Jul 102018
 

Marcel Proust, famed French novelist, was born on this date in 1871 in the Paris borough of Auteuil (the south-western sector of the then-rustic 16th arrondissement) at the home of his great-uncle, two months after the Treaty of Frankfurt formally ended the Franco-Prussian War. He was born during the violence that surrounded the suppression of the Paris Commune, and his childhood corresponded with the consolidation of the French Third Republic. Much of his voluminous novel, In Search of Lost Time, concerns the vast changes, most particularly the decline of the aristocracy and the rise of the middle classes, that occurred in France during the Third Republic and La Belle Époque.

Proust’s father, Adrien Proust, was a prominent pathologist and epidemiologist, studying cholera in Europe and Asia. He wrote numerous articles and books on medicine and hygiene. Proust’s mother, Jeanne Clémence (Weil), was the daughter of a wealthy Jewish family from Alsace. Proust was raised in his father’s Catholic faith, and was baptized on 5th August 1871, at the church of Saint-Louis d’Antin, and later confirmed as a Catholic, even though he never formally practiced Catholicism. He later became an atheist and dabbled in mysticism.

By the age of 9, Proust had had his first serious asthma attack, and thereafter he was considered a sickly child. Proust spent long holidays in the village of Illiers. This village, combined with recollections of his great-uncle’s house in Auteuil, became the model for the fictional town of Combray, where some of the most important scenes of In Search of Lost Time take place. (Illiers was renamed Illiers-Combray in 1971 on the occasion of the Proust centenary celebrations.) In 1882, at the age of 11, Proust became a pupil at the Lycée Condorcet, but his education was disrupted by his illness. Despite this he excelled in literature, receiving an award in his final year. Thanks to his classmates, he was able to gain access to some of the salons of the upper bourgeoisie, providing him with copious material for In Search of Lost Time.

Despite his poor health, Proust served a year (1889–90) in the French army, stationed at Coligny Barracks in Orléans, an experience that provided a lengthy episode in The Guermantes’ Way, part three of In Search of Lost Time. As a young man, Proust was a social climber and had a reputation as a snob and a dilettante when it came to his writing. Later on, because of this reputation he had trouble getting Swann’s Way, the first part of his large-scale novel, published in 1913. Proust attended the salons of Mme Straus, widow of Georges Bizet and mother of Proust’s childhood friend Jacques Bizet, of Madeleine Lemaire and of Mme Arman de Caillavet, one of the models for Madame Verdurin, and mother of his friend Gaston Arman de Caillavet, whose fiancée (Jeanne Pouquet) he claimed to be in love with. It is through Mme Arman de Caillavet that he made the acquaintance of Anatole France, her lover.

In an 1892 article published in Le Banquet entitled “L’Irréligion d’État” and again in a 1904 Le Figaro article entitled “La mort des cathédrales”, Proust argued against the separation of church and state, declaring that socialism posed a greater threat to society than the Church and emphasizing the latter’s role in sustaining a cultural and educational tradition.

Proust had a close relationship with his mother. To appease his father, who insisted that he pursue a career, Proust obtained a volunteer position at Bibliothèque Mazarine in the summer of 1896. After exerting considerable effort, he was granted sick leave that extended for several years until he was considered to have resigned. He never worked at another job, and he did not move from his parents’ apartment until after both had died. His life and family circle changed markedly between 1900 and 1905. In February 1903, Proust’s brother, Robert Proust, married and left the family home. His father died in November of the same year. Finally, his mother died in September 1905. She left him a considerable inheritance. His health throughout this period continued to deteriorate. Proust spent the last three years of his life mostly confined to his bedroom, sleeping during the day and working at night to complete his novel. He died of pneumonia and a pulmonary abscess in 1922. He was buried in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

In Search of Lost Time is best remembered for its theme of involuntary memory, the most famous example being the “episode of the madeleine” which occurs early in the first volume. This episode begins:

Et dès que j’eus reconnu le goût du morceau de madeleine trempé dans le tilleul que me donnait ma tante (quoique je ne susse pas encore et dusse remettre à bien plus tard de découvrir pourquoi ce souvenir me rendait si heureux), aussitôt la vieille maison grise sur la rue, où était sa chambre, vint comme un décor de théâtre…

Yet again I had recalled the taste of a bit of madeleine dipped in linden-flower tea which my aunt gave me (although I did not yet know and must long await the discovery of why this memory made me so happy), immediately the old gray house on the street where her room was found, arose like a theatrical tableau…

Because of its prominence at the beginning of the novel, the madeleine has become emblematic of Proust’s culinary visions and the relationship between food and memory. I made obeisance to this notion with a recipe for madeleines here: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/mary-magdalene/ While the classic madeleine and Proust have become inextricably entwined, In Search of Lost Time is loaded with detailed references to cooking apart from madeleines, and he frequently compares fine dishes with great music or art. There is a slight sense on occasion that Proust is deliberately going over the top in his praise of particular dishes – but it is only slight.

