she reaches the little bed, the clock strikes midnight and she looks up to see Drosselmeyer perched atop it. Suddenly, mice begin to fill the room and the Christmas tree begins to grow to dizzying heights. The nutcracker also grows to life size. Clara finds herself in the midst of a battle between an army of gingerbread soldiers and the mice, led by their Tsar. They begin to eat the soldiers.

The nutcracker appears to lead the soldiers, who are joined by tin ones and dolls who serve as doctors to carry away the wounded. As the Mouse Tsar advances on the still-wounded nutcracker, Clara throws her slipper at him, distracting him long enough for the nutcracker to stab him.

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Scene 2: A Pine Forest

The mice retreat and the nutcracker is transformed into a handsome Prince. He leads Clara through the moonlit night to a pine forest in which the snowflakes dance around them, beckoning them on to his kingdom as the first act ends.

Act II

Scene 1: The Land of Sweets

Clara and the Prince travel to the beautiful Land of Sweets, ruled by the Sugar Plum Fairy in his place until his return. He recounts for her how he had been saved from the Mouse King by Clara and had been transformed back into his own self.

In honor of the young heroine, a celebration of sweets from around the world is produced: chocolate from Spain, coffee from Arabia, tea from China, and candy canes from Russia all dance for their amusement; Danish shepherdesses perform on their flutes; Mother Ginger has her children, the Polichinelles, emerge from under her enormous hoop skirt to dance; a string of beautiful flowers perform a waltz. To conclude the night, the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier perform a dance.

A final waltz is performed by all the sweets, after which the Sugar Plum Fairy ushers Clara and the Prince down from their throne. He bows to her, she kisses Clara goodbye, and leads them to a reindeer drawn sleigh. It takes off as they wave goodbye to all the subjects who wave back.

I gave a recipe for sugar plums in my post on Fantasia (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/fantasia/ ), but in doing a bit more digging, I find that there is more to their history than I originally thought. The recipe I gave there for a sweet, spicy mix of ground fruits and nuts is one of many possibilities (sometimes called Byzantine sugar plums), and it’s quite likely that in 19th century Russia sugar plums were hard sweets. In England and elsewhere in Europe they could also be sugared almonds, known sometimes as Jordan almonds.

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Here is an excellent site that unpacks the whole story:

http://www.historicfood.com/Comfits.htm

Here’s a good video if you want to make them at home.

Dec 172015
 

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Saturnalia was an ancient Roman festival in honor of the deity Saturn, held on the 17th of December of the Julian calendar, originally, and later expanded with festivities through to the 23rd of December. The holiday was celebrated with a sacrifice at the Temple of Saturn, in the Roman Forum, and a public banquet, followed by private gift-giving, continual partying, and a carnival atmosphere that overturned Roman social norms: gambling was permitted, and masters provided table service for their slaves. The poet Catullus called it “the best of days.” In Roman official religion, Saturn was an agricultural deity who was said to have reigned over the world in the Golden Age, when humans enjoyed the spontaneous bounty of the earth without labor, in a state of innocence. The revelries of Saturnalia were supposed to reflect the conditions of the lost mythical age.

Although probably the best-known Roman holiday, Saturnalia as a whole is not described from beginning to end in any single ancient source. Modern understanding of the festival is pieced together from several accounts dealing with various aspects. Saturnalia was the dramatic setting of the multivolume work of that name by Macrobius, a Latin writer from late antiquity who is the major source for information about the holiday. In one of the interpretations in Macrobius’s work, Saturnalia is a festival of light leading to the winter solstice, with the abundant presence of candles symbolizing the quest for knowledge and truth. The renewal of light and the coming of the new year was celebrated in the later Roman Empire at the Dies Natalis of Sol Invictus, the “Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun,” on December 25.

The popularity of Saturnalia continued into the third and fourth centuries, and as the Roman Empire came under Christian rule, some of its customs have influenced the seasonal celebrations surrounding Christmas and the New Year. But it is a common mistake to think of Christmas as no more than Saturnalia redux. Obviously there is a degree of borrowing and syncretism, as is only natural because both are midwinter celebrations. But there are also underlying themes that are quite different.

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The statue of Saturn at his main temple normally had its feet bound in wool, which was removed for the holiday as an act of liberation. The official rituals were carried out according to “Greek rite” (ritus graecus). The sacrifice was officiated by a priest, whose head was uncovered; in Roman rite, priests sacrificed capite velato, with head covered by a special fold of the toga. This procedure is usually explained by Saturn’s assimilation with his Greek counterpart Cronus, since the Romans often adopted and reinterpreted Greek stories, iconography, and even religious practices for their own deities, but the uncovering of the priest’s head may also be one of the Saturnalian reversals, the opposite of what was normal.

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Following the sacrifice the Roman Senate arranged a lectisternium, a ritual of Greek origin that typically involved placing a deity’s image on a sumptuous couch, as if he were present and actively participating in the festivities. A public banquet followed (convivium publicum). The day was supposed to be a holiday from all forms of work. Schools were closed, and exercise regimens were suspended. Courts were not in session, so no justice was administered, and no declaration of war could be made.

After the public rituals, observances continued at home. On December 18 and 19, which were also holidays from public business, families conducted domestic rituals. They bathed early, and those with means sacrificed a suckling pig, a traditional offering to an earth deity.

The phrase io Saturnalia was the characteristic shout or salutation of the festival, originally commencing after the public banquet on the single day of December 17. The interjection io (Greek ἰώ, ǐō) is pronounced either with two syllables (a short i and a long o) or as a single syllable (with the i becoming the Latin consonantal j and pronounced yō). It was a strongly emotive ritual exclamation or invocation, used for instance in announcing triumph or celebrating Bacchus, but also to punctuate a joke.

Macrobius writes:

Meanwhile the head of the slave household, whose responsibility it was to offer sacrifice to the Penates, to manage the provisions and to direct the activities of the domestic servants, came to tell his master that the household had feasted according to the annual ritual custom. For at this festival, in houses that keep to proper religious usage, they first of all honor the slaves with a dinner prepared as if for the master; and only afterwards is the table set again for the head of the household. So, then, the chief slave came in to announce the time of dinner and to summon the masters to the table.

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Saturnalia is the best-known of several festivals in the Greco-Roman world characterized by role reversals and behavioral license. Slaves were treated to a banquet of the kind usually enjoyed by their masters. Ancient sources differ on the circumstances: some suggest that master and slave dined together, while others indicate that the slaves feasted first, or that the masters actually served the food. The practice may have varied over time, and in any case slaves would still have prepared the meal.

Saturnalian license also permitted slaves to enjoy a pretense of disrespect for their masters, and exempted them from punishment. It was a time for free speech: the Augustan poet Horace calls it “December liberty.” In two satires set during the Saturnalia, Horace has a slave offer sharp criticism to his master. But everyone knew that the leveling of the social hierarchy was temporary and had limits; no social norms were ultimately threatened, because the holiday would end. In fact, in my own writing I call such role reversal “safety valves” because they allow “letting off steam” in a “pressure cooker” culture. When the Puritans tried to ban “safety valves” in England there were grave social consequences.

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Gambling and dice-playing, normally prohibited or at least frowned upon, were permitted for all, even slaves. Coins and nuts were the stakes. On the Calendar of Philocalus, the Saturnalia is represented by a man wearing a fur-trimmed coat next to a table with dice, and a caption reading “Now you have license, slave, to game with your master.” Rampant overeating and drunkenness became the rule, and a sober person the exception.

