Nov 072017
 

On this date in 1908 Robert Leroy Parker and Harry Alonzo Longabaugh, usually known as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, died in San Vicente in southern Bolivia under slightly mysterious circumstances, and their deaths have sometimes been challenged by historians. I think there is little doubt, however, that this was the end of the road for the duo. While it is true that they were a bank-robbing partnership in South America their status as a duo is overblown by media, especially the 1969 movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It is closer to the truth to say that for several years Parker was the leader of what became known as Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch, and Longabaugh was a member whom Parker recruited. When the gang split up in 1901, Parker and Longabaugh relocated to Patagonia in Argentina to escape relentless pursuit in the US by detectives from the Pinkerton agency, so their real partnership began in South America where they lived for 7 years.

In early 1894, Parker became involved romantically with outlaw and rancher Ann Bassett. Bassett’s father, rancher Herb Bassett, did business with Parker, supplying him with fresh horses and beef. That same year, Parker was arrested at Lander, Wyoming, for stealing horses and possibly for running a protection racket among the local ranchers there. He was imprisoned in the Wyoming State Prison in Laramie, Wyoming. After serving 18 months of a two-year sentence, Parker was released and pardoned in January 1896 by Governor William Alford Richards. He became involved briefly with Ann Bassett’s older sister, Josie, before returning to Ann.

Parker associated with a broad circle of criminals, most notably his closest friend William Ellsworth “Elzy” Lay, Harvey “Kid Curry” Logan, Ben Kilpatrick, Harry Tracy, Will “News” Carver, Laura Bullion, and George “Flat Nose” Curry, who collectively became the nucleus of the so-called “Wild Bunch”. The gang assembled some time after Parker’s release from prison in 1896 and took its name from the Doolin–Dalton gang, also known as the “Wild Bunch.”

On August 13, 1896, Parker, Lay, Logan and Bob Meeks robbed the bank at Montpelier, Idaho, escaping with approximately $7,000. Shortly thereafter Parker recruited Harry Alonzo Longabaugh, a native of Pennsylvania also known as “The Sundance Kid,” into the Wild Bunch. In early 1897, Parker was joined at Robbers Roost in Utah by Ann Bassett, Elzy Lay, and Lay’s girlfriend Maude Davis. The four hid there until early April, when Lay and Parker sent the women home so that the men could plan their next robbery. On April 22, 1897, in the mining town of Castle Gate, Utah, Parker and Lay ambushed a small group of men carrying the payroll of the Pleasant Valley Coal Company, stealing a sack containing $7,000 in gold, with which they fled again to Robbers Roost.

On June 2, 1899, the gang robbed a Union Pacific Overland Flyer passenger train near Wilcox, Wyoming, a robbery which earned the Wild Bunch a great deal of notoriety and resulted in a massive manhunt. Many notable lawmen of the day took part in the hunt for the robbers, but they were not found. During a shootout with lawmen following the train robbery, both Kid Curry and George Curry shot and killed Sheriff Joe Hazen. Tom Horn, a killer-for-hire employed by the Pinkerton Agency, obtained information from explosives expert Bill Speck about the Hazen shooting, and then passed this information to Pinkerton detective Charlie Siringo, who was assigned the task of capturing the outlaws. The gang escaped to Hole-in-the-Wall, Wyoming and were sometimes thereafter called the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang. Siringo became friends with Elfie Landusky, who was using the last name Curry after allegedly becoming pregnant by Kid Curry’s brother, Lonny. Through her, Siringo intended to locate the gang.

On July 11, 1899, Lay and others were involved in a Colorado and Southern Railroad train robbery near Folsom, New Mexico, which Parker may have planned and personally directed. A shootout ensued with local law enforcement, during which Lay killed Sheriff Edward Farr and Henry Love. Lay was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment at the New Mexico State Penitentiary.

The Wild Bunch would typically separate following a robbery and flee in different directions, later reuniting at a predetermined location, such as the Hole-in-the-Wall hideout, Robbers Roost, or Madame Fannie Porter’s brothel in San Antonio, Texas. Parker appears to have approached Governor Heber Wells of Utah, (which achieved statehood in 1896), to negotiate an amnesty. Wells appears to have declined, advising Parker to instead approach the Union Pacific Railroad to persuade them to drop their criminal complaints against him. Union Pacific Railroad chairman E. H. Harriman attempted to meet with Parker through his old ally Matt Warner. On August 29, 1900, Parker, Longabaugh, and others robbed Union Pacific train No. 3 near Tipton, Wyoming, violating Parker’s earlier promise to the Governor of Wyoming and ending any chance for amnesty.

Posse for Wild Bunch

On February 28, 1900, lawmen attempted to arrest Kid Curry’s brother, Lonny, at his aunt’s home. Lonny was killed in the shootout that followed, and his cousin Bob Lee was arrested for rustling and sent to prison in Wyoming. On March 28, Kid Curry and News Carver were pursued by a posse from St. Johns, Apache County, Arizona after being identified passing currency from the Wilcox, Wyoming train robbery. The posse engaged them in a shootout, during which Deputy Andrew Gibbons and Deputy Frank LeSueur were killed. Carver and Curry escaped. On April 17, George Curry was killed in a shootout with Grand County, Utah Sheriff John Tyler and Deputy Sam Jenkins. On May 26, Kid Curry rode into Moab, Utah and killed both Tyler and Jenkins in another shootout in retaliation for the deaths of George and Lonny.

