Apr 192016
 

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On this date in 1943, Albert Hofmann, creator of synthetic lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD)  performed a self-experiment to determine the true effects of LSD, intentionally ingesting 0.25 milligrams (250 micrograms) of the substance, an amount he predicted to be a threshold dose (an actual threshold dose is 20 micrograms). Less than an hour later, Hofmann experienced sudden and intense changes in perception. He asked his laboratory assistant to escort him home and, as use of motor vehicles was prohibited because of wartime restrictions, they had to make the journey on a bicycle. On the way, Hoffman’s condition rapidly deteriorated as he struggled with feelings of anxiety, alternating in his beliefs that the next-door neighbor was a malevolent witch, that he was going insane, and that the LSD had poisoned him. When the house doctor arrived, however, he could detect no physical abnormalities, save for a pair of incredibly dilated pupils. Hofmann was reassured, and soon his terror began to give way to a sense of good fortune and enjoyment, as he later wrote:

Little by little I could begin to enjoy the unprecedented colors and plays of shapes that persisted behind my closed eyes. Kaleidoscopic, fantastic images surged in on me, alternating, variegated, opening and then closing themselves in circles and spirals, exploding in colored fountains, rearranging and hybridizing themselves in constant flux.

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The events of this first LSD trip, now known as “Bicycle Day”, after the bicycle ride home, proved to Hofmann that he had indeed made a significant discovery: a psychoactive substance with extraordinary potency, capable of causing significant shifts of consciousness in incredibly low doses. Hofmann foresaw the drug as a powerful psychiatric tool; because of its intense and introspective nature, he couldn’t imagine anyone using it recreationally. Bicycle Day is increasingly observed in psychedelic communities as a day to celebrate the discovery of LSD.

The celebration of Bicycle Day originated in DeKalb, Illinois, in 1985, when Thomas B. Roberts, then a professor at Northern Illinois University, invented the name “Bicycle Day” when he founded the first Bicycle Day celebration at his home. Several years later, he sent an announcement made by one of his students to friends and Internet lists, thus propagating the idea and the celebration. His original intent was to commemorate Hofmann’s original, accidental exposure on April 16th, but that date fell midweek and was not a good time for the party, so he chose the 19th to honor Hofmann’s first intentional exposure.

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Albert Hofmann was born in Switzerland and joined the pharmaceutical-chemical department of Sandoz Laboratories, located in Basel as a co-worker with professor Arthur Stoll, founder and director of the pharmaceutical department. He began studying the medicinal plant squill and the fungus ergot as part of a program to purify and synthesize active constituents for use as pharmaceuticals. His main contribution was to elucidate the chemical structure of the common nucleus of Scilla glycosides (an active principle of Mediterranean Squill). While researching lysergic acid derivatives, Hofmann first synthesized LSD on November 16, 1938. The main intention of the synthesis was to obtain a respiratory and circulatory stimulant (an analeptic). It was set aside for five years, until April 16, 1943, when Hofmann decided to take a second look at it. While re-synthesizing LSD, he accidentally absorbed a small amount of the drug through his fingertips (and may have accidentally touched his eye) and discovered its powerful effects. He described what he felt as being:

 … affected by a remarkable restlessness, combined with a slight dizziness. At home I lay down and sank into a not unpleasant intoxicated-like condition, characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination. In a dreamlike state, with eyes closed (I found the daylight to be unpleasantly glaring), I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors. After about two hours this condition faded away.

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Beginning in the 1950s, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) began a research program code named Project MKULTRA. Experiments included administering LSD to CIA employees, military personnel, doctors, other government agents, prostitutes, mentally ill patients, and members of the general public in order to study their reactions, usually without the subjects’ knowledge. The project was revealed in the US congressional Rockefeller Commission report in 1975.

In 1963, the Sandoz patents expired on LSD. Several figures, including Aldous Huxley, Timothy Leary, and Al Hubbard, began to advocate the use of LSD. LSD became central to the counterculture of the 1960s. In the early 1960s the use of LSD and other hallucinogens was advocated by new proponents of consciousness expansion such as Leary, Huxley, Alan Watts and Arthur Koestler, which profoundly influenced the thinking of the new generation.

On October 24, 1968, possession of LSD was made illegal in the United States. The last FDA approved study of LSD in patients ended in 1980, while a study in healthy volunteers was made in the late 1980s. Legally approved and regulated psychiatric use of LSD continued in Switzerland until 1993.

