Jan 232021
 

Today is the birthday (1783) of Marie-Henri Beyle, better known by his pen name Stendhal, a 19th-century French writer, known for the novels Le Rouge et le Noir and La Chartreuse de Parme. He is highly regarded for the acute analysis of his characters’ psychology and considered one of the early and foremost practitioners of realism.

Stendahl was born in Grenoble, Isère, and had an unhappy childhood. His mother died when he was 7, and he found his father, a barrister, unbearable (he actually called him “unimaginative”). In 1799 he left for Paris, ostensibly to prepare for the entrance examination to the École Polytechnique, but in reality to escape from Grenoble and from paternal rule.

The military and theatrical worlds of the First French Empire were a revelation to Stendhal. His secret ambition on arriving in Paris was to become a successful playwright, but some highly placed relatives of his, the Darus, obtained an appointment for him as second lieutenant in the French military forces stationed in Italy. He was named an auditor with the Conseil d’État on 3rd August 1810, and thereafter took part in the French administration and in the Napoleonic wars in Italy. He travelled extensively in Germany and was part of Napoleon’s army in the 1812 invasion of Russia. Stendhal witnessed the burning of Moscow from just outside the city. He was appointed Commissioner of War Supplies and sent to Smolensk to prepare provisions for the returning army. He crossed the Berezina River by finding a usable ford rather than the overwhelmed pontoon bridge, which probably saved his life and those of his companions. He arrived in Paris in 1813, largely unaware of the general fiasco that the retreat had become. Stendhal became known, during the Russian campaign, for keeping his wits about him, and maintaining his clear-headedness. He also maintained his daily routine, shaving each day during the retreat from Moscow.

After the 1814 Treaty of Fontainebleau, he left for Italy, where he settled in Milan. He formed a particular attachment to Italy, where he spent much of the remainder of his career, serving as French consul at Trieste and Civitavecchia. His novel The Charterhouse of Parma, written in 52 days, is set in Italy, which he considered a more sincere and passionate country than Restoration France. An aside in that novel, referring to a character who contemplates suicide after being jilted, speaks about his attitude towards his home country: “To make this course of action clear to my French readers, I must explain that in Italy, a country very far away from us, people are still driven to despair by love.”

Stendhal identified with the nascent liberalism and his time in Italy convinced him that Romanticism was essentially the literary counterpart of liberalism in politics. When Stendhal was appointed to a consular post in Trieste in 1830, Metternich refused his exequatur on account of Stendhal’s liberalism and anti-clericalism.

Stendhal was a dandy and wit about town in Paris, as well as an obsessive womanizer. However, his genuine empathy towards women is evident in his books; Simone de Beauvoir spoke highly of him in The Second Sex. One of his early works is On Love, a rational analysis of romantic passion that was based on his unrequited love for Mathilde, Countess Dembowska, whom he met while living at Milan. This fusion of, and tension between, clear-headed analysis and romantic feeling is typical of Stendhal’s great novels.

In On Love Stendhal speaks of “birth of love” in which the love object is ‘crystallized’ in the mind, as being a process similar or analogous to a trip to Rome. In the analogy, the city of Bologna represents indifference and Rome represents perfect love:

Stendhal’s depiction of “crystallization” in the process of falling in love.

When we are in Bologna, we are entirely indifferent; we are not concerned to admire in any particular way the person with whom we shall perhaps one day be madly in love; even less is our imagination inclined to overrate their worth. In a word, in Bologna “crystallization” has not yet begun. When the journey begins, love departs. One leaves Bologna, climbs the Apennines, and takes the road to Rome. The departure, according to Stendhal, has nothing to do with one’s will; it is an instinctive moment. This transformative process actuates in terms of four steps along a journey:

    Admiration – one marvels at the qualities of the loved one.

    Acknowledgement – one acknowledges the pleasantness of having gained the loved one’s interest.

    Hope – one envisions gaining the love of the loved one.

    Delight – one delights in overrating the beauty and merit of the person whose love one hopes to win.

This journey or crystallization process (shown above) was detailed by Stendhal on the back of a playing card while speaking to Madame Gherardi, during his trip to the Salzburg salt mine.

Hippolyte Taine considered the psychological portraits of Stendhal’s characters to be “real, because they are complex, many-sided, particular and original, like living human beings.” Émile Zola concurred with Taine’s assessment of Stendhal’s skills as a “psychologist”, and although emphatic in his praise of Stendhal’s psychological accuracy and rejection of convention, he deplored the various implausibilities of the novels and Stendhal’s clear authorial intervention.

Friedrich Nietzsche refers to Stendhal as “France’s last great psychologist” in Beyond Good and Evil (1886). He also mentions Stendhal in the Twilight of the Idols (1889) during a discussion of Dostoevsky as a psychologist, saying that encountering Dostoevsky was “the most beautiful accident of my life, more so than even my discovery of Stendhal.”

Ford Madox Ford, in The English Novel, asserts that to Diderot and Stendhal “the Novel owes its next great step forward…At that point it became suddenly evident that the Novel as such was capable of being regarded as a means of profoundly serious and many-sided discussion and therefore as a medium of profoundly serious investigation into the human case.”

Erich Auerbach considers modern “serious realism” to have begun with Stendhal and Balzac.[24] In Mimesis, he remarks of a scene in The Red and the Black that “it would be almost incomprehensible without a most accurate and detailed knowledge of the political situation, the social stratification, and the economic circumstances of a perfectly definite historical moment, namely, that in which France found itself just before the July Revolution.”

In Auerbach’s view, in Stendhal’s novels “characters, attitudes, and relationships of the dramatis personæ, then, are very closely connected with contemporary historical circumstances; contemporary political and social conditions are woven into the action in a manner more detailed and more real than had been exhibited in any earlier novel, and indeed in any works of literary art except those expressly purporting to be politico-satirical tracts.”

Simone de Beauvoir uses Stendhal as an example of a feminist author. In The Second Sex de Beauvoir writes “Stendhal never describes his heroines as a function of his heroes: he provides them with their own destinies.” She furthermore points out that it “is remarkable that Stendhal is both so profoundly romantic and so decidedly feminist; feminists are usually rational minds that adopt a universal point of view in all things; but it is not only in the name of freedom in general but also in the name of individual happiness that Stendhal calls for women’s emancipation.” Yet, Beauvoir criticizes Stendhal for, although wanting a woman to be his equal, her only destiny he envisions for her remains a man.

Some quotes:

Love is a well from which we can drink only as much as we have put in, and the stars that shine from it are only our eyes looking in.

One can acquire everything in solitude except character.

Life is very short, and it ought not to be spent crawling at the feet of miserable scoundrels.

Only great minds can afford a simple style.

All religions are founded on the fear of the many and the cleverness of the few.

Beauty is nothing other than the promise of happiness.

Almost all our misfortunes in life come from the wrong notions we have about the things that happen to us.

