Nov 162018
 

Today is the feast of Saint Edmund of Abingdon (circa 1174 – 1240), a 13th-century archbishop of Canterbury. He became a respected lecturer in mathematics, dialectics and theology at the Universities of Paris and Oxford. Edmund was born around 1174, possibly on 20th November (the feast of St Edmund the Martyr), in Abingdon in Berkshire (now Oxfordshire). “Rich” was an epithet sometimes given to his wealthy merchant father. It was never applied to Edmund or his siblings in their lifetimes. Edmund may have been educated at the monastic school in Abingdon. His early studies were in England, but he completed his higher learning in France at the University of Paris. About 1195, in company with his brother Richard, he was sent to the schools of Paris. He studied at the universities of Oxford and Paris and became a teacher about 1200, or a little earlier. For six years he lectured on mathematics and dialectics, apparently dividing his time between Oxford and Paris, and helped introduce the study of Aristotle.

Edmund became one of Oxford’s first lecturers with a Master of Arts, but was not Oxford’s first Doctor of Divinity. Long hours at night spent in prayer had the result that he often nodded off during his lectures. There is a long-established tradition that he used his lecture fees to build the Lady Chapel of St Peter’s in the East at Oxford. The site where he lived and taught was formed into a medieval academic hall in his name and later incorporated as the college of St Edmund Hall. His mother influenced him towards self-denial and austerity, and this led to his taking up the study of theology.

Though for some time Edmund resisted the change, he finally entered upon his new career between 1205 and 1210. He was ordained, took a doctorate in divinity and soon became known as a lecturer on theology and as an extemporaneous preacher. Some time between 1219 and 1222 he was appointed vicar of the parish of Calne in Wiltshire, and treasurer of Salisbury Cathedral. He held this position for eleven years, during which time he also engaged in preaching. In 1227 he preached the sixth crusade through a large part of England. In 1233 he was appointed archbishop of Canterbury by Gregory IX. The chapter had already made three selections which the pope had declined to confirm. Edmund’s name had been proposed as a compromise by Gregory, perhaps on account of his work for the crusade. He was consecrated on 2nd April 1234.

Before his consecration Edmund became known for supporting ecclesiastical independence from Rome, maintenance of the Magna Carta and the exclusion of foreigners from civil and ecclesiastical office. He was reluctant to accept appointment as archbishop but was persuaded to accept when it was pointed out that if he refused, the pope might very well appoint a foreigner. He chose as his chancellor Richard of Wich, known to later ages as St Richard of Chichester.

In the name of his fellow bishops Edmund admonished Henry III of England at Westminster, on 2nd February 1234, to heed the example of his father, king John. A week after his consecration he again appeared before the king with the barons and bishops, this time threatening Henry with excommunication if he refused to dismiss his councilors, particularly Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester. Henry yielded, and the favorites were dismissed, Hubert de Burgh (whom they had imprisoned) was released and reconciled to the king and soon the archbishop was sent to Wales to negotiate peace with Llywelyn the Great. Edmund’s success, however, turned the king against him.

Edmund was valued by the local people for his teaching, preaching, study, and his prayer; but his uncompromising stand in favor of good discipline in both civil and ecclesial government, of strict observance in monastic life, and of justice in high quarters brought him into conflict with Henry III, with several monasteries, and with the priests of Canterbury cathedral. He claimed and exercised metropolitan rights of visitation, this was often challenged and he had to resort to litigation to maintain his authority, not the least with his own monastic chapter at Canterbury.

Although he was known for his gentleness and courtesy, Edmund firmly defended the rights of Church and State against the exactions and usurpations of Henry III. In December 1237 Edmund set out for Rome to plead his cause in person. From this futile mission he returned to England in August 1238 where his efforts to foster reform were frustrated. Edmund submitted to papal demands and, early in 1240 paid to the pope’s agents one fifth of his revenue, which had been levied for the pope’s war against Emperor Frederick II. Other English prelates followed his example.

The papacy then ordered that 300 English benefices should be assigned to Romans. In 1240 Edmund set out for Rome. At the Cistercian Pontigny Abbey in France he became sick, began traveling back to England, but died only 50 miles further north, on 16th November 1240, at the house of Augustinian Canons at Soisy-Bouy and was taken back to Pontigny.

In less than a year after Edmund’s death miracles were alleged to be wrought at his grave. He was canonized only 6 years after his death, in December 1246. A few years later the first chapel dedicated to him, St Edmund’s Chapel, was consecrated in Dover by his friend Richard of Chichester (making it the only chapel dedicated to one English saint by another). At Salisbury a collegiate church and an altar in the cathedral were dedicated to Saint Edmund. Today he is remembered in the name of St Edmund Hall, Oxford and St Edmund’s College, Cambridge.

Edmund’s body was never translated to Canterbury, because the Benedictine community there resented what they regarded as Edmund’s attacks on their independence. After his death he was taken back to Pontigny Abbey, where his main relics are now found in a baroque reliquary tomb dating to the 17th century. An arm is enshrined in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Assumption at St. Edmund’s Retreat on Enders Island off the coast of Mystic, Connecticut. The retreat is operated by the Society of the Fathers and Brothers of St. Edmund. In 1853, the fibula of the Edmund’s left leg was presented to St Edmund’s College, Ware, by Cardinal Wiseman. Many local cures of serious illnesses were attributed to the intercession of St Edmund; one of the earliest of these was of a student who nearly died after a fall in 1871. His complete healing led to the accomplishment of a vow to extend the beautiful Pugin chapel with a side chapel to honour the saint. The Islamic silk chasuble, with the main fabric probably made in Al-Andaluz, that Edmund had with him at his death remains in a local church, with a stole and maniple.

Here is a recipe from Libellus De Arte Coquinaria (The Little Book of Culinary Arts), a culinary manuscript containing thirty-five early Northern European recipes. The manuscript consists of recipes in Danish, Icelandic, and Low German with bits of Latin thrown in, dating from the early 13th century. I imagine this style of cooking was well known in England. The recipe looks like a cross between a quiche and a pot pie. Worth a shot. I’ve made a stab at a free translation from Old Danish, but you will have to fill in the gaps.

De cibo qui dicitur koken wan honer.

Man skal gøræ en grytæ af degh, oc skær et høns thær I alt I styki, oc latæ thær I spæk wæl skoren sum ærtær,pipær oc komiæn oc æggi blomæ, wæl slaghæn mæth safran; oc takæ thæn grytæ oc latæ bakæ I en ofn. Thæt hetær kokæn wan honer.

The dish that is called Chicken Pie.

Make a shell of dough, and put into it a hen, cut into pieces. Add bacon, diced the size of peas, pepper, cumin, and egg yolks well beaten with saffron. Then take the pastry shell and bake it in an oven. It is called Chicken Pie.

 

Jan 302018
 

Today is the (sometimes disputed) birthday (58 BCE) of Livia Drusilla, also known as Julia Augusta after her formal adoption into the Julian family in 14 CE, wife of the Roman emperor Augustus throughout his reign, as well as his political adviser. She was the mother of the emperor Tiberius, paternal grandmother of the emperor Claudius, paternal great-grandmother of the emperor Caligula, and maternal great-great-grandmother of the emperor Nero. She was deified by Claudius who acknowledged her title of Augusta. In modern historical fiction she is usually portrayed as a Machiavellian presence throughout the early empire, but more analytic historians paint her as a strong woman in a time when men controlled politics.

She was the daughter of Marcus Livius Drusus Claudianus and his wife Aufidia, a daughter of the magistrate Marcus Aufidius Lurco. The diminutive Drusilla, commonly used in her name, suggests that she was a second daughter. She was probably first married in 43 BCE. Her father married her to Tiberius Claudius Nero, her cousin of patrician status who was fighting with him on the side of Julius Caesar’s assassins against Octavian (later the emperor Augustus). Her father committed suicide in the Battle of Philippi, along with Gaius Cassius Longinus and Marcus Junius Brutus, but her husband continued fighting against Octavian, now on behalf of Mark Antony and his brother Lucius Antonius. Her first child, the future Emperor Tiberius, was born in 42 BCE. In 40 BCE the family was forced to flee Italy in order to avoid the Triumvirate of Octavian, Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, and Mark Antony and the proscriptions they began. They joined with a son of Pompey Magnus, Sextus Pompeius, who was fighting the triumvirate from his base in Sicily. Later, Livia, her husband Tiberius Nero, and their two-year-old son, Tiberius, moved on to Greece.

