Wednesday, December 31, 2014

On the way to 2015!

As the hours clock by, and snow flurries look imminent here in the high desert, I look back to 2014, and see it as a very good year! Filled with adventure and challenge, good times and interesting reading and research.

I am excited to see what will come in the New Year! I look forward to researching the 18th Century in more depth.

I thank you for your support, your readership. I have quite a following now!

I bid you peace, joy, love and learning!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Skiing - 1700's Style

Sick at home on the couch the past few days, I had tv as a companion. When I was not asleep I caught bits and pieces of interesting cooking shows, including a new favorite, New Scandinavian Cooking. I love the chef, Tina Nordstrom, who does a lot of cooking out in the open. Yesterday she was preparing pumpkin soup in a cauldron out on the ski slopes. She mentioned that though skiing goes way back in history, actually to 600BC in China, skiing became more than a utilitarian pursuit, a form of transportation, in the 18th Century. This caught my attention.

To backtrack a bit, the word ski comes from Old Norse, "skio" meaning stick of wood. In Norwegian the word is "vedski" meaning split wood, or "skigard" which means split-rail fence.

The first recorded skiing for enjoyment or competition came in the 1700's. This stems from the military use of skis where soldiers practiced by racing. This recording comes from 1767. The races also included target practice, similar to Olympic Nordic combine competitions now. In 1799 a French traveler, Jacques de la Tocnaye, visited Norway and wrote in his travel diary:
In winter, the mail is transported through the Filefiell mountain pass by a man on a kind of snow skates moving very quickly without being obstructed by snow drifts that would engulf both people and horses. People in this region move around like this. I've seen it repeatedly. It requires no more effort than what is needed to keep warm. The day will surely come when even those of other European nations are learning to take advantage of this convenient and cheap mode of transport.
When I was growing up, I learned to downhill ski along with my family. It was exhilarating! There was such a sense of freedom, and excitement. Later on, I took up Nordic cross country, which is much like Tocnave suggests, "moving around quickly unobstructed by snow drifts". Cross country gets you way back off the beaten path, and the scenery is quiet, peaceful, magical. I regret the change to snow boards these days. It's not quite the same, but all things change.

Needless to say, now I yearn for some pumpkin soup!

And by the way, the first known ski jumper was Olaf Rye, 1809!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Gift of History

History is a something we generally take for granted, but truly it is a gift. Where would we be if we only knew what was going on right now? With no beauty or inspiration recorded for us to savor, to reflect upon, to use as a guide or even a

I take the liberty of recording a story from the early 1900's, my Holiday gift to you by O. Henry, entitled "The Gift of the Magi". Here is its summary:

A young married couple with little money independently ponders how to provide each other with a holiday gift.
The husband goes out on the snowy December city streets, looking in windows for inspiration. Finally, he spots the perfect gift: tortoise-shell combs for his wife's long, lustrous hair. But in order to buy them he must sell his watch.

Meanwhile, the wife searches for a way to get money to buy the husband his gift. Finally, she hits upon the ideal scheme: sell her long hair to a wig-maker. Thus shorn, she now happily buys him a present: a fob for his watch.

When he comes home from his shopping outing, the husband is shocked to be greeted by his wife with her hair now short. He holds out her gift -- when she unwraps the combs, she bursts into tears. Then she hand him her gift to him, and he is likewise moved by it.

The couple decides that the moral of their story is that material gifts are not as important as that which is even more precious than the frankincense, myrrh, and gold given to the Christ Child by the Three Kings (Magi) -- that gift is their love for each other.

History gives us a look back into a time before the commercialization of Christmas. Keep this story in mind when Christmas Day arrives. It is LOVE that is the greatest gift!

Merry Christmas to you!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Dark and Stormy Day

With all the activity of this December, including a hectic work week with business deadlines looming December 31st, entertaining with friends and family, Shopping, cooking, and the recent difficult diagnosis of health issues for my Kitty, I forgot to blog about one of my favorite subjects....Mozart.

Of course, as you may well know, Mozart died in December after a prolonged illness complicated by renal failure. It is on his sick bed that he wrote the Requiem mass. There is controversy about how much he wrote, and how much his colleague Sussmeyer penned, but none-the-less, the signature sound of Wolfgang is there.

He died on 5 December 1791 at the age of 35. It is said that the night he died, there cropped up a winter storm.
In a  memoir attributed to one Joseph Deiner, who was claimed to have been present, the following account appeared in the Vienna Morgen-Post of 28 January 1856.
The night of Mozart's death was dark and stormy; at the funeral, too, it began to rage and storm. Rain and snow fell at the same time, as if Nature wanted to shew her anger with the great composer's contemporaries, who had turned out extremely sparsely for his burial. Only a few friends and three women accompanied the corpse. Mozart's wife was not present. These few people with their umbrellas stood round the bier, which then taken via the Grosse Schullerstrasse to the St. Marx Cemetery. As the storm grew ever more violent, even these few friends determined to turn back at the Stuben Gate, and they betook themselves to the "Silver Snake". Deiner, the landlord, was also present for the funeral.

I would like to think that at the Silver Snake. probably a tavern, those who attended raised a glass, to the great composer. Those who did not care to pay their respects can now feel themselves ashamed (wherever they are, perhaps sitting on a little dark cloud in a corner of heaven, or toasting their buns below ) as Mozart is surely and enduringly remembered! 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Take this Capsule, and call me in two hundred years!

Last week a time capsule dating back to 1795 was unearthed from the granite cornerstone of Massachusetts Statehouse! How exciting! Historians believe it was placed there by Samuel Adams and Paul Revere, and perhaps some of their contemporaries.