Seneca looked forward to the holiday, if somewhat tentatively, in a letter to a friend:

It is now the month of December, when the greatest part of the city is in a bustle. Loose reins are given to public dissipation; everywhere you may hear the sound of great preparations, as if there were some real difference between the days devoted to Saturn and those for transacting business. … Were you here, I would willingly confer with you as to the plan of our conduct; whether we should eve in our usual way, or, to avoid singularity, both take a better supper and throw off the toga.

Some Romans found it all a bit much, though. Pliny describes a secluded suite of rooms in his Laurentine villa, which he used as a retreat “especially during the Saturnalia when the rest of the house is noisy with the license of the holiday and festive cries. This way I don’t hamper the games of my people and they don’t hinder my work or studies.”

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The Saturnalia reflects the contradictory nature of the deity Saturn himself: “there are joyful and utopian aspects of careless well-being side by side with disquieting elements of threat and danger”. As a deity of agricultural bounty, Saturn embodied prosperity and wealth in general. The name of his consort Ops meant “wealth, resources”. Her festival, Opalia, was celebrated on December 19. The Temple of Saturn housed the state treasury (aerarium Saturni), and was the administrative headquarters of the quaestors, the public officials whose duties included oversight of the mint. It was among the oldest cult sites in Rome, and had been the location of an ancient altar (ara) even before the building of the first temple in 497 BC.

The Romans regarded Saturn as the original and autochthonous (indigenous) ruler of the Capitolium, and the first king of Latium or even the whole of Italy. At the same time, there was a tradition that Saturn had been an immigrant deity, received by Janus after he was usurped by his son Jupiter (Zeus) and expelled from Greece. His contradictions—a foreigner with one of Rome’s oldest sanctuaries, and a god of liberation who is kept in fetters most of the year—indicate Saturn’s capacity for obliterating social distinctions.

Roast pork is the most obvious dish to celebrate the Saturnalia since it was the most common meat at festivities in Rome. A whole suckling pig would be perfect. But there were a lot of sweet dishes too for the festivities. Here’s must (young wine) rolls that I have adapted from a description by Cato. They can be used as savory or sweet. The recipe contains no leavening, so the rolls tend to be a bit tough, like ship’s biscuit. You can add some baking powder to make them lighter. Leaving the anise seeds whole or grinding them is your choice. I prefer whole. Obviously you can replace the lard with a “healthier” fat, but lard was the original choice. Spelt flour would also be a bit more “authentic.”

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Must Rolls

Ingredients

500g wheat flour
300ml young wine or grape juice
2 tbsp anise seeds, fresh ground or whole
2 tbsp ground cumin
100g lard
50g grated sheep’s cheese
bay leaves

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Pour some wine over the flour, add the anise and cumin, the lard and cheese. Work it together with your hands until you have a pliant dough, adding wine as needed. Form the dough into small rolls, then put one bay leaf under each of them on a greased baking tray.

Bake 30-35 minutes or until golden. Serve warm.

 

Dec 162015
 

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Today is the birthday (1775) of Jane Austen, an English novelist whose works of romantic fiction, set among the landed gentry, earned her a place as one of the most widely read writers in English literature. Her realism, biting irony and social commentary as well as her acclaimed plots have gained her historical importance among scholars and critics.

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Austen lived her entire life as part of a close-knit family located on the lower fringes of the English landed gentry. She was educated primarily by her father and older brothers as well as through her own reading. The steadfast support of her family was critical to her development as a professional writer. From her teenage years into her thirties she experimented with various literary forms, including an epistolary novel which she then abandoned, wrote and extensively revised three major novels and began a fourth. From 1811 until 1816, with the release of Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1815), she achieved success as a published writer. She wrote two additional novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, both published posthumously in 1818, and began a third, which was eventually titled Sanditon, but died before completing it.

Austen’s works critique the novels of sensibility of the second half of the 18th century and are part of the transition to 19th century realism. Her plots, though lightly comic, highlight the dependence of women on marriage to secure social standing and economic security. Her works, relatively popular in her lifetime, were first published anonymously and brought her little personal fame and only a few positive reviews. But the publication in 1869 of her nephew’s A Memoir of Jane Austen introduced her to a wider public, and by the 1940s she had become widely accepted in academia as a great English writer.

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Biographical information concerning Jane Austen is “famously scarce”, according to one biographer. Only some personal and family letters remain (by one estimate only 160 out of Austen’s 3,000 letters are extant), and her sister Cassandra (to whom most of the letters were originally addressed) burned “the greater part” of the ones she kept and censored those she did not destroy. Other letters were destroyed by the heirs of Admiral Francis Austen, Jane’s brother. Most of the biographical material produced for fifty years after Austen’s death was written by her relatives and reflects the family’s biases in favor of “good quiet Aunt Jane”. Scholars have unearthed little information since. One suspects a rather more torrid life than is known about in available material.

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Austen’s parents, George Austen (1731–1805) and his wife Cassandra (1739–1827), were members of substantial gentry families. George was descended from a family of woollen manufacturers, which had risen through the professions to the lower ranks of the landed gentry. Cassandra was a member of the prominent Leigh family. They married on 26 April 1764 at Walcot Church in Bath. From 1765 until 1801, that is, for much of Jane’s life, George Austen served as the rector of the Anglican parishes at Steventon, Hampshire, and a nearby village. From 1773 until 1796, he supplemented this income by farming and by teaching three or four boys at a time who boarded at his home.

Austen’s immediate family was large: six brothers — James (1765–1819), George (1766–1838), Edward (1768–1852), Henry Thomas (1771–1850), Francis William (Frank) (1774–1865), Charles John (1779–1852) — and one sister, Cassandra Elizabeth (Steventon, Hampshire, 9 January 1773 – 1845), who, like Jane, died unmarried. Cassandra was Austen’s closest friend and confidante throughout her life. Of her brothers, Austen felt closest to Henry, who became a banker and, after his bank failed, an Anglican clergyman. Henry was also his sister’s literary agent. His large circle of friends and acquaintances in London included bankers, merchants, publishers, painters, and actors: he provided Austen with a view of social worlds not normally visible from a small parish in rural Hampshire.

George was sent to live with a local family at a young age because, as Austen biographer Le Faye describes it, he was “mentally abnormal and subject to fits”. He may also have been deaf and mute. Charles and Frank served in the navy, both rising to the rank of admiral. Edward was adopted by his fourth cousin, Thomas Knight, inheriting Knight’s estate and taking his name in 1812.

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As Austen grew into adulthood, she continued to live at her parents’ home, carrying out those activities normal for women of her age and social standing: she practiced the fortepiano, assisted her sister and mother with supervising servants, and attended female relatives during childbirth and older relatives on their deathbeds. She sent short pieces of writing to her newborn nieces Fanny Catherine and Jane Anna Elizabeth. Austen was particularly proud of her accomplishments as a seamstress. She also attended church regularly, socialized frequently with friends and neighbors, and read novels—often of her own composition—aloud with her family in the evenings. Socializing with the neighbors often meant dancing, either impromptu in someone’s home after supper or at the balls held regularly at the assembly rooms in the town hall. Her brother Henry later said that “Jane was fond of dancing, and excelled in it”.

When Austen was twenty, Tom Lefroy, a nephew of neighbors, visited Steventon from December 1795 to January 1796. He had just finished a university degree and was moving to London to train as a barrister. Lefroy and Austen would have been introduced at a ball or other neighborhood social gathering, and it is clear from Austen’s letters to Cassandra that they spent considerable time together: “I am almost afraid to tell you how my Irish friend and I behaved. Imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together.” The Lefroy family intervened and sent him away at the end of January. Marriage was impractical, as both Lefroy and Austen must have known. Neither had any money, and he was dependent on a great-uncle in Ireland to finance his education and establish his legal career. If Tom Lefroy later visited Hampshire, he was carefully kept away from the Austens, and Jane Austen never saw him again.