After peace was established between the Triumvirate and the followers of Sextus Pompeius, a general amnesty was announced, and Livia returned to Rome, where she was personally introduced to Octavian in 39 BCE. At this time, was pregnant with a second son, Nero Claudius Drusus (also known as Drusus the Elder). Legend has it that Octavian fell immediately in love with her, despite the fact that he was still married to Scribonia. Octavian divorced Scribonia in 39 BCE, on the very day that she gave birth to his daughter Julia the Elder. Seemingly around that time, when Livia was six months pregnant, Tiberius Claudius Nero was persuaded or forced by Octavian to divorce Livia. On 14 January, the child was born. Augustus and Livia married on 17 January, waiving the traditional waiting period. Tiberius Claudius Nero was present at the wedding, giving her in marriage “just as a father would.” The importance of the patrician Claudii to Octavian’s cause, and the political survival of the Claudii Nerones are probably more rational explanations for the speedy union. Nevertheless, Livia and Augustus remained married for the next 51 years, despite the fact that they had no children apart from a single miscarriage. She always enjoyed the status of privileged counselor to her husband, petitioning him on the behalf of others and influencing his policies, an unusual role for a Roman wife in a culture dominated by the pater familias.

After Mark Antony’s suicide following the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, Octavian returned to Rome triumphant. On 16 January 27 BCE, the Senate bestowed upon him the honorary title of Augustus (“honorable” or “revered one”). Augustus rejected monarchical titles, instead choosing to refer to himself as Princeps Civitatis (“First Citizen of the State”) or Princeps Senatus (“First among the Senate”). He and Livia formed the role model for Roman households. Despite their wealth and power, Augustus’ family continued to live modestly in their house on the Palatine Hill. Livia would set the pattern for the noble Roman matrona. She wore neither excessive jewelry nor pretentious costumes, she took care of the household and her husband (often making his clothes herself), always faithful and dedicated. In 35 BCE Octavian gave Livia the unprecedented honor of ruling her own finances and dedicated a public statue to her. She had her own circle of clients and pushed many protégés into political offices, including the grandfathers of the later emperors Galba and Otho.

With Augustus being the father of only one daughter, Livia soon started to push her own sons, Tiberius and Nero Claudius Drusus, into power. Drusus was a trusted general and married Augustus’ favorite niece, Antonia Minor. They had three children including the future emperor Claudiua. Tiberius married Augustus’ daughter Julia the Elder in 11 BCE and was ultimately adopted by his stepfather in 4CE and named as Augustus’ heir.

Rumor had it that when Marcellus, nephew of Augustus, died in 23 BCE, it was no natural death, and that Livia was behind it. After the two elder sons of Julia by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, whom Augustus had adopted as sons and successors, had died, he adopted the one remaining son Agrippa Postumus at the same time as Tiberius, but later Agrippa Postumus was sent to an island and finally killed. Tacitus charges that Livia was not altogether innocent of these deaths and Cassius Dio also mentions such rumors. There are also rumors mentioned by Tacitus and Cassius Dio that Livia brought about Augustus’ death by poisoning fresh figs. Augustus’ granddaughter was Julia the Younger. Some time between 1 CE and 14 CE, her husband Lucius Aemilius Paullus was executed as a conspirator in a revolt. Modern historians theorize that Julia’s exile was not actually for adultery but for involvement in Paullus’ revolt. Livia Drusilla plotted against her stepdaughter’s family and ruined them. This led to open compassion for the fallen family. Julia died in 29 AD on the same island where she had been sent in exile twenty years earlier.

Augustus died on August 19, 14 CE, being deified by the Senate shortly afterwards. In his will, he left one third of his property to Livia, and the other two thirds to Tiberius. In the will, he also adopted her into the Julian family and granted her the honorific title of Augusta. These dispositions permitted Livia to maintain her status and power after her husband’s death, under the new name of Julia Augusta. Tacitus and Cassius Dio wrote that rumors persisted that Augustus was poisoned by Livia, but these are mainly dismissed as malicious fabrications spread by political enemies of the dynasty.

For some time, Livia and her son Tiberius, the new emperor, appeared to get along with each other. Speaking against her became treason in AD 20, and in AD 24 he granted his mother a theater seat among the Vestal Virgins. Livia exercised unofficial but very real power in Rome. Eventually, Tiberius became resentful of his mother’s political status, particularly against the idea that it was she who had given him the throne. At the beginning of his reign Tiberius vetoed the unprecedented title Mater Patriae (“Mother of the Fatherland”) that the Senate wished to bestow upon her, in the same manner in which Augustus had been named Pater Patriae (“Father of the Fatherland”). (Tiberius also consistently refused the title of Pater Patriae for himself.)

The historians Tacitus and Cassius Dio depict an overweening, even domineering dowager, ready to interfere in Tiberius’ decisions, the most notable instances being the case of Urgulania (grandmother of Claudius’s first wife Plautia Urgulanilla), a woman who correctly assumed that her friendship with the empress placed her above the law, and Munatia Plancina, suspected of murdering Germanicus and saved at Livia’s entreaty. (Plancina committed suicide in AD 33 after being accused again of murder after Livia’s death). A notice from 22 CE records that Julia Augusta (Livia) dedicated a statue to Augustus in the center of Rome, placing her own name even before that of Tiberius.

Ancient historians give as a reason for Tiberius’ retirement to Capri his inability to endure her any longer. Until 22 CE there had, according to Tacitus, been “a genuine harmony between mother and son, or a hatred well concealed.” Dio tells us that at the time of his accession Tiberius already heartily loathed her. In 22 CE she had fallen ill, and Tiberius had hastened back to Rome in order to be with her. But in 29 CE when she finally fell ill and died, he remained on Capri, pleading pressure of work and sending Caligula to deliver the funeral oration. Suetonius adds the macabre detail that “when she died… after a delay of several days, during which he held out hope of his coming, [she was at last] buried because the condition of the corpse made it necessary…”. Tiberius also vetoed divine honors for her and later he vetoed all the honors the Senate had granted her after her death and cancelled the fulfillment of her will.

It was not until 13 years later, in 42 CE during the reign of her grandson Claudius, that all her honors were restored and her deification finally completed. She was named Diva Augusta (The Divine Augusta), and an elephant-drawn chariot conveyed her image to all public games. A statue of her was set up in the Temple of Augustus along with her husband’s, races were held in her honor, and women were to invoke her name in their sacred oaths. In  410, during the Sack of Rome, her ashes were scattered when Augustus’ tomb was sacked.

While reporting various unsavory hearsay, the ancient sources generally portray Livia as a woman of proud and imperial attributes, faithful to her imperial husband, for whom she was a worthy consort, forever poised and dignified. With consummate skill she acted out the roles of consort, mother, widow and dowager. Dio records two of her utterances: “Once, when some naked men met her and were to be put to death in consequence, she saved their lives by saying that to a chaste woman such men are in no way different from statues. When someone asked her how she had obtained such a commanding influence over Augustus, she answered that it was by being scrupulously chaste herself, doing gladly whatever pleased him, not meddling with any of his affairs, and, in particular, by pretending neither to hear nor to notice the favorites of his passion.”

Livia’s image appears in ancient visual media such as coins and portraits. She was the first woman to appear on provincial coins in 16 BCE and her portrait images can be chronologically identified partially from the progression of her hair designs, which represented more than keeping up with the fashions of the time as her depiction with such contemporary details translated into a political statement of representing the ideal Roman woman. Livia’s image evolves with different styles of portraiture that trace her effect on imperial propaganda that helped bridge the gap between her role as wife to the emperor Augustus, to mother of the emperor Tiberius. Becoming more than the “beautiful woman” she is described as in ancient texts, Livia serves as a public image for the idealization of Roman feminine qualities, a motherly figure, and eventually a goddesslike representation that alludes to her virtue. Livia’s power in symbolizing the renewal of the Republic with the female virtues Pietas and Concordia in public displays had a dramatic effect on the visual representation of future imperial women as ideal, honorable mothers and wives of Rome.

