Mar 302014
 

Juan1

Yes, today is my birthday, so I am going to go a bit hog wild in remembering birthdays past.  You’ll have to excuse the self indulgence — I promise I won’t do it again next year.  And . . . so as not to be totally self absorbed, here are some regular old anniversaries for 30 March which I have posted with hyper-links in case they interest you.

Feasts

Today was the feast of Salus in ancient Rome honoring the goddess of security and well-being (welfare, health and prosperity) of both the individual and the state.  More here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salus

NERO-RIC_I_59-711403_SALUS

Events

1842  Ether anesthesia is used for the first time, in an operation by the U.S. surgeon Dr. Crawford Long.

1858 The pencil with eraser attached is patented http://www.google.com/patents/US19783

1867  Alaska is purchased from Russia for $7.2 million, about 2-cent/acre ($4.19/km²), by United States Secretary of State William H. Seward. Henceforth it was known as “Seward’s folly.”

Births

1746 – Francisco Goya, Spanish painter.

franciscogoya_stilllife_a_butchers_counter

1811 – Robert Bunsen, German chemist, inventor of the Bunsen burner.

1853 – Vincent van Gogh, Dutch painter.  Can you pronounce his name correctly? Probably not.  Go here for the answer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YLTQv8RH1TE

aardappeleters beeld_0

1930 – Rolf Harris, Australian singer-songwriter. Came to worldwide fame with the classic “Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B4gru7Ial3k (slightly racist for a modern listener).

1945 – Eric Clapton, English singer-songwriter, guitarist, and producer (The Yardbirds, Cream, The Dirty Mac, Blind Faith, and Free Creek). Take your pick.  This was popular when I was a teen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55A9H-PqOvY

I am in the habit on my birthday of reflecting on past birthdays as I celebrate the day.  So, I am going to do this “out loud” for you this year.  Don’t worry, I am not going to reflect on all 63 — just some highlights.

why

1951

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As attested by my birth certificate, I was born at 9 pm on 30 March 1951 in Hospital Británico in Buenos Aires, and my full legal name is Juan Alejandro Forrest de Sloper.  The hospital is only 5 blocks from where I live now on the same avenue, but it is much more modern now than it was then.

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It is a good job that I have this original of my birth certificate because the old Registro Civil building that housed all the birth records of that era burnt down some years ago, destroying all the records.  When I applied for my DNI (Documento Nacional de Identidad) which all citizens are required to carry, they uncovered the hospital record of my birth with a notation from the attending doctor indicating that I was born with the umbilical cord around my neck, so that the delivery was much longer than usual.  In some cultures this is considered a good omen, but all I remember is my mother complaining about it once in a while when she was in reminiscing mode.  I was born with absolutely blond hair (as was my son), and so was apparently a favorite with the ladies when my mum took me to the park in my pram.

I have had my natal chart drawn by several people using different systems over the years.  Just for amusement I had this one generated by a website.

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There is a long analysis that goes with it that I have appended at the end here in case you are interested.  It is alarmingly accurate in a great many places (and quite wrong in a few others).

Soon thereafter I was baptized in St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in barrio Monserrat in Buenos Aires.  My mother was really anxious to do this because she was unhappy that the state required my parents to give me Spanish names. She thought that if I were baptized using English names she would then be able to use them on official documents.  I’m not entirely sure that her logic was sound, but all my documents from English-speaking countries thenceforth listed me as John Alexander (which I reversed when I returned to Argentina).  Here’s the font where I was baptized:

font

1950’s

I don’t remember much about my birthdays until we moved to South Australia in 1958.  [Perhaps my sisters can fill in the blanks for me in a comment?  I do recall my mum saying that children’s birthdays were a BIG DEAL in Argentina.] In Australia birthdays for all the family followed a standard format.  You got your presents in the morning at the breakfast table, and then had a birthday dinner in the evening.  Our menu was invariant: roast chicken with all the trimmings — crispy roast potatoes, chipolata sausages, bread sauce, sage and onion stuffing, and a seasonable vegetable, plus a cake with candles.  This may seem rather simple, but I loved these special meals.  Poultry was not common on our table back then in Australia because it was expensive.  The cheap meat for roasting was lamb, and we had a roast shoulder pretty much every Sunday.  Chicken was a welcome change. I always put in a bid for a drumstick.  Being the family photographer I have photos of other people’s birthdays, but none of my own. This will have to do (nicked from the web).

