Feb 232019

The Siege of the Alamo began on this date in 1836 and ended on March 6th in the Battle of the Alamo. In 1835, as the Mexican government began to shift away from a federalist model, violence erupted in several Mexican states, including the border region Mexican Texas. By the end of the year, Texian forces had expelled all Mexican soldiers from the area. In Mexico City, president Antonio López de Santa Anna had begun gathering an army to retake Texas.

When Mexican troops departed San Antonio de Béxar (now San Antonio, Texas), Texian soldiers established a garrison at the Alamo Mission, a former Spanish religious outpost which had been converted to a makeshift fort. Described by Santa Anna as an “irregular fortification hardly worthy of the name”, the Alamo had been designed to withstand an attack by local Indians, not an artillery-equipped army. The complex sprawled across 3 acres, providing almost 1,320 feet of perimeter to defend (the size of a modern 400 meter race track). An interior plaza was bordered on the east by the chapel and to the south by a one-storey building known as the Low Barracks. A wooden palisade stretched between these two buildings. The two-storey Long Barracks extended north from the chapel. At the northern corner of the east wall stood a cattle pen and horse corral. The walls surrounding the complex were at least 2’9” thick and ranged from 9–12 ft high.

On February 11th, the commander of the Alamo, colonel James C. Neill, left the Alamo to recruit additional reinforcements and gather supplies. In his absence, the garrison was jointly commanded by newcomers William B. Travis—a regular army officer— and James Bowie, who had commanded a volunteer company. As the Texians struggled to find men and supplies, Santa Anna’s army began marching north. On February 12th they crossed the Rio Grande. On February 16th and February 18th local resident Ambrosio Rodriguez warned his good friend William Barret Travis that their relatives further south claimed that Santa Anna was on the march towards Béxar. Two days later Juan Seguin’s scout Blas María Herrera reported that the vanguard of the Mexican army had crossed the Rio Grande. There had been many rumors of Santa Anna’s imminent arrival, but Travis ignored them. For several hours that night a council of war held at the Alamo argued over whether to believe the rumors. Travis was convinced that the Mexican army would not arrive in Béxar until at least mid-March. He, and others in the Texian army thought Santa Anna would not march until spring, when the grass had begun to grow again. They overlooked the fact that mesquite grass sprouted earlier than normal grass. Travis had also assumed that Santa Anna would not have begun gathering troops for an invasion of Texas until after he had learned of the expulsion of the Mexican forces from San Antonio. The Texians did not realize that Santa Anna had begun preparations for an invasion months before.

Despite the Texian disbelief, by the evening of February 20th many of the residents of Béxar began to pack their belongings in preparation for leaving. The next day, fifteen of the Tejano volunteers at the Alamo resigned. Juan Seguin, Tejano captain, had asked Travis to release the men so that they could help evacuate their families, who were in the path Santa Anna would take to reach Béxar. Santa Anna had crossed the Rio Grande on February 16th. The next night, his army camped on the Nueces River, 119 miles from Béxar. Texians had previously burned the bridge over the Nueces, forcing the Mexicans to build a makeshift structure of branches and dirt in the pouring rain. The delay was brief, and on February 19th the vanguard of the army camped along the Frio River, 68 miles from Béxar. The following day they reached Hondo, less than 50 miles away. By 1:45 pm on February 21st Santa Anna and his vanguard had reached the banks of the Medina River, 25 miles from Béxar. Waiting there were dragoons under Colonel Ramirez y Sesma, who had arrived the previous evening. With no idea that the Mexican army was so close, all but 10 members of the Alamo garrison joined about 2000 Béxar residents at a fiesta to celebrate George Washington’s birthday.  Centralists in Béxar soon alerted Santa Anna to the party, and he ordered General Ramirez y Sesma to lead a cavalry force to take the Alamo while the garrison celebrated elsewhere. The raid had to be called off when sudden rains made the Medina unfordable. The next night, Santa Anna and his army camped at Leon Creek, 8 miles west of what is now central San Antonio.

In the early hours of February 23, residents began fleeing Béxar, fearing the Mexican army’s imminent arrival. Although unconvinced by the reports, Travis stationed a soldier in the San Fernando church bell tower—the highest location in town—to watch for signs of an approaching force. Travis then sent captain Philip Dimitt and lieutenant Benjamin Noble to scout for the Mexican army’s location. At approximately 2:30 that afternoon the church bell began to ring; the soldier stationed in the tower claimed to have seen flashes in the distance. Dimitt and Noble had not returned, so Travis sent Dr. James Sutherland and John W. Smith on horseback to scout the area. Smith and Sutherland spotted members of the Mexican cavalry within 1.5 miles of the town and returned to Béxar at a run.

According to later reports from Santa Anna, the cavalry, under General Joaquín Ramírez y Sesma, were supposed to execute a surprise attack on the morning of February 23rd. Historian Thomas Ricks Lindley concluded that Sesma’s troops had captured a Texian spy, Trinidad Coy, who lied about a Texian ambush further ahead, prompting Sesma to halt at 7 a.m. and wait for reinforcements. Historian Lon Tinkle speculated that the combination of the church bell ringing and the sight of the two Texian scouts led Sesma to believe that the Texians were planning an assault on the cavalry.

At this point there were approximately 156 effective Texian soldiers in the Alamo, with another 14 in the hospital. The men were completely unprepared for the arrival of the Mexican army, and had no food in the mission. The men quickly herded cattle in the Alamo and scrounged for food in nearby houses. They were able to gather enough beef and corn into the Alamo to last a month. The Alamo garrison also had a large supply of captured Mexican muskets, with over 19,000 paper cartridges, but only a limited supply of powder for the artillery. Several members of the garrison dismantled the blacksmith shop of Antonio Saez and moved much of the material into the Alamo. A few members of the garrison brought their families into the Alamo to keep them safe. Among these was Alamaron Dickinson, who fetched his wife Susanna and their daughter Angelina, and Bowie, who brought his deceased wife’s cousins, Gertrudis Navarro and Juana Navarro Alsbury and Alsbury’s young son into the fort. It is likely that Navarro and Alsbury also brought their family’s servants, Sam and Bettie.

While the bulk of the garrison prepared for the attack, a few Texians remained in Béxar and raised a flag in the middle of Military Plaza. According to historian J.R. Edmondson, “The flag was a variation of the Mexican tricolor with two stars, representing the separated states of Texas and Coahuila, gleaming from the white center bar.” Within an hour the first of the Mexican cavalry, commanded by colonel Jose Vicente Minon, entered Béxar. The Texians lowered their flag and brought it into the Alamo.

As the Mexican cavalry approached, Travis dispatched a man named John Johnson to ask Colonel James Fannin, 100 miles southeast, to send reinforcements immediately. Travis then sent Smith and Sutherland to bring a message to the alcade at Gonzales, 70 miles (110 km) away. The note to Gonzales read: “The enemy in large force is in sight. We want men and provisions. Send them to us. We have 150 men and are determined to defend the Alamo to the last.”

By late afternoon, Béxar was occupied by about 1500 Mexican troops, who quickly raised a blood-red flag signifying “No Quarter.” Soon after, a Mexican bugler sounded the request for parley. Travis ordered the Alamo’s 18-pounder cannon fired. The Mexican army responded with four balls from 7-in howitzers; the balls hit the interior of the Alamo but caused no damage or injuries. Santa Anna later reported that the initial Texian cannon fire killed two Mexican soldiers and wounded eight others. No other Mexican officer, however, reported fatalities from that day.

Bowie believed that Travis had acted hastily and sent Green B. Jameson to meet with Santa Anna. Jameson carried a letter addressed to “The Commander of the invading forces below Bejar” and signed “Commander of the volunteers of Bejar.” Angry that Bowie presented himself as Santa Anna’s equal, the Mexican general refused to meet with Jameson, but allowed colonel Juan Almonte and José Bartres to parley. Almonte later said that Jameson asked for an honorable surrender, but Bartres replied “I reply to you, according to the order of His Excellency, that the Mexican army cannot come to terms under any conditions with rebellious foreigners to whom there is no recourse left, if they wish to save their lives, than to place themselves immediately at the disposal of the Supreme Government from whom alone they may expect clemency after some considerations.” Travis was angered that Bowie had acted unilaterally and sent his own emissary to the Mexican army; he received the same response. Bowie and Travis then mutually agreed to fire the cannon again.