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In December 1800, Austen’s father unexpectedly announced his decision to retire from the ministry, leave Steventon, and move the family to Bath. While retirement and travel were good for the elder Austens, Jane was shocked to be told she was moving from the only home she had ever known (ultimately a main theme in Persuasion). An indication of Austen’s state of mind is her lack of productivity as a writer during the time she lived at Bath. She was able to make some revisions to Susan, and she began and then abandoned a new novel, The Watsons, but there was nothing like the productivity of the years 1795–1799.

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In December 1802, Austen received her only known proposal of marriage. She and her sister visited Alethea and Catherine Bigg, old friends who lived near Basingstoke. Their younger brother, Harris Bigg-Wither, had recently finished his education at Oxford and was also at home. Bigg-Wither proposed and Austen accepted. As described by Caroline Austen, Jane’s niece, and Reginald Bigg-Wither, a descendant, Harris was not attractive—he was a large, plain-looking man who spoke little, stuttered when he did speak, was aggressive in conversation, and almost completely tactless. However, Austen had known him since both were young and the marriage offered many practical advantages to Austen and her family. He was the heir to extensive family estates located in the area where the sisters had grown up. With these resources, Austen could provide her parents a comfortable old age, give Cassandra a permanent home and, perhaps, assist her brothers in their careers. By the next morning, Austen realized she had made a mistake and withdrew her acceptance. No contemporary letters or diaries describe how Austen felt about this proposal, but in 1814, Austen wrote a letter to her niece, Fanny Knight, who had asked for advice about a serious relationship, telling her that “having written so much on one side of the question, I shall now turn around & entreat you not to commit yourself farther, & not to think of accepting him unless you really do like him. Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without Affection”.

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This terse biographical resume is my way of introducing the backdrop of Austen’s novels, which focus largely on the problems that women in Regency England on the lower rungs of the landed gentry faced in maintaining their status in society. Upward marriage was their primary recourse. So here comes my usual disclaimer. The travails of people who don’t work for a living do not interest me. This “poor me” attitude cuts no ice with me. If you feel hard done by because you rely on the work or wealth of others, go live in a Yorkshire coal mining slum picking coal from slag heaps for starvation wages and long hours and then tell me how put upon you are.

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Austen’s novels do indeed document the lives of “poor” women in Regency England – “poor” meaning that they can’t host (but can attend) charming balls, and have very few servants. Marriage to well-to-do men is their ticket out. So we are all supposed to cheer for Lizzie in Pride and Prejudice because she finally sees how wrong she was about Mr Darcy, who is fabulously rich, and marries him, whilst her elder sister Jane, marries the equally rich Mr Bingley despite problems at the outset. Yawn. This is the stuff of expensive modern movies that devotees fawn over because of their rich sets, lavish costumes, and (generally poor) attempts at recreating elite society in England at the turn of the 19th century, with obligatory dance and dining scenes and other such nonsense as the context for dialogues concerning intrigue and ambition.

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Persuasion was the first book I taught as a shiny new professor of 29 teaching a Freshman Studies course, newly designed as a cross between “great books” and college writing. Half the books were set by existing faculty, and half I could choose for myself. Other set books included Albert Memmi’s The Colonizer and the Colonized, The Communist Manifesto, and D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love. The course was an unmitigated disaster, as is any course designed by committee. I had no idea what to do with Persuasion. It did not resonate with me nor with any of my students. I could talk quite knowledgeably about the lives of retired sea captains and admirals featured in the novel because, as a teen, I had avidly studied the British navy during the Napoleonic Wars. But the daily lives of the English elite of the period was foreign to me (I grew up in Australia), and of zero interest, except inasmuch as they spoke of the ills and abuses of the class system that doggedly lingers to this day. You would have to pay me an awful lot of money to teach Austen again, and even then I would simply rail against the world that they portray.

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We don’t have any recipes directly from Austen’s pen, but there are a number of them extant from close relatives that are typically brief, but easy enough to follow if you are a cook. Here’s her sister-in-law’s trifle recipe (Martha Lloyd’s Household Book):

A Trifle

Take three Naple biscuits. Cut them in slices. Dip them in sack. Lay them on the bottom of your dish. Then make a custard of a pint of cream and five eggs and put over them. Them make a whipt syllabub as light as possible to cover the whole. The higher it is piled, the handsomer it looks.

Here, too, is a contemporary recipe for syllabub, which is a froth of eggs and cream folded with citrus flavoring and sweetened wine. I’d add fruit such as raspberries or strawberries for a little more variety.

A Whipt Syllabub

Take a pt of cream with a spoonfull of orange flower water 2 or 3 ounces of fine sugar ye juice of a lemon ye white of 3 eggs wisk these up together & having in your glasses rhennish wine & sugar & clarret & sugar lay on ye broth with a spoon heapt up as leight as you can.

Dec 152015
 

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On this date in 1933 the Twenty-first Amendment to the United States Constitution officially became effective, repealing the Eighteenth Amendment that prohibited the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol. The Twenty-first Amendment was ratified on December 5, 1933. It is unique among the 27 amendments of the U.S. Constitution for being the only one to repeal a prior amendment and to have been ratified by state ratifying conventions rather than by state legislatures.

The text is as follows:

Section 1. The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.

Section 2. The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.

Section 3. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by conventions in the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.

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The Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution had ushered in a period known as Prohibition, during which the manufacture, distribution, and sale of alcoholic beverages was illegal. Passage of the Eighteenth Amendment in 1919 was the crowning achievement of the temperance movement, but it soon proved highly unpopular. In my opinion, Prohibition transformed not only the culture of drinking in the US, but also the nature of crime. Furthermore it attempted to legislate private moral values, and therefore pit ordinary people against the government, and destroyed tens of thousands of previously legitimate businesses. It was an unmitigated disaster whose lessons ought to have been learned, but, sadly have not. There are no end of victimless crimes on the books – smoking marijuana, prostitution, pornography, etc etc. I don’t subscribe to any of them, and obviously they need to be regulated to prevent harm to certain groups such as minors. But by making them illegal they are simply forced underground and promote crime and violence.

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During Prohibition, the production, importation, and distribution of alcoholic beverages — once the province of legitimate business — were taken over by criminal gangs, which fought each other for market control in violent confrontations, including murder. Major gangsters, such as Omaha’s Tom Dennison and Chicago’s Al Capone, became rich and were admired locally and nationally. Enforcement was difficult because the gangs became so rich they were often able to bribe underpaid and understaffed law enforcement personnel and pay for expensive lawyers. Many citizens were sympathetic to bootleggers, and respectable citizens were lured by the romance of illegal speakeasies, also called “blind tigers”. The loosening of social morals during the 1920s included popularizing the cocktail and the cocktail party among higher socio-economic groups. Those inclined to help authorities were often intimidated, even murdered. In several major cities — notably those that served as major points of liquor importation (including Chicago and Detroit) — gangs wielded significant political power. A Michigan State Police raid on Detroit’s Deutsches Haus once netted the mayor, the sheriff, and a local congressman.

