Jun 222018
 

Today is the birthday (1805) of Giuseppe Mazzini who was a major force in the unification of Italy and spearhead of the Italian revolutionary movement. I (and Italians) think of him in the same breath with Cavour and Garibaldi, and, in my case, Garibaldi took a more prominent place for years, probably because he visited the town where I lived as a teen in England, and my local pub was named after him. So much for being a rational historian. Now I rank him much higher than Garibaldi and Cavour because he provided the intellectual underpinnings to the Risorgimento. When I lived in Italy I constantly asked my students whether the unification of Italy was “a good thing” or a “bad thing” (echoing 1066 And All That). They all believed it was “a good thing” even though culturally Italy is far from unified nowadays. Palermo and Milan, for example, are both Italian cities, but they could scarcely be more different from one another. The crucial point in favor of the Risorgimento in the 19th century was that before unification the various Italian states were constantly subject to domination by neighboring powers because they were too weak to resist. A strongly unified Italian nation could establish its own destiny. I have spoken repeatedly of the perils of nationalism (Mussolini, for example), but when you have to choose between national unity and fragmentation, national unity tends to have a majority of backers.

Mazzini was born in Genoa, then part of the Ligurian Republic, under the rule of the French Empire. From an early age Mazzini showed a precocious interest in politics and literature. He was admitted to university at 14, graduating in law in 1826, and initially practiced as a “poor man’s lawyer.” Mazzini also hoped to become a historical novelist or a dramatist, and in the same year wrote his first essay, Dell’amor patrio di Dante (“On Dante’s Patriotic Love”), published in 1837. In 1828–29 he collaborated with a Genoese newspaper, L’indicatore genovese, which was however soon closed by the Piedmontese authorities. He then became one of the leading authors of L’Indicatore Livornese until this paper was closed down by the authorities, too. In 1827 Mazzini travelled to Tuscany, where he became a member of the Carbonari, a secret association with a political agenda. On 31st October of that year he was arrested in Genoa and interned in Savona. In early 1831, he was released from prison, but confined to a small hamlet. He chose exile instead, moving to Geneva in Switzerland.

In 1831 Mazzini went to Marseille, where he became a popular figure among the Italian exiles. Mazzini organized a new political society called Young Italy. Young Italy was a secret society formed to promote Italian unification: “One, free, independent, republican nation.” Mazzini believed that a popular uprising would create a unified Italy, and would touch off a European-wide revolutionary movement. The group’s motto was “God and the People,” and its basic principle was the unification of the several states and kingdoms of the peninsula into a single republic as the only true foundation of Italian liberty. Mazzini’s political activism met with some success in Tuscany, Abruzzi, Sicily, Piedmont, and his native Liguria, especially among several military officers. Young Italy counted about 60,000 adherents in 1833, with branches in Genoa and other cities. In that year Mazzini first attempted insurrection, which he hoped would spread from Chambéry (then part of the Kingdom of Sardinia), Alessandria, Turin, and Genoa. However, the Savoy government discovered the plot before it could begin and many revolutionaries (including Vincenzo Gioberti) were arrested. The repression was ruthless: 12 participants were executed, while Mazzini’s best friend and director of the Genoese section of the Giovine Italia, Jacopo Ruffini, killed himself. Mazzini was tried in absentia and sentenced to death.

Despite this setback Mazzini organized another uprising for the following year. A group of Italian exiles were to enter Piedmont from Switzerland and spread the revolution there, while Giuseppe Garibaldi, who had recently joined Young Italy, was to do the same from Genoa. However, the Piedmontese troops easily crushed the new attempt. On 28th May 1834 Mazzini was arrested at Solothurn, and exiled from Switzerland. He moved to Paris, where he was again imprisoned on 5th July. He was released only after promising he would move to England. Mazzini, together with a few Italian friends, moved in January 1837 to live in London in very poor economic conditions.

