Dec 122016
 

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Today is the birthday (1863) of Edvard Munch, Norwegian artist who is commonly remembered for his painting “The Scream” and little else these days. Certainly the painting is emblematic of Munch’s life, and representative of much of his work. But there is more to him than that. I don’t have space to go into great detail, so I’ll content myself with a few highlights (as I see them).

Munch was born in a farmhouse in the village of Ådalsbruk in Løten, and the family moved to Christiania (renamed Kristiania in 1877, and now Oslo) in 1864 when his father was appointed medical officer at Akershus Fortress. His mother died of tuberculosis in 1868, as did Munch’s favorite sister Johanne Sophie in 1877. After their mother’s death, Munch and his siblings were raised by their father and by their aunt Karen. Munch was often ill for much of the winters and kept out of school. To keep himself occupied he would draw by himself, and was tutored at home by various family members.

Munch wrote, “My father was temperamentally nervous and obsessively religious—to the point of psychoneurosis. From him I inherited the seeds of madness. The angels of fear, sorrow, and death stood by my side since the day I was born.” One of Munch’s younger sisters, Laura, was diagnosed with mental illness at an early age. Of the five siblings, only Andreas married, but he died a few months after the wedding. Munch wrote later, “I inherited two of mankind’s most frightful enemies—the heritage of consumption and insanity.”

Munch’s father’s military pay was very low, and his attempts to develop a private side practice failed, keeping his family in genteel poverty. They moved frequently from one cheap apartment to another. Munch’s early drawings and watercolors depicted these interiors, and the individual objects, such as medicine bottles and drawing implements, plus some landscapes. By his teens, art dominated Munch’s interests. At 13, Munch had his first exposure to other artists at the newly formed Art Association, where he admired the work of the Norwegian landscape school. He returned to copy the paintings, and soon he began to paint in oils.

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In 1879, Munch enrolled in a technical college to study engineering, where he excelled in physics, chemistry, and mathematics. He learned scaled and perspective drawing, but frequent illnesses interrupted his studies. The following year, much to his father’s disappointment, Munch left the college determined to become a painter. His father viewed art as an “unholy trade”, and his neighbors reacted bitterly and sent him anonymous letters. Munch wrote his goal in his diary: “in my art I attempt to explain life and its meaning to myself.”

In 1881, Munch enrolled at the Royal School of Art and Design of Kristiania, one of whose founders was his distant relative Jacob Munch. His teachers were sculptor Julius Middelthun and the naturalistic painter Christian Krohg. In 1883, Munch took part in his first public exhibition and shared a studio with other students. His full-length portrait of Karl Jensen-Hjell, a notorious bohemian-about-town, earned a critic’s dismissive response: “It is impressionism carried to the extreme. It is a travesty of art.” Munch’s nude paintings from this period survive only in sketches, except for Standing Nude (1887). They may have been destroyed by his father.

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During these early years, Munch experimented with many styles, including Naturalism and Impressionism. Some early works are reminiscent of Manet. Many of these attempts brought him unfavorable criticism from the press and constant rebukes by his father who eventually refused to advance him any more money for art supplies. Munch also received his father’s ire for his relationship with Hans Jæger, the local nihilist who lived by the code “a passion to destroy is also a creative passion” and who advocated suicide as the ultimate way to freedom. Munch wrote, “My ideas developed under the influence of the bohemians or rather under Hans Jæger. Many people have mistakenly claimed that my ideas were formed under the influence of Strindberg and the Germans…but that is wrong. They had already been formed by then.” At that time he began the binge drinking and brawling of his circle.

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After numerous experiments, Munch concluded that the Impressionist idiom did not allow sufficient expression. He found it superficial and too akin to scientific experimentation. He felt a need to go deeper and explore situations brimming with emotional content and expressive energy. Under Jæger’s commandment that Munch should “write his life”, meaning that Munch should explore his own emotional and psychological state, he began a period of reflection and self-examination, recording his thoughts in his “soul’s diary”. This deeper perspective helped move him to a new view of his art. He wrote that his painting The Sick Child (1886), based on his sister’s death, was his first “soul painting”, his first break from Impressionism. The painting received a negative response from critics and from his family, and caused another “violent outburst of moral indignation” from the community.

