Dec 112017
 

Today is the birthday (1803) of Louis-Hector Berlioz, a French composer best known for Symphonie fantastique and Grande messe des morts (Requiem). Berlioz was a key transitional figure in the move to Romanticism and also made significant contributions to the modern orchestra with his Treatise on Instrumentation. He specified huge orchestral forces for some of his works, and conducted several concerts with more than 1,000 musicians. His influence was critical for the composers such as Richard Wagner, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Franz Liszt, Richard Strauss, and Gustav Mahler. Perhaps perversely, I’d like to focus on his writing about his music, rather than the music itself. Berlioz was an exacting writer (as well as composer), and frequently provided extensive notes to audiences to accompany performances of his pieces. To some extent program music (music that is about a particular topic – biography, narrative, nature, etc.) requires this kind of treatment, and composers from Berlioz to Strauss provided extensive program notes (hence the name).  This practice contrasts with absolute music, which is simply music that has no reference points to external factors (e.g. So-and-so’s opus 96 in G major). Here I’ll talk about Berlioz’ program notes for Symphonie fantastique, and then talk about his writing in general, given that he was a prolific writer.

Symphonie fantastique tells the story of an artist gifted with a lively imagination who has poisoned himself with opium in the depths of despair because of hopeless, unrequited love. Berlioz provided his own preface and program notes for each movement of the work. They exist in two principal versions – one from 1845 in the first score of the work and the second from 1855. From the revised preface and notes, it can be seen how Berlioz, later in his life, downplayed the programmatic aspect of the work.

In the first score from 1845, he writes as a preface:

The composer’s intention has been to develop various episodes in the life of an artist, in so far as they lend themselves to musical treatment. As the work cannot rely on the assistance of speech, the plan of the instrumental drama needs to be set out in advance. The following programme must therefore be considered as the spoken text of an opera, which serves to introduce musical movements and to motivate their character and expression.

In the 1855 preface, he changes his outlook because of the addition of Lélio, ou Le retour à la vie, a work incorporating music and spoken text intended as a sequel to Symphonie fantastique, and has also softened the requirement of distributing program notes if Symphonie fantastique is performed alone (believing that the music can be appreciated on its own merits):

The following programme should be distributed to the audience every time the Symphonie fantastique is performed dramatically and thus followed by the monodrama of Lélio which concludes and completes the episode in the life of an artist. In this case the invisible orchestra is placed on the stage of a theatre behind the lowered curtain. If the symphony is performed on its own as a concert piece this arrangement is no longer necessary: one may even dispense with distributing the programme and keep only the title of the five movements. The author hopes that the symphony provides on its own sufficient musical interest independently of any dramatic intention.

Symphonie fantastique has five movements instead of four that were conventional for symphonies at the time. The work takes over 1 hour to perform, so I am reluctant to embed the entire piece here. You can go here for a decent rendition:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yK6iAxe0oEc 

What Berlioz does not mention in his notes is the fact that after attending a performance of Shakespeare’s Hamlet on 11 September 1827, Berlioz fell in love with the Irish actress Harriet Smithson who had played the role of Ophelia. He sent her numerous love letters, all of which went unanswered. When she left Paris they had still not met. He then wrote Symphonie fantastique as a way to express his unrequited love. It premiered in Paris on 5th December 1830. Smithson was not present. She eventually heard the work in 1832 and realized his genius. The two finally met, and they were married on 3 October 1833. Their marriage became increasingly bitter, and eventually they separated after several years of unhappiness. His program notes come from 1845 and 1855 performances and publications. Here I give only his 1845 notes.

First movement: “Rêveries – Passions” (Reveries – Passions)

The author imagines that a young musician, afflicted by the sickness of spirit which a famous writer has called the vagueness of passions (le vague des passions), sees for the first time a woman who unites all the charms of the ideal person his imagination was dreaming of, and falls desperately in love with her. By a strange anomaly, the beloved image never presents itself to the artist’s mind without being associated with a musical idea, in which he recognizes a certain quality of passion, but endowed with the nobility and shyness which he credits to the object of his love.

This melodic image and its model keep haunting him ceaselessly like a double idée fixe. This explains the constant recurrence in all the movements of the symphony of the melody which launches the first allegro. The transitions from this state of dreamy melancholy, interrupted by occasional upsurges of aimless joy, to delirious passion, with its outbursts of fury and jealousy, its returns of tenderness, its tears, its religious consolations – all this forms the subject of the first movement.

Second movement: “Un bal” (A Ball)

The artist finds himself in the most diverse situations in life, in the tumult of a festive party, in the peaceful contemplation of the beautiful sights of nature, yet everywhere, whether in town or in the countryside, the beloved image keeps haunting him and throws his spirit into confusion.

Third movement: “Scène aux champs” (Scene in the Fields)

One evening in the countryside he hears two shepherds in the distance in dialogue with their ranz des vaches [a herder’s melody, sung or played to call their animals]; this pastoral duet, the setting, the gentle rustling of the trees in the wind, some hopes that he has recently conceived, all conspire to restore to his heart an unaccustomed feeling of calm and to give to his thoughts a happier coloring. He broods on his loneliness, and hopes that soon he will no longer be on his own… But what if she betrayed him!… This mingled hope and fear, these ideas of happiness, disturbed by dark premonitions, form the subject of the adagio. At the end one of the shepherds resumes his ranz des vaches; the other one no longer answers. Distant sound of thunder… solitude… silence.

Fourth movement: “Marche au supplice” (March to the Scaffold)

Convinced that his love is spurned, the artist poisons himself with opium. The dose of narcotic, while too weak to cause his death, plunges him into a heavy sleep accompanied by the strangest of visions. He dreams that he has killed his beloved, that he is condemned, led to the scaffold and is witnessing his own execution. The procession advances to the sound of a march that is sometimes sombre and wild, and sometimes brilliant and solemn, in which a dull sound of heavy footsteps follows without transition the loudest outbursts. At the end of the march, the first four bars of the idée fixe reappear like a final thought of love interrupted by the fatal blow.

Fifth movement: “Songe d’une nuit du sabbat” (Dream of the Night of the Sabbath)

He sees himself at a witches’ sabbath, in the midst of a hideous gathering of shades, sorcerers and monsters of every kind who have come together for his funeral. Strange sounds, groans, outbursts of laughter; distant shouts which seem to be answered by more shouts. The beloved melody appears once more, but has now lost its noble and shy character; it is now no more than a vulgar dance tune, trivial and grotesque: it is she who is coming to the sabbath … Roar of delight at her arrival … She joins the diabolical orgy … The funeral knell tolls, burlesque parody of the Dies irae, the dance of the witches. The dance of the witches combined with the Dies irae.

Romantic enough for you?

While Berlioz is best known as a composer, he was also a prolific writer, and supported himself for many years by writing musical criticism, always bold, and, at times imperious and sarcastic. He wrote for many journals, including the Rénovateur, Journal des débats and Gazette musicale. As a small example of his immense output, he produced over 100 articles for the Gazette between 1833 and 1837.  In 1835 alone, due to one of his many times of financial difficulty, he wrote 4 articles for the Monde dramatique, 12 for the Gazette, 19 for the Débats and 37 for the Rénovateur. These are all in-depth articles and reviews with little duplication.

The books which Berlioz has become acclaimed for were compiled from his journal articles. Les soirées de l’orchestre (Evenings with the Orchestra) (1852), a scathing satire of provincial musical life in 19th century France, and the Treatise on Instrumentation, a pedagogic work, were both serialized originally in the Gazette musicale. Many parts of his Mémoires (1870), a personal portrait of the Romantic era, were originally published in the Journal des débats, as well as Le monde illustré. Evenings with the Orchestra is more overtly fictional than his other two major books, but its basis in reality is evident, making the stories it recounts all the funnier due to the ring of truth. W. H. Auden praises it, saying “To succeed in [writing these tales], as Berlioz most brilliantly does, requires a combination of qualities which is very rare, the many-faceted curiosity of the dramatist with the aggressively personal vision of the lyric poet.” The Treatise established his reputation as a master of orchestration. The work was closely studied by Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss and served as the foundation for a subsequent textbook by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, who, as a music student, attended the concerts Berlioz conducted in Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

Berlioz had a dish created in his honor, oeufs mollets Berlioz (soft boiled eggs Berlioz), which he apparently enjoyed. The dish can be made in a number of ways but the classic version calls for soft-boiled duck eggs, croustades of Duchesse potatoes, and a mushroom/truffle and Madeira sauce. I’m going to go with the original, but you can skimp if you want. Many cooks use poached rather than soft-boiled eggs, and use chicken eggs instead of duck eggs. Truffles might also be a bit pricey for the average home cook. Use strong mushrooms such as Portobello, crimini, or shiitake.