Pinkerton agents

Parker, Longabaugh, and Carver traveled to Winnemucca, Nevada, where on September 19, 1900, they robbed the First National Bank of $32,640. In December, Parker posed alongside Longabaugh, Logan, Carver, and Ben Kilpatrick in Fort Worth, Texas for the now-famous “Fort Worth Five” photograph (above). The Pinkerton Detective Agency obtained a copy of the photograph and began to use it for wanted posters. On July 3, 1901, Kid Curry and a group of men robbed a Great Northern train near Wagner, Montana. This time, they took over $60,000 in cash (equivalent to about $1,750,000 in 2017). The gang split up, and News Carver was killed by a posse led by Sheriff Elijah Briant. On December 12, 1901, Ben Kilpatrick was captured in Knoxville, Tennessee with Laura Bullion. On December 13, during another shootout, Kid Curry killed Knoxville policemen William Dinwiddle and Robert Saylor and then escaped. Despite being pursued by Pinkerton agents and other law enforcement officials, Curry returned to Montana, where he shot and killed rancher James Winters in retaliation for the killing of his brother Johnny years before.

With the gang breaking up, and feeling continuous pressure from the numerous law enforcement agencies pursuing them, Parker and Longabaugh fled to New York City. On February 20, 1901, along with Etta Place, Longabaugh’s female companion, they departed for Buenos Aires aboard the British steamer Herminius. Parker posed as James Ryan, Place’s fictitious brother. They settled in a four-room log cabin on a 15,000-acre (61 km2) ranch that they purchased on the east bank of the Rio Blanco near Cholila, just east of the Andes in the Argentine province of Chubut.

On February 14, 1905, two English-speaking bandits, who may have been Parker and Longabaugh, held up the Banco de Tarapacá y Argentino in Río Gallegos, 700 miles (1,100 km) south of Cholila, near the Strait of Magellan. Escaping with a sum that would be worth at least US$100,000 today, the pair vanished north across the Patagonian steppes. On May 1, fearing that law enforcement had located them, the trio sold the Cholila ranch. The Pinkerton Agency had known their location for some time, but the snow and the hard winter of Patagonia had prevented their agent, Frank Dimaio, from making an arrest. Governor Julio Lezana issued an arrest warrant, but before it could be executed, Sheriff Edward Humphreys, a Welsh-Argentine who was friendly with Parker and enamored of Etta Place, tipped them off.

The trio fled north to San Carlos de Bariloche where they embarked on the steamer Condor across Nahuel Huapí Lake and into Chile. By the end of the year they had returned to Argentina. On December 19, Parker, Longabaugh, Place and an unknown male associate robbed the Banco de la Nación branch in Villa Mercedes, 400 miles (640 km) west of Buenos Aires, taking 12,000 pesos. Pursued by armed lawmen, they crossed the Pampas and the Andes to reach the safety of Chile.

On June 30, 1906, Etta Place decided that she had had enough of life on the run, and was escorted back to San Francisco by Longabaugh. Parker, under the alias James “Santiago” Maxwell, obtained work at the Concordia Tin Mine in the Santa Vera Cruz range of the central Bolivian Andes, where he was joined by Longabaugh upon his return. Their main duties included guarding the company payroll. Still wanting to settle down as a respectable rancher, in late 1907 Parker traveled with Longabaugh to Santa Cruz, a frontier town in Bolivia’s eastern savannah.

The facts surrounding Parker’s and Longabaugh’s deaths are uncertain. On November 3, 1908, near San Vicente in southern Bolivia, a courier for the Aramayo Franke and Cia Silver Mine was conveying his company’s payroll, worth about 15,000 Bolivian pesos, by mule, when he was attacked and robbed by two masked American bandits believed to be Parker and Longabaugh. The bandits then proceeded to the small mining town of San Vicente, where they lodged in a small boarding house owned by a local resident miner named Bonifacio Casasola.

Casasola became suspicious of his two foreign lodgers. A mule they had in their possession was from the Aramayo Mine, identifiable from the mine company’s brand on the mule’s left flank. Casasola left his house and notified a nearby telegraph officer who notified a small Bolivian Army cavalry unit stationed nearby, the Abaroa Regiment. The unit dispatched three soldiers, under the command of Captain Justo Concha, to San Vicente, where they notified the local authorities. On the evening of November 6, the lodging house was surrounded by the soldiers, the police chief, the local mayor and some of his officials, who intended to arrest the Aramayo robbers.

When the soldiers approached the house, the bandits opened fire, killing one of the soldiers and wounding another. A gunfight then ensued. At around 2 a.m., during a lull in the firing, the police and soldiers heard a man screaming from inside the house. Soon, a single shot was heard from inside the house, whereupon the screaming stopped. Minutes later, another shot was heard. The standoff continued as locals kept the place surrounded until the next morning when, cautiously entering, the authorities found two dead bodies, both with numerous bullet wounds to the arms and legs. One of the men had a bullet wound in the forehead and the other had a bullet hole in the temple. The local police report speculated that, judging from the positions of the bodies, one bandit had probably shot his fatally wounded partner-in-crime to put him out of his misery, just before killing himself with his final bullet. In the following investigation by the Tupiza police, the bandits were identified as the men who robbed the Aramayo payroll transport, but the Bolivian authorities didn’t know their real names, nor could they positively identify them. Historians now generally agree that this was the fate of Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid. The movie version of their end is pure fiction:

I thought a classic Bolivian dish would suit the memory of the duo given that they spent the last years of their lives in Bolivia, and what better than the larger-than-life silpancho? Silpancho (from the Quechua Sillp’anchu) comes originally from the city of Cochabamba. When prepared properly, this dish makes a large and filling meal laden with carbohydrates and protein. It’s always too much for me. It consists of a base layer of white rice, followed by a layer of boiled, sliced, and fried potatoes; next, a thin layer of breaded meat (milanesa), followed by a layer of chopped tomato, onion, beet, and parsley mixed together, and topped with either one or two fried eggs.

