Mar 092017
 

The fashion doll Barbie, manufactured by the U.S. toy company Mattel, Inc. was launched on this date in 1959 so we can celebrate today as Barbie’s birthday. Ruth Handler is credited with the creation of the doll using a German doll called Bild Lilli as her inspiration.  According to the Mattel company’s history, Handler was watching her daughter Barbara play with paper dolls, and noticed that she often enjoyed giving them adult roles. At the time, most children’s toy dolls were representations of infants. Realizing that there was a gap in the market, Handler suggested the idea of an adult-bodied doll to her husband Elliot, a co-founder of the Mattel toy company but he was unenthusiastic about the idea, as were Mattel’s directors.

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During a trip to Europe in 1956 with her children Barbara and Kenneth, Ruth Handler came across a German toy doll called Bild Lilli. The adult-figured doll was exactly what Handler had in mind, so she purchased three of them. She gave one to her daughter and took the others back to Mattel. The Lilli doll was based on a popular character appearing in a comic strip drawn by Reinhard Beuthin for the newspaper Bild. Lilli was a blonde bombshell, a working girl who knew what she wanted and was not above using men to get it. The Lilli doll was first sold in Germany in 1955, and although it was initially sold to adults, it became popular with children who enjoyed dressing her up in outfits that were available separately.

Upon her return to the United States, Handler redesigned the doll (with help from engineer Jack Ryan) and the doll was given a new name, Barbie, after Handler’s daughter Barbara. The doll made its debut at the American International Toy Fair in New York on March 9, 1959. This date has become Barbie’s official birthday according to Mattel, making her 58 this year (2017).

The first Barbie doll wore a black and white zebra striped swimsuit and signature topknot ponytail, and was available as either a blonde or brunette. The doll was marketed as a “Teen-age Fashion Model,” with her clothes created by Mattel fashion designer Charlotte Johnson. The first Barbie dolls were manufactured in Japan, with their clothes hand-stitched by Japanese home workers. Around 350,000 Barbie dolls were sold during the first year of production.

Louis Marx and Company sued Mattel in March 1961. After licensing Lilli, they claimed that Mattel had “infringed on Greiner & Hausser’s patent for Bild-Lilli’s hip joint, and also claimed that Barbie was “a direct take-off and copy” of Bild-Lilli. The company additionally claimed that Mattel “falsely and misleadingly represented itself as having originated the design”. Mattel counter-claimed and the case was settled out of court in 1963. In 1964, Mattel bought Greiner & Hausser’s copyright and patent rights for the Bild-Lilli doll for $21,600.

Ruth Handler believed that it was important for Barbie to have an adult appearance, and early market research showed that some parents were unhappy about the doll’s chest, which had distinct breasts. Barbie’s appearance has been changed many times, most notably in 1971 when the doll’s eyes were adjusted to look forwards rather than having the demure sideways glance of the original model. Barbie was one of the first toys to have a marketing strategy based extensively on television advertising, which has been copied widely by other toy companies. It is estimated that over a billion Barbie dolls have been sold worldwide in over 150 countries, with Mattel claiming that three Barbie dolls are sold every second.

The standard range of Barbie dolls and related accessories are manufactured to approximately 1/6 scale, which is also known as playscale. The standard dolls are approximately 11½ inches tall. In January 2016, Mattel announced that it will add tall, curvy, and petite body shapes to its line-up of dolls. Alternative skin tones, hair styles, and hair colors will also be added.

 

Barbie is without doubt a pop cultural icon of considerable magnitude. Andy Warhol used Barbie in his art and the Andy Warhol Foundation then teamed up with Mattel to create an Andy Warhol Barbie, setting Barbie alongside the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Che Guevara. Al Carbee took thousands of photographs of Barbie and created countless collages and dioramas featuring Barbie in various settings.

As a pop icon Barbie has come in for her fair share of criticism.  In her early days Barbie was a teenage fashion model. This was a huge shift away from the classic 1950s doll market that featured babies for little girls to look after which at best cried, peed, and closed their eyes, so that girls were limited to mother roles such as feeding, cradling, and putting to bed. Barbie opened up professional opportunities for little girls. At first these opportunities were limited to affluent, White, middle-class aspirations but she did eventually appear as an astronaut, surgeon, Olympic athlete, downhill skier, aerobics instructor, TV news reporter, vet, rock star, doctor, army officer, air force pilot, summit diplomat, rap musician, presidential candidate (not entirely clearly defined), baseball player, scuba diver, lifeguard, fire-fighter, engineer, dentist, and more.

To counter the WASP image artists have created a variety of trailer park “Barbies.”

Barbie was also criticized for her body type in the earlier years and that the doll promotes and unrealistic image for a young woman, leading to a risk that girls who attempt to emulate her will become anorexic. A standard Barbie doll is 11.5 inches tall, giving a height of 5 feet 9 inches at 1/6 scale. Barbie’s vital statistics have been estimated at 36 inches (chest), 18 inches (waist) and 33 inches (hips). According to research by the University Central Hospital in Helsinki, Finland, she would lack the 17 to 22 percent body fat required for a woman to menstruate. In 1963, the outfit “Barbie Baby-Sits” came with a book entitled How to Lose Weight which advised: “Don’t eat!” The same book was included in another ensemble called “Slumber Party” in 1965 along with a pink bathroom scale permanently set at 110 lbs., which by medical standards is clinically underweight for a woman 5 feet 9 inches tall. Mattel said that the waist of the Barbie doll was made small because the waistbands of her clothes, along with their seams, snaps, and zippers, added bulk to her figure. In 1997, Barbie’s body mold was redesigned and given a wider waist, with Mattel saying that this would make the doll better suited to contemporary fashion designs.

