May 212017
 

Today is the birthday (1844) of Henri Julien Félix Rousseau, French post-impressionist painter, sometimes  known as Le Douanier (the customs officer), a slightly off-hand joke concerning his day job as an import tax collector. He started painting seriously in his early forties but was ridiculed during his lifetime by critics. He was not fully recognized as a self-taught genius until after his death when his work exerted an enormous influence on several generations of artists.

Rousseau was born in Laval (in northwest France near Brittany), in 1844, son of plumber. He attended secondary school in Laval first as a day student, and then as a boarder after his father became a debtor and his parents had to leave the town upon the seizure of their house. After school, he worked for a lawyer and studied law, but after a short stint tired of the work and joined the army. He served for 4 years, starting in 1863, but on his father’s death, he moved to Paris to support his widowed mother as a government employee. In 1868, he married Clémence Boitard, his landlord’s 15-year-old daughter, with whom he had six children (only one survived). In 1871, he was appointed as a collector of the octroi of Paris, collecting taxes on goods entering Paris. His wife died in 1888 and he married Josephine Noury in 1898.

From 1886, he exhibited regularly in the Salon des Indépendants, and, although his work was not placed prominently, it drew an increasing following over the years. Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised!) was exhibited in 1891, and Rousseau received his first serious review when the young artist Félix Vallotton wrote: “His tiger surprising its prey ought not to be missed; it’s the alpha and omega of painting.” In 1893, Rousseau moved to a studio in Montparnasse where he lived and worked until his death in 1910. In 1897, he produced one of his most famous paintings, La Bohémienne endormie (The Sleeping Gypsy).

In 1905, Rousseau’s large jungle scene The Hungry Lion Throws Itself on the Antelope was exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants near works by younger leading avant-garde artists such as Henri Matisse, and by a group now generally known as Les Fauves.

After Rousseau’s retirement in 1893, he supplemented his small pension with part-time jobs and casual work such as playing a violin in the streets. He also worked briefly at Le petit journal, where he produced a number of its covers. Rousseau exhibited his final painting, The Dream, in March 1910, at the Salon des Independants.

In the same month Rousseau cut his leg and the wound became infected, which he ignored. In August he was admitted to the Necker Hospital in Paris, where his son had died, and was found to have gangrene in his leg. After an operation, he died from a blood clot on September 2, 1910.

At his funeral, seven friends stood at his grave: the painters Paul Signac and Manuel Ortiz de Zárate, the artist couple Robert Delaunay and Sonia Terk, the sculptor Brâncuși, Rousseau’s landlord Armand Queval, and poet Guillaume Apollinaire who wrote the epitaph Brâncuși put on the tombstone (translated here):

We salute you
Gentile Rousseau you can hear us
Delaunay his wife Monsieur Queval and myself
Let our luggage pass duty free through the gates
of heaven
We will bring you brushes paints and canvas
That you may spend your sacred leisure in the
light of truth
Painting as you once did my portrait
Facing the stars

Here is a small gallery of some of my favorites.  I’m not particularly taken with his usual flat representation of the human figure, but I do like his portrayal of foliage, his colors, and his general composition. De gustibus . . .  I am not (nor want to be) an art historian.

Figuring out a recipe du jour is dead simple because of a famous event towards the end of Rousseau’s life. In 1908 Pablo Picasso, at the time an up and coming star, came across a painting by Rousseau (Portrait of a Woman) being sold in a junk shop cheaply as a canvas to be painted over. He was moved by the artistry, bought the painting, sought out the artist, and held a half serious, half burlesque banquet in his studio at Le Bateau-Lavoir in Rousseau’s honor. “Le Banquet Rousseau,” as it has come to be known is now legendary. US poet and literary critic John Malcolm Brinnin, wrote that it “was neither an orgiastic occasion nor even an opulent one. Its subsequent fame grew from the fact that it was a colorful happening within a revolutionary art movement at a point of that movement’s earliest success, and from the fact that it was attended by individuals whose separate influences radiated like spokes of creative light across the art world for generations.” Guests at the banquet included, Guillaume Apollinaire, Jean Metzinger, Constantin Brâncuși, Juan Gris, Max Jacob, Marie Laurencin, André Salmon, Maurice Raynal, Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler, and Leo and Gertrude Stein.