By the time the parleys were over it was nightfall, and the firing ceased. That evening the Mexicans erected an artillery battery near the Veramendi house. Santa Anna also sent General Ventura Mora’s cavalry to circle to the north and east of the Alamo to prevent the arrival of Texian reinforcements. According to Edmondson, the Texians sent a small party to forage that evening. They returned with six pack mules and a prisoner, a Mexican soldier who would later be used to interpret Mexican bugle calls. The Texians received one reinforcement that night, when one of Seguin’s men, Gregorio Esparza, arrived with his family. Texian sentries refused to open the gate, but others helped the family climb through the window of the chapel. Several other Texian soldiers were unable to make it into the Alamo. Dimitt and Noble, who had been scouting for signs of the Mexican army, were told by a local that Béxar was surrounded, and they would be unable to re-enter the town. Andrew Jackson Sowell and Byrd Lockhart had been out that morning looking for provisions; on hearing that the Alamo was surrounded they left for their homes in Gonzales. Thus ended the first day of the siege.

San Antonio is a great foodie town these days. Last time I visited I pigged out on menudo, tacos de lengua, cabrito, etc. This is not your usual Tex-Mex fare of nachos, fajitas, and crunchy tacos, but – to me at least – a much more engaging cuisine. Standard Tex-Mex with its reliance on an abundance of cheese, seems geared to a rather bland palate (and palette). The dishes you get in San Antonio, provided you are looking in the right places, are strongly influenced by northern Mexican styles and have less of Texas about them. Here’s a fairly stock sopa de fideos (noodle soup) that you can readily find in the region. The Spanish word “fideo” means “noodle” but what counts as a fideo varies all over the Spanish-speaking world. In Mexico fideos are close to spaghetti. I’ve given the recipe in Mexican Spanish, which actually does not come naturally to me. Spanish dialects are mostly mutually intelligible but food vocabulary is the main area where the dialects part company.

Sopa de Fideos


2 cucharadas de aceite vegetal
8 onzas de pasta de fideos
10 onzas de jitomates asados
1 diente de ajo grande o 2 dientes pequeños
½ taza de cebolla blanca picada
6 tazas de caldo de pollo
sal y pimienta al gusto
queso fresco Mexicano desmenuzado y aguacate en cubitos.


Coloca los jitomates, el ajo y la cebolla asados ​​en tu licuadora. Procesa hasta que tengas una mezcla suave. Cuela esta mezcla usando un colador en un recipiente y reserve. Algunas personas pasan la salsa de tomate por el colador, eso es al gusto personal tuyo y de como te gusta tu sopa de fideo.

Calienta el aceite en una cacerola grande a fuego medio bajo y agrega el fideo. Fríe los fideos ligeramente, revolviendo a menudo, hasta que tengan un color dorado claro, 3-4 minutos.

Vierta la mezcla de jitomate en la cacerola y cocina durante 1 minuto aproximadamente. Agrega el caldo de pollo (o agua mezclada con el consomé de pollo en polvo). Lleva a ebullición, luego reduzce la temperatura a media-baja y cubra la cacerola. Cocina a fuego lento hasta que los fideos estén suaves, aproximadamente 8 minutos. Sazona con sal y pimienta al gusto.

Para servir, divida la sopa de fideo en tazones y adorna con queso fresco y aguacate en cubitos

Feb 222019

On this date in 1819, the Adams–Onís Treaty, also known as the Transcontinental Treaty, the Florida Purchase Treaty, or the Florida Treaty, was signed. It ceded Florida to the U.S. and defined the boundary between the U.S. and New Spain. It settled a standing border dispute between the two countries and was considered a triumph of U.S. diplomacy. It came in the midst of increasing tensions related to Spain’s territorial boundaries in North America against the United States and Great Britain in the aftermath of the American Revolution. It also came during the Latin American wars of independence. The Adams-Onis Treaty was negotiated by John Quincy Adams, the Secretary of State under U.S. President James Monroe, and the Spanish “minister plenipotentiary” (diplomatic envoy) Luis de Onís y González-Vara, during the reign of Ferdinand VII.

Florida had become a burden to Spain, which could not afford to send settlers or garrisons, so the Spanish government decided to cede the territory to the United States in exchange for settling the boundary dispute along the Sabine River in Spanish Texas. The treaty established the boundary of U.S. territory and claims through the Rocky Mountains and west to the Pacific Ocean, in exchange for the U.S. paying residents’ claims against the Spanish government up to a total of $5,000,000 and relinquishing the U.S. claims on parts of Spanish Texas west of the Sabine River and other Spanish areas, under the terms of the Louisiana Purchase.

Let’s pause for a moment, to take stock of the area now covered by the 48 states of the continental United States, and I make no apology for this being a post dominated by maps. Contemporary US nationalists like to imagine that the US has always existed as it is now, and that somehow it’s always been English-speaking territory (perhaps since the dawn of time). Even leaving aside the fact that for millennia the land was occupied by indigenous peoples speaking a kaleidoscope of languages, in colonial times the territory was loosely split into three zones: an eastern section that was mostly colonized from Britain, a western section that was mostly colonized from Mexico, and a middle section that was largely unsettled by colonists in the interior but was claimed by France and Spain at different times and was of primary importance because it controlled the Mississippi delta at New Orleans. Florida and parts of Louisiana were the main territories on the eastern and Gulf seaboard in the early nineteenth century that had not been British at one time.

Spain had long rejected repeated U.S. efforts to purchase Florida. But by 1818, Spain was facing a troubling colonial situation in which the cession of Florida made sense. Spain had been exhausted by the Peninsular War (1807–1814) against Napoleon in Europe and needed to rebuild its credibility and presence in its colonies. Revolutionaries in Central and South America were beginning to demand independence. Spain was unwilling to invest further in Florida, encroached on by U.S. settlers (affectionately known as Florida Crackers), and it worried about the border between New Spain (a large area including today’s Mexico, Central America, and much of the current US Western States) and the United States. With minor military presence in Florida, Spain was not able to restrain the Seminole warriors who routinely crossed the border and raided US villages and farms, as well as protected slave refugees from slave owners and traders of the southern United States.

By 1819, Spain was forced to negotiate, as it was losing hold on its American empire, with its western territories primed to revolt. While fighting escaped African-American slaves, outlaws, and Native Americans in U.S.-controlled Georgia during the First Seminole War, U.S. General Andrew Jackson had pursued them into Spanish Florida. He built Fort Scott, at the southern border of Georgia (i.e., the U.S.), and used it to destroy the Negro Fort in northwest Florida, whose existence was perceived as an intolerable disruptive risk by Georgia plantation owners. The U.S. effectively seized control of northeastern Florida although was not interested in outright annexation of territory for Georgia; for additional US Territory; or, for the creation of another U.S. state.

Adams argued that the U.S. had to take control because Florida (along the border of Georgia & Alabama Territory) had become “a derelict open to the occupancy of every enemy, civilized or savage, of the United States, and serving no other earthly purpose than as a post of annoyance to them.” Spain asked for British intervention, but London declined to assist Spain in the negotiations. Some of president Monroe’s cabinet demanded Jackson’s immediate dismissal for invading Florida, but Adams realized that his success had given the U.S. a favorable diplomatic position. Adams was able to negotiate very favorable terms.

The treaty, consisting of 16 articles was signed in Adams’ State Department office in Washington, on February 22nd, 1819. Ratification was postponed for two years, because Spain wanted to use the treaty as an incentive to keep the United States from giving diplomatic support to the revolutionaries in South America. As soon as the treaty was signed, the U.S. Senate ratified unanimously; but because of Spain’s stalling, a new ratification was necessary and this time there were objections. Henry Clay and other Western spokesmen demanded that Spain also give up Texas. This proposal was defeated by the Senate, which ratified the treaty a second time on February 19th, 1821, following ratification by Spain on October 24th, 1820. Ratifications were exchanged three days later and the treaty was proclaimed on February 22nd, 1821, two years to the day after the signing.

The Treaty closed the first era of United States expansion by providing for the cession of East Florida under Article 2; the abandonment of the controversy over West Florida under Article 2 (a portion of which had been seized by the United States); and the definition of a boundary with the Spanish province of Mexico, that clearly made Spanish Texas a part of Mexico, under Article 3, thus ending much of the vagueness in the boundary of the Louisiana Purchase. Spain also ceded to the U.S. its claims to the Oregon Country, under Article 3.

Spain relinquished all claims in the Americas north of the 42nd parallel north. This was a historic retreat in its 327-year pursuit of lands in the Americas. The previous Anglo-American Convention of 1818 meant that both the United States and the British Empire could settle land north of the 42nd parallel and west of the Continental Divide. The United States now had a firm foothold on the Pacific Coast and could commence settlement of the jointly occupied Oregon Country (known as the Columbia District to the rival United Kingdom). The Russian Empire also claimed this entire region as part of Russian America.