Mattel introduced the Ken doll in 1961 to be Barbie’s boyfriend – also a fashion model whom, in Mattel’s fantasy world, Barbie met on a fashion shoot.  Subsequently Mattel introduced a host of friends to include Mexican, African-American, and other ethnic groups under the Barbie umbrella.

In Japan, where cosplay is a huge cultural phenomenon, boys and girls have major plastic surgery so that their facial features resemble Ken and Barbie, which they supplement with exotic makeup, body shaping, hair color, wigs, and couture.

I can’t say I’d get on with Barbie if I met her in New Jersey. I’d certainly not be impressed with her cooking skills.  Her kitchen is not bad when it comes to basic utensils and equipment, but terrible with regard to food items.  This Japanese video showing Barbie cooking has to stock the kitchen with non-Mattel food items that are mostly out of scale and highly ordinary. Looks like if Barbie is cooking for me we’re having roast turkey, pasta, and salad.  Have fun with that.

Jul 082014
 

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Today is the birthday (1593) of Artemisia Gentileschi, an Italian Baroque painter, today considered one of the most accomplished painters in the generation following that of Caravaggio. In an era when women painters were not easily accepted by the artistic community or patrons, she was the first woman to become a member of the Accademia di Arte del Disegno in Florence.

She painted many images of strong and suffering women from myth and the Bible—victims, suicides, warriors—and made it her specialty to paint the Judith story. Her best-known work is Judith Slaying Holofermes (a common medieval and baroque subject in art). That she was a woman painting in the 17th century and that she was raped and participated in prosecuting the rapist, long overshadowed her achievements as an artist. For many years she was seen as a curiosity. Today she is regarded as one of the most progressive and skilled painters of her generation.

Artemisia Gentileschi was born in Rome, the eldest child of the Tuscan painter Orazio Gentileschi. Gentileschi was introduced to painting in her father’s workshop, showing much more talent than her brothers, who worked alongside her. She learned drawing, how to mix color, and how to paint. Since her father’s style took inspiration from Caravaggio during that period, her style was just as heavily influenced in turn. Her approach to subject matter was different from her father’s, however, as her paintings are highly naturalistic, whereas Orazio’s are idealized. Orazio was a great encouragement to his daughter since, during the 17th century, women were commonly considered lacking the intelligence for professional work. Gentileschi had to resist the traditional norms and psychological pressures of her time, brought on, in part, by the jealousy of contemporaries over her obvious abilities. By doing so, she gained great respect and recognition for her work.

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The first work of the seventeen-year-old Gentileschi was the Susanna e i Vecchioni (Susanna and the Elders) (1610). At the time some, influenced by the prevailing misconceptions, suspected that she was helped by her father. The painting shows how Gentileschi assimilated the realism of Caravaggio without being indifferent to the style of the Bologna school, which had Annibale Carracci among its major artists. It is one of the few paintings on the theme of Susanna showing the sexual accosting by the two Elders as a traumatic event.

In 1611, her father was working with Agostino Tassi to decorate the vaults of Casino della Rose inside the Pallavicini Rospigliosi Palace in Rome, so Orazio hired the painter to tutor his daughter privately. During this tutelage, Tassi raped Gentileschi. Another man, Cosimo Quorlis had helped Tassi with the rape. After the initial rape, Gentileschi continued to have sexual relations with Tassi, with the expectation that they were going to be married and with the hope to restore her dignity and her future. Tassi reneged on his promise to marry Gentileschi. Nine months after the rape, after he learned that Gentileschi and Tassi were not going to be married, Orazio pressed charges against Tassi. Orazio also claimed that Tassi stole a painting of Judith from the Gentileschi household. The major issue of this trial was the fact that Tassi had taken Gentileschi’s virginity. If Gentileschi had not been a virgin before Tassi raped her, the Gentileschis would not have been able to press charges. During the ensuing seven-month trial, it was discovered that Tassi had planned to murder his wife, had enjoined in adultery with his sister-in-law, and planned to steal some of Orazio’s paintings. During the trial, Gentileschi was subjected to a gynecological examination and being tortured using thumbscrews to verify her testimony. At the end of the trial Tassi was sentenced to imprisonment for one year, although he never served the time. The trial influenced the feminist view of Gentileschi in general during the late twentieth century.

Gentileschi was surrounded mainly by the presence of males since the loss of her mother at age 12. When Gentileschi was 17, Orazio rented the upstairs apartment of their home to a female tenant, Tuzia. Gentileschi befriended Tuzia; however, Tuzia allowed Agostino Tassi and Cosimo Quorlis to accompany Gentileschi in Artemsia’s home on multiple occasions. The day the rape occurred, Gentileschi cried for the help of Tuzia, but Tuzia simply ignored Gentileschi and pretended she knew nothing of what happened. Gentileschi felt betrayed by Tuzia, and because Tuzia was the only female figure in her life, Gentileschi’s works contained a strong sense of solidarity and unity between women.

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The painting, Giuditta che decapita Oloferne (Judith beheading Holofernes) (1612–1613), is striking for the violence portrayed. Compare this with Caravaggio’s depiction of the same scene (below). Gentileschi’s Judith is really going at it, whereas Caravaggio’s looks as if she could barely break the skin from the way she is holding her arms at such a distance, and the blood just gently trickling on the pillow.

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A month later, Orazio arranged for his daughter to marry Pierantonio Stiattesi, a modest artist from Florence. Shortly afterward the couple moved to Florence, where Gentileschi received a commission for a painting at Casa Buonarroti. She became a successful court painter, enjoying the patronage of the Medici family and Charles I. It has been proposed that during this period Gentileschi also painted the Madonna col Bambino (The Virgin and Child).

While in Florence, Gentileschi and Pierantonio had a daughter, Prudentia, around 1618; they also had a second daughter some years after Prudentia. It is noteworthy that both daughters were painters, trained by their mother, although nothing is known of their work.

