Apr 172016
 

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Today is the birthday (1880) of Sir Charles Leonard Woolley, the British archaeologist who discovered the Biblical city of Ur  of the Chaldees (in modern day Iraq). Ur means ‘city’ in ancient Sumerian and Akkadian. Genesis says that Ur of the Chaldees was the birthplace of Abraham but many scholars did not believe it existed until Woolley’s discoveries. He is grouped with a number of early 20th century archeologists credited with bringing a modern approach to the study.

Woolley was the son of a clergyman, and was brother to Geoffrey Harold Woolley, VC and George Cathcart Woolley. He was born in Upper Clapton now part of the London Borough of Hackney, and educated at St John’s School, Leatherhead and New College, Oxford. He was interested in excavations from a young age.

In 1905, Woolley became an assistant at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. He was volunteered by Arthur Evans to run the excavations on the Roman site at Corbridge for Francis Haverfield and began his archeological career there in 1906, later admitting in Spadework that “I had never studied archaeological methods even from books … and I had not any idea how to make a survey or a ground-plan.” He was one of the first  of the ‘modern’ archaeologists, who excavated in a methodical way, keeping careful records, and using them to reconstruct ancient life and history. Previously archeologists were more in the mold of Indiana Jones – robbing sites of “precious” artifacts and not concerning themselves with the reconstruction of ancient cultures (a popular image of archeology that I wish would die). T. E. Lawrence worked with Woolley on the excavation of the Hittite city of Carchemish from 1912–14.

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Woolley’s work at Ur (a joint venture between the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania) began in 1922, and he made important discoveries in the course of excavating the royal cemeteries there, including the Copper Bull and a pair of Ram in a Thicket figurines, one of which is in the British Museum and the other in the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

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When this one was discovered, the 16.5 inch figure had been crushed flat by the weight of the soil above it and its inner wooden core had decomposed. This wooden core had been finely cut for the face and legs, but the body had been more roughly modeled. Woolley used wax to keep the pieces together as it was excavated, and the figure was gently pressed back into its original shape. The ram’s head and legs are layered in gold leaf which had been hammered against the wood and stuck to it with a thin wash of bitumen, while its ears are copper but which are now green with verdigris. The horns and the fleece on its shoulders are of lapis lazuli, and the body’s fleece is made of shell, attached to a thicker coat of bitumen. The figure’s genitals are gold, while its belly was silver plate, now oxidised beyond restoration. The tree is also covered in gold leaf with gold flowers. The figure stands on a small rectangular base decorated with a mosaic of shell, red limestone and lapis lazuli. The figure was originally attached to the flowering shrub by silver chains around its fetlocks, but these chains have completely decayed. It is thought that the two figures originally faced each other as confronted animals, and that the tubes going up from their shoulders were used to support something, probably a bowl or similar object. Agatha Christie’s novel, Murder in Mesopotamia, was inspired by the discovery of the royal tombs. Christie later married Woolley’s young assistant, Max Mallowan.

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Ur was the burial site of many Sumerian royals. Woolley discovered tombs of great material wealth. Inside these tombs were large paintings of ancient Sumerian culture at its zenith, along with gold and silver jewelry, cups and other furnishings. The most extravagant tomb was that of “Queen” Pu-Abi. Amazingly enough, Queen Pu-Abi’s tomb was untouched by looters. Inside the tomb, many well-preserved items were found, including a cylindrical seal bearing her name in Sumerian. Her body was found buried along with those of two attendants, who had presumably been poisoned to continue to serve her after death. Woolley was able to reconstruct Pu-Abi’s funeral ceremony from objects found in her tomb. Her headdress, cylinder seal and body were formerly on display at the University of Pennsylvania; however, they are currently being displayed in the British Museum in London.

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In 1936, after his discoveries at Ur, Woolley was interested in finding ties between the ancient Aegean and Mesopotamian civilizations. This led him to the Syrian city of Al Mina. From 1937–39, he worked in Tell Atchana.

Woolley was one of the first archaeologists to propose that the flood described in Genesis was local rather than global after identifying a flood-stratum at Ur: “400 miles long and 100 miles wide; but for the occupants of the valley that was the whole world.” Such proposals led to some dramatic rethinking of the way Genesis should be interpreted, and, in turn, provoked decades of debate.