On 30th April 1840 Mazzini reformed the Giovine Italia in London, and on 10 November of the same year he began issuing the Apostolato popolare (“Apostleship of the People”). A succession of failed attempts at promoting further uprisings in Sicily, Abruzzi, Tuscany, and Lombardy-Venetia discouraged Mazzini for a long period, which dragged on until 1840. His mother pushed Mazzini to create several organizations aimed at the unification or liberation of other nations, in the wake of Giovine Italia: “Young Germany”, “Young Poland”, and “Young Switzerland”, which were under the aegis of “Young Europe” (Giovine Europa). He also created an Italian school for poor people active from 10th November 1841 at 5 Greville Street in London. From London he also wrote an endless series of letters to his agents in Europe and South America, and made friends with Thomas Carlyle and his wife Jane. The “Young Europe” movement also inspired a group of young Turkish army cadets and students who, later in history, named themselves the “Young Turks”.

In 1843 he organized another riot in Bologna, which attracted the attention of two young officers of the Austrian Navy, Attilio and Emilio Bandiera. With Mazzini’s support, they landed near Cosenza (kingdom of Naples), but were arrested and executed. Mazzini accused the British government of having passed information about the expeditions to the Neapolitans, and a question was raised in the British Parliament. When it was admitted that his private letters had indeed been opened, and its contents revealed by the Foreign Office to the Austrian and Neapolitan governments, Mazzini gained popularity and support among the British liberals, who were outraged by such a blatant intrusion of the government into his private correspondence.

In 1847 he moved again to London, where he wrote a long “open letter” to Pope Pius IX, whose apparently liberal reforms had gained him a momentary status as a possible nexus of the unification of Italy. The pope, however, did not reply. By 8th March 1848 Mazzini was in Paris, where he launched a new political association, the Associazione Nazionale Italiana. On 7th April 1848 Mazzini arrived in Milan, whose population had rebelled against the Austrian garrison and established a provisional government. The First Italian War of Independence, started by the Piedmontese king Charles Albert to exploit the favorable circumstances in Milan, turned into a total failure. Mazzini, who had never been popular in the city because he wanted Lombardy to become a republic instead of joining Piedmont, abandoned Milan. He joined Garibaldi’s irregular force at Bergamo, moving to Switzerland with him.

On 9th February 1849 a republic was declared in Rome, with Pius IX already having been forced to flee to Gaeta the preceding November. On the same day the Republic was declared, Mazzini reached the city. He was appointed, together with Carlo Armellini and Aurelio Saffi, as a member of the “triumvirate” of the new republic on 29th March, soon becoming the real leader of the government and showing strong administrative capacity for social reforms. However, when the French troops called by the pope made clear that the resistance of the Republican troops, led by Garibaldi, was in vain, on 12th July 1849, Mazzini went to Marseille, and then to Switzerland.

Mazzini spent all of 1850 hiding from the Swiss police. In July he founded the association Amici di Italia (Friends of Italy) in London, to attract consensus towards the Italian liberation cause. Two failed riots in Mantua (1852) and Milan (1853) were a crippling blow for the Mazzinian organization, whose prestige never recovered. He later opposed the alliance signed by Savoy with Austria for the Crimean War. The expedition of Felice Orsini in Carrara of 1853–54 was also futile.

In 1856 Mazzini returned to Genoa to organize a series of uprisings: the only serious attempt was that of Carlo Pisacane in Calabria, which again met a dismal end. Mazzini managed to escape the police, but was condemned to death by default. From this moment on, Mazzini was more of a spectator than a protagonist of the Italian Risorgimento, whose reins were now strongly in the hands of the Savoyard monarch Victor Emmanuel II and his prime minister, Camillo Benso, Conte di Cavour. In 1858 Mazzini founded another journal in London, Pensiero e azione (“Thought and Action”). Also there, on 21st February 1859, together with 151 republicans he signed a manifesto against the alliance between Piedmont and the Emperor of France which resulted in the Second War of Italian Independence and the conquest of Lombardy. On 2 May 1860 he tried to reach Garibaldi, who was going to launch his famous Expedition of the Thousand in southern Italy. In the same year he released “Doveri dell’uomo” (“Duties of Man”), a synthesis of his moral, political and social thoughts. In mid-September he was in Naples, then under Garibaldi’s dictatorship, but was invited by the local vice-dictator Giorgio Pallavicino to move away.