Roasted Chicken Dinner

1963

For my birthday this year my parents gave me the equipment for me to be able to develop and print my own film (black and white).  I had been taking photos for about 2 years (more or less incessantly), so this was the next logical phase. I did not get to use it for some time though because the next day my appendix burst and I landed in Hutchinson hospital in Gawler for an emergency appendectomy.  What galled me the most about it all was that I was sent home to get ready for the hospital with strict instructions not to eat anything.  So I had to sit through dinner with a pain in my gut, watching the rest of my family scarf down MY birthday cake. By the time I was sprung a week later it was all gone.  Here’s the hospital somewhat before my stay there.  Looked about the same when I was a prisoner there, though (including the nurses’ uniforms):

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1972

I turned 21 in 1972.  I was caught on a very unfortunate cusp. For centuries, turning 21 had always been really special because it marked the age of majority, and symbolized entrance into adulthood.  But when I was 19, the age of majority was lowered to 18 in the U.K. So all of a sudden I could vote, but with no fanfare or big birthday to mark it.  By the time I turned 21, that age had diminished in importance and I had legally been an adult for 2 years.  I was at Oxford at the time and rarely went home to my parents’ house. So we jointly agreed for me to simply celebrate as I saw fit, and they gave me £200 (a considerable sum in those days) to kick up my heels.

I had a girlfriend of sorts, Jill, who agreed to spend the day with me in London. I had no master plan for the day, although I did want to see a revival of Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband in the evening.  We went to the theater to get tickets and then headed for Dirty Dick’s.  This is a pub that I had heard about when I lived in Australia and had always wanted to visit.  It’s in Bishopsgate on the edge of the financial district. It commemorates an 18th century merchant, Nathaniel Bentley (aka Dirty Dick), whose fiancée died on their wedding day.  Ever after he never washed, nor cleaned his warehouse.  When he died it was caked inches deep in filth.  The warehouse was demolished soon after, but entrepreneurs recreated the look of the warehouse in a pub Bentley had once owned and called it Dirty Dick’s.  In 1972 the main part of the pub was spic and span, but the cellar bar was still festooned with soot, cobwebs, and general muck in which you could spot dead cats and assorted debris.  Quite the wonderland.  I gather health laws have caused the owners to tidy it up, but bits of the original decor can be seen behind glass.

dick

We had a light lunch there and then headed into the West End to poke around.  In our travels we came across a Japanese restaurant in St Christopher’s Place just off Bond Street.  Looked like an ideal dinner spot to me.  We went in and made reservations for after the theater.  We picked from a set dinner menu which I could not understand at all.  I had no clue.  As far as I know it was the only Japanese restaurant in London at the time, and Japanese cuisine was a blank slate to the English back then

When we returned after the play (around 10:30), the restaurant was packed with Japanese businessmen.  Not a woman in sight except for the waitresses dressed as geishas (who spoke precious little English).  The meal was superb and I was instantly hooked.  First course was a clear soup served in individual ceramic kettles.  You poured the broth into a bowl and then picked the finely julienned vegetables out of the kettle with chopsticks.  When I had filled my bowl with soup I noticed there was no spoon, so I asked the waitress how to eat it.  She replied “wiz you mouse.”  We had a gorgeous sashimi, paper thin, and served with shaved young ginger and ponzu sauce, a one-pot cooked at the table  . . . and on and on.  Lots of sake of course, and ending with plum wine (pronounced “prah why”).  A complete assault of new tastes that I wanted more of.  A 21st to remember a lifetime.

