Apr 142018
 

Today is the first day of the Cambodian New Year in 2018, Khmer: បុណ្យចូលឆ្នាំថ្មី or Choul Chnam Thmey, literally “Enter New Year.” The holiday lasts for three days beginning on New Year’s Day, which usually falls on April 13th or 14th, which is the end of the harvesting season, when farmers enjoy the fruits of their labor before the rainy season begins. Khmers living abroad may choose to celebrate during a weekend rather than just specifically April 13th through 16th. The Khmer New Year coincides with the traditional solar new year in several parts of India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand. It was originally pegged to the lunar calendar, but is now more fixed within the Gregorian calendar. Cambodians also use the Buddhist Era to count the year based on the Buddhist calendar. For 2018, it will be 2562 BE (Buddhist Era).

The three days of the new year are:

Maha Sangkran (មហាសង្រ្កាន្ត)

Maha Sangkran, derived from Sanskrit Maha Sankranti, is the name of the first day of the new year celebration. It is the end of the year and the beginning of a new one. People dress up in new clothes and light candles and burn incense sticks at shrines, where the members of each family pay homage to offer thanks for the Buddha’s teachings by bowing, kneeling and prostrating themselves three times before his image. For good luck people wash their face with holy water in the morning, their chests at noon, and their feet in the evening before they go to bed.

Virak Vanabat (វិរ:វ័នបត)

Vireak Vanabat is the name of the second day of the new year celebration. People contribute charity to the less fortunate by helping the poor, servants, homeless, and low-income families. Families attend a dedication ceremony to their ancestors at monasteries.

Vearak Loeng Sak (វារៈឡើងស័ក)

T’ngai Loeng Sak in Khmer is the name of the third day of the new year celebration. Buddhists wash the Buddha statues and their elders with perfumed water. Bathing the Buddha images is a symbolic practice to wash bad actions away like water clean dirt from household items. It is also thought to be a kind deed that will bring longevity, good luck, happiness and prosperity in life. By washing their grandparents and parents, the children can obtain from them best wishes and good pieces of advice to live the life for the rest of the year.

In temples, people erect a sand hillock on temple grounds. They mound up a big pointed hill of sand or dome in the center which represents Valuka Chaitya, the stupa at Tavatimsa where the Buddha’s hair and diadem are buried. The big stupa is surrounded by four small ones, which represent the stupas of the Buddha’s favorite disciples: Sariputta, Moggallana, Ananda, and Maha Kassapa. There is another tradition called Sraung Preah (ស្រង់ព្រះ): pouring water or liquid plaster (a mixture of water with some chalk powder) on an elder relative, or people in general. This is now mostly a lark for younger people. I will have to watch my step.

There are also a number of traditional games performed over the three days.

Chol Chhoung (ចោល⁣ឈូង), for example, is played on the first nightfall of the Khmer New Year by two groups of boys and girls. Ten or 20 people comprise each group, standing in two rows opposite each other. One group throws the “chhoung” to the other group. When it is caught, it will be rapidly thrown back to the first group. If someone is hit by the “chhoung,” the whole group must dance to get the “chhoung” back while the other group sings to the dance.

Chab Kon Kleng (ចាប់⁣កូនខ្លែង) is a game played by imitating a hen as she protects her chicks from a crow. Adults typically play this game on the night of the first New Year’s Day. Participants usually appoint a strong player to play the hen who protects “her” chicks, while another person is picked to be the “crow”. While both sides sing a song of bargaining, the crow tries to catch as many chicks as possible as they hide behind the hen.

The Khmer New Year is also a time to prepare special dishes. One of these is a “kralan”: a cake made from steamed rice mixed with beans or peas, grated coconut and coconut milk. The mixture is stuffed inside a bamboo stick and slowly roasted. I have prepared ansom chek (អន្សមចេក) for today – sticky rice and banana steamed in banana leaves. It’s traditional and not that hard to make – if you live in Cambodia. I’ll make a sour fish soup that I like, as well. Also, very popular for festivals. This site gives a ton of Khmer recipes for festivals. As ever, the challenge is finding the right ingredients http://www.khmerkromrecipes.com/recipes/recipe273.html . I’ll break my normal reluctance to post recipes from Asia because of the difficulty in getting ingredients (this once). If you do not know what you are aiming for I will not be answerable for your results. I’ll also embed a video at the end for good measure (in English). Fish amok is a fish curry with coconut that is very common in Cambodia, year round, but you will find it on festive tables too. Unless you live in SE Asia you will not find all of the ingredients, but here’s the recipe anyway.

Fish Amok (ហហ្មុកត្រី)

For kreung paste

5 kaffir lime leaves, ribs removed, thinly sliced
3 dried Thai red chiles, soaked in water until soft, drained, seeds discarded, chopped
3 slices galangal, peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3 slices kacheay (also known as lesser ginger or lesser rhizome), peeled and chopped
3 shallots, thinly sliced
2 stalks lemongrass, bottom parts only, thinly sliced
2 small pieces fresh turmeric, peeled and sliced, or 1 teaspoon ground turmeric

For fish amok

½ cup coconut milk, plus extra
1 tbsp Cambodian chili paste
1 tbsp Cambodian (or Thai) fish sauce
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp shrimp paste
½ tsp salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 lb boneless skinless meaty white fish, cut into chunks
8 banana leaves
¼ cup nhor/noni leaves (morinda citriforlia), shredded
4 fresh red chiles, cut lengthwise in thin strips

Instructions

First make the kreung paste. Pound together the lime leaves, red chiles, galangal, garlic, kacheay, shallots, lemongrass and turmeric, a few ingredients at a time, using a mortar and pestle until a fine paste forms. You can do this in a food processor, but mortar and pestle is better.

Mix the kreung paste with the coconut milk, chili paste, fish sauce, sugar, shrimp paste, salt and egg in a large bowl. Add the fish and combine well with the kreung paste marinade. Set aside and allow the marinade to infuse the fish for about 15 minutes or longer.

Set up a steamer. Make banana leaf bowls (konthoangs) by placing 2 banana leaves on top of each other and folding into little rectangular bowls with the tapered sides folded up and held together with bamboo toothpicks. Make 4 in total. Make a bed of noni leaves in the bottom of each konthoang. Divide the marinated fish between the bowls, and place on top of the noni beds. Spoon 2 tablespoons of coconut milk over each serving of fish and top off with a fresh red chile. Place the filled konthoangs in the steamer and steam until the fish is cooked through, about 20 minutes. Serve with plain, boiled jasmine rice.

Apr 132018
 

Today is the birthday (1906) of Samuel Barclay Beckett, an Irish avant-garde novelist, playwright, theatre director, poet, and literary translator who lived in Paris for most of his adult life. He wrote in both English and French, and is probably best known for Waiting for Godot, which he wrote first in French, and then translated into English.

Samuel Beckett was born in Dublin on Good Friday, 1906, to William Frank Beckett, a quantity surveyor and descendant of the Huguenots, and Maria Jones Roe, a nurse, when both were 35. They had married in 1901. Beckett had one older brother, Frank Edward Beckett (1902–1954). At the age of 5, Beckett attended a local playschool in Dublin, where he started to learn music, and then moved to Earlsfort House School in Dublin city center near Harcourt Street. The Becketts were members of the Anglican Church of Ireland. The family home, Cooldrinagh in the Dublin suburb of Foxrock, was a large house and garden complete with tennis court built in 1903 by Samuel’s father. The house and garden, together with the surrounding countryside where he often went walking with his father, the nearby Leopardstown Racecourse, the Foxrock railway station and Harcourt Street station at the city terminus of the line, all feature in his prose and plays.

In 1919/1920, Beckett went to Portora Royal School in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh (which Oscar Wilde had also attended). He left 3 years later, in 1923. Beckett excelled at cricket as a left-handed batsman and a left-arm medium-pace bowler. Later, he was to play for Dublin University and played two first-class games against Northamptonshire. Beckett studied French, Italian, and English at Trinity College, Dublin from 1923 to 1927. He graduated with a BA and, after teaching briefly at Campbell College in Belfast, took up the post of lecteur d’anglais at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris from November 1928 to 1930. While there, he was introduced to James Joyce by Thomas MacGreevy, a poet and close confidant of Beckett who also worked there.  Beckett assisted Joyce in various ways, one of which was research towards the book that became Finnegans Wake.

In 1929, Beckett published his first work, a critical essay entitled “Dante… Bruno. Vico.. Joyce.” The essay defends Joyce’s work and method, chiefly from allegations of wanton obscurity and dimness, and was Beckett’s contribution to Our Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress (a book of essays on Joyce which also included contributions by Eugene Jolas, Robert McAlmon, and William Carlos Williams). Beckett’s close relationship with Joyce and his family cooled, however, when he rejected the advances of Joyce’s daughter Lucia owing to her progressing schizophrenia. Beckett’s first short story, “Assumption”, was published in Jolas’ periodical transition. The next year he won a small literary prize for his hastily composed poem “Whoroscope”, which draws on a biography of René Descartes that Beckett happened to be reading when he was encouraged to submit.

In 1930, Beckett returned to Trinity College as a lecturer. In November 1930, he presented a paper in French to the Modern Languages Society of Trinity on the Toulouse poet Jean du Chas, founder of a movement called le Concentrisme. It was a literary parody; Beckett had in fact invented the poet and his movement that claimed to be “at odds with all that is clear and distinct in Descartes.” Beckett later insisted that he had not intended to fool his audience. When Beckett resigned from Trinity at the end of 1931, his brief academic career was at an end.

After Dublin, Beckett travelled in Europe, and spent some time in London, where in 1931 he published Proust, his critical study of Marcel Proust’s work. Two years later, following his father’s death, he began two years’ treatment with Tavistock Clinic psychoanalyst Dr. Wilfred Bion. Aspects of this time played out in Beckett’s later works, such as Watt and Waiting for Godot. In 1932, he wrote his first novel, Dream of Fair to Middling Women, but after many rejections from publishers decided to abandon it (it was eventually published in 1992). Despite his inability to get it published, however, the novel served as a source for many of Beckett’s early poems, as well as for his first full-length book, the 1933 short-story collection More Pricks Than Kicks.

In 1935—the year that Beckett successfully published a book of his poetry, Echo’s Bones and Other Precipitates—Beckett worked on his novel Murphy. In May, he wrote to MacGreevy that he had been reading about film and wished to go to Moscow to study with Sergei Eisenstein at the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography in Moscow. In mid-1936 he wrote to Eisenstein and Vsevolod Pudovkin to offer himself as their apprentice. Nothing came of this, however, as Beckett’s letter was lost owing to Eisenstein’s quarantine during the smallpox outbreak, as well as his focus on a script re-write of his postponed film production.

Murphy was finished in 1936 and Beckett departed for extensive travel around Germany, during which time he filled several notebooks with lists of noteworthy art that he had seen, and noted his distaste for the Nazi savagery that was overtaking the country. Returning to Ireland briefly in 1937, he oversaw the publication of Murphy (1938), which he translated into French the following year. He fell out with his mother, which contributed to his decision to settle permanently in Paris. Beckett remained in Paris following the outbreak of World War II in 1939, preferring, in his own words, “France at war to Ireland at peace.” His was soon a known face in and around Left Bank cafés, where he strengthened his allegiance with Joyce and forged new ones with artists Alberto Giacometti and Marcel Duchamp, with whom he regularly played chess. Some time around December 1937, Beckett had a brief affair with Peggy Guggenheim, who nicknamed him “Oblomov” (after the character in Ivan Goncharov’s novel).