Oeufs Mollets Berlioz

Ingredients

8 duck eggs

For the mushroom sauce

350g mushrooms, chopped
1 shallot, peeled and minced
100ml beef stock
50ml Madeira
1 sprig fresh thyme
butter

For duchesse potatoes

8 medium-sized floury potatoes, peeled and diced
75ml milk or cream
French mustard
butter
cream

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 400˚F/200˚C.

For the duchesse potatoes: Cook the potatoes in a large pot of boiling water for at least 30 minutes until they are very soft. They should mash easily with a fork. Drain them thoroughly. While still hot, mash the potatoes, with a knob of butter, French mustard to taste, and a splash of cream.  Don’t make them too wet. Use a fork or potato masher to start the mashing, and finish with an electric beater or food processor. It’s important to remove all lumps. Shape into oval croquettes, and place on a greased baking sheet. Bake until the croquettes begin to turn golden. Keep warm.

For the mushroom sauce: Heat a knob of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Sauté the shallots until they are soft. Add the mushrooms and thyme sprig. Let them sauté until they are slightly browned, then pour in the Madeira. Reduce to a tablespoonful, then add the beef stock. Simmer until it is reduced by half. Blend to a puree in a blender or food processor and keep warm.

Assembly: Boil the duck eggs in their shells until the whites are set and the yolks are still runny. 6 minutes is normally about correct for soft boiled.  Place 2 potato croquettes on each plate, top with mushroom sauce. Slice open the duck eggs and place 2 on each plate.

Serves 4

 

 

Nov 262017
 

On this date in 1942 the film Casablanca premiered at the Hollywood Theater in New York. It was a moderate box office success at first, but not stellar. It was not expected to be more than a run-of-the-mill wartime movie, rushed into release to take advantage of the publicity from the Allied invasion of North Africa and the capture of Casablanca a few weeks earlier. It went on to win three Academy Awards – Best Picture, Director (Curtiz), and Adapted Screenplay (the Epsteins and Koch) – and gradually its reputation grew. Its lead characters, memorable lines, and theme song have all become iconic and the film consistently ranks near the top of lists of the greatest films in history. I saw Casablanca first in the early 1960s when old Hollywood black and white movies were the stock-in-trade of South Australian television because movies had to be at least 10 years old to be shown, and my parents (both Second World War veterans) would not have missed it for the world. My father anticipated and then cheered for the scene featuring the clash between Germans singing “Die Wacht am Rhein” drowned out by the house band and patriots singing “La Marseillaise,” and my mother got a bit weepy during the finale. I had no idea what the movie was about at age 10, but the scenes stayed with me over the years, and I’ve seen it many times since. Taken out of context it isn’t such a great movie in my oh-so-humble opinion, but you really can’t take it out of context any more. People still quote classic lines when making a point, and clips from the movie itself show up in other movies – in When Harry Met Sally, for example.  Here’s that great iconic scene:

There are plenty of complete versions of Casablanca on YouTube if you need your fix.

The story for Casablanca was based on Murray Burnett and Joan Alison’s unproduced stage play Everybody Comes to Rick’s. Story editor Irene Diamond convinced producer Hal B. Wallis to purchase the film rights to the play in January 1942. Brothers Julius and Philip G. Epstein were initially assigned to write the script. However, despite studio resistance, they left to work on Frank Capra’s Why We Fight series early in 1942. Howard E. Koch was assigned to the screenplay until the Epsteins returned a month later. Principal photography began on May 25, 1942, ending on August 3. The film was shot entirely at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, California with the exception of that climactic sequence at Van Nuys Airport in Los Angeles.

The cinematography of Casablanca has been much commented on. The cinematographer was Arthur Edeson, a veteran who had previously shot The Maltese Falcon and Frankenstein. Particular attention was paid to photographing Bergman. She was shot mainly from her preferred left side, often with a softening gauze filter and with catch lights to make her eyes sparkle; the whole effect was designed to make her face seem “ineffably sad and tender and nostalgic.” Bars of shadow across the characters and in the background variously imply imprisonment, the crucifix, the symbol of the Free French Forces and emotional turmoil. Dark film noir and expressionist lighting was used in several scenes, particularly towards the end of the picture.

The music for Casablanca was written by Max Steiner, who was best known for the score for Gone with the Wind. The song “As Time Goes By” by Herman Hupfeld had been part of the story from the original play. Steiner wanted to write his own composition to replace it, but Bergman had already cut her hair short for her next role (María in For Whom the Bell Tolls) and could not re-shoot the scenes which incorporated the song, so Steiner based the entire score on it and “La Marseillaise,” transforming them as leitmotifs to reflect changing moods. Even though Steiner didn’t like “As Time Goes By”, he admitted in a 1943 interview that it “must have had something to attract so much attention.” The duel of the songs between Strasser and Laszlo at Rick’s café is, of course, a critical turning point in the plot. Originally, the opposing piece for this sequence was to be the “Horst Wessel Lied”, a Nazi anthem, but this was still under international copyright in non-Allied countries. Instead “Die Wacht am Rhein” was used. “Deutschlandlied”, the national anthem of Germany, features in the final scene, in which it gives way to “La Marseillaise” after Strasser is shot.

In 1942 Casablanca garnered decent reviews.  Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote, “The Warners … have a picture which makes the spine tingle and the heart take a leap.” He approved of the combination of “sentiment, humor and pathos with taut melodrama and bristling intrigue.” He also noted the film’s “devious convolutions of the plot,” and praised the quality of the screenplay and the performances of the cast.  Variety commended the film’s, combination of fine performances, engrossing story and neat direction” and the “variety of moods, action, suspense, comedy and drama that makes Casablanca an A-1 entry at the b.o. Film is splendid anti-Axis propaganda, particularly inasmuch as the propaganda is strictly a by-product of the principal action and contributes to it instead of getting in the way.” The review also applauded the performances of Bergman and Henreid and noted that “Bogart, as might be expected, is more at ease as the bitter and cynical operator of a joint than as a lover, but handles both assignments with superb finesse.” Other reviews were less enthusiastic. The New Yorker rated it only “pretty tolerable” and said it was “not quite up to Across the Pacific, Bogart’s last spyfest”.

In the 1,500-seat Hollywood Theater, the film grossed $255,000 over ten weeks. In its initial U.S. release, it was a substantial but not spectacular box-office success, taking in $3.7 million, making it the seventh highest-grossing film of 1943. By 1955, the film had brought in $6.8 million, making it the third most successful of Warners’ wartime movies (behind Shine On, Harvest Moon and This Is the Army). On April 21, 1957, the Brattle Theater of Cambridge, Massachusetts, showed the film as part of a season of old movies. It was so popular that it began a tradition of screening Casablanca during the week of final exams at Harvard University, which continues to the present day. Other colleges have since adopted the tradition. By 1977, Casablanca was the most frequently broadcast film on US television.

You might object to me saying that out of context Casablanca is not a great movie. Such judgments are personal, of course. It has the aura and mystique of the Golden Era of Hollywood which I don’t care for, and the characters are all stereotypes (archetypes if you want to Jungian), with some complexity, but no real development. Fortunately, Umberto Eco agrees with me. He wrote that “by any strict critical standards … Casablanca is a very mediocre film.” He viewed the changes the characters undergo as inconsistent rather than complex: “It is a comic strip, a hotch-potch, low on psychological credibility, and with little continuity in its dramatic effects.” He did add, however, that the use of multiple archetypes allows “the power of Narrative in its natural state without Art intervening to discipline it.” He also wrote that the movie reached “Homeric depths” and that was a “phenomenon worthy of awe.” A bit over the top towards the end there, but sums up my feelings (more or less).