Proust compares Françoise, the family cook in Combray, to an artist, a goddess, a priestess, and a fairy-tale heroine, in his descriptions of her products. In her kitchen she stands “commanding the forces of nature which had become her assistants, as in fairy tales where giants hire themselves out as cooks.” Françoise also has a dark side, like all great protagonists in literature. One summer she makes asparagus every day because she wants to get rid of the pregnant scullery maid who has to pare the stalks, and who is highly allergic to them. Françoise has her greatest moment of glory when Monsieur de Norpois is invited to dinner and she sets out to make a masterpiece, which begins with combing the markets for the perfect ingredients, then laboring endlessly over every dish. The meal she prepares is York ham, jellied boeuf à la mode, a pineapple and truffle salad, and Nesselrode pudding. You can find a recipe for Nesselrode pudding here: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/w-s-gilbert/  and I am sure the one that Françoise prepared was gorgeous. Proust compares her jellied beef to a Michelangelo sculpture, which I’d venture to say is getting into the hyperbole zone, but he can be forgiven. He also compares its crafting to his own work crafting words.

Here is a recipe. Boeuf à la mode can be served hot, or cold in aspic. Both are classics of Parisian haute cuisine, with the latter being legendary. Three points need noting. First, the traditional recipe uses at least one calf’s foot in the cooking broth so that it gels naturally. This process can be a little hit-and-miss, however. The broth may not get enough gelatin from one foot to gel properly. One answer is to use two or more calves’ feet. The other answer is to use some commercial gelatin in addition. Second, quatre épices (four spices) mix is usually a blend of pepper, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger. In French recipes, bouquet garni is often mentioned with little or no reference to what’s in it. This is because the actual contents of the bouquet garni are cook’s choice, and may vary from dish to dish. It can be made of whole stalks of herbs tied in a bundle, or fresh leaves tied in a muslin bag. For this dish you should use parsley, thyme, and bay leaf at minimum.

This dish is a 48-hour process at minimum: 24 hours to marinate the meat, and 24 hours to cook the meat, mold it, and let the molds set. If you are cooking this dish for Sunday dinner, therefore, you must start on Friday morning. I won’t mince words either. This is not a dish for beginners or even halfway experienced cooks. You must know exactly what you are doing to get the flavors right, AND to make the molded dish look attractive.

Bœuf à la mode en gelée

Ingredients

2.5 kg stewing beef, fat removed
800 ml beef stock
500 ml Sauternes or other sweet white wine
500 ml Madeira wine
250 gm carrots, peeled and sliced
200 gm of bacon or pickled pork, cut in 5 mm squares
100 gm sliced onions
50 ml champagne
40 gm beef fat (or pork fat)
3 whole cloves
2 egg whites
1 calf’s foot, cut in pieces
bouquet garni
quatre épices
salt, pepper

Instructions

Put the beef in a large pot with 400 ml of Sauternes and 400ml of Madeira, so that the beef is submerged in the marinade. Add salt, pepper, and quartre épices to taste, cover, and let marinate for 24 hours.

Remove the beef from the marinade, and let it air dry. Cut slits all over the beef and insert the pieces of bacon in them. Heat a Dutch oven over high heat and add the fat. When it is hot sear the beef on all sides. Then flambé the pot with the champagne. Add the veal foot, carrots, onion, bouquet garni, cloves, stock, the rest of the Sauternes and Madeira, the marinade. Adjust the salt and pepper to taste. Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce the heat to a low simmer, cover, and cook for 4 ½ hours.

[You can serve the beef hot at this point. For chilled beef in aspic there are extra steps.]

Remove the beef and carrots from the broth and reserve. Strain the broth through muslin or cheesecloth. Put the strained broth in a clean pot and heat over medium heat. Beat the egg whites and pour them into the hot broth. As the whites cook they will clarify the broth. When the broth is clear, strain it through muslin or filter papers.

Cut the beef in small slices. Pour a small amount of broth into the number of individual molds you are using, or into one large mold. Let the broth set in the refrigerator. Next layer carrots and beef pieces decoratively until you have filled the molds. Pour broth into the molds so that the last layer of beef and carrots is covered. Refrigerate, and let set. To unmold, dip the molds briefly in hot water, invert them over a plate, and the molded beef and carrots should pop out when tapped.

Jul 032018
 

Today is the birthday (1883) of Franz Kafka, a German-speaking Bohemian novelist and short story writer, widely regarded as one of the major figures of 20th-century literature. We now use the word “Kafkaesque” to describe literature which fuses elements of realism and the fantastic, typically featuring isolated protagonists faced with bizarre or surreal predicaments and incomprehensible social-bureaucratic powers. His best-known works include “Die Verwandlung” (“The Metamorphosis”), Der Process (The Trial), and Das Schloss (The Castle). Few of Kafka’s works were published during his lifetime: the story collections Betrachtung (Contemplation) and Ein Landarzt (A Country Doctor), and individual stories (such as “Die Verwandlung”) were published in literary magazines but received little public attention. Much of Kafka’s work was unfinished when he died and on his death bed he ordered his manuscripts destroyed by a friend. Instead he had them edited for publication, and it was only after his death that Kafka became internationally renowned. Back in my typically angst-ridden teens and early 20s, Kafka was on my shelves beside Orwell, Camus, Sartre, and Hesse. Fortunately, that stage of my life passed.

