Jan 202018
 

On this date in 1265 Simon de Montfort called a parliament that, for the first time in English history, included commoners as well as nobles. Many historians date the formation of the House of Commons from this moment.  Things are a lot murkier than that, of course. Historians can be a bit over the top from time to time. Nonetheless, it was a significant turning point in the way that English kings viewed their subjects, and de Montfort is often spoken of as the founder of the House of Commons, even though that’s a bit of a stretch. Prior to de Montfort’s parliament, the nobility ruled their lands without any concern for the opinions or desires of the common people. Over the centuries, the situation completely reversed itself – but it took time.

Henry III

In 1258, Henry III of England faced a revolt among the English barons. Anger had grown about the way the king’s officials were raising funds, the influence of his Poitevin relatives at court (bloody foreigners !!), and his unpopular Sicilian policy (he wanted to control the kingdom as a gift for his son, Edmund). Even the English Church had grievances over its treatment by Henry. Within Henry’s court there was a strong feeling that the king would be unable to lead the country through these problems. On 30 April, Hugh Bigod marched into Westminster in the middle of the king’s parliament, backed by his co-conspirators, including Simon de Montfort, the Earl of Leicester, and carried out a coup d’état. Henry, fearful that he was about to be arrested and imprisoned, agreed to abandon his policy of personal rule and instead govern through a council of 24 barons and churchmen, half chosen by the king and half by the barons.

The pressure for reform continued to grow unabated and a parliament met in June. The term “parliament” had first appeared in the 1230s and 1240s to describe large gatherings of the royal court, and parliamentary gatherings were held periodically throughout Henry’s reign. They were used to agree upon the raising of taxes which, in the 13th century, were single, one-off levies, typically on movable property, intended to support the king’s normal revenues for particular projects. During Henry’s reign, the counties had begun to send regular delegations to these parliaments, and came to represent a broader cross-section of the community than simply the major barons – but they were still nobles.

The new parliament passed a set of measures known as the Provisions of Oxford, which Henry swore to uphold. These provisions created a smaller council of 15 members, elected solely by the barons, which then had the power to appoint England’s justiciar, chancellor and treasurer, and which would be monitored through triennial parliaments. Pressure from the lesser barons and the gentry present at Oxford also helped to push through wider reform, intended to limit the abuse of power by both the king’s officials and the major barons. More radical measures were passed by the new council the next year, in the form of the Provisions of Westminster.

The disagreements between the leading barons involved in the revolt soon became evident. De Montfort championed radical reforms that would place further limitations on the authority and power of the major barons as well as the Crown. Others promoted only moderate change, while the conservative barons expressed concerns about the existing limitations on the king’s powers. Over the next 4 years, neither Henry nor the barons were able to restore stability in England, and power swung back and forth between the different factions. By early 1263, what remained of Henry’s authority had disintegrated and the country slipped back towards open civil war. De Montfort convened a council of rebel barons in Oxford to pursue his radical agenda and by October, England faced a likely civil war. De Montfort marched east with an army and London rose up in revolt. De Montfort took Henry and Queen Eleanor prisoner, and although he maintained a fiction of ruling in Henry’s name, the rebels completely replaced the royal government and household with their own, trusted men.

Simon de Montfort

De Montfort’s coalition began to fragment quickly. Henry regained his freedom of movement, and renewed chaos spread across England. Henry appealed to his brother-in-law Louis IX of France for arbitration in the dispute. De Montfort was initially hostile to this idea, but, as war became more likely again, he decided to agree to French arbitration as well. Initially de Montfort’s legal arguments held sway, but in January 1264, Louis announced the Mise of Amiens, condemning the rebels, upholding the king’s rights and annulling the Provisions of Oxford. The Second Barons’ War finally broke out in April, when Henry led an army into de Montfort’s territories. Becoming desperate, Montfort marched in pursuit of Henry and the two armies met at the Battle of Lewes on 14 May. Despite their numerical superiority, Henry’s forces were overwhelmed. Captured, Henry was forced to pardon the rebel barons and reinstate the Provisions of Oxford, leaving him a figurehead only.

Simon de Montfort claimed to be ruling in the king’s name through a council of officials. However, he had effective political control over the government even though he was not himself the monarch, the first time this had happened in English history. De Montfort successfully held a parliament in London in June 1264 to confirm new constitutional arrangements for England; four knights were summoned from each county, chosen by the county court, and were allowed to comment on general matters of state – the first time this had occurred. De Montfort was unable to consolidate his victory at Lewes, however, and widespread disorder persisted across the country. In France, Eleanor made plans for an invasion of England with the support of Louis.

In response, and hoping to win wider support for his government, de Montfort summoned a new parliament for 20th January 1265 which continued until mid-March that year. It was held at short notice, with the summons being issued on 14th December, leaving little time for attendees to respond. He summoned not only the barons, senior churchmen and two knights from each county, but also two burgesses from each of the major towns such as York, Lincoln, Sandwich, and the Cinque Ports, the first time this had been done. Due to the lack of support for de Montfort among the barons, only 23 of them were summoned to parliament, in comparison to the summons issued to 120 churchmen, who largely supported the new government. It is unknown how many burgesses were called. The event was overseen by king Henry, and held in the Palace of Westminster in London, the largest city in England, whose continuing loyalty was essential to de Montfort’s cause.

This parliament was a populist, tactical move by de Montfort in an attempt to gather support from the regions, and was made up of selected, partisan representatives. It was not some kind of proto-democratic representative body.  The business of the parliament focused on enforcing the Provisions of Westminster, in particular its restrictions on the major nobles, and promising judicial help to those who felt they were suffering from unfair feudal lordship.

The parliament bought temporary calm, but opposition grew once more, particularly as de Montfort and his immediate family began to amass a huge personal fortune. Prince Edward escaped his captors in May and formed a new army, resulting in a fresh outbreak of civil war. Edward pursued de Monfort’s forces through the Welsh Marches, before striking east to attack his fortress at Kenilworth and then turning once more on the rebel leader himself. De Montfort, accompanied by the captive Henry, was unable to retreat and the Battle of Evesham ensued. Edward was triumphant. De Montfort was killed, and his corpse was mutilated by the victors.

The rebellion dragged on in pockets and was not fully crushed until July 1267. Henry III ruled England until his death in 1272, continuing to summon parliaments, sometimes including the county knights and on one occasion including burgesses from the towns. After 1297 under Edward I’s reign, this became the norm, and by the early 14th century it was normal to include the knights and burgesses, a grouping that would become known as the “Commons” of England and, ultimately, form the “House of Commons.”

Simon de Montfort’s parliament of 1265 is sometimes referred to as the first English parliament, because of its inclusion of both the knights and the burgesses, and de Montfort himself is often regarded as the founder of the House of Commons. This is certainly a case of overreach, or, at best, looking at history in hindsight. The House of Commons did eventually develop into a fully representative and democratically elected body, so historians can look back to how it evolved, and where it started. By looking backwards from what developed later, historians can mark de Montford’s parliament as the first body that involved commoners, and, by that standard, peg it as the beginning of the House of Commons. But the burgesses at the court were chosen by de Montfort, and, although they were free to speak on matters beyond taxation, they could not initiate nor pass laws. Whether this was the beginning of the House of Commons seems a stretch, but you can decide.

De Montfort’s parliament met in the palace of Westminster, and parliaments still do, although the buildings have changed considerably in the interim. The current building was built in 1834, after a fire destroyed large sections of the old one.

Back when I posted about Big Ben I mentioned HP sauce, because HP stands for Houses of Parliament: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/big-ben/ Now we are not talking about the Houses of Parliament in general, but the House of Commons, which meets in a chamber of the palace of Westminster. Therefore, we should focus on another recipe. The House of Commons once put out a cookbook of favorite recipes by MPs, so you could check that out if you want.

I am going to give a recipe (not from the book) for House of Commons pudding. It’s a bit like spotted dick except that the pudding is sponge cake and crumbled ratafia biscuits (or almond macaroons), infused with egg custard, mixed with raisins, and steamed.

House of Commons Pudding

Ingredients

2 oz/50 g seedless raisins
2 tbsp/30 ml medium-dry sherry
4 trifle sponges, cut into ½ inch dice
9 ratafias or 2 almond macaroons, crumbled
14 fl oz/400 ml milk
3 eggs
1 oz/25 gm caster sugar
vanilla essence
glace cherries
angelica, cut in strips
butter (for greasing)

Instructions

Put the raisins in a small bowl with the sherry and macerate overnight.

Grease a pudding basin with butter and line it with greaseproof paper. Decorate the bottom with glace cherries and angelica.

Place the diced sponges in a mixing bowl. Mix in the crumbled ratafias (or macaroons).

Drain the raisins and discard the sherry.

Place a layer of the sponge mixture in the pudding base, being careful not to disturb the cherries and angelica. Sprinkle in a few of the raisins. Repeat the layering until the basin is filled.

Bring the milk to just below boiling point over medium heat in a saucepan. Take off the heat. Beat the eggs and sugar together in a mixing bowl, then pour in the scalded milk. Add a few drops of vanilla essence.

Slowly strain the custard mix on to the sponge mix in the pudding basin, so that it seeps down through the layers. Let it rest for 1 hour.

