Feb 062018
 

Today is Sámi National Day, an ethnic national day for the Sámi people that falls on February 6th because this date was when the first Sámi congress was held in 1917 in Trondheim. This congress was the first time that Norwegian and Swedish Sámi came together across their national borders to work together to find solutions for common problems. In 1992, at the 15th Sámi Conference in Helsinki, a resolution was passed that Sámi National Day should be celebrated on February 6th. Sámi National Day is a celebration for all Sámi, regardless of where they live, and on that day the Sámi flag should be flown and the Sámi national anthem is sung in the local Sámi dialect.

Through pure coincidence, this date also happened to be when representatives of the Sámi of the Kola Peninsula used to gather annually, meeting with Russian bureaucrats to debate and decide on issues of relevance to them. This body, called the Koladak Sobbar, has been called the ‘first Sámi Parliament’ by the researcher Johan Albert Kalstad. This information did not influence the choice of this date as the Sámi People’s Day, given that the people present did not know about it – the Koladak Sobbar existed during the late 19th century only, and was not ‘rediscovered’ by Kalstad until the 21st century.

Before I continue talking about the Sámi people in general, I want to point out that this celebration is really a model for indigenous peoples who are ethnic minorities, and who are scattered across national boundaries. The Sámi (often called Lapps in English) represent only about 5% of the population in the region where they live which spreads across northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. Long ago, they were the majority in the region, but they were slowly encroached upon by Scandinavians and Russians. The enduring question is how to maintain some degree of autonomy and unity in the face of pressures to assimilate to national cultures, especially when these nations fragment the region where they live – called Sápmi in Sámi (Lapland in English). The term Lapp (and European cognates) is sometimes seen as derogatory because it is an outsider term. It has no pejorative connotations that I know of, but it is best not to use it. Apparently, the Sámi object less to Lapland than to Lapp.

If we look at language first we can get a sense of the geography and distribution of the Sámi. The Saamic languages are the region’s main minority languages and also, of course, its original languages. They belong to the Uralic language family, and are most closely related to the Finnic languages. Many Sámi languages are mutually unintelligible, but the languages originally formed a dialect continuum stretching southwest-northeast, so that a message could hypothetically be passed between Sámi speakers from one end to the other and be understood by all. Today, however, many of the languages are all but extinct, and thus there are “gaps” in the original continuum.

On the map above numbers indicate Sámi Languages (Darkened areas represent municipalities that recognize Sámi as an official language.): 1. South (Åarjil) Sámi, 2. Ume (Upme) Sámi, 3. Pite (Bitthun) Sámi, 4. Lule (Julev) Sámi, 5. North (Davvi) Sámi, 6. Skolt Sámi, 7. Inari (Ánár) Sámi, 8. Kildin Sámi, 9. Ter Sámi. Of these languages the Northern one is by far the most vital, whereas Ume, Pite and Ter seem to be dying languages. Kemi Sámi is extinct.

Since prehistoric times, the Sámi people of Arctic Europe have lived and worked in an area that stretches over the northern parts of the regions now known as Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Russian Kola Peninsula. They have inhabited the northern arctic and sub-arctic regions of Fenno-Scandinavia and Russia for at least 5,000 years. The Sámi are counted among the Arctic peoples and are members of circumpolar groups such as the Arctic Council Indigenous Peoples’ Secretariat. Petroglyphs and archeological findings such as settlements dating from about 10,000 BCE can be found in the traditional lands of the Sámi. These hunters and gatherers of the late Paleolithic and early Mesolithic were named Komsa by the researchers because what they called themselves is unknown.

Recent archaeological discoveries in Finnish Lapland were originally seen as the continental version of the Komsa culture about the same age as the earliest finds on the coast of Norway. It is hypothesized that the Komsa followed receding glaciers inland from the Arctic coast at the end of the last ice age (between 11000 and 8000 BCE) as new land opened up for settlement (e.g., modern Finnmark area in the northeast of Norway, to the coast of the Kola Peninsula). For long periods of time, the Sámi lifestyle thrived because of its adaptation to the Arctic environment. Throughout the 18th century, as Norwegians of Northern Norway suffered from low fish prices and consequent depopulation, the Sámi cultural element was strengthened, since the Sámi were mostly independent of supplies from Southern Norway.

During the 19th century, Norwegian authorities pressured the Sámi to adopt Norwegian language and culture universal. Strong economic development of the north also ensued, giving Norwegian culture and language higher status. On the Swedish and Finnish sides, the authorities were less militant, although the Sámi language was forbidden in schools and strong economic development in the north led to weakened cultural and economic status for the Sámi. From 1913 to 1920, the Swedish race-segregation political movement created a race-based biological institute that collected research material from living people and graves, and sterilized Sámi women. Throughout history, Swedish settlers were encouraged to move to the northern regions through incentives such as land and water rights, tax allowances, and military exemptions.

The strongest pressure took place from around 1900 to 1940, when Norway invested considerable money and effort to wipe out Sámi culture. Anyone who wanted to buy or lease state lands for agriculture in Finnmark had to prove knowledge of the Norwegian language and had to register with a Norwegian name. This caused the dislocation of Sámi people in the 1920s, which increased the gap between local Sámi groups (something still present today) that sometimes has the character of an internal Sámi ethnic conflict. In 1913, the Norwegian parliament passed a bill on “native act land” to allocate the best and most useful lands to Norwegian settlers. Another factor was the scorched earth policy conducted by the German army, resulting in heavy war destruction in northern Finland and northern Norway in 1944–45, destroying all existing houses, or kota, and visible traces of Sámi culture. After World War II the pressure was relaxed though the legacy was evident into recent times, such as the 1970s law limiting the size of any house Sámi people were allowed to build.

The controversy over the construction of the hydro-electric power station in Alta in 1979 brought Sámi rights to the political agenda. In August 1986, the national anthem (“Sámi soga lávlla”) and flag (Sámi flag) of the Sámi people were created. In 1989, the first Sámi parliament in Norway was elected. In 2005, the Finnmark Act was passed in the Norwegian parliament giving the Sámi parliament and the Finnmark Provincial council a joint responsibility of administering the land areas previously considered state property. These areas (96% of the provincial area), which have always been used primarily by the Sámi, now belong officially to the people of the province, whether Sámi or Norwegian, and not to the Norwegian state.

The indigenous Sámi population are mostly urbanized, but a substantial number live in villages in the high arctic. The Sámi are still coping with the cultural consequences of language and culture loss related to generations of Sámi children taken to missionary and/or state-run boarding schools and the legacy of laws that were created to deny the Sámi rights (e.g., freedom of beliefs, use of indigenous language, land ownership, and freedom to practice traditional livelihoods). The Sámi are experiencing cultural and environmental threats, including oil exploration, mining, dam building, logging, climate change, military bombing ranges, tourism, and commercial development.

The Sámi have for centuries been the subject of discrimination and abuse by the dominant cultures claiming possession of their lands down to the present day. They have never been a single community in a single region of Lapland, with political autonomy. Norway has been greatly criticized by the international community for the politics of assimilation of and discrimination against the aboriginal peoples of the country. On 8 April 2011, the UN Racial Discrimination Committee recommendations were handed over to Norway. These addressed many issues, including the educational situation for students needing bilingual education in Sámi. One committee recommendation was that no language be allowed to be a basis for discrimination in the Norwegian anti-discrimination laws, and it recommended wording of Racial Discrimination Convention Article 1 contained in the Act. Further points of recommendation concerning the Sámi population in Norway included the incorporation of the racial Convention through the Human Rights Act, improving the availability and quality of interpreter services, and equality of the civil Ombudsman’s recommendations for action. A new present status report was to have been ready by the end of 2012.

Even in Finland, where Sámi children, like all Finnish children, are entitled to day care and language instruction in their own language, the Finnish government has denied funding for these rights in most of the country, including even in Rovaniemi, the largest municipality in Finnish Lapland. Sámi activists have pushed for nationwide application of these basic rights.

As in the other countries claiming sovereignty over Sámi lands, Sámi activists’ efforts in Finland in the 20th century achieved limited government recognition of Sámi rights as an ethnic minority, but the Finnish government has clung unyieldingly to its legally enforced premise that the Sámi must “prove” their land ownership, an idea incompatible with and antithetical to the traditional reindeer-herding Sámi way of life. This has effectively allowed the Finnish government to take land occupied by the Sámi for centuries without compensation.

On Sámi National Day, not only do Sámi throughout Sápmi raise the national flag and sing the national song, they also do a range of activities traditionally associated with Sámi culture, such as wear traditional dress, make traditional dishes and play or listen to traditional music.

A characteristic feature of Sámi musical tradition is the singing of yoik (also spelled joik). Yoiks are song-chants and are traditionally sung a cappella, usually sung slowly and deep in the throat with apparent emotional content of sorrow or anger. Yoiks can be dedicated to animals and birds in nature, special people or special occasions, and they can be joyous, sad, or melancholic. They often are based on syllablic improvisation. In recent years, musical instruments frequently accompany yoiks. The only traditional Sámi instruments that were sometimes used to accompany yoik are the “fadno” flute (made from reed-like Angelica archangelica stems) and hand drums (frame drums and bowl drums).

Traditional foods of the Sámi involve reindeer, fish, and flatbread. Reindeer is absolutely the most characteristic ingredient, because the Sámi for centuries were reindeer herders. Traditionally, the reindeer were not fully domesticated, but the Sámi were nomadic, following the herds on their seasonal migrations. You might have trouble getting hold of some reindeer to roast, but you might be able to make flatbread.

Gáhkko is a traditional Sámi flatbread that has a faint taste of anise. It uses yeast, so it is puffier than other flatbreads, and it is also more complex than most. The most traditional method of cooking is in a dry, cast-iron skillet over an open fire, but a stovetop works as well. This is but one recipe. There are countless styles. You can use a number of sugar syrups in place of Golden Syrup, but do not use corn syrup. If you wish, you can cut fewer breads than described here and make them larger.

Gáhkko

Ingredients

3 ½ oz/100 gm butter, melted
2 tbsp Golden Syrup
2 tsp anise
2 pints/1 liter milk
2 oz/50 gm yeast
1 tsp salt
2 – 2 ½ lb/1-1.2 kg flour

Instructions

Place the melted butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add the anise and syrup and stir well until the syrup has been thoroughly incorporated with the butter. Mix in the milk and heat until lukewarm. Remove from the heat.

Crumble the yeast into milk mixture and stir well until it has dissolved. Pour into a large mixing bowl.

Add the flour and salt to the liquid. Add the flour slowly and mix only until you have a smooth dough. Do not add too much flour. It can be slightly sticky. Turn out on to a flat surface, lightly floured if need be, and knead for about 20 minutes.

Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and let it rise in a warm place for about 1 hour.

Turn the dough on to a flat surface again and knead it again. Then roll the dough into a long sausage, and cut it into about 40 small pieces. Roll the pieces into small balls with your hands and let them rest for about 5 minutes.

Press the balls flat and pat them between your palms until you have round breads about ¼ inch thick. Let them for about 30 minutes.

Bake the breads in batches in a dry frying pan on a campfire or on the stovetop for about 5-6 minutes on each side. They are cooked when they are golden-brown on both sides.

Let the gáhkko cool, but eat immediately. They can be eaten with soups or stews, or with sliced cheese.

 

 

May 282017
 

On this date the short-lived South Caucasian state of Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic (TDFR), which lasted only from 22 April – 28 May 1918, split into different political units, including the Democratic Republic of Armenia and the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. I dealt with Azerbaijan here  http://www.bookofdaystales.com/azerbaijan-republic-day/ so now I will turn my attention to Armenia.