In the popular fictional work I, Claudius by Robert Graves—based on Tacitus’ innuendo—Livia is portrayed as a thoroughly Machiavellian, scheming political mastermind. Determined never to allow republican governance to flower again, as she felt they led to corruption and civil war, and devoted to bringing Tiberius to power and then maintaining him there, she is involved in nearly every death or disgrace in the Julio-Claudian family up to the time of her death. On her deathbed she only fears divine punishment for all she had done, and secures the promise of future deification by her grandson Claudius, an act which, she believes, will guarantee her a blissful afterlife. However, this portrait of her is balanced by her intense devotion to the well-being of the Empire as a whole, and her machinations are justified as a necessarily cruel means to what she firmly considers a noble aspiration: the common good of the Romans, achievable only under strict imperial rule.

I suppose Graves’s portrayal is reasonably balanced, but it leaves out some important considerations. First, even if she carried out the nasty things she is accused of, she is no worse than most of the men who held power in Rome. Standard procedure for getting rid of enemies (real or imagined – including family members) was to have them killed, and there were many emperors who killed far more than she. Second, she was a woman in a man’s world. No woman before her had risen to her status before her, and she achieved this by strength of character alone. She had no right to be anything other than a subservient wife, yet she managed to become one of the most powerful people in imperial Rome (male or female).

In popular tradition Livia is assumed to be the killer of Augustus using poisoned figs, based largely on the account by Tacitus. There is no way of telling any more, but if she did serve him figs that were poisoned then they would have had to have been spiced, preserved fresh figs to mask the taste of the poison. Apicius in his De re coquinaria (On the Subject of Cooking) has a rather rudimentary recipe for preserved figs, but a little interpolation from the previous recipe can help flesh it out.

The basic recipe is:

[22] to preserve fresh figs, apples, plums, pears and cherries

Select them all very carefully with the stems on and place them in honey so they do not touch each other.

Not removing the stems keeps the fruit intact so that air will not get inside the fruit and start fermentation.  The preceding recipe calls for placing fruit in a vessel, and pouring over it honey and defretum. Defretum was new wine that had been spiced and then boiled down to half its volume.

If you can get fresh figs, you have a whole range of options. You can slice them in half and back them in a pie shell. In northern Italy I was very fond of a sandwich made of sliced figs and Gorgonzola. All delicious, but hold off on the arsenic.

 

Sep 202017
 

On this date in 1870 the 12th battalion of the Bersaglieri stormed Rome through a breach created by Italian artillery in the Aurelian Walls near Porta Pia leading to the capture of Rome and end of the temporal power of the pope, thus completing the unification of Italy.  The unification of Italy, known in Italian as the Risorgimento, was a long, drawn out affair facing numerous obstacles along the way. Capturing Rome and making it the capital of the new Italian state was the final piece of the puzzle.

Rome was a crucial prize for all kinds of reasons. For starters, Rome was of deep symbolic importance because of its historic role as a capital city dating back to the ancient Roman empire.  Second, it had been the seat of the papacy (off and on) for many centuries, and both the pope and the papal states had wielded enormous political, military, and economic power throughout Europe. The fall of Rome marked the end of this power.  Third, the unification of Italy up to that point had been dominated by the north, notably Piedmont, so that the initially unified kingdom of Italy (1861) under Victor Emmanuel II, former king of Sardinia, was a severely fractured nation with ongoing political hostilities and divisions between southern and northern states (that continues to this day). Creating Rome as the capital of the newly formed nation was expected to soften the dominance of the north because of its strategic geographic location (midway between south and north).

During the Second Italian War of Independence (1859), much of the territory of the Papal States had been conquered by the Piedmontese Army, and the newly unified kingdom of Italy was created when the first Italian Parliament met in Turin. On 27 March 1861, the Parliament declared Rome the capital of the kingdom of Italy. However, the Italian government could not take its seat in Rome because it did not control the territory. In addition, a French garrison was maintained in the city by Napoleon III of France in support of Pope Pius IX, who was determined not to hand over temporal power it had in the Papal States. In July 1870, at the very last moment of the Church’s rule over Rome, the First Vatican Council was held in the city – affirming the doctrine of papal infallibility

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In July 1870, the Franco-Prussian War began. In early August, Napoleon III recalled his garrison from Rome. The French not only needed the troops to defend their homeland, but there was also real concern in Paris that Italy might use the French presence in Rome as a pretext to go to war with France. In the earlier Austro-Prussian War (1866), Italy had allied with Prussia and Italian public opinion favored the Prussian side at the start of the war. The removal of the French garrison eased tensions between Italy and France. Italy remained neutral in the Franco-Prussian War.

With the French garrison gone, widespread public demonstrations demanded that the Italian government take Rome. But Rome remained under French protection on paper, therefore an attack would still have been regarded as an act of war against the French Empire. Furthermore, although Prussia was at war with France, it had gone to war in an uneasy alliance with the Catholic South German states that it had fought against (alongside Italy) just four years earlier. Although Prussian prime minister Otto von Bismarck was no friend of the papacy, he knew any war that put Prussia and the Holy See in opposing alliances would almost certainly have upset the delicate pan-German coalition, and with it his own carefully laid-out plans for national unification. For both Prussia and Italy, any misstep that caused the breakup of the pan-German coalition brought with it the risk of Austro-Hungarian intervention in a wider European conflict.

Above all else, Bismarck made every diplomatic effort to keep Prussia’s conflicts of the 1860s and 1870s localized and prevent them from spiraling out of control into a general European war. Therefore, not only was Prussia unable to offer any sort of alliance with Italy against France, but actually had to make diplomatic efforts to maintain Italian neutrality and keep the peace on the Italian peninsula, at least until the potential of a conflict there becoming intertwined with her own war with France had passed. Moreover, the French Army was still regarded as the strongest in Europe – and until events elsewhere took their course, the Italians were unwilling to provoke Napoleon III.

It was only after the surrender of Napoleon III and his army at the Battle of Sedan the situation changed radically. The French Emperor was deposed and forced into exile. The best French units had been captured by the Prussians, who quickly followed up their success at Sedan by marching on Paris. Faced with a pressing need to defend its capital with its remaining forces, the new French government was clearly not in a military position to retaliate against Italy. In any event, the new government was far less sympathetic to the Holy See and did not possess the political will to protect the Pope’s position.

Finally, with the French government on a more democratic footing and the seemingly harsh Prussian peace terms becoming public knowledge, Italian public opinion shifted sharply away from the German side in favor of France. With that development, the prospect of a conflict on the Italian peninsula provoking foreign intervention pretty much vanished.

King Victor Emmanuel II sent Conte Gustavo Ponza di San Martino to Pius IX with a personal letter offering a face-saving proposal that would have allowed the peaceful entry of the Italian Army into Rome, under the guise of protecting the pope. Along with the letter, the count carried a document setting out ten articles to serve as the basis for an agreement between Italy and the Holy See.

The Pope would retain the inviolability and prerogatives attaching to him as a sovereign. The Leonine City (surrounding the Vatican) would remain “under the full jurisdiction and sovereignty of the Pontiff”. The Italian state would guarantee the pope’s freedom to communicate with the Catholic world, as well as diplomatic immunity both for the nuncios and envoys in foreign lands and for the foreign diplomats at the Holy See. The government would supply a permanent annual fund for the pope and the cardinals, equal to the amount currently assigned to them by the budget of the pontifical state, and would assume all papal civil servants and soldiers onto the state payroll, with full pensions as long as they were Italian.

The pope met San Martino on 10th September 1870 and violently responded, “Fine loyalty! You are all a set of vipers, of whited sepulchres, and wanting in faith. . . . I am no prophet, nor son of a prophet, but I tell you, you will never enter Rome!”

The Italian army, commanded by General Raffaele Cadorna, crossed the papal frontier on 11 September and advanced toward Rome, moving slowly in the hope that a peaceful entry could be negotiated. The Papal garrisons had retreated from Orvieto, Viterbo, Alatri, Frosinone and other strongholds in the Lazio, Pius IX himself being convinced of the inevitability of a surrender. When the Italian Army approached the Aurelian Walls that defended the city, the papal force was commanded by General Hermann Kanzler, and was composed of the Swiss Guards and a few “zouaves”—volunteers from France, Austria, the Netherlands, Spain, and other countries—for a total of 13,157 men against around 50,000 Italians.