Meanwhile prepare a steamer setup. You can either use a conventional steamer with boiling water in the bottom, and a perforated top part to hold the pudding basin. Or you can invert a saucer in the bottom of a saucepan and add one or two inches of water, and set the pot to boil. The saucer will keep the pudding basin off the bottom of the pan.

Cover the pudding basin with greaseproof paper, and secure it with string. You can also add a layer of aluminium foil.

Place the basin in the top of the steamer or on the saucer, cover the pan and steam for 1 hour.

Carefully remove the basin from the steamer, place a plate over the top, invert the basin and plate, and unmold the pudding carefully. Serve with egg custard.

Jan 192018
 

On this date in 1839, the British East India Company landed Royal Marines at Aden to secure the territory and stop attacks by pirates against British shipping to India. Before British administration, Aden was attacked by the Portuguese between 1513–1538 and 1547–1548. It was ruled by the Ottoman Empire between 1538–1547 and 1548–1645. In 1609 The Ascension was the first English ship to visit Aden, before sailing on to Mocha during the Fourth voyage of the East India Company. After Ottoman rule, Aden was ruled by the Sultanate of Lahej, under suzerainty of the Zaidi imams of Yemen.

In the early 19th century, Aden was a small village with a population of 600 Arabs, Somalis, Jews and Indians—housed for the most part in huts of reed matting erected among ruins recalling a vanished era of wealth and prosperity. In 1838, under Muhsin bin Fadl, Lahej ceded 194 km2 (75 sq mi) including Aden to the British. Once Royal Marines had secured Aden it was declared a free trade port with liquor, salt, arms, and opium trades developing duties as it won all the coffee trade from Mokha. The port lies about equidistant from the Suez Canal, Mumbai, and Zanzibar, which were all major British colonies. Aden had been an entrepôt and a way-station for seamen in the ancient world. There, supplies, particularly water, were replenished, so, in the mid-19th century, it was used to replenish coal and boiler water. Thus, Aden acquired a coaling station at Steamer Point and remained under British control until 1967.

Until 1937, Aden was governed as part of British India and was known as the Aden Settlement. Its original territory was enlarged in 1857 by the 13 km2 (5.0 sq mi) island of Perim, in 1868 by the 73 km2 (28 sq mi) Khuriya Muriya Islands, and in 1915 by the 108 km2 (42 sq mi) island of Kamaran. The settlement became Aden Province in 1935. In 1937, the Settlement was detached from India and became the Colony of Aden, a British Crown colony. Aden’s location also made it a useful entrepôt for mail passing between places around the Indian Ocean and Europe. Thus, a ship passing from Suez to Bombay could leave mail for Mombasa at Aden for collection.

The 1947 Aden riots saw more than 80 Jews killed, their property looted, and schools burned by a Muslim mob. After the Suez Crisis in 1956, Aden became the main location in the region for the British presence. Little Aden is still dominated by the oil refinery built for British Petroleum. Little Aden was well known to travelers for its tanker port with a very welcoming seaman’s mission near to the BP Aden tugs’ jetties, complete with swimming pool and air-conditioned bar. The accommodation areas for the refinery personnel were known by the original Arabic names of Bureika and Ghadir.

Bureika was wooden bunkhouses built to accommodate the thousands of skilled workers and laborers brought in to build the refinery, later converted to family housing, plus imported prefabricated houses “the Riley-Newsums” that are also to be found in parts of Australia (Woomera). Bureika also had a protected bathing area and Beach Club.

Ghadir housing was stone built, largely from the local granite quarry; much of this housing still stands today, now occupied by wealthier locals from Aden. Little Aden also has a local township and numerous picturesque fishing villages, including the Lobster Pots of Ghadir. The British Army had extensive camps in Bureika and through Silent Valley in Falaise Camp, these successfully protected the refinery staff and facilities throughout the troubles, with only a very few exceptions. Schooling was provided for children from kindergarten age through to primary school, after that, children were bussed to The Isthmus School in Khormaksar, though this had to be stopped during the Aden Emergency.

I have very fond memories of a visit to Aden in 1958 when my family migrated to Australia from England. Aden was an important refueling port, giving passengers time to go ashore. I was six years old, but remember certain parts very clearly. We had one day in Aden and I was blown away. The ship had stopped in Gibraltar, but we did not get to go ashore. It was stunning to see the Rock, but that was it. We went ashore in Naples and I was very impressed by Vesuvius, which at that time had a thin thread of smoke and steam snaking from the crater. That was impressive. But Aden was another world. Men wore robes and turbans, camels roamed the streets, and people sold various items right out in the open streets. At one point, my father suggested that we have a Coca-Cola because it was a hot day. At first I had no idea what he was talking about because we never had soft drinks in England. I thought it was some exotic Arabic concoction because it came in a strangely fluted bottle with the name on the bottle in Arabic. A new world of taste opened up to me at that moment. I also saw a clockwork camel in the bazaar that I thought was fascinating, and, seeing, the light in my eyes, my father bought it for me. There were many clockwork animals on sale, such as a giraffe whose head rotated in complete circles. I was not interested. The camel just walked in a steady manner with bobbing head, like the real camels I saw. I kept that camel for 50 years.

Yemeni cuisine is largely distinct from the more widely known Middle Eastern cuisines, and is recognizable as such even though there is some regional variation. Although some foreign influences are evident in some regions of the country (with Ottoman influences showing in the north, while Mughlai Indian influence is evident in the southern areas around Aden), the Yemeni kitchen is based on similar foundations across the country, and tied to the unique culture and history of Yemen. Saltah (سلتة) is considered the national dish of Yemen, and is widely eaten, mainly served for lunch. The base is a brown meat soup/stew called maraq, which is fairly standard meat and vegetables with spices, but the addition of a dollop of fenugreek froth called hilbeh makes it special. To make the hilbeh you need Yemeni fenugreek powder. For some reason, Indian fenugreek powder does not froth up well. Sahawiq or sahowqa (a mixture of red chile, tomatoes, garlic, and herbs ground into a sauce) is also added to the stew. Rice, potatoes, scrambled eggs, and vegetables are common additions to saltah. It is eaten traditionally with Yemeni flat bread, which serves as a utensil to scoop up the food. This video is good at explaining the method, but is not good when it comes to being precise about ingredients, especially the spices, used in the meat stew.  This link gives all the details:

http://www.shebayemenifood.com/content/fahsa-saltah

Normally I’d advise you to fly to Aden if you want the real deal, but I don’t think that’s advisable these days. Besides, Saltah is reasonably easy to create at home as long as you can get fenugreek from Yemen. Not sure about that.

Jan 182018
 

Today is the birthday (1779) of Peter Mark Roget FRS, noted popularly for the creation of the first thesaurus, but who spent most of his life as a physician, and published works in medicine and natural theology before he became a lexicographer. Roget was born in London. His obsession with list-making was well established by the time he was 8 years old. Roget was the son of a Swiss clergyman, and studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, receiving his degree in 1798. His life was marked by several depressing incidents. His father and his wife died young, and his favorite maternal uncle, Sir Samuel Romilly, committed suicide in his presence. Romilly was distraught at the death of his wife, and in a fit of delirium he sprang from his bed and slashed his throat with a straight razor. Roget was powerless to save him. Subsequently, Roget struggled with depression for most of his life, presumably resulting from undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder, and his work on the thesaurus arose partly from an effort to battle his depression.

Roget retired from professional life in 1840, and in about 1848 began preparing for publication the work that was to perpetuate his memory. For some reason he decided to build a catalogue of words organized by their meanings, starting in 1805. This was apparently an avocation bordering on obsession. I know how that goes. Its first printed edition, in 1852, was called Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases Classified and Arranged so as to Facilitate the Expression of Ideas and Assist in Literary Composition. During his lifetime the work had 28 printings. After his death it was revised and expanded by his son, John Lewis Roget (1828–1908), and later by John’s son, Samuel Romilly Roget (1875–1952).

Roget was greatly concerned with medical education, but the School of Medicine at the University of Manchester was not established until 1874. He was also one of the founders of the Medical and Chirurgical Society of London, which later became the Royal Society of Medicine, and he was a secretary of the Royal Society. In 1815, he invented the log-log slide rule, allowing a person to perform exponential and root calculations simply. This was especially helpful for calculations involving fractional powers and roots. In 1834 he became the first Fullerian Professor of Physiology at the Royal Institution, and he was examiner in physiology in the University of London.

On 9 December 1824, Roget presented a paper entitled “Explanation of an optical deception in the appearance of the spokes of a wheel when seen through vertical apertures.” This article is often incorrectly referenced as either “On the Persistence of Vision with Regard to Human Motion” or “Persistence of Vision with regard to Moving Objects,” likely due to erroneous citations by film historians Terry Ramsaye and Arthur Knight. While Roget’s explanation of the illusion was probably wrong, his consideration of the illusion of motion is seen as an important point in the history of film, and possibly influenced the development of the Thaumatrope, the Phenakistiscope, and the Zoetrope.

He wrote numerous papers on physiology and health, among them the fifth Bridgewater Treatise, Animal and Vegetable Physiology considered with reference to Natural Theology (1834), a two-volume work on phrenology (1838), and articles for several editions of Encyclopædia Britannica.