On December 5, 1917, the armistice of Erzincan was signed between the Ottoman Empire and the Transcaucasian Commissariat, ending armed conflict between the two (part of Russia’s disengagement from the First World War following the Russian Revolution). After the Bolshevik seizure of power, a multinational congress of Transcaucasian representatives met to create a provisional regional executive body known as the Transcaucasian Seim. The Commissariat and the Seim were heavily encumbered by the pretense that the South Caucasus formed an integral unit of a non-existent Russian democracy. The Armenian deputies in the Seim were hopeful that the anti-Bolshevik forces in Russia would prevail in the Russian Civil War and rejected any idea of separating from Russia. In February 1918, Armenians, Georgians, and Muslims had reluctantly joined to form the Transcaucasian Federation but disputes among all the three groups continued and unity began to falter.

On March 3, 1918, Russia followed the armistice of Erzincan with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, and left the war. It ceded territory from March 14 to April 1918, when a conference was held between the Ottoman Empire and the delegation of the Seim. Under the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the Russians allowed the Turks to retake the Western Armenian provinces, as well as to take over the provinces of Kars, Batum, and Ardahan.

In addition to these provisions, a secret clause obligated the Armenians and Russians to demobilize their forces in both western and eastern Armenia. Having killed and deported many Armenians of Western Armenia during the Armenian Genocide, the Ottoman Empire intended to eliminate the Armenian population of Eastern Armenia. Shortly after the signing of Brest-Litovsk the Turkish army began its advance, taking Erzurum in March and Kars in April, which the Transcaucasian government of Nikolay Chkheidze had ordered soldiers to abandon. Beginning on May 21, the Ottoman army moved ahead again.

On May 11, 1918, a new peace conference opened at Batum. At this conference, the Ottomans extended their demands to include Tiflis, as well as Alexandropol and Echmiadzin, which they wanted for a railroad to be built to connect Kars and Julfa with Baku. The Armenian and Georgian members of the Republic’s delegation began to stall. On May 26, 1918, Georgia declared independence and on May 28, signed the Treaty of Poti, thus receiving protection from Germany. The Muslim National Council in Tiflis also announced the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan. Having been abandoned by its regional allies, the Armenian National Council, based in Tiflis and led by Russian Armenian intellectuals who represented Armenian interests in the Caucasus, declared its independence on May 28. It dispatched Hovhannes Kajaznuni and Alexander Khatisyan, both members of the ARF, to Yerevan to take over power and issued the following statement on May 30 (retroactive to May 28):

In view of the dissolution of the political unity of Transcaucasia and the new situation created by the proclamation of the independence of Georgia and Azerbaijan, the Armenian National Council declares itself to be the supreme and only administration for the Armenian provinces. Because of the certain grave circumstances, the national council, deferring until the near future the formation of an Armenian National government, temporarily assumes all governmental functions, in order to take hold the political and administrative helm of the Armenian provinces.

Meanwhile, the Turks had taken Alexandropol and were intent on eliminating the center of Armenian resistance based in Yerevan. The Armenians were able to stave off total defeat and delivered crushing blows to the Turkish army in the battles of Sardarapat, Karakilisa and Abaran. The Republic of Armenia had to sue for negotiations at the Treaty of Batum, which was signed in Batum on June 4, 1918. It was the ADR’s first treaty. After the Ottoman Empire took vast swathes of territory and imposed harsh conditions, the new republic was left with 10,000 square kilometers.

A considerable degree of hostility existed between Armenia and its new neighbor to the east, the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan, stemming largely from to ethnic, religious, and cultural differences. The Azeris had close ethnic and religious ties to the Turks and had provided material support for them in their drive to Baku in 1918. Although the borders of the two countries were still undefined, Azerbaijan claimed most of the territory Armenia was sitting on, demanding all or most parts of the former Russian provinces of Elizavetpol, Tiflis, Yerevan, Kars and Batum. As diplomacy failed to accomplish compromise, even with the mediation of the commanders of a British expeditionary force that had installed itself in the Caucasus, territorial clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan took place throughout 1919 and 1920, most notably in the regions of Nakhichevan, Karabakh and Syunik (Zangezur). Repeated attempts to bring these provinces under Azerbaijani jurisdiction were met with fierce resistance by their Armenian inhabitants. In May 1919, Dro led an expeditionary unit that was successful in establishing Armenian administrative control in Nakhichevan. Conflict and tension between Armenia and Azerbaijan were suppressed under Soviet rule, but have resurfaced since the fall of the Soviet Union and continue to this day.

On September 20, 1920, the Turkish General Kazım Karabekir invaded the region of Sarikamish. In response, Armenia declared war on Turkey on September 24 and the Turkish–Armenian War began. In the regions of Oltu, Sarikamish, Kars, Alexandropol (Gyumri) Armenian forces clashed with those of Karabekir’s XV Corps. Fearful of possible Russian support for Armenia, Mustafa Kemal Pasha had earlier sent several delegations to Moscow in search of an alliance, finding a receptive response from the Soviet government, which started sending gold and weapons to the Turkish revolutionaries. This proved disastrous for the Armenians.

Armenia gave way to communist power in late 1920. In November 1920, the Turkish revolutionaries captured Alexandropol and were poised to move in on the capital. A ceasefire was concluded on November 18. Negotiations were then carried out between Karabekir and a peace delegation led by Alexander Khatisian in Alexandropol; although Karabekir’s terms were extremely harsh the Armenian delegation had little recourse but to agree to them. The Treaty of Alexandropol was thus signed on December 2/3, 1920.

The 11th Red Army began its virtually unopposed advance into Armenia on November 29, 1920. The actual transfer of power took place on December 2 in Yerevan. The Armenian leadership approved an ultimatum, presented to it by the Soviet plenipotentiary Boris Legran. Armenia decided to join the Soviet sphere, while Soviet Russia agreed to protect its remaining territory from the advancing Turkish army. The Soviets also pledged to take steps to rebuild the army, protect the Armenians and not to oppress non-communist Armenians, although the final condition of this pledge was reneged on when the Dashnaks were forced out of the country. On December 5, the Armenian Revolutionary Committee (Revkom, made up of mostly Armenians from Azerbaijan) also entered the city. Finally, on the following day, December 6, Felix Dzerzhinsky’s Cheka entered Yerevan, thus effectively ending the existence of the First Republic of Armenia.

The most common Armenian dish, thought of as “everyday food,” is called dzhash (Ճաշ), but you won’t find much if you search for recipes under that name because it’s just a generic term like “soup” or “stew”. Most versions are a soupy stew made with meat (or a legume) plus a vegetable, and spices. Well-known examples of dzhash are:

Meat and green beans or green peas with tomato sauce, garlic, and mint or fresh dill.

Meat and summer squash. This is a signature dish from Ainteb, and is characterized by the liberal use of dried mint, tomatoes, and lemon juice.

Meat and pumpkin. This is a wedding dish from Marash made with meat, chick peas, pumpkin, tomato and pepper paste, and spices.

Meat and leeks in a yoghurt sauce.

Dzhash was traditionally cooked in a tonir, a clay-pot oven embedded in the ground, but now it is cooked on the stovetop. Dzhash is generally served over a pilaf of rice or bulgur, sometimes accompanied by bread, pickles or fresh vegetables or herbs.

Dzhash with Beef and Leeks

Ingredients

1 ½ lbs leeks, chopped into ½ inch pieces
butter
1 ½ lbs stewing beef, cut into small cubes
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
salt and cayenne pepper
2 tbsp. tomato paste
6-8 cups beef stock
2 cups madzoun (Armenian plain yoghurt)
1 egg, beaten

Instructions

Brown the meat quickly with a small amount of butter over high heat in a deep skillet. Add the onion, garlic, salt and cayenne to taste and sauté until transparent. Add the tomato paste, stir briefly, then add the stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat so that the liquid is gently simmering, cover tightly, and cook until the meat is tender (about 2 hours).

Add the leeks and add more broth if the soup is too thick. Continue cooking until the leeks are tender.

Beat the egg and madzoun together, and very gradually, add 2 cups of hot soup liquid, whisking as you add to prevent the yoghurt from curdling. The slowly pour the egg-yoghurt mixture into the soup, stir continually until everything is well blended. Take off the heat and serve in deep bowls with rice and bread.

Serves 4-6

May 022017
 

Today is the birthday ([O.S. 21 April] 1729) of Catherine II of Russia (Екатерина Алексеевна), also known as Catherine the Great (Екатерина II Великая). She was the longest-ruling female monarch of Russia, reigning from 1762 until her death in 1796 at the age of 67, and probably the most renowned. She came to power following a coup d’état when her husband, Peter III, was deposed and then assassinated. Russia was revitalized under her reign, growing larger and stronger than ever and becoming recognized as one of the great powers of Europe. Her prowess in Russia is comparable with Victoria’s in England, although her historical status in Russia (and of the monarchy in general) was greatly diminished by the Russian Revolution and the rise of communism. You can read about her reign elsewhere. I’ll just look at how she came to power from impoverished princess to immensely powerful ruler of all Russia.

Catherine was born in Stettin, Pomerania, Kingdom of Prussia as Princess Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg. Her father, Christian August, Prince of Anhalt-Zerbst, belonged to the ruling German family of Anhalt, but held the rank of a Prussian general in his capacity as Governor of the city of Stettin (now Szczecin, Poland). In accordance with the custom then prevailing in the ruling dynasties of Germany, she received her education chiefly from a French governess and from tutors. Although Catherine was born a princess, her family had very little money. Catherine’s rise to power was supported by her mother’s wealthy relatives who were both wealthy nobles and royal relations.

The choice of Sophia as wife of her second cousin, the prospective tsar Peter of Holstein-Gottorp, resulted from some amount of diplomatic management in which Count Lestocq, Peter’s aunt (the ruling Russian Empress Elizabeth), and Frederick II of Prussia took part. Lestocq and Frederick wanted to strengthen the friendship between Prussia and Russia to weaken Austria’s influence and ruin the Russian chancellor Bestuzhev, on whom Empress Elizabeth relied, and who acted as a known partisan of Russo-Austrian co-operation. Catherine first met Peter III at the age of 10. Based on her writings, she found Peter detestable upon meeting him. She disliked his pale complexion and his fondness for alcohol at such a young age. Peter also still played with toy soldiers. Catherine later wrote that she stayed at one end of the castle, and Peter at the other.

The diplomatic intrigue failed, largely due to the intervention of Sophia’s mother, Johanna Elisabeth of Holstein-Gottorp. Historical accounts portray her as a cold, abusive woman who loved gossip and court intrigues. Johanna’s hunger for fame centered on her daughter’s prospects of becoming empress of Russia, but she infuriated Empress Elizabeth, who eventually banned her from the country for spying for King Frederick of Prussia. The Empress Elizabeth knew the family well: she had intended to marry Princess Johanna’s brother Charles Augustus (Karl August von Holstein), who had died of smallpox in 1727 before the wedding could take place. In spite of Johanna’s interference, Empress Elizabeth took a strong liking to the daughter, who, on arrival in Russia in 1744, spared no effort to ingratiate herself not only with the Empress Elizabeth, but with her husband and with the Russian people. She applied herself to learning the Russian language with such zeal, she rose at night and walked about her bedroom barefoot, repeating her lessons (even though she mastered the language, she retained an accent). This led to a severe attack of pneumonia in March 1744. When she wrote her memoirs, she said she made up her mind when she came to Russia to do whatever was necessary, and to profess to believe whatever was required of her, to become qualified to wear the crown.