1973 

I spent my next birthday on Portland Island off the Dorset coast with another girlfriend (they kinda came and went in those days), Ruth, whose father shared my birthday. After dinner with her family we went off to Church Ope Cove, a private beach where locals have little huts, holdover from the Victorian days of bathing machines.  It was a breathless, moonlit night — idyllic.  It was way too cold to go in the water, but I went in anyway.  I figure a little madness on my birthday is called for.

church_ope_cove

1978

This was a rather sweet year. I was doing my doctoral fieldwork in the coastal swamps of North Carolina.  I had not been in residence too long, and was boarding with an elderly widow who took in guests if she felt like it.  For most of the year I was the only guest, and she treated me as a son.  I paid $8 per week for board only — but she always fed me if I were around at meal times.  That’s where I learnt about greasy greens, hoppin’ John, cornbread, hush puppies, and Brunswick stew.  I was resigned to spending my birthday without much celebration, and so was delighted when I rolled in at dinner time and found she had made a pan of brownies just for me.  Southern hospitality.

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1981

I had been a professor at Purchase College (S.U.N.Y.) for a little under a year when I turned 30.  I was not happy about the transition.  As a 29 yr old Ph.D. assistant professor I was a bit of a whizz kid.  Turning 30 made me just another one in the herd.  To top it off President Reagan was shot that afternoon by John Hinckley, and in the evening I watched the Tar Heels (UNC basketball) lose to Purdue in the NCAA finals. Depressed does not begin to describe my mood that night.  I did recover, however, and went on to teach for another 30 years at Purchase College.  I estimate that in that time I taught over 6,000 students.

purchase

1991

ARMS

Turning 40 treated me a little better. My wife had just learnt that she was pregnant with our only son, Badger, I had tenure, and I was in line to be promoted to full professor that year.  I was conducting a senior seminar for anthropology majors on my birthday and was getting a little niggled because the class was all restless, not paying much attention, and seemed to be passing something around.  I was about to get cross with them when my wife and one of my older students started shuttling in all manner of goodies for a party, including a giant cake with candles.  What they had been passing around was a handmade birthday card for all to sign, with a wonderful graphic of a hummingbird (my totemic animal) kissing a ram (for Aries) on the front.  The only surprise party I have ever had. A great blessing.  I really was completely surprised; my wife and 18 students had kept it absolutely secret for a month.

1997

lmpc

I became an ordained Presbyterian minister in 1997 and was made pastor in my first church, Livingston Manor Presbyterian in Sullivan Co. NY.  I was really peeved that my first Easter there fell on my birthday.  My birthday usually gets tangled up with Easter somehow or other, but it rarely falls on Easter Sunday itself.  In the 20th century my birthday fell on Easter in 1975, 1986, and 1997.  It will not come around again in my lifetime unless I live to be 108 (2059).  So it was dumb luck that I had to conduct Easter services (including a sunrise service at 5 am) on my birthday.  Oh well.  As they say in the swamps of N.C. — “if it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.”

2001

When I turned 50 I decided to have a giant BBQ in the garden in my house in the Catskills for as many former students as I could find. So I set to work with a book listing contact information for Purchase College alumni, seeking as many as I could to invite out.  It was a great day with quite a number of former students (from 1980 to current students) making the trek.  I suspect the only regular reader of this blog who was there would be James Knight (who brought me a bottle of old port).  If any other reader was there, please drop me a comment.

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2009

By 2009 I had been a widower for several years and had established a pattern of making a blowout meal for Badger and me on the day itself. (The night before, my girlfriend, Virginia, had invited me to a performance of Funny Girl at a dinner theater — sorry no photos — it was grand). This year for my birthday meal I had a lemon theme — for no good reason. Leek and potato soup with lemon zest, fresh tuna and trout with lemon and soy dipping sauce, ossobuco with lemon and caper sauce, side salad of hearts of palm and water chestnuts in a lemon herb vinaigrette, finished off with lemon tiramisu and limoncello (all my own recipes).