Roget also played a role in the establishment of the University of London. He was a founder of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, and wrote a series of popular manuals for it. He showed remarkable ingenuity in inventing and solving chess problems and designed an inexpensive pocket chessboard.

Roget died while on holiday in West Malvern, Worcestershire, aged 90, and is buried there in the cemetery of St James’s Church.

The word “thesaurus” in English originally meant a “treasure” or “storehouse,” but now it means a dictionary of synonyms due to Roget’s use of the word for his book. It can also be used figuratively as in a Cook’s Thesaurus where “synonyms” means “substitute ingredients.” Just as you can use “tome” or “volume” in place of “book” (under the right conditions), you can substitute spinach for cabbage (also under the right conditions). I have found this online cook’s thesaurus quite useful on occasion: http://www.foodsubs.com/ . As the URL suggests, the site is about finding substitutes for ingredients in recipes, and here I am of two minds. If I am making a gravy using Worcestershire sauce and I am out of it, I can’t make the gravy. There is no substitute for Worcestershire sauce. A cook’s thesaurus will tell me to substitute soy sauce, and I am sure the resulting gravy will be good, but it’s not what I want. I put cilantro in my guacamole, but if I don’t have cilantro, I can use parsley, but it will not be the same. I can also use lemon juice instead of lime juice. It will prevent the avocado from turning brown and will give a citrus tang, but it will not be the same. Longtime readers of this blog know that I am adamant about using indigenous ingredients wherever I am in the world. In Myanmar they use an aquatic species in the convolvulus genus, related to morning glory, called rwat, in many dishes. In English they call it watercress, but it is nothing like European watercress. Trying to make these dishes without rwat is a waste of time.

All that said, there can be a great deal of creativity in changing one ingredient for another if you are not trying to make a dish in a particularly authentic or local way. A few posts ago I talked about taking the basic recipe for eggs Benedict and changing out one of the ingredients:  http://www.bookofdaystales.com/benedict-arnold/  Now we are in vastly different territory. Substituting for the sake of novelty or creativity is a completely different ball game, and I’m down with it. A thesaurus for cooks is not the only tool in the box, but it’s a good start. Flour is an excellent place to start. There are many different types of wheat flour and replacing one with another can be great or can be dangerous. I’m talking about replacing wheat flour with flour from another grain, or even a non-grain. Here you do have to be very careful because things can go horribly wrong. But you can try barley flour or oat flour in bread, for example. Or you can be even more adventurous and use almond flour instead of wheat flour in cakes or pancakes. It’s not a bad idea to substitute half and half (half wheat flour, half other flour) first, to see how it goes. Here’s a recipe for almond flour brownies. It’s not just good for people with wheat allergies; it is delicious. The quality of the cocoa powder you use is very important; also the almond flour. I generally make my own, but it is easy to find in health food stores or online.

Almond Flour Brownies

Ingredients

5 tbsp butter, melted

1 ¾ cups sugar

½ tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla extract

¾ cup cocoa powder

3 large eggs

1 ½ cups almond flour

1 tsp baking powder

butter for greasing

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Use butter to grease an 8″ square pan that is at least 2″ deep.

Stir together the melted butter, sugar, salt, vanilla, cocoa, and eggs in a mixing bowl. Stir in the almond flour and baking powder, and mix well so that there are no dry pockets, but do not beat vigorously.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, using a spatula to make sure that it is spread evenly in the pan and the top is flat and smooth.

Bake the brownies for about 35 minutes. The top should be set, and a toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean. It is all right if the toothpick is a little moist or if there is a speck of chocolate at the edge.

Let the brownies cool in the pan for about 15 minutes, then cut them into squares and serve immediately. If you are not ready to serve them straightaway, store them in an airtight tin at room temperature. They also freeze well.

Jan 162018
 

Today is the birthday (1516) of Bayinnaung Kyawhtin Nawrahta (ဘုရင့်နောင် ကျော်ထင်နော်ရထာ) king of the Toungoo Dynasty of Burma (Myanmar) from 1550 to 1581. During his 31-year reign, which has been called the “greatest explosion of human energy ever seen in Burma,” Bayinnaung assembled what was probably the largest empire in the history of Southeast Asia, which included much of modern-day Myanmar, the Chinese Shan states, Lan Na, Lan Xang, Manipur and Thailand. Bayinnaung was born Ye Htut to Mingyi Swe and Shin Myo Myat. His exact ancestry is unclear. No extant contemporary records, including Hanthawaddy Hsinbyushin Ayedawbon, the extensive chronicle of the king’s reign written two years before his death, mention his ancestry. In 1724, almost a century and a half after his death, Maha Yazawin, the official chronicle of the Toungoo Dynasty, first proclaimed his genealogy. According to Maha Yazawin, he was born to a noble family in Toungoo (Taungoo), then a former vassal state of the Ava Kingdom. Despite the official version of royal descent, oral traditions speak of a less grandiose genealogy, saying that his parents were commoners from Ngathayauk in Pagan district or Htihlaing village in Toungoo district, and that his father was a toddy palm tree climber, then one of the lowest professions in Burmese society. The commoner origin narrative first gained prominence in the early 20th century during the British colonial period as nationalist writers, such as Po Kya, promoted it as proof that even a son of a toddy tree climber could rise to become the great emperor in Burmese society. All history serves the purposes of the historian.

Although he is best remembered for his empire building, Bayinnaung’s greatest legacy was his integration of the Shan states into the Irrawaddy-valley-based kingdoms. After the conquest of the Shan states in 1557–1563, Bayinnaung put in an administrative system that reduced the power of hereditary Shan saophas (hereditary rulers), and brought Shan customs in line with lowland norms. It eliminated the threat of Shan raids into Upper Burma, a longstanding concern to Upper Burma since the late 13th century. His Shan policy was followed by Burmese kings right up to the final fall of the kingdom to the British in 1885. The Shan are still one of the major ethnic groups in Myanmar with their own language and distinctive culture.

Bayinnaung is considered one of the three greatest kings of Burma, along with Anawrahta and Alaungpaya. Some of the most prominent places in modern Myanmar are named after him. He is also well known in Thailand as Phra Chao Chana Sip Thit (พระเจ้าชนะสิบทิศ, “Victor of the Ten Directions”). His empire was a loose collection of former sovereign kingdoms, whose kings were loyal to him as the Cakkavatti (Universal Ruler), and not to the kingdom of Toungoo. Ava and Siam revolted two years after his death, and by 1599, all the vassal states had revolted, and the Toungoo Empire completely collapsed.

Bayinnaung, who began his reign as a “king without a kingdom,” ended his reign as an “emperor without an empire.” According to Than Tun, Bayinnaung conquered territories not to colonize them but to gain the loyalty of their rulers. He kept conquered kings and lords in their own positions as long as they remained loyal to him. Tun Aung Chain adds that “the extensive polity was held together not so much by formal institutions as personal relationships” based on the concepts of thissa (သစ္စာ, ‘allegiance’) and kyezu (ကျေးဇူး, ‘obligation’).” This was nothing new. Bayinnaung was simply following the then prevailing Southeast Asian administrative model of solar polities in which the high king ruled the core while semi-independent tributaries, autonomous viceroys, and governors actually controlled day-to-day administration and labor. As such, the “King of Kings” governed only Pegu and the Mon country himself, leaving the rest of the realm to vassal kings in Ava, Prome, Lan Na, Lan Xang, Martaban, Siam, and Toungoo. He regarded Lan Na as the most important of all the vassal states, and spent most of his time there in peacetime.

Bayinnaung administered Lower Burma with the help of ministers, the vast majority of whom were of ethnic Mon background. His chief minister was Binnya Dala, known for his military and administrative abilities, and literary talents. He introduced administrative reforms only at the margins. By and large, he simply grafted the prevailing decentralized administration system, which barely worked for petty states like his native Toungoo, to the largest polity ever in the region. It did not work for mid-size kingdoms like Ava, Hanthawaddy, Lan Na, and Siam. He, perhaps inadvertently, did introduce a key reform, which turned out to be the most important and most enduring of his legacies. It was his policy to administer the Shan states, which had constantly raided Upper Burma since the late 13th century. The king permitted the saophas of the states to retain their royal regalia and ceremonies, and feudal rights over their subjects. The office of the saopha remained hereditary. But the incumbent saopha could now be removed by the king for gross misconduct although the king’s choice of successor was limited to members of the saopha’s own family. The key innovation was that he required sons of his vassal rulers to reside in his palace as pages, who served a dual purpose: they were hostages for good conduct of their fathers and they received valuable training in Burmese court life. His Shan policy was followed by all Burmese kings right up to the final fall of the kingdom to the British in 1885.

Bayinnaung introduced a measure of legal uniformity by summoning learned monks and officials from all over his dominions to prescribe an official collection of law books. The scholars compiled Dhammathat Kyaw and Kosaungchok, based on King Wareru’s dhammathat. The decisions given in his court were collected in Hanthawaddy Hsinbyumyashin Hpyat-hton. He promoted the new law throughout the empire so far as it was compatible with customs and practices of local society. The adoption of Burmese customary law and the Burmese calendar in Siam began in his reign. He also standardized the weights and measurements such as the cubit, tical, and basket throughout the realm.