In Florence, Gentileschi enjoyed huge success. She was the first woman accepted into the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno (Academy of the Arts of Drawing). She maintained good relations with the most respected artists of her time, such as Cristofano Allori, and was able to garner the favors and the protection of influential people, starting with Granduke Cosimo II de’ Medici and especially, of the Granduchess Cristina. She had a good relationship with Galileo Galilei, with whom she corresponded by letter for a long time.

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She was esteemed by Michelangelo Buonarroti the younger (nephew of the great Michelangelo): busy with construction of Casa Buonarroti to celebrate his notable relative, he asked Gentileschi to produce a painting to decorate the ceiling of the gallery of paintings. The painting is allegorical, Allegoria dell’Inclinazione, “Allegory of the Inclination (natural talent)”, presented in the form of a nude young woman holding a compass. It is believed that the subject bears a resemblance to Gentileschi. Indeed, in several of her paintings, Gentileschi’s energetic heroines resemble her self-portraits.

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Her success and gender fueled many rumors about her private life. For example, some speculate that the case of her rape released her from societal pressures, having created an understanding of why some of her works were filled with defiant and violent women, rather than examining the style of those influencing hers. Notable works from this period include La Conversione della Maddalena (The Conversion of the Magdalene), Self-Portrait as a Lute Player,  and Giuditta con la sua ancella (Judith and her Maidservant). Gentileschi painted a second version of Giuditta che decapita Oloferne (Judith beheading Holofernes), this one larger than the Naples version. Despite her success, financial excesses borne by her for her husband led to problems with creditors, and she fell out with her husband. She returned without him to Rome in 1621.

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Gentileschi arrived in Rome the same year her father Orazio departed for Genoa. While there is not enough evidence for this, some believe that Gentileschi followed her father to Genoa, asserting that this time together would have accentuated the similarity of their styles, making it often difficult to determine which of the two painted certain works. Most of the evidence, however, supports the notion that Gentileschi remained in Rome, trying to find a home and raise her children.

Although the master had been dead over a decade, Caravaggio’s style was still highly influential and converted many painters to following his style (the so-called Caravaggisti), such as Gentileschi’s father Orazio, Carlo Saraceni (who returned to Venice 1620), Bartolomeo Manfredi, and Simon Vouet. Painting styles in Rome during the early seventeenth century were diverse, however, demonstrating a more classic manner of the Bolognese disciples of the Carracci and the baroque style of Pietro da Cortona.

It appears that Gentileschi also was associated the Academy of the Desiosi. She was celebrated with a portrait carrying the inscription “Pincturare miraculum invidendum facilius quam imitandum”. During the same period she became friends with Cassiano dal Pozzo, a humanist and a collector and lover of arts.

Despite her artistic reputation, her strong personality, and her numerous good relationships, however, Rome was not so lucrative as she hoped. Her style, tone of defiance, and strength relaxed. She painted less intense works. For instance, her second version of Susanna and the Elders (1622) The appreciation of her art was narrowed down to portraits and to her ability with biblical heroines. She did not receive any of the lucrative commissions for altarpieces. The absence of sufficient documentation makes it difficult to follow Gentileschi’s movements in this period. It is certain that between 1627 and as late as 1630, she moved to Venice, perhaps in search of richer commissions. Evidence for this is that verses and letters were composed in appreciation of her and her works in Venice.

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Although it is sometimes difficult to date her paintings, it is possible to assign certain works by her to these years, the Ritratto di gonfaloniere (Portrait of Gonfaloniere), today in Bologna (a rare example of her capacity as portrait painter) and the Giuditta con la sua ancella, (Judith and her Maidservervant). The latter painting is notable for her mastery of chiaroscuro and tenebrism (the effects of extreme lights and darks), techniques for which Gerrit van Honthorst, Trophime Bigot, and many others in Rome were famous. Her Venere Dormiente (The Sleeping Venus), and her Ester ed Assuero (Esther and Ahasuerus)  are testimony to her assimilation of the lessons of Venetian luminism.

In 1630 Gentileschi moved to Naples, a city rich with workshops and art lovers, in search of new and more lucrative job opportunities. Many other artists, including Caravaggio, Annibale Carracci, and Simon Vouet had stayed in Naples for some time in their lives. At that time, Jusepe de Ribera, Massimo Stanzione, and Domenichino were working there and later, Giovanni Lanfranco and many others would flock to the city. The Neapolitan debut of Gentileschi is represented by the Annunciation in the Capodimonte Museum. She remained in Naples for the remainder of her career with the exceptions of a brief trip to London and some other journeys.

Naples was for Gentileschi a kind of second homeland where she took care of her family (both of her daughters were married in Naples). On Saturday 18 March 1634 the traveler Bullen Reymes records in his diary visiting Gentileschi and one of her daughters (‘who also paints’) with a group of fellow-Englishmen. She received letters of appreciation, being in good relations with the viceroy, the Duke of Alcalá, and started relations with many renowned artists, among them Massimo Stanzione, with whom, the eighteenth-century writer Bernardo de’ Dominici reports, she started an artistic collaboration based on a real friendship and artistic similarities.

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In Naples for the first time Gentileschi started working on paintings in a cathedral, dedicated to San Gennaro nell’anfiteatro di Pozzuoli (Saint Januarius in the amphitheater of Pozzuoli) in Pozzuoli. During her first Neapolitan period she painted Nascita di San Giovanni Battista (Birth of Saint John the Baptist), and Corisca e il satiro (Corisca and the satyr). In these paintings Gentileschi again demonstrates her ability to adapt to the novelties of the period and handle different subjects, instead of the usual Judith, Susanna, Bathsheba, and Penitent Magdalenes, for which she already was known.