In January 1938 in Paris, Beckett was stabbed in the chest and nearly killed when he refused the solicitations of a notorious pimp (who went by the name of Prudent). Joyce arranged a private room for Beckett at the hospital. The publicity surrounding the stabbing attracted the attention of Suzanne Dechevaux-Dumesnil, who previously knew Beckett slightly from his first stay in Paris. This time, however, the two would begin a lifelong companionship. At a preliminary hearing, Beckett asked his attacker for the motive behind the stabbing. Prudent replied: “Je ne sais pas, Monsieur. Je m’excuse” [“I do not know, sir. I’m sorry”]. Beckett eventually dropped the charges against his attacker—partly to avoid further formalities, partly because he found Prudent likeable and well-mannered.

After the Nazi German occupation of France in 1940, Beckett joined the French Resistance, in which he worked as a courier. On several occasions over the next two years he was nearly caught by the Gestapo. In August 1942, his unit was betrayed, and he and Suzanne fled south on foot to the safety of the small village of Roussillon, in the Vaucluse département in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. There he continued to assist the Resistance by storing armaments in the back yard of his home. During the two years that Beckett stayed in Roussillon he indirectly helped the Maquis sabotage the German army in the Vaucluse mountains, though he rarely spoke about his wartime work in later life.

Beckett was awarded the Croix de guerre and the Médaille de la Résistance by the French government for his efforts in fighting the German occupation. To the end of his life, however, Beckett referred to his work with the French Resistance as “boy scout stuff.” While in hiding in Roussillon, he continued work on the novel Watt (begun in 1941 and completed in 1945, but not published until 1953, though an extract had appeared in the Dublin literary periodical Envoy).

In 1945, Beckett returned to Dublin for a brief visit. During his stay, he had a revelation in his mother’s room: His entire future direction in literature appeared to him. Beckett had felt that he would remain forever in the shadow of Joyce, certain to never best him at his own game. His revelation prompted him to change direction and to acknowledge both his own stupidity and his interest in ignorance and impotence:

I realized that Joyce had gone as far as one could in the direction of knowing more, [being] in control of one’s material. He was always adding to it; you only have to look at his proofs to see that. I realized that my own way was in impoverishment, in lack of knowledge and in taking away, in subtracting rather than in adding.

In the future, his work focused on poverty, failure, exile and loss.

In 1946, Jean-Paul Sartre’s magazine Les Temps modernes published the first part of Beckett’s short story “Suite” (later to be called “La Fin”, or “The End”), not realizing that Beckett had only submitted the first half of the story, Simone de Beauvoir refused to publish the second part. Beckett also began to write his fourth novel, Mercier et Camier, which was not published until 1970. The novel presaged his most famous work, the play Waiting for Godot, which was written not long afterwards. More importantly, the novel was Beckett’s first long work that he wrote in French, the language of most of his subsequent works which were strongly supported by Jérôme Lindon director of his Parisian publishing house Les Éditions de Minuit, including the poioumenon “trilogy” of novels: Molloy (1951); Malone meurt (1951), Malone Dies (1958); L’innommable (1953), The Unnamable, (1960). Despite being a native English speaker, Beckett wrote in French because—as he himself claimed—it was easier for him to write “without style” in French than in English.

Beckett is, of course, most famous for his play En attendant Godot (1953) (Waiting for Godot). In a much-quoted article, the critic Vivian Mercier wrote that Beckett,

has achieved a theoretical impossibility—a play in which nothing happens, that yet keeps audiences glued to their seats. What’s more, since the second act is a subtly different reprise of the first, he has written a play in which nothing happens, twice.

Godot premièred in 1953 in French in Paris and was a critical and popular, yet controversial, success in Paris. It opened in London in 1955 to mainly negative reviews, but the tide turned with positive reactions from Harold Hobson in The Sunday Times and, later, Kenneth Tynan. In the United States, it flopped in Miami and had a qualified success in New York City. After this, the play became extremely popular, with highly successful performances in the US and Germany. It is frequently performed today.

The US television sitcom, Seinfeld, is frequently praised as being “about nothing.” No. Seinfeld is quite obviously about something. Godot is about NOTHING – at great length. In my younger years I did not appreciate Godot. You have to have experienced life, and reflected on it to understand what Beckett is getting at. Life is an endless succession of pointless encounters, that seem, at first, to be brimming with meaning, but turn out to be devoid of it. Reading academic appraisals of Godot makes me laugh out loud: it is about ego, sex, fascism, stupidity, hunger, etc. etc. etc. Beckett is laughing at all of you.

Beckett translated all of his works into English himself, with the exception of Molloy, for which he collaborated with Patrick Bowles. The success of Waiting for Godot opened up a career in theater for Beckett. He went on to write successful full-length plays, including Fin de partie (Endgame) (1957), Krapp’s Last Tape (1958, written in English), Happy Days (1961, also written in English), and Play (1963).

In 1961, Beckett married Suzanne in a secret civil ceremony in England (its secrecy due to reasons relating to French inheritance law). The success of his plays led to invitations to attend rehearsals and productions around the world, leading eventually to a new career as a theater director. In 1957, he had his first commission from the BBC Third Programme for a radio play, All That Fall. He continued writing sporadically for radio and extended his scope to include cinema and television. He began to write in English again, although he also wrote in French until the end of his life.

From the late 1950s until his death, Beckett had a relationship with Barbara Bray, a widow who worked as a script editor for the BBC. In October 1969 while on holiday in Tunis with Suzanne, Beckett heard that he had won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Anticipating that her intensely private husband would be saddled with fame from that moment on, Suzanne called the award a catastrophe. He gave away all of the prize money. Suzanne died on 17th July 1989. Beckett died on 22nd December the same year, confined to a nursing home and suffering from emphysema and possibly Parkinson’s disease. The two were interred together in the Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris and share a simple granite gravestone that follows Beckett’s directive that it should be “any colour, so long as it’s grey.”

Although Beckett was intensely private and ascetic with a generally pessimistic outlook on life, he did enjoy meeting friends for a good meal once in a while, especially grilled sole and white wine in restaurants such as Aux Îles Marquises on the rue de la Gaité. Well, grilled sole is about as simple as it gets. The usual habit is to grill fillets and serve them with lemon wedges and butter. I’m happier to be even simpler than that. I like nothing better than to take a whole fish – head on, but gutted and cleaned – heat the grill or broiler as hot as it gets, and grill the fish for about 12 minutes without turning it. Plate and serve as is. Sole has an extremely delicate taste (if you buy actual Dover sole and not some mimic), and needs no additions. French chefs will bristle at that sentiment, but I am not French. As a small boy my mother would occasionally serve me a whole sole (or plaice) for lunch, caught that day off the Eastbourne coast, and sold from the fishing boats. She grilled it, put it on a plate, and let me have at it with a slice of buttered brown bread. For some reason she thought brown bread would help in case I swallowed some bones.  I accompany grilled sole with buttered new potatoes and spinach or asparagus. A simple dish to celebrate Beckett’s favored simple life.

Apr 122018
 

The announcement of the successful results of major testing of Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine was made on this date in 1955, leading to its approval as safe and effective, and dramatically reducing the incidence of polio worldwide. I was born a number of years before the vaccine was developed, but I was part of a massive effort to inoculate children after the vaccine had been refined and declared safe. I was part of a generation that was ravaged by polio, and I knew a number of children who were permanently crippled by the disease. The polio vaccine was created, starting in 1952, by Salk and a team at the University of Pittsburgh that included Julius Youngner, Byron Bennett, L. James Lewis, and Lorraine Friedman, and required years of subsequent testing. Salk went on CBS radio to report a successful test on a small group of adults and children on 26 March 1953; two days later the results were published in JAMA. Beginning 23 February 1954, the vaccine was tested at Arsenal Elementary School and the Watson Home for Children in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Salk’s vaccine was then used in a test called the Francis Field Trial, led by Thomas Francis, the largest medical experiment in history at that time. The test began with approximately 4,000 children at Franklin Sherman Elementary School in McLean, Virginia, and would eventually involve 1.8 million children, in 44 states from Maine to California. By the conclusion of the study, roughly 440,000 received one or more injections of the vaccine, about 210,000 children received a placebo, consisting of harmless culture media, and 1.2 million children received no vaccination and served as a control group, who would then be observed to see if any contracted polio.

The results of the field trial were announced 12th April 1955 (the tenth anniversary of the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose paralytic illness was generally believed to have been caused by polio). The Salk vaccine had been 60–70% effective against PV1 (poliovirus type 1), over 90% effective against PV2 and PV3, and 94% effective against the development of bulbar polio. Soon after Salk’s vaccine was licensed in 1955, children’s vaccination campaigns were launched. In the U.S, following a mass immunization campaign promoted by the March of Dimes, the annual number of polio cases fell from 35,000 in 1953 to 5,600 by 1957. By 1961 only 161 cases were recorded in the United States.

Salk is not only a worthy scientist to celebrate on this blog for his achievements, his outlook on life, expressed in various aphorisms, is commendable:

The reward for work well done is the opportunity to do more.

Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors.

Nothing happens quite by chance. It’s a question of accretion of information and experience.

I have dreams, and I have nightmares. I overcame the nightmares because of my dreams.

I couldn’t possibly have become a member of this institute [The Salk Institute for Biological Studies] if I hadn’t founded it myself.

There are three stages of truth. First is that it can’t be true, and that’s what they said. You couldn’t immunize against polio with a killed-virus vaccine. Second phase: they say, “Well, if it’s true, it’s not very important.” And the third stage is, “Well, we’ve known it all along.”

Now, some people might look at something and let it go by, because they don’t recognize the pattern and the significance. It’s the sensitivity to pattern recognition that seems to me to be of great importance. It’s a matter of being able to find meaning, whether it’s positive or negative, in whatever you encounter.

Reason alone will not serve. Intuition alone can be improved by reason, but reason alone without intuition can easily lead the wrong way. They both are necessary.

In the years that Salk was developing the vaccine, his favorite eating place right near the University of Pittsburgh was the Bamboo Garden, a Chinese restaurant on Forbes Avenue, operated by Roy Shew and Ken Yee. It is said that he used to think through problems over a bowl of wonton soup, egg roll, rice and chicken chow mein made with homegrown bean sprouts. I would find 1950s-style Westernized Cantonese cooking of this order pretty wretched these days, but back then I was probably as much of a fan as Salk.  The words chow mein mean ‘stir-fried noodles’, chow meaning ‘stir-fried’ and mein meaning ‘noodles’. The pronunciation chow mein is an English corruption of the Taishanese pronunciation chāu-mèing. The lightly pronounced Taishanese [ŋ], resembling the end of a Portuguese nasal vowel, was taken to be /n/ by English speakers. The Taishan dialect was spoken by migrants to North America from Taishan, a city in southwestern Guangdong.

There are as many variants of chow mein as there are countries where Chinese have opened restaurants, none of them being much like 炒面 (fried noodles), served in China. Indeed, “fried noodles” is about as generic in China as “pasta” is in Italy. Salk would have eaten one of two kinds of chow mein, probably the steamed kind, because his favorite mentions bean sprouts. There are two main kinds of chow meins available in the US:

  1. Steamed chow mein
  2. Crispy chow mein, also known as Hong Kong style chow mein

Steamed chow mein has a softer texture, while the latter is crisper and drier. Crispy chow mein uses fried, flat noodles, while soft chow mein uses long, rounded noodles. Crispy chow mein has either onions and celery in the finished dish or is served “strained” (without any vegetables). Steamed chow mein can have many different kinds of vegetables in the finished dish, most commonly including onions and celery but sometimes carrots, cabbage and mung bean sprouts as well. Crispy chow mein is usually topped with a thick brown sauce, while steamed chow mein is mixed with soy sauce before being served. Both are commonly served with chicken or pork (or even beef), but can also be vegetarian.

Finding a Chinese restaurant that will serve 1950s-style chow mein in Cambodia is not happening for me, and I can’t say that I relish the prospect either. If you live away from the east or west coast of the US, I expect you will have a better shot at it. I wish you luck if that is your thing: 很多运气.