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2010

This was my last birthday in the U.S.  Badger was off in college so I spent the day with my girlfriend, Denise, and her family.  Also, this was the last time I have spent my birthday with someone else.  Ever since, I have been alone.  I don’t care for cake at all, so I made a birthday tiramisu for dessert — with lots of candles.  Mushrooms were the theme for the dinner. This was the year I invented raspberry tiramisu.  I think I will keep the recipe secret. It is delectable.

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061 John and Denise on his birthday2

2011

In August 2010 I retired and moved to Buenos Aires where I have been ever since.  I spent my 60th in Tierra del Fuego.  Unbelievable adventure.  I won’t wear you out with descriptions and images.  Here’s a facebook album if you are interested:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.517436254983551.1073741827.100001515440887&type=1&l=3b54106ae7

Otherwise, here’s my birthday dinner of Patagonian hare stew and cheesecake.

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2012

I spent my 61st in Cusco with the day itself in Machu Picchu.  Here’s the album.

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.320174581376387.73141.100001515440887&type=1&l=36040fa602

Birthday dinner of alpaca steak in cilantro sauce plus homemade ice cream.

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2013

I was on Rapa Nui (Easter Island) for my 62nd.  My birthday was Easter Saturday and I had an amazing personally guided tour of the moai:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.500066530053857.1073741825.100001515440887&type=1&l=c1d0585bd9

Dinner of local spiny lobster (no room for, nor interest in, dessert).

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2014

This year I am staying in Capital (Buenos Aires) because I am preparing to leave Argentina in June/July for a few years to travel the world (destinations uncertain at time of writing).  Instead of traveling I’m having a blowout weekend.  This facebook album will tell the story.  It will grow over the weekend. It began on Friday 28 March with a lamb vindaloo. Saturday I had a spicy oxtail and kidney stew, and today I am making lapin au vin rouge with cloves, ginger, garlic, and pepper (oysters on the half shell and smoked Patagonian venison as appetizers). Turns out cloves are the theme this year; they feature in all three main dishes.

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.661302763930232.1073741840.100001515440887&type=1&l=50d7a9b6d0

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Here appended is the auto-readout of my natal chart:

Name: Juan Alejandro

March 30 1951

9:00 PM Time Zone is ADT

Buenos Aires, ARG

Rising Sign is in 25 Degrees Scorpio

You tend to be quiet, reserved, secretive and, at times, quite difficult to understand. Others notice your deep emotions and feelings and wonder how to draw you out. Stubborn and tough, you fight for any position you believe in. You are very resourceful and formidable when you become angered or upset about something. You enjoy living life at the cutting edge — for you life must be experienced intensely and totally. Quite courageous, you are willing to take calculated risks. Easily hurt by others, you often strike back with bitter sarcasm. Sensitive and curious, you are concerned with the deeper mysteries of human psychology. Once you have become interested in any subject, you pursue it with total fanaticism.

Sun is in 09 Degrees Aries.

By nature, you are very energetic and high-spirited. You are fiercely independent — you must be first in everything you do, and you enjoy taking risks. You are the one who will rush in where angels fear to tread. Quite brilliant at initiating new projects, you are terrible at following them through to completion. You are an enthusiastic leader but you tend to be a reluctant follower. Often you are quick to anger, but you usually recover just as fast, regretting later things you said when you were upset. One of your best traits is that you are simple and direct, blunt and honest — just be careful you do not hurt others’ feelings. Your need to be competitive at all costs may provoke resistance from others, but, as long as you maintain your usual Sunny good humor, this should not prove to be a major problem for you.

Moon is in 19 Degrees Capricorn.

