Jan 172018
 

Popeye the Sailor, created by Elzie Crisler Segar, first appeared in the daily King Features comic strip, Thimble Theatre, on this date in 1929, and Popeye became the strip’s title in later years. Popeye has since appeared in cinematic and television animated cartoons. Segar’s Thimble Theatre strip was in its 10th year when Popeye made his debut, but the one-eyed (left) sailor quickly became the main focus of the strip, and Thimble Theatre became one of King Features’ most popular properties during the 1930s. After Segar’s death in 1938, Thimble Theatre was continued by several writers and artists, most notably Segar’s assistant Bud Sagendorf. The strip continues to appear in first-run installments in its Sunday edition, written and drawn by Hy Eisman. The daily strips are reprints of old Sagendorf stories.

In 1933, Max Fleischer adapted the Thimble Theatre characters into a series of Popeye the Sailor theatrical cartoon shorts for Paramount Pictures. These cartoons proved to be among the most popular of the 1930s, and Fleischer—and later Paramount’s own Famous Studios—continued production through 1957. These cartoon shorts are now owned by Turner Entertainment, a subsidiary of Time Warner, and distributed by its sister company Warner Bros. Entertainment.

Over the years, Popeye has also appeared in comic books, television cartoons, arcade and video games, hundreds of advertisements, and peripheral products (ranging from spinach to candy cigarettes), and the 1980 live-action film directed by Robert Altman, starring Robin Williams as Popeye.

Differences in Popeye’s story and characterization vary depending on the medium. Originally, Popeye got his strength from rubbing the head of the Whiffle Hen, changing to spinach by 1932. Swee’Pea is definitively Popeye’s ward in the comic strips, but he is often depicted as belonging to Olive Oyl in cartoons. There is no absolute sense of continuity in the stories, although certain plot and presentation elements remain mostly constant, including purposeful contradictions in Popeye’s capabilities. Popeye seems bereft of manners and uneducated, yet he is often depicted as capable of coming up with solutions to problems that seem insurmountable to the police or, most importantly, the scientific community. Popeye has, alternatively, displayed Sherlock Holmes-like investigative prowess (determining, for instance, that his beloved Olive was abducted by estimating the depth of the villains’ footprints in the sand), scientific ingenuity (as his construction, within a few hours, of a “spinach-drive” spacecraft), or oversimplified (yet successful) diplomatic arguments (by presenting his own existence—and superhuman strength—as the only true guarantee of world peace at diplomatic conferences). Popeye’s pipe also proves to be highly versatile. Among other things, it has served as a cutting torch, jet engine, propeller, periscope, musical instrument, and, of course, a whistle with which he produces his trademark toot. Popeye also on occasion eats spinach through his pipe, sometimes sucking in the can itself along with the contents. Since the 1970s, Popeye is seldom depicted using his pipe to smoke tobacco.

Popeye’s exploits are also enhanced by a few recurring plot elements. One is the love triangle among Popeye, Olive, and Bluto, and the latter’s endless machinations to claim Olive at Popeye’s expense. Another is his near-saintly perseverance in overcoming any obstacle to please Olive, who often renounces Popeye for Bluto’s dime-store advances. She is the only character that Popeye will permit to give him a thumping. Finally, Popeye usually uncovers villainous plots by accidentally sneaking up on the antagonists as they brag about or lay out their schemes.[citation needed.

Thimble Theatre was cartoonist E. C. Segar’s third published strip when it first appeared in the New York Journal on December 19, 1919. The paper’s owner William Randolph Hearst also owned King Features Syndicate, which syndicated the strip. Thimble Theatre was intended as a replacement for Midget Movies by Ed Wheelan (Wheelan having recently resigned from King Features). It did not attract a large audience at first, and at the end of its first decade appeared in only half a dozen newspapers. In its early years, the strip featured characters acting out various stories and scenarios in theatrical style (hence the strip’s name). It could be classified as a gag-a-day comic in those days.

Thimble Theatre’s first main characters were the thin Olive Oyl and her boyfriend Harold Hamgravy. After the strip moved away from its initial focus, it settled into a comedy-adventure style featuring Olive, Ham Gravy, and Olive’s enterprising brother Castor Oyl. Olive’s parents Cole and Nana Oyl also made frequent appearances. Popeye first appeared in the strip as a minor character. He was initially hired by Castor Oyl and Ham to crew a ship for a voyage to Dice Island, the location of a casino owned by the crooked gambler Fadewell. Castor intended to break the bank at the casino using the unbeatable good luck conferred by stroking the hairs on the head of Bernice the Whiffle Hen. Weeks later, on the trip back, Popeye is shot many times by Jack Snork, a stooge of Fadewell’s, but survives by rubbing Bernice’s head. After the adventure, Popeye left the strip but, due to reader reaction, he was quickly brought back.

The Popeye character became so popular that he was given a larger role, and the strip was expanded into many more newspapers as a result. Initial strips presented Olive as being less than impressed with Popeye, but she eventually left Ham Gravy to become Popeye’s girlfriend and Ham Gravy left the strip as a regular. Over the years, however, she has often displayed a fickle attitude towards Popeye. Castor Oyl continued to come up with get-rich-quick schemes and enlisted Popeye in his misadventures. Eventually, he settled down as a detective and later on bought a ranch out West. Castor has seldom appeared in recent years.

In 1933, Popeye received a foundling baby in the mail, whom he adopted and named “Swee’Pea.” Other regular characters in the strip were J. Wellington Wimpy, a hamburger-loving moocher who would “gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today” (he was also soft-spoken and cowardly; Vickers Wellington bombers were nicknamed “Wimpys” after the character); George W. Geezil, a local cobbler who spoke in a heavily affected accent and habitually attempted to murder or wish death upon Wimpy; and Eugene the Jeep, a yellow, vaguely dog-like animal from Africa with magical powers. In addition, the strip featured the Sea Hag, a terrible pirate, as well as the last witch on earth (her even more terrible sister excepted); Alice the Goon, a monstrous creature who entered the strip as the Sea Hag’s henchwoman and continued as Swee’Pea’s babysitter; and Toar, a caveman.

Segar’s strip was quite different from the cartoons that followed. The stories were more complex, with many characters that never appeared in theatric cartoons (King Blozo, for example). Popeye rarely ate spinach, and Bluto made only one appearance. Segar would sign some of his early Popeye comic strips with a cigar, due to his last name being a homophone of “cigar” (pronounced SEE-gar).

After Segar’s death in 1938, many different artists were hired to draw the strip. Tom Sims, the son of a Coosa River channel-boat captain, continued writing Thimble Theatre strips and established the Popeye the Sailorman spin-off. Doc Winner and Bela Zaboly, successively, handled the artwork during Sims’s run. Eventually, Ralph Stein stepped in to write the strip until the series was taken over by Bud Sagendorf in 1959.

Sagendorf wrote and drew the daily strip until 1986, and continued to write and draw the Sunday strip until his death in 1994. Sagendorf, who had been Segar’s assistant, made a definite effort to retain much of Segar’s classic style, although his art is instantly discernible. Sagendorf continued to use many obscure characters from the Segar years, especially O.G. Wotasnozzle and King Blozo. Sagendorf’s new characters, such as the Thung, also had a very Segar-like quality. What set Sagendorf apart from Segar more than anything else was his sense of pacing. Where plotlines moved very quickly with Segar, it would sometimes take an entire week of Sagendorf’s daily strips for the plot to be advanced even a small amount.

From 1986 to 1992, the daily strip was written and drawn by Bobby London, who, after some controversy, was fired from the strip for a story that could be taken to satirize abortion. London’s strips put Popeye and his friends in updated situations, but kept the spirit of Segar’s original. One classic storyline, titled “The Return of Bluto”, showed the sailor battling every version of the bearded bully from the comic strip, comic books, and animated films. The Sunday edition of the comic strip is currently drawn by Hy Eisman, who took over in 1994. The daily strip began featuring reruns of Sagendorf’s strips after London was fired and continues to do so today.

Even though Popeye did not use spinach to gain strength in his earliest incarnation, spinach and Popeye are now completely wedded. Spinach is an extremely versatile food, and is one of my favorites. I always grew it in containers in my garden in New York, and used it primarily for salads. Because raw spinach contains oxalic acid, which blocks absorption of iron and calcium and may contribute to the formation of kidney stones, there was a time when health nuts avoided spinach that was not cooked. It is now understood, however, that the amount of oxalic acid in spinach is not as deleterious as once thought, and regular eating of probiotics in natural yoghurt and kefir counteracts the acid. On the other hand, if you boil or steam spinach you should discard the water, as well as the liquid it is packed in if you use canned.