Kafka was born near the Old Town Square in Prague, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His family were middle-class Ashkenazi Jews. His father, Hermann Kafka (1854–1931), was the fourth child of Jakob Kafka, a shochet (Jewish ritual slaughterer) in Osek, a Czech village with a large Jewish population located near Strakonice in southern Bohemia. Hermann moved the Kafka family to Prague. After working as a traveling sales representative, he eventually became a fashion retailer who employed up to 15 people and used the image of a jackdaw (kavka in Czech, pronounced and colloquially written as kafka) as his business logo. Kafka’s mother, Julie (1856–1934), was the daughter of Jakob Löwy, a prosperous retail merchant in Poděbrady, and was better educated than her husband.

Kafka’s parents probably spoke a dialect of German influenced by Yiddish that was sometimes pejoratively called Mauscheldeutsch, but, because the German language was considered the vehicle of social mobility, they probably encouraged their children to speak High German. Hermann and Julie had six children, of whom Franz was the eldest. Franz’s two brothers, Georg and Heinrich, died in infancy before Franz was seven. His three sisters were Gabriele (“Ellie”) (1889–1944), Valerie (“Valli”) (1890–1942) and Ottilie (“Ottla”) (1892–1943). They all died during the Holocaust of World War II.

Hermann was described by Franz Kafka as “a true Kafka in strength, health, appetite, loudness of voice, eloquence, self-satisfaction, worldly dominance, endurance, presence of mind, and knowledge of human nature”. On business days, both parents were absent from the home, with Julie Kafka working as many as 12 hours each day helping to manage the family business. Consequently, Kafka’s childhood was lonely, and the children were reared largely by a series of governesses and servants. Kafka’s troubled relationship with his father is evident in his “Brief an den Vater” (Letter to His Father) of more than 100 pages, in which he complains of being profoundly affected by his father’s authoritarian and demanding character. His mother, in contrast, was quiet and shy.

The Kafka family had a servant girl living with them in a cramped apartment. Franz’s room was often cold. In November 1913 the family moved into a bigger apartment, although Ellie and Valli had married and moved out of the first apartment. In early August 1914, just after World War I began, the sisters did not know where their husbands were in the military and moved back in with the family in this larger apartment. Both Ellie and Valli also had children. Franz at age 31 moved into Valli’s former apartment, quiet by contrast, and lived by himself for the first time.

From 1889 to 1893, Kafka attended the Deutsche Knabenschule German boys’ elementary school at the Masný trh/Fleischmarkt (meat market). His Jewish education ended with his Bar Mitzvah celebration at the age of 13. Kafka never enjoyed attending the synagogue and went with his father only on four high holy days a year. After leaving elementary school in 1893, Kafka was admitted to the rigorous classics-oriented state gymnasium, Altstädter Deutsches Gymnasium, an academic secondary school at Old Town Square, within the Kinský Palace. German was the language of instruction, but Kafka also spoke and wrote in Czech. He studied the latter at the gymnasium for 8 years, and received compliments for his Czech, but he never considered himself fluent in Czech, though he spoke German with a Czech accent. He completed his final exams in 1901.

Kafka was admitted to the Deutsche Karl-Ferdinands-Universität of Prague in 1901, studying chemistry, but switched to law after two weeks. Although this field did not excite him, it offered a range of career possibilities which pleased his father. In addition, law required a longer course of study, giving Kafka time to take classes in German studies and art history. He also joined a student club, Lese- und Redehalle der Deutschen Studenten (Reading and Lecture Hall of the German students), which organized literary events, readings and other activities. Among Kafka’s friends were the journalist Felix Weltsch, who studied philosophy, the actor Yitzchak Lowy who came from an orthodox Hasidic Warsaw family, and the writers Oskar Baum and Franz Werfel.

At the end of his first year of studies, Kafka met Max Brod, a fellow law student who became a close friend for life (and was the one who had his MSS published posthumously). Brod soon noticed that, although Kafka was shy and seldom spoke, what he said was usually profound. Brod encouraged Kafka to read Plato’s Protagoras in the original Greek, and Flaubert’s L’éducation sentimentale and La Tentation de St. Antoine in French. Kafka considered Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Flaubert, Nikolai Gogol, Franz Grillparzer, and Heinrich von Kleist to be his “true blood brothers.” Kafka was awarded the degree of Doctor of Law on 18th July 1906 and performed an obligatory year of unpaid service as law clerk for the civil and criminal courts.

On 1st November 1907, Kafka was hired at the Assicurazioni Generali, an insurance company, where he worked for nearly a year. His correspondence during that period indicates that he was unhappy with his work schedule—from 8 am to 6 pm, 6 days a week—making it extremely difficult to concentrate on writing, which was assuming increasing importance to him. On 15th July 1908, he resigned. Two weeks later he found employment more amenable to writing when he joined the Worker’s Accident Insurance Institute for the kingdom of Bohemia. The job involved investigating and assessing compensation for personal injury to industrial workers. Accidents such as lost fingers or limbs were commonplace at this time owing to poor work safety policies at the time. It was especially true of factories fitted with machine lathes, drills, planing machines and rotary saws which were rarely fitted with safety guards.

Kafka’s father often referred to his son’s job as an insurance officer as a Brotberuf, literally “bread job”, a job done only to pay the bills, and Kafka often claimed to despise it. Kafka was rapidly promoted and his duties included processing and investigating compensation claims, writing reports, and handling appeals from businessmen who thought their firms had been placed in too high a risk category, which cost them more in insurance premiums.[46] He compiled and composed the annual report on the insurance institute for the several years he worked there, and they were received well by his superiors. Kafka usually got off work at 2 p.m., so that he had time to spend on his writing, although his father also expected him to help out at and take over the family fancy goods store.

