Feb 132019

On this date in 1867 work began on covering of the Senne river in Brussels (French: Voûtement de la Senne, Dutch: Overwelving van de Zenne), involving the covering, and later diverting, of the main river of Brussels, and the construction of public buildings and major boulevards in its place. It is one of the defining events in the history of Brussels. The Senne/Zenne (French/Dutch) was historically the main waterway of Brussels, but it became more polluted and less navigable as the city grew. By the second half of the 19th century, it had become a serious health hazard and was filled with pollution, garbage and decaying organic matter. It flooded frequently, inundating the lower town and the working class neighborhoods which surrounded it.

Numerous proposals were made to remedy this problem, and in 1865, the mayor of Brussels, Jules Anspach, selected a design by architect Léon Suys to cover the river and build a series of grand boulevards and public buildings. The project faced fierce opposition and controversy, mostly due to its cost and the need for expropriation and demolition of working-class neighborhoods. An embezzlement scandal by British contractors delayed the project, but it was still completed in 1871. Its completion allowed the construction of the modern buildings and boulevards which are central to Brussels today.

At the beginning of the 19th century, Brussels was still in many ways a medieval city. The royal quarter in the upper town, inhabited mainly by the nobility and the richer members of the bourgeoisie, was upscale and modern. The rest of the city, however, in particular the lower town, located in the western half of the Pentagon, was densely populated and industrial, characterized by a haphazard street layout, back alleys, narrow streets, and numerous dead ends. The Senne river split into two branches at Anderlecht, penetrating the Pentagon, the former site of the second city walls, in two places. The main and more southern arm entered through the Greater Sluice Gate, near today’s Brussels-South railway station. The smaller northerly arm entered through the Lesser Sluice Gate, near today’s Ninove Gate. The courses of the two traced a meandering path through the city center, forming several islands, the largest of which was known as Saint Gaugericus Island. The two branches met up on the north side of Saint Gaugericus Island, exiting the Pentagon one block east of Antwerp Gate. An artificial arm, called the “Lesser Senne” (French: Petite Senne, Dutch: Kleine Zenne) continued on the borders of the Pentagon in the former moat, outside the sluice gates. It followed the Charleroi Canal before rejoining the main part of the Senne north of the city. Many unsanitary and unsafe wooden add-ons projected over the river in the lower town.

The Senne had long since lost its usefulness as a navigable waterway, being replaced by canals, including the Charleroi Canal. The Senne had always been a river with an inconsistent flow, often overflowing its banks. In times of heavy rainfall, even the sluice gates were unable to regulate the flow of the river which was often swollen by numerous creeks flowing down from higher ground. Making matters worse, within the city the river’s bed was narrowed by encroaching construction due to demographic pressure. The supports of numerous unregulated bridges impeded water flow and caused water levels to rise even further, exacerbated by a riverbed of accumulated waste.

During dry periods, however, much of the Senne’s water was diverted for the needs of the populace of the city, as well as to maintain the water level in the Charleroi Canal. This left a flow too feeble to evacuate the filthy water, leaving the sewage, garbage, detritus and industrial waste that had been dumped into the river to accumulate in the stagnant water. The Senne, which a witness in 1853 described as “the most nauseous little river in the world”, had become an open-air sewer spreading pestilential odors throughout the city. Early in the second half of the 19th century, Brussels saw numerous dry periods, floods and a cholera epidemic, caused as much by the river itself as by the poverty and the lack of hygiene and potable water in the lower city. This forced the governments of the province of Brabant and the city of Brussels to act.

The first studies and propositions to clean up the river date back to 1859, and during the following years, many different commissions of engineers were assigned to examine possible solutions. Dozens of different ideas were submitted, many of which were completely unfeasible. Several of them proposed diverting large amounts of cleaner water from other rivers upstream to dilute the Senne, while greatly improving the drainage system in the city. Other proposals involved diverting the main course of the Senne completely to the Lesser Senne, which would then be enlarged and thus more useful for boat traffic and mills. Others considered any sort of sanitizing impossible, and proposed covering the Senne without greatly changing its course. Among these was a proposal to double the size of the underground drainage tunnels, creating space for a subterranean railroad tunnel. The idea was ahead of its time, but would be implemented a century later.

The municipal council chose the proposal by architect Léon Suys, submitted in 1865, which had the backing of mayor Jules Anspach. The plan involved suppressing the secondary arm of the Senne by closing the Lesser Sluice Gate. The main branch would be channeled into underground tunnels, to be placed directly beneath a long, straight 30 m (100 ft) wide boulevard, stretching from the Greater Sluice Gate to the Augustinian church (now De Brouckère Square) before splitting into two. One branch was to head towards the Brussels North railway station and present day Rogier Square, the other towards Antwerp Gate, thus forming a long, narrow “Y” shape.

Anspach’s backing of Suys’ proposal was a calculated decision, as he had radical plans to transform the city. Anspach saw the proposal as an unexpected boon, as it allowed him to accomplish several of his goals at once. It had long been his ambition to transform the impoverished lower city into a center of business and commerce, suitable for a modern capital (Belgium had declared its independence in 1830, with Brussels as its capital). He wanted to attract the middle class, most of whom had left the squalid town center for the cleaner suburbs, including the Leopold Quarter (now often called the European quarter) and Avenue Louise, causing a huge loss in tax revenue for the city. The elimination of the numerous alleys and dead-ends in the lower town in favor of a large, straight, wide, open-air boulevard, linking the two rapidly growing train stations, seemed both a necessity and an opportunity to beautify the city and improve both traffic circulation and hygiene.

The contract to begin work was signed on 15th June 1866, and the expropriation of the first 1,100 houses was completed in a few months. The work began on 13th February 1867. There were several technical difficulties that delayed the covering, many of which were due to the geology of Brussels, though they were not as bad as some engineers had forecast. The project was completed in 1871, with the municipal council ceremonially opening the reconstructed sluice gates on 30th November. The series of boulevards created by the project – Hainaut Boulevard (now Maurice Lemonnier Boulevard), Central Boulevard (now Boulevard Anspach), North Boulevard (now Adolphe Max Boulevard), and Senne Boulevard (now Émile Jacqmain Boulevard) – were progressively opened to traffic from 1871 to 1873.

Today’s recipe has to be Brussels sprouts – treated in a Flemish manner (sorry Walloons), by being steamed then fried in butter with some onions and a little nutmeg. I was never a big fan of Brussels sprouts as a lad, but I came to like them as an adult.

Fried Brussels Sprouts


2 lbs Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed and outer leaves removed
3 tbsp butter
1 small onion, peeled and minced
1 pinch ground nutmeg
salt and pepper


Steam the Brussels sprouts for about 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large skillet and add the onion. Cook over medium-high until soft. Add the Brussels sprouts and cook 3-5 minutes to brown lightly, stirring occasionally. Season with nutmeg, salt & pepper to taste.

Feb 122019

Today is the birthday (1824) of Dayananda Saraswati, an Indian social leader and founder of the Arya Samaj, a reform movement of the Vedic dharma. He was the first to give the call for an “India for Indians” in 1876. Subsequently, the philosopher and president of India, S. Radhakrishnan called him one of the “makers of Modern India”, as did Sri Aurobindo.

Dayananda was born on the 10th day of waning moon in the month of Purnimanta Falguna to a Hindu family in Jeevapar Tankara, Kathiawad region (now Morbi district of Gujarat). His original name was Mul Shankar. His father was Karshanji Lalji Kapadi, and his mother was Amrutbai. When he was eight years old, his Yajnopavita Sanskara ceremony was performed, marking his entry into formal education. His father was a follower of Shiva and taught him the ways to impress Shiva. He was also taught the importance of keeping fasts. On the occasion of Shivratri, Dayananda sat awake the whole night in obedience to Shiva. On one of these fasts, he saw a mouse eating the offerings and running over the idol’s body. After seeing this, he questioned that if Shiva could not defend himself against a mouse, then how could he be the savior of the massive world. The deaths of his younger sister and his uncle from cholera caused Dayananda to ponder the meaning of life and death. He began asking questions which worried his parents. He was engaged in his early teens, but he decided marriage was not for him and ran away from home in 1846.

