Jan 082020
 

Today is the birthday (1935) of Elvis Aaron Presley, often known simply as Elvis, the king of Rock and Roll, or just the King. Elvis is one of the cultural icons of the mid-20th century, and his music marked a fundamental shift in popular music in the late 1950s from crooners and other solo artists to guitar playing rock stars fronting bands with guitars and drums.  Prior to Elvis, rock and roll in the US was the domain of African-American musicians, but Elvis brought the style into the White mainstream.

Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, and relocated to Memphis, Tennessee with his family when he was 13 years old. His music career began there in 1954, recording at Sun Records with producer Sam Phillips, who was the key person involved in bringing the sound of African-American music to a wider audience at the time. Presley, on rhythm acoustic guitar, and accompanied by lead guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black, was a pioneer of rockabilly, an up-tempo, backbeat-driven fusion of country music and rhythm and blues. In 1955, drummer D. J. Fontana joined to complete the lineup of Presley’s classic quartet and RCA Victor acquired his contract in a deal arranged by Colonel Tom Parker, who would manage him for more than two decades. Presley’s first RCA single, “Heartbreak Hotel,” was released in January 1956 and became a number-one hit in the United States. With a series of successful network television appearances and chart-topping records, he became the leading figure of the newly popular sound of rock and roll. His energized interpretations of songs and sexually provocative performance style, combined with a singularly potent mix of influences across color lines during a transformative era in race relations, made him enormously popular—and controversial.

In November 1956, Presley made his film debut in Love Me Tender. He was drafted into military service in 1958, which the press made much about at the time, and then forgot him. He was intent on being a regular soldier rather than an entertainer in uniform, so he worked in a regular army unit, mostly in Germany.  Meanwhile his handlers issued pre-recorded singles on a regular basis so that his music would have a continued presence even though the man himself was absent. In 1960 Presley was honorably discharged and relaunched his recording career with some of his most commercially successful work such as, “It’s Now or Never” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” He held few concerts however, and guided by Parker, proceeded to devote much of the 1960s to making Hollywood films and soundtrack albums, most of them critically derided. They were all completely formulaic, involving beaches, pretty women, and cookie-cutter songs.

In 1968, following a seven-year break from live performances, he returned to the stage in the acclaimed television comeback special Elvis, which led to an extended Las Vegas concert residency and a string of highly profitable tours. In 1973, Presley gave the first concert by a solo artist to be broadcast around the world, Aloha from Hawaii.

Years of prescription drug abuse severely compromised his health, and he died suddenly in 1977 at his Graceland estate at the age of 42. The official cause of death was cardiac arrest, but there is continuing controversy about how (or even whether) he died. He did have well documented cardiac problems, and he did overdose on amphetamines several times prior to his death.  So it’s probably likely that bad eating habits, drug abuse, and a weakened heart were all contributory factors in his death.

Presley is the best-selling solo artist in the history of recorded music. He was commercially successful in many genres, including pop, country, blues, and gospel. He won three competitive Grammys, received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award at age 36, and has been inducted into multiple music halls of fame.

Now let’s consider those bad eating habits.  Anyone who is my age can remember the slender, highly active Elvis of the 50s versus the overweight, sluggish Elvis of the 70s. His eating habits (and recipes) have been documented in several books.  Here I will focus on the peanut butter and banana sandwich, or peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwich, sometimes referred to as an Elvis sandwich or simply the Elvis, consisting of toasted bread slices with peanut butter, sliced or mashed banana, and sometimes bacon. Presley’s fondness for peanut butter and banana sandwiches is well established; however, bacon is not mentioned in all accounts. His mother, Gladys Presley, says, however, that on one occasion he had “sandwich after sandwich of his favorite—peanut butter, sliced bananas, and crisp bacon”. Another passage describes him talking “feverishly until dawn” while “wolfing” down the sandwiches (described in this instance as being made with mashed banana).

A news report suggests that, based on renditions of sandwiches named after him, Presley ate his with caramelized bananas and crispy bacon on grilled Hawaiian bread, and grilled by his mother or his cook in bacon fat. The Good, the Bad, and the Yummy describes it as consisting of half a banana and a piece of bacon per sandwich, browning the sandwiches in a frying pan with butter, cutting the sandwiches into wedges, and piling them high.

Elvis is also well documented as loving the Fool’s Gold Loaf, a sandwich made by the Colorado Mine Company, a restaurant in Denver, Colorado. The sandwich consists of a single warmed, hollowed-out loaf of bread filled with the contents of one jar of creamy peanut butter, one jar of grape jelly, and a pound of bacon. The sandwich’s connection to the singer Elvis Presley is the source of its legend and prolonged interest. According to The Life and Cuisine of Elvis Presley, Presley and his friends took his private jet from Graceland, purchased 30 of the sandwiches, and spent two hours eating them and drinking Perrier and champagne before flying home. The story became legend and the sandwich became the subject of continued media interest and part of numerous cookbooks, typically focused on Presley’s love of food.

Jan 062020
 

In Italian tradition, La Befana is an old woman who delivers gifts and/or sweets to children throughout Italy on the eve of Epiphany to be opened on the morning of Epiphany (today).  This seems like a suitable way to open my “gift”of posts for 2020 (which will continue to be few and far between). The name Befana is likely some corruption of dialect for Epiphany, but you will also read the usual rubbish about it, and the custom, being a survival of some long-lost “pagan”tradition.   I am not going to spill any more ink in that direction.