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I grew up in the 1960s so acid and psychedelic counterculture is old hat for me. By just in case you are too young to remember those crazy days I’ll give a brief synopsis. By the mid-1960s, the psychedelic lifestyle had already developed in youth countercultures in California, particularly in San Francisco, with the first major underground LSD factory established by Owsley Stanley. From 1964 the Merry Pranksters, a loose group that developed around novelist Ken Kesey, sponsored the Acid Tests, a series of events primarily staged in or near San Francisco, involving the taking of LSD (supplied by Stanley), accompanied by light shows, film projection and discordant, improvised music known as the psychedelic symphony. The Pranksters helped popularize LSD use, through their road trips across America in a psychedelically-decorated converted school bus, which involved distributing the drug and meeting with major figures of the beat movement, and through publications about their activities such as Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968) – a good read. In both music and art, the influence on LSD was soon being more widely seen and heard thanks to the bands that participated in the Acid Tests and related events, including The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Big Brother and the Holding Company, and through the dazzling and wildly inventive poster and album art of San Francisco-based artists like Rick Griffin, Victor Moscoso, Bonnie MacLean, Stanley Mouse & Alton Kelley, and Wes Wilson.

A similar and connected nexus of LSD use in the creative arts developed around the same time in London. A key figure in this phenomenon in the UK was British academic Michael Hollingshead, who first tried LSD in the US in 1961 while he was the Executive Secretary for the Institute of British-American Cultural Exchange. After being given a large quantity of pure Sandoz LSD (which was still legal at the time) and experiencing his first trip, Hollingshead contacted Aldous Huxley, who suggested that he get in touch with Harvard academic Timothy Leary, and over the next few years, in concert with Leary and Richard Alpert, Hollingshead played a major role in their famous LSD research at Millbrook before moving to New York City, where he conducted his own LSD experiments. In 1965 Hollingshead returned to the UK and founded the World Psychedelic Center in Chelsea in London.

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Among the many famous people in the UK that Hollingshead is reputed to have introduced to LSD are artist and Hipgnosis founder Storm Thorgerson, and musicians Donovan, Keith Richards, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, and George Harrison. Although establishment concern about the new drug led to it being declared illegal by the Home Secretary in 1966, LSD was soon being used widely in the upper echelons of the British art and music scene, including members of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Moody Blues, The Small Faces, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix and others, and the products of these experiences were soon being both heard and seen by the public with singles like The Small Faces’ “Itchycoo Park” and LPs like The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Cream’s Disraeli Gears, which featured music that showed the obvious influence of the musicians’ recent psychedelic excursions, and which were packaged in elaborately-designed album covers that featured vividly-coloured psychedelic artwork by artists like Peter Blake, Martin Sharp, Hapshash and the Coloured Coat (Nigel Waymouth and Michael English) and art/music collective “The Fool.” Memories !!!

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In the 1960s, and ever since, when LSD became illegal, people have tried to promote natural (legal) foods that can produce hallucinations. Most mushrooms with hallucinogenic qualities are banned in the West, but I know of a few that can be legally obtained in China. In fact I’ve seen a number sold on the streets in cities, but never bought any because the sale is largely unregulated and people die annually from poisonous mushrooms. I did buy quite a few funky looking mushrooms for culinary purposes, however, and lived to tell the tale.

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Heavy doses of very hot foods created with powerful chile peppers are also known to induce hallucinations, though not reliably. I’m a big fan of intense curries and have never experienced anything other than tongue-searing heat, pouring sweat, and the feeling that my eyeballs were falling out.  It is also said that large doses of ground fresh nutmeg (2 tablespoons or more) can be hallucinogenic. As with chiles and other home experiments I DO NOT RECOMMEND this. You’re more likely to get nauseous than anything else, and there may be physical damage.

It has been known for centuries that Sarpa salpa, known commonly as the salema, salema porgy, cow bream or goldline, a species of sea bream, recognizable by the golden stripes that run down the length of its body, can cause hallucinations when eaten. It is found in the East Atlantic, as well as the Mediterranean, ranging from the Bay of Biscay to South Africa. It has occasionally been found as far north as Great Britain. It is quite common and found from near the surface to a depth of 70 m (230 ft). Males are typically 15 to 30 cm (6–12 in) in length, while females are usually 31 to 45 cm (12–18 in).

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Sarpa salpa became widely known recently for its psychoactivity following articles published in 2006 (and disseminated widely), when two men ingested it at a Mediterranean restaurant and began to experience auditory and visual hallucinogenic effects. These hallucinations, obviously unexpected, were reported to have occurred minutes after the fish was ingested and had a total duration of 36 hours. Salema is, in fact, often served as a dish at seafood restaurants in the Mediterranean area without these effects. It is believed that this and other Mediterranean fish sometimes ingest a particular algae or phytoplankton which renders it hallucinogenic. These effects have been reported sporadically all the way from classical times by Greeks and Arabs – often after eating the head.

Varieties of sea bream are quite readily available and can be prepared in any number of ways – poached, fried, baked, grilled, etc. I’ve always been a big fan of oven baked whole fish because there’s nothing much to it, the fish is tasty, and the results are healthy.

