Jun 202017
 

Two anniversaries significant to the development of rocketry can be celebrated on this date. To start, the V-2 rocket became the first artificial object to cross the boundary of space with the vertical launch of MW 18014 on this date in 1944.  Second, on this date in 1945, Edward Reilly Stettinius, United States Secretary of State approved the transfer of Wernher von Braun and his team of Nazi rocket specialists to the U.S. under Operation Paperclip. I like to think of Operation Paperclip as the US part of the “first space race” – a race by both US and Soviet agencies to capture and expatriate German rocketry scientists and technicians to their respective countries to build rocket programs there.  These men had all been working, one way or another, on the initial stages of a space program in war-time Germany, and had varying degrees of loyalty to Hitler and the Nazi Reich. The US and Soviet governments turned a blind eye to their Nazi affiliations in their greed to enhance their own space programs which were practically non-existent before the arrival of the Germans. Henceforth the US and the Soviet Union were locked in a race, first for space, then for the moon, that became emblematic of the Cold War. Sputnik was the first score for the Soviets; the moon went to the US.

The V-2 (Vergeltungswaffe 2, “Retribution Weapon 2”) technical name Aggregat 4 (A4), was the world’s first long-range guided ballistic missile. The missile with a liquid-propellant rocket engine was developed during the Second World War in Germany as a “vengeance weapon” to try to reassert dominance at a time when the Axis powers were daily, and consistently, losing ground to the Allies. Nazi Germany was at a severe logistical disadvantage, having failed to conquer the USSR with Operation Barbarossa (June–December 1941), the Siege of Leningrad (September 1941 – January 1944), Operation Nordlicht (“Northern Light”, August–October 1942), and the Battle of Stalingrad (July 1942 – February 1943). The failed conquest had depleted German resources, and its military-industrial complex was unprepared to defend the German Reich against the Red Army’s westward counterattack. By early 1943, the German government began recalling from combat, a number of scientists, engineers, and technicians, many of whom had been relegated to menial jobs to keep them out of the way; part of the general Nazi distrust of intellectuals. The recall from frontline combat included 4,000 rocketeers who were put together as a research force in Peenemünde, in northeast coastal Germany.

Dieter K. Huzel in Peenemünde to Canaveral notes:

Overnight, Ph.D.s were liberated from KP duty, masters of science were recalled from orderly service, mathematicians were hauled out of bakeries, and precision mechanics ceased to be truck drivers.

The Nazi government’s recall of their now-useful intellectuals for scientific work first required identifying and locating the scientists, engineers, and technicians, then ascertaining their political and ideological reliability. Werner Osenberg, the engineer-scientist heading the Wehrforschungsgemeinschaft (Military Research Association), recorded the names of the politically cleared men to the Osenberg List, thus reinstating them to scientific work.

Research into the military use of long range rockets had previously begun in Germany when the investigations of Wernher von Braun into rocketry in the 1930s attracted the attention of the German Army. His research got a huge boost in 1943 when the government assembled its team of specialists at Peenemünde.  A series of prototype rockets culminated in the A-4, which went to war as the V-2. Beginning in September 1944, over 3,000 V-2s were launched by the German Wehrmacht against Allied targets: first London and later Antwerp and Liège. According to a 2011 BBC documentary, the attacks from V2s resulted in the deaths of an estimated 9,000 civilians and military personnel, and a further 12,000 forced laborers and concentration camp prisoners died as a result of their forced participation in the production of the weapons.

As part of continued research into rocket capabilities, the V-2 research team built its version MW 18014 which was launched on 20 June 1944 at the Peenemünde Army Research Center. It was the first artificial object to reach outer space, attaining an apoapsis of 176 kilometers, which is above the Kármán line (the currently accepted boundary of Earth’s atmosphere, at 100 km above the surface). It was a vertical test launch and although it reached space, it was a sub-orbital flight and therefore returned to Earth and crashed.

As Germany collapsed, teams from the Allied forces—the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union—raced to capture key German manufacturing sites and technology. Wernher von Braun and over 100 key V-2 personnel surrendered to US troops. Eventually, many of the original V-2 team ended up working at the Redstone Arsenal. The US also captured enough V-2 hardware to build approximately 80 of the missiles. The Soviets gained possession of the V-2 manufacturing facilities after the war, re-established V-2 production, and moved it to the Soviet Union.