The banquet was designed to be in two stages: first a formal dinner for 30 special guests, and second a general party for anyone who wanted to attend. Unfortunately, Picasso mixed up his dates and had ordered catered food (from a cheap local bistro) for the formal dinner for the wrong night. Consequently there was a scramble to provide dinner, and French artist’s model Fernande Olivier who shared the apartment with Picasso, made a big batch of riz à la valencienne — i.e. the French idea of paella — while Gertrude Stein raced around Montmatre in search of cheeses, sardines, bread and so forth as hors d’ouevres.

You can read all about the events of the banquet elsewhere. There are numerous stories and vignettes recounted by those present. Rousseau arrived at 8 pm when the guests (who had been drinking since 5 pm) were, let’s say, in jovial spirits. He was wearing his artist’s beret with a cane in one hand and his violin in the other. An odd sight: the short, white-haired, 64 year old painter greeted by 20-something artists and poets living in the heart of Bohemia, who would all go on to be world famous, but at the time were just beginning to be noticed. All of them ultimately drew inspiration, in one way or another, from Rousseau’s work.  Opinion is sharply divided as to whether the attendees (and Picasso himself) were truly honoring Rousseau or mocking him. Probably a bit of both at the time. But in death Rousseau had the last laugh: the painting that Picasso bought for 5 francs and displayed that night is now valued at $100 million.

Paella varies considerably around the world and is rarely cooked as they make it in Valencia. You’ll find one traditional recipe of mine here, http://www.bookofdaystales.com/cesare-borgia/  Throughout Spain, France, and Italy people prepare a variety of dishes of saffron rice with fish, meat, and vegetables which they think of as “Spanish rice”, and, of course, I have no idea what actually went into the dish at Rousseau’s banquet. But the typical Parisian riz à la valenciennes, calls for chicken, mussels, chorizo, and shrimp, with bell peppers and onions; a far cry from the rabbit, beans, and snails in Valencian paella. It is essential to have a wide, deep skillet to prepare this dish, preferably a paella pan.  A wood fire won’t hurt either, but a gas stove will do.

Riz à la Valenciennes

Ingredients

1 small chicken, cut in 12 pieces
olive oil
½ L/1 pint unshelled fresh mussels, fully scrubbed and debearded
160 ml/⅔ cup dry white wine
6-8 large shrimp, raw
2 onions, peeled and chopped
1 green bell pepper, deseeded and chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
100 g/3½ oz. chorizo, finely sliced
250 gm/2 cups short-grain rice
800 ml/ 3½ cups chicken broth
½ tsp powdered saffron
salt and freshly ground black pepper
finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Instructions

Heat a small amount of olive oil in a skillet and sauté the chicken pieces until they are golden on all sides. Because they are small, this process will ensure that they are almost, but not entirely, cooked through. Transfer the chicken pieces to a bowl with their juices and set aside.

Heat half the white wine in a large pot. Add the mussels, cover and cook over high heat until the mussels are just open. Discard any mussels that do not open, and transfer the mussels to a bowl with their juices (strained through muslin) and set aside.

Sauté the shrimp in a little olive oil until they turn pink. Set aside.

Heat 2 to 3 tablespoons olive over medium heat in a large skillet or paella pan. Add the onions and bell pepper and sauté until soft. Add the chorizo slices and cook for 5 minutes more. Add the garlic and continue cooking for another 1 to 2 minutes.  Add the rice and sauté an additional 3 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the remaining white wine and allow it to evaporate completely. Add the broth and saffron, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Bring the broth to a boil, cover, and turn the heat down as low as possible. Let the rice to cook for about 15 minutes, undisturbed. Remove the cover and check the rice. It should be barely cooked. If need be cook a little longer. When the rice is almost ready, arrange the chicken pieces, mussels and shrimp on top of the rice. Add their juices to the skillet. Cover and allow to cook over low heat for 5 minutes more.

Uncover, garnish with the fresh parsley, and serve in the skillet.