Princess Sophia’s father, a devout German Lutheran, opposed his daughter’s conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy. Despite his objection, on 28 June 1744 the Russian Orthodox Church received Princess Sophia as a member with the new name Catherine (Yekaterina or Ekaterina) and the (artificial) patronymic Алексеевна (Alekseyevna, daughter of Aleksey). On the following day, the formal betrothal took place. The long-planned dynastic marriage finally occurred on 21 August 1745 in Saint Petersburg. Sophia had turned 16. Her father did not travel to Russia for the wedding. The bridegroom, known then as Peter von Holstein-Gottorp, had become Duke of Holstein-Gottorp (located in the north-west of present-day Germany near the border with Denmark) in 1739.

As she recalled in her memoirs, as soon as she arrived in Russia, she fell ill with a pleuritis that almost killed her. She credited her survival to frequent bloodletting; in a single day, she had four phlebotomies. Her mother, being opposed to this practice, fell into the Empress’s disfavor. When her situation looked desperate, her mother wanted her confessed by a Lutheran priest. Awaking from her delirium, however, Catherine said: “I don’t want any Lutheran; I want my orthodox father.” This raised her in the Empress’s esteem.

Count Andrei Shuvalov, chamberlain to Catherine, knew the diarist James Boswell well, and Boswell reports that Shuvalov shared private information regarding the monarch’s intimate affairs. Some of these rumours included that Peter took a mistress (Elizabeth Vorontsova), while Catherine carried on liaisons with Sergei Saltykov, Grigory Grigoryevich Orlov,  Alexander Vasilchikov, Grigory Potemkin, Stanisław August Poniatowski, and others. She became friends with Princess Ekaterina Vorontsova-Dashkova, the sister of her husband’s mistress, who introduced her to several powerful political groups that opposed her husband. Peter III’s temperament became quite unbearable for those who resided in the palace. Catherine became pregnant with her second child, Anna, who only lived to four months, in 1759. Due to various rumors of Catherine’s promiscuity, Peter was led to believe he was not the child’s biological father and is known to have proclaimed, “Go to the devil!” when Catherine angrily dismissed his accusation. She thus spent much of this time alone in her own private boudoir to hide away from Peter’s abrasive personality.

Catherine recalled in her memoirs her optimistic and resolute mood before her accession to the throne:

I used to say to myself that happiness and misery depend on ourselves. If you feel unhappy, raise yourself above unhappiness, and so act that your happiness may be independent of all eventualities.

After the death of the Empress Elizabeth on 5 January 1762 (OS: 25 December 1761), Peter succeeded to the throne as Emperor Peter III, and Catherine became empress consort. The imperial couple moved into the new Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg. The tsar’s eccentricities and policies, including a great admiration for the Prussian king, Frederick II, alienated the same groups that Catherine had cultivated. Besides, Peter intervened in a dispute between his Duchy of Holstein and Denmark over the province of Schleswig.

Russia and Prussia fought each other during the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763) until Peter’s accession. Peter’s insistence on supporting Frederick II of Prussia, who had seen Berlin occupied by Russian troops in 1760, but now suggested partitioning Polish territories with Russia, eroded much of his support among the nobility.

In July 1762, barely six months after becoming emperor, Peter took a holiday with his Holstein-born courtiers and relatives to Oranienbaum, leaving his wife in Saint Petersburg. On the night of 8 July (OS: 27 June) Catherine was given the news that one of her companions had been arrested by her estranged husband. She left the palace and departed for the Ismailovsky regiment, where she delivered a speech asking the soldiers to protect her from her husband. Catherine then left with the regiment to go to the Semenovsky Barracks, where the clergy were waiting to ordain her as the sole occupant of the Russian throne. She had her husband arrested, and forced him to sign a document of abdication, leaving no one to dispute her accession to the throne. On 17 July 1762—eight days after the coup and just six months after his accession to the throne—Peter III died at Ropsha, at the hands of Alexei Orlov (younger brother to Grigory Orlov, then a court favourite and a participant in the coup). Historians find no evidence for Catherine’s complicity in the supposed assassination.

At the time of Peter III’s overthrow, other potential rival claimants to the throne existed: Ivan VI (1740–1764), in close confinement at Schlüsselburg, in Lake Ladoga, from the age of six months; and Yelizaveta Alekseyevna Tarakanova (1753–1775). Ivan VI was assassinated during an attempt to free him as part of a failed coup against Catherine: Catherine, like Empress Elizabeth before her, had given strict instructions that he was to be killed in the event of any such attempt. Ivan was thought to be insane because of his years of solitary confinement, so might have made a poor emperor, even as a figurehead.

Catherine, though not descended from any previous Russian emperor of the Romanov Dynasty (she descended from the Rurik Dynasty, which preceded the Romanovs), succeeded her husband as empress regnant. She followed the precedent established when Catherine I (born in the lower classes in the Swedish East Baltic territories) succeeded her husband Peter the Great in 1725.

Historians debate Catherine’s technical status, some seeing her as a regent or as a usurper, tolerable only during the minority of her son, Grand Duke Paul. In the 1770s, a group of nobles connected with Paul (Nikita Panin and others) considered a new coup to depose Catherine and transfer the crown to Paul, whose power they envisaged restricting in a kind of constitutional monarchy. However, nothing came of this, and Catherine reigned until her death.

According to (moderately authenticated) legend Catherine’s favorite dish was sturgeon and champagne soup.  It’s not clear whether she actually loved the soup itself or the expense and extravagance associated with it. There is a story told that her lover of the time, count Potemkin, was in a panic because she was due for a visit but there was no sturgeon to be had, and he knew her passion for the soup. So he sold a painting that he had just bought for 10,000 rubles to pay a knowledgeable fishmonger who managed to find a few fillets. The recipe is not terribly complicated, but it will not be much if you do not make a good fish stock first – obviously.

To make a good fish stock I use the head and bones of cod or haddock. Cover them with cold water and add some chopped onion, celery, and parsley root, plus a bay leaf and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a low boil and simmer for an hour or longer. Strain thoroughly.

For the soup, place whole fillets of sturgeon in a fish kettle and cover with stock. Simmer until the fish is just cooked. If you like you can add a few diced vegetables. Parsley root is perfect. Add a good quality dry or extra dry champagne to double the quantity of stock. Let it heat through and serve.

Place a whole fillet in a shallow bowl and cover with soup. Garnish with chives, and serve with lemon wedges.  It was customary to drink the soup first with a spoon, and then eat the fish with a knife and fork.

 

Apr 262017
 

Today is celebrated in parts of Russia as Old Permic Alphabet Day. The Old Permic script (Komi: Важ Перым гижӧм), sometimes called the Abur or Anbur after the first two letters (an + bur), is an idiosyncratic adaptation of the Cyrillic script once used to write medieval Komi (Permic). It was created by St Stephen of Perm (Russian : Стефан Пермский, also spelled “Stephan”, Komi: Перымса Стефан, a 14th-century painter and missionary credited with the conversion of the Komi to Christianity and the establishment of the Bishopric of Perm. Because today is his saint’s day, it was chosen as the date to celebrate the alphabet he created.

Stephen was probably from the town of Ustiug. According to a church tradition, his mother was a Komi woman. Stephen took his monastic vows in Rostov, where he learned Greek and learned his trade as a copyist. In 1376, he traveled to lands along the Vychegda and Vym rivers, and it was there that he engaged in the conversion of the Zyriane (Komi peoples). Rather than imposing Latin or Church Slavonic on the indigenous populace, as all the contemporary missionaries did, Stephen learnt their language and traditions and worked out a distinct writing system for their use, creating the second oldest writing system for an Uralic language. Although his destruction of some non-Christian religious symbols earned him the wrath of some Permians, he became the first bishop of Perm, and was very popular.

Stephen’s conversion of the Vychegda Perm threatened the control that Novgorod had had over the region’s wealth and tribute payments, so in 1385, the Archbishop of Novgorod Aleksei (r. 1359-1388) sent a Novgorodian army to remove the new establishment. But the new bishopric, with the help of the city of Ustiug, was able to defeat it. In 1386, Stephan visited Novgorod, and the city and its archbishop formally acknowledged the new situation. Subsequently, the region’s tribute money went to Moscow. These events had immense repercussions for the future of northern Russia, and was one part of a larger trend which saw more and more of the Finnic North and its vital fur trade passing from the control of Novgorod to Moscow, and the general consolidation of Russia as a nation.

The Komi are a Uralic ethnic group whose homeland is around the basins of the Vychegda, Pechora and Kama rivers. They mostly live in the Komi Republic, Perm Krai, Murmansk Oblast, Khanty–Mansi Autonomous Okrug, and Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug in the Russian Federation. They belong to the Permian branch of the Finno-Ugric peoples, divided into eight sub-groups. Their northernmost sub-group is also known as the Komi-Izhemtsy (from the name of the river Izhma) or Iz’vataz. This group numbers 15,607 (2002 census). This group is distinct for its more traditional, strongly subsistence based economy which includes reindeer husbandry. Komi-Permyaks (125,235 people) live in Perm Krai and Kirov Oblast of Russia.

There have been at least three names for the Komis: Permyaks, Zyrians (Russian: пермяки, зыряне) and Komi, the last being the self-designation of the people. The name Permyaks firstly appeared in the 10th  century in Russian sources and came from the ancient name of the land between the Mezen River and Pechora River – Perm – often called “Great Perm” (Russian: Пермь Великая). There are several possible etymologies for the Russian term, but the most commonly accepted amounts to, “the back of beyond.” The name Komi is the endonym (a group’s name in its own language) for all groups of the peoples of the region. It was first recorded by ethnographers in the 18th century. It originates from the Finno-Ugric word meaning “man, human”: Komi kom, Udmurt kum, Mansi kom, kum, Khanty xum.

Komi is a member of the Uralic family of languages, sometimes called the Finno-Ugric family whose better known members are Finnish and Hungarian. Komi can be considered either a single language with several dialects, or a group of closely related languages, making up one of the two branches of the Permic branch of the Uralic family. The other Permic language is Udmurt, to which Komi is closely related.

Of the several Komi dialects or languages, two major varieties are recognized, closely related to one another: Komi-Zyrian, the largest group, serves as the literary basis within the Komi Republic; and Komi-Permyak (also called Permyak), spoken in Komi-Permyak Okrug, where it has literary status. A third variety, Komi-Yodzyak is spoken by the Komi to the north-west of Perm Krai and south of the Komi Republic.

The alphabet developed by Stephen of Perm shows some similarity to medieval Greek and Cyrillic. In the 16th century this alphabet was replaced by the Russian alphabet with certain modifications. In the 1920s, the language was written in Molodtsov alphabet, also derived from Cyrillic. In the 1930s it was switched to the Roman alphabet. In the 1940s the Komi alphabet was simply changed to the Russian alphabet, with the addition of І, і and Ӧ, ӧ. Letters particular to the Molodtsov alphabet include ԁ, ԃ, ԅ, ԇ, ԉ, ԋ, ԍ, ԏ, where the hooks represent palatalization.

I won’t stray into the technicalities of linguistics too much (and will be annoyingly simplistic for those who know the subject), but let’s talk a little about alphabets. When it comes to learning how to read and write, alphabets are the most basic way to represent sounds in writing, and are, therefore, the simplest to learn. At one end of the scale are pictograms, pictures representing basic ideas as in this photo:

Pictograms of this sort are independent of language, so they can be very useful, but they have limited linguistic utility. Next are logograms, such as Chinese characters or Egyptian hieroglyphs, which use a symbol to represent a word or idea. They can be used to express complete thoughts, but in consequence are restricted in their language use. But the restriction is not total. Cantonese and Mandarin are mutually unintelligible when spoken but both can use the same traditional Chinese characters, and speakers of either language can read them with equal fluency.  Even when the Japanese use Chinese characters to write Japanese (kanji) a Chinese speaker can understand the writing to a degree – not perfectly because Japanese has altered some characters.