Operation Paperclip, originally Operation Overcast, was the secret United States Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency (JIOA) program which brought more than 1,600 German scientists, engineers, and technicians (many of whom were formerly registered members of the Nazi Party and some of whom had leadership roles in the Party), including Wernher von Braun’s rocket team, to the United States for government employment from post-Nazi Germany. By comparison, the Soviet Union was even more aggressive in recruiting Germans: during Operation Osoaviakhim, Soviet military units forcibly (at gunpoint) recruited 2,000+ German specialists to the Soviet Union in one night.

The original intent of Operation Overcast was simply to interview designated scientists, but what was learned in th process changed the operation’s purpose. On May 22 1945, Colonel Joel Holmes sent a telegram to the Pentagon urging the evacuation of German scientists and their families, suggesting they were crucial to the Pacific war effort. After capturing them, the Allies took them from Peenemünde (which was in what was to become Soviet controlled East Germany) and initially housed them and their families in Landshut in Bavaria, in southern Germany.

In order to harness German war technology the United States created the Combined Intelligence Objectives Subcommittee (CIOS) which targeted scientific, military and industrial installations (and their employees) for their know-how. Initial priorities were advanced technology, such as infrared, that could be used in the war against Japan; finding out what technology had been passed on to Japan; and finally to halt the research. A project to halt the research was codenamed “Project Safehaven”, and it was not initially targeted against the Soviet Union; rather the concern was that German scientists might emigrate and continue their research in countries such as Spain, Argentina or Egypt, all of which had ties with Nazi Germany. In order to avoid the complications involved with the emigration of German scientists, the CIOS was responsible for scouting and kidnapping high profile individuals in order to deprive nations outside the US of their abilities.

Much U.S. effort was focused on Saxony and Thuringia, which by July 1, 1945, would become part of the Soviet Occupation zone. Many German research facilities and personnel had been evacuated to these states, particularly from the Berlin area. Fearing that the Soviet takeover would limit U.S. ability to exploit German scientific and technical expertise, and not wanting the Soviet Union to benefit from this expertise, the United States instigated an “evacuation operation” of scientific personnel from Saxony and Thuringia, issuing such orders as:

On orders of Military Government you are to report with your family and baggage as much as you can carry tomorrow noon at 1300 hours (Friday, 22 June 1945) at the town square in Bitterfeld. There is no need to bring winter clothing. Easily carried possessions, such as family documents, jewelry, and the like should be taken along. You will be transported by motor vehicle to the nearest railway station. From there you will travel on to the West. Please tell the bearer of this letter how large your family is.

By 1947 this evacuation operation had netted an estimated 1,800 technicians and scientists, along with 3,700 family members. Those with special skills or knowledge were taken to detention and interrogation centers to be held and interrogated, in some cases for months. A few of the scientists were gathered up in Operation Overcast, but most were transported to villages in the countryside where there were neither research facilities nor work; they were provided stipends and forced to report twice weekly to police headquarters to prevent them from leaving. The Joint Chiefs of Staff directive on research and teaching stated that technicians and scientists should be released “only after all interested agencies were satisfied that all desired intelligence information had been obtained from them”.

On November 5, 1947, the Office of Military Government of the United States (OMGUS), which had jurisdiction over the western part of occupied Germany, held a conference to consider the status of the evacuees, the monetary claims that the evacuees had filed against the United States, and the “possible violation by the US of laws of war or Rules of Land Warfare”. The OMGUS director of Intelligence R. L. Walsh initiated a program to resettle the evacuees in the Third World, which the Germans referred to as General Walsh’s “Urwald-Programm” (jungle program), however this program never matured. In 1948, the evacuees received settlements of 69.5 million Reichsmarks from the U.S., a settlement that soon became severely devalued during the currency reform that introduced the Deutsche Mark as the official currency of western Germany. As a consequence, the United States put some of Germany’s best minds on ice for three years, therefore depriving the German economic recovery of their expertise.

I don’t think I need to say more on the ethical problem of rounding up thousands of Nazi scientists and technicians (no questions asked) and shipping them off to the US or the Soviet Union. Some, like von Braun, went quite willingly, seeing the opportunity for continued advancement.  Many would have preferred to stay in Germany and resume their careers after the war in their homeland. Both the arms race and the space race that followed during the Cold War between the US and the USSR were driven by men who had once been collaborators in Germany.  Capitalists and Communists were equally welcoming to former Nazi enemies.