Dayananda spent nearly 25 years, from 1845 to 1869, as a wandering ascetic, searching for religious truth. He gave up material goods and lived a life of self-denial, devoting himself to spiritual pursuits in forests, retreats in the Himalayan Mountains, and pilgrimage sites in northern India. During these years he practiced various forms of yoga and became a disciple of a religious teacher named Virajanand Dandeesha. Virajanand believed that Hinduism had strayed from its historical roots and that many of its practices had become impure. Dayananda Sarasvati promised Virajanand that he would devote his life to restoring the rightful place of the Vedas in the Hindu faith. He believed that Hinduism had been corrupted by divergence from the founding principles of the Vedas and that Hindus had been misled by the priesthood for the priests’ self-aggrandizement. For this mission, he founded the Arya Samaj, enunciating the Ten Universal Principles as a code for Universalism, called Krinvanto Vishwaryam. With these principles, he intended the whole world to be an abode for Nobles (Aryas).

His next step was to reform Hinduism with a new dedication to God. He traveled the country challenging religious scholars and priests to discussions, winning repeatedly through the strength of his arguments and knowledge of Sanskrit and Vedas. Hindu priests discouraged the laity from reading Vedic scriptures, and encouraged rituals, such as bathing in the Ganges River and feeding of priests on anniversaries, which Dayananda denounced as superstitions or self-serving practices. By exhorting India to reject such superstitious notions, his aim was to educate the nation to return to the teachings of the Vedas, and to follow the Vedic way of life. He also exhorted India to accept social reforms, as well as the adoption of Hindi as the national language for national integration. Through his daily life and practice of yoga and asanas, teachings, preaching, sermons and writings, he inspired India to aspire to Swarajya (self governance), nationalism, and spiritualism. He advocated the equal rights and respects to women and advocated for the education of all children, regardless of gender.

Dayananda also made logical, scientific and critical analyses of faiths including Christianity & Islam, as well as of other Indian faiths like Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism. Unlike many other reform movements of his times within Hinduism, the Arya Samaj’s appeal was addressed not only to the educated few in India, but to the world as a whole as evidenced in the sixth principle of the Arya Samaj. As a result, his teachings professed universalism for all living beings and not for any particular sect, faith, community or nation.

Dayananda’s Vedic message emphasized respect and reverence for other human beings, supported by the Vedic notion of the divine nature of the individual. In the ten principles of the Arya Samaj, he enshrined the idea that “All actions should be performed with the prime objective of benefiting mankind”, as opposed to following dogmatic rituals or revering idols and symbols. The first five principles speak of Truth, while the last five speak of a society with nobility, civics, co-living, and disciplined life.

Dayanand is recorded to have been active since he was 14, which time he was able to recite religious verses and teach about them. He was respected at the time for taking parts in religious debates. His debates were attended by relatively large crowd of the public. One of the most important debates took place on 22nd October 1869 in Varanasi, where he won a debate against 27 scholars and approximately 12 expert pandits. The debate is recorded to have been attended by over 50,000 people. The main topic was “Do the Vedas uphold deity worship?”

Arya Samaj, condemns practices of several different religions and communities, including such practices as idol worship, animal sacrifice, pilgrimages, priest craft, offerings made in temples, the castes, child marriages, meat eating and discrimination against women. He argues that all of these practices run contrary to good sense and the wisdom of the Vedas. The Arya Samaj discourages dogma and symbolism and encourages skepticism in beliefs that run contrary to common sense and logic.

According to his supporters, he was poisoned on few occasions, but due to his regular practice of Hatha Yoga he survived all such attempts. One story tells that attackers once attacked attempted to drown him in a river, but Dayanand dragged the assailants into the river instead, though he released them before they drowned.[31] Another account tells that he was attacked by Muslims who were offended by his criticism of Islam while meditating on the Ganges river. They threw him into the water but he saved himself because his pranayama practice allowed him to stay under water until the attackers left.

In 1883, the Maharaja of Jodhpur Swami, Jaswant Singh II, invited Dayananda to stay at his palace. The Maharaja was eager to become Dayananda’s disciple, and to learn his teachings. During his stay, Dayananda went to the Maharaja’s room and saw him with a dancing girl named Nanhi Jaan. Dayananda asked the Maharaja to forsake the girl and all unethical acts, and to follow the dharma like a true Aryan. Dayananda’s suggestion offended Nanhi, who decided to take revenge. On 29th September 1883, she bribed Dayananda’s cook, Jagannath, to mix crushed glass in his nightly milk. Dayananda was served the milk before bed, which he promptly drank, becoming bedridden for several days, and suffering excruciating pain. The Maharaja quickly arranged doctor’s services for him. However, by the time doctors arrived, his condition had worsened, and he had developed large, bleeding sores. Upon seeing Dayananda’s suffering, Jagannath was overwhelmed with guilt and confessed his crime to Dayananda. On his deathbed, Dayananda forgave him, and gave him a bag of money, telling him to flee the kingdom before he was found and executed by the Maharaja’s men. He died on the morning of 30th October 1883 at 6:00 am, chanting mantras. The day coincided with Hindu festival of Diwali.

Dal dhokli (Gujarati: દાળ ઢોકળી), is a Rajasthani, Gujarati and Maharashtrian dish made by boiling thick wheat flour noodles (dhokli or phal) in a lentil stew  (dal or varan). It is considered a comfort food. It is widely believed that the Marwaris who had migrated to Gujarat invented the dish. While the dish remains popular in Marwar part of Rajasthan, it is Gujaratis who have made it a staple in their homes. Being meat free and relatively simple to make it seems like a good dish to celebrate a Gujarati Hindu holy man. Here is a video on how to make the dish. It is in Gujarati, but there are ingredients listed in English, and the instructions are easy to follow visually:

Feb 112019

On this date in 1858, 14-year old Bernadette Soubirous (Occitan: Bernadeta Sobirós) went with her sister Toinette and neighbor Jeanne Abadie to collect some firewood and bones in order to buy some bread. The Soubirous family’s financial and social status had declined to the point where they lived in a one-room basement, formerly used as a jail, called le cachot, “the dungeon”, where they were housed for free by her mother’s cousin, André Sajoux. While the other girls crossed the little stream in front of the grotto and walked on, Soubirous stayed behind, looking for a place to cross where she wouldn’t get her stockings wet. Later she said:

I came back towards the grotto and started taking off my stockings. I had hardly taken off the first stocking when I heard a sound like a gust of wind. Then I turned my head towards the meadow. I saw the trees quite still: I went on taking off my stockings. I heard the same sound again. As I raised my head to look at the grotto, I saw a lady dressed in white, wearing a white dress, a blue girdle and a yellow rose on each foot, the same color as the chain of her rosary; the beads of the rosary were white….From the niche, or rather the dark alcove behind it, came a dazzling light.

Soubirous tried to make the sign of the Cross but she could not, because her hands were trembling. The lady smiled, and invited Soubirous to pray the rosary with her. Soubirous tried to keep this a secret, but Toinette told her mother. After parental cross-examination, she and her sister were beaten for telling lies.

Three days later, 14th February, Soubirous returned to the Grotto. She had brought holy water as a test that the apparition was not of evil origin/provenance:

Then I started to throw holy water in her direction, and at the same time I said that if she came from God she was to stay, but if not, she must go. She started to smile, and bowed … This was the second time.

Soubirous’ companions are said to have become afraid when they saw her in ecstasy. She remained ecstatic even as they returned to the village. On 18th February, she spoke of being told by the Lady to return to the Grotto over a period of two weeks. She quoted her: “The Lady only spoke to me the third time. … She told me also that she did not promise to make me happy in this world, but in the next.” Soubirous was ordered by her parents never to go there again. She went anyway, and on 24th February, Soubirous related that the apparition asked for prayer and penitence for the conversion of sinners.

