Jul 102017
 

Today is the birthday (1856) of Nikola Tesla (Никола Тесла) a Serbian inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, physicist, and futurist who was virtually unknown to the general public from the time of his death to the 1990s when he achieved a kind of semi-mythic status in the science fiction, comic book, and fantasy realms. Tesla is one of the numerous real scientists who worked for Thomas Edison who reaped both the credit and profit for things they invented. Tesla is now best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current (AC) electricity supply system although he made many other discoveries in, and improvements to, electrical systems.

Tesla was born and raised in the Austrian Empire to Serbian parents in what is now Croatia. He received an advanced education in engineering and physics in the 1870s and gained practical experience in the early 1880s working in telephony and at Continental Edison in the new electric power industry. He emigrated to the United States in 1884, and eventually became a naturalized citizen. He worked for a short time at the Edison Machine Works in New York City before he struck out on his own because of severe disagreements with Edison who continued to hold high hopes for the commercial possibilities of direct current even though Tesla’s alternating current was clearly superior for transmitting electricity over long distances. With the help of partners to finance and market his ideas, Tesla set up laboratories and companies in New York to develop a range of electrical and mechanical devices. His alternating current (AC) induction motor and related polyphase AC patents, licensed by Westinghouse Electric in 1888, and became the cornerstone of the polyphase system which Westinghouse marketed and is to this day the industry standard.

Tesla also conducted a range of experiments with mechanical oscillators/generators, electrical discharge tubes, and early X-ray imaging. Even though he was quite deliberately asocial (anti-social is too strong), Tesla became well known as an inventor and demonstrated his achievements to celebrities and wealthy patrons at his lab, and was noted for his showmanship at public lectures.

Throughout the 1890s Tesla pursued his ideas for wireless lighting and worldwide wireless electric power distribution in his high-voltage, high-frequency power experiments in New York and Colorado Springs. I’m a little surprised he didn’t electrocute himself along the way. In 1893, he made pronouncements on the possibility of wireless communication with his devices. Tesla tried to put these ideas to practical use in his unfinished Wardenclyffe Tower project, an intercontinental wireless communication and power transmitter, but ran out of funding before he could complete it.

After Wardenclyffe, Tesla went on to try and develop a series of inventions in the 1910s and 1920s with varying degrees of success. Having spent most of the money he earned from the AC patents, he lived in a series of New York hotels, leaving behind unpaid bills. The nature of his earlier work and the pronouncements he made to the press later in life earned him the reputation of an archetypal “mad scientist” in US popular culture. Tesla died in New York City in January 1943. His work fell into relative obscurity following his death, but in 1960, the General Conference on Weights and Measures named the SI unit of magnetic flux density the tesla in his honor.

I strongly urge you to look up more details about this man who was an intriguing personality. He stood 6’2” tall and weighed a scant 142 lbs all of his life: quite noticeably tall and thin for his era. He was also notably reclusive when not conducting experiments or giving public lectures. Here’s some of my favorite quotes from Tesla:

My brain is only a receiver, in the Universe there is a core from which we obtain knowledge, strength and inspiration. I have not penetrated into the secrets of this core, but I know that it exists.

Be alone, that is the secret of invention; be alone, that is when ideas are born.

The scientists of today think deeply instead of clearly. One must be sane to think clearly, but one can think deeply and be quite insane

The day science begins to study non-physical phenomena, it will make more progress in one decade than in all the previous centuries of its existence.

What we now want is closer contact and better understanding between individuals and communities all over the earth, and the elimination of egoism and pride which is always prone to plunge the world into primeval barbarism and strife… Peace can only come as a natural consequence of universal enlightenment.

I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success . . . Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything.

If you only knew the magnificence of the 3, 6 and 9, then you would have the key to the universe.

From childhood I was compelled to concentrate attention upon myself. This caused me much suffering, but to my present view, it was a blessing in disguise for it has taught me to appreciate the inestimable value of introspection in the preservation of life, as well as a means of achievement.

Tesla was Serbian although born in what is now Croatia. Serbs and Croats share many cultural similarities with minor differences, although it’s probably a good plan to keep this idea to yourself when traveling in the region. Serbian and Croatian languages, for example, are mutually intelligible, but Serbs use Cyrillic script and Croats use the Roman alphabet. Their cuisines are also quite similar although the Dalmatian coast of Croatia has a distinctive set of dishes relying on seafood. Both Serbs and Croats historically were fond of tripe, especially goat and lamb tripe, but these dishes are falling into disfavor nowadays. Oh well !!! Here’s a classic recipe found in both Serbia and Croatia.

Škembići

Ingredients

2 lbs cooked tripe cut in bite-sized pieces
1 lb onions, peeled and sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
vegetable oil for frying
ground black pepper
powdered red paprika
2 bay leaves
⅓ cup dry white wine
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tbsp vinegar

Instructions

Heat a little vegetable oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat and then sauté the onions, stirring frequently until they are a deep golden.

Place the tripe, onions, ground pepper to taste, bay leaves, paprika to taste, crushed garlic, and white wine in a saucepan and cook over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes.  At this point I like to let the pot rest and cool for several hours. It can also be refrigerated overnight to marry the flavors.

Reheat the pot when about ready to serve and add the tomato puree and vinegar towards the end, stirring well to combine thoroughly.

 

Mar 082017
 

Today’s post is unusual it that I was asked to write it, as opposed to coming up with the idea myself.  My former student, James Knight, asked me to celebrate Jan Potocki on his birthday, so here is my effort James. I will confess that I am mostly flying in the dark. At minimum I expect a comment in the comment section below !!

Count Jan Potocki, nascent ethnologist, traveler, Polish nobleman, captain of army engineers, Egyptologist, linguist, adventurer and popular author, was born on this date in 1761. Potocki is not exactly a household name outside of Poland.  If he is known at all it is chiefly for his novel, The Manuscript Found in Saragossa. A complex work that is somewhat comparable to Arabian Nights or Decameron. The book is unusual in that the original French version is lost and has had to be reconstructed by back translation from a Polish language translation made after his death.  Almost sounds like a Borges novel. In recent years the French edition has been supplemented by early drafts in French found in manuscript collections of his heirs. There are now two French versions because Potocki revised his ideas several times over the years that he was constructing the novel, hence the tone of the two versions is quite different.

Potocki was born into an aristocratic family, that owned vast estates across Poland. He was educated in Geneva and Lausanne, served twice in the Polish Army as a captain of engineers, and spent some time on a galley as novice to the Knights of Malta. He journeyed across Europe, Asia and North Africa, where he got involved in political intrigues, and secret societies, and contributed to the birth of ethnology with his travel diaries. He also investigated the precursors of the Slavic peoples from a linguistic and historical standpoint.

Potocki married twice and had five children. His first marriage ended in divorce, and both marriages were the subject of scandalous rumors. In 1812, disillusioned and in poor health, he retired to his estate at Uładówka in Podolia, suffering from “melancholia” (which today would probably be diagnosed as depression), and during the last few years of his life he completed his novel. Believing he was becoming a werewolf, Potocki committed suicide by fatally shooting himself with a silver bullet that he had blessed by his village priest in December 1815, at the age of 54.

The Manuscript Found in Saragossa is a collection of intertwining stories, set in whole or in part in Spain, with a large and colorful cast of gypsies, thieves, inquisitors, a cabbalist, a geometer, the cabbalist’s beautiful sister, two Moorish princesses (Emina and Zubeida) and others. The book’s outer frame tale is narrated by an unnamed French officer who describes his fortuitous discovery of an intriguing Spanish manuscript during the sack of Zaragoza in 1809, in the course of the Napoleonic Wars. Soon afterwards the French officer is captured by the Spanish and stripped of his possessions. But a Spanish officer recognizes the manuscript’s importance, and during the French officer’s captivity the Spaniard translates it for him into French. The manuscript has been written by a young officer of the Walloon Guard, Alphonse van Worden. In 1739, while en route to Madrid to serve with the Spanish Army, he is diverted into Spain’s rugged Sierra Morena region. There, over a period of sixty-six days, he encounters a varied group of characters who tell him an intertwining series of bizarre, amusing and fantastic tales which he records in his diary.

The bulk of the stories revolve around the gypsy chief Avadoro, whose story becomes a frame story itself. Eventually the narrative focus moves again toward van Worden’s frame story and a conspiracy involving an underground — or perhaps entirely hallucinated — Muslim society, revealing the connections and correspondences between the hundred or so stories told over the novel’s sixty-six days.

The stories cover a wide range of genres and subjects, including the gothic, the picaresque, the erotic, the historical, the moral and the philosophic; and as a whole, the novel reflects Potocki’s far-ranging interests, especially his deep fascination with secret societies, the supernatural and Oriental cultures. The novel’s stories-within-stories sometimes reach several levels of depth, and characters and themes — a few prominent themes being honor, disguise, metamorphosis and conspiracy — recur and change shape throughout.

The national dish of Poland is bigos and I gave a decent commentary and recipe here when celebrating another Pole with a French connexion: Marie Curie — http://www.bookofdaystales.com/marie-curie/  Another great Polish soup/stew is flaki or flaczky which gives me the opportunity to indulge my tripe obsession.  Modern Poles who don’t care for tripe substitute chicken or rabbit, which I consider intolerably craven.  The main seasoning is marjoram, which is an underused herb in most parts these days.  You really need to use it fresh for maximum flavor. It’s hard to find fresh in stores, but easy to grow.

 Flaki

Ingredients

1 lb parboiled tripe, cut into 1½-inch by ¼-inch pieces
1 meaty beef shank
1 stalk celery, chopped small
1 cup chopped leeks (white parts only)
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs of marjoram, leaves only
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 cups beef stock or use canned
½ teaspoon allspice
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp flour
1 tsp paprika

Instructions

In a heavy 8- to 10-quart soup pot place the tripe, beef shank, celery, leek, garlic, bay leaves, freshly ground black pepper to taste, beef stock, and water. Simmer partially covered for about 1 to 2 hours.  The time depends on how soft you want the tripe.

Remove the beef shank and chop the meat. Discard the bone and return the meat to the pot.

Add the marjoram, tomato paste, and salt to taste. Simmer for an additional ½ hour, covered.

Prepare a roux by melting the butter in a small frying pan and stirring in the flour and paprika. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the roux is light brown. Whisk the roux into the pot a small piece at a time and continue to simmer until the flaki thickens.

Serve in deep bowls with rye bread.

Nov 262016
 

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Today is the birthday (1909) of Eugène Ionesco (born Eugen Ionescu), a Romanian-French playwright who wrote mostly in French, and one of the foremost figures of the French Avant-garde theater. He is known primarily for his barbs against the absurdity and insignificance of human existence. Many sources cite his birth year as 1912, an error perpetrated by Ionesco himself, who wanted the year of his birth to coincide with that when his idol, Romanian playwright Caragiale, died.