I will put spinach in pretty much anything if I have it on hand: soups and stews, omelets, pots of lentils or beans. Curries in India can be made with all the ingredients cooked slowly for hours and if they have spinach (sa’ag) in them, it becomes silky and smooth, almost blending into the sauce. Or you can lightly steam spinach on its own. I cook it by rinsing it thoroughly in a colander, then placing it in a dry saucepan over high heat covered, and letting it steam for a few minutes until it cooks down. Drain off the excess juices and serve it hot or cold as a side dish – plain or dressed with a little sesame oil (although in keeping with the Popeye theme it ought to be olive oil — no comment on extra virgin please). You can put chopped, steamed spinach in sour cream or yoghurt as a dip, or use it as the main ingredient in cream of spinach soup. Spinach will go with anything. Eggs Florentine are like eggs Benedict except you replace the ham with spinach – delicious. “Florentine” is the culinary shorthand for “with spinach.” Hollow out a baked potato and stuff it with spinach and cheese for potatoes Florentine. Use your imagination.

Jan 142018
 

Today is the birthday (1741), according to the Gregorian calendar [O.S. January 3, 1740], of Benedict Arnold, a general during the American Revolutionary War, who fought for the American Continental Army, and later defected to the British Army, making his name in the US a byword for “turncoat” or “traitor.” I will give you the short version here. You can read about the complexities on your own. Rather uncharacteristically these days, I want to focus more on my recipe than on the anniversary it celebrates.

Arnold was born in Connecticut and was a merchant operating ships on the Atlantic Ocean when the war broke out in 1775. He joined the growing army outside Boston and distinguished himself through acts of intelligence and bravery. His actions included the Capture of Fort Ticonderoga in 1775, defensive and delaying tactics at the Battle of Valcour Island on Lake Champlain in 1776 (allowing American forces time to prepare New York’s defenses), the Battle of Ridgefield, Connecticut (after which he was promoted to major general), operations in relief of the Siege of Fort Stanwix, and key actions during the pivotal Battles of Saratoga in 1777, in which he suffered leg injuries that halted his combat career for several years.

Despite Arnold’s successes, he was passed over for promotion by the Continental Congress, while other officers claimed credit for some of his accomplishments. Adversaries in military and political circles brought charges of corruption or other malfeasance, but most often he was acquitted in formal inquiries. Congress investigated his accounts and concluded that he was indebted to Congress, even though he had also spent much of his own money on the war effort. Arnold was frustrated and bitter at this state of affairs.

Arnold was also not happy with the American colonies’ alliance with France and the failure of Congress to accept Britain’s 1778 proposal to grant full self-governance in the colonies. He decided to change sides, and opened secret negotiations with the British. In July 1780, he was awarded command of West Point, New York (at the time a fort which would become the site of the U.S. Military Academy in 1802), overlooking the cliffs at the Hudson River (upriver from British-occupied New York City), and planned to surrender them to British forces. His scheme was to surrender the fort to the British, but it was exposed when American forces captured British Major John André carrying papers which revealed the plot. Upon learning of André’s capture, Arnold fled down the Hudson River to the British sloop-of-war Vulture, narrowly avoiding capture by the forces of George Washington, who had been alerted to the plot.

Arnold received a commission as a brigadier general in the British Army, an annual pension of £360, and a lump sum of over £6,000. He led British forces on raids in Virginia and against New London and Groton, Connecticut before the war effectively ended with the American victory at Yorktown. In the winter of 1782, he moved to London with his second wife Margaret “Peggy” Shippen Arnold. He was well received by King George III and the Tories, but rather coolly by the Whigs. In 1787, he returned to the merchant business with his sons Richard and Henry in Saint John, New Brunswick. He returned to London to settle permanently in 1791, where he died ten years later.

The name “Benedict Arnold” quickly became a byword in the United States for a person who commits some sort of betrayal.  At one time the fact that Arnold betrayed his country by leading the British army in battle against the men he once commanded, was common knowledge. Benjamin Franklin wrote that Arnold was worse than Judas because “Judas sold only one man, Arnold three millions.” Nowadays, what Arnold actually did is less well known, but his name is still invoked for someone accused of being a turncoat. Why he did what he did is really hard to fathom.  Being unfairly overlooked for promotion can make you bitter, and wanting a long, drawn-out war to end when there is a chance for peace that is rejected by your seniors, can make you frustrated. Those things might make you disaffected enough to want to quit, even to leave the country, maybe migrate to England. But why would you become a commanding officer for the country you had been fighting against? There are answers to these questions, but I will leave you to find out more about Arnold and decide for yourself. Meanwhile I want to talk about foods that are turncoats.

When I get round to it – if I get round to it – I am going to write a cookbook on some basic dishes that we can make in the classic way, or we can change in some fashion or another so that they become “turncoats” of a sort. One will be eggs Benedict. If you check around you will find that eggs Benedict have absolutely nothing to do with Benedict Arnold, even though you can find recipes called “eggs Benedict Arnold.” The recipes are usually standard eggs Benedict with a change of name. But what if we change the ingredients? Then we would have true eggs Benedict Arnold. As it happens, this is by no means a new thought. In fact, I have already given a recipe for eggs Florentine which uses spinach in place of Canadian ham: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/machiavelli/ 

Standard eggs Benedict are a toasted English muffin, Canadian bacon, and a poached egg smothered in Hollandaise sauce. You can switch out any one of these four ingredients for another and you have your turncoat dish.  Here’s a list (and partial gallery) of these Benedict Arnold egg dishes (with the names they sometimes are called by):

Eggs Blackstone: streaky bacon instead of ham (sometimes with a tomato slice).

Eggs Blanchard: béchamel sauce instead of Hollandaise.

Eggs Chesapeake: Maryland blue crab cake instead of ham.

Eggs Mornay: Mornay sauce instead of Hollandaise.

Eggs Omar: a small steak instead of ham, (sometimes replaces the hollandaise with béarnaise).

Eggs Atlantic (also Eggs Hemingway, Eggs Copenhagen, Eggs Royale, Eggs Montreal, or Eggs Benjamin): smoked salmon instead of ham.

Huevos Benedictinos: sliced avocado and/or Mexican chorizo instead of ham, and salsa with the Hollandaise.

Irish Eggs Benedict: corned beef or Irish bacon instead of ham.

This is just a start for you. Take any of the ingredients and substitute something else. Eggs need to be poached, I think, but what about using a duck egg? What could you substitute for ham, or for the English muffin?

Nov 032017
 

Today is the central day (full moon) of Bon Om Touk (បុណ្យអុំទូក]), the Cambodian Royal Water Festival, that marks a reversal of the flow of the Tonlé Sap river. The Tonlé Sap river is unique in that it reverses flow twice a year. The river runs between Tonlé Sap lake in central Cambodia and the Mekong river in Phnom Penh and its direction of flow is determined by the height of the water in the lake. At the end of the monsoon season the lake reaches its maximum height and the Mekong is at its minimum, so flow begins out of the lake into the Mekong. In May/June inflow begins.

The full moon this lunar month, the Buddhist month of Kadeuk, is considered especially fortuitous. At midnight tonight the faithful will worship in temples throughout Cambodia. They will also make offerings of, and eat, ak ambok, a special rice dish produced only for the festival. It is made by parching rice in the husk, pulverizing it flat, then mixing it with banana and coconut. Don’t try this at home !!!

I live in Phnom Penh and so get to witness Bon Om Touk first hand. All of the photos in this post are my own from this year (2017). Bon Om Touk is celebrated in various ways throughout Cambodia, but the biggest and most famous festival takes place in Phnom Penh. Websites say that millions flock here each year, from parts of Cambodia and abroad, but I think that “millions” may be stretching it a bit. Walking around by day and by night has been crowded in places, but relatively easy in comparison with many other festivals I have been to world wide where you can be hemmed in on all sides.

The festival in Phnom Penh has 3 major components:

  1. Boat racing on the Tonlé Sap river.

These races take place over three days, consisting of rowing teams from all over Cambodia representing villages, work organizations, and other associations.  There are about 40 rowers per team, and the races take place continuously in daylight hours. They race in pairs which cross the finish line about once every minute or so. Spectators sit on the palace quay or stand on the banks. It’s not a mob scene, not least because few observers know precisely what’s going on, or who is racing at any particular time.

According to tradition the boat racing dates from the year 1177 when an enemy fleet moved upstream and across Tonlé Sap lake to sack the city of Angkor. Although they did sack it, the Cambodian king Jayavarman VII chased them down the river with his own navy and defeated them.

  1. Illuminated barges.

After dark, illuminated, highly decorated barges sail along the river in front of the palace quay. The barges represent various Cambodian agencies and associations.