Apr 112018
 

Today is the birthday (1755) of James Parkinson FGS, an English surgeon, apothecary, geologist, paleontologist, and political activist, who is best known for his 1817 work, An Essay on the Shaking Palsy in which he was the first to describe “paralysis agitans,” a condition that would later be renamed Parkinson’s disease by Jean-Martin Charcot. World Parkinson’s Day is held each year on this date.

James Parkinson was born in Shoreditch, London, England. He was the son of John Parkinson, an apothecary and surgeon practicing in Hoxton Square in London. He was the eldest of five siblings. In 1784 Parkinson was approved by the City of London Corporation as a surgeon. On 21 May 1783, he married Mary Dale, with whom he subsequently had eight children, two of whom did not survive past childhood. Soon after he was married, Parkinson succeeded his father in his practice in 1 Hoxton Square. He believed that any worthwhile surgeon should know shorthand, at which he was adept.

In addition to his flourishing medical practice, Parkinson had an avid interest in geology and paleontology, as well as the politics of the day. Parkinson was a strong advocate for the under-privileged, and an outspoken critic of the Pitt government. His early career was marked by his being involved in a variety of social and revolutionary causes, and some historians think it most likely that he was a strong proponent for the French Revolution. He published nearly twenty political pamphlets in the post-French Revolution period, while Britain was in political chaos. Writing under his own name and his pseudonym “Old Hubert,” he called for radical social reforms and universal suffrage.

Parkinson called for representation of the people in the House of Commons, the institution of annual parliaments, and universal suffrage. He was a member of several secret political societies, including the London Corresponding Society and the Society for Constitutional Information. In 1794 his membership in the organization led to his being examined under oath before William Pitt and the Privy Council to give evidence about a trumped-up plot to assassinate King George III. He refused to testify regarding his part in the Popgun Plot, until he was certain he would not be forced to incriminate himself. The plan was to use a poisoned dart fired from a pop-gun to bring the king’s reign to a premature conclusion. No charges were ever brought against Parkinson but several of his friends languished in prison for many months before being acquitted.

Parkinson gave up his tumultuous political career, and between 1799 and 1807 published several medical works, including a work on gout in 1805. He was also responsible for early writings on ruptured appendix. He was interested in improving the general health and well-being of the population. He wrote several medical doctrines that exposed a similar zeal for the health and welfare of the people that was expressed by his political activism. He was a crusader for legal protection for the mentally ill, as well as their doctors and families.

In 1812 Parkinson assisted his son with the first described case of appendicitis in English, and the first instance in which perforation was shown to be the cause of death. Parkinson was the first person to systematically describe six individuals with symptoms of the disease that bears his name. In his An Essay on the Shaking Palsy he reported on three of his own patients and three persons whom he saw in the street. He referred to the disease that would later bear his name as “paralysis agitans,” (shaking palsy). He distinguished between resting tremors and the tremors with motion. Jean-Martin Charcot coined the term “Parkinson’s disease” 60 years later. Parkinson erroneously suggested that the tremors in these patients were due to lesions in the cervical spinal cord.

Parkinson’s interest gradually turned from medicine to natural philosophy, specifically the relatively new fields of geology and paleontology. He began collecting specimens and drawings of fossils in the latter part of the 18th century. He took his children and friends on excursions to collect and observe fossil plants and animals. His attempts to learn more about fossil identification and interpretation were frustrated by a lack of available literature in English, and so he took the decision to improve matters by writing his own introduction to the study of fossils.

In 1804, the first volume of his Organic Remains of a Former World was published. Gideon Mantell praised it as “the first attempt to give a familiar and scientific account of fossils.” A second volume was published in 1808, and a third in 1811. Parkinson illustrated each volume and his daughter Emma colored some of the plates. The plates were later re-used by Gideon Mantell. In 1822 Parkinson published the shorter “Outlines of Oryctology: an Introduction to the Study of Fossil Organic Remains, especially of those found in British Strata”.

Parkinson also contributed several papers to William Nicholson’s A Journal of Natural Philosophy, Chemistry and the Arts, and in the first, second, and fifth volumes of the Geological Society’s Transactions. He wrote a single volume Outlines of Oryctology in 1822, a more popular work. On 13 November 1807, Parkinson and other distinguished scholars met at the Freemasons’ Tavern in London. The gathering included Sir Humphry Davy, Arthur Aikin and George Bellas Greenough. This was to be the first meeting of the Geological Society of London.

Parkinson belonged to a school of thought, catastrophism, that concerned itself with the belief that the Earth’s geology and biosphere were shaped by recent large-scale cataclysms. He cited the Noachian deluge of Genesis as an example, and he firmly believed that creation and extinction were processes guided by the hand of God. His view on Creation was that each ‘day’ was actually a much longer period than 24 hours, perhaps lasting tens of thousands of years.

Parkinson died on 21st December 1824 after a stroke that interfered with his speech. His collection of organic remains was given to his wife and much of it went on to be sold in 1827, a catalogue of the sale has never been found. He was buried at St. Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch.

Parkinson’s life is commemorated with a stone tablet inside the church of St Leonard’s, Shoreditch, where he was a member of the congregation; the exact site of his grave is not known, and his body may lie in the crypt or in the churchyard. A blue plaque at 1 Hoxton Square marks the site of his home. Several fossils were named after him. There is no known portrait of him: a photograph, sometimes published and identified as of him, is of a dentist of the same name, but this James Parkinson died before photography was invented.

I came across THE ART OF COOKERY MADE EASY AND REFINED; COMPRISING AMPLE DIRECTIONS FOR PREPARING EVERY ARTICLE REQUISITE FOR FURNISHING THE TABLES OF THE NOBLEMAN, GENTLEMAN, AND TRADESMAN. By JOHN MOLLARD, Cook (Lately one of the Proprietors of Freemasons’ Tavern, Great Queen Street, Lincoln’s Inn Fields) (1802). Freemasons’ Tavern was where the Geological Society of London first met, so the dishes in this collection represent ones Parkinson would have eaten. By and large they are nothing out of the ordinary until you get to Olios. He claims (in the middle) to have seen this being cooked. Unless it was cooked in a cauldron the size of a swimming pool, I doubt it. Read on – the second part is more sane.

Olios, or a Spanish Dish.

The articles that are wanted consist of the following: viz.

Leg of mutton of ten pounds.
Leg of veal ditto.
Chuck beef ditto.
Lean ham six pounds.
Best end of a neck of mutton.
Breast of veal, small.
Two pieces of bouillie beef of one pound each.
Two pair of pigs feet and ears.
A bologna sausage.
A fowl.
A pheasant.
Two partridges.
Two ruffs and rees.
Two quails.
Two teal.
Two pigeons.
Two rabbits.
One hare.
Two stags tongues.
One quart of burgonza peas.
Turnips.
Carrots.
Celery.
Onions.
Leeks.
Parsley.
Thyme.
Garlick.
Allspice.
Cloves.
Mace.
Nutmegs.
Black pepper.
Haricot roots.
Fried bread.
Eggs.
Saffron, and
Lemons.

The Olio to be made as follows:

Take the beef, veal, mutton, and ham; cut them into pieces, put them into a pot, cover with water, and when it boils skim clean; then add carrots, celery, turnips, onions, leeks, garlick, parsley, and thyme, tied in a bunch; allspice, cloves, nutmeg, black pepper, mace, and a little ginger, put in a cloth. Boil all together till it becomes a strong stock, and strain it. Then cut the breast of veal into tendrons, and best end of neck of mutton into steaks, and half fry them; pigs feet and ears cleaned; hare cut into joints and daubed with bacon; bouillie beef tied round with packthread; poultry trussed very neat, with the legs drawn in close; the tongues scalded and cleaned; and the rabbits cut into pieces. When the different articles are ready, blanch and wash them, then braise each[35] in a separate stewpan, with the stock that was strained. When the different things are braised enough, pour the liquors from them into a pan, leaving a little with each to preserve from burning. When they are to be served up, skim the liquor very clean, and clear it with whites of eggs; then cut turnips and carrots into haricots, some button onions peeled, and heads of celery trimmed neat; after which blanch them, cut the bologna sausage into slices, boil the burgonza peas till three parts done, then mix all together, add some of the cleared liquor, and stew them gently till done. The remainder of the liquor to be coloured with a little saffron, and served up in a tureen with a few burgonza peas in it.

When the olio is to be served up, take a very large deep dish, make several partitions in it with slips of fried bread dipped in whites of eggs, and set it in a slow oven or before a fire; then lay the tendrons, birds, beef, mutton, fowls, &c. alternately in the partitions, and serve up with the haricot roots, &c. over. The whole of the liquor to be seasoned to the palate with cayenne pepper and lemon juice.

[This receipt for a Spanish olio is only written to shew how expensive a dish may be made, and which I saw done. As a substitute I have introduced the following english one, which has been generally approved; and I think, with particular attention, it will exceed the former in flavour.]

Hodge Podge, or English Olio.

Take four beef tails cut into joints, bouille beef two pieces about a quarter of a pound each, and two pieces of pickle pork of the same weight. Put them into a pot, cover with water, and when it boils skim clean, and add half a savoy, two ounces of champignons, some turnips, carrots, onions, leeks, celery, one bay leaf, whole black pepper, a few allspice, and a small quantity of mace. When the meats are nearly done, add two quarts of strong veal stock, and when tender take them out, put them into a deep dish, and preserve them hot till they are to be served up; then strain the liquor, skim it free from fat, season to the palate with cayenne pepper, a little salt, and lemon juice, and add a small quantity of colour; then have ready turnips and carrots cut into haricots, some celery heads trimmed three inches long, and some whole onions peeled. Let them be sweated down, till three parts tender, in separate stewpans, and strain the essences of them to the above liquor; clear it with whites of eggs, strain it through a tamis cloth, mix the vegetables, add the liquor to them, boil them gently for ten minutes, and serve them over the meats.

 

Apr 102018
 

Today is the birthday (1932) of Omar Sharif (عمر الشريف‎), screen name of Michel Dimitri Chalhoub, an Egyptian actor of Lebanese origins who came to prominence in the West with his supporting role in Lawrence of Arabia (1962). Sharif, who spoke Arabic, English, French, Spanish and Italian fluently, was often cast in Western fims as a foreigner of some sort. Sharif was born in Alexandria to a family of Melkite Catholic descent: he belonged to a small ethnocultural minority known as the Damascene ‘Antiochian’ Greek Catholics of Egypt (Rum Katuleek al Shawamm), an offshoot of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch. His father, Joseph Chalhoub, a precious woods merchant originally from Zahle in Lebanon who moved to Alexandria in the early 20th century, where Sharif was later born. His family moved to Cairo when he was four. His mother, Claire Saada originally from Lebanon, was a noted society hostess, and Egypt’s king Farouk was a regular visitor prior to his deposition in 1952.

In his youth, Chalhoub studied at Victoria College, Alexandria, where he showed an aptitude for languages. He later graduated from Cairo University with a degree in mathematics and physics. He worked for a while in his father’s business before studying acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. In 1955 he changed his birth name to Sharif and converted to Islam in order to marry fellow Egyptian actress Faten Hamama.

In 1954, Sharif began his acting career in Egypt with a role in The Blazing Sun. He was also in Shaytan Al-Sahra (“Devil of the Desert”). In the same year he appeared in Sira` Fi al-Wadi (“Struggle in the Valley”). He quickly rose to stardom, appearing in Our Beautiful Days (1955), The Lebanese Mission (1956) (a French film), Struggle in the Pier (1956), Sleepless (1957) (“La Anam]”), Land of Peace (1957), Goha (1958) (a Tunisian film that marked the debut of Claudia Cardinale), Struggle on the Nile (1958), Lady of the Palace (1960), A Beginning and an End (1960), A Rumor of Love (1960), Sayyidat al-Qasr, the Anna Karenina adaptation Nahr el hub (“The River of Love”) in 1961, and There is a Man in our House (1961). He and his wife co-starred in several movies as romantic leads.

