Aug 132018
 

Today is the birthday (1666) of William Wotton, an English theologian, classical scholar and linguist, who is largely forgotten nowadays, but in his day was known for his involvement in what became called the Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns. I’ll get to that in a minute. In Wales he is remembered as the collector and first translator of the ancient Welsh laws.

William Wotton was the second son of the Rev. Henry Wotton, rector of Wrentham, Suffolk. He was a child prodigy who could read verses from the Bible in English, Latin, Greek and Hebrew before he was 6 years old. In April 1676, when he was not yet 10 years old, he was sent to Catharine Hall, Cambridge, and sat for his B.A. in 1679 (13 years old). By this time Wotton had learned Arabic, Syriac, and Chaldee, as well as a knowledge of logic, philosophy, mathematics, geography, chronology, and history. His parents died whilst he was still at Cambridge, and as a teenager he was taken into the household of Gilbert Burnet, later bishop of Salisbury. He was awarded a fellowship at St John’s College, where he received his M.A. in 1683 and earned a B.D. in 1691. In 1686 he was appointed curate of Brimpton in Berkshire and the following year he was also elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. In January 1689 he was appointed vicar of Lacock in Wiltshire, which he held until his resignation in 1693. Soon after ordination he was also appointed chaplain to Daniel Finch, Earl of Nottingham, and tutor to his family. Finch presented him with the rectory of Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire, in 1693.

Wotton began his scholarly career as the translator of Louis Dupin’s A new history of ecclesiastical writers, (13 vols. 1692–99). However, he is chiefly remembered for his share in the controversy about the respective merits of ancient and modern learning. In his Reflections upon Ancient and Modern Learning (1694, and again 1697) he took the part of the moderns, although in a fair and judicial spirit.  The “ancients versus moderns” debate began in France in the early 16th century with a number of “moderns” claiming that the renewed interest in Classical arts and philosophy during the Renaissance, should not be slavish imitation of the ancients, but should be tempered with an awareness of the accomplishments of modern times. The “ancients” championed ancient learning over the modern. The “quarrel” got erudite and pedantic, and I am not going to dissect it for you. Do your own research. Simplistically, it can be boiled down to the importance of “authority.” Should we admire ancient authors as sacred (i.e. authorities), or should we move on? Medieval scholasticism got mired in authority. To be a scholar you had to first read all the authorities on a subject, learn them inside-out, and then add your own bits of wisdom without contradicting any of the authorities. The orthodox rabbinical tradition works this way, and my education at Oxford in the 1970s was not so very different. Every week I was given an essay topic, for example, “Was the author of Mark’s gospel Paul’s traveling companion, John Mark?” or “When was John’s gospel written?” My job for the week was to distill out all the arguments from the authorities, divide them into camps, and conclude with my decision as to which of the camps (authorities) was correct. This was not quite Medieval scholasticism in that the authorities were allowed to disagree with one another, but I was not allowed to disagree with them. You can guess what I think of this as a method of education.

Swift attacked Wotton for pedantry in The Battle of the Books and A Tale of a Tub, but that Wotton was far from being a pedant. He had a thorough command of the arguments, and was fair in his assessments. Wotton responded calling Swift’s Tale “one of the profanest banters upon the religion of Jesus Christ, as such, that ever yet appeared.”

Wotton wrote a History of Rome in 1701 at the request of Bishop Burnet, which was later used by the historian Edward Gibbon. In recognition, Burnet appointed him as a prebend of Salisbury from 1705. In 1707 Wotton was awarded a Lambeth degree of Doctor of Divinity by Archbishop Thomas Tenison in recognition of his writings in support of the established Church of England against the Deists. Around 1713 Wotton also developed ideas concerning the relationship between languages introducing the concept of an early proto-language by relating Icelandic, the Romance languages, and Greek. This pre-dated Sir William Jones’ famous lecture comparing Sanskrit with the Classical languages, by more than 70 years. These theories were later published after Wotton’s death, as A discourse concerning the confusion of languages at Babel (1730).

Throughout his adult life, Wotton was said to be “a most excellent preacher, but a drunken whoring soul”. He was also very extravagant, transforming his rectory into a 32-room mansion. He was, however, able to borrow money against future expectations of ecclesiastical preferment as a result of his close friendship with William Wake, then bishop of Lincoln. Between the summer of 1711 and the Spring of 1712, Wotton appears to have experienced a mid-life crisis, and he scandalized the neighborhood on many occasions by being found drunk in public, or else was known to have spent prolonged periods in local brothels. As a result, he was initially warned about his behavior by Wake, who later broke off their friendship and rescinded his promise of providing an additional living in Buckinghamshire. As soon as it became known that the rector’s expectations had been dashed, local businesses began to press for the payment of their debts. In May 1714, Wotton was forced to abandon his rectory at Milton Keynes to avoid his creditors, and for 7 years he lived in Carmarthen in south-west Wales under the assumed name of Dr. William Edwards.

Whilst in Carmarthen, Wotton turned his life around and returned to his studies. He was also able to re-establish his friendship with Wake, who had become Archbishop of Canterbury in December 1715. Wotton began to study Welsh, and produced an important bilingual parallel text edition of the Welsh and Latin texts of the medieval Welsh laws traditionally attributed to Hywel Dda. To do this he had first to identify and obtain transcripts of around 15 known manuscripts in either Latin or Medieval Welsh, and establish an authoritative text, and then begin the difficult task of translating the Mediaeval Welsh terminology which appeared in both the Latin and Welsh versions, but the meaning of which had been lost by the 18th century. From 1721 Wotton was assisted by the Welsh scholar Moses Williams. Wotton lived to complete the translation but was working on an accompanying glossary when he died. This was completed by Williams, and the whole work was published in 1730 by his son-in-law William Clarke in a large folio edition under the title Leges Wallicae.

Whilst in Carmarthen he also conducted surveys of the cathedrals of St David’s and Llandaff which were published by his friend Browne Willis in 1717 and 1718. He published Miscellaneous Discourses relating to the Traditions and Usages of the Scribes and Pharisees which included a translation of part of the Mishnah in 1718. Wotton had repaid his creditors and was able to return to Bath by October 1721 and London by June 1722 but was in very poor health. He was still working on his Leges Wallicae, when he died of dropsy in Buxted in Sussex, on 13th February 1727.

In the spirit of the quarrel of ancients and moderns we can put an ancient and modern recipe side by side. You would be forgiven for thinking that the modern recipe is superior. What you are not taking into account is that ALL recipes make assumptions about what the reader can be expected to know. If you read a modern recipe for a cake that begins “cream the butter and sugar” You probably know what “cream” means in this context, that is, if you have any baking experience. Someone reading the recipe 2,000 years from now might have no idea what it means, and think that 21st century recipes are incomplete. So, it’s not a question of saying that modern recipes are better than ancient ones, but, rather, that we know the implicit assumptions in modern recipes, but not in ancient ones.

Apicius gives this recipe for mussels in De re coquinaria (c. 1st century CE) and I have mentioned it before. Here’s the original Latin:

X. in metulis: liquamen porrum concisum cuminum passum satureiam, uinum; mixtum facies aquatius et ibi mitulos quoques.

Roughly translated:

10. For mussels: liquamen (fermented anchovy sauce), cut up leeks, cumin, passum (very sweet wine), savory, and wine. Mix these ingredients with water and add mussels.

On the surface this recipe does not seem much to go on, and a modern cook would normally want more detail, particularly as concerns quantities. The instructions are also pretty slim by modern standards. I could give a modern recipe thus:

Mussels

Ingredients

2 lb fresh mussels
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 leek, chopped
1 tsp cumin
1 tbsp chopped fresh savory
½ cup sweet sherry
½ cup dry white wine

Instructions

Make sure the mussels are thoroughly cleaned and beards removed. Discard any that are not tightly shut.

Place the ingredients, except the mussels, in a large saucepan. Add around 2 cups of cold water. Bring to a boil, add the mussels and cover. Cook for several minutes and check to see that all the mussels have opened.

Remove the mussels with a slotted spoon, and place them in a serving bowl. Carefully pour the cooking juices over the mussels, but make sure not to pour out the last part, because it may contain grit.

You might think that my recipe is better than the ancient one. Really there is not much difference between the two. Apicius does not say you have to boil the mussels, he assumes that you know this. He is making a number of assumptions. But my modern recipe makes many assumptions also. Apicius actually gives you a lot more freedom than I do. Sure, you can vary my quantities at will, but most cooks will try the quantities as given first, and then adjust them later. With Apicius, you have to make decisions about quantities from the start.  I’d be happy, for example, to use 3 or 4 leeks, and serve the mussels on a bed of them, with or without the sauce. This idea would not occur to you with the modern recipe because you are thinking of a watery sauce for the mussels.

 

Nov 222017
 

Today is Albanian Alphabet Day celebrating the closing of the Congress of Manastir, an academic conference held in the city of Manastir (now Bitola) in Macedonia from November 14th to November 22nd, 1908, with the goal of standardizing the Albanian alphabet. November 22 is now a commemorative day in Albania, Kosovo, and the Republic of Macedonia, as well as among the Albanian diaspora. Prior to the Congress, the Albanian language was written using a combination of 6 or more distinct alphabets, plus a number of sub-variants.

