Jan 072021

Today is the birthday (1912) of Charles Samuel Addams, a US artist and cartoonist known for his darkly humorous and macabre characters. Some of the recurring characters, who became known as the Addams Family, have been the basis for spin-offs in several other forms of media.

Addams was born in Westfield, New Jersey, son of Grace M. and Charles Huey Addams, a piano company executive who had studied to be an architect. Addams’ father encouraged him to draw, and he did cartoons for the Westfield High School student literary magazine, Weathervane. He attended Colgate University in 1929 and 1930. He also attended the University of Pennsylvania 1n 1930 and 1931, where a fine-arts building on campus is named for him. He then studied at the Grand Central School of Art in New York City in 1931 and 1932.

In 1933, Addams joined the layout department of True Detective magazine, where he had to retouch photos of corpses that appeared in the magazine’s stories to remove the blood from them. Addams complained: “A lot of those corpses were more interesting the way they were.”  Addams’ first drawing for The New Yorker, a sketch of a window washer, ran on February 6, 1932, and his cartoons ran regularly in the magazine from 1937, when he drew the first in the series that came to be called The Addams Family, until his death in 1988. He was a freelancer throughout that time.

Addams’ original cartoons were one-panel gags and the characters that eventually became known as The Addams Family were sometimes drawn as a group, sometimes as individuals interspersed with regular society.  As such, they were undeveloped and unnamed and remained so until the first television series production in 1964. Addams described them as follows:

Gomez and Pugsley are enthusiastic. Morticia is even in disposition, muted, witty, sometimes deadly. Grandma Frump is foolishly good-natured. Wednesday is her mother’s daughter. A closely-knit family, the real head being Morticia—although each of the others is a definite character—except for Grandma, who is easily led. Many of the troubles they have as a family are due to Grandma’s fumbling, weak character. The house is a wreck, of course, but this is a house-proud family just the same, and every trap door is in good repair. Money is no problem.

Until the development of the television series, the individual characters were simply bizarre foils for cartoon humor. They became fully-fleshed, three-dimensional people with a complete family dynamic when series scripts needed more than one-liners. Thus they became a satirical inversion of the ideal 20th-century US family: an odd wealthy aristocratic clan who delight in the macabre and are seemingly unaware or unconcerned that other people find them bizarre or frightening. They are not in any sense evil. In their own way they are loving, kind, caring, and generous, and especially loyal to one another. They love to laugh, play games, and make art and music.  They just happen to be a trifle odd in the ways they carry things out.

I could give you a recipe that does the kind of thing that IHOP did when it invented its Addams Family Menu, with such items as buttermilk pancakes decorated with spider motifs. But that seems a bit tame, and is also something you can come up with yourself based on the numerous Halloween-themed recipes that abound every October.  Instead, I give you casu marzu – much more exotically macabre.

Casu marzu (literally ‘putrid cheese’), also called casu modde, casu cundídu and casu fràzigu, is a traditional Sardinian sheep milk cheese that contains live insect larvae (maggots). A variation of the cheese, casgiu merzu, is also produced in some Southern Corsican villages. The cheese is derivative of pecorino, but goes beyond the typical fermentation to a stage of decomposition, brought about by the digestive action of the larvae of the cheese fly of the Piophilidae family. These larvae are deliberately introduced to the cheese, promoting an advanced level of fermentation and breaking down of the cheese’s fats. The texture of the cheese becomes very soft, with some liquid (called làgrima, Sardinian for “teardrop”) seeping out. The larvae themselves appear as translucent white worms, roughly 8 mm (0.3 in) long.

Casu marzu is created by leaving whole pecorino cheeses outside with part of the rind removed to allow the eggs of the cheese fly Piophila casei to be laid in the cheese. A female P. casei can lay more than 500 eggs at one time. The eggs hatch and the larvae begin to eat through the cheese. The acid from the maggots’ digestive system breaks down the cheese’s fats, making the texture of the cheese very soft; by the time it is ready for consumption, a typical casu martzu will contain thousands of these maggots.

Casu marzu is considered by Sardinian aficionados to be unsafe to eat when the maggots in the cheese have died. Because of this, only cheese in which the maggots are still alive is usually eaten, although allowances are made for cheese that has been refrigerated, which results in the maggots being killed. When the cheese has fermented enough, it is often cut into thin strips and spread on moistened Sardinian flatbread (pane carasau), to be served with a strong red wine like cannonau. Because the larvae in the cheese can launch themselves for distances up to 15 cm (6 in) when disturbed, diners hold their hands above the sandwich to prevent the maggots from leaping. Some who eat the cheese prefer not to ingest the maggots. Those who do not wish to eat them place the cheese in a sealed paper bag. The maggots, starved for oxygen, writhe and jump in the bag, creating a “pitter-patter” sound. When the sounds subside, the maggots are dead and the cheese can be eaten.

Mar 022016


Today is the birthday (1904) of Theodor Seuss Geisel a U.S. writer and illustrator best known for writing and illustrating popular children’s books under the pen name Dr. Seuss. His work includes several of the most popular children’s books of all time, selling over 600 million copies and being translated into more than 20 languages by the time of his death.

Geisel was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, to Theodor Robert and Henrietta (née Seuss) Geisel. All of his grandparents were German immigrants. His father managed the family brewery and was later appointed to supervise Springfield’s public park system by Mayor John A. Denison after the brewery closed because of Prohibition. Mulberry Street in Springfield was made famous in Dr. Seuss’ first children’s book And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street! and is less than a mile southwest of his boyhood home on Fairfield Street.


Geisel attended Dartmouth College, graduating in 1925. At Dartmouth, he joined the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity and the humor magazine Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern, eventually rising to editor-in-chief. While at Dartmouth, he was caught drinking gin with nine friends in his room. At the time, the possession and consumption of alcohol was illegal under Prohibition laws and as a result of this infraction, Dean Craven Laycock insisted that Geisel resign from all extracurricular activities, including the college humor magazine. To continue work on the Jack-O-Lantern without the administration’s knowledge, Geisel began signing his work with the pen name “Seuss”. He was encouraged in his writing by professor of rhetoric W. Benfield Pressey, whom he described as his “big inspiration for writing” at Dartmouth.

