Sep 102017
 

Today is surmised to be the birthday (1659) of the English composer Henry Purcell although there are no official records concerning his birth. The date is conjectured based on circumstantial evidence, but I’ll go with it. In my humble opinion Purcell is the greatest English composer, and one of my favorites of all time.  He had a profound influence on Baroque music in what some musicologists consider an English style, and no other native-born English composer approached his fame until the likes of Edward Elgar, Ralph Vaughan Williams, William Walton, and Benjamin Britten came along in the 20th century. Even so, I rank them as second rate in comparison with Purcell. I have published several of my researches on Purcell’s music and its influence, and have written two compositions using his music in them. Yup, I’m a fan.  I could say a lot about the man and his music but I’ll limit myself to some biographical details and comment on a small fraction of his work. Most importantly, historical details about his life and work are often shadowy because of a paucity of primary sources.

Purcell was born in St Ann’s Lane, Old Pye Street Westminster – the area of London later known as Devil’s Acre. His father, also Henry Purcell, whose older brother, Thomas Purcell, (d. 1682) was a musician, was a gentleman of the Chapel Royal and sang at the coronation of King Charles II. Henry the elder had three sons: Edward, Henry and Daniel. Daniel Purcell (d. 1717), the youngest of the brothers, was also a prolific composer who wrote the music for much of the final act of The Indian Queen after Henry Purcell’s death. Henry Purcell’s family lived just a few hundred yards west of Westminster Abbey from 1659 onwards.

After his father’s death in 1664, Purcell was placed under the guardianship of his uncle Thomas, who showed him great affection and kindness. Thomas was himself a gentleman of His Majesty’s Chapel, and arranged for Henry to be admitted as a chorister. Henry studied first under Captain Henry Cooke (d. 1672), Master of the Children, and afterwards under Pelham Humfrey (d. 1674), Cooke’s successor. Henry was a chorister in the Chapel Royal until his voice broke in 1673, when he became assistant to the organ-builder John Hingston, who held the post of keeper of wind instruments to the king.

Purcell is said to have been composing at 9 years old, but the earliest work that can be certainly identified as his is an ode for the King’s birthday, written in 1670. (The dates for his compositions are often uncertain, despite considerable research.) It is assumed that he wrote the three-part song “Sweet tyranness, I now resign” as a child. After Humfrey’s death, Purcell continued his studies under Dr John Blow. He attended Westminster School and in 1676 was appointed copyist at Westminster Abbey. Purcell’s earliest anthem “Lord, who can tell” was composed in 1678. It is a psalm that is prescribed for Christmas Day and also to be read at morning prayer on the fourth day of the month.

In 1679, he wrote songs for John Playford’s Choice Ayres, Songs and Dialogues, and his music was an integral part of Playford’s Dancing Master through many editions of the work. This is one of the areas I know best and I have written about it extensively – I’ll try to be brief !!! One of my favorite Purcell tunes is this one used for Playford’s dance, “Hole in the Wall.” Here it is on period instruments:

Purcell also used it as one of his incidental musical pieces (#8 Hornpipe, Z 570) for a 1695 revival of Abdelazar, or The Moor’s Revenge, an adaptation by Aphra Behn of a c. 1600 tragedy Lust’s Dominion. The lingering question, posed in part by rendition on period instruments, is how Purcell’s music sounded in his time. A lot is guesswork. Reconstructing the dances (my realm) is even greater guesswork. This is a version from the film, Becoming Jane, which I would take with a huge grain of salt to begin with. Period films have at least one obligatory dance scene, and in this case it is both completely anachronistic (100 years off), and unlikely to be any more than a whiff of the “real thing.”

I’ll make (minor) allowances for dramatic license. The smiling and flirting may well be legitimate; the bobbing up and down whilst walking through the dance is completely made up. We have not the slightest idea how they moved.

In 1679, Blow, who had been appointed organist of Westminster Abbey in 1669, resigned his office in favour of his pupil. Purcell now devoted himself almost entirely to the composition of sacred music, and for six years severed his connection with the theatre. However, during the early part of the year, probably before taking up his new office, he had produced two important works for the stage, the music for Nathaniel Lee’s Theodosius, and Thomas d’Urfey’s Virtuous Wife. Between 1680 and 1688 Purcell wrote music for seven plays.[11] The composition of his chamber opera Dido and Aeneas, which forms a very important landmark in the history of English dramatic music, has been attributed to this period, and its earliest production may well have predated the documented one of 1689. It was written to a libretto furnished by Nahum Tate, and performed in 1689 in cooperation with Josias Priest, a dancing master and the choreographer for the Dorset Garden Theatre. Priest’s wife kept a boarding school for young gentlewomen, first in Leicester Fields and afterwards at Chelsea, where the opera was performed. It is occasionally considered the first genuine English opera, though that title is usually given to Blow’s Venus and Adonis. As in Blow’s work, the action does not progress in spoken dialogue but in Italian-style recitative. At the time, Dido and Aeneas never found its way to the theatre, though it appears to have been very popular in private circles. The composition of Dido and Aeneas gave Purcell his first chance to write a sustained musical setting of a dramatic text. It was his only opportunity to compose a work in which the music carried the entire drama.

Soon after Purcell’s marriage, in 1682, on the death of Edward Lowe, he was appointed organist of the Chapel Royal, an office which he was able to hold simultaneously with his position at Westminster Abbey. In 1685, he wrote two of his finest anthems, “I was glad” and “My heart is inditing,” for the coronation of King James II. He weathered the storms of the Glorious Revolution and became a favorite of Queen Mary II. In 1690 he composed a setting of a birthday ode for the queen Mary, “Arise, my muse” and 4 years later wrote one of his most elaborate and magnificent works: a setting for another birthday ode for the Queen, written by Nahum Tate, entitled “Come Ye Sons of Art.”

Purcell wrote the music for Mary’s funeral in 1695: a masterpiece that is still duly celebrated.

The initial march, in C minor, was written for a quartet of flatt trumpets (Baroque slide trumpets), which could play notes outside of the harmonic series and thus in a minor key. Thus the music was revolutionary for its time.  Stanley Kubrick reused it, reworked by Walter (now Wendy) Carlos for Moog synthesizer, as incidental music for A Clockwork Orange, and, as such, is well known in certain quarters.

Purcell died in 1695 at his home in Marsham Street, at the height of his career. He is believed to have been 35 or 36 years old at the time. The cause of his death is unclear: one speculation is that he caught a chill after returning home late from the theater one night to find that his wife had locked him out. Another is that he succumbed to tuberculosis.

Purcell is buried adjacent to the organ in Westminster Abbey. The music that he had composed for queen Mary’s funeral was performed during his as well.  Following his death, the officials at Westminster honored him by unanimously voting that he be buried with no expense in the north aisle of the Abbey. His epitaph reads: “Here lyes Henry Purcell Esq., who left this life and is gone to that Blessed Place where only His harmony can be exceeded.”

Recreating period recipes is fraught with difficulties similar to those in recreating period music and dance.  Here’s 2 from The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt. Opened, first printed in 1669. The first is seemingly easy to reproduce:

SALLET OF COLD CAPON ROSTED

It is a good Sallet, to slice a cold Capon thin; mingle with it some Sibbolds, Lettice, Rocket and Tarragon sliced small. Season all with Pepper, Salt, Vinegar and Oyl, and sliced Limon. A little Origanum doth well with it.

The trick here is to figure out what “Sibbolds” are. I did a bit of head scratching, and when I looked online I found nothing at first other than an amateur effort at interpreting the recipe which called sibbolds “a leafy green” — which is nonsense. “Sibbolds” is clearly an alternate spelling of “sibboulets” – a diminutive of “sibol” or “cibol” (cognate with French ciboule), a perennial onion plant, Allium fistulosum, commonly called Welsh onion. Do your homework people !!!