He spent most of his childhood in France and, while there, had an experience he claimed affected his perception of the world more significantly than any other. Deborah B. Gaensbauer says in Eugène Ionesco Revisited, “Walking in summer sunshine in a white-washed provincial village under an intense blue sky, [Ionesco] was profoundly altered by the light.” He was struck very suddenly with a feeling of intense luminosity, the feeling of floating off the ground and an overwhelming feeling of well-being. When he “floated” back to the ground and the “light” left him, he saw that the real world in comparison was full of decay, corruption and meaningless repetitive action. This also coincided with his revelation that death takes everyone in the end. Much of his later work, reflecting this new perception, demonstrates a disgust for the tangible world, a distrust of communication, and the subtle sense that a better world lies just beyond our reach.

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He returned to Romania with his father and mother in 1925 after his parents divorced. There he attended Saint Sava National College, after which he studied French Literature at the University of Bucharest from 1928 to 1933 and qualified as a teacher of French. While there he met Emil Cioran and Mircea Eliade, and the three became lifelong friends. In 1936 Ionesco married Rodica Burileanu. Together they had one daughter for whom he wrote a number of unconventional children’s stories. He and his family returned to France in 1938 for him to complete his doctoral thesis. Caught by the outbreak of World War II in 1939, he returned to Romania, but soon changed his mind and, with the help of friends, obtained travel documents which allowed him to return to France in 1942, where he remained during the rest of the war, living in Marseilles before moving with his family to Paris after its liberation.

Ionesco died at age 84 on 28 March 1994 and is buried in the Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris. His tombstone reads:

Prier le Je Ne Sais Qui
J’espère : Jesus-Christ.

[Pray to the I don’t-know-who
I hope : Jesus Christ.]

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As I commonly do with writers, I’m going to give you a small section of quotes I like rather than give a formal analysis of Ionesco’s work:

It isn’t what people think that’s important, but the reason they think what they think.

Why do people always expect authors to answer questions? I am an author because I want to ask questions. If I had answers, I’d be a politician.

Ideologies separate us. Dreams and anguish bring us together.

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It’s not a certain society that seems ridiculous to me, it’s mankind.

God is dead. Marx is dead. And I don’t feel so well myself.

Everything that has been will be, everything that will be is, everything that will be has been.

The most implacable enemies of culture — Rimbaud, Lautréamont, dadaism, surrealism — end up being assimilated and absorbed by it. They all wanted to destroy culture, at least organized culture, and now they’re part of our heritage.

The more you make revolutions, the worse it gets.

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I am writing the memoirs of a man who has lost his memory.

There are more dead people than living. And their numbers are increasing. The living are getting rarer.

The fact that I despise religion doesn’t mean I don’t esteem it highly.

I’ll never waste my dreams by falling asleep. Never again.

There are many sides to reality. Choose the one that’s best for you.

I can easily picture the worst, because the worst can easily happen.

Although Ionesco is part of the French theater tradition he is decidedly Romanian, so a Romanian recipe is in order. Romanian cuisine is a diverse blend of several culinary traditions with which it has come into contact, but it also maintains its own character. It has been greatly influenced by Ottoman cuisine, while it also includes influences from the cuisines of other neighbors, including German, Serbian, Bulgarian, and Hungarian cuisine. The general category ciorbă includes a wide range of soups with a characteristic sour taste. These may be meat and vegetable soups, tripe and calf foot soups, or fish soups, all of which are soured by lemon juice, sauerkraut juice, vinegar, or borș (traditionally home made from fermented bran).

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Ciorbă de burtă is a very famous Romanian tripe soup, and since my apparent obsession with tripe seems absurd to most of my friends, a recipe for tripe soup seems suitable to honor Ionesco. The Romanian journalist Radu Anton Roman said about ciorbă de burtă: “This dish looks like it is made for drunk coachmen but it has the most sophisticated and pretentious mode of preparation in all Romanian cuisine. It’s sour and sweet, hot and velvety, fatty but delicate, eclectic and simple at the same time.”

Ciorbă de Burtă

Ingredients:

1 kg veal tripe
1 or 2 fresh beef bones with no meat
6-8 whole peppercorns
1 bay leaf
¼ cup grated carrots
vegetable oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
2 egg yolks
100 gm sour cream
salt and pepper
vinegar

Instructions

Put the tripe and beef bones in a saucepan with cold water to cover, and add the peppercorns and bay leaf. Bring slowly to a gentle simmer and cook covered for at least an hour, or until the tripe is cook but not slimy. Getting it just al dente takes experience. Strain and reserve the broth. Discard the bones, peppercorn and bay leaf.

Cut the tripe into strips about 3” long and ½” wide. Place the tripe and broth in a clean pot and gently reheat.

Sauté the carrots over medium heat in a little oil until soft and then add to the soup.

Mash the garlic with a small amount of oil (or water) and add to the soup. Add vinegar to taste. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed.

With the soup on a very gentle simmer, whisk the egg yolks with the sour cream.  Temper the cream by whisking in to it a ladle of hot broth. Then add the cream to the soup, whisking vigorously. Heat through, still whisking. ­

Serve with crusty bread.

Feb 212016
 

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International Mother Language Day (IMLD) (Bengali: আন্তর্জাতিক মাতৃভাষা দিবস Antôrjatik Matribhasha Dibôs) is a worldwide annual observance held on this date to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. First announced by UNESCO on 17 November 1999, it was formally recognized by the United Nations General Assembly in its resolution establishing 2008 as the International Year of Languages.

The date of International Mother Language Day corresponds to the day in 1952 when students from the University of Dhaka, Jagannath University and Dhaka Medical College, demonstrating for the recognition of Bangla (Bengali) as one of the two national languages of East Pakistan, were shot dead by police near the Dhaka High Court in the capital of present-day Bangladesh. (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/bangladesh-independence/ )

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“Mother language” is the English calque (loan translation) of a term used in several Romance languages: lengua materna (Spanish), lingua madre (Italian) and langue maternelle (French). A more fluent English translation would be “mother tongue,” although “native language” is the more common term in English. In historical linguistics, the English term “mother language” refers to an ancestral (or proto-language) of a language family. Calque is a loanword from a French noun, and derives from the verb calquer (to trace, to copy). The word “loanword” is a calque of the German word Lehnwort, just as “loan translation” is a calque of Lehnübersetzung. A calque is a word or phrase borrowed from another language by literal, word-for-word or root-for-root translation.

International Mother Language Day was proclaimed by the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in November 1999 (30C/62). On 16 May 2009 the United Nations General Assembly, in its resolution A/RES/61/266, called on its member states “to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by people of the world.” In the resolution, the General Assembly proclaimed 2008 as the International Year of Languages to promote unity in diversity and international understanding through multilingualism and multiculturalism. The UN made the following declaration:

Languages are the most powerful instruments of preserving and developing our tangible and intangible heritage. All moves to promote the dissemination of mother tongues will serve not only to encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education but also to develop fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions throughout the world and to inspire solidarity based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue.

As an anthropologist, world traveler, and teacher of English as a foreign language, this is a subject dear to my heart. Language is the soul of a culture. When a language dies, a whole culture dies with it. How many languages in history have been lost to hegemony and imperialism? I’ve mentioned many here in my posts, such as Cornish and Norn. There are obvious instances where you want everyone speaking the same language. When I’m flying I want the pilot, other pilots in the vicinity, and people in the control tower to be speaking the same language. But such instances are very rare, and only come about because of modern technology. For the most part we should celebrate and encourage diversity and multiculturalism, not attempt to destroy it by homogenizing the world.

There is no doubt that monolingualism has its conveniences for a country. It’s cheaper and simpler to print official documents, conduct business etc. in one language, but this convenience comes at a heavy cost. If you look at the natural world you see that vigor and adaptability derive from diversity. A species may thrive in one environment, but if it lacks genetic diversity it will die out when the environment changes. Cultural diversity is just as, if not more, important.

Promoting the language of the dominant culture to the exclusion of all others has for centuries been a form of social control. The English outlawed Irish in Ireland. The Chinese are currently mandating Mandarin in Hong Kong schools and discouraging Cantonese. Stalin insisted on Russian being spoken throughout the Soviet Union. And so it goes . . . On occasion the “English only” drumbeat sounds loudly in the United States, even though the peoples who speak Cherokee, Keresan, Hopi, and even Spanish, have occupied parts of the national territory a lot longer than native English speakers.

mld3

Once I attended a cultural event at a football stadium in Yoshkar-Ola, the administrative capital of Mari El, an autonomous republic of the Russian Federation. The event was conducted in Mari only and was seen as a deep threat to the Russian dominated government. The stadium was ringed by Russian soldiers with tanks and automatic rifles, and a banner hung over the stadium proclaiming in Russian, “A united Russia is a strong Russia.” All that the people inside were doing was talking, cracking jokes, and singing in Mari. There were no political speeches or the like. Yet the Russian government was afraid.

I know all too well what it’s like to live in a country where I cannot speak the language and be surrounded by incomprehensible sounds. I’m doing it right now. All I can say to the fearful is “get over it.” The world is a breathtaking kaleidoscope. Don’t contribute to its destruction.

Not only do I try to speak local languages as best I can, I also love to cook and eat local foods. My first “recipe” suggestion would be to go out and eat at a restaurant from an unfamiliar culture. Meanwhile here’s a gallery of pictures from a lecture I gave in China called “Strange Foods.” You’ll see a few familiar friends such as tripe and haggis, and a few not so familiar such as bat soup and chocolate covered spiders – not to mention a range of foods from the insect world including eggs and larvae. My point is that someone, somewhere in the world laps these things up. When I came to the picture of dragonfly soup in my lecture, one person in the class said “my family eats that”!! This same person was disgusted by cheese – who wants to eat rotten milk? Maybe I’ll run out now to the local market to get some horse meat for Sunday lunch.

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Tamasin Day Lewis. Cork English Market. Stephen O'Reily's Tripe & Drisheen stall, Honeycombe tripe.

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Nov 182015
 

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Certainly not by coincidence, on this date in 326 the old St Peter’s Basilica in Rome was consecrated, and 1300 years later, in 1626 the “new” St Peter’s Basilica was consecrated. The latter is still in use, and is one of the most prominent buildings in Rome.

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Old St. Peter’s Basilica was the building that stood, from the 4th to 16th centuries, on the spot where the new St. Peter’s Basilica stands today in Vatican City. Construction of the basilica, built over the historical site of the Circus of Nero, began during the reign of Emperor Constantine I. The name “old St. Peter’s Basilica” has been used since the construction of the current basilica to distinguish the two buildings.

