Oct 152015
 

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On this date in 1951 I Love Lucy, starring Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance, and William Frawley, aired on CBS in the U.S. for the first time. The black-and-white series originally ran from October 15, 1951, to May 6, 1957. After the series ended in 1957, however, a modified version continued for three more seasons with 13 one-hour specials, running from 1957 to 1960, known first as The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show and later in reruns as The Lucy–Desi Comedy Hour. The show, which was the first scripted television program to be shot on 35 mm film in front of a studio audience, won five Emmy Awards and received numerous nominations. It also won a Peabody Award for “recognition of distinguished achievement in television.”

I Love Lucy was the most watched show in the United States in four of its six seasons, and was the first to end its run at the top of the Nielsen ratings (an accomplishment later matched only by The Andy Griffith Show in 1968 and Seinfeld in 1998) . The show is still syndicated in dozens of languages across the world, and remains popular, with a U.S. audience of 40 million each year. A colorized version of its Christmas episode attracted more than eight million viewers when CBS aired it in prime time in 2013 – 62 years after the show premiered. A second colorized special, featuring the “L.A. At Last!” and “Lucy and Superman” episodes, aired on May 17, 2015, attracting 6.4 million viewers. I Love Lucy is often regarded as one of the greatest and most influential sitcoms in history. In 2012, it was voted the ‘Best TV Show of All Time’ in a survey conducted by ABC News and People Magazine.

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I am not old enough to have seen the show when it originally aired and, besides, there was no television in South Australia in the early 1950s. But I did see the earliest shows starting around 1960 when they were shown in Australia. They were a favorite in my house for several years when Australian-made television shows were cheaply produced and of rather poor quality. The great bulk of nightly viewing, which ran from about 4:30 pm to 11 pm (longer on Saturdays and Sundays), came from the U.S. and the U.K. – mostly the U.S. So I feel as if I was part of the early days of I Love Lucy. In runs of the shows in the early 1960s they still felt current even though they were 10 years old. Nowadays, of course, they are more like period pieces. I loved the show as a boy, but it lost its luster for me decades ago. I’m not a fan of sight gags, nor much for situation comedies as such. Maybe I’m just too much of a realist to accept ludicrous premises.

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Television executives had been pursuing Ball to adapt her very popular radio series My Favorite Husband for television. Ball insisted on Arnaz playing her on-air spouse so the two would be able to spend more time together. The original premise was for the couple to portray Lucy and Larry Lopez, a successful show business couple whose glamorous careers interfered with their efforts to maintain a normal marriage. Market research indicated, however, that this scenario would not be popular, so Jess Oppenheimer changed it to make Ricky Ricardo a struggling young orchestra leader and Lucy an ordinary housewife who had show business fantasies but no talent. The character name “Larry Lopez” was dropped because there was at the time a real-life bandleader named Vincent Lopez, and was replaced with “Ricky Ricardo”. Ricky would often appear at, and later own, the Tropicana Club which, under his ownership, he renamed Club Babalu.

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Initially, the idea of having Ball and the distinctly Latino Arnaz portray a married couple encountered resistance as they were told that Desi’s Cuban accent and Latin style would not be agreeable to American viewers. The couple overcame these objections, however, by touring together, during the summer of 1950, in a live vaudeville act they developed with the help of Spanish clown Pepito Pérez, together with Ball’s radio show writers. Much of the material from their vaudeville act, including Lucy’s memorable seal routine, was used in the pilot episode of I Love Lucy. Segments of the pilot were recreated in the sixth episode of the show’s first season. Desilu Productions

Ball and Arnaz founded Desilu Productions. At that time, most television programs were broadcast live, and as the largest markets were in New York, the rest of the country received only kinescope images. Karl Freund, Arnaz’s cameraman, and even Arnaz himself have been credited with the development of the multiple-camera setup production style using adjacent sets in front of a live audience that became the standard for subsequent situation comedies. The use of film enabled every station around the country to broadcast high-quality images of the show. Arnaz was told that it would be impossible to allow an audience on to a sound stage, but he worked with Freund to design a set that would accommodate an audience, allow filming, and also adhere to fire and safety codes.