Upon graduating from Dartmouth, he entered Lincoln College, Oxford intending to earn a doctorate in English literature. At Oxford, he met Helen Palmer, who encouraged him to give up becoming an English teacher in favor of pursuing drawing as a career. Geisel left Oxford without earning a degree and returned to the United States in February 1927, where he immediately began submitting writings and drawings to magazines, book publishers, and advertising agencies. Making use of his time in Europe, he pitched a series of cartoons called Eminent Europeans to Life magazine, but the magazine passed on it. His first nationally published cartoon appeared in the July 16, 1927 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. This single $25 sale encouraged Geisel to move from Springfield to New York City.


Later that year, Geisel accepted a job as writer and illustrator at the humor magazine Judge, and he felt financially stable enough to marry Helen. His first cartoon for Judge appeared on October 22, 1927, and the Geisels were married on November 29. Geisel’s first work signed “Dr. Seuss” was published in Judge about six months after he started working there.

In early 1928, one of Geisel’s cartoons for Judge mentioned Flit, a common bug spray at the time manufactured by Standard Oil of New Jersey. According to Geisel, the wife of an advertising executive in charge of advertising Flit saw Geisel’s cartoon at a hairdresser’s and urged her husband to sign him. Geisel’s first Flit ad appeared on May 31, 1928, and the campaign continued sporadically until 1941. The campaign’s catchphrase “Quick, Henry, the Flit!” became a part of popular culture. It spawned a song and was used as a punch line for comedians such as Fred Allen and Jack Benny. As Geisel gained notoriety for the Flit campaign, his work was sought after and began to appear regularly in magazines such as Life, Liberty, and Vanity Fair.


In 1936, the couple were returning from an ocean voyage to Europe when the rhythm of the ship’s engines inspired the poem that became his first book: And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. Based on Geisel’s varied accounts, the book was rejected by between 20 and 43 publishers. According to Geisel, he was walking home to burn the manuscript when a chance encounter with an old Dartmouth classmate led to its publication by Vanguard Press. Geisel wrote four more books before the US entered World War II. This included The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins in 1938, as well as The King’s Stilts and The Seven Lady Godivas in 1939, all of which were in prose, atypically for him. This was followed by Horton Hatches the Egg in 1940, in which Geisel returned to the use of poetry.


As World War II began, Geisel turned to political cartoons, drawing over 400 in two years as editorial cartoonist for the left-leaning New York City daily newspaper, PM. Geisel’s political cartoons, later published in Dr. Seuss Goes to War, denounced Hitler and Mussolini and were highly critical of non-interventionists (“isolationists”), most notably Charles Lindbergh, who opposed US entry into the war. One cartoon depicted all Japanese Americans as latent traitors or fifth-columnists (his moral blind spot which he later recanted after Hiroshima), while other cartoons simultaneously deplored the racism at home against Jews and blacks that harmed the war effort. His cartoons were strongly supportive of President Roosevelt’s handling of the war, combining the usual exhortations to ration and contribute to the war effort with frequent attacks on Congress (especially the Republican Party), parts of the press (such as the New York Daily News, Chicago Tribune, and Washington Times-Herald), and others for criticism of Roosevelt, criticism of aid to the Soviet Union, investigation of suspected Communists, and other offenses that he depicted as leading to disunity and helping the Nazis, intentionally or inadvertently.

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In 1942, Geisel turned his energies to direct support of the U.S. war effort. First, he worked drawing posters for the Treasury Department and the War Production Board. Then, in 1943, he joined the Army as a Captain and was commander of the Animation Department of the First Motion Picture Unit of the United States Army Air Forces, where he wrote films that included Your Job in Germany, a 1945 propaganda film about peace in Europe after World War II; Our Job in Japan; and the Private Snafu series of adult army training films. While in the Army, he was awarded the Legion of Merit.[43] Our Job in Japan became the basis for the commercially released film Design for Death (1947), a study of Japanese culture that won the Academy Award for Documentary Feature. Gerald McBoing-Boing (1950) was based on an original story by Seuss and won the Academy Award for Animated Short Film.

After the war, Geisel and his wife moved to La Jolla, California where he returned to writing children’s books. He wrote many, including such favorites as If I Ran the Zoo (1950), Horton Hears a Who! (1955), If I Ran the Circus (1956), The Cat in the Hat (1957), How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1957), and Green Eggs and Ham (1960).

In May 1954, Life magazine published a report on illiteracy among school children which concluded that children were not learning to read because their books were boring. William Ellsworth Spaulding was the director of the education division at Houghton Mifflin (he later became its chairman), and he compiled a list of 348 words that he felt were important for first-graders to recognize. He asked Geisel to cut the list to 250 words and to write a book using only those words. Spaulding challenged Geisel to “bring back a book children can’t put down”. Nine months later, Geisel completed The Cat in the Hat, using 236 of the words given to him. It retained the drawing style, verse rhythms, and all the imaginative power of Geisel’s earlier works but, because of its simplified vocabulary, it could be read by beginning readers. The Cat in the Hat and subsequent books written for young children achieved significant international success and they remain very popular today.


Geisel died of oral cancer on September 24, 1991 at his home in La Jolla at the age of 87. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered. On December 1, 1995, four years after his death, University of California, San Diego’s University Library Building was renamed Geisel Library in honor of Geisel and Audrey for the generous contributions that they made to the library and their devotion to improving literacy.

Geisel’s most famous pen name is regularly pronounced /ˈsjuːs/, an anglicized pronunciation inconsistent with his German surname (the standard German pronunciation is [ˈzɔʏ̯s]). He himself noted that it rhymed with “voice” (his own pronunciation being /ˈsɔɪs/). Alexander Liang, one of his collaborators on the Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern, wrote of it:

You’re wrong as the deuce
And you shouldn’t rejoice
If you’re calling him Seuss.
He pronounces it Soice.

Geisel switched to the anglicized pronunciation because it “evoked a figure advantageous for an author of children’s books to be associated with—Mother Goose” and because most people used this pronunciation.


It’s a no-brainer to choose green eggs and ham as the recipe du jour, but what recipe should I use? Many cooks get away with just putting green food coloring in scrambled eggs. This seems a bit tame for me: not especially appetizing. Also you have to consider how to parse “green eggs and ham.” Geisel’s own illustration suggests it should be “green eggs and green ham,” but the Italian translation follows the usual English understanding “green eggs and regular ham.”