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Make sure the fish is scaled and gutted. Place it on a well greased baking tray, fill the cavity with lemon slices, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, and bake in a pre-heated oven at 500°F (or hotter) until the skin is browned and the meat is cooked through – between 20 and 30 minutes. Serve on a bed of boiled new potatoes (black olives add a spark), with a green salad or poached green vegetables. I usually go with spinach or asparagus.

Feb 082016
 

My last post on Ruskin 2 years ago was hopelessly inadequate because I was so distracted at the time http://www.bookofdaystales.com/john-ruskin/ This is much better.

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Today is the birthday (1819) of John Ruskin, leading English art critic of the Victorian era. He was also a patron of the arts, draughtsman, watercolorist, social thinker and philanthropist. He wrote on subjects as varied as geology, architecture, ornithology, literature, education, botany and political economy. His writing styles and literary forms were equally varied. Ruskin wrote essays and treatises, poetry and lectures, travel guides and manuals, letters and even a fairy tale. His early writing style when writing about art was elaborate but he later toned it down for plainer language designed to communicate his ideas more effectively. In all of his writing, he emphasized the connexions between nature, art, and society. He also made detailed sketches and paintings of rocks, plants, birds, landscapes, and architectural structures, and ornamentation.

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He was hugely influential in the latter half of the 19th century, and up to the First World War. After a period of relative decline, his reputation has steadily improved since the 1960s with the publication of numerous academic studies of his work. Today, his ideas and concerns are widely recognized as having anticipated interest in environmentalism, sustainability, and craft.

Ruskin came to widespread attention with the first volume of Modern Painters (1843), an extended essay in defense of the work of J. M. W. Turner in which he argued that the principal role of the artist is “truth to nature”. From the 1850s he championed the Pre-Raphaelites who were influenced by his ideas. His work increasingly focused on social and political issues. Unto This Last (1860, 1862) marked the shift in emphasis. In 1869, Ruskin became the first Slade Professor of Fine Art at the University of Oxford, where he established the Ruskin School of Drawing. In 1871, he began his monthly “letters to the workmen and labourers of Great Britain”, published under the title Fors Clavigera (1871–1884). In the course of this complex and deeply personal work, he developed the principles underlying his ideal society. As a result, he founded the Guild of St George, an organization that endures to this day.

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As with many of the “greats” whom I celebrate here, there is way too much to say about Ruskin. If you need to know more there are plenty of places to find information on him. I’m going to focus on one adventure of his, now known as the Ruskin Diggers, which I think symbolizes his life’s work.

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Ruskin was fond of riding out into the countryside from Oxford, and his trips often took him westwards to North Hinksey, whose rustic charm he admired. (There is a plaque to this effect on one of the old thatched cottages.) He noted the poor state of the village road, and in 1874, he thought of a scheme which would give Oxford students the benefits of manual labor, and also improve conditions for the villagers. He organized a group of undergraduates to help him in the building of an improved road, bordered with banks of flowers. The episode might have vanished into historical obscurity, except that the students in his road-building gang included Oscar Wilde, Alfred Milner, Hardwicke Rawnsley, William Gershom Collingwood and Arnold Toynbee. Wilde later wrote of the episode in “Art and the Handicraftsman” (published in Essays, 1879):

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We were coming down the street—a troop of young men, some of them like myself only nineteen, going to river or tennis-court or cricket-field—when Ruskin going up to lecture in cap and gown met us. He seemed troubled and prayed us to go back with him to his lecture, which a few of us did, and there he spoke to us not on art this time but on life, saying that it seemed to him to be wrong that all the best physique and strength of the young men in England should be spent aimlessly on cricket ground or river, without any result at all except that if one rowed well one got a pewter-pot, and if one made a good score, a cane-handled bat. He thought, he said, that we should be working at something that would do good to other people, at something by which we might show that in all labour there was something noble. Well, we were a good deal moved, and said we would do anything he wished. So he went out round Oxford and found two villages, Upper and Lower Hinksey, and between them there lay a great swamp, so that the villagers could not pass from one to the other without many miles of a round. And when we came back in winter he asked us to help him to make a road across this morass for these village people to use. So out we went, day after day, and learned how to lay levels and to break stones, and to wheel barrows along a plank—a very difficult thing to do. And Ruskin worked with us in the mist and rain and mud of an Oxford winter, and our friends and our enemies came out and mocked us from the bank. We did not mind it much then, and we did not mind it afterwards at all, but worked away for two months at our road. And what became of the road? Well, like a bad lecture it ended abruptly—in the middle of the swamp. Ruskin going away to Venice, when we came back for the next term there was no leader, and the ‘diggers’, as they called us, fell asunder.