Next along the line are syllabaries, which break the sounds of a language into syllables (often consonant + vowel) for writing. Many Asian languages such as Japanese, Korean, and Burmese, now use syllabaries because they are simpler to learn than systems of characters. You may need to know a mere 40 characters in a syllabary to be literate, but in Chinese, for example, knowing 2,000 characters makes you barely literate; 10,000 is normal for educated readers. Scholars and bureaucrats in imperial China were expected to know around 50,000.

Alphabets simplify reading down to its most basic sounds, and some languages, such as Italian and Spanish, can be pronounced with reasonable accuracy, through reading out loud, by people who do not even know the languages as long as they know the relationship between letters and sounds. Sadly, English is not in this group because it has never had an academy to enforce basic (and simple to understand) rules, so that the jumbled history of the language is reflected in the convoluted spelling. If every language in the world used the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), pronunciation of the written word would be a snap. You would not have to learn the whole alphabet, just the letters that represent the sounds of your own language. It’s never going to happen though, not least because a culture’s way of writing is a very basic aspect of its identity. Chinese, for example, can be written in Pinyin, which is based on the Roman alphabet, and makes reading quite simple. But it obscures the depth and complexity of meaning that Chinese characters convey, and Westernizes writing the language. Some Chinese use Pinyin on cell phones, but most smartphones nowadays can send in Chinese characters, which the Chinese prefer.

When Stephen developed an alphabet for the Komi his first intention was to develop literacy among the people so that they could read the Bible (which, of course, had to be translated into Komi). If you can’t write the language, you can’t translate anything into the language that is as long and complex as the Bible.

Komi cuisine is varied region by region. In the northern reindeer-herding and hunting areas, meat is eaten daily, but not in the more agricultural south, where fish holds a more important place on tables. Pigs and poultry are kept, but are eaten less often. The Komi are fond of baking fish pie (черинянь)” on festive family occasions. The highly popular “Fish Pie Festival” (Черинянь гаж) is held annually on the last Sunday of June in the village of Byzovaya, Pechora Raion. Komi fish pie is a lot like some fish pies that I make – a cooked fish mixture, topped with a mix of mashed potatoes and other vegetables that is baked. Here’s a fairly standard recipe which incorporates leeks into the potato topping: a real favorite of mine. The filling uses a mix of fresh and smoked fish which is delightful.

Komi Fish Pie

Ingredients

600ml milk
300ml heavy cream
450g white fish fillets
225g smoked fish fillets (haddock or cod)
3 hard-boiled eggs, shelled and roughly chopped
100g butter, plus a little extra (as needed)
45g plain flour
3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1kg floury potatoes, peeled and diced.
1 leek, washed well and thinly sliced (green and white parts)
75g melting cheese, coarsely grated
salt and pepper

Instructions

Put 450ml of the milk and the heavy cream into a large saucepan and bring to a low simmer (boiling will cause the mixture to rise and spill over the pan. Add the white and smoked fish and cook gently for 5-6 minutes, until the fish is just cooked through. Don’t overcook. Using a slotted spoon, remove the fish from the liquid and let it cool slightly on a platter. Strain the liquid and let it cool.

Using a fork or wooden spoon, break the fish into large flakes, and discard any skin and bones. The smoked fish may need careful inspection for small bones, which you need to remove with tweezers. Spread the fish over the base of an ovenproof dish and scatter the chopped eggs over the top.

Melt 50g of the butter in a pan and make a blond roux with the flour, cooking and stirring, for about 1 minute. Take the pan from the heat and, using a whisk, gradually stir in the cooking liquid making sure there are no lumps remaining. Return to the heat and slowly bring back to a simmer, stirring all the time. Cook until the sauce thickens, stirring occasionally. Season to taste, stir in the parsley, and pour the sauce over the fish. Leave to cool to room temperature.

Boil the potatoes until they are soft enough to mash (25 to 35 minutes). Meanwhile, melt the remaining 50g butter in a skillet, add the sliced leek and cook gently until tender.

Drain the potatoes and mash them. How smooth you want them is up to you. I usually leave them a bit lumpy, but this is cook’s choice. You can also add a little butter as you mash, if you like. Stir in the leeks with their butter and the cheese. Season to taste, and spread over the top of the fish in an even layer.

Preheat the oven to 400˚F/200˚C. Dot the top with a little butter, and bake until the potato topping is crisp and golden, by which time the filling will be heated through and bubbling (15 to 20 minutes).

 

Feb 212017
 

On this date in 1848 The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels was first published (in German) in London. It is a much misunderstood document, as is much of Marx’s work in general. I don’t have the space here, nor time, to redress all the misunderstandings, but I’ll make a start. The Manifesto was itself written to correct misunderstandings of what communism is/was, but it was itself misinterpreted badly by European revolutionaries and in points beyond. Marx was not envisaging dictators such as Stalin and Mao, but that’s the model of Marxism that has stuck in the general consciousness in the West, largely as a result of the Cold War.  Marx was addressing the radical divide between the people with all the money (hence power) and the rest of the population that was the model in his day in Europe, and which continues unabated. In my opinion his analysis of the situation (then and now) is generally sound, but his historical analysis is not.  The most important misunderstanding is of the world Marx envisaged – not the oppressive regimes of the likes of 20th century Russia and China, but a world in which the common people (proletariat) were not controlled, mind and soul, by the desires of an oligarchy of very few, very rich people (bourgeoisie), but, instead, controlled their own destinies.

I should probably start with a critique of Marx (and Engels) to demonstrate that I am not some kind of doctrinaire Marxist myself. Marx wrote in an era when very general ideas of the evolution of things were just beginning to catch hold, undoubtedly because Europe was radically changing under the pressures of the Industrial Revolution. A world that had seen precious little in the way of technological change for almost a thousand years was gripped by rapid and constant change and this had an effect on the intellectual world because change was in the air. The Grimms, for example, developed hypotheses concerning the evolution of languages, Lewis Henry Morgan proposed a theory of cultural evolution, and, of course, Darwin was interested in biological evolution. Marx stepped in with his own theory of historical evolution. My “simple” task here will be to try to separate the wheat from the chaff in Marx’s thinking, and will, obviously, end up being simplistic.

Where Marx has proven to be most blatantly wrong is in his hypothesis that capitalism would collapse of its own weight. Over 150 years later it is still going strong, the ultra-rich still hold all the power, and there’s no sign of collapse even though the disparity between rich and the rest is, if anything, greater than it was in Marx’s time in developed countries. The two major countries where a simulacrum of Marx’s ideas led to violent revolution in the 20th century, Russia and China, were not capitalist cultures at the time of their revolutions, but experiencing the last vestiges of feudalism that were ripe to be overturned — and have since adopted capitalist ideals on a large scale (including the huge disparities between the rich and the rest).

What cannot be denied is that the vast majority of people living in contemporary capitalist cultures are, by and large, comfortable. Of course they are exploited and controlled by a tiny minority of very rich people, but their lives are comfortable enough that they are hesitant to seek change, and so they continue as is. We still have plenty of poor people living in horrendous conditions but the Western world does not look like the Victorian London or Manchester of Marx’s day. The bulk of the electorate in Western democracies have food on the table, drive cars, have stable (if tedious) jobs, and aspire to owning their own homes. They have the time and money to go on vacation to exotic places, and they wear decent clothes. Discontent these days centers on the evident slowing of what was once a steady improvement in these comforts, not in the system itself.  Hence the capitalist system will endure unscathed through the rest of my lifetime and beyond. I have no idea what will cause its ultimate demise, but it will end – one day.

1848 was the “Year of Revolutions” in Europe. No country emerged untouched, although not all participated in overt revolution. Marx certainly contributed to the general revolutionary fervor with the Manifesto. But the revolutions were fueled by a lot of forces, notably nationalism, apart from the desire for social change.  Marx’s rhetoric was inserted into the revolutions, but socialism of a different sort, led by social philosophers such as Henri de Saint-Simon, Charles Fourier, Étienne Cabet, and Robert Owen, was also on the horizon, leading in a different, non violent, direction.  They were called “Utopian Socialists” by detractors (including Marxists) because their visions were viewed as naïve.  What is frequently missed is that Marx’s socialist aims were the same as theirs, only the vision of the methods of achieving it was different.

Beneath the revolutionary rhetoric Marx was a humanist. If you read his works prior to the Manifesto  you get a much clearer sense of his underlying humanistic social philosophy. He imagined a post-capitalist world in which farmers collectively owned the farms, workers collectively owned factories, and so forth, and they would inevitably benefit because they would keep all the profits and make all the decisions. We can argue about the validity of this hypothesis, but there is no question that Marx envisaged a brighter world for everyone when the workers were the masters. He did not imagine Stalinist Russia or Maoist China. Perhaps he should have. Revolution from the bottom up begets tyrants.  Marx should have known this; the French Revolution produced Napoleon. The American Revolution was different because it was not from the bottom up, but from the top down. The first rebels in the North American colonies were the rich who wanted less taxation and less regulation on their businesses (times don’t change much !!).

Marx was spot on when he pointed out that capitalism commodifies labor so that workers see themselves in terms of their earning power rather than in terms of their inherent human (and individual) traits. Workers thus take less pride in their work and more in their pay check. Work becomes a means to an end (house, car, vacations, etc) rather than an end in itself. In consequence all other social activities, such as education, are judged in terms of their ability to increase earning power and not for their intrinsic merits. I’m absolutely sick and tired of reading article upon article that charts the universities with the graduates who earn the most, the college majors with the best earnings potential, and the careers with the highest salaries.  So what????  I became an anthropologist, a teacher, and a writer because I love doing that work. I can look back on a long career with pride and happiness because my jobs have made me happy, not because I have stacked away piles of money. My riposte to the ages old barbed question, “If you are so smart why aren’t you rich?” is simple. “I am not rich because I am smart; I have other goals in life.”

I am not a doctrinaire Marxist by any stretch of the imagination, but I am enough of a Marxist to believe that people should live in a society where they are free to choose their own destinies, and not shackled by the dictates of the system.

Some apt quotes from the Manifesto:

The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honored and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage laborers.

The bourgeoisie . . . has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervor, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom—Free Trade.

The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilization. The cheap prices of its commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.

The proletarians have nothing to loose but their chains. They have a world to win.

 

I’ve never wanted to be a chef because I’ve never wanted to debase my cooking via the profit motive.  I cook because I love to cook – end of story.  I hope this blog makes that point loud and clear. Today of all days you should cook something that you most love to cook, and cook with passion – not with an eye to time, cost, or any other variable other than devotion to the task itself. That means that you should choose today what recipe best suits you.  You are the master. For lunch today I had braised rabbit with wild mushrooms in a sauce seasoned with red pepper, garlic, onions, allspice, and ginger, with boiled new potatoes and broad beans on the side.  I’m not going to give you a recipe because (a) I invented the dish as I went along, and (b) today is your day to cook what you choose, not what I have decided for you. My braised rabbit took me 2 days to prepare because I like my dishes to rest overnight when they have complex sauces. I loved the preparation – and it was delicious.