Which alphabet you use for a language is not a simple matter, even though it is a lot simpler than deciding on more general questions about writing the language, such as whether to use an alphabet versus a syllabary, or an abugida (alphasyllabary), or even characters that represent words rather than sounds (such as Chinese). Serbian and Croatian are mutually intelligible dialects of the same language, but the Serbs use the Cyrillic alphabet and the Croats use the Latin alphabet to emphasize their political differences. Any alphabet is as good as any other for phonetic purposes, but the social and political connotations of different alphabets matter a great deal to the people involved (not to mention the financial burden of changing from one to another).

Imagine writing English using the Greek or Hebrew alphabets (which I have done sometimes as a way of disguising my writing when I wanted to keep it from prying eyes). It’s perfectly simple to do, but it would wreak havoc in English-speaking countries to change alphabets from the current Latin-based one. For Albanian scholars of the 19th century, the principle impetus for settling on one alphabet was to unify Albanians living in disparate regions who, at the time, were using completely different alphabets, making distribution of literature difficult, if not impossible. Their hope was that with a single, universally agreed-upon, alphabet, Albanian literature would grow in distribution, and flourish, and Albanian identity would be more unitary. But . . . which alphabet? Each one had its adherents for historical, religious, social, and political reasons.

The Congress of Manastir was hosted by the Union Association (or Bashkimi), an Albanian literary society. It met at the house of Fehim Zavalani, which served as the headquarters of the Union. The Union already used an alphabet based on Latin, the Bashkimi alphabet, but it was not universally used, by any means, at that time. The participants in the congress were prominent figures of the cultural and political life of Albanian-speaking territories in the Balkans, as well as throughout the Albanian diaspora. There were 50 delegates, representing 23 Albanian-speaking cities, towns, and cultural and patriotic associations of whom 32 had voting rights in the congress, and 18 were observers. Among prominent delegates were Gjergj Fishta, Ndre Mjeda, Mit’hat Frashëri, Sotir Peçi, Shahin Kolonja, and Gjergj D. Qiriazi. Zavalani, gave the introductory speech and led the congress.

Fishta

The speeches for the first two days with regard to the alphabet were general in character, and helped to create the atmosphere in which to carry out the serious work. The representatives understood the importance of unity, regardless of which alphabet was chosen. Gjergj Fishta who praised the work of Bashkimi, declared:

I have not come here to defend any one of the alphabets, but I have come here to unite with you and adopt that alphabet which the Congress decides upon as most useful for uplifting the people.

The audience was deeply moved by Fishta’s words. Hodja Ibrahim Effendi, who was a Muslim clergyman, rushed to Fishta and embraced him with tears in his eyes. At the beginning of the Congress, the delegates elected a commission consisting of 12 members (four Muslim, four Orthodox and four Catholic) to bring a decision before the full membership. The delegates took a besa (Albanian for “promise” or “act of faith”) to accept the decision of the committee. The committee deliberated on the question of a common alphabet for three successive days. It gave out a besa that nothing would be known before the ultimate decision. However, the Congress was unable to choose only one alphabet and opted for a compromise solution of using both the Istanbul and Bashkimi alphabets with some changes to reduce the differences between them. As you can see from the table below, the Istanbul alphabet is a mix of Greek and Latin (with a few Cyrillic bits), whereas the Bashkimi alphabet is mostly Latin with some modifications to accommodate Albanian phonetics.

Bashkimi alphabet: A a B b Ts ts Ch ch D d Dh dh É é E e F f G g Gh gh H h I i J j K k L l Ll ll M m N n Gn gn O o P p C c R r Rr rr S s Sh sh T t Th th U u V v Z z Zh zh Y y X x Xh xh
Istanbul alphabet: A a B b C c Ç ç D d Б δ E ε ♇ e F f G g Γ γ H h I i J j K k L l Λ λ M m N n И ŋ O o Π p Q q R r Ρ ρ S s Ϲ σ T t Θ θ U u V v X x X̦ x̦ Y y Z z Z̧ z̧
Manastir alphabet (modified Bashkimi, current alphabet): A a B b C c Ç ç D d Dh dh E e Ë ë F f G g Gj gj H h I i J j K k L l Ll ll M m N n Nj nj O o P p Q q R r Rr rr S s Sh sh T t Th th U u V v X x Xh xh Y y Z z Zh zh

Usage of the Istanbul alphabet declined rapidly after the congress and it became extinct over the following years when Albania declared its independence. The Bashkimi alphabet is a close forerunner of the official alphabet of the Albanian language in use today. Gjergj Fishta noted at the congress that the German language had two written scripts to console those disappointed because there was not one alphabet chosen but two. After some discussion, all the delegates accepted the decision to use both Bashkimi and Istanbul alphabets. It was agreed to hold another congress in Yanya on 10 July 1910.

The adoption of a Latin-based Albanian alphabet was considered an important step for Albanian unification. Some Albanian Muslims and clerics (who, with the Ottoman government, preferred an Arabic-based Albanian alphabet) voiced their opposition to the Latin alphabet on the grounds that it would undermine their ties with the Muslim world. For the Ottoman government the situation was alarming because the Albanians were the largest Muslim community in the European part of the empire outside of Istanbul excluded. The Albanian national movement was  proof that Islam alone could not keep Ottoman Muslims united. In a panic the Ottoman state organized a congress in Debar in 1909 with the intention of making Albanians there declare themselves as Ottomans, promise to defend its territorial sovereignty, and adopt an Arabic character script for Albanian. However, they faced strong opposition from nationally minded Albanians who took total control of the proceedings. While the congress was in progress Ottoman supporters orchestrated a demonstration in Tirane voicing opposition to the Latin alphabet, the local branch of the Bashkimi club, and the Manastir congress. Talat Bey, the Ottoman interior minister, claimed that the Albanian population supported use of the Turkish alphabet and were opposed to the Latin one. The Bashkimi club, however, did not stop publicly advocating for the Latin alphabet and organized a second congress in Elbasan with 120 attendees.

Due to the alphabet decision by the Congress of Manastir, as well as other concerns about Young Turk policies, relations between Albanian elites and nationalists, on the one hand, and Ottoman authorities, on the other, broke down. Although at the outset Albanian nationalist clubs were not curtailed, their demands for political, cultural and linguistic rights eventually made the Ottomans adopt measures to repress Albanian nationalism which resulted in two Albanian revolts in 1910 and 1912, helping precipitate the end of Ottoman rule.

The Congress of Manastir is one of the most important events for the development of an independent Albanian culture. In 2008 festivities were organized in Bitola, Tirana and Pristina to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the congress. In Albania, Kosovo and Albanian-majority areas in Macedonia in all schools the first teaching hour was dedicated to honor the Congress and instructing students about its importance.

Albanian cuisine is, as you might expect, diverse with strong influences from Italy, Greece, and Turkey. Here is tavë me presh (leek casserole), baked leeks, ground lamb, and roasted red peppers. I’m very fond of this combination, and this dish is distinctively Albanian despite its eclectic origins.

Tavë me Presh

Ingredients

500g leeks, cleaned and sliced thin
500g ground lamb
1 onion, peeled and diced
3 red bell peppers, roasted and diced
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced fine
1 ½ pints lamb stock
1 tbsp paprika
salt and pepper
olive oil

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350˚F/180˚C.

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat and sauté the leeks until the take on a little color. Stir frequently to ensure an even color.  Place the leeks in a baking dish.

Sauté the onions in the same skillet over medium-high heat until they are translucent. Add the ground lamb and brown it thoroughly.  Add the red peppers, garlic, lamb stock, paprika, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a slow boil, stirring to mix the ingredients. Let the skillet simmer for 2 minutes.

Pour the contents of the skillet into the baking dish with the leeks and stir to mix thoroughly. Bake uncovered for one hour.

Serve with plain boiled rice.

 

May 282017
 

On this date the short-lived South Caucasian state of Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic (TDFR), which lasted only from 22 April – 28 May 1918, split into different political units, including the Democratic Republic of Armenia and the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. I dealt with Azerbaijan here  http://www.bookofdaystales.com/azerbaijan-republic-day/ so now I will turn my attention to Armenia.

On December 5, 1917, the armistice of Erzincan was signed between the Ottoman Empire and the Transcaucasian Commissariat, ending armed conflict between the two (part of Russia’s disengagement from the First World War following the Russian Revolution). After the Bolshevik seizure of power, a multinational congress of Transcaucasian representatives met to create a provisional regional executive body known as the Transcaucasian Seim. The Commissariat and the Seim were heavily encumbered by the pretense that the South Caucasus formed an integral unit of a non-existent Russian democracy. The Armenian deputies in the Seim were hopeful that the anti-Bolshevik forces in Russia would prevail in the Russian Civil War and rejected any idea of separating from Russia. In February 1918, Armenians, Georgians, and Muslims had reluctantly joined to form the Transcaucasian Federation but disputes among all the three groups continued and unity began to falter.