Chicken Casablanca needs to be the dish of the day. There have been plenty of cocktails created to celebrate the movie if that’s your poison, but I’ll stick with chicken. This recipe uses ras el hanout as the primary flavoring, commonly used in Moroccan dishes. You’ll find recipes without it, but I hardly think they are worth considering. Ras el hanout plays a similar role in North African cuisine as garam masala does in Indian cuisine. The name is Arabic for “head of the shop” (similar to the English expression “top-shelf”) and implies a mixture of the best spices the seller has to offer.

As with garam masala, there is no definitive composition of spices that makes up ras el hanout. Each shop, company, or family may have their own blend. The mixture usually consists of over a dozen spices, in different proportions, although some purists insist that it must contain exactly 12 items. Commonly used ingredients include cardamom, cumin, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, allspice, dry ginger, chili peppers, coriander seed, peppercorn, sweet and hot paprika, fenugreek, and dry turmeric. Some spices may be particular to the region, such as ash berries, chufa, grains of paradise, orris root, monk’s pepper, cubebs, dried rosebud, fennel seed or aniseed, galangal, long pepper. Ingredients may be toasted before being ground or pounded in a mortar and mixed together. If you cannot find it locally you can get a version online.

Chicken Casablanca

Ingredients

2 tbsp olive oil
1 lb skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1 onion, peeled and diced small
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 stalks celery, diced small
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 pint pureed butternut squash
1 cup chicken broth
2 tbsp ras el hanout
2 tsp ground cinnamon
salt and pepper
1 cup shelled fresh peas
⅓ cup raisins

Instructions

Place the chicken broth and the squash puree in a saucepan and simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid sticking or burning. Set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a deep, heavy-bottomed pot over high heat and quickly brown the chicken breasts on both sides (in batches if necessary). Do not cook all the way through. Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve.

Reduce the heat under the pot to medium and add the onion. Sauté until lightly browned. Add the garlic and for another minute. Add the celery and carrot and sauté together for another 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to low,  cover the pot, and leave the vegetable mixture to sweat for 10 minutes.

Pour the squash and chicken broth mixture over the vegetables in the pot, stir and bring to a slow simmer. Season the mixture with ras el hanout, cinnamon, and salt, and pepper to taste. Cover the pot and simmer for 40 minutes.

Cut the chicken breasts into chunks and add them to the pot. Stir in the peas and raisins and simmer for 15 minutes longer. You want the chicken to be cooked and juicy, but not overcooked.

Serve with plain boiled rice.

Apr 192016
 

ah4

On this date in 1943, Albert Hofmann, creator of synthetic lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD)  performed a self-experiment to determine the true effects of LSD, intentionally ingesting 0.25 milligrams (250 micrograms) of the substance, an amount he predicted to be a threshold dose (an actual threshold dose is 20 micrograms). Less than an hour later, Hofmann experienced sudden and intense changes in perception. He asked his laboratory assistant to escort him home and, as use of motor vehicles was prohibited because of wartime restrictions, they had to make the journey on a bicycle. On the way, Hoffman’s condition rapidly deteriorated as he struggled with feelings of anxiety, alternating in his beliefs that the next-door neighbor was a malevolent witch, that he was going insane, and that the LSD had poisoned him. When the house doctor arrived, however, he could detect no physical abnormalities, save for a pair of incredibly dilated pupils. Hofmann was reassured, and soon his terror began to give way to a sense of good fortune and enjoyment, as he later wrote:

Little by little I could begin to enjoy the unprecedented colors and plays of shapes that persisted behind my closed eyes. Kaleidoscopic, fantastic images surged in on me, alternating, variegated, opening and then closing themselves in circles and spirals, exploding in colored fountains, rearranging and hybridizing themselves in constant flux.

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The events of this first LSD trip, now known as “Bicycle Day”, after the bicycle ride home, proved to Hofmann that he had indeed made a significant discovery: a psychoactive substance with extraordinary potency, capable of causing significant shifts of consciousness in incredibly low doses. Hofmann foresaw the drug as a powerful psychiatric tool; because of its intense and introspective nature, he couldn’t imagine anyone using it recreationally. Bicycle Day is increasingly observed in psychedelic communities as a day to celebrate the discovery of LSD.

The celebration of Bicycle Day originated in DeKalb, Illinois, in 1985, when Thomas B. Roberts, then a professor at Northern Illinois University, invented the name “Bicycle Day” when he founded the first Bicycle Day celebration at his home. Several years later, he sent an announcement made by one of his students to friends and Internet lists, thus propagating the idea and the celebration. His original intent was to commemorate Hofmann’s original, accidental exposure on April 16th, but that date fell midweek and was not a good time for the party, so he chose the 19th to honor Hofmann’s first intentional exposure.

ah3

Albert Hofmann was born in Switzerland and joined the pharmaceutical-chemical department of Sandoz Laboratories, located in Basel as a co-worker with professor Arthur Stoll, founder and director of the pharmaceutical department. He began studying the medicinal plant squill and the fungus ergot as part of a program to purify and synthesize active constituents for use as pharmaceuticals. His main contribution was to elucidate the chemical structure of the common nucleus of Scilla glycosides (an active principle of Mediterranean Squill). While researching lysergic acid derivatives, Hofmann first synthesized LSD on November 16, 1938. The main intention of the synthesis was to obtain a respiratory and circulatory stimulant (an analeptic). It was set aside for five years, until April 16, 1943, when Hofmann decided to take a second look at it. While re-synthesizing LSD, he accidentally absorbed a small amount of the drug through his fingertips (and may have accidentally touched his eye) and discovered its powerful effects. He described what he felt as being:

 … affected by a remarkable restlessness, combined with a slight dizziness. At home I lay down and sank into a not unpleasant intoxicated-like condition, characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination. In a dreamlike state, with eyes closed (I found the daylight to be unpleasantly glaring), I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors. After about two hours this condition faded away.

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Beginning in the 1950s, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) began a research program code named Project MKULTRA. Experiments included administering LSD to CIA employees, military personnel, doctors, other government agents, prostitutes, mentally ill patients, and members of the general public in order to study their reactions, usually without the subjects’ knowledge. The project was revealed in the US congressional Rockefeller Commission report in 1975.

In 1963, the Sandoz patents expired on LSD. Several figures, including Aldous Huxley, Timothy Leary, and Al Hubbard, began to advocate the use of LSD. LSD became central to the counterculture of the 1960s. In the early 1960s the use of LSD and other hallucinogens was advocated by new proponents of consciousness expansion such as Leary, Huxley, Alan Watts and Arthur Koestler, which profoundly influenced the thinking of the new generation.

On October 24, 1968, possession of LSD was made illegal in the United States. The last FDA approved study of LSD in patients ended in 1980, while a study in healthy volunteers was made in the late 1980s. Legally approved and regulated psychiatric use of LSD continued in Switzerland until 1993.

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I grew up in the 1960s so acid and psychedelic counterculture is old hat for me. By just in case you are too young to remember those crazy days I’ll give a brief synopsis. By the mid-1960s, the psychedelic lifestyle had already developed in youth countercultures in California, particularly in San Francisco, with the first major underground LSD factory established by Owsley Stanley. From 1964 the Merry Pranksters, a loose group that developed around novelist Ken Kesey, sponsored the Acid Tests, a series of events primarily staged in or near San Francisco, involving the taking of LSD (supplied by Stanley), accompanied by light shows, film projection and discordant, improvised music known as the psychedelic symphony. The Pranksters helped popularize LSD use, through their road trips across America in a psychedelically-decorated converted school bus, which involved distributing the drug and meeting with major figures of the beat movement, and through publications about their activities such as Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968) – a good read. In both music and art, the influence on LSD was soon being more widely seen and heard thanks to the bands that participated in the Acid Tests and related events, including The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Big Brother and the Holding Company, and through the dazzling and wildly inventive poster and album art of San Francisco-based artists like Rick Griffin, Victor Moscoso, Bonnie MacLean, Stanley Mouse & Alton Kelley, and Wes Wilson.

A similar and connected nexus of LSD use in the creative arts developed around the same time in London. A key figure in this phenomenon in the UK was British academic Michael Hollingshead, who first tried LSD in the US in 1961 while he was the Executive Secretary for the Institute of British-American Cultural Exchange. After being given a large quantity of pure Sandoz LSD (which was still legal at the time) and experiencing his first trip, Hollingshead contacted Aldous Huxley, who suggested that he get in touch with Harvard academic Timothy Leary, and over the next few years, in concert with Leary and Richard Alpert, Hollingshead played a major role in their famous LSD research at Millbrook before moving to New York City, where he conducted his own LSD experiments. In 1965 Hollingshead returned to the UK and founded the World Psychedelic Center in Chelsea in London.