The next day, she said the apparition asked her to dig in the ground and drink from the spring she found there. The digging made her unkempt and some of her supporters were dismayed, but this act revealed the stream that soon became a focal point for pilgrimages. Although it was muddy at first, the stream became increasingly clean. As word spread, this water was given to medical patients of all kinds, and many reports of miraculous cures followed. Seven of these cures were confirmed as lacking any medical explanations by Professor Verges in 1860. The first person with a “certified miracle” was a woman whose right hand had been deformed as a consequence of an accident. Several miracles turned out to be short-term improvement or even hoaxes, and Church and government officials became increasingly concerned. The government fenced off the Grotto and issued stiff penalties for anybody trying to get near the off-limits area. In the process, Lourdes became a national issue in France, resulting in the intervention of Napoleon III with an order to reopen the grotto on 4th October 1858. The Church had decided to stay away from the controversy altogether.

Soubirous, knowing the local area well, managed to visit the barricaded grotto under cover of darkness. There, on 25th March, she said she was told: “I am the Immaculate Conception” (“que soy era immaculada concepciou”). On Easter Sunday, 7th April, her examining doctor stated that Soubirous, in ecstasy, was observed to have held her hands over a lit candle without sustaining harm. On 16th July, Soubirous went for the last time to the Grotto. “I have never seen her so beautiful before,” she reported.

The Church, faced with nationwide questions, decided to institute an investigative commission on 17th November 1858. On 18th January 1860, the local bishop finally declared that: “The Virgin Mary did appear indeed to Bernadette Soubirous.” These events established the Marian veneration in Lourdes, which together with Fátima, is one of the most frequented Marian shrines in the world, and to which between 4 and 6 million pilgrims travel annually. In 1863, Joseph-Hugues Fabisch was charged to create a statue of the Virgin according to Soubirous’ description. The work was placed in the grotto and solemnly dedicated on 4th April 1864 in presence of 20,000 pilgrims.

The veracity of the apparitions of Lourdes is not an article of faith for Catholics. Nevertheless, all recent popes have visited the Marian shrine at some time. Benedict XV, Pius XI, and John XXIII went there as bishops, Pius XII as papal delegate. He also issued an encyclical, Le pèlerinage de Lourdes, on the one-hundredth anniversary of the apparitions in 1958. John Paul II visited Lourdes three times during his pontificate, and twice before as a bishop.

Lourdes and the Occitan region are noted for many dishes, but for a poor peasant girl I have chosen the simplest: touradisse. It is similar to polenta, and can be made in different ways. For many families it was their sole dinner dish, and it was made in a pot over a fire – stirred for hours until thick. This recipe is quicker and more modern (and convenient) – more like cornbread.



125 gm cornmeal
125 gm wheat flour
¼ liter milk
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp salt
50 gm melted butter


Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Grease a deep 8 x 8 inch pie pan.

Mix together the cornmeal and wheat flour in a large bowl. Stir in the milk, eggs, vanilla extract, salt and butter. Stir well until all the ingredients are completely mixed.

Pour the mix into the pie pan and bake for 40 minutes, or until the top is springy and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Serve warm in squares or slices.

Feb 102019

Today is the birthday (1898) of Eugen Berthold Friedrich Brecht, known professionally as Bertolt Brecht, a German theorist of theatric practice, playwright, and poet. I played the role of the singer in a production of The Caucasian Chalk Circle when I was 17, so I have been aware of Brecht’s work for 50 years. His writing collective adapted John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera, with Brecht’s lyrics set to music by Kurt Weill, and retitled it The Threepenny Opera (Die Dreigroschenoper). http://www.bookofdaystales.com/the-threepenny-opera/ It was the biggest hit in Berlin of the 1920s and remains popular worldwide. Thus, it is the work most people think of when they think of Brecht (if they think of him at all). I am much more attracted to his other works, although I find their political message a bit overplayed and the humor, forced (or, maybe, dated).

Some time in either 1920 or 1921, Brecht took a small part in the political cabaret of the Munich comedian Karl Valentin. Brecht’s diaries for the next few years record numerous visits to see Valentin perform. Brecht compared Valentin to Charlie Chaplin, for his “virtually complete rejection of mimicry and cheap psychology”.

Brecht’s first full-length play, Baal (1918), arose in response to an argument in a drama seminar, initiating a trend that persisted throughout his career of creative activity that was generated by a desire to counter another work (both others’ and his own). He wrote (ironically, of course), “Anyone can be creative, it’s rewriting other people that’s a challenge.” Brecht completed his second major play, Drums in the Night, in February 1919.

Between November 1921 and April 1922 Brecht met many influential people in the Berlin arts scene, at the time an extraordinary mix of ideas and creativity. Amongst them was the playwright Arnolt Bronnen with whom he established a joint venture, the Arnolt Bronnen / Bertolt Brecht Company. Brecht changed the spelling of his first name to Bertolt to rhyme with Arnolt. In 1922 while still living in Munich, Brecht came to the attention of an influential Berlin critic, Herbert Ihering:

At 24 the writer Bert Brecht has changed Germany’s literary complexion overnight”—he enthused in his review of Brecht’s first play to be produced, Drums in the Night—”[he] has given our time a new tone, a new melody, a new vision. […] It is a language you can feel on your tongue, in your gums, your ear, your spinal column.

In 1923, Brecht wrote a scenario for what was to become a short slapstick film, Mysteries of a Barbershop, directed by Erich Engel and starring Karl Valentin. Despite a lack of success at the time, its experimental inventiveness and the subsequent success of many of its contributors have meant that it is now considered one of the most important films in German film history. You can see it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PGJ3pATeJPY

In 1924 Brecht worked with the novelist and playwright Lion Feuchtwanger (whom he had met in 1919) on an adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II that proved to be a milestone in Brecht’s early theatrical and dramaturgical development. It constituted his first attempt at collaborative writing and was the first of many classic texts he was to adapt. As his first solo directorial début, he later credited it as the germ of his conception of “epic theatre.” A new version of Brecht’s third play, now entitled Jungle: Decline of a Family, opened at the Deutsches Theater in October 1924, but was not a success.

In 1925 in Mannheim the artistic exhibition Neue Sachlichkeit (“New Objectivity”) had given its name to the new post-Expressionist movement in the German arts. With little to do at the Deutsches Theater, Brecht began to develop his Man Is Man (Mann ist Mann) project, which was to become the first product of the ‘Brecht collective’—a shifting group of friends and collaborators. In 1925, Brecht also saw two films that had a significant influence on him: Chaplin’s The Gold Rush and Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin. Brecht had compared Valentin to Chaplin, and the two of them provided models for Galy Gay in Man Is Man. Following the production of Man Is Man in Darmstadt that year, Brecht began studying Marxism and socialism in earnest. He wrote, “When I read Marx’s Capital I understood my plays. Marx was the only spectator for my plays I’d ever come across.”

In 1927 Brecht became part of the “dramaturgical collective” of Erwin Piscator’s first company, which was designed to tackle the problem of finding new plays for its “epic, political, confrontational, documentary theatre”. Brecht’s most significant contribution was to the adaptation of The Good Soldier Shweik which he later described as a “montage from the novel.” The Piscator productions influenced Brecht’s ideas about staging and design, and alerted him to the radical potential of stage technology (particularly projections).

In 1927 also, Brecht began collaborating with the young composer Kurt Weill. Together they began to develop Brecht’s Mahagonny project, along thematic lines of the biblical Cities of the Plain but rendered in terms of the Neue Sachlichkeit’s Amerikanismus, which had informed Brecht’s previous work. They produced The Little Mahagonny for a music festival in July, as what Weill called a “stylistic exercise” in preparation for the large-scale piece. From that point on Caspar Neher became an integral part of the collaborative effort, with words, music and visuals conceived in relation to one another from the start. The model for their mutual articulation lay in Brecht’s newly formulated principle of the “separation of the elements”, which he first outlined in “The Modern Theatre Is the Epic Theatre” (1930). The principle, a variety of montage, proposed by-passing the “great struggle for supremacy between words, music and production” as Brecht put it, by showing each as self-contained, independent works of art that adopt attitudes towards one another.

