Aug 212019
 

Today is Ninoy Aquino Day is a national non-working holiday in the Philippines observed annually, commemorating the assassination of former senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr. He was the husband of Corazon Aquino, who was later to become Philippine President. They are treated as two of the heroes of democracy in the country. His assassination led to the downfall of Ferdinand Marcos on February 25th, 1986, through the People Power Revolution. In 2004, the commemoration ceremony for the holiday was held and events were attended by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Fidel V. Ramos. Unlike other dates reserved for national heroes of the Philippines (like Bonifacio Day, Rizal Day, Araw ng Kagitingan, and National Heroes Day), the date is not a “regular holiday” (double pay for working nationals) but only a “special non-working holiday” (premium of 30% for working nationals).

Aquino was a well-known opposition figure and critic of the then-president Ferdinand Marcos. Due to his beliefs, he was later imprisoned for about eight years after martial law was declared in the country. Even in prison he sought a parliamentary seat for Metro Manila in the Interim Batasang Pambansa, under the banner of the Lakas ng Bayan (LABAN). He eventually led in the opinion polls and was initially leading the electoral count but eventually lost to the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL) slate led by First Lady Imelda Marcos.

Imelda Marcos

Aquino remained in prison but continued to fight for democracy in the country and against the oppression of the Filipino people. After suffering from a heart attack in March 1980, he and his family moved to the United States for medical treatment, eventually leading to his self-imposed exile for about three years. There, he continued his advocacy by giving speeches to the Filipino-American communities. Later, he planned to return to the islands to challenge Marcos for the parliamentary elections in 1984. Though some did not feel this was a good idea, he still did so in 1983. Upon returning to the Philippines at the Manila International Airport (now renamed Ninoy Aquino International Airport in his honor), he was shot and killed on August 21st, 1983 as he was escorted off an airplane by security personnel. This led to several protests at his funeral that sparked snap presidential elections in 1986, which led to the 1986 EDSA Revolution, catapulting his wife, Cory Aquino, to the presidency.

The holiday was created by Republic Act 9256, which was signed into law by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on February 25th, 2004, twenty-one years after his death and eighteen years after the People Power Revolution., and was sponsored by Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Jose de Venecia. A commemoration ceremony was held at the People Power Monument which was attended by presidents Arroyo and Aquino, the Aquino family, and government officials such as members of the cabinet, top police, and military brass.

The holiday was included in president Arroyo’s program of “holiday economics”, adjusting the observance of the holiday to the nearest Monday in order to boost the tourism industry with long weekends. In 2010, it was moved back to its original date by Aquino’s only son, president Benigno Aquino III.

One of my favorite Filipino dishes is papaitan, which is a tripe soup.  Remember that I am a tripe aficionado!!! I have not ever made it myself, but I have eaten various versions, both in Manila and in Filipino restaurants in New York.  Here’s a video for you:

Aug 162019
 

On this date in 1945, Indonesia formally declared its independence from Japan, and, by extension, from the Netherlands (although not a fait accompli at the time). Sukarno read the Proclamation of Indonesian Independence (Proklamasi Kemerdekaan Indonesia) at 10:00 in the morning of Friday, 17th August 1945. The wording and declaration of the proclamation had to balance the interests of conflicting internal Indonesian and Japanese interests at the time. The declaration marked the start of the diplomatic and armed resistance of the Indonesian National Revolution, fighting against the forces of the Netherlands and pro-Dutch civilians, until the latter officially acknowledged Indonesia’s independence in 1949.

Hatta

Indonesia was under colonial rule by the Dutch in some parts for 300 years. Resistance to Dutch rule was met with imprisonment and exile. The fight for independence in the 20th century included Mohammad Hatta and Sukarno, who established the Indonesian National Party in 1927, which advocated for independence from the Dutch. The invasion of Indonesia by the Japanese during the Second World War added a new dynamic to the fight for independence. The Japanese defeated the Dutch in 1942 and moved into Indonesia. There were uprisings against Japanese rule as there had been against the Dutch, because farmers and other workers were exploited by the Japanese. Furthermore the Japanese had tried to limit Islam. Nonetheless, during the war Sukarno delivered speeches saying he believed independence could be achieved with the assistance of Japan. Hatta also worked with the Japanese. Sjahrir, another figure in the nationalist movement, focused on establishing an underground support network. Many educated youths influenced by Sjahrir in Jakarta and Bandung started establishing underground support networks for plans of Indonesian independence following Japan’s defeat.

The end of the war on August 15th further expedited the process for independence. Youth leaders supported by Sjahrir hoped for a declaration of independence separate from the Japanese, which initially was not supported by Hatta and Sukarno. However with the assistance of a high ranking Japanese military officer Tadashi Maeda, the declaration of independence was drafted.

The draft was prepared only a few hours before its reading on the night of 16th August 1945,[36] by Sukarno, Hatta, and Soebardjo, at the house of rear-admiral Tadashi Maeda, 1 Miyako-dōri (都通り). The house which is located in Jakarta is now the Formulation of Proclamation Text Museum situated at Jl. Imam Bonjol No. 1. Aside from the three Indonesian leaders and Admiral Maeda, three Japanese agents were also present at the drafting: Tomegoro Yoshizumi (of the Navy Communications Office Kaigun Bukanfu (海軍武官府)); Shigetada Nishijima and Shunkichiro Miyoshi (of the Imperial Japanese Army). The original Indonesian Declaration of Independence was typed by Sayuti Melik. Maeda himself was sleeping in his room upstairs. He was agreeable to the idea of Indonesia’s independence, and had lent his house for the drafting of the declaration. Marshal Terauchi, the highest-ranking Japanese leader in South East Asia and son of former Prime Minister Terauchi Masatake, was however against Indonesia’s independence.

While the formal preparation of the declaration, and the official independence itself for that matter, had been carefully planned a few months earlier, the actual declaration date was brought forward almost inadvertently as a consequence of the Japanese unconditional surrender to the Allies on 15th August 1945. The wording of the proclamation had been discussed at length and had to balance both conflicting internal Indonesian and Japanese interests. Sukarno drafted the final proclamation which balanced the interests of both the members of the youth movement and the Japanese. The term ‘TRANSFER OF POWER’ was used in Indonesian to satisfy Japanese interests to appear that it was an administrative transfer of power, although the term used ‘pemindahan kekuasaan’ could be perceived to mean political power. The wording ‘BY CAREFUL MEANS’ related to preventing conflict with members of the youth movement. The wording ‘IN THE SHORTEST POSSIBLE TIME’ was used to meet the needs of all Indonesians for independence.