The Italian army reached the Aurelian Walls on 19th September and placed Rome under a state of siege. Pius IX decided that the surrender of the city would be granted only after his troops had put up enough resistance to make it plain that the take-over was not freely accepted. On 20th September, after a cannonade of three hours had breached the Aurelian Walls at Porta Pia (Breccia di Porta Pia), the crack Piedmontese infantry corps of Bersaglieri entered Rome. In the event 49 Italian soldiers and 19 Papal Zouaves died. Rome and the region of Lazio were annexed to the Kingdom of Italy after a plebiscite.

The Leonine City, excluding the Vatican, seat of the Pope, was occupied by Italian soldiers on September 21. The Italian government had intended to let the Pope keep the Leonine City, but the Pope would not agree to give up his claims to a broader territory and claimed that since his army had been disbanded, apart from a few guards, he was unable to ensure public order even in such a small territory.

The Via Pia, the road departing from Porta Pia, was rechristened Via XX Settembre (September 20). Subsequently, in numerous Italian cities the name Venti Settembre was given to the main road leading to the local Cathedral. A monument was erected in 1932 in front of Porta Pia to commemorate the event at the same time as the National Museum of the Bersaglieri corps was moved to Porta Pia, where it remains to this day.

By rights I should give you trippa alla romana – a Roman tripe dish I have enjoyed in a little restaurant by the Tiber, but instead I’ll give you another absolutely classic Roman dish, corda alla vaccinara (butcher’s oxtail), an oxtail stew laden with celery. The oxtail is parboiled and then simmered with large amounts of celery (there should be 1.5 kilos of celery for every kilo of oxtail), carrots, and aromatic herbs. Tomatoes and red wine are added, and then the mixture is cooked further with a soffritto of onions, garlic, prosciutto, pancetta and some other ingredients. During the final phase of cooking, a bouquet garni of bay leaves, celery stalks, and cloves is put in the pot for flavoring. The oxtail should be cooked such a long time that the meat easily separates from the bones. It is seasoned with cinnamon, nutmeg, and black pepper and garnished with pine nuts.

Coda is usually prepared to taste sweet-and-sour, usually using raisins, or sometimes candied fruit or a small amount of grated bittersweet chocolate. Coda is generally prepared in advance and reheated. Leftovers can be used as a sauce for rigatoni, which is then named rigatoni al sugo di coda.

Here’s an exact recipe if you need one:

http://www.eatingitalyfoodtours.com/blog/coda-alla-vaccinara/

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.

 

May 152017
 

Today, the Ides of May, was the Mercuralia (Festival of Mercury) in ancient Rome. Before talking about Mercury let’s talk a little about the Roman calendar first, since it formed the basis of the calendar commonly in use throughout the West. The calendar purported to have been created by the legendary founder of Rome, Romulus, had 10 months of either 31 days (full months) or 30 days (hollow months). The year began in March and ended in December, with roughly 51 days added in winter before March to keep the calendar in line with the sun. Those of you who know your Latin roots know that /septe/ /octo/ /noven/ and /decem/ are seven, eight, nine, and ten respectively. What day of the month it was, was expressed by counting forward to key points in the month: kalends, nones, and ides. The kalends was the first of the month (and gives us the word “calendar”), the ides were the 15th in full months and the 13th in hollow months, and the nones were one week before the ides. The Roman week was 8 days long, but a week was counted as nine days (nones) inclusively. May was a full month so the Ides were the 15th. In case you are wondering, January, February were added in when reforms were made by Julius Caesar and Augustus who gave their names to what were formerly simply called fifth and sixth months.

Mercury was the Roman messenger god whose attributes were mainly borrowed from the Greek god Hermes, but there are some legendary tales extant regarding Mercury that are clearly distinct from Greek ones and in line with ancient Roman beliefs. He was the god in charge of (variously) trade, thieves, eloquence, messages, luck, and travel. His name, by folk etymology, was related to “merx” (merchandise), “mercari” (trade), and “merces” (wages).  The Ides of May was designated as his birthday from pre-Republican times, the Mercuralia, and on this day the merchants of Rome used laurel boughs to sprinkle their merchandise, their ships, and their heads with water from a fountain at Porta Capena known as aqua Mercurii. They also offered prayers to Mercury for forgiveness of past and future perjuries, for profit, and the continued ability to cheat customers!

Mercury was not one of the most ancient of the Roman gods but he did have a temple in Rome situated in the Circus Maximus, between the Aventine and Palatine hills. It was built in 495 BCE and dedicated on the Ides of May. That year saw conflicts in Rome between the patrician senators and the plebeians, which led to a secession of the plebs in the following year. At the completion of the temple’s construction, a dispute emerged between the consuls Appius Claudius Sabinus Regillensis and Publius Servilius Priscus Structus as to which of them should have the honor of dedicating the temple. The senate referred the decision to the popular assembly, and also decreed that whichever was chosen should also exercise additional duties, including presiding over the markets, establishing a merchants’ guild, and exercising the functions of the pontifex maximus. The people, because of the ongoing public discord, and in order to spite the senate and the consuls, instead awarded the honor of dedicating the temple to the senior military officer of one of the legions, Marcus Laetorius. The senate and the consuls, in particular the conservative Appius, were outraged at this decision, and it inflamed the ongoing situation leading to the famous secession of the plebeians the following year.

The temple was regarded as a fitting place to worship a swift god of trade and travel, since it was a major center of commerce as well as a racetrack. Because it stood between the plebeian stronghold on the Aventine and the patrician center on the Palatine, it also emphasized the role of Mercury as a mediator. Following Greek legends of Hermes, Mercury was associated with leading newly deceased souls to the afterlife. Additionally, Ovid wrote that Mercury carried Morpheus’ dreams from the valley of Somnus to sleeping humans. So, Mercury’s roles as mediator, messenger, and merchant are all intertwined.

Because of Mercury’s common roles he was easily syncretized with various indigenous gods throughout the Western Roman empire, taking on their local attributes and worship in different parts of Gaul and Britain. He also gave his name to a wandering star (planet), and hence one of the names of a weekday in Romance languages (Wednesday), which are mostly named for bodies in the solar system (as opposed to English which uses Norse gods primarily).  To this day Mercury is a symbol of speed, especially in delivering messages.

Romans offered a great many things to Mercury to procure favors especially in trade and business, including cinnamon, honey, lambs, and goats. I make braised lamb shanks quite often, sometimes with a resultant honey glaze/sauce. Cinnamon and honey are a natural pairing, so here’s my recipe for honey and cinnamon braised lamb shanks in honor of Mercury. You could use goat pieces instead if you like. This should be an Old World only recipe – no potatoes, for example. You could serve the shanks with noodles if you believe, as I do, that the Romans made pasta long before Marco Polo visited China.

©Honey and Cinnamon Braised Lamb Shanks

Ingredients

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 lamb shanks
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 onion, peeled and sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
2 cinnamon sticks
4 tbsp honey
1 pint beef stock
1 pint chicken stock

Instructions

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a heavy cast-iron skillet. Add the onions and sauté until soft. Add the lamb shanks and brown thoroughly on all sides. Add the garlic towards the end, but do not let it brown.

Cover the shanks with beef and chicken stock. Bring to a simmer and add the honey and cinnamon. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Cook, uncovered, on a very slow simmer for 2 to 3 hours until the meat is falling from the bones and the braising sauce is thick and syrupy. You can do this step in the oven if you like at 325˚F.  If the sauce is not reduced enough, remove the shanks, turn up the heat to high and cook quickly until it is sufficiently reduced. Roll the shanks in the sauce to cover thoroughly and serve with Old World root vegetables.

Serves 4

Sep 202016
 
Clement VII

Clement VII

On this date in 1378 the majority of cardinals elected Robert of Geneva as pope, who then took the name Clement VII. The problem was that earlier that year they had elected Urban VI and he was still very much alive and well. They just didn’t like him very much. This act set in motion what is known now as the Western Schism, not to be confused with the Great Schism of 1054 when the eastern Orthodox split from the western Catholic Church http://www.bookofdaystales.com/east-west-schism/. People these days are dimly aware that the papacy has had a complicated history. They may know, for example, that there have been popes and antipopes, and that many medieval popes had illegitimate children (and no one much cared).  The image of the pope as a saintly, peace-loving minister of the gospel and leader of the church in spiritual matters is a relatively recent phenomenon growing out of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation over time.