For the United States, this Treaty (and the Treaty of 1818 with Britain agreeing to joint occupancy of the Pacific Northwest) meant that its claimed territory now extended far west from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. For Spain, it meant that it kept its colony of Texas and also kept a buffer zone between its colonies in California and New Mexico and the U.S. territories. Many historians consider the Treaty to be a great achievement for the U.S., as time validated Adams’ vision that it would allow the U.S. to open trade with the Orient across the Pacific. For another 30 years North America was fairly evenly divided between the United States and Mexico (with Russian and British claims mixed in).

Since the control of Florida was a key aspect of the Treaty, a Florida recipe is called for. The main thing about Florida cuisine is that it has multiple influences. In the north of the state and the panhandle, the cooking most closely resembles Southern US cooking, and in the southern part there are strong Cuban and Caribbean influences. The old colonial Spanish era has scarcely left a trace. It’s better to think of Florida cooking in terms of ingredients such as key lime which can be found in many products apart from key lime pie. Conch is also a celebrated ingredient. However, I have given recipes for key lime and conch already, so I will turn to the Florida stone crab (Menippe mercenaria). This crab has a small body that is not usually eaten, but has large, powerful claws which are prized.

The Florida stone crab loses its limbs easily to escape from predators or tight spaces, but their limbs will grow back. When a claw is broken such that the diaphragm at the body/claw joint is left intact, the wound can quickly heal itself and very little blood is lost. If, however, the claw is broken in the wrong place, more blood is lost and the crab’s chances of survival are much lower. Each time the crab molts, the new claw grows larger. So far so good. The usual practice is to take one or two claws and toss the crabs back to regrow them. It almost seems like a green, sustainable practice. Not so fast, though. Clinical trials seem to indicate that around 25% of stone crabs that have one claw taken die, and around 50% of those with two claws taken die. The latter is hardly surprising. The crabs need their claws for survival. So, I suppose they are semi-sustainable.

Here is a video on their preparation:

Feb 212019

Today was an ancient Roman public festival called Feralia according to Ovid in Book II of his Fasti, the only record of this holiday. This day marked the end of Parentalia, a nine-day festival (13–21 February) honoring dead ancestors, who went under various names including Lares, Manes, Lemures, Genii, and others, depending on the source. On this date Roman citizens were instructed to bring offerings to the tombs of their dead ancestors which consisted of at least “an arrangement of wreaths, a sprinkling of grain and a bit of salt, bread soaked in wine, and violets scattered about.” Additional offerings were permitted, however the dead were appeased with just these. These simple offerings may be an allusion to Aeneas, who poured wine and scattered violet flowers on Anchises’ tomb.

Ovid tells of a time when Romans, in the midst of war, neglected Feralia, which prompted the spirits of the departed to rise from their graves in anger, howling and roaming the streets. After this event, tribute to the tombs were then made and the ghastly hauntings ceased. To indicate public mourning, marriages of any kind were prohibited on the Feralia, and Ovid urged mothers, brides, and widows to refrain from lighting their wedding torches. Magistrates stopped wearing their insignia and any worship of the gods was prohibited as it “should be hidden behind closed temple doors; no incense on the altar, no fire on the hearth.”

No record of public rituals survives, however on this day as described by Ovid, an old drunken woman sits in a circle with girls performing rites in the name of the mute goddess Tacita who is identified with the nymph Lara or Larunda. The ritual consists of the old woman placing three bits of incense, with three of her fingers, beneath a threshold where a mouse is buried. She then rolls seven black beans in her mouth, and smears the head of a fish with pitch, impaling it with a bronze needle, and roasting it in a fire. After she formally declaims the purpose of her actions, saying, “I have gagged spiteful tongues and muzzled unfriendly mouths” (Hostiles linguas inimicaque uinximus ora). The use of the black beans in the old woman’s ritual may be related to rites that lend themselves to another festival of the dead in the month of May, called Lemuria. During Lemuria the dead ancestor spirits, particularly the unburied, called lemures, emerge from their graves and visit the homes in which they had lived. It was then necessary to confront the unwelcome spirits and lure them out of one’s house using specific actions and chants. According to Ovid, this includes the use of black beans to lure a spirit out of the home:

And after washing his (the householder) hands clean in spring water, he turns, and first he receives black beans and throws them away with face averted; but while he throws them, he says: ‘These I cast; with these beans I redeem me and mine.’ This he says nine times, without looking back: the shade is thought to gather the beans, and to follow unseen behind. Again he touches water, and clashes Temesan bronze, and asks the shade to go out of his house. When he has said nine times, ‘Ghosts of my fathers, go forth!’ he looks back, and thinks that he has duly performed the sacred rites.

Perhaps the black beans carried with them connotations of warding away or dispelling bad things in general, whether it be unwelcome spirits haunting a household as seen during Lemuria, or preventing undesired gossip towards an individual as in the old woman’s ritual during Feralia.

It is implied through Ovid’s choice of words, “hostiles linguas inimicaque ora”, that the ritual is intended to curb gossip about a girl’s reputation. Gossip of such a nature and its consequences are the subject for the cause, which Ovid offers, of the Dea Tacita festival, which was held on the same day as the Feralia. Ovid then tells a story to explain the origins of Dea Tacita, starting with Jupiter’s untamed lust for the nymph Juturna. Juturna, aware of Jupiter’s lust for her, hides within the Hazelwood forest and dives into her sisters’ waters. Jupiter then gathers all the nymphs in Latium seeking their help in capturing Juturna, saying, “Your sister is spiting herself by shunning her own advantage, an entanglement with the highest god. Look out for us both. What will be a great pleasure for me will be in your sister’s great interest. Block her as she flees at the bank of the river to keep her from jumping into its waters.” One of the informed nymphs, Lara, could not hold her tongue and warns Juturna to flee. In addition, she approaches Jupiter’s wife Juno, saying, “Your husband loves the Naiad Juturna.” As a result, Jupiter rips out Lara’s tongue in anger and summons Mercury to escort her to be a nymph in the Underworld. During this mission, Mercury becomes lustful of Lara and rapes her, begetting twins. These twins become the Lares, the guardians of intersections and households who watch over the city of Rome.

Well, the Roman gods were not of the highest moral order, certainly. But there is an important issue here. The tales of the high gods and their worship were important to Romans, but there was a certain amount of skepticism concerning the tales from the intelligentsia, and temple worship was primarily for the rich and powerful. Lares and Manes were a different matter entirely.  Archeological evidence indicates that Lares and Manes were honored in a variety of places including in households, at crossroads, and in other venues commonly frequented. The veneration of the spirits of dead ancestors and spirits of key places is very reminiscent of current Hindu and Buddhist practices. Here in Cambodia, every household has a shrine dedicated to the spirits of the house at which occupants light candles and incense and dedicate food and drink on special occasions. In Nepal I came across shrines just about everywhere I went – crossroads, hilltops, wells . . . Very much like Roman Lares.

Ovid’s description of the ritual with the drunken old woman mildly suggests a recipe, but I am a bit flummoxed by his reference to black beans. What we know as black beans now are originally from South America, so he can’t mean them. Indian urad dahl are black, but I doubt they had made it to Rome in Ovid’s day. However, he talks about blackening a fish with pitch, so it could be that they blackened the beans as well. The common bean in Ovid’s time would have been the fava bean. I wouldn’t recommend eating a grilled fish covered in pitch (nor beans either), but there is an opening here.

Boil fresh fava beans (broad beans for you Brits), and mash them well. Top with a nice piece of grilled fish.


Feb 202019

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti published Manifeste du futurisme (Manifesto of Futurism) in the newspaper Le Figaro on this date in 1909. Futurism was an avant-garde movement founded in Milan in 1909 by Marinetti, a poet, and he first launched the movement in an Italian version of the Manifesto, which he published for the first time on 5th February 1909 in La gazzetta dell’Emilia. The French edition, published today, was an expansion of the strictly Italian movement to a wider audience, so I have chosen it as the anniversary. Laying my cards on the table before proceeding, I find most of the stated aims of the movement absolutely repugnant, but it does have redeeming features. Futurism’s glorification of violence, I find especially appalling, as well as its naked nationalism. This is the crucible of Mussolini and fascism. Its intoxication with modernity, speed, and energy, I find more laughable than repellant, and its rejection of the past has good and bad qualities. I’m all for rejecting habit and custom if they simply act as comfortable cocoons, but the wholesale rejection of history is counterproductive. Futurism’s unapologetic misogyny is beneath contempt. As we shall also see when it comes to cooking – which futurists had a great deal to say about – newness simply for the sake of newness has its pitfalls.