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By 1892 Munch had formulated his characteristic aesthetic, as seen in Melancholy which he produced in several versions. Melancholy was exhibited in 1891 at the Autumn Exhibition in Oslo. In 1892, Adelsteen Normann, on behalf of the Union of Berlin Artists, invited Munch to exhibit at its November exhibition, the society’s first one-man exhibition. However, his paintings evoked bitter controversy (dubbed “The Munch Affair”), and after one week the exhibition closed. Munch was pleased with the “great commotion”, and wrote in a letter: “Never have I had such an amusing time—it’s incredible that something as innocent as painting should have created such a stir.”

In Berlin, Munch became involved in an international circle of writers, artists and critics, including the Swedish dramatist and leading intellectual August Strindberg, whom he painted in 1892. During his four years in Berlin, Munch sketched out most of the ideas that would comprise his major work, The Frieze of Life, first designed for book illustration but later expressed in paintings. He sold little, but made some income from charging entrance fees to view his controversial paintings. Already, Munch was showing a reluctance to part with his paintings, which he termed his “children”.

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The Scream exists in four versions: two pastels (1893 and 1895) and two paintings (1893 and 1910). There are also several lithographs of The Scream (1895 and later). The Scream is one of the most recognizable paintings in all art. Munch wrote of how the painting came to be: “I was walking down the road with two friends when the sun set; suddenly, the sky turned as red as blood. I stopped and leaned against the fence, feeling unspeakably tired. Tongues of fire and blood stretched over the bluish black fjord. My friends went on walking, while I lagged behind, shivering with fear. Then I heard the enormous, infinite scream of nature.” He later described the personal anguish behind the painting, “for several years I was almost mad… You know my picture, ‘The Scream?’ I was stretched to the limit—nature was screaming in my blood… After that I gave up hope ever of being able to love again.”

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The original German title given by Munch to his work was Der Schrei der Natur (“The Scream of Nature”). The Norwegian word skrik usually is translated as “scream” but is cognate with the English “shriek”. Occasionally, the painting has been called The Cry.

Munch hated to part with his paintings because he thought of his work as a single body of expression. So to capitalize on his production and make some income, he turned to graphic arts to reproduce many of his most famous paintings. Munch admitted to the personal goals of his work but he also offered his art to a wider purpose, “My art is really a voluntary confession and an attempt to explain to myself my relationship with life—it is, therefore, actually a sort of egoism, but I am constantly hoping that through this I can help others achieve clarity.”

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In 1896, Munch moved to Paris, where he focused on graphic representations of his “Frieze of Life” themes. He further developed his woodcut and lithographic technique. Munch produced multi-colored versions of “The Sick Child” which sold well, as well as several nudes and multiple versions of Kiss (1892) Many of the Parisian critics still considered Munch’s work “violent and brutal” but his exhibitions received serious attention and good attendance. His financial situation improved considerably and in 1897, he bought a summer house facing the fjords of Kristiania, a small fisherman’s cabin built in the late 18th century, in the small town of Åsgårdstrand. He called this home the “Happy House” and returned here almost every summer for the next 20 years. It was this place he missed when he was abroad and when he felt depressed and exhausted. “To walk in Åsgårdstrand is like walking among my paintings—I get so inspired to paint when I am here”.

In 1899, Munch began an intimate relationship with Tulla Larsen. They traveled to Italy together and upon returning, Munch began another fertile period in his art, which included landscapes and his final painting in “The Frieze of Life” series, The Dance of Life (1899). Larsen was eager for marriage, and Munch begged off. His drinking and poor health reinforced his fears, as he wrote in the third person: “Ever since he was a child he had hated marriage. His sick and nervous home had given him the feeling that he had no right to get married.” Munch almost accepted marriage, but then fled from Larsen in 1900, also turning away from her considerable fortune, and moved to Berlin.