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Network executives considered the use of film an unnecessary extravagance. Ball and Arnaz convinced them to allow Desilu to cover all additional costs associated with filming, under the stipulation that Desilu owned and controlled all rights to the film, a decision CBS later regretted because of the show’s endless profit in syndication. The couple also pushed the network to allow them to show Ball while she was pregnant. According to Arnaz, the CBS network told him that it would be wrong to show a pregnant woman on television or even use the word “pregnant.” Arnaz consulted a priest, a rabbi, and a Protestant minister, all of whom told him that there would be nothing wrong with showing a pregnant Lucy or with using the word “pregnant.” The network finally relented and let Arnaz and Ball weave the pregnancy into the story line, but remained adamant about avoiding use of “pregnant,” so Arnaz substituted “expecting,” pronouncing it ‘spectin’ in his Cuban accent. Oddly, the official titles of two of the series’ episodes employed the word “pregnant”: “Lucy Is Enceinte”, employing the French word for “pregnant,” and “Pregnant Women Are Unpredictable”, although the episode titles never appeared on the show itself.

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Arnaz and Ball decided that the show would maintain what Arnaz termed “basic good taste” and were therefore determined to avoid ethnic jokes as well as humor based on physical handicaps or mental disabilities. Arnaz recalled that the only exception consisted of making fun of Ricky Ricardo’s accent; even these jokes worked only when Lucy, as his wife, did the mimicking. Over the show’s nine-year run, the fortunes of the Ricardos mirror that of the archetypal 1950s American Dream. At first, they lived in a tiny, if pleasant, brownstone apartment. Later, Ricardo got his big chance and the couple moved, temporarily, to a fashionable hotel suite in Hollywood. Shortly after returning to New York, they had the opportunity to travel to Europe. Finally, they moved into a house in Westport, Connecticut.

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The original Desilu company continued long after Arnaz’s divorce from Ball and her remarriage to Gary Morton. Desilu produced its own programs and provided facilities to other producers. Desilu produced The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Lucy Show, Mission: Impossible, and Star Trek.

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There is an “I Love Lucy” Cookbook which I have not seen. I gather that many, if not most, of the recipes are Cuban. This one for a Cuban version of arroz con pollo is taken from http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/arroz-con-pollo-108483 I have no idea of the provenance of the recipe itself, but it looks all right. Quite different from the Argentine dish — http://www.bookofdaystales.com/che-guevara/

I Love Lucy Arroz con Pollo

Ingredients

For chicken

3 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

3/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 (3 1/2- to 4-lb) chicken, cut into 8 serving pieces

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

For rice

1 lb onions, chopped (2 1/2 cups)

2 green bell peppers, chopped

3 large garlic cloves, minced

1/4 teaspoon crumbled saffron threads

1/4 cup dry white wine

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons salt

1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf

1 (14- to 15-oz) can diced tomatoes, including juice

1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth (12 fl oz)

1 1/2 cups water

2 cups long-grain white rice (3/4 lb)

1 cup frozen baby peas (not thawed; 5 oz)

1/2 cup small or medium pimiento-stuffed green olives (2 oz), rinsed

1/4 cup drained chopped bottled pimientos (2 oz), rinsed

Special equipment: a wide 6- to 7-qt heavy pot (about 12 inches in diameter and 4 inches deep)

Preparation

Prepare chicken:

Purée garlic, orange juice, lime juice, salt, and pepper in a blender until smooth. Put chicken pieces in a large bowl and pour purée over them, turning to coat. Marinate chicken, covered and chilled, turning occasionally, 1 hour.

Transfer chicken, letting excess marinade drip back into bowl, to paper towels, then pat dry. Reserve marinade.

Heat oil and butter in 6- to 7-quart pot over moderately high heat until foam subsides, then brown chicken in 2 or 3 batches, without crowding, turning occasionally, about 6 minutes per batch. Transfer chicken as browned to a plate, reserving fat in pot.

Prepare rice and bake arroz con pollo:

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat to 350°F.