No need to think twice about a recipe ingredient for today. It has to be rocket, the old fashioned English name for Eruca sativa, variously known as arugula, rucola, rucoli, rugula, and Roquette (which Anglicized becomes “rocket”). I use rocket in sandwiches in place of lettuce often because it adds an interesting flavor note that lettuce doesn’t. I also use it in salads either in place of lettuce or mixed with it.

In Italy, rocket (rucola) is often added to pizzas just before serving so that it will not wilt in the heat. It is also used cooked in Apulia, in Southern Italy, to make the pasta dish cavatiéddi, coarsely chopped rocket added to pasta seasoned with tomato sauce and pecorino.”  In Rome, Italy rucola is used with special meat dish called straccietti that are thin slices of beef with raw rocket and Parmesan cheese In the Slovenian Littoral, it is often combined with boiled potatoes, used in a soup, or served with the cheese burek, especially in the town of Koper.

Use your imagination.

Jun 022017
 

Today is the Festa della Repubblica in Italy commemorating the institutional referendum held by universal suffrage in 1946, in which the Italian people were called to the polls to decide on the form of government they wanted, following the Second World War and the fall of Fascism. With 12,717,923 votes for a republic and 10,719,284 for the monarchy, the male descendants of the House of Savoy were sent into exile. To commemorate this event a grand military parade is held in central Rome every year, presided over by the President of the Italian Republic in his role as Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. The Prime Minister, formally known as the President of the Council of Ministers, and other high officers of state also attend. There are also celebrations in all the Italian embassies around the world and foreign heads of state are invited to attend state dinners and the like. The main parade is in Rome but there are civic celebrations all over Italy. This is a much, much more important date than the day on which Italy achieved unification.

Prior to the foundation of the Republic, the Italian national day was the first Sunday in June, approximate anniversary of the granting of the Statuto Albertino to the kingdom of Italy when it unified in 1861. From 1977 to 1999, for economic reasons, this was the date set for the celebration of the 1946 foundation of the republic. The 2 June date became official in 2000. The grand parade was held in Turin in 1961 to mark the centennial year of Italian unification, and because at the time of unification Turin was the capital.

In 1948, Via dei Fori Imperiali hosted the first military parade in honor of the new Italian Republic. The following year, with Italy’s entry into NATO, ten parades were held simultaneously across the country and in 1950, the parade was featured for the first time in the protocol of official celebrations. This protocol provides for the ceremonial laying of a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Vittoriano, before the President of Italy reviews the parading formations. The ceremony continues in the afternoon with the opening of the gardens of the Quirinale Palace, seat of the President of the Republic and with musical performances by the band ensembles of the Italian Army, Italian Navy, Italian Air Force, the “Arma dei Carabinieri”, State Police, the “Guardia di Finanza”, the Penitentiary Police Corps, State Firefighters Corps and the State Forestry Corps, together with the band of the Rome City Police.

The parade begins when the Corazzieri Squadron of the Carabinieri arrives, either mounted or dismounted, at the Presidential grandstand at the Via dei Fori Imperiali with the President of Italy, and the honors are paid via the Italian Army Band or the mounted band of the 4th Carabineri Cavalry Regiment playing the first stanza of Il Canto degli Italiani, after which the squadron departs.

The parade proper itself then starts with the Carabinieri Central Band striking up to “La Fedelissima”, its official march, leading the parade proper with the parade commander, his staff and escort, followed by the National Colors of the Italian Armed Forces, standards of the regions of Italy and veterans associations. Following them are company-sized formations of Italian Armed Forces units, military bands and members of the Red Cross, Polizia di Stato, the Penitentiary Police Corps, State Firefighters Corps and the State Forestry Corps, and ending with the Rome City Police and the featuring the unique Bersaglieri contingent in their jogging pace.

2015 saw the first appearances in the parade of government employees and the National Civil Defense Service.

Important years of the anniversary of both the Republic and the Unification of Italy have also seen mobile and air columns go past the tribune. The parade ends with a flyby of the Frecce Tricolori aerobactic team in the colors of the Flag of Italy.

If I give you a recipe for an “Italian” dish a fight will break out and I’ll be handed my head. Every region in Italy has its own specialties that it is fiercely proud of.  There is a solution though. The colors of the Italian flag are represented in 2 dishes that are widely known: pizza Margherita from Naples and insalata tricolore. The history of pizza Margherita is disputed, because something of the sort (tomato, mozzarella, and basil toppings) has been around in Naples since the late 18th century, and is mentioned in cookbooks throughout the 19th century. But it was not called Margherita at first, and did not have any patriotic associations because Italy as a nation and the Italian flag did not exist back then. It has those associations now, however.