In 1638 Gentileschi joined her father in London at the court of Charles I of England, where Orazio became court painter and received the important job of decorating a ceiling (allegory of Trionfo della pace e delle Arti (Triumph of the peace and the Arts) in the Casa delle Delizie of Queen Henrietta Maria of France in Greenwich). Father and daughter were working together once again, although helping her father probably was not her only reason for travelling to London: Charles I had convoked her in his court, and it was not possible to refuse. Charles I was a fanatical collector, willing to ruin public finances to follow his artistic wishes. The fame of Gentileschi probably intrigued him, and it is not a coincidence that his collection included a painting of great suggestion, the Autoritratto in veste di Pittura (“Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting”), which is the lead image of this article.

Orazio died suddenly in 1639. Gentileschi had her own commissions to fulfill after her father’s death, although there are no known works assignable with certainty to this period. It is known that Gentileschi had already left England by 1642, when the civil war was just starting. Nothing much is known about her subsequent movements. Historians know that in 1649 she was in Naples again, corresponding with Don Antonio Ruffo of Sicily, who became her mentor during this second Neapolitan period. The last known letter to her mentor is dated 1650 and makes clear that she still was fully active.

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As Gentileschi grew older, her work is sometimes described as more graceful and “feminine.” I’m not really comfortable with such stereotypic labels, but it is true that the brutality and forcefulness of her earlier work was muted now. Works in this period include, Susanna e i vecchioni (Susanna and the elders), Madonna e Bambino con rosario (Virgin and Child with a Rosary), David and Bathsheba.

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Gentileschi was once thought to have died in 1652/1653, however, recent evidence has shown that she was still accepting commissions in 1654—although increasingly dependent upon her assistant, Onofrio Palumbo. It might be speculated that she died in the devastating plague that swept Naples in 1656 and virtually wiped out an entire generation of Neapolitan artists.

For today’s recipe I have chosen a 17th century Florentine recipe for cappelletti, cappelleti alla cortigiana (courtesan’s cappelleti). “Cappelletti” means “little caps” referring to the shape of the pasta. Traditionally they are served as cappelletti in brodo, that is, in rich broth, one of my favorites. You will find my standard recipe for pasta under the HINTS tab. When I make filled pasta I like to make a big batch and freeze most. To do this, place the pasta on metal trays in the freezer making sure they do not touch. When they are frozen place them in zip top bags. This way they stay separate while frozen.

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Cappelletti alla Cortigiana

Ingredients

1 batch of fresh pasta
3 ½ oz/100g pork belly
½ capon breast
7 oz/200g soft Italian cheese (e.g. ricotta)
1 ¾ oz/50g matured hard Italian cheese (e.g. Pecorino)
2 eggs
ground nutmeg
ground ginger
fresh ground black pepper
salt

Instructions

Simmer the pork belly and capon breast in separate pots in light broth until tender. Remove both meats and chop then very fine. Mix all together thoroughly with the cheeses, eggs, nutmeg, ginger, pepper and salt to taste. Start off with very little of the spices and add until their flavor comes through but is not overwhelming.

Roll the pasta using a pasta machine into long strips as thin as possible (usually the second to finest setting). Cut the strips into 1 ½” by 1 ½” (4cm by 4cm) squares. Dab about 2 teaspoons of filling in the center of each square. Lightly dampen the inner edges with water and fold over the square diagonally to form a triangle. Press the edges to seal. Take the base corners of the triangle and pull them together. Overlap them slightly and press them together to form the “cap.”

Bring the capon broth to a gentle boil. Add a few threads of saffron, and then the cappelletti. Because this is fresh pasta they will cook in just a few minutes. Be very vigilant to be sure the pasta remains al dente.

Serve in the broth with grated hard cheese and a sprinkling of nutmeg or ginger.

Apr 072014
 

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Today is the birthday (1772) of François Marie Charles Fourier, generally referred to as Charles, radical (for his day) social theorist and utopian socialist. His ideas had a profound impact on social theory in the early 19th century, among other things being foundational to much of what Karl Marx wrote later about the ills of industrial society.  But he was also a trifle loony and ended up being largely forgotten until the late 20th century.  Fourier’s views inspired the founding of the community of Utopia, Ohio, La Reunion near present-day Dallas, Texas, the North American Phalanx in Red Bank, New Jersey, Brook Farm in West Roxbury, Massachusetts (where Nathaniel Hawthorne was one of the founders), the Community Place and Sodus Bay Phalanx in New York State, and several other communities in the United States.

Fourier was born in Besançon, capital and principal city of the Franche-Comté region in eastern France. He was the son of a small businessman, but was more interested in architecture than in his father’s line of work. He wanted to become an engineer, but the local military engineering school where he might have trained accepted only sons of noblemen. Fourier later said he was grateful that he did not pursue engineering, because it would have consumed too much of his time and taken away from his true desire to help humanity.

When his father died in 1781, Fourier received 40% of his father’s estate, valued at more than 200,000 francs. This inheritance enabled Fourier to travel throughout Europe at his leisure. In 1791 he moved from Besançon to Lyon, where he was employed by a merchant. Fourier’s travels also brought him to Paris, where he worked as the head of the Office of Statistics for a few months. Not satisfied with making journeys on behalf of others for their commercial benefit and desiring to seek knowledge in everything he could, Fourier often changed business firms and residences in order to explore and experience new things. From 1791 to 1816 (the years of revolution and the Napoleonic wars) Fourier was employed in Paris, Rouen, Lyon, Marseille, and Bordeaux. As a traveling salesman and correspondence clerk, his time for research and writing was limited. He complained of “serving the knavery of merchants” and the stupefaction of “deceitful and degrading duties.” His first book was published in 1808 and eventually he became a full time writer.

