Apr 252017
 

Today is celebrated as the anniversary of the founding of the Red Hat Society by members. In 1997, Sue Ellen Cooper, an artist from Fullerton, California, bought an old red fedora for $7.50 from a thrift shop during a trip to Tucson, Arizona. When a good friend was nearing her 55th birthday, Cooper was inspired to buy her a red hat as a present by the Jenny Joseph poem, “Warning”, which begins “When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple, with a red hat which doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me.” Cooper wanted to encourage her friend to grow older in a playful manner.  She repeated the gift on request several times, and eventually several of the women bought purple outfits as well and held a tea party on April 25, 1998, at which the Red Hat Society began. The idea spread, first by word of mouth and then through the internet and publications, so that now there are over 20,000 chapters in the US and numerous others in 30 countries worldwide.

I came across a Red Hat Society function about 10 years ago in New York. They’re hard to miss. The members all had on very elaborately decorated red hats. At the time I had no clue what it was all about, but got the basic drift from the members at the event, and then looked it up afterwards on the internet. What I found most noticeable is that the aims of the Red Hat Society and Jenny Joseph’s poem are a little at odds with one another. Here’s the full poem:

Warning

Jenny Joseph

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat that doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me,
And I shall spend my pension
on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals,
And say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I am tired,
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells,
And run my stick along the public railings,
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick the flowers in other people’s gardens,
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat,
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go,
Or only bread and pickle for a week,
And hoard pens and pencils and beer mats
and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry,
And pay our rent and not swear in the street,
And set a good example for the children.
We will have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practise a little now?
So people who know me
are not too shocked and surprised,
When suddenly I am old
and start to wear purple!

Jenny Joseph wrote this poem in 1961 when she was approaching 30. I can see how Sue Ellen Cooper was inspired by the poem – especially the first lines – but what Jenny Joseph is proposing is rather different from what the Red Hat Society became. I think that’s just fine; the poem is not a constitution nor some kind of founding document in total. My general mantra is that if people are having fun (and they are not being insanely destructive), it’s none of my business what they are doing even if it is not to my taste. What I will say is that the poem and the society are a little at odds in their stated aims.

Jenny Joseph wrote “Warning” in the post-war years in England when life could be very drab. Rationing continued well into the 1950s and the country was trying to rebuild itself in the aftermath of absolute calamity. Conformity to certain ideals of “success” were very much the norm. Good job, nice house, smart clothes, thrifty lifestyle etc. were the hallmarks of the successful life, and Jenny Joseph found all of this rather dreary and confining. She wanted to break free, but knew she couldn’t. Instead she fantasized an old age liberated from the strictures of youth, modeled on eccentric old English women, of which there were, and are, an abundance. A mere 2 years ago I spent a fascinating afternoon with a friend of mine in the cottage of a comfortably well off old woman in Oxfordshire who chain smoked, drank whisky, and kept a pet sheep in her kitchen. Her house was an utter riot of random clutter. She had asked my friend to come over to help her with her lawn which was overgrown and choked with weeds and wildflowers, because she wanted to use it for some kind of dog show that I never fully understood.

Jenny Joseph is, in fact, an old lady these days (she was born in 1932), and I have no idea what she is up to now apart from reading poetry now and again.  For a while she was a journalist in South Africa and then worked teaching ESL in London. She is certainly one of the most widely acclaimed living poets and has received numerous honors. I hope she is retired, but I wonder whether she spits, swears, and spends her pension on brandy and summer gloves.  The point of the poem is to stress a desire to break free from the norms of society, but, of course, since 1961 things have changed enormously. There was the decade of the 1960s, to begin with, which turned so many (not all) social norms on their heads. Many people, men and women, stopped wearing hats, for example, and the general rules of everyday street wear went south.  Were it not for the Red Hat Society, a woman wearing a purple dress and a red hat would go completely unnoticed these days

The Red Hat Society was inspired by Jenny Joseph’s poem, but its aims are hardly the same. First, the privilege of wearing a red hat begins at age 50, not the retirement age for women in England in the 1960s which was 60. That’s the kind of age Jenny Joseph was thinking of — or older. Sue Ellen Cooper was imagining something quite different in the US of the late 1990s. She was looking at what was expected of women in their 50s at that time and balking. It’s true that Joseph’s and Cooper’s underlying philosophy is the same –  break the rules and have fun – but what breaking the rules looks like is rather different for each woman. The Red Hat Society is called a “dis-organization” but it looks pretty organized to me. Go to their website https://www.redhatsociety.com/ and you’ll find plenty of organization including a very extensive online store. Nonetheless, I imagine meetings for tea vary enormously from group to group. The thing is that I know full well as an anthropologist that every social rebellion, large or small, sooner or later gets codified and co-opted by the society it is rebelling against. If ONE old woman wears a red hat and a purple dress it could be considered eccentric; if tens of thousands of them do it, it’s another way of conforming. No matter; I’m sure the members have fun in their own way.

If you are going to break the rules, afternoon tea is a good place to start. I’ve talked about afternoon tea several times in my posts, including the annoying misuse of the term “high tea” for afternoon tea in North America. In England high tea (sometimes just referred to as “tea”) is a full meal, whereas afternoon tea consists of dainty sandwiches and little cakes, that was first popularized in Queen Victoria’s court as a stopgap between lunch at noon and dinner at 7. Regular working people (myself included) typically have a full meal after work, rather than having a tea time followed by a later dinner. In my family we referred to our evening meal as tea when I was growing up, and we had it at around 5 o’clock.

I suppose you could “eat three pounds of sausages at a go, Or only bread and pickle for a week” but Joseph’s more basic point is that you should eat what you want without respect for the standards of a healthy diet. When I was a schoolboy in England in the 1960s I was always the first home, and, because I was hungry I would often eat a tinned steak and kidney pudding plus toast and jam with clotted cream and some chocolate to tide me over until dinner time. Nowadays that would be a full meal for me, but when I was a teenager my stomach was bottomless.

So what are you going to have with your cup of tea this afternoon? Three pounds of sausages might be OK, or bread and pickles — or both. They would be unconventional enough for afternoon tea time. But your limit is your imagination. I’ll take steak and kidney pudding — only not tinned.

 

 

Mar 092017
 

The fashion doll Barbie, manufactured by the U.S. toy company Mattel, Inc. was launched on this date in 1959 so we can celebrate today as Barbie’s birthday. Ruth Handler is credited with the creation of the doll using a German doll called Bild Lilli as her inspiration.  According to the Mattel company’s history, Handler was watching her daughter Barbara play with paper dolls, and noticed that she often enjoyed giving them adult roles. At the time, most children’s toy dolls were representations of infants. Realizing that there was a gap in the market, Handler suggested the idea of an adult-bodied doll to her husband Elliot, a co-founder of the Mattel toy company but he was unenthusiastic about the idea, as were Mattel’s directors.

Bild Lilli

During a trip to Europe in 1956 with her children Barbara and Kenneth, Ruth Handler came across a German toy doll called Bild Lilli. The adult-figured doll was exactly what Handler had in mind, so she purchased three of them. She gave one to her daughter and took the others back to Mattel. The Lilli doll was based on a popular character appearing in a comic strip drawn by Reinhard Beuthin for the newspaper Bild. Lilli was a blonde bombshell, a working girl who knew what she wanted and was not above using men to get it. The Lilli doll was first sold in Germany in 1955, and although it was initially sold to adults, it became popular with children who enjoyed dressing her up in outfits that were available separately.

Upon her return to the United States, Handler redesigned the doll (with help from engineer Jack Ryan) and the doll was given a new name, Barbie, after Handler’s daughter Barbara. The doll made its debut at the American International Toy Fair in New York on March 9, 1959. This date has become Barbie’s official birthday according to Mattel, making her 58 this year (2017).

The first Barbie doll wore a black and white zebra striped swimsuit and signature topknot ponytail, and was available as either a blonde or brunette. The doll was marketed as a “Teen-age Fashion Model,” with her clothes created by Mattel fashion designer Charlotte Johnson. The first Barbie dolls were manufactured in Japan, with their clothes hand-stitched by Japanese home workers. Around 350,000 Barbie dolls were sold during the first year of production.

Louis Marx and Company sued Mattel in March 1961. After licensing Lilli, they claimed that Mattel had “infringed on Greiner & Hausser’s patent for Bild-Lilli’s hip joint, and also claimed that Barbie was “a direct take-off and copy” of Bild-Lilli. The company additionally claimed that Mattel “falsely and misleadingly represented itself as having originated the design”. Mattel counter-claimed and the case was settled out of court in 1963. In 1964, Mattel bought Greiner & Hausser’s copyright and patent rights for the Bild-Lilli doll for $21,600.

Ruth Handler believed that it was important for Barbie to have an adult appearance, and early market research showed that some parents were unhappy about the doll’s chest, which had distinct breasts. Barbie’s appearance has been changed many times, most notably in 1971 when the doll’s eyes were adjusted to look forwards rather than having the demure sideways glance of the original model. Barbie was one of the first toys to have a marketing strategy based extensively on television advertising, which has been copied widely by other toy companies. It is estimated that over a billion Barbie dolls have been sold worldwide in over 150 countries, with Mattel claiming that three Barbie dolls are sold every second.

The standard range of Barbie dolls and related accessories are manufactured to approximately 1/6 scale, which is also known as playscale. The standard dolls are approximately 11½ inches tall. In January 2016, Mattel announced that it will add tall, curvy, and petite body shapes to its line-up of dolls. Alternative skin tones, hair styles, and hair colors will also be added.

 

Barbie is without doubt a pop cultural icon of considerable magnitude. Andy Warhol used Barbie in his art and the Andy Warhol Foundation then teamed up with Mattel to create an Andy Warhol Barbie, setting Barbie alongside the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Che Guevara. Al Carbee took thousands of photographs of Barbie and created countless collages and dioramas featuring Barbie in various settings.

As a pop icon Barbie has come in for her fair share of criticism.  In her early days Barbie was a teenage fashion model. This was a huge shift away from the classic 1950s doll market that featured babies for little girls to look after which at best cried, peed, and closed their eyes, so that girls were limited to mother roles such as feeding, cradling, and putting to bed. Barbie opened up professional opportunities for little girls. At first these opportunities were limited to affluent, White, middle-class aspirations but she did eventually appear as an astronaut, surgeon, Olympic athlete, downhill skier, aerobics instructor, TV news reporter, vet, rock star, doctor, army officer, air force pilot, summit diplomat, rap musician, presidential candidate (not entirely clearly defined), baseball player, scuba diver, lifeguard, fire-fighter, engineer, dentist, and more.

