Feb 012018

Today is the birthday (1659) of Jacob Roggeveen, a Dutch explorer who set out to find Terra Australis, but instead came across Rapa Nui (which he called Easter Island because he landed there on Easter Day). He also encountered Bora Bora and Maupiti of the Society Islands and Samoa. He planned the expedition along with his brother Jan Roggeveen, who stayed in the Netherlands. It always amazes me that Roggeveen, who was a skilled navigator, could find Rapa Nui which is a tiny island in the middle of the South Pacific miles from anywhere, yet could fail to find Australia which you’d think explorers would just bump into if they kept sailing west. It seems hard to miss, but they did for centuries.

I have posted about Rapa Nui several times before: https://www.bookofdaystales.com/world-tourism-day/ and https://www.bookofdaystales.com/easter-island/ . It is, after all, a fascinating place, full of anthropological and archeological intrigue. My visit to the island in 2013 was very special. Today I will talk a little more about Rapa Nui, but my prime focus is Jacob Roggeveen, because he was the first European to encounter the island and its people. Regrettably he arrived after the classic cultures of Rapa Nui had already decayed due to overpopulation, overcropping, warfare, and famine. Even so, his journals provide insight into a previously unknown people.

Roggeveen was born in Middelburg, the capital of the province of Zeeland. Jacob’s father, Arend Roggeveen, was a mathematician with an interest in astronomy, geography, rhetoric, philosophy and the theory of navigation as well. He occupied himself with study of the legendary Terra Australis, and even got a patent for an exploratory excursion. But it was to be Jacob who, at the age of 62, eventually equipped three ships and made the expedition.

Roggeveen became notary of Middelburg, and on 12 August 1690 he obtained a doctor of the law at University of Harderwijk. He married Marija Margaerita Vincentius, but she died in October 1694. In 1706 he joined the Dutch East Indies Company (VOC), and between 1707 and 1714 was a Raadsheer van Justitie (“Council Lord of Justice”) at Batavia in the Dutch East Indies (now Jakarta). He married Anna Adriana Clement there, but she died soon afterward. In 1714, he returned to Middelburg by himself.

Roggeveen got himself involved in religious controversies, supporting the liberal preacher Pontiaan van Hattem by publishing his leaflet De val van ‘s werelds afgod (The fall of the world’s idol). The first part appeared in 1718, in Middelburg, and was subsequently confiscated by the city council and burned. Roggeveen left Middelburg for nearby Flushing. Thereafter he established himself in the small town of Arnemuiden, and published parts 2 and 3 of the series, again raising a controversy. The followers of van Hattem were known as Hattemites. Their beliefs can be summarized in his own words:

Everything is necessary: ​​sin is not in the actions of man, but in his disposition. Therefore he becomes neither evil nor good by the first, but he can not be changed, so his sins also give no cause for displeasure to God. Christ has made us free from death, to make us different from what we already were: but to make us know how we were before: His death makes known to us that we are justified by God, and as a result of that no man can act against God’s will, so man may be as he ought to be, and may even be said never to have committed any sins, so the chosen one does not sin anymore and needs nothing to worry about because he is being judged before God. The will of God is not fulfilled by action, but by suffering, and faith is nothing but accepting that which Christ has revealed to us through his death.

In short, Christ’s death on the cross has redeemed all humans, and, therefore, humans are incapable of sin any more. Everything, including human suffering, is God’s will. This is a rather unusual, and heretical, theology, even by liberal Protestant standards, and you can see that it was not likely to sit well with the 18th century Dutch, given that it condones all behavior, no matter how hedonistic or libertine, as God’s will. Some historians have suggested that one impulse behind Roggeveen’s search for Terra Australis was to find a territory to set up a Hattemite colony.    