Prohibition came into force at midnight on January 17, 1920, and the first documented infringement of the Volstead Act (a refinement of the Eighteenth Amendment) occurred in Chicago on January 17 at 12:59 a.m. According to police reports, six armed men stole $100,000 worth of “medicinal” whiskey from two freight train cars. This trend in bootlegging liquor created a domino effect, with criminals across the United States. Some gang leaders were stashing liquor months before the Volstead Act was enforced. The ability to sustain a lucrative business in bootlegging liquor was largely helped by the minimal police surveillance at the time. There were only 134 agents designated by the Prohibition Unit to cover all of Illinois, Iowa, and parts of Wisconsin. According to Charles C. Fitzmorris, Chicago’s Chief of Police during the beginning of the Prohibition period: “Sixty percent of my police [were] in the bootleg business.”

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Crime rates soared under Prohibition as gangsters, such as Chicago’s Al Capone, became rich from a profitable, often violent, black market for alcohol. The federal government was incapable of stemming the tide: enforcement of the Volstead Act proved to be a nearly impossible task and corruption was rife among law enforcement agencies. In 1932, wealthy industrialist John D. Rockefeller, Jr. stated in a letter:

When Prohibition was introduced, I hoped that it would be widely supported by public opinion and the day would soon come when the evil effects of alcohol would be recognized. I have slowly and reluctantly come to believe that this has not been the result. Instead, drinking has generally increased; the speakeasy has replaced the saloon; a vast army of lawbreakers has appeared; many of our best citizens have openly ignored Prohibition; respect for the law has been greatly lessened; and crime has increased to a level never seen before.

As more and more citizens opposed the Eighteenth Amendment, a political movement grew for its repeal. However, repeal was complicated by grassroots politics. Although the U.S. Constitution provides two methods for ratifying constitutional amendments, only one method had been used until that time; and that was for ratification by the state legislatures of three-fourths of the states. However, the wisdom of the day was that the lawmakers of many states were either beholden to or simply fearful of the temperance lobby. For that reason, when Congress formally proposed the repeal of Prohibition on February 20, 1933 (with the requisite two-thirds having voted in favor in each house; 63 to 21 in the United States Senate and 289 to 121 in the United States House of Representatives), it chose the other ratification method established by Article V, that being via state conventions. The Twenty-first Amendment is the only constitutional amendment ratified by state conventions rather than by the state legislatures.

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The Congress proposed the Twenty-first Amendment on February 20, 1933. The proposed amendment was adopted on December 5, 1933. It is the only amendment to have been ratified by state ratifying conventions, specially selected for the purpose. All other amendments have been ratified by state legislatures. It is also the only amendment that was approved for the explicit purpose of repealing a previously existing amendment to the Constitution. The Twenty-first Amendment ending national prohibition became officially effective on December 15, though people started drinking openly before that date.

Although the Twenty-first Amendment legalized sale and consumption of alcohol on a federal level, Section 2 of the Amendment gave states essentially absolute control over alcoholic beverages, and many U.S. states still remained “dry” (with state prohibition of alcohol) long after its ratification. Mississippi was the last, remaining dry until 1966; Kansas continued to prohibit public bars until 1987. Many states now delegate the authority over alcohol granted to them by this Amendment to their municipalities or counties (or both), which has led to many lawsuits over First Amendment rights when local governments have tried to revoke liquor licenses. Here’s a map of the US indicating “wet” (blue), “dry” (red), and “partially dry” (yellow) counties:

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So, to a degree, Prohibition still exists locally in the US, as many tourists come to discover. My favorite paradox arising from this situation is the case of Jack Daniel’s distillery, situated in a dry county in Tennessee. They can distill whiskey, but cannot sell it on the premises (except for certain commemorative, very expensive, bottles). Not to worry; if you visit the distillery you’ll get drunk on the fumes in the storage warehouses !!

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Cooking with alcohol is, of course, a very important component of many cuisines. In many cases, such as coq au vin, the alcohol is boiled off during cooking. But there are plenty of recipes that use alcohol at the end when it is not eliminated. A spoonful of Madeira perks up oxtail soup when added just before serving. A classic example is rum baba, which I first tasted in France when I was 15. A rum baba or baba au rhum is a small yeast cake saturated in rum, and sometimes filled with whipped cream or pastry cream. It is most typically made in individual servings (about a two-inch-tall, slightly tapered cylinder) but sometimes can be made in larger forms similar to those used for Bundt cakes.

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Many people now make rum baba using a rum syrup of sugar, water, and rum that is boiled so that the alcohol evaporates but leaves the flavor. Not this time. Classic rum baba calls for a cake drenched in raw rum.

Rum Baba

Ingredients

120 g plain flour
150 g caster sugar
10 g baking powder
50 g melted butter
3 eggs (separated)
3 tbsp warm milk
dark rum

Instructions

Pre-heat oven to 180°C.

Cream egg yolks and sugar. Add the warm milk, melted butter, sifted flour and baking powder. Mix well.

Whisk egg whites till stiff, and gently fold into first batter.

Pour into individual buttered and floured cake molds.

Bake for about 15 minutes (until a toothpick comes out clean). Leave to cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.

Turn out the cakes and drench with rum.

For variety you can glaze the cakes with apricot preserves and/or add whipped cream.

Dec 142015
 

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Each year on this date, Sengakuji Temple holds a festival commemorating the 47-Ronin event (the most famous example of the samurai code of honor courage, and loyalty—bushido—and now a national legend). The graves of Asano Takumi no Kami Naganori and his former samurai are there. This is where these rōnin committed ritual suicide after avenging their master’s death. Their graves are a popular site of pilgrimage to this day.

In 1701, two daimyo, Asano Takumi-no-Kami Naganori, the young daimyo of the Akō Domain (a small fiefdom in western Honshū), and Lord Kamei of the Tsuwano Domain, were ordered to arrange a fitting reception for the envoys of the Emperor in Edo, during their sankin kōtai service to the Shogun. These daimyo names are not fictional, nor is there any question that something actually happened in Genroku (year) 15, on the 14th day of the 12th month (Tuesday, January 30, 1703). There is no doubt that what is commonly called the “Akō incident” was an actual event.

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Asano and Kamei were to be given instruction in the necessary court etiquette by Kira Kozuke-no-Suke Yoshinaka, a powerful Edo official in the hierarchy of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi’s shogunate. He became upset with them, allegedly either because of insufficient presents they offered him (in the time-honored compensation for such an instructor), or because they would not offer bribes as he wanted. Other sources say that he was naturally rude and arrogant, or that he was corrupt, which offended Asano, a devoutly moral Confucian. Whether Kira treated them poorly, insulted them, or failed to prepare them for fulfilling specific bakufu duties, is uncertain, but offense was taken.

Initially, Asano bore all this stoically while Kamei became enraged and prepared to kill Kira to avenge the insults. However, Kamei’s quick thinking counselors averted disaster for their lord and clan (since all of them would have been punished if Kamei had killed Kira) by quietly giving Kira a large bribe; Kira thereupon began to treat Kamei well, which calmed Kamei.

However, Kira allegedly continued to treat Asano harshly, because he was upset that the latter had not emulated his companion. Finally, Kira insulted Asano, calling him a country boor with no manners, and Asano could restrain himself no longer. At the Matsu no Ōrōka, the main grand corridor that interconnects different parts of the shogun’s residence, Asano lost his temper and attacked Kira with a dagger, wounding him in the face with his first strike; his second missed and hit a pillar. Guards then quickly separated them.

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Kira’s wound was hardly serious, but the attack on a shogunate official within the boundaries of the shogun’s residence was considered a grave offense. Any kind of violence, even drawing a katana, was completely forbidden in Edo Castle. The daimyo of Akō had removed his dagger from its scabbard within Edo Castle, and for that offense, Asano was ordered to kill himself by committing seppuku. Asano’s goods and lands were to be confiscated after his death, his family was to be ruined, and his retainers were to be made ronin (leaderless).