To describe happiness is to diminish it.

Stendhal suffered miserable physical disabilities in his final years as he continued to produce some of his most famous work. As he noted in his journal, he was taking iodide of potassium and quicksilver to treat his syphilis, resulting in swollen armpits, difficulty swallowing, pains in his shrunken testicles, sleeplessness, giddiness, roaring in the ears, racing pulse and “tremors so bad he could scarcely hold a fork or a pen”. Modern medicine has shown that his health problems were more attributable to his treatment than to his syphilis.

Stendhal’s birthplace, Grenoble, is well known for Sauce Grenobloise, typically used to sauce fish.  It is the delightful mix of lemon and capers but with additions – tons of butter, parsley, chunks of lemon, and croutons. This video is typical.

 

 

Jan 222021
 

Today is the birthday (1561) of Francis Bacon, 1st Viscount St Alban, Kt PC QC, English philosopher and statesman who served as Attorney General and as Lord Chancellor of England. His works are credited with developing the scientific method and remained influential through the scientific revolution. Bacon was the first recipient of the Queen’s Counsel designation, which was conferred in 1597 when Elizabeth I of England reserved Bacon as her legal advisor. After the accession of James VI and I in 1603, Bacon was knighted. He was later created Baron Verulam in 1618 and Viscount St. Alban in 1621. Because he had no heirs, both titles became extinct upon his death in 1626, at 65 years. Bacon died of pneumonia, with one account by John Aubrey stating that he had contracted the condition while studying the effects of freezing on the preservation of meat. He is buried at St Michael’s Church, St Albans, Hertfordshire.

Bacon’s development of the scientific method and his analysis of the weakness of using sacred texts, specifically Biblical references, to buttress claims concerning the nature of the world initiated the science versus religion debate/controversy which I have discussed at length here and elsewhere.  The scientific method as elucidated by Bacon has great strengths.  The Scientific Revolution and the subsequent Industrial Revolution made great strides in technology and in our understanding of how the natural world functions.  No argument.  But when it comes to arguing that the scientific method is the only avenue to knowledge, there I disagree. As it happens, the vast majority of scientists also disagree, but their stance has not filtered down into popular consciousness.

Bacon’s seminal work Novum Organum was influential in the 1630s and 1650s among scholars. According to Bacon, learning and knowledge all derive from the basis of inductive reasoning (observing first and then drawing conclusions). Through his belief in experimental encounters, he theorized that all the knowledge that was necessary to fully understand a concept could be attainable through induction. In order to get to the point of an inductive conclusion, one must consider the importance of observing the particulars (specific parts of nature). “Once these particulars have been gathered together, the interpretation of Nature proceeds by sorting them into a formal arrangement so that they may be presented to the understanding.” Experimentation is thus essential to discovering the basics of nature. An experiment tests an hypothesis, resulting in data from which a conclusion may be articulated. Building conclusion upon conclusion expands the understanding of the natural world. Bacon states that when we come to understand parts of nature, we can eventually understand nature better as a whole because of induction. Because of this, Bacon concludes that all learning and knowledge must be drawn from inductive reasoning.

During the Restoration, Bacon was commonly invoked as a guiding spirit of the Royal Society founded under Charles II in 1660. During the 18th-century French Enlightenment, Bacon’s non-metaphysical approach to science became more influential than the dualism of his French contemporary Descartes, and was associated with criticism of the ancien régime. In 1733 Voltaire introduced him to a French audience as the “father” of the scientific method, an understanding which had become widespread by the 1750s. In the 19th century his emphasis on induction was revived and developed by William Whewell, among others. As such, he was called the “Father of Experimental Philosophy”.

One of his biographers, the historian William Hepworth Dixon, states: “Bacon’s influence in the modern world is so great that every man who rides in a train, sends a telegram, follows a steam plough, sits in an easy chair, crosses the channel or the Atlantic, eats a good dinner, enjoys a beautiful garden, or undergoes a painless surgical operation, owes him something.” In 1902 Hugo von Hofmannsthal published a fictional letter, known as “The Lord Chandos Letter,” addressed to Bacon and dated 1603, about a writer who is experiencing a crisis of language.

Although Bacon’s works have been extremely influential, his argument falls short because observation and the scientific method are not useful on their own for every inquiry. Bacon takes the inductive method too far, as seen through one of his aphorisms which says, “Man, being the servant and interpreter of Nature, can do and understand so much only as he has observed in fact or in thought of the course of nature: Beyond this he neither knows anything nor can do anything.” As humans, we are capable of more than pure observation and can use deduction to form theories. In fact, we must use deduction because Bacon’s pure inductive method is incomplete. Thus, it is not Bacon’s ideas alone that form the scientific method we use today. If that were the case, we would not be able to fully understand the observations we make and deduce new theories. Author Ernst Mayr states, “Inductivism had a great vogue in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, but it is now clear that a purely inductive approach is quite sterile.” Mayr points out that an inductive approach on its own just does not work. One could observe an experiment multiple times, but still be unable to make generalizations and correctly understand the results. Bacon’s inductive method is beneficial, but incomplete and leaves gaps. The inductive method can be seen as a tool used alongside other ideas, such as deduction, which now creates a method which is most effective and used today: the modern scientific method.

The obvious choice of recipe for a man named Bacon is to make your own bacon at home.  The process is not especially complex, although it does take time, and the ingredients can sometimes be difficult to procure.  Belly pork is the main ingredient, and supermarkets in the US do not always stock large slabs.  I used to have to make a trip into Chinatown in New York, but now that I live in Asia I am spoiled for choice – belly pork is a big favorite.  Bacon can be made by salt curing or smoking or both.  Salt curing involves making a dry rub of kosher salt plus other ingredients of your choice, rubbing them well into the belly pork, bagging up the product, and leaving the whole to mature refrigerated for around a week.  The pork can subsequently be cooked as is, or smoked.  The following video provides greater detail, and you can find numerous others on YouTube.

 

Jan 192021
 

Today is the birthday (1775) of André-Marie Ampère, a French physicist and mathematician who was one of the founders of the science of classical electromagnetism, which he referred to as “electrodynamics”. He is also the inventor of numerous applications, such as the solenoid (a term coined by him) and the electrical telegraph. Ampère was a member of the French Academy of Sciences and professor at the École polytechnique and the Collège de France. The SI unit of measurement of electric current, the ampere, is named after him. His name is also one of the 72 names inscribed on the Eiffel Tower.