Sharif’s first English-language role was that of (the fictitious) Sherif Ali in David Lean’s historical epic Lawrence of Arabia in 1962. Sharif got the role when Dilip Kumar turned it down, Horst Buchholz was unavailable and Maurice Ronet could not use the contact lenses necessary to disguise his eyes. For me, Sharif is an absolute standout in a film about Arabs that has almost no Arabs in leading roles. There is a lot of blather talked about how Lean insisted on using “ethnic” actors when possible to make the film “authentic” yet we end up with Alec “Obi Wan Kenobi” Guinness as Prince Feisal and Anthony “Guns of Navarone” Quinn as Auda Abu Tayi. Spare me.

Sharif’s ethnicity was ambiguous to Westerners, and, as he noted, his accent enabled him to “play the role of a foreigner without anyone knowing exactly where I came from.” Lawrence was a box office and critical sensation, and Sharif’s performance earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture, as well as a shared Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actor. Sharif went into another Hollywood blockbuster, Samuel Bronston’s The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) where he played the support role of Sohaemus of Armenia.

Sharif was third billed in Columbia’s Behold a Pale Horse (1964), playing a priest in the Spanish Civil War alongside Gregory Peck and Anthony Quinn. Director Fred Zinnemann said he chose Sharif partly on the suggestion of David Lean. “He said he was an absolutely marvelous actor, ‘If you possibly can, take a look at him.'” Film historian Richard Schickel wrote that Sharif gave a “truly wonderful performance”, especially noteworthy because of his totally different roles in Lawrence of Arabia: “It is hard to believe that the priest and the sheik are played by the same man.” The film, like Fall of the Roman Empire, was a commercial disappointment.

Sharif had his first lead role in a Hollywood movie when he was cast in the title part of Genghis Khan (1965) and a support role in a French Marco Polo biopic, Marco the Magnificent (1965), starring his constant film mate Anthony Quinn. While making Genghis Khan Sharif heard Lean was making an epic love story Doctor Zhivago (1965), an adaptation of Boris Pasternak’s 1957 novel. Sharif was a fan of the novel and pitched himself for one of the support roles; Lean decided to cast him in the lead, as Yuri Zhivago, a poet and physician. The film was a huge hit. For his performance, Sharif won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama.

Sharif followed it with a cameo in The Poppy Is Also a Flower (1966). He, O’Toole and Lawrence producer Sam Spiegel were reunited in The Night of the Generals (1967), playing a German officer in World War Two, his fourth movie for Columbia. The film was not a success. Neither was the Italian-French fairytale More Than a Miracle (1967), despite co-starring Sophia Loren. Sharif was also praised for his portrayal of Nicky Arnstein in Funny Girl (1968), at Columbia. He portrayed the husband of Fanny Brice, played by Barbra Streisand in her first film role. His decision to work alongside Streisand angered Egypt’s government because she was Jewish, and the country condemned the film. It was also banned in numerous Arab nations. Streisand herself responded, “You think Cairo was upset? You should’ve seen the letter I got from my Aunt Rose!” Sharif and Streisand became romantically involved during the filming. He admitted later that he did not find Streisand attractive at first, but her appeal soon overwhelmed him: “About a week from the moment I met her” he recalled, “I was madly in love with her. I thought she was the most gorgeous girl I’d ever seen in my life.”

Sharif subsequently appeared in a great number of duds. Sharif later said, “What killed my career was appearing in a succession of films you wouldn’t turn down. They were by good directors, but they were bad films.” He specifically referenced Behold a Pale Horse, The Appointment and The Horseman. The Burglars (1971), a French crime film with Jean-Paul Belmondo and Dyan Cannon was a huge hit in France but little seen in the English speaking world.

Later he said, “I lost money on gambling, buying horses, things like that. So I made those movies which I knew were rubbish… I’d call my agent and tell him to accept any part, just to bail myself out.” He had his first decent role in a big Hollywood film in a long time with The 13th Warrior (1999). The outcome of the film’s production disappointed Sharif so much that he temporarily retired from film acting, not taking a role in another major film until 2003’s Monsieur Ibrahim:

I said to myself, ‘Let us stop this nonsense, these meal tickets that we do because it pays well.’ I thought, ‘Unless I find a stupendous film that I love and that makes me want to leave home to do, I will stop.’ Bad pictures are very humiliating, I was really sick. It is terrifying to have to do the dialogue from bad scripts, to face a director who does not know what he is doing, in a film so bad that it is not even worth exploring.

Sharif said of the film:

It has nice big chunks of dialogue, which is what I like to do, rather than riding horses or camels. I’d turned down everything and stopped working for four years. I said, ‘I’m going to stop doing that rubbish and keep some dignity.’ But when I read the script for ‘Monsieur Ibrahim,’ I phoned the producers immediately. I said, ‘Hang on, I’m coming, wait for me.’ My problem is finding parts. When you’re young and successful, they write or adapt parts for you. But when you’re an old chap, let’s be frank, you don’t sell tickets anymore. If they need an old Englishman, American or Italian, there are plenty of actors around. So what’s open for me? Old Arabs. And that’s what I play in this film.

In later life, Sharif lived mostly in Cairo with his family.  In addition to his son, he had two grandsons, Omar (born 1983 in Montreal) and Karim.[60] The younger Omar Sharif is also an actor. Sharif had a triple heart bypass in 1992 and suffered a mild heart attack in 1994. Until his bypass, Sharif smoked 100 cigarettes a day. He quit smoking after the operation. In May 2015 it was reported that Sharif was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. His son Tarek Sharif said that his father was becoming confused when remembering some of the biggest films of his career; he would mix up the names of his best-known films, Doctor Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia, often forgetting where they were filmed. On 10 July 2015, less than six months after his ex-wife’s death at the same age, Sharif died after suffering a heart attack at a hospital in Cairo.

Let’s have the great Egyptian dish, kushari (also koshari or koshary), in Arabic, كشرى‎, to celebrate Sharif. It’s a real hodge-podge of stuff from Italy, India, and Egypt, representing the complexity of Egypt’s history, and also Sharif’s own mixed screen persona. It’s a popular dish in Cairo, and decidedly comfort food. Essentially, you cook all of the components of the dish separately and then combine them to serve. Some cooks use chick peas instead of lentils.

Kushari

Ingredients

vegetable oil
2 cups uncooked white rice
3 cups water
salt
1 lb uncooked elbow macaroni
1 cup beluga lentils, soaked in water
5 onions, peeled and minced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
3 tbsp white vinegar
4 plum tomatoes, diced
½ cup tomato paste
freshly ground black pepper
2 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)

Instructions

Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the rice. Stir until the rice is coated with oil. Add 3 cups of water and salt to taste. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the rice is tender and the liquid has been absorbed (20 to 25 minutes). This technique of cooking rice takes practice.

Fill a large pot with lightly salted water and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Stir in the macaroni, and return to a boil. Cook the macaroni uncovered, stirring occasionally, until it is al dente. Drain well and keep warm.

Rinse the lentils in several changes of cold water, and, if you like, soak them for an hour. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a pot and stir in the lentils. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the lentils are tender.

Heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and sauté the onions gently in the oil, stirring often, until they are fully caramelized. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Remove the onions and garlic from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel-lined plate.

Place half of the onion mixture in a saucepan. Mix in the vinegar. Add the chopped tomatoes and tomato paste, black pepper, salt to taste, cumin, and cayenne. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer about 12 minutes.

Serve by placing a spoonful of rice, then macaroni, and then the lentils on serving plates. Sprinkle with some of the browned onions, then top with tomato sauce.

 

 

 Posted by at 2:30 pm
Apr 092018
 

On 9th April, 1557 Mikael Agricola (Michael Olaui), the “father of literary Finnish” died, and Elias Lönnrot, a collector of Finnish folklore was born on this date in 1802. Because of the coincidence, today is marked as Finnish Language Day. Michael Olaui or Mikkel Olofsson (Finnish: Mikael Olavinpoika) was born in Nyland (Uusimaa) in the village of Torsby in Pernå (Pernaja), Sweden (now Finland), around the year 1510. He was named after the patron saint of Pernå’s church. The exact date of his birth, like most details of his life, is unknown. His family was a quite wealthy peasant family according to the local bailiff’s accounting. He had three sisters, but their names are not known. His teachers apparently recognized his aptitude for languages and his rector, Bartholomeus, sent him to Viborg (Finnish: Viipuri; now Vyborg, Russia) for Latin school and some priestly training, where he attended the school of Erasmus. It is not known whether his first language was Finnish or Swedish. Pernå was mostly a Swedish-speaking district, but the language he used in his works indicates that he was a native speaker of Finnish. However, he mastered both languages like a native speaker and was possibly a bilingual child.

When Michael studied in Viborg he assumed the surname Agricola (“farmer”). Surnames based on one’s father’s status and occupation were common for first-generation scholars at the time. It was probably there that he first came in touch with the Reformation and Humanism. Viipuri castle was ruled by a German count, Johann, who had served the king of Sweden, Gustav Vasa. The count was a supporter of the Reformation, and they already held Lutheran services.

In 1528 Agricola followed his teacher to Turku (Åbo), then the center of the Finnish side of the Swedish realm and the capital of the bishopric. There Agricola became a scribe in bishop Martinus Skytte’s office. While in Turku Agricola met Martin Luther’s first Finnish student Petrus Särkilahti, who eagerly spread the idea of the Reformation. Särkilahti died in 1529, and it was up to Agricola to continue Särkilahti’s work. Agricola was ordained for the priesthood circa 1531. In 1536 the bishop of Turku sent Agricola to study in Wittenberg. He concentrated on the lectures of Philipp Melanchthon. He also studied under Luther. Agricola got recommendations to the Swedish king, Gustav Vasa, from both of the reformers. He sent two letters to Gustav, asking for a confirmation for a stipend. In 1537 he started translating the New Testament into Finnish, thus helping establish Finnish as a written language.

In 1539 Agricola returned to Turku and ended up as the rector of Turku Cathedral School. He did not like his job, calling his students “untamed animals.” At the time Gustav Vasa had confiscated the property of the church when he was consolidating his power, but he also drove the Reformation. In 1544 Agricola received an order from the crown to send several talented young men to Stockholm’s taxing offices. For some reason, Agricola did not obey until the order was sent again the next year, with a more menacing tone. This episode probably affected their relations negatively.

In 1546 Agricola lost his home and school in the Fire of Turku. On 22nd February 1548, Gustav Vasa ordered Agricola to retire from his position as rector. At this time Agricola was already married, but history knows his wife only by her name: Pirjo Olavintytär (Bridget, “daughter of Olavi”; Birgitta Olafsdotter, Brigida Olaui). His only son, Christian Agricola (Christianus Michaelis Agricola), was born 11th December 1550, and became the bishop of Tallinn in 1584.

When an old bishop died in 1554, Gustav Vasa had Agricola consecrated as the ordinarius of Turku parish – for all practical purposes Bishop of Turku and by extension the first Lutheran bishop for all Finland. Agricola was not a particularly strict or dedicated reformer, although he did remove the Canon of the Mass. In 1557 Agricola joined the delegation going to Russia and was in Moscow from 21st February to 24th March negotiating a peace treaty, the Treaty of Novgorod (1557). On 9th April he fell ill and died in Uusikirkko (now Polyane) village, part of the Kyrönniemi parish on the Karelian Isthmus. Agricola was buried inside Viipuri’s church, but the exact location of the grave is not known.

Elias Lönnrot (1802 – 1884) was a Finnish physician, philologist and collector of traditional Finnish oral poetry. He is best known for creating the Finnish national epic, Kalevala, (1835, enlarged 1849), from short ballads and lyric poems, gathered from the Finnish oral tradition during several expeditions in Finland, Russian Karelia, the Kola Peninsula and Baltic countries. Lönnrot was born in Sammatti, in the province of Uusimaa, Finland, which was then part of Sweden. He studied medicine at the Academy of Turku. The Great Fire of Turku (not to be confused with the 1548 Turku fire when Agricola lost his home !!), coincided with his first academic year. Because the university was destroyed in the fire, it was moved to Helsinki, the newly established administrative center of the Grand Duchy and the present capital city of Finland. Lönnrot followed and graduated in 1832.