I’ll go with the latter for my recipe. It’s not a vivid green recipe, but it is delicious.

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Start by poaching spinach, and crisping some ham (I’m using prosciutto today because I live in Italy).


Beat 2 eggs and add the spinach. Then pour into a hot omelet pan.


Add the ham.


And serve.

My breakfast this morning — a real change just to honor Dr Seuss. I normally eat leftovers: curry, pasta, fruit or whatever.

Dec 082015


Today is the birthday (1894) of James Grover Thurber, cartoonist, author, journalist, playwright, and celebrated wit. Thurber was best known for his cartoons and short stories, published mainly in The New Yorker magazine and collected in his numerous books. One of the most popular humorists of his time, Thurber celebrated the comic frustrations and eccentricities of ordinary people. In collaboration with his college friend, Elliott Nugent, he wrote the Broadway comedy, “The Male Animal,” later adapted into a film, which starred Henry Fonda and Olivia de Havilland.


Thurber was born in Columbus, Ohio, to Charles L. Thurber and Mary Agnes “Mame” (née Fisher) Thurber. Both of his parents greatly influenced his work. His father, a sporadically employed clerk and minor politician who dreamed of being a lawyer or an actor, is said to have been the inspiration for the small, timid protagonist typical of many of his stories. Thurber described his mother as a “born comedian” and “one of the finest comic talents I think I have ever known.” She was a practical joker and on one occasion pretended to be crippled and attended a faith healer’s revival, only to jump up and proclaim herself healed.


Thurber had two brothers, William and Robert. Once, while playing a game of William Tell, his brother shot James in the eye with an arrow, and Thurber lost that eye. This injury would later cause him to become almost entirely blind. Unable in his childhood to partake in sports and other physical activities because of his injury, he developed a creative mind which he then used to express himself in his writings. Neurologist V.S. Ramachandran suggests Thurber’s imagination may be partly explained by Charles Bonnet syndrome, a neurological condition that causes complex visual hallucinations in otherwise mentally healthy people who have suffered some level of visual loss.

From 1913 to 1918, Thurber attended Ohio State University, where he was a member of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. He never graduated from the university because his poor eyesight prevented him from taking a mandatory ROTC course. In 1995 he was posthumously awarded a degree.


From 1918 to 1920, Thurber worked as a code clerk for the Department of State, first in Washington, D.C., and then at the Embassy of the United States in Paris. On returning to Columbus, he began his career as a reporter for the Columbus Dispatch from 1921 to 1924. During part of this time, he reviewed current books, films, and plays in a weekly column called “Credos and Curios”, a title that later would be given to a posthumous collection of his work. Thurber returned to Paris during this period, where he wrote for the Chicago Tribune and other newspapers.

In 1925, Thurber moved to Greenwich Village in New York City, getting a job as a reporter for the New York Evening Post. He joined the staff of The New Yorker in 1927 as an editor, with the help of E.B. White, his friend and fellow New Yorker contributor. His career as a cartoonist began in 1930 after White found some of Thurber’s drawings in a trash can and submitted them for publication; White inked-in some of these earlier drawings to make them reproduce better for the magazine, and years later expressed deep regret that he had done such a thing. Thurber contributed both his writings and his drawings to The New Yorker until the 1950s.


Thurber was married twice. In 1922, Thurber married Althea Adams. The marriage was troubled and ended in divorce in May 1935. They had a daughter Rosemary together, and lived in Fairfield County, Connecticut. He remarried in June 1935 to Helen Wismer (1902–1986).

Thurber was stricken with a blood clot on the brain on October 4, 1961, and underwent emergency surgery. The operation was successful, but he died, aged 66, due to complications from pneumonia which set in. His last words, aside from the repeated word “God,” were “God bless… God damn”, according to his wife, Helen. Ironically, Thurber could be the poster child for the saying “the operation was a success but the patient died.” It would be suitably Thurberesque.


As a tribute here’s a few of my favorite Thurber quotes and cartoons:

I used to wake up at 4 A.M. and start sneezing, sometimes for five hours. I tried to find out what sort of allergy I had but finally came to the conclusion that it must be an allergy to consciousness.

A drawing is always dragged down to the level of its caption.

You might as well fall flat on your face as lean over too far backward.

The nation that complacently and fearfully allows its artists and writers to become suspected rather than respected is no longer regarded as a nation possessed with humor or depth.

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Thurber’s ridicule of pretentious talk about wine and cheese led me to ask – what is a reliable cheese? In what sense can one rely on one cheese versus another? In some ways I see this as asking what the most versatile cheese might be. That question in itself is hard to answer. No single cheese covers the waterfront and some, of course, serve highly specialized needs. So I pondered a kind of “desert island” cheese question. If for some reason I were limited for the rest of my life to one kind of cheese, what would it be? This took a lot of thought plus a tour around the cheese section of my local market. Finally, I settled on brie. It’s one of my favorite cheeses anyway – has been all my life.


Brie is a soft cow’s milk cheese named after Brie, the French region from which it originated (roughly corresponding to the modern département of Seine-et-Marne). It is pale in color with a slight grayish tinge under a rind of white mold. The whitish moldy rind is typically eaten, with its flavor depending largely upon the ingredients used and its manufacturing environment. It is made worldwide, but the French government officially certifies only two types of cheese to be sold under that name: Brie de Meaux and Brie de Melun.

Brie de Meaux is an unpasteurized Brie, with an average weight of 2.8 kg (6.2 lb) for a diameter of 36 to 37 cm (14 to 15 in). It is manufactured at the town of Meaux in the Brie region of northern France since the 8th century, was originally known as the “King’s Cheese”, or, after the French Revolution, the “King of Cheeses,” and was enjoyed by the peasantry and nobility alike. It was granted the protection of Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) status in 1980, and it is produced primarily in the eastern part of the Parisian basin.