Ampère was born to Jean-Jacques Ampère, a prosperous businessman, and Jeanne Antoinette Desutières-Sarcey Ampère, during the height of the French Enlightenment. He spent his childhood and adolescence at the family property at Poleymieux-au-Mont-d’Or near Lyon. Jean-Jacques Ampère was an admirer of the philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose theories of education (as outlined in his treatise Émile) were the basis of Ampère’s education. Rousseau believed that young boys should avoid formal schooling and pursue instead an “education direct from nature.” Ampère’s father actualized this ideal by allowing his son to educate himself within the walls of his well-stocked library. In addition, Ampère used his access to the latest books to begin teaching himself advanced mathematics at age 12. In later life Ampère claimed that he knew as much about mathematics and science when he was eighteen as he ever knew, but as a polymath, his reading embraced history, travels, poetry, philosophy, and the natural sciences. The French Revolution that began during his youth was influential: Ampère’s father was called into public service by the new revolutionary government, becoming a justice of the peace in a small town near Lyon. When the Jacobin faction seized control of the Revolutionary government in 1792, his father resisted the new political tides, and he was guillotined on 24 November 1793, as part of the Jacobin purges of the period.

in July 1803, Ampère moved to Paris, where he began a tutoring post at the new École Polytechnique in 1804. Despite his lack of formal qualifications, Ampère was appointed a professor of mathematics at the school in 1809. As well as holding positions at this school until 1828, in 1819 and 1820 Ampère offered courses in philosophy and astronomy, respectively, at the University of Paris, and in 1824 he was elected to the prestigious chair in experimental physics at the Collège de France. In 1814 Ampère was invited to join the class of mathematicians in the new Institut Impérial, the umbrella under which the reformed state Academy of Sciences would sit.

In September 1820, Ampère’s friend and eventual eulogist François Arago showed the members of the French Academy of Sciences the surprising discovery of Danish physicist Hans Christian Ørsted that a magnetic needle is deflected by an adjacent electric current. Ampère began developing a mathematical and physical theory to understand the relationship between electricity and magnetism. Furthering Ørsted’s experimental work, Ampère showed that two parallel wires carrying electric currents attract or repel each other, depending on whether the currents flow in the same or opposite directions, respectively – this laid the foundation of electrodynamics. He also applied mathematics in generalizing physical laws from these experimental results. The most important of these was the principle that came to be called Ampère’s law, which states that the mutual action of two lengths of current-carrying wire is proportional to their lengths and to the intensities of their currents. Ampère also applied this same principle to magnetism, showing the harmony between his law and French physicist Charles Augustin de Coulomb’s law of magnetic action. Ampère’s devotion to, and skill with, experimental techniques anchored his science within the emerging fields of experimental physics.

Ampère also provided a physical understanding of the electromagnetic relationship, theorizing the existence of an “electrodynamic molecule” (the forerunner of the idea of the electron) that served as the component element of both electricity and magnetism. Using this physical explanation of electromagnetic motion, Ampère developed a physical account of electromagnetic phenomena that was both empirically demonstrable and mathematically predictive. In 1827 Ampère published his magnum opus, Mémoire sur la théorie mathématique des phénomènes électrodynamiques uniquement déduite de l’experience (Memoir on the Mathematical Theory of Electrodynamic Phenomena, Uniquely Deduced from Experience), the work that coined the name of his new science, electrodynamics, and became known ever after as its founding treatise.

In 1827 Ampère was elected a Foreign Member of the Royal Society and in 1828, a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Science.

Ampère was from the general region of Lyon, and “Lyonnaise” refers to cooking traditions and practices centering on the area around Lyon. In the 16th century, Catherine de Medici brought cooks from Florence to her court in Lyon and they prepared dishes combining the agricultural products from the regions of France with their own culinary expertise. Now “Lyonnaise” is a semi-formal appellation. Sauce Lyonnaise, for example, involves a demi-glace, vinegar, and onions.  This video explains the appellation more fully and shows the making of veal cutlets Lyonnaise.

Jan 172021
 

Today is the celebration of St Anthony or Anthony the Great, (251 – 356), a Coptic monk from Egypt, distinguished from other saints named Anthony such as Anthony of Padua, by various epithets of his own: Anthony of Egypt, Anthony the Abbot, Anthony of the Desert, Anthony the Anchorite, Anthony the Hermit, and Anthony of Thebes. For his importance among the Desert Fathers and to all later Christian monasticism, he is also known as the Father of All Monks.

The biography (Vita) of Anthony’s life by Athanasius of Alexandria helped to spread the concept of Christian monasticism, particularly in Western Europe via its Latin translations. He is often erroneously considered the first Christian monk, but as his biography and other sources make clear, there were many ascetics before him. Anthony was, however, among the first known to go into the wilderness (about 270), which seems to have contributed to his renown, and he was apparently the first ascetic to develop a monastic community. Accounts of Anthony enduring supernatural temptation during his sojourn in the Eastern Desert of Egypt inspired the often-repeated subject of the temptation of St. Anthony in Western art and literature. Anthony is appealed to against infectious diseases, particularly skin diseases. In the past, many such afflictions, including ergotism, erysipelas, and shingles, were referred to as St. Anthony’s fire.

Anthony was born in Coma in Lower Egypt to wealthy landowner parents. When he was about 20 years old, his parents died and left him with the care of his unmarried sister. Shortly thereafter, he decided to follow the gospel exhortation in Matthew 19: 21, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven.” Anthony gave away some of his family’s lands to his neighbors, sold the remaining property, and donated the funds to the poor. He then left to live an ascetic life.

For the next 15 years, Anthony remained in the area, spending the first years as the disciple of another local hermit. There are various legends that he worked as a swineherd during this period. At the time there were already ascetic hermits (the Therapeutae), and loosely organized cenobitic communities were described by the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria in the 1st century as long established in the harsh environment of Lake Mareotis and in other less accessible regions. Philo wrote that “this class of persons may be met with in many places, for both Greece and barbarian countries want to enjoy whatever is perfectly good.” Christian ascetics such as Thecla had likewise retreated to isolated locations at the outskirts of cities. Anthony is notable for having decided to surpass this tradition and headed out into the desert proper. He left for the alkaline Nitrian Desert (later the location of the noted monasteries of Nitria, Kellia, and Scetis) on the edge of the Western Desert about 95 km (59 mi) west of Alexandria. He remained there for 13 years.

Anthony maintained a very strict ascetic diet. He ate mostly bread, salt and water and never meat or wine. He ate at most only once a day and sometimes fasted through two or four days. According to Athanasius, the devil fought Anthony by afflicting him with boredom, laziness, and the phantoms of women, which he overcame by the power of prayer, providing a theme for Christian art. After that, he moved to one of the tombs near his native village. There it was that his Vita records those strange conflicts with demons in the shape of wild beasts, who inflicted blows upon him, and sometimes left him nearly dead.

After 15 years of this life, at the age of 35, Anthony determined to withdraw from human habitation completely and retire in absolute solitude. He went into the desert to a mountain by the Nile called Pispir (now Der-el-Memun), opposite Arsinoë. There he lived strictly enclosed in an old abandoned Roman fort for about 20 years. Food was thrown to him over the wall. He was at times visited by pilgrims, whom he refused to see; but gradually a number of would-be disciples established themselves in caves and in huts around the mountain. Thus a colony of ascetics was formed, who begged Anthony to come forth and be their guide in the spiritual life. Eventually, he yielded to their pleas and, about the year 305, emerged from his retreat. To the surprise of all, he appeared to be not emaciated, but healthy in mind and body.