Brecht spent the last years of the late Weimar-era (1930–1933) in Berlin working with his collective on the Lehrstücke. These were a group of plays driven by morals, music and Brecht’s budding epic theatre. The Lehrstücke often aimed at educating workers on Socialist issues. The Measures Taken (Die Massnahme) was scored by Hanns Eisler. In addition, Brecht worked on a script for a semi-documentary feature film about the human impact of mass unemployment, Kuhle Wampe (1932), which was directed by Slatan Dudow. This striking film is notable for its subversive humor, outstanding cinematography by Günther Krampf, and Hanns Eisler’s dynamic musical contribution. It still provides insight into Berlin during the last years of the Weimar Republic.

Fearing persecution, Brecht left Nazi Germany in February 1933, just after Hitler took power. After brief spells in Prague, Zurich and Paris he and his wife, Helene Weigel, accepted an invitation from journalist and author Karin Michaëlis to move to Denmark. The family first stayed with Karin Michaëlis at her house on the small island of Thurø close to the island of Funen. They later bought their own house in Svendborg on Funen. During this period Brecht also traveled frequently to Copenhagen, Paris, Moscow, New York and London for various projects and collaborations.

When war seemed imminent in April 1939, he moved to Stockholm where he remained for a year. After Hitler invaded Norway and Denmark, Brecht left Sweden for Helsinki where he lived and waited for his visa for the United States until 3 May 1941. During this time he wrote the play Mr Puntila and his Man Matti (Herr Puntila und sein Knecht Matti). During the war years, Brecht became a prominent writer of the Exilliteratur. He expressed his opposition to the National Socialist and Fascist movements in his most famous plays: Life of Galileo, Mother Courage and Her Children, The Good Person of Szechwan, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Fear and Misery of the Third Reich, and many others.

Brecht co-wrote the screenplay for the Fritz Lang-directed film Hangmen Also Die! which was loosely based on the 1942 assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the Nazi Deputy Reich Protector of the German-occupied Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, Heinrich Himmler’s right-hand man in the SS, and a chief architect of the Holocaust, who was known as “The Hangman of Prague.” Hanns Eisler was nominated for an Academy Award for his musical score.

Hangmen Also Die! was Brecht’s only script for a Hollywood film. The money he earned from writing the film enabled him to write The Visions of Simone Machard, Schweik in the Second World War and an adaptation of Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi.

In the years of the Cold War and “Red Scare”, Brecht was blacklisted by movie studio bosses and interrogated by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Along with about 41 other Hollywood writers, directors, actors and producers, he was subpoenaed to appear before the HUAC in September 1947. Although he was one of 19 witnesses who declared that they would refuse to appear, Brecht eventually decided to testify. He later explained that he had followed the advice of attorneys and had not wanted to delay a planned trip to Europe. On 30th October 1947 Brecht testified that he had never been a member of the Communist Party. He made wry jokes throughout the proceedings, punctuating his inability to speak English well with continuous references to the translators present, who transformed his German statements into English ones unintelligible to himself. HUAC vice-chairman Karl Mundt thanked Brecht for his co-operation. The remaining witnesses, the so-called Hollywood Ten, refused to testify and were cited for contempt. Brecht’s decision to appear before the committee led to criticism, including accusations of betrayal. The day after his testimony, on 31st October, Brecht returned to Europe.

He lived Zurich in Switzerland for a year. In February 1948 in Chur, Brecht staged an adaptation of Sophocles’ Antigone, based on a translation by Hölderlin. It was published under the title Antigonemodell 1948, accompanied by an essay on the importance of creating a “non-Aristotelian” form of theatre. In 1949 he moved to East Berlin and established his theater company there, the Berliner Ensemble. He retained his Austrian nationality (granted in 1950) and overseas bank accounts from which he received valuable hard currency remittances. The copyrights on his writings were held by a Swiss company. At the time he drove a pre-war DKW car—a rare luxury in the austere divided capital.

Brecht died on 14th August 1956 of a heart attack at the age of 58. He is buried in the Dorotheenstädtischer cemetery on Chausseestraße in the Mitte neighbourhood of Berlin, overlooked by the residence he shared with Helene Weigel. According to Stephen Parker, who reviewed Brecht’s writings and unpublished medical records, Brecht contracted rheumatic fever as a child, which led to an enlarged heart, followed by lifelong chronic heart failure and Sydenham’s chorea. A report of a radiograph taken of Brecht in 1951 describes a badly diseased heart, enlarged to the left with a protruding aortic knob and with seriously impaired pumping. Brecht’s colleagues described him as being very nervous, and sometimes shaking his head or moving his hands erratically. This can be reasonably attributed to Sydenham’s chorea, which is also associated with emotional lability, personality changes, obsessive-compulsive behavior, and hyperactivity, which matched Brecht’s behavior. “What is remarkable,” wrote Parker, “is his capacity to turn abject physical weakness into peerless artistic strength, arrhythmia into the rhythms of poetry, chorea into the choreography of drama.”

Brecht’s wife, Helene Weigel, was apparently the household cook, and she has published some recipes, but they are mostly from their time abroad. So, for example, she obviously loved Southern fried chicken. I am not going to give such recipes here to honor Brecht. Instead I will turn to Man Is Man. The play begins with the protagonist, Galy Gay, going off in search of fish for dinner, and the theme of the fish pops up throughout the play, including at the beginning where it is mentioned that Galy Gay’s wife is boiling the fish. So . . . a German poached fish dish. German mustards come in different varieties, so take your pick. You can use any fish, of course.

Cod with Mustard Sauce


1½ lb cod fillets
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 small onion, peeled and sliced
¼ cup chopped parsley, keep stalks separate
6 whole peppercorns
1 clove
1 bay leaf
5 cups water
2 tbsp German mustard
6 tbsp butter
salt, pepper


Sprinkle lemon juice on fillets.

Put the onion, peppercorns, clove, parsley stalks, and bay leaf in a large frying pan. Pour in the water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the fish, cover, and simmer very gently for about 10 minutes or until the fish flakes. Do not overcook. Remove the fish gently, cover with foil, and keep warm.

Strain 2 cups of poaching liquid into a pan and simmer until reduced to about half. Stir in the mustard.  Whisk the butter into the reduced stock, a little at a time – this will thicken sauce slightly. Season with salt and pepper.

Return the fish briefly to the poaching liquid to re-warm.

Serve the fish with sauce.

Makes 4 – 6 servings.

Feb 082019

Today is the birthday (1828) of Jules Gabriel Verne, a French novelist, widely known for his collaboration with the publisher Pierre-Jules Hetzel leading to the creation of the Voyages extraordinaires, a popular series of adventure novels including Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864), Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870), and Around the World in Eighty Days (1873). Between 1863 and 1905 Verne published 54 novels in the series.

I first encountered Verne and Around the World in Eighty Days, as a small boy via the David Niven movie (1956). This was in the days before most people owned televisions, and my family used to go out to the cinema once a week to see whatever was playing that week. Around the World in Eighty Days, is one of the few I remember because it appealed to me, and I also remember being excited by the poster. I was not aware until much later – because at the time I was unaware of famous actors – just how star studded the cast was. The cast list looks like an inventory of actors from the 1940s and ‘50s. A few years later I read the book and was as captivated as by the movie, and so began reading all of Verne’s works I could get hold of. Around the World in Eighty Days is the only one that has held my attention over the years, partly because even as a boy I was a world traveler (I had been around the world by age 14), and I have never stopped. Mainly I liked it because of Verne’s characterization of Phileas Fogg.