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Among the many famous people in the UK that Hollingshead is reputed to have introduced to LSD are artist and Hipgnosis founder Storm Thorgerson, and musicians Donovan, Keith Richards, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, and George Harrison. Although establishment concern about the new drug led to it being declared illegal by the Home Secretary in 1966, LSD was soon being used widely in the upper echelons of the British art and music scene, including members of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Moody Blues, The Small Faces, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix and others, and the products of these experiences were soon being both heard and seen by the public with singles like The Small Faces’ “Itchycoo Park” and LPs like The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Cream’s Disraeli Gears, which featured music that showed the obvious influence of the musicians’ recent psychedelic excursions, and which were packaged in elaborately-designed album covers that featured vividly-coloured psychedelic artwork by artists like Peter Blake, Martin Sharp, Hapshash and the Coloured Coat (Nigel Waymouth and Michael English) and art/music collective “The Fool.” Memories !!!

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In the 1960s, and ever since, when LSD became illegal, people have tried to promote natural (legal) foods that can produce hallucinations. Most mushrooms with hallucinogenic qualities are banned in the West, but I know of a few that can be legally obtained in China. In fact I’ve seen a number sold on the streets in cities, but never bought any because the sale is largely unregulated and people die annually from poisonous mushrooms. I did buy quite a few funky looking mushrooms for culinary purposes, however, and lived to tell the tale.

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Heavy doses of very hot foods created with powerful chile peppers are also known to induce hallucinations, though not reliably. I’m a big fan of intense curries and have never experienced anything other than tongue-searing heat, pouring sweat, and the feeling that my eyeballs were falling out.  It is also said that large doses of ground fresh nutmeg (2 tablespoons or more) can be hallucinogenic. As with chiles and other home experiments I DO NOT RECOMMEND this. You’re more likely to get nauseous than anything else, and there may be physical damage.

It has been known for centuries that Sarpa salpa, known commonly as the salema, salema porgy, cow bream or goldline, a species of sea bream, recognizable by the golden stripes that run down the length of its body, can cause hallucinations when eaten. It is found in the East Atlantic, as well as the Mediterranean, ranging from the Bay of Biscay to South Africa. It has occasionally been found as far north as Great Britain. It is quite common and found from near the surface to a depth of 70 m (230 ft). Males are typically 15 to 30 cm (6–12 in) in length, while females are usually 31 to 45 cm (12–18 in).

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Sarpa salpa became widely known recently for its psychoactivity following articles published in 2006 (and disseminated widely), when two men ingested it at a Mediterranean restaurant and began to experience auditory and visual hallucinogenic effects. These hallucinations, obviously unexpected, were reported to have occurred minutes after the fish was ingested and had a total duration of 36 hours. Salema is, in fact, often served as a dish at seafood restaurants in the Mediterranean area without these effects. It is believed that this and other Mediterranean fish sometimes ingest a particular algae or phytoplankton which renders it hallucinogenic. These effects have been reported sporadically all the way from classical times by Greeks and Arabs – often after eating the head.

Varieties of sea bream are quite readily available and can be prepared in any number of ways – poached, fried, baked, grilled, etc. I’ve always been a big fan of oven baked whole fish because there’s nothing much to it, the fish is tasty, and the results are healthy.

ah7

Make sure the fish is scaled and gutted. Place it on a well greased baking tray, fill the cavity with lemon slices, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, and bake in a pre-heated oven at 500°F (or hotter) until the skin is browned and the meat is cooked through – between 20 and 30 minutes. Serve on a bed of boiled new potatoes (black olives add a spark), with a green salad or poached green vegetables. I usually go with spinach or asparagus.

Jul 192015
 

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The Mary Rose was a carrack-type warship of the English Tudor navy of King Henry VIII. After serving for 33 years in several wars against France, Scotland, and Brittany and after being substantially rebuilt in 1536, she saw her last action on 19 July 1545. While leading the attack on the galleys of a French invasion fleet, she sank in the Solent, the straits north of the Isle of Wight.

The wreck of the Mary Rose was rediscovered in 1971. It was salvaged in 1982 by the Mary Rose Trust, in one of the most complex and expensive projects in the history of maritime archaeology. The surviving section of the ship and thousands of recovered artifacts are of immense value as a Tudor-era time capsule. The excavation and salvage of the Mary Rose was a milestone in the field of maritime archaeology. The finds include weapons, sailing equipment, naval supplies and a wide array of objects used by the crew. Many of the artifacts are unique to the Mary Rose and have provided insights into topics ranging from naval warfare to the history of musical instruments. Since the mid-1980s, while undergoing conservation, the remains of the hull have been on display at the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. An extensive collection of well-preserved artifacts is on display at the nearby Mary Rose Museum, built to display the reconstructed ship and its contents.

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I visited the ship (along with Nelson’s Victory) about 15 years ago and was completely amazed. It was an absolute slice of history. It was like peeking inside a small Tudor village. Even though I am an anthropologist I am not a fan of museums in general, I enjoyed this display because it showed the real context where 16th century people lived, worked, played, and died. Very moving.

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The Mary Rose was one of the largest ships in the English navy throughout more than three decades of intermittent war and was one of the earliest examples of a purpose-built sailing warship. She was armed with new types of heavy guns that could fire through her recently invented gun-ports (which may also have been her undoing). After being substantially rebuilt in 1536, she was also one of the earliest ships that could fire a broadside, although the line of battle tactics that employed it had not yet been developed. Several theories have sought to explain the sinking of the Mary Rose, based on historical records, knowledge of 16th-century shipbuilding, and modern experiments. The precise cause of her demise is still unclear, because of conflicting testimonies and a lack of conclusive physical evidence, but it seems likely to me that during battle she listed to starboard and water flooded in through the gun-ports.

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In early July 1536 a huge French force under the command of Admiral Claude d’Annebault set sail for England and entered the Solent unopposed with 128 ships on the 16th. The English had around 80 ships with which to oppose the French, including the flagship Mary Rose. But since they had virtually no heavy galleys, the fleet vessels was at its best in sheltered waters like the Solent; the English fleet promptly retreated into Portsmouth harbour when the French arrived.

The English thence became becalmed in port and unable to maneuver. On 19 July 1545, the French galleys advanced on the immobilized English fleet, and initially threatened to destroy an English force of 13 small galleys, or “rowbarges”, the only ships that were able to move against them without a wind. The wind picked up and the sailing ships were able to go on the offensive before the oared vessels were overwhelmed. Two of the largest ships, the Henry Grace Dieu and the Mary Rose, led the attack on the French galleys in the Solent.

Early in the battle something went wrong. While engaging the French galleys the Mary Rose suddenly heeled heavily over to her starboard side and water rushed in through the open gunports. The crew was powerless to correct the sudden imbalance, and could only scramble for the safety of the upper deck as the ship began to sink rapidly. As she heeled over, equipment, ammunition, supplies and storage containers shifted and came loose, adding to the general chaos. The massive port side brick oven in the galley collapsed completely and the huge 360-liter (90 gallon) copper cauldron was thrown on to the orlop deck above. Heavy guns came free and slammed into the opposite side, impeding escape or crushing men beneath them.

For those who were not injured or killed outright by moving objects, there was little time to reach safety, especially for the men who were manning the guns on the main deck or fetching ammunition and supplies in the hold. The companionways that connected the decks with one another would have become bottlenecks for fleeing men, something indicated by the positioning of many of the skeletons recovered from the wreck. What turned the sinking into a major tragedy in terms of lives lost was the anti-boarding netting that covered the upper decks in the waist (the midsection of the ship) and the sterncastle. With the exception of the men who were stationed in the tops in the masts, most of those who managed to get up from below deck were trapped under the netting; they would have been in view of the surface, and their colleagues above, but with little or no chance to break through, and were dragged down with the ship. Out of a crew of at least 400, fewer than 35 escaped, a catastrophic casualty rate of over 90%.