PROCLAMATION

WE THE PEOPLE OF INDONESIA HEREBY DECLARE THE INDEPENDENCE OF
INDONESIA. MATTERS WHICH CONCERN THE TRANSFER OF POWER AND
OTHER THINGS WILL BE EXECUTED BY CAREFUL MEANS AND IN THE
SHORTEST POSSIBLE TIME.

DJAKARTA, 17 AUGUST 1945

IN THE NAME OF THE PEOPLE OF INDONESIA

SOEKARNO/HATTA

Initially the proclamation was to be announced at Djakarta central square, but the military had been sent to monitor the area, so the venue was changed to Sukarno’s house at Pegangsaan Timur 56. The declaration of independence passed without a hitch. The proclamation was prevented from being broadcast on the radio to the outside world by Yamamoto and Nishimura from the Japanese military, and was also initially prevented from being reported in the newspapers. However Shigetada Nishijima and Tadashi Maeda enabled the proclamation to be dispersed via telephone and telegraph. The proclamation at 56, Jalan Pegangsaan Timur, Jakarta, was heard throughout the country because the text was secretly broadcast by Indonesian radio personnel using the transmitters of the Jakarta Broadcasting Station (ジャカルタ放送局 Jakaruta Hōsōkyoku).

The Domei news agency was used to send the text of the proclamation to reach Bandung and Jogjakarta. Members of the youth movement in Bandung facilitated broadcasts of the proclamation in Indonesian and English from radio Bandung. Furthermore the local radio system was connected with the Central Telegraph Office and it broadcast the proclamation overseas. Moreover Sukarno’s speech that he gave on the day of the proclamation was not fully published. During his speech he discussed the continued need for the independence of Indonesia from Dutch as well as Japanese rule.

I have been a fan of Indonesian (primarily Javanese) cooking for decades.  If you search this site you will find recipes for my favorites, including soto ayam and nasi goreng.  To ring the changes, here is a video of making Pia Pia, shrimp fritters that are common village and street food.

 

Aug 112019
 

Today is the birthday (1921) of Alexander Murray Palmer Haley, an African-American writer who came to prominence for his 1976 book Roots: The Saga of an American Family which ABC adapted as a television miniseries of the same name, aired in 1977 to a record-breaking audience of 130 million viewers. I knew him better for his first book, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, published in 1965, a collaboration through numerous lengthy interviews with Malcolm and published after his murder. Prior to the release of the book, Malcolm was grossly mischaracterized in the media, and I, like most of my contemporaries, had no idea about his life story. I’d say that Haley was a complex mixture of astute writer, huckster, and innocent.

Alex Haley was born in Ithaca, New York, the oldest of three brothers and a half-sister. Haley’s father was Simon Haley, a professor of agriculture at Alabama A&M University, and his mother was Bertha George Haley (née Palmer). Haley always spoke proudly of his father and the obstacles of racism he had overcome. Haley was enrolled at age 15 in Alcorn State University, a historically black college in Mississippi and, a year later, enrolled at Elizabeth City State College, also historically black, in North Carolina. The following year he returned to his father and stepmother to tell them he had withdrawn from college. His father felt that Alex needed discipline and growth, and convinced him to enlist in the military when he turned 18. On May 24, 1939, Alex Haley began what became a 20-year career in the United States Coast Guard.

Haley enlisted as a mess attendant. Later he was promoted to the rate of petty officer third-class in the rating of steward, one of the few ratings open to African Americans at that time. It was during his service in the Pacific theater of operations that Haley taught himself how to write stories. During his enlistment other sailors often paid him to write love letters to their girlfriends. He said that the greatest enemy he and his crew faced during their long voyages was not the Japanese forces but boredom. After World War II, Haley petitioned the U.S. Coast Guard to allow him to transfer into the field of journalism. By 1949 he had become a petty officer first-class in the rating of journalist. He later advanced to chief petty officer and held this rank until his retirement from the Coast Guard in 1959. He was the first chief journalist in the Coast Guard, the rating having been expressly created for him in recognition of his literary ability.

After retiring from the U.S. Coast Guard, Haley began another phase of his journalism career. He eventually became a senior editor for Reader’s Digest magazine. It was his interviews for Playboy magazine that earned him notoriety. His first elicited candid comments from jazz musician Miles Davis about his thoughts and feelings on racism that appeared in Playboy’s September 1962 issue. That interview set the tone for what became a significant feature of the magazine. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Playboy interview with Haley was the longest he ever granted to any publication.

Throughout the 1960s Haley was responsible for some of the magazine’s most notable interviews, including one with George Lincoln Rockwell, leader of the American Nazi Party. He agreed to meet with Haley only after gaining assurance from the writer that he was not Jewish. Haley remained professional during the interview, although Rockwell kept a handgun on the table throughout it. (The interview was recreated in Roots: The Next Generations, with James Earl Jones as Haley and Marlon Brando as Rockwell.) Haley also interviewed Muhammad Ali, who spoke about changing his name from Cassius Clay. Other interviews include Jack Ruby’s defense attorney Melvin Belli, entertainer Sammy Davis, Jr., football player Jim Brown, TV host Johnny Carson, and music producer Quincy Jones.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965) was Haley’s first book (although at the time he was not credited). It describes the trajectory of Malcolm’s life from street criminal to national spokesman for the Nation of Islam to his conversion to Sunni Islam. It also outlines Malcolm’s philosophy of black pride, black nationalism, and pan-Africanism. Haley wrote an epilogue to the book summarizing the end of Malcolm’s life, including his assassination in New York’s Audubon Ballroom. The book was based on more than 50 in-depth interviews he conducted with Malcolm between 1963 and his murder in February 1965 http://www.bookofdaystales.com/malcolm-x/ . The two men had first met in 1960 when Haley wrote an article about the Nation of Islam for Reader’s Digest. They met again when Haley interviewed Malcolm for Playboy.

In 1976 Haley published Roots: The Saga of an American Family, a novel based on his family’s history, going back to slavery days. It started with the story of Kunta Kinte, who was kidnapped in the Gambia in 1767 and transported to the Province of Maryland to be sold as a slave. Haley claimed to be a seventh-generation descendant of Kunta Kinte, and his work on the novel involved twelve years of research, intercontinental travel, and writing. He went to the village of Juffure, where Kunta Kinte grew up and listened to a tribal historian (griot) tell the story of Kinte’s capture. Haley also traced the records of the ship, The Lord Ligonier, which he said carried his ancestor to the Americas.  Unfortunately, large sections of Roots were plagiarized, and the research is sketchy – at best.