Fourier declared that concern and cooperation were the secrets of social success. He believed that a society that cooperated would see an immense improvement in its productivity levels. Workers should be recompensed for their labors according to their contribution (with odious, but necessary, toil being rewarded more than pleasing work). Fourier envisaged such cooperation occurring in communities he called “phalanxes,” based on large planned edifices called Phalanstères or “grand hotels.” These buildings were four-level apartment complexes where the richest had the uppermost apartments and the poorest lived on the ground floor. Wealth was to be determined by one’s job, and jobs were assigned based on the interests and desires of the individual. Fourier considered trade, presumably based on experience, to be the “source of all evil.”

Fourier characterized poverty (not inequality) as the principal cause of disorder in society, and he proposed to eradicate it by sufficiently high wages and by a “decent minimum” for those who were not able to work. Fourier used the word “civilization” in a negative sense and as such his contempt for the respectable thinkers and ideologies of his age was so intense that he always used the terms “philosopher” and “civilization” in a pejorative sense. Fourier´s attack on civilization went completely against the mainstream of social criticism of his day.

Here is where his theories start to go off the rails a little, but with some solid ideas at the core. He believed that there were twelve common passions which resulted in 810 types of character. Hence the ideal phalanx would have exactly 1620 people (male and female of each character type). He imagined that one day there would be six million of these phalanxes, loosely ruled by a world “omniarch,” or (later) a World Congress of Phalanxes, and this would be the new world order.

He had a touching concern for the sexually rejected; jilted suitors would be led away by a corps of fairies who would soon cure them of their lovesickness, and visitors could consult the card-index of personality types for suitable partners for casual sex. He also defended homosexuality as perfectly normal for some people. Anarchist Hakim Bey says of Fourier’s ideas: “In Fourier’s system of Harmony all creative activity including industry, craft, agriculture, etc. will arise from liberated passion — this is the famous theory of “attractive labor.” Fourier sexualizes work itself — the life of the Phalanstery is a continual orgy of intense feeling, intellection, & activity, a society of lovers & wild enthusiasts.” A perfect summation I think of his core concepts, and ones I wholeheartedly approve of.

Fourier was also a supporter of women’s rights in a time when women were strictly subjugated. He believed that all important jobs should be open to women on the basis of skill and aptitude rather than closed on account of gender. He spoke of women as individuals, not as half a human couple. Fourier saw that traditional marriage, as he saw it in his day, could  hurt woman’s rights as human beings and thus he never married. Writing well over a century before the so-called sexual revolution, Fourier believed that both men and women have a wide range of sexual needs and preferences which may change throughout their lives, including same-sex sexuality and androgénité. He argued that all sexual expressions should be enjoyed as long as people are not abused, and that “affirming one’s difference” can actually enhance social integration.

Fourier’s concern was to liberate every human individual, man, woman, and child, in two ways: education and the liberation of human passion. On education, he felt that “civilized” parents and teachers saw children as little slackers to be disciplined and trained into “civilized” behavior. He believed that this way of thinking was cripplingly wrong both for children and for society as a whole. He thought that children as early as ages two and three were very industrious (and could actually be put to work as long as it was enjoyable). He listed the dominant tastes in all children to include, but not limited to:

Rummaging or the inclination to handle everything, examine everything, look through everything, to constantly change activities.

Industrial commotion; a taste for noisy activities.

Aping or imitative mania.

Industrial miniature, a taste for small things.

Progressive attraction of the weak toward the strong.

Fourier was deeply disturbed by the disorder of his time and wanted to stabilize the course of events which surrounded him. Fourier saw his fellow human beings living in a world full of strife, chaos, and disorder. As such Fourier is best remembered for his writings on a new world order based on unity of action and harmonious collaboration. He is also known for certain, occasionally whacky, apocalyptic pronouncements, such as that the seas would lose their salinity and turn to lemonade, and that in the future phase of Perfect Harmony the North Pole would be milder than the Mediterranean.

The influence of Fourier’s ideas in French politics was carried forward into the 1848 Revolution and the Paris Commune by followers such as Victor Considérant. Numerous references to Fourier’s ideas appear, negatively, in Dostoevsky’s political novel The Possessed first published in 1872. In it Fourierism is used by the revolutionary faithful as something of an insult to their peers, and those within the circle are quick to defend themselves from being labeled a Fourierist.

Fourier’s ideas also took root in the United States, with his followers starting phalanxes throughout the country, including one of the most famous, Utopia, Ohio. The town lasted a mere 3 years as a phalanx and was then taken over by a succession of intentional communities.  It is now mostly deserted although a few people still live there. Here’s the subterranean chapel.

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Remnants of phalanx buildings still stand in various parts of the country. This is the main building of the New American Phalanx as it was in the 1970’s.  I believe it is gone now.

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Many studies have been written on the failure of these communities, coming to various conclusions.  The nineteenth century saw the rise of a great many utopian and millenarian philosophies which led to the creation of communes of one sort or another.  Most of them quickly failed because of general disagreement among the members concerning how to manage daily life and concerning the interpretation of their founders’ visions.  In Fourier’s case I suspect the lunatic elements of his theories interfered with their arguably solid foundations, and undermined the pragmatics of daily living.  No doubt also a wide variety of fringe elements in society were attracted to Fourier’s philosophy. Utopia, Ohio failed after 8 years because the members could not agree on issues of women’s rights and abolition, as well as disagreement among members concerning the role that religion should play in the community.