For five or six years he devoted himself to the instruction and organization of the great body of monks that had grown up around him; but then he once again withdrew into the inner desert that lay between the Nile and the Red Sea, near the shore of which he fixed his abode on a mountain where the monastery that bears his name, Der Mar Antonios is still active. He spent the last 45 years of his life here, in seclusion, not so strict as Pispir, for he freely saw those who came to visit him, and he used to cross the desert to Pispir with considerable frequency. Amid the Diocletian Persecutions, around 311 Anthony went to Alexandria and was conspicuous visiting those who were imprisoned.

Anthony was not the first Christian ascetic or hermit, but he may properly be called the “Father of Monasticism” in Christianity, since he organized his disciples into a community and later, following the spread of Athanasius’ hagiography, was the inspiration for similar communities throughout Egypt and, elsewhere. Macarius the Great was a disciple of Anthony. Visitors traveled great distances to see the celebrated holy man. Anthony is said to have spoken to those of a spiritual disposition, leaving the task of addressing the more worldly visitors to Macarius. Macarius later founded a monastic community in the Scetic desert.

In 338, he left the desert temporarily to visit Alexandria to help refute the teachings of Arius. When Anthony sensed his death approaching, he commanded his disciples to give his staff to Macarius of Egypt, and to give one sheepskin cloak to Athanasius of Alexandria and the other sheepskin cloak to Serapion of Thmuis, his disciple. Anthony was interred, according to his instructions, in a grave next to his cell.

Accounts of Anthony enduring supernatural temptation during his sojourn in the Eastern Desert of Egypt inspired the often-repeated subject of the temptation of St. Anthony in Western art and literature. Anthony is said to have faced a series of supernatural temptations during his pilgrimage to the desert. The first to report on the temptation was his contemporary Athanasius of Alexandria. It is possible these events, like the paintings, are full of rich metaphor or in the case of the animals of the desert, perhaps a vision or dream. Emphasis on these stories, however, did not really begin until the Middle Ages when the psychology of the individual became of greater interest.

Some of the stories included in Anthony’s biography are perpetuated now mostly in paintings, where they give an opportunity for artists to depict their more lurid or bizarre interpretations. Many artists, including Martin Schongauer, Hieronymus Bosch, Dorothea Tanning, Max Ernst, Leonora Carrington and Salvador Dalí, have depicted these incidents from the life of Anthony; in prose, the tale was retold and embellished by Gustave Flaubert in The Temptation of Saint Anthony.

Each year on January 16th, the eve of the festival of Saint Anthony, the town of San Bartolomé de Pinares, located in the province of Ávila, Castile and León, in Spain, celebrates the traditional Luminarias festival. The festival has purportedly been held for five centuries, and appears to trace back to some kind of

ritual purification to preserve the health of the horses in the village. Bonfires are lit in the central streets, and horses jump through the flames, with the smoke intended to protect the animals from disease.

Anthony’s diet consisted mostly of bread and water, so why not celebrate his day with the classic Egyptian bread, aish beledi?

Jan 092021
 

Today is the saint’s day of Adrian (also spelled Hadrian) of Canterbury (c.637—710). He was a North African scholar in Anglo-Saxon England and the abbot of Saint Peter’s and Saint Paul’s in Canterbury. He was a noted teacher and commentator of the Bible. According to Bede, he was a Berber from North Africa, and abbot of a monastery “not far from Naples” called Monasterium Niridanum (which has never been adequately identified). His identity as a Berber is what encourages me to write this post because the internationalism of this period in Medieval history strikes me as greatly at odds with the nationalism of these latter days.  Apparently, no one in Anglo-Saxon Kent thought twice about having a North African resident abbot, and the pope thought he was a suitable candidate for archbishop of Canterbury.  To be fair, Augustine of Hippo, certainly one of the most influential scholars of his day ( https://www.bookofdaystales.com/st-augustine-of-hippo/ ), is also presumed to have been a Berber – or, at least, that his mother was. But he spent almost all of his ecclesiastical career in North Africa.  Adrian knew the world.

When first offered the vacant archbishopric of Canterbury, by pope Vitalian, Adrian declined. Instead he recommended that it should be given to Andrew, a monk belonging to a neighboring monastery, but he also declined on the plea of advanced years. Then, when the offer was again made to Adrian, he suggested his friend Theodore of Tarsus, who happened to be in Rome at the time. He agreed to undertake the charge, but Vitalian stipulated that Adrian should accompany him to Britain. He gave as his reasons that Adrian, having twice before made a journey into Gaul, knew the roads and the means of transport in the region. As I said, Adrian knew the world.

The two set out from Rome on 27 May 668, and proceeding by sea to Marseilles, crossed the country to Arles, where they remained with John, the archbishop, until they got passports from Ebroin, who ruled that part of Gaul as Mayor of the Palace, for the minor king Clotaire III. Having then made their way together to the north of France, they parted company, and went separately to hole up for the winter, Theodore with Agilbert, bishop of Paris, Adrian first with Emmon, bishop of Sens, and afterwards with Faro, bishop of Meaux. Theodore was sent for in the following spring by king Ecgberht of Kent and was allowed to depart. He reached England at the end of May 669; but Adrian was detained by order of Ebroin, who is said to have suspected him of being an emissary of the Greek emperor sent to stir up troubles against the kingdom of the Franks.

At length, however, Ebroin relented, and Adrian was permitted to proceed to England, where, immediately on his arrival, he was made abbot of the monastery of Saints Peter and Paul (afterwards called Saint Augustine’s) at Canterbury, an appointment which was in conformity with instructions given by the pope to Theodore. Adrian was known to be well versed in the Bible, as well as in Greek and Latin, and an excellent administrator. Under his direction the abbey came to have substantial, far-reaching influence.

Bede describes Adrian (or Hadrian, as he calls him in the Ecclesiastical History), as not only a distinguished theologian, but eminently accomplished in secular learning. He and Theodore, we are told, toured Britain extensively, gathered multitudes of scholars around them wherever they appeared, and employed themselves daily with equal diligence and success in instructing those who flocked to them not only in Christianity (which was a novelty to many),  but in the several branches of science and literature available at the time. Bede particularly mentions the metrical art, astronomy, and arithmetic (which may be considered as representing what we might now call rhetoric and the belles lettres, physical science, and mathematics); and he adds, that as he wrote (in the early part of the 8th century), there still remained some of the pupils of Theodore and Adrian, who spoke Greek and Latin as readily as their native tongues. A record of the teaching of Theodore and Adrian is preserved in the Leiden Glossary.