A more practical choice is insalata tricolore which is an extremely popular antipasto all over Italy, and does have the Italian flag in mind (and in name).  So go for it. Interleave sliced tomato, sliced mozzarella di bufala, and basil leaves, and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.  It’s a great dish and very simple to make. Just make sure you use the soft white mozzarella not the yellow shredded stuff used for pizza. It comes packed in water.

 

Mar 112016
 

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Today is the birthday (1921) of Astor Pantaleón Piazzolla, Argentine tango composer, bandoneón player and band leader whose work revolutionized the traditional tango by incorporating elements from jazz and classical music. I can’t say that I am a fan because I have a deep purist streak in me, but I recognize his skills. Here’s a long sample:

Piazzolla was born in Mar del Plata, Argentina, in 1921, the only child of Italian immigrant parents, Vicente “Nonino” Piazzolla and Asunta Manetti. His paternal grandfather, a sailor and fisherman named Pantaleo (later Pantaleón) Piazzolla, had immigrated to Mar del Plata from Trani, a seaport in the southeastern Italian region of Apulia, at the end of the 19th century. His mother was the daughter of two Italian immigrants from Lucca in Tuscany. In 1925 Astor Piazzolla moved with his family to Greenwich Village in New York City, which in those days was a violent neighborhood inhabited by a volatile mixture of gangsters and hard-working immigrants. His parents worked long hours and Piazzolla soon learned to take care of himself on the streets despite having a limp. At home he would listen to his father’s records of the tango orchestras of Carlos Gardel and Julio de Caro, and was also exposed to jazz and classical music, including Bach, from an early age. He began to play the bandoneón after his father spotted one in a New York pawn shop in 1929.

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After their return to New York City from a brief visit to Mar del Plata in 1930, the family went to live in Little Italy in lower Manhattan, and in 1932 Piazzolla composed his first tango La catinga. The following year Piazzolla took music lessons with the Hungarian classical pianist Bela Wilda, a student of Rachmaninoff, who taught him to play Bach on his bandoneón. In 1934 he met Carlos Gardel, (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/tango-day/ ), and played a cameo role as a young paper boy in his movie El día que me quieras. Gardel invited Piazzolla to join him on his current tour. Much to Piazzolla’s dismay, his father decided that he was not old enough to go along. This early disappointment of not being allowed to join the tour proved to be a blessing in disguise, as it was on this tour that Gardel and his entire orchestra died in a plane crash in 1935. In 1936, he returned with his family to Mar del Plata, where he began to play in a variety of tango orchestras and around this time he discovered the music of Elvino Vardaro’s sextet on the radio. Vardaro’s novel interpretation of tango made a great impression on Piazzolla and years later he would become Piazzolla’s violinist in his Orquesta de Cuerdas and his First Quintet.

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Inspired by Vardaro’s style of tango, and still only 17 years old, Piazzolla moved to Buenos Aires in 1938 where, the following year, he realized a dream when he joined the orchestra of the bandoneónist Anibal Troilo, which would become one of the greatest tango orchestras of that time. Piazzolla was employed as a temporary replacement for Toto Rodríguez who was ill, but when Rodríguez returned to work Troilo decided to retain Piazzolla as a fourth bandoneónist. Apart from playing the bandoneón, Piazzolla also became Troilo’s arranger and would occasionally play the piano for him. By 1941 he was earning a good wage, enough to pay for music lessons with Alberto Ginastera, an eminent Argentine composer of classical music. It was the pianist Arthur Rubinstein, then living in Buenos Aires, who had advised him to study with Ginastera and delving into scores of Stravinsky, Bartók, Ravel, and others, Piazzolla rose early each morning to hear the Teatro Colón orchestra rehearse while continuing a grueling performance schedule in the tango clubs at night. During his five years of study with Ginastera he mastered orchestration, which he later considered to be one of his strong points. In 1943 he started piano lessons with the Argentine classical pianist Raúl Spivak, which continued for the next five years, and wrote his first classical works Preludio No. 1 for Violin and Piano and Suite for Strings and Harps. That same year he married his first wife, Dedé Wolff, an artist, with whom he had two children, Diana and Daniel.