The new kingdom of Italy was created in 1861 under the Savoy monarchy. In 1862, Mazzini joined Garibaldi in his failed attempt to free Rome. In 1866, Italy joined the Austro-Prussian War and gained Venetia. At this time Mazzini frequently spoke out against how the unification of his country was being achieved, and in 1867 he refused a seat in the Italian Chamber of Deputies. In 1870, he tried to start a rebellion in Sicily, and was arrested and imprisoned in Gaeta. He was freed in October, in the amnesty declared after the kingdom finally took Rome. He returned to London in mid-December.

Mazzini died of pleurisy at the house known now as Domus Mazziniana in Pisa in 1872, at the age of 67. His body was embalmed by Paolo Gorini. His funeral was held in Genoa, with 100,000 people in attendance.

Mazzini rejected the Marxist doctrines of class struggle and dialectical materialism, and stressed the need for class collaboration, making him an enemy of both communism and capitalism. Mazzini also rejected the classical liberal principles of the Enlightenment based on the doctrine of individualism, which he criticized as “presupposing either metaphysical materialism or political atheism.” In fact, Mazzini’s thought was characterized by a strong religious fervor and deep sense of spirituality. Mazzini described himself as a Christian and emphasized the necessity of faith and a relationship with God, while vehemently denouncing rationalism and atheism. He regarded patriotism as a duty, and love of homeland as a divine mission.

Mazzini occasionally criticized the way the Catholic priesthood operated, but was staunchly opposed to Protestanism which he saw as:

divided and subdivided into a thousand sects, all founded on the rights of individual conscience, all eager to make war on one another, and perpetuating that anarchy of beliefs which is the sole true cause of the social and political disturbances that torment the peoples of Europe.

Mazzini formulated a concept known as thought and action, in which thought and action must be joined together, and every thought must be followed by action, therefore rejecting intellectualism and the notion of divorcing theory from practice. He likewise rejected the concept of the “rights of man” which had developed during the Age of Enlightenment, arguing instead that individual rights were a duty to be won through hard work, sacrifice and virtue, rather than “rights” which were intrinsically owed to man.

Mazzini was also an early advocate of a “United States of Europe” about a century before the European Union began to take shape. For him, European unification was a logical continuation of Italian unification. In Doveri dell’uomo (“Duties of Man”, 1860) Mazzini called for recognition of women’s rights. After his many encounters with political philosophers in England, France and across Europe, he had decided that the principle of equality between men and women was fundamental to building a truly democratic Italian nation. He called for the end of women’s social and judicial subordination to men. Mazzini helped intellectuals see women’s rights not merely a peripheral topic but as a fundamental goal necessary for the regeneration of old nations and the rebirth of new ones.

Karl Marx, in an interview with R. Landor from 1871, said that Mazzini’s ideas represented “nothing better than the old idea of a middle-class republic.” Marx believed, especially after the Revolutions of 1848, that Mazzini’s point of view had become reactionary, and the proletariat had nothing to do with it.[16] In another interview, Marx described Mazzini as “that everlasting old ass”. Mazzini, in turn, described Marx as “a destructive spirit whose heart was filled with hatred rather than love of mankind” and declared that “Despite the communist egalitarianism which [Marx] preaches he is the absolute ruler of his party, admittedly he does everything himself but he is also the only one to give orders and he tolerates no opposition.”