Roots faced two lawsuits that charged plagiarism and copyright infringement. The lawsuit brought by Margaret Walker was dismissed, but Harold Courlander’s suit was successful. Courlander’s novel The African describes an African boy who is captured by slave traders, follows him across the Atlantic on a slave ship, and describes his attempts to hold on to his African traditions on a plantation in America. Haley admitted that some passages from The African had made it into Roots, settling the case out of court in 1978 and paying Courlander $650,000.

Genealogists have also disputed Haley’s research and conclusions in Roots. The Gambian griot turned out not to be a real griot, and the story of Kunta Kinte appears to have been a case of circular reporting, in which Haley’s own words were repeated back to him. None of the written records in Virginia and North Carolina line up with the Roots story until after the Civil War. Some elements of Haley’s family story can be found in the written records, but the genealogy going back to Africa is entirely unverified.

Although Roots has only a passing resemblance to actual history, it did trigger an interest in genealogical research in the African-American community, and The Autobiography of Malcolm X turned the spotlight on the many ways in which the African-American community hurt itself – especially when it came to diet.  The Nation of Islam owned restaurants that followed some of the tenets of Halal cooking – including a prohibition against eating pork – and advocated a healthier diet than the proverbial soul food.  Bean pie was a much loved favorite. This recipe makes two pies.

Bean Pie Recipe

Ingredients

2 cups cooked navy beans (cooked)
1 stick butter
1 14-oz. can evaporated milk
4 eggs
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp flour
2 cups sugar
2 tbsp vanilla

2 pie shells

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Place the beans, butter, milk, eggs, nutmeg, cinnamon, and flour in a food processor and process on medium speed for 2 minutes. Mix in the sugar and vanilla and stir well.

Pour the mix into pie shells and bake for around an hour until golden brown. Check the filling periodically with a toothpick inserted into the center.

 

Aug 102019
 

On this date in 1793 the Louvre Museum (Musée du Louvre) in Paris, brainchild of the French Revolution, opened to the public. Nowadays it is the world’s largest art museum. The Louvre is a central landmark of the city, located on the Right Bank of the Seine in the city’s 1st arrondissement. Approximately 38,000 objects from prehistory to the 21st century are exhibited over an area of 72,735 square meters (782,910 square feet). In 2018, the Louvre was the world’s most visited art museum, receiving 10.2 million visitors.

The museum is housed in the Louvre Palace, originally built as the Louvre castle in the late 12th to 13th century under Philip II. Remnants of the fortress are visible in the basement of the museum. Due to urban expansion, the fortress eventually lost its defensive function, and in 1546 Francis I converted it into the main residence of the French Kings. The building was extended many times to form the present Louvre Palace. In 1682, Louis XIV chose the Palace of Versailles for his household, leaving the Louvre primarily as a place to display the royal collection, including, from 1692, ancient Greek and Roman sculpture. In 1692, the building was occupied by the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres and the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, which in 1699 held the first of a series of salons. The latter Académie remained at the Louvre for 100 years. During the French Revolution, the National Assembly decreed that the Louvre should be used as a museum to display the nation’s masterpieces.

When the museum opened on 10th August 1793 it showed an exhibition of 537 paintings, the majority of the works being royal and confiscated church property. Because of structural problems with the building, the museum was closed in 1796 until 1801. The collection was increased under Napoleon and the museum was renamed Musée Napoléon, but after Napoleon’s abdication in 1814 many works seized by his armies were returned to their original owners. The collection was further increased during the reigns of Louis XVIII and Charles X, and during the Second French Empire the museum gained 20,000 pieces. Holdings have grown steadily through donations and bequests since the Third Republic. The collection is divided among eight curatorial departments: Egyptian Antiquities; Near Eastern Antiquities; Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities; Islamic Art; Sculpture; Decorative Arts; Paintings; Prints and Drawings.

My son and I spent a week in Paris 14 years ago (when he was 14), and we spent a good part of every day at the Louvre. He got in free because he was an EU citizen under 18, but I had to pay.  It was worth it. First day we just wandered hither and yon, unable to take in its vastness.  We made the obligatory stop to see the Mona Lisa, taking 25 minutes to get close to the front so that we could see it (it’s small). The fact that this one painting out of the tens of thousands on display was crushed with humanity was depressing. Apparently, it’s common knowledge that the Mona Lisa is “the best painting in the world.” Absurd!!!  All you have to do is walk up a few stairs to the next floor and you find yourself in gallery after gallery wallpapered with priceless masterpieces – virtually deserted.

On that first day, we got lost and by accident stumbled into a display of Greek and Roman bronzes when we were trying to find the exit to get some lunch. Next day we made a beeline for that display and he was enchanted.  After that, we selected a wing per day, but barely scratched the surface, even so.  If you spent just one minute in front of each piece in the permanent collection – not allowing time for movement between rooms, and staying 24 hours per day – it would take a month to see everything. Meanwhile you would have no time to eat, sleep, or go to the toilet. It is vast.  I can understand why people return again and again and again – more than I can fathom why people return to Disney World.

There are several cakes called Louvre Cake although they do not have much of a connexion with the Louvre itself.  They are variations on a theme (lots of chocolate), and are all both sumptuous and appetizing.  As befits a place noted for its images, I will give you a small gallery to drool over.  Recipes are extra.

 

Aug 072019
 

On this date in 1947, the Kon-Tiki expedition came to a successful (of sorts) conclusion when it struck a reef at Raroia in the Tuamotus. The Kon-Tiki expedition was a journey by raft across the Pacific Ocean from South America to the Polynesian islands, led by Norwegian explorer and writer Thor Heyerdahl. The raft was named Kon-Tiki after the Inca sun god, Viracocha, for whom “Kon-Tiki” was said to be an old name. Kon-Tiki is also the name of Heyerdahl’s book, the Academy Award-winning documentary film chronicling his adventures, and the 2012 dramatized feature film nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Heyerdahl believed that people from South America could have settled Polynesia in pre-Columbian times. His aim in mounting the Kon-Tiki expedition was to show, by using only the materials and technologies available to those people at the time, that there were no technical reasons to prevent them from having done so. Although the expedition carried some modern equipment, such as a radio, watches, charts, sextant, and metal knives, Heyerdahl argued they were incidental to the purpose of proving that the raft itself could make the journey.