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In the Middle Ages the pope was primarily a political (and military) figure. Hence, the election of the pope was more about politics than spirituality. Some might say, without cynicism, that this is still the case. I agree. The election of a Polish pope in the 20th century was a clear attempt to wrestle the papacy from its Italian stranglehold, and since then we’ve had a German and now an Argentino. Everyone knows that this opening of the papacy to ethnicities other than Italian is an attempt to broaden the appeal of a Church that is rapidly losing membership to Protestant churches as well as to atheism or indifference. You only have to live in traditional Catholic countries, as I have in Argentina and Italy, to know that this is obvious. Attendance at Sunday mass can be sparse, and many churches are closing or have to share priests with other churches because of lack of funds. We’ll get an African pope one day, and maybe even a Chinese pope when the time is right. All of this is an attempt to reassert the “catholic” in “Roman Catholic,” and to bolster flagging allegiance around the world.

The word “Catholic” these days is used as a short form of “Roman Catholic” which leads to some confusion. When I was an active pastor, Roman Catholics would sometimes attend my services and afterwards enquire why we said the Apostles’ Creed which says, “I believe in . . . the holy catholic church . . .” The lower case “c” in “catholic” is the hint. The word “catholic” means “universal.”  Nowadays Protestants can say these words without flinching too much if they take the road of arguing that under all our differences Christians of all denominations have shared beliefs and values that are fundamental. The term ROMAN Catholic is therefore appropriate for one contemporary branch of Christianity because it is centered in Rome. This was not always the case.

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At one time the Catholic Church truly was universal according to the strict interpretation of the Apostles’ Creed – up to the Great Schism of 1054. Local attempts to break away from the universal church were easily crushed. After the Great Schism things were more unsettled, and the papacy was increasingly politicized. The Western Schism or Papal Schism, which lasted from 1378 to 1417 was a political split within the Roman Catholic Church, when three men simultaneously claimed to be the true pope, which was ended by the Council of Constance (1414–1418).

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After Pope Gregory XI died in 1378, Romans rioted to ensure the election of a Roman for pope. From 1309 to 1377 the papacy had been located in Avignon where 7 French popes were elected and served under the influence of the French king. Gregory returned the papacy to Rome in 1377 but then died a year later, thus creating a crisis. Was the next pope to be French or Roman?

Urban VI

Urban VI

On April 8, 1378 the cardinals elected a Neapolitan when no viable Roman candidates were acceptable. Bartolomeo Prignano, the Archbishop of Bari, was elected and served as Urban VI in Rome. Urban had been a respected administrator in the papal chancery at Avignon, but as pope he proved suspicious, reformist, and prone to violent outbursts of temper. Many of the cardinals who had elected him soon regretted their decision: the majority removed themselves from Rome to Anagni, where, even though Urban was still reigning in Rome, they elected Robert of Geneva as a rival pope on September 20. Robert took the name Clement VII and reestablished a papal court in Avignon. The second election threw the Church into turmoil. There had been antipopes—rival claimants to the papacy—before, but most of them had been appointed by various rival factions. In this case, a single group of leaders of the Church had created both the pope and the antipope.

The conflicts quickly escalated from a church problem to a diplomatic crisis that divided Europe. Secular leaders had to choose which claimant they would recognize which fell out as follows:

Avignon: France, Aragon, Castile and León, Cyprus, Burgundy, Savoy, Naples, Scotland and Wales.

Rome: Denmark, England, Flanders, the Holy Roman Empire, Hungary, Ireland (English Dominion), Norway, Portugal, Poland (later Poland-Lithuania), Sweden, Republic of Venice, and other City States of northern Italy.

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Sustained by such national and factional rivalries throughout Catholic Christianity, the schism continued after the deaths of both initial claimants; Boniface IX, crowned at Rome in 1389, and Benedict XIII, who reigned in Avignon from 1394, maintained their rival courts. When Boniface died in 1404, the eight cardinals of the Roman conclave offered to refrain from electing a new pope if Benedict would resign; but when his legates refused on his behalf, the Roman party then proceeded to elect Innocent VII.

Efforts were made to end the Schism through force or diplomacy. The French crown even tried to coerce Benedict XIII, whom it nominally supported, into resigning. None of these remedies worked. The suggestion that a church council should resolve the Schism, first made in 1378, was not adopted at first because canon law required that a pope call a council. Eventually theologians like Pierre d’Ailly and Jean Gerson, as well as canon lawyers like Francesco Zabarella, adopted arguments that equity permitted the Church to act for its own welfare in defiance of the letter of the law.

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Eventually the cardinals of both factions secured an agreement that Benedict and Pope Gregory XII would meet at Savona. They balked at the last moment, and both colleges of cardinals abandoned their popes. A church council was held at Pisa in 1409 under the auspices of the cardinals to try solving the dispute. At the fifteenth session, 5 June 1409, the Council of Pisa deposed the two pontiffs as schismatical, heretical, perjured, and scandalous. But it then added to the problem by electing another incumbent, Alexander V. He reigned briefly from June 26, 1409, to his death in 1410, when he was succeeded by John XXIII, who won some but not universal support.

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Finally, a council was convened by Pisan pope John XXIII in 1414 at Constance to resolve the issue. This was endorsed by Gregory XII, Innocent VII’s successor in Rome, thus ensuring the legitimacy of any election. The council, advised by the theologian Jean Gerson, secured the resignations of John XXIII and Gregory XII, who resigned in 1415, while excommunicating the claimant who refused to step down, Benedict XIII. The Council elected Pope Martin V in 1417, essentially ending the schism. Nonetheless, the Crown of Aragon did not recognize Martin V and continued to recognize Benedict XIII. Archbishops loyal to Benedict XIII subsequently elected Antipope Benedict XIV (Bernard Garnier) and three followers simultaneously elected Antipope Clement VIII, but the Western Schism was by then practically over. Clement VIII resigned in 1429 and apparently recognized Martin V. Thus ended the last period of rival popes. Gregory XII’s resignation (in 1415) was the last time a pope would stand down from papacy before death until the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI in early 2013.

The cuisine of Avignon at the time of the Avignon popes was a mix of southern French, Italian, and Spanish influences – markedly different from that of northern France. Sources for the 15th century are not abundant but the general outlines are evident. Escabeche is a dish that has been around a long time and is certainly known throughout the Mediterranean arc from Spain through France to Italy in various guises. At root it is a sweet and sour fish dish. Here’s a recipe for an escabeche of fresh sardines from southern France. You can use whole mackerel if you like instead of the sardines.

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Sardines en Escabèche

Ingredients

12 sardines, scaled and gutted
3 onions, peeled and thinly sliced
6 carrots, peeled and grated
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 red chile, minced fine
olive oil
20cl/⅔ cup  wine vinegar
2 lemons
2 bay leaves
salt, pepper

Instructions

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and fry the sardines on each side for about 4 minutes.  Remove them with a spatula and reserve.

Lightly sauté the onions, garlic, carrots, bay leaves and minced chili until they are softened but not browned.

Add the vinegar and salt and pepper to taste, and simmer covered for ten minutes.

Spread half of the vegetables on a serving platter, arrange the sardines on the vegetables, and add the rest of the vegetables on top. Cover with foil and refrigerate for 48 hours.

Serve cold with lemon wedges.

 

Aug 152016
 

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Today is the Feast of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven in the Catholic Church, often shortened to the Assumption, or the Assumption of Mary. In the Orthodox Church it is called the Falling Asleep of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Both Western and Eastern rites assert that the Virgin Mary did not die (as such),  but was taken directly into Heaven at the end of her earthly life. For the most part, Protestant traditions do not accept this theology because it has no Biblical basis. In Italy, where I am now, this date is also Ferragosto, a major public holiday supposedly rooted in Roman Imperial times, although the historical links are a bit dodgy. August is a good time for an annual day off, so beaches and tourist spots are always mobbed. Because I live in a major tourist spot, I can expect the worst.

The Catholic Church now teaches as dogma that the Virgin Mary “having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” This doctrine was dogmatically defined by Pope Pius XII on 1st November 1 (All Souls), 1950 in the apostolic constitution Munificentissimus Deus by exercising papal infallibility. The Eastern Orthodox Church doctrine of the Dormition of the Theotokos (the falling asleep of Mary) is more or less the same as the Assumption, avoiding the idea of the physical death of Mary, but has not been dogmatically defined. In Munificentissimus Deus (item 39) Pope Pius XII pointed to the Book of Genesis (3:15) as scriptural support for the dogma of the Assumption in terms of Mary’s victory over sin and death as also reflected in 1 Corinthians 15:54: “then shall come to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.”