In popular folklore, Befana visits all the children of Italy to fill their socks with candy and presents if they are good, or a lump of coal or dark candy if they are bad. In many poorer parts of Italy and in particular rural Sicily, a stick in a stocking was placed instead of coal. Being a good housekeeper, many say she will sweep the floor before she leaves. To some the sweeping meant the sweeping away of the problems of the year. The child’s family typically leaves a small glass of wine and a plate with a few morsels of food, often regional or local, for the Befana. She is usually portrayed as a hag riding a broomstick through the air wearing a black shawl and is covered in soot because she enters the children’s houses through the chimney. She is often smiling and carries a bag or hamper filled with candy, gifts, or both.

Christian legend has it that Befana was approached by the biblical magi (Three Wise Men) a few days before the birth of the Infant Jesus. They asked for directions to where he, as they had seen his star in the sky, but she did not know. She provided them with shelter for a night, as she was considered the best housekeeper in the village, with the most pleasant home. The magi invited her to join them on the journey to find the baby Jesus, but she declined, stating she was too busy with her housework. Later, La Befana had a change of heart, and tried to search out the astrologers and Jesus. That night she was not able to find them, so to this day, La Befana is searching for the little baby. She leaves all the good children toys and candy (“caramelle”) or fruit, while the bad children get coal (“carbone”), onions or garlic.

Another Christian legend takes a slightly darker tone as La Befana was an ordinary woman with a child whom she greatly loved. However, her child died, and her resulting grief caused her to become mad/crazy. Upon hearing news of Jesus being born, she set out to see him, delusional that he was her son. She eventually met Jesus and presented him with gifts to make him happy. The infant Jesus was delighted, and he gave La Befana a gift in return; she would be the mother of every child in Italy.

Another commonly heard Christian legend of La Befana starts at the time of the birth of baby Jesus. In this version, Befana spent her days cleaning and sweeping. One day the magi came to her door in search of the baby Jesus. However, Befana turned them away because she was too busy cleaning. Feeling guilty, she eventually decides to find Jesus on her own by following a bright light in the sky which she believes points the way. She brings along a bag filled with baked goods and gifts for Jesus, and a broom to help the new mother clean. Unfortunately despite her best efforts she never finds him. According to this telling, Befana is still searching after all these centuries for the new born messiah. On the eve of the Epiphany, Befana comes to every house where there is a child and leaves a gift. Although she has been unsuccessful in her search, she still leaves gifts for good young children because the Christ Child can be found in all children.

Popular tradition tells that if one sees La Befana one will receive a thump from her broomstick, as she doesn’t wish to be seen. This aspect of the tradition may be designed to keep children in their beds.

Befana was never a widespread tradition among the whole Italian people, having originated in Rome and having become well known and practiced by the rest of the population during the 20th century, and is now a national icon. In the regions of the Marches, Umbria and Latium, her figure is associated with the Papal States, where Epiphany held the most importance. Urbania is thought to be her official home. Every year there is a big festival held to celebrate the holiday. About 30,000 to 50,000 people attend the festivities. Hundreds of Befanas are present, swinging from the main tower. They juggle, dance and greet all the children.

Traditionally, all Italian children may expect to find a lump of “coal” in their stockings (actually rock candy made black with caramel coloring) along with treats, since every child has been at least occasionally bad during the year.

There are poems about Befana, which are known in slightly different versions throughout Italy. Here is one of the versions:

    La Befana vien di notte
    Con le scarpe tutte rotte
    Col vestito alla romana
    Viva, Viva La Befana!

    Befana comes by night
    With her shoes all tattered and torn
    She comes dressed in the Roman way
    Long live the Befana!

Since Befana is originally a Roman tradition, a Roman recipe is in order.  My fav is trippa alla Romana, but I have already given a recipe (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/st-peters-basilica/ ) so I’ll turn to spaghetti all carbonara which is also fundamentally Roman, and a great way to dish pasta.

Dec 242019
 

Today is called Aðfangadagur in Iceland, the center point of Yule (Jól). They have the common church tradition of lighting a candle per week for 4 weeks beforehand.

But they also have a custom of the Yule Lads, that is exactly symmetric around the 24th. (see http://www.bookofdaystales.com/threttandinn/ ). There are 13 Yule Lads (jólasveinarnir) sons of two trolls, Grýla and Leppalúði, living in the Icelandic mountains. They arrive one by one each night for 13 nights, and then depart after the 24th one by one – ending with Epiphany. Each of the Yule Lads is known for a different kind of mischief (for example slamming doors, stealing meat, stealing milk or eating the candles). I’ll place a poem about each one after the recipe. Yule Lads traditionally wear early Icelandic wool clothing but are now known for the more recognizable red and white suit. Starting 13 days before today, Icelandic children set out their shoes by the window for presents from the Yule Lads. Candle Stealer, last to come and leave, was recently voted the favorite, because, although he steals candles to eat them, he is also the most generous.

The Yule Lads’ mother, Grýla, likes to eat children that do not behave. She is often described with many tails, horns hooves, many heads and so on. She also has a huge cat called Jólakötturinn – the Christmas Cat – which eats children who don’t get new clothes for Christmas.