Woolley died on 20 February 1960 at age 79.

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The ancient Mesopotamians used beer and bread as staples (see http://www.bookofdaystales.com/birth-scotch-whisky/ ).  We also have the earliest known written recipes in cuneiform documenting the basics of cooking in the region.  It is exactly as one might expect. Main ingredients (at least for royal cooking) are meats (fowl, pigeon, mutton, beef, and gazelle), fish, eggs, vegetables and pulses, flavored with garlic, coriander, and cumin. Recipes call for searing the meat then cooking in water with leeks, onions, garlic and flavorings.

It doesn’t take much imagination to recreate something close. The original recipes are translated here:

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The originals contain ingredients and some rudimentary directions for cooking. For lunch today I am cooking the following:

©Mesopotamian Rabbit Stew

Ingredients

1 fresh rabbit jointed in 8 pieces
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 green onions, chopped
2 leeks, chopped
ground coriander and cumin (to taste)

Instructions

Brown rabbit pieces on all sides in a little olive oil in a heavy pot. Cover the meat with broth (or water).  Add chopped leeks and green onions. Season with chopped garlic, coriander and cumin to taste.

Simmer over low heat for 1 to 2 hours (depending on the age of the meat), or until the meat is tender. I usually let the sauce reduce, but you can serve it as a soupy stew as well.

Serve in deep bowls with flat bread.

Dec 222015
 

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Today is the birthday (1858) of Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini, Italian composer whose operas are generally seen as standards. While his early work was rooted in traditional late-19th-century romantic Italian opera, he successfully developed his work in the realistic verismo style, of which he became one of the leading exponents.

Puccini was born Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini in Lucca in Tuscany. He was one of nine children of Michele Puccini and Albina Magi. The Puccini family was established in Lucca as a local musical dynasty by Puccini’s great-great grandfather – also named Giacomo (1712–1781). This first Giacomo Puccini was maestro di cappella of the Cattedrale di San Martino in Lucca. He was succeeded in this position by his son, Antonio Puccini, and then by Antonio’s son Domenico, and Domenico’s son Michele (father of the subject of this article). Each of these men studied music at Bologna, and some took additional musical studies elsewhere. Domenico Puccini studied for a time under Giovanni Paisiello. Each composed music for the church. In addition, Domenico composed several operas, and Michele composed one opera. Puccini’s father Michele enjoyed a reputation throughout northern Italy, and his funeral was an occasion of public mourning, at which the then-famed composer Giovanni Pacini conducted a Requiem.

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With the Puccini family having occupied the position of maestro di cappella for 124 years (1740–1864) by the time of Michele’s death, it was anticipated that Michele’s son Giacomo would occupy that position as well when he was old enough. However, when Michele Puccini died in 1864, his son Giacomo was only six years old, and thus not capable of taking over his father’s job. As a child, he nevertheless participated in the musical life of the Cattedrale di San Martino, as a member of the boys’ choir and later as a substitute organist.

Puccini was given a general education at the seminary of San Michele in Lucca, and then at the seminary of the cathedral. One of Puccini’s uncles, Fortunato Magi, supervised his musical education. Puccini got a diploma from the Pacini School of Music in Lucca in 1880, having studied there with his uncle Fortunato, and later with Carlo Angeloni, who had also instructed Alfredo Catalani. A grant from the Italian Queen Margherita, and assistance from another uncle, Nicholas Cerù, provided the funds necessary for Puccini to continue his studies at the Milan Conservatory, where he studied composition with Stefano Ronchetti-Monteviti, Amilcare Ponchielli, and Antonio Bazzini. Puccini studied at the conservatory for three years. In 1880, at the age of 21, Puccini composed his Mass, which marks the culmination of his family’s long association with church music in his native Lucca.

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Puccini wrote an orchestral piece called the Capriccio sinfonica as a thesis composition for the Milan Conservatory. Puccini’s teachers Ponchielli and Bazzini were impressed by the work, and it was performed at a student concert at the conservatory. Puccini’s work was favorably reviewed in the Milanese publication Perseveranza, and thus Puccini began to build a reputation as a young composer of promise in Milanese music circles.