To counter the WASP image artists have created a variety of trailer park “Barbies.”

Barbie was also criticized for her body type in the earlier years and that the doll promotes and unrealistic image for a young woman, leading to a risk that girls who attempt to emulate her will become anorexic. A standard Barbie doll is 11.5 inches tall, giving a height of 5 feet 9 inches at 1/6 scale. Barbie’s vital statistics have been estimated at 36 inches (chest), 18 inches (waist) and 33 inches (hips). According to research by the University Central Hospital in Helsinki, Finland, she would lack the 17 to 22 percent body fat required for a woman to menstruate. In 1963, the outfit “Barbie Baby-Sits” came with a book entitled How to Lose Weight which advised: “Don’t eat!” The same book was included in another ensemble called “Slumber Party” in 1965 along with a pink bathroom scale permanently set at 110 lbs., which by medical standards is clinically underweight for a woman 5 feet 9 inches tall. Mattel said that the waist of the Barbie doll was made small because the waistbands of her clothes, along with their seams, snaps, and zippers, added bulk to her figure. In 1997, Barbie’s body mold was redesigned and given a wider waist, with Mattel saying that this would make the doll better suited to contemporary fashion designs.

Mattel introduced the Ken doll in 1961 to be Barbie’s boyfriend – also a fashion model whom, in Mattel’s fantasy world, Barbie met on a fashion shoot.  Subsequently Mattel introduced a host of friends to include Mexican, African-American, and other ethnic groups under the Barbie umbrella.

In Japan, where cosplay is a huge cultural phenomenon, boys and girls have major plastic surgery so that their facial features resemble Ken and Barbie, which they supplement with exotic makeup, body shaping, hair color, wigs, and couture.

I can’t say I’d get on with Barbie if I met her in New Jersey. I’d certainly not be impressed with her cooking skills.  Her kitchen is not bad when it comes to basic utensils and equipment, but terrible with regard to food items.  This Japanese video showing Barbie cooking has to stock the kitchen with non-Mattel food items that are mostly out of scale and highly ordinary. Looks like if Barbie is cooking for me we’re having roast turkey, pasta, and salad.  Have fun with that.

Feb 212017
 

On this date in 1848 The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels was first published (in German) in London. It is a much misunderstood document, as is much of Marx’s work in general. I don’t have the space here, nor time, to redress all the misunderstandings, but I’ll make a start. The Manifesto was itself written to correct misunderstandings of what communism is/was, but it was itself misinterpreted badly by European revolutionaries and in points beyond. Marx was not envisaging dictators such as Stalin and Mao, but that’s the model of Marxism that has stuck in the general consciousness in the West, largely as a result of the Cold War.  Marx was addressing the radical divide between the people with all the money (hence power) and the rest of the population that was the model in his day in Europe, and which continues unabated. In my opinion his analysis of the situation (then and now) is generally sound, but his historical analysis is not.  The most important misunderstanding is of the world Marx envisaged – not the oppressive regimes of the likes of 20th century Russia and China, but a world in which the common people (proletariat) were not controlled, mind and soul, by the desires of an oligarchy of very few, very rich people (bourgeoisie), but, instead, controlled their own destinies.

I should probably start with a critique of Marx (and Engels) to demonstrate that I am not some kind of doctrinaire Marxist myself. Marx wrote in an era when very general ideas of the evolution of things were just beginning to catch hold, undoubtedly because Europe was radically changing under the pressures of the Industrial Revolution. A world that had seen precious little in the way of technological change for almost a thousand years was gripped by rapid and constant change and this had an effect on the intellectual world because change was in the air. The Grimms, for example, developed hypotheses concerning the evolution of languages, Lewis Henry Morgan proposed a theory of cultural evolution, and, of course, Darwin was interested in biological evolution. Marx stepped in with his own theory of historical evolution. My “simple” task here will be to try to separate the wheat from the chaff in Marx’s thinking, and will, obviously, end up being simplistic.

Where Marx has proven to be most blatantly wrong is in his hypothesis that capitalism would collapse of its own weight. Over 150 years later it is still going strong, the ultra-rich still hold all the power, and there’s no sign of collapse even though the disparity between rich and the rest is, if anything, greater than it was in Marx’s time in developed countries. The two major countries where a simulacrum of Marx’s ideas led to violent revolution in the 20th century, Russia and China, were not capitalist cultures at the time of their revolutions, but experiencing the last vestiges of feudalism that were ripe to be overturned — and have since adopted capitalist ideals on a large scale (including the huge disparities between the rich and the rest).

What cannot be denied is that the vast majority of people living in contemporary capitalist cultures are, by and large, comfortable. Of course they are exploited and controlled by a tiny minority of very rich people, but their lives are comfortable enough that they are hesitant to seek change, and so they continue as is. We still have plenty of poor people living in horrendous conditions but the Western world does not look like the Victorian London or Manchester of Marx’s day. The bulk of the electorate in Western democracies have food on the table, drive cars, have stable (if tedious) jobs, and aspire to owning their own homes. They have the time and money to go on vacation to exotic places, and they wear decent clothes. Discontent these days centers on the evident slowing of what was once a steady improvement in these comforts, not in the system itself.  Hence the capitalist system will endure unscathed through the rest of my lifetime and beyond. I have no idea what will cause its ultimate demise, but it will end – one day.

1848 was the “Year of Revolutions” in Europe. No country emerged untouched, although not all participated in overt revolution. Marx certainly contributed to the general revolutionary fervor with the Manifesto. But the revolutions were fueled by a lot of forces, notably nationalism, apart from the desire for social change.  Marx’s rhetoric was inserted into the revolutions, but socialism of a different sort, led by social philosophers such as Henri de Saint-Simon, Charles Fourier, Étienne Cabet, and Robert Owen, was also on the horizon, leading in a different, non violent, direction.  They were called “Utopian Socialists” by detractors (including Marxists) because their visions were viewed as naïve.  What is frequently missed is that Marx’s socialist aims were the same as theirs, only the vision of the methods of achieving it was different.

Beneath the revolutionary rhetoric Marx was a humanist. If you read his works prior to the Manifesto  you get a much clearer sense of his underlying humanistic social philosophy. He imagined a post-capitalist world in which farmers collectively owned the farms, workers collectively owned factories, and so forth, and they would inevitably benefit because they would keep all the profits and make all the decisions. We can argue about the validity of this hypothesis, but there is no question that Marx envisaged a brighter world for everyone when the workers were the masters. He did not imagine Stalinist Russia or Maoist China. Perhaps he should have. Revolution from the bottom up begets tyrants.  Marx should have known this; the French Revolution produced Napoleon. The American Revolution was different because it was not from the bottom up, but from the top down. The first rebels in the North American colonies were the rich who wanted less taxation and less regulation on their businesses (times don’t change much !!).

Marx was spot on when he pointed out that capitalism commodifies labor so that workers see themselves in terms of their earning power rather than in terms of their inherent human (and individual) traits. Workers thus take less pride in their work and more in their pay check. Work becomes a means to an end (house, car, vacations, etc) rather than an end in itself. In consequence all other social activities, such as education, are judged in terms of their ability to increase earning power and not for their intrinsic merits. I’m absolutely sick and tired of reading article upon article that charts the universities with the graduates who earn the most, the college majors with the best earnings potential, and the careers with the highest salaries.  So what????  I became an anthropologist, a teacher, and a writer because I love doing that work. I can look back on a long career with pride and happiness because my jobs have made me happy, not because I have stacked away piles of money. My riposte to the ages old barbed question, “If you are so smart why aren’t you rich?” is simple. “I am not rich because I am smart; I have other goals in life.”

I am not a doctrinaire Marxist by any stretch of the imagination, but I am enough of a Marxist to believe that people should live in a society where they are free to choose their own destinies, and not shackled by the dictates of the system.

Some apt quotes from the Manifesto:

The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honored and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage laborers.

The bourgeoisie . . . has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervor, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom—Free Trade.

The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilization. The cheap prices of its commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.

The proletarians have nothing to loose but their chains. They have a world to win.

 

I’ve never wanted to be a chef because I’ve never wanted to debase my cooking via the profit motive.  I cook because I love to cook – end of story.  I hope this blog makes that point loud and clear. Today of all days you should cook something that you most love to cook, and cook with passion – not with an eye to time, cost, or any other variable other than devotion to the task itself. That means that you should choose today what recipe best suits you.  You are the master. For lunch today I had braised rabbit with wild mushrooms in a sauce seasoned with red pepper, garlic, onions, allspice, and ginger, with boiled new potatoes and broad beans on the side.  I’m not going to give you a recipe because (a) I invented the dish as I went along, and (b) today is your day to cook what you choose, not what I have decided for you. My braised rabbit took me 2 days to prepare because I like my dishes to rest overnight when they have complex sauces. I loved the preparation – and it was delicious.

Here’s a small gallery of things I have cooked recently.  In each case I cooked what I wanted without any recipe, just following my heart’s pleasure:

Dec 212016
 

cw1

Today is often treated as the birthday of crossword puzzles because on this date in 1913 Arthur Wynne, who had created a page of puzzles for the “Fun” section of the Sunday edition of the New York World, introduced a puzzle with a diamond shape and a hollow center, the letters F-U-N already being filled in. He called it a “Word-Cross Puzzle.” Although Wynne’s invention was based on earlier puzzle forms, such as the word diamond, he introduced a number of innovations (for example, the use of numbered horizontal and vertical lines to create boxes for solvers to enter letters). He subsequently pioneered the use of black squares in a symmetrical arrangement to separate words in rows and columns. A few weeks after the first “Word-Cross” appeared, the name of the puzzle was changed to “Cross-Word” as a result of a typesetting error.