The good press coverage gained Munch the attention of influential patrons Albert Kollman and Max Linde. He described the turn of events in his diary, “After twenty years of struggle and misery forces of good finally come to my aid in Germany—and a bright door opens up for me.” However, despite this positive change, Munch’s self-destructive and erratic behavior involved him first with a violent quarrel with another artist, then with an accidental shooting in the presence of Tulla Larsen (who had returned for a brief reconciliation), which injured two of his fingers. She finally left him and married one of Munch’s younger colleagues. Munch took this as a betrayal, and he dwelled on the humiliation for some time to come, channeling some of the bitterness into new paintings. His paintings Still Life (The Murderess) and The Death of Marat I, done in 1906-7, clearly reference the shooting incident and the emotional after effects.

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In the autumn of 1908, Munch’s anxiety, compounded by excessive drinking and brawling, had become acute. As he later wrote, “My condition was verging on madness—it was touch and go.” Subject to hallucinations and feelings of persecution, he entered the clinic of Dr. Daniel Jacobson. The therapy Munch received for the next eight months included diet and “electrification” (a treatment then fashionable for nervous conditions, not to be confused with electroconvulsive therapy). Munch’s stay in hospital stabilized his personality, and after returning to Norway in 1909, his work became more colorful and less pessimistic.

Munch spent most of his last two decades in solitude at his estate in Ekely, at Skøyen, Oslo. Many of his late paintings celebrate farm life, including several in which he used his work horse “Rousseau” as a model. Munch occasionally left his home to paint murals on commission, including those done for the Freia chocolate factory.

To the end of his life, Munch continued to paint unsparing self-portraits, adding to his self-searching cycle of his life and his unflinching series of takes on his emotional and physical states. In the 1930s and 1940s, the Nazis labeled Munch’s work “degenerate art” (along with that of Picasso, Paul Klee, Matisse, Gauguin and many other modern artists) and removed his 82 works from German museums.

In 1940, the Germans invaded Norway and the Nazi party took over the government. Munch was 76 years old. With nearly an entire collection of his art in the second floor of his house, Munch lived in fear of a Nazi confiscation. Seventy-one of the paintings previously taken by the Nazis had been returned to Norway through purchase by collectors (the other eleven were never recovered), including The Scream and The Sick Child, and they too were hidden from the Nazis.

Munch died in his house at Ekely near Oslo on 23 January 1944, about a month after his 80th birthday. The city of Oslo bought the Ekely estate from Munch’s heirs in 1946; his house was demolished in May 1960.

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When I look at a platter of Norwegian open-face sandwiches I am vaguely reminded of a Munch painting. However, I’ll turn my attention to pinnekjøtt. Pinnekjøtt are lamb or mutton ribs that are prepared in a way that was originally traditional in northern and western Norway but is now popular throughout the country, especially at Christmas. I can’t give you a genuine recipe because you need to get the ribs in Norway, but I can give the idea.

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The preparation of pinnekjøtt uses traditional methods for food preservation, curing, drying and in some regions also smoking as means of inhibiting the growth of micro-organisms. In home preparation of pinnekjøtt, racks of lamb or mutton are cured in brine or coarse sea salt. Once sufficiently cured, and when the weather is cold enough, the racks are hung in a cool, dark, well ventilated place to dry. In some regions, particularly in parts of Hordaland, the fresh racks are smoked prior to curing. Traditionally this was done in order to prevent mold growth during the drying process and some food historians assert that this method was inherited from the Vikings.

Before cooking, the racks are separated into individual ribs by cutting them apart with a sharp knife between the bones. The ribs must then be soaked in water in order to rinse out the salt and reconstitute the meat. Today pinnekjøtt is available in most supermarkets before Christmas, smoked or unsmoked, ready cut and sometimes also soaked, ready for cooking.

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After soaking, the ribs are steamed over a little water in a large saucepan. A layer of birch twigs or strips may be placed in the bottom of the saucepan instead of a metal steamer. The name pinnekjøtt (literally: stick meat) is disputed. It may refer to the birch twigs of the cooking process, but the word ‘pinne’ in Norwegian slang is also used to refer to single ribs.