Brie de Melun has an average weight of 1.5 kilograms (3.3 lb) and a diameter of 27 cm (11 in). It is therefore smaller than Brie de Meaux but is considered to have a stronger flavor and more pungent smell. It is made with unpasteurized milk. Brie de Melun is also available in the form of “Old Brie” or black brie. It was granted AOC status in 1980.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say that these AOC bries are the best, but they are distinctive and worth a try. But I’ve had a perfectly palatable brie made locally in Argentina as well as in Italy. Smoked brie is also worth a taste, but I don’t care for those with added ingredients such as spices or fruits and nuts. I can add them myself if the need arises. Brie is, indeed, versatile; it makes a nice sandwich on its own or with other things, it can be baked, grilled, or simply melted, you can use it for pizza, stuffing vegetables and so forth, and it works well with both sweet and savory dishes. This link provides an abundance of ideas (from which I also took this amazing photo):

grilled jerked chicken with peaches on a skewer


Baked brie is a treat for me. Pop a whole wheel in a moderate oven – 350°F – for about 15 minutes until it is oozing and warm, drizzled with what you will – honey, preserves, spicy sauce – and then spread it on crusty bread. Or encase it in puff pastry and bake it until the pastry is golden.

Oct 222015


Today is the birthday (1811) of Franz Liszt celebrated Hungarian composer, conductor, and virtuoso pianist. He was born to Anna Liszt (née Maria Anna Lager) and Adam Liszt in the village of Doborján (German: Raiding) in Sopron County, in the then Kingdom of Hungary. Liszt’s father played the piano, violin, cello and guitar. He had been in the service of Prince Nikolaus II Esterházy and knew Haydn, Hummel and Beethoven personally. At age six, Franz began listening attentively to his father’s piano playing and showed an interest in both sacred and Romani music. Adam began teaching him the piano at age seven, and Franz began composing in an elementary manner when he was eight. He appeared in concerts at Sopron and Pressburg (Hungarian: Pozsony; present-day Bratislava, Slovakia) in October and November 1820 at age 9. After the concerts, a group of wealthy sponsors offered to finance Franz’s musical education abroad.

In Vienna, Liszt received piano lessons from Carl Czerny, who in his own youth had been a student of Beethoven and Hummel. He also received lessons in composition from Antonio Salieri (Mozart’s rival, off and on), who was then music director of the Viennese court. His public debut in Vienna on December 1, 1822, at a concert at the “Landständischer Saal,” was a great success. He was greeted in Austrian and Hungarian aristocratic circles and also met Beethoven and Schubert. In spring 1823, when his one-year leave of absence came to an end, Adam Liszt asked Prince Esterházy in vain for two more years. Adam Liszt, therefore, took his leave of the Prince’s services. At the end of April 1823, the family returned to Hungary for the last time. At the end of May 1823, the family went to Vienna again.


Towards the end of 1823 or early 1824, Liszt’s first composition to be published, his “Variation on a Waltz by Diabelli” (now S. 147), appeared as Variation 24 in Part II of Vaterländischer Künstlerverein. This anthology, commissioned by Anton Diabelli, includes 50 variations on his waltz by 50 different composers (Part II), Part I being taken up by Beethoven’s 33 variations on the same theme, which are now separately better known simply as his Diabelli Variations, Op. 120. Liszt’s inclusion in the Diabelli project—he was described in it as “an 11 year old boy, born in Hungary”—was almost certainly at the instigation of Czerny, his teacher and also a participant. Liszt was the only child composer in the anthology.

After his father’s death in 1827, Liszt moved to Paris; for the next five years he lived with his mother in a small apartment. He gave up touring. To earn money, Liszt gave lessons in piano playing and composition, often from early morning until late at night. His students were scattered across the city and he often had to cover long distances. Because of this, he kept uncertain hours and also took up smoking and drinking—all habits he would continue throughout his life.


The following year he fell in love with one of his pupils, Caroline de Saint-Cricq, the daughter of Charles X’s minister of commerce, Pierre de Saint-Cricq. However, her father insisted that the affair be broken off. Liszt fell very ill, to the extent that an obituary notice was printed in a Paris newspaper, and he underwent a long period of religious doubts and pessimism. He again stated a wish to join the Church but was dissuaded this time by his mother. He had many discussions with the Abbé de Lamennais, who acted as his spiritual father, and also with Chrétien Urhan, a German-born violinist who introduced him to the Saint-Simonists. Urhan also wrote music that was anti-classical and highly personal, with titles such as “Elle et moi,” “La Salvation angélique” and “Les Regrets,” and stimulated the young Liszt’s taste for musical romanticism. Equally important for Liszt was Urhan’s earnest championship of Schubert, which presumably stimulated his own lifelong devotion to that composer’s music.


During this period, Liszt read widely to overcome his lack of a general education, and he soon came into contact with many of the leading authors and artists of his day, including Victor Hugo, Alphonse de Lamartine and Heinrich Heine. He composed practically nothing in these years. Nevertheless, the July Revolution of 1830 inspired him to sketch a Revolutionary Symphony based on the events of the “three glorious days,” and he took a greater interest in events surrounding him. He met Hector Berlioz on December 4, 1830, the day before the premiere of the Symphonie fantastique. Berlioz’s music made a strong impression on Liszt, especially later when he was writing for orchestra. Paganini

After attending an April 20, 1832, charity concert, for the victims of a Parisian cholera epidemic, by Niccolò Paganini, Liszt became determined to become as great a virtuoso on the piano as Paganini was on the violin. Paris in the 1830s had become the nexus for piano, with dozens of pianists dedicated to perfection at the keyboard. Some, such as Sigismond Thalberg and Alexander Dreyschock, focused on specific aspects of technique (e.g. the “three-hand effect” and octaves, respectively). While it has since been referred to the “flying trapeze” school of piano playing, this generation also solved some of the most intractable problems of piano technique, raising the general level of performance to previously unimagined heights. Liszt’s strength and ability to stand out in this company was in mastering all the aspects of piano technique cultivated singly and assiduously by his rivals.

In 1833 he made transcriptions of several works by Berlioz, including the Symphonie fantastique. His chief motive in doing so, especially with the Symphonie, was to help the poverty-stricken Berlioz, whose symphony remained unknown and unpublished. Liszt bore the expense of publishing the transcription himself and played it many times to help popularise the original score. He was also forming a friendship with a third composer who influenced him, Frédéric Chopin; under his influence Liszt’s poetic and romantic side began to develop.


I can’t explore all of Liszt’s life and works, so let me just take a few aspects, specifically his celebrity and his piano technique. It is said that women AND men would react hysterically in Liszt’s concerts; these antics were reported to heighten the audience’s mood so that at times they reached a kind of mystical ecstasy. Fans would swarm over Lizst, fighting over his belongings. Women would try to get pieces of his hair or broken piano strings, if one broke during a performance, to be fashioned into a bracelet. Liszt once finished a cigar and threw it to the ground a lady fan’s watchful eye, and who picked it up out of the sidewalk and had it encased in a glass locket with the monogram “F.L” in diamonds.