Construction began by order of the Roman Emperor Constantine I between 318 and 322, and took about 30 years to complete. Over the next twelve centuries, the church gradually gained importance, eventually becoming a major place of pilgrimage in Rome. Papal coronations were held at the basilica, and in 800, Charlemagne was crowned emperor of the Holy Roman Empire there. In 846, Saracens sacked and damaged the basilica. The raiders seem to have known about Rome’s extraordinary treasures. Some impressive basilicas, such as St. Peter’s, were outside the Aurelian walls, and thus easy targets. They were “filled to overflowing with rich liturgical vessels and with jeweled reliquaries housing all of the relics recently amassed”. As a result, the raiders pillaged the shrine. In response Pope Leo IV built the Leonine wall and rebuilt the parts of St. Peter’s that had been damaged. In 1099, Urban II convened a council including St Anselm. Among other topics, it repeated the bans on lay investiture and on clergy’s paying homage to secular lords (laying the seeds of the Protestant Reformation).

spb15

By the 15th century the church was falling into ruin. Discussions on repairing parts of the structure commenced upon the pope’s return from Avignon. Two people involved in this reconstruction were Leon Battista Alberti and Bernardo Rossellino, who improved the apse and partially added a multi-story benediction loggia to the atrium facade, on which construction continued intermittently until the new basilica was begun. Alberti pronounced the basilica a structural abomination:

I have noticed in the basilica of St. Peter’s in Rome a crass feature: an extremely long and high wall has been constructed over a continuous series of openings, with no curves to give it strength, and no buttresses to lend it support… The whole stretch of wall has been pierced by too many openings and built too high… As a result, the continual force of the wind has already displaced the wall more than six feet (1.8 m) from the vertical; I have no doubt that eventually some… slight movement will make it collapse…

At first Pope Julius II had every intention of preserving the old building, but his attention soon turned toward tearing it down and building a new structure. Many people of the time were shocked by the proposal, as the building represented papal continuity going back to Peter. The original altar was to be preserved in the new structure that housed it.

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The design was a typical basilica form with the plan and elevation resembling those of Roman basilicas and audience halls, such as the Basilica Ulpia in Trajan’s Forum and Constantine’s own Aula Palatina at Trier, rather than the design of any Greco-Roman temple. Constantine went to great pains to build the basilica on the supposed site of Saint Peter’s grave, and this fact influenced the layout of the building. The Vatican Hill, on the west bank of the Tiber River, was leveled. Notably, since the site was outside the boundaries of the ancient city, the apse with the altar was located in the west so that the basilica’s façade could be approached from Rome itself to the east. The exterior however, unlike earlier pagan temples, was not lavishly decorated.

The church was capable of housing from 3,000 to 4,000 worshipers at one time. It consisted of five aisles, a wide central nave and two smaller aisles to each side, which were each divided by 21 marble columns, taken from earlier pagan buildings. It was over 350 feet (110 m) long, built in the shape of a Latin cross, and had a gabled roof which was timbered on the interior and which stood at over 100 feet (30 m) at the center. An atrium, known as the “Garden of Paradise”, stood at the entrance and had five doors which led to the body of the church; this was a 6th-century addition.

spb14

The altar of Old St. Peter’s Basilica used several Solomonic columns. According to tradition, Constantine took these columns from the Temple of Solomon and gave them to the church; however, the columns were probably from an Eastern church. When Gian Lorenzo Bernini built his baldacchino to cover the new St. Peter’s altar, he drew from the twisted design of the old columns. Eight of the original columns were moved to the piers of the new St. Peter’s.

spb17

The great Navicella mosaic (1305-1313) in the atrium is attributed to Giotto di Bondone. The giant mosaic, commissioned by Cardinal Jacopo Stefaneschi, occupied the whole wall above the entrance arcade facing the courtyard. It depicted “St. Peter walking on the waters. This extraordinary work was mainly destroyed during the construction of the new St. Peter’s in the 16th century, but fragments were preserved. Navicella means “little ship” referring to the large boat which dominated the scene, and whose sail, filled by the storm, loomed over the horizon. Such a natural representation of a seascape was known only from ancient works of art.

The nave ended with an arch, which held a mosaic of Constantine and Saint Peter, who presented a model of the church to Christ. On the walls, each having 11 windows, were frescoes of various people and scenes from both the Old and New Testament.

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The fragment of an eighth-century mosaic, the Epiphany, is one of the very rare remaining bits of the medieval decoration of Old St. Peter’s Basilica. The precious fragment is kept in the sacristy of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. It proves the high artistic quality of the destroyed mosaics. Another one, a standing Madonna, is on a side altar in the Basilica of San Marco in Florence.

By the end of the 15th century, having been neglected during the period of the Avignon Papacy, the old basilica was in bad repair. It appears that the first pope to consider rebuilding, or at least making radical changes was Pope Nicholas V (1447–55). He commissioned work on the old building from Leone Battista Alberti and Bernardo Rossellino and also had Rossellino design a plan for an entirely new basilica, or an extreme modification of the old. His reign was frustrated by political problems and when he died, little had been achieved. He had, however, ordered the demolition of the Colosseum and by the time of his death, 2,522 cartloads of stone had been transported for use in the new building. The foundations were completed for a new transept and choir to form a domed Latin cross with the preserved nave and side aisles of the old basilica. Some walls for the choir had also been built.

Pope Julius II planned far more for St Peter’s than Nicholas V’s program of repair or modification. Julius was at that time planning his own tomb, which was to be designed and adorned with sculpture by Michelangelo and placed within St Peter’s. In 1505 Julius made a decision to demolish the ancient basilica and replace it with a monumental structure to house his enormous tomb and “aggrandize himself in the popular imagination”. A competition was held, and a number of the designs have survived at the Uffizi Gallery. A succession of popes and architects followed in the next 120 years, their combined efforts resulting in the present building. The scheme begun by Julius II continued through the reigns of 20 popes.

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Pope Julius’ scheme for the grandest building in Christendom was the subject of a competition for which a number of entries remain intact in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence. It was the design of Donato Bramante that was selected, and for which the foundation stone was laid in 1506. This plan was in the form of an enormous Greek Cross with a dome inspired by that of the huge circular Roman temple, the Pantheon. The main difference between Bramante’s design and that of the Pantheon is that where the dome of the Pantheon is supported by a continuous wall, that of the new basilica was to be supported only on four large piers. This feature was maintained in the ultimate design. Bramante’s dome was to be surmounted by a lantern with its own small dome but otherwise very similar in form to the Early Renaissance lantern of Florence Cathedral designed for Brunelleschi’s dome by Michelozzo.

Bramante had envisioned that the central dome be surrounded by four lower domes at the diagonal axes. The equal chancel, nave and transept arms were each to be of two bays ending in an apse. At each corner of the building was to stand a tower, so that the overall plan was square, with the apses projecting at the cardinal points. Each apse had two large radial buttresses, which squared off its semi-circular shape.

When Pope Julius died in 1513, Bramante was replaced with Giuliano da Sangallo, Fra Giocondo and Raphael. Sangallo and Fra Giocondo both died in 1515, Bramante himself having died the previous year. The main change in Raphael’s plan is the nave of five bays, with a row of complex apsidal chapels off the aisles on either side. Raphael’s plan for the chancel and transepts made the squareness of the exterior walls more definite by reducing the size of the towers, and the semi-circular apses more clearly defined by encircling each with an ambulatory.

In 1520 Raphael also died, aged 37, and his successor Baldassare Peruzzi maintained changes that Raphael had proposed to the internal arrangement of the three main apses, but otherwise reverted to the Greek Cross plan and other features of Bramante.This plan did not go ahead because of various difficulties of both Church and state. In 1527 Rome was sacked and plundered by Emperor Charles V. Peruzzi died in 1536 without his plan being realized.

At this point Antonio da Sangallo the Younger submitted a plan which combines features of Peruzzi, Raphael and Bramante in its design and extends the building into a short nave with a wide façade and portico of dynamic projection. His proposal for the dome was much more elaborate of both structure and decoration than that of Bramante and included ribs on the exterior. Like Bramante, Sangallo proposed that the dome be surmounted by a lantern which he redesigned to a larger and much more elaborate form. Sangallo’s main practical contribution was to strengthen Bramante’s piers which had begun to crack.

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On 1 January 1547 in the reign of Pope Paul III, Michelangelo, then in his seventies, succeeded Sangallo the Younger as “Capomaestro”, the superintendent of the building program at St Peter’s. He is to be regarded as the principal designer of a large part of the building as it stands today, and as bringing the construction to a point where it could be carried through. He did not take on the job with pleasure; it was forced upon him by Pope Paul, frustrated at the death of his chosen candidate, Giulio Romano and the refusal of Jacopo Sansovino to leave Venice. Michelangelo wrote “I undertake this only for the love of God and in honor of the Apostle.” He insisted that he should be given a free hand to achieve the ultimate aim by whatever means he saw fit.

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Michelangelo took over a building site at which four piers, enormous beyond any constructed since ancient Roman times, were rising behind the remaining nave of the old basilica. He also inherited the numerous schemes designed and redesigned by some of the greatest architectural and engineering minds of the 16th century. There were certain common elements in these schemes. They all called for a dome to equal that engineered by Brunelleschi a century earlier and which has since dominated the skyline of Renaissance Florence, and they all called for a strongly symmetrical plan of either Greek Cross form, like the iconic St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, or of a Latin Cross with the transepts of identical form to the chancel, as at Florence Cathedral.

Even though the work had progressed only a little in 40 years, Michelangelo did not simply dismiss the ideas of the previous architects. He drew on them in developing a grand vision. Above all, Michelangelo recognized the essential quality of Bramante’s original design. He reverted to the Greek Cross and, as Helen Gardner expresses it: “Without destroying the centralizing features of Bramante’s plan, Michelangelo, with a few strokes of the pen converted its snowflake complexity into massive, cohesive unity.”

As it stands today, St. Peter’s has been extended with a nave by Carlo Maderno. It is the chancel end (the ecclesiastical “Eastern end”) with its huge centrally placed dome that is the work of Michelangelo. Because of its location within the Vatican State and because the projection of the nave screens the dome from sight when the building is approached from the square in front of it, the work of Michelangelo is best appreciated from a distance. What becomes apparent is that the architect has greatly reduced the clearly defined geometric forms of Bramante’s plan of a square with square projections, and also of Raphael’s plan of a square with semi-circular projections. Michelangelo has blurred the definition of the geometry by making the external masonry of massive proportions and filling in every corner with a small vestry or stairwell. The effect created is of a continuous wall-surface that is folded or fractured at different angles, but lacks the right-angles which usually define change of direction at the corners of a building. This exterior is surrounded by a giant order of Corinthian pilasters all set at slightly different angles to each other, in keeping with the ever-changing angles of the wall’s surface. Above them the huge cornice ripples in a continuous band, giving the appearance of keeping the whole building in a state of compression.