By the 1920s crosswords were appearing in British newspapers with a certain amount of criticism from the high and mighty. In fact, on both sides of the Atlantic some viewed the crossword puzzle with alarm, and some expected (or hoped) that it would be a short-lived fad. In 1924, The New York Times complained of the “sinful waste in the utterly futile finding of words the letters of which will fit into a prearranged pattern, more or less complex. This is not a game at all, and it hardly can be called a sport… [solvers] get nothing out of it except a primitive form of mental exercise, and success or failure in any given attempt is equally irrelevant to mental development.” A clergyman called the working of crossword puzzles “the mark of a childish mentality” and said, “There is no use for persons to pretend that working one of the puzzles carries any intellectual value with it.” In 1925 Time magazine noted that nine Manhattan dailies and fourteen other big newspapers were carrying crosswords, and quoted opposing views as to whether “This crossword craze will positively end by June!” or “The crossword puzzle is here to stay!” In 1925, the New York Times noted, with approval, a scathing critique of crosswords by The New Republic, but concluded that “Fortunately, the question of whether the puzzles are beneficial or harmful is in no urgent need of an answer. The craze evidently is dying out fast and in a few months it will be forgotten” and in 1929 declared, “The cross-word puzzle, it seems, has gone the way of all fads….” In 1930, a correspondent noted that “Together with The Times of London, yours is the only journal of prominence that has never succumbed to the lure of the cross-word puzzle” and said that “The craze—the fad—stage has passed, but there are still people numbering it to the millions who look for their daily cross-word puzzle as regularly as for the weather predictions.” The New York Times, however, was not to publish a crossword puzzle until 1942. Ironically, both The Times (London) and the New York Times now publish crosswords of considerable notoriety and fame.

cw2

The crossword evolved rather differently in Britain and the United States, both in basic form and in the nature of the clues. The usual US crossword allows for a word to be filled in completely by filling in all the words that intersect with it, but British ones do not. In addition, US crosswords typically rely on synonymy whereas the British evolved the cryptic crossword which is now the more common form in the UK.

I don’t care for US-style crosswords at all. On the other hand, I have had phases in my life in which cryptic crosswords have held my attention – The Times daily crossword being my favorite because the setters are always fair in their clues, and the clues are usually solvable with average mental effort. In essence, a cryptic clue leads to its answer as long as it is read in the right way. What the clue appears to say when read normally (the surface reading) is a distraction and usually has nothing to do with the clue answer. The challenge is to find the way of reading the clue that leads to the solution.

A typical clue consists of two parts, the definition and the wordplay. It provides two ways of getting to the answer. The definition, which usually exactly matches the part of speech, tense, and number of the answer, is in essence the same as any ‘straight’ crossword clue, a synonym for the answer. It usually appears at the start or the end of a clue.

The other part (the subsidiary indication, or wordplay) provides an alternate route to the answer (this part would be a second definition in the case of double definition clues). One of the tasks of the solver is to find the boundary between definition and wordplay and insert a mental pause there when reading the clue cryptically. This wordplay gives the solver some instructions on how to get to the answer another way. (Sometimes the two parts are joined with a link word or phrase such as “from”, “gives” or “could be”.)

There are many sorts of wordplay, such as anagrams and double definitions, but they all conform to rules. The crossword setters do their best to stick to these rules when writing their clues, and solvers can use these rules and conventions to help them solve the clues.

Because a typical cryptic clue describes its answer in detail and often more than once, the solver can usually have a great deal of confidence in the answer once it has been determined, that is, the clues are ‘self-checking’ which is why most solvers fill in the crossword in ink. This is in contrast to non-cryptic crossword clues which often have several possible answers and force the solver to use the crossing letters to distinguish which is intended.

Here’s a simple cryptic clue:

Glittering light and boom upset deer (7)

At the outset you have to figure out which part is the straight definition and which part is the subsidiary indication. Here “glittering light” is the definition, and “boom upset deer” is the wordplay. You have to be careful with wordplays; they often rely on double meanings. Here “boom” is not a sound, but a part of a ship’s sailing gear, a synonym of which is “spar.” “Upset” indicates that the remaining part should be spelt backwards and an elk is a kind of deer. Spell it backwards and you have “kle.” Put the two halves together and you have SPARKLE.

The challenge with cryptic clues is that sometimes the whole clue involves a double definition or a pun of some sort instead of having just a straight definition plus wordplay. My favorite of this sort is:

Medicine hat. (4,3)

The answer is “pill box”

Another favorite is:

Double dutch. (8)

You’ll need to know English slang to understand why the answer is “bigamist.”

The fact that you cannot solve UK-style crosswords by filling in all the intersecting words if one word fails you can be infuriating. I got The Times crossword finished one day except for one clue. The letters I had were _L_H and the clue was “sacred flower.” Should have been easy, but I was a novice at the time, and I was mystified all day. The secret is in the word “flower” which does not mean “blossom” but “something that flows” (i.e. a river). The sacred river in Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” is ALPH !!!

I’ll leave you with:

Hair style with comb in it? (7)

I could give you a hint by suggesting that you use honey in today’s celebratory recipe. I could also (but I’m not going to) give you a slew of cryptic clues for today’s recipe, such as:

Shortening for a recipe. (4)

This site has a ton of recipe-related crosswords — http://www.whenwecrosswords.com/crossword/advanced_soups_and_sauces/35060/crossword.jsp and below are the clues for one of them.  You’ll have to go to the site for the diagram.

 

Across Down
2 Flour mixed with fat
4 Used in Indian curries, Moroccan tagines, and pickles
9 A spice that is spicy
11 This heightens the spices aroma before grinding them
13 Dried herbs should last this amount of time
14 This mother sauce has a brown stock and brown roux
16 This herb has a sweet, fresh, floral, woody, and intense flavor compound
17 Consists of diced carrots, onions and celery
18 Dried herbs are best stored in this kind of container
21 Bouillon is French for this
22 Debris from soups that settles to the top and simmers
23 Flour mixed with water
 
1 Mrs. Ashford hates this herb from the carrot family
3 Whole seeds will stay aromatic in this time
5 This sauce is almost like a stew and is typically served with pasta
6 Fragrant leaves or plants
7 Dill is a member of which family
8 We made this type of roux in the breaded chicken recipe
10 This recipe uses a sauce that incorporates egg yolks and melted butter
12 Soup base made from bones
15 Rich smooth soup that are pureed, strained and then smoothed with some cream
19 After they are ground spices begin to produce this flavor
20 What climate do most spices come from

As a final footnote I’ll mention that one of the essay questions on my entrance exam for Oxford University was “Why do crosswords?” and my answer greatly amused the examiners who commented on it very favorably when I went for my interview. It included stories I concocted such as one of a prison where a group of prisoners shared one newspaper per week, and each of them filled in the crossword mentally to avoid spoiling it for the others.

Dec 202016
 

vdg1

Today is the birthday (1901) of Robert Jemison Van de Graaff, a US physicist, noted for his design and construction of high-voltage Van de Graaff generators. When I was studying physics in England in the 1960s my school’s Van de Graaff generator was one of my favorite “toys” although I was not aware that at the time its inventor was still alive. It seemed rather Victorian. These generators can produce well over one million volts, but they are not necessarily dangerous because the current (amperage) is weak. The high voltage is, however, useful in certain applications in physics.  I will also note that today is the birthday of physicist David Bohm who I wrote about 3 years ago http://www.bookofdaystales.com/david-bohm/  Definitely a physicists’ day.

vdg8

The Van de Graaff generator uses a motorized insulating belt (usually made of rubber) to conduct electrical charges from a high voltage source on one end of the belt to the inside of a metal sphere on the other end. Since electrical charge resides on the outside of the sphere, it builds up to produce an electrical potential much higher than that of the primary high voltage source. Practical limitations restrict the potential produced by large Van de Graaff generators to about 7 million volts. Van de Graaff generators are used primarily as DC power supplies for linear atomic particle accelerators in nuclear physics experiments. Tandem Van de Graaff generators are essentially two generators in series, and can produce about 15 million volts.

vdg5

The Van de Graaff generator is a simple mechanical device to build. Small Van de Graaff generators are built by hobbyists and scientific apparatus companies and are used to demonstrate the effects of high DC potentials. Even small hobby machines produce impressive sparks several centimeters long. The largest air insulated Van de Graaff generator in the world, built by Van de Graaff himself, is operational and is on display at the Boston Museum of Science. Demonstrations throughout the day are a popular attraction. More modern Van de Graaff generators are insulated by pressurized dielectric gas, usually freon or sulfur hexafluoride. In recent years, Van de Graaff generators have been slowly replaced by solid-state DC power supplies without moving parts. The energies produced by Van de Graaff atomic particle accelerators are limited to about 30 MeV, even with tandem generators accelerating doubly charged particles. More modern particle accelerators using different technology produce much higher energies, thus Van de Graaff particle accelerators have become largely obsolete. They are still used to some extent for graduate student research at colleges and universities and as ion sources for high energy bursts.

vdg2

Van de Graaff built his first  generator in 1929 at Princeton University on a fellowship, with help from colleague Nicholas Burke. The first model used an ordinary tin can, a small motor, and a silk ribbon bought at a five-and-dime store. After this initial success he went to the head of the physics department requesting $100 to make an improved version. He did get the money, but with some difficulty. By 1931 he could report achieving 1.5 million volts. According to his first patent application, it had two 60-cm-diameter charge-accumulation spheres mounted on borosilicate glass columns 180 cm high. The apparatus cost $90 in 1931.

In 1933, Van de Graaff built a 40-foot (12-m) model at MIT’s Round Hill facility, the use of which was donated by Colonel Edward H. R. Green. One of Van de Graaff’s accelerators used two charged domes of sufficient size that each of the domes had laboratories inside – one to provide the source of the accelerated beam, and the other to analyze the actual experiment. The power for the equipment inside the domes came from generators that ran off the belt, and several sessions came to a rather gruesome end when a pigeon would try to fly between the two domes, causing them to discharge. (The accelerator was set up in an airplane hangar.)

vdg4

In 1937, the Westinghouse Electric company built a 65 feet (20 m) Van de Graaff generator capable of generating 5 MeV in Forest Hills, Pennsylvania. It marked the beginning of nuclear research for civilian applications. It was decommissioned in 1958 and was demolished in 2015.

A more recent development is the tandem Van de Graaff accelerator, containing one or more Van de Graaff generators, in which negatively charged ions are accelerated through one potential difference before being stripped of two or more electrons, inside a high voltage terminal, and accelerated again. An example of a three-stage operation has been built in Oxford Nuclear Laboratory in 1964 of a 10 MV single-ended “injector” and a 6 MV EN tandem.

vdg3

By the 1970s, up to 14 million volts could be achieved at the terminal of a tandem that used a tank of high-pressure sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) gas to prevent sparking by trapping electrons. This allowed the generation of heavy ion beams of several tens of megaelectronvolts, sufficient to study light ion direct nuclear reactions. The highest potential sustained by a Van de Graaff accelerator is 25.5 MV, achieved by the tandem at the Holifield Radioactive Ion Beam Facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Static electricity is not much use for cooking except under very special circumstances. This, and dozens of videos like it, is fake:


Static electricity can generate millions of volts, but it’s not just voltage that matters. You have to have a current as well. Without a current you can’t cook much of anything. Use your microwave and make some popcorn to celebrate Van de Graaff.