On 1 August 1721 he headed an expedition sponsored by the Dutch West India Company, the rivals of the VOC, to seek Terra Australis and to open a western trade route to the “Spice islands.” The “southern continent” of Terra Australis had been theorized as existing since the time of Aristotle, followed by Ptolemy. The reason given for the existence of such a land mass was pure symmetry. The northern hemisphere had large land masses on it, so the southern hemisphere must also have large land masses. Some early 16th century geographers hypothesized that South America and/or Africa were joined to Terra Australis, but the discoveries of southern passages around those continents ended those speculations. The Flemish geographer and cartographer, Cornelius Wytfliet, wrote concerning the Terra Australis in his 1597 book, Descriptionis Ptolemaicae Augmentum,

The terra Australis is therefore the southernmost of all other lands, directly beneath the antarctic circle; extending beyond the tropic of Capricorn to the West, it ends almost at the equator itself, and separated by a narrow strait lies on the East opposite to New Guinea, only known so far by a few shores because after one voyage and another that route has been given up and unless sailors are forced and driven by stress of winds it is seldom visited. The terra Australis begins at two or three degrees below the equator and it is said by some to be of such magnitude that if at any time it is fully discovered they think it will be the fifth part of the world. Adjoining Guinea on the right are the numerous and vast Solomon Islands which lately became famous by the voyage of Alvarus Mendanius.

Roggeveen’s fleet consisted of three ships, the Arend, the Thienhoven, and Afrikaansche Galey and had 223 men as crew. Roggeveen first sailed down to the Malvinas (what Brits call the Falkland Islands), which he named “Belgia Australis,” passed through the Strait of Le Maire and continued south to beyond 60 degrees south to enter the Pacific Ocean. He made landfall near Valdivia, now in Chile. He visited the Juan Fernández Islands, where he spent 24th February to 17th March. The expedition later arrived at Rapa Nui on Easter Sunday, 5 April 1722. Roggeveen’s account of his stay on Rapa Nui, which lasted a week, can be found here, https://www.easterisland.travel/easter-island-facts-and-info/history/ship-logs-and-journals/jacob-roggeveen-1722/

Here is a sample concerning the famed moai:

What the form of worship of these people comprises we were not able to gather any full knowledge of, owing to the shortness of our stay among them; we noticed only that they kindle fire in front of certain remarkably tall stone figures they set up; and, thereafter squatting on their heels with heads bowed down, they bring the palms of their hands together and alternately raise and lower them. At first, these stone figures caused us to be filled with wonder, for we could not understand how it was possible that people who are destitute of heavy or thick timber, and also of stout cordage, out of which to construct gear, had been able to erect them; nevertheless some of these statues were a good 30 feet in height and broad in proportion.

Their visit, peaceful at first, was marred by the killing of 10 to 12 local men in a skirmish that is rather vaguely described. When the fleet first anchored, local men swam out to their ships, and later came in canoes. They were intrigued by the ships, and were given gifts. They also very quickly took to stealing items from the ships. When an expedition went ashore, they traveled in gunboats, and went ashore in close quarters, fully armed. One group of men, not observed by Roggeveen, opened fire on locals when they felt threatened. Seemingly the problem was smoothed over, and the Dutchmen were regaled with chickens and tropical fruits.

Subsequently, Roggeveen continued west and charted the location of six islands in the Tuamotu Archipelago, two islands in the Society Islands, and four islands in Samoa, losing his flagship, Afrikaansche Galey at Takapoto atoll. At Makatea, he opened fire on a crowded beach in retaliation for a violent encounter with the inhabitants, and in return the Makateans ambushed a shore party, killing ten of his crewmen. The remaining two vessels sailed past New Guinea to reach Batavia in 1722, where he was arrested for violating the monopoly of the VOC and had his ships confiscated. After a lengthy lawsuit in the Netherlands, the VOC was later forced to compensate him for his losses and to pay his crew.

After his return to the Netherlands, Roggeveen published part 4 of De val van ‘s werelds afgod, to continued controversy. He died in Middelburg one day before his 70th birthday on January 31st 1729.