Sauté onions, bell peppers, and garlic in fat in pot over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally and scraping up brown bits from chicken, until vegetables are softened, 6 to 8 minutes.

While vegetables cook, heat saffron in a dry small skillet over low heat, shaking skillet, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add wine and bring to a simmer, then remove from heat.

Add cumin and salt to vegetables and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, 2 minutes. Stir in saffron mixture, bay leaf, tomatoes (including juice), broth, water, and reserved marinade and bring to a boil.

Add all chicken except breast pieces, skin sides up, and gently simmer, covered, over low heat 10 minutes. Stir in rice, then add breast pieces, skin sides up, and arrange chicken in 1 layer. Return to a simmer.

Cover pot tightly, then transfer to oven and bake until rice is tender and most of liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes.

Scatter peas, olives, and pimientos over rice and chicken (do not stir) and let stand, pot covered with a kitchen towel, until peas are heated through and any remaining liquid is absorbed by rice, about 5 minutes. Discard bay leaf.

Jun 142015
 

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Today is the birthday (1928) of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, commonly known as el Che or simply Che, an Argentine Marxist revolutionary, physician, author, guerrilla leader, diplomat, and military theorist. He was a major figure of the Cuban Revolution, and his stylized image has become a ubiquitous countercultural symbol of rebellion and global insignia in popular culture. This poster could be found in practically every student room when I was an undergraduate.

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As a young medical student, Guevara traveled throughout South America and was radicalized by the poverty, hunger, and disease he witnessed. His burgeoning desire to help overturn what he saw as the capitalist exploitation of Latin America by the United States prompted his involvement in Guatemala’s social reforms under President Jacobo Árbenz, whose eventual CIA-assisted overthrow at the behest of the United Fruit Company solidified Guevara’s political ideology. Later, in Mexico City, he met Raúl and Fidel Castro, joined their 26th of July Movement, and sailed to Cuba aboard the yacht, Granma, with the intention of overthrowing U.S.-backed Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Guevara soon rose to prominence among the insurgents, was promoted to second-in-command, and played a pivotal role in the victorious two-year guerrilla campaign that deposed the Batista regime.

Following the Cuban Revolution, Guevara performed a number of key roles in the new government. These included reviewing the appeals and firing squads for those convicted as war criminals during the revolutionary tribunals, instituting agrarian land reform as minister of industries, helping spearhead a successful nationwide literacy campaign, serving as both national bank president and instructional director for Cuba’s armed forces, and traversing the globe as a diplomat on behalf of Cuban socialism. Such positions also allowed him to play a central role in training the militia forces who repelled the Bay of Pigs Invasion and bringing the Soviet nuclear-armed ballistic missiles to Cuba which precipitated the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Additionally, he was a prolific writer and diarist, composing a seminal manual on guerrilla warfare, along with a best-selling memoir about his youthful continental motorcycle journey. His experiences and studying of Marxism–Leninism led him to posit that the Third World’s underdevelopment and dependence was an intrinsic result of imperialism, neocolonialism, and monopoly capitalism, with the only remedy being proletarian internationalism and world revolution. Guevara left Cuba in 1965 to foment revolution abroad, first unsuccessfully in Congo-Kinshasa and later in Bolivia, where he was captured by CIA-assisted Bolivian forces and summarily executed.

Guevara remains both a revered and reviled historical figure, polarized in the collective imagination in a multitude of biographies, memoirs, essays, documentaries, songs, and films. As a result of his perceived martyrdom, poetic invocations for class struggle, and desire to create the consciousness of a “new man” driven by moral rather than material incentives, he has evolved into a quintessential icon of various leftist-inspired movements. Time magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century, while an Alberto Korda photograph of him, titled Guerrillero Heroico (title image), was cited by the Maryland Institute College of Art as “the most famous photograph in the world”.

The nickname “Che” was given to Guevara when he was traveling in South America. It is Buenos Aires street slang (Lunfardo) for “hi” and is very common among friends – usually followed by a humorous nickname: “che boluto” or “che gordo.” It is not common outside of Buenos Aires, so when Guevara used it, it was distinctive.