 

 

Oct 082016
 

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On this date in 1956, in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series, Don Larsen of the New York Yankees pitched a perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers. Larsen’s perfect game is the only perfect game in the history of the World Series one of only 23 perfect games in major league baseball history. His perfect game remained the only no-hitter of any type ever pitched in postseason play until Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay threw a no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds on October 6, 2010, in Game 1 of the National League Division Series.

I’ve never been a huge baseball fan, but when I lived in New York I occasionally went to games. They have a certain atmosphere. I supported the Mets and my colleague down the hall from my office at Purchase College, Rich Nassisi, was a die-hard Yankees fan. We indulged in a great deal of friendly banter about baseball over the years, so this post is my little memory of those days. I hope you enjoy it Rich.

Rich and I agree that the true baseball aficionado knows that the most crucial element of any baseball team is the pitching staff. Sure it’s great to see your favorite slugger hit a game-winning grand slam, but at the end of the day, if your team has gorillas for batters but mediocre pitching, you’re not going into the post season.  End of story. If you go to a Yankees or Mets game you’ll see that the fans pay as much attention to the pitching as the batting, because they are true baseball fans. At other venues the fans are less knowledgeable or caring. I went to a Cincinnati Reds game once and was astounded to find that the fans around me were riveted to the play when the Reds were at bat, and totally uninterested when they were pitching. They went off to get hot dogs or beer, or else chatted mindlessly about something other than baseball. Not fans in my book. Hitting is important, but it’s the pitching that counts.

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I can’t imagine that Don Larsen’s feat will ever be repeated. The fact that it took until 2010 for a pitcher to pitch even a no-hitter in the post season is telling. Perfect games are rare under “ordinary” circumstances and every pitcher who pitches one in the major leagues becomes a legend – rightly. As a small sop to his teammates I will grant the fielders some credit too !!  A perfect game means that no hitter reaches base – 27 up, 27 down – for any reason. That means, no hits, no walks, and no hit batsmen. Rarely an error occurs but does not count if the batsman does not reach base – a misplayed foul ball, for example. Only 21 perfect games have been pitched in the modern era, that is, since 1900 when the rules changed substantially, and only 3 had been pitched before 1956 (1904, 1908, 1922). Don Larsen’s World Series feat is unlikely to be repeated because these are not “ordinary” circumstances. You’re talking about the two best teams of the season that year, slugging it out to be the champions. The chances that no one on a team will reach base under any circumstances are minuscule.

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The game is also a great classic because it was between the old Yankees and Dodgers as they are fondly remembered – bitter cross-town rivals (just before the Dodgers moved to L.A.).  In the late 1940s and early 1950s you almost didn’t need to ask who was in the World Series: it was the Yankees and Dodgers most of the time (and the Yankees usually won). The games were played in those great cathedrals to baseball – Yankee Stadium (as it once was) and Ebbets Field. This was also in the days before the designated hitter was introduced into the American League. In the 1950s pitchers had to bat.

I’ll spare you a long-drawn-out description; you can find details in plenty of places. Here’s some stock footage:

Larsen came to this game as a good pitcher, but not stellar in World Series play. He made his first start in a World Series game in the 1955 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers and was the losing pitcher. The 1956 series was extremely tight. Behind Sal Maglie, the Dodgers defeated the Yankees in Game 1. Casey Stengel, manager of the Yankees, selected Larsen to start Game 2 against the Dodgers’ Don Newcombe. Despite being given a 6–0 lead by the Yankees’ batters, he lasted only  1 2⁄3 innings against the Dodgers in a 13–8 loss. He gave up only one hit, a single by Gil Hodges, but walked four batters, which led to four runs in the process, although none of them was earned because of an error by first baseman Joe Collins. The Yankees won Games 3 and 4 to tie the series at two games apiece.