To run through Puccini’s life and career would, I fear, be otiose; his operas have lasting fame and popularity. Rather, I will take a somewhat quirky personal glimpse at Turandot, an enduring favorite with audiences, not least because of the 3rd act climactic aria nessun dorma, which has become the quintessence of classic operatic tenor mode – rather overdone these days.

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I’ll start with a quote from a critic, just to underscore my dislike for the breed. Michael Tanner writes in The Spectator in 2013:

Turandot is an irredeemable work, a terrible end to a career that had included three indisputable masterpieces and three less evident ones, counting Il Trittico as one. Any operatic composer who gets to the stage, as Puccini had, of searching through one play or novel after another, dissatisfied with any subject he is offered, should almost certainly give up.

This very much reminds me of Joseph Kerman who said, “Nobody would deny that dramatic potential can be found in this tale. Puccini, however, did not find it; his music does nothing to rationalize the legend or illuminate the characters,” and “while Turandot is more suave musically than Tosca, dramatically it is a good deal more depraved.” Hurrah for Sir Thomas Beecham who once remarked that anything that Joseph Kerman said about Puccini “can safely be ignored.”

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I’m not going to claim that Turandot is perfect: it is not. But it is musically more challenging than most of Puccini’s other works, and the tale itself is much darker and more profound than the critics allow. Though Puccini’s first interest in the subject was based on his reading of Friedrich Schiller’s 1801 play, Turandot, Puccini’s work is more closely based on the earlier text Turandot by Carlo Gozzi. The original story of Turan-Dokht (daughter of Turan) comes from the epic Haft Peykar (The Seven Beauties), the work of 12th-century Persian poet Nizami. The opera’s story, however, is set in China and involves Prince Calaf, who falls in love with the cold Princess Turandot. To obtain permission to marry her, a suitor has to solve three riddles; any wrong answer results in death. Calaf passes the test, but Turandot still refuses to marry him. He offers her a way out: if she is able to learn his name before dawn the next day, then at daybreak he will die.

The opera was unfinished at the time of Puccini’s death in 1924, and was completed by Franco Alfano in 1926. The first performance was held at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan on 25 April 1926 and conducted by Arturo Toscanini. This performance included only Puccini’s music and not Alfano’s additions. As tribute to Puccini, Toscanini laid down his baton at the end of Puccini’s composition, and the first performance of the opera as completed by Alfano came the following night, 26 April. A newspaper report published the day before the premiere states that Puccini himself gave Toscanini the suggestion to stop the opera performance at the final notes composed by Puccini:

A few weeks before his death, after having made Toscanini listen to the opera, Puccini exclaimed: “If I don’t succeed in finishing it, at this point someone will come to the footlights and will say: ‘The author composed until here, and then he died.'” Arturo Toscanini related Puccini’s words with great emotion, and, with the swift agreement of Puccini’s family and the publishers, decided that the evening of the first performance, the opera would appear as the author left it, with the anguish of being unable to finish.

Puccini and Toscanini

Puccini and Toscanini

The opera is, indeed, anguished in theme – and continues so in its performance history.

Act 3 troubles the critics a great deal, and, sadly, many reduce it to a kind of hormonal muddle instead of the climax of a complex tale, entwined with Puccini’s own life. If you don’t know the tale you’ll have to look it up – sorry. The first component that worries the critics is the torture and death of the slave girl Liù, who kills herself rather than reveal the prince’s name under Turandot’s brutal treatment. Many critics find this subplot needlessly callous. But this component may well be tangentially related to Puccini’s life. In 1909, Puccini’s wife Elvira publicly accused Doria Manfredi, a maid working for the Puccini family, of having an affair with the composer. After being publicly accused of adultery, Doria Manfredi committed suicide. An autopsy determined, however, that Doria had died a virgin, refuting the allegations made against her. Elvira Puccini was prosecuted for slander, and was sentenced to more than five months in prison, although a payment to the Manfredi family by Puccini spared Elvira from having to serve the sentence. Puccini was certainly a philanderer, but in this case he was innocent. Yet he still thought of himself as the indirect cause of Doria’s death – partly because Elvira’s accusations were fair, but misdirected.