Rather than dredge up the whole biography of Guevara, which you can read for yourselves, here’s a gallery and a series of poignant quotes.

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I knew that the moment the great governing spirit strikes the blow to divide all humanity into just two opposing factions, I would be on the side of the common people.

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If you tremble with indignation at every injustice, then you are a comrade of mine.

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Real revolutionaries adorn themselves on the inside, not on the surface.

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We cannot be sure of having something to live for unless we are willing to die for it.

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I am not a liberator. Liberators do not exist. It exists when people liberate themselves.

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The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall.

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One has to grow hard but without ever losing tenderness.

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 Along the way, I had the opportunity to pass through the dominions of the United Fruit, convincing me once again of just how terrible these capitalist octopuses are. . .I won’t rest until I see these capitalist octopuses annihilated.

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I am not Christ or a philanthropist, old lady [his mother], I am all the contrary of a Christ…. I fight for the things I believe in, with all the weapons at my disposal and try to leave the other man dead so that I don’t get nailed to a cross or any other place.

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I pondered what would be a suitable recipe to represent Che, Argentina and Cuba, and decided upon arroz con pollo (rice with chicken) which is universal in Latin America. I am going to give the recipe in Spanish; it should not be hard to figure out. If you are truly Spanish challenged use Google translate. In most Latin countries the rice is colored yellow with saffron or annatto but in Buenos Aires it is usually white. Be sure to pronounce “pollo” as Che would have: the “ll” is /zh/ like the “s” in “casual” and the “z” in “arroz” is /s/ not /z/.

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Arroz con Pollo

Ingredientes

1 pollo
2 tazas arroz
4 tazas caldo de ave
1 cebolla
½ ají morrón verde
½ ajì morrón rojo
100 g arvejas (si son frescas mucho mejor)
perejil a gusto
aceite de oliva, cantidad necesaria

Preparación

Cortar el pollo en ocho partes, (separar las patas de los muslos y dividir cada pechuga en dos)

Dorar las presas de pollo de ambos lados, en una sartén con aceite, hacerlo de a poco para que no se baje la temperatura.

Pelar y picar la cebolla.

Quitar las nervaduras y semillas de los ajíes y picar.

Rehogar en una olla el ají picado y la cebolla hasta que esta última transparente.

Incorporar el arroz, revolviendo hasta que transparente un poco (sin dorarse).

Agregar el pollo y el caldo.

Si las arvejas son frescas incorporarlas en este momento, de lo contrario hacerlo unos 5 minutos antes de retirar del fuego.

Dejar cocer el arroz con pollo durante 20 minutos a fuego moderado y cacerola destapada, revolviendo de vez en cuando.

Tapar la olla, retirar del fuego y dejar descansar durante 5 minutos.

Servir el arroz con pollo espolvoreado con perejil picado.

Aug 242013
 

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Today is the birthday (1899) of Jorge Francisco Isidoro Luis Borges, Argentine short story writer, poet, essayist, and social activist. His most famous books, Ficciones (1944) and El Aleph (1949), are compilations of short stories interconnected by common themes such as dreams, labyrinths, libraries, mirrors, animals, fictional writers, philosophy, religion, and God.

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A great deal of Borges’ writing plays with the nature of reality. Many of his earlier works were hoaxes, such as book reviews of non-existent books, or short stories he wrote supposedly as translations of foreign language originals, but where no original existed.  The latter were often convincing frauds because he did actually do translations of foreign works. In the 1930’s he began working in a genre which some credit him with inventing, sometimes known as “magical reality,” or “irreality,” influenced by philosophers of phenomenology and existentialism.  One of his most influential short stories was “El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan” (“The Garden of Forking Paths”), published in 1941, in which he proposes that time is not linear but a is constructed out of a series of decisions we make, each of which is possible, with distinct outcomes, but, more importantly, with all the choices and their outcomes existing simultaneously somehow. Thus, the world consists of an infinite set of forked paths stretching ever outward, or, perhaps, forked paths that fold back in on themselves. Not easy to explain; go and read the story.