The Kon-Tiki expedition was funded by private loans, along with donations of equipment from the United States Army. Heyerdahl and a small team went to Peru, where, with the help of dockyard facilities provided by the Peruvian authorities, they constructed the raft out of balsa logs and other native materials in an indigenous style as recorded in illustrations by Spanish conquistadores. The trip began on April 28, 1947. Heyerdahl and five companions sailed the raft for 101 days over 6,900 km (4,300 miles) across the Pacific Ocean before landing on the reef at Raroia. The crew disembarked safely with the assistance of local Polynesians and all returned safely to Europe. For Heyerdahl this was just the beginning.

Thor Heyerdahl’s book about his experience became a bestseller. It was published in Norwegian in 1948, and appeared with great success in English in 1950, as well as in many other languages. You can read more about the Kon-Tiki expedition in Heyerdahl’s work or here in a previous post http://www.bookofdaystales.com/thor-heyerdahl/   In that post I explored the basic weaknesses in Heyerdahl’s hypothesis that Polynesians are descended from ancient peoples from the Americas. I probably do not need to point out that demonstrating that seafarers from the Americas could have made the journey to Polynesia, in no way proves that they did make the journey.

I suppose if you have Norse heritage and your name is Thor, you are on track to being a seafaring adventurer, and the Kon-Tiki expedition was certainly a daring adventure.  But Heyerdahl was drawing conclusions from faulty premises, whereas the prevailing hypotheses of his day — which he opposed — have proven correct. He made the common error of assuming that the existence of cultural similarities in two different regions implies actual contact between the regions, whereas it is equally likely that the similarities are the result of independent invention. Archeological and linguistic evidence strongly supports the belief that Polynesians migrated from SE Asia, and in more recent times this hypothesis has been confirmed by DNA tests. But . . . I should point out that contemporary Polynesians do have small percentages of Native American DNA that is not accounted for by post-Columbian migration. That is, it is (minimally) theoretically possible that a small group of Native Americans in prehistory managed to travel to Polynesia where they met and interbred with Polynesians from Asia. It is more likely that the test samples were contaminated in some fashion, or misinterpreted.

To celebrate Heyerdahl I printed a Norwegian recipe, but for Kon-Tiki something Polynesian is warranted.  Here’s a video about traditional methods of cooking taro with coconut:

May 082019
 

Today is the birthday of actor Sid James (1913) who was born Solomon Joel Cohen in South Africa, later changing his name to Sidney Joel Cohen, and then Sidney James. His family lived on Hancock Street in Hillbrow, Johannesburg. Upon moving to the UK later in life, he claimed various previous occupations, including diamond cutter, dance tutor and boxer. In reality, he had trained and worked as a hairdresser. It was at a hairdressing salon in Kroonstad, Orange Free State, that he met his first wife. He married Berthe Sadie Delmont, known as Toots, on 12th August 1936 and they had a daughter, Elizabeth, born in 1937. His father-in-law, Joseph Delmont, a Johannesburg businessman, bought a hairdressing salon for James, but within a year he announced that he wanted to become an actor and joined the Johannesburg Repertory Players. Through this group, he gained work with the South African Broadcasting Corporation. Toots divorced him in 1940.

During the Second World War, he served as a lieutenant in an entertainment unit of the South African Army, and subsequently took up acting as a career. He moved to Britain immediately after the war, financed by his service gratuity. Initially, he worked in repertory before being spotted for the nascent British post-war film industry.

James made his first credited film appearances in Night Beat and Black Memory (1947), both crime dramas. He played the alcoholic hero’s barman in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Small Back Room (1949). His first major comedy role was in The Lavender Hill Mob (1951): with Alfie Bass, he made up the bullion robbery gang headed by Alec Guinness and Stanley Holloway.

In the same year, he also appeared in Lady Godiva Rides Again and The Galloping Major. In 1953, he appeared as Harry Hawkins in The Titfield Thunderbolt, and also had a major, starring role in The Wedding of Lilli Marlene. In 1956, he appeared in Trapeze (1956) as Harry the snake charmer, a circus film which was one of the most successful films of its year, and he played Master Henry in “Outlaw Money”, an episode of The Adventures of Robin Hood. He also had a supporting part as a TV advertisement producer in Charlie Chaplin’s A King in New York, a non-comic supporting role as a journalist in the science-fiction film Quatermass 2, and he performed in Hell Drivers (all 1957), a film with Stanley Baker. The next year, James starred with Miriam Karlin in East End, West End by Wolf Mankowitz, a half-hour comedy series for the ITV company Associated Rediffusion. Set within the Jewish community of London’s East End, the series of six episodes was transmitted in February and March 1958, but plans for further episodes were abandoned after a disappointing response. For a while though, it had looked as if his commitment elsewhere might end his work with Tony Hancock, one of the most popular television comedians of the time.

In 1954, he had begun working with Tony Hancock in his BBC Radio series Hancock’s Half Hour. Having seen him in The Lavender Hill Mob, it was the idea of Hancock’s writers, Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, to cast James. He played a character with his own name (but having the invented middle name Balmoral) who was a petty criminal and would usually manage to con Hancock in some way, although the character eventually ceased to be Hancock’s adversary. With the exception of James, the other regular cast members of the radio series were dropped when the series made the transition to television. His part in the show now greatly increased and many viewers came to think of Hancock and James as a double act.

Feeling the format had become exhausted, Hancock decided to end his professional relationship with James at the end of the sixth television series in 1960. Although the two men remained friends, James was upset at Hancock’s decision. The experience led to a shift away from the kind of roles for which he had become best known. He remained the lovable rogue but was keen to steer clear of criminal characters – in 1960 he turned down the part of Fagin in the original West End staging of Oliver! for that very reason.[10] Galton and Simpson continued to write for both James and Hancock for a while, and the Sidney Balmoral James character resurfaced in the Citizen James (1960–1962) series. Sid James was now consistently taking the lead role in his television work.

James became a leading member of the Carry On films team, originally to replace Ted Ray, who had appeared in Carry On Teacher (1959). It had been intended that Ray would become a recurring presence in the Carry On series, but he was dropped after just one film because of contractual problems. James ultimately made 19 Carry On films, receiving top-billing in 17, making him one of the most featured performers of the regular cast. The characters he portrayed in the films were usually very similar to the wise-cracking, sly, lecherous Cockney he was famed for playing on television, and in most cases they bore the name Sid or Sidney. His trademark “dirty laugh” was often used and became, along with a world-weary “Cor, blimey!”, his catchphrase.