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Act 3 is somewhat disjointed perhaps because Puccini was not able to finish it as he intended, and Alfano’s work, though based on Puccini’s sketches may not rise to the challenges of a complex ending. Alfano picks up the story after Liù’s death with Calaf’s rough attempt to seduce Turandot followed by him revealing his name, thus giving her the choice to love him in return or execute him. Eventually her icy heart melts and she admits that she knows his true name – it is “Love.” The critics tend to laugh off the ending as hormones at work, but I disagree. Calaf shows his honor by giving Turandot a way out, even though he has answered her riddles, and when she fails to guess his name, tells her flat out, proving that he would rather die than not be loved by her in return. Turandot, for her part, confesses that her iciness and hardness of heart towards Calaf, are components of her passionate heart, the reverse side of which is love. She might as well have had Freud speak her words for her. It’s really not Puccini’s fault if the critics can’t see the richness.

There’s also a certain oddity in setting Turandot in China because it’s really a Persian tale that had run through the hands of French, German, and Italian interpreters before Puccini used it. Nonetheless Puccini made some inspired compositional choices in using Chinese melodies for certain themes. The classic case is his use of the 18th century song 茉莉花 (“Jasmine Flower”), sung here by Song Zuying:

Here it is in La sui monti:

For most of the 20th century, for one reason or another, Turandot was not performed in China, and yet now is regaled as the national opera. Some critics claim it was banned by the People’s Republic because it cast China in a bad light. They don’t know what they are talking about, as usual. Things are never that simple in China. True, it did not see the light of day in China until the 1990’s, but this was not because of an outright ban, but because successive applications to produce it were turned down, each time for a different reason. Sure there was a sense that the opera was unfair to “modern” China underneath it all, but various influential Chinese also objected to the brutality, sexuality, and so forth. A 2008 production in Beijing marked Puccini’s 150th birthday, featuring a new ending written by Hao Weiya, based on Puccini’s sketches. It departs from Alfano’s ending chiefly in making Turandot’s change of heart a direct consequence of Liù’s suicide rather than of Calaf’s ardor – much more in keeping with Chinese sentiment.

Nessun dorma got a huge boost when Luciano Pavarotti’s recording became the theme song of the 1990 FIFA world cup in Italy. Here is a youthful Pavarotti onstage:

Puccini’s native Lucca is home to a well known cuisine. Here is a lucchese rabbit stew with olives. Italians routinely have pasta as a first course and meat dishes, such as this one, as a second course. So you can serve it with crusty bread. I’ll leave you to it as to quantities.

Coniglio con le olive alla lucchese

Ingredients

1 rabbit, cut in 8 pieces
2 (or more) shallots, peeled and chopped
extra virgin olive oil
nutmeg
Italian black olives
juice of a lemon
white wine

Instructions:

Sauté the shallots in a heavy skillet in olive oil until they are translucent. Remove them with a slotted spoon and set them aside.

Brown the rabbit pieces in the olive oil on all sides, over high heat. Return the shallots and add white wine to cover, plus lemon juice, nutmeg (freshly grated if possible), and olives. I sometimes add in grated lemon zest for an extra punch. Bring to a simmer and cook uncovered for about 35-40 minutes. During this time the sauce should reduce and thicken. Add more wine if it gets too dry.

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.

 

Mar 172014
 

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Joseph of Arimathea was, according to all four Gospels, the man who donated his own prepared tomb for the burial of Jesus after Jesus’ crucifixion. He is mentioned in all four canonical Gospels. According to Mark 15:43, he was an “honourable counsellor (bouleut?s), meaning a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, who was waiting for the kingdom of God”. In Matthew 27:57, he is described as a rich man and a disciple of Jesus. In John 19:38, we find out that Joseph was secretly a disciple of Jesus: as soon as he heard the news of Jesus’ death, he “went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus.”

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Pilate, reassured by a centurion that the death had taken place, allowed Joseph’s request. Joseph immediately purchased fine linen (Mark 15:46) and proceeded to Golgotha to take the body of Jesus down from the cross. There, assisted by Nicodemus, Joseph took the body and wrapped it in the fine linen and applied myrrh and aloes Nicodemus had brought, according to John 19:39. Jesus’ body then was conveyed to the place that had been prepared for Joseph’s own body, a man-made cave hewn from rock in the garden of his house nearby. This was done speedily, “for the Sabbath was drawing on”. This event is also mentioned in Luke 23:50–56. Joseph of Arimathea is venerated as a saint by the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, and some Anglican churches. His feast day is March 17 in the traditional Roman Catholic liturgical calendar. Eastern Orthodox churches commemorate him Sunday of Pascha (i.e., the second Sunday after Easter) and on July 31, the date shared by Lutheran churches.