In late 1911, Elli’s husband Karl Hermann and Kafka became partners in the first asbestos factory in Prague, known as Prager Asbestwerke Hermann & Co., having used dowry money from Hermann Kafka. Kafka showed a positive attitude at first, dedicating much of his free time to the business, but he later resented the encroachment of this work on his writing time. During that period, he also found interest and entertainment in the performances of Yiddish theatre. After seeing a Yiddish theater troupe perform in October 1911, for the next six months Kafka “immersed himself in Yiddish language and in Yiddish literature”. This interest also served as a starting point for his growing exploration of Judaism. It was at about this time that Kafka became a vegetarian. Around 1915 Kafka received his conscription notice for military service in World War I, but his employers at the insurance institute arranged for a deferment because his work was considered essential government service. Later he attempted to join the military but was prevented from doing so by medical problems associated with tuberculosis, with which he was diagnosed in 1917. In 1918 the Worker’s Accident Insurance Institute put Kafka on a pension due to his illness, for which there was no cure at the time, and he spent most of the rest of his life in sanatoria.

Kafka never married, and his relationships with women can be called “complicated.” On 13 August 1912, Kafka met Felice Bauer, a relative of Brod, who worked in Berlin as a representative of a dictaphone company. A week after the meeting at Brod’s home, Kafka wrote in his diary:

Miss FB. When I arrived at Brod’s on 13 August, she was sitting at the table. I was not at all curious about who she was, but rather took her for granted at once. Bony, empty face that wore its emptiness openly. Bare throat. A blouse thrown on. Looked very domestic in her dress although, as it turned out, she by no means was. (I alienate myself from her a little by inspecting her so closely …) Almost broken nose. Blonde, somewhat straight, unattractive hair, strong chin. As I was taking my seat I looked at her closely for the first time, by the time I was seated I already had an unshakeable opinion.

Shortly after this, Kafka wrote the story “Das Urteil” (“The Judgment”) in only one night and worked in a productive period on Der Verschollene (The Man Who Disappeared) and “Die Verwandlung” (“The Metamorphosis”). Kafka and Felice Bauer communicated mostly through letters over the next five years, met occasionally, and were engaged twice. Kafka’s extant letters to her were published as Briefe an Felice (Letters to Felice); her letters do not survive. Kafka was later engaged to Julie Wohryzek, a poor and uneducated hotel chambermaid. Although the two rented an apartment and set a wedding date, the marriage never took place. Before the date of the intended marriage, he began an affair with another woman

Kafka was diagnosed with tuberculosis in August 1917 and moved for a few months to the Bohemian village of Zürau (Siřem in the Czech language), where his sister Ottla worked on the farm of her brother-in-law Karl Hermann. He felt comfortable there and later described this time as perhaps the best time in his life, probably because he had no responsibilities. He kept diaries and notes from which he later extracted 109 numbered pieces of text. They were later published as Die Zürauer Aphorismen oder Betrachtungen über Sünde, Hoffnung, Leid und den wahren Weg (The Zürau Aphorisms or Reflections on Sin, Hope, Suffering, and the True Way).

In 1920 Kafka began an intense relationship with Milena Jesenská, a Czech journalist and writer. His letters to her were later published as Briefe an Milena. During a vacation in July 1923 to Graal-Müritz on the Baltic Sea, Kafka met Dora Diamant, a 25-year-old kindergarten teacher from an orthodox Jewish family. Kafka, hoping to escape the influence of his family to concentrate on his writing, moved briefly to Berlin and lived with Diamant. She encouraged an interest in the Talmud, and at the time Kafka worked on four stories, which he prepared to be published as Ein Hungerkünstler (A Hunger Artist).

Kafka’s laryngeal tuberculosis worsened and in March 1924 he returned from Berlin to Prague, where members of his family, principally his sister Ottla, took care of him. He went to Dr. Hoffmann’s sanatorium in Kierling just outside Vienna for treatment on 10th April, and died there on 3rd June 1924. The immediate cause of death was malnutrition because the condition of Kafka’s throat made eating too painful for him, and at the time there was no way to feed him except orally (other medical methods were not developed until later). Kafka was editing “A Hunger Artist” on his deathbed, a story whose composition he had begun before his throat closed to the point that he could not take any nourishment. His body was brought back to Prague where he was buried on 11th June 1924, in the New Jewish Cemetery in Prague-Žižkov. His tombstone was designed by architect Leopold Ehrmann.

It may seem macabre to celebrate a man who died of malnutrition with a recipe, but I think it is suitably Kafkaesque. Kafka was a strict vegetarian for most of his adult life, and food appears regularly in his writing. His vegetarianism rules out a recipe for tripe soup, which is a pity because the Czech version, dršťky polévka, is an old favorite of mine. I gave a recipe for another Bohemian soup, kulajda, here: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/jan-zrzavy/  Bohemia is justifiably famous for its vast array of soups, including many that can be made meatless quite easily. There are pea (hrachovka), bean (fazolová) and lentil soups (čočková polévka), mushroom soup (houbová polévka), tomato soup (rajská polévka), vegetable soup (zeleninová polévka), onion soup (cibulačka) and bread soup (chlebová polévka). Kyselo is a regional specialty soup made from rye sourdough, mushrooms, caraway and fried onion. You can choose any of these, and there are plenty of recipes online. I’ll give you potato and mushroom soup (bramboračka) which is quite complex, and regionally varied throughout Bohemia. Nowadays cooks use dried black mushrooms, but the soup was originally made from wild forest mushrooms. It is also common to serve the soup in a bowl made of hollowed out rye and caraway bread. I have had it this way once, and have to say it was good, but too filling for me. Czechs with me had no trouble scarfing down the soup with a whole loaf of bread.