Lönnrot got a job as district doctor of Kajaani in Eastern Finland during a time of famine and pestilence in the district. The famine had prompted the previous doctor to resign, making it possible for a very young doctor to get such a position. Several consecutive years of crop failure resulted in losses of population and livestock. In addition, lack of a hospital further complicated Lönnrot’s work. He was the sole doctor for 4,000 or so people, most of whom lived in small rural communities scattered across the district. As physicians and novel drugs were expensive at the time, most people relied on their village healers and locally available remedies. Lönnrot himself was keen on traditional remedies and also administered them. However, he believed strongly that preventive measures such as good hygiene, breastfeeding babies, and vaccines were the most effective measures for most of his patients.

His true passion lay in his native Finnish language. He began writing about the early Finnish language in 1827 and began collecting folk tales from rural people about that time. In 1831, the Finnish Literature Society was founded, and Lönnrot, being one of the founder members, received financial support from the society for his collecting efforts. Lönnrot went on extended leaves of absence from his doctor’s office; he toured the countryside of Finland, Sapmi (Lapland), and nearby portions of Russian Karelia. This led to a series of books: Kantele, 1829–1831 (the kantele is a Finnish traditional instrument); Kalevala, 1835–1836 (the “old” Kalevala); Kanteletar, 1840; Sananlaskuja, 1842 (Proverbs); an expanded second edition of Kalevala, 1849 (the “new” Kalevala). Lönnrot was recognized for his part in preserving Finland’s oral traditions by appointment to the Chair of Finnish Literature at the University of Helsinki in 1853.

He also undertook the task of compiling the first Finnish-Swedish dictionary (Finsk-Svenskt lexikon, 1866–1880). The result comprised over 200,000 entries, and many of the Finnish translations were coined by Lönnrot himself. His vast knowledge of traditional Finnish poetry made him an authority in Finland and many of his inventions have stuck. Finnish scientific terminology was particularly influenced by Lönnrot’s work and therefore many abstract terms that have a Latin or Greek etymology in mainstream European languages appear as native neologisms in Finnish. Examples from linguistics and medicine include kielioppi (grammar), kirjallisuus (literature), laskimo (vein) and valtimo (artery).

Botanists remember him for writing the first Finnish-language Flora Fennica – Suomen Kasvisto in 1860; in its day it was famed throughout Scandinavia, as it was among the very first common-language scientific texts. The second, expanded version was co-authored by Th. Saelan and published in 1866. The Flora Fennica was the first scientific work published in Finnish (rather than Latin). In addition, Lönnrot’s Flora Fennica includes many notes on plant uses in between his descriptions of flowers and leaves.

I have chosen the Finnish dish kalakukko for today’s celebratory recipe. I have given some Finnish dishes before, and they are all a bit basic. Get behind the inscrutable Finnish name, and you have something quite ordinary found across Europe: Kaalikääryleet (stuffed cabbage), Hernekeitto (split pea soup), Perunamuusi (mashed potatoes). Of course these dishes have local twists, and local ingredients make a difference. Kalakukko is sort of a pie, sort of a stuffed bread, sort of a pasty. It is fish, pork belly, and sometimes vegetables, wrapped in a rye bread dough and baked. Here’s a video (in Finnish) to give you the idea, and then I will give a recipe.

Kalakukko

Ingredients

Filling

2 lb small fish, cleaned and gutted (heads on or off as you choose)
1 ½ lbs belly pork, sliced like bacon
salt
1 tsp allspice

Dough

2 ½ cups tepid water (approx.)
3 ¼ cups rye flour
1 ¾ cups whole-wheat flour
4 tsp salt
½ oz active dry yeast

Instructions

Sift the flours and salt together into a mixing bowl.

Put the yeast in the water in a cup and stir.

When the yeast is fully dissolved, make a thick dough by pouring water into the dough and mixing well. The ratio of flour to water depends on the nature of the flours. This ratio of 1:2 by volume works well in Finland with Finnish flours. Where flours contain more gluten you should use slightly less water.

Set aside about 4 tablespoons of dough to be used later. Roll out the remaining dough into a circular shape about ¾ inch thick.

Assemble the meats on the dough. Use the video as a guide. Cover the inner half of the dough circle with half of the pork (the pork should cover a circle whose diameter is half the diameter of the rolled dough). Then put all of the fish over top of the pork, and add allspice and extra salt if you are using them. Finish with the second half of the pork.

Preheat the oven to 500˚F/260˚C.

Lift the edges of the dough all around the filling and glue together with a little water so that you have the filling surrounded from all directions with about ¾ inch-thick dough. Put upside down (the seam downwards) on a baking sheet and let it rise about half an hour at room temperature.

Put the kalakukko in a 500˚F oven for long enough to brown the dough, which will seal it against moisture. Then lower the temperature to about 250˚F/130˚C and let it bake for about 4 hours, or longer depending on the size of the fish (bigger fish need more cooking time). You can brush some melted butter over the top of the dough just after lowering the temperature. This will give it a prettier (browner) appearance. If it starts to leak while baking, fill holes with the dough which was set aside. In the video they wrap the kalakukko in foil for the second baking, which prevents leakage.

Cut a lid in the top to scoop out the filling, and serve accompanied by the bread casing. This dish may be eaten hot or cold.

 

Apr 082018
 

Today is the birthday (1859) of Edmund Gustav Albrecht Husserl, a Moravian philosopher who established the school of phenomenology. In his early work, he developed critiques of logic, and in his mature work, he sought to develop a systematic foundational science based on what he called phenomenological reduction, and argued thatg that transcendental consciousness sets the limits of all possible knowledge. Husserl’s thought profoundly influenced the landscape of 20th-century philosophy, and he remains a notable figure in contemporary philosophy and beyond.

I could get into some pretty deep waters here, but I will spare you too much philosophizing. Maybe you are like most people who don’t like to think too much about meaning, consciousness, and that sort of thing. You just like to get on with your life and let crazies, like me, worry about whether 2 or blue really exist. That’s fine. For me, trying to think as deeply as I can about all kinds of things is what makes me happy. I also like cooking and taking photos. There is room for it all. The fundamental point for me, that Husserl helps me with, is that what we can see and what we can think of is not all there is. I expect most people know this at some level. Great scientists of the past were often religious – sometimes deeply so – because they realized that science can only get you so far in uncovering what exists. Logic too. There is more to the world than our perceptions or our thinking can reveal. Buddhists know this. Christian mystics do too. So did alchemists, Sufis, fakirs etc. Failing to grasp this simple fact shows a lack of imagination, in my oh-so-humble opinion. Husserl profoundly probed the limits of what we can know and how we can know it. Just because there are things that are impossible to know, does not mean that they are not real. I am not going to do more than skate lightly over the surface of Husserl’s thinking. First, some background.

Husserl was born in 1859 in Proßnitz, a town in the Margraviate of Moravia, which was then in the Austrian Empire, and which today is Prostějov in the Czech Republic. He was born into a Jewish family, the second of four children. His father was a milliner. His childhood was spent in Proßnitz, where he attended the secular elementary school. Then Husserl traveled to Vienna to study at the Realgymnasium, followed next by the Staatsgymnasium in Olomouc.

Husserl then studied mathematics, physics, and astronomy at the University of Leipzig from 1876 to 1878. At Leipzig he was inspired by philosophy lectures given by Wilhelm Wundt, one of the founders of modern psychology. Then he moved to the Frederick William University of Berlin (the present-day Humboldt University of Berlin) in 1878 where he continued his study of mathematics under Leopold Kronecker and Karl Weierstrass. In Berlin he found a mentor in Thomas Masaryk, a former philosophy student of Franz Brentano and later the first president of Czechoslovakia. There Husserl also attended Friedrich Paulsen’s philosophy lectures. In 1881 he left for the University of Vienna to complete his mathematics studies under the supervision of Leo Königsberger (a former student of Weierstrass). He received his Ph.D. in 1883 with the work Beiträge zur Variationsrechnung (“Contributions to the calculus of variations”).

As a result of his becoming familiar with the New Testament during his twenties, Husserl asked to be baptized into the Lutheran Church in 1886. Herbert Spiegelberg writes, “While outward religious practice never entered his life any more than it did that of most academic scholars of the time, his mind remained open for the religious phenomenon as for any other genuine experience.” Although a steadfast proponent of a radical and rational autonomy in all things, Husserl could also speak “about his vocation and even about his mission under God’s will to find new ways for philosophy and science,” according to Spiegelberg.

Following his Ph.D. in mathematics, Husserl returned to Berlin to work as the assistant to Karl Weierstrass, yet felt the desire to pursue philosophy. When Weierstrass became very ill, Husserl was freed to return to Vienna where, after serving a short military duty, he devoted his attention to philosophy. In 1884 at the University of Vienna he attended the lectures of Franz Brentano on philosophy and philosophical psychology. Brentano introduced him to the writings of Bernard Bolzano, Hermann Lotze, John Stuart Mill, and David Hume. Husserl was so impressed by Brentano that he decided to dedicate his life to philosophy. Two years later, in 1886, Husserl followed Carl Stumpf, a former student of Brentano, to the University of Halle, seeking to obtain his habilitation which would qualify him to teach at the university level. There, under Stumpf’s supervision, he wrote Über den Begriff der Zahl (On the Concept of Number) in 1887, which would serve later as the basis for his major work, Philosophie der Arithmetik (the Philosophy of Arithmetic) (1891).

Husserl’s thought was revolutionary in several ways, most notably in his distinction between “natural” and “phenomenological” modes of understanding. In the former, sense-perception when it corresponds with the material realm constitutes known reality, and understanding is premised on the accuracy of the perception and the objective knowability of what can be called the “real world.” Phenomenological understanding strives to be rigorously “presuppositionless” by means of what Husserl calls “phenomenological reduction.” This reduction is not conditioned but rather transcendental: in Husserl’s terms, pure consciousness of absolute Being. In Husserl’s work, consciousness of any given thing calls for discerning its meaning as an “intentional object.” Such an object does not simply strike the senses, to be interpreted or misinterpreted by mental reason; it has already been selected and grasped, grasping being an etymological connotation, of the Latin percipere, the root of “perceive.”

In Logical Investigations (1900/1901) and Experience and Judgment (1939), Husserl expressed clearly the difference between meaning and object by talking about several different kinds of names for things. For example, there are names that have the role of properties that uniquely identify an object. Each of these names expresses a meaning and designates the same object. Examples of this are “the victor at the battle of Jena” and “the loser at the battle of Waterloo,” or “the equilateral triangle” and “the equiangular triangle.”  In both cases, both names express different meanings, but designate the same object. A classic linguistic puzzle arises from the fact that what used to be called the morning star and the evening star – two different names, with two different meanings – refer to the same object: the planet Venus. There are names which have no meaning, but have the role of designating an object: “Aristotle,” “Socrates,” and so on. Finally, there are names which designate a variety of objects (e.g. table, chair, rock). These are called “universal names.” Their meaning is a “concept” and refers to a series of objects (the extension of the concept). The way we know perceivable (sensible) objects he called “sensible intuition.”

Husserl also identifies a series of “formal words” which are necessary to form sentences and have no sensible correlates, such as, “a”, “the”, “and”, “however”, “under”, “two”, “group”, and so on. Every sentence must contain formal words to designate what Husserl calls “formal categories.” There are two kinds of categories: meaning categories and formal-ontological categories. Meaning categories concern judgments; they include forms of conjunction, disjunction, forms of plural, among others. Formal-ontological categories concern objects and include notions such as set, cardinal number, ordinal number, part and whole, relation, and so on. The way we know these categories is through a faculty of understanding called “categorial intuition.”