This news was carried to Ōishi Kuranosuke Yoshio, Asano’s principal counselor, who took command and moved the Asano family away, before complying with bakufu orders to surrender the castle to the agents of the government.

Of Asano’s over three hundred men, forty-seven, especially their leader Ōishi, refused to allow their lord to go unavenged, even though revenge had been prohibited in the case. They banded together, swearing a secret oath to avenge their master by killing Kira, even though they knew they would be severely punished for doing so. Kira was well guarded, however, and his residence had been fortified to prevent just such an event. The ronin saw that they would have to put him off his guard before they could succeed. To quell the suspicions of Kira and other shogunate authorities, they dispersed and became tradesmen and monks.

Ōishi took up residence in Kyoto and began to frequent brothels and taverns, as if nothing were further from his mind than revenge. Kira still feared a trap, and sent spies to watch the former retainers of Asano. One day, as Ōishi returned home drunk, he fell down in the street and went to sleep, and all the passers-by laughed at him. A Satsuma man, passing by, was infuriated by this behavior on the part of a samurai—by his lack of courage to avenge his master as well as his current debauched behavior. The Satsuma man abused and insulted Ōishi, kicked him in the face (to even touch the face of a samurai was a great insult, let alone strike it), and spat on him.

Not too long after, Ōishi went to his loyal wife of twenty years and divorced her so that no harm would come to her when the ronin took revenge. He sent her away with their two younger children to live with her parents; he gave the eldest boy, Chikara, a choice to stay and fight or to leave. Chikara remained with his father. Ōishi began to act oddly, very unlike a composed samurai. He frequented geisha houses (particularly Ichiriki Chaya), drank nightly, and acted obscenely in public. Ōishi’s men bought a geisha, hoping she would calm him. This was all a ruse to rid Ōishi of his spies.

Kira’s agents reported all this to Kira, who became convinced that he was safe from the retainers of Asano, that they must all be bad samurai indeed, without the courage to avenge their master after a year and a half. Thinking them harmless and lacking funds, he then reluctantly let down his guard.

The rest of the faithful ronin now gathered in Edo, and in their roles as workmen and merchants gained access to Kira’s house, becoming familiar with the layout of the house and the character of all within. One of the retainers (Kinemon Kanehide Okano) went so far as to marry the daughter of the builder of the house, to obtain the house’s design plans. All of this was reported to Ōishi. Others gathered arms and secretly transported them to Edo – another offense.

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After two years, when Ōishi was convinced that Kira was thoroughly off his guard, and everything was ready, he fled from Kyoto, avoiding the spies who were watching him, and the entire band gathered at a secret meeting place in Edo to renew their oaths. On Genroku 15, on the 14th day of the 12th month, early in the morning in a driving wind during a heavy fall of snow, Ōishi and the ronin attacked Kira Yoshinaka’s mansion in Edo. According to a carefully laid-out plan, they split up into two groups and attacked, armed with swords and bows. One group, led by Ōishi, was to attack the front gate; the other, led by his son, Ōishi Chikara, was to attack the house via the back gate. A drum would sound the simultaneous attack, and a whistle would signal that Kira was dead.

Once Kira was dead, they planned to cut off his head and lay it as an offering on their master’s tomb. They would then turn themselves in and wait for their expected sentence of death. All this had been confirmed at a final dinner, at which Ōishi had asked them to be careful and spare women, children, and other helpless people. (The code of bushido does not require mercy to noncombatants, or forbid it.)

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Ōishi had four men scale the fence and enter the porter’s lodge, capturing and tying up the guard there. He then sent messengers to all the neighboring houses, to explain that they were not robbers, but retainers out to avenge the death of their master, and that no harm would come to anyone else: the neighbors were all safe. One of the ronin climbed to the roof and loudly announced to the neighbors that the matter was a revenge act (katakiuchi, 敵討ち). The neighbors, who all hated Kira, were relieved and did nothing to hinder the raiders.

After posting archers (some on the roof) to prevent those in the house (who had not yet awakened) from sending for help, Ōishi sounded the drum to start the attack. Ten of Kira’s retainers held off the party attacking the house from the front, but Ōishi Chikara’s party broke into the back of the house. Kira, in terror, took refuge in a closet in the veranda, along with his wife and female servants. The rest of his retainers, who slept in barracks outside, attempted to come into the house to his rescue. After overcoming the defenders at the front of the house, the two parties led by father and son joined up and fought the retainers who came in. The latter, perceiving that they were losing, tried to send for help, but their messengers were killed by the archers posted to prevent that eventuality.

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Eventually, after a fierce struggle, the last of Kira’s retainers was subdued; in the process the ronin killed sixteen of Kira’s men and wounded twenty-two, including his grandson. Of Kira, however, there was no sign. They searched the house, but all they found were crying women and children. They began to despair, but Ōishi checked Kira’s bed, and it was still warm, so he knew he could not be far away.

A renewed search disclosed an entrance to a secret courtyard hidden behind a large scroll; the courtyard held a small building for storing charcoal and firewood, where two more hidden armed retainers were overcome and killed. A search of the building disclosed a man hiding; he attacked the searcher with a dagger, but the man was easily disarmed. He refused to say who he was, but the searchers felt sure it was Kira, and sounded the whistle. The ronin gathered, and Ōishi, with a lantern, saw that it was indeed Kira—as a final proof, his head bore the scar from Asano’s attack.

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At that, Ōishi went on his knees, and in consideration of Kira’s high rank, respectfully addressed him, telling him they were retainers of Asano, come to avenge him as true samurai should, and inviting Kira to die as a true samurai should, by killing himself. Ōishi indicated he personally would act as a kaishakunin (“second”, the one who beheads a person committing seppuku to spare them the indignity of a lingering death) and offered him the same dagger that Asano had used to kill himself. However, no matter how much they entreated him, Kira crouched, speechless, and trembling. At last, seeing it was useless to ask, Ōishi ordered the other ronin to pin him down, and killed him by cutting off his head with the dagger. They then extinguished all the lamps and fires in the house and left, taking Kira’s head with them.

One of the ronin, the ashigaru Terasaka Kichiemon, was ordered to travel to Akō and report that their revenge had been completed. (Though Kichiemon’s role as a messenger is the most widely accepted version of the story, other accounts have him running away before or after the battle, or being ordered to leave before the ronin turned themselves in.)

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As day was now breaking, they quickly carried Kira’s head from his residence to their lord’s grave in Sengaku-ji temple, marching about ten kilometers across the city, causing a great stir on the way. The story of the revenge spread quickly, and everyone on their path praised them and offered them refreshment.

On arriving at the temple, the remaining forty-six ronin (all except Terasaka Kichiemon) washed and cleaned Kira’s head in a well, and laid it, and the fateful dagger, before Asano’s tomb. They then offered prayers at the temple, and gave the abbot of the temple all the money they had left, asking him to bury them decently, and offer prayers for them. They then turned themselves in; the group was broken into four parts and put under guard of four different daimyo. During this time, two friends of Kira came to collect his head for burial; the temple still has the original receipt for the head, which the friends and the priests who dealt with them all signed.

The shogunate officials in Edo were in a quandary. The samurai had followed the precepts of bushido by avenging the death of their lord; but they had also defied the shogunate authority by exacting revenge, which had been prohibited. In addition, the Shogun received a number of petitions from the admiring populace on behalf of the ronin. As expected, the ronin were sentenced to death for the murder of Kira; but the Shogun had finally resolved the quandary by ordering them to honorably commit seppuku instead of having them executed as criminals. It is known that each of the assailants ended his life in a ritualistic fashion. Ōishi Chikara, the youngest, was only 15 years old on the day the raid took place, and only 16 the day he had to commit seppuku.