In 1967, James was intending to play Sergeant Nocker in Follow That Camel, but was already committed to recording the TV series George and the Dragon (1966–1968) for ATV, then one of the ITV contractors. James was replaced in Follow That Camel by Phil Silvers. On 13th May 1967, two weeks after the filming began of what eventually became an entry in the Carry On series, James suffered a severe heart attack. In the same year in Carry On Doctor, James was shown mainly lying in a hospital bed, owing to his real-life health problems. After his heart attack, James gave up his heavy cigarette habit and instead smoked a pipe or an occasional cigar; he lost weight, ate only one main meal a day, and limited himself to two or three alcoholic drinks per evening. Meanwhile, his success in TV situation comedy continued with the series Two in Clover (1969–70), and Bless This House (1971–1976) as Sid Abbott, a successful enough series in its day to spawn its own film version in 1972.

On 26th April 1976, while on a revival tour of The Mating Season, a 1969 farce by the Northern Irish playwright Sam Cree, James suffered a heart attack on stage at the Sunderland Empire Theatre. Actress Olga Lowe thought that he was playing a practical joke at first when he failed to reply to her dialogue. When he failed to reply to her ad libs, she moved towards the wings to seek help. The technical manager, Melvyn James, called for the curtain to close and requested a doctor, while the audience – who were unaware of what was happening – laughed, believing the events to be part of the show. He was taken to hospital by ambulance, but was pronounced dead. He was 62.

Here are some clips of Sid James in roles that are not the stereotypic Cockney con man:

I wouldn’t call him a great actor, but he did have a certain range and a certain naturalness when playing ordinary people.

The East End of London is noted for its pie and eel shops. I’ve already mentioned traditional London pie and mash, so here’s a video on jellied eels.

May 062019
 

On this date in 1935, FDR issued executive order 7034, establishing the Works Progress Administration. The WPA superseded the work of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, which was dissolved. Direct relief assistance was permanently replaced by a national work relief program—a major public works program directed by the WPA.

The WPA was largely shaped by Harry Hopkins, supervisor of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration and close adviser to Roosevelt. Both Roosevelt and Hopkins believed that the route to economic recovery and the lessened importance of the dole would be in employment programs such as the WPA. Hallie Flanagan, national director of the Federal Theatre Project, wrote that “for the first time in the relief experiments of this country the preservation of the skill of the worker, and hence the preservation of his self-respect, became important.”

The WPA was organized into the following divisions:

The Division of Engineering and Construction, which planned and supervised construction projects including airports, dams, highways and sanitation systems.

The Division of Professional and Service Projects (called the Division of Women’s and Professional Projects in 1937), which was responsible for white-collar projects including education programs, recreation programs, and the arts projects. It was later named the Division of Community Service Programs and the Service Division.

The Division of Finance.

The Division of Information.

The Division of Investigation, which succeeded a comparable division at FERA and investigated fraud, misappropriation of funds and disloyalty.

The Division of Statistics, also known as the Division of Social Research.

The Project Control Division, which processed project applications.

Other divisions including the Employment, Management, Safety, Supply, and Training and Reemployment.

The goal of the WPA was to employ most of the unemployed people on relief until the economy recovered. Harry Hopkins testified to Congress in January 1935 why he set the number at 3.5 million, using Federal Emergency Relief Administration data. Estimating costs at $1,200 per worker per year ($21.9 thousand in present-day terms), he asked for and received $4 billion ($73.1 billion in present-day terms). In 1935 there were 20 million people on relief in the United States. Of these, 8.3 million were children under 16 years of age; 3.8 million were persons between the ages of 16 and 65 who were not working or seeking work. These included housewives, students in school, and incapacitated persons. Another 750,000 were persons aged 65 or over. Thus, of the total of 20 million persons then receiving relief, 13 million were not considered eligible for employment. This left a total of 7 million presumably employable persons between the ages of 16 and 65 inclusive. Of these, however, 1.65 million were farm operators or persons who had some non-relief employment, while another 350,000 were, despite the fact that they were already employed or seeking work, considered incapacitated. Deducting this 2 million from the total of 7.15 million, there remained 5.15 million persons age 16 to 65, unemployed, looking for work, and able to work.

Because of the assumption that only one worker per family would be permitted to work under the proposed program, this total of 5.15 million was further reduced by 1.6 million—the estimated number of workers who were members of families with two or more employable people. Thus, there remained a net total of 3.55 million workers in as many households for whom jobs were to be provided.

The WPA reached its peak employment of 3,334,594 people in November 1938. To be eligible for WPA employment, an individual had to be a US citizen, 18 or older, able-bodied, unemployed, and certified as in need by a local public relief agency approved by the WPA. The WPA Division of Employment selected the worker’s placement to WPA projects based on previous experience or training. Worker pay was based on three factors: the region of the country, the degree of urbanization, and the individual’s skill. It varied from $19 per month to $94 per month, with the average wage being about $52.50—$934 in present-day terms. The goal was to pay the local prevailing wage, but limit the hours of work to 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week; the stated minimum being 30 hours a week, or 120 hours a month.

WPA projects were administered by the Division of Engineering and Construction and the Division of Professional and Service Projects. Most projects were initiated, planned and sponsored by states, counties or cities. Nationwide projects were sponsored until 1939. The WPA built traditional infrastructure of the New Deal such as roads, bridges, schools, libraries, courthouses, hospitals, sidewalks, waterworks, and post-offices, but also constructed museums, swimming pools, parks, community centers, playgrounds, coliseums, markets, fairgrounds, tennis courts, zoos, botanical gardens, auditoriums, waterfronts, city halls, gyms, and university unions. Most of these are still in use today. The amount of infrastructure projects of the WPA included 40,000 new and 85,000 improved buildings. These new buildings included 5,900 new schools; 9,300 new auditoriums, gyms, and recreational buildings; 1,000 new libraries; 7,000 new dormitories; and 900 new armories. In addition, infrastructure projects included 2,302 stadiums, grandstands, and bleachers; 52 fairgrounds and rodeo grounds; 1,686 parks covering 75,152 acres; 3,185 playgrounds; 3,026 athletic fields; 805 swimming pools; 1,817 handball courts; 10,070 tennis courts; 2,261 horseshoe pits; 1,101 ice-skating areas; 138 outdoor theatres; 254 golf courses; and 65 ski jumps. Total expenditures on WPA projects through June 1941 totaled approximately $11.4 billion—the equivalent of $194 billion today. Over $4 billion was spent on highway, road, and street projects; more than $1 billion on public buildings, including the iconic Dock Street Theatre in Charleston, the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, and Timberline Lodge in Oregon’s Mount Hood National Forest.