In Iceland people over the Yule holidays most often eat smoked lamb, ptarmigan, turkey, and pork.  But they also enjoy reindeer – which is the reason for this post.  Reindeer for Christmas is like rabbit for Easter — “Would you like another slice of Rudolf?”  Here’s a video for you.

 

Stekkjastaur – Sheep-Cote Clod

The first of them was Sheep-Cote Clod.
He came stiff as wood,
to prey upon the farmer’s sheep
as far as he could.
He wished to suck the ewes,
but it was no accident
he couldn’t; he had stiff knees
– not to convenient.

Giljagaur – Gully Gawk

The second was Gully Gawk,
gray his head and mien.
He snuck into the cow barn
from his craggy ravine.
Hiding in the stalls,
he would steal the milk, while
the milkmaid gave the cowherd
a meaningful smile.

Stúfur – Stubby

Stubby was the third called,
a stunted little man,
who watched for every chance
to whisk off a pan.
And scurrying away with it,
he scraped off the bits
that stuck to the bottom
and brims – his favorites.

Þvörusleikir – Spoon-Licker

The fourth was Spoon Licker;
like spindle he was thin.
He felt himself in clover
when the cook wasn’t in.
Then stepping up, he grappled
the stirring spoon with glee,
holding it with both hands
for it was slippery.

Pottaskefill – Pot-Scraper

Pot Scraper, the fifth one,
was a funny sort of chap.
When kids were given scrapings,
he’d come to the door and tap.
And they would rush to see
if there really was a guest.
Then he hurried to the pot
and had a scraping fest.

Askasleikir – Bowl-Licker

Bowl Licker, the sixth one,
was shockingly ill bred.
From underneath the bedsteads
he stuck his ugly head.
And when the bowls were left
to be licked by dog or cat,
he snatched them for himself
– he was sure good at that!

Hurðaskellir – Door-Slammer

The seventh was Door Slammer,
a sorry, vulgar chap:
When people in the twilight
would take a little nap,
he was happy as a lark
with the havoc he could wreak,
slamming doors and hearing
the hinges on them squeak.

Skyrgámur – Skyr-Gobbler

Skyr Gobbler, the eighth,
was an awful stupid bloke.
He lambasted the skyr tub
till the lid on it broke.
Then he stood there gobbling
– his greed was well known –
until, about to burst,
he would bleat, howl and groan.

Bjúgnakrækir – Sausage-Swiper

The ninth was Sausage Swiper,
a shifty pilferer.
He climbed up to the rafters
and raided food from there.
Sitting on a crossbeam
in soot and in smoke,
he fed himself on sausage
fit for gentlefolk.

Gluggagægir – Window-Peeper

The tenth was Window Peeper,
a weird little twit,
who stepped up to the window
and stole a peek through it.
And whatever was inside
to which his eye was drawn,
he most likely attempted
to take later on.

Gáttaþefur – Doorway Sniffer

Eleventh was Door Sniffer,
a doltish lad and gross.
He never got a cold, yet had
a huge, sensitive nose.
He caught the scent of lace bread
while leagues away still
and ran toward it weightless
as wind over dale and hill.

Ketkrókur Meat-Hook

Meat Hook, the twelfth one,
his talent would display
as soon as he arrived
on Saint Thorlak’s Day.
He snagged himself a morsel
of meet of any sort,
although his hook at times was
a tiny bit short.

Kertasníkir – Candle Beggar

The thirteenth was Candle Beggar
– ‘twas cold, I believe,
if he was not the last
of the lot on Christmas Eve.
He trailed after the little ones
who, like happy sprites,
ran about the farm with
their fine tallow lights.

Dec 202019
 

Today features the fourth O Antiphon, O Clavis David (O Key of David)

Latin:

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel;
qui aperis, et nemo claudit;
claudis, et nemo aperit:
veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

English:

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

Isaiah had prophesied:

“I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open.” Isaiah 22:22

“His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onwards and for evermore.” Isaiah 9:7

“…To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.” Isaiah 42:7.

So . . . keys are the symbol of the day.  When I checked online for recipes and “keys” I, of course, got recipes for the Florida Keys – duh!  All right. That means you can make key lime pie, or do something with conch. Or . . . try this popular favorite: broiled fish Matecumbe. Upper and Lower Matecumbe are part of the Keys that have given birth to the recipe.  Main idea is to make the marinade/ seasoning the day before and refrigerate. This is the basic recipe with my own twists.

Combine the following in a non-reactive bowl:

1 cup extra virgin olive oil
8-ounce jar capers with vinegar
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
5 shallots, peeled and chopped
5 tomatoes, chopped
grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Refrigerate overnight.

Next day, select 8 fish fillets. Heat the broiler and place the fillets in a broiling pan in one layer.  Cook on one side, turn carefully, and divide the marinade between the fillets – spreading evenly. Broil this side until the fish is cooked through.  Serve immediately.

Dec 162019
 

The Bill of Rights 1689 is a landmark Act in the constitutional law of England that sets out certain basic civil rights and clarifies who would be next to inherit the Crown. It received the Royal Assent on this date in 1689 and is a restatement in statutory form of the Declaration of Right presented by the Convention Parliament to William III and Mary II in February 1689, inviting them to become joint sovereigns of England. The Bill of Rights lays down limits on the powers of the monarch and sets out the rights of Parliament, including the requirement for regular parliaments, free elections, and freedom of speech in Parliament. It sets out certain rights of individuals including the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment and reestablished the right of Protestants to have arms for their defense within the rule of law. It also includes no right of taxation without Parliament’s agreement. Furthermore, the Bill of Rights described and condemned several misdeeds of James II of England.