Marinetti was soon joined by the painters Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carrà, Giacomo Balla, Gino Severini and the composer Luigi Russolo. Marinetti expressed a passionate loathing of everything old, especially political and artistic tradition. “We want no part of it, the past”, he wrote, “we the young and strong Futurists!” The Futurists admired speed, technology, youth and violence, the car, the airplane and the industrial city, all that represented the technological triumph of humanity over nature, and they were passionate nationalists. They repudiated the cult of the past and all imitation. Originality, however daring, however violent, bore “the smear of madness.” They dismissed art critics as useless, rebelled against harmony and good taste, swept away all the themes and subjects of all previous art, and gloried in science. Publishing manifestos was a feature of Futurism, and the Futurists (usually led or prompted by Marinetti) wrote them on many topics, including painting, architecture, religion, clothing and cooking.

The founding manifesto did not contain a positive artistic program, which the Futurists attempted to create in their subsequent Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting (1914). This committed them to a “universal dynamism”, which was to be directly represented in painting. Objects in reality were not separate from one another or from their surroundings: “The sixteen people around you in a rolling motor bus are in turn and at the same time one, ten four three; they are motionless and they change places. … The motor bus rushes into the houses which it passes, and in their turn the houses throw themselves upon the motor bus and are blended with it.”

The Futurist painters were slow to develop a distinctive style and subject matter. In 1910 and 1911 they used the techniques of Divisionism, breaking light and color down into a field of stippled dots and stripes, which had been originally created by Giovanni Segantini and others. Later, Severini, who lived in Paris, attributed their backwardness in style and method at this time to their distance from Paris, the center of avant-garde art. Severini was the first to come into contact with Cubism and following a visit to Paris in 1911 the Futurist painters adopted the methods of the Cubists. Cubism offered them a means of analysing energy in paintings and expressing dynamism.

They often painted modern urban scenes. Carrà’s (1910–11) is a large canvas representing events that the artist had himself been involved in, in 1904. The action of a police attack and riot is rendered energetically with diagonals and broken planes. His Leaving the Theatre (1910–11) uses a Divisionist technique to render isolated and faceless figures trudging home at night under street lights. Boccioni’s The City Rises (1910) represents scenes of construction and manual labor with a huge, rearing red horse in the center foreground, which workmen struggle to control. His States of Mind, in three large panels, The Farewell, Those who Go, and Those Who Stay, is considered a masterpiece of Futurism. The work attempts to convey feelings and sensations experienced in time, using new means of expression, including “lines of force”, which were intended to convey the directional tendencies of objects through space, “simultaneity”, which combined memories, present impressions and anticipation of future events, and “emotional ambience” in which the artist seeks by intuition to link sympathies between the exterior scene and interior emotion.

The Futurists aimed through their art thus to enable the viewer to apprehend the inner being of what they depicted. Boccioni developed these ideas at length in his book, Pittura scultura Futuriste: Dinamismo plastico (Futurist Painting Sculpture: Plastic Dynamism) (1914). Balla’s Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash (1912) exemplifies the Futurists’ insistence that the perceived world is in constant movement. The painting depicts a dog whose legs, tail and leash —and the feet of the woman walking it —have been multiplied to a blur of movement. It illustrates the precepts of the Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting that, “On account of the persistence of an image upon the retina, moving objects constantly multiply themselves; their form changes like rapid vibrations, in their mad career. Thus a running horse has not four legs, but twenty, and their movements are triangular.” His Rhythm of the Bow (1912) similarly depicts the movements of a violinist’s hand and instrument, rendered in rapid strokes within a triangular frame.

The adoption of Cubism determined the style of much subsequent Futurist painting, which Boccioni and Severini in particular continued to render in the broken colors and short brush-strokes of Divisionism. But Futurist painting differed in both subject matter and treatment from the quiet and static Cubism of Picasso, Braque and Gris. Although there were Futurist portraits (e.g. Carrà’s Woman with Absinthe (1911), Severini’s Self-Portrait (1912), and Boccioni’s Matter (1912)), it was the urban scene and vehicles in motion that typified Futurist painting—e.g. Boccioni’s The Street Enters the House (1911), Severini’s Dynamic Hieroglyph of the Bal Tabarin (1912), and Russolo’s Automobile at Speed (1913).

In 1912 and 1913, Boccioni turned to sculpture to translate into three dimensions his Futurist ideas. In Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913) he attempted to realize the relationship between the object and its environment, which was central to his theory of “dynamism”. The sculpture represents a striding figure, cast in bronze posthumously and exhibited in the Tate Modern. (It now appears on the national side of Italian 20 eurocent coins). He explored the theme further in Synthesis of Human Dynamism (1912), Speeding Muscles (1913) and Spiral Expansion of Speeding Muscles (1913). His ideas on sculpture were published in the Technical Manifesto of Futurist Sculpture. In 1915 Balla also turned to sculpture making abstract “reconstructions”, which were created out of various materials, were apparently moveable and even made noises. He said that, after making twenty pictures in which he had studied the velocity of automobiles, he understood that “the single plane of the canvas did not permit the suggestion of the dynamic volume of speed in depth … I felt the need to construct the first dynamic plastic complex with iron wires, cardboard planes, cloth and tissue paper, etc.”

In 1914, personal quarrels and artistic differences between the Milan group, around Marinetti, Boccioni, and Balla, and the Florence group, around Carrà, Ardengo Soffici (1879–1964) and Giovanni Papini (1881–1956), created a rift in Italian Futurism. The Florence group resented the dominance of Marinetti and Boccioni, whom they accused of trying to establish “an immobile church with an infallible creed”, and each group dismissed the other as passéiste (backward-looking).

Futurism had from the outset admired violence and was intensely patriotic. The Futurist Manifesto had declared, “We will glorify war —the world’s only hygiene —militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn for woman.” Although it owed much of its character and some of its ideas to radical political movements, it was not much involved in politics until the autumn of 1913. Then, fearing the re-election of Giolitti, Marinetti published a political manifesto. In 1914 the Futurists began to campaign actively against the Austro-Hungarian empire, which still controlled some Italian territories, and Italian neutrality between the major powers. In September, Boccioni, seated in the balcony of the Teatro dal Verme in Milan, tore up an Austrian flag and threw it into the audience, while Marinetti waved an Italian flag. When Italy entered the First World War in 1915, many Futurists enlisted. The experience of the war affected several Futurists, particularly Marinetti, who fought in the mountains of Trentino at the border of Italy and Austria-Hungary, actively engaging in propaganda. The combat experience also influenced Futurist music.

The outbreak of war disguised the fact that Italian Futurism had come to an end. The Florence group had formally acknowledged their withdrawal from the movement by the end of 1914. Boccioni produced only one war picture and was killed in 1916. Severini painted some significant war pictures in 1915 (e.g. War, Armored Train, and Red Cross Train), but in Paris turned towards Cubism and post-war was associated with the Return to Order.

After the war, Marinetti revived the movement. This revival was called il secondo Futurismo (Second Futurism) by writers in the 1960s. The art historian Giovanni Lista has classified Futurism by decades: “Plastic Dynamism” for the first decade, “Mechanical Art” for the 1920s, “Aeroaesthetics” for the 1930s.

The Futurists had a great to say about cooking and dining. The Futurist movement recognized that people “think, dream and act according to what they eat and drink” so cooking and eating needed to become subservient to the proper aesthetic experience that Futurism favored. Revolutionary in its expectations of overturning set patterns, some of its more interesting ideas for the realm of cuisine were:

  • No more pasta, as it causes lassitude, pessimism and lack of passion
  • Perfect meals requiring originality and harmony in table setting, including all implements, food aesthetics and tastes, and absolute originality in the food
  • Sculpted foods, including meats whose main appeal is to the eye and imagination
  • Abolition of the knife and fork
  • Use of perfumes to enhance the tasting experience

The Manifesto of Futurist Cooking also proposed that the way in which meals were served be fundamentally changed. For example:

  • Some food on the table would not be eaten, but only experienced by the eyes and nose
  • Food would arrive rapidly and contain many flavors, but only a few mouthfuls in size
  • All political discussion and speeches would be forbidden
  • Music and poetry would be forbidden except during certain intervals

A multi-course meal featured in Marinetti’s The Futurist Cookbook he called a tactile dinner. Pajamas have been prepared for the dinner, each one covered with a different material such as sponge, cork, sandpaper, or felt. As the guests arrive, each puts on a pair of the pajamas. Once all have arrived and are dressed in pajamas, they are taken to an unlit, empty room. Without being able to see, each guest chooses a dinner partner according to their tactile impression. The guests then enter the dining room, which consists of tables for two, and discover the partner they have selected.

The meal begins. The first course is a ‘polyrhythmic salad,’ which consists of a box containing a bowl of undressed lettuce leaves, dates and grapes. The box has a crank on the left side. Without using cutlery, the guests eat with their right hand while turning the crank with their left. This produces music to which the waiters dance until the course is finished.

The second course is ‘magic food’, which is served in small bowls covered with tactile materials. The bowl is held in the left hand while the right picks out balls made of caramel and filled with different ingredients such as dried fruits, raw meat, garlic, mashed banana, chocolate, or pepper. The guests cannot guess what flavor they will encounter next.