Serves 4

Sep 132015
 

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Today might be the birthday (1475) of Cesare Borgia April 1476), Duke of Valentinois, an Italian condottiero (mercenary leader), nobleman, politician, and cardinal, whose fight for power was a major inspiration for The Prince by Machiavelli. He was the illegitimate son of Pope Alexander VI (r. 1492–1503) (Rodrigo Borgia) and his long-term mistress Vannozza dei Cattanei. He was the brother of Lucrezia Borgia; Giovanni Borgia (Juan), Duke of Gandia; and Gioffre Borgia, Prince of Squillace. He was half-brother to Don Pedro Luis de Borja and Girolama de Borja, children of unknown mothers.

Like nearly all aspects of Cesare Borgia’s life, the date of his birth is a subject of dispute. He was born in Rome—in either 1475 or 1476—the illegitimate son of Cardinal Roderic Llançol i de Borja, (usually known as Rodrigo Borgia), later Pope Alexander VI, and his mistress Vannozza dei Cattanei, about whom information is sparse. The Borgia family originally came from the Kingdom of Valencia, and rose to prominence during the mid-15th century; Cesare’s grand-uncle Alphonso Borgia (1378–1458), bishop of Valencia, was elected Pope Callixtus III in 1455. Cesare’s father, Pope Alexander VI, was the first pope who openly recognized his children born out of wedlock.

Cesare was initially groomed for a career in the Church. He was made Bishop of Pamplona at the age of 15. Following school in Perugia and Pisa, Cesare studied at the Studium Urbis (nowadays Sapienza University of Rome), along with his father’s elevation to the papacy, Cesare was made Cardinal at the age of 18.

Giovanni Borgia

Giovanni Borgia

Alexander VI staked the hopes of the Borgia family in Cesare’s brother, Giovanni, who was made captain general of the military forces of the papacy. Giovanni was assassinated in 1497 in mysterious circumstances. Several contemporaries suggested that Cesare might have been his killer, since Giovanni’s disappearance could finally open to him a long-awaited military career and also solve the jealousy over Sancha of Aragon, wife of Cesare’s younger brother, Gioffre, and mistress to both Cesare and Giovanni. Cesare’s role in the act has never been clear. However, he had no definitive motive, as he was likely to be given a powerful secular position, whether or not his brother lived. It is more likely that Giovanni was killed over a private matter with a rival.

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On 17 August 1498, Cesare became the first person in history to resign the cardinalate. On the same day, Louis XII of France named Cesare Duke of Valentinois, and this title, along with his former position as Cardinal of Valencia, explains the nickname “Valentino.” Cesare’s career was founded upon his father’s ability to distribute patronage, along with his alliance with France (reinforced by his marriage with Charlotte d’Albret, sister of John III of Navarre), in the course of the Italian Wars. Louis XII invaded Italy in 1499: after Gian Giacomo Trivulzio had ousted its duke Ludovico Sforza, Cesare accompanied the king in his entrance into Milan.

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At this point Alexander decided to profit from the favorable situation and carve out for Cesare a state of his own in northern Italy. To this end, he declared that all his vicars in Romagna and Marche were deposed. Though in theory subject directly to the pope, these rulers had been practically independent or dependent on other states for generations. In the view of the citizens, these vicars were cruel and petty. When Cesare eventually took power, he was viewed by the citizens as a great improvement.

Cesare was appointed commander of the papal armies with a number of Italian mercenaries, supported by 300 cavalry and 4,000 Swiss infantry sent by the king of France. Alexander sent him to capture Imola and Forlì, ruled by Caterina Sforza (mother of the Medici condottiero Giovanni dalle Bande Nere). Despite being deprived of his French troops after the conquest of those two cities, Cesare returned to Rome to celebrate a triumph and to receive the title of Papal Gonfalonier, a high office, from his father. In 1500 the creation of twelve new cardinals granted Alexander enough money for Cesare to hire the condottieri, Vitellozzo Vitelli, Gian Paolo Baglioni, Giulio and Paolo Orsini, and Oliverotto da Fermo, who resumed his campaign in Romagna.

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Giovanni Sforza, first husband of Cesare’s sister Lucrezia, was soon ousted from Pesaro; Pandolfo Malatesta lost Rimini; Faenza surrendered, its young lord Astorre III Manfredi who was later drowned in the Tiber river by Cesare’s order. In May 1501 Cesare was created duke of Romagna, then subsequently hired by Florence, he added the lordship of Piombino to his new lands.