King Alfred appears to allude to Theodore’s and Adrian’s scholarly outreach in the preface to his translation of Pope Gregory I’s Liber Pastoralis Curae, in the latter part of the ninth century, where he says that it often came into his mind what wise men there were in the country, both laymen and ecclesiastics, in a former age; how the clergy in those happy times were diligent both to teach and to study, and how foreigners then came to England to acquire learning and wisdom; whereas now, in his own day, if any Englishman desired to make himself a scholar, he was obliged to go abroad for instruction.

Adrian is said to have lived for 39 years after he arrived in England, continuing until his death to preside over the monastery at Canterbury. He died in 709 and was buried in the monastery. When he was canonized as a saint, his relics were re-deposited in the new monastery on 9th January 1091, which is now his feast day.

The iconic Berber dish is the tagine – one of the reasons for the post at all.  The name “tagine” refers both to the cooking vessel (which is easily recognized) and the various dishes made in it.  It dates back to around the time of Adrian – just slightly later, but not by much.  Modern Moroccan Arabic طجين ṭažin is derived from Berber ṭajin “shallow earthen pot” from Ancient Greek τάγηνον (tágēnon) “frying-pan, saucepan.”

There are numerous tagine dishes, and you can find numerous recipes online or on YouTube.  This one is an excellent introduction to the method:

Jan 082021
 

Today is the birthday (1891 [O.S. December 27, 1890]) of Bronislava Nijinska (Polish: Bronisława Niżyńska; Russian: Бронисла́ва Фоми́нична Нижи́нская), a Polish ballet dancer, and an innovative choreographer. She was part of a well-known family of professional dancers, including her brother, Vaslav Nijinsky with whom she frequently collaborated.

She began her training in various dance techniques, which included traditional Slavic dances, ballet, and some circus acrobatics, at home with her parents. At age nine she entered the state ballet school in St Petersburg and in 1908 she graduated as an Artist of the Imperial Theatres. From there she followed her brother into the Ballets Russes, where he had become a virtual overnight sensation, and assisted him in his creations of L’Après-midi d’un Faune and Le Sacre du Printemps. It is, however, all too common for dance historians to write of Nijinska as “Nijinsky’s little sister” which, apart from its obvious sexist implications, seriously undervalues her contributions to dance throughout the 20th century.

Nijinska appeared in Sergei Diaghilev’s first two Paris seasons, 1909 and 1910, and became a permanent member of his company thereafter. Here initially she danced in the corps de ballet, e.g., in Swan Lake (the Czardas), in Les Sylphides (the Mazurka), and in Le Spectre de la Rose, but as she developed on the professional stage she was promoted, and eventually given significant parts. Her brother coached her for the role of Papillon [the butterfly] in Fokine’s Carnaval (1909), in part danced with feet and hands fluttering in a coordinated rhythm at an accelerated prestissimo tempo. She also transformed the role of the Ballerina Doll in Petruchka (1912) by changing the doll’s demeanor from theatrical in a tutu to realistic in street clothes, thus modernizing the role. She also steadfastly kept in character rather than slipping back into the default look of classical ballet.

In the 1912 production of Cléopâtre, she at first danced the Bacchanale (replacing Vera Fokine). Then she switched roles, being given Karsavina’s role of Ta-Hor. “Karsavina danced the role on toe, but I would dance it in my bare feet.” The next year she performed in her brother’s Jeux (Games), and then assisted him in the creation of Le Sacre du printemps. She helped create the Chosen Maiden role, but when she became aware she was pregnant, she told Nijinsky she’d have to withdraw and miss its opening performance, causing a rift between them.

Subsequently she worked on developing her own art in Petrograd and Kiev during the years of WW I, the Russian Revolution and the subsequent civil war. During the war years she danced in experimental works as well as in classics. In Petrograd the 1915 theatre program listed her as “the prima ballerina-artist of the State Ballet.” The program included music by Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, and Borodin. She performed in her own choreographed solos, Le Poupee or Tabatierr, and Autumn Song. Then in Kiev in addition to dancing, she established her ballet school and began to choreograph programs. She danced in solos while costumed in tunics, e.g., Etudes (Liszt), Mephisto Valse (Liszt), Nocturnes (Chopin), Preludes (Chopin), and in company performances, e.g., Twelfth Rhapsody (Liszt), Demons (Tcherepnine), March Funebre (Chopin). In 1921 she left Russia and never returned.

From 1921 to 1924 with Ballets Russes, Nijinska reprised several of her old roles including those she helped her brother create. More and more, however, she took prominent roles in her own choreographies and designs, such as, the Lilac Fairy in The Sleeping Beauty (1921), the Fox in Le Renard (1922), as the Hostess in Les Biches (1924), as Lysandre in Les Fâcheux (1924), and as the Tennis Player in Le Train Bleu (1924).

Subsequently, for her own ballet companies and for others, she danced in roles of her own invention: in Holy Etudes, Touring, Le Guignol, and Night on Bald Mountain (all 1925); for Teatro Colón in Estudios religiosos (1926); in her Capricio Espagnole per Rimsky-Korsakoff in 1931; and in the 1934 ballet based on Hamlet per Liszt. Throughout the 1930s she played various roles in Europe and the Americas. As Nijinska reached her 40s, her performance career neared its end. What caused her trouble, and hastened the close of her performance art, was an injury to her Achilles tendon suffered in 1933 while at el Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires.

Due to the outbreak of war in 1939 she relocated from Paris to Los Angeles where she continued working in choreography and as an artistic director, as well as teaching at her studio. In the 1960s she staged revivals of her Ballets Russes-era creations for the Royal Ballet in London. In her last years she assembled a life’s worth of notes which she began casting into her Memoirs, but on her death in 1971 she left 180,00 pages of notes for her daughter, Irina, to edit into a manageable volume.

In among Nijinska’s Memoirs are numerous references to food as a general topic, including her careful control of her brother’s diet because he tended to love carbs and gain weight.  She tried to keep him trim on steak and vegetables.  Once in a while she mentions exquisite banquets she had attended but rarely says more than something like, “the dishes were exquisite,” but spends page after page on describing the place settings, the room décor, the outfits of the footmen serving the food, and whatnot.  But she does describe one dinner in a palace in St Petersburg, and mentions that one of the hors d’oeuvres was marinated mushrooms.  That hint gives me a chink to widen into a recipe.  Marinated mushrooms are not an especially “exquisite” dish normally, but I would expect that in the Frenchified Russian court of pre-revolutionary Russia, the chefs would have taken pride in their offerings.  First, and foremost, I would imagine that these mushrooms were hand-picked wild mushrooms and not the tasteless, white, cultivated things that get called mushrooms in Western supermarkets.  These would have been rich, black, woodland specimens – morels even.  Certainly something with a robust flavor.  So, for this recipe hunt down the most succulent mushrooms you can find, and make sure they are small.  Here is Asia I am spoilt for choose – do your best.  Then turn your attention to the marinade.