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Each of the forty-six ronin killed himself on Genroku 16, on the 4th day of the 2nd month (元禄十六年二月四日?, Tuesday, March 20, 1703). This has caused a certain amount of confusion ever since, with some people referring to the “forty-six ronin”; this refers to the group put to death by the Shogun, while the actual attack party numbered forty-seven. The forty-seventh ronin, identified as Terasaka Kichiemon, eventually returned from his mission and was pardoned by the Shogun (some say on account of his youth). He lived to the age of 87, dying around 1747, and was then buried with his comrades. The assailants who died by seppuku were subsequently interred on the grounds of Sengaku-ji, in front of the tomb of their master.

The clothes and arms they wore are still preserved in the temple to this day, along with the drum and whistle; the armor was all home-made, as they had not wanted to arouse suspicion by purchasing any. The tombs became a place of great veneration, and people flocked there to pray. The graves at the temple have been visited by a great many people throughout the years since the Genroku era. One of those who visited the tombs was the Satsuma man who had mocked and spat on Ōishi as he lay drunk in the street. Addressing the grave, he begged for forgiveness for his actions and for thinking that Ōishi was not a true samurai. He then committed suicide and was buried next to the graves of the ronin.

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Near the temple you can find numerous places selling Okonomiyaki, a pancake stuffed with various ingredients. The name is derived from the word okonomi, meaning “what you like” or “what you want”, and yaki meaning “grilled” or “cooked” (cf. yakitori and yakisoba). Kansai- or Osaka-style okonomiyaki is the predominant version of the dish, found throughout most of Japan. The batter is made of flour, grated nagaimo (a type of yam), water or dashi, eggs and shredded cabbage, and usually contains other ingredients such as green onion, meat (generally thin pork belly, often mistaken for bacon), octopus, squid, shrimp, vegetables, konjac, mochi or cheese.

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Some okonomiyaki restaurants are grill-it-yourself establishments, where the server produces a bowl of raw ingredients that the customer mixes and grills at tables fitted with teppan, or special hotplates. They may also have a diner-style counter where the cook prepares the dish in front of the customers.

As with all Asian cuisine these days, I recommend going to Japan if you want okonomiyaki. However, if you insist on making it yourself here is a very good link:

http://www.japan-guide.com/r/e100.html

Dec 132015
 

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Today is the feast of Lucia of Syracuse (283–304), also known as Saint Lucy, or Saint Lucia (Italian: Santa Lucia), a young Christian martyr who died during the Diocletianic Persecution. She is venerated as a saint by the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, and Orthodox Churches. She is one of eight women, who along with the Blessed Virgin Mary, are commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass.

All that is really known for certain of Lucy is that she was a martyr in Syracuse during the Diocletianic Persecution of 304 AD. Her veneration spread to Rome, and by the 6th century to the whole Church. The oldest archaeological evidence comes from Greek inscriptions in the catacombs of St. John in Syracuse.

The oldest record of her story comes from the fifth-century. Jacobus de Voragine’s Legenda Aurea was the most widely read version of the Lucy legend in the Middle Ages. In medieval accounts, Saint Lucy’s eyes are gouged out prior to her execution, but this element is not part of the earliest narratives.

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All the details of her life are the conventional ones associated with female martyrs of the early 4th century. According to the traditional story, Lucy was born of rich and noble parents about the year 283. Her father was of Roman origin, but died when she was five years old, leaving Lucy and her mother without a protective guardian. Her mother’s name Eutychia, seems to indicate that she came of Greek stock. Like many of the early martyrs, Lucy had consecrated her virginity to God, and she hoped to distribute her dowry to the poor. However, Eutychia, not knowing of Lucy’s promise and, suffering from a bleeding disorder, feared for Lucy’s future. She arranged Lucy’s marriage to a young man of a wealthy pagan family.

Saint Agatha had been martyred 52 years earlier during the Decian persecution. Her shrine at Catania, less than fifty miles from Syracuse attracted a number of pilgrims, and many miracles were reported to have happened through her intercession. Eutychia was persuaded to make a pilgrimage to Catania, in hopes of a cure. While there, St. Agatha came to Lucy in a dream and told her that because of her faith her mother would be cured and that Lucy would be the glory of Syracuse, as she was of Catania. With her mother cured, Lucy took the opportunity to persuade her mother to allow her to distribute a great part of her riches among the poor.

Euthychia suggested that the sums would make a good bequest, but Lucy countered, “…whatever you give away at death for the Lord’s sake you give because you cannot take it with you. Give now to the true Savior, while you are healthy, whatever you intended to give away at your death.”

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News that the patrimony and jewels were being distributed came to Lucy’s betrothed, who denounced her to Paschasius, the Governor of Syracuse. Paschasius ordered her to burn a sacrifice to the emperor’s image. When she refused Paschasius sentenced her to be defiled in a brothel. The Christian tradition states that when the guards came to take her away, they could not move her even when they hitched her to a team of oxen. Bundles of wood were then heaped about her and set on fire, but would not burn. Finally, she met her death by the sword.

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By the 6th century, her story was sufficiently widespread that she appears in the Sacramentary of Pope Gregory I. She is also commemorated in the ancient Roman Martyrology. St. Aldhelm (d. 709) and later the Venerable Bede (d. 735) attest that her popularity had already spread to England, where her festival was kept until the Protestant Reformation, as a holy day of the second rank, in which no work except tillage or necessary farm work was allowed.

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Lucy’s Latin name Lucia shares a root (luc-) with the Latin word for light, lux. This has played a large part in Saint Lucy being named as the patron saint of the blind and those with eye-trouble. She is also the patroness of Syracuse in Sicily. At the Piazza Duomo in Syracuse, the church of Santa Lucia alla Badia houses the painting “Burial of St. Lucy (Caravaggio)”. Saint Lucy is also the patron saint of the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia, one of the Windward Islands in the Lesser Antilles, (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/saint-lucia-independence-day/ ), and of the US state of Nebraska.

The feast of St Lucy falls in Advent and once coincided with the winter solstice, before the Gregorian calendar reform. So her feast day is conventionally a festival of light. This is particularly seen in Scandinavian countries, with their long dark winters. There, a young girl dressed in a white dress and a red sash (as the symbol of martyrdom) carries palms and wears a crown or wreath of candles on her head. In both Norway and Sweden, girls dressed as Lucy carry rolls and cookies in procession as songs are sung.

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It is also a tradition in Sweden for the eldest daughter in the family to rise early and, wearing her Lucy garb of white robe, red sash, and a wire crown covered with whortleberry-twigs with nine lighted candles fastened in it, to wake the family, singing Sankta Lucia, serving them coffee and saffron buns (St. Lucia buns).

Devotion to St. Lucy is practiced in the Italian regions of Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Trentino-Alto Adige, in the North of the country, and Sicily and Calabria, in the South, as well as in Croatian coastal region of Dalmatia. It is celebrated with large traditional feasts of home made pasta and various other Italian dishes, with a special dessert of wheat in hot chocolate milk (cuccia). The large grains of soft wheat are representative of her eyes and this dish is supposed to be made only once a year. In some parts of Sicily cuccia has evolved into a less soft pudding my adding ricotta.