This looks like a fairly modern recipe for chicken salad which you can replicate with little effort, although your ingredients will have to be modern varieties. As is usual with 17th century salads, what we now call “herbs” (tarragon and oregano) were chopped in with the lettuce and rocket (arugula) – which were also referred to as herbs in those days – rather than mixed with the oil and vinegar as in a French vinaigrette. The sliced lemon is a nice touch.

What do you make of this cake recipe?

TO MAKE A CAKE

Take eight wine quarts of flower; one pound of loaf Sugar beaten and searsed; one ounce of Mace, beat it very fine: then take thirty Eggs, fifteen whites, beat them well; then put to them a quart of new Ale-yest; beat them very well together, and strain them into your flower; then take a pint of Rose-water, wherein six grains of Ambergreece and Musk have been over night. Then take a pint and half of Cream or something more, and set it on the fire, and put into it four pounds and three quarters of Butter; And when it is all melted, take it off the fire and stir it about, until it be pretty cool; And pour all into your flower, and stir it up quick with your hands, like a lith pudding; Then dust a little flower over it, and let it stand covered with a Flannel, or other woollen cloth, a quarter of an hour before the fire, that it may rise; Then have ready twelve pounds of Currants very well washed and pick’d, that there may be neither stalks, nor broken Currants in them. Then let your Currants be very well dryed before the fire, and put warm into your Cake; then mingle them well together with your hands; then get a tin hoop that will contain that quantity, and butter it well, and put it upon two sheets of paper well buttered; so pour in your Cake, and so set it into the oven, being quick that it may be well soaked, but not to burn. It must bake above an hour and a quarter; near an hour and half. Take then a pound and half of double refined Sugar purely beaten and searsed; put into the whites of five Eggs; two or 3 spoonfuls of rose-water; keep it a beating all the time, that the Cake is a baking which will be two hours; Then draw your Cake out of the oven, and pick the dry Currants from the top of it, and so spread all that you have beaten over it, very smooth, and set it a little into the oven, that it may dry.

By my estimation you’d need a forklift to get it in the oven.  2 gallons of flour? 1 pound of sugar? 30 eggs plus 15 egg whites? Almost 5 pounds of butter? 12 pounds of currants?  . . .etc etc. And . . . you bake it in ONE tin for a little over 90 minutes (the instructions cannot decide whether it should be an hour and a quarter or 2 hours). The icing looks to be a version of what we now call royal icing. My strong suspicion is that Kenelm Digby, or his editor, never tried this recipe, and actually had no idea what he was talking about. If you examine the recipe closely enough you could make some reasonable simulacrum. It’s a version of yeast cake with currants.

 

Jun 202017
 

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

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

Dieter K. Huzel in Peenemünde to Canaveral notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Use your imagination.

Apr 092017
 

Today is Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, and the last Sunday in Lent. These days, ever since I left the U.S. and stopped preaching, Palm Sunday sometimes creeps up on my unawares.  Not this year, because I am paying attention, but it past years it has often caught me by surprise because I have been traveling for my birthday or the like. In 2012, for example, I was in Cusco for my birthday trip to Machu Picchu, and on the Sunday following I walked down to the center of town and came across dozens of women sitting in the street weaving crosses, crowns, and other decorations from palm fronds.  Everyone in town was carrying palms of some sort, and there was a generally festive atmosphere. At midday there was a gigantic parade of church and civic groups before the town’s dignitaries with hundreds of onlookers all around the main square and side roads.

The following year, again by surprise, I bumped into a local church procession in Buenos Aires near my apartment with congregants carrying olive branches and singing as they toured the block around the parish church. Palms are traditional in many countries because of the gospel narrative, but in quite a few places where palms were difficult to come by in the past, people carry, and wave, branches of olive, yew, box, willow, or other local native trees. Olive branches are standard in Rome and I believe that the custom was transferred to Argentina by Catholic monks from the Old World in colonial times even though palms are plentiful there. In fact in the gospels only John specifies palms. In the others they refer to “branches” and in Spanish this day is called domingo de ramos (Branch Sunday).

The narrative of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem a week before the Passover when he died is found in all the canonical gospels.  Here’s John (12:12-15):

12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!” 14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written:

15 “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion;
see, your king is coming,
seated on a donkey’s colt.”

The quotation at the end comes from Zechariah’s messianic prophecy (9:9), and the shouts of the people come from the Psalms (188:25-26), leading a great many Biblical historians to question the historicity of the event. Did this really happen or is this a wishful (theologically apt) construction of the gospel writers to make a point, underscoring their beliefs concerning the upcoming Easter events? Jesus proved himself to be the foretold Messiah, so he must have entered the city as a peaceful king as foretold by the prophets.

There’s a lot of ancient symbolism thrown together here and the gospels do not exactly agree on specifics. In some cases there is clear confusion. Matthew for example commands his disciples (21:2-3), 2Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Loose them and bring them to Me.And if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and immediately he will send them.” Later (21:7) the disciples lay their clothes on the donkey AND the colt and set Jesus on BOTH of them – seemingly. How they managed this is a miracle in its own right. How does one ride two animals simultaneously? What seems likely is that Matthew’s Hebrew was not up to snuff and he misread (or misunderstood) the original from Zechariah which reads:

See, your king comes to you,
    righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey

The original Hebrew is poetry using the frequent Hebrew poetic device of duplication for emphasis. Zechariah is not saying that the king comes riding on a donkey AND a colt, but that the donkey in question is a colt, the offspring of a donkey. Duh !! The fact that the triumphal beast of burden is a donkey and not a horse is also significant. The horse as a king’s mount is a symbol of war; the donkey is a symbol of peace.

It was not uncommon in the ancient Near East for people to spread clothes and branches in the path of a conquering hero. The specific identity of branches as palm fronds is unique to John. The palm was a very complex symbol in ancient times in both the Greco-Roman and Egyptian worlds which John was presumably familiar with. In the Roman Empire, which strongly influenced Christian tradition, the palm branch was a symbol of triumph and victory. It became the most common attribute of the goddess Nike or Victory. For contemporary readers of John, the procession would likely have evoked the Roman triumph, when the triumphator laid down his arms and wore the toga, the civilian garment of peace that might be ornamented with emblems of the palm. In ancient Egyptian religion, the palm was carried in funeral processions and represented eternal life. The palm branch later was used as a symbol of Christian martyrs and their spiritual victory or triumph over death.

This juxtaposition of life, death, and triumph brings us back to the events of Holy Week. Palm Sunday kicks off Holy Week which is a bittersweet moment in the Christian calendar observed by Catholics, Orthodox, and many mainstream Protestant denominations alike (even those that are not especially keen on Lent).  Holy Week is the climax of Jesus’ ministry when his role is made fully manifest. He preaches to huge crowds, performs miracles, and cleanses the Temple of moneychangers. He is both a hell raiser and pacifist bringing a new dispensation to the world. As such he is both praised and reviled: by the mob on the one hand, and by the Temple authorities on the other. The gospels cast the mob as terminally fickle, however. They are awed and excited by Jesus at the start of the week, and howling for his death by the end.

Jesus plays a cat and mouse game with the Temple authorities all week, openly preaching in the center of Jerusalem by day where he is kept safe by the crowds, but spiriting away in secret to the isolated suburbs at night where the authorities cannot find him until he is betrayed by one of his own. This is a teacher/preacher who has made a name for himself in the provinces but is now a grand celebrity in the capital and is making the most of it. Of course in Roman Imperial times this was an exceptionally dangerous game to play. The Romans were ever fearful of a Jewish uprising and there were many secret rebel groups bent on violent action. The Romans had no compunction in killing off ringleaders if they caught them. Scholars debate endlessly to this day as to whether it was the Romans or the Temple leaders who were responsible in actual historical fact for Jesus execution and I will have much more to say about this on Maundy Thursday. For now I will note that starting with the triumphal entry on Palm Sunday the gospel writers are setting the stage for a showdown between Jesus and the Jewish leaders, and the Romans are very much in the background, seemingly innocent bystanders. I suspect that the Romans were taking much more notice than they are reported to have been.