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This notion of time and reality as non-linear is reflected in such later novels as The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles (1969) and Alain Robbe-Grillet’s 1953 murder mystery Les Gommes (The Erasers).  It is even reasonable to assert that Borges invented the basic concept of the modern hypertext novel in which the reader, using a computerized text, follows the story to certain nodes and then, via a hypertext link, chooses where to go from there.  The story unfolds according to the whim of the reader, and when done, the reader can return to the beginning and start again making different choices at each node.

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Borges was deeply Argentine in his sensibilities, yet also addressed ideas that cut across cultures. He played with such reflexive puzzles as whether an author creates the story, or whether the story creates the author (sometimes called the “Borgesian Conundrum”). This is a phenomenon well known to writers (myself included), who often feel that a story is writing itself through them, and in the process changing them.  Borges was also fascinated by the idea that words and stories can create a reality that has no link to the physical world, yet is real. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in his short story “Emma Zunz.”

The story is set in Buenos Aires and the locations are unmistakable. But the setting is just a convenience, and not germane to the story.  At the opening, Emma Zunz has received news that her father, Manuel Maier, has committed suicide.  Emma knows that his suicide was prompted by his disgrace and ruin when he was accused of embezzlement, an act actually perpetrated by his business partner, Loewenthal, who not only took the money but framed her father. Emma, who is an 18 year old virgin, foments a plan.  First she visits a few sleazy bars pretending to be a prostitute and chooses a man who disgusts her to solicit.  The deed is appalling to her, but she distances herself from it.  Next she goes to Loewenthal’s office where she shoots him dead with a revolver.  After it is over she disarranges the office, unbuttons Loewenthal’s clothing, and then calls the police.  The story she tells is simple – she tells the police that something incredible has happened. Lowenthal had asked her to come to his office on a pretext, he had raped her so she had killed him. Borges ends the tale as follows:

“La historia era increíble, en efecto, pero se impuso a todos, porque sustancialmente era cierta. Verdadero era el tono de Emma Zunz, verdadero el pudor, verdadero el odio. Verdadero también era el ultraje que había padecido; sólo eran falsas las circunstancias, la hora y uno o dos nombres propios.”

(“In fact the story was incredible, but it impressed everyone because it was substantially true. True was Emma Zunz’s tone, true was her shame, true was her hate. True also was the outrage she had suffered; only the circumstances were false, the time, and one or two proper names.”)

Classic Borges.  What is truth? What is a story? What is meaning? What is real?

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Which Argentine recipe can I pull from my arsenal to honor Borges? Arroz con pollo argentino fits the bill, I think (just be sure to pronounce “pollo” as we do: the “ll” sounds like the “s” in “measure”).  In the same way that Borges’ writing is Spanish with an Argentine twist, so our arroz con pollo is Spanish in origin, but done our way.  The most important thing about the Argentine version is that it does not contain saffron or any other coloring/flavoring for the rice except the meat and vegetables.  This is my version. If you want to be really Borgesian about it, make your own choices at every turn. You’ll get the idea from my ingredient list.  Makes me want to experiment with the notion of a hyper-recipe.

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Arroz con Pollo Argentino

Ingredients

1 2 lb (1 kilo) chicken
1 onion, peeled and chopped coarsely, or 1 leek chopped (optional)
½ green bell pepper, chopped coarsely, seeds and ribs removed (optional)
½ red bell pepper, chopped coarsely, seeds and ribs removed (optional)
2 cups long grain white rice
4 cups chicken broth (or water, or vegetable stock, or veal broth)
1 cup fresh peas – or frozen (both optional)
parsley for garnish (optional)
4 tbsps olive oil

Instructions:

Cut the chicken into eight parts, (2 thighs, 2 drumsticks, 4 breast pieces).

Brown the chicken pieces in oil over medium-high heat in batches in a heavy pot.  Set aside.

Sauté the chopped pepper and onion in the pot until the onion is translucent.

Add the rice, stirring until slightly transparent.

Add the chicken, peas, and broth.

Simmer uncovered for 20 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally.

Cover the pot, remove from the heat and let rest for 5 minutes.

Stir the mixture and serve the chicken and rice sprinkled with chopped parsley.

Serves 4