On March 3, 1918, Russia followed the armistice of Erzincan with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, and left the war. It ceded territory from March 14 to April 1918, when a conference was held between the Ottoman Empire and the delegation of the Seim. Under the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the Russians allowed the Turks to retake the Western Armenian provinces, as well as to take over the provinces of Kars, Batum, and Ardahan.

In addition to these provisions, a secret clause obligated the Armenians and Russians to demobilize their forces in both western and eastern Armenia. Having killed and deported many Armenians of Western Armenia during the Armenian Genocide, the Ottoman Empire intended to eliminate the Armenian population of Eastern Armenia. Shortly after the signing of Brest-Litovsk the Turkish army began its advance, taking Erzurum in March and Kars in April, which the Transcaucasian government of Nikolay Chkheidze had ordered soldiers to abandon. Beginning on May 21, the Ottoman army moved ahead again.

On May 11, 1918, a new peace conference opened at Batum. At this conference, the Ottomans extended their demands to include Tiflis, as well as Alexandropol and Echmiadzin, which they wanted for a railroad to be built to connect Kars and Julfa with Baku. The Armenian and Georgian members of the Republic’s delegation began to stall. On May 26, 1918, Georgia declared independence and on May 28, signed the Treaty of Poti, thus receiving protection from Germany. The Muslim National Council in Tiflis also announced the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan. Having been abandoned by its regional allies, the Armenian National Council, based in Tiflis and led by Russian Armenian intellectuals who represented Armenian interests in the Caucasus, declared its independence on May 28. It dispatched Hovhannes Kajaznuni and Alexander Khatisyan, both members of the ARF, to Yerevan to take over power and issued the following statement on May 30 (retroactive to May 28):

In view of the dissolution of the political unity of Transcaucasia and the new situation created by the proclamation of the independence of Georgia and Azerbaijan, the Armenian National Council declares itself to be the supreme and only administration for the Armenian provinces. Because of the certain grave circumstances, the national council, deferring until the near future the formation of an Armenian National government, temporarily assumes all governmental functions, in order to take hold the political and administrative helm of the Armenian provinces.

Meanwhile, the Turks had taken Alexandropol and were intent on eliminating the center of Armenian resistance based in Yerevan. The Armenians were able to stave off total defeat and delivered crushing blows to the Turkish army in the battles of Sardarapat, Karakilisa and Abaran. The Republic of Armenia had to sue for negotiations at the Treaty of Batum, which was signed in Batum on June 4, 1918. It was the ADR’s first treaty. After the Ottoman Empire took vast swathes of territory and imposed harsh conditions, the new republic was left with 10,000 square kilometers.

A considerable degree of hostility existed between Armenia and its new neighbor to the east, the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan, stemming largely from to ethnic, religious, and cultural differences. The Azeris had close ethnic and religious ties to the Turks and had provided material support for them in their drive to Baku in 1918. Although the borders of the two countries were still undefined, Azerbaijan claimed most of the territory Armenia was sitting on, demanding all or most parts of the former Russian provinces of Elizavetpol, Tiflis, Yerevan, Kars and Batum. As diplomacy failed to accomplish compromise, even with the mediation of the commanders of a British expeditionary force that had installed itself in the Caucasus, territorial clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan took place throughout 1919 and 1920, most notably in the regions of Nakhichevan, Karabakh and Syunik (Zangezur). Repeated attempts to bring these provinces under Azerbaijani jurisdiction were met with fierce resistance by their Armenian inhabitants. In May 1919, Dro led an expeditionary unit that was successful in establishing Armenian administrative control in Nakhichevan. Conflict and tension between Armenia and Azerbaijan were suppressed under Soviet rule, but have resurfaced since the fall of the Soviet Union and continue to this day.

On September 20, 1920, the Turkish General Kazım Karabekir invaded the region of Sarikamish. In response, Armenia declared war on Turkey on September 24 and the Turkish–Armenian War began. In the regions of Oltu, Sarikamish, Kars, Alexandropol (Gyumri) Armenian forces clashed with those of Karabekir’s XV Corps. Fearful of possible Russian support for Armenia, Mustafa Kemal Pasha had earlier sent several delegations to Moscow in search of an alliance, finding a receptive response from the Soviet government, which started sending gold and weapons to the Turkish revolutionaries. This proved disastrous for the Armenians.

Armenia gave way to communist power in late 1920. In November 1920, the Turkish revolutionaries captured Alexandropol and were poised to move in on the capital. A ceasefire was concluded on November 18. Negotiations were then carried out between Karabekir and a peace delegation led by Alexander Khatisian in Alexandropol; although Karabekir’s terms were extremely harsh the Armenian delegation had little recourse but to agree to them. The Treaty of Alexandropol was thus signed on December 2/3, 1920.

The 11th Red Army began its virtually unopposed advance into Armenia on November 29, 1920. The actual transfer of power took place on December 2 in Yerevan. The Armenian leadership approved an ultimatum, presented to it by the Soviet plenipotentiary Boris Legran. Armenia decided to join the Soviet sphere, while Soviet Russia agreed to protect its remaining territory from the advancing Turkish army. The Soviets also pledged to take steps to rebuild the army, protect the Armenians and not to oppress non-communist Armenians, although the final condition of this pledge was reneged on when the Dashnaks were forced out of the country. On December 5, the Armenian Revolutionary Committee (Revkom, made up of mostly Armenians from Azerbaijan) also entered the city. Finally, on the following day, December 6, Felix Dzerzhinsky’s Cheka entered Yerevan, thus effectively ending the existence of the First Republic of Armenia.

The most common Armenian dish, thought of as “everyday food,” is called dzhash (Ճաշ), but you won’t find much if you search for recipes under that name because it’s just a generic term like “soup” or “stew”. Most versions are a soupy stew made with meat (or a legume) plus a vegetable, and spices. Well-known examples of dzhash are:

Meat and green beans or green peas with tomato sauce, garlic, and mint or fresh dill.

Meat and summer squash. This is a signature dish from Ainteb, and is characterized by the liberal use of dried mint, tomatoes, and lemon juice.

Meat and pumpkin. This is a wedding dish from Marash made with meat, chick peas, pumpkin, tomato and pepper paste, and spices.

Meat and leeks in a yoghurt sauce.

Dzhash was traditionally cooked in a tonir, a clay-pot oven embedded in the ground, but now it is cooked on the stovetop. Dzhash is generally served over a pilaf of rice or bulgur, sometimes accompanied by bread, pickles or fresh vegetables or herbs.

Dzhash with Beef and Leeks

Ingredients

1 ½ lbs leeks, chopped into ½ inch pieces
butter
1 ½ lbs stewing beef, cut into small cubes
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
salt and cayenne pepper
2 tbsp. tomato paste
6-8 cups beef stock
2 cups madzoun (Armenian plain yoghurt)
1 egg, beaten

Instructions

Brown the meat quickly with a small amount of butter over high heat in a deep skillet. Add the onion, garlic, salt and cayenne to taste and sauté until transparent. Add the tomato paste, stir briefly, then add the stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat so that the liquid is gently simmering, cover tightly, and cook until the meat is tender (about 2 hours).

Add the leeks and add more broth if the soup is too thick. Continue cooking until the leeks are tender.

Beat the egg and madzoun together, and very gradually, add 2 cups of hot soup liquid, whisking as you add to prevent the yoghurt from curdling. The slowly pour the egg-yoghurt mixture into the soup, stir continually until everything is well blended. Take off the heat and serve in deep bowls with rice and bread.

Serves 4-6

Nov 222016
 

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On this date in 1928 Maurice Ravel’s Boléro premiered in Paris.   Boléro  was originally composed as a ballet commissioned by Russian actress and dancer Ida Rubinstein and is, without doubt, Ravel’s most famous musical composition, to the extent that when most people think of Ravel, Boléro is the first (perhaps only) thing that comes to mind. Boléro epitomizes Ravel’s mature stage of composition that was preoccupied with restyling and reinventing dance movements. It was also one of the last pieces he composed before illness forced him into retirement. His two piano concertos and the Don Quichotte à Dulcinée song cycle were the only compositions that followed Boléro.

Before Boléro, Ravel had composed large scale ballets (such as Daphnis et Chloé, composed for the Ballets Russes 1909–1912), suites for the ballet (such as the second orchestral version of Ma mère l’oye, 1912), and one-movement dance pieces (such as La valse, 1906–1920). Apart from such compositions intended for a staged dance performance, Ravel had demonstrated an interest in composing re-styled dances, from his earliest successes – the 1895 Menuet and the 1899 Pavane – to his more mature works like Le tombeau de Couperin, which takes the format of a dance suite.