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The dome of St. Peter’s rises to a total height of 136.57 m (448.1 ft) from the floor of the basilica to the top of the external cross. It is the tallest dome in the world. Its internal diameter is 41.47 m (136.1 ft), slightly smaller than two of the three other huge domes that preceded it, those of the Pantheon of Ancient Rome, 43.3 m (142 ft), and Florence Cathedral of the Early Renaissance, 44 m (144 ft). It has a greater diameter by approximately 30 feet (9.1 m) than Constantinople’s Hagia Sophia church, completed in 537. It was to the domes of the Pantheon and Florence duomo that the architects of St. Peter’s looked for solutions as to how to go about building what was conceived, from the outset, as the greatest dome of Christendom.

Michelangelo redesigned the dome in 1547, taking into account all that had gone before. His dome, like that of Florence, is constructed of two shells of brick, the outer one having 16 stone ribs, twice the number at Florence but far fewer than in Sangallo’s design. As with the designs of Bramante and Sangallo, the dome is raised from the piers on a drum. The encircling peristyle of Bramante and the arcade of Sangallo are reduced to 16 pairs of Corinthian columns, each of 15 metres (49 ft) high which stand proud of the building, connected by an arch. Visually they appear to buttress each of the ribs, but structurally they are probably quite redundant. The reason for this is that the dome is ovoid in shape, rising steeply as does the dome of Florence Cathedral, and therefore exerting less outward thrust than does a hemispherical dome, such as that of the Pantheon, which, although it is not buttressed, is countered by the downward thrust of heavy masonry which extends above the circling wall.

Giacomo della Porta and Domenico Fontana brought the dome to completion in 1590, the last year of the reign of Sixtus V. His successor, Gregory XIV, saw Fontana complete the lantern and had an inscription to the honor of Sixtus V placed around its inner opening. The next pope, Clement VIII, had the cross raised into place, an event which took all day, and was accompanied by the ringing of the bells of all the city’s churches.

TV ES PETRVS ET SVPER HANC PETRAM AEDIFICABO ECCLESIAM MEAM. TIBI DABO CLAVES REGNI CAELORVM

(…you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church. … I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven… Vulgate, Matthew 16:18–19.)

Beneath the lantern is the inscription:

  1. PETRI GLORIAE SIXTVS PP. V. A. M. D. XC. PONTIF. V.

(To the glory of St Peter; Sixtus V, pope, in the year 1590, the fifth of his pontificate.)

On 18 February 1606, under Pope Paul V, the dismantling of the remaining parts of the Constantinian basilica began. The marble cross that had been set at the top of the pediment by Pope Sylvester and Constantine the Great was lowered to the ground. The timbers were salvaged for the roof of the Borghese Palace and two rare black marble columns, the largest of their kind, were carefully stored and later used in the narthex. The tombs of various popes were opened, treasures removed and plans made for reinterment in the new basilica.

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Another influence on the thinking of both the Fabbrica (construction committee) and the Curia was a certain guilt at the demolition of the ancient building. The ground on which it and its various associated chapels, vestries and sacristies had stood for so long was hallowed. The only solution was to build a nave that encompassed the whole space. In 1607 a committee of ten architects was called together, and a decision was made to extend Michelangelo’s building into a nave. Maderno’s plans for both the nave and the façade were accepted. The building began on 7 May 1607, and proceeded at a great rate, with an army of 700 laborers being employed. The following year, the façade was begun, in December 1614 the final touches were added to the stucco decoration of the vault and early in 1615 the partition wall between the two sections was pulled down. All the rubble was carted away, and the nave was ready for use by Palm Sunday.

The façade designed by Maderno, is 114.69 m (376.3 ft) wide and 45.55 m (149.4 ft) high and is built of travertine stone, with a giant order of Corinthian columns and a central pediment rising in front of a tall attic surmounted by thirteen statues: Christ flanked by eleven of the Apostles (except Peter, whose statue is left of the stairs) and John the Baptist.

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The façade is often cited as the least satisfactory part of the design of St. Peter’s. The reasons for this, according to James Lees-Milne, are that it was not given enough consideration by the Pope and committee because of the desire to get the building completed quickly, coupled with the fact that Maderno was hesitant to deviate from the pattern set by Michelangelo at the other end of the building. Lees-Milne describes the problems of the façade as being too broad for its height, too cramped in its details and too heavy in the attic storey. The breadth is caused by modifying the plan to have towers on either side. These towers were never executed above the line of the façade because it was discovered that the ground was not sufficiently stable to bear the weight. One effect of the façade and lengthened nave is to screen the view of the dome, so that the building, from the front, has no vertical feature, except from a distance.

At length, on 18 November 1626 Pope Urban VIII solemnly dedicated the Basilica. St. Peter’s Basilica is neither the Pope’s official seat nor first in rank among the major basilicas of Rome. This honor is held by the Pope’s cathedral, the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran which is the mother church of all churches in communion with the Catholic Church. However, St. Peter’s is certainly the Pope’s principal church in terms of use because most Papal liturgies and ceremonies take place there due to its size, proximity to the papal residence, and location within the Vatican City proper. The “Chair of Saint Peter”, or cathedra, an ancient chair sometimes presumed to have been used by St. Peter himself, but which was a gift from Charles the Bald and used by many popes, symbolizes the supposed line of apostolic succession from St. Peter to the reigning pope. It occupies an elevated position in the apse of the Basilica, supported symbolically by the Doctors of the Church.

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I visited St Peter’s Basilica about 9 years ago with my son as part of a university summer session on Italian language and culture that I was teaching in. We had journeyed over Italy from Florence to Sicily, ending in Rome for a few days as the capstone. On the day that my son and I visited St Peter’s we found a little family-run restaurant for a late dinner down a back alley that was, unfortunately, in the process of closing for the night. We appealed to the owner to stay open and he told us that he would if we would eat all that he had left – trippa alla Romana !!! Sold. It was brilliant to eat one of the great dishes of Rome on that day of all days.

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Tripe in the style of Rome differs very little from tripe served all over Italy. Basically it is cooked tripe bathed in tomato sauce. What makes it stand out is the addition of chick peas (I can live without them), and the addition towards the end of cooking of a mountain of shredded fresh mint. If you are a cook of any sort you can figure out how to do this without a recipe. If you really need help, here’s an excellent video.

Oct 252015
 

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On this date in 1979 the Gernika Statute, which was approved by a majority in a referendum, made the Basque region of NW Spain autonomous. Nowadays it is one of the most decentralized regions in the world; in this regard it has been described as having “more autonomy than just about any other in Europe” by The Economist. The forerunner of the Gernika Statute was the short-lived Statute of Autonomy for Álava, Gipuzkoa and Biscay, which came to be enforced in October 1936 just in Biscay, with the Spanish Civil War already raging, and which was automatically abolished when the Spanish Nationalist troops occupied the territory. Before the Spanish Constitution of 1978 and its system of autonomous communities, these three provinces were known in Spanish as the Provincias Vascongadas since 1833. The political structure of the new autonomous community is defined in the Gernika Statute.

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Concerning the limits of the Spanish Constitution, Basque nationalists cite the fact that in the 1978 Spanish Constitution referendum, which was passed with a majority of votes and a poor turnout in this area, the Basque Country had the highest rate of abstention (the Basque Nationalist Party had endorsed abstention on the grounds that the Constitution was being forced upon them without any Basque input). To this, the “NO” vote in this referendum was also higher in the Basque Country than in the rest of the state. All in all, many Basques believe that they are not bound to a constitution that they never endorsed.

The Statute of Autonomy of the Basque Country is an organic law, but powers have been devolving gradually over decades based on re-negotiations between the Spanish and the Basque regional governments to reach an effective implementation, while the transfer of many powers are still forthcoming, a matter of heated political discussion. Basque nationalists often attribute this limitation in the devolution of powers to concessions made to appease the military involved in the 23-F coup d’état attempt (1981).

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The statute was meant to encompass all the historical provinces inhabited by the Basque people in Spain, who had demonstrated a strong will for the acknowledgement of a separate Basque identity and status, even in non Basque nationalist circles. However, the statute’s original blueprint came up against strong opposition in Navarre (Unión del Pueblo Navarro party founded) and rightist and nationalist circles of the still Francoist central administration. At the beginning of the 1980s the Spanish Socialist party and their regional branch too swerved to a Navarre-only stance, paving the way to a separate autonomous community.

However, the Statute of Autonomy of the Basque Country retained in its wording the spirit of the original blueprint, namely allowing the necessary means for the development in liberty of the Basque people, while now limited only to the western Álava, Gipuzkoa and Biscay provinces. The possibility of Navarre joining in is anyway emphasized and provisioned for, insomuch as they are identified as Basque people, should that be their will.

It established a system of parliamentary government, in which the president (chief of government) or lehendakari is elected by the Basque Autonomous Parliament among its members. Election of the Parliament is by universal suffrage and parliament consists of 75 deputies, 25 from each of the three Historic Territories of the community. The parliament is vested with powers over a broad variety of areas, including agriculture, industry; from culture, arts and libraries, to tax collection, policing, and transportation. Basque (as a right) and Spanish (as a right and duty) are official languages.

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The equal representation of the provinces regardless of actual population was a wink to Alava and Navarre, the least populated and least prone to Basque nationalism of the provinces. However the Navarrese society seems content with its current Amejoramiento del Fuero’

Up to early 19th century, the Basque districts maintained a great degree of self-government under their charters (they came to be known as the Exempt Provinces), i.e. they held a different status from other areas within the Crown of Castile/Spain, involving taxes and customs, separate military conscription, etc.), operating almost autonomously.

After the First Carlist War (1833-1839), home rule was abolished and substituted by the Compromise Act (Ley Paccionada) in Navarre (1841) and a diminished chartered regime in the three western provinces (up to 1876). After the definite abolition of the Charters (end of Third Carlist War), former laws and customs were largely absorbed into Spanish centralist rule with little regard for regional idiosyncrasies. As a result, attempts were made by Carlists, Basque nationalists and some liberal forces in the Basque region of Spain to establish a collaboration among them and restore some kind of self-empowerment (“autonomy”), while the Catalans developed their own Catalan Commonwealth.

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Attempts at a unified Basque statute including Navarre were repeatedly postponed until the occasion seemed to have arrived at the onset of the Second Spanish Republic with an statute for the four Basque provinces. A draft Basque Statute was approved by all four provinces (1931), but Carlists were divided, and the 1931 draft Statute of Estella did not achieve enough support, against a backdrop of heated controversy over the validity of the votes, as well as allegations of strong pressures on local representatives to tip the scale against the unitarian option (Assembly of Pamplona, 1932).

Following the works started for the Basque Statute, another proposal was eventually approved by the government of the Spanish Republic, already awash in the Civil War, this time only including the provinces of Gipuzkoa, Biscay and Álava. Its effectivity was limited to the Republic-controlled areas of Biscay and a fringe of Gipuzkoa.

After the surrendering of the Basque Army in 1937, the statute was abolished. However, Francisco Franco allowed the continuation of a limited self-government for Alava and Navarre, thanking their support for the Spanish Nationalist uprising.