Mazzini’s home town of Genoa is well known for many specialties, some of which I have mentioned already. Less well known than those I have mentioned so far is farinata, a baked dish made of chickpea flour, water, and olive oil. It is surprisingly good, even though it is simple to make. In standard Italian, the dish is called farinata (“made of flour”) while in the Genoese dialect it is called fainâ. It is now a common dish – with variations – all along the Ligurian coast, and in places where Genovese people migrated (especially Buenos Aires). In Nice and the Côte d’Azur, it is called socca, in Tuscany, cecina (“made of chickpeas”) or torta di ceci (“chickpea pie”) and in Sardinia fainè. In Argentina and Uruguay it is called (la fainá (feminine) in Argentina, and el fainá (masculine) in Uruguay). In Buenos Aires it is common to find fainá served on top of pizza, which I find to be a bit too much of a good thing.

I used to make farinata in a cast-iron skillet. You need a heavy pan that you can use on the stove top and in the oven. Begin by mixing 1 ½ cups of chickpea flour and 2 cups of lukewarm water in a deep bowl. Whisk well so that the flour and water make a completely homogenous batter. Cover and let sit for 2 hours. After 2 hours the mix will be slowly bubbling and there will be a film of foamy scum on top. Carefully skim off as much of the scum as possible, and then stir in 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and salt to taste.

Preheat the oven to 500˚F/260˚C and put the skillet over high heat. When it starts to smoke, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and let it heat until barely smoking. Dump the chickpea batter into the skillet and quickly swirl it around to be sure it is evenly distributed. Then transfer the skillet to the preheated oven and let it cook, undisturbed, for 35 minutes. Remove the skillet from the oven and immediately lift the farinata out on to a cutting board. Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper and cut into slices (like a pizza) or – more traditionally – into irregular triangular and oblong shapes. Serve warm.

It is very common in Genoa to add a little fresh chopped rosemary to the batter before baking farinata, but, as you might expect, you can add anything you wish. Chopped onions or artichokes, are common, but the most famous derivative recipe is the fainâ co i gianchetti (“farinata with whitebait”).

Feb 212017
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some apt quotes from the Manifesto:

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Mar 152016
 

1848a

The Hungarian revolution against the Habsburg monarchy and the Austrian empire began on this date in 1848.The date is now a major national holiday in Hungary. The Hungarian Revolution of 1848 was one of the many European Revolutions of 1848, and closely linked to other revolutions of the time against Habsburg rulers. The revolution in the kingdom of Hungary grew into a war for independence from the Austrian Empire which was ruled by the Habsburg dynasty.

The kingdom of Hungary had always maintained a separate parliament, the Diet of Hungary, even after the Austrian Empire was created in 1804. The administration and government of the kingdom of Hungary (until 1848) remained largely untouched by the government structure of the overarching Austrian Empire. Hungary’s central government structures remained well separated from the imperial government. The country was governed by the Council of Lieutenancy of Hungary (the Gubernium), located first in Pressburg and later in Pest (now a constituent part of Budapest), and by the Hungarian Royal Court Chancellery in Vienna.

1848f

By the 1820s the Diet of Hungary had not convened since 1811. The frequent diets held in the early years were occupied with war subsidies and little else. After 1811 they ceased to be summoned. In the latter years of Francis I, Metternich’s iron policy of “stability” was paramount in Hungary, and the forces of reactionary absolutism were completely dominant. But beneath the surface, a strong popular current was beginning to run in a contrary direction. Hungarian society, affected by western Liberalism, but without any direct help from abroad, was gearing up for emancipation. Writers, poets, artists, noble and plebeian, layman and cleric, without any previous connexion, were working towards that ideal of political liberty which was to unite all the Magyars (ethnic majority). Mihály Vörösmarty, Ferenc Kölcsey, Ferencz Kazinczy, and many others were, consciously or unconsciously, as the representatives of the renascent national literature, accomplishing a political mission with the pen, where their ancestors had used the sword. The pen was a supremely effective weapon.

In 1825, Emperor Francis II convened the Diet in response to growing concerns amongst the Hungarian nobility about taxes and the diminishing economy, after the Napoleonic wars. This – and the reaction to the reforms of Joseph II – started what is known as the Reform Period (reformkor). But the Nobles still retained their privileges of paying no taxes and not giving the vote to the masses. Hungarian politician Count István Széchenyi recognized the need to bring the country in line with the more developed West European countries, such as Britain – where political reform and industrialism were beginning to crank up.