There are few, if any, good sources that give an impression of how Liszt sounded in the 1820s. Carl Czerny claimed Liszt was a natural genius who played according to feeling, and reviews of his concerts especially praise the brilliance, strength and precision in his playing. At least one also mentions his ability to keep absolute tempo, which may be due to his father’s insistence that he practice with a metronome. His repertoire at this time consisted primarily of pieces in the style of the Viennese school, such as concertos by Hummel and works by his former teacher Czerny, and his concerts often included a chance for the very young Liszt to display his prowess in improvisation.


Following the death of Liszt’s father in 1827 and his hiatus from the life as a touring virtuoso, it is likely Liszt’s playing gradually developed a more personal style. One of the most detailed descriptions of his playing from this time comes from the winter of 1831/1832, during which he was earning a living primarily as a teacher in Paris. Among his pupils was Valerie Boissier, whose mother Caroline kept a careful diary of the lessons. From her we learn that:

Liszt’s playing contains abandonment, a liberated feeling, but even when it becomes impetuous and energetic in his fortissimo, it is still without harshness and dryness. He draws from the piano tones that are purer, mellower and stronger than anyone has been able to do; his touch has an indescribable charm. He is the enemy of affected, stilted, contorted expressions. Most of all, he wants truth in musical sentiment, and so he makes a psychological study of his emotions to convey them as they are. Thus, a strong expression is often followed by a sense of fatigue and dejection, a kind of coldness, because this is the way nature works.

His attitude at the piano changed, however, possibly influenced by Paganini’s showmanship. Once Liszt began focusing on his career as a pianist again, his emotionally vivid presentations of the music were rarely limited to pure sound. His facial expression and gestures at the piano would reflect what he played – for which he was sometimes mocked in the press (and such is common in performers of his music nowadays). Also noted were the extravagant liberties he could take with the text of a score at this time. Berlioz tells us how Liszt would add cadenzas, tremolos and trills when playing the first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, and created a dramatic scene by changing the tempo between Largo and Presto. In his Baccalaureus letter to George Sand from the beginning of 1837, Liszt admitted that he had done so for the purpose of gaining applause, and promised to follow both the letter and the spirit of a score from then on. In July 1840 the British newspaper The Times reported:

His performance commenced with Händel’s Fugue in E minor, which was played by Liszt with an avoidance of everything approaching to meretricious ornament, and indeed scarcely any additions, except a multitude of ingeniously contrived and appropriate harmonies, casting a glow of colour over the beauties of the composition, and infusing into it a spirit which from no other hand it ever received.

During his years as a travelling virtuoso, Liszt performed a wide range of music throughout Europe, but his core repertoire always centered on his own compositions, paraphrases and transcriptions. Of Liszt’s German concerts between 1840 and 1845, the five most frequently played pieces were the “Grand galop chromatique,” Schubert’s “Erlkönig” (in Liszt’s transcription), “Réminiscences de Don Juan,” “Réminiscences de Robert le Diable,” and “Réminiscences de Lucia di Lammermoor,” Weber’s “Invitation to the Dance,” Chopin mazurkas, études by composers like Ignaz Moscheles, Chopin and Ferdinand Hiller, and also major works by Beethoven, Schumann, Weber and Hummel, and from time to time even selections from Bach, Handel and Scarlatti.

Liszt incorporated his virtuosic skill into his compositions in celebrated ways. The third of the “Three Concert Études” is in D flat major, and is usually known as Un sospiro (Italian for “A sigh”). However, it is likely that the title did not originate with Liszt. Although there is no evidence that he actively attempted to remove the subtitle, none of the editions or subsequent printings of the “Three Concert Études” published by Kistner during Liszt’s lifetime used them; he simply ignored such subtitles in later years, always referring to the piece by key only.

The étude is a study in crossing hands, playing a simple melody with alternating hands, and arpeggios. It is also a study in the way hands should affect the melody with its many accentuations, or phrasing with alternating hands. The melody is quite dramatic, almost Impressionistic, radically changing in dynamics at times, and has inspired many listeners. The étude has been considered by many pianists as one of the most beautiful piano pieces ever composed, Liszt kept the ètude in his repertoire until his final years.

Un sospiro consists of a flowing background superimposed by a simple melody written in the third staff. This third staff—an additional treble staff—is written with the direction to the performer that notes with the stem up are for the right hand and notes with the stem down are for the left hand. The background alternates between the left and right hands in such a way that for most of the piece, while the left hand is playing the harmony, the right hand is playing the melody, with the left hand crossing over the right as it continues the melody for a short while before regressing again. There are also small cadenza sections requiring delicate finger work throughout the middle section of the piece.

Towards the end, after the main climax of the piece, both hands are needed to cross in an even more complex pattern. Since there are so many notes to be played rapidly and they are too far away from other clusters of notes that must be played as well, the hands are required to cross multiple times to reach dramatic notes near the end of the piece on the last page. Here is a video so that you can see the technique. This is a rare case where seeing the performer can help, although many of the performers (I’m thinking of Lang Lang) rather go over the top with their elaborate hand gestures and facial contortions – maybe in the spirit of Liszt himself?

In later life Liszt refused to play his Hungarian Rhapsody no.2 because he felt it had been destroyed by its own immense popularity. It is still arguably his best known work, largely because of its use in cartoons as well as film scores. Here is an instructive compilation of its use in a number of cartoons.

Such usage makes it impossible for me to listen to the piece any more without thinking of outrageous antics.

For a recipe to celebrate Liszt I have chosen a famous Hungarian dish, Palóc soup, which combines the savors of dill and paprika in a sour-ish broth. For choice of paprika I suggest you consult this post:


The exact history of the soup is not known, however, there are several legends surrounding its origins. The most prominent is the soup having been created by János Gundel, for a restaurant opening event, where well-known writer Kálmán Mikszáth was invited to. Gundel named the soup after Mikszáth’s nickname, “the greatest of Palóc people”. Elek Magyar’scookbook, Az ínyesmester szakácskönyve recalls the soup being created for a food contest, where the jury liked it so much they ate two bowls of it.