Here’s a small gallery of things I have cooked recently.  In each case I cooked what I wanted without any recipe, just following my heart’s pleasure:

Oct 222016
 

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In the Russian Orthodox tradition today is the Saturday of Souls (or Soul Saturday), the Saturday before the feast of Saint Demetrius of Thessaloniki (Άγιος Δημήτριος της Θεσσαλονίκης),a Christian martyr of the early 4th century. Within the Orthodox tradition in general there are several days that can be marked as Soul Saturday. Saturday is chosen because it was a Saturday when Jesus lay in the tomb after the crucifixion on Friday and before the resurrection on Sunday. Usually Soul Saturdays occur in Lent, but the Russian Orthodox one falls on the Saturday before 26th of October. Soul Saturday is especially marked as a day of prayer for the dead.

The earliest written accounts of the life of Demetrius were compiled in the 9th century, although there are earlier images of him along with the 7th century Miracles of Saint Demetrius collection. According to these early accounts, Demetrius was born to pious Christian parents in Thessaloniki in Illyricum in 270. The biographies say that Demetrius was born into a senatorial family and was run through with spears in around 306 in Thessaloniki, during the Christian persecutions of Diocletian and Galerian.

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After the growth of his veneration as saint, the city of Thessaloniki suffered repeated attacks and sieges from the Slavic peoples who moved into the Balkans, and Demetrius was credited with many miraculous interventions to defend the city. Hence later traditions about Demetrius regard him as a soldier in the Roman army, and he came to be regarded as an important military martyr making him extremely popular in the Middle Ages (in parallel with the more Western Saint George).

Originally in the Russian Orthodox Church, the Saturday before the Feast of St. Demetrius was a memorial day commemorating the soldiers who fell in the Battle of Kulikovo (1380), under the leadership of St. Demetrius of the Don, and came to be known as Demetrius Saturday. Now it is a more general commemoration for all departed souls.

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St. Demetrius was initially depicted in icons and mosaics as a young man in patterned robes with the distinctive tablion of the senatorial class across his chest. Miraculous military interventions were attributed to him during several attacks on Thessaloniki, and he gradually became thought of as a soldier although there is no historical evidence for this. An ivory from Constantinople of the late 10th century shows him as an infantry soldier, but an icon of the late 11th century in Saint Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai shows him as before, still a civilian.

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Another Sinai icon, of the Crusader period and painted by a French artist working in the Holy Land in the second half of the 12th century, shows what then became the most common depiction. Demetrius, bearded, rather older, and on a dark horse, rides together with St George, unbearded and on a white horse. Both are dressed as cavalrymen. Also, while St. George is often shown spearing a dragon, St. Demetrius is depicted spearing the gladiator Lyaeos, who according to legend was responsible for killing many Christians. Lyaeos is commonly depicted below Demetrius and lying supine, having already been defeated. Lyaeos is traditionally drawn much smaller than Demetrius. In traditional hagiography, Demetrius did not directly kill Lyaeos, but rather through his prayers the gladiator was defeated by Demetrius’ disciple, Nestor.

A modern Greek iconographic convention depicts Demetrius with the Great White Tower in the background. The anachronistic White Tower acts as a symbolic depiction of the city of Thessaloniki, despite having been built in the 16th century, centuries after his life, and the exact architecture of the older tower that stood at the same site in earlier times is unknown.

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According to hagiographic legend, as retold by Dimitry of Rostov in particular, Demetrius appeared in 1207 in the camp of Kaloyan of Bulgaria, piercing the pagan king with a lance and so killing him. This scene, known as Чудо о погибели царя Калояна (“the miracle of the destruction of tsar Kaloyan”) became a popular element in the iconography of Saint Demetrius. He is shown on horseback piercing the king with his spear, paralleling the icononography (and often shown alongside) of Saint George and the Dragon.

I’m not really all that comfortable with saints as battle heroes. Slaying pagans and persecutors of Christians does not gibe too well with the Sermon on the Mount, cornerstone of Christian belief in my worldview. It is understandable in the context of the war-torn Middle Ages, but for me is a perversion of Christian belief that has continued to the present day. I can understand calling on the saints to protect the faithful during times of attack; turning that around into a battle cry to be the attackers of pagans destroys the Christian message. I’m not confident that “Love Your Enemies” is a message that will ever fully penetrate.

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In the Russian Orthodox tradition it is usual to make dishes of boiled wheat grains and offer them in church on Soul Saturday before eating them communally or as a family. I’ll probably give a recipe for wheat porridge at some point, but it’s not my favorite, even when cooked with milk and sweetened with sugar or honey. Instead I’ll turn to the cuisine of Thessaloniki. Because Thessaloniki  remained under Ottoman rule for about 100 years more than southern Greece, it has retained a lot of its Eastern character, including its culinary tastes. When you get away from the nonsense of ethnic rivalry you will see that traditional Turkish and Greek dishes have a lot in common. Thessaloniki’s Ladadika borough is a haven for foodies with most tavernas serving traditional meze which has both Greek and Turkish influences blended.

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Generically meze (Turkish: meze; Greek: μεζές) is a selection of small dishes to accompany drinks which can also be used as an appetizer course. The dishes can be just about anything under the sun from hummus, falafel, and babaghanoush to ground or skewered lamb, beef stew, and marinated pork. Furthermore, meze can be rich and varied, or extremely simple. For Soul Saturday I think a simple, but delicious meze dish is in order. One that I find satisfying as a snack or appetizer is pictured here. It is common in Greek cuisine.

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Serve a block of feta cheese drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with oregano along with kalamata olives accompanied with crusty bread. If you eat the cheese, olives, and bread together you have a somewhat astringent but tasty blend of flavors. Good for the soul as you reflect on the departed.

Apr 092016
 

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Today is the birthday (1898) of Paul Leroy Robeson, U.S.  singer and actor, and activist with the Civil Rights Movement. At Rutgers College, he was an outstanding football player, then had an international career in singing, with a distinctive, powerful, deep bass voice, as well as acting in theater and movies. He became politically involved in response to the Spanish Civil War, fascism, and social injustices. His advocacy of anti-imperialism, affiliation with communism, and criticism of the United States government caused him to be blacklisted during the McCarthy era. Ill health forced him into retirement from his career.

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Robeson won an academic scholarship to Rutgers College, where he became a football All-American and the class valedictorian. He received his LL.B. from Columbia Law School, while playing in the National Football League (NFL). At Columbia, he sang and acted in off-campus productions; and, after graduating, he became a participant in the Harlem Renaissance with performances in The Emperor Jones and All God’s Chillun Got Wings. Robeson initiated his international artistic résumé with a theatrical role in Great Britain, settling in London for the next several years with his wife Essie.

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Robeson next appeared as Othello at the Savoy Theatre before becoming an international cinema star through roles in Show Boat and Sanders of the River. As he traveled he became increasingly aware of the sufferings of other cultures and peoples due to global imperialism. Although he was warned of his economic ruin if he became politically active, he set aside his theatrical career to advocate for the cause of the Republican forces of the Spanish Civil War. He then became active in the Council on African Affairs (CAA).

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During World War II, he supported the U.S. war efforts and won accolades for his portrayal of Othello on Broadway. However, his history of supporting pro-Soviet policies brought scrutiny from the FBI. After the war ended, the CAA was placed on the Attorney General’s List of Subversive Organizations and Robeson was investigated during the age of McCarthyism. Due to his decision not to recant his public advocacy of pro-Soviet policies, he was denied a passport by the U.S. State Department, and his income, consequently, plummeted. He moved to Harlem where he published a periodical critical of United States policies. His right to travel was eventually restored by the 1958 United States Supreme Court decision, Kent v. Dulles, but his health broke down. He retired and he lived out the remaining years of his life privately in Philadelphia.

Robeson’s performance of “Ol’ Man River” is now iconic, and is the yardstick by which all other performances are judged:

The Paul Robeson tomato is an heirloom varietal that originated in the Soviet Union and named in his honor. It’s a dark, large, oblate, robust tomato with a strong slightly smoky flavor. You won’t find it for sale but you can get the seeds online if you are a home grower.  For example: http://www.rareseeds.com/paul-robeson-tomato/

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The Paul Robeson tomato is perfect for tomato sandwiches. For the absolute purist, a tomato sandwich consists of slices of ripe juicy tomato between two slices of bread, with a sprinkling of salt as the only seasoning. You have to eat a good one over the sink to avoid making a mess. I’ve had to launder countless shirts as witness to this. I love tomato sandwiches as a quick lunch, but there was also a period in China last year when I practically lived on them because they were cheap to make and I didn’t have a kitchen.

For variety I added some extras once in a while, such as tomato ketchup, or a slice of cheese. You are on your own here – bacon, avocado, mayonnaise . . . whatever. The main point to remember is that you are making a TOMATO sandwich. The tomato is the main event. You’re not making a sandwich that INCLUDES tomato – such as the BLT. Tomato is the star. Treat it that way.

 

Nov 072015
 

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The October Revolution (Октя́брьская револю́ция,) known officially as the Great October Socialist Revolution, and commonly referred to as Red October, the October Uprising or the Bolshevik Revolution, was a seizure of state power instrumental in the larger Russian Revolution of 1917. It took place beginning with an armed insurrection in Petrograd traditionally dated to 25 October 1917 (by the Julian or Old Style calendar, which corresponds to 7 November 1917 in the Gregorian or New Style calendar). By coincidence today is also the birthday (1879) of Leon Trotsky, leading revolutionary and key figure in soviet government until ousted by Stalin. I’ll focus here on the revolution itself. Maybe next year for Trotsky.

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The October Revolution is of some importance in the complex events of 1917 in Russia. Scholars still debate the course of events and significance of individual actions over the span of 1917, and histories have been deeply colored by political propaganda within and outside of Russia. Soviet history has changed a good deal with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 when many documents that had long been suppressed became public. When I studied the revolution in 6th-form history, the Western party line was that it was precipitated by the brutalities borne by the poor under the feudal system aggravated by the horrendous conditions on the eastern front in the Great War. I think this is still a reasonable assessment although a little simplistic. Now we would add other factors such as antagonism of the nobility towards the tsar, mismanagement of factories, and the like. What it was most definitely not was a vindication of popular Marxist ideology as it was codified – especially in Russia under Stalin. Russia was still primarily a rural, feudal economy in 1917. According to doctrinaire Marxism, the country was supposed to develop bourgeois capitalist industrialism, and only then should a mass people’s revolt have occurred. Lenin and Trotsky were both out of Russia in early 1917 and rushed back when the February Revolution broke out – in Lenin’s case it is reputed that he wanted to stop the revolution because the people were doing it all wrong. After Lenin’s return, the Bolsheviks wanted to shift events to better suit Marxism, but, despite their victory in 1917, they were not popular with the people and instigated a 5-year civil war to control the country. In the grand scheme of things, the October Revolution was of far less significance than it was portrayed as later by soviet propagandists.

I can’t do justice to the Russian Revolution in a short post. Here’s just some bare bones. You’ll have to read more elsewhere to get a more comprehensive picture.

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The October Revolution of 1917 followed and capitalized on the February Revolution of the same year, which overthrew the Tsarist autocracy and established a provisional government composed predominantly of former nobles and aristocrats. During this time, urban workers began to organize into councils (“Soviets” in Russian) wherein revolutionaries criticized the provisional government and its actions. The October Revolution in Petrograd overthrew the provisional government and gave the power to the local soviets. The Bolshevik party was heavily supported by the soviets. After the Congress of Soviets, now the governing body, had its second session, it elected members of the Bolsheviks and other leftist groups such as the Left Socialist Revolutionaries to key positions within the new state. This immediately initiated the establishment of the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic, the world’s first self-proclaimed socialist state.