A salvage attempt was ordered by Secretary of State William Paget only days after the sinking, and Charles Brandon, the king’s brother-in-law, took charge of practical details. The operation followed the standard procedure for raising ships in shallow waters: strong cables were attached to the sunken ship and fastened to two empty ships, or hulks. At low tide, the ropes were pulled taut with capstans. When the high tide came in, the hulks rose and with them the wreck. It would then be towed into shallower water and the procedure repeated until the whole ship could be raised completely.

A list of necessary equipment was compiled by 1 August and included, among other things, massive cables, capstans, pulleys, and 40 pounds of tallow for lubrication. The proposed salvage team comprised 30 Venetian mariners and a Venetian carpenter with 60 English sailors to serve them. The two ships to be used as hulks were the Jesus of Lübeck and Samson, each of 700 tons burthen and similar in size to the Mary Rose. Brandon was so confident of success that he reassured the king that it would only be a matter of days before they could raise the Mary Rose. The optimism proved unfounded. Since the ship had settled at a 60-degree angle to starboard much of it was stuck deep into the clay of the seabed. This made it virtually impossible to pass cables under the hull and required far more lifting power than if the ship had settled on a hard seabed. An attempt to secure cables to the main mast appears only to have resulted in its being snapped off. The project was only successful in raising rigging, some guns and other items and around 1549 the effort was abandoned.

During the 16th century a hard layer of compacted clay and crushed shells formed over the ship, stabilizing the site and sealing the Tudor-era deposits. Further layers of soft silt covered the site during the 18th and 19th centuries, but frequent changes in the tidal patterns and currents in the Solent occasionally exposed some of the timbers, leading to its accidental rediscovery in 1836 and aided in locating the wreck in 1971. After the ship had been salvaged it was determined that about 40% of the original structure had survived.

In the summer of 1836, a group of five fishermen caught their nets on timbers protruding from the bottom of the Solent. They contacted a diver to help them remove the hindrance, and on 10 June, Henry Abbinett became the first person to see the Mary Rose in almost 300 years. Later, two other professional divers, John Deane and William Edwards, were employed. Using a recently invented rubber suit and metal diving helmet, Deane and Edwards began to examine the wreck and salvage items from it. Along with an assortment of timbers and wooden objects, including several longbows, they brought up several bronze and iron guns, which were sold to the Board of Ordnance for over £220. The identification of the ship led to significant public interest in the salvage operation, and caused a great demand for the objects which were brought up. Though many of the objects could not be properly conserved at the time and subsequently deteriorated, many were documented with pencil sketches and watercolor drawings which survive to this day. John Deane ceased working on the wreck in 1836, but returned in 1840 with new, more destructive methods. With the help of condemned bomb shells filled with gunpowder acquired from the Ordnance Board he blasted his way into parts of the wreck. Fragments of bombs and traces of blasting craters were found during the modern excavations. Deane then abandoned his efforts .

The modern search for the Mary Rose was initiated by the Southsea branch of the British Sub-Aqua Club in 1965 as part of a project to locate shipwrecks in the Solent. In February 1966 a chart from 1841 was found that marked the positions of the Mary Rose and several other wrecks and a definite location was finally established at a position 3 km (1.9 mi) south of the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour (50°46′N 1°06′W) in water with a depth of 11 m (36 feet) at low tide. Diving on the site began in 1966 and a sonar scan by Harold Edgerton in 1967–68 revealed some type of buried feature. In 1970 a loose timber was located and on 5 May 1971, the first structural details of the buried hull were identified after they were partially uncovered by winter storms.

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By 1978 the initial excavation work had uncovered a complete and coherent site with an intact ship structure and the orientation of the hull had been positively identified as being on an almost straight northerly heading with a 60-degree heel to starboard and a slight downward tilt towards the bow. As no records of English shipbuilding techniques used in vessels like the Mary Rose survive, excavation of the ship would allow for a detailed survey of her design and shed new light on the construction of ships of the era. A full excavation also meant removing the protective layers of silt that prevented the remaining ship structure from being destroyed through biological decay and the scouring of the currents; the operation had to be completed within a predetermined timespan of a few years or it risked irreversible damage. It was also considered desirable to recover and preserve the remains of the hull if possible. For the first time, the project was faced with the practical difficulties of actually raising, conserving and preparing the hull for public display. The project went from a team of only twelve volunteers working four months a year to over 50 individuals working almost around the clock nine months a year. In addition there were over 500 volunteer divers and a laboratory staff of about 70 that ran the shore base and conservation facilities.[105] During the four diving seasons from 1979 to 1982 over 22,000 diving hours were spent on the site. Raising the Mary Rose meant overcoming a number of delicate problems that had never been encountered before. Many suggestions for salvage were discarded, including the construction of a cofferdam around the wreck site, filling the ship with small buoyant objects (such as ping pong balls) or even pumping brine into the seabed and freezing it so that it would float and take the hull with it. After lengthy discussions it was decided in February 1980 that the hull would first be emptied of all its contents and strengthened with steel braces and frames. It would then be lifted to the surface with floating sheerlegs attached to nylon strops passing under the hull and transferred to a cradle. It was also decided that the ship would be recovered before the end of the diving season in 1982. If the wreck stayed uncovered any longer it risked irreversible damage from biological decay and tidal scouring.

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As one of the most ambitious and expensive projects in the history of maritime archaeology, the Mary Rose project broke new ground within this field in the UK. Besides becoming one of the first wrecks to be protected under the new Protection of Wrecks Act in 1973 it also created several new precedents. It was the first time that a British privately funded project was able to apply modern scientific standards fully and without having to auction off part of the findings to finance its activities; where previous projects often had to settle for just a partial recovery of finds, everything found in connection with the Mary Rose was recovered and recorded. The salvage made it possible to establish the first historic shipwreck museum in the UK to receive government accreditation and funding. The excavation of the Mary Rose wrecksite proved that it was possible to achieve a level of exactness in underwater excavations comparable to those on dry land.

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Throughout the 1970s, the Mary Rose was meticulously surveyed, excavated and recorded with the latest methods within the field of maritime archaeology. Working in an underwater environment meant that principles of land-based archaeology did not always apply. Over 26,000 artifacts and pieces of timber were salvaged along with remains of about half the crew members. The faces of some crew members have been reconstructed. Analysis of the crew skeletons shows many had suffered malnutrition, and had evidence of rickets, scurvy, and other deficiency diseases was found.

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Crew members also developed arthritis through the stresses on their joints from heavy lifting and maritime life generally, and suffered bone fractures. As the ship was intended to function as a floating, self-contained community, it was stocked with food and drink that could sustain its inhabitants for extended periods of time. The casks used for storage on the Mary Rose have been compared with those from a wreck of a trade vessel from the 1560s and have revealed that they were of better quality, more robust and reliable, an indication that supplies for the Tudor navy were given high priority, and their requirements set a high standard for cask manufacturing at the time. As a miniature society at sea, the wreck of the Mary Rose held personal objects belonging to individual crew members. This included clothing, games, various items for spiritual or recreation use, or objects related to mundane everyday tasks such as personal hygiene, fishing and sewing. The master carpenter’s chest, for example, contained a backgammon set, a book, three plates, a sundial, and a tankard, goods suggesting he was relatively wealthy.

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The ship carried several skilled craftsmen and was equipped for handling both routine maintenance and repairing extensive battle damage. In and around one of the cabins on the main deck under the sterncastle, archaeologists found a “collection of woodworking tools … unprecedented in its range and size”, consisting of eight chests of carpentry tools. Along with loose mallets and tar pots used for caulking, this variety of tools belonged to one or several of the carpenters employed on the Mary Rose.

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Many of the cannons and other weapons from the Mary Rose have provided invaluable physical evidence about 16th-century weapon technology. The surviving gunshields are almost all from the Mary Rose, and the four small cast iron hailshot pieces are the only known examples of this type of weapon.

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Animal remains have been found in the wreck of the Mary Rose. These include the skeletons of a rat, a frog and a dog. The dog, a mongrel between eighteen months and two years in age, was found near the hatch to the ship’s carpenter’s cabin and is thought to have been brought aboard as a ratter. Nine barrels have been found to contain bones of cattle, indicating that they contained pieces of beef butchered and stored as ship’s rations. In addition, the bones of pigs and fish, stored in baskets, have also been found.