While his condottieri took over the siege of Piombino (which ended in 1502), Cesare commanded the French troops in the sieges of Naples and Capua, defended by Prospero and Fabrizio Colonna. On 24 June 1501 his troops stormed the latter, causing the collapse of Aragonese power in southern Italy.

In June 1502 he set out for Marche, where he was able to capture Urbino and Camerino by treason. He planned to conquer Bologna next. However, his condottieri, most notably Vitellozzo Vitelli and the Orsini brothers (Guilio, Paolo and Francesco), feared Cesare’s cruelty and set up a plot against him. Guidobaldo da Montefeltro and Giovanni Maria da Varano returned to Urbino and Camerino, and Fossombrone revolted. The fact that his subjects had enjoyed his rule thus far meant that his opponents had to work much harder than they would have liked. He eventually recalled his loyal generals to Imola, where he waited for his opponents’ loose alliance to collapse. Cesare called for a reconciliation, but imprisoned his condottieri in Senigallia, then called Sinigaglia, a feat described as a “wonderful deceiving” by Paolo Giovio, and had them executed.

Although he was an immensely capable general and statesman, Cesare had trouble maintaining his domain without continued Papal patronage. Niccolò Machiavelli cites Cesare’s dependence on the good will of the papacy, under the control of his father, to be the principal disadvantage of his rule. Machiavelli argued that, had Cesare been able to win the favor of the new pope, he would have been a very successful ruler. The news of his father’s death (1503) arrived when Cesare was planning the conquest of Tuscany. While he was convalescing in Castel Sant’Angelo, his troops controlled the conclave.

Julius II

Julius II

The new pope, Pius III, supported Cesare and reconfirmed him as Gonfalonier; but after a brief pontificate of twenty-six days he died. The Borgias’ deadly enemy, Giuliano Della Rovere, then succeeded by dexterous diplomacy in tricking the weakened Cesare into supporting him by offering him money and continued papal backing for Borgia policies in the Romagna; promises which he disregarded upon election. He was elected as Pope Julius II to the papacy by the near-unanimous vote of the cardinals. Realizing his mistake by then, Cesare tried to correct the situation to his favor, but Julius made sure of his failure at every turn.

Cesare, who was facing the hostility of Ferdinand II of Aragon, was betrayed while in Naples by Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba, a man he had considered his ally, and imprisoned there, while his lands were retaken by the papacy. In 1504 he was transferred to Spain and imprisoned first in the Castle of Chinchilla de Montearagón, but after an attempted escape he was moved to the Castle of La Mota, Medina del Campo. He did manage to escape from the Castle of La Mota with assistance, and after running across Santander, Durango and Gipuzkoa, he made it to Pamplona on 3 December 1506, and was much welcomed by King John III of Navarre, who was missing an experienced military commander, ahead of the feared Castilian invasion (1512).

Cesare recaptured Viana, Navarre, then in the hands of forces loyal to the count of Lerín, Ferdinand II of Aragon’s conspiratorial ally in Navarre, but not the castle, which he then besieged. In the early morning of 11 March 1507, an enemy party of knights fled from the castle during a heavy storm. Outraged at the ineffectiveness of the siege, Cesare chased them only to find himself on his own. The party of knights discovered he was alone, and trapped him in an ambush receiving a fatal injury from a spear. He was then stripped of all his luxurious garments, valuables and a leather mask covering half his face (disfigured possibly by syphilis during his late years). He was left lying naked, with just a red tile covering his genitals.

If you have made it this far without confusion you understand the term “Machiavellian.”

Cesare was originally buried in a marbled mausoleum John III had ordered built at the altar of the Church of Santa Maria in Viana, set on one of the stops on the Camino de Santiago. While the circumstances are not well known, the tomb was destroyed some time between 1523 and 1608, during which time Santa María was undergoing renovation and expansion.