Zeeland, Roggeveen’s homeland, has a number of culinary specialties. These two are biscuits that are a bit out of the ordinary, dûmkes and tarwe diamanten (wheat diamonds).



150 gm flour
150 gm butter, softened
1 egg, beaten
150 gm sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp aniseed
50 gm hazelnuts, chopped
½ tsp ginger powder


Preheat the oven to 320˚F/160˚C.

Grease one or more baking sheets.

Cream the sugar and butter together. Add the egg and mix. Then add the rest of the ingredients and mix well to form a firm dough. Pinch off pieces of the dough to form rolls about ½ inch in diameter and 2 inches long. Flatten to form oblong biscuits.

Place on greased cookie sheets and bake for 20 minutes. Cool on wire racks.

Tarwe Diamanten


200 gm wholewheat flour
100 gm brown sugar
75 gm butter, cold cut in small cubes
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp rolled oats


Preheat the oven to 320˚F/160˚C.

Grease one or more baking sheets.

Pulse the flour, sugar, and butter together in a food processor until the mix resembles wet sand. Place the mixture in a bowl, add the egg and beat together. Add the remaining ingredients, mix well to form a dough, and knead.

Roll out the dough into flat sheets, and cut into diamond shapes.

Place on greased cookie sheets and bake for 20 minutes. Cool on wire racks.




Apr 052015


On this date in 1722, Jacob Roggeveen (1 February 1659 – 31 January 1729), a Dutch explorer who was sent to find Terra Australis, came across Easter Island, and was, thus, the first European to visit. His father, Arend Roggeveen, was a mathematician with much knowledge of astronomy, geography, rhetoric, philosophy and the theory of navigation as well. He occupied himself with study of the mythical Terra Australis, and even got a patent for an exploratory excursion; but it was to be his son who, at the age of 62, eventually equipped three ships and made the expedition.

He became notary of Middelburg (the capital of the province of Zeeland, where he was born) on 30 March 1683. On 12 August 1690 he graduated as a doctor of the law at University of Harderwijk. He married Marija Margaerita Vincentius, but she died in October 1694. In 1706 he joined the Dutch East Indies Company, and between 1707 and 1714 as a Raadsheer van Justitie (“Council Lord of Justice”) at Batavia, Dutch East Indies (now Jakarta). He married Anna Adriana Clement there, but she died soon afterward. In 1714, he returned to Middelburg by himself.

On 1 August 1721 he left on his expedition, in the service of the Dutch West India Company, to seek Terra Australis. It consisted of three ships, the Arend, the Thienhoven, and Afrikaansche Galey and had 223 men on crew.

Roggeveen first sailed down to the Islas Malvinas (which he renamed “Belgia Australis”), passed through the Strait of Le Maire and continued south to beyond 60 degrees south to enter the Pacific Ocean. He made landfall near Valdivia, Chile. He visited the Juan Fernández Islands, where he spent 24 February to 17 March. The expedition later arrived at Easter Island (Rapa Nui) on Easter Sunday, 5 April 1722 (whereupon he reported seeing 2,000-3,000 inhabitants).


It amuses me that in 1722 when Roggeveen arrived on 5 April it was Easter Sunday, and it is again this year. I was there for my birthday in 2013 which fell on Holy Saturday, so I got to attend mass in Hanga Roa on Easter Sunday on Easter Island!!![One day it will have to be Christmas on Christmas Island.]

Here’s a facebook album of the trip. Even if you are not on facebook you can view it.


There’s perhaps more images than you care for, but they are not stock stuff. Some of them are repeated here in this post.


Polynesian people settled on Easter Island (Rapa Nui) in the first millennium CE, and created a thriving culture, as evidenced by the moai and other artifacts. However, human activity, the introduction of the Polynesian rat, and overpopulation led to gradual deforestation and extinction of natural resources, which caused the demise of the Rapa Nui culture. By the time of European arrival in 1722, the island’s population had dropped to 2,000–3,000 from a high of approximately 15,000 just a century earlier. Diseases carried by European sailors and Peruvian slave raiding of the 1860s further reduced the Rapa Nui population, down to 111 in 1877.