3. Fireworks

 

Each night after dusk there are massive firework displays over the river (while the barges are sailing along). They last between 20 and 30 minutes and are non-stop barrages of light and sound.

After the activities on the river there are carnivals near the palace with food, music, and dancing.

You guessed it.  You want Cambodian festival food?  Come to Cambodia.  Here’s a video which shows that the techniques are not that difficult, but you won’t find the ingredients.  I eat this omelet all the time. It’s readily available in the market. It’s common to eat it with plain rice.

Nov 022017
 

Today is All Souls’ Day commemorating All Souls, the Holy Souls, or the Faithful Departed, that is, the souls of Christians who have died. Observing Christians typically remember deceased relatives on the day. In Western Christianity the annual celebration is now held on 2 November and is associated with the three days of Allhallowtide, including All Saints’ Day (1 November) and its vigil, All Hallows Eve (31 October):

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/allhallowtide/

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/all-saints-day/

It’s taken me quite a few years to tick off all three days of the triduum, but this year I can complete the set with All Souls. Just about every culture I know of, worldwide, has a special day (or season) to pay homage to the dead. Eventually – if I keep posting – I’ll mention Celtic Samhain which occurs around this time, marking the passage from the summer to the winter season, and is associated with the appearance of spirits of the dead. Unfortunately customs from Samhain and Halloween have merged over the years, and it will be good to pull them apart, as is my wont.

In the Catholic Church, “the faithful” refers specifically to baptized Catholics. The term “all souls” commemorates the church penitent of souls in Purgatory, whereas “all saints” commemorates the church triumphant of saints in Heaven. In the liturgical books of the western Catholic Church (the Latin Church) it is called the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (Commemoratio omnium fidelium defunctorum). Protestants don’t buy into the idea of Purgatory, but both Lutherans and Calvinists have a long tradition of honoring the day. Anglicans are iffy about it (which fits my general belief that Anglicans have never quite made up their minds about whether they want to be Catholic or not – they can’t make up their minds about much of anything).

Saint Odilo of Cluny (c. 962 – 1 January 1049), fifth Benedictine Abbot of Cluny, established All Souls’ Day on 2nd November in Cluny and its monasteries as the annual commemoration to pray for all the faithful departed. The practice was soon adopted throughout the whole Western church (but not the Eastern rite). Among continental Protestants the All Souls tradition has been tenaciously maintained. During Luther’s lifetime, All Souls’ Day was widely observed in Saxony although the Roman Catholic meaning of the day was discarded. Ecclesiastically in the Lutheran Church, the day was merged with, and is often seen as an extension of All Saints’ Day, with many Lutherans still visiting and decorating graves on all the days of Allhallowtide, including All Souls’ Day. Just as it is the custom of French people to decorate the graves of their dead on the jour des morts, so German, Polish, Czech, and Hungarian people visit graveyards once a year with offerings of flowers and special grave lights.

I may get round to a lengthier exposition on the Day of the Dead in Mexico one year. Indigenous celebrations of the departed have been going on in Mexico for millennia. After Spanish colonization these celebrations became linked to the Allhallowtide triduum in some parts of Mexico, especially the south. El Día de Muertos (NOT El Día de LOS Muertos, you Anglophone heathens), can be celebrated on November 1 or 2 or both. In some traditions the 1st is reserved for departed infants and children, and the 2nd for departed adults. Plans for the day are made throughout the year, including gathering the goods to be offered to the dead. During the three-day period families usually clean and decorate graves. Most visit the cemeteries where their loved ones are buried and decorate their graves with ofrendas (altars), which often include orange Mexican marigolds (Tagetes erecta) called cempasúchil (originally named cempoaxochitl, Nāhuatl for “twenty flowers”). In modern Mexico the marigold is sometimes called Flor de Muerto. These flowers are thought to attract souls of the dead to the offerings.

Toys are brought for dead children (los angelitos), and bottles of tequila, mezcal or pulque or jars of atole for adults. Families will also offer trinkets or the deceased’s favorite candies on the grave. Some families have ofrendas in homes, usually with foods such as candied pumpkin, pan de muerto, and sugar skulls; and beverages such as atole.

Here’s my favorite requiem for the day (favorite because I sang in it as a teen):

You’ve got a wide range of possibilities for recipes today. I’ve already given you recipes for soul cakes and mashed potatoes and turnips with fish to celebrate the season. I’ll go with eggs in Purgatory today.

Eggs in Purgatory

Ingredients:

6 to 8 large eggs
2 large cans tomatoes, drained and diced
3 tbsp olive oil
¾ cup shredded melting cheese
1 lb fresh mushrooms, thinly sliced
fresh parsley, chopped
salt and pepper

Instructions

Heat the olive oil in a deep skillet over high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring until they become soft and their juices, if any, have evaporated. Add the tomatoes and stir to heat thoroughly. With a spoon, make 6 to 8 (for each egg) nest spaces and break an egg into each space. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste and cover evenly with cheese. Cover the pan and cook on low heat until the eggs are set. Garnish with parsley. Serve with crusty bread or toast.

Sep 292016
 

mc1

Today is widely assumed to be the birthday (1547) of Miguel Cervantes, or Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra,  author of Don Quixote, who was born in Alcalá de Henares, a Castilian city about 35 kilometers (22 mi) northeast ofMadrid, probably on 29 September. The probable date of his birth was determined from records in the church register, given the tradition of naming a child after the feast day of his birth. He was baptized in Alcalá de Henares on 9 October 1547 at the parish church of Santa María la Mayor. The register of baptisms records the following:

On Sunday, the ninth day of the month of October, the year of our Lord one thousand five hundred forty and seven, Miguel, son of Rodrigo Cervantes and his wife Leonor, was baptized; his godfathers were Juan Pardo; he was baptized by the Reverend Bachelor Bartolomé Serrano, Priest of Our Lady. Witnesses, Baltasar Vázquez, Sexton, and I, who baptized him and signed this in my name. Bachelor Serrano.

mc2

Miguel at birth was not surnamed Cervantes Saavedra. He adopted the “Saavedra” name as an adult. By Spanish naming conventions his second surname was from his maternal line.

Miguel’s father, Rodrigo, was a barber-surgeon from Córdoba, who set bones, performed bloodlettings, and attended “lesser medical needs.” At that time, it was common for barbers to do surgery, as well. His paternal grandfather, Juan de Cervantes, was an influential lawyer who held several administrative positions. His uncle was mayor of Cabra for many years.

His mother, Leonor de Cortinas, was a native of Arganda del Rey and the third daughter of a nobleman, who lost his fortune and so sold his daughter into matrimony in 1543. This led to a very awkward marriage and several affairs by Rodrigo. Leonor died on 19 October 1593.

mc13

Little is known of Cervantes’ early years. It seems he spent much of his childhood moving from town to town with his family. During this time, he met a young barmaid named Josefina Catalina de Parez. The couple fell madly in love and plotted to run away together. Her father discovered their plans and forbade Josefina from ever seeing Cervantes again, perhaps because of the young man’s poor prospects of ever rising from poverty—Miguel’s own father was embargoed for debt. The court records of the proceedings show a very poor household. While some of his biographers argue that he studied at the University of Salamanca, there is no solid evidence for supposing that he did so. There has also been speculation also that Cervantes studied with the Jesuits in Córdoba or Seville.

mc12

The reasons that forced Cervantes to leave Spain remain uncertain. Whether he was a “student” of the same name, a “sword-wielding fugitive from justice”, or fleeing from a royal warrant of arrest, for having wounded a certain Antonio de Sigura in a duel, is unclear. Like many young Spanish men who wanted to further their careers, Cervantes left for Italy: in Rome he focused his attention on Renaissance art, architecture, and poetry and knowledge of Italian literature is discernible in his work.

By 1570, Cervantes had enlisted as a soldier in a regiment of the Spanish Navy Marines, Infantería de Marina, stationed in Naples, then a possession of the Spanish crown. He was there for about a year before he saw active service. In September 1571 Cervantes sailed on board the Marquesa, part of the galley fleet of the Holy League (a coalition of Pope Pius V, Spain, the Republic of Venice, the Republic of Genoa, the Duchy of Savoy, the Knights Hospitaller based in Malta, and others, under the command of Philip II of Spain’s illegitimate half brother, John of Austria) that defeated the Ottoman fleet on October 7 in the Battle of Lepanto, in the Gulf of Patras. Though taken down with fever, Cervantes refused to stay below, and asked to be allowed to take part in the battle, saying he would rather die for his God and his king than keep under cover. He fought on board a vessel, and received three gunshot wounds – two in the chest and one which rendered his left arm useless. In Journey to Parnassus he wrote that he “had lost the movement of the left hand for the glory of the right” (he was thinking of the success of the first part of Don Quixote). Cervantes looked back on his conduct in the battle with pride: he believed he had taken part in an event that shaped the course of European history.

mc3

After the Battle of Lepanto, Cervantes remained in hospital in Messina, Italy, for about six months, before his wounds were sufficiently healed to allow his joining the colors again. From 1572 to 1575, based mainly in Naples, he continued his soldier’s life: he participated in expeditions to Corfu and Navarino, and saw the fall of Tunis and La Goulette to the Turks in 1574.