I’ll leave it at that. If you know any philosophy, chances are you know this stuff already, and if you don’t know it, chances are that you don’t care. I get fixated on these ways of thinking because my garbage mind wants to pull together disparate ways of thinking into one vision. Probably hubristic of me. If you want to view the world through one lens only, I wish you all the best. I don’t. When I see a star, I want to think of it in terms of physics, theology, art, philosophy, psychology, astrology etc. All these avenues teach me something, and they can all come together if we allow them to. It is conceivable to me that a grand synthesis of ideas is within our grasp, but we have to work in that direction. Why do you think I write this blog which combines everything under the sun?

Česnečka is a well-known garlic soup from Husserl’s Moravia, now found widely throughout the region. It always involves heavy use of garlic in broth with potatoes, and can be spiced with caraway, marjoram or cumin. You can also add a local cheese, Olomoucké tvarůžky. It is a ripened soft cheese with very low fat content, pungent taste and strong odor. Dishes containing this cheese can usually be recognized by the word Loštické in their names, such as Loštická česnečka. You’ll need some breath mints afterwards. A mouth smelling of garlic soup and Moravian cheese will fell an ox.

Česnečka

Ingredients:

1 head garlic, peeled and minced
1 cup diced white onion
2 cups peeled and chopped potato
2 tbsp butter
4 cups broth (beef or chicken)
3 tbsp fresh marjoram leaves
2 bay leaves
salt
fried bread croutons
Moravian cheese (optional)

Instructions

Melt the butter over medium heat in a heavy saucepan and add the potatoes. Stir the potatoes often and let them turn color slightly. Then add the onions and cook until translucent. Add the garlic and stir well, so that all the ingredients are mixed well. Add the broth, marjoram and bay leaves, and season with salt to taste. Bring to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are as soft as you like them.

Serve in deep bowls with croutons on top, and some grated cheese if you prefer.

Some cooks use an immersion blender on the soup before adding the croutons and cheese to make a smoother dish.

 

 

Apr 072018
 

Today is the birthday (1506) of Francis Xavier, S.J. (born Francisco de Jasso y Azpilicueta) co-founder of the Society of Jesus, companion of Saint Ignatius of Loyola and one of the first seven Jesuits who took vows of poverty and chastity at Montmartre, Paris in 1534. He led an extensive mission into Asia, mainly in the Portuguese empire of the time, and was influential in Christian evangelizing, most notably in India.

Xavier was born in the royal castle of Xavier, in the kingdom of Navarre. He was the youngest son of Juan de Jasso y Atondo, seneschal of Xavier castle, who came from a prosperous farming family and had received a doctorate in law at the University of Bologna, and later became privy counsellor and finance minister to King John III of Navarre (Jean d’Albret). Francis’s mother was Doña María de Azpilcueta y Aznárez, sole heiress of two noble Navarrese families. He was thus related to the great theologian and philosopher Martín de Azpilcueta.

In 1512, Ferdinand, king of Aragon and regent of Castile, invaded Navarre, initiating a war that lasted over 18 years. Three years later, Francis’ father died when Francis was only 9 years old. In 1516, Francis’ brothers participated in a failed Navarrese-French attempt to expel the Spanish invaders from the kingdom. The Spanish governor, cardinal Cisneros, confiscated the family lands, demolished the outer wall, the gates, and two towers of the family castle, and filled in the moat. In addition, the height of the keep was reduced by half. Only the family residence inside the castle was left. In 1525, Francis went to study in Paris at the Collège Sainte-Barbe, University of Paris, where he spent the next 11 years. In the early days he acquired some reputation as an athlete.

In 1529, Francis shared lodgings with his friend Pierre Favre. A new student, Ignatius of Loyola, came to room with them. At 38, Ignatius was much older than Pierre and Francis, who were both 23 at the time. Ignatius convinced Pierre to become a priest, but was unable convince Francis, who had aspirations of worldly advancement. At first Francis regarded the new lodger as a joke and was sarcastic about his efforts to convert students.  When Pierre left their lodgings to visit his family and Ignatius was alone with Francis, he was able to slowly break down Francis’ resistance. In 1530 Francis received the degree of Master of Arts, and afterwards taught Aristotelian philosophy at Beauvais College, University of Paris.

On 15 August 1534, seven students met in a crypt beneath the Church of Saint Denis (now Saint Pierre de Montmartre), in Montmartre outside Paris. They were Francis, Ignatius of Loyola, Alfonso Salmeron, Diego Laínez, Nicolás Bobadilla from Spain, Peter Faber from Savoy, and Simão Rodrigues from Portugal. They made private vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience to the Pope, and also vowed to go to the Holy Land to convert Muslims. Francis began his study of theology in 1534 and was ordained on 24th June 1537. In 1539, after long discussions, Ignatius drew up a formula for a new religious order, the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits).  Ignatius’ plan for the order was approved by Pope Paul III in 1540.

In 1540 king John III of Portugal had Pedro Mascarenhas, Portuguese ambassador to the Vatican, request Jesuit missionaries to spread the faith in his new Indian possessions, where the king believed that Christian values were eroding among the Portuguese. After successive appeals to the Pope asking for missionaries for the East Indies under the Padroado agreement, John III was encouraged by Diogo de Gouveia, rector of the Collège Sainte-Barbe, to recruit the newly graduated students who had established the Society of Jesus. Loyola promptly appointed Nicholas Bobadilla and Simão Rodrigues. At the last moment, however, Bobadilla became seriously ill. With some hesitance and uneasiness, Ignatius asked Francis to go in Bobadilla’s place. Thus, Xavier accidentally began his life as the first Jesuit missionary. Leaving Rome on 15th March 1540, in the Ambassador’s train, Francis took with him a breviary, a catechism, and De Institutione bene vivendi by Croatian humanist Marko Marulić, a Latin book that had become popular in the Counter-Reformation. According to a 1549 letter of F. Balthasar Gago in Goa, it was the only book that Francis read or studied. Francis reached Lisbon in June 1540 and four days after his arrival, he and Rodrigues were summoned to a private audience with the king and queen.

Xavier devoted much of his life to missions in Asia, mainly in four centers: Malacca, Amboina and Ternate, Japan, and China. His growing information about new places indicated to him that he should go to what he understood were centers of influence for the whole region. China loomed large from his days in India. Japan was particularly attractive because of its culture. For him, these areas were interconnected and could not be evangelized separately.

Xavier left Lisbon on 7th April 1541, his 35th birthday, along with two other Jesuits and the new viceroy Martim Afonso de Sousa, on board the Santiago. As he departed, he was given a brief from the pope appointing him apostolic nuncio to the East. From August until March 1542 he remained in Portuguese Mozambique, and arrived in Goa, then capital of Portuguese India on 6th May 1542. Following quickly on the great voyages of discovery, the Portuguese had established themselves at Goa 30 years earlier. Francis primary mission, as ordered by John III, was to restore Christianity among the Portuguese settlers. According to Teotonio R. DeSouza, recent critical accounts indicate that apart from the posted civil servants, “the great majority of those who were dispatched as ‘discoverers’ were the riff-raff of Portuguese society, picked up from Portuguese jails.” Nor did the soldiers, sailors, or merchants come to do missionary work, and Imperial policy permitted the outflow of disaffected nobility. Many of the arrivals formed liaisons with local women and adopted Indian culture. Missionaries often wrote against the “scandalous and undisciplined” behavior of their fellow Christians.

The Christian population had churches, clergy, and a bishop, but there were few preachers and no priests beyond the walls of Goa. Xavier decided that he must begin by instructing the Portuguese themselves, and gave much of his time to the teaching of children. The first five months he spent in preaching and ministering to the sick in the hospitals. After that, he walked through the streets ringing a bell to summon the children and servants to catechism. He was invited to head Saint Paul’s College, a pioneer seminary for the education of secular priests, which became the first Jesuit headquarters in Asia.

Xavier soon learned that along the Pearl Fishery Coast, which extends from Cape Comorin on the southern tip of India to the island of Mannar, off Ceylon (Sri Lanka), there was a group of clans called Paravas. Many of them had been baptized ten years before, merely to please the Portuguese, who had helped them against the Moors, but remained uninstructed in the faith. Accompanied by several native clerics from the seminary at Goa, he set sail for Cape Comorin in October 1542. He taught those who had already been baptized and preached to those who weren’t. His efforts with the high-caste Brahmins were unavailing.

He devoted almost 3 years to the work of preaching to the people of southern India and Ceylon, converting many. He built nearly 40 churches along the coast, including St. Stephen’s Church, Kombuthurai, mentioned in his letters dated 1544. During this time, he was able to visit the tomb of Thomas the Apostle in Mylapore (now part of Madras (Chennai) then in Portuguese India). He set his sights eastward in 1545 and planned a missionary journey to Makassar on the island of Celebes (in today’s Indonesia). As the first Jesuit in India, Francis had difficulty achieving much success in his missionary trips. His successors, such as de Nobili, Matteo Ricci, and Beschi, attempted to convert the noblemen first as a means to influence more people, while Xavier had initially interacted most with the lower classes (later though, in Japan, he changed tack by paying tribute to the Emperor and seeking an audience with him).

In the spring of 1545 Xavier started for Portuguese Malacca. He labored there for the last months of that year. About January 1546, he left Malacca for the Maluku Islands, where the Portuguese had some settlements. For a year and a half he preached the Gospel there. He went first to Ambon Island, where he stayed until mid-June. He then visited other Maluku Islands, including Ternate, Baranura, and Morotai. Shortly after Easter 1547, he returned to Ambon Island; a few months later he returned to Malacca.

In Malacca in December 1547, Xavier met a Japanese man named Anjirō. Anjirō had heard of Francis in 1545 and had travelled from Kagoshima to Malacca to meet him. Having been charged with murder, Anjirō had fled Japan. He told Francis extensively about his former life and the customs and culture of his homeland. Anjirō became the first Japanese Christian and adopted the name of ‘Paulo de Santa Fe’. He later helped Xavier as a mediator and interpreter for the mission to Japan that now seemed much more possible. In January 1548 Francis returned to Goa to attend to his responsibilities as superior of the mission there. The next 15 months were occupied with various journeys and administrative measures. He left Goa on 15 April 1549, stopped at Malacca, and visited Canton. He was accompanied by Anjiro, two other Japanese men, father Cosme de Torrès, and brother João Fernandes. He had taken with him presents for the “King of Japan” since he was intending to introduce himself as the Apostolic Nuncio.

Europeans had already come to Japan: the Portuguese had landed in 1543 on the island of Tanegashima, where they introduced the first firearms to Japan. From Amboina, he wrote to his companions in Europe: “I asked a Portuguese merchant, … who had been for many days in Anjirō’s country of Japan, to give me … some information on that land and its people from what he had seen and heard …. All the Portuguese merchants coming from Japan tell me that if I go there I shall do great service for God our Lord, more than with the pagans of India, for they are a very reasonable people.”

Xavier reached Japan on 27th July 1549, with Anjiro and three other Jesuits, but he was not permitted to enter any port his ship arrived at until 15 August, when he went ashore at Kagoshima, the principal port of Satsuma Province on the island of Kyūshū. As a representative of the Portuguese king, he was received in a friendly manner. Shimazu Takahisa (1514–1571), daimyō of Satsuma, gave a friendly reception to Francis on 29th September 1549, but in the following year he forbade the conversion of his subjects to Christianity under penalty of death. Christians in Kagoshima could not be given any catechism in the following years.

He was hosted by Anjirō’s family until October 1550. From October to December 1550, he resided in Yamaguchi. Shortly before Christmas, he left for Kyoto but failed to meet with the Emperor. He returned to Yamaguchi in March 1551, where he was permitted to preach by the daimyo of the province. However, lacking fluency in the Japanese language, he had to limit himself to reading aloud the translation of a catechism. Francis was the first Jesuit to go to Japan as a missionary. He brought with him paintings of the Madonna and the Madonna and Child. These paintings were used to help teach the Japanese about Christianity. There was a huge language barrier as Japanese was unlike other languages the missionaries had previously encountered. For a long time Francis struggled to learn the language.