The name “Easter Island” was given by Jacob Roggeveen, because he arrived on Easter Sunday, 1722. Roggeveen actually named it Paasch-Eyland (18th century Dutch for “Easter Island”). The island’s official Spanish name, Isla de Pascua, also means “Easter Island.” The current Polynesian name of the island, Rapa Nui “Big Rapa”, was coined after the slave raids of the early 1860s, and refers to the island’s topographic resemblance to the island of Rapa in the Bass Islands of the Austral Islands group. The indigenous Polynesian name may have been Te pito o te henua, but this is uncertain.


Early European visitors to Easter Island recorded the local oral traditions about the original settlers. In these traditions, Easter Islanders claimed that a legendary chief Hotu Matu’a arrived on the island in one or two large canoes with his wife and extended family. They are believed to have been Polynesian. There is considerable uncertainty about the accuracy of this legend as well as the date of settlement. Some archeologists suggest the island was settled around 300-400 CE, or at about the time of the arrival of the earliest settlers in Hawaii. Some scientists say that Easter Island was not inhabited until 700-800 CE. This date range is based on glottochronological (historical linguistic) calculations and on three radiocarbon dates from charcoal that appears to have been produced during forest clearance activities. Moreover a recent study which included radiocarbon dates from what is thought to be very early material suggests that the island was settled as recently as 1200 CE. This seems to be supported by a 2006 study of the island’s deforestation, which could have started around the same time. A large, now extinct palm, Paschalococos disperta, related to the Chilean wine palm (Jubaea chilensis), was one of the dominant trees as attested by fossil evidence; this species, whose sole occurrence was on Easter Island, became extinct due to deforestation by the early settlers.

The Austronesian Polynesians, who first settled the island, are likely to have arrived from the Marquesas Islands from the west. These settlers brought bananas, taro, sugarcane, and paper mulberry, as well as chickens and Polynesian rats. The island at one time supported a relatively complex culture.

Jacob Roggeveen’s expedition of 1722 gives us our first description of the islanders. They were “of all shades of colour, yellow, white and brown” and they distended their ear lobes so greatly with large disks that when they took them out they could “hitch the rim of the lobe over the top of the ear.” Roggeveen also noted how some of the islanders were “generally large in stature.” Islanders’ height was also witnessed by the Spanish who visited the island in 1770, measuring heights of 196 and 199 cm (6’5” and 6’6”). DNA sequence analysis of Easter Island’s current inhabitants indicates that the 36 people living on Rapa Nui who survived the devastating internecine wars, slave raids and epidemics of the 19th century and had any offspring, were Polynesian. Furthermore, examination of skeletons offers evidence of only Polynesian origins for Rapa Nui living on the island after 1680.

According to legends recorded by the missionaries in the 1860s, the island originally had a very clear class system, with an ariki, king, wielding absolute god-like power ever since Hotu Matua had arrived on the island. The most visible element in the culture was production of massive moai that were part of the ancestral worship. With a strictly unified appearance, moai were erected along most of the coastline, indicating a homogeneous culture and centralized governance. In addition to the royal family, the island’s habitation consisted of priests, soldiers and commoners. The last king, along with his family, died as a slave in the 1860s in the Peruvian mines. Long before that, the king had become a mere symbolic figure, remaining respected and untouchable, but having only nominal authority.


For unknown reasons, a coup by military leaders called matatoa had brought a new cult based on a previously unexceptional god Make-make. In the cult of the birdman (Rapa Nui: tangata manu), a competition was established in which every year a representative of each clan, chosen by the leaders, would climb down a vertical cliff, swim across shark-infested waters to Motu Nui, a nearby islet, to search for the season’s first egg laid by a manutara (sooty tern). The first swimmer to return with an egg (strapped to his forehead) and successfully climb back up the cliff would be named “Birdman of the year” and secure control over distribution of the island’s resources for his clan for the year. The tradition was still in existence at the time of first contact by Europeans but was suppressed by Christian missionaries in the 1860s.

