Feb 232018
 

Today is the birthday (1685 O.S.) of George Frideric (or Frederick) Handel  born Georg Friedrich Händel, legendary German-British baroque composer who spent the bulk of his career in London, becoming well known for his operas, oratorios, anthems, and organ concertos. Handel received training in Halle and worked as a composer in Hamburg and Italy before settling in London in 1712. He became a naturalized British subject in 1727. He was strongly influenced both by the great composers of the Italian Baroque and by the middle-German polyphonic choral tradition. This post will be almost entirely musical as a tribute.

Within fifteen years, Handel had started three commercial opera companies to supply the English nobility with Italian opera. Musicologist Winton Dean writes that his operas show that “Handel was not only a great composer; he was a dramatic genius of the first order.” Because Alexander’s Feast (1736) was well received, Handel made a transition to English choral works. After his success with Messiah (1742) he never composed an Italian opera again. Almost blind, and having lived in England for nearly fifty years, he died in 1759, a respected and rich man. His funeral was given full state honors, and he was buried in Westminster Abbey in London.

Handel was born the same year as Johann Sebastian Bach and Domenico Scarlatti, and is regarded as one of the greatest composers of the Baroque era, with works such as Water Music, Music for the Royal Fireworks and Messiah remaining steadfastly popular.

One of his four Coronation Anthems, Zadok the Priest (1727), composed for the coronation of George II, has been performed at every subsequent British coronation, traditionally during the sovereign’s anointing. Another of his English oratorios, Solomon (1748), has also remained popular, with the Sinfonia that opens act 3 (known more commonly as “The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba”) featuring at the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony.

Beethoven said of Handel, “Go to him to learn how to achieve great effects, by such simple means.”

Handel very often had stomach ailments and had to watch his diet. Here is an 18th century recipe for herb pudding which you can use as a side dish, especially with poultry. Groats are hulled grains, often oats. You can sometimes get them in health food stores or online. The pudding mix should be tied loosely in muslin and placed in simmering water for at least one hour. The groats will expand in cooking, so check periodically, and loosen the muslin bag if the groats swell too much.

Herb Pudding

Take a quart of grots, and steep them in warm water half an hour. Take a pound of hog’s lard, and cut it into little bits. Take of spinach, beets, parsley and leeks, a handful of each; three large onions chopped small, and three sage leaves cut fine. Put in a little salt, mix all well together, and tie it close. It will require to be taken up in boiling, to loosen the string a little.

Nov 032017
 

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

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

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

The festival in Phnom Penh has 3 major components:

  1. Boat racing on the Tonlé Sap river.

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

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

  1. Illuminated barges.

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

3. Fireworks

 

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

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

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