The third course is ‘tactile vegetable garden,’ which is a plate of cooked and raw green vegetables without dressing. The guest eats the vegetables without the use of their hands, instead burying their face in the plate of vegetables, feeling the sensation of the greens on their face and lips. Each time a guest raises their head to chew, the waiters spray their face with perfume.

Here is a video to give you some idea:


Feb 192019

Today is the birthday (1594) of Henry Frederick Stuart, prince of Wales KG, the elder son of James VI of Scotland and I of England. Henry was in line to be the king of England and Scotland, but he died at age 18, probably of typhoid fever, so his younger brother, Charles, ascended the throne when James died. We all know that Charles went on to challenge Parliament, initiate a civil war, and had his head chopped off as a prelude to the first and only English republic. Henry might have ascended as Henry IX had he lived, and history might have taken a radically different course. Henry was not the stubborn hothead that his brother was. Hence my title – What Might Have Been?

The prince’s name derives from his grandfathers: Henry Stuart (Lord Darnley), and Frederick II of Denmark. Prince Henry was born at Stirling Castle, Scotland and became duke of Rothesay, earl of Carrick, baron of Renfrew, Lord of the Isles and prince and great steward of Scotland automatically on his birth. Henry’s baptism on 30th August 1594 was celebrated with complex theatrical entertainments written by poet William Fowler and a ceremony in a new Chapel Royal at Stirling purpose-built by William Schaw. His father placed him in the care of John Erskine, earl of Mar at Stirling Castle, out of the care of the boy’s mother, because James worried that the queen’s Catholicism might affect the son. Although the child’s removal caused enormous tension between Anne and James, Henry remained under the care of Mar family until 1603, when James became king of England and his family moved south.

One of his tutors until he went to England was Sir George Lauder of the Bass, a Privy Counsellor and he was also tutored in music by Alfonso Ferrabosco the younger. Henry’s tutor Adam Newton continued to serve him in England, and some Scottish servants from Stirling were retained, including poet David Murray. The king greatly preferred the role of schoolmaster to that of father, and he wrote texts for the schooling of his children. James directed that Henry’s household “should rather imitate a College than a Court.” Henry passionately engaged in such physical pursuits as hawking, hunting, jousting and fencing, and from a young age studied naval and military affairs and national issues, about which he often disagreed with his father. He also disapproved of the way his father conducted the royal court, disliked Robert Carr, a favorite of his father, and esteemed Sir Walter Raleigh, wishing him to be released from the Tower of London.

The prince’s popularity rose so high that it threatened his father. Relations between the two could be tense, and on occasion surfaced in public. At one point, the two were hunting near Royston when James criticized his son for lacking enthusiasm for the chase, and Henry initially moved to strike his father with a cane, but rode off. Most of the hunting party then followed the son.

Henry is said to have disliked his younger brother, Charles, and to have teased him, although this derives from only one anecdote: when Charles was nine years of age, Henry snatched the hat off a bishop and put it on the younger child’s head, then told his younger brother that when he became king he would make Charles archbishop of Canterbury, and then Charles would have a long robe to hide his ugly rickety legs. Charles stamped on the cap and had to be dragged off in tears.

With his father’s accession to the throne of England in 1603, Henry at once became duke of Cornwall. In 1610 he was further invested as prince of Wales and earl of Chester, thus for the first time uniting the six automatic and two traditional Scottish and English titles held by heirs-apparent to the two thrones. As a young man, Henry showed great promise and was beginning to be active in leadership matters. Among his activities, he was responsible for the reassignment of Sir Thomas Dale to the Virginia Company of London’s struggling colony in North America.

Henry died from typhoid fever at the age of 18, during the celebrations that led up to his sister Elizabeth’s wedding. (The diagnosis can be made with reasonable certainty from written records of the post-mortem examination, although at the time there were rumors of poisoning.) He was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Prince Henry’s death was widely regarded as a tragedy for the nation. His body lay in state at St. James’s Palace for four weeks. On 7th December, over a thousand people walked in the mile-long cortège to Westminster Abbey to hear a two-hour sermon delivered by George Abbot, the archbishop of Canterbury. As Henry’s body was lowered into the ground, his chief servants broke their staves of office at the grave. An insane man ran naked through the mourners, yelling that he was the boy’s ghost. Immediately after Henry’s death, his brother Charles fell ill, but he was the chief mourner at the funeral, which his father, king James (who detested funerals) refused to attend.

Henry’s titles of duke of Cornwall and duke of Rothesay passed to Charles, who until then had lived in Henry’s shadow. Four years later Charles, by then 16 years old, was created prince of Wales and earl of Chester. How different might have British history been had Henry lived, and, especially, if he had produced legitimate heirs? In more ways than I care to count, the Stuarts after James VI and I were a fiasco. Charles led the country into civil war, his son Charles was a profligate, and his second son, James, had to flee the country in disgrace. His replacement, William III, created immense problems in Ireland, and childless Anne barely held on to be replaced by the German Hanoverians whose passionless sterility is still with us. Could Henry have breathed new life into the monarchy? Maybe I should write a fictional historical novel.

Meanwhile, the Stuart age saw the rise in popularity in chocolate from the New World. The first chocolate houses in London opened in the seventeenth century, and rivalled the new fangled coffee houses (and tea drinking) – all three becoming fads in Stuart England. Chocolate was primarily a drink until the 19th century, but this 17th century recipe more closely resembles a dessert than a drink.

To make chocolate cream;
Take a quart of cream, 3 ounces of chocolate grated, boyle it well together and let it stand till tis cold, &yn put in ye whites of 6 eggs beaten to a froth & sweeten it to your taste & then mill it up.

Feb 182019


Today is the birthday (259 BCE) of Qin Shi Huang (秦始皇), founder of the Qin dynasty and the first emperor of a unified China. He was born Ying Zheng (嬴政) or Zhao Zheng (趙政), a prince of the state of Qin. He became Zheng, the king of Qin (秦王政) when he was 13. Because Zhao Zheng was so young, Lü Buwei acted as the regent prime minister of the state of Qin, which was still waging war against the other six states (the Warring States Period). Zhao Chengjiao, the lord Chang’an (长安君), was Zhao Zheng’s legitimate half-brother, by the same father but from a different mother. After Zhao Zheng inherited the throne, Chengjiao rebelled at Tunliu and surrendered to the state of Zhao. Chengjiao’s remaining retainers and families were executed by Zhao Zheng.

As king Zheng grew older, Lü Buwei became fearful that he would discover he was having an affair with his mother, the queen dowager, Zhao Ji. He decided to distance himself and find another lover for the queen dowager. He found a man named Lao Ai. According to The Record of Grand Historian, Lao Ai was disguised as a eunuch by plucking his beard. Later Lao Ai and queen Zhao secretly had two sons together. Lao Ai then became ennobled as marquis Lào Ǎi, and was showered with riches. Lao Ai hatched a plot to replace Zheng with one of the hidden sons. But during a dinner party drunken Lào Ǎi was heard bragging about being the young king’s stepfather. In 238 BCE the king was travelling to the ancient capital of Yōng (雍). Lao Ai seized the queen mother’s seal and mobilized an army in an attempt to start a coup and rebel. When king Zheng found out, he ordered Lü Buwei to dispatch lord Changping and lord Changwen to attack Lao Ai, and their army killed hundreds of the rebels at the capital, although Lao Ai succeeded in fleeing from this battle.

A price of 1 million copper coins was placed on Lao Ai’s head if he was taken alive or half a million if dead. He and his supporters were captured and executed, and his two hidden sons were also killed.  Zhao Ji was placed under house arrest until her death many years later. Lü Buwei drank a cup of poisoned wine and committed suicide in 235 BCE. Zheng then assumed full power as the king of the Qin state. Li Si became the new chancellor replacing Lü Buwei.

Zheng and his troops continued to take over different states. The state of Yan was small, weak and frequently harassed by soldiers. It was no match for the Qin state. Crown prince Dan of Yan plotted an assassination attempt to get rid of Zheng, asking his retainer, Jing Ke, to go on the mission in 227 BCE. Jing Ke was accompanied by Qin Wuyang in the plot. Each was supposed to present a gift to Zheng: a map of Dukang and the severed head of Fan Wuji, a disloyal Qin general who had escaped to Yan. Qin Wuyang first tried to present the map case gift, but trembled in fear and moved no further towards the king. Jing Ke continued to advance toward the king, while explaining that his partner “has never set eyes on the Son of Heaven, which is why he is trembling.” Jing Ke had to present both gifts by himself. While unrolling the map, his dagger was revealed. The king drew back, stood on his feet, but struggled to draw his sword to defend himself. At the time, other palace officials were not allowed to carry weapons. Jing Ke pursued the king, attempting to stab him, but missed. Zheng drew out his sword and cut Jing Ke’s thigh. Jing Ke then threw the dagger, but missed again. Suffering eight wounds from the king’s sword, Jing Ke realized his attempt had failed and knew he would be executed. The Yan state was conquered by the Qin state five years later.