European accounts in 1722 (Dutch) and 1770 (Spanish) reported seeing only standing statues, but by James Cook’s visit in 1774 many were reported toppled. The huri mo’ai – the “statue-toppling” – continued into the 1830s as a part of internal conflicts among islanders. By 1838, the only standing moai were on the slopes of Rano Raraku and Hoa Hakananai’a at Orongo. In about 60 years, islanders had for some reason (possibly civil struggle between clans) deliberately damaged this part of their ancestors’ heritage. In modern times, moai have been restored at Orongo, Ahu Tongariki, Ahu Akivi and Hanga Roa.


When Roggeveen visited for a week he estimated there were 2,000 to 3,000 inhabitants on the island. This was an estimate, not a census, and archaeologists estimate the population may have been as high as 10,000 to 12,000 a few decades earlier. It’s quite likely that many island people hid from the Dutch.  Roggeveen’s party reported “remarkable, tall, stone figures, a good 30 feet in height”, the island had rich soil and a good climate and “all the country was under cultivation”. Fossil-pollen analysis shows that the main trees on the island had gone 72 years earlier in 1650. The civilization of Easter Island has long been believed to have degenerated drastically during the century before the arrival of the Dutch, as a result of overpopulation, deforestation and exploitation of an extremely isolated island with limited natural resources. The Dutch reported that a fight broke out in which they killed ten or twelve islanders.

The next foreign visitors arrived on 15 November 1770: two Spanish ships, San Lorenzo and Santa Rosalia, sent by the Viceroy of Peru, Manuel de Amat, and commanded by Felipe González de Ahedo. They spent five days on the island, performing a very thorough survey of its coast, and named it Isla de San Carlos, taking possession on behalf of King Charles III of Spain, and ceremoniously erected three wooden crosses on top of three small hills on Poike. They reported the island as largely uncultivated, with a seashore lined with stone statues.

Four years later, in mid-March 1774, British explorer James Cook visited Easter Island, he reported the statues as being neglected with some having fallen down; no sign of the three crosses and his botanist described it as “a poor land”. He had a Tahitian interpreter who could partially understand the language as it was Polynesian. Other than in counting, though, the language was unintelligible to him.

In 1786 the French explorer Jean François de Galaup La Pérouse visited and made a detailed map of Easter Island. He described the island as one-tenth cultivated and estimated the population as a couple of thousand.


In 1804 the Russian ship Neva visited under the command of Yuri Lisyansky. In 1816 the Russian ship Rurik visited under the command of Otto von Kotzebue. In 1825 the British ship HMS Blossom visited and reported no standing statues. By now the islanders had become openly hostile towards any attempt to land, and very little new information emerged before the 1860s.

A series of devastating events killed almost the entire population of Easter Island in the 1860s. In December 1862, Peruvian slave raiders struck Easter Island. Violent abductions continued for several months, eventually capturing or killing around 1500 men and women, about half of the island’s population. International protests erupted, escalated by Bishop Florentin-Étienne Jaussen of Tahiti. The slaves were finally freed in autumn, 1863, but by then most of them had already died of tuberculosis, smallpox or dysentery. Finally, a dozen islanders managed to return from the horrors of Peru, but brought with them smallpox and started an epidemic, which reduced the island’s population to the point where some of the dead were not even buried. Contributing to the chaos were violent clan wars with the remaining people fighting over the newly available lands of the deceased, bringing further famine and death among the dwindling population.

