Today is Independence Day in Djibouti, officially the Republic of Djibouti, marking its formal severance of colonial rule by France in 1977. The country is located in the Horn of Africa. It is bordered by Somalia in the south, Ethiopia in the south and west, Eritrea in the north, and the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden in the east. Across the Gulf of Aden lies Yemen. The country has a total area of 23,200 sq km (8,958 sq mi). The Republic of Djibouti is predominantly inhabited by two ethnic groups, the majority Somali and the Afar.
I have chosen to celebrate Djibouti today because it is one of a handful of countries I have been interested in visiting for some time. I was due to make a trip to England this June for a school reunion and spent many months at the beginning of the year figuring out an itinerary that would include a stop in Djibouti (Cambodia to India to Dubai to Djibouti to Turkey to England) but COVID-19 cut that plan off. I’ll make it there some day, but not any time soon.
In antiquity, the territory together with Somalia was part of the Land of Punt. Nearby Zeila, now in Somalia, was the seat of the medieval Adal and Ifat sultanates. In the late 19th century, the colony of French Somaliland was established following treaties signed by the ruling Somali and Afar sultans with the French and its railroad to Dire Dawa (and later Addis Ababa) allowed it to quickly supersede Zeila as the port for southern Ethiopia and the Ogaden. It was subsequently renamed the French Territory of the Afars and the Issas in 1967, and then, via overwhelming referendum in favor, declared independence 10 years later, although there is still a substantial French Foreign Legion presence in the country.
Here’s a small gallery:
The food is a big attraction for me – a blend of Somali, Middle Eastern, French, Indian, and other tastes. The national dish is Fah Fah, which is a goat soup/stew. I could give a recipe but it is essentially goat meat simmered for hours with onions, garlic, vegetables, and coriander.
Here is a better option: a Somali dish of rice and goat. Sorry that the video is in Arabic. You’ll get the gist (there is a bit of English mixed in):
Lupercalia was an ancient, possibly pre-Roman pastoral annual festival, observed in the city of Rome on February 15, to avert evil spirits and purify the city, releasing health and fertility. Lupercalia was also called “dies Februatus” (“purification day”) after the instruments of purification called “februa”, which give the month of February (Februarius) its name. The festival was later known as Februa (“Purifications” or “Purgings”). It was also known as Februatus and gave its name to Juno Februalis, Februlis, or Februata in her role as its patron deity, to a god called Februus, and to February (mensis Februarius), the month during which it occurred. Ovid connects februare to an Etruscan word for “purging.” Some sources connect the Latin word for fever (febris) with the same idea of purification or purging, due to the sweating commonly seen in association with fevers.
The name Lupercalia was believed in antiquity to evince some connection with the Ancient Greek festival of the Arcadian Lykaia, a wolf festival (Greek: λύκος, lýkos; Latin: lupus), and the worship of Lycaean Pan, assumed to be a Greek equivalent to Faunus, as instituted by Evander. Justin describes a cult image of “the Lycaean god, whom the Greeks call Pan and the Romans Lupercus,” as nude, save for a goatskin girdle. It stood in the Lupercal, the cave where tradition held that Romulus and Remus were suckled by the she-wolf (Lupa). The cave lay at the foot of the Palatine Hill, on which Romulus was said to have founded Rome.
The rites associated with Lupercalia were confined to the Lupercal cave, the Palatine Hill, and the Forum, all of which were central locations in Rome’s foundation legend. Near the cave stood a sanctuary of Rumina, goddess of breastfeeding, and the wild fig-tree (Ficus Ruminalis) to which Romulus and Remus were brought by the divine intervention of the river-god Tiberinus. Some Roman sources name the wild fig tree caprificus, literally “goat fig”. Like the cultivated fig, its fruit is pendulous, and the tree exudes a milky sap if cut, which makes it a good candidate for a cult of breastfeeding.
The Lupercalia had its own priesthood, the Luperci, whose institution and rites were attributed either to the Arcadian culture-hero Evander, or to Romulus and Remus, who had each supposedly established a group of followers. The Luperci were young men (iuvenes), usually between the ages of 20 and 40. They formed two religious collegia (associations) based on ancestry: the Quinctiliani (named after gens Quinctia) and the Fabiani (named after gens Fabia). Each college was headed by a magister. In 44 BCE, a third college, the Juliani, was instituted in honor of Julius Caesar. Its first magister was Mark Antony. The college of Juliiani disbanded or lapsed during Caesar’s civil wars, and was not re-established in the reforms of his successor, Augustus. In the Imperial era, membership of the two traditional collegia was opened to iuvenes of equestrian status.
At the Lupercal altar, a male goat (or goats) and a dog were sacrificed by one of the Luperci, under the supervision of the Flamen dialis, Jupiter’s chief priest. An offering was also made of salted mealcakes, prepared by the Vestal Virgins. After the blood sacrifice, two Luperci approached the altar. Their foreheads were anointed with blood from the sacrificial knife, then wiped clean with wool soaked in milk, after which they were expected to smile and/or laugh.
The sacrificial feast followed, after which the Luperci cut thongs (known as februa) from the flayed skin of the sacrificed goat, and ran with these, naked or near-naked, along the old Palatine boundary, in an anticlockwise direction around the hill. In Plutarch’s description of the Lupercalia, written during the early Empire,
…many of the noble youths and of the magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with shaggy thongs. And many women of rank also purposely get in their way, and like children at school present their hands to be struck, believing that the pregnant will thus be helped in delivery, and the barren to pregnancy.