Although the Assumption (Latin: assumptio, “a taking”) was only relatively recently defined as infallible dogma by the Catholic Church, and in spite of a statement by Saint Epiphanius of Salamis in 377 that no one knew whether Mary had died or not, apocryphal accounts of the assumption of Mary into heaven have circulated since at least the 4th century. The Catholic Church itself interprets chapter 12 of the Book of Revelation as referring to it. The earliest known narrative is the so-called Liber Requiei Mariae (The Book of Mary’s Repose), which survives intact only in an Ethiopic translation. Probably composed by the 4th century, this narrative may be as early as the 3rd century. Also quite early are the very different traditions of the “Six Books” or Dormition narratives.

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Teaching of the Assumption of Mary became widespread across the Christian world, having been celebrated as early as the 5th century and having been established in the East by Emperor Maurice around 600. It was celebrated in the West under Pope Sergius I in the 8th century and Pope Leo IV then confirmed the feast as official. Theological debate about the Assumption continued, following the Reformation, peaking in 1950 when Pope Pius XII defined it as dogma for the Catholic Church.

If you’ve paid any attention to my previous posts on feast days and the like, you’ll know what I think about all of this already. The Church has an endless need to tie up loose ends logically. Jesus died and was resurrected. Then what? What became of the risen Lord? Obviously he did not just hang around. Luke clears this mystery up in Acts 1:9-11. Jesus ascended into heaven. As I have said many times before, Luke likes to clean up things – Why was Jesus from Nazareth when the Hebrew prophets indicated the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem of the House of David?  Are followers of John the Baptist Christians? Etc. etc. Luke provides the “answers” by making stuff up – maybe out of whole cloth or from previous sources. Unfortunately for the early church, Luke is silent on Mary’s fate.

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Let me be crystal clear. As an ordained Christian pastor and (erstwhile) theologian, I take a certain amount of Christian dogma on faith, but I don’t accept Biblical narratives as history without serious reservations. If you want my thoughts on belief and Christianity this is a good place to start: https://www.amazon.com/Thinking-Christian-Essays-Prod-Believer-ebook/dp/B01DGJ2OIM/ref=sr_1_5?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1471240630&sr=1-5  Luke, to my mind, is a horrible distraction. He was trained in the Greek philosophical tradition, and doesn’t like loose ends. For me, faith and logic do not have to be consistent. Logic and science are not always right. A certain amount of logical or scientific inconsistency is fine as far as I am concerned. Luke was more rigid. Unfortunately he had nothing to say about the end of Mary’s life, so the Church applied logic. Bad idea.

The veneration of Mary goes back a long way, and has led to some awfully dubious doctrines. The gospels tell us that Jesus had brothers. Did Mary have sex after Jesus was born? Horror !!! She must have been a perpetual virgin in order to be sinless. And . . . to be sinless, and give birth as a virgin to a sinless baby, she must have been born of a virgin (Immaculate Conception). Furthermore, she must have stayed a virgin to maintain her sinlessness, so these brothers must have been cousins (so twist the Greek a little to imply that when the gospels said “brother” this included biological cousins). That’s where logic gets you. Rather ironically, the Greek Orthodox church doesn’t like Aristotle much and the battles between East and West in the Middle Ages often pitted Catholics asserting theological points by using Aristotelian logic, and the Greeks laughing in their faces. The Greek answer to any question beginning, “How do you account for . . . ?” is “It’s a mystery.” End of story. I like it.

So . . . I think that the Assumption is one more case of the church tying up loose ends. But I’m all for holidays. Ferragosto in Italy falls on 15 August and is only by coincidence the same day as the Assumption of Mary. The Feriae Augusti (“Festivals of the Emperor Augustus”) were introduced by the emperor Augustus in 18 BCE. This was an addition to earlier ancient Roman festivals which fell in the same month, such as the Vinalia rustica or the Consualia, which celebrated the harvest and the end of a long period of intense agricultural labor. The Feriae Augusti, in addition to its propaganda function, linked the various August festivals to provide a longer period of rest, called Augustali, which was felt necessary after the hard labor of the previous weeks.

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During these celebrations, horse races were organized across the Empire, and beasts of burden (including oxen, donkeys and mules), were released from their work duties and decorated with flowers. Settling on 15th August as the main day is a modern tradition. During the Roman festival, workers formally greeted their masters who in return would give them a present. The custom became so strongly rooted that in the Renaissance it was made compulsory in the Papal States.

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The popular modern tradition of taking a trip during Ferragosto arose under the Fascist regime. In the second half of the 1920s, during the mid-August period, the regime mounted hundreds of popular trips through the Fascist leisure and recreational organizations of various corporations, including the establishment of the “People’s Trains of Ferragosto”, which were available at heavily discounted prices. The initiative gave the opportunity for people with little money to visit Italian cities or to reach seaside and mountain resorts. The offer was limited to 13, 14 and 15 August, and had two options: the “One-Day Trip”, within a radius of 50-100 km, and the “Three-Day Trip” within a radius of about 100–200 km.

Obviously Italian festival food has to be the fare of the day. I haven’t been out yet, but when I do I expect to see people scarfing down local specialties such as tortelli di zucca, torta Sbrisolona, and the like along with gallons of gelato and granita. Last night I made a festive dinner that was sort of Italian – all cold dishes because of the heat.

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The dessert was my own creation taking off from tiramisu. I began by baking a stracciatella cake – a moist vanilla sponge cake with chocolate chips. Whilst it was cooling I made a tiramisu custard. Some people use raw eggs, but I prefer to cook mine.

Put 4 egg yolks and half a cup of sugar in the top of a double boiler. Bring the water in the bottom to a steady simmer, and make sure that the water does not touch the top part of the boiler. Whisk the sugar and egg yolk mixture vigorously for around 8 minutes. It will expand to a froth and cook. (Hint: you are not making scrambled eggs). Remove from the heat and fold in 1 pound (½ kg) of mascarpone. In a separate bowl whisk 1 cup of heavy cream to stiff peaks. Fold the mascarpone-egg mix into the cream. Then fold in about a ½ pound (¼ kg) of mixed frozen berries (you can use raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, or what ever you want).  Set aside.

Slice the stracciatella reasonably thin – less than ½ inch (1.25 cm). Line the base of a loaf pan with the cake slices. Spread in half of the custard. Add another layer of stracciatella slices. Top with the remaining custard, and chill in the refrigerator overnight.

Before serving top with a layer of berries, then whipped cream, then shaved dark chocolate.

 

May 242016
 

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For some reason, today is designated as National Escargot Day In the United States. It’s one of hundreds of useless and trivial “special” food days accorded national status by the Congress. I assume it all has to do with marketing. Why cooked snails should get a special day is beyond me. But the date gives me the opportunity to talk about food preferences and prejudices, so I’ll  accept the celebration this once.

Strictly speaking, the word “escargot” in English applies to cooked snails only. Raw snails are snails. Even calling cooked snails, “escargot,” strikes me as pretentious or affected. I can understand referring to a French dish, such as escargots à la Bourguignonne, using the French word, but I don’t see why cooked snails in general can’t simply be “snails.” That’s the term I’ll use.

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Not all species of land snail are edible, and many are too small to make it worthwhile to prepare and cook them. Even among the edible species, the palatability of the flesh varies from species to species. In France, the species Helix pomatia is most often eaten. The “petit-gris” Cornu aspersa is also eaten, as is Helix lucorum. Several additional species, such as Elona quimperiana, are popular in Europe.

Burnt snail shells have been found in several archaeological excavations, indicating that snails have been eaten since prehistoric times. In addition, a number of archaeological sites around the Mediterranean have been excavated yielding physical evidence of the culinary use of several species of snails. The Romans in particular are known to have considered snails a delicacy, as noted in the writings of Pliny. The edible species Otala lactea has been recovered from the Roman-era city Volubilis in present-day Morocco. Romans also practiced snail farming, or heliciculture. The method was described by Fulvius Lippinus (49 BCE) and mentioned by Marcus Terentius Varro (Terrence) in De Re rustica (On Rural Things)III, 12. The snails were fattened for human consumption using corn flour and aromatic herbs. People usually raised snails in pens near the house, and these pens were called “cochlea”.