In the mid-20th century, Fourier’s influence began to rise again among left wing and radical writers reappraising socialist ideas outside the Marxist mainstream. After the Surrealists had broken with the French Communist Party, for example, André Breton returned to Fourier and wrote “Ode à Charles Fourier” in 1947.  Writers of the post-left anarchy movement, among others, have praised Fourier’s work. Bob Black in The Abolition of Work advocates Fourier´s idea of attractive work as a solution to his own criticisms of work conditions in contemporary society. Hakim Bey remarked that Fourier “lived at the same time as De Sade & Blake, & deserves to be remembered as their equal or even superior. Those other two apostles of freedom & desire had no political disciples, but in the middle of the 19th century literally hundreds of communes (phalansteries) were founded on fourierist principles.”  I love Fourier’s work.  I’ll take whackos over normal people every day of the week and twice on Sundays.

I thought about a recipe for lemonade as an homage to Fourier’s vision of future oceans.  But that seems so lame.  I mean – make a simple syrup of sugar and water, bung in some fresh squeezed lemon juice and top with water.  Big whoop. Actually Fourier may be referring to a much more interesting drink, aigre de cèdre, which was popular in Paris in his day.  Here is a clipping describing it (click to enlarge):

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I don’t have the stamina right now to translate this, but the gist is that aigre de cèdre is made with citrons, not lemons, sweetened with honey, and enhanced with a variety of ingredients from mulberry juice to bergamot essence.

Anyway, I am going to go with a recipe for mirlitons, a pastry that was invented in, and is still common in, Rouen but rarely found elsewhere (to my knowledge).  Fourier spends quite a bit of time talking about his theories on food, which he called gastrosophy, and mirlitons have a prominent place in his discussions.  I’ll spare you his endless, and only semi-coherent, thoughts in this sphere.  Trust me, you don’t need to know his theories about the part mirlitons would play in feuds between members of phalanxes, and other notions.  Here’s a recipe instead.

Mirlitons come in a few different varieties, but basically they are puff pastry shells filled with an almond custard.  They can come in a pie size, but traditionally they are individual bites the size of a cupcake.  Just to avoid confusion, there are other pastries found in other parts of France that are quite different from the ones found in Rouen, which are the ones Fourier refers to. Mirliton is an old French word that is somewhat akin to “thingamabob.” The word is also used as an alternate to chayote (a vining vegetable), a Paris cabaret, a type of flute, and a style of military shako. You will need tartlet pans, fluted if possible, and a pastry wheel.

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Mirlitons de Rouen

Ingredients:

1 8 oz/230g puff pastry sheet
3 ½ ozs/100 g ground almonds
3 ½ ozs/100 g caster sugar
2 eggs
vanilla essence or orange flower water
7 ozs/ 200 g thick jam or fruit butter
5 tbsps thick cream
flaked almonds to decorate

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C.

Cut out circles of the pastry with a pastry wheel so as to give the mirlitons a decorative edge, and tuck them into greased tartlet molds.

Put a teaspoon of jam or fruit butter into each tartlet shell.

In a mixing bowl combine the eggs, sugar, and ground almonds. Whisk well and then add the cream and stir to incorporate it

Pour the egg mixture into each tartlet shell so that they are about ¾ full (the mixture will rise in baking).

Decorate with flaked almonds and bake for about 20 minutes or until golden.

Serve warm or cold.

Yield: 12-14

Aug 302013
 

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Today is the birthday (1797) of Mary Shelley (née Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin),English novelist, short story writer, dramatist, essayist, biographer, and travel writer, best known for her Gothic novel Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus (1818). She also edited and promoted the works of her husband, the Romantic poet and philosopher Percy Bysshe Shelley. Her father was the political philosopher William Godwin, and her mother was the philosopher and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. She was very well known in her day as an author, but nowadays she tends to be be reduced to the role of creator of Frankenstein and Shelley’s wife.  It’s time to correct that misperception.

Mary’s mother died when she was eleven days old from complications of the birth. She and her older half-sister, Fanny Imlay, were raised by her father initially, but when Mary was four, Godwin married his neighbor, Mary Jane Clairmont, primarily for her money, although contemporaries say it was a loving marriage.  Mary was not happy with her stepmother, however, probably because she favored her own children over Godwin’s. Though Mary received little formal education, her father tutored her in a broad range of subjects. He often took the children on educational outings, and they had access to his library, and met the many intellectuals who visited him, including the Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the former vice-president of the United States Aaron Burr. Godwin admitted he was not educating the children according to Mary Wollstonecraft’s philosophy as outlined in works such as A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), but Mary Godwin nonetheless received a solid education for a girl of the time. She had a governess, a daily tutor, and read many of her father’s children’s books on Roman and Greek history in manuscript. Her father described her at fifteen as “singularly bold, somewhat imperious, and active of mind. Her desire of knowledge is great, and her perseverance in everything she undertakes almost invincible.”

In June 1812, Godwin sent Mary to stay with the family of the radical William Baxter, near Dundee. He wrote to Baxter, “I am anxious that she should be brought up … like a philosopher, even like a cynic.” Mary reveled in the spacious surroundings of Baxter’s house and in the companionship of his four daughters. She returned north in the summer of 1813 for a further stay of ten months. In the 1831 introduction to Frankenstein, she recalled: “I wrote then—but in a most common-place style. It was beneath the trees of the grounds belonging to our house, or on the bleak sides of the woodless mountains near, that my true compositions, the airy flights of my imagination, were born and fostered.”

In 1814, Mary (aged 17) began a romantic relationship with Shelley who was one of her father’s political followers (and married at the time). Together with Mary’s stepsister, Claire Clairmont, they left for France and travelled through Europe. Upon their return to England, Mary was pregnant with Percy’s child. Over the next two years, she and Percy faced ostracism, constant debt, and the death of their prematurely born daughter. They married in late 1816 after the suicide of Shelley’s first wife, Harriet.