You are serious and shy and very uncomfortable in those situations where spontaneous and exuberant emotional reactions seem called for. An achiever, you prefer doing practical, worthwhile things that produce tangible results. You need role models to respect, love and emulate. You tend to feel that you’re a failure unless you get an important and highly respected position in life. Don’t be so hard on yourself! For you, practical needs always win out over emotional considerations. Remember that you too have the right to comfort, security and love. Dutiful and patient, when you make an emotional commitment, you sign on for the long haul — your love is long- enduring.

Mercury is in 26 Degrees Aries.

Very quick-witted, you are known for being an independent thinker. You love to debate and argue, and are excellent at repartee and battles of wits. At times, however, you act too fast on hastily formed opinions and thus waste a lot of energy defending your rash and sometimes incorrect conclusions. It is perfectly acceptable for you to defend your beliefs with your usual vigor, but try not to take the opinions of others as personal insults.

Venus is in 11 Degrees Taurus.

You are known to be a warm and affectionate person, and you tend to form long- lasting attachments. The reverse of this is that you can also be quite possessive once you have made a commitment. The beauty, luxury and comfort of your surroundings are important to you and you will devote much time and energy to making your home just right. Beware of your tendency toward self-indulgence, especially with respect to eating incorrectly. You also need outside stimuli to get you in gear When things come too easily for you, you can be lazy and indolent.

Mars is in 22 Degrees Aries.

You are very independent and self-assertive, and you have lots of physical energy. You are not satisfied unless you can be the first to do something. As such, you are more comfortable in leadership positions than you are as an underling. When you are challenged by anyone for anything, you delight in the competitive process and will fight long and hard for your beliefs. You are bold and courageous and often act without thinking. At times, in your zeal to get ahead, you are tactless and offensive — learn that cooperation with others can often bring you nearer to your goals quicker because of the support you will get.

Jupiter is in 24 Degrees Pisces.

You are at your best when you give of yourself and what you have — try to avoid being a martyr about it, though. You’re a true idealist, but you must learn not to be upset when life does not cooperate with the way you think things should be. Very concerned with spiritual truth and growth, when you practice what you preach, you make an excellent role model for others. You are so devoted to altruistic ventures and concerns that you tire easily at times. It then becomes necessary for you to go off by yourself to recharge your batteries.

Saturn is in 28 Degrees Virgo.

Your life must be orderly and practical and full of known and familiar routines in order for you to feel comfortable with yourself. Be careful, however, not to let “order” become the be-all and end-all of your life, or you may become cold, crass and unfeeling. Doing useful, practical things boosts your self- esteem. Abstract concepts and reasoning seem frivolous and a waste of time to you. You are very critical of yourself (and others), indeed at times quite self-deprecating. Try to relax a bit and allow yourself the freedom to fail once in a while. However, you probably won’t fail very often because you are such a perfectionist.

Uranus is in 05 Degrees Cancer.

For you, and for your peers as well, the demand to be free from entangling emotional bonds is of paramount importance. You have a unique and unfettered view of family life and will be attracted to experimenting with freeform styles of relationship commitments. This may lead to a rootless, unsettled lifestyle.

Neptune is in 18 Degrees Libra.

You, and your entire generation, idealize all of the various experimental approaches to relationships — including “living together”, the formation of communes and collectives and the whole concept of “open” marriages. There is a stress on weakened commitments on an emotional and contractual level, but there are heightened expectations of the level of commitment and mutual support on the spiritual and metaphysical level.

Pluto is in 17 Degrees Leo.

For your entire generation, this is a time when the relationship of the individual to society as a whole is being thoroughly re-examined. Major attempts will be made to find a balance between the need to be self-sufficient and the need to honor debts of social commitment.

N. Node is in 18 Degrees Pisces.

You’re attracted to others who need your assistance. You seem to go out of your way to form relationships with those who are weak, sick, injured, addicted or troubled in some way or other. At your best you can indeed provide the relief that others need. But at times you can be victimized by those who would prey on your good nature and take advantage of you. This can lead to all sorts of negative situations — make sure that those you assist are truly worthy of your time, energy and commitment.