My Lenten wreath today has only the central Christ candle lit as a stark reminder that while the world temporarily rejoices, the light of the world is moving on to face his death alone. Holy Week was a very lonely time for Jesus despite all the hustle and bustle in Jerusalem. I will extinguish the Christ candle on Good Friday.

Hearts of palm are the obvious ingredient of choice for today. Heart of palm is harvested from the inner core and growing bud of certain palm trees (notably the coconut (Cocos nucifera), Palmito Juçara (Euterpe edulis), Açaí palm (Euterpe oleracea), sabal (Sabal spp.), pupunha and pejibaye (Bactris gasipaes) palms). Harvesting of many non-cultivated or wild single-stemmed palms results in the death of the tree (e.g. Geonoma edulis).  Some palm species, however, are clonal or multi-stemmed plants (e.g. Prestoea acuminata, Euterpe oleracea) and moderate harvesting will not kill the entire clonal palm.

An alternative to wild heart of palm are palm varieties which have been domesticated as farm species. The main variety that has been domesticated is Bactris gasipaes, known in Ecuador as chontaduro, in Brazil and Costa Rica as palmito, and in English as the peach palm. This variety is the most widely used for canning. They are self-suckering and produce multiple stems, up to 40 on one plant, meaning that modest annual harvesting does no damage to the main plant. Another advantage that the peach palm has over other palms is that it has been selectively bred to eliminate the vicious thorns of its wild cousins. Harvesting is still a labor-intensive task, and thus palm hearts are regarded as a delicacy in many parts of the world. In the U.S. they are readily available canned and are not expensive. I always kept a can or two on hand when I lived in NY.

As is common, I used to use hearts of palm in salads, or on their own with a simple dressing. As a salad component the sliced hearts add some texture and flavor to a salad. They come packed in an acidulated liquid (typically ascorbic acid), so they can be a bit astringent. I used to like to drink the canning liquid but it may not be to everyone’s taste. It’s a lot sweeter than pickle juices which I know some folks like. Salads made with all crispy components such as hearts of palm, green beans, and asparagus make a welcome change from their leafy brethren. As a simple side dish for the day – dripping with Holy Week symbolism – I suggest plain hearts of palm dressed with the flesh of passionfruit.

Hearts of palm can also be cooked. They can be plain grilled, or baked. In the latter case, slice them thickly then toss them with olive oil, finely diced garlic, chopped fresh parsley, and grated cheese. Bake in a hot oven until they are nicely golden.

Oct 182016
 

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Today is International Necktie Day which is celebrated primarily in Croatia, but also in various cities around the world such as Dublin, Tübingen, Como, Tokyo, Sydney and other towns. The celebration is not of major importance anywhere, of course, but it has a certain resonance in Croatia because wearing the original version of ties began in military regiments in Croatia and spread outward, first to France, then to the rest of Europe and beyond – evolving along the way. The original word for a tie in many European languages, cognates of “cravat,” are also cognates of the Croatian word for a Croatian – Hrvat. Hrvat actually sounds a more like “cravat” when spoken than might appear when written because the /h/ is guttural and the /r/ contains a slight vowel sound.  Ties these days are nothing like their original Croatian version, and they are finally going out of fashion; but the trend is desperately slow. I am going to use the word “tie” here, not “necktie.” “Necktie” is American English, and even though my spelling these days is generally American English rather than British English, because I lived and worked as a writer and professor in the United States for 35 years, and my vocabulary is not British at all (I say “elevator,” “apartment,” “hood” and “trunk” (for a car)), I just can’t bring myself to say “necktie.”

Soldiers in traditional military uniforms attend a guard exchanging ceremony at St. Mark's Square in Zagreb

The modern fashion of the tie traces ultimately back to the 17th century. The passage of the tie from Croatia to France (thence beyond) is a bit murky, but common legend has it that Croatian mercenaries from the Croatian Military Frontier in French service visited Paris during the Thirty Years War (1618 – 1648) in celebration of a hard-fought victory over the Ottoman Empire. There, the soldiers were presented as glorious heroes to the boy king Louis XIV, and it so happened that the officers of this regiment were wearing brightly colored handkerchiefs fashioned of silk around their necks. In imitation, Louis XIV began wearing a lace cravat around 1646, when he was seven, and set a fashion for French nobility which then started a fashion craze in Europe of both men and women wearing pieces of fabric around their necks. The first lace cravats, or jabots, took time and effort to arrange stylishly. They were often tied in place by cravat strings, arranged neatly and tied in a bow. From there the tie evolved.

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In 1715, another kind of neckwear, the stocks, made its appearance. The term originally referred to a leather collar, laced at the back, worn by soldiers to promote holding the head high in a military bearing. The leather stock also afforded some protection to the major blood vessels of the neck from saber or bayonet attacks.

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Stock ties were initially just a small piece of muslin folded into a narrow band wound a few times round the shirt collar and secured from behind with a pin. It was fashionable for the men to wear their hair long, past shoulder length. The ends were tucked into a black silk bag worn at the nape of the neck. This was known as the bag-wig hairstyle, and the neckwear worn with it was the stock. The solitaire was a variation of the bag wig. This form had matching ribbons stitched around the bag. After the stock was in place, the ribbons would be brought forward and tied in a large bow in front of the wearer.

Some time in the late 18th century, cravats began to make an appearance again, and this fashion recall is usually attributed to a group of young men called the macaronis (of “Yankee Doodle” fame). These were young Englishmen who returned from Europe bringing with them fashion from Italy. At this time, there was also much interest in the way to tie a proper cravat and this led to a series of publications. This began with Neckclothitania,  a book that contained instructions and illustrations on how to tie 14 different cravats. Soon after, the immense skill required to tie the cravat in certain styles, quickly became a mark of a man’s elegance and wealth. It was also the first book to use the word tie in association with neckwear.

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It was about this time that black stocks made their appearance. Their popularity eclipsed the white cravat, except for formal and evening wear. These remained popular through to the 1850s. At this time, the neckerchief gained in popularity. It was often held in place by slipping the ends through a finger or scarf ring at the neck instead of using a knot. This became classic sailor neckwear which is still common. It is also common for Boy Scouts, and as a teen I had a large collection of both neckerchiefs and rings (called “woggles”).

With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, more people wanted neckwear that was easy to put on, was comfortable, and would last an entire workday. Hence ties were designed long and thin that were easy to knot and did not come undone over the course of a long day. This is the tie design that is still worn today. Other styles of neckware also evolved in the 19th century including the bowtie, which is a simplification of the bow of the cravat strings, and the Ascot tie worn originally during the day at the races at Ascot.

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Since the tie has origins in Croatia, a Croatian recipe is appropriate. The cuisine of Croatia is quite eclectic with regions varying considerably. In a broad sense it can be divided into inland cooking and coastal recipes. My travels in Croatia have focused on the Dalmatian coast and its islands so I am more familiar with those traditions than inland ones. I’ve been more than content with feasts of fried whitebait and squid along with black risotto. But the ubiquitous dish which you will be served everywhere, and which I love, is salata od hobotnice – octopus salad. To make this dish well is no small feat because octopus is notoriously hard to cook so that it is not tough and leathery.

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To cook octopus well you should start with frozen octopus. The freezing begins the tenderizing process. Thaw the octopus and heat a pot of water and white wine to a bare simmer. Some cooks believe that putting the wine cork in with the liquid helps tenderizing, but I think this is just a Croatian superstition. Do it if it makes you feel good. I don’t. Simmer the octopus until it is just cooked and no longer (about 10 minutes per pound). Longer cooking makes the octopus tough and there is no recovering once this happens. Remove the octopus from the poaching liquid and when cool enough to handle rub off the skin. Chill completely and then cut into bite-sized servings. I like to cut the flesh into paper thin rounds to ensure extra tenderness. Toss the octopus with chopped greens, green onions, and tomatoes dressed with extra virgin olive oil, and serve well chilled with crusty bread.