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Basque autonomy represents a microcosm of the struggles of ethnic groups within Europe. I have written many times here about this situation. For centuries Europe was, and is, torn by opposing ideologies. On the one hand, states and empires sought hegemonic control over large territories that encompassed a range of ethnic and linguistic minorities. Even now there is no state within Europe that is unicultural, although a few come close. Some are inherently pluralistic without even considering recent waves of immigrants. Spain is a classic example. It was originally manufactured out of individual kingdoms whose languages and cultures are quite distinct. Spanish language differences are bad enough – the dialects are much more diverse within Spain than between other Spanish dialects worldwide. Though I speak Argentine Spanish, I can understand Chileans, Filipinos, Peruvians, etc. easily enough, but I have no hope with Catalonians or Galicians. Add Basque to the mix. It is a language isolate, totally unrelated to Indo-European languages, or any other language family for that matter.

On the other hand, these individual cultural and linguistic groups have sought independence from state and imperial hegemonic power. The European Union is merely the latest in a series of unifying powers aimed at bringing a vast region under one government (sort of). Counter to this are Basques, Scots, etc. who want autonomy and self identity. Not everyone is happy with the situation, but the creation of an autonomous Basque Country within both Spain and Europe seems to be a reasonable model.

The Basques may have more recipes for variety meats than any other culture. They delight in tripe, sweetbreads, heart, oxtail, tongue — you name it. This derives from their traditional occupation as shepherds in the high Pyrenees (and subsequently in the American West). As is true of so many peasant cultures of Europe, the herders raised the animals and sold the fine muscle meats, but got to keep the less desirable organ and scrap meats for themselves. Yet, a cuisine born of necessity can, nonetheless, produce magnificent dishes. Many fine Basque stews like this one have a base of tomatoes, onions, and green peppers. The sauce is reminiscent of the taste of gazpacho, tangy with the olive oil and peppers, so be sure to use the most flavorful olive oil you can find. I cook this stew over two days, simmering the tripe on the first day, and adding the vegetables on the second. Like many stews of this type, the preparation is rather simple. The key to success is long, long, slow cooking. This dish is best served with plain boiled rice and a big loaf of crusty bread.

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Basque Stewed Tripe

Ingredients

3 lbs honeycomb tripe
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion diced
1 green pepper diced
2 tablespoons garlic finely chopped
1/4 cup of finely chopped green chiles
1lb fresh or canned (drained) sauce tomatoes peeled and chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
beef stock

Instructions

Simmer the tripe in rich beef stock for about 1 hour, or until it is fork tender but not soft, and then let it cool in the broth (preferably in the refrigerator overnight). Remove the tripe from the broth and cut it into bite size hunks. Skim the fat from the broth and return it to the heat to warm through. Gently heat the olive oil in a large skillet or heavy bottomed saucepan capable of accommodating all the stew ingredients comfortably.   Sauté the green pepper and onions in the oil until they are soft. Add the tomatoes, green chiles, parsley, and garlic and continue to sauté gently for 5 minutes. Add three cups of the warmed broth and the tripe, and simmer very slowly, uncovered, for one hour. The sauce will thicken considerably in this time. There is no harm in extra cooking if the sauce appears too thin. Essentially, the longer the cooking the better (if the sauce gets too thick add a little more broth).

Serves 6

 

Oct 142015
 

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Today is the birthday (1894) of Edward Estlin Cummings, usually going by his middle name, Estlin, but quite often referred to in lowercase letters without punctuation as e e cummings. This usage mimics the style of his poetry, but was mostly something others did. The use of lowercase for his initials was popularized in part by the title of some books, particularly in the 1960s, printing his name in lower case on the cover and spine. In the preface to E. E. Cummings: The Growth of a Writer by Norman Friedman, critic Harry T. Moore notes, “He [Cummings] had his name put legally into lower case, and in his later books the titles and his name were always in lower case.” According to Cummings’s widow, however, this is incorrect. She wrote to Friedman: “You should not have allowed H. Moore to make such a stupid & childish statement about Cummings & his signature.” On February 27, 1951, Cummings wrote to his French translator D. Jon Grossman that he preferred the use of upper case for the particular edition they were working on. Cummings himself occasionally used lower case initials when he signed, but normally he used upper case.

Cummings was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His father was a professor at Harvard University and later the nationally known minister of Old South Church in Boston, Massachusetts. He exhibited transcendental leanings his entire life. As he grew older, Cummings moved more toward an “I, Thou” relationship with God. His journals are replete with references to “le bon Dieu,” as well as prayers for inspiration in his poetry and artwork (such as “Bon Dieu! may I some day do something truly great. amen.”). Cummings “also prayed for strength to be his essential self (‘may I be I is the only prayer—not may I be great or good or beautiful or wise or strong’), and for relief of spirit in times of depression (‘almighty God! I thank thee for my soul; & may I never die spiritually into a mere mind through disease of loneliness’).”

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Cummings wanted to be a poet from childhood and wrote poetry daily from 8, exploring assorted forms. He went to Harvard and developed an interest in modern poetry which ignored conventional grammar and syntax, aiming for a dynamic use of language. Upon graduating, he worked for a book dealer.

In 1917, with the First World War ongoing in Europe, Cummings enlisted in the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps, along with his college friend John Dos Passos. Due to an administrative mix-up, Cummings was not assigned to an ambulance unit for five weeks, during which time he stayed in Paris. He fell in love with the city, to which he would return throughout his life. During their service in the ambulance corps, they sent letters home that drew the attention of the military censors, and were known to prefer the company of French soldiers over fellow ambulance drivers. The two openly expressed anti-war views; Cummings spoke of his lack of hatred for the Germans. On September 21, 1917, just five months after his belated assignment, he and a friend, William Slater Brown, were arrested by the French military on suspicion of espionage and undesirable activities. They were held for 3½ months in a military detention camp at the Dépôt de Triage, in La Ferté-Macé, Orne, Normandy.

They were imprisoned with other detainees in a large room. Cummings’ father failed to obtain his son’s release through diplomatic channels and in December 1917 wrote a letter to President Wilson. Cummings was released on December 19, 1917, and Brown was released two months later. Cummings used his prison experience as the basis for his novel, The Enormous Room (1922), about which F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “Of all the work by young men who have sprung up since 1920 one book survives—The Enormous Room by e e cummings… Those few who cause books to live have not been able to endure the thought of its mortality.”

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Cummings returned to the United States on New Year’s Day 1918. Later in 1918 he was drafted into the army. He served in the 12th Division at Camp Devens, Massachusetts, until November 1918. Cummings returned to Paris in 1921 and remained there for two years before returning to New York. His collection Tulips and Chimneys came in 1923 and his inventive use of grammar and syntax is evident. The book was heavily cut by his editor. XLI Poems, was then published in 1925. With these collections Cummings made his reputation as an avant garde poet.

During the rest of the 1920s and 1930s Cummings returned to Paris a number of times, and traveled throughout Europe, meeting, among others, Pablo Picasso. In 1931 Cummings traveled to the Soviet Union, recounting his experiences in Eimi, published two years later. During these years Cummings also traveled to Northern Africa and Mexico and worked as an essayist and portrait artist for Vanity Fair magazine (1924–1927).

In the 1930s Samuel Aiwaz Jacobs was Cummings’ publisher; he had started the Golden Eagle Press after working as a typographer and publisher. In 1952, his alma mater, Harvard University awarded Cummings an honorary chair as a guest professor. The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures he gave in 1952 and 1955 were later collected as i: six nonlectures.

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Cummings spent the last decade of his life traveling, fulfilling speaking engagements, and spending time at his summer home, Joy Farm, in Silver Lake, New Hampshire. He died of a stroke on September 3, 1962, at the age of 67 in North Conway, New Hampshire at the Memorial Hospital. His cremated remains were buried in Lot 748 Althaeas Path, in Section 6, Forest Hills Cemetery and Crematory in Boston. In 1969, his third wife, model and photographer Marion Morehouse Cummings, died and was buried in an adjoining plot.

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I’ve been a huge fan of Cummings’ poetry since the age of 15 when my English teacher, John Pearce, who was enormously influential on me (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/world-teachers-day/ ), introduced my class to “anyone lived in a pretty how town.” I can’t honestly say I grasped much about the poem then, but it sowed a seed. For many years I kept a complete anthology of his poems on my nightstand, and frequently dipped into it for old favorites or new finds. His style, marked by a disregard for grammar and syntax, is immediately recognizable. This is the first stanza of a well-known favorite:

my father moved through dooms of love
through sames of am through haves of give,
singing each morning out of each night
my father moved through depths of height

Cummings’ father was killed in a tragic car accident which Cummings grieved dreadfully, and this poem is his eulogy. There is no mistaking Cummings’ style here – especially the odd pairings of images and the seemingly meaningless phrases created by lack of grammar (e.g. “sames of am”), which freak out my word processor more than when I write in Spanish. Once in a while I’ll read an “interpretation” of one of his poems and am instantly horrified by the attempt to pin his poetry down. You can’t. I do the same when somebody tries to “explain” a painting or a piece of music. The meanings are ineffable. I just let his words wash over me in waves of feeling. When I mention Cummings to friends, they more often than not have a favorite to tell me about; it touches them in ways that cannot be articulated. Many people (especially students) try to imitate him, but it is useless. His poems are unique. Of course, they are not all pearls, but that may be, in part, because some do not speak to my own life experiences.

Here is the last stanza of “somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond”

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands

I would not dream of trying to “explain” such a poem. It simply resonates with me and my feelings.

Despite Cummings’s familiarity with avant-garde styles, much of his work is quite traditional. Many of his poems are sonnets, often with a modern twist, and he occasionally made use of the blues form and acrostics. Many of his most striking poems do not involve any typographical or punctuation innovations at all, but purely syntactic ones.

Cummings, who was also a painter, understood the importance of presentation, and used typography to “paint a picture” with some of his poems. This one is a classic:

l(a
le
af
fa
ll
s)
one
l
iness

I could tell you what critics have said about this poem, but I’m not going to. It should be easy enough to pull your own meanings out of it without my help. If you want a little help try writing it out horizontally:

l (a leaf falls) oneliness

The seeds of Cummings’ unconventional style appear well established even in his earliest work. At age six, he wrote to his father:

FATHER DEAR. BE, YOUR FATHER-GOOD AND GOOD,
HE IS GOOD NOW, IT IS NOT GOOD TO SEE IT RAIN,
FATHER DEAR IS, IT, DEAR, NO FATHER DEAR,
LOVE, YOU DEAR,
ESTLIN.

It’s amazing to me that a 6 year old could write this. His affection for his father is palpable.