The Luperci completed their circuit of the Palatine, then returned to the Lupercal cave.
Descriptions of the Lupercalia festival of 44 BCE attest to its continuity. Julius Caesar used it as the backdrop for his public refusal of a golden crown, offered to him by Mark Antony. The Lupercal cave was restored or rebuilt by Augustus, and has been speculated as identical with a grotto discovered in 2007, 50 feet (15 m) below the remains of Augustus’ residence. According to scholarly consensus, the grotto is a nymphaeum, not the Lupercal cave.
The Lupercalia festival is marked on a calendar of 354 CE alongside traditional and Christian festivals. Despite the banning in 391 of all non-Christian cults and festivals, Lupercalia was celebrated by the nominally Christian populace on a regular basis, into the reign of the emperor Anastasius. Pope Gelasius I (494–96), claiming that only the “vile rabble” were involved in the festival, sought its forceful abolition. The senate protested that the Lupercalia was essential to Rome’s safety and well-being. This prompted Gelasius’ scornful suggestion that “If you assert that this rite has salutary force, celebrate it yourselves in the ancestral fashion; run nude yourselves that you may properly carry out the mockery.” The remark was addressed to the senator Andromachus by Gelasius in an extended literary epistle that was virtually a diatribe against the Lupercalia. The claim that Gelasius abolished the Lupercalia is frequently made but there is no evidence to support it.
Some authors claim that Gelasius replaced Lupercalia with the “Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary,” but there is no written record of Gelasius ever intending a replacement of Lupercalia. Some researchers have made a separate claim that the modern customs of Saint Valentine’s Day originate from Lupercalia customs, but this is the same nonsense as people claiming that Christmas is “really” the Roman Saturnalia in new guise.
It is known that the Lupercalia was associated with some elements of feasting. In particular, the entrails of the sacrificed goat were roasted and taken around the city for people to sample. I am not a huge fan of entrails of any sort, even though I am a tripe aficionado. Here is a video from India on how to cook goat entrails, a specialty of Hyderabad.
Today is the second Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Love. Now we light the second candle in the wreath and the feeling that Christmas is on its way is getting a little stronger. In church today the reading will be this famous passage from Isaiah:
40:1 Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.
40:2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
40:3 A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
40:4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.
40:5 Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
40:6 A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field.
40:7 The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass.
40:8 The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.
40:9 Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!”
40:10 See, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.
40:11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.
This passage has several things to note in it. One is that it was used by Mark in his gospel to speak about John the Baptist:
1:2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”
1:3 A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’
The astute among you will note the difference between Isaiah and Mark concerning the voice and the wilderness. Of course, the quotation marks in the English translation here are not in the original Hebrew and Greek. If they were in the original Hebrew, Mark would not have made the fundamental mistake he made in his Greek gospel. My question: where is the voice located that Isaiah and Mark mention? Isaiah does not say. Mark says it is in the wilderness (supporting his claim that John – famous for living in the wilderness – is the foretold prophet of the Messiah, crying out in the wilderness). But Isaiah says that a voice cries out about making the Messiah’s path straight in the wilderness. The voice is not in the wilderness, the path is. This ought to alert you to the fact that the gospel writers liked to twist prophecy to suit their purposes. Nonetheless, the passage gives us numerous pieces from Handel’s Messiah that are brilliant. This is possibly my favorite (and one of my favorite renditions):
The thing I like about certain seasons is the sense of familiarity mixed with newness. That’s the great thing about ritual in one’s life. It provides order, but not necessarily sameness. This year Christmas will be a lot like others I have celebrated for decades, but it will also be fresh in numerous ways.
Let’s talk about spices. Christmas, for me, is very much about seasonal spices when it comes to cooking. I like to follow the seasons in general with my cooking, and I am very careful to avoid eating things out of season. In many countries I have lived – especially the United States – I could, if I wished, eat about anything I wanted, any time of the year. If I had wanted strawberries for Christmas dinner I could have found them. But that’s all wrong. Where I lived in the Catskills, strawberries ripened in May and I bathed in them for the month. Then, when the season was over, I put them aside. I eat lamb at Easter, not just because of the obvious Biblical associations, but also because the new lambs of the year are ready to eat at that point. It doesn’t take a lot of pondering to figure out why lamb is the traditional meal for Passover and how it got tied into the Easter story.
Christmas for me smells of allspice. Actually, Christmas smells of all the sweet spices – nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and ginger. But allspice stands out for me. Maybe it’s just my personal quirk, but there’s a strong personal connexion for me. I dump it in my mincemeat and puddings, of course, but I also use it to flavor meat dishes. Last year I first had to figure out the Italian – pepe di Jamaica – and then turn Mantua upside down to find it. I did, in the end, but it was touch and go for several weeks. Now I have a big stash. Today I am making dinner for my girlfriend and allspice will be a prominent player. The pasta course will feature a sauce made with goat meat I found at the market yesterday.
Goat is not a popular meat in the West, largely because goats are not common and because the meat can be tough if not cooked properly. I found some nice meaty leg bones which I browned and then gently simmered for several hours in a stock I made with wild mushrooms and liberally spiced with allspice and fresh ground black pepper. The bones and stock have been sitting overnight in the refrigerator ready for stage 2 today. There was no fat to skim this morning because goat is not fatty. Here’s the image I have from this morning.
Today I am going to strip and shred the meat. Meanwhile I’m going to reduce the stock, cook some pasta, reheat the meat in the stock, drain the pasta and add it to the meat, swirl around and serve. I’ll post a photo tomorrow.