It has not been opened yet, but it is believed that it contains some coins and newspapers, but it is in precarious condition and Secretary of State William Galvin thinks some of the items may have deteriorated over time. It will go to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts for x-raying, then be opened.

It is in the shape of a box, made of cowhide, and it is thought that it was placed when the statehouse was being built. John Adams was governor of Massachusetts at the time.

Actually, the time capsule was removed in the 19th Century, and it contents transferred to a copper box. So, it means that the box was known about, and removed recently due to an ongoing water filtration project at the building. It will be returned to its cornerstone location when the project is complete.

Museum conservator Pamela Hatchfield says that the box is heavy, and enthusiasm is high for the discovery of its contents. Another time capsule from 1901 was recently found, uncovered from the Old State House, the state's first seat of government, and contained some well-preserved newspaper clippings, a book on foreign policy and some letters from journalists of the time.

Time will tell what is found inside the Statehouse box!

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Mount Vernon Favorite

George and Martha Washington welcomed thousands of guests to their estate Mount Vernon, They were noted for their boundless hospitality, frequent parties, and for the culinary treats served.

One interesting dish was the Salamongundy is a late-seventeenth-century term for what is actually a dish salad. Composed of a variety of ingredients ranging from greens, herbs, cucumbers, edible flowers, and lemons to roast chicken, anchovies, and other meat or fish, it was suitable for a lovely buffet in a gracious home such as Mount Vernon.

Vegetables of quality were a prized addition to any table, and Mount Vernon features a lovely garden of its own from which the Washington's kitchen staff could choose from.

Below is a recipe from Mount Vernon, that you might like to try.


2 heads romaine lettuce, cored and thinly sliced crosswise
1 roasted chicken (about 3 pounds), carved into breasts, wings, and legs
10 to 12 anchovies
1 lemon, diced
4 yolks of hardboiled large eggs, minced
1 bunch fresh parsley, stemmed and chopped
1/2 pound small white onions (can use pearl onions), cooked and peeled
Ground black pepper
Blanched red grapes for garnish
Blanched young green beans or haricots verts for garnish
Nasturtium blossoms for garnish
A light dressing of lemon and olive oil

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Holiday Meat

With the holidays coming, and entertaining planned, I look into holiday food of the 18th Century. Generally speaking, meat made up the largest portion of the diet of the English at that time. For example, a meal served to Queen Anne in 1705 included: Oleo, Pigeons, Sirloin of Beef rost, Venison, Chyne of Mutton, Turkey, Snipes, Ducks, Partridge. If someone served venison, by the way, it generally meant that they had vast property from which to hunt. Venison therefore was a status symbol.

Meat was not restricted to the upper class. Most people ate meat, but unlike the Queen, veggies were big at the average person's table. Funny thing, by today's standards, the included vegetables would be the RIGHT and BEST and HEALTHIEST way to go!

Evening meals of meats were generally served cold; heated for when company was present.
The quality of food became rather poor during the 1700's in England, as meat rose in popularity. Due to urbanization, meat had to be brought into the city, and the trip was not always easy or quick. Meats were not refrigerated, and hence could spoil along the way. A doctor who was the author of the 1788 book The Honours of the Table warned that the odor of meat was such that one should keep it away from his/her nose while eating it!

The things we take for granted today! Think about it, even the royals or aristocracy did not always have the best food to choose from. And that is why presentation was so important! Who could resist the fabulous crust décor for a meat pie, or the flaming Christmas pudding with a sprig of holly.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Spy Trade

Last week there was an announcement of the new James Bond film, to come out in 2015, entitled Spectre! It's very exciting to anticipate another film about the famous spy! The past two films with Daniel Craig in the title role, have been particularly good. He and his fellow actors from the last film will be working together again to bring romance, intrigue and suspense to the silver screen once more.

Got me to thinking about spies of the 18th Century. Spying is a murky business that actually kick-started Britian's industrial revolution. For example, the town of Derby tried but was unsuccessful in competing with Italy for silk production. And so, John Lombe, Englishman, travelled to Piedmont, Italy to gain knowledge of how silk was spun there. He surreptitiously made drawings of the Italian machinery and smuggled them back to England. On his return he arranged for an engineer to construct a five-story building to use as a factory to wind, spin and twist silk! The factory ran on water power. Lombe's Mill, as it was called, was the first and successful operation of its kind!

But besides men in the spy trade, there is always the "Mata Hari", the "Pussy Galore" as it were. A surprising 18th Century equivalent was Margaret Kemble Gage, wife of General Thomas Gage of Revolutionary War fame. He was British and she a Colonist! It is said that she sent word of her husband's strategy regarding Lexington and Concord! Once he learned of her actions, he sent her to England for the remainder of the war. But, obviously, the damage was done. We in the States might view her as a patriot; back in the UK, she is considered a traitor.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Cheers to George!

With the Christmas holiday on its way, I look for interesting and tasty gifts for my whisky drinkers, yet I'd have to go to Mount Vernon to pick up these particular bottles. That's the caveat.... no shipping. You must be present to pick up your purchases. Sorry, guys.
Anyway, this is quite a special whiskey - from George Washington's Mount Vernon estate!

In Washington’s time, whiskey was not aged and was sold in its original clear form. George Washington’s Rye Whiskey® is the most authentic version of Washington’s whiskey available today, at $185/bottle. Mount Vernon staff used Washington’s original mash bill and traditional 18th-century methods in the production of this rye whiskey. The mash bill, or recipe, was discovered by researchers examining the distillery ledgers for 1798 and 1799. His whiskey consisted of 60% rye, 35% corn and 5% malted barley.

The Rye Whiskey was made according to Washington's original recipe then aged on-site in charred oak barrels for two years. Mount Vernon staff produced this whiskey based on traditional 18th-century methods. After aging for two years in barrels, this straight rye whiskey was bottled and labeled by hand, at $95 each.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Thanksgiving Proclamation - Something to Reflect Upon

In 1780, the US Congress made a proclamation for Thanksgiving. You might want to review it below. A bit different than our lead up to Black Friday deals, door buster sales, excess and gluttony. And, note, a religious bent as well, thanking God for our bounties. And this is America. What has happened, I ask you to reflect? I send my readers my best wishes for a blessed Thanksgiving Day, with family, friends, or in the quiet and peaceful silence of your home. God bless you all.

A PROCLAMATION by the United States in Congress assembly:

Whereas it hath pleased Almighty God, the Father of all mercies, amidst the vicissitudes and calamities of war, to bestow blessings on the people of these states, which call for their devout and thankful acknowledgments, more especially in the late remarkable interposition of his watchful providence, in rescuing the person of our Commander in Chief and the army from imminent dangers, at the moment when treason was ripened for execution; in prospering the labors of the husbandmen, and causing the earth to yield its increase in plentiful harvests; and, above all, in continuing to us the enjoyment of the gospel of peace;

It is therefore recommended to the several states to set apart Thursday, the seventh day of December next, to be observed as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer; that all the people may assemble on that day to celebrate the praises of our Divine Benefactor; to confess our unworthiness of the least of his favors, and to offer our fervent supplications to the God of all grace; that it may please him to pardon our heinous transgressions and incline our hearts for the future to keep all his laws that it may please him still to afford us the blessing of health; to comfort and relieve our brethren who are any wise afflicted or distressed; to smile upon our husbandry and trade and establish the work of our hands; to direct our public councils, and lead our forces, by land and sea, to victory; to take our illustrious ally under his special protection, and favor our joint councils and exertions for the establishment of speedy and permanent peace; to cherish all schools and seminaries of education, build up his churches in their most holy faith and to cause the knowledge of Christianity to spread over all the earth.

Done in Congress, the lath day of October, 1780, and in the fifth year of the independence of the United States of America.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Providing Quality Goods since 1707

I know it's not even time for Thanksgiving, and yet I am receiving all kinds of advertising in the mail for Christmas shopping. I usually toss them, but the other day I received a "dignified" envelope in the mail, with familiar gold embossed seals at the upper left hand corner. Those familiar seals are the lovely "By Appointment to the Queen" royal warrants for exceptional service, or for patronage by the royal family.

I looked again, and saw that the letter came from Fortnam & Mason, the beloved store off Piccadilly Circus, home to first-rate coffee, tea, glace fruit, honey, jam, nuts, confections, chocolates, all beautifully packaged and ready for shipment all over the world. AND, that's just what's on the first floor of this world-renown emporium.

The basement carries wines, spirits, cured meats, olive oil, vinegars, mustards, basically anything savory and lovely on your hors d'oeuvre table.

Upstairs, you will find men's and women's sundries, perfumes, quality stationary, gift items including porcelain, crystal, etc etc.

Fortnam & Mason's carries everything the lady or gentleman would want for themselves or for distinctive gifts.

I was delighted to open the envelope and see a gracious invitation to shop at the store, a quiet advertisement for quality goods. They speak for themselves. Makes me want to go on-line, and see what I could possibly purchase.
Of course the shipping costs are a killer across the pond, but when you have been supplying the elite with lovely merchandise since 1707, well, I guess this is the way it goes. The price you pay, as it were, to enjoy the very best! How nice to know that Fortnam has been going strong for over 307 years.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Adding Color to your Life

The other night as I sat in the salon chair waiting for my hair color to process, I began thinking of hair trends and fashions of the 18th Century. Of course, by the Victorian era and following, no "decent" woman would color her hair, but as time went on, just as make-up and lipstick became more and more acceptable, so too did the notion of coloring one's hair, just for fun, or to disguise the greying of the head. Today, blue and green and pink are not only acceptable, but practically commonplace!

Well, contrary to what I thought, the idea of colored hair was quite acceptable in the 18th Century, not only of one's own tresses, but also with the additions of hair pieces to accentuate or add volume. During Marie-Antoinette's time, the ideal woman had black, brown or blond hair. Red was definitely out, so many women changed their "carrot" top.

To dye hair blonde or light, it would be soaked in alkaline pastes and then the person would sit in the sun. Also, lead could be used. To dye hair dark or black, a mix of wine and elderberries was applied, to the desired effect. Of course tinted powders could be used, but generally applied to wigs.
By the early 1800's, chemists had found a substance called para-phenylenediamine to create synthetic dye. True dyes from plant life were extremely expensive, and sometimes hard to find. Also, hydrogen peroxide was used, a gentler and safer chemical for bleaching of the hair. These solutions paved the way for the first chemical dyes used exclusively for hair, called "aureole". By the way, the product was later known as "L'Oreal".

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Field of Red

I take the liberty today to talk about Veteran's Day, and to pause to remember those who serve, have served, and those who, as they say, made the ultimate sacrifice to protect the nation, to keep us free. In this jaded and cynical world, it is sometimes hard to imagine there are those who CHOOSE to serve, whose love of the "Red, White and Blue", or "King and Country" goes well beyond everyday patriotism. After the difficulties of the Vietnam war, it almost became embarrassing to acknowledge love of country. But, there are those who stand proud. Today, we do a better job of honoring our fighting men and women, for their service in the Afghanistan, Iraq and a myriad of dessert conflicts. But we can always do more.

One beautiful tribute that has honored the war dead is the magnificent display of ceramic poppies at the Tower of London in England. Over several months, over 888,246 poppies have been placed in the moat, representing the field of red, the blood spilt in WWI. These lovely, handmade flowers each represent one life lost of British and Canadian soldiers in the conflict that began 100 years ago. It acknowledges the poem written by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae (Canadian physician). He wrote it on May 3, 1915 for a friend who died in the war.

In Flanders fields the poppies grow,
      Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved and were loved, and now we lie
         In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields.

Crowds and crowds of people have come to see the display. It will be dismantled after today, and hopefully people will remember thought the red field will be gone. In a way, (as long as we don't forget), perhaps that is a good thing. Like the profuse flag-waving that came after the 9/11, eventually we got on with things, put the horror away a bit, and carry on.  

Monday, November 3, 2014

The King of Flour

With the holidays coming up sooner than we think, a lot of us will be heading to the pantry for our baking supplies....for those traditional cookies and cakes. We all have our favorites that we like to enjoy in our own homes, as well as distribute to family and friends. BUT, the most important aspect of this baking is the ingredients we use!!
That being said, I turn to flour. By and large, one is only as good as one's ingredients, and it's important to use the very best. The king of flours is, of course, King Arthur Flour, a brand established in 1790!

King Arthur Flour is the oldest flour company in the US, founded in Boston in 1790, providing high-quality flour for the colonists. Henry Wood started importing European flour, primarily English milled flour, to the Long Wharf in Boston, his goal to supply the best for bakers in America. He called the company by his name, later gaining stock holders and revising the name to Sands, Taylor & Wood Company, which included another Wood (George Wood - no relation to Henry). More than 100 years later, the company name was changed to King Arthur, introducing the product at the Boston Food Fair.

In 1896 George Wood attended the theatre to see a musical, entitled King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table! This was his inspiration for the name change! Perhaps he liked the idea of the knights sitting around a common table supping bread and wine! Who knows, but nevertheless, we are the better for it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

An Eye to the Future; A Link to the Past

I love a costume party, but unfortunately this year, I see no invites coming my way. I chose to do my annual pumpkin carve instead, going on its fifth year now.
BUT, if I was going to don an alter ego, I love the Steampunk idea! Who doesn't love a corset paired with some combat boots, frilly skirt, mechanical jewelry and a top hat!!
I love the whole notion of this sub-genre of science fiction, as it is known. Its inspiration comes from industrialized Western culture, particularly during the 19th Century. Think of Jules Verne and all. But the Industrial Age really has its infancy in the 18th Century, around 1760-1780, in Britian.

In fact, though the Victorians love to claim the Age, one of the earliest recorded uses of the term "industrial" comes much earlier.A letter written July 6, 1799 written by French envoy Louis-Guillaume Otto,  announces that France had entered the race to industrialise.

In his 1976 book Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, Raymond Williams (Englishman) states in the entry for "Industry": "The idea of a new social order based on major industrial change was clear in towns of Southey and Owen."

An increasing use of steam-powered engines allowed for the transition of hand production methods to the use of the new machines. The mass production of textiles was totally fueled by machines that could warp and weft faster than anyone could ever imagine. And people's living standards changed drastically, offering them more time to do other things at home and in the work place. I love the following statistic, "The living standards of the mass of the people in 1700 hardly differed from those living in Babylonia in 2000BC. In 1760, taken as the start of the Industrial Revolution, power was generated by water (70,000 hp), wind (10,000 hp) and steam (5,000 hp)." Can you image the difference?!

The population of Great Britain in the late 1700's was about seven million just before the start of the Industrial Revolution. During the Revolution, the population swelled to 12 million by 1811.

By the way, Jules Verne, with his eye toward the future, had written a remarkable book, published in 1880, called "The great Navigators of the Eighteenth Century", where he chronicled the efforts of French navigators of the 1700's across the globe and their profound influence on science. This is perhaps why Verne's and HG Wells' fiction is so compelling. The research was done!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Going Batty!

Here's another subject of interest for this Halloween Season: The Bacardi rum logo.

The other day I was in my local Von's, and saw a store employee wheeling a pile of Bacardi boxes through the market. My eye caught the logo: a black bat on a bright red circular field. Ahh! The Bacardi logo. Perhaps the Halloween spirit overtook me, but I immediately had to find out about it.
And, for my purposes herein, the Bacardi story goes back to just a little after the 18th Century, so I will consider it worthy of discussion.

The story involves Spanish wine merchant, Facundo Bacardi Masso, born in 1814 in Catalonia, Spain. He emigrated to Cuba in 1830. During this time, rum was made cheaply, not considered a fine drink. It was seldom served in upscale taverns. So Facundo tried "taming" the run by isolating a particular strain of yeast to use in his rum production. Though the company was not formally founded until later on, his new concoction was a hit, giving the rum its characteristic flavor.

Now, how he came up with the logo? When he and his brother Jose bought a distillery so they could turn their experiment into a business, they noticed fruit bats living in the rafters, and voila!
Bats get a bad rap, associated with witchcraft, black magic, darkness, vampires. In Shakespeare, the "Weird Sisters" in Macbeth, incorporate bats into their "toil and trouble" brew. In Western culture, bats are always associated with foreboding, bad omens, death and destruction. Even of late, with the Ebola scare, bats are shown to have a connection with the spread of the deadly virus.

Of course, it doesn't help their popularity when they have a rather ugly face, wings that have hooks, and a  draculesque-type cape in the way they can wrap themselves in their waxy wings. But, nevertheless, they do eat insects that we would rather not see around. The bats in Facundo Bacardi's rafters were probably doing him a favor. He probably thought so, too!  

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Under the Influence

Well, I took the plunge once again, and got my flu shot. I continue to do this, though sometimes I have to question myself. Last Winter, I got extremely sick, out of work for a week, which is quite unlike me. I guess the shot can only cover so many strains.

Well, here I sit at my desk, "aware" of my left arm. It kind of aches, but not really. Kind of hot, but not so much. But, I know something is going on.
The flu, or influenza as it is formally know, comes from the Italian, meaning "influence", referring to the cause of the disease. The Italians felt the illness came on by unfavorable astrological influences. Later they amended the cause to unfavorable influences of the cold (cold weather), influenze del freddo.The word influenza was first used in English in 1703 by J. Hugger, at the University of Edinburgh, as he referred to the disease we know it as today. His thesis "De Catarrho Epidemio, vel Influenza, prout in India occidental sese ostendit" includes descriptions of symptoms, and a history of symptoms from other "flus" which were probably respiratory conditions. 

During the 1700's, at least three pandemics occurred (from 1729-1730; 1732-1733 and 1781-1782). In 1753 the well-known cookbook, "The Compleat Housewife or, Accomplish'd Gentlewoman's Companion", methods for a cure are discussed, including making cold tablets. You can still get a copy of this book through the official site of Colonial Williamsburg. By the way, Here's a recipe for you!

Take pearls, crab’s-eyes, red coral, white amber, burnt hartshorn, and oriental bezoar, of each half an ounce; the black tips of crabs-claws three ounces; make all into a paste, with a jelly of vipers, and roll it into little balls, which dry and keep for use.

Sounds like something out of Harry Potter's Potions class to me!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Here's to Horatio!

Well, my friend over at reminded me that yesterday was Trafalgar Day! A day to honor Lord Horatio Nelson's victory at the famous battle of Trafalgar, in October 1805! As she is the consummate seamstress, she sent along something She KNEW I would enjoy. A wonderful Trafalgar quilt she found on line with the famous saying on it, "England expects every man to do his duty". Signal flags were run up that day before the battle....Nelson's message to his men.
This past summer, I cross-stitched an Iphone case with the same message!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Early Vampire Craze

Generally, we associate Dracula with Bram Stoker's 1897 Gothic novel, but the compelling idea of the undead, the thought of eternal, though damned, life of drinking the lifeblood of the innocent, goes way back. In fact, the first fiction of this type is rooted in the vampire craze of the 1720's and 30's. Interestingly enough, the interest led to the exhuming of two "suspected" vampires, Petar Blagojevich and Arnold Paole, in Serbia, during the Habsburg monarchy. Of course they would be Eastern Europeans!

One of the first works to really have an impact is the short German poem, "The Vampire" by German writer, Heinrich August Ossenfelder, penned in 1748. The poem, is shown here, below:

My dear young maiden clingeth
Unbending. fast and firm
To all the long-held teaching
Of a mother ever true;
As in vampires unmortal
Folk on the Theyse's portal
Heyduck-like do believe.
But my Christine thou dost dally,
And wilt my loving parry
Till I myself avenging
To a vampire's health a-drinking
Him toast in pale tockay.
And as softly thou art sleeping
To thee shall I come creeping
And thy life's blood drain away.
And so shalt thou be trembling
For thus shall I be kissing
And death's threshold thou' it be crossing
With fear, in my cold arms.
And last shall I thee question
Compared to such instruction
What are a mother's charms?

Then there is the poem "Lenore" by Gottfried August Burger (1773), and "The Bride of Corinth" by Goethe (1797). Ahh, those Germans!

For the good of the season, you might want to look these up on-line, or better yet, buy them for your library! There's something about opening up a book, smelling the paper (or parchment, better yet), and letting the spirit of the story or characters out, that you just can't get with a Kindle!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

All for a mere $85,000!

Once, years ago, I visited Bauman Rare Books in the Venetian Hotel and Casino here in Vegas. It's an incredible family-owned book store, one of three locations - New York, Philadelphia and Las Vegas. I can totally understand the first two cities, but Vegas? Well, we have more culture here than one would think, or at least the hope of real culture. That's why I try to support anything of this nature that comes to town. But, that's a story for another day.

Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit, and put my name on their mailing list, and ever since, I receive lovely catalogues of books available to purchase. well, I am certainly flattered, but they are way beyond my purchasing power! At least for can always hope! Bauman sells historic books, first editions, anything unusual, etc.

Recently, their catalogue featured Sir Isaac Newton's "Opticks,: Or, a Treatise of the Reflections, Refractions, Inflexions and Colours of Light". This book was printed in London for Sam. Smith and Benjamin Walford Publishers, in 1704. Leather bound (calf back), red morocco spine label, a quarto (a book produced from full 'blanksheets', each of which is printed with eight pages of text, four to a side, then folded twice to produce four leaves). It is a first edition, and its price is a mere $85,000! Wow! It has 19 copper-engravings. It was in the collection of William A. Ole, a distinguished collector and bibliographer, but now it will make it's way to another lucky book-shelf in due time.

Newton was a physicist and mathematician, and lived from 1642 - 1726, to the ripe old age of 83. His theory and this book was ground-breaking. Everyone thought light was white, but he proved that assumption wrong, that "white light, far from being simple, is a compound of many pure elementary colors which can be separated and recompounded at will”.

So, if you are willing to put out a "bit" of cash, you might like to add "Opticks" to your library. I know I would!

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Wren Men!

I have been listening to a lecture series on London, and at this point in time, the subject is the fire of 1666. It was major! Wiped out the homes of 70,000 of the city's 80,000 inhabitants, 87 churches, and St. Paul's Cathedral. Though there were only six verified deaths, it was probably because the deaths of poor and middle-class folks were not recorded, and those who died by incineration left no recognizable remains.

And so, famous architect Christopher Wren was engaged to re-build St. Paul's, the largest, tallest and most important landmark in London. Wren was born in October 1632 and died in February 1723. The rebuilding of St. Paul's took place right away. By a week or two after the fire, plans were in the works. Wren lost no time. Actually he worked out a plan to rebuild the city as a whole, but his plans were rejected, until a rebuilding act was passed in 1667 put him on the job when the King's Surveyor of Works died. By 1670 the pace of building was well under way. Wren was 48, and did not see the opening of the cathedral until he was 65.

Still, there was no dome yet complete. It would be 1710 when the it was finally topped off, but it was Wren's son, Christopher, that was at the ceremony. He was trained as an architect by his father, and saw the completion of the great work! Finally, in 1711 the elder Wren was paid the half of his salary that would come with the completion of the project, a 36-year labor of love. 

Upon his death, Christopher Wren Sr. was buried in St. Paul's, with a great epitaph. Written in Latin:


and translated here:

Here in its foundations lies the architect of this church and city, Christopher Wren, who lived beyond ninety years, not for his own profit but for the public good. Reader, if you seek his monument – look around you. Died 25 Feb. 1723, age 91. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Oktoberfest! It's that time of year, and our thoughts turn to lifting a good German brew and munching a large salty pretzel! Prost!
I was listening to some streaming German polka music this morning on tv, and I caught sight of a side bar that mentioned that the first Oktoberfest celebration was in 1810. And, the history is interesting.
Crown Prince Ludwig, later to become king Ludwig I, was married to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildurghausen on October 12, 1810. All of Munich was invited to attend the festivities on the fields in front of the city gates. The fields were named after Therese, called Theresa's Meadow, and the citizens having had a wonderful time, decided to commemorate the event each year. Horse races were added (a tradition that lasted to 1960). In 1811, an agricultural show was added to promote Bavarian farmers. In 1816 carnival booths appeared, with prizes given out. In 1819 Munich's founding citizens took over the fest, making it officially an annual event. The first festivals saw an attendance of around 40,000; today it is an occasion celebrated world-wide.
It now starts in late September in Germany because of the better weather, but always flows into October. Cancelled 24 times due to cholera epidemics and war, it still endures, and for whoever attends, it makes everyone want to be German for at least a day!
Zum Wohl! (Cheers!)

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Plague!

It's October, and you know what that means. Time to think about the macabre, watch horror flicks, read Gothic tales, embrace the suspenseful, ponder the scary, all in preparation of the climax of Halloween!
Right now, one of the most scary things we can imagine is the outbreak of the Ebola virus. It started out as a small outbreak, building slowly, then more rapidly and farther reaching. And, now it has reached our shores here in the US. It is something, even with our contemporary precautions and haz-mat suits, to be taken very seriously. In our quest to combat illness, we have perhaps distributed way too many antibiotics, and we now have resistant strains! These germs are more powerful and take more effort to eradicate!
The plague, or bubonic plague, is a deadly infectious disease caused by the enterobacteria Yersinia Pestis, named for French biologist Alexandre Yersin. Previously known as the Black Death, the word plague comes from the Latin meaning PLAGA or "blow or wound". I guess all the black, bleeding sores would seem like blows or strikes to the body.
I think back to the Black Plague in the 15th Century in England, and how, without benefit of our medical knowledge now, it wiped out hundreds of thousands of people.
For our purposes herein, I looked into the 18th Century, and their were plagues, indeed! At the beginning of the 1700's, plague was prevalent in Constantinople and along the Danube. By 1703 it caused great destruction in eastern Europe, spreading westward to parts of Germany and even as far as Scandinavia. Along the way more than 283,000 people died. In Sweden, more than 40,000!
In 1713, it spread through Austria and Bohemia, but then disappeared in Europe after a great hurricane in February 1714. Back again in France from 1720-22, with a contagion coming with a ship to port in Marseilles. Over the course, eventually 89,000 died, causing England, neighbors across the channel, to institute the idea of enforced quarantines and published pamphlets on the disease and what to watch for.
Finally, in 1743 in Sicily a famous plague outbreak is known not only for fatalities, but for the theory of contagion. Sicily was free of plague from 1624, and they were proud of their efforts to arrest the disease with quarantines. Then, in 1743, a ship arrived from Corfu, with some suspicious deaths. They burned the ship and its cargo, but soon after, a suspicious form of the disease was noticed in the hospital in the poorest part of town. The plague's tool was close to 50,000 lives, and then became extinct! Here, perhaps, was the first indication that dirty and flea-infested conditions might promote disease!
The famed Venetian carnival mask with its long beaked nose is the "Il Doctore", coming from the mask that was worn by doctors coming to visit the sick. Along with a long leather coat, the physician wore the mask which contained herbs in its nose. Breathing the herbs created a filter, it was thought, for the doctor against the germs emanating from the patient and the room!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Boston's Long Wharf

While in Boston, we visited the Museum of Fine Arts twice, because once is really not enough! Every time you go, there is something new or wonderful to see, something one didn't see before.
This time I found a wonderful painting by Fitz Hugh Lane called Boston Harbor, painted in 1850. It got me to thinking about the history of Boston harbor.
Boston's Long Wharf was build in from 1710 to 1721, and it was considered the busiest pier in the busiest port in America in Colonial times. It extends nearly a half mile into the harbor. Originally, it was built from the shoreline of Faneuil Hall and was 1/3 mile long. It extended into deep waters and thus allowed larger ships to dock and unload directly to warehouses in the area. It was constructed by Captain Oliver Noyes, and was considered the focus of the great harbor. It was originally known as Oliver's Dock!
Painter John Singleton Copley spent his childhood on the wharf where his mother had a tobacco shop. A famed tavern called the Bunch of Grapes was located there as well. In 1760 the Gardiner Building, once home to John Hancock's counting house was built, still standing today as a restaurant!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Revere and Copley

One day during my recent travels, I visited the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. It's quite a place, with vast collections of furniture, paintings, sculptures, decorative arts from all around the world. It's is truly one of the best museums in the world. They also have beautiful silver serving pieces, from Europe and from America.
This time I focus on Paul Revere, whose portrait by John Singleton Copley hangs in a case along with some of his finest silver service. In the painting, he holds a lovely teapot that is so reflective, you could almost reach out and take it from him. It was painted in 1768. They were friends, and Revere sat for the portrait. Copley painted this seven years before Revere's famous "ride".

By the way, it was expensive to have one's portrait painted, and unusual to look so casual, without a coat. Revere's descendants did not understand this, and had the picture stored in their attic! But, if you look closely you can see he is wearing a vest with gold buttons. The shirt, rolled up at the sleeve, is of linen, a political statement, as there was not to be linen used in American unless it was imported. Boston ladies objected to this, and in that year, they made over 100 yards of linen for themselves! Revere is supposed to have honored this act of defiance, sporting a symbol of his country's freedom! The teapot is intriguing as well. Only Tories (loyalists) drank tea. Whigs (revolutionaries) drank "Boston Tea" which was actually punch. Paul shows his expert workmanship, not merely a vessel for tea. Though Copley finished the portrait, he was torn as he was connected with the Tories, so he signed it, but in extremely tiny letters that you really have to look for them. His political statement!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Back from the Big Apple

Home now after a wonderful vacation, I am back with some stories from my trip back east. I will be blogging a bit about some eighteenth century things I saw while back in New York City, and in Boston.

Today, I write about the 9/11 Museum at the One World Trade Tower Center in Manhattan. The new tower is quite magnificent, if only one, but the grounds surrounding show where the original two towers stood, with their enormous fountains that are a memorial to those who lost their lives that terrible day. I can't say the museum's artifacts are exciting to see, nor do they elicit the same response as when we go to a museum and see beautiful objects. Rather, they serve as a remembrance of the horror, the utter destruction. Since everything was virtually disintegrated, there are only some personal artifacts, which are sad to see, i.e. someone's wallet, another person's shoe, a note pad with appointments, etc. Then there are the enormous girders, foundation walls, elevator engines, etc that almost look like gruesome sculptural pieces. It's something to see, but perhaps just once.

But! among the excavations for constructing the new building, workers found some interesting Colonial artifacts from early New York. Most of lower Manhattan was built over a landfill. These artifacts pre-date the Revolutionary War, unearthed in 2006. One of them a clay pipe bowl, another a key, a letter "A", and a tiny minute man figure. It's fascinating to imagine who they might have belonged to.
As time will permit, I will highlight some other finds from my trip, but for now, I am drowning at the desk!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Mystery and Intrigue on the Danube

I like to listen to our local cable music channel. It's a place to hear new selections, and then go get them for your collection. With a pending trip to Broadway, I recently tuned into the "Stage and Screen" channel, and heard the theme from "The Third Man", the classic British film noir of 1949, directed by Carol Reed, starring Joseph Cotton, Alida Valli, Orson Welles and Trevor Howard. This film is considered, like Citizen Kane (also with Welles), to be one of the best of the genre. The entire soundtrack is played on the zither, and the zither alone, played by Anton Karas, and it really sets the mood.

The Zither is part of the "kithara" (Greek) family of instruments, a forerunner of the guitar. It has a kind of haunting, twangy, bell-like quality, and sets the mood of post-war Vienna, with its dark, mysterious streets and the rubble left from the war.

Vienna is an old and extremely interesting place, the capital of Austria. The city has its light-hearted side especially where music is concerned (remember the Strauss waltzes), but it is also part of Eastern Europe. The word Austria has its roots in the German word "osterreich", or eastern realm. Eastern Europe is a world of its own, rather moody, with an underlying heavy atmosphere, with connections to the ottoman empire.

For our purposes here, I look at the 1700's, with Vienna becoming a baroque city, with significant achievements in architecture by Johann von Erlach and Johann von Hildebrandt. Opulent palaces like the Schwarzenberg and the Liechtenstein were built. Though the city suffered a plague in those years, by 1790, the population had reached 200,000. The city began industrialization with the first factory running in Leopoldstadt, Vienna's 2nd district.

In 1804, during the Napoleonic wars, Vienna was invaded twice during that time, when three French marshals crossed the Danube River and told the Austrian commander that the war was over. Vienna became the capital city, and played a major role in world politics, including the hosting of the Congress of Vienna, in 1814. The Congress included a series of international meetings to forge a peace and balance of powers in Europe. It served as a model for the League of Nations and the United Nations, much later. So, when you want to immerse yourself in a bit of mystery and intrigue, check out The Third Man. It makes me now want to take a trip on the Orient Express.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

An Amazing Find!

In the Summer of 2010, archeologists discovered the remains of an 18th Century ship at the World Trade Center's new construction site. Can you imagine the amazement?!

The ship was unearthed and after study, it is determined that it pre-dates the American Independence! Scientists at Columbia University found that the wood used in the ship's construction came from a Philadelphia-area forest from 1773, before the Declaration of Independence was signed. It was further investigated that the ship was fashioned from the same kind of oak that was likely used to build Philadelphia's Independence Hall.


It is a sloop ship, designed by the Dutch, to carry passengers and cargo. Finding show that after sailing for 20-30 years, pieces of the 32-foot ship were used for landfill to extend lower Manhattan.

Currently, The majority of the ship's remains are being kept at Texas A&M University, and owned by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. There is talk of preservation or a recreation of the sloop, but time will tell. There are no plans at present.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Ancient Technologies for Today!

I just finished watching a wonderful lecture series about Greek and Roman technologies from the catapult to the Pantheon. It was fascinating, not only to hear about ancient buildings and machinery, but to see their employ in modern application. The course instructor is Dr. Stephen Reseller, a professor at West Point Academy. He makes the subject come alive. His enthusiasm is contagious.

The last lecture shows how very much alive all these ancient methods are in modern or near modern history. One building caught my eye, as it was produced in the 18th Century, that of Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, which he designed and built. He was a bit of a Renaissance man, with interests in science, art, architecture, politics, history. After the fussiness and over-the-top decor of the Baroque era, it was time to scrape away the icing on the cake, and get to the heart of the matter. Hence there was a revival of the classical era design, now called Neo Classical, a getting back to basics, as it were. Monticello, placed side by side with Rome's famed Pantheon gives an interesting picture of classical themes brought to life once again. Note the colonnaded entry, the triangular tympanum over the pediment and the domed section of roof.
Jefferson designed and built his home in 1772, located in Albermarle County, near Charlottesville, Virginia. He studied the works of the ancients for inspiration. He used contemporary materials, including the bricks typical of the Federal style which had become so popular in Colonial America, but the walls and proportions reflect the order of the original ancient building.
That's why classics are classics; why they are timeless. Good taste lasts forever!

Monday, August 4, 2014


Recently I saw the movie "Belle" based on the true account of Dido Elizabeth Belle, daughter of a West Indian slave, and Captain John Lindsay, British naval officer. Dido's mother died, and John, who spent most of his time on the high seas for the Royal British Navy, placed his child in the hands of his Aunt and Uncle back in England.  His uncle was William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, who brought up Dido as a free gentlewoman, who lived with them for 30 years. Her father, upon his death, left her with an annuity of several hundred pounds, which actually made her a rich woman for the times, and an independent one as well.

In the movie, of course, artist license is used, with Dido given a better place within the household, than in real life. Though it did not detract from the story, in reality, Dido kind of assumed a role as a lady's companion, taking dictation for the Earl's letters, managing the dairy and poultry yards on the estate. She was given an annual allowance of £30, several times the wage of a domestic servant.

Not only was she illegitimate, but also her race played a role in her adult life. She was truly never quite accepted as an equal, but there is an interesting twist to the story. The Earl's family had a gallery of paintings of family members and ancestors, and one of the paintings depicts Dido along with another young family member, quite equally honored and depicted of equal status. Today it hangs in Scone Palace in Scotland.
Eventually Dido was married John Davinier in 1793, a Frenchman who worked as a gentlemen's steward, and she had three sons.

The painting was painted in 1779, of Dido and her cousin Elizabeth Murray, the Earl's niece, attributed to Johann Zoffany, a German neo-classic painter.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Bakers Ingredients

Just as today, 18th Century bakers put a lot of importance on the type of ingredients they used for their bread recipes. Specific sources for water were identified, including water from rivers, fountains, wells or the collection of rain. Bakers from Gonesse, France said that rain water was best for its particular natural properties. Gonesse is in the northeastern suburbs of France, home of cuisine extraordinaire, about 10 miles from Paris. So, they ought to know!

These bakers said that you must use the "lightest of water, because it works itself better into the clumps of flour mixed with the leaven. Rain water makes the dough ferment and rise, because it is lighter than that of fountains or rivers." Now, I don't know about that, but in the 1700's, I guess it made sense.

Yeast, in those days, was always "brewer's yeast", which is a type of fungus (saccharomyces cervisiae), used to brew beer as well as bake some particular breads. This yeast was considered "artificial", as opposed to "old dough" that you actually reserved a portion of fully developed dough before shaping loaves of bread, and retaining it in a covered container to use in the next batch, and then the next. This is a starter, as it were, somewhat like the starters used in sour dough bread, where some portion is reserved for the next time one decides to bake.

Of course, many 18th Century bakers used beer in exchange for water in recipes. The 1771 Encyclopedia Britannica includes the following technique for bread making:
“The meal, ground and bolted, is put into a trough, and to every bushel are poured in about three pints of warm ale, with barm and salt to season it: this is kneaded well together with the hands through the brake; or for want thereof, with the feet, through a cloth; after which, having lain an hour to swell, it is moulded into manchets, which scorched in the middle, and pricked at the top, to give room to rise, are baked in the oven by a gentle fire.”

By the way, the Celts are rumored to have introduced beer into their dough for an airier loaf. This goes back to the Iron Age.

Another important baking ingredient is sugar, which was extremely expensive at the time, often called "white gold". In the 18th Century it was a product of the development of thousands of sugar plantations in South, Central and North America, giving rise to the African slave trade with over 12 million slaves shipped to various locations around the globe. The "sugarloaf" was the traditional form in which the refined sugar was distributed and sold until cubes were introduced in the 19th Century. A tall cone with rounded top was the shape, achieved when, at final boiling (for refining), the sugar was poured into large conical molds of earthenware or iron. The dark, molasses based sugar drained through the bottom of the mold, leaving the white to remain. When cool, the cones were wrapped in paper, and sold. To use, one had to chip away the sugar from the cone with tongs.

As they say, it's the quality of the ingredients that make for the best cuisine!