Do you really need a recipe? Start with a bed of plain boiled white rice. Peel and boil potatoes until they are soft, slice them, and fry the slices a few at a time in hot olive oil until they are golden on both sides. Make one or two milanesas according to the recipe here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/fingerprinting/ . Make sure that all the cooked ingredients are warm when you layer them. I keep them warm in the oven while frying the eggs. Chop and mix together equal portions of tomato, onion and cooked beetroot seasoned with parsley and salt to taste. This part can be done ahead of time. When ready to serve, start frying an egg, remove the heated plate of rice potatoes and milanesa from the oven, add the chopped vegetables on top, finish off with the fried egg and serve.

Apr 282017
 

Today is the birthday (1926) of Nelle Harper Lee who was known to friends and family as Nelle, but more widely known as Harper Lee, author of the classic To Kill a Mockingbird, published in 1960. I count her among some distinguished “one hit wonders” of the literary world, such as J.D. Salinger (Catcher in the Rye) and Margaret Mitchell (Gone With the Wind). They all had odds and ends published in their lifetimes, but their most famous novels are far and away their signature works. Of all three only To Kill a Mockingbird interests me at all. I found Catcher in the Rye tedious, and could not finish Gone With the Wind. On the other hand, I found To Kill a Mockingbird mesmerizing: book and film. It’s possible that these interests of mine are a function of the time of my life when I read the books.  I was a young schoolteacher in England when I read Salinger and Mitchell, but I was a graduate student in anthropology in North Carolina when I tackled Harper Lee, so I was sensitized to the book’s themes.

To Kill a Mockingbird, burst on the scene right at the time that the Civil Rights movement in the US was uncovering the blatant racism of the American South (not that other parts of the US were guiltless). Segregation, poverty, and injustice were the social norms throughout the South, but were unparalleled in Deep South states such as Alabama and Mississippi. To Kill a Mockingbird could be said to have been as instrumental in vitalizing sentiments towards Civil Rights in the U.S.in the 1960s as Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a century earlier, in the movement to abolish slavery.  Mississippi did not get around to ratifying the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, until 2013 !!! Of course, it was a completely symbolic gesture because the Amendment was passed by enough states to make it law in 1865.  Rather surprisingly, of the 4 states that rejected ratification 2 were northern (New Jersey and Delaware) and 2 were Southern (Kentucky and Mississippi). Kentucky ratified in 1976 and Mississippi began the process in 1995.

The plot and characters of To Kill a Mockingbird are loosely based on Lee’s observations of her family and neighbors in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, as well as an event that occurred near her hometown in 1936, when she was 10 years old.  Truman Capote was a childhood friend and is the basis for the boy Dill in the book. The novel deals with the irrationality of adult attitudes towards race and class in the Deep South of the 1930s, as depicted through the eyes of two children, especially 6-year-old Scout Finch. The lead character, Atticus Finch, is still frequently upheld as an absolute model of honesty and integrity in the face of social injustice, not only by lawyers, but by the general public as a whole. Many people who knew him said that Gregory Peck was perfect to play the role in the movie, because he was the living embodiment of these values in his personal life.

Various federal laws passed in the 1960s, and afterwards, ended many of the overtly racist practices of Southern (and other) states, almost like a reprise of the Civil War a century earlier. But what was ended de jure continued de facto, and still continues, in many regions of the U.S. in full force. The 2016 presidential election highlighted this fact, which many open-minded people wanted to believe was a thing of the past, and which many closed-minded people did not want to acknowledge.  For this reason alone I would vote for To Kill a Mockingbird as one of the greatest 20th-century novels if not the greatest. It captures the spirit of its time perfectly, and represents ongoing realities across the U.S.

To Kill a Mockingbird was an instant success both critically and as a publication. Yet, some critics treated it with some disdain, not because of the racial themes, but because they felt it had confusing themes: the unjust trial of an African-American man, on the one hand, and the narrative thread of the strange and reclusive “Boo” Radley, on the other. I don’t see this at all. The novel is a comprehensive view of the many complexities, involving race and class, among other things, of a rural Southern town in the 20th century. It is a small ethnography, in fiction, of the stark truth.

Some critics, including modern ones, object to the language, notably the use of the word “nigger.” People in the US are still frightened to say the word, even when all they are doing is quoting someone. Of course, actually using the word against someone is deeply offensive, but reporting what someone else said (perhaps indicating their racism), ought to be allowed. Instead EVERYONE in the media reports something like, “He used the N-word . . .” as if saying the word itself (even though you are reporting the speech of others), somehow includes you in its racism. Harper Lee used the word in the mouths of racists because it was true to life.  In 1966, Lee wrote a letter to the editor of the Richmond News Leader in response to the attempts of a Richmond, Virginia, area school board to ban To Kill a Mockingbird as “immoral literature” (not least because she used the word “nigger” 48 times). It is a priceless gem:

Recently I have received echoes down this way of the Hanover County School Board’s activities, and what I’ve heard makes me wonder if any of its members can read.