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In some parts of Italy it is still customary for Santa Lucia to bring gifts to good children and coal to bad ones on the night between December 12 and 13. According to tradition, she arrives in the company of a donkey and her escort, Castaldo. Children are asked to leave some coffee for Lucia, a carrot for the donkey and a glass of wine for Castaldo. They must not watch Santa Lucia delivering these gifts, or she will throw ashes in their eyes, temporarily blinding them. Like other gift giving customs associated with the Christmas season (e.g. St Nicholas, Epiphany etc.), this one appears to be dying in favor of gifts on Christmas Day itself.

It is Hungarian custom to plant wheat in a small pot on St. Lucy’s feast. By Christmas green sprouts appear, signs of life coming from death. The wheat is then carried to the manger scene.

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Here’s an excellent website containing all manner of information about Saint Lucy’s Day in Sweden including recipes with plenty of images of the steps. I highly recommend saffron buns.

http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/st_lucia_saffron_buns/

Dec 122015
 

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Our Lady of Guadalupe (Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe), also known as the Virgin of Guadalupe (Virgen de Guadalupe), is a title of the Virgin Mary associated with a famous pictorial image housed in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in México City. The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe is the most visited Catholic pilgrimage site in the world, and the world’s third most-visited sacred site.

Official Catholic accounts state that the Virgin Mary appeared four times to Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin (1474–1548), and once more to Juan Diego’s uncle. According to these accounts the first apparition occurred on the morning of December 9, 1531, when Juan Diego, a native Mexican peasant, saw a vision of a maiden at a place called the Hill of Tepeyac, which would become part of Villa de Guadalupe, a suburb of Mexico City. Speaking to him in his native Nahuatl language, the maiden identified herself as the Virgin Mary, “mother of the very true deity” and asked for a church to be built at that site in her honor.

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Because of her words, Juan Diego sought out the archbishop of Mexico City, Fray Juan de Zumárraga, on the same day to tell him what had happened. The bishop did not believe Juan Diego, but later that day, Juan Diego saw the Virgin Mary for a second time (second apparition) and asked him to keep insisting. On Sunday, December 10, Juan Diego talked to the archbishop for the second time, who then instructed him to return to Tepeyac Hill, and ask the lady for a miraculous sign to prove her identity. That same day the third apparition occurred in which Juan Diego returned immediately to Tepeyac and, encountering the Virgin Mary, reported the bishop’s request for a sign; she consented to provide one on the following day (December 11).

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By Monday, December 11, however, Juan Diego’s uncle Juan Bernardino had fallen sick and Juan Diego was obliged to attend to him. In the very early hours of Tuesday, December 12, Juan Bernardino’s condition having deteriorated overnight, Juan Diego set out to Tlatelolco to get a priest to hear Juan Bernardino’s confession and minister to him on his death-bed. In order to avoid being delayed by the Virgin and embarrassed at having failed to meet her on the Monday as agreed, Juan Diego chose another route around the hill, but the Virgin intercepted him and asked where he was going (fourth apparition); Juan Diego explained what had happened and the Virgin gently chided him for not having had recourse to her. In the words which have become the most famous phrase of the Guadalupe event and are inscribed over the main entrance to the Basilica of Guadalupe, she asked: “No estoy yo aqui que soy tu madre?” (Am I not here, I who am your mother?). She assured him that Juan Bernardino had now recovered and she told him to gather flowers from the top of Tepeyac Hill, which was normally barren, especially in December. Juan Diego followed her instructions and he found Castilian roses, not native to Mexico, blooming there. Juan arranged the flowers in his tilma (cloak), and when he opened his cloak before archbishop Zumárraga on December 12, the flowers fell to the floor, and on the fabric was the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

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The next day, on December 13, Juan Diego found his uncle fully recovered, as the Virgin had assured him, and Juan Bernardino recounted that he too had seen her, at his bed-side (fifth apparition); that she had instructed him to inform the bishop of this apparition and of his miraculous cure; and that she had told him she desired to be known under the title of Guadalupe.

The bishop kept Juan Diego’s tilma, first in his private chapel, and then in the church on public display where it attracted great attention. On December 26, 1531 a procession formed for taking the miraculous image back to Tepeyac where it was installed in a small hastily erected chapel. In course of this procession, the first miracle was allegedly performed when an Indian was mortally wounded in the neck by an arrow shot by accident during some stylized martial displays executed in honor of the Virgin. In great distress, the Indians carried him before the Virgin’s image and pleaded for his life. Upon the arrow being withdrawn, the victim made a full and immediate recovery.

Juan Diego’s tilma has become Mexico’s most popular religious and cultural symbol, and has received widespread ecclesiastical and popular support. In the 19th century it became the rallying call of American-born Spaniards in New Spain, who saw the story of the apparition as legitimizing their own Mexican origin and infusing it with an almost messianic sense of mission and identity – thus also legitimizing their armed rebellion against Spain.

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Historically the devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe did not lack clerical opponents within Mexico, especially in the early years, and in more recent times some Catholic scholars, and even a former abbot of the basilica, Monsignor Guillermo Schulenburg, have openly doubted the historical existence of Juan Diego. Nonetheless, Juan Diego was canonized in 2002, under the name Saint Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin.

Following the Conquest in 1519–21, the Spanish destroyed a temple of the mother goddess Tonantzin at Tepeyac outside Mexico City, and built a chapel dedicated to the Virgin on the site. Newly converted natives continued to come from afar to worship there, often addressing the Virgin Mary as Tonantzin.

What is purported by some to be the earliest mention of the miraculous apparition of the Virgin is a page of parchment (called Codex Escalada) which was discovered in 1995. This document bears a pictorial representation of Juan Diego and the apparition, several inscriptions in Nahuatl, referring to Juan Diego by his Aztec name, and the date 1548. Doubts have been cast on the authenticity of the document, however.

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A more complete early description of the apparition occurs in a 16-page manuscript called the Nican mopohua, which was acquired by the New York Public Library in 1880, and has been reliably dated to 1556. This document, written in Nahuatl, but in Latin script, tells the story of the apparitions and the supernatural origin of the image. It was probably composed by a native Aztec man, called Antonio Valeriano, who had been educated by Franciscans. The text of this document was later incorporated into a printed pamphlet which was widely circulated in 1649.

In spite of these documents, there are no written accounts of the Guadalupe vision by Catholic clergymen of the 16th century, as there ought to have been if the event had the importance it is claimed to have had. In particular, the canonical account of the vision features archbishop Juan de Zumárraga as a major player in the story, but, although Zumárraga was a prolific writer, there is nothing in his extant writings that can confirm the story. This is the most important omission in the verification of the tale.

The written record that does exist suggests the Catholic clergy in 16th century Mexico were deeply divided as to the orthodoxy of the cult springing up around the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, with the Franciscan order (who had custody of the chapel at Tepeyac) being strongly opposed to the cult, while the Dominicans supported it.

The main promoter of the cult was the Dominican Alonso de Montúfar, who succeeded the Franciscan Juan de Zumárraga as archbishop of Mexico. In a 1556 sermon Montúfar commended popular devotion to “Our Lady of Guadalupe,” referring to a painting on cloth (a tilma) in the chapel of the Virgin Mary at Tepeyac, where certain miracles had occurred. Days later, Fray Francisco de Bustamante, local head of the Franciscan order, delivered a sermon denouncing the cult. He expressed concern that the Archbishop was promoting a superstitious regard for an image:

The devotion at the chapel . . to which they have given the name Guadalupe was prejudicial to the Indians because they believed that the image itself worked miracles, contrary to what the missionary friars had been teaching them, and because many were disappointed when it did not.