Gao Jianli was a close friend of Jing Ke, who wanted to avenge his death. As a famous lute player, one day he was summoned by Zheng to play for him. Someone in the palace who had known him in the past exclaimed, “This is Gao Jianli”. Unable to bring himself to kill such a skilled musician, the emperor ordered his eyes put out. But the king allowed Gao Jianli to play in his presence. He praised the playing and even allowed Gao Jianli to get close to him. Gao Jianli continued to plot, and had his lute fastened with a heavy piece of lead. Once when he was playing, he raised the lute and struck at the king. He missed, and his assassination attempt failed. Gao Jianli was later executed.

In 230 BCE, Zheng unleashed the final campaigns of the Warring States period, setting out to conquer the remaining independent kingdoms, one by one. The first state to fall was Hán (韓; sometimes called Hann to distinguish it from the Hàn 漢 of Han dynasty), in 230 BCE. Then Qin took advantage of natural disasters in 229 BCE to invade Zhào. Qin armies conquered the state of Zhao in 228 BCE, the northern country of Yan in 226 BCE, the small state of Wei in 225 BCE, and the largest state and greatest challenge, Chu, in 223 BCE. In 222 BCE, the last remnants of Yan and the royal family were captured in Liaodong in the northeast. The only independent country left was now the state of Qi, in the far east, what is now the Shandong peninsula. The young king of Qi sent 200,000 people to defend his western borders, but in 221 BCE Qin armies invaded from the north, captured the king, and annexed Qi.

For the first time, all Chinese lands were unified under one powerful ruler. In that same year, Zheng proclaimed himself the “First Emperor” (始皇帝, Shǐ Huángdì), no longer a king in the old sense and now far surpassing the achievements of the old Zhou Dynasty rulers. The emperor made the He Shi Bi, a famous old jade disk of considerable historical value, into the Imperial Seal, known as the “Heirloom Seal of the Realm”. The words, “Having received the Mandate from Heaven, may (the emperor) lead a long and prosperous life.” (受命於天,既壽永昌) were written by prime minister Li Si, and carved on to the seal by Sun Shou. The seal was later passed from emperor to emperor for generations to come.

In an attempt to avoid a recurrence of the political chaos of the Warring States period, Qin Shi Huang and his prime minister Li Si completely abolished feudalism. The empire was then divided into 36 commanderies (郡, Jùn), later more than 40 commanderies. The whole of China was thus divided into administrative units: first commanderies, then counties (縣, Xiàn), townships (鄉, Xiāng) and hundred-family units (里, Li, which roughly corresponds to the modern-day subdistricts and communities).

During his reign, his generals greatly expanded the size of the Chinese state: campaigns south of Chu permanently added the Yue lands of Hunan and Guangdong to the Chinese cultural orbit; campaigns in Central Asia conquered the Ordos Loop from the nomad Xiongnu, although eventually it would also lead to their confederation under Modu Chanyu. Qin Shi Huang also worked with his minister Li Si to enact major economic and political reforms aimed at the standardization of the diverse practices of the earlier Chinese states. He is traditionally said to have banned and burned many books and executed scholars, though a closer examination renders the account doubtful. His public works projects included the unification of diverse state walls into a single Great Wall of China and a massive new national road system, as well as the city-sized mausoleum guarded by the life-sized Terracotta Army http://www.bookofdaystales.com/the-terracotta-army/ . He ruled until his death in 210 BC during his fourth tour of Eastern China.

For today’s recipe I am going to give you a video on the making of biang biang noodles, a hand-pulled wide noodle, very popular in Shaanxi province central homeland of the Qin dynasty. The Chinese character for biáng is one of the more complex Chinese characters in modern usage, although the character is not found in modern dictionaries or even in the Kangxi dictionary. The character is composed of 言 (speak; 7 strokes) in the middle flanked by 幺 (tiny; 2×3 strokes) on both sides. Below it, 馬 (horse; 10 strokes) is similarly flanked by 長 (grow; 2×8 strokes). This central block itself is surrounded by 月 (moon; 4 strokes) to the left, 心 (heart; 4 strokes) below, and刂 (knife; 2 strokes) to the right. These in turn are surrounded by a second layer of characters, namely 穴 (cave; 5 strokes) on the top and 辶 (walk; 4 strokes) curving around the left and bottom. According to legend the character biáng was invented by the Qin dynasty premier Li Si which is meant to suggest that biang biang noodles were around in his day – although this is mere hearsay. It’s a good dish, though, and still popular.

Feb 172019

Today is the birthday (1781) of René-Théophile-Hyacinthe Laennec, a French physician who invented the stethoscope in 1816, while working at the Hôpital Necker, and pioneered its use in diagnosing various chest conditions. Laennec was born in Quimper in Brittany. His mother died of tuberculosis when he was five years old, and he went to live with his great-uncle the Abbé Laennec. As a child, Laennec became ill with chronic fatigue, repeated fever, and possibly asthma. At the age of 12, he went to Nantes, where his uncle, Guillaime-François Laennec, worked in the faculty of medicine at the university. He learned English and German and began his medical studies under his uncle’s direction.

His father (a lawyer) later discouraged him from continuing as a doctor and René then had a period of time where he took long walks in the country, danced, studied Greek and wrote poetry. However, in 1799 he returned to study. Laennec studied medicine at the University of Paris under several famous physicians, including Dupuytren and Jean-Nicolas Corvisart-Desmarets. There he was trained to use sound as a diagnostic aid. Corvisart advocated the re-introduction of diagnostic percussion during the French Revolution. At the time, doctors put their ears to a patient’s chest (direct auscultation) to listen for chest sounds.

In De l’Auscultation Médiate (1819) he wrote:

In 1816, I was consulted by a young woman laboring under general symptoms of diseased heart, and in whose case percussion and the application of the hand were of little avail on account of the great degree of fatness. The other method just mentioned [direct auscultation] being rendered inadmissible by the age and sex of the patient, I happened to recollect a simple and well-known fact in acoustics, the great distinctness with which we hear the scratch of a pin at one end of a piece of wood on applying our ear to the other. Immediately, on this suggestion, I rolled a quire of paper into a kind of cylinder and applied one end of it to the region of the heart and the other to my ear, and was not a little surprised and pleased to find that I could thereby perceive the action of the heart in a manner much more clear and distinct than I had ever been able to do by the immediate application of my ear.

Laennec is said to have seen schoolchildren playing with long, hollow sticks in the days leading up to his innovation. The children held their ear to one end of the stick while the opposite end was scratched with a pin, the stick transmitted and amplified the scratch. His skill as a flautist may also have inspired him. He built his first instrument as a 25 cm by 2.5 cm hollow wooden cylinder, which he later refined to comprise three detachable parts. The refined design featured a funnel-shaped cavity to augment the sound, separable from the body of the stethoscope.

His clinical work allowed him to follow chest patients from the first onset of illness to recovery or death. He was therefore able to correlate sounds captured by his new instruments with specific pathological changes in the chest, pioneering a new non-invasive diagnostic tool. Pulmonary phthisis, for example, was one ailment he could more clearly identify using his knowledge of typical and atypical chest sounds. Laennec was the first to classify and discuss the terms rales, rhonchi, crepitance, and egophony – terms that doctors now routinely use in physical exams and diagnoses. Laennec presented his findings and research on the stethoscope to the Academy of Sciences in Paris, and in 1819 he published his masterpiece, De l’auscultation médiate ou Traité du Diagnostic des Maladies des Poumon et du Coeur.

Laennec coined the phrase “mediate auscultation” (indirect listening), as opposed to the popular practice at the time of directly placing the ear on the chest (immediate auscultation). He named his instrument the stethoscope, from the Greek words στήθος [stethos] (chest), and σκοπός [skopos] (examination). The stethoscope quickly gained popularity as De l’Auscultation Médiate was translated and distributed across France, England, Italy and Germany in the early 1820s. However, not all doctors readily embraced the new stethoscope. Although the New England Journal of Medicine reported the invention of the stethoscope two years later in 1821, as late as 1885, a professor of medicine stated, “He that hath ears to hear, let him use his ears and not a stethoscope.” Even the founder of the American Heart Association, L. A. Connor (1866–1950) carried a silk handkerchief with him to place on the wall of the chest for ear auscultation.