Surely it is plain to the simplest intelligence that To Kill a Mockingbird spells out in words of seldom more than two syllables a code of honor and conduct, Christian in its ethic, that is the heritage of all Southerners. To hear that the novel is ‘immoral’ has made me count the years between now and 1984, for I have yet to come across a better example of doublethink.

I feel, however, that the problem is one of illiteracy, not Marxism. Therefore I enclose a small contribution to the Beadle Bumble Fund that I hope will be used to enroll the Hanover County School Board in any first grade of its choice.

James J. Kilpatrick, the editor of the Richmond News Leader, started the Beadle Bumble fund to pay fines for victims of what he termed “despots on the bench” (named for a famous Dickens character). He built the fund using contributions from readers, and later used it to defend books as well as people. After the board in Richmond ordered schools to dispose of all copies of To Kill a Mockingbird, Kilpatrick wrote, “A more moral novel scarcely could be imagined.” In the name of the Beadle Bumble fund, he then offered free copies to children who wrote in, and by the end of the first week, he had given away 81 copies.

The book was turned into a movie in 1962 and was unfortunate to run up against Lawrence of Arabia for the Oscars that year, which won the Oscar for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Score. Peter O’Toole had been nominated for Best Actor for his performance as T. E. Lawrence, but Peck won for Mockingbird. The movie also won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. It is, indeed, a faithful rendering of the book in many important ways, and Harper Lee approved of its translation from book to film and consulted on the set.

The choice of black and white for the film, instead of the more popular color at the time, may have been a budgetary decision, but I think that it would have been ruined by color. It could also be said that black and white was the inherent message of the film (and book). Hands down the following clip is my favorite from the movie, and still brings tears to my eyes:

The film also marked the screen debut of Robert Duvall as Arthur “Boo” Radley, who before working on the film was a stage actor.

Just about every line of To Kill a Mockingbird is quotable. This is a very small sample of my numerous favorites, most obvious first:

Atticus said to Jem one day, “I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the backyard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it. “Your father’s right,” she said. “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corn cribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.

The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.

Atticus told me to delete the adjectives and I’d have the facts.

I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.

Finding a recipe to celebrate Harper Lee is a piece of cake – literally. The book, especially in the opening chapters, is laden with references to food, but mentions of Lane cake are classic. Scout reports, “Miss Maudie baked a Lane cake so loaded with shinny it made me tight.” “Shinny” is a slang term for liquor. Also, Miss Maudie bakes a Lane cake for Mr. Avery, who was severely injured in an attempt to put out a fire in her home. “Mr. Avery will be in bed for a week—he’s right stove up. He’s too old to do things like that and I told him so. Soon as I can get my hands clean and when Stephanie Crawford’s not looking, I’ll make him a Lane cake. That Stephanie’s been after my recipe for thirty years, and if she thinks I’ll give it to her just because I’m staying with her she’s got another think coming.”

Lane cake, also known as prize cake or Alabama Lane cake, is a bourbon-laden baked cake traditional in the American South. According to food historian Neil Ravenna, the inventor was Emma Rylander Lane, of Clayton, Alabama, who won first prize with it at the county fair in Columbus, Georgia. She called it “Prize Cake” when she self-published a cookbook, A Few Good Things to Eat in 1898. Her published recipe included raisins, pecans, and coconut, and called for the layers to be baked in pie tins lined with ungreased brown paper rather than in cake pans.

This recipe is from Emma Rylander Law, Mrs. Lane’s granddaughter, and was published in an article by Cecily Brownstone for the Associated Press on Dec. 19, 1967. I’ve edited it very slightly and added a recipe for boiled white frosting which is missing from the original.

Lane Cake

Cake

Ingredients

3 ¼ cups sifted cake flour
2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
1 1/6 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
8 egg whites
1 cup milk

Instructions

On wax paper sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter, sugar and vanilla. Add egg whites, in four additions, beating thoroughly after each addition.

Fold in flour mixture alternately with milk; begin and end with dry ingredients. Batter should be smooth but look slightly granular.

Turn into 4 ungreased 9-inch round layer-cake pans lined on the bottom with wax paper.

Bake in a 375-degree oven until edges shrink slightly from sides of pans and tops spring back when gently pressed with finger, or cake tester inserted in center comes out clean — about 20 minutes. Place pans on wire racks to cool for about 5 minutes.

Turn out on wire racks; remove wax paper; turn right side up; cool completely.

Put layers together (on a cake plate) with Lane Cake Filling, stacking carefully; do not spread filling over top. Cover top and sides with swirls of Boiled White Frosting.

Cover with a tent of foil or a cake cover; or cover tightly in a large deep bowl in tin box. Store in a cool place; if refrigerated, allow to stand at room temperature for half a day before serving because cake texture is best when cake is not served chilled

Filling

Ingredients

8 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
½ cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup seedless raisins, finely chopped
1 – 3 cup bourbon or brandy
1 teaspoon vanilla

Instructions

In a 2-quart saucepan, beat the egg yolks well; beat in sugar and butter. Cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly until quite thick. Remove from heat; stir in raisins, bourbon and vanilla. Cool slightly; use as directed.