As time went by Troilo began to fear that Piazzolla’s advanced musical ideas might undermine the style of his orchestra and make it less appealing to tango dancers. Tensions mounted between the two until, in 1944, Piazzolla announced his intention to leave Troilo and join Francisco Fiorentino’s orchestra. Piazzolla led Fiorentino’s orchestra until 1946 and made many recordings with him, including his first two instrumental tangos, La chiflada and Color de rosa.

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In 1946 Piazzolla formed his Orquesta Típica, which, although having a similar formation to other tango orchestras of the day, gave him his first opportunity to experiment with his own approach to the orchestration and musical content of tango. That same year he composed, El Desbande, which he considered to be his first formal tango, and then began to compose musical scores for films, starting with Con los mismos colores in 1949 and Bólidos de acero in 1950, both films directed by Carlos Torres Ríos.

Having disbanded his first orchestra in 1950 he almost abandoned tango altogether as he continued to study Bartok and Stravinsky and orchestra direction with Hermann Scherchen. He spent a lot of time listening to jazz and searching for a musical style of his own beyond the realms of tango. He decided to drop the bandoneon and to dedicate himself to writing and to studying music. Between 1950 and 1954 he composed a series of works that began to develop his unique style: Para lucirse, Tanguango, Prepárense, Contrabajeando, Triunfal and Lo que vendrá.

At Ginastera’s urging, Piazzolla entered his classical composition Buenos Aires Symphony, in three movements, for the Fabian Sevitzky Award on August 16, 1953. The performance took place at the Law School in Buenos Aires with the symphony orchestra of Radio del Estado under the direction of Sevitzky himself. At the end of the concert a fight broke out among some members of the audience who were offended by the inclusion of two bandoneóns in a traditional symphony orchestra. In spite of this Piazzolla’s composition won a grant from the French government to study in Paris with the legendary French composition teacher Nadia Boulanger at the Fontainebleau conservatory.

In 1954 he and his wife left their two children (Diana aged 11 and Daniel aged 10) behind with Piazzolla’s parents and traveled to Paris. At this stage in his life Piazzolla was tired of tango and at first, he tried to hide his tanguero past and his bandoneón compositions from Boulanger, thinking that his destiny lay in classical music. By way of introduction to his work, Piazzolla played her a number of his classically-inspired compositions but it was not until he finally played his tango Triunfal that she immediately congratulated him and encouraged him to pursue his career in tango, recognizing that this was where his true musical talent lay. This was to prove an historic encounter and a crossroad in Piazzolla’s career.

During his time with Boulanger he studied classical composition including counterpoint which was to play a key role in his later tango compositions. Before leaving Paris he heard, and was deeply impressed by, the octet of the American jazz saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, which was to give him the idea of forming his own octet on his return to Buenos Aires. At this time he composed and recorded a series of tangos with the String Orchestra of the Paris Opera and began to play the bandoneón while standing up, putting his right foot on a chair and the bellows of the instrument across his right thigh. Until that time bandoneónists played sitting down.

Back in Argentina, Piazzolla formed his Orquesta de Cuerdas (String Orchestra), which performed with the singer Jorge Sobral, and his Octeto Buenos Aires in 1955. With two bandoneóns (Piazzolla and Leopoldo Federico), two violins (Enrique Mario Francini and Hugo Baralis), double bass (Juan Vasallo), cello (José Bragato), piano (Atilio Stampone), and an electric guitar (Horacio Malvicino), his Octeto effectively broke the mould of the traditional orquesta típica and created a new sound akin to chamber music, without a singer and with jazz-like improvisations. This was to be a turning point in his career and a watershed in the history of tango. Piazzolla’s new approach to the tango, nuevo tango, made him a controversial figure in his native land both musically and politically. However, his music gained acceptance in Europe and North America, and his reworking of the tango was embraced by some liberal segments of Argentine society, who were pushing for political changes in parallel with his musical revolution.

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In 1958 he disbanded both the Octeto and the String Orchestra and returned to New York City with his family where he struggled to make a living as a musician and arranger. Briefly forming his own group, the Jazz Tango Quintet with whom he made just two recordings, his attempts to blend jazz and tango were not successful. He received the news of the death of his father in October 1959 while performing with Juan Carlos Copes and María Nieves in Puerto Rico and on his return to New York City a few days later, he asked to be left alone in his apartment and in less than an hour wrote his famous tango Adiós Nonino, in homage to his father.