Having learned that evangelical poverty did not have the appeal in Japan that it had in Europe and in India, he decided to change his approach. Hearing after a time that a Portuguese ship had arrived at a port in the province of Bungo in Kyushu and that the prince there would like to see him, Xavier now set out southward. The Jesuit, in a fine cassock, surplice, and stole, was attended by thirty gentlemen and as many servants, all in their best clothes. Five of them bore valuable articles on cushions, including a portrait of Our Lady and a pair of velvet slippers, these not gifts for the prince, but solemn offerings to Xavier, to impress the onlookers with his eminence. Handsomely dressed, with his companions acting as attendants, he presented himself before Oshindono, the ruler of Nagate, and as a representative of the great kingdom of Portugal offered him the letters and presents, a musical instrument, a watch, and other attractive objects which had been given him by the authorities in India for the emperor.

For 45 years the Jesuits were the only missionaries in Asia, but the Franciscans also began proselytising in Asia as well. Christian missionaries were later forced into exile, along with their assistants. Some were able to stay behind, however Christianity was then kept underground so as to not be persecuted. The Japanese people were not easily converted. Many of the people were Buddhist or Shinto, and did not find concepts such as Purgatory and Hell appealing, especially since Catholic faith confined their dead ancestors to Hell.

Xavier was welcomed by the Shingon monks since he used the word Dainichi for the Christian God, attempting to adapt the concept to local traditions. As Xavier learned more about the religious nuances of the word, he changed to Deusu from the Latin and Portuguese Deus. The monks later realized that Xavier was preaching a rival religion and grew more aggressive towards his attempts at conversion. With the passage of time, his sojourn in Japan could be considered somewhat fruitful in that he established churches in Hirado, Yamaguchi, and Bungo. Xavier worked for more than two years in Japan and saw his successor-Jesuits established. He then decided to return to India. Historians debate the exact path he returned by, but from evidence attributed to the captain of his ship, he may have travelled through Tanegeshima and Minato, and avoided Kagoshima because of the hostility of the daimyo.]During his trip, a tempest forced him to stop on an island near Guangzhou, China where he met Diogo Pereira, a rich merchant and an old friend from Cochin. Pereira showed him a letter from Portuguese prisoners in Guangzhou, asking for a Portuguese ambassador to speak to the Chinese Emperor on their behalf. Later during the voyage, he stopped at Malacca on 27th December 1551, and was back in Goa by January 1552.

On 17th April he set sail with Diogo Pereira on the Santa Cruz for China. He planned to introduce himself as Apostolic Nuncio and Pereira as ambassador of the king of Portugal. But then he realized that he had forgotten his testimonial letters as an Apostolic Nuncio. Back in Malacca, he was confronted by the capitão Álvaro de Ataíde da Gama who now had total control over the harbor. The capitão refused to recognize his title of Nuncio, asked Pereira to resign from his title of ambassador, named a new crew for the ship, and demanded the gifts for the Chinese Emperor be left in Malacca. In late August 1552, the Santa Cruz reached the Chinese island of Shangchuan, 14 km away from the southern coast of mainland China, near Taishan, Guangdong, 200 km south-west of what later became Hong Kong. At this time, he was accompanied only by a Jesuit student, Álvaro Ferreira, a Chinese man called António, and a Malabar servant called Christopher. Around mid-November he sent a letter saying that a man had agreed to take him to the mainland in exchange for a large sum of money. Having sent back Álvaro Ferreira, he remained alone with António. He died in Shangchuan from a fever on 3rd December 1552, while he was waiting for a boat that would take him to mainland China. His relics are preserved in a number of shrines in Asia.

It may seem odd for me as an ordained Christian minister to express my disapproval of Xavier’s, or any missionary’s work, and I could get in trouble for doing so with my superiors. But I am going to do it anyway. The Catholic Church (and others) used conversion to Christianity as one of many vehicles of colonial subjugation of conquered peoples. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the Americas. Asia, thank God (literally), was more resilient. Buddhist, Hindu, Shinto religions etc. were much more widespread than local religious traditions in other places, and were supported by rich and powerful rulers. These rulers knew quite well that stripping away centuries-old faiths that had been their own partners in control of the masses would weaken their control, and so they resisted mightily. I also disapprove because the foundation of Christianity is love, and if a Buddhist, Hindu, or Muslim preaches love in the name of a religion that is not named Christianity, it amounts to the same thing, and should be left alone.

For Xavier I have chosen the Navarrese dish, porrusalda (literally, “leek broth”) for several reasons. First, it would have been well known to Xavier. Second, in basic form it is a Lenten dish bespeaking humility and simplicity, as befits a Jesuit. Third, I love leeks. It is really a form of leek and potato soup, but with some twists. The leeks should be the dominant flavor, and many other things can be added besides potatoes. Nowadays, carrots are a usual addition, as was pumpkin at one time. You can also add salt cod or meat – as you desire. It’s all up to you as long as the leek flavor predominates.  It is traditional to use water as the cooking liquid, but you can also use vegetable stock.

Porrusalda

Ingredients

3 large leeks
400 gm peeled and diced potatoes
200 gm peeled and diced carrots
2 or 3 spring onions, sliced
olive oil
salt

Instructions

Sauté the onions and leeks in a little olive oil over medium heat in a heavy pot until they are soft. Add water (or broth) to cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and add the potatoes and carrots. Continue to simmer until the potatoes and carrots are cooked (another 15 minutes). Add more olive oil to taste and check the seasoning.

Some cooks mash the potatoes before serving to give the soup more body. You can also add a dollop of cream.

Apr 012018
 

Last year when I was celebrating moveable feasts on this blog I appear to have omitted Easter Sunday which is the prime moveable feast in Christianity on which most other moveable feasts hang. A serious omission for an ordained minister. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. I will rectify the omission now with some academic stuff about the name Easter and the history of celebration, followed by some thoughts on roast lamb.

The modern English term Easter, cognate with modern Dutch ooster and German Ostern, developed from an Old English word that usually appears in the form Ēastrun, -on, or -an; but also as Ēastru, -o; and Ēastre or Ēostre. The most widely accepted theory of the origin of the term is that it is derived from the name of an Old English goddess mentioned by the 7th to 8th-century English monk Bede, who wrote that Ēosturmōnaþ (Old English ‘Month of Ēostre’, translated in Bede’s time as “Paschal month”) was an English month, corresponding to April, which he says “was once called after a goddess of theirs named Ēostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month.”

In Latin and Greek, the Christian celebration was, and still is, called Pascha (Greek: Πάσχα), a word derived from Aramaic פסחא (Paskha), cognate to Hebrew פֶּסַח (Pesach). The word originally denoted the Jewish festival known in English as Passover because the crucifixion happened during that festival in Jerusalem. As early as the 50s of the 1st century, Paul, writing from Ephesus to the Christians in Corinth, applied the term to the crucifixion and resurrection, and it is unlikely that the Ephesian and Corinthian Christians were the first to hear Exodus 12 interpreted as speaking about the death of Jesus, not just about the Jewish Passover ritual. In most of the non-English speaking Christian world, the feast is known by names derived from Greek and Latin Pascha.

The Greek Bible asserts that the resurrection of Jesus is the foundation of Christian faith. According to the Greek Bible, first in Paul’s letters, Jesus gave the Passover meal a new meaning, as in the upper room during the Last Supper he prepared himself and his disciples for his death. He identified the unleavened bread and cup of wine associated with the meal as his body soon to be sacrificed and his blood soon to be shed, inaugurating Holy Communion. The events of the first Easter were probably the first written documents of the early Christian community, although they may have circulated orally for some time before they were codified in writing. The earliest full description is in Mark’s gospel, but snippets can be found in Paul’s letters that pre-date any extant gospel. Unfortunately, Paul was not an eyewitness to the crucifixion, but relied on the testimony of those who were – including the disciples. He knew Peter, James, and John well, and also spoke to dozens of people who were in Jerusalem at the time. None of the gospels was written by an eyewitness, and three of them were written a full generation or more after the first Easter. You can get my full analysis of the original written accounts in my book The Thinking Christian, which is available here: https://www.amazon.com/Thinking-Christian-Essays-Prod-Believer-ebook/dp/B01DGJ2OIM/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1522616044&sr=8-1&keywords=forrest+thinking+christian&dpID=51CpH0e0zJL&preST=_SY445_QL70_&dpSrc=srch

It is likely that Christians immediately after the first Easter continued to celebrate Passover (because they were Jewish), but did so in a way that celebrated Jesus’s death and resurrection. Direct evidence for a more fully formed Christian festival of Easter begins to appear in the mid-2nd century. Perhaps the earliest extant primary source referring to Easter is a Paschal homily attributed to Melito of Sardis (died c.180), which characterizes the celebration as a well-established one.

The ecclesiastical historian Socrates Scholasticus (c. 380 – 439) attributes the observance of Easter by the church to the perpetuation of a Jewish Christian custom at Passover, “just as many other customs have been established”, stating that neither Jesus nor his Apostles enjoined the keeping of this or any other festival. He describes the details of Easter celebrations as deriving from local customs, but says the feast itself is universally observed.

The First Council of Nicaea (325) established two rules, independence of the Jewish calendar and worldwide uniformity, which were the only rules for Easter explicitly laid down by the Council. No details for the computation were specified; these were worked out in practice, a process that took centuries and generated a number of controversies. In particular, the Council did not decree that Easter must fall on a Sunday, but this was already the practice almost everywhere. The rule of thumb is that Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the March equinox (customarily set at March 21st ). If I were to go into detail about how this rule was interpreted, I would be writing all year. It is sufficient to say that many calendar reforms, including the Gregorian calendar, came about in order to assess the dating of Easter. Orthodox and Western Christian Easter (Catholic and Protestant) are almost always on different days, and there is little opportunity for Passover and Easter to coincide, not least because Passover does not have to fall on a particular day of the week.

Sometimes scholars will note that the egg and the hare (not the rabbit) were considered special to the Anglo-Saxon goddess of Spring, Eostre or Ostara (who gives us the English word, Easter), and hence Easter eggs and the Easter bunny are syncretisms, much like the association of trees, mistletoe, and holly with Christmas. This is pure wishful speculation. Ēostre is attested solely by Bede in his 8th-century work The Reckoning of Time. At this point there is no way of knowing how eggs and bunnies got tied to Easter.

How lamb was fixed as a traditional Easter dinner is much more obvious, but a little strange theologically. The gospels not only connect the Last Supper with the Passover meal (with lamb as the centerpiece), but John quite expressly states the Jesus is the lamb of God, sacrificed for our sins, in the same way that Passover lambs were sacrificed for individuals’ sins. So, not only are you supposed to eat and drink the body and blood of Christ at Holy Communion, but on Easter Sunday you eat the lamb also (although this is a real lamb, not the mystical one). You can make of this what you will.

My family always had roast lamb on Easter Sunday, but in Australia this was nothing special because we ate roast lamb every Sunday. Lamb was cheap meat in those days, and a shoulder or leg for roasting was affordable. We ate roast chicken for special occasions, such as Christmas and birthdays. My mother would put on the roast with some potatoes before we went to church, and then have our Sunday dinner when we returned. I cannot ask her now but I suspect she roasted it at 325˚F for roughly 2 hours (10:30 am to 12:30 pm), which is overcooking by my current standards. In those days English cooks were not fond of roast meats showing any pinkness. Even nowadays, people not accustomed to cooking lamb, treat it like pork, assuming that it must be cooked all the way through to be healthy. This is rank nonsense. You don’t want to cook lamb as rare as roast beef, but, at minimum, the meat should be pink in the center. This way the whole roast is juicy; not dry as it is of cooked all the way through.