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Two fiddles, a bow, a still shawm or doucaine, three three-hole pipes, and a tabor drum with a drumstick were found throughout the wreck. These would have been used for the personal enjoyment of the crew and to provide a rhythm to work on the rigging and turning the capstans on the upper decks. The tabor drum is the earliest known example of its kind and the drumstick of a previously unknown design. The tabor pipes are considerably longer than any known examples from the period. Their discovery proved that contemporary illustrations, previously viewed with some suspicion, were in fact accurate depictions of the instruments. Before the discovery of the Mary Rose shawm, an early predecessor to the oboe, instrument historians had been puzzled by reference to “still shawms”, or “soft” shawms, that were said to have a sound that was less shrill than earlier shawms. The still shawm disappeared from the musical scene some time in the 16th century, and the instrument found on the Mary Rose is the only surviving example. A reproduction has been made and played. Combined with a pipe and tabor, it provides a bass part for dance music.

A small note here about the use of the word “fiddle” in case my violinist friends protest. Nowadays the words “violin” and “fiddle” are used to denote genres of music, hence the instruments themselves. “Fiddle” is used for folk music and “violin” for classical music. In Tudor England “fydell” was used commonly, and the Mary Rose instruments are quite different from contemporary viols in shape, size and construction. Only a few other fiddle-type instruments from the 16th century exist, but none of them of the type found on the Mary Rose. Reproductions of both fiddles have been made, though less is known of their design than the shawm since the necks and strings are missing.

In the remains of a small cabin in the bow of the ship and in a few other locations around the wreck was found the earliest dated set of navigation instruments in Europe found so far: compasses, divider calipers, a stick used for charting, protractors, sounding leads, tide calculators and a logreel, an instrument for calculating speed. Several of these objects are not only unique in having such an early, definite dating, but also because they pre-date written records of their use; protractors would have reasonably been used to measure distance on maps, but sea charts are not known to have been used by English navigators during the first half of the 16th century, compasses were not depicted on English ships until the 1560s, and the first mention of a logreel is from 1574.

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The cabin located on the main deck underneath the sterncastle is thought to have belonged to the barber-surgeon. He was a trained professional who saw to the health and welfare of the crew and acted as the medical expert on board. The most important of these finds were found in an intact wooden chest which contained over 60 objects relating to the barber-surgeon’s medical practice: the wooden handles of a complete set of surgical tools and several shaving razors (although none of the steel blades had survived), a copper syringe for wound irrigation and treatment of gonorrhoea, and even a skillfully crafted feeding bottle for feeding incapacitated patients. More objects were found around the cabin, such as earscoops, shaving bowls and combs. With this wide selection of tools and medicaments the barber-surgeon, along with one or more assistants, could set bone fractures, perform amputations and deal with other acute injuries, treat a number of diseases and provide crew members with a minimal standard of personal hygiene.

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The conditions of the crews’ skeletons found indicate that their diet was much the same as that of later centuries for sailors, namely, salted meat and dried legumes. I’ve given recipes for these before, so here is a recipe for ox kidneys (a favorite of mine) from a cookbook contemporary with the Mary Rose: A proper new Booke of Cookery. Declaring what maner of meates be best in season for al times of the yeere, and how they ought to be dressed, & served at the Table, both for fleshe dayes and Fish daies. with a new addition, very necessary for al them that delight in Cookery. This is a book of recipes written for women running their own households by an unknown author. The text was published in London and survives in three editions: 1545 (held at the University of Glasgow), 1557-1558 (held at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge) and two later editions, one of 1575 (held in the British Library). It is a relatively small volume, beginning with a list of meats and their seasons, followed by a listing of dinners and suggested dishes for service for both flesh and fish days. After this comes a list of 49 recipes mostly covering meat dishes and pies, though there are a small number of dessert dishes. You can find a transcription here: http://www.medievalcookery.com/notes/pnboc1575.txt

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I have chosen a recipe for vautes, a kidney-stuffed pancake of sorts. As was common in Tudor cookery this is a meat dish loaded with dried fruits (progenitor of modern mince pies). The recipe is easy enough to follow, although I have not tried it.

To make Vautes.

Take the kidney of Veale, and par-boyle it till it be tender, then take and chop it small with the yolkes of three or fouer Egges, than season it with dates small cut, small raysins, ginger, Suger, Cinnamon, saffron, and a litle salt, and for the paste to lay it in, take a dosyn of Egges both the white and the yolkes, and beate them well altogether then take butter and put into a fryinge pan and frye them as thinne as a Pan-cake, then lay your stuffe therin, and so frye them together in a panne, and cast suger and ginger upon it, and so serve it forth.

Nov 222014
 

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Today is the feast of Saint Cecilia. She is best known as the patron saint of musicians, but she is also patron of church music, poets, Albi in France, the Archdiocese of Omaha and Mar del Plata in Argentina (a favorite spot of mine and prime vacation destination for porteños). In addition there are many religious sites dedicated to her. Her patronage of musicians is based on the legend that when she sang on her wedding day it was if her heart were speaking to God. Her feast day is celebrated in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, and Eastern Catholic Churches on November 22. She is one of seven women, excluding Virgin Mary, commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass.

Cecilia is one of the most famous of the Roman martyrs, even though the familiar stories about her are undoubtedly not founded on verifiable historical material. The main “evidence” of the facts of her life comes from 5th and 6th century collections of tales of the saints which are clearly pious but of dubious credibility as regular readers of this blog will acknowledge. Cecilia perhaps lived in the 2nd and 3rd centuries (texts vary), fully 300 years before the stories about her were written. Furthermore there is no evidence that these texts were based on anything other than popular folklore. Her feast day has been celebrated since around the 4th century.

It has long been supposed that she was a noble Roman woman who, with her husband Valerian, his brother Tiburtius, and a Roman soldier Maximus, suffered martyrdom in about 230, under the Emperor Alexander Severus. However, Venantius Fortunatus, Bishop of Poitiers (d. 600), says that she perished in Sicily under Emperor Marcus Aurelius between 176 and 180. This discrepancy alone should clue you in to the reliability of the material written about her.

According to the popular story, when the time came for her marriage to be consummated, Cecilia told her new husband,Valerian, that she had an angel of the Lord watching over her who would punish him if he dared to violate her virginity but who would love him if he could respect her maidenhood. When Valerian asked to see the angel, Cecilia replied that he would see the angel if he would go to the third milestone on the Via Appia and be baptized there by Pope Urbanus.

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The martyrdom of Cecilia is said to have followed that of Valerian and his brother by the prefect Turcius Almachius. The legend about Cecilia’s death says that after being struck three times on the neck with a sword, she lived for three days, and asked the pope to convert her home into a church.

There is no mention of Cecilia in the Depositio Martyrum, but there is a record of an early Roman Christian church founded by a woman of this name. However, the name “Cecilia” was shared by all women of the Roman gens (clan sharing a common ancestor) known as the Caecilii, whose name may be related to the root of ‘caecus,’ blind. Hence, the church could have been founded by any of hundreds of women from the gens. It was a family name, not a given name. Legends and hagiographies, mistaking it for a personal name, suggest fanciful etymologies. Among those cited by Chaucer in “The Second Nun’s Tale” are: lily of heaven; the way for the blind; and contemplation of heaven and the active life.

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The Church of St. Cecilia in Trastevere is reputedly built on the site of the house in which she lived. The original church was constructed in the fourth century; her remains were placed there in the ninth century and the church was rebuilt in 1599, at which time her tomb was opened and her body was reported to be incorrupt (a common claim for saints but this is the earliest).

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The first record of a music festival in her honor was held at Évreux in Normandy in 1570. The National Academy of Santa Cecilia is one of the oldest musical institutions in the world. It was founded by the papal bull, Ratione congruit, issued by Sixtus V in 1585, which invoked two saints prominent in Western musical history: Gregory the Great, for whom the Gregorian chant is named, and Saint Cecilia.