Copes and Nieves packed out Club Flamboyan in San Juan, Puerto Rico with “Compañia Argentina Tangolandia”. Piazzolla was serving as the musical director. The tour continued in New York, Chicago and then Washington. The last show that the three of them did together was an appearance on CBS the only color TV channel in the USA on the Arthur Murray Show in April 1960.

Back in Buenos Aires later that year he put together the first, and perhaps most famous, of his quintets, the first Quinteto, initially made up of bandoneón (Piazzolla), piano (Jaime Gosis), violin (Simón Bajour), electric guitar (Horacio Malvicino ) and double bass (Kicho Díaz). Of the many ensembles that Piazzolla set up during his career it was the quintet formation which best expressed his approach to tango. In 1965 he released El Tango, an album for which he collaborated with the Argentine poet Jorge Luis Borges. The recording featured his Quinteto together with an orchestra, the singer Edmundo Rivero and Luis Medina Castro reciting texts.

In 1967 he signed a five-year contract with the poet Horacio Ferrer with whom he composed the operetta María de Buenos Aires, with lyrics by Ferrer. The work was premiered in May 1968 with the singer Amelita Baltar in the title role and introduced a new style of tango, Tango Canción ( Song Tango). Soon after this he began a relationship with Baltar. The following year he wrote Balada para un loco with lyrics by Ferrer which was premiered at the First Iberoamerican Music Festival with Amelita Baltar and Piazzolla himself conducting the orchestra. Piazzolla was awarded second prize and the composition would prove to be his first popular success.

In 1970 Piazzolla returned to Paris where with Ferrer he wrote the oratorio El pueblo joven later premiered in Saarbrücken, Germany in 1971. On May 19, 1970 he gave a concert with his Quinteto at the Teatro Regina in Buenos Aires in which he premiered his composition Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas.

Back in Buenos Aires he founded his Conjunto 9 (aka Nonet), a chamber music formation, which was a realization of a dream for Piazzolla and for which he composed some of his most sophisticated music. He now put aside his first Quinteto and made several recordings with his new ensemble in Italy. Within a year the Conjunto 9 had run into financial problems and was dissolved and in 1972 he participated in his first concert at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, sharing the bill with other Tango orchestras.

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After a period of great productivity as a composer, he suffered a heart attack in 1973 and that same year he moved to Italy where he began a series of recordings which would span a period of five years. The music publisher Aldo Pagani, a partner in Curci-Pagani Music, had offered Piazzolla a 15-year contract in Rome to record anything he could write. His famous album Libertango was recorded in Milan in May 1974 and later that year he separated from Amelita Baltar and in September recorded the album Summit (Reunión Cumbre) with the saxophonist Gerry Mulligan and an Italian orchestra, including jazz musicians such as bassist Pino Presti and drummer Tullio De Piscopo, in Milan. The album includes the composition Aire de Buenos Aires by Mulligan.

In 1975 he set up his Electronic Octet an octet made up of bandoneón, electric piano and/or acoustic piano, organ, guitar, electric bass, drums, synthesizer and violin, which was later replaced by a flute or saxophone. Later that year Aníbal Troilo died and Piazzolla composed the Suite Troileana in his memory, a work in four parts, which he recorded with the Conjunto Electronico. At this time Piazzolla started a collaboration with the singer Jose A. Trelles with whom he made a number of recordings.

In 1978 he formed his second Quintet, with which he would tour the world for 11 years, and would make him world-renowned. He also returned to writing chamber music and symphonic works.

During the period of Argentine military dictatorship from 1976 to 1983, Piazzolla lived in Italy, but returned many times to Argentina, recorded there, and on at least one occasion had lunch with the dictator Jorge Rafael Videla. However, his relationship with the dictator might have been less than friendly, as recounted in Astor Piazzolla, A manera de memorias (a comprehensive collection of interviews, constituting a memoir).

In 1982 he recorded the album Oblivion with an orchestra in Italy for the film Enrico IV, directed by Marco Bellocchio, and in May 1982, in the middle of the Falklands War, he played in a concert at the Teatro Regina, Buenos Aires with the second Quinteto and the singer Roberto Goyeneche. That same year he wrote Le Grand Tango for cello and piano, dedicated to Russian cellist, Mstislav Rostropovich which would be premiered by him in 1990 in New Orleans.