Another enduring legacy of Bayinnaung was his introduction of a more orthodox Theravada Buddhism to Upper Burma and the Shan states. He propagated the religious reforms begun by King Dhammazedi in the late 1470s. He viewed himself as the model Buddhist king and distributed copies of Buddhist scriptures, fed monks, and built pagodas at every new conquered state from Upper Burma and the Shan states to Lan Na and Siam. Some of the pagodas are still intact. Following in the footsteps of Dhammazedi, he supervised mass ordinations at the Kalyani Thein at Pegu in his orthodox Theravada Buddhism in the name of purifying the religion. He prohibited all human and animal sacrifices throughout the kingdom. In particular, he forbade the Shan practice of killing the slaves and animals belonging to a saopha at his funeral. His attempts to eliminate animist nat (spirit) worship from Buddhism, however, failed.

Bayinnaung donated jewels to adorn the crowns of many pagodas, including the Shwedagon, the Shwemawdaw, the Kyaiktiyo, and many less famous ones. He added a new spire to the Shwedagon in 1564 after the death of his beloved queen Yaza Dewi. His main temple was the Mahazedi Pagoda at Pegu, which he built in 1561. He tried but failed to secure the release of the Tooth of Kandy from the Portuguese in 1560. He later interfered with the internal affairs of Ceylon in the 1570s, ostensibly to protect the religion there.

His kingdom was mainly an agrarian state with a few wealthy maritime trading ports. The main ports were Syriam (Thanlyin), Dala, and Martaban. The kingdom exported commodities such as rice and jewels. At Pegu, overseas trade was in the hands of eight brokers appointed by the king. Their honesty and business-like methods won the esteem of European merchants. The capital was so fabulous that contemporary Europeans were said to “never tire of describing Pegu—the long moat full of crocodiles, the walls, the watch-towers, the gorgeous palace, the great processions with elephants and palanquins and grandees in shining robes, the shrines filled with images of massy gold and gems, the unending hosts of armed men, and the apparition of the great king himself.” The king appointed officials to supervise merchant shipping and sent out ships to undertake commercial voyages. The prosperous life at the capital, however, was probably not replicated at the countryside. Annual mobilizations of men greatly reduced the manpower necessary to cultivate the rice fields. Harvests at times fell perilously low, causing severe rice shortages, such as in 1567.

Bayinnaung’s empire was built on what is sometimes called “breathtaking” military conquests, but his success was more than just Portuguese firearms, foreign mercenaries, and massive forces. There was also a strong element of personal charisma. Certainly, he benefitted from the arrival of Portuguese cannon and matchlocks in large quantities. Portuguese weaponry proved superior in accuracy, safety, ballistic weight, and rapidity of fire to Asian-made firearms. Finally, Bayinnaung was able to marshal more manpower than any ruler in the region. He required every new conquered state to provide conscripts for his next campaign. Using both larger forces and superior firearms, he had no trouble reducing Manipur and the entire Shan world to tributary status. His larger forces and their greater fighting experience proved to make the difference against Siam, which too was a wealthy coastal power with a powerful well-equipped military.

It turned out however that Siam was not his greatest adversary. It was the remote mountainous states like Lan Xang, Mohnyin and Mogaung whose guerrilla warfare gave him constant trouble. Many of his men died from starvation and disease while fruitlessly searching for elusive bands of rebels, year after year. (The death toll must have been significant since it is mentioned in the chronicles.) He was fortunate that the charismatic guerrilla leader Setthathirath died. In the end, his military might alone could not bring lasting peace. He needed competent local rulers, who commanded the respect of the local populace, to rule the lands on his behalf.

These individual ingredients alone cannot explain Bayinnaung’s success. The same ingredients were available to his successors. Yet no one (in Burma or elsewhere in the successor states of his empire) could put them together. One historian notes: “From his teens until his death, he was constantly in the field, leading every major campaign in person. The failure of other kings who attempted the same conquests is the measure of his ability.” Bayinnaung died on 10 October 1581 after a long illness. His eldest son and heir-apparent Nanda took over the throne without incident. But the empire, which Bayinnaung had built on military conquests and maintained by both military power and personal relationships with the vassal rulers, crumbled shortly after.

Nowadays Myanmar cooking is divided into homestyle cooking and royal cooking. It’s hard enough for me to describe homestyle cooking, let alone royal style. Hop a plane. The difference between home and royal cooking is more one of quantity than quality. Rice is the staple, and various main dishes and side dishes accompany the rice. Royal meals involve many more dishes than home meals, but the general cooking methods and ingredients are the same (although royal dishes can involve more meat). Indigenous vegetables predominate.  Here are two videos. The first is quite detailed and shows cooking in the Shan style from Inle lake.

The second shows a rather festive dish, and indicates, if the first doesn’t sufficiently, how obscure some of the ingredients are for Westerners.

Jan 152018
 

Today is the second day of the Tamil Pongal festival, a harvest festival dedicated to the Sun. It is a four-day festival which is usually celebrated from the 14th to 17th of January. Today is known as Thai Pongal, one of the most important festivals celebrated by Tamil people in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, the Indian Union Territory of Puducherry, and the country of Sri Lanka, as well as Tamils worldwide, including those in Malaysia, Mauritius, South Africa, United States, Singapore, Canada, Myanmar, and the UK. Thai Pongal corresponds to Makara Sankranthi, the harvest festival celebrated throughout India. The day marks the start of the sun’s six-month-long journey northwards (the Uttaraayanam). This also corresponds to the Indic solstice when the sun purportedly enters the 10th house of the Indian zodiac Makara or Capricorn.

Thai Pongal is mainly celebrated to convey appreciation to the Sun God for a successful harvest. Part of the celebration is the boiling of the first rice of the season consecrated to the Sun – the Surya Maangalyam. Many other special events take place in Chennai and the rest of Tamil Nadu during Pongal, such as Chennai Book Fair and Lit for Life. From 1916 to 1952, annual cricket matches between Indians and Europeans called Madras Presidency Matches were held during Pongal.

The Thai Pongal festival may date to more than 1000 years ago. Epigraphic evidence suggests there was a festival called Puthiyeedu during the Medieval Chola empire, which is believed to have been a celebration of the first harvest of the year. “Thai” refers to the name of the tenth month in the Tamil calendar, Thai (தை). “Pongal” generally means festivity or celebration, but literally means “boiling over” or “overflow.” Pongal is also the name of a sweetened dish of rice boiled with lentils that is eaten on this day as well as presented as an offering. Symbolically the dish supposedly signifies the gradual heating of the earth as the Sun travels northward toward the equinox.

The day preceding Thai Pongal is called Bhogi. On this day people discard old belongings and celebrate new possessions. The disposal of worn-out items is similar to the traditions of Holika in North India. The people assemble at dawn in Tamil Nadu to light a bonfire in order to burn the discards. Houses are cleaned, painted and decorated to give a festive look. The horns of oxen and buffaloes are painted in villages. In Tamil Nadu farmers keep medicinal herbs (neem, avram, sankranti) in the northeast corner of each of their fields, to protect crops from diseases and pests.

The main event, Thai Pongal, takes place on the second of the four days of Pongal. During the festival, milk is cooked in a vessel. When it starts to bubble and overflows out of the vessel, freshly harvested rice grains are added to the pot. At the same time other participants blow a conch called the sanggu and shout “Pongalo Pongal!” They also recite “Thai Pirandhal Vazhi Pirakkum” (“the commencement of Thai paves the way for new opportunities”). This is repeated frequently during the Pongal festival. The Pongal dish is then served to everyone in the house along with savories and sweets such as vadai, murukku, paayasam.

Tamils decorate their homes with banana and mango leaves and embellish the floor with decorative patterns drawn using rice flour and kolams/rangolis are drawn on doorsteps. Family elders present gifts to the young. The Sun represents “Pratyaksha Brahman” — the manifest God, who symbolizes the one, non-dual, self-effulgent, glorious divinity blessing one and all tirelessly. The Sun is the one who transcends time and also the one who rotates the proverbial wheel of time.

There are many kinds of Pongal but the two commonest at the Thai Pongal festival are Chakkara (or Sakkarai) Pongal and Venn Pongal, with Chakkara Pongal predominating. Chakkara Pongal (literally, sweet pongal) is generally prepared in temples as a prasadam, (an offering made to a deity). Ingredients include rice, coconut, and mung beans. It is traditionally sweetened with jaggery, which gives the Pongal a brown color, though it can be sweetened with white sugar instead. Here’s a video:

Jan 142018
 

Today is the birthday (1741), according to the Gregorian calendar [O.S. January 3, 1740], of Benedict Arnold, a general during the American Revolutionary War, who fought for the American Continental Army, and later defected to the British Army, making his name in the US a byword for “turncoat” or “traitor.” I will give you the short version here. You can read about the complexities on your own. Rather uncharacteristically these days, I want to focus more on my recipe than on the anniversary it celebrates.

Arnold was born in Connecticut and was a merchant operating ships on the Atlantic Ocean when the war broke out in 1775. He joined the growing army outside Boston and distinguished himself through acts of intelligence and bravery. His actions included the Capture of Fort Ticonderoga in 1775, defensive and delaying tactics at the Battle of Valcour Island on Lake Champlain in 1776 (allowing American forces time to prepare New York’s defenses), the Battle of Ridgefield, Connecticut (after which he was promoted to major general), operations in relief of the Siege of Fort Stanwix, and key actions during the pivotal Battles of Saratoga in 1777, in which he suffered leg injuries that halted his combat career for several years.