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Percy Bysshe Shelley

In 1816, the couple famously spent a summer with Lord Byron, John William Polidori, and Claire Clairmont near Geneva, where Mary conceived the idea for her novel Frankenstein. 1816 was known as the “Year Without a Summer,” when Europe was locked in a long cold volcanic winter caused by several natural events including the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815. The weather was consistently too cold and dreary that summer to enjoy the outdoor holiday activities they had planned, so the group retired indoors talking into the wee hours. Among other subjects, the conversation turned to galvanism and the feasibility of returning a corpse or assembled body parts to life, and to the experiments of the 18th-century natural philosopher and poet Erasmus Darwin, who was said to have animated dead matter. Sitting around a log fire at Byron’s villa, the company also amused themselves by reading German ghost stories translated into French from the book Fantasmagoriana, prompting Byron to suggest they each write their own supernatural tale. Shortly afterward, in a waking dream, Mary Shelley conceived the idea for Frankenstein:

“I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. Frightful must it be; for SUPREMELY frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.”

She began writing what she assumed would be a short story. With her husband’s encouragement, she expanded this tale into a full-fledged novel. She later described that summer in Switzerland as the moment “when I first stepped out from childhood into life.”

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The Shelleys left Britain again in 1818 for Italy, where their second and third children died before Mary Shelley gave birth to her last, and only surviving child, Percy Florence. In 1822, Percy drowned when his sailing boat sank during a storm in the Bay of La Spezia. A year later, Mary returned to England and from then on devoted herself to the upbringing of her son and a career as a professional author. The last decade of her life was dogged by illness, probably caused by the brain tumor that was to kill her at the age of 53.

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I am inclined to believe that in the main people nowadays do not know Mary Shelley AT ALL; not even from Frankenstein, because I don’t believe the vast majority ever read the book.  All people know are Halloween images, and usually, and mistakenly, refer to “the creature” as Frankenstein. Thankfully in recent years there has been an increasing interest in her literary output, particularly in her novels, which include the historical novels Valperga (1823) and Perkin Warbeck (1830), the apocalyptic novel The Last Man (1826), and her final two novels, Lodore (1835) and Falkner (1837). Studies of her lesser-known works such as the travel book Rambles in Germany and Italy (1844) and the biographical articles for Dionysius Lardner’s Cabinet Cyclopaedia (1829–46) support the growing view that Mary Shelley remained a political radical throughout her life. Her works often take the point of view that cooperation and sympathy, particularly as practiced by women in the family, were the ways to reform civil society. This view was a direct challenge to the individualistic Romantic ethos promoted by Percy Shelley and the Enlightenment political theories articulated by her father, William Godwin.

It’s an impossible task to review her entire philosophy, but even scratching the surface of Frankenstein gets at much of it.  My main advice is – if you have not read it yet: READ IT. The core tale of a scientist animating a creature made of spare parts is just the beginning. Frankenstein is a deep reflection on the nature of humanity (as were all the founding novels of what became the genre of Gothic literature).   Of central importance is the fact that the creature is gigantic and hideous, due not to the fact that he is made out of spare parts, but because Frankenstein does not have the skill to fashion anything more pleasing to look at. Many of the working parts, such as veins, are exposed, and the creature is huge because Frankenstein is unable to work on a smaller scale. His immediate rejection of the creature because of its gruesome appearance is the crux of the matter.  What does a child/creature do when his own father/creator rejects him? In Mary Shelley’s pre-Freudian world the answer is remarkably Freudian. The creature is driven to try to please his creator, while simultaneously harboring profound anger towards him.  In popular culture the angry monster piece is abundantly represented, but not the other side of the picture.  After his initial rejection by Frankenstein, the creature lives on the edges of society learning first to speak and then to read.  He becomes both articulate and well read.  He constantly seeks approval from others, but is constantly rejected purely for his appearance.  In response he becomes murderous.

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In many ways Frankenstein foreshadows themes in Mary Shelley’s later works, notably the roles of men and women in society and the family. In a sense the creature is a product of the male-only world.  He is intelligent and thoughtful, but prone to rage and destruction.  He is an outgrowth of the Romantic era’s notion of the heroic individual battling the world which Shelley implicitly condemns. The Romantic hero must ultimately fail.  In her later novels, including Lodore and Falkner, Shelley attempts to show, a little too didactically, that love, compassion, and family can be redemptive for men, and are more powerful than individual struggle. What would the creature have been like if created by a woman? Answer: a woman would not have created him!

Many classic omnibus cookbooks have a section on leftovers, what Mrs Beeton calls the “art of using up.” In a sense Frankenstein’s creature was made out of leftovers, so this seems the perfect time to have a recipe made from spare parts.  I’ve lived alone for several years but can’t seem to get into the swing of making a meal for one. How do you make ONE bowl of lentil soup? Besides I like big pots of soup or stew that simmer gently for hours and fill my apartment with delicious aromas. My freezer’s pretty full most of the time with remnants, but my refrigerator is also usually stuffed with leftover ingredients.  So this is more about using up what you have lying around than about leftovers per se.   I have the general belief that you can stick just about anything that is hanging around in the refrigerator in stock and make a good soup.  I always have stock on hand.

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Over 25 years ago I was low on supplies, and in scrounging around I found some bacon, tomatoes, celery, and onions.  So I simply chopped them all into dice, simmered them in chicken stock and my version of refrigerator soup was born.  My wife liked it so much that it became a standard as a quick lunch.  I’d still be making it were it not for the fact that it is very hard to find bacon in Argentina, and, even if you do, it’s not really right for this soup.  You need ordinary old U.S. supermarket bacon; what Brits call streaky bacon.  Here’s a standard recipe for those who can’t work it out from my description.  Quantities are not really important, but having all the ingredients is.  There’s something about the combination that is magical. The soup has a particular freshness because the ingredients are not browned.

© Tío Juan’s Refrigerator Soup

Ingredients:

2 pints (1 li) chicken stock
4 strips bacon, cut in bite sized pieces
2 stalks celery, diced (leaves included)
2 medium tomatoes, cut in wedges
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic finely minced
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley (or 2 tsps dried)

Instructions:

Place all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a steady simmer.