You can find a good recipe here:


I have modified it a little. I note when I read the Hungarian ingredient list that “liszt” means “flour” in Hungarian !! A fiendishly difficult language. Ignore the historical notes in the header. It is customary to cook the beans separately and then add them. Hence you can use frozen if you wish.

Palóc Soup


800g of beef shank, bone in, or mutton shank, chopped in pieces
lard or vegetable oil
½ kg cooked or frozen green beans
2-3 tsp ground cumin
freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste
4 bay leaves
2 medium onions (1 white, 1 red), peeled and diced
6 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
200 ml sour cream
1 tbsp flour
1 tbsp paprika
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
dill leaves
light stock


Heat the lard or oil in a heavy soup pot over medium-high heat and sauté the onions until translucent. Add the meat and sauté a few minutes longer.

Cover the meat with light stock and add the garlic, cumin, paprika, bay leaves, and salt and pepper to taste.

Simmer until the meat is tender.

Top up the stock so that you have plenty of soup and add the potatoes. When the potatoes are cooked to your liking, add the green beans (defrosted if frozen).

Mix the flour with a little cold water to make a lump free slurry. Then mix in the sour cream. Add to the soup and stir until it is thickened.

Serve in deep bowls, garnished with dill, and crusty bread.

Oct 202015


Today is World Statistics Day, celebrated for the first time on 20 October 2010 worldwide in accordance with a declaration by the United Nations Statistical Commission. The Royal Statistical Society in the UK launched its getstats “statistical literacy” campaign to open the celebrations at 20:10 on 20.10.2010. I don’t want to get too technical here; I have plenty of experience watching people’s eyes glaze over when I start talking mathematically. The fact is that statistical analysis can be extremely complex, but the foundational ideas are really easy to grasp. For a set of funny and informative videos I suggest you go here https://worldstatisticsday.org/ Here I’d like to do a couple of things, namely talk about the handling and presentation of statistics, and have a little fun.

Like it or not, statistics rule a big chunk of our lives. I’m a social scientist so statistics are a big part of my professional life, even though a lot of my writing is math-free. “Proof” of assertions concerning social life hinges on good statistical data. You may think something about social life is obviously true, but you need statistical data at your back. Three things are important – (1) data do not speak for themselves, (2) proper presentation of data is vital and (3) data are only as good as their method of collection.


The first point ought to be self evident, but often is not. You cannot show me some data and assume I will see in them what you see. Suppose you show me a graph of rising fuel costs over the past decade. What should I do with it? Does it matter to me? If it does matter to me, how does it matter? Is it a good thing or a bad thing, for me, or in general? It does not speak for itself. Maybe I own a factory and rising fuel costs are eating into my profits. Maybe I am a worker whose salary increases have not kept pace with inflation, so I am having to cut back on non-essentials. Maybe I am a hermit living in a remote cave with no need to buy fuel. Context matters in interpreting statistics.

The second point can also be overlooked. In the 19th century Florence Nightingale discovered that in military hospitals in the Crimea and elsewhere, a great many more soldiers died from preventable diseases than from war wounds. She believed that better sanitation in the hospitals was the answer but she needed to convince bone headed politicians to vote for increased funding. To do so she felt that if the data were graphically presented they would be more understandable than tables and spreadsheets. So she created a type of pie chart now sometimes called the Nightingale Rose – shown here (click to enlarge):

From: David Pogson Sent: 11 March 2005 09:43 To: Emma Goodey Subject: FW: Youngsters meet Princess -----Original Message----- From: pictures@pixmedia.co.uk [mailto:pictures@pixmedia.co.uk] Sent: 10 March 2005 17:42 To: David Pogson Subject: Youngsters meet Princess Hi David - Please see the attached pics from Boarshaw on Monday. If you would be kind enough to credit Pixmedia for the images, I would be grateful. Would you like to be included on the distribution list for pics from future events? Kind regards Simon C Apps Managing DIrector Pixmedia Ltd Caption: Boarshaw youngsters Anthony Leach and Daniel Cooper chatting to The Princess Royal when she officially opened the new YIP. Credit: Pixmedia This image is provided free of charge for editorial use and is approved by Crime Concern PLEASE NOTE: THE ABOVE MESSAGE WAS RECEIVED FROM THE INTERNET AND HAS BEEN CERTIFIED VIRUS-FREE.

It was effective, although it’s debatable whether this chart was more effective than a simple bar graph as shown here (click to enlarge):


You decide. At very least you understand the importance of method of presentation.

The third point can also be overlooked very easily. Probably everyone understands that when you are conducting a survey, the size of your sample and the nature of people in the sample are critical issues. You can’t get a meaningful picture of racism in the U.S. by polling a small group of white people all living in one state. You have to have a large, widely distributed sample of people from all walks of life and all ethnicities. But the quality of the data also depends on the questions asked and the responses allowed. Obviously you can’t just bluntly ask, “are you a racist?” You have to decide what questions will get at the heart of the matter, and that is far from easy. You also have to contend with the fact that many people who answer surveys answer according to their ideal self image, and not necessarily according to the truth.

Here now is a little gallery of amusing statistical charts:

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As long-time readers know, I like to cook by the seat of my pants most of the time, and it’s something of a strain to come up with precise measurements and instructions. So here is my heuristic/statistical recipe for a pear and passionfruit crumble I made yesterday using percentages. It’s pretty close to how I actually think when I cook.


© Pear and Passionfruit Crumble

With a fruit crumble the correct ratio of fruit to crumble topping is very important. By eye I would say my crumble is 35% topping and 65% filling. Some people may like to have more fruit. The 35% topping is divided thus: 10% rolled oats, 10% plain flour, 10% granulated sugar, and 5% butter, or a ratio of 2:2:2:1. Put the oats, flour, and sugar in a mixing bowl and stir a little until they are mixed. Make sure the butter is very cold and cut it into the smallest pieces you can. Rub the butter into the dry ingredients with your fingers so that the mixture is reasonably homogenous. Set aside.

For the 65% fruit mix Use about 60% pears and 5% passionfruit. These days when I make crumbles I don’t peel the fruit. They have an earthier taste unpeeled. Cut the tops and tails off the pears, then slice downwards to separate the meat from the core. Discard the core and slice the meat thickly. Put the pear slices into a baking dish and sprinkle with sugar. Cut the passionfruit in half and scrape the inside pulp on to the pears. Toss with a wooden spoon.