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Boléro had its genesis in a commission from Ida Rubinstein, who asked Ravel to make an orchestral transcription of six pieces from Isaac Albéniz’s set of piano pieces, Iberia. While working on the transcription, Ravel was informed that the movements had already been orchestrated by Spanish conductor Enrique Fernández Arbós, and that copyright law prevented any other arrangement from being made. When Arbós heard of this, he said he would happily waive his rights and allow Ravel to orchestrate the pieces. However, Ravel changed his mind and decided initially to orchestrate one of his own works. He then changed his mind again and decided to write a completely new piece based on the musical form and Spanish dance called bolero. While on vacation at St Jean-de-Luz, Ravel went to the piano and played a melody with one finger to his friend Gustave Samazeuilh, saying “Don’t you think this theme has an insistent quality? I’m going to try and repeat it a number of times without any development, gradually increasing the orchestra as best I can.” This piece was initially called Fandango, but its title was soon changed to “Boléro.” According to Idries Shah the main melody is adapted from a tune composed for and used in Sufi training.

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The composition was a sensational success when it was premiered at the Paris Opéra with choreography by Bronislava Nijinska and designs and scenario by Alexandre Benois. The orchestra of the Opéra was conducted by Walther Straram. Ernest Ansermet had originally been engaged to conduct during the entire ballet season, but the musicians refused to play under him. A scenario by Rubinstein and Nijinska was printed in the program for the premiere:

Inside a tavern in Spain, people dance beneath the brass lamp hung from the ceiling. [In response] to the cheers to join in, the female dancer has leapt onto the long table and her steps become more and more animated.

Ravel himself, however, had a different conception of the work: his preferred stage design was of an open-air setting with a factory in the background, reflecting the mechanical nature of the music.

Boléro became Ravel’s most famous composition, much to his surprise. He had predicted that most orchestras would refuse to play it. However, it is usually played as a purely orchestral work, only rarely being staged as a ballet. According to a possibly apocryphal story from the premiere performance, a woman was heard shouting that Ravel was mad. When told about this, Ravel is said to have remarked that she had understood the piece.

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Boléro was first published by the Parisian firm Durand in 1929. Arrangements of the piece were made for piano solo and piano duet (two people playing at one piano), and Ravel himself arranged a version for two pianos, published in 1930. The first recording was made by Piero Coppola in Paris for The Gramophone Company on 8 January 1930 and Ravel attended the recording session. The following day, Ravel conducted the Lamoureux Orchestra in his own recording for Polydor. That same year, further recordings were made by Serge Koussevitzky with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Willem Mengelberg with the Concertgebouw Orchestra.

Conductor Arturo Toscanini gave the U.S. premiere of Boléro with the New York Philharmonic on 14 November 1929. The performance was a great success, bringing “shouts and cheers from the audience” according to a New York Times review leading one critic to declare that “it was Toscanini who launched the career of the Boléro,” and another to claim that Toscanini had made Ravel into “almost an American national hero.”

On 4 May 1930, Toscanini performed the work with the New York Philharmonic at the Paris Opéra as part of that orchestra’s European tour. Toscanini’s tempo was significantly faster than Ravel preferred, and Ravel signaled his disapproval by refusing to respond to Toscanini’s gesture during the audience ovation. An exchange took place between the two men backstage after the concert. According to one account Ravel said “It’s too fast”, to which Toscanini responded “You don’t know anything about your own music. It’s the only way to save the work.” According to another report Ravel said “That’s not my tempo”. Toscanini replied “When I play it at your tempo, it is not effective”, to which Ravel retorted “Then do not play it.” Four months later, Ravel attempted to smooth over relations with Toscanini by sending him a note explaining that “I have always felt that if a composer does not take part in the performance of a work, he must avoid the ovations” and, ten days later, inviting Toscanini to conduct the premiere of his Piano Concerto for the Left Hand, an invitation which he declined.

The Toscanini affair became a cause célèbre and further increased Boléro’s fame. Other factors in the work’s renown were the considerable number of early performances, gramophone records, including Ravel’s own, transcriptions and radio broadcasts, together with the 1934 motion picture Bolero starring Carole Lombard, in which the music plays an important role.

Boléro is written for a large orchestra consisting of:

woodwinds: piccolo, 2 flutes (one doubling on piccolo), 2 oboes (one doubling on oboe d’amore), cor anglais, 2 clarinets (one doubles on E♭clarinet), bass clarinet, 3 saxophones (one sopranino, one soprano and one tenor), 2 bassoons, contrabassoon

brass: 4 horns, 4 trumpets (3 in C, one in D), 3 trombones, bass tuba

3 timpani and percussion: 2 snare drums, a bass drum, one piece/pair of orchestral cymbals, tam-tam

celesta and harp

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The instrumentation calls for a sopranino saxophone in F, which has never existed (modern sopraninos are in E♭). At the first performance, both the sopranino and soprano saxophone parts were played on the B♭ soprano saxophone, a tradition which continues to this day.

Boléro is extremely straightforward.  The music is in C major, 3/4 time, beginning pianissimo and rising in a continuous crescendo to fortissimo possibile (as loud as possible). It is built over an unchanging ostinato rhythm played on one or more snare drums that remains constant throughout the piece.

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On top of this rhythm two melodies are heard, each of 18 bars’ duration, and each played twice alternately. The first melody is diatonic, the second melody introduces more jazz-influenced elements, with syncopation and flattened notes (technically it is in the Phrygian mode). The first melody descends through one octave, the second melody descends through two octaves. The bass line and accompaniment are initially played on pizzicato strings, mainly using rudimentary tonic and dominant notes. Tension is provided by the contrast between the steady percussive rhythm, and the “expressive vocal melody trying to break free.” Interest is maintained by constant reorchestration of the theme, leading to a variety of timbres, and by a steady crescendo. Both themes are repeated a total of eight times. At the climax, the first theme is repeated a ninth time, then the second theme takes over and breaks briefly into a new tune in E major before finally returning to the tonic key of C major.

The melody is passed among different instruments: 1) flute 2) clarinet 3) bassoon 4) E♭clarinet 5) oboe d’amore 6) trumpet (with flute not heard clearly and in higher octave than the first part) 7) tenor saxophone 8) soprano saxophone 9) horn, piccolos and celesta 10) oboe, English horn and clarinet 11) trombone 12) some of the wind instruments 13) first violins and some wind instruments 14) first and second violins together with some wind instruments 15) violins and some of the wind instruments 16) some instruments in the orchestra 17) and finally most but not all the instruments in the orchestra (with bass drum, cymbals and tam-tam). While the melody continues to be played in C throughout, from the middle onwards other instruments double it in different keys. The first such doubling involves a horn playing the melody in C, while a celeste doubles it 2 and 3 octaves above and two piccolos play the melody in the keys of G and E, respectively. This functions as a reinforcement of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th overtones of each note of the melody. The other significant “key doubling” involves sounding the melody a 5th above or a 4th below, in G major. Other than these “key doublings”, Ravel simply harmonizes the melody using diatonic chords.

The tempo indication in the score is Tempo di Bolero, moderato assai (“tempo of a bolero, very moderate”). In Ravel’s own copy of the score, the printed metronome mark of 76 per quarter is crossed out and 66 is substituted. Later editions of the score suggest a tempo of 72. Ravel’s own recording from January 1930 starts at around 66 per quarter, slightly slowing down later on to 60–63. Its total duration is 15 minutes 50 seconds. Coppola’s first recording, at which Ravel was present, has a similar duration of 15 minutes 40 seconds. Ravel said in an interview with the Daily Telegraph that the piece lasts 17 minutes.

An average performance will last in the area of fifteen minutes, with the slowest recordings, such as that by Ravel’s associate Pedro de Freitas Branco, extending well over 18 minutes and the fastest, such as Leopold Stokowski’s 1940 recording with the All American Youth Orchestra, approaching 12 minutes.

At Coppola’s first recording Ravel indicated strongly that he preferred a steady tempo, criticizing the conductor for getting faster at the end of the work. According to Coppola’s own report:

Maurice Ravel […] did not have confidence in me for the Boléro. He was afraid that my Mediterranean temperament would overtake me, and that I would rush the tempo. I assembled the orchestra at the Salle Pleyel, and Ravel took a seat beside me. Everything went well until the final part, where, in spite of myself, I increased the tempo by a fraction. Ravel jumped up, came over and pulled at my jacket: “not so fast”, he exclaimed, and we had to begin again.

Ravel’s preference for a slower tempo is confirmed by his unhappiness with Toscanini’s performance, of course. Toscanini’s 1939 recording with the NBC Symphony Orchestra has a duration of 13 minutes 25 seconds. In May 1994, with the Munich Philharmonic on tour in Cologne, conductor Sergiu Celibidache at the age of 82 gave a performance that lasted 17 minutes and 53 seconds, perhaps a record in the modern era. Perhaps in no other modern composition is tempo so critical. The insistent beat of the snare drum is the underpinning of the whole piece. Should we be slaves to the composer’s wishes? A difficult question. All composers, no matter how rigid in their directions, provide wiggle room for interpretation. Some directions are of necessity imprecise. How loud is fortissimo? How soft is pianissimo? With tempo it’s not as imprecise in modern times because of metronome markings, but there is still some wiggle room there, even with a metronome. Clearly Ravel was not thoroughly consistent. It also depends whether it is being played as an orchestral piece alone, or to accompany dancers. Also remember that it is called Boléro for a reason; it’s meant to evoke the bolero, which means the tempo should be consistent with the dance.