There had begun in Hungary a movement which, according to István Széchenyi, “startled the nation out of its sickly drowsiness”. In 1823, when the reactionary powers were considering joint action to suppress revolution in Spain, the government, without consulting the diet, imposed a war-tax and called out the recruits. The county assemblies instantly protested against this illegal act, and Francis I was obliged, at the diet of 1823, to repudiate the action of his ministers. But the estates felt that the maintenance of their liberties demanded more substantial guarantees than the largely obsolete ancient laws still in force. Széchenyi, who had lived abroad and studied Western institutions, was the recognized leader of all those who wished to create a new Hungary out of the old. For years he and his friends educated public opinion by issuing innumerable pamphlets in which the new Liberalism was eloquently expounded. In particular Széchenyi insisted that the people must not look exclusively to the government, or even to the diet, for the necessary reforms. Society itself must take the initiative by breaking down the barriers of class exclusiveness and reviving a healthy public spirit. The effect of this teaching was manifest at the diet of 1832, when the Liberals in the Lower Chamber had a large majority, prominent among whom were Ferenc Deák and Ödön Beothy. In the Upper House, however, the magnates united with the government to form a conservative party obstinately opposed to any project of reform, which frustrated all the efforts of the Liberals.

Kossuth

Kossuth

The alarm of the government at the power and popularity of the Liberal party induced it, soon after the accession of the new king, the emperor Ferdinand I (1835–1848), to attempt to crush the reform movement by arresting and imprisoning the most active agitators among them, Louis Kossuth and Miklos Wesselenyi. But the nation was no longer to be cowed. The diet of 1839 refused to proceed to business until the political prisoners had been released, and, while in the Lower Chamber the reforming majority was larger than ever, a Liberal party was now also formed in the Upper House under the leadership of Count Louis Batthyány and Baron Joseph Eotvos. From 1000 to 1844, Latin was the official language of administration, legislation and schooling in Hungary. Two progressive measures of the highest importance were passed by this diet, one making Magyar the official language of Hungary, the other freeing the peasants’ holdings from all feudal obligations.

The results of the diet of 1839 did not satisfy the advanced Liberals, while the opposition of the government and of the Upper House still further fueled the general discontent. The chief exponent of this temper was Pesti Hirlap, Hungary’s first political newspaper, founded in 1841 by Kossuth, whose articles, advocating armed reprisals if necessary, inflamed the extremists but alienated Széchenyi, who openly attacked Kossuth’s opinions. The polemic on both sides was violent,and on the assembling of the diet of 1843 Kossuth was more popular than ever, while the influence of Széchenyi had declined. The tone of this diet was passionate, and the government was fiercely attacked for interfering with the elections. Fresh triumphs were won by the Liberals. Magyar was now declared to be the language of the schools and the law-courts as well as of the legislature; mixed marriages were legalized; and official positions were thrown open to non-nobles.

1848g

The interval between the diet of 1843 and that of 1847 saw a complete disintegration and transformation of the various political parties. Széchenyi openly joined the government, while the moderate Liberals separated from the extremists and formed a new party, the Centralists. Immediately before the elections, however, Deák succeeded in reuniting all the Liberals on the common platform of “The Ten Points”.

  1. Responsible ministries,
  2. Freedom of the Press
  3. Popular representation (by parliamentary elections),
  4. The reincorporation of Transylvania,
  5. Right of public meeting, (Freedom of assembly and freedom of association)
  6. Absolute religious liberty, the abolition of the (Catholic) State Religion,
  7. Universal equality before the law,
  8. Universal and equal taxation, (abolition of the tax exemption of the aristocracy)
  9. The abolition of the Aviticum, an obsolete and anomalous land-tenure,
  10. The abolition of serfdom and bond service, with state financed compensation to the landlords.