Despite Arnold’s successes, he was passed over for promotion by the Continental Congress, while other officers claimed credit for some of his accomplishments. Adversaries in military and political circles brought charges of corruption or other malfeasance, but most often he was acquitted in formal inquiries. Congress investigated his accounts and concluded that he was indebted to Congress, even though he had also spent much of his own money on the war effort. Arnold was frustrated and bitter at this state of affairs.

Arnold was also not happy with the American colonies’ alliance with France and the failure of Congress to accept Britain’s 1778 proposal to grant full self-governance in the colonies. He decided to change sides, and opened secret negotiations with the British. In July 1780, he was awarded command of West Point, New York (at the time a fort which would become the site of the U.S. Military Academy in 1802), overlooking the cliffs at the Hudson River (upriver from British-occupied New York City), and planned to surrender them to British forces. His scheme was to surrender the fort to the British, but it was exposed when American forces captured British Major John André carrying papers which revealed the plot. Upon learning of André’s capture, Arnold fled down the Hudson River to the British sloop-of-war Vulture, narrowly avoiding capture by the forces of George Washington, who had been alerted to the plot.

Arnold received a commission as a brigadier general in the British Army, an annual pension of £360, and a lump sum of over £6,000. He led British forces on raids in Virginia and against New London and Groton, Connecticut before the war effectively ended with the American victory at Yorktown. In the winter of 1782, he moved to London with his second wife Margaret “Peggy” Shippen Arnold. He was well received by King George III and the Tories, but rather coolly by the Whigs. In 1787, he returned to the merchant business with his sons Richard and Henry in Saint John, New Brunswick. He returned to London to settle permanently in 1791, where he died ten years later.

The name “Benedict Arnold” quickly became a byword in the United States for a person who commits some sort of betrayal.  At one time the fact that Arnold betrayed his country by leading the British army in battle against the men he once commanded, was common knowledge. Benjamin Franklin wrote that Arnold was worse than Judas because “Judas sold only one man, Arnold three millions.” Nowadays, what Arnold actually did is less well known, but his name is still invoked for someone accused of being a turncoat. Why he did what he did is really hard to fathom.  Being unfairly overlooked for promotion can make you bitter, and wanting a long, drawn-out war to end when there is a chance for peace that is rejected by your seniors, can make you frustrated. Those things might make you disaffected enough to want to quit, even to leave the country, maybe migrate to England. But why would you become a commanding officer for the country you had been fighting against? There are answers to these questions, but I will leave you to find out more about Arnold and decide for yourself. Meanwhile I want to talk about foods that are turncoats.

When I get round to it – if I get round to it – I am going to write a cookbook on some basic dishes that we can make in the classic way, or we can change in some fashion or another so that they become “turncoats” of a sort. One will be eggs Benedict. If you check around you will find that eggs Benedict have absolutely nothing to do with Benedict Arnold, even though you can find recipes called “eggs Benedict Arnold.” The recipes are usually standard eggs Benedict with a change of name. But what if we change the ingredients? Then we would have true eggs Benedict Arnold. As it happens, this is by no means a new thought. In fact, I have already given a recipe for eggs Florentine which uses spinach in place of Canadian ham: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/machiavelli/ 

Standard eggs Benedict are a toasted English muffin, Canadian bacon, and a poached egg smothered in Hollandaise sauce. You can switch out any one of these four ingredients for another and you have your turncoat dish.  Here’s a list (and partial gallery) of these Benedict Arnold egg dishes (with the names they sometimes are called by):

Eggs Blackstone: streaky bacon instead of ham (sometimes with a tomato slice).

Eggs Blanchard: béchamel sauce instead of Hollandaise.

Eggs Chesapeake: Maryland blue crab cake instead of ham.

Eggs Mornay: Mornay sauce instead of Hollandaise.

Eggs Omar: a small steak instead of ham, (sometimes replaces the hollandaise with béarnaise).

Eggs Atlantic (also Eggs Hemingway, Eggs Copenhagen, Eggs Royale, Eggs Montreal, or Eggs Benjamin): smoked salmon instead of ham.

Huevos Benedictinos: sliced avocado and/or Mexican chorizo instead of ham, and salsa with the Hollandaise.

Irish Eggs Benedict: corned beef or Irish bacon instead of ham.

This is just a start for you. Take any of the ingredients and substitute something else. Eggs need to be poached, I think, but what about using a duck egg? What could you substitute for ham, or for the English muffin?

Jan 132018
 

On this date in 1879, Ada Anderson completed a great feat of pedestrianism (endurance walking) in Mozart Gardens in Brooklyn: 2700 quarter miles in 2700 quarter hours. She started on 16 December 1878 and finished on 13 January 1879, and during that entire time was not allowed rest periods longer than 20 minutes. Nothing so grueling had ever been attempted before, although she and others had done somewhat shorter events of the kind before. I don’t know if it has ever been replicated. She was one of a handful of female athletes who are largely forgotten now, but were extremely important in their day in pressing for equal rights for women.

Anderson was born Ada Nymand, but very little about her early life is known, including her birth date. Her father Gustavas Nymand was reported to be a ‘Cockney Jew’ and the identity of her mother is not known. She left home at 16 to join a theater company and five years later married the man whose name she was most commonly known by. She claimed to have been a singer, clown, and theater proprietress, with a childhood ambition to be famous by accomplishing something no one else could do. Having struggled to make a name for herself as an actress Anderson and her husband became managers of a theatre in Cardiff. But in 1877 her husband died, leaving her on the brink of bankruptcy.

Anderson’s interest in pedestrianism started in 1877 when she met British champion racewalker William Gale at an event in Cardiff. Unlike other working-class pedestrians, such as Emma Sharp who claimed to do no formal training, Anderson was trained by Gale who specialized both in pedestrianism and sleep deprivation. After training for six weeks with Gale, Anderson made her pedestrian debut in Newport, Wales in September 1877. She walked 1,000 half-miles in 1,000 half-hours and got no more than 20 minutes rest at one time during the entire three-week trial. There were several days of rain which required her to walk with an umbrella and a lamp, but this did not prevent her from finishing.

Her second walk was planned to be 1,250 half-miles in 1,000 half-hours in Exeter, October 1877, which would break a record of 1,000 miles in 1,000 hours set by Captain Robert Barclay, but that had to be abandoned when a storm blew in. This did not deter Anderson and Gale, and they were able to accomplish that feat in Plymouth later that year. In addition to breaking the distance record by 250 miles, by starting each 1¼ mile at the beginning of the hour (rather than completing two consecutive miles as Barclay did) Anderson completed the event with much shorter rest periods. After this event Anderson was referred to in the press as a ‘Champion Lady Walker of the World’.

Anderson’s first indoor event was a 100-mile 28-hour walk, again in Plymouth. However, the pollution from gas lamps and cigars gave Anderson problems breathing. After falling a number of times, she collapsed unconscious after completing 96 miles. Following this failure Anderson went to the press and claimed she would “never take on another event she would not finish.” She completed 1,344 quarter-miles in the same number of quarter-hours in Plymouth and 1.5 miles every hour for 28 days in Boston before attempting to equal Gale’s record of 1,500 miles in 1,000 hours. Anderson started the event on 8 April 1878 and finished on 20 May 1878. Two days later, she got married for the second time to William Paley, who was in theater.

After completing three more walks during the summer of 1878, Anderson established herself as the dominant pedestrian in the UK. Therefore, on 13 October 1878, with the aim of making a name for herself in the US, Anderson, Paley, her manager J. H. Webb and her assistant Elizabeth Sparrow sailed on the steamship Ethiopia.

Anderson’s manager, Webb, wanted to launch her US debut (2,700 quarter-miles in 2,700 quarter-hours) in Glimore’s Garden (which later became Madison Square Garden). However, William Kissam Vanderbilt, the venue’s owner rejected their request claiming, “The woman will never accomplish the feat and nor can any woman.” This led Webb to approach Mozart Garden, a smaller venue in Brooklyn which was refurbished for the event, reducing the seating from 2,000 to 800 to make way for a track which was surrounded by an 18-inch railing and measured by Brooklyn’s city surveyor to ensure accuracy. The venue was so small that the track was only 189 feet in circumference, requiring Anderson to walk seven laps to complete each quarter of a mile. A ‘privacy tent’ was built for Anderson to use during her short rest periods containing a bed and a makeshift kitchen including a stove. Walking 2,700 quarter-miles in so many quarter-hours was an accomplishment never attempted by any person before in the US, requiring an ability to endure severe sleep deprivation, leading the champion US pedestrian Daniel O’Leary to state that he would never attempt it.

The event was so popular that the spectator fee was raised from 25 cents to 50 cents after 23 days of the event had been completed (with 5 to go). By the final day of the event, ticket prices were $1 for standing and $2 for reserved seating. As many as 4,000 people per day came to see Anderson during the event which started at 8pm on 16th December 1878. She completed the event at 11pm on 13th January 1879 to a venue so packed that police had to prevent additional spectators. Many of the spectators were women whom it was reported regarded Anderson as ‘the most wonderful of their sex’.