Bramboračka

Ingredients

500 gm potatoes, peeled and cut in large chunks
35 gm dried black mushrooms or 100 gm fresh wild mushrooms, sliced
200 gm peeled and diced carrot
200 gm peeled and diced celeriac root
200 gm shredded cabbage,
1 leek, white part only, sliced
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 tbs olive oil
6 cups vegetable broth
salt and pepper
1 tbsp dried marjoram
4 tbsp flour

Instructions

If you are using dried mushrooms, soak them in a bowl covered with hot (not boiling) water for about 20 minutes.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed stock pot over medium heat and sauté the onions until soft. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the chopped vegetables and sauté for an additional 10 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon so that they take on some color evenly. (Do not add mushrooms at this point if you are using dried ones).

Add the stock to the pot along with the dried mushrooms and their liquid if you are using them, the marjoram, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a slow simmer and cook until the vegetables are soft. Mix the flour with a generous amount of cold water and whisk thoroughly. Then add a little hot broth to the flour and water mixture, and whisk again. Then pour this mixture back into the soup, stirring vigorously until it is well combined. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. Simmer another 10 minutes. Serve in deep bowls with rye bread, or in hollowed out dark bread bowls.

Jan 032018
 

Today is the birthday (1840) of Father Damien or Saint Damien of Molokai, SS.CC. or Saint Damien De Veuster (Dutch: Pater Damiaan or Heilige Damiaan van Molokai), born Jozef De Veuster, a Roman Catholic priest from Belgium and member of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, who won recognition for his ministry from 1873 to 1889 in the kingdom of Hawaiʻi to people with leprosy who were required to live under a government-sanctioned medical quarantine on the island of Molokaʻi on the Kalaupapa Peninsula. During this time, while he acted as a missionary to the people of Hawaii, he also cared for the patients himself and established leadership within the community to build houses, schools, roads, hospitals, and churches. He dressed residents’ ulcers, built a reservoir, made coffins, dug graves, shared pipes, and ate poi with his hands with lepers, providing both medical and emotional support. After 11 years of caring for the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of those in the leper colony, Father Damien realized he had also contracted leprosy when he was scalded by hot water and felt no pain. He continued with his work despite the infection but finally succumbed to the disease on 15 April 1889.

I have not thought about Father Damien since my primary school days when his story was recounted in our reader. I don’t remember what year I read the story, but I am guessing that I was 10 or 11 years old, and the story deeply affected me at the time. I have always admired selfless devotion to a cause, especially when it involves risk to one’s own health and safety.

Father Damien was born Jozef (“Jef”) De Veuster, the youngest of seven children and fourth son of the Flemish corn merchant Joannes Franciscus (“Frans”) De Veuster and his wife Anne-Catherine (“Cato”) Wouters in the village of Tremelo in Flemish Brabant in rural Belgium. Growing up on a farm, it was assumed that he would eventually take over its management. Instead, he attended college in Braine-le-Comte, then entered the novitiate of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in Leuven. He took the name of Brother Damianus (Damiaan in Dutch, Damien in French) in his first vows, presumably in honor of St Damian (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/cosmas-and-damian/ ) who by synchronicity was a doctor who gave his services to minister to the sick.

Following in the footsteps of his older sisters Eugénie and Pauline (who had become nuns) and older brother Auguste (Father Pamphile), Damien became a “Picpus” Brother (another name for members of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary) on 7 October 1860. His superiors thought that he was not a good candidate for the priesthood because he lacked education. However, he learned Latin from his brother, so his superiors relented and decided to allow him to become a priest. During his ecclesiastical studies, Damien prayed daily before a picture of St. Francis Xavier, patron of missionaries, to be sent on a mission. Three years later when Damien’s brother Father Pamphile could not travel to Hawaiʻi as a missionary because of illness, Damien was allowed to take his place.

On 9 March 1864, Damien landed at Honolulu Harbor on O’ahu. He was ordained into the priesthood on 21 May 1864, at what is now the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace, originally built by his religious order, the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Today it serves as the Cathedral of the Bishop of Honolulu. In 1865 Father Damien was assigned to the Catholic Mission in North Kohala on the island of Hawaiʻi. While Father Damien was serving in several parishes on Oʻahu, the kingdom of Hawaiʻi was struggling with a labor shortage and a public health crisis. Many of the native Hawai’ians had high mortality rates due to the spread of such Eurasian infectious diseases as smallpox, cholera, influenza, and whooping cough, brought to the Hawai’ian Islands by foreign traders, sailors, and immigrants. Thousands of Hawaiians died of such diseases, because they had no acquired immunity.