Typical marinades begin with a 50-50 mix of oil and vinegar.  The oil part is no problem – the best extra virgin olive oil you can get your hands on.  More often than not I use lime or lemon juice (freshly squeezed) rather than vinegar because I do not care for the rough edges of most commercial vinegars.  I do use well-aged Asian rice-wine vinegars in my cooking and something of the sort would be all right here also, but citrus juice is my first choice.  Now consider your flavorings.  Finely chopped garlic is standard, as is chopped onion (which I use chopped leeks for).  Freshly ground pepper is also common.  After that the default is something like fresh thyme, rosemary, parsley and the like, but we can be adventurous.  I like freshly chopped young ginger root, a little allspice, and a hint of powdered cloves.

Preparation also varies considerably.  Blanching the mushrooms as a first step is common, but I find this process to be the opposite of what you want – extracting rather than adding flavor.  I add ½ cup of olive oil to my skillet, add in the mushrooms so that they form a single layer (you need a wide skillet, or other vessel), and then gently heat the oil over low heat.  Your goal is not to cook the mushrooms but to bathe them in warm oil for a few minutes.  Turn off the heat and add an equal quantity of citrus juice (or vinegar of your preference) to the oil, plus the seasonings of your choice.  Gently mix everything together, cover, and let cool.  Once cool, place the mushrooms and marinade in a suitable jar with a tight-fitting lid (with the marinade covering all of the mushrooms) and leave in a cool place for at least 24 hours. Longer is better.  These mushrooms can keep for a week or more.

Dec 292020
 

The Wounded Knee Massacre took place on this date in 1890. It was a domestic massacre of nearly three hundred Lakota men, women, and children, by soldiers of the United States Army. It occurred near Wounded Knee Creek (Lakota: Čhaŋkpé Ópi Wakpála) on the Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, following a botched attempt to disarm the Lakota camp. The previous day, a detachment of the U.S. 7th Cavalry Regiment commanded by Major Samuel M. Whitside intercepted Spotted Elk’s band of Miniconjou Lakota and 38 Hunkpapa Lakota near Porcupine Butte and escorted them 5 miles (8.0 km) westward to Wounded Knee Creek, where they made camp. The remainder of the 7th Cavalry Regiment, led by colonel James W. Forsyth, arrived and surrounded the encampment. The regiment was supported by a battery of four Hotchkiss mountain guns.

On the morning of December 29th, the U.S. Cavalry troops went into the camp to disarm the Lakota. Specific details of what triggered the massacre are debated. According to some accounts, Yellow Bird began to perform the Ghost Dance, telling the Lakota that their ghost shirts (part of the Ghost Dance ritual) were bulletproof. As tensions mounted, Black Coyote refused to give up his rifle; he spoke no English and was deaf, and had not understood the order. A Lakota said: “Black Coyote is deaf,” and when the soldier persisted, he said, “Stop. He cannot hear your orders.” At that moment, two soldiers seized Black Coyote from behind, and (supposedly) in the struggle, his rifle discharged. At the same moment, Yellow Bird threw some dust into the air, and approximately five young Lakota men with concealed weapons threw aside their blankets and fired their rifles at the soldiers. After this initial exchange, the firing became indiscriminate.

By the time the massacre was over, more than 250 men, women, and children of the Lakota had been killed and 51 were wounded (4 men and 47 women and children, some of whom died later); some estimates placed the number of dead as high as 300. 25 soldiers also died, and 39 were wounded (6 of the wounded later died). 20 of the soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor.

These are the voices of two survivors:

Black Elk (1863–1950); medicine man, Oglala Lakota:

“I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people’s dream died there. It was a beautiful dream. And I, to whom so great a vision was given in my youth, — you see me now a pitiful old man who has done nothing, for the nation’s hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead.”

American Horse (1840–1908); chief, Oglala Lakota:

“There was a woman with an infant in her arms who was killed as she almost touched the flag of truce … A mother was shot down with her infant; the child not knowing that its mother was dead was still nursing … The women as they were fleeing with their babies were killed together, shot right through … and after most all of them had been killed a cry was made that all those who were not killed or wounded should come forth and they would be safe. Little boys … came out of their places of refuge, and as soon as they came in sight a number of soldiers surrounded them and butchered them there.”

In 2001, the National Congress of American Indians passed two resolutions condemning the military awards and called on the U.S. government to rescind them. The Wounded Knee Battlefield, site of the massacre, has been designated a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior. In 1990, both houses of the U.S. Congress passed a resolution on the historical centennial formally expressing “deep regret” for the massacre. Such resolutions are meaningless tokens.  The oppression of marginalized people in the US continues to this day unabated.

I gave a small appraisal of traditional Lakota cooking here https://www.bookofdaystales.com/kicking-bear/ which you can consult for today’s recipe.  There I talked about meat stews.  Today I will focus on wojapi, Lakota fruit sauce.  Like meat stews, there is not much to cooking wojapi.  Take about 4 cups of native berries, and ½ cup of water and slowly simmer until the fruit breaks down to form a thick sauce. The main point here is not to use sugar, as you might do with similar recipes to make jams, and, more importantly, you must use berries indigenous to North America.  These include blueberries, chokecherries, juneberries, and salmonberries.  You won’t find them by foraging at this time of year, but you can get them (frozen) online.

Dec 272020
 

Today (Holy Innocents https://www.bookofdaystales.com/holy-innocents/ ) used to be the day for the boy bishop custom which was widespread in the Middle Ages across Europe. A boy was chosen, often from among the cathedral choristers, to parody the real bishop. In England the boy bishop was sometimes elected on December 6th (the feast of Saint Nicholas https://www.bookofdaystales.com/st-nicholas-of-myra/ the patron saint of children), and his authority lasted until Holy Innocents’ day. The real bishop would, symbolically, step down at the deposuit potentes de sede of the Magnificat (“he hath put down the mighty from their seat”), and the boy would take his seat at et exaltavit humiles (“and hath exalted the humble and meek”).

After the election, the boy was dressed in full bishop’s robes with miter and crozier and, attended by other boys dressed as priests, made a circuit of the town blessing the people. The chosen boy and his comrades took possession of the cathedral and performed all the ceremonies and offices, except Mass. Originally, the custom was confined to the cathedrals because they were the seats of bishops, but over time it spread to many parishes.

Various Church authorities attempted to suppress the custom over the years because of its sacrilegious nature, but its popularity made it resilient for centuries. In England the custom was abolished by Henry VIII in 1542, revived by Mary I in 1552 and finally abolished by Elizabeth I. On the continent of Europe it survived for quite some time in Germany, in the so-called Gregoriusfest, said to have been founded by Gregory IV. It is still practiced (in revival) in some cities in Spain. The custom has given rise to some popular misconceptions, however, one of which is the traditional misidentification of a miniature episcopal tomb effigy in Salisbury Cathedral as a boy bishop: this is more likely to commemorate a secondary burial (heart or viscera) of a real bishop, possibly Richard Poore.