These ideas reflected the political views of John Locke and they quickly became popular in England. The Bill also sets out – or, in the view of its drafters, restates – certain constitutional requirements of the Crown to seek the consent of the people, as represented in Parliament. In the United Kingdom, the Bill of Rights is further accompanied by Magna Carta, the Petition of Right, the Habeas Corpus Act 1679 and the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949 as some of the basic documents of the uncodified British constitution. A separate but similar document, the Claim of Right Act 1689, applies in Scotland. The Bill of Rights 1689 was one of the models for the United States Bill of Rights of 1789 (including the notorious 2nd Amendment), the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, and the European Convention on Human Rights of 1950.

Here is a recipe for rich meat broth from A True Gentlewomans Delight of 1653 that is not only contemporary with the English Bill of Rights, but also puts me in mind of classic Christmas recipes, such as mincemeat.  Although it is a recipe for meat broth to be served as a savory dish, it contains currants, raisins, and prunes and spiced with mace, nutmeg, and cinnamon. It also has a great deal of sugar.  The recipe calls for Saunders which is red sandalwood (giving a yellowish-red tint).  If you do replicate this dish, you might want to reduce the quantities.

DESCRIPTION: How to make a rich broth of lamb or beef

To make stewed Broth.

Take a neck of Mutton, or a rump of Beef, let it boyle, and scum your pot clean, thicken your pot with grated bread, and put in some beaten Spice, as Mace, nutmegs, Cinnamon, and a little Pepper, put in a pound of Currans, a pound and a half of Raisins of the Sun, two pounds of Prunes last of all, then when it is stewed, to season put in a quart of Claret, and a pint of Sack, and some Saunders to colour it, and a pound of Sugar to sweeten it, or more if need be, you must seeth some whole Spice to garnish your dish with all, and a few whole Prunes out of your pot.

Dec 142019
 

Today is the feast of St John of the Cross (Juan de la Cruz); 1542 – 14 December 1591. He was a Carmelite friar and priest, ultimately of Marrano (converted Spanish Jews) extraction. He was a major figure of the Spanish Counter-Reformation, a mystic and Roman Catholic saint. He is one of thirty-six Doctors of the Church. John of the Cross is known especially for his writings. He was mentored by and corresponded with the older Carmelite, Teresa of Avila – http://www.bookofdaystales.com/teresa-of-avila/ . Both his poetry and his studies on the development of the soul are considered the summit of mystical Spanish literature and among the greatest works of all Spanish literature. He was canonized by Pope Benedict XIII in 1726.

John of the Cross lived a complicated life, fractured many times by his position on reform within the church that put him at odds with powerful factions.  At one time he was even imprisoned and tortured – not by nasty heathens, but by supposed Christians.  He was able to escape his tormentors, fortunately, and spent much of his life (both in prison and subsequently) writing mystical treatises.  I do not have space to review all of his life and works.  Instead I will focus on “Dark Night of the Soul” which is not the name John gave the poem; it was unnamed, but that is the name given by later commentators and is standard now.  The poem is short, but he wrote an extensive commentary on it, following the visions that evoked the poem in the first place.

In “Dark Night of the Soul” (8 stanzas of 5 lines each), the narrator describes the journey of the soul to mystical union with God. The journey is called “The Dark Night” in part because darkness represents the fact that the destination, God, is unknowable, as in the 14th century, mystical classic The Cloud of Unknowing, which, like St. John’s poem, derives from the works of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite in the 6th century. Not only is God unknowable, the path to God is also unknowable. The first verse of the poem can be translated:

    In an obscure night
    Fevered with love’s anxiety
    (O hapless, happy plight!)
    I went, none seeing me
    Forth from my house, where all things quiet be

At the beginning of his treatise on Dark Night (the Declaración), St. John writes: “In this first verse, the soul tells the mode and manner in which it departs, as to its affection, from itself and from all things, dying through a true mortification to all of them and to itself, to arrive at a sweet and delicious life with God.”

The “dark night of the soul” does not refer to the difficulties of life in general, although the phrase has understandably been taken to refer to such trials. The nights which the soul experiences are the two necessary purgations on the path to Divine union: the first purgation is of the sensory or sensitive part of the soul, the second of the spiritual part (Ascent of Mount Carmel, Ch. 1, 2). Such purgations comprise the first of the three stages of the mystical journey, followed by those of illumination and then union. St. John does not actually use the term “dark night of the soul” but only “dark night” (“noche oscura”).

There are several steps in this night, which are related in successive stanzas of the poem. The theme of the poem is the joyful experience of being guided to God. The only light in this dark night is that which burns in the soul. And that is a guide more certain than the mid-day sun: Aquésta me guiaba, más cierto que la luz del mediodía. This light leads the soul engaged in the mystical journey to Divine union.