Boiled White Frosting

Ingredients

1 cup white sugar
⅓ cup water
1 tbsp light corn syrup
⅛ tsp salt
2 egg whites
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp confectioners’ sugar

Instructions

Combine sugar, water, corn syrup, and salt in a saucepan and stir with a wooden spoon to mix completely. Boil the mixture over medium-high heat without stirring until  it reaches 238 – 242˚F (114 – 117˚C), or will spin a long thread when a little is dropped from a spoon held above the pan (see HINTS tab on sugar).

It is best to use a mixer for this step. Beat the egg whites until they are stiff but still moist. Then pour the hot syrup slowly over the beaten egg whites while continuing to beat. Continue until the mixture is very fluffy, and will hold its shape. Add the vanilla and keep beating until blended. If the icing does not seem stiff enough, beat in 2 or 3 tablespoons of confectioners’ sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time until stiff enough to hold its shape. Spread immediately on your cake.

Apr 242017
 

Today is the eve of the feast of St Mark. You’ll find my post on the feast day here — http://www.bookofdaystales.com/st-mark/  The eve of church feasts were often fasting days (esp. Christmas Eve and Easter Eve), and in the case of many saints’ days the eve was a time of prognostication. The eve of St Agnes, for example, was the time for girls to peek into the future to see who their husbands would be (immortalized by John Keats http://www.bookofdaystales.com/st-agnes/ ), but the eve of St Mark in England was much darker. I’ll get into that in a second. Let me take a moment beforehand to talk about the word “eve” because people get confused by it sometimes.

The word “eve” is a shortened form of “even” in Middle English, and in the early 13th century it was more or less synonymous with the modern “evening” (which is actually an older word, going back to Old English, and with similar etymology).  By the late 13th century “eve” and “evening” had generally parted ways, with “evening” mostly having the modern meaning, and “eve” being reserved for “the day before” (and also, “on the brink of”). The thing is that the eve of a feast is the whole day before, not just the evening before. Saying something like, “Christmas Eve day” is redundant. Nevertheless it is the actual evening of the eve of a feast that tends to be important, especially for prognostication.

Various sources will tell you that it was the custom in villages in England, from the 17th century to the late 19th century, to sit in the church porch on St. Mark’s Eve. According these sources you had to keep silent between the bell tolling at 11.00 p.m. until the bell struck 1.00 a.m. (some sources say that you had to do this 3 years in a row). The belief was that the ghosts of those to die in the parish in the coming year would be seen passing into the church. I’m always skeptical concerning how widespread such “traditional” customs were because most of them are reported by 19th century antiquaries who were not very careful about their source material, and often made wild, unsupported generalizations. The latter habit is, unfortunately, still with us, and many social historians fall prey to it. There are scattered reports of the custom throughout England, but most come from northern and western counties (notably Yorkshire). Typical 19th century accounts go into detail about supposedly true tales of people seeing ghosts following this custom, and then, lo and behold, the people seen as ghosts entering the church died in the year to come. You don’t get a lot of stories of people keeping vigil and NOTHING HAPPENED.

Some accounts of the custom state that the watchers must be fasting, or must circle the church before taking up position. The ghosts of those who were to die soon would be the first observed, while those who would almost see out the year would not be witnessed until almost 1.00 a.m. Other variations of the superstition say that the watchers would see headless or rotting corpses, or coffins approaching.

Another, much less documented, tradition holds that a young woman can see the face of her future husband appear on her smock by holding it before the fire on St Mark’s Eve.

In February 1819 Keats began writing “The Eve of St Mark.” 1819 was quite a year for Keats. He wrote his 6 most famous odes that year, including my personal favorite: “To Autumn.” It was also the year that he wrote “The Eve of St Agnes.” In many ways 1819 was the year when Keats sealed his fame in perpetuity; he had really only been a recognized poet for a couple of years at that point. He spent the year with a deep sense of foreboding that he would die within 3 years, which proved to be entirely accurate. He died of tuberculosis in Rome in February 1821 at the age of 25. “The Eve of St Mark” is one of his lesser known poems, mostly because he never finished it. It seems to have been inspired by the idea of sitting up late in the churchyard on St Mark’s Eve although this custom is not specifically referred to in the poem. Instead it tells of a woman, Bertha, sitting up late, reading about St Mark. It is filled with gloomy images but because it is not finished, there’s really no sense of where he was going with it. I’ve appended the existing fragment after today’s recipe.

The Eve of St Mark is also a 1942 play by Maxwell Anderson set during World War II. It later became a 1944 film by 20th Century Fox that featured some of the same actors who reprised their stage roles in the film. I’m not entirely sure what relationship there is between the title and the play’s plot. There is a strong mystical element of love and death that conjures up the old customs, and Keats’ imagery.

The central character of the play/movie is Quizz West who joins the United States Army in late 1940 before the US enters the war. Prior to being shipped out first to San Francisco, then the Philippines, Quizz and his hometown girlfriend Janet discuss their future plans. When the US enters the war, Quizz and his friends are in the Philippines where they man a coastal artillery gun against overwhelming odds. When things become desperate Quizz communicates with his mother and Janet through dreams, where he asks them whether he and his friends should stay with their gun to sacrifice themselves by covering the withdrawing US troops or leave by boat for a chance of survival. The movie version is here. I won’t spoil it for you.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LtBZq9hvQ-Y

It’s a real period piece, although, unlike many contemporary war movies it does not glorify war.  You’ll also recognize Vincent Price and Michael O’Shea if your hair is grey enough.