On September 6 or 7, 1575 Cervantes set sail on the galley Sol from Naples to Barcelona, with letters of commendation to the king from the Duke of Sessa. On the morning of September 26, as the Sol approached the Catalan coast, it was attacked by Ottoman pirates and he was taken to Algiers, which had become one of the main and most cosmopolitan cities of the Ottoman Empire, and was kept here in captivity between the years of 1575 and 1580.  After five years spent as a slave in Algiers, and four unsuccessful escape attempts, he was ransomed by his parents and the Trinitarians and returned to his family in Madrid. Not surprisingly, this traumatic period of Cervantes’ life supplied subject matter for several of his literary works, notably the captive’s tale in Don Quixote and the two plays set in Algiers – El trato de Argel (Life in Algiers) and Los baños de Argel (The Dungeons of Algiers) – as well as episodes in a number of other writings, although never in straight autobiographical form.

Cervantes led a middle-class life after his return to Spain. Like almost all authors of his day, he was unable to support himself through his writings. Two periods of his life that are very well documented are his years of work in Andalucía as a purchasing agent for the Spanish navy (i.e., the King). This led to his imprisonment for a few months in Seville after a banker with whom he had deposited Crown funds went bankrupt. (Since Cervantes says that Don Quixote was “engendered” in a prison, that is presumably a reference to this episode.) Also he worked as a tax collector, traveling from town to town collecting back taxes due the crown. He applied unsuccessfully for “one of four vacant positions in the New World”, one of them as an accountant for the port of Cartagena.

mc8

At the time he was living in Valladolid, then briefly the capital (1601–1606), and finishing Don Quixote Part One, he was presumably working in the banking industry, or a related occupation where his accounting skills could be put to use. He was turned down for a position as secretary to Pedro Fernández de Castro y Andrade, the Count of Lemos, although he did receive some type of pension from him, which permitted him to write full-time during his final years (about 1610 to 1616). His last known written words – the dedication to Persiles y Sigismunda – were written, he tells us, after having received Extreme Unction. He died in 1616 of type II diabetes. His burial place in Madrid was reportedly rediscovered in March 2015, but his unpublished manuscripts were mostly lost.

While April 23, 1616 was recorded as the date of his death in some references, and is the date on which his death is widely commemorated (along with that of William Shakespeare), Cervantes in fact died in Madrid the previous day, April 22. He was buried on 23 April. The cause of his death, according to Antonio López Alonso, a modern physician who has examined the surviving documentation, was type-2 diabetes, a result of a cirrhosis of the liver.

mc6

In accordance with Cervantes’ will, he was buried in the neighboring Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians, in central Madrid. His bones went missing in 1673 when building work was done at the convent, and were known to have been taken to a different convent and returned later. A project promoted and led by Fernando de Prado began in 2014 to rediscover his remains.

In January 2015, it was reported that researchers searching for Cervantes’ remains had found part of a casket bearing his initials, MC, at the convent. Francisco Etxeberria, the forensic anthropologist leading the search, said: “Remains of caskets were found, wood, rocks, some bone fragments, and indeed one of the fragments of a board of one of the caskets had the letters ‘M.C.’ formed in tacks.” The first significant search for Cervantes’ remains had been launched in May 2014 and had involved the use of infrared cameras, 3D scanners and ground-penetrating radar. The team had identified 33 alcoves where bones could be stored.

On 17 March 2015, it was reported that Cervantes’ remains had been discovered, along with those of his wife and others, at the Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians. Through documentary research, archaeologists stated that they had identified the remains as those of Cervantes. Clues from Cervantes’ life, such as the loss of the use of his left hand at age 24 and the fact that he had taken at least one bullet to the chest, were hoped to help in the identification. Historian Fernando de Prado had spent more than four years trying to find funding before Madrid City Council had agreed to pay and DNA testing was carried out to confirm the findings.

mc5

On 11 June 2015, Cervantes was given a formal burial at a Madrid convent, containing a monument holding bone fragments that were believed to have been the author’s.

I don’t feel the need to give a fulsome appraisal of Don Quixote. You’ve either read it or you haven’t. At the very least you know that it is considered a great classic of literature and probably know the famous bits. In Spanish-speaking schools it’s required reading.  For Latin Americans it’s tough work because it’s in a dialect that is alien, let alone being old-fashioned Spanish. I put it in the pile of long rambling tales from long ago, such as Moby Dick, and Robinson Crusoe, that clearly have a solid, powerful core, but are desperately in need of a ruthless editor.

Although burlesque on the surface, the novel, especially in its second half, has served as an important thematic source not only in literature but also in much of art and music, inspiring works by Pablo Picasso and Richard Strauss. The contrasts between the tall, thin, fancy-struck and idealistic Quixote and the fat, squat, world-weary Panza is a motif echoed ever since the book’s publication, and Don Quixote’s imaginings are the butt of outrageous and cruel practical jokes in the novel.

mc9

Even faithful and simple Sancho is forced to deceive him at certain points. The novel is considered a satire of orthodoxy, veracity and even nationalism. In exploring the individualism of his characters, Cervantes helped move beyond the narrow literary conventions of the chivalric romance literature that he spoofed, which consists of straightforward retelling of a series of acts that redound to the knightly virtues of the hero. The character of Don Quixote became so well known in its time that the word quixotic was quickly adopted by many languages. Characters such as Sancho Panza and Don Quixote’s steed, Rocinante, are emblems of Western literary culture. The phrase “tilting at windmills” to describe an act of attacking imaginary enemies, derives from an iconic scene in the book.

mc4

It stands in a unique position between medieval chivalric romance and the modern novel. The former consist of disconnected stories featuring the same characters and settings with little exploration of the inner life of even the main character. The latter are usually focused on the psychological evolution of their characters. In Part I, Quixote imposes himself on his environment. By Part II, people know about him through “having read his adventures,” and so he needs to do less to maintain his image. By his deathbed, he has regained his sanity, and is once more “Alonso Quixano the Good.”

mc10

Finding a recipe for Quixote is simple. The book famously opens:

In a village of La Mancha, the name of which I have no desire to call to mind, there lived not long since one of those gentlemen that keep a lance in the lance-rack, an old buckler, a lean hack, and a greyhound for coursing.

Then we get the less famous:

 An olla of rather more beef than mutton, a salad on most nights, scraps on Saturdays, lentils on Fridays, and a pigeon or so extra on Sundays.

The “olla” (cooking pot) is the standard stock pot, constantly on the simmer, with meats and vegetables coming and going over the course of the week. Friday was meatless, Saturday the olla was finished and cleaned, and Sunday was for special treats. Very basic fare all round.  The recipe of the day must be duelos y quebrantos (mourning and losses) which is a classic dish from La Mancha mentioned in Don Quixote. At heart it is a dish of scrambled egg with fried bread and meat of some sort, flavored with paprika. Brains were once a common ingredient but now Spanish chorizo is more usual. If you can find lamb’s brains or kidneys you might want to try them, although I suspect the brains are impossible to find in the West these days because of BSE. Kidneys are easy enough to get, but you’ll find ox kidneys more commonly than lamb’s (which are delicious).

mc11

Duelos y Quebrantos

Ingredients

225 g picante (hot/spicy) cooking chorizo, thickly sliced (or mix of lamb’s brains and kidneys, dressed and cut in chunks)
2 tablespoons lard (or butter)
1 slice stale bread, diced
8 eggs, beaten
red chile flakes, to taste (optional)
paprika to taste (optional)
salt and pepper

Instructions

Heat the lard (or butter) in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat and sauté the meat of your choice until it starts to brown. If you are not using chorizo add some paprika to taste.

Add the bread cubes and toss them in the fat until they are crisp.

Lower the heat a little and stir in the eggs slowly and season with chile, salt, and pepper to taste.

Scramble the eggs as you would normally do. I prefer them to be a little moist, but in Spain tastes vary.

Serve immediately with some fresh crusty bread.