The ensuing parliamentary elections resulted in a complete victory of the Progressives. All efforts to bring about an understanding between the government and the opposition were fruitless. Kossuth demanded not merely the redress of actual grievances, but a liberal reform which would make such grievances impossible in the future. In the highest circles a dissolution of the diet now seemed to be the sole remedy. But, before it could be carried out, news of the February revolution in Paris reached Pressburg on the 1st of March, and on the 3rd of March Kossuth’s motion for the appointment of an independent, responsible ministry was accepted by the Lower House. The moderates, alarmed not so much by the motion itself as by its tone, again tried to intervene. But on the 13th of March the Vienna revolution broke out, and the Emperor, yielding to pressure or panic, appointed Count Louis Batthyány premier of the first Hungarian responsible ministry, which included Kossuth, Széchenyi and Deák.

1848i

The Hungarian revolution started in the Pilvax coffee palace at Pest, which was a favorite meeting point of the young extra-parliamentary radical liberal intellectuals in the 1840s. On the morning of March 15, 1848, revolutionaries marched around the city of Pest, reading Sándor Petőfi’s Nemzeti dal (National Song) and the 12 points (expansion of the 10 points) to the crowd (which swelled to thousands). Declaring an end to all forms of censorship, they visited the printing presses of Landerer and Heckenast and printed Petőfi’s poem together with the demands. A mass demonstration was held in front of the newly built National Museum, after which the group left for the Buda Chancellery (the Office of the Governor-General) on the other bank of the Danube. The bloodless mass demonstrations in Pest and Buda forced the Imperial governor to accept the people’s demands. Thus the war for independence began.

1848j

I suggest the dish fatányéros to celebrate. It is a classic Hungarian festive dish originally from Transylvania. When I was last in Budapest with friends, two of them ordered fatányéros at a restaurant for lunch. It looked innocent enough – “Transylvanian meat platter for 2.” When it came we all fell on the floor laughing. It was gigantic – enough meat for 6, at least. The selection of meats for a fatányéros can vary tremendously according to tastes, wallet, and season. Best simple translation is “mixed grill.” It should be served on a wooden platter, and is most festive and communal if the meats are whole with a large ornamented knife stuck in the biggest piece.

A good platter will include grilled veal, beefsteak, and pork cutlets, with a goose liver and some bacon. It is normal to add fried potatoes, thickly sliced, to the platter, and either a mixed salad on the side or a garnish of lettuce and tomatoes.

Sep 082013
 

dvorak2

Today is the birthday (1841) of Antonín Leopold Dvořák, Czech musician and composer. In some senses it might be more historically accurate to call him a Bohemian composer since he was born and lived in Bohemia, which later became part of Czechoslovakia, and is now the core of the Czech republic.  But maybe, too, this is a quibble.  His first language was Czech, and I doubt that he made a distinction between being Czech and being Bohemian. The first is an ethnic designation, the second, political.  I’ll get into this nationalist stuff in a bit.  It’s important. Rather than give a sketch of his whole life and work, I am going to focus on two themes: his boyhood and youth, and his status as a nationalist composer. The rest you can discover for yourself.

Dvo?ák was born in Nelahozeves, near Prague, which was then in Bohemia, a state in the greater Hapsburg Empire of Austria-Hungary. His father František was an innkeeper and butcher, who also played zither professionally. His mother, Anna, was the daughter of Josef Zden?k, the bailiff of Prince Lobkowitz. From infancy Dvo?ák heard traditional music played by his father and by bands his father hired to play on Saturday nights for dances at the inn. It’s likely that his father’s repertoire was ethnically quite diverse because he learnt to play zither as a young man while traveling through Hungary.

His first music teacher was the church music director, who was also the one and only teacher of the elementary school there. This man, Josef Spic (or Spitz) was a typical example of the Czech “kantor,” a public school teacher and musician. Spic was also a competent composer in the style of Mozart and some of his works survive, although they were never performed.  He taught Dvo?ák to play the violin and to sing, and from age 8 he sang in the local church choir.