Aug 082016
 
Dr Bob

Dr Bob

Today is the birthday (1879) of Robert Holbrook Smith,  also known as Dr. Bob, a U.S. physician and surgeon who co-founded Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) with Bill Wilson, more commonly known as Bill W. Bill W. is much better known both inside and outside AA because he is credited as the author of the Big Book (Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism), in which all manner of AA philosophies are expounded, especially the 12 Steps. But it was the meeting of Bill W with Dr Bob that set the whole process of AA in motion, and without the collaboration of Bill W with Dr Bob it is unlikely that AA would have existed.

Dr Bob was born in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, where he was raised. His parents took him to religious services four times a week, and in response he determined he would never attend religious services when he grew up. Smith began drinking at university, attending Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. Early on he noticed that he could recover from drinking bouts quicker and easier than his classmates and that he never had headaches, which caused him to believe he was an alcoholic from the time he began drinking. Smith was a member of Kappa Kappa Kappa fraternity at Dartmouth. After graduation in 1902, he worked for three years selling hardware in Boston, Chicago, and Montreal and continued drinking heavily. He then returned to school to study medicine at the University of Michigan. By this time drinking had begun to affect him to the point where he began missing classes. His drinking caused him to leave school, but he returned and passed his examinations for his sophomore year. He transferred to Rush Medical College, but his alcoholism worsened to the point that his father was summoned to try to halt his downward trajectory. But his drinking increased and after a dismal showing during final examinations, the university required that he remain for two extra quarters and remain sober during that time as a condition of graduating.

After graduation Smith became a hospital intern, and for two years he was able to stay busy enough to refrain from heavy drinking. He married Anne Robinson Ripley on January 25, 1915, and opened up his own office in Akron, Ohio, specializing in colorectal surgery and returned to heavy drinking. Recognizing his problem, he checked himself into more than a dozen hospitals and sanitariums in an effort to stop his drinking. He was encouraged by the passage of Prohibition in 1919, but soon discovered that the exemption for medicinal alcohol and bootleggers could supply more than enough to continue his excessive drinking. For the next 17 years his life revolved around how to subvert his wife’s efforts to stop his drinking and obtain the alcohol he wanted while trying to hold together a medical practice in order to support his family and his drinking.

In January 1933, Anne Smith attended a lecture by Frank Buchman, the founder of the Oxford Group. For the next two years she and Dr Bob attended local meetings of the group in an effort to solve his alcoholism, but recovery eluded him until he met Bill Wilson on May 13, 1935.

Bill W

Bill W

Bill W was trying to stay sober by helping other alcoholics through the Oxford Group in New York, but was in Akron on a business trip that had proven unsuccessful, and was in fear of relapsing. Recognizing the danger, he made inquiries about any local alcoholics he could talk to and was referred to Dr Bob by Henrietta Sieberling, one of the leaders of the Akron Oxford Group. After talking to Bill W, Dr Bob stopped drinking and invited Bill W to stay at his home. This was the seminal moment in the founding of AA.

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Bill W and Dr Bob discovered a key ingredient in recovery at that time, namely, one’s sobriety can be bolstered constantly by listening to the stories of other alcoholics in a non-judgmental way. You might call it the “listening cure,” a sort of mirror of Freud’s talking cure. Bill W listened to Dr Bob, and vice versa, and both were helped by simply listening to the story of the other. This became the heart of AA, although it has been subverted in many ways since.

Generally speaking, AA is now known for the 12 steps, which have been incorporated into numerous programs of aid for addicts of all stripes, and which were originally devised by Bill W and Dr Bob in the course of their work together and with other alcoholics — and enshrined in the Big Book.  The 12 steps have their supporters and their detractors, without doubt. They require a spiritual awakening, self analysis, confession and so forth, that mimic certain aspects of puritan Christianity, even though the overtly Christian, even theistic, rhetoric was eventually toned down. The part of AA that too often gets underplayed is the listening cure. The most important point about the listening cure is that it is not about giving or receiving advice: it is about the simple acts of talking and listening. One alcoholic tells his story and another listens. The listener does not offer advice, but simply absorbs the story. Nor does the person telling the story offer any advice either. The story is usually some version of, “I did that and things got worse; I did this and things got better.” The listener is then left to absorb and interpret the story in any way that suits — in common AA parlance, “take what is useful, and leave the rest.”

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Bill W’s great insight was that he benefited from hearing Dr Bob’s story, pure and simple. No advice or commentary was necessary. In this sense we can speak of Bill W and Dr Bob as co-founders of AA, even though Bill W became the poster boy, and Dr Bob tends to be forgotten. In Gregory Bateson’s terms (I’ll write a post on his work at some time), Bill W and Dr Bob were a dyad: each needed the other. Each needed a listener, and each needed to listen. The essential message, all too often forgotten nowadays, is, “don’t judge, don’t offer advice, just listen.” In my oh so humble opinion, the world would be a lot better place if everyone learned to listen more and talk less.

My recipes are a little like AA talks in that I tell you what I do and what I like, but you can do what you want. In fact, I’m not sure how many readers have actually tried any of my recipes. I do know that a friend used one of them once, and modified it to his own tastes. As far as I am concerned that’s the best way to use any recipe. I tell you what I do; you decide what you want to do. As long as it works, we are both fine.

With cooking for recovering alcoholics there is a rule of sorts, but it’s not hard and fast. AA recommends that you not cook with alcohol for two reasons. First, not all alcohol always cooks away when you use alcoholic drinks in recipes. Second, the taste of the alcoholic drink remains even if all or almost all of the alcohol burns off. In either case, the alcoholic in recovery can be reminded of drinking by the dish and may be, consciously or unconsciously, encouraged to pick up a drink. But you can’t really call this a rule. Active alcoholics vary greatly in the their habits, and so do those in recovery. Some, for example, are so sensitive to reminders of drinking that they will avoid drinking any liquid straight from a bottle (in the way they used to drink beer or whisky), others can cook with wine or spirits and not be fazed.

To be safe I’ll give you a summer lunch idea that I use for guests once in a while. It does not involve alcohol. Take from it what you want and leave the rest.  August in Mantua is hot and humid, so if I want to entertain guests it’s a good idea not to cook for them immediately before or during the meal because the kitchen gets really hot and spills over into the dining area. Besides hot dishes do not always go down well in the summer. So sometimes I make a lunch or dinner of different salads. The idea is to give diners an extensive choice of vegetables, carbs, and protein and let them choose how to make up a plate. This is a lunch of five salads I made in Argentina in the height of summer some years ago.

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Green Salad

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This is a blend of endive, fennel, and roquette (arugula). The idea was to have pronounced flavors and crunchiness.

Cabbage and Caper Salad

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I’ve always been a fan of making salad from fresh cabbage, by cutting the cabbage into shreds and macerating it overnight in the refrigerator with some kind of vinegar.  In this case I used capers with all their juice. Shred the cabbage fine, put it into a bowl, dump a whole bottle of capers over it, mix well, and refrigerate overnight.

Fish Salad

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Cooked fish and shellfish, served cold, work well as the protein element. This one was halibut, sea legs (imitation crab), and calamari.

Pasta Primavera

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Pasta salad is a common summer favorite of mine. Cook the pasta al dente the day before. Drain it well and refrigerate it overnight. Next day add your choice of vegetables. In this case I used tomatoes, bell peppers, and mushrooms. Toss with extra virgin olive oil and oregano.