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On 11 June 1983 he put on one of the best concerts of his life when he played a program of his music at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires. For the occasion he regrouped the Conjunto 9 and played solo with the Buenos Aires Philharmonic, directed by Pedro Ignacio Calderón. The program included his three-movement Concierto para bandoneón y orquesta and his 3 movement Concierto de Nacar.

On 4 July 1984 Piazzolla appeared with his Quinteto at the Montreal International Jazz Festival, the world’s largest jazz festival, and on 29 September that same year they appeared with the Italian singer Milva at the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, Paris. His concert on 15 October 1984 at the Teatro Nazionale in Milan was recorded and released as the album Suite Punte del Este. At the end of that same year he performed in West-Berlin, and in theater Vredenburg in Utrecht, in the Netherlands, where VPRO-TV-director Theo Uittenbogaard recorded his Quinteto Tango Nuevo, playing, among other pieces, a very moving Adios Nonino, with as a backdrop – to Piazzolla’s great pleasure – the extremely zoomed-in “live”‘ projection of his bandoneon playing.

In 1988 he wrote music for the film Sur, and married the singer and television personality Laura Escalada on April 11. In May that year he recorded his album La Camorra in New York, a suite of three pieces, the last time he would record with the second Quinteto. During a tour of Japan with Milva he played at a concert at the Nakano Sun Plaza Hall in Tokyo on June 26, 1988 and that same year underwent a quadruple by-pass operation.

Early in 1989 he formed his Sexteto Nuevo Tango, his last ensemble, with two bandoneóns, piano, electric guitar, bass and cello. Together they gave a concert at the Club Italiano in Buenos Aires in April, a recording of which was issued under the title of Tres minutos con la realidad. Later he appeared with them at the Teatro Opera in Buenos Aires in the presence of the newly elected Argentine President Carlos Menem on Friday, June 9. This would be Piazzolla’s last concert in Argentina.

He suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in Paris on August 4, 1990, which left him in a coma, and died in Buenos Aires, just under two years later on July 4, 1992, without regaining consciousness.

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Here’s a photo of a pizza I had for lunch in Buenos Aires some years ago (on this date, as it happens). It’s as eclectic as Piazzolla’s music – born also of the immense immigration of Italians to Buenos Aires in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. You can make something similar. From the photo you will notice three things: the crust is thick and doughy, there is no tomato sauce, just mounds of cheese, and assorted ingredients are baked into the cheese. Styles vary considerably in Buenos Aires, but this is the norm. Sometimes you can find a thinner crust, but tomato sauce is very rare. If tomatoes are used at all they are sliced as a topping. But . . . absolutely anything goes as a topping. In famous pizzerias, such as Los Inmortales, they have set combinations (with fancy names), but usually customers just order what they want. Unlike U.S. pizzerias, they don’t have lists of available toppings; you ask for what you want and chances are they have them – artichoke hearts, langoustines, prosciutto . . . whatever. As in Italy, the discussion with the waiter can get long and involved if you are not careful. Best to keep questions to a minimum.

My wife used to make pizza dough, but I’m not much of a baker. I do make pizzas from time to time, but I buy the dough ready made. Here in Italy it’s available in a number of places. In the U.S. it’s easy enough to buy from your local pizzeria. Then it’s a question of the right equipment. Commercial pizza ovens are hotter than home ovens. Crank yours up to the highest temperature possible. I used to have a pizza stone which I kept in the oven all the time. This also simulates the evenly heated stone surface of a commercial oven. Have your oven well preheated with the stone in place if you have one. Otherwise use a greased baking sheet. Knead the dough a little and then stretch it out to form a circle (don’t roll it), on a wooden paddle, as thick or thin as you wish. Sprinkle lavishly with grated mozzarella, then add whatever toppings you want. Slide it into the oven on the paddle and bake. After 10 minutes, turn the pizza so that it cooks evenly. It’s finished when the bottom is golden when you lift it a little to peek.

Jan 192016
 

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Today is the birthday (1809) of Edgar Allan Poe, best known now for his poetry and short stories, particularly his tales of mystery and the macabre. But Poe is sometimes considered the inventor of the detective fiction genre and is also credited with contributing to the emerging genre of science fiction. In his day he was perhaps best known as a literary critic with a sharp tongue and bitter wit. He was the first well-known U.S. writer to try to earn a living through writing alone, resulting in a financially difficult life and career. Nowadays commentators are often quick to point out that Poe’s hard times were “his own fault” (in those words). I find such a judgment hard to take. Yes, he was an alcoholic, and, yes, he made some poor decisions. But he was a man of integrity and honesty. I certainly don’t see his desire to live by writing as a flaw, but, rather, as an enviable stance to take, requiring a dedication that few are capable of.