It is well known that Dvořák had a great passion for trains and train timetables, and would sometimes go to stations just to see the trains arrive and depart.  It’s possible that this fascination developed when he was a young boy when the rail line and station at Nelahozeves were being built, a huge event for the whole town. There is a tunnel through the cliff just to the south of the town, and the workers who built it were from Italy. They were experienced in building tunnels through the Alps and so were contracted to build this one. There is a report that after work they liked to gather around the Dvořák butcher shop and sing their traditional Italian songs, which the young boy would have heard.

Dvořák’s father was pleased with his son’s interest in music and so at the age of 13 he sent him to Zlonice to live with his uncle Antonín Zdenek in order to get better training and to learn German, which was important for advancement in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Dvořák took organ, piano, and violin lessons from his German language teacher Anton Liehmann. Liehmann also taught him music theory and introduced him to the composers of the time. Apparently Dvořák had great respect for his teacher even though he had a violent temper.

dvorak6

Dvořák took further organ and music theory lessons with Franz Hanke in the town of Ceská Kamenice, but they were cut short because money was tight at home and he had to return to help his father. Claims that he apprenticed as a butcher at this time are untrue, but he did help with the business. At the age of 16, the family business was earning enough that Dvořák’s father’s consented to him becoming a professional musician provided he could build a career as an organist. So he went to Prague to study at the city’s Organ School. During most of his studies he worked as a musician to support himself.

In 1858, he joined Karel Komzák’s orchestra, with whom he performed in Prague’s restaurants and at balls. The high professional level of the ensemble attracted the attention of Jan Nepomuk Maýr, who engaged the whole orchestra in the Bohemian Provisional Theater Orchestra. Dvořák played viola. In July 1863, Dvořák played in a program devoted to the German composer Richard Wagner, who conducted the orchestra.  In 1864, Dvořák agreed to share the rent of an apartment located in Prague’s Žižkov district with five other people, including violinist Mořic Anger and Karel Cech, who later became a singer. The constant need to supplement his income pushed him to give piano lessons. It was through these piano lessons that he met his wife. He originally fell in love with his pupil and colleague from the Provisional Theater, Josefína Cermáková, a rising actress. However, she never returned his love and ended up marrying into the nobility. In 1873 Dvořák married Josefina’s younger sister, Anna Cermáková. They had nine children together, three of whom died in infancy. By all accounts it was a happy marriage despite its seemingly odd beginnings.

dvorak3

Dvořák was also composing while performing and giving piano lessons. He produced his String Quintet in A Minor in 1861 and the 1st String Quartet in1862. In the early 1860s, he also made his first symphonic attempts, some of which he self-critically burned. For ten years he composed incessantly with almost no notice or public performances. His first publicly performed composition was the song Vzpomínání (October 1871, musical evenings of L. Procházka). Then in 1873 his cantata, Hymnus, brought him to public attention. The point I want you to take from this is that Dvořák struggled in obscurity and poverty for more than 13 years to achieve recognition, and during that period he was intensely self critical. The fame he garnered subsequently was founded on the proverbial “blood, sweat, and tears” – something I greatly admire.

In the following decades Dvořák went from success to success with an increasingly international following.  He was seen, in large measure, as a nationalist composer because of his frequent use of Bohemian and Moravian traditional dance and song melodies in his compositions.  As such he was part of a large and growing group of European composers thought of as embodying the ethos of their respective ethnic origins. The reason for this movement lies within the nationalist politics of 19th century Europe.  After the Napoleonic Wars, the Congress of Vienna (1815) carved Europe into a series of states whose purpose was to create a balance of power that would prevent further wars by making it impossible for one nation to gain outright military supremacy.  I suppose the aim was laudable, but the methods were questionable, and ultimately it was a dismal failure.  To create large power blocs, hundreds of ethnic groups were folded into larger entities such as Austria-Hungary.  Almost immediately these groups sought autonomy, and the history of 19th century Europe is, by and large, the history of the struggle for these groups to break away from outside governance.  In 1848, when Dvořák was 7, almost all of Europe erupted in ethnic revolution, and these tensions continued all of his life.  His music was received as a contribution to the establishment of Czech/Bohemian national identity.