“Wall fish” were also often eaten in Britain, but were never as popular as on the continent. People sometimes ate snails during Lent, and in a few places, they consumed large quantities of snails at Carnival, as a foretaste of Lent.

U.S. imports of snails were worth more than $4.5 million in 1995 and came from 24 countries. This includes preserved or prepared snails and snails that are live, fresh, chilled, or frozen. Major exporters to the U.S. are France, Indonesia, Greece and China. So people do eat snails in the U.S., but in my experience a great many turn their noses up at them as hideously disgusting as food. Here we run up against food prejudice. Lots of people look at snails much as they do oysters, insects, and even offal (especially tripe), making the gargantuanly ethnocentric assumption that these things are inherently distasteful, and, therefore, anyone who eats them is weird. I’ve heard people say things like, “it was a very brave person who ate the first oyster.” How stupid can you be? Foragers (hunters and gatherers) eat whatever is edible. It’s not that they are stuck for enough to eat, it’s that their overall diet is much broader than that of sedentary peoples.

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I’m not going to say that I find every food available in the world completely delectable. I’ve struggled a little sometimes with brains on toast. That’s because of the texture, not the idea. There’s plenty of slimy foods in Asia that don’t appeal to me even though the ingredients are straightforward. I just have a thing about certain textures. I can eat oysters all day because their texture does not bother me. My very narrow distaste may come from the fact that my mum used to make junket (a rennet custard) when I was a little boy, and I didn’t like it. I did eat it though. When my son was little we had a house rule – you cannot refuse a dish until you have tasted it. Fortunately, in that regard he was quite strange enough. He still won’t eat things made with eggs (including cake), or mushrooms, but finds duck tongue and pig stomach perfectly tasty.

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In French culture, snails for cooking are typically purged (voided of unpleasant intestinal matter), killed, removed from their shells, and cooked (usually with garlic butter, chicken soup or wine), and then placed back into the shells with the butter and sauce for serving. Additional ingredients may be added, such as garlic, thyme, parsley and pine nuts. Special snail tongs (for holding the shell) and snail forks (for extracting the meat) are also normally provided, and the snails are served on indented metal trays with places for six or 12 snails. In Maltese cuisine, snails  of the petit gris variety are simmered in red wine or ale with mint, basil and marjoram. The snails are cooked, and served in their shells.

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Like most molluscs, escargots are high in protein and low in fat content (if cooked without butter). Snails are estimated to contain around 15% protein, 2.4% fat and about 80% water, although this depends on the method of preservation. I expect that many readers will have trouble finding fresh snails in the market. Even buying them canned can be difficult in some places. I’m a little spoiled in that in Argentina, China, and (now) Italy, I have no problems. Canned work fine, and you don’t absolutely need the shells either (they’re mostly decorative). Here’s two-fer.

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Escargots à la Bourguignonne

Ingredients

1 clove garlic
salt
4 oz unsalted butter, softened
2 tsp finely minced shallot
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp dry white wine
12 to 16 snails
kosher salt (for stabilizing snail shells)
12 to 16 sterilized snail shells

Instructions

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Mince and mash the garlic to a paste with a small amount of table salt. Beat together the butter, shallot, garlic paste, parsley, and pepper to taste in a small bowl. You can use a hand electric mixer or immersion blender if you are lazy. Just be sure that the ingredients are combined thoroughly. Then beat in the wine to combine.

Divide up half the butter mix between the shells, put one shell in each shell, then top up with the remaining butter mix. Spread ample kosher salt in a shallow baking dish and nest the shells in it with the open sides up.

Bake the snails until the butter is sizzling. This should only take about 5 minutes. Serve immediately with crusty bread – 4 to 6 per person as an appetizer.

Snails and Mushrooms

Ingredients

6 fl oz crème fraîche
8 oz black mushrooms
1 tbsp minced shallot
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (7-oz) can snails (18 to 24 snails), rinsed and drained
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp finely chopped chives
1 tsp finely chopped tarragon
1 tbsp unsalted butter
salt and pepper

Instructions

Simmer the crème fraîche with the mushrooms, shallot, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste in a heavy medium saucepan, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are tender – about 10 minutes.

Reduce the heat to low, add the snails, herbs, and butter, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the snails are heated through – 1 to 2 minutes. Serve in small bowls.

Apr 142016
 

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Today there are many minor celebrations worldwide. I will talk about three of them together – under the rubric Cuckoo Day – because they are minimally related. Let’s start with the feast day, the feast of SS Tiburtius, Valerian and Maximus, martyrs in Rome.  Tiburtius, Valerian, and Maximus are three Christian martyrs who were buried on 14 April of some unspecified year in the Catacombs of Praetextatus on the Via Appia near Rome. The Acts of Saint Cecilia represent Valerian as her husband, Tiburtius as his brother, and Maximus as a soldier or official who was martyred with the other two. But this work is generally considered not to be historical.

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They were traditionally honored with a joint feast day on 14 April, as shown in the Tridentine Calendar. The 1969 revision of the General Roman Calendar removed this celebration, since the only thing really known about them is the historical fact of their burial in the Catacombs of Praetextatus. However, it allowed them to be honored in local calendars.

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All three were given parts in the legend of St Cecilia http://www.bookofdaystales.com/st-cecilia/  and honored in Rome from an early date. The Roman Martyrology says that Tiburtius and the others suffered under Roman Emperor Alexander Severus, who ruled from 222 – 235. (Valerian is also known as Valerianus.)

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An old English saying says: “The  cuckoo sings from St Tiburtius’s Day to St John’s day [June 24]”. Hence today is sometimes celebrated as Cuckoo Day in England Although strongly identified with St Tiburtius’s Day, Cuckoo Day may better be described as a moveable feast dependent upon the variability of Nature.  The common cuckoo, Cuculus canorus, overwinters in Africa and returns to the UK in Spring, but the arrival date varies.  Several communities in England, notably Marsden in Yorkshire, have cuckoo fairs in April to welcome spring. Marsden Cuckoo Festival takes place each year on a designated Saturday in April near to 14 April.

Legend has it that the people of Marsden were aware that when the cuckoo arrived, so did the Spring and sunshine. They tried to keep Spring forever, by building a tower around the cuckoo. Unfortunately, as the last stones were about to be laid, the cuckoo flew away. As the legend says, it “were nobbut just wun course too low.”

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I remember as a schoolboy in England, newly arrived from Australia, walking to school down a wooded country lane and hearing a clear and unmistakable coooo koooo from a tree to my right. “No,” I thought, “that’s somebody hiding and making that sound.” It was so clear and obvious. The first cuckoo of Spring, and my first ever cuckoo.

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The common cuckoo is well known for laying its eggs in the nests of other birds. The cuckoo hatches first and tosses out the other eggs so that the poor “mother” is left to raise the cuckoo instead of its own chicks.

From Shakespeare’s time on, “cuckoo’s nest” has been used as a euphemism for a woman’s “private parts,” as represented in this traditional song:


The tune was used in the South Midlands for a morris dance in some villages. In the group I used to dance for it is customary when we get together for a feast for the eldest bachelor to begin the singing after dinner with his rendition of the song.

So we migrate to Black Day. This is an Asian celebration begun in South Korea but now spreading to other parts of Asia. Black Day is the third in a trinity of celebrations on the 14th of the month. First is 14 February celebrated worldwide as Valentine’s Day (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/st-valentine/ ), then 14 March or White Day (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/white-day/ ), begun in Japan as a marketing ploy; a day to reciprocate gifts given on Valentine’s Day. South Korean businesses then followed with Black Day on 14 April, a day for single people to lament/celebrate their status.  Those who didn’t give or receive gifts on Valentine’s Day or White Day, can get together and eat jajang myeon (jja jang myeong), Korean-Chinese noodles with black bean sauce to commiserate their singledom.

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Jajangmyeon (자장면; 짜장면; jjajangmyeon) is a Korean Chinese dish of special noodles dish topped with a thick sauce made of chunjang (a salty black soybean paste), diced pork and vegetables, and sometimes also seafood. Jajang (alternately spelled jjajang), the name of the sauce when heated, is the Korean pronunciation of the Chinese characters 炸醬, which literally means ” deep fried sauce.” Myeon (also spelled myun) means “noodle”, which is represented by the Chinese character 麵.