There were numerous checks and judges to ensure the integrity of the event, and doctors who checked on Anderson concluded that she had trained herself to cope with sleep deprivation, since she had no more than nine minutes sleep at a time during the entire 28-day event. 55 miles into the event Anderson played the piano and sang Verdi’s “Back to Our Mountains” during her rest period and became known for such entertainment during the walk. Over the next few weeks she continued to entertain the crowds with impromptu singing and speeches. Anderson had a number of celebrities come and walk with her during the event including 75-year-old boxer Bill Tovec, General Tom Thumb and Texas Jack. She also entertained the crowd by marking the faces of sleeping spectators with coal. Because of the heavy wagers on the completion of the event, Anderson required protection in the final days of the walk. There were reports of attempted gassing with chloroform although Anderson denied this. With only half a mile to go Anderson sang ‘Nil Desperandum’ to the crowd before completing her penultimate lap. She completed her final quarter of a mile in 2 minutes 37 seconds the fastest of all 2,700. The total receipts of the event were reported to be $32,000 of which Anderson’s personal share was reported to be $8,000.

When asked by reporters about fatigue, Anderson claimed her biggest problem was often with blisters and the pain of them preventing her sleeping. However, the sleep deprivation became apparent even within the first two days where she had periods of stumbling through the walk in an almost semi-conscious state before appearing as lively as she was at the start a few hours later. In these sleepy periods her assistant, Sparrow, had to prepare her to walk at the three-minute warning bell and on occasion had to send her back to the track when she hadn’t completed the required seven laps. After 100 miles, the regular check by the a physician noted she had a temperature of 99 °F (37 °C), pulse 78-80 with her only complaints badly blistered feet and mental anxiety interfering with sleep. Mike Henry, Anderson’s coach, who walked with her for much of the event was not in such good health, and with blisters covering his feet and suffering from exhaustion and dizziness he had to retire, being replaced by one of the race judges Charles Hazelton. Anderson ate at almost every rest time unless she was sleeping and her diet included beef, oysters, corned beef, potatoes, cakes, and grapes, she drank beef tea, port wine and occasionally champagne.

Local magistrates in Boston, UK, objected to walking events on Sundays believing that they corrupted morals. However Anderson found support in the local mayor who claimed that Boston was ‘more moral than Plymouth’ where Anderson had last walked on a Sunday. The New York Times was also critical of Anderson’s journey stating it had no “skill” attributes” and the sport “leads people to bet on any absurd performance of uncertain issue.” There were others who claimed that it was cruelty for a woman to be put through such suffering, and claims during her walk in Chicago that her husband coerced her. To these criticisms Anderson responded, “I am walking against my husband’s wishes.” Reverend W. C. Steele of the Third St. Methodist Church published sermons in a number of newspapers criticizing pedestrianism for a number of reasons, including event walking on a Sunday.

Given Anderson’s published diet for the event I would certainly have a nice steak and oysters on the half shell if I could get hold of them here in Cambodia. I need to be back in Argentina for the steak, and anywhere but SE Asian waters for raw oysters. Anyway . . . have at it. Or try Mrs Beeton’s beef and oyster sauce. In this case “oyster sauce” is, of course, not the Asian variety, but her own recipe made with fresh oysters. I don’t think it’s quite clear that the beef is sliced cold, but you could broil the beef while cooking the oysters and slice (and serve) it hot.

BROILED BEEF AND OYSTER SAUCE (Cold Meat Cookery).

  1. INGREDIENTS.—2 dozen oysters, 3 cloves, 1 blade of mace, 2 oz. of butter, 1/2 teaspoonful of flour, cayenne and salt to taste, mashed potatoes, a few slices of cold roast beef.

Mode.—Put the oysters in a stewpan, with their liquor strained; add the cloves, mace, butter, flour, and seasoning, and let them simmer gently for 5 minutes. Have ready in the centre of a dish round walls of mashed potatoes, browned; into the middle pour the oyster sauce, quite hot, and round the potatoes place, in layers, slices of the beef, which should be previously broiled over a nice clear fire.

Time.—5 minutes. Average cost, 1s, 6d., exclusive of the cold meat.

Jan 122018
 

Today is the birthday (1856) of John Singer Sargent, called an “American” artist because his parents were U.S. citizens, but he actually spent almost none of his life in North America. In his day he was considered by many to be the leading portrait painter of his generation, but subsequently his work tended to be overlooked because the portraiture he is best known for was, for a long time, considered rather old fashioned for the period, and place, he worked in, which was known more for Impressionism. Interest in his work increased in the late 20th century as his oeuvre was explored more fully, and it became evident that it is much more varied than is known by the general public (or at least those who care at all).

Before Sargent’s birth, his father, FitzWilliam, was an eye surgeon at the Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia from 1844 to 1854. After John’s older sister died at the age of two, his mother, Mary, suffered a mental breakdown, and the couple decided to go abroad to help her recover. They remained nomadic expatriates for the rest of their lives. Although based in Paris, Sargent’s parents moved regularly with the seasons to the sea and the mountain resorts in France, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland. While Mary was pregnant with John, they stopped in Florence to avoid a cholera epidemic, and Sargent was born there in 1856. A year later, his sister Mary was born. After her birth, FitzWilliam reluctantly resigned his post in Philadelphia and accepted his wife’s preference for them to remain abroad. They lived modestly on a small inheritance and savings, living a quiet life with their children. They generally avoided society and other U.S. citizens except for friends in the art world. The couple had 4 more children, two of whom died in childhood.

Sargent’s mother was convinced that traveling around Europe, and visiting museums and churches, would give young Sargent a satisfactory education. Several attempts to have him formally schooled failed, owing mostly to their itinerant life. Sargent’s mother was a fine amateur artist and his father was a skilled medical illustrator. Early on, she gave him sketchbooks and encouraged drawing excursions. Young Sargent worked with care on his drawings, and he enthusiastically copied images from The Illustrated London News of ships and made detailed sketches of landscapes. FitzWilliam had hoped that his son’s interest in ships and the sea might lead him toward a naval career.

At 13, his mother reported that, “John sketches quite nicely, & has a remarkably quick and correct eye. If we could afford to give him really good lessons, he would soon be quite a little artist.” Around that time, he received some watercolor lessons from Carl Welsch, a German landscape painter. His formal schooling was rather erratic, but Sargent turned into a well-educated young man, accomplished in art, music, and literature. He was fluent in French, Italian, and German. At 17, Sargent was described as “willful, curious, determined and strong, yet shy, generous, and modest.” He was well-acquainted with many of the great masters from first hand observation, and wrote in 1874, “I have learned in Venice to admire Tintoretto immensely and to consider him perhaps second only to Michelangelo and Titian.”

An attempt to study at the Academy of Florence failed because the school was re-organizing at the time, so, after returning to Paris from Florence, Sargent began his art studies with Carolus-Duran, who was on a meteoric rise at the time, and studied with him from 1874 to 1878. In 1874, on his first attempt, Sargent passed the rigorous exam required to gain admission to the École des Beaux-Arts, the premier art school in France. He took drawing classes, which included anatomy and perspective. Sargent also took some lessons from Léon Bonnat.

Carolus-Duran’s atelier was progressive, dispensing with the traditional academic approach, which required careful drawing and underpainting, in favor of the alla prima method of working directly on the canvas with a loaded brush, derived from Diego Velázquez. It was an approach that relied on the proper placement of tones of paint. This approach also permitted spontaneous flourishes of color not bound to an under-drawing. Sargent’s early enthusiasm was for landscapes, not portraiture, as evidenced by his voluminous sketches full of mountains, seascapes, and buildings. Carolus-Duran’s expertise in portraiture finally influenced Sargent in that direction. Commissions for history paintings were still considered more prestigious, but were much harder to get. Portrait painting, on the other hand, was the best way of promoting an art career, getting exhibited in the Salon, and gaining commissions to earn a livelihood.

Sargent’s first major portrait was of his friend Fanny Watts in 1877, and was also his first Salon admission. Its particularly well-executed pose drew attention. His second salon entry was the Oyster Gatherers of Cançale, an impressionistic painting of which he made two copies. In 1879, at the age of 23, Sargent painted a portrait of teacher Carolus-Duran; the virtuoso effort met with public approval, and announced the direction his mature work would take. Its showing at the Paris Salon was both a tribute to his teacher and an advertisement for portrait commissions. Of Sargent’s early work, Henry James wrote that the artist offered “the slightly ‘uncanny’ spectacle of a talent which on the very threshold of its career has nothing more to learn.”

After leaving Carolus-Duran’s atelier, Sargent visited Spain. There he studied the paintings of Velázquez, absorbing his technique, and in his travels gathered ideas for future works. He was entranced with Spanish music and dance. The trip also re-awakened his own talent for music, and which found visual expression in his early masterpiece El Jaleo (1882). Music would continue to play a major part in his social life as well, as he was a skillful accompanist of both amateur and professional musicians. Sargent became a strong advocate for modern composers, especially Gabriel Fauré. Trips to Italy provided sketches and ideas for several Venetian street scenes genre paintings, which effectively captured gestures and postures he would find useful in later portraiture.

Upon his return to Paris, Sargent quickly received several portrait commissions, and his career was launched. He immediately demonstrated the concentration and stamina that enabled him to paint with workman-like steadiness for the next 25 years. He filled in the gaps between commissions with many non-commissioned portraits of friends and colleagues.