The Ascent of Mount Carmel is divided into three books that reflect the two phases of the dark night. The first is a purification of the senses (It is titled “The Active Night of the Senses”). The second and third books describe the more intense purification of the spirit (Titled “The Active Night of the Spirit”). “Dark Night of the Soul” further describes the ten steps on the ladder of mystical love, previously described by Saint Thomas Aquinas and in part by Aristotle.

The region of Spain where John of the Cross was born and lived for much of his life is noted for the dish Judías del Barco – locally produced white beans with spices and chorizo.  Seems like a suitable Christmas feast dish – even for an ascetic monk. Here is a video – in Spanish, I’m afraid.  You’ll have to just deal with it I’m afraid. The good news is that you can get the basics from observation only if you are Spanish challenged. It’s not complicated anyway.

 Posted by at 5:45 am
Dec 122019
 

Today is the birthday (1833) of Matthias Hohner, a German musical instrument maker and founder of the musical instrument company Hohner. Hohner’s father was a weaver, but when he was 15 he was apprenticed to his brother-in-law, watchmaker Johannes Kohler, in Trossingen. Because the watchmaking business suffered from competition from more established businesses, Hohner had to travel by foot great distances to sell watches from the training workshop. Unhappy with the development of the trade, he withdrew from watchmaking in 1855 and worked in his parents’ workshop, where, with the decline of the weaving mill, other handicraft orders were also carried out.

In his spare time, Hohner built his first mouth organ modeled after designs by Christian Messner and Christian Weiß. After the death of the mother in 1857, Hohner’s father handed over the property to his four children. Matthias received a share of 682 guilders, which he used to start an instrument making business which became his main occupation and henceforth called himself a Harfenbauer (harp maker). He married and had six sons and nine daughters, most of whom lived into adulthood.  From 1879 to 1885 Hohner was mayor of Trossingen.

Production expanded through the use of machine tools and assembly line production (with increased staff).  Hohner was known for high quality products and easily outstripped the competition.  By 1875 Hohner already had 85 employees, and the size of his company had already exceeded that of older companies such as Messner and Weiß. The main sales initially went to the US, until the economic crisis of 1893 required reorientation. Subsequently, main sales shifted to Germany. Hohner also owned a farm of about 25 acres in addition to the instrument shop. Proceeds from the farm supported Hohner’s 20 to 25 apprentices. In 1900 Hohner handed over the company to his five surviving sons: Jacob, Matthias, Andreas, Hans and Will, while he remained a partner. He died in 1902, one day before his birthday.

In the 20th century Hohner diversified considerably. The diatonic mouth organ is a free reed instrument that operates on the blow/suck principle (i.e. one note when you blow and a different note when you suck).  It was a simple step from mouth organs to button accordions that operate on the same principle except blow/suck is replaced with a push/pull of the bellows, and bass chords can be added with the left hand.  I played a G/D Hohner melodeon for 35 years, and would still play one if I had one.  Sadly all my instruments got put in storage when I moved from New York 10 years ago. Hohner also began making bandoneons for Argentine tango music and piano accordions for polka bands. Nowadays, the company also makes instruments besides the free reed family, including guitars, banjos, and kazoos.

Trossingen where Hohner was founded, and still headquartered, is in Baden-Württemberg, where there is a solid local cuisine.  Käsespätzle is a great favorite – a comfort food along the lines of US mac and cheese, but much richer and more flavorful.  This video is in German but with English sub-titles.

 

Dec 102019
 

On this date in 1968 two celebrated theologians died: Thomas Merton and Karl Barth.  Both are honored on this date by the worldwide Anglican community even though neither was Anglican, and neither has been beatified or canonized. Merton spent his active theological years (1950s and 60s) as a Trappist monk, and Barth was a member of the Swiss Reformed tradition.  Nonetheless, they have both been praised by denominations across the Christian spectrum, largely because they thought outside of traditional ecclesiastical boundaries.  For my money, neither went far enough ecumenically, but I’ll give them A for effort.

Barth first came to public notice in the theological community with his commentary on the Epistle to the Romans in the summer of 1916 while he was still a pastor in Safenwil, with the first edition appearing in December 1918 (but with a publication date of 1919). On the strength of the first edition of the commentary, Barth was invited to teach at the University of Göttingen. Barth decided around October 1920 that he was dissatisfied with the first edition and heavily revised it the following eleven months, finishing the second edition around September 1921. Barth argued that the God who is revealed in the crucifixion of Jesus challenges and overthrows any attempt to ally God with human cultures, achievements, or possessions.

In 1934, as the Protestant Church attempted to come to terms with the Third Reich, Barth was largely responsible for the writing of the Barmen declaration (Barmer Erklärung). This declaration rejected the influence of Nazism on German Christianity by arguing that the Church’s allegiance to the God of Jesus Christ should give it the impetus and resources to resist the influence of other lords, such as Adolf Hitler. Barth mailed this declaration to Hitler personally. This was one of the founding documents of the Confessing Church and Barth was elected a member of its leadership council, the Bruderrat. He was forced to resign from his professorship at the University of Bonn in 1935 for refusing to swear an oath to Hitler. Barth then returned to his native Switzerland, where he assumed a chair in systematic theology at the University of Basel. In the course of his appointment he was required to answer a routine question asked of all Swiss civil servants: whether he supported the national defense. His answer was, “Yes, especially on the northern border!” The newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung carried his 1936 criticism of the philosopher Martin Heidegger for his support of the Nazis. In 1938 he wrote a letter to a Czech colleague Josef Hromádka in which he declared that soldiers who fought against the Third Reich were serving a Christian cause.