Dec 192016
 

po1

Today is the birthday (1940) of Philip David “Phil” Ochs, a US protest singer (or, as he preferred, a topical singer) and songwriter who was known for his sharp wit, sardonic humor, earnest humanism, political activism, insightful and alliterative lyrics, and distinctive voice. He wrote hundreds of songs in the 1960s and 1970s and released eight albums. Ochs is not remembered much these days and was never as important in the UK where I was living through most of the Vietnam War as he was in the US, where he was definitely a major voice for protest. People like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez captured (and continue to capture) more of the spotlight, but for my money Ochs was a more heartfelt voice of protest, and – on this day at least – he deserves not to be forgotten.

Ochs performed at many political events during the 1960s counterculture era, including anti-Vietnam War and civil rights rallies, student events, and organized labor events over the course of his career, in addition to many concert appearances at such venues as New York City’s Town Hall and Carnegie Hall. Politically, Ochs described himself as a “left social democrat” who became an “early revolutionary” after the protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago led to a police riot.

I’ll begin with, arguably, his best known protest song. That is, if it is remembered at all.

Where is this voice now?

Phil Ochs was born in El Paso, Texas, to Jacob “Jack” Ochs, a physician who was born in New York and Gertrude Phin Ochs, who was born in Scotland. Jack, drafted into the army, was sent overseas near the end of World War II, where he treated soldiers at the Battle of the Bulge. His war experiences affected his mental health and he received an honorable medical discharge in November 1945. Suffering from bipolar disorder and depression on his return home, Jack was unable to establish a successful medical practice and instead worked at a series of hospitals around the country. As a result, the Ochs family moved frequently: to Far Rockaway, New York, when Ochs was a teenager; then to Perrysburg in western New York, where he first studied music; and then to Columbus, Ohio.

As a teenager, Ochs was recognized as a talented clarinet player; in an evaluation, one music instructor wrote: “You have exceptional musical feeling and the ability to transfer it on your instrument is abundant.” His musical skills led him to play clarinet with the orchestra at the Capital University Conservatory of Music in Ohio, where he rose to the status of principal soloist before he was 16. Although Ochs played classical music, he was interested in all manner of styles from Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley to Hank William and Johnny Cash. He also developed an interest in movie rebels, including Marlon Brando and James Dean.

po2

From 1956 to 1958, Ochs was a student at the Staunton Military Academy in rural Virginia, and when he graduated he returned to Columbus and enrolled at Ohio State University. After his first quarter he took a leave of absence and went to Florida. While in Miami, Ochs was jailed for two weeks for sleeping on a park bench, an incident he would later recall:

Somewhere during the course of those fifteen days I decided to become a writer. My primary thought was journalism … so in a flash I decided — I’ll be a writer and a major in journalism.

Ochs returned to Ohio State to study journalism and developed an interest in politics, with a particular interest in the Cuban Revolution of 1959. At Ohio State he met Jim Glover, a fellow student who was a devotee of what was called “folk” music. [Hint: Dylan, Baez, Seeger et al are not folk singers]. Glover introduced Ochs to the music of Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and The Weavers. Glover taught Ochs how to play guitar, and they debated politics. Ochs began writing newspaper articles, often on radical themes. When the student paper refused to publish some of his more radical articles, he started his own underground newspaper called The Word. His two main interests, politics and music, soon merged, and Ochs began writing topical political songs. Ochs and Glover formed a duet called “The Singing Socialists,” later renamed “The Sundowners,” but the duo broke up before their first professional performance and Glover went to New York City to become solo singer.

Ochs started performing professionally at a local club called Farragher’s Back Room and was the opening act for a number of musicians in the summer of 1961, including the Smothers Brothers. Ochs continued at Ohio State into his senior year, but dropped out in his last quarter without graduating. Instead he followed Glover to New York.

Ochs arrived in New York City in 1962 and began performing in numerous small nightclubs, eventually becoming an integral part of the Greenwich Village music scene. He emerged as an unpolished but passionate vocalist who wrote pointed songs about current events: war, civil rights, labor struggles and other topics.

Ochs described himself as a “singing journalist” saying he built his songs from stories he read in Newsweek. By the summer of 1963 he was sufficiently well known in folk circles to be invited to sing at the Newport Folk Festival, where he performed “Too Many Martyrs” (co-written with Bob Gibson), “Talking Birmingham Jam”, and “Power and the Glory”—his patriotic Guthrie-esque anthem that brought the audience to its feet. Ochs’s return appearance at Newport in 1964, when he performed “Draft Dodger Rag” and other songs, was widely praised. But he was not invited to appear in 1965.

Ochs recorded his first three albums for Elektra Records: All the News That’s Fit to Sing (1964), I Ain’t Marching Anymore (1965), and Phil Ochs in Concert (1966). On these records, Ochs was accompanied only by an acoustic guitar. The albums contain many of Ochs’s topical songs, such as “Too Many Martyrs”, “I Ain’t Marching Anymore”, and “Draft Dodger Rag”; and some musical reinterpretation of older poetry, such as “The Highwayman” (poem by Alfred Noyes) and “The Bells” (poem by Edgar Allan Poe). Phil Ochs in Concert includes some more introspective songs, such as “Changes” and “When I’m Gone.”

po5

During the early period of his career, Ochs and Bob Dylan had a friendly rivalry. Dylan said of Ochs, “I just can’t keep up with Phil. And he just keeps getting better and better and better.” On another occasion, when Ochs criticized “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?” Dylan threw him out of his limousine, saying, “You’re not a folksinger. You’re a journalist.”

Ochs deeply admired President John F. Kennedy, even though he disagreed with the president on issues such as the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the growing involvement of the United States in the Vietnamese civil war. When Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, Ochs told his wife that he thought he was going to die that night.

In 1967, Ochs left Elektra for A&M Records and moved to Los Angeles. He recorded four studio albums for A&M: Pleasures of the Harbor (1967), Tape from California (1968), Rehearsals for Retirement (1969), and the ironically titled Greatest Hits (1970) (which actually consisted of all new material). For his A&M albums, Ochs moved away from simply produced solo acoustic guitar performances and experimented with ensemble and even orchestral instrumentation, “baroque-folk,” in the hopes of producing a pop-folk hybrid that would be a hit.

None of Ochs’s songs became hits, although “Outside of a Small Circle of Friends” received a good deal of airplay. It reached #119 on Billboard’s national “Hot Prospect” listing before being pulled from some radio stations because of its lyrics, which sarcastically suggested that “smoking marijuana is more fun than drinking beer.” It was the closest Ochs ever came to the Top 40. Joan Baez, however, did have a Top Ten hit in the U.K. in August 1965, reaching #8 with her cover of Ochs’s song “There but for Fortune” which was also nominated for a Grammy Award for “Best Folk Recording”. In the U.S. it peaked at #50 on the Billboard charts—a good showing, but not a hit.

po7

A lifelong movie fan, Ochs worked the narratives of justice and rebellion that he had seen in films into his music, describing some of his songs as “cinematic.” He was disappointed and bitter when his onetime hero John Wayne embraced the Vietnam War with what Ochs saw as the blind patriotism of Wayne’s 1968 film, The Green Berets:

Here we have John Wayne, who was a major artistic and psychological figure on the American scene, … who at one point used to make movies of soldiers who had a certain validity, … a certain sense of honor [about] what the soldier was doing…. Even if it was a cavalry movie doing a historically dishonorable thing to the Indians, even as there was a feeling of what it meant to be a man, what it meant to have some sense of duty…. Now today we have the same actor making his new war movie in a war so hopelessly corrupt that, without seeing the movie, I’m sure it is perfectly safe to say that it will be an almost technically-robot-view of soldiery, just by definition of how the whole country has deteriorated. And I think it would make a very interesting double feature to show a good old Wayne movie like, say, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon with The Green Berets. Because that would make a very striking comment on what has happened to America in general.

po9

Ochs was involved in the creation of the Youth International Party, known as the Yippies, along with Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, Stew Albert, and Paul Krassner. At the same time, Ochs actively supported Eugene McCarthy’s more mainstream bid for the 1968 Democratic nomination for President, a position at odds with the more radical Yippie point of view. Still, Ochs helped plan the Yippies’ “Festival of Life” which was to take place at the 1968 Democratic National Convention along with demonstrations by other anti-war groups including the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam. Despite warnings that there might be trouble, Ochs went to Chicago both as a guest of the McCarthy campaign and to participate in the demonstrations. He performed in Lincoln Park, Grant Park, and at the Chicago Coliseum, witnessed the violence perpetrated by the Chicago police against the protesters, and was himself arrested at one point.

The events of 1968—the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, the police riot in Chicago, and the election of Richard Nixon—left Ochs feeling disillusioned and depressed. The cover of his 1969 album Rehearsals for Retirement eerily portrays his tombstone.

po1

At the trial of the Chicago Seven in December 1969, Ochs testified for the defense. His testimony included his recitation of the lyrics to his song “I Ain’t Marching Anymore”. On his way out of the courthouse, Ochs sang the song for the press corps; to Ochs’s amusement, his singing was broadcast that evening by Walter Cronkite on the CBS Evening News.

In August 1971, Ochs went to Chile, where Marxist Salvador Allende had been democratically elected in the 1970 election. There he met Chilean folksinger Víctor Jara, an Allende supporter, and the two became friends. In October, Ochs left Chile to visit Argentina. Later that month, after singing at a political rally in Uruguay, he and his American traveling companion David Ifshin were arrested and detained overnight. When the two returned to Argentina, they were arrested as they got off the plane. After a brief stay in an Argentine prison, Ochs and Ifshin were sent to Bolivia via a commercial airliner where authorities were to detain them. Ifshin had previously been warned by Argentine leftist friends that when the authorities sent dissidents to Bolivia, they would disappear forever. When the airliner arrived in Bolivia, the American captain of the Braniff International Airways aircraft allowed Ochs and Ifshin to stay on the aircraft, and barred Bolivian authorities from entering. The aircraft then flew to Peru where the two disembarked and they were not detained. Fearful that Peruvian authorities might arrest him, Ochs returned to the United States a few days later.

Ochs was personally invited by John Lennon to sing at a large benefit at the University of Michigan in December 1971 on behalf of John Sinclair, an activist poet who had been arrested on minor drug charges and given a severe sentence. Ochs performed at the John Sinclair Freedom Rally along with Stevie Wonder, Allen Ginsberg, David Peel, Abbie Hoffman and many others. The rally culminated with Lennon and Yoko Ono, who were making their first public performance in the United States since the breakup of The Beatles.