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Creating a menu to do in taste what Ravel did with sound is an interesting challenge. The way I think of it is that you need something that is consistent through all the course as the base, but then another ingredient or series of related ingredients that all match in some way, but which are in marked contrast to the base – increasing in complexity as the meal progresses. I’d need to actually plan a full dinner party to test out such an idea. I’m thinking, for example, that if milk were your base, you’d start with a glass of milk. Then perhaps you could have onions in milk, then leeks in milk, then shallots in milk – then onions and garlic, then onions, garlic, and chives . . . and so on. The trouble with those ingredients is that it would not be a very satisfying meal.  I’ll open this up to my readers and see who’s paying attention. You need to think first about what will be your “snare drum” – a consistent undertone, such as milk, bread, or wine. It has to be able to stand alone at the outset. Then as the meal progresses each course needs to have an ingredient that blends with the basic ingredient, but strives to break out, culminating in a richly complex set of ingredients. Course should follow course with the added ingredients becoming more varied and complex. What do you think?

Jul 202016
 

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Today is the birthday (1304) of Francesco Petrarca, commonly anglicized as Petrarch, Tuscan scholar and poet, and one of the earliest Renaissance humanists. Petrarch’s rediscovery of Cicero’s letters is often credited with initiating the 14th century Renaissance, in fact. In the 16th century, Pietro Bembo created the model for the modern Italian language based on Petrarch’s works, as well as those of Giovanni Boccaccio, and, to a lesser extent, Dante Alighieri. Petrarch was later endorsed as a model for Italian style by the Accademia della Crusca. Petrarch’s sonnets were admired and imitated throughout Europe during the Renaissance and became a model for lyrical poetry. He is also known for being the first to develop the concept of the Middle Ages as “Dark Ages.”

Petrarch was born in the Tuscan city of Arezzo in 1304. He was the son of Ser Petracco and his wife Eletta Canigiani. His given name was Francesco Petracco. The name was Latinized to Petrarca. Petrarch’s younger brother was born in Incisa in Val d’Arno in 1307. Dante was a friend of his father. Petrarch spent his early childhood in the village of Incisa, near Florence. He spent much of his early life at Avignon and nearby Carpentras, where his family moved to follow Pope Clement V who moved there in 1309 to begin the Avignon Papacy. He studied law at the University of Montpellier (1316–20) and Bologna (1320–23) with a lifelong friend and schoolmate, Guido Sette. Because his father was in the profession of law he insisted that Petrarch and his brother study law also. Petrarch however was primarily interested in writing and Latin literature and considered these seven years wasted. Additionally he proclaimed that through legal manipulation his guardians robbed him of his small property inheritance in Florence, which only reinforced his dislike for the legal system. He protested, “I couldn’t face making a merchandise of my mind”– he viewed the legal system as the art of selling justice.

Petrarch was a prolific letter writer and counted Boccaccio among his notable friends to whom he wrote often. After the death of their parents, Petrarch and his brother Gherardo went back to Avignon in 1326, where he worked in numerous clerical offices. This work gave him time to devote to his writing. With his first large scale work, Africa, an epic in Latin about the great Roman general Scipio Africanus, Petrarch emerged as a European celebrity. On April 8, 1341, he became the first poet laureate since antiquity and was crowned by Roman Senatori Giordano Orsini and Orso dell’Anguillara on the holy grounds of Rome’s Capitol.

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He traveled widely in Europe, served as an ambassador, and has been called “the first tourist” because he traveled just for pleasure, which was the basic reason he climbed Mont Ventoux. During his travels, he collected crumbling Latin manuscripts and was a prime mover in the recovery of knowledge from writers of Rome and Greece. He encouraged and advised Leontius Pilatus’s translation of Homer from a manuscript purchased by Boccaccio, although he was severely critical of the result. Petrarch had acquired a copy, which he did not entrust to Leontius, but he knew no Greek; Homer, Petrarch said, “was dumb to him, while he was deaf to Homer.” In 1345 he personally discovered a collection of Cicero’s letters not previously known to have existed, the collection ad Atticum. Henceforth he disdained the scholarship of what we now call the Middle Ages, coining the term “Dark Ages.”

Petrarch recounts that on April 26, 1336, with his brother and two servants, he climbed to the top of Mont Ventoux (1,912 meters (6,273 ft)), which he undertook for recreation rather than necessity. The exploit is described in a celebrated letter addressed to his friend and confessor, the monk Dionigi di Borgo San Sepolcro, composed some time after the fact. In it Petrarch claimed to have been inspired by Philip V of Macedon’s ascent of Mount Haemo and that an old peasant had told him that nobody had ascended Ventoux before, and warned him against attempting to do so. The 19th-century Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt noted that Jean Buridan had climbed the same mountain a few years before, and ascents accomplished during the Middle Ages have been recorded, including that of Anno II, Archbishop of Cologne.

Scholars note that Petrarch’s letter to Dionigi displays a strikingly “modern” attitude of aesthetic gratification in the grandeur of the scenery and is still often cited in books and journals devoted to the sport of mountaineering. In Petrarch, this attitude is coupled with an aspiration for a virtuous Christian life, and on reaching the summit, he took from his pocket a volume by his spiritual mentor, Saint Augustine, that he always carried with him. As the book fell open, Petrarch’s eyes were immediately drawn to the following words:

And men go about to wonder at the heights of the mountains, and the mighty waves of the sea, and the wide sweep of rivers, and the circuit of the ocean, and the revolution of the stars, but themselves they consider not.

Petrarch’s response was to turn from the outer world of nature to the inner world of “soul”:

I closed the book, angry with myself that I should still be admiring earthly things who might long ago have learned from even the pagan philosophers that nothing is wonderful but the soul, which, when great itself, finds nothing great outside itself. Then, in truth, I was satisfied that I had seen enough of the mountain; I turned my inward eye upon myself, and from that time not a syllable fell from my lips until we reached the bottom again. […] [W]e look about us for what is to be found only within. […] How many times, think you, did I turn back that day, to glance at the summit of the mountain which seemed scarcely a cubit high compared with the range of human contemplation.

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Petrarch spent the later part of his life journeying through northern Italy as an international scholar and poet-diplomat. His career in the Church did not allow him to marry, but he is believed to have fathered two children by a woman or women unknown to posterity. A son, Giovanni, was born in 1337, and a daughter, Francesca, was born in 1343. Both he later legitimized.

Giovanni died of the plague in 1361. In the same year Petrarch was named canon in Monselice near Padua. Francesca married Francescuolo da Brossano (who was later named executor of Petrarch’s will) that same year. In 1362, shortly after the birth of a daughter, Eletta (the same name as Petrarch’s mother), they joined Petrarch in Venice to flee the plague then ravaging parts of Europe. A second grandchild, Francesco, was born in 1366, but died before his second birthday. Francesca and her family lived with Petrarch in Venice for five years from 1362 to 1367 at Palazzo Molina; although Petrarch continued to travel in those years. Between 1361 and 1369 the younger Boccaccio paid the older Petrarch two visits:  first in Venice, second in Padua.

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About 1368 Petrarch and his daughter Francesca (with her family) moved to the small town of Arquà in the Euganean Hills near Padua, where he passed his remaining years in religious contemplation. He died in his house in Arquà on July 19, 1374 – one day short of his seventieth birthday. The house hosts now a permanent exhibition of Petrarch’s works and curiosities

Petrarch’s will (dated April 4, 1370) leaves 50 florins to Boccaccio “to buy a warm winter dressing gown”; various legacies (a horse, a silver cup, a lute, a Madonna) to his brother and his friends; his house in Vaucluse to its caretaker; for his soul, and for the poor; and the bulk of his estate to his son-in-law, Francescuolo da Brossano, who is to give half of it to “the person to whom, as he knows, I wish it to go”; presumably his daughter, Francesca, Brossano’s wife. The will mentions neither the property in Arquà nor his library; Petrarch’s library of notable manuscripts was already promised to Venice, in exchange for the Palazzo Molina. This arrangement was probably cancelled when he moved to Padua, the enemy of Venice, in 1368. The library was seized by the lords of Padua, and his books and manuscripts are now widely scattered over Europe.

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Petrarch is best known for his Italian poetry, notably the Canzoniere (“Songbook”) and the Trionfi (“Triumphs”). However, Petrarch was an enthusiastic Latin scholar and did most of his writing in Latin. His Latin writings include scholarly works, introspective essays, letters, and more poetry. Among them are Secretum Meum (“My Secret”), an intensely personal, guilt-ridden imaginary dialogue with Augustine of Hippo; De Viris Illustribus (“On Famous Men”), a series of moral biographies; Rerum Memorandarum Libri, an incomplete treatise on the cardinal virtues; De Otio Religiosorum (“On Religious Leisure”); De Vita Solitaria (“On the Solitary Life”); De Remediis Utriusque Fortunae (“Remedies for Fortune Fair and Foul”), a self-help book which remained popular for hundreds of years; Itinerarium (“Petrarch’s Guide to the Holy Land”); invectives against opponents such as doctors, scholastics, and the French; the Carmen Bucolicum, a collection of 12 pastoral poems; and the unfinished epic Africa. He also translated seven psalms, a collection known as the Penitential Psalms.