Her feast day became a regular date for musical concerts and literary festivals that occasioned well-known poems by John Dryden (“A Song for St Cecilia’s Day”) and Alexander Pope (“Ode on St Cecilia’s Day”), and music by Henry Purcell (Ode to St. Cecilia), several oratorios by Marc-Antoine Charpentier (In honorem Caeciliae, Valeriani et Tiburtij canticum, and several versions of Caecilia virgo et martyr, to libretti probably written by Philippe Goibaut), George Frideric Handel (Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day, Alexander’s Feast), Charles Gounod (Messe Solennelle de Sainte Cecile), as well as Benjamin Britten, (who was born on her feast day). Herbert Howells’ “A Hymn to Saint Cecilia” has words by Ursula Vaughan Williams, Gerald Finzi’s “For Saint Cecilia,” Op. 30, was set to verses written by Edmund Blunden, Michael Hurd’s 1966 composition “A Hymn to Saint Cecilia” sets John Dryden’s poem, and Frederik Magle’s “Cantata to Saint Cecilia” is based on the history of Cecilia. Most, if not all, of these pieces can be found on YouTube if you are interested. Here’s the Purcell and Handel (only so much time I can spend searching on the web for a daily blog !!).

Purcell’s “Hail! Bright Cecilia” (Z.328), also known as “Ode to St. Cecilia,” is a setting of a text by Nicholas Brady composed in 1692. It was first performed at the annual St Cecilia’s Day concert sponsored by the Musical Society of London. Purcell had already written Cecilian pieces in previous years, but this Ode remains the best known. The first performance was a great success, and received an encore.

Brady’s poem is full of references to musical instruments, and Purcell’s work requires a wide variety of vocal soloists and obbligato instruments. Brady extols the birth and personality of musical instruments and voices, and Purcell treats these personalities as if they were dramatic characters. The airs employ a variety of dance forms. For example, “Hark, each Tree” is a sarabande on a ground. It is a duet on a ground-bass between, vocally, soprano and bass, and instrumentally, between recorders and violins (“box and fir” are the woods used in the making of these instruments). “With That Sublime Celestial Lay” and “Wond’rous Machine” are in praise of the organ. “Thou tun’st this World” is set as a minuet. “In vain the am’rous Flute” is set to a passacaglia bass. In spite of Brady’s conception of the speaking forest (English organs of the period typically had wooden pipes), Purcell scored the warlike music for two brass trumpets and copper kettle drums instead of fife and (field) drum.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bn4_0vKO1F8

The Handel piece (HWV 76) is a cantata that is a setting of the poem by Dryden. The main theme of the text is the Pythagorean theory of harmonia mundi, that music was a central force in the Earth’s creation. The premiere was on 22 November 1739 at the Theatre in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London. Much of the instrumentation and use of percussion are exemplars of 18th century style, in great part initiated by Handel.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPMqWnTBKlA

Among other things, Cecilia has become a symbol of the conviction that good music is an integral part of liturgy. She is frequently depicted playing a viola, a small organ, or other musical instrument.

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Other images focus on her martyrdom and subsequent crowning, with Valerian, in heaven.

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The Sisters of Saint Cecilia are a group of consecrated religious sisters. They are the ones who shear the lambs’ wool used to make the pallia of new metropolitan archbishops. The lambs are raised by the Cistercian Trappist Fathers of the Tre Fontane (Three Fountains) Abbey in Rome. The lambs are blessed by the Pope every January 21, the Feast of the martyr Saint Agnes. The pallia are given by the Pope to the new metropolitan archbishops on the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, June 29.

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St Cecilia’s Abbey, on the Isle of Wight, was founded in 1882. The nuns live a traditional monastic life of prayer, work and study in accordance with the ancient Rule of St Benedict.

Food is not generally associated with St Cecilia given that her feast is celebrated primarily with music. I was able to dig up a couple of related recipes, however. There is a little known dessert sauce called St Cecilia Sauce which seems to me rather uninteresting. It is basically egg yolks beaten with powdered sugar, and then folded into whipped cream to which has been added some flavoring such as vanilla or sherry. Yawn.

There is also a drink known as St Cecilia Society Punch created for the exclusive St Cecilia Society of Charleston, SC, founded in the 18th century as an exclusive club of rich patrons of music. The society still exists, but no longer supports music. As longtime readers know, I very rarely include recipes for drinks. I don’t really think of them as recipes as such. But this one clears the bar, barely.

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St Cecilia Society Punch

Ingredients

2 lemons, thinly sliced
¾ cup brandy
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 bags green tea
¾ cup dark rum
½ small pineapple, peeled, cored, sliced ½ in thick, and cut into small wedges
1 750 ml bottle dry sparkling wine, chilled
6 cups sparkling water, chilled

Instructions

Put the lemon slices in a large bowl and pour the brandy over them. Let macerate at room temperature overnight.

In a small saucepan, make a simple syrup by combining the sugar with ¾ cup water and bringing to a boil over high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat, add the tea bags, and steep for 2 to 3 minutes. Discard the tea bags and let the syrup cool.

Combine the macerated lemons, brandy, syrup, rum, and pineapple in a large punch bowl. Chill in the refrigerator for a minimum of 3 hours, preferably longer.

Just before serving add a block of ice to the bowl. Add the sparkling wine and sparkling water, and gently stir.

Serves 1 (sorry, old joke)

Apr 082014
 

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Today is the International Day of the Roma, a large stateless ethnic group known variously as Rom, Romany, Romani etc. and commonly referred to in English as “gypsies,” although that term is now a catchall for a slew of travelling people.  The day is meant as a time to celebrate the Romany people’s heritage and accomplishments, as well as a special moment to press for the end of discrimination against them around the world.  I have a particular interest in these people because my maternal great-grandfather was Romany (our family term), so, although the connexion is distant, I feel an affinity.

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Here is a newspaper photo of my great-grandfather, William George Sloper, with his wife and children (my great aunts and uncles).  My granddad, Billy Sloper, is seated beside his mother.  He was the eldest of this large brood – not uncommon for Romany then and now.   I never knew my great-grandfather, of course, but I knew quite a few of his children.  He was a circus trapeze artist in his youth, but when the troupe was performing in Oxford he met my great-grandmother (not Romany) married and settled down in a house in a district know as St Ebbes (colloquially, The Friars), and worked as a gas fitter (a specialized form of plumbing).  When I was at Oxford (early 1970’s) I was able to meet and get to know the surviving siblings.

It is a daunting task to try to say something in a short space about the Romany as a whole; they are so diverse and scattered.  Even the basic language has seven distinct branches that are mutually unintelligible.  There are some core values that are more or less universal to all Romany groups, but over time these have become diluted, and, typically, relatively settled groups take on the characteristics of the culture where they live.  Thus, for example, Romany may be Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Muslim, with a few Protestants mixed in depending on their location.  To make life a bit easier I am going to give a brief overview and in the process I’ll also say something about the centuries of discrimination.

The Romany are a diasporic (territorially scattered) ethnicity of Indian origin, living mostly in Europe and the Americas. In their own language, generally called “Romani” by scholars, they are known collectively as Romane or Rromane (depending on the dialect). The double “r” in the latter is guttural and trilled. Romany are widely dispersed, with their largest concentrated populations in Europe — especially central and eastern Europe and Anatolia, the Iberian Kale, and Southern France. They originated in India and arrived in midwest Asia, then Europe, at least 1000 years ago, either separating from the Dom people or, at least, having a similar history; the ancestors of both the Romani and the Dom left North India some time between the sixth and eleventh century.  There is very little linguistic or historical evidence to pin down the time of migration from India more precisely.  It is conjectured that they were low caste musicians and entertainers who traveled to make a living.

Since the nineteenth century, some Romany have migrated to the Americas. There are an estimated one million in the United States; and more than 600,000 in Brazil, most of whose ancestors emigrated in the 19th century from eastern Europe. Brazil also includes Romany descended from people deported by the government of Portugal during the Inquisition in the colonial era. In migrations since the late 19th century, Romany have also moved to Canada and countries in South America. Argentina has a population of more than 300,000 Romany most of whom are still migratory.  Many make a living trading in used cars as they once used to with horses.  One of my early nicknames in Buenos Aires was “Gitano,” not because of my heritage but because I travel a lot.

The Romany are probably unique among diasporic peoples in that they have never identified themselves with a territory, have no tradition of an ancient and distant homeland from which their ancestors migrated, and do not claim the right to national sovereignty in any of the lands where they reside. Rather, Romany identity is bound up with the ideal of freedom expressed, in part, in having no ties to a homeland or, in many instances in a home locale.  Traditionally they are travelers. The absence of neither orally transmitted origin stories nor of a written history has meant that the origin and early history of the Romany people was long an enigma. Indian origin was suggested on linguistic grounds as early as 200 years ago. Now genetic evidence connects the Romany people and the Jat people, the descendants of groups which emigrated from South Asia towards Central Asia during the medieval period. Recent analysis of Y-chromosomes (paternally inherited) and mitochondrial DNA (maternally inherited) shows that a large percentage of contemporary Romany carry genetic material that is not found elsewhere outside of India.