The first Christian missionary, Eugène Eyraud, arrived in January 1864 and spent most of that year on the island; but mass conversion of the Rapa Nui only came after his return in 1866 with Father Hippolyte Roussel and shortly after two others arrived with Captain Jean-Baptiste Dutrou-Bornier. Eyraud was suffering from phthisis (tuberculosis) when he returned and in 1867, tuberculosis raged over the island, taking a quarter of the island’s remaining population of 1,200 including the last member of the island’s royal family, the 13-year-old Manu Rangi. Eyraud died of tuberculosis in August 1868, by which time the entire Rapa Nui population had become Roman Catholic.

Jean-Baptiste Dutrou-Bornier – who had served as an artillery officer in the Crimean War, but was later arrested in Peru, accused of arms dealing and sentenced to death, to be released after intervention from the French consul – first came to Easter Island in 1866 when he transported two missionaries there, returned in 1867 to recruit laborers for coconut plantations, and then came again for good in April 1868, burning the yacht he had arrived in. He was to have a long-lasting impact on the island.


Dutrou-Bornier set up residence at Mataveri, aiming to cleanse the island of most of the Rapa Nui and turn the island into a sheep ranch. He married Koreto, a Rapa Nui, and appointed her Queen, tried to persuade France to make the island a protectorate, and recruited a faction of Rapa Nui whom he allowed to abandon their Christianity and revert to their previous faith. With rifles, a cannon, and hut burning supporters, he ran the island for several years.

Dutrou-Bornier bought up all of the island apart from the missionaries’ area around Hanga Roa and moved a couple of hundred Rapa Nui to Tahiti to work for his backers. In 1871 the missionaries, having fallen out with Dutrou-Bornier, evacuated 275 Rapa Nui to Mangareva and Tahiti, leaving only 230 on the island. Those who remained were mostly older men. Six years later, there were just 111 people living on Easter Island, and only 36 of them had any offspring.

In 1876 Dutrou-Bornier was murdered in an argument over a dress, though his kidnapping of pubescent girls may also have motivated his killers. From that point on and into the present day, the island’s population slowly recovered. But with over 97% of the population dead or left in less than a decade, much of the island’s cultural knowledge had been lost.

In researching restaurants before my trip I was appalled to read so many reviews praising the steaks. Say what ??? The steaks are all flown in from Argentina at great expense. I was not about to eat beef I could get from my local butcher at a quarter the price, when I could feast on seafood for lunch and dinner, caught that morning. Here’s some images.

easter6  easter17 easter16 easter15  easter23

For my birthday dinner I had spiny lobster – a species of which is found only in the waters of Easter Island. Unlike north Atlantic lobsters, spiny lobsters have no claw meat to speak of; the meat is all in the body, and is wonderful. You cook it much as you do north Atlantic lobsters, namely by boiling in salt or sea water. Time is determined by weight. A 2lb lobster will take 15 to 20 minutes.


Split the body open and serve with rice, vegetables and salad as shown. You can use drawn butter with herbs or a vinaigrette as a dipping sauce.

Mar 302014


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


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




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

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

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


1746 – Francisco Goya, Spanish painter.


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

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

aardappeleters beeld_0

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

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

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




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


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

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


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

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



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

Roasted Chicken Dinner


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



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

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


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

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


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



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



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




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



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


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



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

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

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061 John and Denise on his birthday2


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


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

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


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

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


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



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


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

Name: Juan Alejandro

March 30 1951

9:00 PM Time Zone is ADT

Buenos Aires, ARG

Rising Sign is in 25 Degrees Scorpio

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

Sun is in 09 Degrees Aries.

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

Moon is in 19 Degrees Capricorn.

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

Mercury is in 26 Degrees Aries.

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

Venus is in 11 Degrees Taurus.

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

Mars is in 22 Degrees Aries.

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

Jupiter is in 24 Degrees Pisces.

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

Saturn is in 28 Degrees Virgo.

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

Uranus is in 05 Degrees Cancer.

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

Neptune is in 18 Degrees Libra.

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

Pluto is in 17 Degrees Leo.

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

N. Node is in 18 Degrees Pisces.

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


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