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The revolution was led by the Bolsheviks, who used their influence in the Petrograd Soviet to organize the armed forces. Bolshevik Red Guards forces under the Military Revolutionary Committee began the takeover of government buildings on 24 October 1917 (O.S.). The following day, the Winter Palace (the seat of the Provisional government located in Petrograd, then capital of Russia), was captured. This event was heavily propagandized as something akin to the storming of the Bastille, but it was nothing of the sort. Petrograd was mostly taken over peacefully and the storming of the Winter Palace was almost a farce.

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The official Soviet version of events was that an assault led by Vladimir Lenin was launched at 9:45 p.m. signaled by a blank shot from the cruiser Aurora. (The Aurora was placed in Petrograd and still stands there now.) The Winter Palace was guarded by Cossacks, cadets (military students), and a Women’s Battalion. It was taken at about 2 a.m. More contemporary research with access to government archives significantly corrects accepted Soviet edited and embellished history. The archival version shows that parties of Bolshevik operatives sent out from the Smolny by Lenin took over all critical centers of power in Petrograd without a shot being fired. This was completed so efficiently that the takeover resembled the changing of the guard.

The capture of the Winter Palace was slightly more dramatic, with the Red Guards storming the Winter Palace at 2:10 a.m. on the night of 7–8 November [O.S. 25–26 October] 1917. The Cossacks deserted when the Red Guard approached, and the Cadets and the 140 volunteers of the Women’s Battalion surrendered rather than resist the 40,000 strong army. The Aurora was commandeered to then fire blanks at the palace in a symbolic act of rejection of the government. In fact the effectively unoccupied Winter Palace fell not because of acts of courage or a military barrage, but because the back door was left open, allowing the Red Guard to enter. The back door was left open !! Really ??? A Red Guard named Adamovich remembered gasping as he burst into the palace, as he had never before seen such luxury and splendor. A small group broke in, got lost in the cavernous interior, and accidentally happened upon the remnants of Kerensky’s provisional government in the imperial family’s breakfast room. The illiterate revolutionaries then compelled those arrested to write up their own arrest papers.

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The Provisional Government was arrested and imprisoned in Peter and Paul Fortress after the ministers resigned to fate and surrendered without a fight. The stories of the “defense of the Winter Palace” and the heroic “Storming of the Winter Palace” came later as the creative propaganda product of Bolshevik publicists. Grandiose paintings depicting the “Women’s Battalion” and photo stills taken from Sergei Eisenstein’s staged film, “Ten Days that Shook the World,” depicting the “politically correct” version of the October events in Petrograd came to be taken as truth. Eisentstein later said that his filming did much worse damage to the Winter Palace than the events of the October Revolution. His extras’ gunfire broke every window in the palace.

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The long-awaited Constituent Assembly elections were held on 12 November 1917. The Bolsheviks won only 175 seats in the 715 seat legislative body, coming in second behind the Socialist Revolutionary party, which won 370 seats. The Constituent Assembly was to first meet on 28 November 1917, but its convocation was delayed until January 5, 1918 by the Bolsheviks. On its first and only day in session, the body rejected Soviet decrees on peace and land, and was dissolved the next day by order of the Congress of Soviets. As the revolution was not universally recognized, there followed the struggles of the Russian Civil War (1917–22) and the creation of the Soviet Union in 1922. The totalitarianism of Lenin and later Stalin, was effectively masked by propaganda which sought to paint the revolution as a popular revolt and nothing more. The Russian Civil War had much more effect on the shape of the totalitarian regime that was to follow than the October Revolution.

Borscht seems like the obvious recipe to celebrate the day. It is a very old dish of peasant origin that was widespread throughout eastern Europe long before the modern era. Therefore, as with so many other dishes I have showcased here, it has as many “recipes” as there are cooks. You may have gathered some time ago that I find recipes for such dishes tiresome. So here’s my heuristic accounting of what I do. A more refined borscht involves blending the soup before serving, but that’s not to my taste. I prefer it hot in winter, but it can be served chilled as a summer soup. What is most definitely NOT borscht is the stuff referred to disparagingly as “beetroot water” by real cooks, is the stuff you find in jars in U.S. supermarkets. You can find my meatless version here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/anna-pavlova/ I don’t like to repeat recipes, but these two are very different even though beets are the common factor.

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Borscht

Put 1 lb of bone-in stewing beef, a few whole peppercorns, a bay leaf, salt to taste, and some chopped fresh dill into a heavy saucepan and cover with water or light stock. Simmer until the meat is tender (about 2 hours). At this point I usually refrigerate the pot overnight to deepen the flavors and to make it easy to remove the fat in the morning.

Remove the congealed fat from the pot, and strain the broth, discarding the peppercorns and bay leaf. Remove the meat from the bone and cut it into chunks. Reserve the meat.

Peel and dice 3 medium beets. Sauté them gently in a little vegetable oil for about 3 minutes. Sprinkle with vinegar and let it evaporate. Set aside.

Return the broth to the stove and bring to a simmer. You need about 1 cup per person. Add 2 potatoes peeled and cubed, 2 carrots likewise, and 1 cup of chopped cabbage, plus a handful of chopped fresh parsley and the beets. Sauté an onion, peeled and chopped, in a little oil until transparent. Sprinkle with flour and stir over low heat. Whisk this mixture into the soup. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. If you wish, this is the time to blend or process the soup. Either way, add back the beef and heat through.

Serve in bowls with a dollop of fresh cream and a dill garnish.

May 292015
 

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Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring was first performed on this date in 1913. It was written for the 1913 Paris season of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes company; the original choreography was by Vaslav Nijinsky, with stage designs and costumes by Nicholas Roerich. When first performed, at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, the avant-garde nature of the music and choreography caused a sensation and a near-riot in the audience. Although designed as a work for the stage, with specific passages accompanying characters and action, the music achieved equal if not greater recognition as a concert piece, and is widely considered to be one of the most influential musical works of the 20th century.

Stravinsky was a young, virtually unknown composer when Diaghilev recruited him to create works for the Ballets Russes. The Rite was the third such project, after the acclaimed Firebird (1910) and Petrushka (1911). The concept behind The Rite of Spring, developed by Roerich from Stravinsky’s outline idea, is suggested by its subtitle, “Pictures of Pagan Russia in Two Parts”; in the scenario, after various “primitive” rituals celebrating the advent of spring, a young girl is chosen as a sacrificial victim and dances herself to death. After a mixed critical reception for its original run and a short London tour, the ballet was not performed again until the 1920s, when a version choreographed by Léonide Massine replaced Nijinsky’s original. Massine’s was the forerunner of many innovative productions directed by the world’s leading ballet-masters, which gained the work worldwide acceptance. In the 1980s, Nijinsky’s original choreography, long believed lost, was reconstructed by the Joffrey Ballet in Los Angeles.

Stravinsky’s score contains many revolutionary features for its time, including experiments in tonality, meter, rhythm, stress, and dissonance. Analysts have noted in the score a significant grounding in Russian folk music, a relationship Stravinsky tended to deny. The music has influenced many of the 20th-century’s leading composers, and is one of the most recorded works in the classical repertoire.

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In 1909 Stravinsky’s early work, Feu d’artifice, was performed at a concert in St Petersburg. Among those in the audience was the impresario Sergei Diaghilev, who at that time was planning to introduce Russian music and art to western audiences. Having heard Feu d’artifice he approached Stravinsky, initially with a request for help in orchestrating music by Chopin to create the ballet Les Sylphides. Stravinsky worked on the opening “Nocturne” and the closing “Valse Brillante”; his reward was a much bigger commission, to write the music for a new ballet, The Firebird (L’oiseau de feu) for the 1910 season. Then came Petrushka (1911) to stunning acclaim. The Rite of Spring followed.

Analyzing The Rite adequately in a short piece such as this is impossible. But I’ll try to give a glimpse. I’m going to divide my comments into three parts: (1) the intellectual conception behind the overall work and the choreography, (2) the music itself, and (3) the premiere.

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Let me start with the bad news first. Roerich’s vision of a “pagan” Russia where grave elders presided over fertility rites for the renewal of the earth in Spring which involved, among other things, the sacrifice of a virgin to the gods, is utterly without merit. It comes from a nineteenth century Romantic delusion conjured up by European folklorists and anthropologists (along with assorted mystical loonies) that has ZERO basis in historical fact. I have railed against this stupidity in my academic writing, as well as here, on numerous occasions (e.g.  http://www.bookofdaystales.com/may-daymay-morning/ . That a worthless intellectual and historical fantasy produced a masterpiece is a charming miracle.

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I can’t really say a whole lot about the choreography as such because Nijinsky’s original is lost, and, although the Joffrey made a valiant effort to reconstruct it from Nijinsky’s notes, from what little I know of the reconstruction, it seems more Joffrey than Nijinsky.

The ‘knock-kneed’ Lolitas of the original Rite of Spring  rite3

The original costumes are laughable. They appear to be stylized versions of women’s clothing of Native Americans from the Great Plains (with suitable Russian embroidery) – a misguided allusion to them as “noble savages.” Equating “pagan” Russians with Native Americans stems from a, now thoroughly discredited, idea that ALL cultures evolved along the same path (although in different time periods), and, therefore, it was legitimate to take nineteenth century Plains Indians as models for ancient Russians. It is not.

Nijinsky’s choreography was apparently rooted to the ground, stomping in a parody of actual ritual, but quite natural given that the whole piece was about the worship of the earth. It was not, however, received well by audiences used to the sylphs in tutus of the classic ballet soaring high in the air. Stravinsky later described the dancers as “knock-kneed and long-braided Lolitas.” Nonetheless, Stravinsky did praise Nijinsky’s work. To Maximilien Steinberg, a former fellow-pupil under Rimsky-Korsakov, Stravinsky wrote that Nijinsky’s choreography had been “incomparable: with the exception of a few places, everything was as I wanted it.”

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Addressing the technicalities of the music is a gigantic task I am not qualified to undertake (and you can skim if you wish). Just a few words. To begin, whether you know anything about how revolutionary this piece was or not, it is staggering to listen to. I first heard it (in somewhat altered form) as a teenager via Disney’s Fantasia. The Rite segment of the film depicts the Earth’s prehistory, leading to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Among those impressed by the film was Gunther Schuller, later a composer, conductor, and jazz scholar. The Rite of Spring sequence, he says, overwhelmed him and determined his future career in music: “I hope [Stravinsky] appreciated that hundreds—perhaps thousands—of musicians were turned on to The Rite of Spring … through Fantasia, musicians who might otherwise never have heard the work, or at least not until many years later.” Audiences were not ready for Rite in 1913; they were in 1940. An excerpt:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-tBd-Xp5tA&index=2&list=PLFA60BA1ED2A9BAA3

According to musicologist Stephen Walsh the great innovation of The Rite is not the dissonance or the immobility of the harmonic progression because both of these ideas were in practice before Stravinsky’s work. Walsh cites Debussy’s Et la Lune Descend Sur le Temple Qui Fut (1907) as being both discordant and harmonically static. The true innovation was Stravinsky’s use of musical fragments and compelling rhythms to provide a structure to drive the dramatic action.

What nobody seems to have done before the Rite of Spring was to take dissonant, irregularly formed musical ‘objects’ of very brief extent and release their latent energy by firing them off at one another  like so many particles in an atomic accelerator.

Stravinsky’s method of composition for The Rite was to arrange and layer small cells of music. These musical fragments often consist of as few as four notes, but they are repeated and reoriented to create ostinati (constant repetitions), or stacked to generate chords, or embellished to create melodic material. The Rite was originally thought to contain only one true folk tune: the high bassoon part which begins the introduction. Later investigation into more of Stravinsky’s sketches in 1969 revealed complete folk melodies copied from published collections Although, after being thoroughly worked, reorganized and chopped up by Stravinsky very little of the actual tune remains intact: just a faint whiff.