Potato Salad

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I wash potatoes thoroughly and then dice them without peeling, and boil them until they are cooked but not too soft. Whilst the potatoes are cooking I sauté some ham or bacon until it is crisp. Then I drain the potatoes and refrigerate them, and break the cooked ham into pieces over the top. When cool I add mayonnaise and toss. Then I decorate with sliced boiled egg.

Make up a plate of these salads any way that you want.

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May 272016
 

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Today is Don’t Fry Day in the United States – an unofficial celebration which is not quite what it seems. In this case “fry” is not about food, but concerns your skin. The day is promoted by the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention, and occurs on the Friday (i.e. “Fry Day”) before Memorial Day because Memorial Day launches the summer season in the U.S. Their basic mantra is, “That ‘healthy tan’ is killing you.” I grew up in Australia which has the highest incidence of skin cancer in the world. My U.S. dermatologist used to want to see me every 6 months, and each time he took off bits of my skin for analysis. Always benign, but you can never be too careful. Nowadays I use sunscreen, wear a hat, and walk on the shady side of the street.

So, that’s the overt reason for Don’t Fry Day. There are also dangers associated with fried foods.  Most of these are common knowledge: increased fat intake, the dangers of trans fats etc. No need to dwell on them. But there is one possible danger that is less well known – acrylamide.  Acrylamide has many industrial uses including wastewater treatment, the production of polymers, plastics and paper, and mineral processing. It was discovered in foods in 2002 by Eritrean scientist Eden Tareke in Sweden when she found the chemical in starchy foods, such as potato chips (potato crisps), French fries (chips), and bread that had been heated higher than 120 °C (248 °F). It was not found in food that had been boiled or in foods that were not heated. Acrylamide levels appear to rise as food is heated for longer periods of time. Although researchers are still unsure of the precise mechanisms by which acrylamide forms in foods; many believe it is a byproduct of the Maillard reaction. Later studies have found acrylamide in black olives, prunes, dried pears, and coffee. The FDA has analyzed a variety of U.S. food products for levels of acrylamide since 2002.

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Although acrylamide has known toxic effects on the nervous system and on fertility, a June 2002 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization concluded that the intake level required to observe neuropathy (0.5 mg/kg body weight/day) was 500 times higher than the average dietary intake of acrylamide (1 μg/kg body weight/day). For effects on fertility, the level is 2,000 times higher than the average intake. From this, they concluded acrylamide levels in food were safe in terms of neuropathy, but raised concerns over human carcinogenicity based on known carcinogenicity in laboratory animals. According to the American Cancer Society it is not clear, as of 2013, whether acrylamide consumption affects people’s risk of developing cancer.

The Heat-generated Food Toxicants (HEATOX) Project was a European Commission-funded multidisciplinary research project running from late 2003 to early 2007. Its objectives were to “estimate health risks that may be associated with hazardous compounds in heat-treated food, and to find cooking/processing methods that minimize the amounts of these compounds, thereby providing safe, nutritious, and high-quality food-stuffs.” While it found that “the evidence of acrylamide posing a cancer risk for humans has been strengthened,” it also pointed out that home-cooked food tends to contribute far less to overall acrylamide levels than food that was industrially prepared, and that avoiding overcooking is one of the best ways to minimize exposure at home.

I see this all as reasonably good news. I rarely buy commercially produced foods and I don’t fry or eat fried foods that are high in carbohydrates very often. Furthermore, I don’t prepare every recipe that I give here on the day that I give it. Otherwise I’d look like a blimp. I do test most of them, of course, but my eating habits are much more Spartan. In particular I am partial to salads, and so for Don’t Fry Day I’ll focus on them.

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I don’t mind making salads containing proteins such as meat, eggs, or cheese, but they are not my favorites. I like my proteins served separately. The standard salad in Argentina is lettuce, tomato, and onion, chopped and mixed together, and drizzled with a little olive oil. That’s all right as a side dish, but not very exciting as a main course (plus, I don’t like raw onions and lettuce much). I prefer something more complex. My main thing is that I don’t like “dressings” whether commercial or home made. I’ll happily eat a salad with nothing on it all, or with a little olive oil. Here’s a brief list of my usual ingredients:

Lettuce. My least favorite salad ingredient. I used to grow my own varieties of leaf lettuce which were very flavorful. Store-bought lettuce can be dull, and I am not interested in fillers. Most important thing to remember is to tear the leaves (as you should with all leafy greens). Cut edges often turn brown.

Spinach. By contrast, my favorite leafy green component. I grew spinach too when I had a garden and would choose small, young leaves for salads.

Belgian endive. Adds some crunch and visual appeal.

Mushrooms. Regular commercial agarics (white mushrooms) will do in a pinch and I like them raw. But I’ve been spoilt in recent years in China and Italy by the seemingly endless variety of wild mushrooms. As with leafy greens I break them in pieces rather than cut them.

Tomatoes. I like whole cherry tomatoes in a salad. If I use bigger varieties I cut them small and remove the seeds and centers to avoid getting the salad soggy.

Onions. Here I’ll include the whole onion family – chives, leeks, shallots, etc. Generally, I find raw Spanish onions to be a trifle strong in salads, but I’ll normally add something from the family such as scallions or green onions. I like chive flowers too when I can get them.

Zucchini. I prefer sliced young zucchini over cucumber because it’s less watery and crunchier. The flowers are good too – very popular in Italy. Zucchini with tender edible flowers tend to be small.

Avocado. A perennial standby of mine, but they must be perfectly ripe, and added right at the end just before serving with a good sprinkling of lemon or lime juice to prevent browning.

Carrots.  Can’t stand them in salads.

Herbs. In Medieval cooking parlance a “herb” was any leafy annual. Lettuce was as much of an herb as basil or parsley. I don’t use flavored dressings, but when I can I will use fresh herbs right in the salad. One has to be sparing, though. I used to grow 18 varieties of mint, which were wonderful, but very strong. Sage and tarragon are also good.

I’m not the arbiter here.  Pick what suits your palate. I make salads with what I have on hand, so mine vary a lot. I’ll generally chill a salad before serving, but not for very long. The cooling process is a mixed blessing: it makes the salad refreshing on a hot day, but diminishes the flavor.

Jan 042016
 

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Today is the birthday (1785) of Jacob Ludwig Carl Grimm, German philologist, jurist, and folklorist. He is known as the discoverer of Grimm’s law in linguistics, the co-author with his brother Wilhelm of the monumental Deutsches Wörterbuch, the author of Deutsche Mythologie and, more popularly, as one of the Brothers Grimm and the editor of what is known in English as Grimms’ Fairy Tales.

Jacob was born in Hanau, in Hesse-Kassel (or Hesse-Cassel). His father was a lawyer, but he died while Jacob was a child, and his mother was left with few means. His mother’s sister was lady of the chamber to the Landgravine of Hesse, and she helped to support and educate the family. Jacob was sent to the public school at Kassel in 1798 with his younger brother Wilhelm (born on 24 February 1786).

In 1802, Jacob went to the University of Marburg where he studied law, a profession for which he had been destined by his father. Wilhelm joined him at Marburg a year later, having just recovered from a long and severe illness, and likewise began the study of law.

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In 1808, soon after the death of his mother, Jacob was appointed superintendent of the private library of Jérôme Bonaparte, King of Westphalia, into which Hesse-Kassel had been incorporated by Napoleon. Bonaparte also later appointed him an auditor to the state council. His salary was about 4000 francs per annum and his official duties were hardly more than nominal. After the expulsion of Bonaparte and the reinstatement of an elector, Grimm was appointed Secretary of Legation in 1813, accompanying the Hessian minister to the headquarters of the allied army. In 1814, he was sent to Paris to demand restitution of books carried off by the French, and he also attended the Congress of Vienna as Secretary of Legation, 1814–1815. Upon his return from Vienna, he was sent to Paris a second time to secure book restitutions. Meanwhile, Wilhelm had received an appointment to the Kassel library, and Jacob was made second librarian under Volkel in 1816. Upon the death of Volkel in 1828, the brothers expected to be advanced to the first and second librarianships respectively, and were dissatisfied when the first place was given to Rommel, the keeper of the archives. Consequently, they moved the following year to Göttingen, where Jacob received the appointment of professor and librarian, and Wilhelm that of under-librarian. Jacob lectured on legal antiquities, historical grammar, literary history, and diplomatics, explained Old German poems, and commented on the Germania of Tacitus.