In lieu of a parade of “useful” things to know about Ruskin’s life here’s some poignant quotes. In all of this I hear my own mantras, chief of which are – PAY ATTENTION, SLOW DOWN, BE HUMBLE. Furthermore I firmly believe that merely writing or reading lofty words is pointless. You must believe them deeply and incorporate them into your being:

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To banish imperfection is to destroy expression, to check exertion, to paralyze vitality.

It is better to lose your pride with someone you love rather than to lose that someone you love with your useless pride.

Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.

The purest and most thoughtful minds are those which love color the most.

I believe that the first test of a great man is his humility. I don’t mean by humility, doubt of his power. But really great men have a curious feeling that the greatness is not of them, but through them. And they see something divine in every other man and are endlessly, foolishly, incredibly merciful.

A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small parcel.

Nature is painting for us, day after day, pictures of infinite beauty if only we have the eyes to see them.

When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.

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All art is but dirtying the paper delicately.

Every increased possession loads us with new weariness.

No changing of place at a hundred miles an hour will make us one whit stronger, or happier, or wiser. There was always more in the world than man could see, walked they ever so slowly; they will see it no better for going fast. The really precious things are thought and sight, not pace. It does a bullet no good to go fast; and a man, if he be truly a man, no harm to go slow; for his glory is not at all in going, but in being.

Modern traveling is not traveling at all; it is merely being sent to a place, and very little different from becoming a parcel.

The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something and tell what it saw in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see. To see clearly is poetry, prophecy and religion, all in one.

Say all you have to say in the fewest possible words, or your reader will be sure to skip them; and in the plainest possible words or he will certainly misunderstand them.

Education does not mean teaching people what they do not know. It means teaching them to behave as they do not behave.

 You will find it less easy to unroot faults than to choke them by gaining virtues. Do not think of your faults, still less of others faults; in every person who comes near you look for what is good and strong; honor that; rejoice in it and as you can, try to imitate it; and your faults will drop off like dead leaves when their time comes.

Remember that the most beautiful things in life are often the most useless; peacocks and lilies for instance.

It rather surprises me that Ruskin had virtually nothing to say about food and cooking given his interest in the sensual and its effects on the mind and body. However, after much hunting I found this quote from him in the first edition of the Boston Cooking-School Cook Book (1896)

Cookery means the knowledge of Medea and of Circe and of Helen and of the Queen of Sheba. It means the knowledge of all herbs and fruits and balms and spices, and all that is healing and sweet in the fields and groves and savory in meats. It means carefulness and inventiveness and willingness and readiness of appliances. It means the economy of your grandmothers and the science of the modern chemist; it means much testing and no wasting; it means English thoroughness and French art in Arabian hospitality; and, in fine, it means that you are to be perfectly and always ladies — loaf givers.

Perfectly Ruskin-esque: bread is the staff of life. Not much help in choosing a recipe, however, other than for me to tell you to go and bake a wholesome loaf. So, I am going to be inventive and show you what I made for breakfast today. This year (2016) today is Collop Monday in England, that is, the Monday before Ash Wednesday. In Victorian times it was a common custom to have a collop for breakfast right before Lent. “Collop” is a dialect cognate of the French loan word “escalope” which generally means a thin slice of meat (sometimes flattened with a mallet). Typically on Collop Monday people ate a collop of bacon and a fried egg for breakfast, as prelude to the Lenten season when meat and fat are forbidden.

Living in Italy, a rustic slab of English bacon is not easy to come by, and, besides, bacon and eggs is a little pedestrian as a celebratory meal, I think. I happened to have some beef scaloppine in the refrigerator, so I cooked up a hearty breakfast of beef collops, cheese, and vegetables. I began by sautéing sliced mushrooms, leeks, and hot peppers in olive oil.

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Then I pan fried the beef and topped it with cheese.

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Then I served the beef and melted cheese with the veggies on top – color, sight, sound, smell, and taste.

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Feed your inner Ruskin !!

Sep 122015
 

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On this date in 1940, the entrance to Lascaux Cave was discovered by 18-year-old Marcel Ravidat. Ravidat returned to the scene with three friends, Jacques Marsal, Georges Agnel, and Simon Coencas, and entered the cave via a long shaft. The teenagers discovered that the cave walls were covered with depictions of animals. The cave complex was opened to the public in 1948. By 1955, the carbon dioxide, heat, humidity, and other contaminants produced by 1,200 visitors per day had visibly damaged the paintings and introduced lichen on the walls. The cave was closed to the public in 1963 to preserve the art. After the cave was closed, the paintings were restored to their original state and were monitored daily. Rooms in the cave include the Hall of the Bulls, the Passageway, the Shaft, the Nave, the Apse, and the Chamber of Felines.