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According to Pieter Van Den Toorn another strong adhesive component in the work is the ubiquitous use of the octatonic scale and its derived chords. Stravinsky not only employed the octatonic scale as others had before, he redefined its use and context completely. By using long streams of octatonic chords and adding chunks of diatonic material, Stravinsky created a new sound. The octatonic scale is an eight note scale consisting of the pattern / H / W / H / W / H / W / H / W / [H= half step, W=whole step]. Thus,

. . . symmetrically defined units no longer succeed one another, harmlessly, as they do in the operas of Rimsky or in the early Stravinsky passages cited above. These units are now superimposed—played simultaneously. And this is an invention from which startling implications accrue not only in pitch organization but, as a consequence, in rhythm and instrumental design as well. It radically alters the conditions of octatonic confinement, opens up a new dimension in octatonic thought that Stravinsky, beginning with Petrushka and The Rite , was to render peculiarly his own.

Enough technicality. To put it in my own simplistic words, tonal music (Bach, Mozart, Beethoven etc.) appears to be going “somewhere.” It starts off in the home key, progresses in various ways, and then returns home. Atonal music can leave you with the sense that it is going nowhere. Stravinsky magically managed to compose atonally and yet leads you “somewhere.”

The conductor Pierre Monteux had worked with Diaghilev since 1911, and had been in charge of the orchestra at the premiere of Petrushka. Monteux’s first reaction to The Rite, after hearing Stravinsky play a piano version, was to leave the room and find a quiet corner. Although he would perform his duties with conscientious professionalism, he never came to enjoy the work; nearly fifty years after the premiere he told enquirers that he detested it. On 30 March Monteux informed Stravinsky of modifications he thought were necessary to the score, all of which the composer implemented. The orchestra, drawn mainly from the Concerts Colonne in Paris, was, with 99 players, much larger than was normally employed at the theater, and had difficulty fitting into the orchestra pit.

After the first part of the ballet received two full orchestral rehearsals in March, Monteux and the company departed to perform in Monte Carlo. Rehearsals resumed when they returned; the unusually large number of rehearsals—seventeen solely orchestral and five with the dancers—were fitted into the fortnight before the opening, after Stravinsky’s arrival in Paris on 13 May. The music contained so many unusual note combinations that Monteux had to ask the musicians to stop interrupting when they thought they had found mistakes in the score, saying he would tell them if something was played incorrectly. According to Monteux, “The musicians thought it absolutely crazy”. At one point, a climactic brass fortissimo, the orchestra broke up in nervous laughter at the sound, causing Stravinsky to intervene angrily.

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The premiere of Rite was held in Paris’s Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, a new structure which had opened on 2 April 1913 with a program celebrating the works of many of the leading composers of the day. The theater’s manager, Gabriel Astruc, was determined to house the 1913 Ballets Russes season, and paid Diaghilev the enormous sum of 25,000 francs per performance, double what he had paid the previous year. Ticket sales for the evening, ticket prices being doubled for a premiere, amounted to 35,000 francs. The program for 29 May 1913 also included Les Sylphides, Weber’s Le Spectre de la Rose and Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances.

At the time, a Parisian ballet audience typically consisted of two diverse groups: the wealthy and fashionable set, who would be expecting to see a traditional performance with beautiful music, and a “Bohemian” group who, the poet-philosopher Jean Cocteau asserted, would “acclaim, right or wrong, anything that is new because of their hatred of the boxes” (i.e. the rich). Final rehearsals were held on the day before the premiere, in the presence of members of the press and assorted invited guests. According to Stravinsky all went peacefully. However, the critic of L’Écho de Paris, Adolphe Boschot, foresaw possible trouble; he wondered how the public would receive the work, and suggested that they might react badly if they thought they were being mocked.

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What actually happened at the premiere is a matter of ongoing debate. Were things thrown at the orchestra? Were the police called? Did Diaghilev deliberately plant rowdies in the audience with the specific intent of creating a “sensation,” etc. etc. Eyewitness reports vary wildly. On the evening of the 29 May the theater was packed: Gustav Linor reported, “Never … has the hall been so full, or so resplendent; the stairways and the corridors were crowded with spectators eager to see and to hear”. The evening began with Les Sylphides, in which Nijinsky and Tamara Karsavina danced the main roles. Rite of Spring followed. Some eyewitnesses and commentators said that the disturbances in the audience began during the Introduction, and grew into a crescendo when the curtain rose on the stamping dancers in “Augurs of Spring”. But music historian Richard Taruskin asserts, “it was not Stravinsky’s music that did the shocking. It was the ugly earthbound lurching and stomping devised by Vaslav Nijinsky.” Marie Rambert, who was working as an assistant to Nijinsky, recalled later that it was soon impossible to hear the music on the stage. In his autobiography, Stravinsky writes that the derisive laughter that greeted the first bars of the Introduction disgusted him, and that he left the auditorium to watch the rest of the performance from the stage wings. The demonstrations, he says, grew into “a terrific uproar” which, along with the on-stage noises, drowned out the voice of Nijinsky who was shouting the stepping count to the dancers (which they had great difficulty with because of Stravinsky’s unusual rhythms). The journalist and photographer Carl Van Vechten famously recorded that the person behind him got carried away with excitement, and “began to beat rhythmically on top of my head”, though Van Vechten failed to notice this at first, his own emotion being so great.

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Monteux believed that the trouble began when the two factions in the audience began attacking each other, but their mutual anger was soon diverted towards the orchestra: “Everything available was tossed in our direction, but we continued to play on”. Around forty of the worst offenders were ejected—possibly with the intervention of the police, although this is uncorroborated. Through all the disturbances the performance continued without interruption. Things grew noticeably quieter during Part II, and by some accounts Maria Piltz’s rendering of the final “Sacrificial Dance” was watched in reasonable silence. At the end there were several curtain calls for the dancers, for Monteux and the orchestra, and for Stravinsky and Nijinsky before the evening’s program continued.

Among the more hostile press reviews was that of Le Figaro‍ ’​s critic, Henri Quittard, who called the work “a laborious and puerile barbarity” and added “We are sorry to see an artist such as M. Stravinsky involve himself in this disconcerting adventure”. On the other hand Gustav Linor, writing in the leading theatrical magazine Comoedia, thought the performance was superb, especially that of the lead Maria Piltz; the disturbances, while deplorable, were merely “a rowdy debate” between two ill-mannered factions. Emile Raudin, of Les Marges, who had barely heard the music, wrote: “Couldn’t we ask M. Astruc … to set aside one performance for well-intentioned spectators? The composer Alfredo Casella thought that the demonstrations were aimed at Nijinsky’s choreography rather than at the music, a view shared by the critic Michel-Dimitri Calvocoressi, who wrote: “The idea was excellent, but was not successfully carried out”. Calvocoressi failed to observe any direct hostility to the composer—unlike, he said, the premiere of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande in 1902. Of later reports that the veteran composer Camille Saint-Saëns had stormed out of the premiere, Stravinsky observed that this was impossible; Saint-Saëns did not attend. Stravinsky also rejected Cocteau’s story that, after the performance, Stravinsky, Nijinsky, Diaghilev and Cocteau himself took a cab to the Bois de Boulogne where a tearful Diaghilev recited poems by Pushkin. Stravinsky merely recalled a celebratory dinner with Diaghilev and Nijinsky, at which the impresario expressed his entire satisfaction with the outcome.

On 18 February 1914 The Rite received its first concert performance (the music without the ballet), in St Petersburg under Serge Koussevitzky. On 5 April that year, Stravinsky experienced for himself the popular success of The Rite as a concert work, at the Casino de Paris. After the performance, again under Monteux, the composer was carried in triumph from the hall on the shoulders of his admirers. The Rite had its first British concert performance on 7 June 1921, at the Queen’s Hall in London under Eugene Goossens. Its U.S. premiere occurred on 3 March 1922, when Leopold Stokowski included it in a Philadelphia Orchestra programme. Goossens was also responsible for introducing The Rite to Australia on 23 August 1946 at the Sydney Town Hall, as guest conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

Here’s an acceptable rendering:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lWotpIy0uTg

For a recipe today I have chosen Russian honey cake because of this story:

Stravinsky and Rachmaninov had been contemporaries in St Petersburg but they did not actually meet until they started dining together in California in the 1940s. Although in opposite camps when it came to modernism, Rachmaninov very much wanted to be friends with his fellow composer. One night Stravinsky had gone to bed late after working on his orchestral suite, Four Norwegian Moods. To his surprise he heard footsteps on the porch outside. There towering over him – as he did over most people – was the lugubrious figure of Rachmaninov bearing a very large jar of natural honey. The explanation? At a recent meal Stravinsky had announced how much he loved honey and this determined Rachmaninov to bring some round, regardless of the hour.

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I can’t do better for an actual recipe than this fabulously detailed one:

http://www.melangery.com/2014/02/russian-monday-medovik-honey-cake.html

It is complete with step-by-step instructions and photographs.

Feb 052014
 

Because February 5 is the day that the sun, it is hoped, will shine for the first time in the year in the village of Kituri, and then in Shaitli in the Dagestan region of Russia, the Tsezy (Didoitsy) people celebrate this event marking the first glimmer of spring with a festival known as Igbi. The satellite image above showing the location of the two villages is interactive so you can zoom out and get a sense of their location (a small grey cross shows the location as you zoom out). They are in the northern Caucasus in a remote region near the border of Georgia which, because of their isolation have been very poorly documented by historians and anthropologists. The local language is Tsez which is part of the northern Caucasian family.

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Tsez, also known as Dido (????? ??? cezyas mec or ??? ??? cez mec in Tsez) has about 15,354 speakers (as of 2002). The Tsez are Muslims; their location is shown in pink on the map (which you can click on to expand). The name is said to derive from the Tsez word for “eagle,” which is most likely a folk etymology. The name Dido is derived from the Georgian word ???? (didi), meaning “big.” Tsez lacks a literary tradition and is poorly represented in written form. Avar and Russian are used as literary languages locally, even in schools.

Avar is the predominant language in Dagestan (also in the northern Caucasian family, shown in green on the map), with about 800,000 speakers. However, attempts have been made to develop a stable orthography for the Tsez language as well as its relatives, mainly for the purpose of recording traditional folklore; thus, a Cyrillic script based on that of Avar is often used. Fluency in Avar is usually higher among men than women, and the younger people tend to be more fluent in Russian than in Tsez, which is probably due to the lack of education in and about the language. Tsez is not taught in school and instead Avar is taught for the first five years and Russian afterwards.  The semi-polite term for this state of affairs is “Russian hegemony” (aka Russian imperialism).

The vocabulary shows many traces of influences of Avar, Georgian, Arabic, and Russian, mainly through loanwords and, in the case of Russian, even in grammar and style. There are also loanwords of Turkic origin. These factors may eventually lead to the decline of use of the Tsez language, as it is more and more replaced by Avar and Russian, partly due to loss of traditional culture among the people and the adoption of a Western clothing, technology and architecture. This image shows classic Tsev clothing, now rarely seen, even on special occasions such as Igbi.

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This video, the call to prayer in a remote Avar village, gives a sense of the isolation and poverty of the region:

The name of the festival, Igbi, comes from the plural of the Tsezian word ig —a ring-shaped bread similar in shape to a bagel, but using regular bread dough—and the baking of these ritual breads plays a central role in the celebration, which involves a number of masked and costumed characters playing traditional roles. Six botsi, or wolves, carrying wooden swords go from house to house collecting the igbi that the women have been baking in preparation for their arrival. The bagels are strung on a long pole known as the giri, and those who fail to cooperate are hit with the swords or have their shoes filled with wet snow and ice.