Fogg is certainly a caricature, but a kind one.  Although Verne was thoroughly French, he certainly captured the Englishness of Fogg, and he also portrays him with a sense of deep admiration. When we first meet Fogg he is punctilious to a fault – always leaves home at exactly the same time, takes exactly the same number of steps to his club, dines at the same time, reads the same newspapers for the same amount of time, plays whist with the same partners, etc, etc. Yet . . . on a whim, it seems, he offers a wager of £20,000, half his net worth (and he is a very comfortably rich man), that he can travel around the world in 80 days, and takes the other £20,000 with him, expecting to use it for expenses on the journey. Not only that, he leaves that very night, convinced that he can achieve his goal, while no one else believes that he can. On his journey he faces unimaginable difficulties with aplomb, and, against all odds, returns precisely 80 days later.  Fogg is adventurous, courageous, intelligent, unflappable, and honorable throughout the trip. Verne’s message is that to French eyes the English gentleman is stuffy, predictable and staid (that is, boring), but that phlegmatic exterior hides wonders. It is such a marvelous tale, and Verne is an excellent storyteller.

Let is remember that in 1873, going around the world in eighty days did, indeed seem impossible, and we have to put ourselves back in that era to understand its impossibility. Nowadays we can fly around the world in well under eighty hours, and an orbiting craft could accomplish the same feat in eighty minutes. Let us also remember that reporter Nellie Bly copied Fogg and managed a circumnavigation in 72 days: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/around-the-world-in-72-days/ So, it could be done, and Fogg’s timetable was not very far off. Think about that when you jet halfway round the world effortlessly.

On the first day we encounter Phileas Fogg he has this breakfast (more like lunch actually):

His breakfast consisted of a side-dish, a broiled fish with Reading sauce, a scarlet slice of roast beef garnished with mushrooms, a rhubarb and gooseberry tart, and a morsel of Cheshire cheese, the whole being washed down with several cups of tea, for which the Reform is famous.

I gave a recipe for Reading sauce here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/photography/ so let’s turn our attention to rhubarb and gooseberry tart.

Rhubarb and Gooseberry Tart


1 lb rhubarb, cut in chunks
½ lb gooseberries
1 cup sugar
lemon rind
sweet shortcrust pastry (see HINTS)
egg wash (milk and egg beaten together)
caster sugar
heavy cream


Preheat the oven to 425°F

Top and tail the gooseberries and place them in a saucepan with the rhubarb, sugar, a small piece of lemon rind, and half a cup of water. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 10 minutes, or until soft. Drain the fruit, reserve the juice, and discard the lemon rind.

Line a 9 inch pie plate with pastry. Add the drained fruit. You can simply cover with a top crust, or make a lattice top. Brush the top with egg wash and sprinkle over a little caster sugar. If the crust  is a whole sheet, cut some slits in it for steam to escape. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the crust is golden.

Serve hot or cold with cream and the reserved juice.

Feb 072019

On this date in 1898 Émile Zola was brought to trial for libel for publishing J’Accuse…! an open letter to the president of France published on 13th January 1898 in the newspaper L’Aurore. In the letter, Zola accused the government of anti-Semitism and the unlawful jailing of Alfred Dreyfus, a French army General Staff officer who was sentenced to lifelong penal servitude for espionage. Zola pointed out judicial errors and lack of serious evidence. The letter was printed on the front page of the newspaper and caused a stir in France and abroad. Zola published the letter with the intention of being prosecuted for libel so that the facts of the Dreyfus case would come to light. Let’s look at the details.

Alfred Dreyfus was born in 1859 into a prosperous Jewish family in the city of Mulhouse, which was then located in the province of Alsace in northeast France. He left his native town for Paris in 1871 in response to the annexation of the province by Germany following the Franco-Prussian War. In 1894, while an artillery captain for the General Staff of France, Dreyfus was suspected of providing secret military information to the German government.

A cleaning woman and French spy, Madame Bastian, working at the German Embassy was at the source of the investigation. She routinely searched wastebaskets and mailboxes at the German Embassy for suspicious documents. She found a suspicious bordereau (detailed listing of documents) at the German Embassy in 1894, and delivered it to Commandant Hubert-Joseph Henry, who worked for French military counterintelligence in the General Staff.

The bordereau had been torn into six pieces, and had been found by Madame Bastian in the wastepaper basket of Maximilian von Schwartzkoppen, the German military attaché. When the document was investigated, Dreyfus was accused of espionage and convicted at a secret court martial largely on the basis of testimony by professional handwriting experts: the graphologists’ assertion was that the lack of resemblance between Dreyfus’ writing and that of the bordereau was proof of a ‘self-forgery,’ and prepared a complexly detailed diagram to demonstrate that this was so. There were also assertions made by military officers who provided confidential evidence. In hindsight we now know that senior military officers used Dreyfus as a scapegoat for their own treasonous activities. Dreyfus was denied the right at trial to examine the evidence against him.

The Army stripped him of his rank in a humiliating ceremony and shipped him off to Devil’s Island, a notorious penal colony located off the coast of French Guiana in South America.

Zola risked his career in January 1898 when he decided to stand up for Alfred Dreyfus. Zola’s open letter accused the French government of willful intent in falsely convicting Alfred Dreyfus, and also of anti-Semitism. His intention was to draw the accusation so broadly that he would essentially force men in the government to sue him for libel. Once the suit was filed, the Dreyfusards (supporters of Dreyfus) would have the opportunity to acquire and publicize the shaky evidence on which Dreyfus had been convicted.

Zola argued that “the conviction of Alfred Dreyfus was based on false accusations of espionage and was a misrepresentation of justice.” He first points out that the real man behind all of this was major du Paty de Clam. Zola states: “He was the one who came up with the scheme of dictating the text of the bordereau to Dreyfus; he was the one who had the idea of observing him in a mirror-lined room. And he was the one whom major Forzinetti caught carrying a shuttered lantern that he planned to throw open on the accused man while he slept, hoping that, jolted awake by the sudden flash of light, Dreyfus would blurt out his guilt.” Next, Zola points out that if the investigation of the traitor was to be done properly, the evidence would clearly show that the bordereau came from an infantry officer, not an artillery officer such as Dreyfus.

Zola argues Dreyfus’ innocence can be readily inferred from the circumstances when he states: “These, Sir, are the facts that explain how this miscarriage of justice came about; The evidence of Dreyfus’ character, his affluence, the lack of motive and his continued affirmation of innocence combine to show that he is the victim of the lurid imagination of major du Paty de Clam, the religious circles surrounding him, and the ‘dirty Jew’ obsession that is the scourge of our time.”

After more investigation, Zola points out that a man by the name of major Esterhazy was the man who should have been convicted of this crime, and there was proof provided, but he could not be proven guilty unless the entire General Staff was guilty, so the War Office covered up for Esterhazy. At the end of his letter, Zola accuses general Billot of having held in his hands absolute proof of Dreyfus’ innocence and covering it up. He accuses both general de Boisdeffre and general Gonse of religious prejudice against Dreyfus. He accuses the three handwriting experts, Messrs. Belhomme, Varinard and Couard, of submitting false reports that were deceitful, “unless a medical examination finds them to be suffering from a condition that impairs their eyesight and judgment.”

Zola was brought to trial for libel for publishing his letter to the president, and was convicted two weeks later. He was sentenced to jail and was removed from the Légion d’honneur. To avoid jail time, Zola fled to England, and stayed there until the French Government collapsed; he continued to defend Dreyfus. Four years after this famous letter to the president, Zola died from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a blocked chimney.

In 1899, Dreyfus returned to France for a retrial, but although found guilty again, he was pardoned. In 1906, Dreyfus appealed his case again, to obtain the annulment of his guilty verdict. In 1906, he was also awarded the Cross of the Légion d’honneur, which stated, “a soldier who has endured an unparalleled martyrdom.”  Rehabilitated, Dreyfus was reinstated in the army with the rank of major and participated in the First World War. He died in 1935 with the rank of lieutenant colonel.