Although the 1968 election had left him deeply disillusioned, Ochs continued to work for the election campaigns of anti-war candidates, such as George McGovern’s unsuccessful Presidential bid in 1972. In mid-1972, he went to Australia and New Zealand. He traveled to Africa in 1973, where he visited Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, and South Africa. One night, Ochs was attacked and strangled by robbers in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, which damaged his vocal cords, causing a loss of the top three notes in his vocal range. The attack also exacerbated his growing mental problems, and he became increasingly paranoid. Ochs believed the attack may have been arranged by government agents—perhaps the CIA. Still, he continued his trip, even recording a single in Kenya, “Bwatue.”

po6

The Vietnam War ended on April 30, 1975. Ochs planned a final “War Is Over” rally, which was held in New York’s Central Park on May 11. More than 100,000 people came to hear Ochs, joined by Harry Belafonte, Odetta, Pete Seeger and others. Ochs and Joan Baez sang a duet of “There but for Fortune” and he closed with his song “The War Is Over.”

Ochs became increasingly erratic. In mid-1975, Ochs took on the identity of John Butler Train. He told people that Train had murdered Ochs, and that he, John Butler Train, had replaced him. Train was convinced that someone was trying to kill him, so he carried a weapon at all times: a hammer, a knife, or a lead pipe. Unable to pay his rent, he began living on the streets. After several months, the Train persona faded and Ochs returned, but he continued drinking heavily and talking of suicide.

In January 1976, Ochs moved to Far Rockaway, New York, to live with his sister Sonny. He was lethargic; his only activities were watching television and playing cards with his nephews. Ochs saw a psychiatrist, who diagnosed his bipolar disorder. He was prescribed medication, and he told his sister he was taking it. On April 9, 1976, Ochs committed suicide by hanging himself in his sister’s home.

Years after his death, it was revealed that the FBI had a file of nearly 500 pages on Ochs. Much of the information in those files relates to his association with counterculture figures, protest organizers, musicians, and other people described by the FBI as “subversive.” The FBI was often sloppy in collecting information on Ochs: his name was frequently misspelled “Oakes” in their files, and they continued to consider him “potentially dangerous” after his death.

po4

Congresswoman Bella Abzug (D. New York), an outspoken anti-war activist herself who had appeared at the 1975 “War is Over” rally, entered this statement into the Congressional Record on April 29, 1976:

Mr. Speaker, a few weeks ago, a young folksinger whose music personified the protest mood of the 1960s took his own life. Phil Ochs—whose original compositions were compelling moral statements against war in Southeast Asia—apparently felt that he had run out of words.

While his tragic action was undoubtedly motivated by terrible personal despair, his death is a political as well as an artistic tragedy. I believe it is indicative of the despair many of the activists of the 1960s are experiencing as they perceive a government which continues the distortion of national priorities that is exemplified in the military budget we have before us.

Phil Ochs’ poetic pronouncements were part of a larger effort to galvanize his generation into taking action to prevent war, racism, and poverty. He left us a legacy of important songs that continue to be relevant in 1976—even though “the war is over”.

Just one year ago—during this week of the anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War—Phil recruited entertainers to appear at the “War is Over” celebration in Central Park, at which I spoke.

 It seems particularly appropriate that this week we should commemorate the contributions of this extraordinary young man.

po8

When I think of Ochs these days I think of the 60s. I think of his humanism, dedication, and faith along with his wit and sarcasm. In tribute I present this classic taste of the 1960s with my own hint of irony – Lipton Onion Soup dip. This was a perennial favorite at parties because it was easy to make and generally enjoyed – I guess. No need for more than the most rudimentary of recipes. You’ll need 1 envelope of Lipton® Recipe Secrets® Onion Soup Mix and 16 ounces of sour cream. Whip the two together and refrigerate for an hour or so. Serve with your favorite chips or raw vegetables.

Dec 102016
 

hr1

Today is Human Rights Day celebrating the proclamation of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the United Nations in Paris on 10 December 1948 (General Assembly resolution 217 A) as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations. It sets out, in clear language, the fundamental human rights that are to be universally protected and it has been translated into over 500 languages. Sadly, the resolution was non-binding, making the United Nations a rather toothless tiger. But it was a start for a fledgling world body to come together under a common banner with a common goal. The full text of the declaration is here: http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/

hr7

Ancient cultures had complex legal systems, but, despite spurious claims by some scholars that documents such as the Cyrus Cylinder are declarations of human rights, the concept as it is understood now, was not formulated until the development of humanist thinking and Protestant ideology in the West beginning with what we now call the Renaissance and the Reformation. Its ideals crested in Enlightenment philosophy in the 17th century and in key documents such as the English Bill of Rights (1689), the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789), and the Bill of Rights in the United States Constitution (1791).  Preceding documents such as the Constitution of Medina (622), Al-Risalah al-Huquq (659-713), Magna Carta (1215), etc., all contains germs of the idea, but the notion that a person is born with inalienable rights regardless of gender, color, creed, or religion does not emerge full blown until the late 17th century. However, even the documents I have cited are equivocal. The U.S. Bill of Rights, for example, was passed by slave holders, but it put the principles in place.

hr3

The word “Man” is troublesome. The documents cited seem to be a bit vague in this regard. Are they using the word “Man” to mean Homo sapiens, or just men (and not women)? You can waffle all you like; they meant men, and the word when used now is still sexist, even if unintentionally. I don’t use the word to mean humans; I use the word “human” – end of story. These are HUMAN rights, not the Rights of Man. It’s not difficult to say “human” rather than “man” or “humankind” rather than “mankind.” A few extra letters won’t hurt you. If you need convincing look at these sentences:

In prehistoric times man was a hunter.

Man is the only species that menstruates on a 28-day cycle but is receptive to sex all the time.

The first sentence seems all right, but the second one looks odd. Why? Both show gender bias, but the first gets a free pass and the second gets a question mark. The first is fair enough in that both men and women have participated in hunting historically, but . . . hunting is (and was) predominantly a male activity in forager societies. Thus “Man the Hunter” seems all right and has been used as the name of a classic text in anthropology. “Man the Menstruator” doesn’t sit well.  Case closed. Talk about HUMAN rights.

It would be nice if traditional musicians would get the memo. The “Rights of Man” is a classic Irish hornpipe that is very popular at music sessions. Irish tunes in general have catchy titles that have nothing to do with the music. That said, I will rename this the Human Rights Hornpipe:

There is a basic human right to food.  This is subsumed under the basic human right to life. Food, water, and shelter are the most basic of human needs to support life. What form food comes in is not relevant as long as it is free from harmful contaminants and is plentiful enough to avoid hunger or malnutrition. This means that there is no human right to banquets or fancy dishes. In fact there are a lot of people (and cultures) in the world that are not interested in diversity in food. I don’t understand people who want the same food all the time, but I respect their habits. The domestication of plants led to cereals being primary staples worldwide with wheat, barley, corn, and rice topping the list. In many world languages the word for the local staple is also the general word for food. The Lord’s Prayer asks: “Give us each day our daily bread.”  The word “bread” here means food, and “daily bread” means enough food for the day. The basic character in Chinese, 饭, is pronounced fan (4th tone), and can mean rice in particular, or a meal in general.

hr8

So, frankly, I don’t know what to present as a recipe du jour. The times in my life when I have had almost no money to live on (too many for comfort), I’ve usually resorted to a bowl of rice per day. It’s a bit bleak but I’ve always found ways to dress up plain rice. Stalls that sell bowls of rice in Asia always have condiments of some sort – sauces or pickles. I usually opt for a fiery hot sauce and some pickles.

Nov 252016
 

storm2

You may have seen in the past on this blog that a certain date is noteworthy because two notable people with related interests share the same birthday. Today I give you an accounting of the many disastrous events that happened on 25th November in different years worldwide, all related to bad weather. The events span a total of 170 years from 1839 to 2009. I get the strong feeling that this is not a good date to be thinking about venturing out to sea or climbing a mountain. These are the weather disasters that occurred on this date to my knowledge. There may have been more.

storm-cor

1839  On this date, the bustling port city of Coringa, situated near the mouth of the Godavari River on the southeastern coast of India was slammed by a disastrous cyclone. In 1789 it had been brutally hit by a cyclone that left around 20,000 dead, but though devastated, the port city was still able to function. The 1839 cyclone delivered terrible winds and a giant 12 m (40 ft) storm surge. The port was destroyed, about 20,000 vessels were lost, and 300,000 people were killed. The port was never fully rebuilt and Coringa today remains a simple village. It was in the wake of this storm that the term “cyclone” was coined by British East India Company official Henry Piddington to describe devastatingly swirling winds. The word “cyclone” is irregularly formed from a Latinized form of Greek kyklon “moving in a circle, whirling around,” present participle of kykloun “move in a circle, whirl,” from kyklos “circle” (from which we also get “cycle”). This, so far, has been the third most destructive storm in history.

storm1

1926  The deadliest November tornado outbreak in U.S. history struck on this date, which was Thanksgiving Day, and continued the following day. A total of 27 tornadoes of great strength were reported in the Midwest, including the strongest November tornado, an estimated F4, that devastated Heber Springs, Arkansas. There were 51 deaths in Arkansas alone, with a total of 107 deaths and 451 injuries overall.

storm-snow

1950 On this date, the Great Appalachian Storm of November 1950, a large extra-tropical cyclone,  moved through the Eastern United States, causing significant winds, heavy rains east of the Appalachians, and blizzard conditions along the western slopes of the mountain chain. Hurricane-force winds, peaking at 110 miles per hour (180 km/h) in Concord, New Hampshire and 160 miles per hour (260 km/h) in the New England highlands, disrupted power to 1,000,000 customers during the event. In all, the storm impacted 22 states, killing 353, injuring over 160, and creating US$66.7 million in damage (1950 dollars). At the time, U.S. insurance companies paid more money out to their policy holders for damage resulting from this cyclone than for any other previous storm or hurricane. The cyclone is also the highest-ranking winter storm on the Regional Snowfall Index with a maximum value of 32.31.