I won’t belabor the history of Sargent’s career more. Instead, I will look at 3 significant works.

Portrait of Madame X

This portrait of Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau caused a major scandal when it was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1884. Mme Gautreau was well known in Parisian social circles for using her beauty to advantage, and engaging in “infelicities.” She was sought after by numerous portraitists, because of the notoriety a painting of her would secure the artist. Sargent went beyond the bounds of polite society, however, by deliberately painting her in a seductive pose wearing a provocative dress. The plunging neckline, oceans of bare skin, and come-hither stance were scandalous enough for late-19th-century Parisians, but in the original Sargent also painted the right strap of her dress hanging down over her arm, which was considered to be outrageously salacious. For a time Mme Gautreau had to retire from public, even though Sargent did not name her on the portrait. She was well known without being identified. In addition, Sargent’s commissions in France dried up completely, and so he moved to London where he flourished.

Claude Monet Painting at the Edge of a Wood

On a visit to Monet at Giverny in 1885, Sargent painted one of his most Impressionistic portraits: Monet at work painting outdoors with his new wife nearby. Sargent is usually not thought of as an Impressionist painter, but he sometimes used Impressionist techniques. This is his own version of the Impressionist style which he continued using into the late 1880s, after his visit to Monet. Monet later wrote on Sargent’s style: “He is not an Impressionist in the sense that we use the word, he is too much under the influence of Carolus-Duran.”

Gassed

In May 1918, Sargent was one of several painters commissioned by the British War Memorials Committee of the British Ministry of Information to create a large painting for a planned Hall of Remembrance. The plan for a Hall of Remembrance decorated by large paintings was abandoned when the project was incorporated with that for Imperial War Museum. Although he was 62 years old, he travelled to the Western Front in July 1918, accompanied by Henry Tonks. He spent time with the Guards Division near Arras, and then with the American Expeditionary Forces near Ypres. He was determined to paint an epic work with many human figures, but struggled to find a situation with American and British figures in the same scene. On 11 September 1918, Sargent wrote to Evan Charteris:

The Ministry of Information expects an epic – and how can one do an epic without masses of men? Excepting at night I have only seen three fine subjects with masses of men – one a harrowing sight, a field full of gassed and blindfolded men – another a train of trucks packed with “chair à cannon” – and another frequent sight a big road encumbered with troops and traffic, I daresay the latter, combining English and Americans, is the best thing to do, if it can be prevented from looking like going to the Derby.

The “harrowing sight” referred to the aftermath of a German barrage that Sargent witnessed on 21 August 1918, at Le Bac-du-Sud, between Arras and Doullens, in which mustard gas had been used against the advancing 99th Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division and 8th Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division of the British Army, during the Second Battle of Arras of 1918. You can see his deliberate homage to Breughel (The Blind Leading the Blind):

Sargent’s painting is huge, and, for me, is haunting, and captivates the horrors of the Great War. Curiously, in its day it had a remarkably mixed reception. Virginia Woolf, for example, described it as annoyingly patriotic, and E.M. Forster called it “too heroic.” I don’t see that at all. What was in their heads?

Sargent’s Birthday Party, is perhaps not as well known as his portraiture. It shows his mix of Realism and Impressionism, and also his characteristic use of color – especially the contrast of red and white, which you find in numerous portraits. So I thought that a characteristic (American) red and white cake would be appropriate for celebrating his birthday: the classic red velvet cake.

Red Velvet Cake

Ingredients

Cake:

½ cup shortening
1 ½ cups white sugar
2 eggs
2 tbsp cocoa
4 tbsp red food coloring
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
2 ½ cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp baking soda
1 tbsp distilled white vinegar

Icing:

5 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1 cup white sugar
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350˚F/175˚C.

Grease two 9-inch round pans.

For the cake: Beat the shortening and 1 ½ cups sugar together until they are very light and fluffy. Add the eggs slowly and beat well. Make a paste of the cocoa and red food coloring and beat into the creamed mixture.

In a separate bowl, mix the salt, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and buttermilk together. Add the flour to the batter, alternating with the buttermilk mixture, mixing just until incorporated. Mix the baking soda and vinegar in a cup and gently fold into the cake batter. Don’t beat or stir the batter after this point.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool the cakes completely on a wire rack.

For the icing: Put 5 tablespoons flour and milk into a saucepan, whisk, and then cook over low heat until thick, stirring constantly. Let cool completely. While the mixture is cooling, beat 1 cup of sugar, butter, and 1 teaspoon vanilla until light and fluffy. Add the cooled flour and milk mixture and beat until the icing is a good spreading consistency.

Split the cakes into layers, spreading the icing thickly between each layer, and then over the top and sides of the cake.

Jan 112018
 

On this date in 1787 William Herschel discovered 2 moons of Uranus that were later named Titania and Oberon. I have covered Herschel (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/william-herschel/ ) and Uranus (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/uranus/ ) already in my posts. Now I would like to talk about the complex moon system of Uranus, and, especially, the way in which they got their names. Herschel was terrible at giving names to objects in the solar system and, in fact, did not name the moons of Uranus that he discovered (and, to make matters worse, he claimed to have observed 4 other moons that do not exist). Furthermore, he gave the name “George’s Star” to Uranus when he discovered it, because he wanted to toady up to George III. Astronomers in other countries were not amused.

Uranus has 27 known moons, all of which are named after characters from the works of William Shakespeare and Alexander Pope. Uranus’ moons are divided into three groups: 13 inner moons, 5 major moons, and 9 irregular moons. The inner moons are small dark bodies that share common properties and origins with Uranus’ rings. The 5 major moons are massive enough to have reached hydrostatic equilibrium, and 4 of them show signs of internally driven processes such as canyon formation and volcanism on their surfaces. The largest of these 5, Titania, is 1,578 km in diameter and the eighth-largest moon in the Solar System, and about one-twentieth the mass of Earth’s Moon. The orbits of the regular moons are nearly coplanar with Uranus’s equator, which is tilted 97.77° to its orbit. Uranus’ irregular moons have elliptical and strongly inclined (mostly retrograde) orbits at large distances from the planet.

Titania

Oberon

Titania and Oberon were spotted by Herschel six years after he had discovered the planet itself. Later, Herschel thought he had discovered up to six moons and perhaps even a ring. For nearly 50 years, Herschel’s instrument was the only one with which the moons had been seen. In the 1840s, better instruments and a more favorable position of Uranus in the sky led to sporadic indications of satellites additional to Titania and Oberon. Eventually, the next two moons, Ariel and Umbriel, were discovered by William Lassell in 1851. The Roman numbering scheme of Uranus’ moons was in a state of flux for a considerable time, and publications hesitated between Herschel’s designations (where Titania and Oberon are Uranus II and IV) and William Lassell’s (where they are sometimes I and II). With the confirmation of Ariel and Umbriel, Lassell numbered the moons I to IV from Uranus outward, and this finally stuck. In 1852, Herschel’s son John Herschel gave the four then-known moons their names.

No other discoveries were made for almost another century. In 1948, Gerard Kuiper at the McDonald Observatory discovered the smallest and the last of the five large, spherical moons, Miranda. Decades later, the flyby of the Voyager 2 space probe in January 1986 led to the discovery of ten further inner moons. Another satellite, Perdita, was discovered in 1999 after studying old Voyager photographs.

Uranus was the last giant planet without any known irregular moons, but since 1997 nine distant irregular moons have been identified using ground-based telescopes. Two more small inner moons, Cupid and Mab, were discovered using the Hubble Space Telescope in 2003. As of 2016, the moon Margaret was the last Uranian moon discovered, and its characteristics were published in October 2003.

When the responsibility of naming the first four moons of Uranus was given to John Herschel, instead of assigning them names from Greek legend, he named them after magical spirits in English literature: the fairies Oberon and Titania from William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the sylphs Ariel and Umbriel from Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock (Ariel is also a sprite in Shakespeare’s The Tempest). The reasoning was presumably that Uranus, as god of the sky and air, would be attended by spirits of the air. Subsequent names, rather than continuing the airy spirits theme (only Puck and Mab continued the trend), have focused on Herschel’s source material. In 1949, the fifth moon, Miranda, was named by its discoverer Gerard Kuiper after a thoroughly mortal character in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The current IAU practice is to name moons after characters from Shakespeare’s plays and The Rape of the Lock (although at present only Ariel, Umbriel, and Belinda have names drawn from the latter; all the rest are from Shakespeare). At first, the outermost moons were all named after characters from one play, The Tempest; but with Margaret being named from Much Ado About Nothing that trend has ended. The moons’ names come from the following sources:

The Rape of the Lock (Alexander Pope):

Ariel, Umbriel, Belinda

Plays by William Shakespeare:

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Titania, Oberon, Puck

The Tempest: (Ariel), Miranda, Caliban, Sycorax, Prospero, Setebos, Stephano, Trinculo, Francisco, Ferdinand

King Lear: Cordelia

Hamlet: Ophelia

The Taming of the Shrew: Bianca

Troilus and Cressida: Cressida

Othello: Desdemona

Romeo and Juliet: Juliet, Mab

The Merchant of Venice: Portia

As You Like It: Rosalind

Much Ado About Nothing: Margaret

The Winter’s Tale: Perdita

Timon of Athens: Cupid

To quibble, just a tad, I’d have to say that Cupid is a bit of a cheat, or at least a cheat in calling the name one that is derived from Timon of Athens rather than from the ancient Roman pantheon. Obviously, the naming of the planets after Greek and Roman gods dates back to antiquity (in the West). Breaking the tradition with planetary satellites, comets, and whatnot seems fine. However, focusing on Shakespeare for the moons of Uranus does seem awfully ethnocentric. The naming of moons has been the responsibility of the International Astronomical Union’s committee for Planetary System Nomenclature since 1973. That committee is known today as the Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature (WGPSN). Prior to its formation, the names of satellites had varying histories. The choice of names was often determined by a satellite’s discoverer. However, historically some satellites, such as Titania and Oberon were not given names for many years after their discovery. The longest is probably Titan, a moon of Saturn, discovered by Huygens in 1655, but not named until 1847, almost two centuries later.