Since the Borgias came from Valencia with strong Valencian roots, a classic dish from that region is in order. Paella as we know it today was created in the 19th century, but it is based on centuries old Valencian recipes. Nowadays classic Valencian paella consists of white rice, green beans (bajoqueta and tavella), meat (chicken and rabbit), white beans (garrofón), snails, and seasonings including saffron and rosemary. Seasonal ingredients, such as artichoke hearts, might also be added. The “original” recipe is impossible to know, if there ever was one. Rice plus something or other is a pretty well universal idea. The key component of a paella is that it is made in a large, round, flat, heavy paella pan, and all the ingredients are cooked together in it. I prefer cast iron. The quantities in my recipe are approximate.

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Paella Valenciana

Chop 4 chicken drumsticks and 4 thighs into bite-sized pieces (bone in). Chop a small rabbit into bite sized pieces.

Preheat a paella pan over medium-high heat, and then add a small amount of extra virgin olive oil. Add the meat and brown it on all sides. Then lower the heat, cover the pan, and let the meat cook through for about 15 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon once in a while to avoid sticking.

Add a can of white beans with their liquid (or cooked dried beans) and a handful of green beans that have been topped and tailed, but not chopped.

Add 2 cups of water or chicken broth, a handful of small snails in their shells, a sprig of rosemary (or 2), and several strands of saffron (enough to color the liquid). Bring to a strong simmer. Sprinkle in 2 cups of long-grain white rice and maintain the simmer until the rice is cooked. This is a delicate balancing act. You want the liquid to be absorbed by the rice with none left over. But you also do not want the pan to dry out before the rice is cooked. This requires careful attention, adding more liquid if necessary and turning the rice with a wooden spoon so that it cooks evenly and does not stick. Keep testing the rice for doneness. With practice the rice should be cooked just as the last of the liquid is absorbed. A little charring on the bottom is considered a good thing, much favored.

Let the paella rest for about 10 minutes, and then serve it in the pan at table, with a salad of lettuce and tomatoes dressed with olive oil.

Mar 192014
 

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Today is the feast of Saint Joseph. It is a feast or commemoration in all the provinces of the Anglican Communion, and a feast or festival in the Lutheran Church as well as a feast in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions. Saint Joseph’s Day is the patronal feast day for Poland as well as for Canada, persons named Joseph, Josephine, etc., for religious institutes, schools and parishes bearing his name, and for carpenters. It is also Father’s Day in some Catholic countries, mainly Spain, Portugal, and Italy.

March 19 was dedicated to Saint Joseph in several Western calendars by the tenth century, and this custom was established in Rome by 1479. Pope St. Pius V extended its use to the entire Roman Rite by his Apostolic Constitution Quo Primum (July 14, 1570). Since 1969, Episcopal Conferences may, if they wish, transfer it to a date outside Lent.

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Jesus is identified in the Gospel of Matthew 13:55 as the son of a τέκτων (tektōn) and the Gospel of Mark 6:3 states that Jesus was a tektōn himself. Tektōn has been traditionally translated into English as “carpenter,” but is a rather general word (from the same root,τέχνη, téchne, (skill), that gives us “technique,” “technical,” and “technology”) that could cover skilled producers of objects in various materials, even builders. But the specific association with woodworking is a constant in Early Christian tradition. Justin Martyr (died c. 165) wrote that Jesus made yokes and ploughs, and there are similar early references.

John Dominic Crossan in The Historical Jesus puts tektōn into a historical context more resembling an itinerant worker than an established artisan, emphasizing his marginality in a population in which a peasant who owns land could become quite prosperous. Other scholars have argued that tektōn could equally mean a highly skilled craftsman in wood or metal, perhaps running a workshop with several employees. Geza Vermes has stated that the terms ‘carpenter’ and ‘son of a carpenter’ are used in the Jewish Talmud to signify a very learned man, and he suggests that a description of Joseph as ‘naggar’ (a carpenter) could indicate that he was considered wise and highly literate in the Torah.