Pour the crumble topping over the fruit and spread it evenly. Tamp down the top a little to compress the crumble a little but not too firmly. Bake in a 400°F oven for about 45 minutes, or until the top is mottled golden-brown. Serve hot or cold, plain or with custard, whipped cream, or ice cream.

Oct 092015

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Today is the birthday (1933) of William Edward “Bill” Tidy, MBE an English cartoonist, writer, and television personality, known chiefly for his comic strips. Tidy was appointed MBE in 2000 for “Services to Journalism”. He is noted for his charitable work, particularly for the Lord’s Taverners, which he has supported for over 30 years. Deeply proud of his working class roots in the North of England, his most abiding cartoon strips, such as the Cloggies and the Fosdyke Saga, have been set in an exaggerated version of that environment. He now lives in Boylestone, Derbyshire.

He was born in Tranmere, a suburb of Birkenhead, Cheshire, on 9 October 1933 and brought up in Liverpool, where he was educated to the age of 15 at St Margaret’s School, Anfield. His first published cartoon appeared in the school magazine. After working in a shipping office Tidy joined the Royal Engineers in 1952. He sold his first cartoon to an English-language Japanese newspaper in 1955 and in the same year left the army. He found work in a Liverpool advertising agency the following year, where he drew illustrations for advertisements in magazines. Despite having no formal artistic training, he began to sell cartoons on a freelance basis and soon left the agency to work full-time as a professional cartoonist.

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As his work became better known and began to be published in the Daily Sketch and Daily Mirror, he moved to London where, together with a number of his contemporaries in Fleet Street, he formed the British Cartoonists’ Association. Tidy is well known for his cartoon strips — The Cloggies ran from 1967 to 1981 in the fortnightly satirical magazine Private Eye, and The Fosdyke Saga was published daily in the Daily Mirror from 1971 to 1984; the latter was a parody of The Forsyte Saga, set in the industrial north instead of a genteel upper class environment focusing on the family of Jos Fosdyke, tripe magnate.


This was broadcast as a radio series in 42 parts by the BBC from 1983, with additional scripting by John Junkin. It also became a stage play with Tidy working in co-operation with playwright Alan Plater. Tidy recently restarted producing the Fosdyke Saga cartoon strip on his own website where he also offers a variety of his works for sale.  http://billtidy.com/


Other cartoon strip series and individual cartoons have been published in many other newspapers and magazines, including New Scientist (Grimbledon Down for 24 years), What’s Brewing? (CAMRA’s monthly magazine), and Punch. When Punch ceased publication, Tidy attempted to buy the title. He has also written 20 books and illustrated 70.

Tidy’s many TV appearances have included Countdown, Watercolour Challenge, Through the Keyhole and Countryfile. His radio appearances include an accomplished performance on an 1988 edition of I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, when he stood in for Barry Cryer. He wrote and presented Draw Me, a children’s television series in 13 parts. He was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1975.


Tidy’s artistic style is similar to that of his late friend and fellow cartoonist, Larry. However, where Larry’s cartoons are usually the graphic equivalent of one-liner jokes, Tidy tends to work in longer forms with verbal as well as visual humor. I’ve been a huge fan of Tidy’s for many years and own copies of all of his Cloggies and Fosdyke Saga anthologies. How could I resist stories about morris dancing AND a tripe magnate? He must be my alter ego in cartooning guise. For those of you who don’t know me, I wrote the definitive book on the history of morris dancing and have been in the process of writing a tripe encyclopedia for many years. I’m trying to wade my way through over 4,000 worldwide tripe recipes whilst seeing how many tripe dishes I can eat on my travels.


I really can’t let Tidy’s birthday pass without a Lancashire tripe recipe. I have come across a great many references to tripe and cowheel pie from Lancashire (photo above) and other points in the north of England, but have neither come across any recipes, nor any establishments that serve this supposedly famous dish. In fact I have not seen any references to it after around 1950, and many of the earlier ones are from comic songs and the like, poking gentle fun at the working class manners of native Lancastrians. I will continue my search for this rarity, but in the meantime I have created a stew of the main ingredients along with classic English vegetables. This should be considered one of the legion variants on the theme of tripe plus trotter plus veg. The gelatin in the cowheel gives the gravy a nice silky texture and adds a little flavor, but does not have much meat on it. The vegetables can be varied at your own choosing. This is a combination that I commonly use in stews of all manner of meats — oxtail, ox heart, or plain stewing beef.   The proportions are not terribly important either. Generally I use whatever I have on hand in whatever quantities I have.


©Tripe and Cowheel


2 lbs honeycomb tripe
1 cowheel (or 2 calves’ feet)
1 large Spanish onion chopped coarsely
1 lb carrots
½ lb parsnips
1 ½ lb potatoes
2 large leeks
10 cups beef stock
1 handful of fresh parsley (or 1 tablespoon dried)
2 tablespoons olive oil (or beef drippings)
fresh black pepper


Cut the tripe into bite sized chunks or strips and set them aside. Slice the tough root segment from the leeks and discard. Slice the green tops of the leeks from the white bottoms. Clean the green tops under running water separating them to be sure that all the dirt has been washed out. This is a crucial step, otherwise the resulting stew will be gritty. Once you are sure the greens are perfectly clean, chop them coarsely, discarding any discolored or wilted parts. Heat the oil (or drippings) in a heavy bottomed saucepan and sauté the onion until it softens and begins to take on a little color. Add the chopped leek greens and continue to sauté for a minute or two more. Add the beef stock, tripe, and cowheel plus a few good twists of a pepper grinder and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot, and cook gently for about 1 hour or until the tripe is tender. While it is cooking, prepare the carrots, parsnips, and potatoes by peeling them and cutting them in large dice. (Actually I prefer to simply scrub these root vegetables and leave the skins on before dicing. The resultant stew is a lot hardier and more flavorful.)   Slice the whites of the leeks into hearty rounds, and chop the parsley finely. Add the carrots, potatoes, and parsley to the stew and simmer for 15 minutes, then add the leeks and parsnips and simmer for 15 minutes more. You can cook the vegetables longer if, like old fashioned English cooks, you prefer them softer.   There is very little meat on the cowheel so I just leave it in whole for flavor. Serve the tripe and vegetables in large bowls with a little broth poured over them and plenty of buttered crusty bread to mop up with.