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Lascaux II, a replica of the Great Hall of the Bulls and the Painted Gallery located 200 meters away from the original, was opened in 1983, so that visitors could view the painted scenes without harming the originals. Reproductions of other Lascaux artwork can be seen at the Centre of Prehistoric Art at Le Thot, France.

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Since 1998, the cave has been beset with a fungus, variously blamed on a new air conditioning system that was installed in the caves, the use of high-powered lights and the presence of too many visitors. As of 2008, the cave contained black mold which scientists were and still are trying to keep away from the paintings. In January 2008, authorities closed the cave for three months even to scientists and preservationists. A single individual was allowed to enter the cave for 20 minutes once a week to monitor climatic conditions. Now only a few scientific experts are allowed to work inside the cave and just for a few days a month but the efforts to remove the mold have taken a toll, leaving dark patches and damaging the pigments on the walls.

The Lascaux valley is located some distance from the major concentrations of decorated caves and inhabited sites, most of which were discovered further downstream. In the environs of the village of Eyzies-de-Tayac Sireuil, there are 37 decorated caves and shelters, as well as an even greater number of habitation sites from the Upper Paleolithic, located in the open, beneath a sheltering overhang, or at the entrance to one of the area’s karst cavities. This is the highest concentration in western Europe.

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The cave contains nearly 2,000 figures, which can be grouped into three main categories: animals, human figures, and abstract signs. The paintings contain no images of the surrounding landscape or the vegetation of the time. Most of the major images have been painted on the walls using mineral pigments, although some designs have also been incised into the stone. Many images are too faint to discern, and others have deteriorated entirely.

Over 900 can be identified as animals, and 605 of these have been precisely identified. Out of these images, there are 364 paintings of equines as well as 90 paintings of stags. Also represented are cattle and bison, each representing 4 to 5% of the images. A smattering of other images include seven felines, a bird, a bear, a rhinoceros, and a human. There are no images of reindeer, even though that was the principal source of food for the artists. Geometric images have also been found on the walls.

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The most famous section of the cave is The Great Hall of the Bulls where bulls, equines, and stags are depicted. The four black bulls, or aurochs, are the dominant figures among the 36 animals represented here. One of the bulls is 5.2 meters (17 ft) long, the largest animal discovered so far in cave art. The bulls appear to be in motion.

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Less known is the image area called the Abside (Apse), a roundish, semi-spherical chamber similar to an apse in a Romanesque basilica. It is approximately 4.5 meters in diameter (about 5 yards) and covered on every wall surface (including the ceiling) with thousands of entangled, overlapping, engraved drawings. The ceiling of the Apse, which ranges from 1.6 to 2.7 meters high (about 5.2 to 8.9 feet) as measured from the original floor height, is so completely decorated with such engravings that it indicates that the prehistoric people who executed them first constructed a scaffold to do so.

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There are many speculations on the purposes of the art in the Lascaux cave, all suffering from lack of intellectual rigor. Religion and magic are commonly cited as underlying purposes, which is almost laughable given that “ritual object” is the common designation by archeologists for any artifact whose purpose is unclear. There is a common and, I believe, false assumption that prehistoric peoples were deeply superstitious, and that religion and magic derive from superstition. It is often hypothesized, for example, without any evidence, that primitive peoples believed that at the onset of winter the sun was going away and had to be appeased with fire and sacrifice to bring it back. This is a highly ethnocentric slur based on the assumption that primitive people are stupid (and we are oh-so-very smart). Don’t you think that after millennia of spring following winter, people would have caught on?

People have also suggested that the art was part of hunting ritual, analysis of star patterns, depictions of hallucinatory trances, classification of local fauna, and so forth. Has it not occurred to anyone with half a brain that it might simply be decorative art? I have no idea concerning the purpose or purposes of the art were, but, unlike others, I will not waste your time with hypotheses that have no hope of being tested.

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The outlines of hands are my favorites, because they signal to me a vital human presence. The graphic below indicates how they may have been done (by blowing powdered pigment over one’s hand).

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Foods of the Paleolithic era have been of interest since the introduction of the so-called “Paleo Diet.” The idea of a Paleolithic diet can be traced to the work in the 1970s of gastroenterologist Walter Voegtlin. The idea was later developed by Stanley Boyd Eaton and Melvin Konner, and popularized by Loren Cordain in his 2002 book The Paleo Diet, which has many, many imitators. In 2012 the Paleolithic diet was described as being one of the “latest trends” in diets, based on the popularity of diet books about it; in 2013 the diet was Google’s most searched-for weight-loss method. The diet is one of many fad diets that have been promoted in recent times, and draws on an appeal to nature and a narrative of conspiracy theories about how nutritional research, which does not support the paleo diet, is controlled by a malign food industry. I am not part of this “malign” industry; all on my own as a professional anthropologist I can see the flaws in the arguments of the diet’s supporters.