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I could use the fact of his confinement in Normany in La Ferté-Macé as an excuse to write about a culinary specialty of the town – tripe fertoise – but I’ll spare you. Maybe one day I’ll recount the story of my pilgrimage to La Ferté-Macé. For now I turn to another famed Cummings poem, “as freedom is a breakfastfood.” This reminds me of discussions I have had over the years with people over the notion of “breakfast food.” Different cultures and different times have their own ideas of what you should eat for breakfast. I’ve mention the full English breakfast many times. Here’s an image to make the mouth water.

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Many Western cultures see eggs as the quintessential “breakfast food” whether fried, scrambled, poached, or in an omelet. But this is mere habit. In Yunnan my students tell me that noodles in broth is classic breakfast food.  They would NEVER eat rice for breakfast — unthinkable. And so it goes. In London workers at all-night markets have steak, chips (fries), and a pint of beer for breakfast (then go to bed). My father told me when I was young that when he was a Royal Navy officer the crew ate what they felt like eating. I firmly remember his image of eating curry for breakfast. Sounded good to me at the time, and still does.

In accord with my general philosophy about eating, I eat what I want when I want. I don’t have set meal times, and I don’t have set foods for set times. In fact it’s clear that in the Western world breakfast is a popular dish all day.  Many road joints offer “breakfast all day.” I once saw a sign that read “breakfast at any time” and I was tempted to order “poached eggs on toast in the Renaissance.” Yeah, I’m a smart ass. But you get the idea. Put something together like a Cummings poem. It doesn’t matter if it breaks “the rules,” in the same way that he broke the rules of grammar and syntax. Just have at it, and be happy.

Oct 042015
 

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Today is the birthday (1880) of Alfred Damon Runyon a New York newspaperman and author who is most well known for his short stories celebrating the world of Broadway in New York City that grew out of the Prohibition era. To New Yorkers of his generation, a “Damon Runyon character” evoked a distinctive social type from the Brooklyn or Midtown demi-monde. The adjective “Runyonesque” refers to this type of character as well as to the type of situations and dialog that Runyon depicted. For years an omnibus volume of Runyon’s stories sat on my bedside table, along with the complete works of e. e. cummings, a Sherlock Holmes compendium, as well as other assorted reading material that came and went. I like to read just for pleasure, but I always have an eye out for certain kinds of writing style which I suppose influences me in a way when I write. Runyon I could never imitate; wouldn’t even try. I do very much like a writer whose style is immediately recognizable.

Runyon was born Alfred Damon Runyan to Alfred Lee and Elizabeth (Damon) Runyan. His relatives in Manhattan, Kansas included several newspapermen. His grandfather was a newspaper printer from New Jersey who had relocated to Manhattan, Kansas in 1855, and his father was editor of his own newspaper in the town. In 1882 Runyon’s father was forced to sell his newspaper, and the family moved westward. The family eventually settled in Pueblo, Colorado in 1887, where Runyon spent the rest of his youth. By most accounts, he only attended school through the fourth grade. He began to work in the newspaper trade under his father in Pueblo.

In 1898, when still in his early teens, Runyon enlisted in the U.S. Army to fight in the Spanish–American War. While in the service, he was assigned to write for the Manila Freedom and Soldier’s Letter. After his military service, he worked for various Colorado newspapers, beginning in Pueblo. His first job as a reporter began in September 1900, when he was hired by the Pueblo Star; he then worked in the Rocky Mountain area during the first decade of the 1900s: at the Denver Daily News, he served as “sporting editor” and then worked as a staff writer. His expertise was in covering the semi-professional teams in Colorado; he even briefly managed a semi-pro team in Trinidad, CO. At one of the newspapers where he worked, the spelling of his last name was changed from “Runyan” to “Runyon,” a change he let stand.

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Runyon moved to New York City in 1910. In his first New York byline, the American editor dropped the “Alfred” and the name “Damon Runyon” appeared for the first time. For the next ten years he covered the New York Giants and professional boxing for the New York American. He was the Hearst newspapers’ baseball columnist for many years, beginning in 1911, and his knack for spotting the eccentric and the unusual, on the field or in the stands, is credited with revolutionizing the way baseball was covered. Runyon was inducted into the writers’ wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1967. He is also a member of the International Boxing Hall Of Fame and is known for dubbing heavyweight champion James J. Braddock, the “Cinderella Man”. Runyon frequently contributed sports poems to the American on boxing and baseball themes, and also wrote numerous short stories and essays.

Gambling, particularly on craps or horse races, was a common theme of Runyon’s works, and he was a notorious gambler himself. One of his paraphrases from a well-known line in Ecclesiastes ran: “The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that’s how the smart money bets.” A heavy drinker as a young man, he seems to have quit drinking soon after arriving in New York, after his drinking nearly cost him the courtship of the woman who became his first wife, Ellen Egan. He remained a heavy smoker.

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His best friend was mobster accountant Otto Berman, and he incorporated Berman into several of his stories under the alias “Regret, the horse player.” When Berman was killed in a hit on Berman’s boss, Dutch Schultz, Runyon quickly assumed the role of damage control for his deceased friend, correcting erroneous press releases (including one that stated Berman was one of Schultz’s gunmen, to which Runyon replied, “Otto would have been as effective a bodyguard as a two-year-old.”).

Runyon’s marriage to Ellen Egan produced two children (Mary and Damon, Jr.), but broke up in 1928 over rumors that Runyon had become infatuated with Patrice Amati del Grande, a Mexican woman he had first met while covering the Pancho Villa raids in 1916 and discovered once again in New York, when she called the American seeking him out. Runyon had promised her in Mexico that if she would complete the education he paid for her, he would find her a dancing job in New York. She became his companion after he separated from his wife. After Ellen Runyon died of the effects of her own drinking problems, Runyon and Patrice married; that marriage ended in 1946 when Patrice left Runyon for another, younger, man.

Runyon died in New York City from throat cancer in late 1946, at age 66. His body was cremated, and his ashes were illegally scattered from a DC-3 airplane over Broadway in Manhattan by Captain Eddie Rickenbacker on December 18, 1946.

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Frank Muir comments that Runyon’s plots were, in the manner of O. Henry, neatly constructed with professionally wrought endings, but their distinction lay in the manner of their telling, as the author invented a peculiar argot for his characters to speak. Runyon almost totally avoids the past tense (English humorist E.C. Bentley thought there was only one instance, and was willing to “lay plenty of 6 to 5 that it is nothing but a misprint”) and makes little use of the future tense, using the present for both. He also avoided the conditional, using instead the future indicative in situations that would normally require a conditional. For example: “Now most any doll on Broadway will be very glad indeed to have Handsome Jack Madigan give her a tumble.”

The comic effect of his style results partly from the juxtaposition of broad slang with mock-pomposity. Women, when not “dolls”, “Judies”, “pancakes”, “tomatoes”, or “broads”, may be “characters of a female nature”, for example. He typically avoided contractions such as “don’t” in the example above, which also contributes significantly to the humorously pompous effect. In one sequence, a gangster tells another character to do as he’s told, or else “find another world in which to live.”

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Runyon’s short stories are told in the first person by a protagonist who is never named, and whose role is unclear; he knows many gangsters and does not appear to have a job, but he does not admit to any criminal involvement, and seems to be largely a bystander. He describes himself as “being known to one and all as a guy who is just around”.

Here’s a couple of short excerpts just for the hell of it.

If I have all the tears that are shed on Broadway by guys in love, I will have enough salt water to start an opposition ocean to the Atlantic and Pacific, with enough left over to run the Great Salt Lake out of business. But I wish to say I never shed any of these tears personally, because I am never in love, and furthermore, barring a bad break, I never expect to be in love, for the way I look at it love is strictly the old phedinkus, and I tell the little guy as much.

One of these days … a guy is going to come up to you and show you a nice brand-new deck of cards on which the seal is not yet broken, and this guy is going to offer to bet you that he can make the Jack of Spades jump out of the deck and squirt cider in your ear. But, son, do not bet this man, for as sure as you are standing there, you are going to end up with an earful of cider.

Runyon’s fictional world is also known to the general public through the musical Guys and Dolls based on two of his stories, “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown” and “Blood Pressure”. The musical additionally borrows characters and story elements from a few other Runyon stories, most notably “Pick The Winner.” The film Little Miss Marker (and its two remakes, Sorrowful Jones and the 1980 Little Miss Marker) grew from his short story of the same name. All told there are 20 plays and movies based on Runyon’s stories. Here’s my favorite number from Guys and Dolls:

Let’s start the recipe section with this advertisement for hot dogs supposedly served at Runyon’s table. If  you click to enlarge you can read the advertising copy.

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I have no doubt that this story is disconnected from reality. I would certainly hope that Runyon would not have a dinner of franks with onion cups stuffed with creamed, diced carrots followed by butterscotch pudding. It sounds revolting. However, Runyon did apparently have a liking for tripe. This from the start of the story “Blonde Mink”:

Now of course there are many different ways of cooking tripe but personally I prefer it stewed with tomatoes and mushrooms and a bit of garlic and in fact I am partaking of a portion in this form in Mindy’s restaurant on Broadway one evening in January when a personality by the name of Julie the Starker sits down at my table and leans over and sniffs my dish and says to me like this:

“Tripe,” he says. “With garlic,” he says. “Why, this is according to the recipe of the late Slats Slavin, who obtains it from his old Aunt Margaret in Troy. Waiter,” he says, “bring me an order of this delicious concoction only with more garlic. It is getting colder outside and a guy needs garlic in his system to thicken his blood. Well,” he says, “this is indeed a coincidence because I just come from visiting the late Slats and having a small chat with him.”

And this from the middle of “Pick the Winner,”

Now what happens one evening, but Hot Horse Herbie and his ever-loving fiancée, Miss Cutie Singleton, and me are in a little grease joint on Second Street putting on the old hot tripe à la Creole, which is a very pleasant dish, and by no means expensive, when who wanders in but Professor Woodhead.

Naturally Herbie calls him over to our table and introduces Professor Woodhead to Miss Cutie Singleton, and Professor Woodhead sits there with us looking at Miss Cutie Singleton with great interest, although Miss Cutie Singleton is at this time feeling somewhat peevish because it is the fourth evening hand running she has to eat tripe à la Creole, and Miss Cutie Singleton does not care for tripe under any circumstances.

Italian and Italian-American cuisine features tripe in tomato sauce with various additions and flavorings. I’ve had all manner of different styles in both New York and Italy. Tripe with tomatoes, mushrooms and garlic sounds fine. Tripe à la Creole is a well known, slightly more complicated dish.

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Tripe à la Creole

Ingredients

2 lbs cooked tripe cut in strips
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 onions, sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tbsp chopped ham
1 tsp thyme
2 bay leaves
1 14 oz can diced plum tomatoes
1 green pepper, sliced
salt, pepper and cayenne pepper to taste

Instructions

Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat and gently sauté the garlic, onion. ham and green pepper, until the onion is translucent. Add the plum tomatoes and bring the mixture to a simmer.  Add the lemon juice, thyme, and bay leaves, and season to taste with salt, pepper and cayenne.  Cover and simmer gently for about 30 minutes. Add water or light stock if the sauce starts to dry out. Add in the tripe and heat through. Serve over spaghetti or linguine. You can grate Romano or Parmesan cheese over the top if you like, but it is not to my taste. I do, however, sometimes sprinkle red pepper flakes on top.