The dish originated from zhajiangmian (炸醬麵, literally “fried sauce noodles”) in China’s Shandong region.  Zhajiangmian was adapted in Korea to fit the Korean palate. Jajangmyeon is legendarily traced back to the Joseon Dynasty. When the Joseon opened the Incheon port, many Chinese people from the Shandong region moved to a town in Incheon, which is now known as Incheon China Town. These people started Chinese restaurants and adapted the traditional Shandong food zhajiangmian in a way that Korean people could enjoy. Originally jajangmyeon was a cheap dish that the working class enjoyed and was more akin to Shandong region’s zhajiangmian than the current day Korean jajamyeon. After the Korean War, Korean chunjang was invented. Korean chunjang has caramel added to give it a sweet taste. After this jajangmyeon became a completely different dish from zhajiangmian. The pronunciation of the dish’s name is nearly identical to that of its Korean counterpart. But Korean jajangmyeon differs from Chinese zhajiangmian, as Korean jjajangmyeon uses black Korean chunjang including caramel, and onions.

Jajangmyeon uses thick noodles made from white wheat flour. The noodles, which are made entirely by hand and not by machines, are called sutamyeon (수타면; 手打麵) are praised in South Korea as an essential ingredient of good jajangmyeon. While in Beijing cuisine, yellow soybean paste (黃醬) is used, in Tianjin and other parts of China tianmianjiang (甜麵醬), hoisin sauce (海鮮醬), or broad (fava) bean sauce (荳瓣醬) may be used in place of the yellow soybean paste. However, In Korea, the sauce is made with a dark soybean paste. This paste, which is made from roasted soybeans and caramel, is called chunjang (literally “spring paste”, hangul: 춘장; Chinese: 春醬) when unheated, while the heated sauce (containing vegetables and meat or seafood) is called jjajang (literally “fried sauce”). Chunjang is stir-fried with diced onions, ground meat (either beef or pork) or chopped seafood, and other ingredients. The meat stock is added to reduce the salty taste, and potato starch or cornstarch is added to give the sauce a thick consistency. The sauce is served hot over noodles, sometimes with sliced raw cucumbers. The same sauce is also used to make jajangbap (rice served with the sauce) and jajangtteokbokki (tteokbokki made with the sauce instead of the usual spicy sauce).

Jajangmyeon is usually served with a small amount of danmuji (단무지). Danmuji are made of radish, specifically daikon. The dish is often served with a small amount of sliced raw onions, seasoned with rice vinegar, accompanied with a little chunjang sauce. The diner eats the noodles with danmuji and onions dipped in chunjang sauce.

I am ostensibly single these days. Actually I am a widower and choose to live alone, but I fit in the broad class of people who did not get a gift on Valentine’s Day or White Day. So I will make black food. By chance I found cuttlefish ink in the supermarket yesterday, so I am going to make a black risotto – common favorite in coastal Croatia. If you can get hold of black bean paste you can make a simulacrum of jjajangmyeon or its Chinese equivalent. When I lived in Yunnan I made pork with black bean paste and noodles all the time as a quick evening meal. This site will guide you through the process of making classic jjajangmyeon  with step-by-step pictures and a video http://www.maangchi.com/recipe/jjajangmyun

If this does not appeal, you can minimally celebrate with the Faroese who by custom never eat eggs on this day, which marks the end of winter. Tradition says that anyone who does will suffer boils for rest of year !!!

Feb 102016
 

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Today is the feast day of St Paul’s Shipwreck (San Pawl Nawfragu) which is a public holiday in Malta, especially in Valletta, Marsalforn, and Munxar. I am not sure why this date was chosen. The event is described in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 27:27-28:5), the tail end of the book. The chronology of events in Paul’s life is endlessly disputed by scholars because what facts can be gleaned from letters that we are reasonably certain were written by Paul are not always in agreement with Acts. According to Acts Paul arrived in Jerusalem on his fifth and final visit in 57 with a collection of money for the community there. Acts reports that he was warmly received, but goes on to recount how Paul was warned by James and the elders that he was gaining a reputation for being against the Law, saying “they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews living among the gentiles to forsake Moses, and that you tell them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs.” (Acts 21:21) Paul underwent a purification ritual in order to give the Jews no grounds to bring accusations against him for not following the law. But he then caused a stir when he appeared at the Temple, and he escaped being killed by the crowd only by voluntarily being taken into Roman custody. When a plot to kill Paul on his way to an appearance before the Jews was discovered, he was transported by night to Caesarea Maritima. He was held as a prisoner there for two years, until a new governor reopened his case in 59.

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When the governor suggested that he be sent back to Jerusalem for further trial, Paul exercised his right as a Roman citizen to appeal to Caesar, so he was transported to Rome. During the journey, vividly described in Acts, the shipwreck occurs. This passage is notable in that it is one of the so-called “we” passages – written in the 1st person plural. There is no scholarly consensus concerning these passages. They could be a deliberate forgery to suggest that the author of Acts was an actual eyewitness, or they could be redactions based on older, fragmentary primary material written by an eyewitness. I incline towards the latter, but this is more of an educated guess than anything else. Here’s the passage:

27:27 On the fourteenth night we were still being driven across the Adriatic Sea, when about midnight the sailors sensed they were approaching land. 28 They took soundings and found that the water was a hundred and twenty feet deep. A short time later they took soundings again and found it was ninety feet deep. 29 Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight. 30 In an attempt to escape from the ship, the sailors let the lifeboat down into the sea, pretending they were going to lower some anchors from the bow. 31 Then Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.” 32 So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it drift away.

33 Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. “For the last fourteen days,” he said, “you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food—you haven’t eaten anything. 34 Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head.” 35 After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. 36 They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. 37 Altogether there were 276 of us on board. 38 When they had eaten as much as they wanted, they lightened the ship by throwing the grain into the sea.

39 When daylight came, they did not recognize the land, but they saw a bay with a sandy beach, where they decided to run the ship aground if they could. 40 Cutting loose the anchors, they left them in the sea and at the same time untied the ropes that held the rudders. Then they hoisted the foresail to the wind and made for the beach. 41 But the ship struck a sandbar and ran aground. The bow stuck fast and would not move, and the stern was broken to pieces by the pounding of the surf.

42 The soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to prevent any of them from swimming away and escaping. 43 But the centurion wanted to spare Paul’s life and kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land. 44 The rest were to get there on planks or on other pieces of the ship. In this way everyone reached land safely.

28:1 Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. 2 The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. 3 Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. 4 When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.” 5 But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects.

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There is a special celebration in Valletta on Malta at the Collegiate Parish Church of St Paul’s Shipwreck on this day. The church hosts fine artistic works, including the magnificent altarpiece by Matteo Perez d’Aleccio, as well as paintings by Attilio Palombi, and Giuseppe Calì. The wooden titular statue of St Paul was carved in 1659 by Melchiorre Cafà, the brother of Lorenzo Gafà who designed the dome. The statue is paraded through the streets of Valletta on the feast day of St Paul’s Shipwreck even (and appropriately) during heavy rain One can also view the relic of the right wrist-bone of St Paul, and part of the column from San Paolo alle Tre Fontane, on which the saint was reputedly beheaded in Rome.

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For this feast day I have chosen the unofficial national dish of Malta, rabbit braised in red wine and garlic. Given the name, you scarcely need a recipe, but here goes. The trick is to use A LOT of garlic. This recipe calls for three BULBS, not cloves – whole bulbs.

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Rabbit with garlic & wine (Fenek fit-tewm u l-inbid)

Ingredients

1 rabbit cut into 6 or 8 pieces
500ml red wine
3 whole garlic bulbs, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2-3 bay leaves
salt and pepper

Instructions

Place the rabbit pieces in an earthenware pot and cover with the wine. Refrigerate overnight.

In a large, heavy skillet gently sweat the garlic in the olive oil. Do not let it take on color.

Remove and reserve the garlic, leaving the oil in the pan. Heat the oil on medium-high, remove the rabbit pieces from the wine, and brown them in the oil on all sides – reserving the wine.

Place the rabbit, garlic and bay leaves in an ovenproof casserole. Cover with the wine, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and bake at around 375°F for an hour or until the meat is tender. Check the liquid level periodically to make sure that the wine is reducing to a thick sauce, but not drying out. Uncover towards the end if it is not reducing sufficiently.

Serve with boiled new potatoes and marrowfat peas.

Serves 4