The recipe of the day has to be fairy cakes, I think. My twisted mind thinks of them as being like delightful little moons, as well as evocative of Shakespeare’s characters. I’ll give you the basic recipe and then leave it to you to decorate them as you please. I’ve always liked them with little wings. There’s a small gallery of ideas at the end. They are about the easiest cakes to make that I know of. I used to assist my mum making them when I was little.

Fairy cakes

Ingredients

110g/4oz butter, softened at room temperature
110g/4oz caster sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
110g/4oz self-raising flour
1 or 2 tbsp milk

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 180˚C/350˚F and line 2 x 12-hole cake tins with paper cases.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl until pale. Beat in the eggs, a little at a time, and then stir in the vanilla extract.

Fold in the flour gently with a wooden spoon. Add the milk very slowly until the mixture is a soft dropping consistency, but not too wet. Spoon the mixture into the paper cases so that they are half full.

Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes, or until the cakes are golden-brown on top and a toothpick inserted into one of the cakes comes out clean. Set the cake tins aside to cool for 10 minutes, then remove the individual cakes from the tins and cool them on a wire rack.

Decorate the cakes as you please with icing, whipped cream, sprinkles, or what-have-you.

Jan 102018
 

Today is known as Traditional Day or Fête du Vodoun, a public holiday in Benin that celebrates the nation’s heritage particularly as it relates to the West African practice of vodun. The celebration is held annually on January 10 throughout the country but most notably in the city of Ouidah on the coast. Vodun was officially declared a religion in Benin in 1996 and the festival has attracted thousands of devotees and tourists to Ouidah to participate in the festivities ever since. During Matthew Kerekou’s Marxist/military rule of 18 years which ended in 1991, vodun was suppressed and outlawed in the country. With the exit of Kerekou from power, the practice began to thrive freely again. Following his return to power as a democratic elected president in 1996, Kerekou capitulated to the people’s wish when taking his oath of office by acknowledging the existence of ancestral spirits, and the government declared January 10th as public holiday.

You will read various statistics about the popularity of Vodun. Some observers claim that as much as 60% of the population of Benin practice Vodun, but according to the 2002 census, 42.8% of the population of Benin declared themselves as Christian (27.1% Roman Catholic, 5% Celestial Church of Christ, 3.2% Methodist, 7.5% other Christian denominations), 24.4% as Muslim, and 17.3% as practitioners of Vodun (the rest following various other indigenous religions or having no religious affiliation). I’m not sure that I can say a whole lot about vodun that will be terribly accurate because I’ve never been to West Africa nor studied the local spiritual practices particularly closely, but I’ll do my best. The one thing I can say with no fear of contradiction is that Vodun is grossly misunderstood by outsiders.

Vodun (meaning “spirit” in both Fon and Ewe languages, also spelled Vodon, Vodoun, Vodou, Voudou, Voodoo, etc.) is practiced by the Ewe people of eastern and southern Ghana, and southern and central Togo,the Kabye people, Gen-speaking people, and Fon people of southern and central Togo, and southern and central Benin. It is also practiced by some Gun people of Lagos and Ogun in southwest Nigeria. All these peoples belong to Gbe-speaking ethnic groups of West Africa, except the Kabye. Vodun is distinct from the various traditional African religions in the interiors of these countries and is one source of religions with similar names found among the African diaspora in the Americas, such as Haitian Vodou; Dominican Vudú; Cuban Vodú; Brazilian Vodum; and Louisiana Voodoo. I use the word “voodoo” in my title here, because it is one spelling of the Fon word that is pronounced /vodṹ/  (in IPA transliteration), and because it is more familiar to most Westerners than Vodun. However, it is very important not to confuse Vodun with popular conceptions (or misconceptions) of Voodoo.

Anthropologists class Vodun as a form of magic (differentiating it from religion). This is a technical distinction that causes anthropologists to argue endlessly, and froth at the mouth a lot, so I’ll keep it simple (which probably is a synonym in this case for “wrong” or “misguided”). Anthropologists, going back to James George Frazer and The Golden Bough, have tried to separate supernatural practices into magic and religion, but the differences are not really hard and fast. Ideally, magic takes as a basic assumption that the world is divided into physical and spiritual forces that are deeply entwined, such that everything affects everything. The art to being a good magical practitioner is knowing the rules that govern how actions in one place have results in another place. In some ways magic is akin to physical science, which also believes that everything is connected to everything else. For example, Isaac Newton’s law of universal gravitation (which got superseded by Einstein’s theory of General Relativity), states that EVERYTHING attracts EVERYTHING else in the universe (with a force proportional to their masses, divided by the square of their distance apart). This law applies to planets, stars, galaxies, and sub-atomic particles. In principle, therefore, I exert a force on you, and you exert a force on me. When I see you (in person), light from your body enters my eye and becomes part of my body. Everything influences everything. Magic differs from science in that it posits a spirit world that is also connected to the physical world, whereas science does not. What differentiates magic (and science) from religion, is that magic (and science) works regardless of the intentions of the practitioner, whereas in religious systems, intention is everything. Break a mirror and you get 7 years of bad luck whether you intended to break it or not. That’s magic. If you want to undo the bad luck you must know the magical rules concerned with mirrors, and perform the necessary magic to make things right again.  In a religious system you undo bad fortune through prayer, and your prayer may be granted, but only if you pray with a good heart. Pray with bad intentions and the supernatural world will ignore you, or maybe even do you more harm.

Of course, magic and religion cannot be separated so easily in this way. The big push that led to the Protestant Reformation was the belief, on the part of the likes of Luther and Calvin, that magic had heavily infiltrated Catholicism and perverted it away from “true” religion. Candles, incense, bells, relics, etc. etc., were seen as magical nonsense by the Reformers. Even with the best will in the world, you don’t get rid of magic that easily. Professional baseball players on a long hitting streak may keep doing certain things repeatedly (even ritually) – eating the same breakfast before games, driving the same route to the baseball stadium, for example – even though they have no obvious connexion to the hitting streak. Magic can be reassuring in that way. Why jinx a good thing?

Vodun cosmology centers on the vodun spirits and other elements of divine essence that govern the Earth, a hierarchy that ranges in power from major deities governing the forces of nature and human society to the spirits of individual streams, trees, and rocks, as well as dozens of ethnic vodun, defenders of a certain clan, ethnic group, or nation. The vodun are the center of ritual life, and in some ways appear similar to doctrines such as the intercession of saints and angels within Catholicism that ultimately produced syncretic religions such as Haitian Vodou. Adherents of vodun also emphasize respect for ancestors, and hold that the spirits of the dead live side by side with the world of the living.

Patterns of vodun practice differ considerably within West Africa, and even within Benin. In many traditions, a divine creator, called variously Mawu or Mahu, is a female being who bore seven children and gave each rule over a realm of nature, such as, animals, earth, sea, and so forth. In other traditions, the universe has both female and male aspects, often portrayed as the twin children of the creator, represented cosmologically by the moon (female) and the sun (masculine). Dan, who is the creator’s androgynous son, is represented as a rainbow serpent, and as a go-between between the female and male, and between the supernatural and natural. As the overall mediator between the spirits and the living, Dan maintains balance, order, peace, harmony and communication. All creation is considered divine and therefore contains the power of the divine.

Because all physical objects contain divine power, even mundane items can have spiritual efficacy. Herbs can cure illnesses, not because of their physical properties but because of their divine nature. Even ordinary, everyday objects can be used in ritual because of their inherent spiritual force. Vodun talismans, called “fetishes” in English, are objects such as statues or dried animal or human parts that are sold because of their healing and spiritually rejuvenating properties. Drumming, dancing, singing; the ritual slaughter of goats and chickens; and drinking copious amounts of homemade gin, are all intrinsic parts of festivities in Benin on this date.

A very common street food (as well as home food) for festivals throughout Benin is Atassi or Waakye, which closely resembles beans and rice dishes found throughout Europe and the Americas. The dish is popular during Fête du Vodoun because the two complementary ingredients represent the duality central to vodun, and the dish itself is especially sacred to twins who are held in high honor in many West African cultures because of their resonance with the primordial twins of the creator. Beans and rice are called waakye in Benin because “waakye” is the local Fon word for sorghum, sometimes millet, leaves added to the cooking water to produce a distinctive brown color and subtle flavoring. You do not really need a recipe if you have any experience with beans and rice, especially because the Benin version is very plain.  Here’s a video for you.