Laennec often referred to the stethoscope as “the cylinder,” and as he neared death only a few years later, he bequeathed his own stethoscope to his nephew, referring to it as “the greatest legacy of my life.” He also worked on the understanding of peritonitis and cirrhosis. Although the disease of cirrhosis was known, Laennec gave cirrhosis its name, using the Greek word (kirrhos, tawny) that referred to the tawny, yellow nodules characteristic of the disease. He coined the term melanoma and described metastases of melanoma to the lungs. In 1804, while still a medical student, he was the first person to lecture on melanoma. This lecture was subsequently published in 1805. Laennec actually used the term ‘melanose,’ which he derived from the Greek (melan) for “black.” Over the years, there were bitter exchanges between Laennec and Dupuytren, the latter objecting that there was no mention of his work in this area and his role in its discovery.

He also studied tuberculosis. Coincidentally, his nephew, Mériadec Laennec, is said to have diagnosed tuberculosis in Laennec using Laennec’s stethoscope. Laennec wrote A Treatise on the Disease of the Chest, in which he focused on diseases of the chest such as Phthisis pulmonalis and diagnostics such as Pectoriloquy. He discussed the symptoms of Phthisis pulmonalis and what parts of the body it affects. Laennec ought to be a household name given the profound advances in medicine that the stethoscope afforded, yet I guarantee that not even medical students know it. The stethoscope is just taken for granted as a basic and essential tool.

Since Laennec was from Brittany, I can use that as an excuse to give one of my favorite Breton recipes – cotriade – a fish and potato soup. Use whole fish cut in large pieces and not fillets and use at least three different kinds of fish.



80 gm/ 3 oz butter
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 leek, chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
3 sprigs thyme
6  medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 liter cold water
salt and freshly ground pepper
1½ kg / 3 lb whole fish (monkfish, flathead, john dory, whiting), cleaned and cut into 3 cm/ 1 in pieces
12 mussels
chopped fresh parsley


Heat the butter in a large saucepan. Add the onion and stir for 2 minutes. Add the leek and garlic and stir for a further 2 minutes. Add the thyme and potatoes and stir for another minute. Cover with 1 liter of cold water, season with salt and pepper, bring to the boil and cook for 5 minutes. Add the fish pieces, reduce the heat, and simmer for about 5 minutes.

Add the mussels, cover with a lid and cook for 2-3 minutes until the mussels have opened.

Serve the cotriade in large bowls with a sprinkle of chopped parsley and crusty bread.

Feb 162019

Today is a two-fer in Lithuania. In 1270 the grand duchy of Lithuania defeated the Livonian Order in the Battle of Karuse, and in 1918 the Council of Lithuania unanimously adopted the Act of Independence, declaring Lithuania an independent state. Let’s take them in order.

The Battle of Karuse, or Battle on the Ice(not to be confused with this Battle on the Ice http://www.bookofdaystales.com/battle-on-the-ice/ ), was fought on 16th February 1270 between the grand duchy of Lithuania and the Livonian Order on the frozen Baltic Sea between the island of Muhu and the mainland. The Lithuanians achieved a decisive victory. The battle, named after the village of Karuse, was the fifth-largest defeat of the Livonian or Teutonic Orders in the 13th century. Almost all that is known about the battle comes from the Livonian Rhymed Chronicle, which devoted 192 lines to the battle. The Livonian Brothers of the Sword, a crusading military order established in 1202, set out to conquer and convert to Christianity indigenous peoples of present-day Latvia and Estonia. They subjugated the Semigallians by 1250. However, after the Livonian defeats in the 1259 battle of Skuodas and the 1260 battle of Durbe, the Semigallians rebelled. Traidenis, who became Grand Duke of Lithuania in 1269 or 1270, supported the rebellion.

In winter 1270, the Livonian Order invaded Semigalia. However, after learning that a large Lithuanian army had also invaded the region, Master Otto von Lutterberg decided to retreat to Riga. The Lithuanians marched north, reaching as far as the island of Saaremaa, which they were able to reach because the Baltic Sea was frozen. The Lithuanian army plundered the area, taking much war loot. It is unclear whether Semigallians joined the Lithuanians and participated in this campaign – contemporary sources do not mention them, but later sources such as Jüngere Hochmeisterchronik and Dionysius Fabricius always mention their participation.

Master Lutterberg gathered a large army of Livonian knights, soldiers from the Bishopric of Dorpat, the Bishopric of Ösel–Wiek, Danish Estonia, as well as local tribes of Livs and Latgalians. The Order was well-prepared for the battle: for a year it had been recruiting soldiers for an expedition into Semigalia. The Livonian army marched north to meet the Lithuanians near Saaremaa Island. The armies met on the frozen Moon Sound (probably near Virtsu) on the feast day of Juliana of Nicomedia.

The Livonian army positioned for the battle: troops from Danish Estonia, commanded by the Danish king’s viceroy Siverith, formed the right flank; Livonian knights, commanded by Master Luttenberg, formed the center; soldiers from the Bishoprics formed the left flank. The Lithuanians arranged their sleighs as a barricade. A vanguard unit likely covered construction of the improvised barricade so that the knights could not see it. When the knights attacked, Lithuanians retreated behind their sleighs and the Livonian cavalry ran into the barricade. As the horses got stuck between the sleighs, Lithuanians speared the horses and their riders. A small number of Livonian knights managed to break through the barricade and the left and right flanks joined the fighting, but that was not enough to overcome the strong Lithuanian formation. The Lithuanians achieved a decisive victory: 52 knights, including the Master Lutterberg, and around 600 low-ranking soldiers were killed while bishop Hermann of Ösel-Wiek was gravely injured and barely managed to escape. According to the Livonian Rhymed Chronicle, 1600 Lithuanians were killed, but that information is very doubtful and most likely inflated by pro-Livonian bias.

As a result of the Great Retreat during World War I, Germany occupied the entire territory of Lithuania and Courland by the end of 1915. A new administrative entity, Ober Ost, was established. Lithuanians lost all political rights they had gained: personal freedom was restricted, and at the outset the Lithuanian press was banned. However, the Lithuanian intelligentsia tried to take advantage of the existing geopolitical situation and began to look for opportunities to restore Lithuania’s independence. On 18–22 September 1917, the Vilnius Conference elected the 20-member Council of Lithuania.

The Act of Reinstating Independence of Lithuania (Lithuanian: Lietuvos Valstybės atkūrimo aktas) or Act of 16th February was signed by the Council on 16th February 1918, proclaiming the restoration of an independent state of Lithuania, governed by democratic principles, with Vilnius as its capital. The Act was signed by all twenty representatives of the Council, which was chaired by Jonas Basanavičius. The Act of 16th February was the result of a series of resolutions on the issue, including one issued by the Vilnius Conference and the Act of 8th January. The path to the Act was long and complex because the German Empire exerted pressure on the Council to form an alliance. The Council had to carefully maneuver between the Germans, whose troops were stationed in Lithuania, and the demands of the Lithuanian people.

The immediate effects of the announcement of Lithuania’s re-establishment of independence were limited. Publication of the Act was prohibited by the German authorities, and the text was distributed and printed illegally. The work of the Council was hindered, and Germans remained in control over Lithuania. The situation changed only when Germany lost World War I in late 1918. In November 1918 the first Cabinet of Lithuania was formed, and the Council of Lithuania gained control over the territory of Lithuania. Independent Lithuania, although it would soon be battling Wars of Independence, became a reality.

The 1918 Act is the legal basis for the existence of modern Lithuania, both during the interwar period and since 1990, when it was freed from Soviet control. The Act formulated the basic constitutional principles that were and still are followed by all Constitutions of Lithuania. The Act itself was a key element in the foundation of Lithuania’s re-establishment of independence in 1990. Lithuania, breaking away from the Soviet Union, stressed that it was simply re-establishing the independent state that existed between the world wars and that the Act never lost its legal power. On 29 March 2017, the original document was found at the Diplomatic archive in Berlin, Germany.

Cepelinai (lit. ‘zeppelins’; singular: cepelinas) or didžkukuliai is a traditional Lithuanian dish of stuffed potato dumplings – sometimes called the national dish of Lithuania. The dumplings are made from grated and riced potatoes and stuffed with ground meat or dry curd cheese or mushrooms. You can use your favorite ground meat combination for the recipe. You can use all ground pork or a meatloaf-style mixture of pork, beef, and veal. This dish is best served and eaten as soon as it is made. The dumplings are hard to store and are best piping hot and covered with hot gravy.



For the Meat Filling:

1 lb ground pork (or ⅓ lb pork, ⅓ lb beef, ⅓ lb veal)
1 medium onion (peeled and finely chopped)
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
1 large egg, beaten

For the Dumplings:

8 large Idaho potatoes (peeled and finely grated, not shredded)
2 large Idaho potatoes (peeled, boiled, and riced)
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 medium onion (peeled and finely grated)
1 tbsp cornstarch

For the Gravy:

½ lb bacon (diced)
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 cup sour cream
black pepper
1 to 2 tbsp milk


To make the meat filling

In a large bowl, mix together the ground meat, finely chopped onion, salt and peppero taste, and egg until well incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.