Given that St Mark’s Eve churchyard customs are best attested in Yorkshire, a Yorkshire recipe is in order. Of course you can make Yorkshire pudding, or chomp down on some Wensleydale cheese, but you might find Yorkshire curd tart a bit more enjoyable and unusual. The rosewater is what makes it. You might be able to buy curds for the tart, but making them yourself is not a problem. Make them the night before.

Put 2½ pints/ 1.2L of whole milk in a large non-reactive saucepan. Heat over medium-high heat until it almost comes to a boil. Add the juice of one lemon, and gently stir over very low heat.  The curds will start to form. Do not stir too quickly or you will break up the curds. When the curds and whey are visibly distinct, remove from the heat and let the curds cool in the whey. Place the cooled curds and whey in a large sieve lined with muslin or a double layer of cheese cloth over a bowl, and let the curds drain overnight. Save the whey for making scones.

If you are lazy, like me, you can use a prepared tart shell. For some reason I can make pasta from scratch with no effort, but balk at making pastry. It’s your St Mark’s Eve mystery to figure out why. The pastry recipe I give here is a traditional one for the tart.

 

Yorkshire Curd Tart

Ingredients

Pastry

4½ oz/125 gm plain flour
½ oz/12 gm finely ground almonds
4½ oz/125 gm butter
1½ oz/42 gm powdered sugar
½ tbsp grated lemon rind
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp milk

Filling

6 oz/150 gm curd
1 egg
2 oz/62 gm  caster sugar
1 oz/30 gm currants
½ tbsp grated lemon rind
1 tsp powdered cinnamon
1 tsp grated fresh nutmeg
1 tbsp  rosewater
½ oz/12g melted butter

Instructions

First make the pastry. Sift the flour into a mixing bowl or a food processor, and add the ground almonds.  Add the butter and either pulse it in the processor to make a mixture resembling coarse sand, or rub in the butter with your fingertips.  Sift in the icing sugar, add grated lemon rind and mix everything together. Dump out on to a rolling board.  Punch down the center of the flour mix. Lightly beat the egg yolk and milk together and pour them into the center of the dry ingredients.  Fold the dry ingredients gently into the wet ones with your hands until the mass just comes together. Knead gently to make a smooth dough.  Wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Lightly butter a 9”/22cm shallow tart tin.  Roll out the pastry thinly on a lightly floured surface and line the tin with it.  Prick the base with a fork several times and rest in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 395˚F/200˚C.  Bake the pastry blind for 10 minutes.  Remove the baking beans and paper, turn down the oven to 355˚F/180˚C (160˚C fan oven) and return the tart to the oven for another 4-5 minutes to fully cook the base.

To make the filling, mix the curd with the currants, cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon rind and rosewater.  Beat the egg with the sugar then add to the curd mixture along with the cooled melted butter.  Pour into the pastry case and bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes until the top is golden and the filling set.

The Eve of St. Mark

John Keats

Upon a sabbath day it fell,
Twice holy was the sabbath bell
That call’d the folk to evening prayer—
The City streets were clean and fair
From wholesome drench of April rains
And on the western window panes
The chilly sunset faintly told
Of unmatur’d green vallies cold,
Of the green thorny bloomless hedge,
Of rivers new with springtide sedge,
Of primroses by shelter’d rills
And daisies on the aguish hills—

Twice holy was the sabbath bell:
The silent Streets were crowded well
With staid and pious companies
Warm from their fire-side orat’ries
And moving with demurest air
To even song and vesper prayer.
Each arched porch and entry low
Was fill’d with patient folk and slow,
With whispers hush, and shuffling feet
While play’d the organ loud and sweet—

The Bells had ceas’d, the prayers begun
And Bertha had not yet half done:
A curious volume patch’d and torn,
That all day long from earliest morn
Had taken captive her two eyes
Among its golden broideries—
Perplex’d her with a thousand things—
The Stars of heaven and angels’ wings,
Martyrs in a fiery blaze—
Azure saints in silver rays,
Moses’ breastplate, and the seven
Candlesticks John saw in heaven—
The winged Lion of St. Mark
And the covenantal Ark
With its many mysteries,
Cherubim and golden Mice.

 Bertha was a maiden fair
Dwelling in the old Minster-square;
From her fireside she could see
Sidelong its rich antiquity—
Far as the Bishop’s garden wall
Where Sycamores and elm trees tall
Full-leav’d the forest had outstript—
By no sharp north wind ever nipt
So shelter’d by the mighty pile—
Bertha arose and read awhile
With forehead ‘gainst the window-pane—
Again she tried and then again
Until the dusk eve left her dark
Upon the Legend of St. Mark.
From plaited lawn-frill, fine and thin
She lifted up her soft warm chin,
With aching neck and swimming eyes
And daz’d with saintly imageries.