The cyclone initially began forming in southeast North Carolina near a cold front on the morning of November 24 as a cyclone over the Great Lakes weakened. Rapid development ensued and the cyclone completely formed while moving north through Washington D.C. the next morning. The former occluded front to its northwest became a warm front which moved back to the west around the strengthening, and now dominant, southern low pressure center. By the evening of November 25, the cyclone retrograded, or moved northwestward, into Ohio due to a blocking ridge up across eastern Canada. It was at this time that the pressure gradient was its most intense across southern New England and eastern New York.  The cyclone moved west over Lake Erie before looping over Ohio as the low-level and mid-level cyclone centers coupled. Significant convection within its comma head led to the development of a warm seclusion, or a pocket of low level warm air, near its center which aided in further development due to the increased lapse rates a warmer low level environment affords under a cold low. After the system became stacked with height, the storm slowly spun down as it drifted north and northeast into eastern Canada over the succeeding few days.

storm-nina

1987 Typhoon Nina, known in the Philippines as Typhoon Sisang, struck the Philippines on this date. Typhoon Nina originated from an area of convection near the Marshall Islands in mid-November 1987. It gradually became better organized, and on November 19, was first classified as a tropical cyclone. Moving west-northwest, Nina attained tropical storm intensity that evening. Late on November 20, Nina passed through the Chuuk Lagoon. After a brief pause in intensification, Nina intensified into a typhoon on November 22. Two days later, the typhoon intensified suddenly, before attaining its peak 10 minute intensity of 165 km/h (105 mph). During the afternoon of November 25, Nina moved ashore in southern Luzon at the same intensity.

Across the Chuuk Lagoon, four people were killed and damage ranged from $30–$40 million (1987 USD). In the capital of Weno, 85% of dwellings and 50% of government buildings were damaged. Throughout the atoll, at least 1,000 people were rendered homeless, approximately 1,000 houses were damaged, and 39 injuries were reported. While crossing the Philippines, Nina brought extensive damage to the northern portion of the island group. The town of Matnog sustained the worst damage from the typhoon, where 287 people died. 61 people died in the nearby city of Verla, where 98% of all structures were either damaged or destroyed. 400 people died, 80% of all crops were destroyed, and 90% of all homes were either damaged or destroyed in Sorsogon province. Nearby, in the Albay province, 73 people were killed. Throughout both the Albay and Sorsogon provinces, four-fifths of all schools and half of all public infrastructure were destroyed. Elsewhere, in Boac, 80% of homes lost their roofs. In Bacacay, 18 of the village’s 200 homes were destroyed. However, the capital city of Manila avoided the brunt of the typhoon. Throughout the Philippines, approximately 114,000 people sought shelter, approximately 90,000 houses were destroyed, leaving more than 150,000 homeless. Nationwide, damage from the storm totaled $54.5 million and 808 people died.

storm-ice

1996 On this date a powerful ice storm struck the central U.S., killing 26 people. I had never experienced an ice storm until I moved to New York State and found them quite beautiful until I became a home owner. After that I was more concerned than entranced. The formation of ice begins with a layer of above-freezing air in the atmosphere over a layer of sub-freezing temperatures closer to the surface. Frozen precipitation melts to rain while falling into the warm air layer, and then begins to refreeze in the cold layer below. If the precipitate refreezes while still in the air, it will land on the ground as sleet. However, the liquid droplets may continue to fall without freezing, passing through the cold air just above the surface. This thin layer of air then cools the rain to a temperature below freezing. In this case the drops themselves do not freeze, a phenomenon known as supercooling. When the supercooled drops strike ground or anything else below 0 °C (32 °F) (e.g. power lines, tree branches, aircraft), a layer of ice accumulates as the cold water drips off, forming a slowly thickening film of ice.

Ice storms can be perfectly beautiful to look at (from a distance), but they frequently bring down tree limbs or whole trees, power lines and such from the sheer weight of accumulated ice. When they occurred on my property it was eerie to go out, especially at night, and hear the periodic sound of limbs creaking and crashing. I’m glad to say that none ever fell directly on my house, but there were some close calls.

To add to the misery on this date, a powerful windstorm affected Florida with winds gusting over 90 mph, toppling trees and flipping trailers.

storm-nisha

2008 On November 24 an area of low pressure formed over land in Sri Lanka. Later that day the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) assessed the low-pressure area’s chance of becoming a significant tropical cyclone within 24 hours as ‘poor’, due to the minimal convection near the Low Level Circulation Center. The next morning the JTWC issued a Tropical Cyclone Formation Alert on the low-pressure area, stating it had a ‘good’ chance of becoming a significant tropical cyclone within 24 hours, as the Low Level Circulation Center was moving into the Bay of Bengal. Two hours later the India Meteorological Department (IMD) upgraded the area of low pressure to Depression BOB 07. Three hours later the IMD reported that the depression had intensified into a Deep Depression whilst remaining stationary. Later that day the JTWC upgraded the Deep Depression to Tropical Cyclone 06B and reported that the depression had wind speeds equivalent to a tropical storm, on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. The cyclone was named Nisha.

15 people were killed when Nisha hit northern Sri Lanka on November 25, 2008, causing heavy rains and flooding that reportedly displaced between 60,000 and 70,000 people in Vanni and 20,000 people in Jaffna district. Jaffna recorded the highest rainfall since 1918, of 520.1 mm of rain in one week, with the 26 November total rainfall (389.8 mm) being the highest in nine decades.

At least 189 people were killed by the heavy rains and floods caused by Nisha in Tamil Nadu. Some places recorded extreme rainfall, notably Orathanadu, Thanjavur District where over 660 mm of rain fell in a 24-hour period, breaking the 65-year-old record of highest daily rainfall in Tamil Nadu. In two days, Orathanadu registered 990 mm of rainfall. Previously the highest amount of rainfall in a day was 570 mm registered by Cuddalore on May 18, 1943. During the four-day period from 25 through 28 November, Orathanadu received 1280 mm of rainfall, making it as the 4th wettest Cylone in India to date. A map showing the most affected areas was released by ReliefWeb. Damage in India totaled to 3789 crores, or 800 million in 2008 USD.

storm-jeddah

2009 The 2009 Saudi Arabian floods affected Jeddah, on the Red Sea (western) coast of Saudi Arabia, and other areas of Makkah Province. They have been described by local officials as the worst in 27 years. About 122 people were reported to have died, and more than 350 were missing. Some roads were under a meter (3 ft) of water on 26 November, and many of the victims were believed to have drowned in their cars. At least 3,000 vehicles were swept away or damaged.

More than 90 mm (3½ inches) of rain fell in Jeddah in just four hours on Wednesday 25 November. This is nearly twice the average for an entire year and the heaviest rainfall in Saudi Arabia in a decade. The flooding came just two days before the expected date of the Eid al-Adha festival and during the annual Hajj pilgrimage to nearby Mecca. Business losses were estimated at a billion riyals (US$270 million). The poorer neighborhoods in the south of Jeddah were particularly hard hit, as was the area around King Abdulaziz University. The university was closed for vacation at the time of the floods, preventing even higher casualties.

25 November was the first day of the annual four-day Hajj pilgrimage to Islamic holy sites in and around Mecca, for which Jeddah is the main entry point for foreign pilgrims arriving by air or sea. The number of foreigners, as well as Saudi citizens, was slightly lower than in previous years, possibly because of health fears due to the pandemic of H1N1 influenza. However, over 1.6 million are still believed to have made the hajj, with 200,000 coming from Indonesia alone.

According to the Saudi Interior Ministry, none of the flood victims was taking part in the pilgrimage. However, the main Haramain expressway between King Abdulaziz International Airport and Mecca was closed on 25 November, stranding thousands of pilgrims. Parts of the 80-km (50 mi) highway were reported to have caved in, and the Jamia bridge in eastern Jeddah partially collapsed. The highway remained closed on 26 November amid fears that the bridge would collapse completely.

Rain was unusually heavy in Mecca on 25 November, as well as in nearby Mina, where many pilgrims stay in vast tent cities. The weather had improved by 26 November, and pilgrims had to face scorching heat on the plain of Mount Arafat for the second day of the Hajj.

I have lived through my fair share of stormy weather over the years, including hurricanes, typhoons, and ice storms in North Carolina, New York, Hong Kong, and mainland China. I’ve also had to deal with the aftermath of storms in Florida and Louisiana. For me, having a good water and food supply is essential for weathering bad storms and I was always prepared. Typically in my house in the Catskills the power would go out during a storm either because the local sub-station was disrupted, or because power lines had fallen. Power outages could last from a few hours to a week depending on the nature of the problem. About half a day was typical for an averagely severe storm. In my house, water was supplied by a well with an electric pump, and heat came through forced hot air driven by an electric fan. So a power outage meant no water and no heat.  I always stocked up with several gallons of water before a major storm, and kept a stack of firewood indoors for my wood stove. My cooking stove ran on bottled gas. The electric igniters would not work with the power out, but matches always work. So, I could always keep warm, hydrated, and fed.

storm3

With the power out for an indefinite period of time you shouldn’t open the refrigerator or freezer doors. I would seal the doors with strong duct tape to prevent momentary lapses in judgment resulting in melted ice cream. Without the refrigerator my menu choices came down to my non-perishables.   I’m nowhere near as assiduous with non-perishables as my mother used to be, but back in New York I could survive for a week without assistance. My mum’s pantry used to look like a culinary Aladdin’s cave. Given her wartime and post-war experiences she felt it her duty to have a year’s supply of food in the pantry including dried soups, canned goods, and other non-perishables. I don’t go any near that far but I always have a number of grains, dried pulses, and whatnot on hand for regular meals, and keep a stock of canned goods. I’ve always got rice (jasmine, basmati, Arborio), pasta (various types), and pulses (red and brown lentils, beans, chick peas, black-eyed peas). I don’t normally buy canned vegetables except tomatoes which I always have, both whole and crushed. They are better than fresh tomatoes for sauces, soups and stews. Of course I also have my herb and spice collection plus assorted bouillon cubes  along with wheat and rice flour, rolled oats, pearl barley, white and brown sugar, and various condiments and pickles.

Protein is the only limitation I have in my non-perishable stock. There’s lots possible – corned beef, sardines, herrings etc. – but I’m not a big fan of most tinned proteins. I do like bottled clams, though, and sporadically I use anchovies. I don’t keep it around a lot, but I do also use canned salmon once in a while for kedgeree. So, fish and shellfish are all right with me, but canned meats and common fish, especially tuna, don’t make it to my list. There are a few dried meats and sausages that keep more or less indefinitely however, and they can be reconstituted in soups and stews.

When the lights go out there’s plenty for me to make – linguine with clams or tomato sauce, bean or lentil soup. Of course fresh items such as butter, cream, milk, and eggs are missing. You could stock milk powder or dehydrated eggs, but you can do without them for a few days.