During this period, Jacob is described as small and lively in figure, with a harsh voice, speaking a broad Hessian dialect. His powerful memory enabled him to dispense with the lecture notes on which most German professors relied and spoke extemporaneously, referring only occasionally to a few names and dates written on a slip of paper. He was not a good lecturer, however, and regretted taking up teaching so late in life (43 years old). Although he had an excellent grasp of his subject matter he had difficulty putting it into suitable language for a student audience.

The purely scientific side of Grimm’s character developed slowly. He felt the need of definite principles of etymology without being able to discover them, and, indeed, even in the first edition of his grammar (1819) he often seemed to be groping in the dark. As early as 1815 August Wilhelm von Schlegel reviewing the Altdeutsche Wälder (a periodical published by the two brothers) very severely, condemning the lawless etymological combinations it contained, and insisting on the necessity of strict philological method and a fundamental investigation of the laws of language, especially in the correspondence of sounds. This criticism is said to have had a considerable influence on the direction of Jacob’s studies.

Jacob’s scientific character is notable for its combination of breadth and unity. His work on the history, language, traditions, mythology, laws and literature of Germanic peoples all stem from a central preoccupation with devising a cohesive sense of German identity.

Of all of Jacob’s more general works the boldest and most far-reaching was Geschichte der deutschen Sprache (History of the German Language). The subject of the work is the history hidden in the words of the German language.To this end he laboriously collected scattered words and allusions found in classical literature, and endeavored to determine the relationship between the German language and those of the Getae, Thracians, Scythians, and many other nations whose languages were at the time known only through doubtfully identified, often extremely corrupted remains preserved by Greek and Latin authors. Grimm’s results have been greatly amplified and modified by the wider range of comparison and improved methods of investigation that now characterize linguistics, but his book’s influence has been profound.

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Jacob’s Deutsche Grammatik (German Grammar) was the outcome of his purely philological work. The labors of past generations from the humanists onwards resulted in an enormous collection of materials in the form of text editions, dictionaries, and grammars, although most of it was uncritical and unreliable. Some work had even been done in the way of comparison and determination of general laws, and the concept of a comparative Germanic grammar had been clearly grasped by George Hickes by the beginning of the 18th century in his Thesaurus. Ten Kate in the Netherlands had also made valuable contributions to the history and comparison of Germanic languages. en Grimm did not initially intend to include all the Germanic languages in his Grammar, but he soon found that Old High German required speculations on Gothic, and that the later stages of German could not be understood without the help of other West Germanic varieties including English, and the rich literature of Scandinavia. The first edition of the first part of the Grammar, which appeared in 1819 treated the inflections of all these languages. It included a general introduction in which he vindicated the importance of an historical study of the German language against the a priori, quasi-philosophical methods then in vogue.

Jacob is recognized for proposing Grimm’s law, an analysis of the Germanic Sound Shift, which was first casually observed by the Danish philologist Rasmus Christian Rask. Grimm’s law was the first non-trivial systematic sound change to be discovered. Grimm’s Law, also known as the ‘Rask-Grimm Rule’, is the first law in linguistics concerning a non-trivial sound change. It was a turning point in the development of linguistics, allowing the introduction of a rigorous methodology to historic linguistic research. It concerns the correspondence of consonants in the older Indo-European and Low Saxon and High German languages, and was first fully stated by Grimm in the second edition of the first part of his Grammar.

If you are not into linguistics you can skip this bit. I have added links to some of the key concepts as an aid if you need it. Grimm’s law consists of three parts which form consecutive phases in the sense of a chain shift. The phases are usually constructed as follows:

  1. Proto-Indo-European voiceless stops change into voiceless fricatives.
  2. Proto-Indo-European voiced stops become voiceless stops.
  3. Proto-Indo-European voiced aspirated stops become voiced stops or fricatives (as allophones).

This chain shift can be abstractly represented as:

  • bʰ > b > p > ɸ
  • dʰ > d > t > θ
  • gʰ > g > k > x
  • gʷʰ > gʷ > kʷ > xʷ

The Grimms’ monumental dictionary of the German Language, the Deutsches Wörterbuch, was started in 1838 and first published in 1854. The brothers anticipated it would take 10 years and encompass some 6-7 volumes. However, it was undertaken on so large a scale as to make it impossible for them to complete it. The dictionary, as far as it was worked on by the Grimms themselves, has been described as a collection of disconnected antiquarian essays of high value. It was finally finished by subsequent scholars in 1961 and supplemented in 1971. At 33 volumes with around 330,000 headwords, it remains a standard work of reference to the present day, although it is currently undergoing substantial revision.

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Both Grimms were attracted by all national poetry, whether in the form of epics, ballads or popular tales. They published In 1816–1818 a collection of legends culled from diverse sources, the two-volume Deutsche Sagen (German Legends). At the same time they collected all the folktales they could find, partly from the mouths of the people, partly from manuscripts and books, and published in 1812–1815 the first edition of those Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children’s and Household Tales), which has carried the name of the brothers Grimm into every household of the western world. The first edition of Jacob’s Deutsche Mythologie (German Mythology) appeared in 1835. This work attempted to trace the mythology and superstitions of the old Teutons back to the earliest direct evidence, thence following their evolution to modern-day popular traditions, tales, and expressions. This is an exemplar of the trend in 19th century folklore to pull voluminous data together into a grand unified vision of history and culture – long since abandoned in favor detailed studies of local cultures (but still attractive to amateurs such as Joseph Campbell).

I don’t know the precise percentage of the Grimms’ tales that came to them orally, but it is important to note that they were not faithful to the original wording of the tales whether they came to them orally or in writing. Nor were they faithful to story elements. The 1st edition of Kinder- und Hausmärchen was the least edited, but still contains stories rewritten by the Grimms. By later editions the tales had been further rewritten to expunge what the Grimms considered morally suspect themes. For example, in the originals of Snow White and Hansel and Gretel it was the biological mothers who wanted their offspring dead (Snow White’s mother wanted her lungs and liver returned to her so that she could eat them). Being contrary to Germanic ideals of the sanctity and purity of motherhood, the mothers in these tales were changed to wicked stepmothers. In the original of Rapunzel her “merry time” with the prince got her pregnant.

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Jacob and Wilhelm were not fascists but they were ardent nationalists, and their researches were used by the likes of Hitler to promote German supremacy and domination. Many of you will know from previous posts that I consider nationalism to be one of the great scourges of humanity. In the Grimms’ day, culturally similar Germanic peoples were spread over numerous states and empires. The ideal of a unified German state resonated through the 19th century following the Napoleonic Wars and the Congress of Vienna, and led ultimately to the rise of Hitler and fascism in the 1930s. I don’t lay the precise politics and history of German nationalism at the Grimms’ door, but they played a big part in it all.

I could give you a distinctively Germanic recipe, but why bolster nationalism? Here’s a Bulgarian recipe for Салата Снежанка, translated as “Snow White salad.” It’s not really a reference to the tale, just an indication of its whiteness. But let’s not quibble; Snow White got her name because her skin was as white as snow (just in case you need a racist element !!). All it really consists of is cucumbers and nuts in yoghurt flavored with dill. You barely need a recipe. I prepare something similar – raita – when I make really hot curries.

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Snow White Salad

Ingredients:

2 cucumbers, peeled and chopped
2 cups whole-milk yoghurt
½ cup walnuts, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
fresh dill, finely chopped
olive oil
salt

Instructions

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl except for the dill, oil, and salt. Everything should be thoroughly mixed. Then add the remaining three to suit your tastes and mix well. Chill for several hours before serving.