Barth’s theology found its most sustained and compelling expression in his five-volume (multiple parts) magnum opus, Church Dogmatics (“Kirchliche Dogmatik”). Segments of Church Dogmatics were required reading for me at Oxford as a first year theology student. Fortunately, we did not have to delve into the whole work. Church Dogmatics runs to over six million words and 9,000 pages – one of the longest works of systematic theology ever written.

Thomas Merton followed a much more checkered career path than Barth.  As a youth he was a well-known profligate (much like so many legendary saints in early life before conversion).  After numerous missteps and false starts he determined to become a Trappist monk perhaps as a counterbalance to his misspent earlier life.  By coincidence, on this date in 1941 (the date of his death in 1968), Merton arrived at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky and spent three days at the monastery guest house, waiting for acceptance into the Order. The novice master came to interview Merton, gauging his sincerity and qualifications. In the interim, Merton was put to work polishing floors and scrubbing dishes. On December 13th he was accepted into the monastery as a postulant by Frederic Dunne, Gethsemani’s abbot since 1935.

In his time as a monk, and later priest, Merton wrote 50 books, primarily on spirituality and social justice, and became an international celebrity.  He recognized many points of contact between other faiths, notably Zen, and Christianity, although he remained a dogmatic Catholic.  Here are some quotes, beginning with his famous prayer:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another.

You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.

If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I am living for, in detail, ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for.

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.

Instead of hating the people you think are war-makers, hate the appetites and disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed – but hate these things in yourself, not in another.

Trappist monasteries are noted for their gardens, which they use for their own needs and also to support them financially. They are also known internationally for their beer production.  There are numerous cookbooks celebrating Trappist cooking (usually vegetarian), and I have mentioned their soups before.  Here is a mushroom and barley dish that I like (https://mepkinabbey.org/mushroom-risotto-with-barley-a-great-dish-with-an-easier-method-using-barley/ ):

Ingredients:

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
5 cups broth
1 ¼ cups pearl barley
6 oz. mushrooms
2 teaspoons soy sauce
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

Heat olive oil and add onion and garlic. Sauté until softened and beginning to brown.  Add broth, barley, mushrooms, and soy sauce and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until most liquid is absorbed and mixture is thickened. This will take about 40 minutes. In the last couple of minutes of cooking, stir in the cheese and season with salt and pepper.

Dec 092019
 

Today is the feast of St Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, also known as Juan Diego (1474–1548), a native of Mexico, and the first Roman Catholic indigenous saint from the Americas. He is said to have been granted an apparition of the Virgin Mary (the Virgin of Guadalupe) on four separate occasions in December 1531 at the hill of Tepeyac, then a rural area but now within the borders of Mexico City. Juan Diego’s historicity and that of the alleged apparitions have been repeatedly questioned, but the Catholic church considers the matter settled in favor of Juan Diego.

The basilica of Guadalupe, located at the foot of the hill of Tepeyac, claims to possess Juan Diego’s mantle or cloak (known as a tilma) on which an image of the Virgin is said to have been impressed by a miracle as a pledge of the authenticity of the apparitions. These apparitions and the imparting of the miraculous image (together known as the Guadalupe event, “el acontecimiento Guadalupano”) are the basis of the veneration of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which is ubiquitous in Mexico, prevalent throughout the Spanish-speaking Americas, and increasingly widespread beyond. As a result, the basilica of Guadalupe is now the world’s most visited pilgrimage site for Roman Catholics, receiving 22 million visitors in 2010.

According to some sources, Juan Diego was an Aztec born in 1474 in Cuauhtitlan, and at the time of the apparitions he lived there or in Tolpetlac. He was supposedly respectful and gracious towards the Virgin Mary when first converted. He and his wife, María Lucía, were among the first to be baptized after the arrival of the main group of twelve Franciscan missionaries in Mexico in 1524. His wife died two years before the apparitions, although one source (Luis Becerra Tanco) claims she died two years after them. There is no firm tradition as to their marital relations. It is variously reported that (a) after their baptism he and his wife were inspired by a sermon on chastity to live celibately; alternatively (b) that they lived celibately throughout their marriage; and in further alternative (c) that both of them lived and died as virgins. Alternatives (a) and (b) may not necessarily conflict with other reports that Juan Diego (possibly by another wife) had a son. Intrinsic to the narrative is Juan Diego’s uncle, Juan Bernardino; but beyond him, María Lucía, and Juan Diego’s putative son, no other family members are mentioned in the tradition. At least two 18th-century nuns claimed to be descended from Juan Diego. After the apparitions, Juan Diego was permitted to live next to the hermitage erected at the foot of the hill of Tepeyac, and he dedicated the rest of his life to serving the Virgin Mary at the shrine erected in accordance with her wishes. The date of death (in his 74th year) is given as 1548.

The earliest notices of an apparition of the Virgin Mary at Tepeyac to an Indian are to be found in various annals which are regarded by Miguel León-Portilla, one of the leading Mexican scholars in this field, as demonstrating “that effectively many people were already flocking to the chapel of Tepeyac long before 1556, and that the tradition of Juan Diego and the apparitions of Tonantzin (Guadalupe) had already spread.” Others (including leading Nahuatl and Guadalupe scholars in the USA) go only as far as saying that such notices “are few, brief, ambiguous and themselves posterior by many years”. If correctly dated to the 16th century, the Codex Escalada – which portrays one of the apparitions and states that Juan Diego (identified by his indigenous name) died “worthily” in 1548 – must be accounted among the earliest and clearest of such notices.