I have written several times here about a general misunderstanding, especially in the US, concerning so-called “Jewish cooking.” In the US there are recipes such as matzoh ball soup, gefilte fish, kugel, knishes, babka, blintzes, challah, rugelach, and on and on, that are associated with “Jewish cooking,” but if you know anything about European traditional cooking, you will know that these dishes are common in certain regions, and the only reason that they are associated with Jewish cuisine in the US is that they were brought to the US by Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants, particularly from Russia, Poland, and Germany.  Jews in France did contribute significantly to the ingredient list for French cuisine. By all accounts they introduced foie gras as a means of obtaining high quality fat other than lard. They supposedly introduced truffles, and also chocolate from the New World via Jewish merchants in Spain. I don’t know how true any of this is, but it gives me an idea. I will not ever give a recipe for foie gras because I see its production as utterly barbaric, and I almost never cook with truffles because of the expense. But when you add chocolate to the list, and think of the word “truffle” you are off to the races. Chocolate truffles get their name because they resemble fungal truffles.

There are numerous ways to make truffles. The French method is certainly the simplest. They are no more than a ganache center coated with cocoa powder or crushed nuts, or powdered sugar.

French Chocolate Truffles


600 gm dark chocolate, chopped in small pieced
300 gm whipping cream
100 gm unsalted butter, cut in small pieces
unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder to dust


Put the chopped chocolate into a large ceramic bowl. Heat the cream almost to the boiling point and pour it directly over the chocolate. Stir until the chocolate is melted and combined with the cream. Then add the butter and continue stirring until all the ingredients are thoroughly blended. Cool and refrigerate. Stir every 15 minutes until the ganache has set, so that it is firm enough to scoop. Using a melon baller or small spoon, scoop the ganache into 1 inch lumps and roll into balls, handling quickly. Roll the balls in cocoa powder, place on parchment paper on a tray and refrigerate. Eat within 2 days.

Feb 052019

On this date in 1862 [24th January (O.S.)], the Principality of Moldavia and the Principality of Wallachia formally united to create the Romanian United Principalities, the core of the Romanian nation state. In 1866 a new constitution came into effect, giving the country the name of Romania. The new state remained nominally a vassal of the Ottoman Empire. However, it only acknowledged the suzerainty of the Sublime Porte in a formal way. It had its own flag, anthem, and (from 1867) currency, and conducted its own foreign policy. In 1877, Romania proclaimed itself fully independent, and on 26th March [14 March (O.S.)] 1881, it became the kingdom of Romania. After the First World War, Transylvania and other territories were also included.

The aftermath of the Russian Empire’s defeat in the Crimean War brought about the 1856 Treaty of Paris, which started a period of broadly common interests for the Ottomans and a Congress of Great Powers—the United Kingdom, the Second French Empire, the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia, the Austrian Empire, and Prussia. While the Moldavia-Wallachia unionist campaign, which had come to dominate political demands, was accepted with sympathy by the French, Prussians, and Sardinians, it was rejected by the Austrian Empire, and looked upon with suspicion by Great Britain and the Ottomans. Negotiations in Paris reached an agreement on a minimal formal union. However, elections for the ad-hoc divans (consultative assemblies of the two Ottoman vassal states) in 1859 profited from an ambiguity in the text of the final agreement. Moldavia and Wallachia were to have two thrones, but the agreement did not prevent the same person from occupying both thrones simultaneously, and ultimately Alexandru Ioan Cuza was elected as Domnitor (Ruling Prince) to both thrones, de facto creating the United Romanian Principalities from 1862 onwards.

If you know your British history, you will know that when James VI of Scotland became James I of England (on the death of Elizabeth) in 1603, the two countries had one king, but they were still two separate countries. This is called a “personal union” which is different from a “state union” whereby the two formerly distinct states become one state. Because of the ambiguity of the Treaty of Paris, Cuza’s authority was not recognized by his nominal suzerain, Abdülaziz, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, until 23rd December 1861, (and, even then, the union was only accepted for the duration of Cuza’s rule). The state union was formally declared three years later, on 5th February 1862, [24th January (OS)], the new country bearing the name of Romania, with Bucharest as its capital city. Cuza invested his diplomatic actions in gaining further concessions from the Powers: the sultan’s assent to a single unified parliament and cabinet for Cuza’s lifetime, in recognition of the complexity of the task. Thus, he was regarded as the political embodiment of a unified Romania.

There is a great deal more to the solidification of Romania as a nation state and its independence, but I am going to turn to cooking. As you would expect, Romanian cuisine has influences from Austria, Russia, Turkey, Greece and the Balkans, yet has an identifiable character. Soups are very common and, as it happens, ciorba de burta (tripe soup) is a favorite – my wheelhouse. Here is a video. It’s good but you’ll need to sharpen your linguistic skills. The only thing you really need to know is that the white root is celeriac. The cream is sour cream.

Feb 042019

Today is the birthday (1883) of Reinhold Rudenberg (or Rüdenberg) a German- born electrical engineer and inventor, credited with many innovations in electric power and related fields, but best known for the invention of the electrostatic-lens electron microscope.

Reinhold Rudenberg was born in Hanover. His father Georg was a manufacturer, who operated a plant for preparing and cleaning feathers and down goods. His mother was a daughter of the chief rabbi of the county of Braunschweig. He attended the Technical University of Hanover (then Technische Hochschule), and after receiving his electrical engineering degrees (Dipl. Ing.) and doctorate (Dr. Ing.), both in 1906, he worked for Ludwig Prandtl as a teaching assistant at the Institute for Applied Physics and Mechanics at Göttingen University. There he also attended courses in physics and the celebrated Advanced Electrodynamics course by Emil Wiechert, who only ten years earlier had been one of the discoverers of the electron.

After leaving Göttingen in 1908 he started at the manufacturer of electrical machinery Siemens-Schuckertwerke (SSW), part of the Siemens group of companies, in Berlin. He entered as a machine design engineer, and quickly advanced to head this department. His work soon broadened to include transmission lines, distribution systems, and protective relays and switches. In 1923 he was appointed Director of the Scientific Department (Wissenschaftliche Abteilung) of SSW responsible for the research on and development of machinery and systems for the firm. Simultaneously he was named Chief Electrical Engineer (Chef-Elektriker) of the firm.

In 1916, Rudenberg designed the electric generator for the main power station in Cologne, then the largest known. He published much and became a prolific inventor. His books, especially on electrical transients, were widely read and used as college texts.

In 1930, just after returning home from a summer vacation on the Dutch seaside, his 2 year-old son became ill with leg paralysis. This was soon diagnosed as poliomyelitis, which at that time was a frightening disease with a death rate of 10-25% as the disease progressed to the lungs. Polio was then known to be caused by a virus, too small to be visible under an optical microscope. From that time Rudenberg was determined to find or invent a way to make such a small virus visible. He thought that electrons, because of their subatomic size, as he had learned in Göttingen from Wiechert, would be able to resolve such small particles, and he investigated ways to focus these to create their enlarged image.

Already in 1927 Hans Busch, his friend since Göttingen, had published an analysis of a magnetic coil acting as a lens. Rudenberg reasoned that an electron beam leaving a point on an object in an axially symmetric electrostatic system could be focused back to an image point if the radial electric field was proportional to the electron distance from the axis. Thus, he believed that real magnified images could be obtained under these conditions. As the date of a public lecture on electron optics was approaching Siemens applied for a patent on Rudenberg’s electrostatic-lens instrument and his general electron microscope principles on May 30th, 1931. Siemens also obtained patents in six other countries. In Germany this, or patents derived therefrom, were granted at various later times from 1938-1954. Some competitors voiced complaints against the Rudenberg patents, but ignored or did not notice the earlier year that Rudenberg began his invention (1930) nor the difference of the stimulus that initiated it, nor would they recognize the technical differences between his electrostatic electron lenses and the magnetic lenses used by others.

Rudenberg taught at Göttingen, Berlin, London, and in the U.S. at MIT and Harvard University. At Harvard he was head of the Department of Electrical Engineering at the Graduate School of Engineering from 1939-1952, when he retired. He died on Christmas Day, 1961.