The children get up early on this day, which is now observed on the Sunday nearest February 5 so they don’t have to miss school, and go through the village collecting the igbi that have been made especially for them.
Igbi is also a day of reckoning. All through the year the young organizers of the feast have kept notes of the good and bad deeds of the villagers. Now after all the igbi have been collected, there is a ceremony in the center of the village in which the kvidili —a traditional figure wearing an animal-skin mask resembling no known animal; lately it looks like a horse with horns and a big mouth like a crocodile—reads out the names of those who have committed a transgression (such as public drunkenness) during the year.

In the past the unlucky ones were dragged to the river and immersed up to their knees through a hole in the ice. Those who are congratulated for their good deeds are handed an ig. At the end of the festival, the kvidili is symbolically slain with a wooden sword.

There was some effort in the late 20th century to document Tsev folklore by Russian folklorists to preserve customs before they died out. This description is taken directly from, “The Communal Winter Festival among the Tsezy” by lu. lu. Karpov in Soviet Anthropology and Archeology, XXII, no 2, (Fall 1983), 39-45 (translated from Russian). Good luck trying to find out more! My suspicion is that the festival continues, but will eventually die out as the younger people move out or are assimilated into Russian culture.

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How was the Shaitli igbi observed in 1982? Before we describe the feast itself, we should say a few words about its preparation and about the meaning of the word igbi. Ig in the Tsezian language means a ring-shaped bread, like a bagel, 20-30 cm in diameter, and igbi is the plural of ig; that is, igbi are bagels. They are baked not only for the igbi feast, but also at other Tsezian festivals, in particular the first day of plowing. On this day, the igbis are hung on the horns of oxen during the plowing. The custom of baking ritual rolls for a feast is known among other peoples of Dagestan as well. The Shaitli people count the fifth of February, i.e. the middle of winter, as the day of igbi. Boys and young men, usually between the ages of 14 and 25, take part in the feast. Recently, because it is mainly schoolchildren who participate in it, and the fifth of February is usually a school day, the holiday has been shifted to the nearest Sunday in the traditional calendar. In 1982, igbi was observed on February 7.
Preparations for the festival begin long before its date. Throughout the year, young people organizing the igbi note down various positive and negative deeds of the villagers. The holiday is the day of reckoning for all those who have distinguished themselves or transgressed. One-and-a-half to two months before the igbi day, the direct preparations for it begin: costumes are made, and duties are assigned to the igbi participants. The personages in the feast are wolves (botsi, singular), forest people (tsikes zheklu, singular), a devil, a skeleton, a doctor, spectators, a hiker, a policeman, a soldier, and the kvidili (kh’vidili)–a central figure of the festival. Cone-shaped wolf masks are made out of calf, cow, sheep, and goat skins with the fur on the outside, and slits for the eyes, nose and mouth. Short motley ribbons may be hung from the pointed end of the mask. In addition to the mask, the wolf costume consists of a fur coat with the fur turned outward and cinched with a leather belt, traditional knitted shoes (gedobi), and manufactured gloves. Overalls with moss and pine branches sewed on them are made for the forest people; their masks are made in the same way. For the devil costume, rags, pieces of fur, and empty jars are used. The masks for the other participants (doctor, speculator, hiker, policeman) were made of paper-mache, or cloth. Manufactured goods corresponding to the functions of the personages served as costumes. The skeleton costume was overalls with strips of white fabric imitating bones sewn to it.

The figure of the kvidili is an enigma even to the inhabitants of Shaitli. In their conception it corresponds to no existing animal: neither a bear nor a wolf nor a deer nor a horse. Nor is it a fabulous snake or dragon. “We don’t know what kind of an animal this is,” say the people of Shaitli, “but it has a big mouth, like a crocodile.” “Kvidili” cannot be translated either from Tsezian or the Avar language. The kvidili mask as it has been made in the past few years was the head of a horse. The making of this mask is quite complicated. First a wood base is made in the form of a head, and the skin of a cow or goat is stretched over it with the fur outward. The kvidili mask does indeed have a big mouth which moves by means of a string attached to the lower jaw. The mask is attached to the end of a two-meter pole carried by the person playing the role of kvidili. The costume of this figure of the festival is made out of sewn furs and resembles a loose overall.

A week before the igbi, three to four “wolves” accompanied by boys appear in the center of the settlement; these wolves announce to the inhabitants, in the name of the botsi, the need to prepare for the feast, to make the igbi breads; those who do not make the breads will be punished by the Botsi. On the eve of the feast, Saturday evening, the botsi again appear in the center of the village accompanied by boys, and again proclaim the same warning. The night of the eve of the holiday is hard for the women of Shaitli. They must bake several dozen small igbi and a few large ones. The dough used for them is the ordinary dough.

Then comes the morning of the feast. On the fifth of February the sun should for the first time shine on the locality of Khora situated opposite Shaitli. The people of Shaitli say that when this happens it means that half of the winter is passed and a turn toward the spring has taken place in nature; spring will soon arrive. On this day the children get up earlier than usual. There are already many children carrying bags on the streets by seven in the morning, collecting in groups. They begin to walk about the village and collect the small igbi especially made for them from each house. Soon their little bags are filled with igbi and they carry them off to their houses.
About ten o’clock in the morning, six botsi–“wolves” disguised in costumes, with wooden swords in their hands–come to the godekan from the different ends of the village. Among these wolves is a senior wolf who carries a stick with a fur belt tied to it as a sign of seniority; horns are attached to his mask. About thirty boys gather around the wolves to accompany them as they walk about the village. The botsi choose two adult men from among the spectators and force them to carry the gari, a five-meter-long pole on which the igbi will be strung. No one can refuse this order by the botsi. They can punish all those who refuse in various ways: striking them with wooden swords, or throwing them in a hole in the ice. After the duties are assigned, collection of the igbi begins. Botsi, accompanied by a group of boys and two men, bearing the giri, begin to walk about the village. All the while the igbi are being collected, the boys shout loud and long: make igbi! He who does not give igbi will be punished! (The punishment they threaten is that they will fill the traditional knitted shoe [gedobi] of a housewife who did not give them an ig with wet snow and ice–khatamu). This processing moves from the edge of the village to the center. If they are not greeted by the owner at some house, one of the botsi tries to get into the house and punish (by beating with a sword) the housewife. Usually, however, when they go up to a house where they are already expected, one of the wolves extends the sword and the housewife or man of the house puts an ig on it. After this, the botsi himself begins to string the ig on the giri. Thus they gradually get around to all the houses. As the processing with its collection of igbi moves around the village, some women try to break off one or several of the igbi hanging on the giri; the wolves in turn try with all their might not to permit this, and chase the women off with their swords. After finishing the collection in the eastern part of the village, the procession goes off to the west. During this time, a doctor in a white robe, white hat, and cloth mask on his face appears on the godekan. He begins to offer his services in gestures to the villagers gathered there. The forest people, one in the moss costume, the other in a costume of pine branches, and the shaitan, whose function it is to frighten people, follow the doctor to the godekan. Then the skeleton appears, speaking for the edification of those who observe uraz. At this same time, female and male figures appear and disappear immediately several times on the roof of one of the houses above the godekan. Soon they appear on the godekan; these are the speculators–two women and two men in bright costumes and as many bright masks accompanied by a donkey loaded with various wares. They stop here and begin trading. A policeman appears and chases them from the godekan. The last to come up are the tourists, a man and woman with provocative appearance, and a soldier. All these personages amuse the spectators with their actions.

By this time all the igbi are collected, and the botsi, accompanied by the small boys, return to the center of the village. The igbi are put on the roof of a make shift construction situated on the godekan. The boys stay to guard them, and the botsi go over to the godekan where they enter into the performance. At eleven o’clock, the kvidili appears from the direction of Khora. He gathers all the participants in the feast and the spectators together. The “official” part begins. The kvidili steps up on a platform constructed of snow and ice especially for this occasion and, in Tsezian, wishes the villagers good weather and a good harvest in the new year, and urges all of them to participate actively in all civic work. Then a teacher from a local school goes up on the platform and, in the name of the kvidili, reads out a list of villagers who have committed some transgression with regard to the village or the young people. On the order of the kvidili the botsi drag the transgressors to the river and immerse them through a hole in the ice up to their knees (in the past, instead of this their knitted shoes were filled with wet snow). Thus, in 1982 one villager was punished for drunkenness; they wanted also to punish one of the teachers, but let him go halfway to the river. After these punishments, another person speaking in the name of the kvidili congratulated those Shaitli inhabitants who distinguished themselves with good works in 1982. This year they were: an old collective farm worker who was still doing his share in everything, a party worker of the local forestry farm, and a shepherd. The teacher thanked them for their good work, and expressed the wish that they would continue to work as well in the future, and handed each of them an ig.

By mid-day, the feast had entered into its final phase. All the participants gathered on the godekan around the kvidili and dragged him to the bridge over the river passing through the middle of the settlement. The kvidili was placed on the bridge and the elder botsi symbolically cut his throat with a wooden sword. In past years, so the Shaitli inhabitants related, a small vessel with red paint was hidden under the kvidili’s costume; as he was being “murdered” the kvidili would open the container unnoticed and the paint, looking just like blood, would flow out into the river. This year, there was no blood. The body of the kvidili was placed on a bier and the botsi carried him off behind the buildings. Outsiders and country folk were not allowed into the procession; the botsi would chase them away with their swords.

Dagestani cuisine is very much like that found in neighboring countries in the Caucasus, and in many instances across eastern Europe and Eurasia, although usually with a regional twist. The ubiquitous shashlik (lamb and vegetables grilled on skewers) is common, as are steamed meat dumplings. They also make a dish similar to Scottish haggis, called Sokhta, made from ground sheep’s liver, onions and dried apricots, boiled in the sheep’s stomach. If you could get a sheep’s stomach it would not be hard to replicate.

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Here I give you shurp. The name shurp for this stew or thick soup is not onomatopoeia, for the sound made when you eat it, but comes from the Arabic word for drink, “shurbah” (???).Originally it was a Turkish (Ottoman) dish, and in Turkish is “çorba” (tchorba), which simply means “soup.” Variations on this dish, and the name, can be found throughout the Middle East, Central and Eastern Europe and deep into South and East Asia and even as China. I had a version of it once, called “shurba,” in a remote village in Ukrainian Ruthenia, which I lapped up because it was made with my beloved – lamb’s tripe. I did get the recipe from the cook, scribbled on a napkin, although it took effort to understand because the cook’s first language was Ruthenian (or possibly Hutsul, I never was quite sure) which a friend kindly translated into Russian, and which I then laboriously translated into English (well before the days of Google translate).  It will appear here one day, no doubt.

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I don’t have more than the outlines of the recipe but these general guidelines are really all you need. It can be prepared in one of two ways. The meat which forms the basis of the broth can either be fresh mutton or beef, boiled with vegetables and spices, or it can be leftover roast meat. The latter is more common among the Tsev. You make it as you would any soupy stew. Cut the meat into large chunks, with bone in, and slowly simmer for 2 hours or so with diced onions in water to cover with red and black pepper, coriander, a bay leaf, and tarragon (or fennel). Sometimes turmeric is used as well. Then add your choice of root vegetables such as potatoes and carrots, and leafy greens, and cook for another 35-45 minutes. Shurp should be dense, rich and fatty. To achieve this there should not be excessive poaching water, and it should simmer uncovered to allow the stock to reduce. Serve piping hot in deep bowls with flat bread.

Now I want a small round of applause for the days and days I spent digging out this incredibly obscure information for your delight (and mine).