Serves 2 – 4 (depending on appetite)

 

Sep 082016
 

lit2

September 8 was proclaimed International Literacy Day by UNESCO on November 17, 1965. Its aim is to highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities, and societies. On International Literacy Day each year, UNESCO reminds the international community of the status of literacy and adult learning globally. Celebrations take place around the world. About 775 million adults lack minimum literacy skills. According to statistics that are not especially reliable because what counts as “minimally literate” varies from culture to culture, one in five adults is not literate and two-thirds of them are women. The fact that twice as many women as men are illiterate is largely attributable to gender inequities in education in many regions of the world.

I have many thoughts about this subject, some of which will not be popular. At the outset I would like to challenge the unthinking notion that literacy is universally a GOOD THING. Obviously, in the modern developed world being literate has many more advantages than being illiterate. Even so, at what age and in what manner children should be taught to read is an ongoing debate. The great educator Rudolf Steiner, founder of Waldorf schools, felt that 7 was soon enough for children to start learning how to read. He wanted them to experience purely oral culture first. That way they could enjoy the sheer pleasure of language – songs, poetry tales etc. – in oral form only. Therein lies the rub. Cultures that are literate gain something and lose something. Cultures that are non-literate (have no system of writing), are not inferior to ones that are literate; they are different.

There are things that non-literate cultures can do that literate ones cannot. It is believed, for example, that Homer (if he actually existed) was a bard who could not read or write. His epics were probably composed orally and subsequently written down by scribes.  Compare his epics with, let’s say, Virgil’s Aeneid. Virgil is all right, but the Aeneid is scholarly and stuffy, whereas the Iliad and Odyssey are free flowing and imaginative. To compose an epic orally you have to have the kind of memory that is rare in literate people.

Literacy is thought to have first emerged with the development of numeracy and computational devices as early as 8,000 BCE. Script developed independently at least four times in human history in Mesopotamia, Egypt, lowland Mesoamerica, and China.

lit1

The earliest forms of written communication probably originated in Sumer, in southern Mesopotamia, about 3500-3000 BCE. During this era, literacy was the product of expanding empires that required permanent records of laws and finances. Later, the notable accomplishments of the elite were recorded by scribes.  Writing systems in Mesopotamia first emerged from a recording system in which people used impressed token markings to manage trade and agricultural production. The token system served as a precursor to early cuneiform writing once people began recording information on clay tablets. Proto-cuneiform texts exhibit not only numerical signs, but also ideograms depicting objects being counted.

lit3

Egyptian hieroglyphs emerged from 3300-3100 BCE and focused on the activities of power elites. The Egyptian hieroglyphic writing system was the first notation system to have phonetic values.

lit4

Writing in lowland Mesoamerica was first put into practice by the Olmec and Zapotec cultures around 900-400 BCE. These cultures used glyphic writing and bar-and-dot numerical notation systems for purposes related to royal activities and calendar systems.

lit5

The earliest written notations in China date back to the Shang Dynasty in 1200 BCE. These systematic notations were found inscribed on bones and recorded sacrifices made, tributes received, and animals hunted, which were activities of the elite. These oracle-bone inscriptions were the early ancestors of modern Chinese script.

lit6

There are three basic systems of writing that vary in their difficulty in learning and usage — alphabetic, syllabic, and logographic. Alphabetic systems developed early in Mesopotamia, and are now extremely widespread because of their ease of use. A mere 26 letters give you the whole English language. The Roman alphabet used for English is not as phonetic as one might like. This is the fault of history not of the alphabet per se. English has never had an official academy to govern spelling so that it accurately mirrors standard pronunciation. Thus we end up with spellings like “was” “knight” “aisle” and “thorough” which give no clue as to proper pronunciation.  The spellings reflect archaic pronunciations and have never been corrected. Most European languages do better, but they need accents and other diacritics for assistance.

lit7

At the other end of the scale is Chinese which is commonly known as a logographic writing system (although this is misleading). Chinese characters stand for morphemes, units of meaning that can be concepts or words. Learning to read them takes a very long time, as I can personally attest. After 2 years of study (1 in China), I know about 1,000 characters. Defining basic literacy in Chinese runs into political arguments. Are you basically literate if you know 2,000 or 5,000 characters? The upper number is probably the more accurate, but the government likes the lower one. By a personal estimate I’d say it takes about 10 years to be minimally competent in reading Chinese – and I mean minimally. Scholars in imperial China are known to have learned in excess of 50,000 characters. This leaves aside the even more vexing point that knowing how to pronounce the characters is no guarantee that you have a clue what the writer is saying. There is a system of writing Chinese, known as Pinyin, that uses the Roman alphabet, that comes in handy for phone texts or beginners. But no one in China wants Pinyin to replace characters. Too much meaning would be lost. Take the pronouns “he” and “she” for example. They are both pronounced /ta/ and written tā  in Pinyin. But the characters are different 他 (he) 她 (she) reflecting the unspoken, but implied, gender difference.

So . . . is learning how to read a universally GOOD THING? If you want to survive in the modern, developed world it is.  What it comes down to is whether the modern, developed world is a GOOD THING. Great minds differ on this. It’s certainly not obvious that Western culture and its values should be adopted universally. Children in non-Western, non-literate cultures, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, are increasingly forced to go to school “for their own good.” Is it, though? Enforced schooling radically disrupts traditional cultures – permanently. There is ample evidence that such enforced enculturation leads to an impoverished life, both materially and socially. You may say that it’s all well and good for me, a white, educated, privileged male to decry such things. Fair comment. It may well be that traditional cultures are doomed anyway. At least I am asking the question: “What have we done?”

lit9

I could write a whole lot more but you get the point. I can’t complain too much about literacy because it allows me to write this blog. At least I’ve given you food for thought. And speaking about food, let’s talk about recipes. The survival of written recipes from a vast array of historical periods and cultures is a great boon, but it is also limited. If you are a long-time reader you’ll be familiar with my constant complaints about problems in interpreting old recipes, based on only the written word. Too much information is missing. What is more, you really can’t learn how to cook from books alone. Somewhere along the line you need to watch other people cooking and/or take instruction from someone else – orally.  The written word is a supplement. There’d be no need for cooking classes if you can get all you need from books. I’ll readily admit that books are extremely useful for ideas, but I rarely follow a recipe directly.

So here I face a quandary. Do I celebrate literacy by writing down a recipe for you? Or do I indicate the limits of literacy by using a video? I’m going to go with the latter. Here are three instructional videos I made to demonstrate the preparation of an Argentine tortilla – so you’ll get to hear my voice.

lit10

Part 1 is the most useful because it concerns making a basic egg batter for a variety of dishes such as English pancakes, Yorkshire pudding, and a whole lot more. This recipe is so useful that I’ve included it in my HINTS section (upper tab). Here’s the thing. I’ve made 100s of tortillas over the years. They are one of my favorites because they are quick, easy, and immensely versatile. I can make a perfect tortilla in a heartbeat without thinking. But communicating my knowledge is very difficult. I cooked dozens for my ex-girlfriend in her kitchen with her watching, and supervised her in cooking them several times. Hers were then, and still (as far as I know), awful – edible, but hardly worth the effort. She’s a good cook, but there’s a skill she’s missing and I can’t convey in words spoken or written.  You have a try.

Part 1 (The batter)


Part 2 (The filling)


Part 3 (The tortilla)

May 052016
 

sk1

Today is the birthday (1813) of Søren Aabye Kierkegaard, Danish philosopher, theologian, poet, social critic, and religious author who was an early contributor to what became known as existentialism. He wrote critical texts on organized religion, Christendom, morality, psychology, and the philosophy of religion, displaying a fondness for metaphor, irony and parables. Much of his philosophical work deals with the issues of how one lives as a “single individual”, giving priority to concrete human reality over abstract thinking and highlighting the importance of personal choice and commitment. He was opposed to easy answers and, therefore to critics who summed up idealist intellectuals and philosophers of his time: Swedenborg, Hegel, Goethe, Fichte, Schelling, Schlegel and Hans Christian Andersen he felt were all “understood” far too quickly by “scholars.”

Kierkegaard’s theological work covers a broad spectrum: Christian ethics, the institution of the Church, humans and God, and the individual’s subjective relationship to Jesus the Christ, which for Kierkegaard came through faith. Much of this work entails Christian love. He was extremely critical of the practice of Christianity as a state religion, primarily that of the Church of Denmark. His psychological work explored the emotions and feelings of individuals when faced with life choices.

sk3

Kierkegaard’s early work was written under various pseudonyms that he used to present distinctive viewpoints and to interact with each other in complex dialogue. He explored particularly complex problems from different viewpoints, each under a different pseudonym. He wrote many Upbuilding Discourses under his own name and dedicated them to the “single individual” who might want to discover the meaning of his works. Notably, he wrote: “Science and scholarship want to teach that becoming objective is the way. Christianity teaches that the way is to become subjective, to become a subject.” While scientists learn about the world by observation, Kierkegaard emphatically denied that observation could reveal the inner workings of the world of the spirit.