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The next day Archbishop Montúfar opened an inquiry into the matter. At the inquiry, the Franciscans repeated their position that the image encouraged idolatry and superstition, and four witnesses testified to Bustamante’s claim that the image was painted by an Indian, with one witness naming him “the Indian painter Marcos”. This could refer to the Aztec painter Marcos Cipac de Aquino, who was active at that time. But Jody Brant Smith (referring to Philip Serna Callahan’s examination of the tilma using infrared photography in 1979) says that,  “if he did, he did so without making a preliminary sketch – in itself a near-miraculous procedure. Cipac may well have had a hand in painting the Image, but only in painting the additions, such as the angel and moon at the Virgin’s feet”,

Ultimately Archbishop Montúfar (himself a Dominican) decided to end Franciscan custody of the shrine. From then on the shrine was served by diocesan priests under the authority of the archbishop. Moreover, Archbishop Montúfar authorized the construction of a much larger church at Tepeyac, in which the tilma was mounted and displayed.

The report of the 1556 inquiry is the most extensive documentation concerning the Virgin of Guadalupe from the 16th century, and significantly, it makes no mention of Juan Diego, the miraculous apparition, or any other element from the legend. If the miracle story did have currency at that time, it seems strange that it would have been omitted from this report.

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In the late 1570s, the Franciscan historian Bernardino de Sahagún denounced the cult at Tepeyac and the use of the name “Tonantzin” to call Our Lady in a personal digression in his General History of the Things of New Spain, in the version known as the Florentine Codex.

At this place [Tepeyac], [the Indians] had a temple dedicated to the mother of the gods, whom they called Tonantzin, which means Our Mother. There they performed many sacrifices in honor of this goddess…And now that a church of Our Lady of Guadalupe is built there, they also call her Tonantzin, being motivated by the preachers who called Our Lady, the Mother of God, Tonantzin. It is not known for certain where the beginning of this Tonantzin may have originated, but this we know for certain, that, from its first usage, the word means that ancient Tonantzin. And it is something tha should be remedied, for the correct [native] name of the Mother of God, Holy Mary, is not Tonantzin, but Dios inantzin. It appears to be a Satanic invention to cloak idolatry under the confusion of this name, Tonantzin.

Sahagún’s criticism of the cult seems to have stemmed primarily from his concern about a syncretistic application of the native name Tonantzin to the Virgin Mary. However, Sahagún often used the same name in his sermons as late as the 1560s.

In the 16th century and probably continuing into the early 17th century, the image was modified by adding the sunburst around the Virgin, the stars on her cloak, the moon under her feet, and the angel with folded cloth supporting her – as was determined by an infrared and ocular study of the tilma in 1979.

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Neither the fabric (“the support”) nor the image (together, “the tilma”) has been analyzed using the full range of resources now available to museum conservationists. Four technical studies have been conducted so far. Of these, the findings of at least three have been published. Each study required the permission of the custodians of the tilma in the Basilica. However, Callahan’s study was taken at the initiative of a third party: the custodians did not know in advance what his research would reveal.

These are coded as follows:

MC – in 1756 a prominent artist, Miguel Cabrera, published a report entitled “Maravilla Americana,” containing the results of the inspections by him and six other painters in 1751 and 1752.

G – José Antonio Flores Gómez, an art restorer, discussed in a 2002 interview with the Mexican journal Proceso, certain technical issues concerning the tilma. He had worked on it in 1947 and 1973.

PC – in 1979 Philip Callahan, (biophysicist, USDA entomologist, NASA consultant) specializing in infrared imaging, was allowed direct access to visually inspect, and photograph, the image. He took numerous infrared photographs of the front of the tilma. Taking notes that were later published, his assistant noted that the original art work was neither cracked nor flaked, while later additions (gold leaf, silver plating the moon) showed serious signs of wear, if not complete deterioration. Callahan could not explain the excellent state of preservation of the un-retouched areas of the image on the tilma, particularly the upper two-thirds of the image. His findings, with photographs, were published in 1981.

R – In 2002 Proceso published an interview with José Sol Rosales, formerly director of the Center for the Conservation and Listing of Heritage Artifacts (Patrimonio Artístico Mueble) of the National Institute of Fine Arts (INBA) in México City. The article included extracts from a report which Rosales had written in 1982 of his findings from his inspection of the tilma that year using raking and UV light. It was done at low magnification with a stereo microscope of the type used for surgery.

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Summary conclusions (“contra” indicates a contrary finding)

(1) Support: The material of the support is soft to the touch (almost silken: MC; something like cotton: G) but to the eye it suggested a coarse weave of palm threads called “pita” or the rough fiber called “cotense” (MC), or a hemp and linen mixture (R). It was traditionally held to be made from ixtle, an agave fiber.

(2) Ground, or primer: R asserted (MC and PC contra) by ocular examination that the tilma was primed, though with primer “applied irregularly.” R does not clarify whether his observed “irregular” application indicates that the entire tilma was primed, or just certain areas – such as those areas of the tilma extrinsic to the image – where PC agrees there are later additions. MC, in contrast, observed that the image had soaked through to the reverse of the tilma suggesting a lack of primer.

(3) Under-drawing: PC asserted there was no under-drawing.

(4) Brush-work: R suggested (PC contra) there was some visible brushwork on the original image, but in a minute area of the image (“her eyes, including the irises, have outlines, apparently applied by a brush”).

(5) Condition of the surface layer: PC reports that the un-retouched portions of the image, particularly the blue mantle and the face, are in a very good state of preservation, with no flaking or peeling. The three most recent inspections (G, PC and R) agree (i) that additions have been made to the image (gold leaf added to the sun’s rays-which has flaked off; silver paint or other material to depict the moon – which has discolored; and the re-construction or addition of the angel supporting the Marian image), and (ii) that portions of the original image have been abraded and re-touched in places. Some flaking is visible, though only in retouched areas (mostly along the line of the vertical seam, or at passages considered to be later additions).

(6) Varnish: The tilma has never been varnished.

(7) Binding Medium: R provisionally identified the pigments and binding medium (distemper) as consistent with 16th – century methods of painting sargas (MC, PC contra for different reasons), but the color values and luminosity are in good condition.

You’ll have to make of it what you will. There is no question that the original image is in a good state of preservation, and subsequent additions have all deteriorated. The lack of contemporary eye witness accounts of the legend is not encouraging. However, I find it odd that the image depicts a young mestiza woman at a time when mestizos (male or female) were an extreme rarity, if they existed at all.

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I have chosen a Mexican festive dish to honor Guadalupe that could be part of a celebratory meal — sopa de coditos y espinacas (macaroni and spinach soup). I’ve given the recipe in Mexican Spanish but it’s very easy to read, I believe, even if your Spanish is limited (Google translate will do the trick too). I mean, what’s complicated about cooking spinach and elbow macaroni in a chicken and tomato broth with onions and garlic? Some cooks add epazote for flavoring. It’s also common to add chunks of soft white cheese (queso blanco).

Sopa de Coditos y Espinacas

Ingredientes

6 jitomates cortados en cuartos
¼ pieza de cebolla
1 diente de ajo
2 cucharadas de consomé de pollo en polvo
3 cucharadas de aceite
6 tazas de caldo de pollo (1 ½ litros)
200g de coditos cocidos y escurridos
1 manojo de espinacas limpias y en trozos
queso parmesano

Preparación:

Licua el jitomate, con la cebolla, el ajo y el consomé. Calienta el aceite y fríe la salsa anterior y cocina por 5 minutos, agrega el caldo los coditos y las espinacas.

Cocina por 10 minutos más o hasta que rompa el hervor. Sirve con el queso parmesano.