He appears in some early New Testament apocrypha, and a series of legends grew around him during the Middle Ages, which tied him to Britain and the Holy Grail.

Since the 2nd century, a mass of legendary detail has accumulated around the figure of Joseph of Arimathea in addition to the New Testament references. Joseph is referenced in apocryphal and non-canonical accounts such as the Acts of Pilate, a text often appended to the medieval Gospel of Nicodemus and The Narrative of Joseph, and mentioned in the works of early church historians such as Irenaeus (125–189), Hippolytus (170–236), Tertullian (155–222) and Eusebius (260–340), who added details not found in the canonical accounts. Hilary of Poitiers (300–367) enriched the legend, and Saint John Chrysostom (347–407), the Patriarch of Constantinople, was the first to write that Joseph was one of the Seventy Apostles appointed in Luke 10.

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During the late 12th century, Joseph became connected with the Arthurian cycle, appearing in them as the first keeper of the Holy Grail. This idea first appears in Robert de Boron’s Joseph d’Arimathie, in which Joseph receives the Grail from an apparition of Jesus and sends it with his followers to Britain. This theme is elaborated upon in Boron’s sequels and in subsequent Arthurian works written by others. Later retellings of the story contend that Joseph of Arimathea himself traveled to Britain and became the first Christian bishop there.

The Gospel of Nicodemus, a text appended to the Acts of Pilate, provides additional details about Joseph. For instance, after Joseph asked Pilate for the body of Jesus, and prepared the body with Nicodemus’ help, Jesus’ body was delivered to a new tomb that Joseph had built for himself. In The Gospel of Nicodemus, the Jewish elders express anger at Joseph for burying the body of Christ:

And likewise Joseph also stepped out and said to them: Why are you angry against me because I begged the body of Jesus? Behold, I have put him in my new tomb, wrapping in clean linen; and I have rolled a stone to the door of the tomb. And you have acted not well against the just man, because you have not repented of crucifying him, but also have pierced him with a spear.

The Jewish elders then captured Joseph, and imprisoned him, and placed a seal on the door to his cell after first posting a guard. Joseph warned the elders:

The Son of God whom you hanged upon the cross, is able to deliver me out of your hands. All your wickedness will return upon you.

When the elders returned to the cell, the seal was still in place, but Joseph was gone. The elders later discovered that Joseph had returned to Arimathea. Having a change in heart, the elders desired to have a more civil conversation with Joseph about his actions and sent a letter of apology to him by means of seven of his friends. Joseph traveled back from Arimathea to Jerusalem to meet with the elders, where they questioned him about his escape.

According to The Gospel of Nicodemus, Joseph testified to the Jewish elders, and specifically to chief priests Caiaphas and Annas that Jesus had risen from the dead and ascended to heaven and he indicated that others were raised from the dead at the resurrection of Christ (repeating Matt 27:52–53). He specifically identified the two sons of the high-priest Simeon (again in Luke 2:25–35). The elders Annas, Caiaphas, Nicodemus, and Joseph himself, along with Gamaliel under whom Paul of Tarsus studied, traveled to Arimathea to interview Simeon’s sons Charinus and Lenthius.

Medieval interest in Joseph centered on two themes, that of Joseph as the founder of British Christianity (even before it had taken hold in Rome), and that of Joseph as the original guardian of the Holy Grail. Legends about the arrival of Christianity in Britain abounded during the Middle Ages. Early writers do not connect Joseph to this activity, however. Tertullian (AD 155–222) wrote in Adversus Judaeos that Britain had already received and accepted the Gospel in his lifetime, writing of:

… all the limits of the Spains, and the diverse nations of the Gauls, and the haunts of the Britons–inaccessible to the Romans, but subjugated to Christ.