All was gloom, and silent all,
Save now and then the still footfall
Of one returning townwards late—
Past the echoing minster gate—
The clamorous daws that all the day
Above tree tops and towers play
Pair by pair had gone to rest,
Each in its ancient belfry nest
Where asleep they fall betimes
To musick of the drowsy chimes,
All was silent—all was gloom
Abroad and in the homely room—
Down she sat, poor cheated soul
And struck a Lamp from the dismal coal,
Leaned forward, with bright drooping hair
And slant book full against the glare.
Her shadow in uneasy guise
hover’d about a giant size
On ceilingbeam and old oak chair,
The Parrot’s cage and panel square
And the warm angled winter screen
On which were many monsters seen
Call’d Doves of Siam, Lima Mice
And legless birds of Paradise,
Macaw, and tender av’davat
And silken-furr’d angora cat—
Untir’d she read; her shadow still
Glower’d about as it would fill
The room with wildest forms and shades,
As though some ghostly Queen of spades
Had come to mock behind her back—
And dance, and ruffle her garments black.
Untir’d she read the Legend page
Of holy Mark from youth to age,
On Land, on Seas, in pagan-chains,
Rejoicing for his many pains—
Sometimes the learned Eremite
With golden star, or dagger bright
Referr’d to pious poesies
Written in smallest crowquill size
Beneath the text; and thus the rhyme
Was parcell’d out from time to time:
—’Als writith he of swevenis
Men han beforne they wake in bliss,
Whanne that hir friendes thinke hem bound
In crimped shroude farre under grounde;
And how a litling child mote be
A saint er its nativitie,
Gif that the modre (god her blesse)
Kepen in solitarinesse,
And kissen devoute the holy croce.
Of Goddis love and Sathan’s force
He writith; and thinges many mo:
Of swiche thinges I may not shew;.
Bot I must tellen verilie
Somdel of Saintè Cicilie;
And chieftie what he auctorethe
Of Saintè Markis life and dethe.’

At length her constant eyelids come
Upon the fervent Martyrdom;
Then lastly to his holy shrine
Exalt amid the tapers’ shine
At Venice—

 

 

Nov 032016
 

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On this date in 1954 the first Godzilla movie was released in Japan. Godzilla (ゴジラ Gojira) is the first film in what became the Godzilla franchise and the first film in the Showa series. The film was directed by Ishirō Honda, with a screenplay by Honda, Takeo Murata, and Shigeru Kayama and stars Akira Takarada, Momoko Kōchi, Akihiko Hirata, Takashi Shimura, with Haruo Nakajima and Katsumi Tezuka as the performers for Godzilla. Nakajima went on to portray the character until his retirement in 1972.

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In 1956, TransWorld Releasing Corporation and Embassy Pictures released Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, a heavily re-edited “Americanized” version of the original film with additional footage featuring Raymond Burr as a U.S. reporter. In 2004 Rialto Pictures gave the original 1954 film a limited theatrical release in the United States to coincide with the franchise’s 50th anniversary.

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Here is the original movie plot (in italics so that you can skip it if you want):

When the Japanese freighter Eiko-maru is destroyed near Odo Island, another ship – the Bingo-maru – is sent to investigate, only to meet the same fate with few survivors. A fishing boat from Odo is also destroyed, with one survivor. Fishing catches mysteriously drop to zero, blamed by an elder on the ancient sea creature known as “Godzilla.” Reporters arrive on Odo Island to further investigate. A villager tells one of the reporters that “something large is going crazy down there” ruining the fishing. That evening, a ritual dance to appease Godzilla is held during which the reporter learns that the locals used to sacrifice young girls. That night, a large storm strikes the island, destroying the reporters’ helicopter, and an unseen force destroys 17 homes, kills nine people and 20 of the villagers’ livestock.

Odo residents travel to Tokyo to demand disaster relief. The villagers’ and reporters’ evidence describes damage consistent with something large crushing the village. The government sends paleontologist Kyohei Yamane to lead an investigation to the island, where giant radioactive footprints and a trilobite are discovered. The village alarm bell is rung and Yamane and the villagers rush to see the monster, retreating after seeing that it is a giant dinosaur, which then roars, and returns to the ocean.

Yamane presents his findings in Tokyo, estimating that Godzilla is 165 feet (50 m) tall and is evolved from an ancient sea creature becoming a terrestrial animal. He concludes that Godzilla has been disturbed from its deep underwater natural habitat by underwater hydrogen bomb testing. Debate ensues about notifying the public about the danger of the monster. Meanwhile, 17 ships are lost at sea.

Ten frigates are dispatched to attempt to kill the monster using depth charges. The mission disappoints Yamane who wants Godzilla to be studied. Godzilla survives the attack and appears off-shore. Officials appeal to Yamane for ideas to kill the monster, but Yamane tells them that Godzilla is unkillable, having survived H-bomb testing, and must be studied.

Yamane’s daughter, Emiko, decides to break off her arranged engagement to Yamane’s colleague, Daisuke Serizawa, because of her love for Hideto Ogata, a salvage ship captain. When a reporter arrives and asks to interview Serizawa, Emiko escorts the reporter to Serizawa’s lab. After Serizawa refuses to divulge his current work to the reporter, he gives Emiko a demonstration of his recent project on the condition she must keep it a secret. The demonstration horrifies her and she leaves without breaking off the engagement. Shortly after she returns home, the sound of Godzilla’s footsteps approaching is heard. Godzilla surfaces from Tokyo Bay and enters the city, scattering residents from its path. A passing commuter train collides with the monster, who then destroys the train. After further destruction, Godzilla returns to the ocean.