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In Joseph’s day, Nazareth was an obscure village in Galilee, about 65 kilometers (40 mi) from Jerusalem, and barely mentioned in surviving non-Christian texts and documents. Archaeology over most of the site is made impossible by subsequent building, but from what has been excavated, and from tombs in the area around the village, it is estimated that the population was at most about 400. It was, however, only about 6 kilometers from the city of Tzippori (ancient “Sepphoris”), which was destroyed by the Romans in 4 BCE, and thereafter was expensively rebuilt. Analysis of the landscape and other evidence suggest that in Joseph’s lifetime Nazareth was to a degree dependent on Tzippori, which had an overwhelmingly Jewish population, although with many signs of Hellenization. Historians have speculated that Joseph, and later Jesus, might have traveled daily to work on the rebuilding. The large theater in the city has been suggested specifically, although this has aroused much controversy over dating and other issues. Other scholars see Joseph and Jesus as the general village craftsmen, working in wood, stone, and metal on a wide variety of jobs.

March 19 always falls during Lent, and traditionally it is a day of abstinence. This explains the widespread custom of laying out St. Joseph tables on this day to provide food for all comers, but the dishes are always meatless. Different countries have very specific customs associated with the feast as follows:

Italy/Sicily

In Sicily, where St. Joseph is regarded by many as their patron, and in many Italian-American communities, thanks are given to St. Joseph (San Giuseppe) for preventing a famine in Sicily during the Middle Ages. According to legend, there was a severe drought at the time, and the people prayed for their patron saint to bring them rain. They promised that if he answered their prayers, they would prepare a large feast to honor him. The rain did come, and the people of Sicily prepared a large banquet for their patron saint. The fava bean was the crop which saved the population from starvation and is a traditional part of St. Joseph’s Day altars and traditions. Giving food to the needy is a St. Joseph’s Day custom. In some communities it is traditional to wear red clothing and eat a Neopolitan pastry known as a Zeppole (created in 1840 by Don Pasquale Pinatauro of Naples) on St. Joseph’s Day.

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Upon a typical St. Joseph’s Day altar, people place flowers, limes, candles, wine, fava beans, specially prepared cakes, breads, and cookies (as well as other meatless dishes), and zeppole. Foods are traditionally served containing bread crumbs to represent sawdust since St. Joseph was a carpenter. Because the feast occurs during Lent, traditionally no meat was allowed on the celebration table. The altar usually has three tiers, to represent the trinity.

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On the Sicilian island of Lipari, The St. Joseph legend is modified somewhat, and says that sailors returning from the mainland encountered a fierce storm that threatened to sink their boat. They prayed to St. Joseph for deliverance, and when they were saved, they swore to honor the saint each year on his feast day. The Lipari celebration is somewhat changed, in that meat is allowed at the feast.

Some villages like Avola used to burn wood and logs in squares on the day before St.Joseph, as thanksgiving to the Saint. In Belmonte Mezzagno this is currently still performed every year, while people ritually shout invocations to the Saint in local Sicilian dialect. This is called “A Vampa di San Giuseppe” (the Saint Joseph’s bonfire).

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Spectacular celebrations are also held in Bagheria. The Saint is even celebrated twice a year, the second time being held especially for people from Bagheria who come back for summer vacation from other parts of Italy or abroad.

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In Italy March 19 is also Father’s Day.

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Malta

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This is one of the public holidays in Malta, known as Jum San Ġużepp. People celebrate mass in the morning, and in the afternoon go for a picnic. It is a liturgical feast in particular Sunday in summer. However, the city of Rabat celebrates the traditional Maltese feast on the 19th of March, where in the evening a procession is also held with the statue of St Joseph. On this day also the city of Żejtun celebrates the day, known as Jum il-Kunsill (Zejtun Council’s Day), till 2013 was known as Jum iż-Żejtun (Zejtun’s Day). During this day a prominent person from Żejtun is given the Żejtun Honor (Ġieħ iż-Żejtun). In past years the Żejtun Parish Church has celebrated these feast days with a procession with the statue of Saint Joseph.

Spain

In Spain, the day is a version of Father’s Day. In some parts of Spain it is celebrated as Falles.

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The five days and nights of Falles leading up to 19 March are a continuous party. There are a number of processions daily: historical, religious, and comedic. Crowds in the restaurants spill out into the streets. Explosions can be heard all day long and sporadically through the night. Foreigners may be surprised to see everyone from small children to elderly people throwing fireworks and noisemakers in the streets, which are littered with pyrotechnical debris. The timing of the events is fixed and they fall on the same date every year, though there has been discussion about holding some events on the weekend preceding the Falles, to take greater advantage of the tourist potential of the festival or changing the end date in years where it is due to occur in midweek.