Kierkegaard’s wrote in Danish and his works were initially limited to Scandinavia. By the turn of the 20th century, however, his major works had been translated into major European languages, so that by the mid-20th century, his thought exerted a substantial influence on philosophy and theology.

sk4

I won’t try to summarize Kierkegaard’s work because that would do him an injustice. Instead here are a few quotations to give you an idea.

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.

Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.

Once you label me you negate me.

What I really need is to get clear about what I must do, not what I must know, except insofar as knowledge must precede every act. What matters is to find a purpose, to see what it really is that God wills that I shall do; the crucial thing is to find a truth which is truth for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die.

sk6

I have just now come from a party where I was its life and soul; witticisms streamed from my lips, everyone laughed and admired me, but I went away — yes, the dash should be as long as the radius of the earth’s orbit ——————————— and  wanted to shoot myself.

There are many people who reach their conclusions about life like schoolboys; they cheat their master by copying the answer out of a book without having worked out the sum for themselves.

I have never fought in such a way as to say: I am the true Christian, others are not Christians. No, my contention has been this: I know what Christianity is, my imperfection as a Christian I myself fully recognize — but I know what Christianity is.

It belongs to the imperfection of everything human that man can only attain his desire by passing through its opposite.

A man’s personality is matured only when he appropriates the truth, whether it is spoken by Balaam’s ass or a sniggering wag or an apostle or an angel.

Job endured everything — until his friends came to comfort him, then he grew impatient.

sk5

One sticks one’s finger into the soil to tell by the smell in what land one is: I stick my finger in existence — it smells of nothing. Where am I? Who am I? How came I here? What is this thing called the world? What does this world mean? Who is it that has lured me into the world? Why was I not consulted, why not made acquainted with its manners and customs instead of throwing me into the ranks, as if I had been bought by a kidnapper, a dealer in souls? How did I obtain an interest in this big enterprise they call reality? Why should I have an interest in it? Is it not a voluntary concern? And if I am to be compelled to take part in it, where is the director? I should like to make a remark to him. Is there no director? Whither shall I turn with my complaint?

To say that I understand Kierkegaard would be to go against the very nature of his work. Rather, there are points he makes on which I concur. Chief of these is that it is incumbent on each individual to THINK, and not to accept blindly what you are told. His notion of “truth for me” for example, is not what most moderns believe when they use the phrase – “if I believe it, it is true.” He is saying that you cannot simply assent to truth as purveyed by others: you must OWN it by working it out for yourself.

I see Kierkegaard as a precursor of Freud in that his notion of owning the truth involves knowing oneself. For Kierkegaard self knowledge requires concentrated reflection on oneself, preferably in isolation. I am sympathetic to this notion because it is exactly what I do. Since the death of my wife nine years ago, I have lived alone, and have increasingly used my time alone to reflect on all manner of things.  This is not a skill that can be learned; you have to work it out for yourself, perhaps with writers such as Kierkegaard as guides. Friendships, relationships, and the like, can be helpful, but they can also be distractions that get in the way of self reflection. Read Kierkegaard for yourself and you will see what I mean.

sk2

Danish cuisine can be colorful, but is often rather bland. I’ve mentioned smørrebrød, open faced sandwiches, several times before, and you can certainly get creative with them, heaping all manner of toppings on to dark rye bread for a base. For example:

sk7

Today I am interested in æggekage (lit. egg cake), which is very similar to English batter pudding or traditional Argentine tortilla, that is, a mix of milk, flour, and eggs that is fried and baked in a heavy skillet with various toppings. My basic recipe for the egg mixture is presented in this video:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bx9zQ-sRgAkQMEpmZkVZLUJsR1U/edit?usp=sharing

Toppings can be savory or sweet. I made an apple æggekage this morning. First, I chopped one apple coarsely (without peeling), and sautéed it in a little butter and sugar until the pieces took on color.

DSC_1175a

Then I made the batter (as per the video), and poured it over the apples whilst the pan was still warm, and cooked the bottom a little.

DSC_1176a

Then I finished it off in a hot oven sprinkled with a little sugar and cinnamon.

DSC_1177a

For breakfast I ate some slices straight from the pan. For lunch I re-heated the remainder on the stove with a few sliced tomatoes and bacon.

Apr 032016
 

wi3

Today is the birthday (1783) of Washington Irving, U.S. author, essayist, biographer, historian, and diplomat of the early 19th century. He is best known for his short stories “Rip Van Winkle” (1819) and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” (1820), both of which appear in his book The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. His historical works include biographies of George Washington, Oliver Goldsmith and Muhammad, and several histories of 15th-century Spain dealing with subjects including Christopher Columbus, the Moors and Alhambra

Irving made his literary debut in 1802 with a series of observational letters to the Morning Chronicle, written under the pseudonym Jonathan Oldstyle. After moving to England for the family business in 1815, he achieved international fame with the publication of The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. in 1819–20. He continued to publish regularly — and almost always successfully — throughout his life, and just eight months before his death (at age 76, in Tarrytown, New York), completed a five-volume biography of George Washington.

Irving, along with James Fenimore Cooper, was among the first American writers to earn acclaim in Europe, and he encouraged U.S. authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Edgar Allan Poe. Irving was also admired by European writers, including Walter Scott, Lord Byron, Thomas Campbell, Francis Jeffrey, and Charles Dickens. At a time when authors were either independently wealthy or had other professions, Irving advocated for writing as a legitimate profession in its own right, and argued for stronger laws to protect U.S. writers from copyright infringement in Europe.

wi4

“Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” are well known, so I would like to focus on Tales of the Alhambra which put the palace on the map in the 19th century. Shortly after completing a biography of Christopher Columbus in 1828, Irving traveled from Madrid, where he had been staying, to Granada. At first sight, he described it as “a most picturesque and beautiful city, situated in one of the loveliest landscapes that I have ever seen.” Irving was preparing a book called A Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada, a history of the years 1478–1492, and was continuing his research on the topic. He immediately asked the then-governor of the historic Alhambra Palace as well as the archbishop of Granada for access to the palace, which was granted because of Irving’s celebrity status. Aided by a 35-year-old guide, Mateo Ximenes, Irving was inspired by his experience to write Tales of the Alhambra. The book combines description, legend, and narrations of historical events, up through the destruction of some of the palace’s towers by the French under Count Sebastiani in 1812, and the further damage caused by an earthquake in 1821. Throughout his trip, Irving filled his notebooks and journals with descriptions and observations though he did not believe his writing would ever do it justice. He wrote, “How unworthy is my scribbling of the place.”

 wi8

Let’s begin with the name. Irving (and others) call the palace “THE Alhambra,” which is jarring to my ears because of the inherent redundancy. “Al” in Arabic means “the” – “Alhambra” means “the red (feminine).” So calling it “the Alhambra” translates as “the the red.” Ugh. I’ll use “Alhambra” without the direct article.

wi7

Alhambra was completed towards the end of Muslim rule of Spain by Yusuf I (1333–1353) and Muhammed V, Sultan of Granada (1353–1391). The complex is a reflection of the culture of the last centuries of the Moorish rule of Al Andalus, reduced to the Nasrid Emirate of Granada. It is a place where artists and intellectuals had taken refuge as the Reconquista by Spanish Christians won victories over Al Andalus. Alhambra integrates natural site qualities with constructed structures and gardens, and is a testament to Moorish culture in Spain and the skills of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian artisans, craftsmen, and builders of their era. The literal translation of Alhambra, “the red (female),” probably reflects the color of the red clay of the surroundings of which the fort is made. The buildings of Alhambra were originally whitewashed; however, the buildings as seen today are reddish.

wi10

The first reference to the Qal‘at al-Ḥamra was during the battles between the Arabs and the Muladies (people of mixed Arab and European descent) during the rule of ‘Abdullah ibn Muhammad (r. 888–912). In one particularly fierce and bloody skirmish, the Muladies soundly defeated the Arabs, who were then forced to take shelter in a primitive red castle located in the province of Elvira, presently located in Granada. According to surviving documents from the era, the red castle was quite small, and its walls were not capable of deterring an army intent on conquering. The castle was then largely ignored until the 11th century, when its ruins were renovated and rebuilt by Samuel ibn Naghrela, vizier to the emir Badis ben Habus of the Zirid Dynasty of Al Andalus, in an attempt to preserve the small Jewish settlement also located on the natural plateau, Sabikah Hill.