Rudenberg’s mother was from Braunschweig, close to Hanover where he was born, and is well known for a number of food and drink specialties. Braunschweig had many breweries, and since the 14th century has produced a beer called Mumme, that can made in various strengths. Two major breweries still produce Mumme in Braunschweig, the Hofbrauhaus Wolters, founded in 1627, and the former Feldschlößchen brewery, founded in 1871. Braunschweiger Mettwurst is a soft, spreadable smoked pork sausage which is nothing like Braunschweiger in the US, which is just a liver sausage (full details on the original are http://www.bookofdaystales.com/steinway/ ). Other traditional local dishes include white asparagus, Braunschweiger Lebkuchen, and Uhlen un Apen (Low German for “Owls and Guenons”, a pastry).  Then there is Braunkohl, a kale dish served with Bregenwurst (originally brain sausage, but now made with pork products).



1 lb kale, cleaned and chopped
50 gm Bauchspeck, diced
½ onion, chopped
beef stock
1 tbsp mustard
4 Bregenwurst


Bring a pot of water to a boil and blanch the kale for 1 minute, then drain.

In a frying pan, brown the Bauchspeck. Sauté the onion in the pan with the Bauchspeck and its grease and add the kale. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes and then add beef stock to cover. Simmer for 30 minutes.

Add the mustard and stir. Place the sausages on top of the kale and simmer for another 30 minutes. Add pepper to taste.

Serve hot with boiled potatoes.

Feb 032019

Today is the birthday (1894) of Norman Percevel Rockwell a US illustrator whose works once had broad popular appeal in the United States. Rockwell is most famous for the cover illustrations of everyday life he created for The Saturday Evening Post magazine over nearly five decades. Rockwell’s work was dismissed by serious art critics in his lifetime because they appear overly sweet and tend toward idealistic or sentimentalized portrayals of US life. Vladimir Nabokov said that Rockwell’s brilliant technique was put to “banal” use, and wrote: “Dalí is really Norman Rockwell’s twin brother kidnapped by Gypsies in babyhood.” Actually, Rockwell preferred to be called an illustrator rather than an artist, which makes more sense. I think of him as a caricaturist, and it is worth knowing that Rockwell suffered from lifelong depression and was able to glean joy through his paintings that he could not find in life. In that respect, maybe we can forgive the cartoonish sentimentality.

Rockwell was born in New York City, where he attended Chase Art School at the age of 14. He then went on to the National Academy of Design and finally to the Art Students League. There, he was taught by Thomas Fogarty, George Bridgman, and Frank Vincent DuMond. As a student, Rockwell was given small jobs of minor importance. His first major breakthrough came at age 18 with his first book illustration for Carl H. Claudy’s Tell Me Why: Stories about Mother Nature.

 After that, Rockwell was hired as a staff artist for Boys’ Life magazine, the Boy Scouts of America publication. In this role, he received $50 each month for one completed cover and a set of story illustrations. It is said to have been his first paying job as an artist. At 19, he became the art editor for Boys’ Life, published by the Boy Scouts of America. He held the job for three years, during which he painted several covers, beginning with his first published magazine cover, Scout at Ship’s Wheel, which appeared on the Boys’ Life September edition.

Rockwell’s family moved to New Rochelle, New York, when Norman was 21 years old. They shared a studio with the cartoonist Clyde Forsythe, who worked for The Saturday Evening Post. With Forsythe’s help, Rockwell submitted his first successful cover painting to the Post in 1916, Mother’s Day Off (published on May 20). He followed that success with Circus Barker and Strongman (published on June 3), Gramps at the Plate (August 5), Redhead Loves Hatty Perkins (September 16), People in a Theatre Balcony (October 14), and Man Playing Santa (December 9). Rockwell was published eight times on the Post cover within the first year. Ultimately, Rockwell published 323 original covers for The Saturday Evening Post over 47 years. Rockwell’s success on the cover of the Post led to covers for other magazines of the day, most notably the Literary Digest, the Country Gentleman, Leslie’s Weekly, Judge, Peoples Popular Monthly and Life magazine.


During World War I, he tried to enlist into the U.S. Navy but was refused entry because, at 140 pounds (64 kg), he was eight pounds underweight for someone 6 feet (1.8 m) tall. To compensate, he spent one night gorging himself on bananas, liquids and doughnuts, and weighed enough to enlist the next day. He was given the role of a military artist, however, and did not see any action during his tour of duty.

In 1943, during World War II, Rockwell painted the Four Freedoms series, which was completed in seven months and resulted in his losing fifteen pounds. The series was inspired by a speech by Franklin D. Roosevelt, wherein Roosevelt described and articulated Four Freedoms for universal rights. Rockwell then painted Freedom from Want, Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, and Freedom from Fear.

The paintings were published in 1943 by The Saturday Evening Post. Rockwell used the Pennell shipbuilding family from Brunswick, Maine as models for two of the paintings, Freedom from Want and A Thankful Mother, and would combine models from photographs and his own vision to create his idealistic paintings. The United States Department of the Treasury later promoted war bonds by exhibiting the originals in sixteen cities. Rockwell considered Freedom of Speech to be the best of the four.

That same year, a fire in his studio destroyed numerous original paintings, costumes, and props. Because the period costumes and props were irreplaceable, the fire split his career into two phases, the second phase depicting modern characters and situations. Rockwell was contacted by writer Elliott Caplin, brother of cartoonist Al Capp, with the suggestion that the three of them should make a daily comic strip together, with Caplin and his brother writing and Rockwell drawing. King Features Syndicate is reported to have promised a $1,000 per week deal, knowing that a Capp-Rockwell collaboration would gain strong public interest. The project was ultimately aborted, however, as it turned out that Rockwell, known for his perfectionism as an artist, could not deliver material so quickly as would be required of him for a daily comic strip.

During the late 1940s, Norman Rockwell spent the winter months as artist-in-residence at Otis College of Art and Design. Students occasionally were models for his Saturday Evening Post covers. In 1949, Rockwell donated an original Post cover, April Fool, to be raffled off in a library fund raiser. In 1959, after his wife Mary died suddenly from a heart attack, Rockwell took time off from his work to grieve. It was during that break that he and his son Thomas produced Rockwell’s autobiography, My Adventures as an Illustrator, which was published in 1960. The Post printed excerpts from this book in eight consecutive issues, the first containing Rockwell’s famous Triple Self-Portrait.

Rockwell’s last painting for the Post was published in 1963, marking the end of a publishing relationship that had included 321 cover paintings. He spent the next 10 years painting for Look magazine, where his work depicted his interests in civil rights, poverty, and space exploration. His last commission for the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) was a calendar illustration entitled The Spirit of 1976, which was completed when Rockwell was 82, concluding a partnership which generated 471 images for periodicals, guidebooks, calendars, and promotional materials. His connection to the BSA spanned 64 years, marking the longest professional association of his career.

Rockwell died on November 8, 1978, of emphysema at age 84 in his Stockbridge, Massachusetts home.

Gorging on bananas and doughnuts aside, we know that Rockwell was fond of oatmeal cookies, and even typed up his favorite recipe.

Norman Rockwell’s Oatmeal Cookies

1 stick butter
1 cup light brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup water and 2 eggs well beaten
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour, sifted
½ teaspoon baking soda
About 1 cup oatmeal
Chopped nuts (walnuts preferred)

Mix in order and drop on baking sheet. Bake 400° 7 to 8 minutes. Then run under broiler to brown.

Feb 022019

On this date in 1585, fraternal twins, Hamnet and Judith, born to William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway, were baptized. Their date of birth (as with Shakespeare), is not recorded. They were probably born in the same house where their father was born, and certainly raised there. They were probably named after Hamnet Sadler, a baker, who witnessed Shakespeare’s will, and his wife, Judith. According to the record of Sadler’s baptism on 23rd March 1560 in the Register of Solihull he was christened Hamlette Sadler, which has caused some idle speculation among literary historians concerning Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, and his son’s name – the kind of musing that occupies doctoral candidates with nothing better to do with their time.

By the time the twins were four, their father was already a London playwright and, as his popularity grew, he was probably not regularly at home in Stratford with his family. Hamnet may have completed Lower School, which would have been normal, before his death at the age of eleven (possibly from the bubonic plague). He was buried in Stratford on 11th August 1596. At that time in England about a third of all children died before age 10.