La Despertà

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Each day of Falles begins at 8:00 am with La Despertà (“the wake-up call”). Brass bands appear from the casals and begin to march down every street playing lively music. Close behind them are the fallers, throwing large firecrackers in the street as they go.

La Mascletà

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The Mascletà, an explosive barrage of coordinated firecracker and fireworks displays, takes place in each neighbourhood at 2:00 pm every day of the festival; the main event is the municipal Mascletà in the Plaça de l’Ajuntament where the pyrotechnicians compete for the honor of providing the final Mascletà of the fiestas (on 19 March). At 2:00 pm the clock chimes and the Fallera Mayor (dressed in her fallera finery) will call from the balcony of City Hall, Senyor pirotècnic, pot començar la mascletà! (“Mr. Pyrotechnic, you may commence the Mascletà!”), and the Mascletà begins.

La Plantà

The day of the 15th all of the falles infantils are to be finished being constructed and later that night all of the falles majors (major Falles) are to be completed. If not, they face disqualification.

L’Ofrena de flors

In this event, the flower offering, each falla casal takes an offering of flowers to the Virgin Mary as Our Lady of the Abandoned. This occurs all day during 17–18 March. A statue of the Virgin Mary and its large pedestal are then covered with all the flowers.

Els Castells and La Nit del Foc

On the nights of the 15, 16, 17, and 18th there are firework displays in the old riverbed in Valencia. Each night is progressively grander and the last is called La Nit del Foc (the Night of Fire).

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Cabalgata del Fuego

On the final evening of Falles, at 7pm on March 19, a parade known in Spanish as the Cabalgata del Fuego (the Fire Parade) takes place along Colon street and Porta de la Mar square. This spectacular celebration of fire, the symbol of the fiesta’s spirit, is the grand finale of Falles and a colorful, noisy event featuring exhibitions of the varied rites and displays from around the world which use fire; it incorporates floats, giant mechanisms, people in costumes, rockets, gunpowder, street performances and music.

La Cremà

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On the final night of Falles, around midnight on March 19, these falles are burnt as huge bonfires. This is known as La Cremà (the Burning), the climax of the whole event, and the reason why the constructions are called falles (“torches”). Traditionally, the falla in the Plaça de l’Ajuntament is burned last.

Many neighborhoods have a falla infantil (a children’s falla, smaller and without satirical themes), which is held a few metres away from the main one. This is burnt first, at 10:00 pm. The main neighborhood falles are burnt closer to midnight; the burning of the falles in the city centre often starts later. For example, in 2005, the fire brigade delayed the burning of the Egyptian funeral falla in Carrer del Convent de Jerusalem until 1:30 am, when they were sure all safety concerns were addressed.

Each falla is laden with fireworks which are lit first. The construction itself is lit either after or during the explosion of these fireworks. Falles burn quite quickly, and the heat given off is felt by all around. The heat from the larger ones often drives the crowd back a couple of metres, even though they are already behind barriers that the fire brigade has set several meters from the construction. In narrower streets, the heat scorches the surrounding buildings, and the firemen douse the façades, window blinds, street signs, etc. with their hoses to stop them catching fire or melting, from the beginning of the cremà until it cools down after several minutes.

Away from the falles, people dance in the streets, the whole city resembling an open-air dance party, except that instead of music there is the incessant (and occasionally deafening) sound of people throwing fireworks around randomly. There are stalls selling products such as the typical fried snacks porres, xurros (churros), and bunyols (doughnuts), as well as roasted chestnuts or trinkets.

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The Philippines

In the Philippines, many families keep a tradition in which an old man, a young lady, and a small boy are chosen from among the poor and are dressed up as St. Joseph, the Virgin Mary, and the child Jesus, respectively. They are then seated around a table set with the family’s best silverware and china, and served a variety of courses, sometimes being literally spoon-fed by the senior members of the family, while the Novena to St. Joseph is recited at a nearby temporary altar.