dvorak9

There is no question that the notion of creating a national “voice” was dear to Dvořák’s heart, but it was not confined to Bohemia: his interests were global.  From 1892 to 1895, Dvo?ák was the director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York City, at a then staggering $15,000 annual salary. The Conservatory had been founded by a wealthy and philanthropic socialite, Jeannette Thurber; it was located at 126–128 East 17th Street (the building has since been demolished if you had plans to go looking).

dvorak8

One of Dvořák’s goals in the United States was to discover “American Music” and engage in it, much as he had used Czech idioms within his music. Shortly after his arrival in the U.S. in 1892, he wrote a series of newspaper articles reflecting on the state of “American” music. He supported the concept that African-American and Native American music should be used as a foundation for the growth of “American” music. It was in New York that Dvořák met Harry Burleigh, his pupil at the time and one of the earliest African-American composers. Burleigh introduced Dvořák to traditional spirituals. He wrote, “Dvorak used to get tired during the day and I would sing to him after supper … I gave him what I knew of Negro songs—no one called them spirituals then—and he wrote some of my tunes (my people’s music) into the New World Symphony.”

dvorak1

In the winter and spring of 1893 Dvořák was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic to write Symphony No.9, “From the New World,” which was premiered under the baton of Anton Seidl and was wildly successful from the beginning.  It is undoubtedly his most popularly known work. Its Largo has been used in a variety of contexts from songs to movie scores.  I don’t really want to generate a debate as to whether the New World is genuinely “American” music.  Music historians, with nothing better to do, argue even now over whether it is more “American” or more “Bohemian.” Such debates bore me.  What does engage my interest is the fact that for the second half of the 19th century serious music was taken as a legitimate vehicle for social and political unification. A great many national anthems were born in this crucible and have the power to stir people’s souls profoundly. In the interests of fair disclosure I will say that I have little time for nationalism or patriotism. They seem to breed war and not much else.  The question I ask (without any simple answer) as an anthropologist, is “why music?” What is it about music in particular, and highly sophisticated music at that, which makes a Czech’s soul swell with pride? It is immensely powerful.

Dvořák died from a stroke on May 1, 1904, following five weeks of illness, at the age of 62, leaving many unfinished works. His funeral service was held on May 5, attended by tens of thousands.  His death notices covered the entire front pages of Czech newspapers. His ashes were interred in the Vyšehrad cemetery in Prague, beneath a bust by Czech sculptor Ladislav Šaloun.

dvorak4

To celebrate Dvo?ák’s life I have chosen a recipe for kulajda, a traditional Bohemian soup of cream, mushrooms, egg, dill and potatoes. The combination of dill and mushrooms is superb. Dill for me is the savor of the Slavs.

dvorak5

Kulajda

Ingredients:

8 cups vegetable or other light stock
1 lb (500 g) potatoes, peeled and diced
5 cups of mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
¾ cup all-purpose flour
3 eggs, hard boiled, sliced
1 cup fresh dill, finely chopped
3 tbsps white vinegar
1 tbsp caraway seed
salt
knob of butter

Instructions:

Bring the stock to a boil and add the potatoes. Reduce to a simmer and cook for ten minutes, then add the mushrooms, caraway seeds, and salt to taste.

Whisk together the milk and cream with the flour.  Be especially careful to ensure there are no lumps.  Pour this mixture into the soup in a steady stream while stirring vigorously. When it has all been incorporated, simmer for an additional 5 minutes.

Add the chopped dill, stir and remove from the heat. Add the vinegar by the tablespoon while stirring.

Place the soup in a tureen a place a small cube of butter on top and slices of hard-boiled egg,

Serve with dark rye bread.

Yield:  6 – 8 portions