wi5

Ibn Nasr, the founder of the Nasrid Dynasty, was forced to flee to Jaén to avoid persecution by King Ferdinand III of Castile and the Reconquista supporters working to end Spain’s Moorish rule. After retreating to Granada, Ibn-Nasr took up residence at the Palace of Badis ben Habus in  Alhambra. A few months later, he embarked on the construction of a new Alhambra fit for the residence of a sultan. According to an Arab manuscript since published as the Anónimo de Granada y Copenhague:

This year, 1238 Abdallah ibn al-Ahmar climbed to the place called “Alhambra” inspected it, laid out the foundations of a castle and left someone in charge of its construction…

The design included plans for six palaces, five of which were grouped in the northeast quadrant forming a royal quarter, two circuit towers, and numerous bathhouses. During the reign of the Nasrid Dynasty, Alhambra was transformed into a palatine city, complete with an irrigation system composed of acequias for the gardens of the Generalife located outside the fortress. Previously, the old Alhambra structure had been dependent upon rainwater collected from a cistern and from what could be brought up from the Albaicín. The creation of the Sultan’s Canal solidified the identity of the Alhambra as a palace-city rather than a defensive and ascetic structure.

wi6

The Muslim ruler Muhammad XII of Granada surrendered the Emirate of Granada in 1492 without Alhambra itself being attacked when the forces of the Reyes Católicos, King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile, took the surrounding territory with a force of overwhelming numbers.

wi1 wi12

The architecture of Alhambra is inspiring, but it is the tile work that draws me. The Alhambra tiles are remarkable in that they contain nearly all, if not all, of the seventeen mathematically possible wallpaper groups (a special kind of tessellation). This is a unique accomplishment in world architecture. M. C. Escher’s visit in 1922 and study of the Moorish use of symmetries in Alhambra tiles inspired his subsequent  artistic work on tessellation. http://www.bookofdaystales.com/m-c-escher/  They have also inspired mathematicians specializing in the geometry of tilings, such as Roger Penrose, http://www.bookofdaystales.com/roger-penrose/ .

DSC_1145

Here’s a very simple dish for stuffed eggs from an anonymous Medieval Arabic MS from al-Andalus http://www.pbm.com/~lindahl/articles/veggie.html . The main problem is replicating murri which was a very common fermented condiment used in the Byzantine and Arab world. I use Thai fish sauce as a substitute.

Take as many eggs as thou wilt, and boil them whole in hot water; put them in cold water and divide them in half with a thread. Take the yolks quickly and crush cilantro, put in onion juice, pepper and coriander and beat all this together with murri, oil and salt and mash the yolks with this until it forms a paste. Then stuff the whites with this, insert a small stick into each egg, and sprinkle them with pepper, God willing.

Without precise measures you’ll have to experiment. I used about equal portions (1tsp per egg) of cilantro, chopped onion, black pepper, powdered coriander, oil, and fish sauce. Hard boil eggs, peel them, cut them in half lengthways, and remove the yolks.

Use a blender or food processor to blend together the yolks and condiments. Then refill the yolk section of the boiled whites and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper.

Jan 302016
 

men1

On this date in 1826 the Menai Suspension Bridge (Welsh: Pont Grog y Borth), a suspension bridge to carry road traffic between the island of Anglesey and the mainland of Wales was opened to traffic. Before the bridge was completed all movements to and from Anglesey were by ferry across the fast flowing and dangerous waters of the Menai Strait. The main source of income on Anglesey was from the sale of cattle, and to move them to the markets on the mainland, including London, they had to be driven into the water and encouraged to swim across the Strait, a dangerous practice which often resulted in the loss of valuable animals. With Holyhead as the closest point to, and thus one of the principal ports for ferries to Dublin, Engineer Thomas Telford (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/thomas-telford/ ) was engaged to complete a survey of the route from London to Holyhead, and he proposed that a bridge should be built over the Menai Strait from a point near Bangor on the mainland to the village of Porthaethwy (which is now also known as Menai Bridge) on Anglesey.

men5

Because of the high banks and fast flowing waters of the Strait, it would have been difficult to build piers on the shifting sands of the sea-bed and, even if it could have been done, they would have obstructed navigation. Also, the bridge would have to be high enough to allow the passage of the tall ships of the day. In view of this, Telford proposed that a suspension bridge should be built and his recommendation was accepted by Parliament.

men2

Construction of the bridge, to Telford’s design, began in 1819 with the towers on either side of the strait. These were constructed from Penmon limestone and were hollow with internal cross-walls. Then came the sixteen huge chain cables, each made of 935 iron bars, that support the 176-meter (577 ft) span. To avoid rusting between manufacture and use, the iron was soaked in linseed oil and later painted. The chains each measured 522.3 meters (1,714 ft) and weighed 121 tons. Their suspending power was calculated at 2,016 tons.

men4

Because of its isolation for much of its history, Anglesey has been a bastion of Welsh culture and language. At the beginning of the 20th century 90% of the population were native Welsh speakers. Now they are closer to 50%.

men9

Numerous megalithic monuments and menhirs exist on Anglesey, testifying to the presence of humans in prehistory. Plas Newydd is near one of 28 cromlechs that remain on uplands overlooking the sea. Geologists believe that Anglesey was once part of the mainland. Historically, Anglesey has long been associated with druids. In 60 CE the Roman general Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, determined to break the power of the Celtic druids, attacked the island using his amphibious Batavian contingent as a surprise vanguard assault and then destroying their shrines and the sacred groves. News of Boudica’s revolt reached him just after his victory, causing him to withdraw his army before consolidating his conquest. The island was finally brought into the Roman Empire by Gnaeus Julius Agricola, the Roman Governor of Britain, in 78 CE. During the Roman occupation, the area was notable for the mining of copper. The foundations of Caer Gybi as well as a fort at Holyhead are Roman, and the present road from Holyhead to Llanfairpwllgwyngyll may originally have been a Roman road.

British Iron Age and Roman sites have been excavated, and coins and ornaments discovered, especially by the 19th century antiquarian, William Owen Stanley. Following the Roman departure from Britain in the early 5th century, pirates from Ireland colonized Anglesey and the nearby Llŷn Peninsula. In response to this, Cunedda ap Edern, a Gododdin warlord from Scotland, came to the area and began the process of driving the Irish out. This process was continued by his son Einion Yrth ap Cunedda and grandson Cadwallon Lawhir ap Einion, the last Irish invaders finally being defeated in battle in 470. As an island, Anglesey was in a good defensive position and, because of this, Aberffraw became the site of the court, or Llys, of the Kingdom of Gwynedd. Apart from a devastating Danish raid in 853 it was to remain the capital until the 13th century, when improvements to the English navy made the location indefensible.

men8

After the Irish, the island was invaded by Vikings, some of these raids being noted in famous sagas, as well as Saxons, and Normans, before falling to Edward I of England in the 13th century.

Anglesey is a relatively low-lying island with hills spaced evenly over the north of the island. The highest six are: Holyhead Mountain (220 metres (720 ft)); Mynydd Bodafon (178 metres (584 ft)); Mynydd Llaneilian (177 metres (581 ft)); Mynydd y Garn (170 metres (560 ft)); Bwrdd Arthur (164 metres (538 ft)) and Mynydd Llwydiarth (158 metres (518 ft)). To the south/south-east the island is separated from the Welsh mainland by the Menai Strait, which at its narrowest point is about 250 meters (270 yd) wide. In all other directions the island is surrounded by the Irish Sea. It is the 51st largest island in Europe.

Anglesey has several small towns scattered around the island, making it quite evenly populated. The largest towns are Holyhead, Llangefni, Benllech, Menai Bridge, and Amlwch. Beaumaris (Welsh: Biwmares), in the east of the island, features Beaumaris Castle, built by Edward I as part of his Bastide Town campaign in North Wales. Beaumaris is a yachting centre for the region, with many boats moored in the bay or off Gallows Point. The village of Newborough (Welsh: Niwbwrch), in the south, created when the townsfolk of Llanfaes were relocated to make way for the building of Beaumaris Castle, includes the site of Llys Rhosyr, another of the courts of the mediaeval Welsh princes, which features one of the oldest courtrooms in the United Kingdom. Llangefni is located in the centre of the island and is the island’s administrative centre. The town of Menai Bridge (Welsh: Porthaethwy) (in the south-east) expanded when the first bridge to the mainland was being built, in order to accommodate workers and construction. Until then, Porthaethwy had been one of the principal ferry crossing points from the mainland. A short distance from this town lies Bryn Celli Ddu, a Stone Age burial mound. Also nearby is the village with the longest purported place name in the United Kingdom, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. Nearby is Plas Newydd, ancestral home of the Marquesses of Anglesey. The town of Amlwch is situated in the northeast of the island and was once largely industrialized, having grown during the 18th century supporting the copper mining industry at Parys Mountain.