In addition, Petrarch published many volumes of his letters, including a few written to his long-dead “friends” from history such as Cicero and Virgil. Cicero, Virgil, and Seneca were his literary models. Most of his Latin writings are difficult to find today, but several of his works are available in English translations. Petrarch broke radically with the much-praised Dante and his Divina Commedia. In spite of the metaphysical subject, the Commedia is deeply rooted in the cultural and social milieu of turn-of-the-century Florence. Petrarch confessed to Boccaccio that he had never read the Commedia.  Probably this was untrue but shows that Petrarch wanted to distance himself from Dante.

Petrarch polished (some say “perfected”) the sonnet form inherited from Giacomo da Lentini and which Dante widely used in his Vita nuova to popularise the new courtly love of the Dolce Stil Novo. It was later copied (with suitable changes) by Shakespeare and others outside of Italy.

Petrarch was highly introspective and, as such, shaped the nascent humanist movement a great deal. Many of the internal conflicts and musings expressed in his writings were seized upon by Renaissance humanist philosophers and argued over continually for the next 200 years. For example, Petrarch struggled with the proper relation between the active and contemplative life, and tended to emphasize the importance of solitude and study. In a clear disagreement with Dante, in 1346 Petrarch argued in his De vita solitaria that Pope Celestine V’s refusal of the papacy in 1294 was as a virtuous example of solitary life. Later the politician and thinker Leonardo Bruni argued for the active life, or “civic humanism.”

I’m very much on Petrarch’s side in this debate. I live alone and spend my days in writing and contemplation. This life suits me. Of course I venture out to engage with the world when need be, but I am happiest alone.

Here’s a 14th-century Italian recipe for “mountain mushrooms” from Libro di cucina del secolo XIV.

Fungi di Monte

Toglie fungi di monte, e lessali: e gittatene via l’acquaa, mettili poi a friggere con cipolla tritata minuto, o con bianco di porro, spezie e sale e dà a mangiare.

[Take mountain mushrooms and boil them. Discard the water then fry the mushrooms with finely sliced onion, or the white of a leek, spices, and salt. Then serve.]

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Simplicity itself. I used fresh porcini to make this dish because I had some left over from a trip to the market. I used leeks because I love them. The spices are the only challenge. Cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves were common in 14th-century Italy, but all of them are a little overpowering for me for use with mushrooms that have a strong, but delicate, flavor. If you are using common agarics (white commercial mushrooms), add what you want.

There is no need to boil the mushrooms first. Just roughly slice them and the leeks. Sauté them together over high heat in butter (preferably) or extra virgin olive oil. All I added was a few grinds of black pepper and served them over bread fried in olive oil. Great breakfast.

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Jan 302016
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mix mashed potato with sliced poached leeks.

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

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Combine the cheese sauce and mashed potatoes.

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

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

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Heat under the broiler or in a hot oven.

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Jan 202016
 

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Today is the feast of Saint Sebastian. According to martyrologies he was killed during the Roman emperor Diocletian’s persecution of Christians. He is commonly depicted in art and literature tied to a post or tree and shot with arrows. Despite this being the most common artistic depiction of Sebastian, he was, according to legend, rescued and healed by Irene of Rome. Shortly afterwards he went to Diocletian to harass him about his sins, and as a result was ordered clubbed to death. The details of Saint Sebastian’s martyrdom were first written about by 4th-century bishop Ambrose of Milan, in his sermon (number 22) on Psalm 118. Ambrose stated that Sebastian came from Milan and that he was already venerated there at that time.

According to Acta Sanctorum, of unknown origin, but attributed to Ambrose by the 17th century hagiographer Jean Bolland, Sebastian was from Gallia Narbonensis in southeast France who was a student in Milan. In 283, Sebastian entered the army in Rome under Emperor Carinus to assist enlisted Christians. Because of his courage he became one of the captains of the Praetorian Guard under Diocletian and Maximian, who were unaware that he was a Christian.

Although Sebastian had concealed his faith, in 286 was found out. Diocletian commanded that he be bound to a stake so that archers from Mauritania could shoot arrows at him. The archers shot at him until he was full of arrows, and left him there for dead. Miraculously, the arrows did not kill him. Irene of Rome, the widow of Castulus (who had been converted by Sebastian and martyred by Diocletian), went to retrieve his body to bury it, and discovered he was still alive. So she brought him back to her house and nursed him back to health.

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Sebastian later stood on a route where Diocletian was to pass and harangued him for his cruelties against Christians. Diocletian who had presumed Sebastian to be dead was greatly astonished and gave orders for him to be seized and beaten to death with cudgels. His body was thrown into the common sewer, but a pious woman, called Lucina, who was visited by Sebastian in a vision, had it quietly removed, and buried in the catacombs at the entrance of the cemetery of Calixtus, where the Basilica of St. Sebastian (San Sebastiano fuori le mura) now stands.

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The church was rebuilt in the 1610s under the patronage of Scipione Borghese. St. Ado, Eginard, Sigebert, and other contemporary authors relate that, in the reign of Louis Debonnair, Pope Eugenius II gave the body of St. Sebastian to Hilduin, Abbot of St. Denys, who brought it into France, and it was deposited at Saint Medard Abbey, at Soissons, on the 8th of December 826.

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Sebastian’s cranium was brought to the town of Ebersberg (Germany) in 934. A Benedictine abbey was founded there and became one of the most important pilgrimage sites in southern Germany. It is said the silver-encased cranium was used as a cup in which to present wine to the faithful during the feast of Saint Sebastian.

During the Middle Ages, Sebastian was a popular saint, particularly because he was invoked against outbreaks of the plague. But in modern times his popularity has waned. His attempted execution by arrows has been an enduring artistic subject down to the present, however.

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Numerous towns and regions are named for Saint Sebastian, so you could pick a recipe from any one of them. I’ve chosen two seasonal soups from the region of Milan because it was Sebastian’s home for a while, and because I live nearby. Zuppa di porri e bietole (leek and Swiss chard soup) is easy to make, and a warming dish at this time of year. Leeks and chard are plentiful right now in northern Italy. Wash the vegetables thoroughly, chop them coarsely, and poach them in rich chicken stock. Done !! Some people add cooked rice for substance.

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Zupp alla pavese is also a simple dish, but is considered very elegant. Take 2 slices of day-old bread and fry them in a mix of olive oil and butter until golden. Place them in a shallow bowl and crack an egg over each slice. Pour in boiling stock which will lightly cook the eggs. Top with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

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Jan 102016
 

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The Adventures of Tintin first appeared in French on this date in 1929 in Le Petit Vingtième, a youth supplement to the Belgian newspaper Le Vingtième Siècle. The Adventures of Tintin (Les Aventures de Tintin) is a series of comic albums created by Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi (1907–1983), who wrote under the pen name Hergé. The series was one of the most popular European comics of the 20th century. By the time of the centenary of Hergé’s birth in 2007, Tintin had been published in more than 70 languages with sales of more than 200 million copies.

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The series is set during a largely realistic 20th century. Its hero is Tintin, a young Belgian reporter and adventurer. He is aided by his faithful fox terrier dog Snowy (Milou in the original French edition). Later, popular additions to the cast included the brash and cynical Captain Haddock, the highly intelligent but hearing-impaired Professor Calculus (Professeur Tournesol), and other supporting characters such as the incompetent detectives Thomson and Thompson (Dupont et Dupond) and the opera diva Bianca Castafiore.

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The series has been admired for its clean, expressive drawings in Hergé’s signature ligne claire (“clear line”) style. Its plots straddle a variety of genres: swashbuckling adventures with elements of fantasy, mysteries, political thrillers, and science fiction. The stories feature slapstick humor, offset by dashes of sophisticated satire and political or cultural commentary.

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I’m not a big fan of Tintin for a variety of reasons. The cartoons of the 1930s and ‘40s are awash in ethnocentric cultural stereotypes which are supposed to be amusing, but which I just find offensive. Admittedly things got better over time, particularly as the series was translated into other languages. But therein lies another problem. Tintin, like my Franco-Belgian favorite, Asterix (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/asterix-gaul/) struggles in translation because a lot of the humor is verbal. I can read French reasonably well, so this does not bother me unduly. But in the English-speaking world it can be difficult to find Tintin in the original.

The earliest stories in The Adventures of Tintin have been criticized for displaying racial stereotypes, animal cruelty, colonialist, violent, and even fascist leanings, including ethnocentric caricatured portrayals of non-Europeans. While the Hergé Foundation has presented such criticism as naïveté and scholars of Hergé such as Harry Thompson have said that “Hergé did what he was told by the Abbé Wallez,” Hergé himself felt that his background made it impossible to avoid prejudice, stating, “I was fed the prejudices of the bourgeois society that surrounded me.” Cop out.

In Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, the Bolsheviks were presented as villains. Hergé drew on Moscow Unveiled, a work given to him by Wallez and written by Joseph Douillet, the former Belgian consul in Russia, that is highly critical of the Soviet regime, although Hergé contextualised this by noting that in Belgium, at the time a reasonably devout Catholic nation, “Anything Bolshevik was atheist.” In the story, Bolshevik leaders are motivated by personal greed and a desire to deceive the world. Tintin discovers, buried, “the hideout where Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin have collected together wealth stolen from the people.” Hergé later dismissed the failings of this first story as “a transgression of my youth.” By 1999, even while Tintin’s politics was the subject of a debate in the French parliament, part of this presentation was noted as far more reasonable, with British weekly newspaper The Economist declaring, “In retrospect, however, the land of hunger and tyranny painted by Hergé was uncannily accurate.”

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Tintin in the Congo has been criticized as presenting the Africans as naïve and primitive. In the original work, Tintin is shown at a blackboard addressing a class of African children. “My dear friends,” he says, “I am going to talk to you today about your fatherland: Belgium.” Hergé redrew this in 1946 to show a lesson in mathematics. Hergé later admitted the flaws in the original story, excusing it saying, “I portrayed these Africans according to … this purely paternalistic spirit of the time.”

Drawing on André Maurois’ Les Silences du colonel Bramble, Hergé presents Tintin as a big-game hunter, accidentally killing fifteen antelope as opposed to the one needed for the evening meal. However, concerns over the number of dead animals led Tintin ’​s Scandinavian publishers to request changes. A page of Tintin killing a rhinoceros by drilling a hole in its back and inserting a stick of dynamite was deemed excessive; Hergé replaced the page with one in which the rhino accidentally discharges Tintin’s rifle while he sleeps under a tree. In 2007, the UK’s Commission for Racial Equality called for the book to be pulled from shelves after a complaint, stating, “It beggars belief that in this day and age that any shop would think it acceptable to sell and display Tintin in the Congo.” In August 2007, a Congolese student filed a complaint in Brussels that the book was an insult to the Congolese people. Public prosecutors investigated, and a criminal case was initiated, although the matter was transferred to a civil court. Belgium’s Centre for Equal Opportunities warned against “over-reaction and hyper political correctness.” Sorry, this constant defense of “political correctness” does not wash with me. Objections to racist portrayals of colonized peoples are perfectly legitimate.

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Hergé altered some of the early albums in subsequent editions, usually at the demand of publishers. For example, at the instigation of his U.S. publishers, many of the African-American characters in Tintin in America were re-colored to make their race ambiguous. The Shooting Star originally had an American villain with the Jewish surname of “Blumenstein”. This proved controversial, as the character exhibited exaggerated, stereotypically Jewish characteristics. “Blumenstein” was changed to an American with a less ethnically specific name, Mr. Bohlwinkel, in later editions and subsequently to a South American of a fictional country—São Rico.

Tintin has also been the subject of analysis by literary critics, primarily in French-speaking Europe. Their dense, tortured prose is generally overwrought, and unreadable at times. But their admiration is clear. In 1984, Jean-Marie Apostolidès published his study of the Adventures of Tintin from a more “adult” perspective as Les Métamorphoses de Tintin, published in English as The Metamorphoses of Tintin, or Tintin for Adults in 2010. In reviewing this book, Nathan Perl-Rosenthal of The New Republic thought that it was “not for the faint of heart: it is densely-packed with close textual analysis and laden with psychological jargon.”

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The first English-language work of literary criticism devoted to the series was Tintin and the Secret of Literature, by the novelist Tom McCarthy and published in 2006. McCarthy compares Hergé’s work with that of Aeschylus, Honoré de Balzac, Joseph Conrad, and Henry James and argues that the series contains the key to understanding literature itself. McCarthy considers the Adventures of Tintin to be “stupendously rich,” containing “a mastery of plot and symbol, theme and sub-text” which, influenced by psychoanalytical readings of the work, he believed could be deciphered to reveal a series of recurring themes, ranging from bartering to implicit sexual intercourse that Hergé had featured throughout the series. Reviewing the book in The Telegraph, Toby Clements argued however that McCarthy’s work, and literary criticism of Hergé’s comic strips in general, cut “perilously close” to simply feeding “the appetite of those willing to cross the line between enthusiast and obsessive.” There you have it.

To honor Hergé and Tintin I’ve chosen stoemp, a popular dish that is simple to make and enjoys wide appeal in Belgium. It is a dish of mashed potatoes in cream sauce with one or more vegetables, such as onions, carrots, leeks, spinach, green peas or cabbage, and seasoned with garlic, thyme or bay. Strictly speaking there is no definitive recipe. The basic idea is to make mashed potato rich with butter and cream plus a vegetable of choice. I like it with spinach, but here is a recipe using leeks, because I love the combination of potato and leeks, and am reveling in “leeks with everything” right now after 5 years of leek deprivation in Argentina and China. Seasonings are also cook’s choice. I use nutmeg, but you can also use thyme or sage if you prefer, or simply salt and pepper.

Stoemp is traditionally featured alongside fried boudin, fried braadworst, grilled bacon, fried ground beef or fried eggs, but it can work as a side dish with anything you like.

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Stoemp

Ingredients

5 large potatoes, peeled and diced
4 tbsp butter
¾ cup cream (single or double)
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
4 medium leeks, washed and finely sliced
light stock (chicken or vegetable)
salt and pepper
ground nutmeg (optional)

Instructions

Simmer the potatoes in stock until they are soft. Drain them and reserve the liquid. Mash them in whatever fashion suits you. I’ve used a potato masher plus whisk for years, because I like my potatoes a little lumpy.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic, onions, and leeks and sauté until soft but not browned. Add the cream and ½ cup of stock and simmer for approximately 10 minutes. Scoop out the vegetables with a slotted spoon, and reduce the liquid by half over high heat. Add back the leek mix and mashed potatoes, lower the heat to medium, and stir everything until everything is well combined. Season to taste.

Mar 202014
 

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Today is the birthday (43 BCE) of Publius Ovidius Naso, known as Ovid in the English-speaking world, a Roman poet best known for the Metamorphoses, a 15-volume mythological narrative in epic verse, and for collections of love poetry in elegiac couplets, especially the Amores (“Love Affairs”) and Ars Amatoria (“Art of Love”). His poetry was much imitated during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, and greatly influenced Western art and literature. The Metamorphoses remains one of the most important sources of classical mythology. Ovid is traditionally ranked alongside Virgil and Horace, his older contemporaries, as one of the three canonic poets of Latin literature. He was the first major Roman poet to begin his career during the reign of Augustus, and the Imperial scholar Quintilian considered him the last of the Latin love elegists. He enjoyed enormous popularity, but in one of the mysteries of literary history he was sent by Augustus into exile in a remote province on the Black Sea, where he remained until his death. Ovid himself attributes his exile to carmen et error, “a poem and a mistake,” but his discretion in discussing the causes has resulted in much speculation among scholars.

Ovid was born in Sulmo (modern Sulmona), in an Apennine valley east of Rome, to a well known equestrian family, a class that ranked above plebeians and below patricians. His father wished him to study rhetoric toward the practice of law, so he was educated in rhetoric in Rome under the teachers Arellius Fuscus and Porcius Latro with his brother who excelled at oratory. According to Seneca the Elder, Ovid tended to the emotional, not the argumentative pole of rhetoric. After the death of his brother at 20 years of age, Ovid renounced law and began travelling to Athens, Asia Minor, and Sicily. He held minor public posts, as one of the tresviri capitals (prison officers), as a member of the Centumviral court (chancery court) and as one of the decemviri stlitibus iudicandis (civil judges), but resigned to pursue poetry probably around 29–25 BCE, a decision of which his father apparently disapproved.

His first poetic recitation has been dated to around 25 BC, when Ovid was eighteen. He was part of the circle centered on the patron Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus, and seems to have been a friend of poets in the circle of Maecenas. In Tristia 4.10.41–54, Ovid mentions friendships with Macer, Propertius, Horace, Ponticus and Bassus (he only barely met Virgil and Tibullus, a fellow member of Messalla’s circle whose elegies he admired greatly). Ovid was very popular at the time of his early works, but was later exiled by Augustus in AD 8. He married three times and divorced twice by the time he was thirty years old. He had one daughter, who eventually bore him grandchildren. His last wife was connected in some way to the influential gens (clan) Fabia and would help him during his exile in Tomis.

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The first 25 years of Ovid’s literary career were spent primarily writing poetry in elegiac meter with erotic themes. The chronology of these early works is not completely certain, but his earliest extant work is thought to be the Heroides, letters of mythological heroines to their absent lovers, which may have been published in 19 BCE. The first five-book collection of the Amores, a series of erotic poems addressed to a lover, Corinna, is thought to have been published in 16–15 BCE; the surviving version, redacted to three books according to an epigram prefixed to the first book, is thought to have been published c. 8–3 BCE. Between the publications of the two editions of the Amores can be dated the premiere of his tragedy Medea, which was admired in antiquity but is no longer extant.