It is believed that Chinese workers carried leprosy (later known as Hansen’s disease) to the islands in the 1830s and 1840s. At that time, leprosy was thought to be highly contagious and incurable. In later years, the medical community determined that roughly 95% of humans are immune to leprosy and, in the 20th century, developed effective treatments. In 1865, out of fear of the spread of leprosy, Hawai’ian king Kamehameha IV and the Hawai’ian Legislature passed the “Act to Prevent the Spread of Leprosy”. This law quarantined the lepers of Hawai’i, requiring the most serious cases to be moved to a settlement colony of Kalawao on the eastern end of the Kalaupapa peninsula on the island of Molokaʻi. Later the settlement of Kalaupapa was developed. Kalawao County, where the two villages are located, is separated from the rest of Molokaʻi by a steep mountain ridge. Even in the 21st century, the only land access is by a mule trail. From 1866 to 1969, a total of about 8,000 Hawaiians were sent to the Kalaupapa peninsula for medical quarantine.

The Royal Board of Health initially provided the quarantined people with food and other supplies, but it did not have the resources to offer proper health care. The kingdom of Hawaii had planned for the lepers to be able to care for themselves and grow their own crops, but, due to the effects of leprosy and the local environmental conditions of the peninsula, this plan was impractical. According to researcher Pennie Moblo, accounts about the colony from the 19th until well into the 20th century overstated its poor condition, adding to the colonial narrative of Europeans as saviors of the colony and the island. But most of the houses and other buildings were constructed and owned by the residents, even after the change of government and increased investment by the Territory of Hawaiʻi.  Meanwhile the narrative of the Catholic Encyclopedia (1911) what that, “Drunken and lewd conduct prevailed. The easy-going, good-natured people seemed wholly changed.” Such accounts fulfil contemporary European ideas about the Hawaiians rather than being an accurate record of conditions.

There is evidence that lay volunteers offered to help on the island, and that the Hawaiians would have preferred a native priest, if one had been available. While Bishop Louis Désiré Maigret, the vicar apostolic of the Honolulu diocese, believed that the lepers needed a Catholic priest to assist them, he realized that this assignment carried a  high risk of infection. He did not want to send anyone “in the name of obedience.” After much prayer, four priests volunteered to go, among them Father Damien. The bishop planned for the volunteers to take turns in rotation assisting the inhabitants.

On May 10, 1873, the first volunteer, Father Damien, arrived at the isolated settlement at Kalaupapa, where 816 lepers then lived, and was presented by Bishop Louis Maigret. At his arrival he spoke to the assembled lepers as “one who will be a father to you, and who loves you so much that he does not hesitate to become one of you; to live and die with you.” Damien worked with them to build a church and establish the parish of Saint Philomena. In addition to serving as a priest, he dressed residents’ ulcers, helped build a reservoir, homes and furniture, made coffins, and dug graves. Six months after his arrival at Kalawao, he wrote to his brother, Pamphile, in Europe: “I make myself a leper with the lepers to gain all to Jesus Christ.” It is said that Father Damien told the lepers that despite what the outside world thought of them, they were always precious in the eyes of God. Under the leadership of Father Damien, laws were more strongly enforced, working farms were more organized, and schools along with an education system were established.

Some historians believe that Father Damien was a catalyst for turning the community around. Under his leadership, basic laws were enforced, shacks were upgraded and improved as painted houses, working farms were organized, and schools were established. However, many such accounts completely overlook the roles of superintendents who were Hawaiian or part Hawaiian. William P. Ragsdale, who was part Hawaiian, served as an interpreter as well as in other government posts. After finding that he had contracted leprosy, he “gave himself up to the law”, and was appointed to serve as superintendent at Kalaupapa in 1873. He led it until his death in 1877. Father Damien succeeded him briefly as superintendent, but he gave that up after three months in February 1878 in favor of another appointee. His superiors did not want priests serving in government posts.

King David Kalākaua bestowed on Damien the honor of “Knight Commander of the Royal Order of Kalākaua.” When crown princess Lydia Liliʻuokalani visited the settlement to present the medal, she was reported as having been too distraught and heartbroken at the sight of the residents to read her speech, but she did subsequently share her experience, lauding Damien’s efforts. Consequently, Damien became internationally known in the United States and Europe. US Protestants raised large sums of money for his work and the Church of England sent food, medicine, clothing, and supplies to the settlement. It is believed that Damien never wore the royal medal, although it was placed by his side at his funeral.

Father Damien worked for 16 years in Hawaii providing comfort for the lepers of Kalaupapa. He prayed at the cemetery of the deceased, and comforted the dying at their bedsides. In December 1884 while preparing to bathe, Damien inadvertently put his foot into scalding water, causing his skin to blister. He felt nothing and realized he had contracted leprosy after 11 years of working in the colony. This was a common way for people to discover that they had been infected with leprosy. Residents said that Damien continued to work vigorously to build as many homes as he could and planned for the future of programs he had established.