Serves 6

Sep 282015


Today is Ask a Stupid Question Day, a holiday that is sometimes celebrated in the United States, usually by school students and teachers, but is spreading to various other countries including the U.K. and India. Although Ask a Stupid Question Day’s default date is September 28, in practice it is often observed on the last school day of September. This holiday was created by teachers in the 1980s to encourage students to ask more questions in the classroom. According to HolidayInsights.com, “at the time, there was a movement by teachers to try to get kids to ask more questions in the classroom. Kids sometimes hold back, fearing their question is stupid, and asking it will result in ridicule.” Seems like a good idea in principle, if not in practice.

You will often hear teachers say something like, “there are no stupid questions.” Well, I don’t agree, but I get the intention. Everyone has to learn even the simplest things somehow, at some point. Being afraid to ask means you don’t learn, and if the fear persists you end up with great gaps in your knowledge. In class I’ll answer any question, and keep it to myself if I think the student should know the answer. What’s the point of spending 90 minutes talking about polygyny if half the class does not know the meaning of the word “polygyny,” even if it is defined in assigned reading? Of course, in such a case I’d almost certainly define the word before rambling on about it, but you get the general point. I use words (and concepts) all the time that I assume my students understand, and I won’t be any the wiser unless they speak up and tell me they do not understand. So, in that sense it is a teacher’s duty to hold fast to the rule that there are no stupid questions.

It is also the case that what appears to be a stupid question turns out to be profound when looked at in the right light, and can lead to important discoveries. Be sure to read my recipe for today, even if you normally skip it, because I elaborate on this idea there. Asking good questions even if the answer seems to be obvious at first blush is what drives us forward. That said, there are occasions when people ask the dumbest things. Take, for example, the department store customer who goes up to a person dressed in a company shirt and wearing a name tag and asks “do you work here?” To which the reply should be, “no, I just wear this outfit because I think the colors suit me.”


Such questions and answers have led to a whole genre of comedy labeled “here’s your sign,” popularized by Bill Engvall, Tony Foxworthy, and company.

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This leads me to my recipe of the day.  I found this question online.  It is captioned, “This may be a stupid question, but . . .” That line, I find, is very frequent, excusing the enquirer to a degree.


I’m making a Japanese Cotton Cheesecake and I’m following the recipe on the link attached. I’ve volunteered for an event to make 9 of these cakes by Sunday! I’ve bought all my supplies & I’m trying to consolidate how many I’m making at one time. I’ve bought a square Aluminum Cake Pan from Target by Nordic Ware, that holds about at least 3 of the recipes’ batters. I’m not sure how good this cake pan is, I just bought it on a whim. My question is should I follow the recipe on temperature and length of baking, or do I adjust due to the variables & by how much for making 3 all together in one pan??

I do have the springform pans listed in the recipes, but I’d only be able to do 2 at the time which will take me a VERY long time, as I only have one big enough base pan to hold the water.

Also what’s the best way to bring cream cheese, butter, and eggs to room temp? Thanks for any replies!

There appear to be two stupid questions here; one of them is, and one of them is not. Let’s begin with the major question about springforms. I understand that the inquirer, who I assume is a woman, read the recipe thoroughly — although there is some doubt.  It expressly calls for a springform pan. So why would you go out and buy regular pans? She says she has only one pan to hold the water that the cakes sit in whilst baking.  Why not go out and buy another to hold the water instead of buying a completely different cake pan that is untested, and not called for in the recipe? Cheesecakes need a springform pan so that you can get them out without having to turn them upside down. No matter what she does with the temperature, the cake is fragile enough that it will fall apart when turned out if baked in a regular pan.  Fortunately, many people gave that answer, and they were too polite to add — FOLLOW THE RECIPE, IDIOT !!! When it comes to soups and stews you can be a bit cavalier, but generally not with baking.

The second part about bringing the ingredients to room temperature is not as stupid as it may first appear. I mean, it does have its stupid side.  If you read the recipe all the way through (as you should before you begin anything new) it very clearly states:

As the cream cheese, eggs and butter need to be at room temperature, advanced planning is required. About 2 hours before making the cake, remove the cream cheese and butter from the refrigerator.  About 1 hour before take the eggs out of the fridge.  The cream cheese and butter should be soft and spreadable for this recipe.  If these ingredients are not quite ready, pop them in the microwave on Low power for about 15-20 seconds.

Eggs are easiest to separate when they are cold.  Egg whites are best beaten at room temperature to achieve the fluffiest texture.   You can separate the eggs while they are cold and then let them come to room temperature as you prep the remaining ingredients for the recipe.

Seem clear enough to me — very precise. But here’s the catch: what is “room temperature”? What if you live in an igloo or a hut near the equator? I know what you are going to say — “common sense” should tell you. Do you have to explain everything? Well, in a sense you do. When you write a recipe you make assumptions concerning what your readers know. I’m a very experienced cook, so when I see a new recipe I usually need to know just the ingredients and some basic ideas.  I can take it from there.  If you’ve followed many of my recipes you’ll see that I often give no more than a bare outline, on the assumption that you know what you are doing. If I say “brown the meat” I don’t have to say “on all sides” because I assume that you know that. If you are a novice, maybe you don’t know that.

Companies that publish cookbooks regularly have guidelines concerning how recipes should be written. Sometimes, for example, they will tell you to list the ingredients in the order in which you use them, and to give the quantities and temperatures in metric AND imperial measures. In this blog I do that sometimes, and at other times I don’t. You can always ask about something in a comment if you are unsure.  I also have a HINTS tab which can help. Nonetheless, I am not sure that I’ve ever seen “room temperature” defined. I know from experience that for butter this means “not hard as a brick.” I’d guess that room temperature means roughly 70°F/21°C to 80°F/27°C, so why not spell it out somewhere? Maybe you don’t need to do this in the recipe itself, but it wouldn’t hurt to stick it in an appendix.

Let’s give everyone a break on this day. Please remember that ignorance is not the same thing as stupidity, and is not a sign of weakness.  “Ignoramus” is Latin for “we do not know.” It was what juries told the judge when they could not decide on a case in the days when Latin was used in judicial cases (still is to a degree).  Did you know that?