Jun 052015
 

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On this date in 1851 Uncle Tom’s Cabin first appeared as a 40-week serial in The National Era, an abolitionist periodical, and the following year was issued as an illustrated book. Stowe, a Connecticut-born teacher at the Hartford Female Seminary and an active abolitionist, featured the character of Uncle Tom, a long-suffering black slave around whom the stories of other characters revolve. The sentimental novel depicts the reality of slavery while also asserting that Christian love can overcome something as destructive as enslavement of fellow human beings. Assessment of the novel and its title character have undergone profound changes from its first publication to the present day.

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Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the best-selling novel of the 19th century and the second best-selling book of that century, following the Bible. It is credited with helping fuel the abolitionist cause in the 1850s. In the first year after it was published, 300,000 copies of the book were sold in the United States; one million copies in Great Britain. In 1855, three years after it was published, it was called “the most popular novel of our day.” The impact attributed to the book is great, reinforced by a story that when Abraham Lincoln met Stowe at the start of the Civil War, Lincoln declared, “So this is the little lady who started this great war.” The quote is apocryphal; it did not appear in print until 1896, and it has been argued that “The long-term durability of Lincoln’s greeting as an anecdote in literary studies and Stowe scholarship can perhaps be explained in part by the desire among many contemporary intellectuals … to affirm the role of literature as an agent of social change.”

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At the time of the novel’s initial publication in 1851 Uncle Tom was a rejection of the existing stereotypes of minstrel shows; Stowe’s melodramatic story humanized the suffering of slavery for white audiences by portraying Tom as a Christlike figure who is ultimately martyred, beaten to death by a cruel master because Tom refuses to betray the whereabouts of two women who had escaped from slavery. Stowe reversed the gender conventions of slave narratives by juxtaposing Uncle Tom’s passivity against the daring of three African American women who escape from slavery.

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Senator Charles Sumner credited Uncle Tom’s Cabin for the election of Abraham Lincoln and Lincoln himself reportedly quipped that Stowe had triggered the American Civil War. Frederick Douglass praised the novel as “a flash to light a million camp fires in front of the embattled hosts of slavery”. Despite Douglass’ enthusiasm, an anonymous 1852 reviewer for William Lloyd Garrison’s publication The Liberator suspected a racial double standard in the idealization of Uncle Tom:

Uncle Tom’s character is sketched with great power and rare religious perception. It triumphantly exemplifies the nature, tendency, and results of Christian non-resistance. We are curious to know whether Mrs. Stowe is a believer in the duty of non-resistance for the White man, under all possible outrage and peril, as for the Black man… Talk not of overcoming evil with good—it is madness! Talk not of peacefully submitting to chains and stripes—it is base servility! Talk not of servants being obedient to their masters—let the blood of tyrants flow! How is this to be explained or reconciled? Is there one law of submission and non-resistance for the Black man, and another of rebellion and conflict for the White man? When it is the whites who are trodden in the dust, does Christ justify them in taking up arms to vindicate their rights? And when it is the blacks who are thus treated, does Christ require them to be patient, harmless, long-suffering, and forgiving? Are there two Christs?

The accusation of a double standard may be apt, but I think that this and other critiques miss the point. Stowe upholds the Christian standard (mostly forgotten in the contemporary U.S.) of meeting hatred and bigotry with love, as did Jesus. Modern critics treat Uncle Tom’s servility as weakness rather than a strength (as Stowe intended). This change of attitudes towards Uncle Tom reflects a general cultural shift in the U.S. from tolerance to aggressiveness as the solution to what are perceived as the world’s ills.

James Weldon Johnson, a prominent figure of the Harlem Renaissance, expresses an antipathetic opinion in his autobiography:

For my part, I was never an admirer of Uncle Tom, nor of his type of goodness; but I believe that there were lots of old Negroes as foolishly good as he; the proof of which is that they knowingly stayed and worked on the plantations that furnished sinews for the army which was fighting to keep them enslaved.

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In 1949 James Baldwin rejected the emasculation of the title character “robbed of his humanity and divested of his sex” as the price of spiritual salvation for a dark-skinned man in a fiction whose African-American characters, in Baldwin’s view, were invariably two dimensional stereotypes. To Baldwin, Stowe was closer to a pamphleteer than a novelist and her artistic vision was fatally marred by polemics and racism that manifested especially in her handling of the title character. Stowe had stated that her sons had wept when she first read them the scene of Uncle Tom’s death, but after Baldwin’s essay it ceased being respectable to accept the melodrama of the Uncle Tom story. Uncle Tom became what critic Linda Williams describes as “an epithet of servility” and the novel’s reputation plummeted until feminist critics led by Jane Tompkins reassessed the tale’s female characters. According to Debra J. Rosenthal in an introduction to a collection of critical appraisals for the Routledge Literary Sourcebook on Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, overall reactions have been mixed with some critics praising the novel for affirming the humanity of the African American characters and for the risks Stowe assumed in taking a very public stand against slavery before abolitionism had become a socially acceptable cause, and others criticizing the very limited terms upon which those characters’ humanity was affirmed and the artistic shortcomings of political melodrama.

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A specific impetus for the novel was the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which imposed heavy fines upon law enforcement personnel in Northern states if they refused to assist the return of people who escaped from slavery. The new law also stripped African Americans of the right to request a jury trial or to testify on their own behalf, even if they were legally free, whenever a single claimant presented an affidavit of ownership. The same law authorized a $1000 fine and six months imprisonment for anyone who knowingly harbored or assisted a fugitive slave. These terms infuriated Stowe, so the novel was written, read, and debated as a political abolitionist tract.

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Stowe drew inspiration for the Uncle Tom character from several sources. The best-known of these was Josiah Henson, an ex-slave whose autobiography, The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself, was originally published in 1849 and later republished in two extensively revised editions after the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Henson was enslaved at birth in 1789. He became a Christian at age eighteen and took up preaching. Henson attempted to purchase his freedom for $450, but after selling his personal assets to raise $350 and signing a promissory note for the remainder Henson’s owner raised the price to $1000; Henson was unable to prove that the original agreement had been for a lesser amount. Shortly afterward Henson was ordered on a trip south to New Orleans, and when he learned that he was to be sold there he obtained a weapon and contemplated murdering his white companions, but decided against violence because his Christian morals forbade it. A sudden illness in one of his companions forced their return to Kentucky, and shortly afterward Henson escaped north with his family, settling in Canada where he became a civic leader.

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Southern plantations were noted for their cooking, and their recipes carried on after the Civil War as what is now classic Southern cuisine. A great many plantation cooks were slave women who created a style that was an amalgam of African and European traditions which was enormously varied across the South. I’ve given a number of recipes here before for hush puppies, hoppin’ John, burgoo, and the like – all personal favorites from my days living in the swamps of North Carolina. Here’s a more upscale recipe from South Carolina still popular today as a summer dish.

Dilled Rice and Shrimp salad

Ingredients

2 cups cooked long-grain white rice
¼ cup white wine vinegar
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup freshly chopped dill, plus extra for garnish
salt and pepper
¼ cup chopped green onions, plus extra for garnish
¼ cup sliced radishes
½ lb. cooked and shelled medium shrimp
1 lemon

Instructions

Combine the oil, vinegar, dill, and salt and pepper to taste in a blender or food processor, and blend until you have a fine emulsion.

Place the rice in a large mixing bowl and pour over the oil and vinegar dressing. Mix well. Add the shrimp and radishes and toss lightly. Cover the bowl and chill for several hours.

Serve with a garnish of fresh dill and green onions and a squirt of fresh lemon juice. You may need to toss the salad to separate the rice after refrigeration.