Judith Shakespeare was almost certainly illiterate. In 1611, she witnessed the deed of sale of a house for £131 to William Mountford, a wheelwright of Stratford, from Elizabeth Quiney, her future mother-in-law, and Elizabeth’s eldest son Adrian. Judith signed twice with a mark instead of her name. On 10th February 1616, Judith Shakespeare married Thomas Quiney, a vintner of Stratford, in Holy Trinity Church. The assistant vicar, Richard Watts, who later married Quiney’s sister Mary, probably officiated. The wedding took place during the pre-Lenten season of Shrovetide, which was not a lawful time for marriages. In 1616, the period in which marriages were banned without dispensation from the church, including Ash Wednesday and Lent, started on 23rd January, Septuagesima Sunday and ended on 7th April, the Sunday after Easter. Hence the marriage required a special license issued by the Bishop of Worcester, which the couple had failed to obtain. Presumably they had posted the required banns in church, but this was not considered sufficient. The infraction was a minor one apparently caused by the minister, as three other couples were also wed that February. Quiney was nevertheless summoned by Walter Nixon to appear before the Consistory court in Worcester. (This same Walter Nixon was later involved in a Star Chamber case and was found guilty of forging signatures and taking bribes). Quiney failed to appear by the required date. The register recorded the judgement, which was excommunication, on or about 12th March 1616. It is unknown if Judith was also excommunicated, but in any case the punishment did not last long. In November of the same year they were back in church for the baptism of their firstborn child.

The marriage did not begin well. Quiney had recently got another woman pregnant, Margaret Wheeler, who died in childbirth along with her child. Both were buried on 15th March 1616. On 26th March, Quiney appeared before the Bawdy Court, which dealt, among other things, with “whoredom and uncleanliness.” Confessing in open court to “carnal copulation” with Margaret Wheeler, he submitted himself for correction and was sentenced to open penance in a white sheet (according to custom) before the Congregation on three Sundays. He also had to admit to his crime, this time wearing ordinary clothes, before the Minister of Bishopton in Warwickshire. The first part of the sentence was remitted, essentially letting him off with a five-shilling fine to be given to the parish’s poor. As Bishopton had no church, but only a chapel, he was spared any public humiliation.

Where the Quineys lived after their marriage is unknown: but Judith owned her father’s cottage on Chapel Lane, Stratford; while Thomas had held, since 1611, the lease on a tavern called “Atwood’s” on High Street. The cottage later passed from Judith to her sister as part of the settlement in their father’s will. In July 1616 Thomas swapped houses with his brother-in-law, William Chandler, moving his vintner’s shop to the upper half of a house at the corner of High Street and Bridge Street. This house was known as “The Cage” and is the house traditionally associated with Judith Quiney. In the 20th century The Cage was for a time a Wimpy Bar before being turned into the Stratford Information Office.

The Cage provides further insight into why Shakespeare would not have trusted Judith’s husband. Around 1630 Quiney tried to sell the lease on the house but was prevented by his kin. In 1633, to protect the interests of Judith and the children, the lease was signed over to the trust of John Hall, Susanna Shakespeare’s husband (Judith’s brother-in-law), Thomas Nash, the husband of Judith’s niece, and Richard Watts, vicar of nearby Harbury, who was Quiney’s brother-in-law and who had officiated at Thomas and Judith’s wedding. Eventually, in November 1652, the lease to The Cage ended up in the hands of Thomas’ eldest brother, Richard Quiney, a grocer in London.

The inauspicious beginnings of Judith’s marriage, in spite of her husband and his family being otherwise unexceptional, has led to speculation that this was the cause for William Shakespeare’s hastily altered last will and testament. He first summoned his lawyer, Francis Collins, in January 1616. On 25 March he made further alterations, probably because he was dying and because of his concerns about Quiney. In the first bequest of the will there had been a provision “vnto my sonne in L[aw]”; but “sonne in L[aw]” was then struck out, with Judith’s name inserted in its stead. To this daughter he bequeathed £100 (equivalent to £18,439 in 2018) “in discharge of her marriage porcion”; another £50 (£9,220 in 2018) if she were to relinquish the Chapel Lane cottage; and, if she or any of her children were still alive at the end of three years following the date of the will, a further £150 (£27,659 in 2018), of which she was to receive the interest but not the principal. This money was explicitly denied to Thomas Quiney unless he were to bestow on Judith lands of equal value. In a separate bequest, Judith was given “my broad silver gilt bole.”

Finally, for the bulk of his estate, which included his main house, New Place, his two houses on Henley Street and various lands in and around Stratford, Shakespeare had set up an entail. His estate was bequeathed, in descending order of choice, to the following: 1) his daughter, Susanna Hall; 2) upon Susanna’s death, “to the first sonne of her bodie lawfullie yssueing & to the heires Males of the bodie of the saied first Sonne lawfullie yssueing”; 3) to Susanna’s second son and his male heirs; 4) to Susanna’s third son and his male heirs; 5) to Susanna’s “ffourth … ffyfth sixte & Seaventh sonnes” and their male heirs; 6) to Elizabeth Hall, Susanna and John Hall’s firstborn, and her male heirs; 7) to Judith and her male heirs; or 8) to whatever heirs the law would normally recognize. This elaborate entail is usually taken to indicate that Thomas Quiney was not to be entrusted with Shakespeare’s inheritance, although some have speculated that it might simply indicate that Susanna was the favored child.

Judith and Thomas Quiney had three children:

Shakespeare (baptized 23 November 1616– buried 8 May 1617)

Richard (baptized 9 February 1618 – buried 6 February 1639)

Thomas (baptized 23 January 1620 – buried 28 January 1639)

Shakespeare was named for his grandfather. Richard’s name was common among the Quineys: his paternal grandfather and an uncle were named Richard.

Shakespeare Quiney died at six months of age. Richard and Thomas Quiney were buried within one month of each other, 21 and 19 years old respectively. The deaths of all of Judith’s children resulted in new legal consequences. The entail on her father’s inheritance led Susanna, along with her daughter and son-in-law, to make a settlement using a rather elaborate legal device for the inheritance of her own branch of the family. Legal wrangling continued for another thirteen years, until 1652.

Judith Quiney died before 9th February 1662 (the day of her burial and a week after her 77th birthday). She outlived her last surviving child by 23 years. She was buried in the grounds of Holy Trinity Church, but the exact location of her grave is unknown. Of her husband, the records show little of his later years. It has been speculated that he may have died in 1662 or 1663, when the parish burial records are incomplete, or that he may have left Stratford-upon-Avon.

In The Merry Wives of Windsor Act 1, Scene 1 we have: “Wife, bid these gentlemen welcome. Come, we have a hot venison pasty to dinner: come, gentlemen . . .” which gives an idea for a recipe. Sadly, modern attempts at recreating an Elizabethan venison pasty or pie filling do not take into account the Tudor proclivity for using sweet spices and fruit in with meat, so let’s start here with Hannah Wolley who is a later than Shakespeare’s time, but the ideas are still Tudor in style:

To rost a Haunch or a Shoulder of Venison, or a Chine of Mutton

Take either of these, and lard it with Lard, and stick it thick with Rosemary, then rost it with a quick fire, but do not lay it too near; baste it with sweet butter: then take half a Pint of Claret wine, a little beaten Cinamon and Ginger, and as much sugar as will sweeten it, five or six whole Cloves, a little grated bread, and when it is boiled enough, put in a little Sweet butter, a little Vinegar, and a very little Salt, when your meat is rosted, serve it in with Sauce, and strew salt about your Dish.

My idea would be to start with ground or finely chopped venison. Brown it in a little oil with some chopped onions and chopped bacon, then add red wine and beef stock plus rosemary, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves, and simmer for several hours. You could also add red currants or pitted prunes. When the sauce has reduced, add breadcrumbs to thicken. Line a deep pastry dish with hot water pastry, fill with the meat mixture, cover with a pastry lid, and bake until golden. Could be served hot or cold.