Ovid’s next poem, the Medicamina Faciei, a fragmentary work on women’s beauty treatments, preceded the Ars Amatoria, the Art of Love, a parody of didactic poetry (including advice such as “do not forget her birthday”), and a three-book manual about seduction and intrigue, which has been dated to 2 CE (Books 1–2 go back to 1 BCE). Ovid may have identified this work as the carmen, or song, which was one cause of his banishment. The Ars Amatoria was followed by the Remedia Amoris in the same year. This elegiac, erotic poetry earned Ovid a place among the chief Roman elegists Gallus, Tibullus, and Propertius, of whom he saw himself as the fourth member.

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By 8 CE, he had completed his most ambitious work, the Metamorphoses, a hexameter epic poem in 15 books which encyclopedically catalogs transformations in Greek and Roman mythology from the emergence of the cosmos to the deification of Julius Caesar. The stories follow each other in telling of human beings transformed to new bodies: trees, rocks, animals, flowers, constellations etc. At the same time, he was working on the Fasti, a 12 volume poem in elegiac couplets which took as its theme the calendar of Roman festivals and astronomy. Only 6 volumes were completed The composition of this poem was interrupted by Ovid’s exile, and it is thought that Ovid abandoned work on the piece in Tomis.

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In 8 CE, Ovid was banished to Tomis, on the Black Sea, by the exclusive order of the Emperor Augustus, without any participation of the Senate or of any Roman judge. This event shaped all of his following poetry. Ovid wrote that the reason for his exile was carmen et error – “a poem and a mistake” that his crime was worse than murder, more harmful than poetry.  We know no more than that, which tells us very little. The Emperor’s grandchildren, Julia the Younger and Agrippa Postumus (the latter adopted by him), were also banished around the same time. Julia’s husband, Lucius Aemilius Paullus, was put to death for conspiracy against Augustus.  That Augustus allowed Ovid to live suggests that whatever his crime was, it was unlikely to have been directed against Augustus per se.  Most modern critics think that it had something to do with Augustus’ distaste for the rather loose morals of Ovid’s love poems at a time when the emperor was trying to clean up marriage in Rome in order to make the society more stable.  But in the end, it is useless to speculate without more information.

In exile, Ovid wrote two poetry collections titled Tristia and Epistulae ex Ponto, illustrating his sadness and desolation. Being far from Rome, he had no access to libraries, and thus might have been forced to abandon the Fasti poem about the Roman calendar, of which only the first six books exist – January through June. The five books of the elegiac Tristia, a series of poems expressing the poet’s despair in exile and advocating his return to Rome, are dated to 9–12 CE. The Ibis, an elegiac curse poem attacking an adversary at home, may also be dated to this period. The Epistulae ex Ponto, a series of letters to friends in Rome asking them to effect his return, are thought to be his last compositions, with the first three books published in 13 CE and the fourth book between 14 and 16 CE. The exile poetry is particularly emotive and personal. In the Epistulae he claims friendship with the native people of Tomis (in the Tristia they are frightening barbarians) and to have written a poem in their language (Ex P. 4.13.19–20). And yet he pined for Rome and for his third wife; many of the poems are addressed to her. Some are also to the Emperor Augustus, yet others are to himself, to friends in Rome, and sometimes to the poems themselves, expressing loneliness and hope of recall from banishment or exile.

Ovid died at Tomis in 17 or 18 CE. It is thought that the Fasti, which he spent time revising, were published posthumously. He was allegedly buried a few kilometers away in a nearby town.

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The Metamorphoses is a sprawling work that explores the world from the beginning of time down to the life of Julius Caesar.  It is a source, not only for tales of Greek and Roman sacred history, but also for historical narratives concerning people in the classical world who lived close to the time of Ovid.  Book 15 has extensive discussions on Pythagoras and his work; 11 of 18 sections in this book are directly about Pythagoras’ philosophy.  Among other things, Pythagoras was a vegetarian (as were many of his followers), and Ovid provides us with his justifications for such an unusual stance to take at that time:

 Human beings, stop desecrating your bodies with impious foodstuffs. There are crops; there are apples weighing down the branches; and ripening grapes on the vines; there are flavorsome herbs; and those that can be rendered mild and gentle over the flames; and you do not lack flowing milk; or honey fragrant from the flowering thyme. The earth, prodigal of its wealth, supplies you with gentle sustenance, and offers you food without killing or shedding blood.

 Flesh satisfies the wild beast’s hunger, though not all of them, since horses, sheep and cattle live on grasses, but those that are wild and savage: Armenian tigers, raging lions, and wolves and bears, enjoy food wet with blood. Oh, how wrong it is for flesh to be made from flesh; for a greedy body to fatten, by swallowing another body; for one creature to live by the death of another creature! So amongst such riches, that earth, the greatest of mothers, yields, you are not happy unless you tear, with cruel teeth, at pitiful wounds, recalling Cyclops’s practice, and you cannot satisfy your voracious appetite, and your restless hunger, unless you destroy other life!

But that former age, that we call golden, was happy with the fruit from the trees, and the herbs the earth produced, and did not defile its lips with blood.

There is no evidence that Ovid was a vegetarian but I thought it might be suitable, based on this excerpt, to give a recipe for an ancient Roman vegetarian dish – broad beans and leeks with cilantro.  Something similar can be found here, although the latter is a recipe for mussels where the leeks and cilantro are merely flavoring agents.  The recipe I give here is my own adaptation from Apicius’ De Re Conquinaria which gives a list of ingredients and not much else.  Liquamen was a sauce made by fermenting fish, and was very common in classical era cooking.  It was primarily a source of salt to season the dish.  I use a diluted mix of Thai fish sauce (phrik nam pla) and water as a substitute.  You will find many attempts to convert Apicius’ recipe for the modern kitchen, but they all make the same mistake; they list string beans as the main ingredient.  This is absurd because all string beans were domesticated in the New World, and taken to the Old World in the sixteenth century.  Ovid’s “green beans” are fresh broad beans (fava beans). However, when I made this dish I was forced back on string beans myself because broad beans are not in season yet.  I ended up making it into a soup and then as a sauce for pasta.  It can accompany a variety of meat and fish dishes.

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©Fabaciae virides et baianae (broad beans and leeks)

Ingredients:

1lb/500g green beans (preferably broad beans)
1 tbsp Asian fish sauce mixed with 1 cup water
¼ cup
extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp coriander leaves, chopped
1 tsp cumin
½ leek, sliced thin

Instructions:

Place all the ingredients in a heavy pot just big enough to hold them all.  Bring to the boil and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the beans are cooked through.

Strain (reserving the cooking liquid) and serve as a side dish, or ladle into soup bowls as a first course with some crusty bread.

 

Mar 012014
 

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Today is St David’s Day.  David is believed to have died on 1 March 589.  He is the patron saint of Wales.  His Welsh name, by which he was known, is Dewi.

Like most Medieval saints, David’s biography is a mixture of fact and fiction.  These are the undisputed facts.  Although his hagiography was written many centuries after his death, he really existed (not true of a great many saints from the Middle Ages).  He was central to the conversion of the western Celts in the 6th century.  He was archbishop of Wales.  He founded numerous churches.  He was an active opponent of Pelagianism.  Oh dear – let me not go into a long theological discourse.  Pelagius argued that human perfection was possible through human will – Augustine denied this, arguing that divine grace was necessary.  I had enough of this nonsense when I was at Oxford.  Let us just say my tutors and examiners were not thrilled with me.

His best-known miracle is said to have taken place when he was preaching in the middle of a large crowd at the Synod of Brefi. The village of Llanddewi Brefi stands on the spot where the ground on which he stood is reputed to have risen up to form a small hill. A white dove, which became his emblem, was seen settling on his shoulder. Historian John Davies notes that one can scarcely “conceive of any miracle more superfluous” in that part of Wales than the creation of a new hill.  He was supposedly preaching against Pelagianism at the time.

The leek is the national symbol of David and Wales.

This from Henry V, act V, scene I, the first known reference to Welshmen wearing the leek in their hats on St David.

GOWER

Nay, that’s right; but why wear you your leek today?
Saint Davy’s day is past.

FLUELLEN

There is occasions and causes why and wherefore in
all things: I will tell you, asse my friend,
Captain Gower: the rascally, scald, beggarly,
lousy, pragging knave, Pistol, which you and
yourself and all the world know to be no petter
than a fellow, look you now, of no merits, he is
come to me and prings me pread and salt yesterday,
look you, and bid me eat my leek: it was in place
where I could not breed no contention with him; but
I will be so bold as to wear it in my cap till I see
him once again, and then I will tell him a little
piece of my desires.

Among other things, the barred “l” is a distinctive feature of Welsh.  English speakers typically cannot pronounce it – it is a guttural “l.”  They end up with two choices – either turn it into “fl” as Shakespeare did or pronounce it as a simple “l” – as in Lloyd. Both are wrong.

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Anyway . . . leeks.  An incredibly versatile vegetable and incredibly underused.  No recipe again today, but some advice.  Cut your leeks very thin and poach them in butter.  Then use them as a base for anything you want.  Buttered leeks are perfectly delicious.  Use them in place of onions in any sauce.  Use them in soup.   Baste them in oil and roast them along with your potatoes.