The central tenet of Paleolithic diets is that the modern human digestive system evolved in the Paleolithic era (unproven for starters), and has not evolved since then, although foods have – most notably because of the Neolithic revolution of the domestication of plants and animals, but also because of the relatively recent introduction of junk foods. Therefore, to be true to our bodies we should return to the diet of our ancestors, which means eliminating grains, dairy, excessive fat, carbohydrates, and alcohol, all of which are supposedly products of domestication. This is almost completely fallacious. While it is true that wild animals are leaner than domestic ones, and dairy foods are Neolithic novelties, there are plenty of edible wild grains, carbohydrates exist in wild tubers and other wild foods, and natural yeasts cause fruits, such as grapes, to ferment all by themselves if moistened and left alone.

Paleo diets are also high in meat, fish, and protein based on questionable assumptions about the balance in the average forager diet. Modern ethnographic data are not much help because contemporary foragers live in marginal areas such as the Kalahari and the Arctic north. Diets are completely dependent on what is available. When Richard Lee studied the !Kung of the Kalahari in the 1960s he estimated that about 20% of their diet was protein, whereas in that same period the circumpolar Inuit ate about 95% protein.

It is certainly true that modern people in general eat way too much fat, sugar, starch, processed food, and junk. This is hardly news. Cutting down on these foods is obviously beneficial. My own diet depends a lot on where I am living. I ate a lot of beef, vegetables, and fruit in Buenos Aires, and now, in China, I get a lot of rice, noodles, eggs and mushrooms. I am fortunate that in both countries a lot of the food is locally produced and, therefore, fresh. In southern England and downstate New York, I was very fond of gathering wild foods. There’s something very special about getting something for nothing. I’d always carry bags with me so I could harvest berries, nuts, greens, mushrooms, or whatever I found along the way. Wild mushrooms are a staple for me here in Yunnan province – the varieties available are amazing.

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So I suggest a simple wild mushroom omelet using duck or goose eggs (readily available to foragers). The !Kung eat ostrich eggs which take a bit of getting into, but are huge – enough for a family of four.

Jun 112015
 

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On this date in 1184 BCE, according to the calculations of the Greek mathematician and polymath Eratosthenes, Troy was sacked and burned, thus ending the Trojan War. I wouldn’t say that we can be confident of this dating given that most likely the Trojan War, as described by Homer, never happened (or did not happen as recorded in Iliad and Odyssey), and given that Eratosthenes was using highly dubious historical sources. But the date was the starting point of Eratosthenes’ historical chronology which does have considerable value when we get to events nearer his time. So, why not celebrate it?

According to ancient Greek narratives, the Trojan War was waged against the city of Troy by the Achaeans (Greeks) after Paris of Troy took Helen from her husband Menelaus king of Sparta. The war is one of the most important events in Greek legend and has been narrated through many works of Greek literature, most notably through Homer’s Iliad. The Iliad relates a part of the last year of the siege of Troy; the Odyssey describes the journey home of Odysseus, one of the war’s heroes. Other parts of the war are described in a cycle of epic poems, which have survived through fragments. Episodes from the war provided material for Greek tragedy and other works of Greek literature, and for Roman poets including Virgil and Ovid. There is also a wealth of art from ancient Greece to modern times depicting scenes of the war.

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The war originated from a quarrel between the goddesses Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite, after Eris, the goddess of strife and discord, gave them a golden apple, sometimes known as the Apple of Discord, marked “for the fairest”. Zeus sent the goddesses to Paris, who judged that Aphrodite, as the “fairest”, should receive the apple. In exchange, Aphrodite made Helen (the most beautiful of all women and wife of Menelaus), fall in love with Paris, who took her to Troy. Agamemnon, king of Mycenae and the brother of Helen’s husband Menelaus, led an expedition of Achaean troops to Troy and besieged the city for ten years because of Paris’ insult. After the deaths of many heroes, including the Achaeans Achilles and Ajax, and the Trojans Hector and Paris, the city fell to the ruse of the Trojan Horse. The Achaeans slaughtered the Trojans (except for some of the women and children whom they kept or sold as slaves) and desecrated the temples, thus earning the gods’ wrath. Few of the Achaeans returned safely to their homes and many founded colonies in distant shores. The Romans later traced their origin to Aeneas, one of the Trojans, who was said to have led the surviving Trojans to modern-day Italy.

The end of the war and the sack of Troy came with one final famous plan. Odysseus devised a giant hollow wooden horse, an animal that was sacred to the Trojans. It was built by Epeius and guided by Athena, made from the wood of a cornel tree grove sacred to Apollo, with the inscription:

The Greeks dedicate this thank-offering to Athena for their return home.

A line in the Aeneid became proverbial: “Beware of Greeks, especially when bearing gifts” or simply “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.”

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The hollow horse was filled with soldiers led by Odysseus. The rest of the army burned the camp and sailed for Tenedos. When the Trojans discovered that the Greeks were gone, believing the war was over, they “joyfully dragged the horse inside the city”, while they debated what to do with it. Some thought they ought to hurl it down from the rocks, others thought they should burn it, while others said they ought to dedicate it to Athena.

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Both Cassandra and Laocoön warned against keeping the horse. While Cassandra had been given the gift of prophecy by Apollo, she was also cursed by Apollo never to be believed. Serpents then came out of the sea and devoured Laocoön and his sons, a portent which so alarmed the followers of Aeneas that they withdrew to Ida. The Trojans decided to keep the horse and turned to a night of mad revelry and celebration. Sinon, an Achaean spy, signaled the fleet stationed at Tenedos when “it was midnight and the clear moon was rising” and the soldiers from inside the horse emerged and killed the guards.

The Achaeans entered the city and killed the sleeping population. A great massacre followed which continued into the day.

   Blood ran in torrents, drenched was all the earth,
   As Trojans and their alien helpers died.
   Here were men lying quelled by bitter death
   All up and down the city in their blood.

The Trojans, fueled with desperation, fought back fiercely, despite being disorganized and leaderless. With the fighting at its height, some put on fallen enemies’ armor and launched surprise counterattacks in the chaotic street fighting. Other defenders hurled down roof tiles and anything else heavy on the rampaging attackers. The outlook was grim though, and eventually the remaining defenders were destroyed along with the whole city.

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Antenor, who had given hospitality to Menelaus and Odysseus when they asked for the return of Helen, and who had advocated so, was spared, along with his family. Aeneas took his father on his back and fled, and, according to Apollodorus, was allowed to go because of his piety. This was the incident that begins Virgil’s Latin epic, the Aeneid, concerning the founding of Rome (thus linking ancient Rome with ancient Greece). The Greeks then burned the city and divided the spoils.

The ancient Greeks treated the Trojan War as an historical event which had taken place in the 13th or 12th century BCE, and believed that Troy was located in modern-day Turkey near the Dardanelles. As of the mid-19th century, both the war and the city were widely believed to be non-historical. In 1868, however, the German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann met Frank Calvert, who convinced Schliemann that Troy was at Hissarlik and Schliemann took over Calvert’s excavations on property belonging to Calvert; this claim is now accepted by most scholars. Schliemann is credited with being a pioneer in modern archeology although his methods were extremely crude – he used dynamite when he was frustrated at not being able to get to the lowest levels (VII and below) which he believed contained classic Troy. He, like 19th century archeologists, was interested only in valuable artifacts and so destroyed an untold wealth of information.  Here’s Schliemann’s wife wearing jewelry recovered from Troy:

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Whether there is any historical reality behind the Homeric Trojan War is an open question. Many scholars believe that there is a historical core to the tale, though this may simply mean that the Homeric stories are a fusion of various tales of sieges and expeditions by Mycenaean Greeks during the Bronze Age. Those who believe that the stories of the Trojan War are derived from a specific historical conflict usually date it to the 12th or 11th centuries BCE, often preferring the dates given by Eratosthenes, 1194–1184 BC, which roughly correspond with archaeological evidence of a catastrophic burning of Troy VII. After Troy VII was burned it was not occupied for 500 years.

There are no hard data on specific dishes eaten in this region in the 12th century. Archeology gives us the usual assemblage: pork, beef, lamb, fish, cereals, legumes, olive oil, and wine. Coriander is a common spice. So here is a recreated dish of baked fish in wine and coriander. The Mediterranean was teeming with fish in this era and was an important source of protein. You can use any firm white fish. The ancient Greeks were known to have enjoyed using vinegar and other sour agents in their cooking.

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Baked Fish with Coriander

Ingredients

4 thick cod steaks
2 tbsp coriander seeds
salt
white wine vinegar
olive oil

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350°F

Spread the coriander seeds in one layer in a heavy skillet over medium high heat and toast them for 10 minutes, stirring continuously. Cool and then grind them in a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle (more traditional). Mix with salt to taste.

Douse the cod steaks with extra virgin olive oil on both sides then rub the coriander in, also on both sides.

Oil a covered baking dish and arrange the cod steaks in it, being careful not to place them too close together. Cover and bake for 20-25 minutes, testing to make sure they are cooked towards the end. Do not overcook.

Serve sprinkled with vinegar, with white beans.

Serves 4

Oct 092014
 

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According to Christian tradition, Saint Denis (also called Dionysius, Dennis, or Denys) is a Christian martyr and saint. In the third century, he was Bishop of Paris. He was martyred in connection with the Decian persecution of Christians, shortly after 250 CE. He is venerated in the Roman Catholic Church as patron of Paris, France, and as one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers. The medieval and modern French name “Denis” derives from the ancient name Dionysius. He is patron of France, Paris, against frenzy, strife, headaches, hydrophobia, San Dionisio (Parañaque City), possessed people

Gregory of Tours states that Denis was bishop of the Paris and was martyred by being beheaded by a sword. The earliest document giving an account of his life and martyrdom, the “Passio SS. Dionysii Rustici et Eleutherii” dates from c. 600, is mistakenly attributed to the poet Venantius Fortunatus, and is legendary. Nevertheless, it appears from the Passio that Denis was sent from Italy to convert Gaul in the third century, forging a link with the “apostles to the Gauls” reputed to have been sent out under the direction of Pope Fabian. This was after the persecutions under Emperor Decius had all but dissolved the small Christian community at Lutetia. Denis, with his inseparable companions Rusticus and Eleutherius, who were martyred with him, settled on the Île de la Cité in the River Seine. Roman Paris lay on the higher ground of the Left Bank, away from the river.

Denis, having alarmed the pagan priests by his many conversions, was executed by beheading on the highest hill in Paris (now Montmartre), which was likely to have been a druidic holy place. The martyrdom of Denis and his companions is popularly believed to have given the site its current name, derived from the Latin mons martyrium “The Martyrs’ Mountain,” although the name is possibly derived from mons mercurei et mons martis, Hill of Mercury and Mars. After his head was chopped off, Denis is said to have picked it up and walked ten kilometres (six miles) from the summit of the hill, preaching a sermon the entire way, making him one of many cephalophores in hagiology (look the words up !!). Of the many accounts of this martyrdom, this is noted in detail in the Golden Legend and in Butler’s Lives Of The Saints. The site where he stopped preaching and actually died was marked by a small shrine that developed into the Saint Denis Basilica, which became the burial place for the kings of France.

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Veneration of Saint Denis began soon after his death. The bodies of Saints Denis, Eleutherius, and Rusticus were buried on the spot of their martyrdom, where the construction of the saint’s eponymous basilica was begun by Saint Geneviève, assisted by the people of Paris. Her Vita Sanctae Genovefae attests the presence of a shrine near the present basilica by the close of the fifth century.

A successor church was erected by Fulrad, who became abbot in 749/50 and was closely linked with the accession of the Carolingians to the Merovingian throne.

In time, the “Saint Denis”, often combined as “Montjoie! Saint Denis!” became the war-cry of the French armies. The oriflamme, which became the standard of France, was the banner consecrated upon his tomb. His veneration spread beyond France when, in 754, Pope Stephen II, who was French, brought veneration of Saint Denis to Rome. Soon his cultus was prevalent throughout Europe. Abbot Suger removed the relics of Denis, and those associated with Rustique and Eleuthére, from the crypt to reside under the high altar of the Saint-Denis he rebuilt, 1140-44.

In traditional Catholic practice, Saint Denis is honored as one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers. Specifically, Denis is invoked against diabolical possession and headaches, and with Sainte Geneviève is one of the patron saints of Paris.

October 9 is celebrated as the feast of Saint Denis and companions, a priest named Rusticus and a deacon, Eleutherius, who were martyred alongside him and buried with him. The feast of Saint Denis was added to the Roman Calendar in the year 1568 by Pope Pius V, although it had been celebrated since at least the year 800.

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Denis’ headless walk has led to his being depicted in art decapitated and dressed as a Bishop, holding his own (often mitred) head in his hands. Handling the halo in this circumstance poses a unique challenge for the artist. Some put the halo where the head used to be; others have Saint Denis carrying the halo along with the head.

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Here’s a classic French dish honoring St Denis. It can be made in several ways, but this is classic. You can poach the eggs if you like. You can also use Marchand de vin sauce in place of the one here. This a red wine reduction with demi glace and shallots (pictured with beef). At one time this was a popular dish in New Orleans.

Eggs St Denis

¾ cup chopped lean ham
4 tbsp chopped green onion
1 tbsp chopped cooked liver
2 tbsp chopped mushrooms
6 slices boiled ham
2 tbsp butter
Dash white wine or lemon juice
6 eggs
6 slices toast
salt and pepper
oil for frying

Instructions

Make the sauce by gently sautéing the ham, green onion, liver, and mushrooms together in butter. Add the wine or lemon juice and heat through. Keep warm.

Heat a ½ inch of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Break each egg into a saucer. Then slide them one by one eggs into the oil. Keep turning each egg over with perforated turner to keep them round and to get the whites to cover yolks.

Place a slice of ham and an egg on slices of buttered toast and pour the sauce over.

You can cook these to order, which I find better than cooking them all before serving.

Serves 6