Jul 182015
 

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela

Today is the birthday (1918) of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician and philanthropist who served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He was South Africa’s first black chief executive, and the first elected in a fully representative democratic election. His government focused on dismantling the legacy of apartheid through tackling institutionalized racism, poverty and inequality, and fostering racial reconciliation. Politically an African nationalist and democratic socialist, he served as President of the African National Congress (ANC) party from 1991 to 1997. Internationally, Mandela was Secretary General of the Non-Aligned Movement from 1998 to 1999.

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Mandela was a Xhosa born to the Thembu royal family. Mandela attended Fort Hare University and the University of Witwatersrand, where he studied law. Living in Johannesburg, he became involved in anti-colonial politics, joining the ANC and becoming a founding member of its Youth League. After the Afrikaner minority government of the National Party established apartheid in 1948, he rose to prominence in the ANC’s 1952 Defiance Campaign, was appointed superintendent of the organization’s Transvaal chapter and presided over the 1955 Congress of the People.

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Working as a lawyer, he was repeatedly arrested for seditious activities and, with the ANC leadership, was unsuccessfully prosecuted in the Treason Trial from 1956 to 1961. Influenced by Marxism, he secretly joined the South African Communist Party (SACP) and sat on its Central Committee. Although initially committed to non-violent protest, in association with the SACP he co-founded the militant Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) in 1961, leading a sabotage campaign against the apartheid government. In 1962, he was arrested, convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the state, and sentenced to life imprisonment in the Rivonia Trial.

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Mandela served 27 years in prison, initially on Robben Island, and later in Pollsmoor Prison and Victor Verster Prison. An international campaign lobbied for his release, which was granted in 1990 amid escalating civil strife. Mandela joined negotiations with Nationalist President F. W. de Klerk to abolish apartheid and establish multiracial elections in 1994, in which he led the ANC to victory and became South Africa’s first black president. He published his autobiography in 1995.

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During his tenure in the Government of National Unity he invited other political parties to join the cabinet, and promulgated a new constitution. He also created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate past human rights abuses. While continuing the former government’s liberal economic policy, his administration also introduced measures to encourage land reform, combat poverty, and expand healthcare services. Internationally, he acted as mediator between Libya and the United Kingdom in the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing trial, and oversaw military intervention in Lesotho. He declined to run for a second term, and was succeeded by his deputy, Thabo Mbeki. Mandela became an elder statesman, focusing on charitable work in combating poverty and HIV/AIDS through the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

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Mandela was a controversial figure for much of his life. Denounced as a communist terrorist by critics, he nevertheless gained international acclaim for his activism, having received more than 250 honors, including the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize, the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Soviet Order of Lenin. He is held in deep respect within South Africa, where he is often referred to by his Xhosa clan name, Madiba, or as Tata (“Father”), and is often described as the “Father of South Africa.” Here’s a series of quotes I like:

I like friends who have independent minds because they tend to make you see problems from all angles.

Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people.

A fundamental concern for others in our individual and community lives would go a long way in making the world the better place we so passionately dreamt of.

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.

For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.

Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.

I hate race discrimination most intensely and in all its manifestations. I have fought it all during my life; I fight it now, and will do so until the end of my days.

When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.

A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.

No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.

There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.

I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.

I’ll say a giant AMEN !!! to the last quote because that’s exactly what I do think. I also do not know of any powerful figure – many of whom I have written about here – who was not considered “controversial” in their day and still.  That’s the nature of passion, and I strongly believe in passion.

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Mandela also endears himself to me because his favorite dish was tripe. This is attested many times. So I don’t need a feeble excuse to give you a tripe recipe. South African recipes for tripe do tend to be a bit bland for me, although they do make sure you taste the tripe (and not much else). It reminds me of asking a Maasai cook once how to prepare ox tripe and she said, essentially, wash it and clean it, and boil it in water for a long time. Some recipes are slightly more complex. For example, it is common in South Africa to cook tripe with pieces of ox intestines, then add onions and potatoes towards the end of the cooking. Not strictly to my taste, although some cooks add curry powder as well, which gives it a bit of a lift. It’s usually served with samp which is rather like mushy hominy.

Here’s a South African recipe that is rather to my liking, akin to Italian dishes but without seasoning.

South AfricanTripe and Tomato Sauce

Ingredients

1.5 kg tripe, pre-cooked and cubed

Tomato sauce:

vegetable oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
115g can tomato paste
410g can chopped tomatoes
250ml (1 cup) dry wine
2 tbsp sugar (optional)

Instructions

Heat the oil in a heavy skillet. Sauté the onions, briefly until soft, then add the carrots and celery. Sauté for 5 minutes longer then add the tomato paste, tomatoes, wine, and sugar (if used). Simmer gently until the sauce has thickened slightly.

Add the tripe and simmer for another 10 to 15 minutes.

Serve with samp, either as a base, or on the side.

Apr 032015
 

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Today is the anniversary of the accession (686 CE) of Yuknoom Yich’aak K’ahk’ or Yuknoom Ixquiac (“Jaguar Paw Smoke”; born on October 6, 649 CE) as the Mayan king of the Kaan kingdom, which had its capital at Calakmul during the Classic Period of Mesoamerican chronology. This king acceded in his thirty-sixth year, but there are indications that he effectively governed the kingdom for a substantial period before this on behalf of the previous king, Yuknoom the Great. The latter, who may have been Yuknoom Yich’aak K’ahk’s father, lived well into his eighties and may have been incapacitated in his later years.

The inscription of Stela 9, from 662 CE in Calakmul, goes into great detail about the birth of Yuknoom Yich’aak K’ahk’ and accords him a full royal title. Thus, military victories in the following years, as well as assertions of the Kaan dynasty’s hegemony, might tentatively be ascribed to Yich’aak K’ahk’. These include military triumphs over rival kingdom Tikal in 677 and (quite probably) 679; supervision of the accessions of kings of Moral and Cancuen in 662 and 677 respectively; the dispatching of Lady Six Sky from Dos Pilas to re-seed the dynasty of Naranjo in 682, and a lieutenant’s action expressive of Kaan overlordship at Piedras Negras in 685.

Yich’aak K’ahk’s accession was recorded at El Peru by local ruler K’inich Bahlam and at Dos Pilas by B’alaj Chan K’awiil. At Naranjo, the son of Lady Six Sky, K’ak’ Tiliw Chan Chaak, acceded in 693.

In 695 Calakmul suffered a military defeat at the hands of Tikal and it was believed that the king was killed or captured in that battle. A stucco scene at Tikal shows a prisoner being “adorned” for sacrifice and names the Kaan king in a related caption; the text is damaged and in its current condition it allowed for the possibility that it referred to Yich’aak K’ahk’ himself instead of him being the overlord of the prisoner to be killed. A new find at La Corona has revealed that the king survived at least until 696, when he made a visit to that town. There are reasons to believe that Yich’aak K’ahk’ is buried in Tomb 4 within Calakmul’s Structure 2.

Yich’aak K’ahk’s monument program does not even begin to compare with that of his immediate predecessor, and the two stelae that still stand (including Stela 105 from 692) are located far from the site core in the Northeast Group.

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Calakmul is located in Campeche state in southeastern Mexico, about 35 kilometers (22 mi) north of the border with Guatemala and 38 kilometers (24 mi) north of the ruins of El Mirador. The ruins of El Tintal are 68 kilometres (42 mi) to the southwest of Calakmul and were linked to both El Mirador and Calakmul itself by causeway. Calakmul was about 20 kilometers (12 mi) south of the contemporary city of Oxpemul and approximately 25 kilometers (16 mi) southwest of La Muñeca. The city is located on a rise about 35 meters (115 ft) above a large seasonal swamp lying to the west, known as the El Laberinto bajo (Spanish used in the region for a low-lying area of seasonal marshland).This swamp measures approximately 34 by 8 kilometers (21.1 by 5.0 mi) and was an important source of water during the rainy season. The bajo was linked to a sophisticated water-control system including both natural and artificial features such as gullies and canals that encircled a 22-square-kilometre (8.5 sq mi) area around the site core, an area considered as Inner Calakmul. The location of Calakmul at the edge of a bajo provided two additional advantages: the fertile soils along the edge of the swamp and access to abundant flint nodules. The city is situated on a promontory formed by a natural 35-metre (115 ft) high limestone dome rising above the surrounding lowlands. This dome was artificially leveled by the Maya. During the Preclassic and Classic periods settlement was concentrated along the edge of the El Laberinto bajo, during the Classic period structures were also built on high ground and small islands in the swamp where flint was worked.

At its height in the Late Classic period the city is estimated to have had a population of 50,000 inhabitants and to have covered an area of over 70 square kilometers (27 sq mi). The city was the capital of a large regional state with an area of about 13,000 square kilometers (5,000 sq mi). During the Terminal Classic the city’s population declined dramatically and the rural population plummeted to 10% of its former level.

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The Emblem Glyph of Calakmul has a greater distribution than the Emblem Glyph of any other Maya city. The Glyph is also found in more hieroglyphic texts than any other Emblem Glyph, including that of Tikal. Calakmul administered a large domain marked by the extensive distribution of their emblem glyph of the snake head sign, to be read “Kaan.” Calakmul was the seat of what has been dubbed the Snake Kingdom. At times the city had governance over places as far away as 150 kilometers. The kings of Calakmul were known as k’uhul kan ajawob (“Divine Lords of the Snake Kingdom”).

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The history of the Maya Classic period is dominated by the rivalry between Tikal and Calakmul, likened to a struggle between two Maya “superpowers.” Earlier times tended to be dominated by a single larger city and by the Early Classic Tikal was moving into this position after the dominance of El Mirador in the Late Preclassic and Nakbe in the Middle Preclassic. However Calakmul was a rival city with equivalent resources that challenged the supremacy of Tikal and engaged in a strategy of surrounding it with its own network of allies. From the second half of the 6th century through to the late 7th century Calakmul gained the upper hand although it failed to extinguish Tikal’s power completely and Tikal was able to turn the tables on its great rival in a decisive battle that took place in AD 695. Half a century later Tikal was able to gain major victories over Calakmul’s most important allies. Eventually both cities succumbed to the spreading Classic Maya collapse.