Tertullian does not say how the Gospel came to Britain before AD 222. However, Eusebius of Caesarea, (AD 260–340), one of the earliest and most comprehensive of church historians, wrote of Christ’s disciples in Demonstratio Evangelica, saying that “some have crossed the Ocean and reached the Isles of Britain.” Saint Hilary of Poitiers (AD 300–376) also wrote that the Apostles had built churches and that the Gospel had passed into Britain. Hippolytus (AD 170–236), considered to have been one of the most learned Christian historians, puts names to the seventy disciples whom Jesus sent forth in Luke 10, includes Aristobulus of Romans 16:10 with Joseph, and states that he ended up becoming a pastor in Britain. In none of these earliest references to Christianity’s arrival in Britain is Joseph of Arimathea mentioned.

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The first literary connection of Joseph of Arimathea with Britain came in the ninth-century Life of Mary Magdalene attributed to Rabanus Maurus (AD 766–856), Archbishop of Mainz; however, the earliest authentic copy of the Maurus text is one housed in the Bodleian Library of Oxford University. Rabanus states that Joseph of Arimathea was sent to Britain, and he goes on to detail who traveled with him as far as France, claiming that he was accompanied by “the two Bethany sisters, Mary and Martha, Lazarus (who was raised from the dead), St. Eutropius, St. Salome, St. Cleon, St. Saturnius, St. Mary Magdalen, St. Maxium or Maximin, St. Martial, and St. Trophimus or Restitutus.” Rabanus Maurus describes their voyage to Britain:

Leaving the shores of Asia and favored by an east wind, they went round about, down the Tyrrhenian Sea, between Europe and Africa, leaving the city of Rome and all the land to the right. Then happily turning their course to the right, they came near to the city of Marseilles, in the Viennoise province of the Gauls, where the river Rhône is received by the sea. There, having called upon God, the great King of all the world, they parted; each company going to the province where the Holy Spirit directed them; presently preaching everywhere.

The route he describes follows that of a supposed Phoenician trade route to Britain, as described by Diodorus Siculus. The book by William of Malmesbury De Antiquitate Glastoniensis Ecclesiae (“On the Antiquity of the Church of Glastonbury”, circa 1125) has not survived in its original edition, and the stories involving Joseph of Arimathea contained in future editions are full of interpolations placed by the Glastonbury monks “in order to increase the Abbey’s prestige – and thus its pilgrim trade and prosperity.”  In his Gesta Regum Anglorum (“History of The Kings of England”, finished in 1125), William of Malmesbury wrote that Glastonbury Abbey was built by preachers sent by Pope Eleuterus to Britain, however also adding: “Moreover there are documents of no small credit, which have been discovered in certain places to the following effect: ‘No other hands than those of the disciples of Christ erected the church of Glastonbury’;” but here William did not link Glastonbury with Joseph of Arimathea, but with Philip the Apostle: “if Philip, the Apostle, preached to the Gauls, as Freculphus relates in the fourth chapter of his second book, it may be believed that he also planted the word on this side of the channel also.”

In 1989 A. W. Smith critically examined the accretion of legends around Joseph of Arimathea, by which the poem hymn of William Blake, Jerusalem, ( “And did those feet in ancient time”) is commonly held as “an almost secret yet passionately held article of faith among certain otherwise quite orthodox Christians” and Smith concluded “that there was little reason to believe that an oral tradition concerning a visit made by Jesus to Britain existed before the early part of the twentieth century.” Folklorist Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould recounted a Cornish story concerning how “Joseph of Arimathea came in a boat to Cornwall, and brought the child Jesus with him, and the latter taught him how to extract the tin and purge it of its wolfram. This story possibly grew out of the fact that the Jews under the Angevin kings farmed the tin of Cornwall.” In its most developed version, Joseph, a tin merchant, visited Cornwall, accompanied by his nephew, the boy Jesus. C.C. Dobson (1879–1960) made a case for the authenticity of the Glastonbury legend. The case was argued more recently by Dr Gordon Strachan (1934–2010) and by Dennis Price.

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The legend that Joseph was given the responsibility of keeping the Holy Grail was the product of Robert de Boron, who essentially expanded upon stories from Acts of Pilate. In Boron’s Joseph d’Arimathe, Joseph is imprisoned much as in the Acts, but it is the Grail that sustains him during his captivity. Upon his release he founds his company of followers, who take the Grail to Britain. The origin of the association between Joseph and Britain is not entirely clear, but it is probably through this association that Boron attached him to the Grail. In the Lancelot-Grail Cycle, a vast Arthurian composition that took much from Boron, it is not Joseph but his son Josephus who is considered the primary holy man of Britain.