Other villages and settlements include Cemaes, Pentraeth, Gaerwen, Dwyran, Bodedern, Malltraeth, and Rhosneigr. The Anglesey Sea Zoo is a local tourist attraction, providing a look at and descriptions of local marine wildlife from lobsters to conger eels. All the fish and crustaceans on display are caught around the island and are placed in reconstructions of their natural habitat. They also make salt (evaporated from the local sea water) and breed commercially lobsters, for food, and oysters, for pearls, both from local stocks.

men6

The island’s entire rural coastline has been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and features many sandy beaches, especially along its eastern coast between the towns of Beaumaris and Amlwch and along the western coast from Ynys Llanddwyn through Rhosneigr to the little bays around Carmel Head. The northern coastline is characterised by dramatic cliffs interspersed with small bays. The Anglesey Coastal Path is a 200-kilometre (124 mi) path which follows nearly the entire coastline. Tourism is now the most significant economic activity on the island. Agriculture provides the secondary source of income for the island’s economy, with the local dairies being amongst the most productive in the region.

Anglesey eggs is a popular dish using local ingredients. It is essentially a casserole of mashed potatoes and leeks in which are embedded boiled eggs. The whole is bathed in cheese sauce, and may be topped with chopped bacon. Here’s the recipe in pictures. I made it for my breakfast this morning.

Cut in half enough boiled eggs to make one layer in your casserole.

DSC_0808

Mix mashed potato with sliced poached leeks.

DSC_0809

Make a cheese sauce by gently simmering heavy cream with butter and adding grated cheese.

DSC_0810

Combine the cheese sauce and mashed potatoes.

DSC_0811

Spread the mashed potatoes on the bottom of a casserole and top with eggs.

DSC_0812

Cover with the remainder of the mashed potato and sprinkle with bacon.

DSC_0814

Heat under the broiler or in a hot oven.

DSC_0815

 

 

May 192015
 

ka1

Today is the conventionally celebrated birthday (1881) of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, a Turkish army officer, revolutionary, and the first President of Turkey. He is credited with being the founder of the Republic of Turkey. His surname, Atatürk (“Father of the Turks”), was granted to him in 1934 and forbidden to any other person by the Turkish parliament. Atatürk was a military officer during World War I. Following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, he led the Turkish National Movement in the Turkish War of Independence. Having established a provisional government in Ankara, he defeated the forces sent by the Allies. His military campaigns led to victory in the Turkish War of Independence. Atatürk then embarked upon a program of political, economic, and cultural reforms, seeking to transform the former Ottoman Empire into a modern and secular nation-state. Under his leadership, thousands of new schools were built, primary education was made free and compulsory, and women were given equal civil and political rights, while the burden of taxation on peasants was reduced. His government also carried out an extensive policy of “Turkification” (modernizing whilst retaining unique Turkish cultural values). The principles of Atatürk’s reforms, upon which modern Turkey was established, are referred to as “Kemalism.”

ka4

Atatürk’s reforms have been the subject of numerous works, and are still a matter of intense debate in the modern political climate. His basic ideological stance was that Turkey needed to emulate the Western secular states in terms of science, education, and so forth, whilst maintaining an underlying sense that Turkey, like all states, had unique qualities that should be preserved and treasured: a delicate balancing act that in general he managed to pull off. Obviously he encountered immense opposition from traditionalists whose vested interests were at stake, but there is no question that he was a masterful politician and tactician in navigating these troubled waters.   Turkey is now a modern secular state in large part because of Atatürk’s sweeping reforms. Rather than go into them all in detail, I am going to focus on his attitude towards women in society which in many respects was more enlightened than that of Western nations of his day.

ka6

Ottoman practice discouraged social interaction between men and women in keeping with Islamic practice of male and female segregation. Atatürk began developing social reforms very early, as is evident in his personal journal. He and his staff discussed issues like abolishing the veiling of women and the integration of women into the outside world. The clue on how he was planning to tackle the issue is stated in his journal from November 1915;

Social change can come by (1) educating capable mothers who are knowledgeable about life; (2) giving freedom to women; (3) a man can change his morals, thoughts, and feelings by leading a common life with a woman; as there is an inborn tendency towards the attraction of mutual affection.

ka8

Atatürk needed a new civil code to establish his second major step of giving freedom to women. The first part was the education of girls and was established with the unification of education. On 4 October 1926, the new Turkish civil code passed. It was modeled after the Swiss Civil Code. Under the new code, women gained equality with men in such matters as inheritance and divorce. Mustafa Kemal did not consider gender a factor in social organization. According to his view, society marched towards its goal with men and women united. He believed that it was scientifically impossible for him to achieve social transformation if the gender separation continued as in Ottoman times. During a meeting he declared:

To the women: Win for us the battle of education and you will do yet more for your country than we have been able to do. It is to you that I appeal.

To the men: If henceforward the women do not share in the social life of the nation, we shall never attain to our full development. We shall remain irremediably backward, incapable of treating on equal terms with the civilizations of the West.

Atatürk promoted modern teaching methods at the primary education level, and Dewey took a place of honor. Dewey presented a paradigmatic set of recommendations designed for developing societies that are moving towards modernity in his “Report and Recommendation for the Turkish educational system.” Atatürk was interested in adult education for the goal of forming a skill base in the country. Turkish women were taught not only child care, dress-making and household management, but also skills needed to join the economy outside the home. Turkish education became a state-supervised system, which was designed to create a skill base for the social and economic progress of the country. His “unified” education program was designed to educate responsible citizens as well as useful and appreciated members of society. Turkish education became an integrative system, aimed to alleviate poverty and used female education to establish gender equality.

ka10

On 5 December 1934, Turkey moved to grant full political rights to women, before several other European nations. The equal rights of women in marriage had already been established in the earlier Turkish civil code. Women’s place in Mustafa Kemal’s cultural reforms was best expressed in the civic book prepared under his supervision. It said that

There is no logical explanation for the political disenfranchisement of women. Any hesitation and negative mentality on this subject is nothing more than a fading social phenomenon of the past. …Women must have the right to vote and to be elected; because democracy dictates that, because there are interests that women must defend, and because there are social duties that women must perform.

ka11

In the 1935 Turkish elections there were 18 female MPs out of a total of 395 representatives, compared to 9 out of 615 members of the British House of Commons and 6 out of 435 in the US House of Representatives.

Kemal Atatürk is commemorated by many memorials throughout Turkey, such as the Atatürk International Airport in Istanbul, the Atatürk Bridge over the Golden Horn (Haliç), the Atatürk Dam, and Atatürk Stadium. Atatürk statues have been erected in all Turkish cities by Turkish Government, and most towns have their own memorial to him. His face and name are seen and heard everywhere in Turkey; his portrait can be seen in all public buildings, in all schools and classrooms, on all school books, on all Turkish lira banknotes, and in the homes of many Turkish families. At the exact time of his death, on every 10 November, at 09:05 am, most vehicles and people in the country’s streets pause for one minute in remembrance.

ka12

Turkish cuisine is a rich and eclectic mix – the heritage of Ottoman cuisine, which can be described as a fusion and refinement of Central Asian, Caucasian, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and Balkan cuisines. Many dishes and specialties, such as kebabs, Turkish delight, baklava, and dolmas (stuffed vine leaves), are known worldwide (and also claimed by other cultures as their own). Here’s my version of a classic dish served both as a home breakfast (or other meal) and as street food – menemen. It is essentially scrambled or poached eggs in a tomato and bell pepper sauce. I prefer the poached egg variety.

ka2

Menemen

Ingredients

2 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, sliced
1 red or green pepper, halved deseeded and sliced
1-2 red chiles, deseeded and sliced
400g can chopped tomatoes
1-2 tsp caster sugar (optional)
4 eggs
1 small bunch parsley, roughly chopped
6 tbsp thick, creamy yogurt
2 garlic cloves, peeled, crushed, and finely minced

Instructions

Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet (I use my trusty cast iron version) over medium-high heat. Sauté the onions, pepper, and chiles and cook until they soften but do not take on color. Add the tomatoes and sugar (if used) and stir will with a wooden spoon. mixing well. Simmer until the liquid has reduced and the sauce thickens. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Make 4 pockets in the tomato mixture and crack the eggs into them. Cover the pan and cook the eggs over a low heat until the whites are set, but the yolks are still runny.

Meanwhile, beat the yogurt with the garlic and season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the menemen with parsley and serve from the frying pan with a tablespoon or so of the garlic yogurt.