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The great rivalry between these two cities may have been based on more than competition for resources. Their dynastic histories reveal different origins and the intense competition between the two powers may have had an ideological grounding. Calakmul’s dynasty seems ultimately derived from the great Preclassic city of El Mirador while the dynasty of Tikal was profoundly affected by the intervention of the distant central Mexican metropolis of Teotihuacan. With few exceptions, Tikal’s monuments and those of its allies place great emphasis upon single male rulers while the monuments of Calakmul and its allies gave greater prominence to the female line and often the joint rule of king and queen.

The Kaan dynasty was not originally established at Calakmul but rather re-located there in the 7th Century from another city. Calakmul experienced its highest achievements during the reign of king Yuknoom Che’en II, sometimes called Yuknoom the Great by scholars. Yuknoom Che’en II was 36 years old when he came to the throne of Calakmul in AD 636. A significant increase in the production of stelae at the city began with his reign and 18 stelae were commissioned by the king. Yuknoom Che’en II was probably responsible for the construction of the palace complexes that form a major part of the site core.

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Yuknoom Che’en II died in his eighties, probably at the beginning of 686. When he died, Calakmul was the most powerful city in the central Maya lowlands. Yuknoom Yich’aak K’ak’ succeeded Yuknoom Che’en II, his crowning on 3 April 686 was recorded on monuments at Dos Pilas and El Peru. He was born in 649 and was likely to have been the son of his predecessor. He already held high office before he was named king and may have been responsible for the major successes of the latter part of Yuknoom Che’en II’s reign. He retained the loyalty of K’inich B’alam of El Peru and B’alaj Chan K’awiil of Dos Pilas and gained that of K’ak’ Tiliw Chan Chaak in 693, when he was installed on the throne of Naranjo at the age of five. However, the texts on sculpted monuments do not reveal the full complexity of diplomatic activity, as revealed by a painted ceramic vase from Tikal, which depicts an ambassador of Calakmul’s king kneeling before the enthroned king of Tikal and delivering tribute. Just four years later, in August 695, the two states were once again at war. Yuknoom Yich’aak K’ak’ led his warriors against Jasaw Chan K’awiil I in a catastrophic battle that saw the defeat of Calakmul and the capture of the image of a Calakmul deity named Yajaw Maan.

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It is unknown what happened to Yuknoom Yich’aak K’ak’; a stucco sculpture from Tikal shows a captive and the king is mentioned in the accompanying caption but it is not certain if the captive and the king are the same person. This event marked the end of Calakmul’s apogee, with diplomatic activity dropping away and fewer cities recognizing Calakmul’s king as overlord. No stelae remain standing in the site core recording Yuknoom Yich’aal K’ak, although there are some in the Northeast Group and 2 broken stelae were buried in Structure 2.

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Tomb 4 was set into the floor of Structure 2B in the 8th century and is the richest burial known from Calakmul. The tomb contained a male skeleton wrapped in textiles and jaguar pelts that were partially preserved with resin. The tomb contained rich offerings that included jade ear ornaments handed down from the Early Classic, a jade mosaic mask, shell and bone beads, spiny oyster shells, eccentric obsidian blades, fine ceramics and the remains of wooden objects. One of the ceramics was a plate with a hieroglyphic text that specifically named king Yuknoom Yich’aak K’ak’ as its owner. The remains and the offering were placed in an arched wooden bier carved with elaborate decoration and hieroglyphs that was painted in a variety of colors. The bier has almost completely decayed but left an impression in the mud packed around it. Due to the plate and the possible association of Stelae 115 and 116 with the burial the tomb is believed to be that of the late 7th-century king Yuknoom Yich’aak K’ak’.

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Maya diet focused on four domesticated crops (staple crops): maize, squash, beans (typically Phaseolus vulgaris) and chili peppers. The first three cultivars are commonly referred to in North America as the “Three Sisters” and, when incorporated in a diet, complement one another in providing necessary nutrients. A full description of Three Sisters cultivation may be found here: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/dia-de-la-raza/ Among the three, maize was the central component of the diet of the ancient Maya, and figured prominently in Maya mythology and ideology. Maize was used and eaten in a variety of ways, but was always nixtamalized. Nixtamalization (ugh!), is a procedure whereby maize is soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution. This releases niacin, a necessary B vitamin (vitamin B3) that prevents pellagra and reduces incidents of protein deficiency.

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Once nixtamalized, maize was typically ground up on a metate (grinding stone) and prepared in a number of ways. Tortillas, cooked on a comal (baking stone)and used to wrap other foods (meat, beans, etc.), were common and are perhaps the best-known pre-Columbian Mesoamerican food. Tamales consist of corn dough, often containing a filling, that are wrapped in a corn husk and steam-cooked. Both atole and pozole were liquid based gruel-like dishes that were made by mixing ground maize with water, with atole being denser and used as a drinking source and pozole having complete big grains of maize incorporated into a turkey broth. Though these dishes could be consumed plain, other ingredients were added to diversify flavor, including chili peppers, cacao, wild onions and salt. Tamales, tortillas, beans, pozole, etc. all have analogs in modern Mayan cooking, and variants can be found across Mexico and up into the U.S. southwest. I’ve already given recipes for these, so below I give a post-Columbian recipe for tripe, variants of which are also found across Mexico.

Several different varieties of beans were grown, including pinto, red, and black beans. Other cultivated crops, including fruits, contributed to the overall diet of the ancient Maya, including tomato, chile peppers, avocado, breadnut, guava, soursop, mammee apple, papaya, pineapple, pumpkin, sweet potato, and Xanthosoma. Chaya was cultivated for its green leaves. Chayote was cultivated for its fruit, and its tender green shoots were used as a vegetable. Various herbs were grown and used, including vanilla, epazote, achiote (and the annatto seed), canella, hoja santa (Piper auritum), avocado leaves, garlic vine, Mexican oregano, and allspice.

Hunting supplied the Maya with meat, though several animals, such as dog and turkey, may have been domesticated. Animals hunted for meat, as well as for other purposes, include deer, manatee, armadillo, tapir, peccary, monkey, guinea pig and other types of fowl, turtle and iguana. The Maya diet was also supplemented by the exploitation, at least in coastal areas, of maritime resources, including fish, lobster, shrimp, conch, and other shellfish.

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The Mayans are believed to be the first people to have discovered and cultivated the cacao plant for food. The cocoa beans were ground up mixed with chili peppers, cornmeal and honey to create a drink called xocolatl. Only the rich and noble could drink this. They also used cacao beans as ceremonial sacrifices to their gods.

Tripe was not eaten by the Maya until Europeans introduced cows and sheep, but it is now extremely popular. Mondongo en Kabik, a red mondongo (tripe soup), is the most common in Yucatan. This version is adapted from Diana Kennedy’s marvelous compendium Mexican Regional Cooking  The main herbal ingredient in this soup is epazote which can be hard to come by. It is very common in Mexican cooking, where it is a typical flavoring for beans (supposedly because it reduces flatulence!). It can sometimes also be found under the names goosefoot, Jerusalem oak, lamb’s quarters, Mexican tea, wormseed, or stinkweed. Fresh epazote has dark green leaves with serrated edges and has a distinctive bitter flavor. If you cannot find fresh, then the dried version is acceptable although it is not as complex in flavor. Dried epazote is also difficult to find, but good Hispanic markets usually carry it. You may substitute cilantro or savory for epazote, but the flavor is totally different, and to my way of thinking makes the dish a little ordinary. One solution, if it proves impossible to find is to grow epazote from seed in a pot on a sunny window ledge. The seeds can be obtained from several companies. I use Redwood City Seed Co., Box 361, Redwood City, CA 94064 USA, because they also stock a large number of unusual hot red and green chile seeds. Kennedy recommends using the tripe known in Yucatán as toalla (i.e. towel) for this recipe. It is relatively easy to find because it comes from the second stomach adjacent to the honeycomb tripe. When selecting tripe look over the pieces on offer. Many large pieces of honeycomb tripe come with toalla attached. As the name suggests, it does not have the deep honeycomb texture, but instead looks like a rough towel. Note also that this dish takes at least three days to prepare, so plan ahead.

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Mondongo en Kabik

Ingredients

1lb parboiled toalla or honeycomb tripe
2 cups sour orange juice (either fresh or bottled naranja agria)
1 calf’s foot or cowheel (or 1lb beef marrow bones)
6 unpeeled cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon fresh oregano
2 tablespoons cooking oil
½ lb plum tomatoes peeled and diced
1 small onion chopped coarsely
½ green pepper chopped coarsely
1 handful of fresh epazote leaves (or 1 tablespoon dried)
3 hot green chiles
1 teaspoon ground annatto

garnishes

lime slices
finely chopped scallion
chopped Mexican oregano
chopped chives
finely chopped onion

 

Instructions

Cut the tripe into 1″ squares and place them in an earthenware bowl. Pour the sour orange juice over the tripe and let it marinate overnight in the refrigerator.

(Next day) Place a heavy (ungreased) iron skillet on high heat until it is hot and ready to smoke. Place the unpeeled garlic cloves in the skillet and agitate them gently until they are nicely charred on all sides. Remove the garlic and repeat the process for the oregano (being careful not to blacken it too much). Finally, do the same for the hot green chiles and set them aside. This toasting process is absolutely essential to get the authentic “burnt” flavor in the broth.

Put the calf’s foot (or marrow bones) in a heavy saucepan with 6 cups of water (or beef stock if you prefer a more heavily flavored soup). Add the toasted garlic and oregano. Bring to a boil and gently simmer covered for one hour. At the end of the hour add the tripe and the sour orange juice marinade. Bring the pot back to the boil and simmer for another hour or until the tripe is tender. Because of the marinade the cooking time is difficult to calculate. In theory the acid marinade is supposed to tenderize the tripe; but I find that it actually takes longer to cook it to the al dente stage than without it. Once the tripe is tender to your taste, cool the pot and refrigerate overnight.

(Next day) A great deal of fat from the tripe and calf’s foot will have congealed and hardened on the surface of the broth. Skim all the fat off and then return the pot to a gentle simmer. Remove the calf’s foot when it is warmed through. Take out and discard the bones, and roughly chop the meat, fat and skin. (If you are using marrow bones, extract the marrow and chop it, and discard the bones). Remove the tripe from the broth and keep it warm along with the chopped meat from the calf’s foot.

Chop the toasted green chiles. Heat the cooking oil on high heat in a heavy skillet. Add the onion, green pepper, and green chiles. Cook until the onions start to take on a little color. Add the chopped tomatoes and cook for a few minutes longer. Add the annatto and two or three tablespoons of the broth from the tripe. Stir until everything is well mixed and heated through. Add this mixture to the tripe broth, and then return the broth to a simmer.

Traditionally the broth is served in bowls to each diner, with a plate of tripe and calf’s foot as an accessory. Large bowls of the garnishes are set on the table to be added to the broth as people please. Big hunks of crusty bread are a common accompaniment as are flour tortillas.   You may also simplify things by serving the meat and broth together as a big hearty soup (again, to be garnished as one pleases).

Serves 6 as a first course or 4 as a main course.