Contemporary scholars have suggested that one of the first written references to the Romany, under the term “Atsingani” (that is, from the Greek atsinganoi, cognate with “tzigani” or “gitani,” Romance words for “gypsies”), dates from the Byzantine era during a time of famine in the 9th century. In the year 800 CE, Saint Athanasia gave food to “foreigners called the Atsingani” near Thrace. Later, in 803 CE, Theophanes the Confessor wrote that Emperor Nikephoros I had the help of the “Atsingani” to put down a riot with their “knowledge of magic.” However, the Atsingani were also a Manichean sect that disappeared from chronicles in the 11th century. “Atsinganoi” was used to refer to itinerant fortune tellers, ventriloquists and wizards who visited the Emperor Constantine IX in the year 1054.  The map below (click to enlarge) gives a good representation of the migrations of Romany from the 12th to 16th although it contains a fair degree of speculation and interpolation.

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Early histories show a mixed reception for Romany in Europe. Although 1385 marks the first recorded transaction for a Romany slave in Wallachia, they were issued safe conduct by Sigismund of the Holy Roman Empire in 1417.  Romany were ordered expelled from the Meissen region of Germany in 1416, Lucerne in 1471, Milan in 1493, France in 1504, Catalonia in 1512, Sweden in 1525, England in 1530, and Denmark in 1536. In 1510, any Romany found in Switzerland were ordered to be put to death, with similar rules established in England in 1554, and Denmark in 1589.  Portugal began deportations of Romanies to its colonies in 1538.

Later, a 1596 English statute, however, gave Romanies special privileges that other itinerants lacked and France passed a similar law in 1683. Catherine the Great of Russia declared the Romany “crown slaves” (a status superior to serfs), but also kept them out of certain parts of the capital. In 1595, Ştefan Răzvan overcame the stigma of his birth to a Romany father, and became the voivode (prince) of Moldavia. He was a rare exception, however.  In sum, from the 16th to 19th centuries European Romany were alternately left alone, persecuted, enslaved, exiled, disenfranchised, executed en masse, and forcibly assimilated. Without power, wealth, or influence they were at the mercy of political forces and were often made the scapegoats for social troubles that were none of their making.

On the other side of the coin, in the late 19th century Romany were frequently admired in the arts. So-called gypsy music became immensely popular in this period.  Strictly speaking there is no unified style of Romany music.  Romany musicians in various countries took the local musical forms and made them their own.  Famous examples include the Andalusian flamenco which has frequently been performed and influenced by Romany musicians, and the Hungarian csárdás, composed examples of which found their way into the classical repertoire.   Classical composers who have used csárdás themes in their works include Emmerich Kálmán, Franz Liszt, Johannes Brahms, Léo Delibes, Johann Strauss, Pablo de Sarasate, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and others. The csárdás from Strauss’s operetta Die Fledermaus, sung by the character Rosalinde, is probably the most famous example of this style in vocal music. One of the best-known instrumental csárdás is the composition by Vittorio Monti written for violin and piano, but here played by a Hungarian Romany orchestra.

Of course Bizet’s Carmen romanticizes the mystery and passion of the Romany. (A modern analog would be Cher’s “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves”).

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The fate of the Romany has been equally mixed, as in previous eras, in the 20th and 21st centuries.  During World War II, the Nazis murdered hundreds of thousands of Romany in what is sometimes referred to as the “other Holocaust.”  Numbers killed are impossible to determine accurately and figures range from a low of 220,000 to as many as 1.5 million. Like the Jews, they were sentenced to forced labor and imprisonment in concentration camps. They were often killed on sight, especially by the Einsatzgruppen on the Eastern Front.

In Communist central and eastern Europe, Romanies experienced assimilation schemes and restrictions of cultural freedom. The Romani language and Romany music were banned from public performance in Bulgaria. In Czechoslovakia, tens of thousands of Romany from Slovakia, Hungary and Romania were re-settled in border areas of Czech lands and their nomadic lifestyle was forbidden. In Czechoslovakia, where they were labeled as a “socially degraded stratum,” Romany women were sterilized as part of a state policy to reduce their population. This policy was implemented with large financial incentives, threats of denying future social welfare payments, misinformation, and involuntary sterilization. In the early 1990s, Germany deported tens of thousands of migrants to central and eastern Europe. Sixty percent of around 100,000 Romanian nationals deported under a 1992 treaty were Romany.

During the 1990s and early 21st century many Romany from central and eastern Europe attempted to migrate to western Europe or Canada. The majority of them were turned back. Several of these countries established strict visa requirements to prevent further migration.

In 2005, the Decade of Roma Inclusion was launched in nine central and southeastern European countries to improve the socio-economic status and social inclusion of the Romany minority across the region. The first World Romani Congress was organized in 1971 near London, funded in part by the World Council of Churches and the Government of India. It was attended by representatives from India and 20 other countries. At the congress, the green and blue flag from a 1933 conference, embellished with the red, sixteen-spoked chakra, was reaffirmed as the national emblem of the Romani people, and the anthem “Gelem, Gelem” was adopted as a national anthem.

The International Romani Union was officially established in 1977, and in 1990, the fourth World Congress declared April 8 to be International Day of the Roma, a day to celebrate Romani culture and raise awareness of the issues facing the Romani community. The 5th World Romany Congress in 2000 issued an official declaration of the Romany as a non-territorial nation.

There have been many studies of Romany culture but you have to take them with a grain of salt.  I don’t think you can speak of a unified underpinning that unites all Romany peoples, although worldwide there is a definite sense among Romany peoples that you are either embracing the Romany ethos or you are not.  Anthropologists would define them as patriarchal and patrilocal.  Women generally hold a lower position than men although they can achieve a measure of social status as they get older and as they have children.  They have tended to have large families, and a high value is placed, therefore, on childbirth. Very Biblical.  A woman on marriage moves to live with her husband’s family and her duties shift from her parents to her in-laws.

Romany traditional purity laws are similar to those of both Hindus and Jews. Certain body parts, animals, acts etc. are considered impure, and any violation of purity laws must be atoned for.  In classic Romany culture failure to abide by such rules, called “Romanipen,” can lead to exclusion from the community. Someone who fails to adhere to Romanipen is known as a Gadjo.  But as with Jewish and Hindu rules of this sort, in the modern world many Romany no longer follow Romanipen completely, although a substantial percentage in eastern Europe living in Romany enclaves do.

I could not leave this discussion of the Romany without a tip of the hat to the vardo, or gypsy wagon, a unique feature of English Romany.  They were a very common sight on roads in England in the 19th and early 20th century.  They are highly decorated horse drawn wagons that are both home and transport.  Nowadays about 1% of English Romany live and travel in them although they are not normally as highly decorated as they once were.  They are now mostly collectors’ items and there are several projects at the moment to restore abandoned vardos.  Here’s a few images to whet your appetite.

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Speaking of appetite, there is not much I can say about Romany food.  When asked about what they eat Romany will normally reply “we eat what you eat.”  This is generally the case but I can note a few points.  First is the traditional method of cooking – a cast iron pot slung over an open fire. In Our Forgotten Years: A Gypsy Woman’s Life on the Road, Maggie Smith-Bendell talks about the open fire, called in Angloromani (the English Romany creole dialect), a yog: “The yog was the ­centre of our life, of our family. Everything got discussed and pulled apart and put back together in front of the yog. It was everybody’s job to keep it ­going. I still have fires outside.”  It was also common to eat from a single communal dish, using the right hand only, as is customary throughout India.  Smith-Bendell also notes that it was normal to catch and eat small animals such as rabbits and hedgehogs, although in the latter case they were considered impure in the breeding season.

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So, I suggest a rabbit stew.  No great secret here.  Brown off a jointed rabbit with some onions. Add what vegetables you have to hand and top off your cooking pot with water.  You can also add field herbs of your choosing.  In English byways and woods there are still plenty to be found.  Simmer for an hour or more until the rabbit is tender.  With store bought rabbit (sadly lacking in flavor in comparison with wild rabbits) an hour is sufficient.