Apr 202014
 

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Today is the birthday of Joan Miró i Ferrà, extraordinarily revolutionary Catalan painter, sculptor, and ceramicist. A museum dedicated to his work, the Fundació Joan Miró, was established in his native city of Barcelona in 1975, and another, the Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró, was established in his adoptive city of Palma de Mallorca in 1981. His work has been interpreted as Surrealism, a sandbox for the subconscious mind, a re-creation of the childlike, and a manifestation of Catalan pride. It is all and none of these. In numerous interviews dating from the 1930s onwards, Miró expressed contempt for conventional painting methods as a way of supporting bourgeois society, and famously declared he desired an “assassination of painting” in favor of upsetting the visual qualities of established painting.

Miró  was born into the families of a goldsmith and a watchmaker and grew up in the Barri Gòtic neighborhood of Barcelona. His father was Miquel Miró Adzerias and his mother was Dolors Ferrà. He began drawing classes at the age of seven at a private school at Carrer del Regomir 13, a medieval mansion. In 1907 he enrolled at the fine art academy at La Llotja, to the dismay of his father. He studied at the Cercle Artístic de Sant Lluc and he had his first solo show in 1918 at the Dalmau Gallery, where his work was ridiculed and defaced. Miró was drawn towards the arts community that was gathering in Montparnasse and in 1920 moved to Paris, but continued to spend his summers in Catalonia.

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Miró initially went to business school as well as art school. He began his working career when he was a teenager as a clerk, although he abandoned the business world completely for art after suffering a breakdown. His early art, like that of the similarly influenced Fauves and Cubists exhibited in Barcelona, was inspired by Vincent van Gogh and Paul Cézanne. The resemblance of Miró’s work to that of the intermediate generation of the avant-garde has led scholars to call this time his Catalan Fauvist period.

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A few years after Miró’s 1918 Barcelona solo exhibition, he settled in Paris where he finished a number of paintings that he had begun on his parents’ summer home and farm in Mont-roig del Camp. One such painting, The Farm, showed a transition to a more individual style of painting and certain nationalistic qualities. Ernest Hemingway, who later bought the piece, compared the artistic accomplishment to James Joyce’s Ulysses and described it by saying, “It has in it all that you feel about Spain when you are there and all that you feel when you are away and cannot go there. No one else has been able to paint these two very opposing things.” Miró annually returned to Mont-roig and developed a symbolism and nationalism that would stick with him throughout his career. Catalan Landscape (The Hunter) and Tilled Field, two of Miró’s first works classified as Surrealist, employ the symbolic style that was to dominate the art of the next decade.

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In 1924, Miró joined the Surrealist group. The already symbolic and poetic nature of Miró’s work, as well as the dualities and contradictions inherent to it, fit well within the context of dream-like automatism espoused by the group. Much of Miró’s work lost the cluttered chaotic lack of focus that had defined his work thus far, and he experimented with collage and the process of painting within his work so as to reject the framing that traditional painting provided. This antagonistic attitude towards painting manifested itself when Miró referred to his work in 1924 ambiguously as “x” in a letter to poet friend Michel Leiris. The paintings that came out of this period were eventually called Miró’s “dream paintings.”

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Miró did not completely abandon subject matter. Despite the Surrealist automatic techniques that he employed extensively in the 1920s, sketches show that his work was often the result of a methodical process. Miró’s work rarely dipped into non-objectivity, maintaining a symbolic, schematic style. This was perhaps most prominent in the repeated Head of a Catalan Peasant series of 1924 to 1925. In 1926, he collaborated with Max Ernst on designs for ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev. With Miró’s help, Ernst pioneered the technique of grattage, in which he troweled pigment onto his canvases.

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Miró returned to a more representational form of painting with The Dutch Interiors of 1928. Crafted after works by Hendrik Martenszoon Sorgh and Jan Steen seen as postcard reproductions, the paintings reveal the influence of a trip to Holland taken by the artist.

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These paintings share more in common with Tilled Field or Harlequin’s Carnival than with the minimalistic dream paintings produced a few years earlier.

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Miró married Pilar Juncosa in Palma (Majorca) on 12 October 1929; their daughter Dolors was born 17 July 1931. In 1931, Pierre Matisse opened an art gallery in New York City. The Pierre Matisse Gallery (which existed until Matisse’s death in 1989) became an influential part of the Modern art movement in the U.S. From the outset Matisse represented Joan Miró and introduced his work to the United States market by frequently exhibiting Miró’s work in New York.

Until the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Miró habitually returned to Spain in the summers. Once the war began, he was unable to return home. Unlike many of his surrealist contemporaries, Miró had previously preferred to stay away from explicitly political commentary in his work. Though a sense of (Catalan) nationalism pervaded his earliest surreal landscapes and Head of a Catalan Peasant, it wasn’t until Spain’s Republican government commissioned him to paint the mural, The Reaper, for the Spanish Republican Pavilion at the 1937 Paris Exhibition, that Miró’s work took on a politically charged meaning.

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In 1939, with Germany’s invasion of France looming, Miró relocated to Varengeville in Normandy, and on 20 May of the following year, as Germans invaded Paris, he narrowly escaped to Spain (at the time controlled by Francisco Franco) for the duration of the Vichy Regime’s rule. In Varengeville, Palma, and Mont-roig, between 1940 and 1941, Miró created the twenty-three gouache series, Constellations. Revolving around celestial symbolism, Constellations earned the artist praise from André Breton, who seventeen years later wrote a series of poems, named after and inspired by Miró’s series. Features of this work revealed a shifting focus to the subjects of women, birds, and the moon, which would dominate his iconography for much of the rest of his career.

In 1959, André Breton asked Miró to represent Spain in The Homage to Surrealism exhibition alongside Enrique Tábara, Salvador Dalí, and Eugenio Granell. Miró created a series of sculptures and ceramics for the garden of the Maeght Foundation in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France, which was completed in 1964.

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In 1974, Miró created a tapestry for the World Trade Center in New York City together with the Catalan artist Josep Royo. He had initially refused to do a tapestry, then he learned the craft from Royo and the two artists produced several works together. His World Trade Center Tapestry was displayed for many years at the World Trade Center building. It was one of many works of art lost during the September 11 attacks. In 1977, Miró and Royo finished a tapestry to be exhibited in the National Gallery in Washington, USA.

In 1981, Miró’s The Sun, the Moon and One Star—later renamed Miró’s Chicago—was unveiled. This large, mixed media sculpture is situated outdoors in the downtown Loop area of Chicago, across the street from another large public sculpture, the Chicago Picasso. Miró had created a bronze model of The Sun, the Moon and One Star in 1967. The maquette now resides in the Milwaukee Art Museum.

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In the final decades of his life Miró  worked at a rapid pace in different media, producing hundreds of ceramics, including the Wall of the Moon and Wall of the Sun at the UNESCO building in Paris. He also made temporary window paintings (on glass) for an exhibit. In the last years of his life Miró wrote his most radical and least known ideas, exploring the possibilities of gas sculpture and four-dimensional painting.

In 1979 Miró received a doctorate honoris causa from the University of Barcelona. On Christmas day 1983 he suffered a heart attack and died in his home in Palma (Majorca).

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Esqueixada de bacalao (salt cod salad) is a classic Catalan dish suitable for celebrating Miró.  There are recipes available, but you have a wide variety of choices of ingredients, so I will give you the outline and leave you to decide.  Salt cod and black olives are the only things you cannot dispense with.  Salt cod needs to be desalinated before using it.  Put 100 grams per person in a large non-reactive container of cold water and refrigerate for three days, changing the water often. Drain the cod and shred it.  Then in a large bowl add black olives plus your choice of chopped tomatoes, sliced onion, bell pepper, and hard boiled eggs . . . or whatever you fancy.  Dress with extra virgin olive oil and vinegar (or lemon juice) and refrigerate for several hours.  Serve on chilled plates.

Esqueixada can also be served — chopped finely — on warm garlic toast.