After consulting with international experts, the Japanese Self-Defense Forces construct a 100 feet (30 m) tall, 50,000 volt electrified fence along the coast and deploy forces to stop and kill Godzilla. Yamane returns home, dismayed that there is no plan to study Godzilla for its resistance to radiation, where Emiko and Ogata await hoping to get his consent for them to wed. When Ogata disagrees with Yamane, Yamane tells him to leave. Godzilla resurfaces and breaks through to Tokyo, unleashing a more destructive rampage across the city. The Tokyo Tower and the National Diet Building are destroyed and there is a large loss of life.

Distraught by the devastation, Emiko tells Ogata about Serizawa’s research, a weapon called the “Oxygen Destroyer,” which disintegrates oxygen atoms and the organisms die of a rotting asphyxiation. Emiko and Ogata go to Serizawa to convince him to use the Oxygen Destroyer but he initially refuses. After watching a program displaying the nation’s current tragedy, Serizawa finally accepts Emiko and Ogata’s pleas.

A navy ship takes Ogata and Serizawa to plant the device in Tokyo Bay. After finding Godzilla, Serizawa unloads the device and cuts off his air support, taking the secrets of the Oxygen Destroyer to his death. The mission proves to be a success and Godzilla is destroyed but many mourn Serizawa’s death. Yamane reveals his belief that if nuclear weapons testing continues, another Godzilla may rise in the future.

© Toho Co. Ltd.

© Toho Co. Ltd.

The original Japanese name for the monster, Gojira (ゴジラ), is a portmanteau of the Japanese words: gorira (ゴリラ, “gorilla”), and kujira (鯨 , “whale”), which was created because in the early planning stages, Godzilla was described as “a cross between a gorilla and a whale,” alluding to its size, power and aquatic origin. One popular story is that “Gojira” was actually the nickname of a corpulent stagehand at Toho Studio. Kimi Honda, the widow of the director, dismissed this in a 1998 BBC documentary devoted to Godzilla, “The backstage boys at Toho loved to joke around with tall stories.”

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Godzilla’s name was written in ateji as Gojira (呉爾羅), where the kanji are used for phonetic value and not for meaning. The Japanese pronunciation of the name is [ɡodʑiɽa]. The Anglicized form is /ɡɒdˈzɪlə/, with the first syllable pronounced like the word “god,” and the rest rhyming with “gorilla.” In the Hepburn romanization system, Godzilla’s name is rendered as “Gojira”, whereas in the Kunrei romanization system it is rendered as “Gozira”.

When Godzilla was first released in 1954 the film sold approximately 9,610,000 tickets and was the eighth best-attended film in Japan that year. It remains the second most-attended “Godzilla” film in Japan, behind King Kong vs. Godzilla. Its box office earnings were 152 million Yen ($2.25 million). The film initially received mixed to negative reviews in Japan. Japanese critics accused the film of exploiting the widespread devastation that the country had suffered in World War II, as well as the Daigo Fukuryū Maru (Lucky Dragon) incident that occurred a few months before filming began. Ishiro Honda lamented years later in the Tokyo Journal, “They called it grotesque junk, and said it looked like something you’d spit up. I felt sorry for my crew because they had worked so hard!” Honda also stated “At the time they wrote things like ‘This movie is absurd, because such giant monsters do not exist.'” Others said that depicting a fire breathing organism was “strange.”

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Honda believed that Japanese critics began to change their minds after the good reviews the film received in the United States. He said “The first film critics to appreciate Godzilla were those in the U.S. When Godzilla was released there as Godzilla, King of the Monsters in 1956, the critics said such things as, ‘For the start, this film frankly depicts the horrors of the Atomic Bomb.’, and by these evaluations, the assessment began to impact critics in Japan and has changed their opinions over the years.” As time went on, the film gained more respect in Japan. In 1984, Kinema Junpo magazine listed Gojira as one of the top 20 Japanese films of all time, while a survey of 370 Japanese movie critics published in Nihon Eiga Besuto 150 (Best 150 Japanese Films), had Godzilla ranked as the 27th best Japanese film ever made.

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The film was nominated for two Japanese Movie Association awards. One for best special effects and the other for best film. It won best special effects but lost best picture to Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. The film was re-released theatrically in Japan on November 21, 1982 as part of Toho’s 50th anniversary.

In 1955 and in the 1960s, the original Gojira played in theaters catering to Japanese-Americans in predominantly Japanese neighborhoods in the United States. An English sub-titled version was shown at film festivals in New York, Chicago and other cities in 1982.

Obviously Godzilla themed Japanese food is appropriate to celebrate, although you may struggle a little. I found a recipe for Godzilla sushi rolls here: http://www.favfamilyrecipes.com/godzilla-rolls/  You could make them yourself, but I would not recommend it.

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Here’s the list of ingredients:

For the Roll

sushi rice
1 sheet nori (dry roasted seaweed)
2-3 pieces shrimp tempura
2 slices avocado
3-4 tsp cream cheese, cut into long, rectangular slices
½ cup flour
tempura batter
oil for frying

For the Spicy Mayo:

½ cup mayonnaise
2 tbsp Sriracha sauce
1 tsp sesame oil

All right. Let’s assume you can find such ingredients as nori and Sriracha; they are not too hard to find in oriental groceries in the West. Making good sushi rice is best left to the experts although I’ve made a passable job once in a while. Making good tempura is also a skilled practice. Then you have to put the whole roll together. That too is not impossible, but, true to Godzilla, this is a BIG roll and takes experience even if you have the right ingredients. Here’s a video of a sushi chef:

All told, I’d go out for sushi if I were you.