So . . . I’ll leave you to read about his life if you are interested – his childhood abandonment by his father and death of his mother; his troubled relationship with his stepfather; his lifelong addiction; the death of his brother; the full scope of his literary career; his marriage to his cousin when he was 26 and she was 13; etc. etc. Instead I want to dwell on three things: his death, the Poe toaster, and “The Cask of Amontillado.” The last, first.

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I’m not a fan of Poe’s writing in general. I find it all a bit bleak and troubling. But I return to “The Cask of Amontillado” once in a while. I am not sure of the precise nature of my fascination. Some of it lies in the inherent vagueness of the plot. Under it all is the tale of a man whose fortunes have suffered, he believes, at the hand of another, and seeks revenge. His revenge via murder is cunning and brutal. The details in the story are at one and the same time crystal clear and obscure, yet the broad strokes are straightforward enough – “you have wronged me, so I am going to kill you in a way that is cruel and undetectable.” Poe, master of the detective story, presents us with a perfect crime. I don’t doubt there was an element of fantasy in the tale, as many have suggested, of Poe seeking revenge on a real opponent. With whom do you empathize – murderer or victim? I’ve tended to vilify the victim, but I can’t bring myself to praise or identify with the murderer. The story is complex and keeps me pondering from time to time. Does revenge solve anything?

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On October 3, 1849, Poe was found on the streets of Baltimore delirious, “in great distress, and… in need of immediate assistance”, according to the man who found him, Joseph W. Walker. He was taken to the Washington Medical College, where he died on Sunday, October 7, 1849, at 5:00 in the morning (at the age of 40). Poe was never coherent long enough to explain how he came to be in his dire condition, and, oddly, was wearing clothes that were not his own. Poe is said to have repeatedly called out the name “Reynolds” on the night before his death, though it is unclear to whom he was referring. Some sources say Poe’s final words were “Lord help my poor soul.” All medical records, including his death certificate, have been lost. Newspapers at the time reported Poe’s death as “congestion of the brain” or “cerebral inflammation”, common euphemisms for deaths from disreputable causes such as alcoholism. The actual cause of death remains a mystery. A fitting end for the master of the macabre. Yet . . .

“Poe Toaster” is a media name popularly used to refer to an unidentified person (or more probably two persons in succession, possibly father and son) who, for over seven decades, paid an annual tribute to Poe by visiting the cenotaph marking his original grave in Baltimore, Maryland, in the early hours of January 19, Poe’s birthday. The shadowy figure, dressed in black with a wide-brimmed hat and white scarf, would pour himself a glass of cognac and raise a toast to Poe’s memory, then vanish into the night, leaving three roses in a distinctive arrangement and the unfinished bottle of cognac. Onlookers gathered annually in hopes of glimpsing the elusive Toaster, who did not seek publicity and was rarely seen or photographed.

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According to eyewitness reports and notes accompanying offerings in later years, the original Toaster made the annual visitation from some time in the 1930s (though no report appeared in print until 1950) until his death in 1998, after which the tradition was passed to “a son.” Controversial statements were made in some notes left by the post-1998 Toaster, and in 2006 an unsuccessful attempt was made by several onlookers to detain and identify him. In 2010 there was no visit by the Toaster, nor has he appeared any year since, triggering speculation that the 75-year tradition has ended (2009 being the 200th anniversary of Poe’s birth).

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Reports have it that Poe survived on bread and molasses during his more impoverished times. Washed down with a glass of brandy (or amontillado) that would certainly be a fitting, if sparse, tribute. Otherwise I can find precious little indication of his food tastes. However, the rather small, regional pizza chain, Dewey’s (Ohio, Kentucky, Missouri) offers the “Edgar Allan Poe.” I cannot find the reasoning behind the name. If you can’t travel to a Dewey’s location you can make a reasonable simulacrum. You’ll need to make a thin crust (I buy the dough), brush it with good olive oil, then top with mushrooms, kalamata olives, whole roasted garlic cloves and three cheeses: mozzarella, fontina, and crumbles of fresh goat cheese.