There have been some recent revivals both in the English-speaking world and on the continent. Most famous perhaps is that of Hereford, revived in 1973 for a special children’s service, with full and traditional ceremonies following annually since 1982. The boy bishop preaches a sermon and leads prayers at various diocesan Advent services. A single revival took place in 1959 at St George’s Parish Church, Stockport. Such ceremonies are now also found at Westminster Cathedral, Salisbury Cathedral, and a number of parish churches throughout England, including All Saints’ Church, Northampton, Claines, Worcestershire, and also St Christopher’s Parish Church, Bournemouth, (early 1950s), where the Boy Bishop was installed on St Christopher’s Day, (July 25), and ‘reigned’ for one year, preaching and ‘presiding’ at youth events. The market town of Alcester, Warwickshire has its very own St Nicholas night complete with the boy bishop on December 6th each year.

The custom was likewise revived in Burgos, Spain, where the boy-bishop feast had been extremely popular before the cathedral choir was closed in the 1930s. After its re-establishment, the boy bishop was revived in 1987, and has since been celebrated every year. Other Spanish cities such as Palencia also hold the ceremony, and the one celebrated in the Monastery of Montserrat by L’Escolania is especially renowned. The festival was also revived in Chavagnes International College, a Catholic boarding school in France.

The Boy Bishop custom – along with festivities such as the Lord of Misrule, Mock Mayor, and Feast of Fools – is what I have called a social safety valve in my academic writing, and what is referred to in anthropological research as a ritual of inversion.  In modern times, trick or treating in the US serves a somewhat similar function.  I’ll give you the short version of my analysis.  Rituals of inversion turn the normal social order on its head: the poor, weak, and downtrodden in the community get to have some semblance of power for a short period, and use that power to mock the system that keeps them subordinate most of the year.  As such they can “let off steam” – with impunity. During the Commonwealth in England the Puritans banned all such activities, forcing the country into a massive imbalance of the powerful over the powerless, and, in consequence, the people rebelled and brought back the monarchy under Charles II who took little time to decree that all the rituals of inversion were to be restored – immediately.  Unlike his father, he kept his head and his throne.

A Yule log (or bûche de Noël) seems like a suitably celebratory dish for today – that is, a log that is not a log – and something to be enjoyed by children. They can also help in the decorating.  I used to make one every year, but I mostly cheated.  I would buy a Swiss roll cake and then decorate it with chocolate frosting.  Making one from scratch was a bit over the top for me when I was already making gingerbread castles, plum puddings, mince pies, Christmas cakes, et al.  It made an attractive centerpiece all the same.  Here is a video on how to make the real thing:

Dec 272020
 

Today is the birthday (1571) of Johannes Kepler, a German astronomer, mathematician, and astrologer (no doubt named after John the Apostle because this is his saint’s day https://www.bookofdaystales.com/san-juan/ ). Kepler is a key figure in the 17th-century scientific revolution, best known for his laws of planetary motion, and his books Astronomia nova, Harmonices Mundi, and Epitome Astronomiae Copernicanae. These works also provided one of the foundations for Newton’s theory of universal gravitation which augmented Kepler’s concepts of planetary motion.

Kepler was a mathematics teacher at a seminary school in Graz, where he became an associate of Prince Hans Ulrich von Eggenberg. Later he became an assistant to the astronomer Tycho Brahe in Prague, and eventually the imperial mathematician to Emperor Rudolf II and his two successors Matthias and Ferdinand II. He also taught mathematics in Linz, and was an adviser to General Wallenstein. Additionally, he did fundamental work in the field of optics, invented an improved version of the refracting (or Keplerian) telescope, and was mentioned in the telescopic discoveries of his contemporary Galileo Galilei. He was a corresponding member of the Accademia dei Lincei in Rome.

Kepler lived in an era when there was no clear distinction between astronomy and astrology, but there was a strong division between astronomy (a branch of mathematics within the liberal arts) and physics (a branch of natural philosophy). Kepler pulled together astronomical observations with mathematics and physics to build the foundations of astrophysics. He also incorporated religious arguments and reasoning into his work, motivated by the religious conviction and belief that God had created the world according to an intelligible plan that is accessible through reason. Kepler described his new astronomy as “celestial physics,” as “an excursion into Aristotle’s Metaphysics,” and as “a supplement to Aristotle’s On the Heavens,” transforming the ancient tradition of physical cosmology by treating astronomy as part of a universal mathematical physics. When Newton said that he saw so far because he stood on the shoulders of giants, Kepler was one of those giants.

Delving into all that Kepler accomplished is way too much for a short blog post, so let me focus on his perhaps most famous formulation, his laws of planetary motion.  The three laws state that:

  1. The orbit of a planet is an ellipse with the Sun at one of the two foci.
  2. A line segment joining a planet and the Sun sweeps out equal areas during equal intervals of time.
  3. The square of a planet’s orbital period is proportional to the cube of the length of the semi-major axis of its orbit.

The elliptical orbits of planets were indicated by calculations of the orbit of Mars. From this, Kepler inferred that other bodies in the Solar System, including those farther away from the Sun, also have elliptical orbits. The second law helps to establish that when a planet is closer to the Sun, it travels faster. The third law expresses that the farther a planet is from the Sun, the slower its orbital speed, and vice versa. As such, Kepler refined the theories proposed by Copernicus.

If the eccentricities of the planetary orbits are taken as zero, then Kepler basically agreed with Copernicus:

1. The planetary orbit is a circle.
2. The Sun is at the center of the orbit.
3. The speed of the planet in the orbit is constant.

The eccentricities of the orbits of those planets, known to Copernicus and Kepler, are small, so the foregoing rules give fair approximations of planetary motion, but Kepler’s laws fit the observations better than does the model proposed by Copernicus. Kepler’s corrections are:

1. The planetary orbit is not a circle, but an ellipse.
2. The Sun is not at the center but at a focal point of the elliptical orbit.
3. Neither the linear speed nor the angular speed of the planet in the orbit is constant, but the area speed (closely linked historically with the concept of angular momentum) is constant.

If you are lost at this point – or don’t care about these points – I won’t beat you up, and I certainly won’t add any equations, or the like. It’s enough to be aware that the planetary orbits are elliptical rather than circular. Kepler shows us that physics is in a perpetual state of refinement (that never ceases). Newton added his bits and much later Einstein added his. Understanding is in a constant state of change, leading to a general acknowledgement that change is the only constant. Scientific theories never explain everything: there are always observations that cannot be accounted for by current theories. Hence the periodic revolutions in scientific thinking.