More than $1 billion—$17 billion today—was spent on publicly owned or operated utilities; and another $1 billion on welfare projects, including sewing projects for women, the distribution of surplus commodities, and school lunch projects. One construction project was the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut, the bridges of which were each designed as architecturally unique. In its eight-year run, the WPA built 325 firehouses and renovated 2,384 of them across the United States. The 20,000 miles of water mains, installed by their hand as well, contributed to increased fire protection across the country.

The direct focus of the WPA projects changed with need. In 1935 priority projects were to improve infrastructure; roads, extension of electricity to rural areas, water conservation, sanitation and flood control. In 1936, as outlined in that year’s Emergency Relief Appropriations Act, public facilities became a focus; parks and associated facilities, public buildings, utilities, airports, and transportation projects were funded. The following year, saw the introduction of agricultural improvements, such as the production of marl fertilizer and the eradication of fungus pests. As the Second World War approached, and then eventually began, WPA projects became increasingly defense related.

One project of the WPA was funding state-level library service demonstration projects, to create new areas of library service to underserved populations and to extend rural service.[29] Another project was the Household Service Demonstration Project, which trained 30,000 women for domestic employment. South Carolina had one of the larger statewide library service demonstration projects. At the end of the project in 1943, South Carolina had twelve publicly funded county libraries, one regional library, and a funded state library agency.

A significant aspect of the Works Progress Administration was the Federal Project Number One, which had five different parts: the Federal Art Project, the Federal Music Project, the Federal Theatre Project, the Federal Writers’ Project, and the Historical Records Survey. The government wanted to provide new federal cultural support instead of just providing direct grants to private institutions. After only one year, over 40,000 artists and other talented workers had been employed through this project in the United States. Cedric Larson stated that “The impact made by the five major cultural projects of the WPA upon the national consciousness is probably greater in toto than anyone readily realizes. As channels of communication between the administration and the country at large, both directly and indirectly, the importance of these projects cannot be overestimated, for they all carry a tremendous appeal to the eye, the ear, or the intellect—or all three.”

One of the documentary projects of the WPA was called America Eats – recording regional recipes orally and in photographs.  Most of the files, which are housed in the Library of Congress, have never been published, although many are seeing the light of day. Here’s one from Mississippi:

Blackberry Dumpling

This dish is not made with pie crust but with ordinary biscuit dough, made just a trifle shorter than usual. Roll the dough out a little thinner than for biscuit, on a well-floured cloth. Cover the top of the dough with a thick layer of fresh, ripe blackberries. Roll the dough and berries up and tie the whole in the cloth on which it was rolled. Put the whole thing in a pot of briskly boiling water. Bring it back to boiling point as quickly as possible and then cook steadily until done. While the dumplings boil, make a sweet sauce as follows: Take 1 1/2 cups of top milk, one cupful of sugar, 1/4 cup of butter. Cook together thoroughly and flavor by putting in sprigs and leaves of mint, which have been bruised. Remove the mint leaves before serving the sauce, which should be served hot on slices of the boiled dumplings.

May 052019
 

Tango no Sekku (端午の節句), also known as Ayame no hi (Iris festival), is one of the five annual ceremonies that were traditionally held at the Japanese imperial court called Gosekku. It is the Japanese version of Double Fifth (5-5) and was celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth moon in the lunar calendar or Chinese calendar. After Japan switched to the Gregorian calendar, the date was moved to May 5th. The festival is still celebrated in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau as the Duanwu Festival or Tuen Ng Festival (Cantonese), in Korea as the Dano Festival, and Vietnam as the Tết Đoan Ngọ on the traditional lunar calendar date.

Tan (端) means “beginning” and go (午) is a simplified form of ⾺ (horse), referring to the Chinese zodiac name for the fifth lunar month. Days of the week also have zodiac animals. Thus, tango originally meant “the first horse day of the fifth month”. However, go is a homonym for 五 (five) in Japanese, so during the Nara period the meaning shifted to become the fifth day of the fifth month. Sekku means a seasonal festival involving doubles of date and month. There are five sekku, including O-Shogatsu (January 1), Hina Matsuri (March 3), Tanabata (July 7) and Kiku Matsuri (September 9th) along with Tango. Tango no Sekku marks the beginning of summer or the rainy season.

Although it is not known precisely when this day started to be celebrated, it was probably during the reign of the empress Suiko (593BCE –628 CE). In Japan, Tango no Sekku was assigned to the fifth day of the fifth month after the Nara period (8th century CE).

Until recently, Tango no Sekku was known as Boys’ Day (also known as Feast of Banners) while Girls’ Day (Hinamatsuri) was celebrated on March 3. In 1948, the government decreed this day to be a national holiday to celebrate the happiness of all children and to express gratitude toward mothers. It was renamed Kodomo no Hi (Children’s Day) and changed to include both boys and girls. Before this day, families raise the carp-shaped koinobori flags (carp because of the Chinese legend that a carp that swims upstream becomes a dragon, and the way the flags blow in the wind looks like they are swimming). Displays include a flag for each boy (or child), a Kintarō doll usually riding on a large carp, and the traditional Japanese military helmet, kabuto. Kintarō and the kabuto are symbols of a strong and healthy boy.

Kintarō (金太郎) is the childhood name of Sakata no Kintoki who was a hero in the Heian period, a subordinate samurai of Minamoto no Raikou, having been famous for his strength when he was a child. It is said that Kintarō rode a bear, instead of a horse, and played with animals in the mountains when he was a young boy.

Mochi rice cakes wrapped in kashiwa (oak) leaves—kashiwa-mochi (mochi filled with red bean jam) and chimaki (a kind of “sweet rice paste”, wrapped in an iris or bamboo leaf)—are traditionally served on this day. The pounding process of making mochi originates from China, where glutinous rice has been grown and used for thousands of years. According to folklore, the first mochitsuki ceremony occurred after the Kami are said to have descended to Earth, which was following the birth of rice cultivation in Yamato during the Yayoi period (300 BCE – 300 CE). Red rice was the original variation used in the production of mochi. At this time, it was eaten exclusively by the emperor and nobles due to its status as an omen of good fortune. During the Japanese Heian period (794–1192), mochi was used as a “food for the gods” and in religious offerings in Shinto rituals performed by aristocrats. In addition to general good fortune, mochi was also known as a talisman for happy marriages. Here is a modern video of the pounding process as well as making of various styles of mochi:

 

May 042019
 

The Haymarket Affair (also known as the Haymarket Massacre, Haymarket Riot, or Haymarket Square Riot) was the aftermath of a bombing that took place at a labor demonstration on May 4, 1886 at Haymarket Square in Chicago. These events contributed to May 1st becoming a significant celebration of organized labor worldwide, but with caveats.  As faithful readers of this blog know, I do not blindly accept simple speculations about the origins of traditions, even if they seem plausible, unless I have solid documentary evidence.  The Haymarket Affair was a contributing factor, but May 1st was entangled in labor celebrations before 1886, and the events of 1886 added to the significance of the date rather than originating it.