Sánchez (1648) has a few scattered sentences noting Juan Diego’s uneventful life at the hermitage in the sixteen years from the apparitions to his death. The Huei tlamahuiçoltica (1649), at the start of the Nican Mopohua and at the end of the section known as the Nican Mopectana, there is some information concerning Juan Diego’s life before and after the apparitions, giving many instances of his sanctity of life. Becerra Tanco (1666 and 1675) gives Juan Diego’s town of origin, place of residence at the date of the apparitions, and the name of his wife as well as a listing of his heroic virtues, plus other biographical information. Chapter 18 of Francisco de la Florencia’s Estrella de el norte de México (1688) contains the first systematic account of Juan Diego’s life, with attention given to some divergent strands in the tradition.

The following account is based on that given in the Nican Mopohua which was first published in Nahuatl in 1649. No part of that work was available in Spanish until 1895 when, as part of the celebrations for the coronation of the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe in that year, there was published a translation of the Nican Mopohua dating from the 18th century. This translation, however, was made from an incomplete copy of the original. Nor was any part of the Huei tlamahuiçoltica republished until 1929, when a facsimile of the original was published by Primo Feliciano Velásquez together with a full translation into Spanish (including the first full translation of the Nican Mopohua), since then the Nican Mopohua, in its various translations and redactions, has supplanted all other versions as the narrative of preference. The precise dates in December 1531 (as given below) were not recorded in the Nican Mopohua, but are taken from the chronology first established by Mateo de la Cruz in 1660.

Juan Diego, as a devout neophyte, was in the habit of regularly walking from his home to the Franciscan mission station at Tlatelolco for religious instruction and to perform his religious duties. His route passed by the hill at Tepeyac.

First apparition: at dawn on Saturday December 9, 1531 while on his usual journey, he encountered the Virgin Mary who revealed herself as the ever-virgin Mother of God and instructed him to request the bishop to erect a chapel in her honor so that she might relieve the distress of all those who call on her in their need. He delivered the request, but was told by the bishop (Fray Juan Zumárraga) to come back another day after he had had time to reflect upon what Juan Diego had told him.

Second apparition, later the same day: returning to Tepeyac, Juan Diego encountered the Virgin again and announced the failure of his mission, suggesting that because he was “a back-frame, a tail, a wing, a man of no importance” she would do better to recruit someone of greater standing, but she insisted that he was whom she wanted for the task. Juan Diego agreed to return to the bishop to repeat his request. This he did on the morning of Sunday, December 10th when he found the bishop more compliant. The bishop, however, asked for a sign to prove that the apparition was truly of heaven.

Third apparition: Juan Diego returned immediately to Tepeyac and, encountering the Virgin Mary reported the bishop’s request for a sign; she condescended to provide one on the following day (December 11). By Monday, December 11, however, Juan Diego’s uncle Juan Bernardino had fallen sick and Juan Diego was obliged to attend to him. In the very early hours of Tuesday, December 12th Juan Bernardino’s condition having deteriorated overnight, Juan Diego set out to Tlatelolco to get a priest to hear Juan Bernardino’s confession and minister to him on his death-bed.

Fourth apparition: in order to avoid being delayed by the Virgin and embarrassed at having failed to meet her on the Monday as agreed, Juan Diego chose another route around the hill, but the Virgin intercepted him and asked where he was going; Juan Diego explained what had happened and the Virgin gently chided him for not having had recourse to her. In the words which have become the most famous phrase of the Guadalupe event and are inscribed over the main entrance to the Basilica of Guadalupe, she asked: “¿No estoy yo aquí que soy tu madre?” (“Am I not here, I who am your mother?”). She assured him that Juan Bernardino had now recovered and she told him to climb the hill and collect flowers growing there. Obeying her, Juan Diego found an abundance of flowers unseasonably in bloom on the rocky outcrop where only cactus and scrub normally grew. Using his open mantle as a sack (with the ends still tied around his neck) he returned to the Virgin; she re-arranged the flowers and told him to take them to the bishop. On gaining admission to the bishop in Mexico City later that day, Juan Diego opened his mantle, the flowers poured to the floor, and the bishop saw they had left on the mantle an imprint of the Virgin’s image which he immediately venerated.

Fifth apparition: the next day Juan Diego found his uncle fully recovered, as the Virgin had assured him, and Juan Bernardino recounted that he too had seen her, at his bed-side; that she had instructed him to inform the bishop of this apparition and of his miraculous cure; and that she had told him she desired to be known under the title of Guadalupe. The bishop kept Juan Diego’s mantle first in his private chapel and then in the church on public display where it attracted great attention. On December 26, 1531 a procession formed for taking the miraculous image back to Tepeyac where it was installed in a small hastily erected chapel. In course of this procession, the first miracle was allegedly performed when a follower was mortally wounded in the neck by an arrow shot by accident during some stylized martial displays executed in honor of the Virgin. In great distress, his companions carried him before the Virgin’s image and pleaded for his life. Upon the arrow being withdrawn, the victim made a full and immediate recovery.