Later authors sometimes mistakenly or deliberately treated the Grail story as truth. Such stories were inspired by the account of John of Glastonbury, who assembled a chronicle of the history of Glastonbury Abbey around 1350 and who wrote that Joseph, when he came to Britain, brought with him vessels containing the blood and sweat of Christ (without using the word Grail). This account inspired the future claims of the Grail, including the claim involving the Nanteos Cup on display in the museum in Aberystwyth. However, it should be noted that there is no reference to this tradition in ancient or medieval text. John of Glastonbury further claims that King Arthur was descended from Joseph, listing the following imaginative pedigree through King Arthur’s mother:

 Helaius, Nepos Joseph, Genuit Josus, Josue Genuit Aminadab, Aminadab Genuit Filium, qui Genuit Ygernam, de qua Rex Pen-Dragon, Genuit Nobilem et Famosum Regum Arthurum . . .

[Helaius  grandson of Joseph begat Joshua, Joshua begat Amminadab, and Amminadab begat a Son, who gave birth to Ygernam, from whom came King Pen-Dragon, who begat the noble and famous King Arthur . . . ]

Elizabeth I cited Joseph’s missionary work in England when she told Roman Catholic bishops that the Church of England pre-dated the Roman Church in England.

Another famous story claims that when Joseph set his walking staff on the ground while he slept, it miraculously took root, leafed out, and blossomed as the “Glastonbury Thorn.” The constant retelling of such miracles encouraged the pilgrimage trade at Glastonbury until the Abbey was dissolved in 1539, during the English Reformation.

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The Glastonbury Thorn is a form of Common Hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna ‘Biflora’ (sometimes incorrectly called Crataegus oxyacantha var. praecox), found in and around Glastonbury, in Somerset. Unlike ordinary hawthorn trees, it flowers twice a year (hence the name “biflora”), the first time in winter and the second time in spring. The trees in the Glastonbury area have been propagated by grafting since ancient times.

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It is associated with legends about Joseph of Arimathea and the arrival of Christianity in Britain, and has appeared in written texts since the medieval period. A flowering sprig is sent to the British Monarch every Christmas. The original tree has been propagated several times, with one tree growing at Glastonbury Abbey and another in the churchyard of the Church of St John. The “original” Glastonbury Thorn was cut down and burned as a relic of superstition during the English Civil War, and one planted on Wearyall Hill in 1951 to replace it had its branches cut off in 2010.

Somerset, where Glastonbury is located, is noted for a number of famous ingredients including Cheddar cheese and traditional cider (as well as perry which is like cider but made from pears). Although Cheddar cheese originated in Cheddar in Somerset it has no Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) within the European Union. However, only cheddar produced from local milk within four counties of South West England, may use the name “West Country Farmhouse Cheddar.”  Well worth sampling; you won’t want a pallid, tasteless, yellow block of soap after that.

Here is a classic casserole of rabbit baked in cider.  Make sure you are using a good English cider (not sparkling).  I recommend serving diced potatoes and carrots as side dishes, but you can also just cook them in the casserole with the rabbit.

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Somerset Rabbit Casserole

1 rabbit, jointed in about 12 pieces
2 oz butter
1 onion, sliced
5 oz button mushrooms, halved
1 oz flour
½ pint of dry Somerset cider
3 tbsp single cream
salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

Melt half the butter in a frying pan. Sauté the rabbit pieces until lightly browned. Remove them with a slotted spoon and place in a casserole.

Add the onion and mushrooms to the frying pan and sauté for 4 or 5 minutes until light golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and add to the casserole.

Melt the remaining butter in the frying pan, add the flour and cook for a minute or two stirring constantly to make a blond roux. Remove from the heat and gradually stir in the dry cider with a whisk so as not to form lumps.

Return to the heat and bring to the boil, stir constantly.  Cook for a minute. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the sauce over the rabbit. Cover the dish and cook at 375°F/190°C for about an hour or until the rabbit is tender. Do not overcook.  Rabbit can easily dry out if cooked too long.

Just before serving stir in the cream. Serve with poached new potatoes and diced carrots.