My method of roasting lamb is not very scientific, but I think my dinner guests will attest that it is always good. Begin with the roast – a whole leg is best – at room temperature. Make sure it is as dry as possible by wiping the outer membrane with a paper towel. Take several cloves of garlic, peel them, and slice them thinly. With a very sharp paring knife, make shallow slits in the outer membrane and slide a garlic slice into each one. The slits can be as numerous as you want, but I space mine around ½ to 1 inch apart. Then coat the lamb lightly with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle liberally with freshly ground black pepper. I heat my oven to at least 450˚F, or hotter if I can, and roast the leg for between 1 hour and 90 minutes depending on the size. The outer layer browns, and the garlic suffuses the meat.

When the meat is cooked I remove it from the oven, place it on a carving platter, cover it with a foil tent, and let it rest whilst I make the gravy. This step is essential to distribute the juices throughout the meat. I place the roasting pan directly on the stove over medium heat and add as much flour as there is pan juices. I stir the mix with a whisk until I have a roux, and then add a little stock. As the gravy thickens – which it does very quickly – I add more stock until I have the consistency I like. Then I add fresh rosemary, and let the whole pan simmer for about 10 minutes. For variety I sometimes add grated horseradish in place of the rosemary. (Horseradish is one of the bitter herbs of Passover).

For a complete Easter dinner I serve the roast leg whole and carve it at the table. For accompaniments there is the gravy and roast potatoes, which, cooked at that heat, become crisp and brown on the outside and soft on the inside. I usually also roast some whole onions, and maybe some leeks cut into 4 inch lengths, parsnips, and other root vegetables. In addition I have at least one green vegetable, preferably spinach.

A Happy Easter !!!

Mar 312018
 

Today is the birthday (1809) of Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol (Никола́й Васи́льевич Го́голь), [O.S. 19 March], a Russian writer of Ukrainian origin. Gogol was born in the Ukrainian Cossack village of Sorochyntsi, in Poltava Governorate of the Russian Empire, present-day Ukraine. His mother descended from Leonty Kosyarovsky, an officer of the Lubny Regiment in 1710. His father Vasily Gogol-Yanovsky, a descendant of Ukrainian Cossacks (see Lyzohub family) and who died when Gogol was 15 years old, belonged to the ‘petty gentry’, wrote poetry in Ukrainian and Russian, and was an amateur Ukrainian-language playwright. As was typical of the avant-garde Ukrainian gentry of the early 19th century, the family spoke Ukrainian as well as Russian. As a child, Gogol helped stage Ukrainian-language plays in his uncle’s home theater.

In 1820, Gogol went to a school of higher art in Nezhin (now Nizhyn Gogol State University) and remained there until 1828. It was there that he began writing. He was not popular among his schoolmates, who called him their “mysterious dwarf”, but with two or three of them he formed lasting friendships. He developed a dark and secretive disposition, marked by a painful self-consciousness yet with strong ambitions. He developed a talent for mimicry, which later made him a matchless reader of his own works and induced him to toy with the idea of becoming an actor.

In 1828, on leaving the university, Gogol went to Saint Petersburg, full of vague ambitious hopes. He had hoped for literary fame, and brought with him his Romantic poem of German idyllic life – Hans Küchelgarten. He had it published, at his own expense, under the name of “V. Alov.” The magazines he sent it to almost universally derided it. He bought all the copies and destroyed them, swearing never to write poetry again. Gogol met the literary elite, had a story published in Anton Delvig’s Northern Flowers, was taken up by Vasily Zhukovsky and Pyotr Pletnyov, and (in 1831) was introduced to Pushkin.

In 1831 Gogol brought out the first volume of his Ukrainian stories (Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka), which met with immediate success. He followed it in 1832 with a second volume, and in 1835 by two volumes of stories entitled Mirgorod, as well as by two volumes of miscellaneous prose entitled Arabesques. At this time Russian editors and critics such as Nikolai Polevoy and Nikolai Nadezhdin saw in Gogol the emergence of a Ukrainian, rather than Russian, writer, using his works to illustrate supposed differences between Russian and Ukrainian national characters. The themes and style of these early prose works by Gogol, as well as his later drama, were similar to the work of Ukrainian writers and dramatists who were his contemporaries and friends, including Hryhory Kvitka-Osnovyanenko and Vasily Narezhny. However, Gogol’s satire was much more sophisticated and unconventional.

At this time, Gogol developed a passion for Ukrainian history and tried to obtain an appointment at the history department at Kiev University. Despite the support of Pushkin and Sergey Uvarov, the Russian minister of education, his appointment was blocked by a Kyivan bureaucrat on the grounds that Gogol was unqualified.] His fictional story Taras Bulba, based on the history of Ukrainian cossacks, was the result of this phase in his interests. During this time he also developed a close and lifelong friendship with another Ukrainian, the historian and naturalist Mykhaylo Maksymovych.

In 1834 Gogol was made Professor of Medieval History at the University of St. Petersburg, a job for which he had no qualifications. He turned in a performance ludicrous enough to warrant satiric treatment in one of his own stories. After an introductory lecture made up of brilliant generalizations which the ‘historian’ had prudently prepared and memorized, he gave up all pretense at erudition and teaching, missed two lectures out of three, and when he did appear, muttered unintelligibly through his teeth. At the final oral examinations, he sat in utter silence with a black handkerchief wrapped around his head, simulating a toothache, while another professor examined the students. This academic venture was such a failure that he resigned his chair in 1835.

Between 1832 and 1836 Gogol worked with great energy, and though almost all his work has in one way or another its sources in these four years of contact with Pushkin, he had not yet decided that his ambitions were to be fulfilled by success in literature. During this time, the Russian critics Stepan Shevyrev and Vissarion Belinsky, contradicting earlier critics, reclassified Gogol from a Ukrainian to a Russian writer. It was only after the presentation at the Saint Petersburg State Theatre, on 19 April 1836, of his comedy The Government Inspector (Revizor) that he finally came to believe in his literary vocation. The comedy, a violent satire of Russian provincial bureaucracy, was staged thanks only to the intervention of the emperor, Nicholas I.

From 1836 to 1848 Gogol lived abroad, traveling through Germany and Switzerland. He spent the winter of 1836–37 in Paris, among Russian expatriates and Polish exiles, frequently meeting the Polish poets Adam Mickiewicz and Bohdan Zaleski. He eventually settled in Rome. For much of the 12 years from 1836 Gogol was in Italy developing an adoration for Rome. He studied art, read Italian literature and developed a passion for opera. He mingled with Russian and other visitors, and in 1838 met Count Joseph Vielhorskiy, the 23-year-old son of the official who had brought Gogol’s Government Inspector to the attention of the emperor. Vielhorsky was travelling in hopes of curing his tuberculosis. Gogol and Vielhorsky fell in love, a relationship which was soon severed as Vielhorsky died in 1839. Gogol left an account of this time in his Nights at the Villa: “if my death could restore him to health, with what readiness I would have rushed toward it!”

Pushkin’s death produced a strong impression on Gogol. His principal work during years following Pushkin’s death was the satirical epic Dead Souls. Concurrently, he worked at other tasks – recast Taras Bulba and The Portrait, completed his second comedy, Marriage (Zhenitba), wrote the fragment Rome and his most famous short story, “The Overcoat”. In 1841 the first part of Dead Souls was ready, and Gogol took it to Russia to supervise its printing. It appeared in Moscow in 1842, under the title, imposed by the censorship, of The Adventures of Chichikov. The book instantly established his reputation as one of the greatest prose writers in Russian.

After the triumph of Dead Souls, Gogol’s contemporaries came to regard him as a great satirist who lampooned the unseemly sides of Imperial Russia. They were not aware that Dead Souls was but the first part of a planned modern-day counterpart to Dante’s Divine Comedy. The first part represented the Inferno; the second part would depict the gradual purification and transformation of the rogue Chichikov under the influence of virtuous publicans and governors – Purgatory.

In April 1848 Gogol returned to Russia from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and passed his last years in wandering the country. While visiting cities he stayed with friends such as Mikhail Pogodin and Sergey Aksakov. During this period, he also spent some time with his old Ukrainian friends, Maksymovych and Osyp Bodiansky. He intensified his relationship with a starets (spiritual elder), Matvey Konstantinovsky, whom he had known for several years. Konstantinovsky seems to have strengthened in Gogol the fear of perdition by insisting on the sinfulness of all his imaginative work. Extensive and severe ascetic practices undermined his health and he fell into deep depression. On the night of 24th February 1852, he famously burned some of his manuscripts, which contained most of the second part of Dead Souls.

He later claimed this was a mistake, a practical joke played on him by the Devil. Soon thereafter, he took to bed, refused all food, and died in great pain nine days later (4th March).

Gogol was mourned in the Saint Tatiana church at the Moscow University before his burial and then buried at the Danilov Monastery. His grave was marked by a large stone (Golgotha), topped by a Russian Orthodox cross. In 1931, Moscow authorities decided to demolish the monastery and had Gogol’s remains transferred to the Novodevichy Cemetery. His body was discovered lying face down, which gave rise to the story that Gogol had been buried alive. The authorities moved the Golgotha stone to the new gravesite, but removed the cross; in 1952 the Soviets replaced the stone with a bust of Gogol. The stone was later reused for the tomb of Gogol’s admirer Mikhail Bulgakov. In 2009, in connection with the bicentennial of Gogol’s birth, the bust was moved to the museum at Novodevichy Cemetery, and the original Golgotha stone was returned, along with a copy of the original Orthodox cross.

Gogol is relatively easy to celebrate with specific dishes because his writings are filled with lush descriptions of food. He was also a joyous gourmet, despite the fact that he had habitual stomach ailments. In Italy, for example, he learned how to make Italian pasta dishes, which he often prepared for his friends. Pogodin recalls how Gogol’s spirits would rise whenever he had a chance to serve macaroni:

…right at dinner he would make the macaroni, not trusting anyone else to do it. He demanded a large bowl, and with the artistry of a true gastronome began to sort through the individual pieces of macaroni; he put into the steaming bowl some butter and grated cheese and mixed them together. Opening the lid, with an especially bright smile for everyone at the table he’d exclaim: “Now fight over this, people!”

When traveling, Gogol would sometimes buy fresh milk at the coach stops, skim off the cream, and churn his own butter. One of his favorite dishes was boiled goat’s milk mixed with rum, which he jokingly called gogol-mogol. Kogel mogel, gogl-mogl, gogel-mogel, gogol-mogol (Гоголь-моголь), gogli-mogli, or gogle-mogle is an egg-based homemade dessert popular in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as in Caucasus. The dish consists of raw egg yolks and sugar, beaten and ground until they form a creamy texture, with no discernible grains of sugar. In modern kitchens, it is often mixed in a blender until it changes color and becomes thick. A classic single Gogl-Mogl portion is made from two egg yolks and three teaspoons of sugar beaten into a cream-like dish. Variations can be made by adding chocolate, vodka, rum, honey, vanilla, lemon juice, orange juice, raisins, whipped cream, or a number of other ingredients based on taste preferences.

Then there is kulebiaka, or four-cornered pie. Here’s an excerpt from Gogol:

And bake us a four-cornered fish pie,” he said, sucking the air through his teeth and inhaling deeply. “In one corner I want you to put the sturgeon cheeks and the gristle cooked soft, in another throw in some buckwheat, and then some mushrooms and onions, and some sweet milt, and the brains, and whatever else, you know the sort of thing. And make sure that on the one side it’s, you know, a nice golden brown, but not so much on the other side. And the pastry, make sure it’s baked through, till it just crumbles away, so that the juices soak right through, do you see, so that you don’t even feel it in your mouth, so it just melts like snow.

Kulebiaka is a pie with four distinct fillings, distributed in such a way that a slice contains all four. Making it is a rigmarole, and I have never done it. Instead I give you this website which has complete instructions with a ton of photos showing the steps.

http://www.kitchenrussian.com/articles/view/127

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