United States of America

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In New Orleans, Louisiana, which was a major port of entry for Sicilian immigrants during the late 19th century, the Feast of St. Joseph is a city-wide event. Both public and private St. Joseph’s altars are traditionally built. The altars are usually open to any visitor who wishes to pay homage. The food is generally distributed to charity after the altar is dismantled.

There are also parades in honor of St. Joseph and the Italian population of New Orleans which are similar to the many marching clubs and truck parades of Mardi Gras and St. Patrick’s Day. Tradition in New Orleans also holds that by burying a small statue of St. Joseph upside down in the front yard of a house, that house will sell more promptly. In addition to the above traditions, some groups of Mardi Gras Indians stage their last procession of the season on the Sunday nearest to St. Joseph’s Day otherwise known as “Super Sunday,” after which their costumes are dismantled.

Saint Joseph’s Day is also celebrated in other U.S. communities with high proportions of Italians such as New York City; Utica, NY, Syracuse, NY, Buffalo, NY, Hoboken, NJ, Jersey City, NJ; Kansas City, MO; and Chicago; Gloucester, Mass.; and Providence, Rhode Island, where observance (which takes place just after Saint Patrick’s Day) often is expressed through “the wearing of the red,” that is, wearing red clothing or accessories similar to the wearing of green on Saint Patrick’s Day. St. Joseph’s Day tables may also be found in Rockford and Elmwood Park, Illinois. Polish-Americans, especially those in the Midwest and New England, who have the name Joseph celebrate Saint Joseph’s Day (Dzien Swietego Jozefa) as an imieniny (name day). As a symbol of ethnic pride, and in solidarity with their Italian counterparts, Polish Catholic parishes often hold Saint Joseph’s Day feasts or Saint Joseph’s Tables similar to Italian ones

In the Mid-Atlantic regions, Saint Joseph’s Day is traditionally associated with the return of anadromous fish, such as striped bass, to their natal rivers, such as the Delaware. St. Joseph’s Day is also the day when the swallows are traditionally believed to return to Mission San Juan Capistrano after having flown south for the winter.

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People in Sicily prepare their tavole di San Giuseppe, their ‘St Joseph’s tables’, which display the earth’s bounty and represent the householders’ gratitude for the saint’s continued protection. The foods are meant to be shared with the poor. Three disadvantaged children are invited into the home; often these three are dressed in bed sheets to represent the Holy Family and they are treated as guests of honor. Called virgineddi, they eat from the many dishes on the table, which include pastries and breads, because St Joseph is patron saint of pastry chefs and fry cooks. They always have maccu di San Giuseppe, a stew with five kinds of legumes and many other vegetables and herbs.  Borage, which provides a green element, is a perennial herb with large green leaves that grows easily in most climates and soils.  It is not usually available in markets.  Substitute other leafy greens.

Legume Soup for Saint Joseph’s, or Maccu di San ‘Gnuseppi is, says Pino Correnti in his Il Libro d’Oro della Cucina e dei Vini di Sicilia, “a ritual soup for San Giuseppe and also a custom handed down from the celebrations of the spring equinox in classical time: the housewife clears her pantry of the leftover dried legumes in the expectation of the new harvest to come.” Once in a while when I clean out my pantry I make something similar with the tail ends of packs of legumes and whatnot – always different; always delicious.

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Maccu di San ‘Gnuseppi

Ingredients:

10 ozs/300 g shelled dry fava beans
8 ozs/200 g shelled dried peas
4 ozs /100 g dried chickpeas
6 ozs/150 g dried beans
4 ozs/100 g lentils
2 bunches of borage (or spinach or chard)
¾ oz/20 g fennel seeds
1 frond (lacy top) fennel
1 medium-sized onion
2 sun-dried tomatoes
extra virgin olive Oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
croutons made by dicing day-old bread and sautéing the pieces in olive oil

Instructions:

Set all the legumes except the lentils, which cook quickly, to soak in lightly salted water the night before.

The next day drain them, and set all the legumes to boil in a big pot of lightly salted water, adding the onion, tomatoes, and greens, chopped, after about two hours. Continue simmering for another couple of hours, by which time it will be ready.

Check seasoning, and serve over the croutons, with a cruet of extra virgin olive oil for people to drizzle over their soup.