I will admit that my eyes have the habit of glazing over when I see something like r=p/1+ϵcosθ (or more complex) and it’s not because I do not understand the formula.  It’s because my interests do not lie in delving deeper into the implications.  There’s the nub of the matter. I accept the conclusions and move on. But . . . there are people like Kepler who are never satisfied. The work of Copernicus was fairly close to the truth, but the anomalies bothered Kepler and he worked tirelessly to get yet closer to the truth.  This is one of the reasons I get so aggravated with flat earthers and other science deniers.  They think that some vague intuitions based on limited sensory information can challenge the exhaustive work of dedicated professionals.  I despair – sometimes.

Kepler was born in Weil der Stadt, currently in the Stuttgart Region of the German state of Baden-Württemberg. Among other things, it is well-known for its Fasnetsküchle which will be available very soon (after Epiphany). Fasnetsküchle are similar to the so-called “Berliner,” or jelly doughnuts, or “Krapfen,” which are available year round. But the Swabian version is distinctly different: it must be flat and square or rectangular, never round nor as tall as a Berliner, and it’s not supposed to be filled with jam – it should be plain inside and out. True Swabians insist that Fasnetsküchle may not even be sprinkled with cinnamon or powdered sugar. But times change and you now find them with a dusting of sugar (and cinnamon).

Fasnetsküchle

Ingredients:

2 cups whole milk, warmed to 110F/43C
4½ teaspoons active dry yeast (two packages)
¾ cup and 1 pinch granulated sugar, divided
5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour, divided
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1¼ teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
oil for deep- frying (lard is traditional)

Instructions:

Pour the warm milk into bowl. Stir in the yeast and a pinch of granulated sugar. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes, or until it has become bubbly. Add 2 cups of flour to the mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until a smooth batter forms. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm spot for 30 minutes. By now the mixture should have risen and become bubbly.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs until pale yellow and frothy (about three minutes). Add the sugar, vanilla extract and salt, and whisk until combined and smooth.

Add the egg mixture to the dough and hand-knead until mostly combined. Add the melted butter and mix. Gradually add three more cups of flour to the mixture and continue to knead until very soft dough comes together (it will be rather slack and a bit sticky.) If necessary, add up to another cup of flour, a spoonful at a time, until the dough firms. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, or a kitchen cloth, and let it set in a warm spot until dough has doubled in size (20 to 30 minutes).

Remove the dough from the bowl and turn out on to a floured work surface. With your fingers, or a rolling pin, push down the dough into an even layer. Sprinkle flour on the dough and roll it out to about ½-inch thickness. If the dough doesn’t hold its shape and springs back, cover with a damp towel and let it rest for a few more minutes and try again.

Cut out 3 x 3 inch squares or 3 x 4 rectangles of dough. Transfer the dough pieces to parchment-lined baking sheets. Gather scraps of dough and again roll out and cut until you have used up all of the dough. Cover the baking sheets loosely with a dish-towel, plastic wrap and place in a warm, draft-free spot until they are almost doubled in size, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat at least 1½ to 2 inches or more of deep frying shortening or oil in a heavy-bottomed pot or deep skillet over medium heat to 350F/176C. Carefully lower about three or four Küchle into the oil one at a time (be sure not to over-crowd the pan) and fry until the bottom is golden brown. Carefully turn them over and continue to fry until the other side is golden brown.

Remove with a slotted spoon, and drain on a wire rack. Repeat for the remaining Küchle. They are best eaten warm.

Dec 262020
 

Today is the first day of Kwanzaa, an annual celebration of African-American culture that is held from December 26th to January 1st, culminating in a communal feast called Karamu, usually held on the 6th day. It was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga, based on African harvest festival traditions from various parts of Africa, including West and Southeast Africa. Kwanzaa was first celebrated in 1966.

Maulana Karenga created Kwanzaa in 1966 during the aftermath of the Watts riots as a specifically African-American holiday. Karenga said his goal was to “give blacks an alternative to the existing holiday [of Christmas] and give blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and their history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society.” For Karenga, a major figure in the Black Power movement of the 1960s and 1970s, the creation of such holidays also underscored the essential premise that “you must have a cultural revolution before the violent revolution. The cultural revolution gives identity, purpose, and direction.”

According to Karenga, the name Kwanzaa derives from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, meaning “first fruits”. First fruits festivals exist in Southern Africa, celebrated in December/January with the southern solstice, and Karenga was partly inspired by an account he read of the Zulu festival Umkhosi Wokweshwama. It was decided to spell the holiday’s name with an additional “a” so that it would have a symbolic seven letters.

During the early years of Kwanzaa, Karenga said it was meant to be an alternative to Christmas. He believed Jesus was psychotic and Christianity was a “White” religion that Black people should shun. As Kwanzaa gained mainstream adherents, Karenga altered his position so practicing Christians would not be alienated, stating in the 1997 book Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community, and Culture that “Kwanzaa was not created to give people an alternative to their own religion or religious holiday.” Many African Americans who celebrate Kwanzaa do so in addition to observing Christmas.

Kwanzaa celebrates what its founder called the seven principles of Kwanzaa, or Nguzo Saba (originally Nguzu Saba – the seven principles of African Heritage). They were developed in 1965, a year before Kwanzaa itself. These seven principles comprise Kawaida, a Swahili word meaning “common”. Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa is dedicated to one of the following principles, as follows:

Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define and name ourselves, as well as to create and speak for ourselves.

Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems and to solve them together.

Ujamaa (Cooperative economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.

Nia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

Kuumba (Creativity): To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

Imani (Faith): To believe with all our hearts in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

Kwanzaa celebratory symbols include a mat (Mkeka) on which other symbols are placed: a Kinara (candle holder for seven candlesticks), Mishumaa Saba (seven candles), mazao (crops), Mahindi (corn), a Kikombe cha Umoja (unity cup) for commemorating and giving shukrani (thanks) to African Ancestors, and Zawadi (gifts). Supplemental representations include a Nguzo Saba poster, the black, red, and green bendera (flag), and African books and artworks – all to represent values and concepts reflective of African culture and contribution to community building and reinforcement. Ears of corn represent the children celebrating and corn may be part of the holiday meal.

Every tradition that we follow was invented at some point in history but some are more durable than others.  These days it is estimated that between 1% and 3% of the African-American community celebrates Kwanzaa.  It did have quite a following in the 1970s but in the following decades the custom dwindled in popularity.  I expect there are multiple reasons for fading interest.  The thing is that you cannot create unity among people by simply asking for it.  There has to be a unifying principle.  Right now I would say that racism and racist violence against African-Americans is the single most prominent unifying factor, and it has caused large demonstrations in multiple cities in the US of late.  But protest, while unifying, is not celebratory.  There is a deep cultural lesson in there.

This video highlights some of the dishes from the African-American community that could be part of a karamu feast with a recipe for succotash. I already gave a recipe for succotash here https://www.bookofdaystales.com/benjamin-franklin/ but it bears repeating.