In October 1884, a convention held by the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions unanimously set May 1st, 1886, as the date by which the eight-hour work day would become standard or there would be reprisals. As the chosen date approached, U.S. labor unions prepared for a general strike in support of the eight-hour day. On Saturday, May 1st, thousands of workers went on strike and rallies were held throughout the United States, with the cry, “Eight-hour day with no cut in pay.” Estimates of the number of striking workers across the U.S. range from 300,000 to half a million. In New York City, the number of demonstrators was estimated at 10,000 and in Detroit at 11,000. In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, abou 10,000 workers turned out. In Chicago, the movement’s center, an estimated 30,000-to-40,000 workers had gone on strike and there were perhaps twice as many people out on the streets participating in various demonstrations and marches, as, for example, a march by 10,000 men employed in the Chicago lumber yards. Though participants in these events added up to 80,000, it is disputed whether there was a march of that number down Michigan Avenue led by anarchist Albert Parsons, founder of the International Working People’s Association [IWPA], his wife Lucy Parsons and their children.

On May 3rd, striking workers in Chicago met near the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company plant. Union molders at the plant had been locked out since early February and the predominantly Irish-American workers at McCormick had come under attack from Pinkerton guards during an earlier strike action in 1885. This event, along with the eight-hour militancy of McCormick workers, had gained the strikers some respect and notoriety around the city. By the time of the 1886 general strike, strikebreakers entering the McCormick plant were under protection from a garrison of 400 police officers. Although half of the replacement workers defected to the general strike on May 1st, McCormick workers continued to harass strikebreakers as they crossed the picket lines.

Speaking to a rally outside the plant on May 3, August Spies advised the striking workers to “hold together, to stand by their union, or they would not succeed.” The general strike to this point had remained largely nonviolent. When the end-of-the-workday bell sounded, however, a group of workers surged to the gates to confront the strikebreakers. Despite calls for calm by Spies, the police fired on the crowd. Two McCormick workers were killed (although some newspaper accounts said there were six fatalities). Spies later testified, “I was very indignant. I knew from experience of the past that this butchering of people was done for the express purpose of defeating the eight-hour movement.”

Outraged by this act of police violence, local anarchists quickly printed and distributed fliers calling for a rally the following day at Haymarket Square (also called the Haymarket), which was then a bustling commercial center near the corner of Randolph Street and Desplaines Street. Printed in German and English, the fliers claimed that the police had murdered the strikers on behalf of business interests and urged workers to seek justice. The first batch of fliers contain the words Workingmen Arm Yourselves and Appear in Full Force! When Spies saw the line, he said he would not speak at the rally unless the words were removed from the flier. All but a few hundred of the fliers were destroyed, and new fliers were printed without the offending words. More than 20,000 copies of the revised flier were distributed.

The rally began peacefully under a light rain on the evening of May 4th.   August Spies, Albert Parsons, and Samuel Fielden spoke to a crowd estimated variously between 600 and 3,000 while standing in an open wagon adjacent to the square on Des Plaines Street. A large number of on-duty police officers watched from nearby. Following Spies’ speech, Parsons, the Alabama-born editor of the radical English-language weekly The Alarm spoke. The crowd was so calm that mayor Carter Harrison Sr., who had stopped by to watch, walked home early. Parsons spoke for almost an hour before standing down in favor of the last speaker of the evening, the British socialist Samuel Fielden, who delivered a brief ten-minute address. Many of the crowd had already left as the weather was deteriorating. At about 10:30 pm, just as Fielden was finishing his speech, police arrived en masse, marching in formation towards the speakers’ wagon, and ordered the rally to disperse. Fielden insisted that the meeting was peaceful. Police Inspector John Bonfield proclaimed:

 I command you [addressing the speaker] in the name of the law to desist and you [addressing the crowd] to disperse.

A home-made bomb with a brittle metal casing filled with dynamite and ignited by a fuse was thrown into the path of the advancing police. Its fuse briefly sputtered, and then the bomb exploded, killing policeman Mathias J. Degan with flying metal fragments and mortally wounding six other officers.

Witnesses maintained that immediately after the bomb blast there was an exchange of gunshots between police and demonstrators. Accounts vary widely as to who fired first and whether any of the crowd fired at the police. Some historians maintain that the police fired on the fleeing demonstrators, reloaded and then fired again, killing four and wounding as many as 70 people. What is not disputed is that in less than five minutes the square was empty except for the casualties. According to the May 4th New York Times, demonstrators began firing at the police, who then returned fire. In his report on the incident, Inspector Bonfield wrote that he “gave the order to cease firing, fearing that some of our men, in the darkness might fire into each other”. An anonymous police official told the Chicago Tribune, “A very large number of the police were wounded by each other’s revolvers. … It was every man for himself, and while some got two or three squares away, the rest emptied their revolvers, mainly into each other.”

In all, seven policemen and at least four workers were killed. Another policeman died two years after the incident from complications related to injuries received on that day. About 60 policemen were wounded in the incident. The Chicago Herald described a scene of “wild carnage” and estimated at least fifty dead or wounded civilians lay in the streets. It is unclear how many civilians were wounded since many were afraid to seek medical attention, fearing arrest. They found aid where they could.

A harsh anti-union clampdown followed the Haymarket incident. There was a massive outpouring of community and business support for the police and many thousands of dollars were donated to funds for their medical care and to assist their efforts. The entire labor and immigrant community, particularly Germans and Bohemians, came under suspicion. Police raids were carried out on homes and offices of suspected anarchists. Dozens of suspects, many only remotely related to the Haymarket affair, were arrested. Casting legal requirements such as search warrants aside, Chicago police squads subjected the labor activists of Chicago to an eight-week shakedown, ransacking their meeting halls and places of business. The emphasis was on the speakers at the Haymarket rally and the newspaper Arbeiter-Zeitung. A small group of anarchists was discovered to have been engaged in making bombs on the same day as the incident, including round ones like the one used in Haymarket Square.