Nov 222016
 

rb6

On this date in 1928 Maurice Ravel’s Boléro premiered in Paris.   Boléro  was originally composed as a ballet commissioned by Russian actress and dancer Ida Rubinstein and is, without doubt, Ravel’s most famous musical composition, to the extent that when most people think of Ravel, Boléro is the first (perhaps only) thing that comes to mind. Boléro epitomizes Ravel’s mature stage of composition that was preoccupied with restyling and reinventing dance movements. It was also one of the last pieces he composed before illness forced him into retirement. His two piano concertos and the Don Quichotte à Dulcinée song cycle were the only compositions that followed Boléro.

Before Boléro, Ravel had composed large scale ballets (such as Daphnis et Chloé, composed for the Ballets Russes 1909–1912), suites for the ballet (such as the second orchestral version of Ma mère l’oye, 1912), and one-movement dance pieces (such as La valse, 1906–1920). Apart from such compositions intended for a staged dance performance, Ravel had demonstrated an interest in composing re-styled dances, from his earliest successes – the 1895 Menuet and the 1899 Pavane – to his more mature works like Le tombeau de Couperin, which takes the format of a dance suite.

rb5

Boléro had its genesis in a commission from Ida Rubinstein, who asked Ravel to make an orchestral transcription of six pieces from Isaac Albéniz’s set of piano pieces, Iberia. While working on the transcription, Ravel was informed that the movements had already been orchestrated by Spanish conductor Enrique Fernández Arbós, and that copyright law prevented any other arrangement from being made. When Arbós heard of this, he said he would happily waive his rights and allow Ravel to orchestrate the pieces. However, Ravel changed his mind and decided initially to orchestrate one of his own works. He then changed his mind again and decided to write a completely new piece based on the musical form and Spanish dance called bolero. While on vacation at St Jean-de-Luz, Ravel went to the piano and played a melody with one finger to his friend Gustave Samazeuilh, saying “Don’t you think this theme has an insistent quality? I’m going to try and repeat it a number of times without any development, gradually increasing the orchestra as best I can.” This piece was initially called Fandango, but its title was soon changed to “Boléro.” According to Idries Shah the main melody is adapted from a tune composed for and used in Sufi training.

rb2

The composition was a sensational success when it was premiered at the Paris Opéra with choreography by Bronislava Nijinska and designs and scenario by Alexandre Benois. The orchestra of the Opéra was conducted by Walther Straram. Ernest Ansermet had originally been engaged to conduct during the entire ballet season, but the musicians refused to play under him. A scenario by Rubinstein and Nijinska was printed in the program for the premiere:

Inside a tavern in Spain, people dance beneath the brass lamp hung from the ceiling. [In response] to the cheers to join in, the female dancer has leapt onto the long table and her steps become more and more animated.

Ravel himself, however, had a different conception of the work: his preferred stage design was of an open-air setting with a factory in the background, reflecting the mechanical nature of the music.

Boléro became Ravel’s most famous composition, much to his surprise. He had predicted that most orchestras would refuse to play it. However, it is usually played as a purely orchestral work, only rarely being staged as a ballet. According to a possibly apocryphal story from the premiere performance, a woman was heard shouting that Ravel was mad. When told about this, Ravel is said to have remarked that she had understood the piece.

rb7

Boléro was first published by the Parisian firm Durand in 1929. Arrangements of the piece were made for piano solo and piano duet (two people playing at one piano), and Ravel himself arranged a version for two pianos, published in 1930. The first recording was made by Piero Coppola in Paris for The Gramophone Company on 8 January 1930 and Ravel attended the recording session. The following day, Ravel conducted the Lamoureux Orchestra in his own recording for Polydor. That same year, further recordings were made by Serge Koussevitzky with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Willem Mengelberg with the Concertgebouw Orchestra.

Conductor Arturo Toscanini gave the U.S. premiere of Boléro with the New York Philharmonic on 14 November 1929. The performance was a great success, bringing “shouts and cheers from the audience” according to a New York Times review leading one critic to declare that “it was Toscanini who launched the career of the Boléro,” and another to claim that Toscanini had made Ravel into “almost an American national hero.”

On 4 May 1930, Toscanini performed the work with the New York Philharmonic at the Paris Opéra as part of that orchestra’s European tour. Toscanini’s tempo was significantly faster than Ravel preferred, and Ravel signaled his disapproval by refusing to respond to Toscanini’s gesture during the audience ovation. An exchange took place between the two men backstage after the concert. According to one account Ravel said “It’s too fast”, to which Toscanini responded “You don’t know anything about your own music. It’s the only way to save the work.” According to another report Ravel said “That’s not my tempo”. Toscanini replied “When I play it at your tempo, it is not effective”, to which Ravel retorted “Then do not play it.” Four months later, Ravel attempted to smooth over relations with Toscanini by sending him a note explaining that “I have always felt that if a composer does not take part in the performance of a work, he must avoid the ovations” and, ten days later, inviting Toscanini to conduct the premiere of his Piano Concerto for the Left Hand, an invitation which he declined.

The Toscanini affair became a cause célèbre and further increased Boléro’s fame. Other factors in the work’s renown were the considerable number of early performances, gramophone records, including Ravel’s own, transcriptions and radio broadcasts, together with the 1934 motion picture Bolero starring Carole Lombard, in which the music plays an important role.

Boléro is written for a large orchestra consisting of:

woodwinds: piccolo, 2 flutes (one doubling on piccolo), 2 oboes (one doubling on oboe d’amore), cor anglais, 2 clarinets (one doubles on E♭clarinet), bass clarinet, 3 saxophones (one sopranino, one soprano and one tenor), 2 bassoons, contrabassoon

brass: 4 horns, 4 trumpets (3 in C, one in D), 3 trombones, bass tuba

3 timpani and percussion: 2 snare drums, a bass drum, one piece/pair of orchestral cymbals, tam-tam

celesta and harp

strings

The instrumentation calls for a sopranino saxophone in F, which has never existed (modern sopraninos are in E♭). At the first performance, both the sopranino and soprano saxophone parts were played on the B♭ soprano saxophone, a tradition which continues to this day.

Boléro is extremely straightforward.  The music is in C major, 3/4 time, beginning pianissimo and rising in a continuous crescendo to fortissimo possibile (as loud as possible). It is built over an unchanging ostinato rhythm played on one or more snare drums that remains constant throughout the piece.

rb1

On top of this rhythm two melodies are heard, each of 18 bars’ duration, and each played twice alternately. The first melody is diatonic, the second melody introduces more jazz-influenced elements, with syncopation and flattened notes (technically it is in the Phrygian mode). The first melody descends through one octave, the second melody descends through two octaves. The bass line and accompaniment are initially played on pizzicato strings, mainly using rudimentary tonic and dominant notes. Tension is provided by the contrast between the steady percussive rhythm, and the “expressive vocal melody trying to break free.” Interest is maintained by constant reorchestration of the theme, leading to a variety of timbres, and by a steady crescendo. Both themes are repeated a total of eight times. At the climax, the first theme is repeated a ninth time, then the second theme takes over and breaks briefly into a new tune in E major before finally returning to the tonic key of C major.

The melody is passed among different instruments: 1) flute 2) clarinet 3) bassoon 4) E♭clarinet 5) oboe d’amore 6) trumpet (with flute not heard clearly and in higher octave than the first part) 7) tenor saxophone 8) soprano saxophone 9) horn, piccolos and celesta 10) oboe, English horn and clarinet 11) trombone 12) some of the wind instruments 13) first violins and some wind instruments 14) first and second violins together with some wind instruments 15) violins and some of the wind instruments 16) some instruments in the orchestra 17) and finally most but not all the instruments in the orchestra (with bass drum, cymbals and tam-tam). While the melody continues to be played in C throughout, from the middle onwards other instruments double it in different keys. The first such doubling involves a horn playing the melody in C, while a celeste doubles it 2 and 3 octaves above and two piccolos play the melody in the keys of G and E, respectively. This functions as a reinforcement of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th overtones of each note of the melody. The other significant “key doubling” involves sounding the melody a 5th above or a 4th below, in G major. Other than these “key doublings”, Ravel simply harmonizes the melody using diatonic chords.

The tempo indication in the score is Tempo di Bolero, moderato assai (“tempo of a bolero, very moderate”). In Ravel’s own copy of the score, the printed metronome mark of 76 per quarter is crossed out and 66 is substituted. Later editions of the score suggest a tempo of 72. Ravel’s own recording from January 1930 starts at around 66 per quarter, slightly slowing down later on to 60–63. Its total duration is 15 minutes 50 seconds. Coppola’s first recording, at which Ravel was present, has a similar duration of 15 minutes 40 seconds. Ravel said in an interview with the Daily Telegraph that the piece lasts 17 minutes.

An average performance will last in the area of fifteen minutes, with the slowest recordings, such as that by Ravel’s associate Pedro de Freitas Branco, extending well over 18 minutes and the fastest, such as Leopold Stokowski’s 1940 recording with the All American Youth Orchestra, approaching 12 minutes.

At Coppola’s first recording Ravel indicated strongly that he preferred a steady tempo, criticizing the conductor for getting faster at the end of the work. According to Coppola’s own report:

Maurice Ravel […] did not have confidence in me for the Boléro. He was afraid that my Mediterranean temperament would overtake me, and that I would rush the tempo. I assembled the orchestra at the Salle Pleyel, and Ravel took a seat beside me. Everything went well until the final part, where, in spite of myself, I increased the tempo by a fraction. Ravel jumped up, came over and pulled at my jacket: “not so fast”, he exclaimed, and we had to begin again.

Ravel’s preference for a slower tempo is confirmed by his unhappiness with Toscanini’s performance, of course. Toscanini’s 1939 recording with the NBC Symphony Orchestra has a duration of 13 minutes 25 seconds. In May 1994, with the Munich Philharmonic on tour in Cologne, conductor Sergiu Celibidache at the age of 82 gave a performance that lasted 17 minutes and 53 seconds, perhaps a record in the modern era. Perhaps in no other modern composition is tempo so critical. The insistent beat of the snare drum is the underpinning of the whole piece. Should we be slaves to the composer’s wishes? A difficult question. All composers, no matter how rigid in their directions, provide wiggle room for interpretation. Some directions are of necessity imprecise. How loud is fortissimo? How soft is pianissimo? With tempo it’s not as imprecise in modern times because of metronome markings, but there is still some wiggle room there, even with a metronome. Clearly Ravel was not thoroughly consistent. It also depends whether it is being played as an orchestral piece alone, or to accompany dancers. Also remember that it is called Boléro for a reason; it’s meant to evoke the bolero, which means the tempo should be consistent with the dance.

rb8

Creating a menu to do in taste what Ravel did with sound is an interesting challenge. The way I think of it is that you need something that is consistent through all the course as the base, but then another ingredient or series of related ingredients that all match in some way, but which are in marked contrast to the base – increasing in complexity as the meal progresses. I’d need to actually plan a full dinner party to test out such an idea. I’m thinking, for example, that if milk were your base, you’d start with a glass of milk. Then perhaps you could have onions in milk, then leeks in milk, then shallots in milk – then onions and garlic, then onions, garlic, and chives . . . and so on. The trouble with those ingredients is that it would not be a very satisfying meal.  I’ll open this up to my readers and see who’s paying attention. You need to think first about what will be your “snare drum” – a consistent undertone, such as milk, bread, or wine. It has to be able to stand alone at the outset. Then as the meal progresses each course needs to have an ingredient that blends with the basic ingredient, but strives to break out, culminating in a richly complex set of ingredients. Course should follow course with the added ingredients become more varied and complex. What do you think?