Cook for 20 to 25 minutes.  I like the celery to retain a little crunch, but there is no harm in cooking the soup a little longer.

Serve with crusty bread.

Serves 4

May 232013
 

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qoung tart tea room

On this day in 1889 Louisa Lawson, Australian campaigner for women’s rights, poet, and mother of Australian poet Henry Lawson, founded the Dawn Club at a meeting at Forresters Hall, Sydney. It was one of the earliest clubs to discuss women’s rights, especially the right to vote.  It was an outgrowth of her journal, Dawn

After the inaugural event, meetings were commonly held in one of Quong Tart’s tea rooms. Tea rooms at the time were popular places to meet and have tea with light snacks and pastries of all sorts.  Quong Tart was a tea and silk merchant from China, and his tea rooms were spectacular. A popular meeting place for the Dawn club was the Loong Shan Tea Giyse at 137 King Street, Sydney. It was his grandest tea room, with marble fountains and ponds with golden carp. Upstairs was a reading room and large meeting hall.

These quotes are from her speech at the inauguration of The Dawn Club:

“Now as we have no time to be elaborate or diffuse, we must be methodical, and we will take first the reasons why women claim the right to vote; and then we will pick up the objections one by one and turn them inside out to show their entire vacuity, and finally review briefly what women are doing now in other countries (in order to show how woefully we in New South Wales are behind the times).”

“The whole principle of the Justice of the woman’s vote agitation may be compressed into a question: Who ordained that men only should make the laws to which both men and women have to conform?”

“Men tell us we are responsible for the home and education of children, that the morals of society are in our keeping; they have bound our hands and placed us in the front rank of the battle”

“I see a new heaven and a new earth . . . brother and sister standing shoulder to shoulder and heart to heart in the great fight for right, truth and justice, for better laws, for better protection to our sons and daughters, for better and purer homes.”

The self-governing British colony of South Australia gave women the right to vote and, furthermore, enabled women to stand for the colonial parliament in 1894, well before any European nation, and only a year behind New Zealand, first in the world.  The Commonwealth of Australia federated in 1901, with women voting and standing for office in some states. The Australian Federal Parliament extended voting rights to all adult women for Federal elections from 1902 (with the exception of Aboriginal women in some states). Catherine Helen Spence stood for office in 1897 in South Australia (unsuccessfully), a first for the modern world.

Tea rooms were originally set up in the Western world by tea merchants so that people could taste the many varieties of tea on offer.  Dainties typically accompanies the tea sampling.  Soon they grew into places of social gathering with more elaborate foods on offer, sometimes even full meals.  Many had meeting rooms for large gatherings. Quong Tart’s tea rooms had meeting rooms for up to 500 people.

Let me take this opportunity to correct an error that is a royal pet peeve of mine. People in the U.S. and restaurants there continue to perpetuate the error that afternoon tea with little sandwiches and fancy cakes is “high tea” thinking “high” in this context means “regal” or lofty.  It is not.  High tea is the opposite of afternoon tea.  It refers historically (and to a degree now) to a full dinner eaten by working class families directly after returning from work, and by children who ate their dinner early because they were too young to eat with the adults.  There is some debate as to the meaning of the word “high” here. Some people say it is in contrast to low tea, based not on quality, but on the height of the tables. High tea was eaten at a high table, low tea at a low table (like a coffee table).  Others believe it refers to the early hour it was eaten (5:30 to 6 pm), related to the meanings  of “high” in “high time” or “high noon.”  Whatever the reason, STOP USING “HIGH TEA” TO REFER TO AFTERNOON TEA!!!

I’m giving a recipe for classic English tea cakes today, to have for afternoon tea. They’re a bit like a scone except they are raised with yeast.  Typically you eat them fresh from the oven. If you have leftovers you can cut them in half, and brown the cut faces under a broiler.  Then slather them with butter.  This recipe is nice and spicy.  The ‘mixed spice’ of British cookery is primarily used in sweet baking, similar to France’s sweet quatre-épices. It typically incorporates powdered cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and allspice in equal parts. In this case because cinnamon and nutmeg are already in the ingredient list I would add a pincheach of ginger, cloves, and allspice.

English Tea Cakes

Ingredients:

13oz (375g) strong white bread flour
½ tsp sea salt flakes, lightly crushed
¼oz (7g)  fast-action dried yeast
1 tsp ground mixed spice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
½ orange, zest only, chopped fine
1¾oz (50g) caster sugar
1¾oz (50g) unsalted butter, cubed
5fl oz (150ml) 2% milk
1 egg, beaten
4½oz (125g) mixed dried fruit
sunflower oil, for greasing

Instructions:

Mix the flour, salt, yeast, spices, orange zest and sugar in a large bowl.

Put the butter and milk in a small saucepan and heat very gently until the butter is melted and the milk is just lukewarm. Remove from the heat and whisk in the egg. Make sure the milk and butter mix is lukewarm only, otherwise it will scramble the egg and kill the yeast.

Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the warm butter, milk and egg. Stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture forms a ball.

Turn out on a very lightly floured surface and knead for five minutes to form a smooth, pliable dough. Knead the fruit into the dough until evenly distributed, then place the dough in a lightly greased bowl. Cover loosely with a tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place for 1½ hours, or until doubled in size and spongy to touch.

Knead the dough lightly, divide into six portions and roll into balls. Using a rolling pin, flatten each ball to a circle about ½in (1cm) thick and place on a large baking tray lined with baking parchment. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for a further 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Remove the tea towel and bake the teacakes in the center of the oven for 15-18 minutes, or until well risen and golden-brown. Serve warm, cut in half and spread thickly with butter.

Yield: 6 teacakes