With the series tied at two games apiece, Larsen started Game 5 for the Yankees. Larsen’s opponent in the game was Maglie. Larsen needed just 97 pitches to complete the game, and only one Dodger batter (Pee Wee Reese in the first inning) was able to get a 3-ball count. In 1998, Larsen recalled, “I had great control. I never had that kind of control in my life.” The closest the Dodgers came to a hit were in the second inning, when Jackie Robinson hit a line drive off third baseman Andy Carey’s glove, the ball caroming to shortstop Gil McDougald, who threw Robinson out by a step, and in the fifth, when Mickey Mantle ran down Gil Hodges’ deep fly ball. Brooklyn’s Maglie gave up only two runs on five hits and was perfect himself until Mantle’s fourth-inning home run broke the scoreless tie. The Yankees added an insurance run in the sixth as Hank Bauer’s single scored Carey, who had opened the inning with a single and was sacrificed to second by Larsen. After Roy Campanella grounded out to Billy Martin for the second out of the 9th inning, Larsen faced pinch hitter Dale Mitchell, a .311 career hitter. Throwing fastballs, Larsen got ahead in the count at 1–2. On his 97th pitch, Larsen struck out Mitchell for the 27th and final out. Mitchell appeared to check his swing on that last pitch, but home plate umpire Babe Pinelli, who would retire at the end of this World Series, called the last pitch a strike. Mitchell, who struck out only 119 times in 3,984 at-bats (or once every 34 at-bats) during his career, always maintained that the third strike he took was really a ball.

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In one of the most memorable images in  U.S. sports history, catcher Yogi Berra leapt into Larsen’s arms after the final out. With the death of Berra on September 22, 2015, Larsen is the last living player who played in this game for either team.

I’m stumped when it comes for a recipe today. I’ve talked about hot dogs to death in my posts, not least of all here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/baseball/ in my homage to the history of baseball. I can’t even give a recipe for Cracker Jack (as in, “buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack), because I gave a recipe for caramel popcorn two days ago http://www.bookofdaystales.com/motion-pictures/ Life gets bleak when you post constantly for over three years. But . . . there’s always hope. Larsen’s game was played at Yankee Stadium, last of a 3-game set before the series returned to Ebbets Field. Nowadays at Yankee stadium there’s a great deal more on offer than hot dogs and Cracker Jack, although you’ll certainly find them. You won’t find anything at the stadium this year (2016) in the post season, though. The Yankees had a dismal year.  Nonetheless, here’s a listing of food stalls at the stadium from this website — http://ny.eater.com/2016/4/1/11347464/what-to-eat-at-yankee-stadium-2016

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Section 100

For the meat lovers in the crowd, there are outposts of both Brother Jimmy’s BBQ (133) and Lobel’s of New York (134), plus Parm, the well-known Italian sandwich shop in Section 104. NYY Steak Express, which serves strip steak sandwiches in Section 109, is right next to chicken wing stand Wings (109). Johnny Rockets, the faux-retro chain also serves burgers, hot dogs, shakes and fries in Section 132. And starting next week, Carl’s Steak (107) is offering a two-footlong cheesesteak for $27.

For a snack that doesn’t involve beef, the best bet is Garlic Fries (108) which offers French fries in a variety of permutations, including cheese fries and garlic fries, plus chicken fingers. Cheese lovers can go to Big Cheese (107) for grilled cheese sandwiches with Boar’s Head cheese. And those looking for something completely different can find noodle bowls and assorted sushi platters at the Noodle Bowl and Sushi Stand (Section 127B and A, respectively)

The Pepsi Food Court (126) is where fans can find Papa Johns Pizza and Nathan’s hot dogs, plus frozen drinks, craft beer, premium drafts, and cask-aged cocktails including a Manhattan, Old Fashioned, and Negroni. Making its debut at the ballpark and the Pepsi Food Court this year is lunchtime favorite Hale and Hearty Soups. A rotating menu will include a classic chicken noodle, chili mac and cheese, lasagna, sweet-corn chowder that’s gluten-free, and a vegetarian three-lentil chili. The menu also offers a variety of cold soups.

Between Sections 100 and 200 is the Tommy Bahama Marlin Bar serving drinks like a classic piña colada, tropical Tea, and “The Spicy Apple.”

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Cheese steaks, burgers, garlic fries, and ribs all seem like reasonable additions to the old stand-bys, but sushi????? I’m crushed. The point is that creating ballpark food at home is a mistake. Go out to a game, and should you ever find me at one ever again, I’ll be eating a hot dog with mustard, onions, and sauerkraut.