Oct 302016
 

ep3

Today is the birthday (1885) of Ezra Weston Loomis Pound, U.S.-born poet and critic, who spent most of his adult life in Europe, and was a major figure in the early modernist movement in poetry. He developed Imagism in poetry, a movement derived from classical Chinese and Japanese poetry, stressing clarity, precision and economy of language. His best-known works include Ripostes (1912), Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (1920) and the unfinished 120-section epic, The Cantos (1917–1969).

While working in London in the early 20th century as foreign editor of several American literary magazines, Pound helped discover and shape the work of contemporaries such as T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, Robert Frost and Ernest Hemingway. This aspect of his work included arranging for the publication in 1915 of Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and the serialization from 1918 of Joyce’s Ulysses.

Because of the carnage of World War I, Pound lost faith in England and blamed the war on usury and international capitalism, which may have led, in part, to his growing anti-Semitism (considering Jews to be prime movers in global banking). He moved to Italy in 1924, and throughout the 1930s and 1940s he embraced Benito Mussolini’s fascism, expressed support for Adolf Hitler, and wrote for publications owned by the British fascist Oswald Mosley. During World War II, he was paid by the Italian government to make hundreds of radio broadcasts criticizing the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Jews, as a result of which he was arrested in 1945 by U.S. occupying forces in Italy on charges of treason.

ep7

He spent months in detention in a U.S. military camp in Pisa, including three weeks in a six-by-six-foot outdoor steel cage, which he said triggered a mental breakdown: “when the raft broke and the waters went over me.” Subsequently he was ruled unfit to stand trial and was incarcerated in St. Elizabeth’s psychiatric hospital in Washington, D.C., for over 12 years.

ep8

While in custody in Italy, Pound had begun work on sections of The Cantos. These were published as The Pisan Cantos (1948), for which he was awarded the Bollingen Prize in 1949 by the Library of Congress, triggering enormous controversy. Largely due to a campaign by his fellow writers, he was released from St. Elizabeth’s in 1958 and returned to live in Italy until his death. His political views ensure that his work remains as controversial now as it was during his lifetime; in 1933 Time magazine called him “a cat that walks by himself, tenaciously unhousebroken and very unsafe for children.” Hemingway wrote: “The best of Pound’s writing—and it is in the Cantos—will last as long as there is any literature.”

ep6

You can read about Pound’s biography in general elsewhere. I want to focus on Imagism followed by a few notes on his fascism. Pound’s former lover, Hilda Doolittle (H.D.), from Philadelphia met Pound in London in May 1911 with the poet Frances Gregg and Gregg’s mother. When they returned in September, Doolittle decided to stay on. Pound introduced her to his friends, including the poet Richard Aldington, whom she would marry in 1913. Before that the three of them lived in Church Walk, Kensington—Pound at no. 10, Doolittle at no. 6, and Aldington at no. 8—and worked daily in the British Museum Reading Room.

ep5

At the museum Pound met regularly with the curator and poet Laurence Binyon, who introduced him to the East Asian artistic and literary concepts that inspired the imagery and technique of his later poetry. The museum’s visitors’ books show that Pound was often found during 1912 and 1913 in the Print Room examining Japanese ukiyo-e, some inscribed with Japanese waka verse, a genre of poetry whose economy and strict conventions likely contributed to Imagist techniques of composition. He was working at the time on the poems that became Ripostes (1912), trying to move away from his earlier work. He wrote that the “stilted language” of Canzoni had reduced Ford Madox Ford to rolling on the floor with laughter. He realized with his translation work that the problem lay not in his knowledge of the other languages, but in his use of English:

What obfuscated me was not the Italian but the crust of dead English, the sediment present in my own available vocabulary … You can’t go round this sort of thing. It takes six or eight years to get educated in one’s art, and another ten to get rid of that education. Neither can anyone learn English, one can only learn a series of Englishes. Rossetti made his own language. I hadn’t in 1910 made a language, I don’t mean a language to use, but even a language to think in.

ep1

While living at Church Walk in 1912, Pound, Aldington, and Doolittle started working on ideas about language. While in the British Museum tearoom one afternoon, they decided to begin a ‘movement’ in poetry, called Imagism. “Imagisme,” Pound wrote in Riposte, is “concerned solely with language and presentation.” The aim was clarity: a fight against abstraction, romanticism, rhetoric, inversion of word order, and over-use of adjectives. They agreed in the spring or early summer of 1912 on three principles:

  1. Direct treatment of the “thing” whether subjective or objective.
  2. To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation.
  3. As regarding rhythm: to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.

Superfluous words, particularly adjectives, should be avoided, as well as expressions such as “dim lands of peace,” which Pound thought dulled the image by mixing the abstract with the concrete. He wrote that the natural object was always the “adequate symbol.” Poets should “go in fear of abstractions”, and should not re-tell in mediocre verse what has already been told in good prose.

Pound wrote concerning his classic Imagist poem “In a Station of the Metro”

Three years ago in Paris I got out of a “metro” train at La Concorde, and saw suddenly a beautiful face, and then another and another, and then a beautiful child’s face, and then another beautiful woman, and I tried all that day to find words for what this had meant to me, and I could not find any words that seemed to me worthy, or as lovely as that sudden emotion. And that evening, as I went home along the Rue Raynouard, I was still trying and I found, suddenly, the expression. I do not mean that I found words, but there came an equation . . . not in speech, but in little splotches of colour. It was just that – a “pattern,” or hardly a pattern, if by “pattern” you mean something with a “repeat” in it. But it was a word, the beginning, for me, of a language in colour. I do not mean that I was unfamiliar with the kindergarten stories about colours being like tones in music. I think that sort of thing is nonsense. If you try to make notes permanently correspond with particular colours, it is like tying narrow meanings to symbols.

That evening, in the Rue Raynouard, I realized quite vividly that if I were a painter, or if I had, often, that kind of emotion, of even if I had the energy to get paints and brushes and keep at it, I might found a new school of painting that would speak only by arrangements in colour.

And so, when I came to read Kandinsky’s chapter on the language of form and colour, I found little that was new to me. I only felt that someone else understood what I understood, and had written it out very clearly. It seems quite natural to me that an artist should have just as much pleasure in an arrangement of planes or in a pattern of figures, as in painting portraits of fine ladies, or in portraying the Mother of God as the symbolists bid us.

When I find people ridiculing the new arts, or making fun of the clumsy odd terms that we use in trying to talk of them amongst ourselves; when they laugh at our talking about the “ice-block quality” in Picasso, I think it is only because they do not know what thought is like, and they are familiar only with argument and gibe and opinion. That is to say, they can only enjoy what they have been brought up to consider enjoyable, or what some essayist has talked about in mellifluous phrases. They think only “the shells of thought,” as de Gourmont calls them; the thoughts that have been already thought out by others

Any mind that is worth calling a mind must have needs beyond the existing categories of language, just as a painter must have pigments or shades more numerous than the existing names of the colours.

The poem is a mere 14 words with no verb:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

ep10

I’m not a big fan of this kind of poetry although I like parsimony and clarity in language, and probably spend as much time thinking about these issues as did Pound and his circle. I’m even less enamored of his emulation of Japanese and Chinese modes of thinking about language and art. Chinese language (written and spoken), for example, lends itself to imagistic modes of expression in a natural way; English does not. Take “simple” Chinese characters such as老 or道 which can be translated respectively as “old” and “path.” As soon as you combine these characters with others their meanings drift all over the map. The first one, for example, ends up in combinations that can mean “teacher,” “tiger,” “mouse,” “eagle,” “boss,” “tough” etc. etc. This is just not true of English even though there are glimpses sometimes.

ep4

Pound’s longstanding embrace of fascism is a little puzzling, but I think I get it. The First World War not only devastated Europe physically, but emotionally also. How could seemingly civilized people end up being so barbaric? All the fruits of intellectual and scientific “progress” lay waste on the fields of Flanders. A whole generation of vigorous and hopeful men lay dead. Pound saw not just money as the culprit, but greed and international finance as the root causes, and blamed Jewish bankers – as did Hitler and Mussolini. Too late he wrote:

The worst mistake I made was that stupid, suburban prejudice of anti-Semitism.

His anti-Semitism drove me away from his poetry for a long time, and I still don’t really comprehend it. You don’t have to be terribly clever to see that Jews are not the cause of the world’s problems (any more than Muslims are nowadays). That, and his rather limited vision of language, leaves me thinking that he was not all that smart. But he did have a big impact on poetry and the literary world for which I am grateful. These thoughts of his do resonate:

The real trouble with war (modern war) is that it gives no one a chance to kill the right people.

Either move or be moved.

It ought to be illegal for an artist to marry. If the artist must marry let him find someone more interested in art, or his art, or the artist part of him, than in him. After which let them take tea together three times a week.

The jargon of sculptors is beyond me. I do not know precisely why I admire a green granite female, apparently pregnant monster with one eye going around a square corner.

I guess the definition of a lunatic is a man surrounded by them.

If a man isn’t willing to take some risk for his opinions, either his opinions are no good or he’s no good.

The best recipe for Pound, I believe, should be one that is clear and simple, yet contains volumes. There is no question that a lot of the best recipes in the world require a mountain of ingredients, days to prepare, and endless experience. But recipes that are simply stated, and easy to accomplish can be really satisfying. One of my great problems in life is that there are some days when I am swamped with work with little time to cook, but I don’t want to buy something readymade or grab something from the refrigerator – which is the predicament I am in right now as it happens. I have too much to do over the next few hours to be able to cook something complex.  But I’m not going to settle for just anything to stave off hunger. I’m going to do this:

Boil 2 eggs

Peel

Eat with powdered cumin

dsc_0901

I love eggs with cumin as a quick snack. For something so simple to make, the tastes are quite complex and certainly delicious.