The modern movement for the canonization of Juan Diego (to be distinguished from the process for gaining official approval for the Guadalupe cult, which had begun in 1663 and was realized in 1754) can be said to have arisen in earnest in 1974 during celebrations marking the 500th anniversary of the traditional date of his birth,[u] but it was not until January 1984 that the then archbishop of Mexico, cardinal Ernesto Corripio Ahumada, named a Postulator to supervise and coordinate the inquiry, and initiated the formal process for canonization.

The process of beatification was completed in a ceremony presided over by Pope John Paul II at the Basilica of Guadalupe on May 6th 1990 when December 9 was declared as the feast day to be held annually in honor of the candidate for sainthood thereafter known as “Blessed Juan Diego Cuauthlatoatzin”. In accordance with the exceptional cases provided for by Urban VIII (1625, 1634) when regulating the procedures for beatification and canonization, the requirement for an authenticating miracle prior to beatification was dispensed with, on the grounds of the antiquity of the cult of Guadalupe.

An Aztec recipe is called for, and I give you a video concerning the antiquity of posole (white hominy) which I have mentioned several times already. Posole is a great favorite of mine – related to Argentine locro, which is also a fav.  This video is mostly in English, and the Spanish sections on Aztec cooking have English subtitles.  The speaker makes some claims about Aztec cannibalism, which are not completely confirmed, but have some confirmation in the early sources.  Aztecs practiced massive festivals of human sacrifice, and reputedly they ate the people who they sacrificed. Some anthropologists, including Marvin Harris and Michael Harner, argue that they ate human flesh because they lacked large domesticated animals as a staple protein source.  Much like the narrative of Juan Diego, this speculation is not thoroughly accepted by academics.

Dec 082019
 

The Fête des lumières (Festival of Lights) takes place on this date in Lyon in France annually. It expresses gratitude toward the Virgin Mary for saving the city from the plague. This unique Lyonnaise tradition dictates that every house place candles along the outsides of all the windows to produce a spectacular effect throughout the streets. The festival includes other activities based on light and usually lasts four days, with the peak of activity occurring on the 8th. The two main focal points of activity are typically the Basilica of Fourvière which is lit up in different colors, and the Place des Terreaux, which hosts a different light show each year.

The festival ultimately dates to 1643 when Lyon was struck by plague. On September 8th, 1643, the municipal councilors (échevins) promised to pay tribute to Mary if the town was spared. Ever since, a solemn procession makes its way to the Basilica of Fourvière on 8th December (the feast of the Immaculate Conception http://www.bookofdaystales.com/immaculate-conception/ ) to light candles and give offerings in the name of Mary. In part, the event also commemorates the day Lyon was consecrated to the Virgin Mary.

In 1852, it became a popular festival when a statue of the Virgin Mary was erected next to the Basilica, overlooking the city, Now a focal point of the festival, the statue was created by the renowned sculptor Joseph-Hugues Fabisch and was sponsored by several notable Lyonnais Catholics. The inauguration of the statue was due to take place on September 8th, 1852, the day of celebration of the Nativity of the Virgin. However, the flooding of the Saône prevented the statue from being ready. The archbishop, with the agreement of a committee of lay people, therefore chose to move the date back to the 8th December.

By 1852 in Lyon, December 8th had already been a celebration for the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin. Leading up to the inauguration, everything was in place for the festivities. The statue was lit up with flares, fireworks were readied for launching from the top of Fourvière Hill and marching bands were set to play in the streets. The prominent Catholics of the time suggested lighting up the façades of their homes as was traditionally done for major events such as royal processions and military victories.

However, on the morning of the big day, a storm struck Lyon. The master of ceremonies hastily decided to cancel everything and to push back the celebrations once more to the following Sunday. In the end the skies cleared and the people of Lyon, who had been eagerly anticipating the event, spontaneously lit up their windows, descended into the streets and lit flares to illuminate the new statue and the Chapel of Notre-Dame-de-Fourvière, later superseded by the Basilica. The people sang songs and cried “Vive Marie!” until late in the night. This celebration was then repeated from year to year.

Tradition now mandates that many families in Lyon keep, often along with their Christmas decorations, a collection of stained or clear glass in which candles are burnt on windowsills on 8th December. These stout, fluted candles can be found in shops towards the end of November. The city council puts on professionally-run performances. Lyon residents continue to participate as evidenced by numerous façades lit up in the traditional way and by the throngs of people wandering the streets on 8th December.

Lyon’s culinary heritage includes coq au vin, quenelles, gras double, salade lyonnaise (lettuce with bacon, croûtons and a poached egg), and the sausage-based rosette lyonnaise and andouillette. Popular local confections include marron glacé and coussin de Lyon. Cervelle de canut (literally, “silk worker’s brains”) is a cheese spread/dip made of a base of fromage blanc, seasoned with chopped herbs, shallots, salt, pepper, olive oil and vinegar. Any of these dishes would work as a celebration as long as you also light your house with candles on this date – I do.  I am rather conventional and make Lyonnaise potatoes, a dish of sliced pan-fried potatoes and thinly sliced onions, sautéed in butter with parsley. The potatoes are often parboiled before sautéeing, but can be raw cooked in the pan. Here’s a convenient video (in English for you monoglots):