In 1885, Masanao Goto, a Japanese leprologist, went to Honolulu and treated Damien. He believed that leprosy was caused by a diminution of the blood. His treatment consisted of nourishing food, moderate exercise, frequent friction to the benumbed parts, special ointments, and medical baths. The treatments did relieve some of the symptoms and were very popular with the Hawai’ian patients. Damien had faith in the treatments and said he wanted to be treated by no one but Goto, who eventually became good friends with Father Damien. Despite the illness slowing down his body, in his last years, Damien engaged in a flurry of activity. He tried to complete and advance as many projects as possible with his time remaining. While continuing to spread the Catholic faith and aid the lepers in their treatments, Damien completed several building projects and improved orphanages. Four volunteers arrived at Kalaupapa to help father Damien as he weakened: a Belgian priest, Louis Lambert Conrardy; a soldier, Joseph Dutton (an American Civil War veteran who left behind a marriage broken by alcoholism); a male nurse, James Sinnett from Chicago; and Mother Marianne Cope, who had been the head of the Franciscan-run St Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse, New York. Conrardy took up pastoral duties; Cope organized a working hospital; Dutton attended to the construction and maintenance of the community’s buildings; and Sinnett nursed Damien in the last phases of illness.

With an arm in a sling, a foot in bandages, and his leg dragging, Damien knew death was near. He was bedridden on 23 March 1889, and on 30 March he made a general confession. Damien died of leprosy at 8:00 a.m. on 15 April 1889, aged 49. The next day, after Mass said by Father Moellers at St. Philomena’s, the whole settlement followed the funeral cortège to the cemetery. Damien was laid to rest under the same pandanus tree where he first slept upon his arrival on Molokaʻi.

In January 1936, at the request of King Leopold III of Belgium and the Belgian government, Damien’s body was returned to his native land in Belgium. It was transported aboard the Belgian ship Mercator. Damien was buried in Leuven, the historic university city close to the village where he was born. After Damien’s beatification in June 1995, the remains of his right hand were returned to Hawaii and re-interred in his original grave on Molokaʻi.

It’s not as hard as you might think to conjure up a dish to celebrate father Damien’s mission that is both Belgian and Hawai’ian. Belgian waffles, due to US influence, have become a standard breakfast feature in Hawai’i and are frequently given a Hawai’ian twist by topping them with coconut and pineapple instead of European fruits and berries. You don’t need much more in the way of a recipe than I have already given you.  There’s a recipe and video on making Belgian waffles here: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/corpus-christi/  Follow the recipe, but change things up with pineapple and coconut, or whatever tropical fruits appeal. Papaya and/or mango would work just fine.

May 202017
 

Today is the birthday (1799) of legendary French author Honoré de Balzac.  His father, born Bernard-François Balssa, was one of eleven children from an artisan family in Tarn, a region in the south of France. In 1760 he set off for Paris with only a Louis coin in his pocket, intent on improving his social standing; by 1776 he had become Secretary to the King’s Council and a Freemason (he had also changed his name to the more noble sounding “Balzac,” his son later adding—without official recognition—the nobiliary particle: “de”). After the Reign of Terror (1793–94), François Balzac was sent to Tours to coordinate supplies for the Army. Balzac’s mother, born Anne-Charlotte-Laure Sallambier, came from a family of haberdashers in Paris. Her family’s wealth was a considerable factor in the match: she was 18 at the time of the wedding, and François Balzac, 50

Honoré (named after Saint-Honoré of Amiens http://www.bookofdaystales.com/st-honore-of-amiens/ ) was the second child born to the Balzacs. Exactly one year before, Louis-Daniel had been born, but he lived for only a month. As an infant Balzac was sent to a wet-nurse; the following year he was joined by his sister Laure and they spent four years away from home. When the Balzac children returned home, they were kept at a distance from their parents. At age 10 Balzac was sent to the Oratorian grammar school in Vendôme, where he studied for 7 years. His father intentionally gave him little spending money to try to instill in him a sense of a hardscrabble upbringing but it primarily served to make him the object of ridicule among his much wealthier schoolmates.

Balzac had difficulty adapting to the rote style of learning at the school. As a result, he was frequently sent to the “alcove”, a punishment cell reserved for disobedient students. (The janitor at the school, when asked later if he remembered Honoré, replied: “Remember M. Balzac? I should think I do! I had the honour of escorting him to the dungeon more than a hundred times!”) His time alone, however, gave Balzac the opportunity to read voraciously.

Like Dickens (sometimes called the “English Balzac”), Balzac used scenes of his boyhood in his writing, especially La Comédie Humaine. His time at Vendôme is reflected in Louis Lambert, his 1832 novel about a young boy studying at an Oratorian grammar school at Vendôme. The narrator says : “He devoured books of every kind, feeding indiscriminately on religious works, history and literature, philosophy and physics. He had told me that he found indescribable delight in reading dictionaries for lack of other books.”

Balzac often fell ill, finally causing the headmaster to contact his family with news of a “sort of a coma.” In 1814 the Balzac family moved to Paris, and Honoré was sent to private tutors and schools for the next two and a half years. This was an unhappy time in his life, during which he attempted suicide on a bridge over the Loire River. In 1816 Balzac entered the Sorbonne, where he studied under three famous teachers: François Guizot, who later became Prime Minister, Abel-François Villemain, a recent arrival from the Collège Charlemagne who lectured on French and classical literature, and, his favorite, Victor Cousin, who strongly encouraged independent thinking.

After the Sorbonne Balzac was persuaded by his father to follow him into the Law. For three years he trained and worked at the office of Victor Passez, a family friend. During this time Balzac began to delve the vagaries of human behavior. In Le Notaire (1840), he wrote that a young person in the legal profession sees “the oily wheels of every fortune, the hideous wrangling of heirs over corpses not yet cold, the human heart grappling with the Penal Code.”