To make the dumplings

Add a drop or two of lemon juice to the grated potatoes so they don’t turn brown. Place them in a fine-mesh cheesecloth or cotton dish towel and twist over a large bowl to get rid of the excess water. Pour off the water, reserving the potato starch at the bottom of the bowl. Unwrap the cheesecloth and place the potatoes in the bowl with the reserved potato starch. Add the riced boiled potatoes, grated onion, and salt to taste. Mix well.

Put a large stockpot of water on to boil and add 1 tablespoon of cornstarch (and salt if desired). This will help prevent the dumplings falling apart.

To form the zeppelins, take about 1 cup of dumpling mixture and pat it flat in the palm of the hand. Place ¼ cup or more of the meat mixture in the center and, using slightly dampened hands, fold the potato mixture around the meat into a football shape, sealing well. Continue until both mixtures are used up.

Using a slotted spoon, carefully lower the dumplings into the boiling water and boil for 25 minutes. Remove the dumplings with a slotted spoon, drain briefly, and place on a heated platter.

To make the gravy

Make the gravy while the dumplings are boiling, so that they can be served immediately they are cooked. In a skillet over medium heat, fry the bacon until cooked and add the chopped onion in the last few minutes to soften. Drain off excess fat and add the sour cream and black pepper to taste. I necessary thin with 1 to 2 tablespoons milk. Pour some gravy over the dumplings and put the remainder in a gravy boat to pass at the table.

Feb 152019

Today is John Frum Day in Vanuatu, the day when he is supposed to return bringing cargo. The religion generally known as cargo cult centering on John Frum arose in the late 1930s, when Vanuatu was known as the New Hebrides, although there was a claim in 1949 that it had started in the 1910s. The movement was heavily influenced by existing religious practice in the Sulphur Bay area of Tanna, particularly the worship of Keraperamun, a god associated with Mount Tukosmera. In some versions of the story, a native man named Manehivi, using the alias “John Frum”, began appearing among the indigenous people of Tanna dressed in a Western-style coat and assuring the people he would bring them houses, clothes, food and transport.

Others contend that John Frum was a kava-induced spirit vision, said to be a manifestation of Keraperamun. This John Frum promised the dawn of a new age in which all white people, including missionaries, would depart the New Hebrides, leaving behind their goods and property for the indigenous Melanesians. For this to happen, however, the people of Tanna had to reject all aspects of European society including money, Western education, Christianity, and work on copra plantations, plus they had to return to traditional kastom (the Bislama language word for customs).

In 1941, followers of John Frum rid themselves of their money in a frenzy of spending, left the missionary churches, schools, villages and plantations, and moved inland to participate in traditional feasts, dances and rituals. European colonial authorities sought to suppress the movement, at one point arresting a Tannese man who was calling himself John Frum, humiliating him publicly, imprisoning and ultimately exiling him along with other leaders of the cult to another island in the archipelago.

Despite this effort, the movement gained popularity in the early 1940s, when 300,000 US troops were stationed in New Hebrides during World War II, bringing with them an enormous amount of supplies (“cargo”). After the war and the departure of the US troops, followers of John Frum built symbolic landing strips to encourage American airplanes to land and bring them “cargo”. Versions of the cult that emphasize the US connection interpret “John Frum” as a corruption of “John from (America)” (though it could mean John from anywhere), and credit the presence of African American soldiers for the idea that John Frum may be black.

In 1957, a leader of the John Frum movement, Nakomaha, created the “Tanna Army”, a non-violent, ritualistic society that organized military-style parades of men whose faces were painted ritual colors and who wore white T-shirts with the letters “T-A USA” (Tanna Army USA). This parade takes place every year on February 15th, the date on which followers believe John Frum will return, and which is observed as “John Frum Day” in Vanuatu.

In the late 1970s, John Frum followers opposed the imminent creation of an independent, united nation of Vanuatu. They objected to a centralized government they feared would favor Western modernity and Christianity that would be detrimental to local customs. However, the John Frum movement has its own political party, led by Song Keaspai. The party celebrated its 50th anniversary on February 15, 2007. Chief Isaak Wan Nikiau, its leader, was quoted by the BBC from years past as saying that John Frum was “our God, our Jesus,” and would eventually return.

I gave a recipe for lap lap, the national dish of Vanuatu, here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/independence-day-vanuatu/  Here’s another popular dish. You can cook it on the stovetop or in a casserole in the oven.

Vanuatu Banana Chicken


4 bananas, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
1 small pumpkin, peeled and cut in long strips
1 chicken
2 green onions, chopped
1½ tsp salt
1 bell pepper, cut in strips
1 can coconut milk


Put the bananas in the bottom of a saucepan (for stovetop) or casserole (for oven). Put the chicken on top of the bananas. Layer the onion, bell pepper, and pumpkin on top of the chicken and season with salt. Pour the coconut milk on top. Cover and simmer 1 hour on the stove top, or cover and bake at 350°F in the oven. Serve with plain boiled rice.

Feb 142019

Today is the birthday (1799) of Walenty Wańkowicz (Lithuanian: Valentinas Vankavičius, Belarusian: Валенты Ваньковіч). Not one of those names that springs to your lips, but I chose him because his name is a cognate of Valentine. He was a Polish painter of Belarusian origin whose paintings are better known in Slavic countries than in Western Europe.

Wańkowicz was born on the family estate near Minsk. He was brought up with Polish culture and Catholic faith, however, also with his Belarusian (Ruthenian) noble ancestry in mind. From 1811 he attended a Jesuit academy in Polotsk, where he was trained in civil and military architecture and drawing. His teacher was Jakub Pesling. Wańkowicz graduated here in 1817 with honors. In 1818 he enrolled at the University of Vilnius and studied there under Jan Rustem and Jan Damel. From 1825 to 1829 he attended the Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg. In Petersburg he made many friends among the rich and famous. One of these was the young, but already celebrated, poet Adam Mickiewicz, he portrayed him at the turn of the year 1827/1828 (Portrait of Adam Mickiewicz on the Ayu-Dag Cliff).

Around this time, he also painted portraits of the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, the pianist Maria Szymanowska as well as of the poet and satirist Antoni Gorecki (an uncle of the artist).

In the following years Wańkowicz lived near Minsk in Ślepianka Mała and in Minsk itself, where he had a studio together with Jan Damel.  From here he frequently traveled to Vilnius, whose Malszene exerted a great influence on the painters in Minsk. He painted a number of portraits including the allegorical portrait of Napoleon “Napoleon before the fire.”

In recognition of his artistic achievements, the Senate appointed him in 1832 as a member of the Academy. By the end of 1839 he began traveling. In 1840 he lived for some time in Dresden, followed by short stays in Berlin, Munich, and Strasbourg. In 1841 he reached Paris, where he remained until his death in 1842. Wańkowicz was buried in the Cimetière de Montmartre.

Zhurek is a well-loved Polish soup of Belarusian origin, much like Wańkowicz – so it seems fitting. It has kvass at its base, a beverage made from fermented rye flour or rye bread, commonly drunk throughout Slavic territories. It gives a strong sour note to the soup. You will need to begin preparations 5 days in advance.




¾ cup rye flour
2 cups water boiled and cooled to lukewarm


½ lb peeled and chopped soup vegetables (carrots, parsnips, celery root, leeks)
6 cups beef stock
½ lb fresh (white) Polish sausage biały kiełbasa
1 lb potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cups kvass
1 garlic clove crushed with ½ tsp salt to make a paste
3 large hard-cooked eggs, peeled and halved


To make the kvass

In a medium bowl, mix together the rye flour and lukewarm water. Pour into a glass jar or ceramic bowl that is large enough for the mixture to expand. Cover with cheesecloth and let stand in a warm place for 4 to 5 days. This should make 2 cups or enough for the soup. Strain through muslin and store in the refrigerator after it has fermented.

To make the soup

In a large soup pot, bring the soup vegetables and the stock to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the sausage and cook another 30 minutes. Remove the sausage from soup, slice when cool enough to handle, and set aside. Strain the stock through a sieve, pressing on the vegetables to extract as much flavor as possible. Discard the vegetables, skim the fat off the stock and return the stock to a clean soup pot.

Add the potatoes and kvass to the stock, adding salt if necessary. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer and cook until the potatoes are al dente. Add the reserved sliced cooked sausage and garlic-salt paste. Bring the soup to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender.

Serve in heated bowls with half a hard-cooked egg in each serving, and rye bread on the side.