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A small bonus for you if you make it this far — and no, this is not going to become a habit again.

 

Dec 172013
 

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Today is the anniversary (1903) of the the Wright brothers, Orville (August 19, 1871 – January 30, 1948) and Wilbur (April 16, 1867 – May 30, 1912), making the first controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight. From 1905 to 1907, the brothers developed their flying machine into the first practical fixed-wing aircraft. Although not the first to build and fly experimental aircraft, the Wright brothers were the first to invent aircraft controls that made fixed-wing powered flight possible.

The brothers’ fundamental breakthrough was their invention of three-axis control, which enabled the pilot to steer the aircraft effectively and to maintain its equilibrium. This method became standard and remains standard on fixed-wing aircraft of all kinds. From the beginning of their aeronautical work, the Wright brothers focused on developing a reliable method of pilot control as the key to solving “the flying problem.” This approach differed significantly from other experimenters of the time who put more emphasis on developing powerful engines. Using a small homebuilt wind tunnel, the Wrights also collected more accurate data than any before, enabling them to design and build wings and propellers that were more efficient than any before. Their first U.S. patent, 821,393, did not claim invention of a flying machine, but rather, the invention of a system of aerodynamic control that manipulated a flying machine’s surfaces. They also experimented with kites using their controls for three years to master the art of piloting an aircraft. These experiments were all carried out in Kitty Hawk, N.C.

I feel a personal, though indirect, connexion with this event because in 1978 while doing my doctoral fieldwork in the region on a local fishing community I had many long interviews with Elijah Tate, son of “Capt.” Bill Tate who was the postmaster in Kitty Hawk in 1900 when the Wright Brothers first visited. In fact they stayed with the Tates that first year, and among other things used Elijah’s mother’s sewing machine to work on the fabric of the wings they were testing. When I interviewed Elijah (himself a former pilot), the sewing machine and other memorabilia were on display in cases in the living room.  You can read several of these interviews in my book Lord I’m Coming Home (Cornell UP 1988).

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Of course you can also read extensively about traditional cooking in the region as well.  When I was there (on Currituck Sound) it was both a base for commercial fishing – crab, eels, and a variety of fish – as well as sport fishing for largemouth bass.  In winter duck and goose hunting reigned.  Some days commercial fishermen would unload their catch and go right back out for fun.  Many are the times I sat roasting freshly caught mullet over a driftwood fire. But the region also has a strong basis in Southern cooking – church fried chicken suppers in the spring and heaping bowls of Brunswick stew in the fall for all comers, hazlitt stew in November, made from the organs of freshly slaughtered hogs, greasy greens, cornbread, hoppin’ john (rice and black-eyed peas), in fact the whole panoply of the dishes that mark the South.  My wife was from the South, so when we lived in New York I always knew she was pining for home when I would return to work to the smell of a pot of collards on the stove and a skillet of cornbread in the oven.

Here’s my recipe for hush puppies which can accompany just about any meal as a bread. They are basically the same dough used for cornbread, but deep fried rather than baked.  You can add a lot of fancy ingredients if you want, but these are traditional and I like them better than any others.

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© Hush Puppies

Ingredients:

1 ½ cups yellow cornmeal
½ cup all purpose flour
2 tsps baking powder
½  teaspoon salt
1 small onion, chopped fine
1 cup milk or buttermilk
1 egg, lightly beaten

Instructions:

Heat vegetable oil in a deep fryer to 350°F/175°C.

Mix the dry ingredients well in one bowl, and the milk and egg together in another. Then add the wet ingredients to the dry slowly.  You are aiming for a mix that is moist but not soggy.

Make balls of the batter using two tablespoons, and drop them a few at a time into the oil. Turn the hush puppies regularly to ensure they are evenly golden. When they are fully golden remove them with a slotted spoon and drain on wire racks. Cook only 2 or 3 at a time to ensure that the oil remains hot.