In 1819 Passez offered to make Balzac his successor, but he had had enough of the Law. He despaired of being “a clerk, a machine, a riding-school hack, eating and drinking and sleeping at fixed hours. I should be like everyone else. And that’s what they call living, that life at the grindstone, doing the same thing over and over again…. I am hungry and nothing is offered to appease my appetite.” In consequence he determined to become a writer.

Balzac’s work habits are legendary, he wrote from 1 am to 8 am every night and sometimes even longer. Balzac could write very rapidly; some of his novels, written with a quill, were composed at about thirty words per minute. His preferred method was to eat a light meal at 5 or 6 in the afternoon, then sleep until midnight. He then rose and wrote for many hours, drinking innumerable cups of strong black coffee. He would often work for 15 hours or more at a stretch, and claimed to have once worked for 48 hours with only 3 hours of rest in the middle.

Balzac revised obsessively, covering printer’s proofs with changes and additions to be reset. He sometimes repeated this process during the publication of a book, causing significant expense both for himself and the publisher. As a result, the finished product quite often was different from the original text.

Balzac died in Paris in 1850, 5 months after marrying Ewelina Hańska, widow of count Hańska, in Russia.  He had never enjoyed good health, but the journey to Russia to finalize his courtship with Ewelina (who was also being courted by Franz Lizst), and his persistent overeating, along with his generally poor personal habits, weakened his system fatally. He showed all the symptoms of heart failure in his final year.

The day he died he had been visited by Victor Hugo, who later served as a pallbearer and eulogist. Balzac is buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. At his memorial service, Victor Hugo said, “Today we have people in black because of the death of the man of talent; a nation in mourning for a man of genius.” The funeral was attended by the literary elite of Paris”, including Frédérick Lemaître, Gustave Courbet, Dumas père and Dumas fils,[84] as well as representatives of the Légion d’honneur and other dignitaries. Later, Auguste Rodin created the Monument à Balzac in his honor, and featured him in several smaller busts.

Here’s a few of my favorite quotes:

Our worst misfortunes never happen, and most miseries lie in anticipation.

First love is a kind of vaccination which saves a man from catching the complaint a second time.

Life is simply what our feelings do to us.

If you mean to cook your dinner, you must expect to soil your hands; the real art is in getting them clean again.

Great love affairs start with Champagne and end with tisane.

The majority of husbands remind me of an orangutan trying to play the violin.

And he, like many jaded people, had few pleasures left in life save good food and drink.

Cruelty and fear shake hands together. An unfulfilled vocation drains the color from a man’s entire existence.

Hatred is the vice of narrow souls; they feed it with all their littleness, and make it the pretext of base tyrannies.

After Balzac had closeted himself away for lengthy creative bursts, drinking coffee and eating only fruit and eggs, he would take a break and wolf down vast quantities of food. Once he asked his publisher, Monsieur Werdet, to lunch between writing bouts. According to the food historian Giles MacDonagh, he ate “a hundred Ostend oysters, 12 Pre-Sale mutton cutlets, a duckling with turnips, a brace of roast partridges, a sole Normand, without counting hors d’oeuvres, entremets, fruits etc.”

Balzac sometimes gave dinner parties with a theme. Once he served a meal of nothing but onions: onion soup, his favorite onion puree, onion juice, onion fritters and onions with truffles. His idea, apparently, was to showcase the purgative properties of the vegetable. It worked. All his guests got sick. Maybe if you just make French onion soup you can avoid this fate. I’ve been making classic French onion soup since I was a novice cook, which, if made well, is superb. But you must get  it right. It takes time and patience. This is my recipe from memory which I have played with over the years. It makes about 8 servings, so I don’t make it very often these days. You really shouldn’t make small quantities.

French Onion Soup

Peel 10 sweet white onions, halve them, and finely slice them. Heat 3 tablespoons of butter in a large, heavy Dutch oven, over low heat and layer in the onion slices sprinkling salt between each layer. Let the onions sweat down, undisturbed for 15 to 20 minutes.  After that, stir the onions occasionally until they take on a dark, even, mahogany color. This is the absolutely critical step, and requires patience and attentiveness. You don’t want any of the onions to burn but they must be dark brown. Eventually the onions will reduce to about 2 cups. Ignore cookbooks that say you can brown the onions in 10 minutes or so. This is complete nonsense. Slowly cooked onions take an hour (sometimes longer) to reach this stage.

Add a cup (or more) of dry white wine to cover the onions and turn the heat to high. Reduce the wine to a syrup, then add 5 cups of beef consommé. See the HINTS tab for my recipes. You want this consommé to be of the highest quality. Also add a cup of good quality farm apple cider, and a bouquet garni (your choice of herbs; I use thyme, parsley, marjoram, and bay leaf). Simmer gently for about 20 minutes. Cool and refrigerate overnight.

Reheat the soup next day when ready to serve.

Heat the broiler. Cut day old baguette slices into rounds to fit the  mouths of oven-safe soup crocks. Very lightly toast the bread under the broiler on one side only.

Add a little cognac to the soup, and ladle it into the crocks, leaving space for the bread. Place the bread, toasted side down, on top of the soup and spread it with grated Gruyère. Place the crocks under the broiler and broil until the cheese is bubbly and toasted.