Newspaper reports declared that anarchist agitators were to blame for the “riot”, a view adopted by an alarmed public. As time passed, press reports and illustrations of the incident became more elaborate. Coverage was national, then international. Among property owners, the press, and other elements of society, a consensus developed that suppression of anarchist agitation was necessary while for their part, union organizations such as The Knights of Labor and craft unions were quick to disassociate themselves from the anarchist movement and to repudiate violent tactics as self-defeating. Many workers, on the other hand, believed that men of the Pinkerton agency were responsible because of the agency’s tactic of secretly infiltrating labor groups and its sometimes violent methods of strike breaking.

The police assumed that an anarchist had thrown the bomb as part of a planned conspiracy; their problem was how to prove it. On the morning of May 5th, they raided the offices of the Arbeiter-Zeitung, arresting its editor August Spies, and his brother (who was not charged). Also arrested were editorial assistant Michael Schwab and Adolph Fischer, a typesetter. A search of the premises resulted in the discovery of the Revenge Poster and other “evidence” considered incriminating by the prosecution.

Rudolf Schnaubelt, the police’s lead suspect as the bomb thrower, was arrested twice early on and released. By May 14, when it became apparent he had played a significant role in the event, (in fact, probably had thrown the bomb), he had fled the country. William Seliger, who had turned state’s evidence and testified for the prosecution, was not charged. On June 4th, 1886, seven other suspects, however, were indicted by the grand jury and stood trial for being accessories to the murder of Degan. Of these, only two had been present when the bomb exploded. Newspaper editor August Spies and Samuel Fielden had spoken at the peaceful rally and were stepping down from the speaker’s wagon in compliance with police orders to disperse just before the bomb went off. Two others had been present at the beginning of the rally but had left and were at Zepf’s Hall, an anarchist rendezvous, at the time of the explosion. They were: Arbeiter-Zeitung typesetter Adolph Fischer and the well-known activist Albert Parsons, who had spoken for an hour at the Haymarket rally before going to Zepf’s. Parsons, who believed that the evidence against them all was weak, subsequently voluntarily turned himself in, in solidarity with the accused. A third man, Spies’s assistant editor Michael Schwab (who was the brother-in-law of Schnaubelt) was arrested since he was speaking at another rally at the time of the bombing (he was also later pardoned). Not directly tied to the Haymarket rally, but arrested because they were notorious for their militant radicalism were George Engel (who was at home playing cards on that day), and Louis Lingg, a hot-tempered bomb maker denounced by his associate, Seliger. Another defendant who had not been present that day was Oscar Neebe, an American-born citizen of German descent who was associated with the Arbeiter-Zeitung and had attempted to revive it in the aftermath of the Haymarket riot.

In the trial that followed, all eight defendants were found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder, even though many were not present at the time of the riot, and all those present were accounted for and clearly not involved in the subsequent violence. All but Neebe were condemned to death. The governor of Illinois commuted 2 of the sentences. Of the remaining 5, one committed suicide and the other 4 were hanged on November 11, 1887. In 1893, Illinois governor John Peter Altgeld pardoned the remaining defendants and criticized the trial.

The site of the incident was designated a Chicago landmark in 1992, and a sculpture was dedicated there in 2004. In addition, the Haymarket Martyrs’ Monument was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1997 at the defendants’ burial site in Forest Park.

In scanning past posts, I notice that I have given a number of Chicago recipes but never said much about Chicago deep-dish pizza. This is a serious omission which I will resolve with a video.  It is important to emphasize that Chicago pizza is its own thing and should not be compared with other kinds of pizza. In fact, it’s just as well to work on the principle that dishes with the name “pizza” are going to be completely different worldwide.  Go to 100 different cities in Italy and you’ll get 100 different styles of pizza. Then got to 100 cities around the world from New York to Adelaide to Buenos Aires, and you’ll get 100 more. If you don’t get so hung up on the name, you’ll be able to appreciate Chicago pizza for what it is (and excuse the narrator for thinking that the big battle is between Chicago and New York – because pizza is not made in any other city in the world!!!):

May 032019
 

At one time, this date was celebrated as Roodmas (from Old English “rood” (“cross”) plus Mass), a celebration of the discovery of the “true cross” on May 3 by saint Helena in Jerusalem in 355. I won’t spill a whole lot of ink over my thoughts about the “true cross,” that is, the actual cross that Jesus was crucified on. According to post-Nicene historians such as Socrates of Constantinople, the empress Helena, mother of emperor Constantine, the first Christian emperor of Rome, traveled to the Holy Land in 326–328, founding churches and establishing relief agencies for the poor. Historians Gelasius of Caesarea (d. 395) and Rufinus (344/45-411) claim that she discovered the hiding place of three crosses that were believed to have been used at the crucifixion of Jesus and of two thieves, St. Dismas and Gestas, executed with him. To one cross was affixed the titulus bearing Jesus’ name, but Helena was not sure until a miracle revealed that that cross was the true cross.

Many churches possess fragmentary remains that are by tradition alleged to be those of the true cross. Their authenticity is accepted by some denominations, mostly Catholic and Orthodox. I am with skeptical Protestants who find it beyond the realm of possibility, or even probability, that three crosses used to execute obscure criminals (among thousands) could have been preserved intact for three centuries, and fortuitously stumbled upon by a visiting pilgrim.

Roodmas originally commemorated the dedication of the Basilica of the Resurrection and was linked with the finding of the Cross shortly thereafter. Although saint Helena reportedly found the Cross on May 3rd, 355, most Catholic and Eastern Orthodox rites now celebrate the Feast of the Cross on September 14th, commemorating the day in 628 when a piece of the Cross taken by the Persian empire was recovered by the Byzantine emperor Heraclius. After the Gallican and Latin Rites were combined, the days were observed individually as the Finding of the Holy Cross (May 3) and the Triumph of the Cross (September 14). Some Protestant churches follow variants of this practice. The Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer, for example, puts Roodmas on May 3rd.

In the Philippines, the Santacruzan—a ritual pageant commemorating the Finding of the True Cross—is still held in May because the custom originated in the pre-1960 Catholic observance of Roodmas on May 3rd. The celebrations typically carry over the whole month of May. In the Bicol Region, the ritual begins with the recitation of the rosary; the traditional “María” is said after the recitation of the Salve Regina in Spanish and the Litany of Loreto. Alabasyón (from the Spanish for “praising”) is the term for prayers sung in honor of the Holy Cross.

Bicol is also famous for a dish that is commonly called Bicol express, known natively in Bikol as sinilihan (lit. “spiced with chili”). It is a stew made from long chilies (siling mahaba in Tagalog), coconut milk, shrimp paste or stockfish, onion, pork, and garlic. It is said to have been inspired by the fiery Bicolano dish gulay na may lada, which is nowadays presented as one of the many variants of Bicol Express. Here’s your video: