Feb 052019
 

On this date in 1862 [24th January (O.S.)], the Principality of Moldavia and the Principality of Wallachia formally united to create the Romanian United Principalities, the core of the Romanian nation state. In 1866 a new constitution came into effect, giving the country the name of Romania. The new state remained nominally a vassal of the Ottoman Empire. However, it only acknowledged the suzerainty of the Sublime Porte in a formal way. It had its own flag, anthem, and (from 1867) currency, and conducted its own foreign policy. In 1877, Romania proclaimed itself fully independent, and on 26th March [14 March (O.S.)] 1881, it became the kingdom of Romania. After the First World War, Transylvania and other territories were also included.

The aftermath of the Russian Empire’s defeat in the Crimean War brought about the 1856 Treaty of Paris, which started a period of broadly common interests for the Ottomans and a Congress of Great Powers—the United Kingdom, the Second French Empire, the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia, the Austrian Empire, and Prussia. While the Moldavia-Wallachia unionist campaign, which had come to dominate political demands, was accepted with sympathy by the French, Prussians, and Sardinians, it was rejected by the Austrian Empire, and looked upon with suspicion by Great Britain and the Ottomans. Negotiations in Paris reached an agreement on a minimal formal union. However, elections for the ad-hoc divans (consultative assemblies of the two Ottoman vassal states) in 1859 profited from an ambiguity in the text of the final agreement. Moldavia and Wallachia were to have two thrones, but the agreement did not prevent the same person from occupying both thrones simultaneously, and ultimately Alexandru Ioan Cuza was elected as Domnitor (Ruling Prince) to both thrones, de facto creating the United Romanian Principalities from 1862 onwards.

If you know your British history, you will know that when James VI of Scotland became James I of England (on the death of Elizabeth) in 1603, the two countries had one king, but they were still two separate countries. This is called a “personal union” which is different from a “state union” whereby the two formerly distinct states become one state. Because of the ambiguity of the Treaty of Paris, Cuza’s authority was not recognized by his nominal suzerain, Abdülaziz, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, until 23rd December 1861, (and, even then, the union was only accepted for the duration of Cuza’s rule). The state union was formally declared three years later, on 5th February 1862, [24th January (OS)], the new country bearing the name of Romania, with Bucharest as its capital city. Cuza invested his diplomatic actions in gaining further concessions from the Powers: the sultan’s assent to a single unified parliament and cabinet for Cuza’s lifetime, in recognition of the complexity of the task. Thus, he was regarded as the political embodiment of a unified Romania.

There is a great deal more to the solidification of Romania as a nation state and its independence, but I am going to turn to cooking. As you would expect, Romanian cuisine has influences from Austria, Russia, Turkey, Greece and the Balkans, yet has an identifiable character. Soups are very common and, as it happens, ciorba de burta (tripe soup) is a favorite – my wheelhouse. Here is a video. It’s good but you’ll need to sharpen your linguistic skills. The only thing you really need to know is that the white root is celeriac. The cream is sour cream.

Nov 262016
 

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Today is the birthday (1909) of Eugène Ionesco (born Eugen Ionescu), a Romanian-French playwright who wrote mostly in French, and one of the foremost figures of the French Avant-garde theater. He is known primarily for his barbs against the absurdity and insignificance of human existence. Many sources cite his birth year as 1912, an error perpetrated by Ionesco himself, who wanted the year of his birth to coincide with that when his idol, Romanian playwright Caragiale, died.

He spent most of his childhood in France and, while there, had an experience he claimed affected his perception of the world more significantly than any other. Deborah B. Gaensbauer says in Eugène Ionesco Revisited, “Walking in summer sunshine in a white-washed provincial village under an intense blue sky, [Ionesco] was profoundly altered by the light.” He was struck very suddenly with a feeling of intense luminosity, the feeling of floating off the ground and an overwhelming feeling of well-being. When he “floated” back to the ground and the “light” left him, he saw that the real world in comparison was full of decay, corruption and meaningless repetitive action. This also coincided with his revelation that death takes everyone in the end. Much of his later work, reflecting this new perception, demonstrates a disgust for the tangible world, a distrust of communication, and the subtle sense that a better world lies just beyond our reach.

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He returned to Romania with his father and mother in 1925 after his parents divorced. There he attended Saint Sava National College, after which he studied French Literature at the University of Bucharest from 1928 to 1933 and qualified as a teacher of French. While there he met Emil Cioran and Mircea Eliade, and the three became lifelong friends. In 1936 Ionesco married Rodica Burileanu. Together they had one daughter for whom he wrote a number of unconventional children’s stories. He and his family returned to France in 1938 for him to complete his doctoral thesis. Caught by the outbreak of World War II in 1939, he returned to Romania, but soon changed his mind and, with the help of friends, obtained travel documents which allowed him to return to France in 1942, where he remained during the rest of the war, living in Marseilles before moving with his family to Paris after its liberation.

Ionesco died at age 84 on 28 March 1994 and is buried in the Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris. His tombstone reads:

Prier le Je Ne Sais Qui
J’espère : Jesus-Christ.

[Pray to the I don’t-know-who
I hope : Jesus Christ.]

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As I commonly do with writers, I’m going to give you a small section of quotes I like rather than give a formal analysis of Ionesco’s work:

It isn’t what people think that’s important, but the reason they think what they think.

Why do people always expect authors to answer questions? I am an author because I want to ask questions. If I had answers, I’d be a politician.

Ideologies separate us. Dreams and anguish bring us together.

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It’s not a certain society that seems ridiculous to me, it’s mankind.

God is dead. Marx is dead. And I don’t feel so well myself.

Everything that has been will be, everything that will be is, everything that will be has been.

The most implacable enemies of culture — Rimbaud, Lautréamont, dadaism, surrealism — end up being assimilated and absorbed by it. They all wanted to destroy culture, at least organized culture, and now they’re part of our heritage.

The more you make revolutions, the worse it gets.

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I am writing the memoirs of a man who has lost his memory.

There are more dead people than living. And their numbers are increasing. The living are getting rarer.

The fact that I despise religion doesn’t mean I don’t esteem it highly.

I’ll never waste my dreams by falling asleep. Never again.

There are many sides to reality. Choose the one that’s best for you.

I can easily picture the worst, because the worst can easily happen.

Although Ionesco is part of the French theater tradition he is decidedly Romanian, so a Romanian recipe is in order. Romanian cuisine is a diverse blend of several culinary traditions with which it has come into contact, but it also maintains its own character. It has been greatly influenced by Ottoman cuisine, while it also includes influences from the cuisines of other neighbors, including German, Serbian, Bulgarian, and Hungarian cuisine. The general category ciorbă includes a wide range of soups with a characteristic sour taste. These may be meat and vegetable soups, tripe and calf foot soups, or fish soups, all of which are soured by lemon juice, sauerkraut juice, vinegar, or borș (traditionally home made from fermented bran).

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Ciorbă de burtă is a very famous Romanian tripe soup, and since my apparent obsession with tripe seems absurd to most of my friends, a recipe for tripe soup seems suitable to honor Ionesco. The Romanian journalist Radu Anton Roman said about ciorbă de burtă: “This dish looks like it is made for drunk coachmen but it has the most sophisticated and pretentious mode of preparation in all Romanian cuisine. It’s sour and sweet, hot and velvety, fatty but delicate, eclectic and simple at the same time.”

Ciorbă de Burtă

Ingredients:

1 kg veal tripe
1 or 2 fresh beef bones with no meat
6-8 whole peppercorns
1 bay leaf
¼ cup grated carrots
vegetable oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
2 egg yolks
100 gm sour cream
salt and pepper
vinegar

Instructions

Put the tripe and beef bones in a saucepan with cold water to cover, and add the peppercorns and bay leaf. Bring slowly to a gentle simmer and cook covered for at least an hour, or until the tripe is cook but not slimy. Getting it just al dente takes experience. Strain and reserve the broth. Discard the bones, peppercorn and bay leaf.

Cut the tripe into strips about 3” long and ½” wide. Place the tripe and broth in a clean pot and gently reheat.

Sauté the carrots over medium heat in a little oil until soft and then add to the soup.

Mash the garlic with a small amount of oil (or water) and add to the soup. Add vinegar to taste. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed.

With the soup on a very gentle simmer, whisk the egg yolks with the sour cream.  Temper the cream by whisking in to it a ladle of hot broth. Then add the cream to the soup, whisking vigorously. Heat through, still whisking. ­

Serve with crusty bread.